Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


THEY ARE OUR CHILDREN, SIBLINGS, FRIENDS. THEY ARE NOT "FILTH": They are our sisters, our brothers, our parents, our children and our neighbors. But to North Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, they are “filth.” Like other bullies called to account for their actions, he dodges, deflects and doesn’t, as he promised, take responsibility. He doesn’t explain why he said those people are filth. He does exploit the controversy and hate he ignited with a video that includes sexually explicit images on his campaign Facebook website. He used it to send an email fundraising appeal. At best, it is a cynical ploy to find a way to profit, at least politically, from his divisive rhetoric. Is this the kind of behavior that should be coming from a member of the State Board of Education and state Community College Board? Does not fitting Mark Robinson’s criteria for appropriate or correct necessarily make them “filth?” No, it merely makes them different from him. That is no justification for ridicule. Robinson is the quintessential demagogue; the end product of a Christofascist movement that strikingly resembles the Taliban more than any other entity. Whether that will continue to thrive here or not is a true test of our moral resolve.

BILLY GRAHAM STATUE IN U.S. CAPITOL WON'T REPRESENT ME, MANY OTHERS IN NC: The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s statement of faith, in a slight extension from John 14:6, includes, “We believe...that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation,” and that the “lost” who don’t accept Christ are subjected to “damnation and eternal punishment.” It’s one thing for a private religious organization to proselytize that I, as a Jew, am eternally damned. For our state government to send a proxy for this message to the U.S. Capitol frightens me. It hits me as an act of deep disrespect and a potential threat. The very first clause of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is the basis for the separation of church and state — that government should remain neutral toward religion, not favoring one religion over another, and should avoid unnecessary entanglement with religion. For me, the separation of church and state and America’s promise that all religions are treated equally is not academic. It’s what makes me, as a Jew, just as much an American and a North Carolinian as anyone else. With the erection of the Graham statue, the core messages of Christianity will be enshrined in stone and enthroned in our nation’s Capitol. I believe this violates the Establishment Clause, and it certainly favors Christianity above other religions. In my last campaign for Alderman I was asked my opinion about starting meetings with a prayer, to which I answered, "If we're going to do it, it needs to be as inclusive as possible." When that produced a deer-in-the-headlight look, I continued: "Referencing Jesus automatically excludes many people of faith, when a more generic 'God' reference would encompass Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and possibly others." Still didn't click. And when I explained that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, the individual actually called me a liar, and walked off. I shouldn't have even tried.

THE PLAGUE OF SILENCE: I believe that those who stormed the Capitol were not your average tourists, but more on a par with the man who called me a “shit eatin dog” and the one flying the “F**k Biden” banners. It seems to me that is the sentiment of the people who invaded the Capitol and those who don white robes and spew hatred. But I also know they are allowed and encouraged to do so because of the many silent supporters who cast their votes, went home, and now are relaxed and enjoying the results. Complicit silence is the most dangerous of all the infectious plagues. Many out there are not as easily recognizable as those in white robes with pistols, or those spouting profanities at the driver beside them, but the racism and hatred are in place; like an invisible hood, cowardly silence is dangerous, and the damage done to a community seeking peace and unity is catastrophic. You might even hear them claiming Christian ethics and values, using words like good, righteous, blessed. However, I seriously doubt a righteous soul — Jesus for example — would have called me a “shit eatin dog,” and I also doubt that he would have stood silently by and watched a show of vicious hostility and hatred in his name; people threatened for having an opinion, casting a vote, and wanting others to have the chance to vote; people simply threatened because of who they are. Certainly, I am aware that my experience today is a cruel and inhumane daily occurrence for so many marginalized and targeted members of our society — hateful injustice heaped on injustice. In deciding what material to quote here, I am often plagued by the certainty that I did not choose the portion the author would have preferred be promoted in such a manner, but copyright and fair use must be observed. Follow the link to read all of Jill's essay, and bookmark WRAL's editorial page.

MARK ROBINSON'S ENABLERS AND THE ACTUAL FILTH HE AND THEY IGNORE: Ten months into his first term in elected office (an office with precious little real power, thank goodness), Robinson remains a political accident who parleyed a viral pro-gun rant at a Greensboro city council meeting into a 32% plurality win in a weird, crowded and low-turnout Republican primary. Eight months later, he rode Donald Trump’s coattails to victory over an unknown and underfunded state legislator in an almost invisible statewide race. Of course, none of this has stopped Robinson from acting as if he is the second coming of Jesse Helms. The latest outrage from Robinson, who’s previously uttered blatantly anti-Semitic rants and dangerously irresponsible comments regarding the pandemic, came to light late last week when video surfaced of a speech he delivered to a church group, in which he declared that homosexuality and transgenderism are “filth.” Unfortunately, over at the GOP – the party of Lincoln and home of Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, and eight North Carolina members of Congress – the response has been the sound of crickets chirping. There is an obvious explanation for this cowardly silence: politics. The GOP establishment didn’t select Robinson, but its leaders have long embraced the utility of using outrageous characters like him and Congressman Madison Cawthorn and the delusional views they espouse (like literally denying the existence of transgender people and propagating lies about what’s taught in public schools) to do the dirty work of riling up the far-right fringe. This silence also provides the added benefit of helping these individuals to avoid engagement in a genuine conversation about “filth” – what Merriam-Webster refers to as “gross moral corruption” and things that are “grossly indecent and or obscene.” According to Feeding America, the USDA’s latest Household Food Insecurity report show that more than 38 million people in the United States experienced hunger in 2020. Last year, more than 43,000 Americans died from gun violence. Indeed, according to the Children’s Defense Fund, 170 American classrooms could be filled with the children and teens killed by gun violence since 2017. Black American women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related health problems than white women and the U.S. has one of the worst records for maternal death in the developed world. They don't want to talk about it because, frankly, they don't care. But they don't want voters to know they don't care, so they need distractions like Robinson and Cawthorn.

VACCINE RESISTERS SACRIFICING THEIR JOBS ARE NOT HEROES: “Poor is the nation that has no heroes,” Cicero said. But poorer still is a nation with the kind of heroes celebrated on Fox News. The nation’s leading purveyor of lethal medical advice during a pandemic (trademark pending) has recently elevated the resisters against coronavirus vaccines — an airline pilot here, a nurse there — as models of citizenship. These abstainers are risking their livelihoods in the cause of … what? Well, that depends on your view of the vaccines themselves. For generations we’ve had vaccine mandates, particularly for childhood diseases, in every state plus D.C. Few thought to call this tyranny because communities have a duty to maintain public health, and individuals have a duty to reasonably accommodate the common good — even if this means allowing your child to be injected with a substance carrying a minuscule risk of harm. If only there were empirical means, some scientific method, to test the matter. If only there had been three phases of clinical trials, involving tens of thousands of volunteers, demonstrating the drugs to be safe and effective. If only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration were constantly monitoring safety concerns about the vaccines. If only we could estimate the number of covid deaths that might have been prevented if vaccine uptake were higher. To break the suspense — we do live in such a world. “From June through September 2021,” concluded a recent Peterson-KFF report, “approximately 90,000 covid-19 deaths among adults likely would have been prevented with vaccination.” So the matter is simple: Who is making vaccination more likely to take place, and who is not? Republican governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas are the repellent standouts. If the coronavirus could vote, these men would be governors for life. Abbott and his ilk are seeking a morally desolate world in which people demand their autonomy even if it kills their neighbor. But there is a better world in which institutions have duties to the health and safety of citizens, and citizens have obligations to the health and happiness of one another. That is not only a better place to live — it is a place where more of us would remain alive. What he said.


EMILY CLINKHAMMER: WE'VE GOT BILLIONS BUT NO BUDGET: As a state employee, I’m writing to express my frustration with the General Assembly and governor over the budget process. In times of austerity I understand that state workers may not receive a cost-of-living raise. No one gets into public service to get rich. But right now, we have a historic surplus and some in the legislature want to use that to give tax cuts to corporations instead of rewarding state workers and teachers, some of whom haven’t seen a cost-of-living adjustment in three years. Many teachers and state workers literally put their life on the line to continue working during the pandemic. It is honestly unconscionable that our state refuses to recognize these contributions. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Raleigh and the surrounding area has skyrocketed. State workers can’t even afford to live in the capital city. It’s shameful. If this continues, North Carolina will continue to lose great talent. I do sympathize, but you shouldn't be frustrated with Governor Cooper. His Budget recommendation was presented months ago, and among many other things, hefty raises for state employees were included. But as usual, Republicans simply ignored it.

BOB HALL: FALSE CLAIMS OF ELECTION FRAUD ARE DANGEROUS: Republican and Democratic judges jointly agreed that a defamation lawsuit can continue against Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2016 defense fund and legal team. (Oct. 6) The case stems from a blitz of bogus claims of voter fraud in an effort to overturn an election. Sound familiar? Fortunately, Republican-led election boards refused to wither in the face of heated rhetoric about fraud in 2016. They threw out the bogus protests and upheld the rule of law. Like those officials in 2016 and the judges this month, thoughtful Republicans on schools boards, election boards and other governing bodies are putting common sense and the rule of law ahead of partisan interests and hot rhetoric. They deserve our thanks. Our democratic republic depends on the courageous acts of officials who rise above fear or reward for the good of the whole. Unfortunately, those Republicans seem to be the exception and not the rule. Almost a year later, various "investigations" spurred by the Big Lie are still going on, and a majority of registered Republicans still believe that lie.

MARGARET CRITES: REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM IS IN JEOPARDY: For nearly 28 years, I ran the Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County, supporting survivors of sexual violence and helping them with the many aspects, both systemic and personal, of healing. Working with survivors showed me the importance of access to abortion and reproductive health care so that every person can make the best personal decision. However, instead of supporting these survivors, Republican legislators take any opportunity they can to introduce bills that would restrict or prevent access to reproductive health care and abortion. It may feel that North Carolina is far from the epicenter of the fight for reproductive freedom and abortion access that we’ve seen play out in states like Texas, but that is a false sense of security. The highest ranking North Carolina Republican, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, has made his stance on abortion clear by telling pregnant people that “once you make a baby, it’s not your body anymore” and comparing rape to Darwinism. Instead of expanding access to health care, which would aid in better access to contraceptives, Republican legislators are more focused on anti-choice legislation. Even in the midst of a pandemic, with rural hospitals closing and our local hospital overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid and provide our community with necessary additional funds to continue treating our neighbors. Instead, Republican lawmakers in the 2021-2022 legislative session have prioritized filing at least eight bills to restrict access to abortion. And while there are still fifteen clinics across the state that provide abortion care, North Carolina already has some significant hurdles, including the longest medically unnecessary mandated wait times and prevention of telehealth for abortion care. In Lumberton, people need to travel outside of our community to Fayetteville, or beyond, to receive abortion care, adding yet another obstacle for those without flexible schedules, reliable transportation, or who have other responsibilities. The United States Supreme Court has proven that they cannot be counted on to protect reproductive rights. Therefore, Governor Cooper and our legislative Democrats are the best line of defense that North Carolina has to block archaic policies. All North Carolinians, including the survivors I worked with, deserve access to every reproductive health care option available. I am thankful that emergency contraception, abortion, and other kinds of reproductive health are still available in our state, even with all the restrictions in place. However, we cannot take this for granted, and I am asking our elected officials to do everything they can to ensure these rights are protected.



The truth about affordable housing

First, let's start with the presumption, based on observable and irrefutable evidence, that the private sector simply cannot be relied upon, or "leveraged," to provide (by constructing or rehabbing) a sufficient volume of structures to solve this growing problem. Efforts by city leaders to use this approach are understandable, but flawed, nonetheless. And whatever resources that are dedicated to this approach are, in a word, wasted. Beware of "easy" solutions, because they are neither.

This problem has become more acute recently, due to several factors that have driven the costs of construction up. But that is an argument for another day, when we can discuss counterproductive trade policies and such. Suffice it to say that the problem doesn't remain static while we contemplate it (or don't), it gets worse.

And merely addressing wages, even if we're wildly successful, cannot ameliorate the problem. I see this all too often in online discussions, where living wage proponents throw that out there, and then bow out of the conversation with the echo of a mic-drop. Yes, our wage inequities are horrific, and need a constant push in the right direction. But people still need a roof over their heads while that effort plays out.

Before we can adequately address affordable housing, we need some realistic definitions. And using median income calculations is not realistic. It may be "relative," but that's not the same thing. Median income calculations are directly linked to a system that is patently unfair, and that innate flaw merely serves to perpetuate.

Median household income in Raleigh is $67,266 per year. 60% of that is just over $40,000. And that's "if" you can convince (or force) developers to dedicate 15% of their units to serve that lesser-income category of potential residents. A big "if." That would equate to $1,000 per month rent (or mortgage), for a small number of lucky(?) individuals.

If your first thought was, "I wish that's all I had to pay, Steve," you are probably missing my point entirely, and should go do something else with your time. It's that personal point of reference, that "relativity," that undermines every genuine effort to solve this problem (and many others). And it provides a false sense of accomplishment when nothing is actually accomplished.

The following will likely piss off more than a few readers, but I believe it needs to be said: The "Tiny Home" movement is not a panacea. Hell, it's not even a bandaid. Yes, it puts a (tiny) roof over the heads of a few score of single homeless people, but what about families? It does nothing for families. And while I have a great respect for Habitat For Humanity in NC, only some 8,000 structures have been built since 1983. That's about 210 homes per year. By contrast, close to a million children in NC live in poverty. In other words, as admirable as that effort is, it falls so short as to be negligible. At least as far as real solutions are concerned.

It's time we took this problem seriously, and recognized feel-good efforts for what they are. To be instead of seem. And stop finding reasons it can't be done.