Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


"GUT & REPLACE" TACTIC HIDES LEGISLATORS' ACCOUNTABILITY TO VOTERS: House Bill 128 started as legislation to increase access to sporting venues in schools when it passed the state House on a 77-42 vote. In the Senate last month it was transformed into legislation to dealing with how much compensation unemployed workers could receive. Is that what the 119 representatives were voting on back on March 3? Not even close. House Bill 334 was clarifying tax relief to North Carolina businesses receiving pandemic PPP funds under the federal Cares Act. It was transformed in the Senate to legislation that cuts the corporate income tax rate to zero by 2028. Did House member know they were voting to eliminate business income taxes when they voted to approve the bill 111-2 on April 15? Absolutely not. This tactic makes things -- the good or bad of the legislation, what needs it meets or misses, who it benefits or hurts – irrelevant. It renders critical votes moving it along in the legislative process meaningless. I second that emotion.

PROPOSED NC ENERGY BILL WILL BENEFIT DUKE ENERGY, NOT ITS CUSTOMERS: There are times when environmental and clean energy advocates have neglected human impact — the ways that energy, affordable housing, public health and the basic ability to live a dignified life intersect. Too many families in North Carolina are energy burdened, paying disproportionately high amounts of their income towards their monthly electric bill. For far too many people, decisions about whether to cool their home or buy basic medication, for example, is a constant struggle. House Bill 951, the legislation that Duke Energy and Republican lawmakers have crafted in secret for the better part of six months, is a horrific piece of public policy. It sets up a process where Duke can recoup its cost for merely applying for a permit for new nuclear technology — $50 million — from families and small businesses. In determining rates, it gives Duke more room to overcharge, taking too much money from those same people with little accountability or oversight. A similar policy in Virginia led to Dominion Energy overcharging customers $502 million over three years. HB 951 gives more power and authority to a corporation that has often fought tooth and nail to resist accountability, and it erodes the authority from the very entity, the North Carolina Utilities Commission, tasked with doing that job.

A COVID VACCINATION SHOWS CONCERN AND CARE FOR OUR COMMUNITIES. DO IT NOW: This is not about an individual action, but demonstrating concern for the health and safety of a community – friends, classmates faculty, staff and others in the campus community. Duke University’s ABC Science Collaborative offered up a set of recommendations for assuring community health in North Carolina schools. The actions recommended aren’t simply about an individual’s isolated behavior. It is the impact a single person’s action can have beyond their own well-being. It is a demonstration of concern and care for a community. -- “Encourage vaccinations.” Vaccines are available to everyone 12 and older. That means any student entering high school should get the vaccine. This is about making sure the pandemic doesn’t do any more to disrupt the school year. This is about students protecting their classmates. The notion that the most important concern over a COVID-19 vaccine shot is individual liberty misses the point. The best way to stem the latest increase in infections is to help make sure it doesn’t get transmitted to others. The most effective way to assure a community is protected is when individuals are vaccinated.

BIDEN IS WRONG ABOUT FACEBOOK. SO IS FACEBOOK: The White House in recent weeks has been pushing Facebook and its peers — but especially Facebook — to throttle lies and propaganda about the vaccines that could finally put an end to this pandemic, if only more people trusted them. This ambition is understandable. While the shift from several prominent conservative commentators toward encouraging inoculation is promising, many more Internet influencers are continuing to peddle conspiracies. These misinformation mongers themselves are the most to blame. Yet platforms that allow them a place to spread their lies, and whose algorithms sometimes help those lies along, bear some responsibility. Where the administration is wrong is in suggesting that Facebook hasn’t acknowledged this responsibility. The company has plastered accurate information all over its properties, and it has taken as aggressive a line against inaccurate information about vaccines as it does against any other category of content. The reality is that fighting misinformation is hard because defining misinformation is hard: requiring moderators to find the fine, flickering line between the opinion of someone who says they don’t approve of these vaccines and the provably false assertions of someone who says these vaccines kill. Where Facebook is wrong is in using these difficulties as an excuse not to try harder. The company disputes the White House’s references to a report on a so-called “disinformation dozen” that finds 12 people were responsible for 65 percent of the covid-19 misinformation on the platform. Yet it doesn’t provide much meaningful data on, well, covid-19 misinformation on the platform — opting to tout only the 18 million misleading posts it has removed without saying anything about how many misleading posts it hasn’t, and skirting entirely the question of who is seeing these posts where. Are lies spreading in clusters of pages and groups? What role does that pesky algorithm play? The New York Times reports that employees asked executives last year for more resources to measure precisely these prevalence statistics and that those resources were never approved. I find it ironic that people complain Facebook isn't doing enough to combat misinformation, but also complain when Facebook puts one of those Covid links on the bottom of their post. As Spock would say, sauce for the goose.

IS THE UNITED STATES DONE BEING THE WORLD'S COP?: When the United States announced its military withdrawal from Afghanistan in May, the Taliban wasted no time in launching an offensive to reclaim the country, fueling warnings of mass displacement and government breakdown. But President Biden hasn’t budged from his plan to complete the withdrawal by Sept. 11, 20 years after the attacks on the World Trade Center. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” he said this month. “And it’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.” It’s a very different message from the one that prevailed in the early 2000s, when George W. Bush declared that “ending tyranny in our world” had become “the calling of our time.” How has U.S. interest in humanitarian military intervention waxed and waned over the years, and what should Biden’s approach to it look like? The logic of humanitarian military intervention gained force in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, “the unipolar moment” of American dominance, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, when it became increasingly common among conservatives to tie national security to democracy promotion abroad. “The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region,” George W. Bush proclaimed in 2003, after the United States had invaded Iraq. “Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran — that freedom can be the future of every nation.” Nearly two decades later, Peter Beinart argues in The Times, it is difficult for the United States to maintain its preferred image as a uniquely beneficent global actor. According to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, post-Sept. 11 wars in which “U.S. forces have been most significantly involved” have killed over 800,000 people, displaced 37 million and cost the United States some $6.4 trillion. (For reference, that is about $1.9 trillion more than the estimated cost of completely transitioning the U.S. power grid off fossil fuels.) The United States also continues to export more weapons than any other country, including to five of the six most interventionist states in the Middle East. See my comment below for more.


PATRICIA LONG: $7.25 MINIMUM WAGE GUARANTEES THE POOR KEEP GETTING POORER: The federal minimum wage of $7.25 was set in 2009, where it remains. Each year, there was a conscious decision not to give the working poor a single penny’s increase. Because of inflation, the buying power of $7.25 has diminished by 21% during those 12 years. So, the poor have gotten steadily poorer. This situation is not only unfair, it’s immoral. A minimum wage worker working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks (without a workday off) earns a gross of $15,080. Even at $15 an hour, the annual gross would be $31,200. After Social Security and Medicare deductions, that’s about $2,400 per month to cover rent, utilities, food, medicine, clothes, childcare, transportation and all other basic expenses. That’s just barely possible. Let us start treating our minimum wage workers, many of them our “essential workers” during the pandemic, with the respect and compensation they deserve.

MARY MONROE KOLEK: THE LEGISLATURE NEEDS TO ADHERE TO THE NC CONSTITUTION AND PROPERLY FUND EDUCATION: The N.C Constitution mandates what has long been understood as a bedrock to democracy: That the state provide every child access to a sound education. Still, N.C. Senate budget writers continue to ignore the courts. The failure to provide adequate funding is egregious in view of the projected $6.5 billion in unanticipated revenues and the $5 billion rainy day fund. Senate leadership proposes tax cuts instead of funding the pre- and post-pandemic educational needs of public education. This is unconstitutional and not only harms current and future generations, but also exacerbates educational inequalities. Legal and moral mandates aren’t the only arguments for support and funding of the court-ordered remedial plan. Education is a key to providing job opportunities and prosperity that are the backbone of strong communities. Funding the programs in Superior Court Judge David Lee’s Leandro ruling is a sound investment. Our children and state deserve nothing less.

KAREN WIEBE: BANNING CRT IS THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF AUTHORITARIANISM: Regarding “Will NC schools banning Critical Race Theory lead to ‘witch hunts’ of teachers?” (July 17): So Dale Lands, co-founder of the group Citizen Advocates for Accountable Government, told the Johnston County school board, “We don’t need dictatorship training and morals and social theory taught to our kids.” Hmmm. Then should we also eliminating health and sex education classes? All history courses based on facts? Finance courses? Civics? How about literature and media studies? Wait, don’t forget all courses taught by feminists. Those are rich sources for banning. Sen. Joe McCarthy tried that last century, followed by demagogue politicians, religious fanatics, right-wing media outlets, and some religious leaders today. Hey, it works in Afghanistan!

Author's note: When the Nazis took over Germany in 1933, they completely revamped the education system. Not only did they eventually purge Jewish teachers and professors from said system, teaching history became a tool to instill deep pride in the Fatherland, and any negative aspects of their history were either purged from textbooks or blamed on somebody else (Jews, French, Eastern Europeans). They also pushed sports heavily, eventually leading to 5 hours of every school day being devoted to it. I believe that was so students would have far less time for contemplation.



On nation-building and "exporting democracy"

I will be the first to admit that my opinions on this subject are complex as hell, and difficult to explain or enumerate. But I will try...

When I was in the Army my mission was oriented around spreading and reinforcing democracy, mostly involving teaching basic Infantry skills to foreign military units that were somewhere between "barely capable" to "falling apart." It sounds challenging, but it was actually pretty straightforward. Dig in here, cover this area in front of you between x and y, interlocking fields of fire, etc.

But after doing that for a few years, my brain started nagging me to find out how certain situations came about that required these defensive (and sometimes offensive) tactics. Why are they fighting? So when I re-enlisted I took advantage of a "semester release" option that allowed me to attend college full time for 6 months while still on active duty. So I studied history, with a focus on African affairs, and that inevitably led me to European Colonialism.

When I discovered that maps were drawn at the Congress of Berlin in 1884, parceling out territories in the African continent with little regard to tribal boundaries, I began to understand where many of these conflicts originated. Irredentism is the desire or motivation to reclaim territories that were split by national boundaries imposed by an imperial authority. In Africa, it was European authority. In the Balkans, it was the Soviet Union. Tracing the links of American Imperialism is more difficult because it's less obvious, and more cleverly masked. But we'll give it a shot.

Darwin's ill-fated and unwise "White Man's Burden" theory gave Europeans the moral excuse to exploit Africa back in the 19th Century, but its bastard offspring American Exceptionalism still thrives today. And when I hear a form of it being perpetuated by one of my progressive friends, I cringe. But I also check the time, to see if there's enough available to adequately explain why they are wrong. And there usually isn't enough time. If you've read this far, you are probably an exception, a minority of readers who are still interested, so I will try to be as concise as possible before I lose you as well.

To understand where this "spreading democracy" goes wrong, you need to understand that our foreign policy is a triumvirate: Strategic-Corporate-Democracy. Democracy is last for a reason, because instead of being the driving force of this 3-fold approach, it is merely an aftertaste. A beard.

We have always viewed our friendships and alliances with foreign countries through the lens of what it can do for us. Extend our power and influence via military bases and such. But along with that Strategic goal, (US) Corporate exploitation follows closely on its footsteps. Oil and minerals, among many other resources, are ripe for the picking. And we've also learned that Corporate involvement can economically bind a country to us, ensuring fealty to whatever goals America has.

And bucking that Corporate vampire can lead to severe punishment. It took only 4 days to overthrow Iran's democratically-elected Mossadegh government in the 1953 coup d'état, after the oil fields were nationalized. We didn't even attempt to replace democracy with another democracy. Oh no. We put Pahlavi back on the throne, and his SAVAK kept him in power through brutal repression of dissidents for the next 25 years.

That's only one example, we don't have time for a comprehensive list. Suffice it to say that calls for democracy are always concealing other agendas, and until we break that triumvirate, we will never be a genuine ambassador for democratic reforms.