Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


ON MEDICAID EXPANSION, LET OUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES VOTE: In the North Carolina House of Representatives it takes 61 votes to pass a state budget bill – assuming all 120 members are present and voting. It takes the same number of votes to amend such a bill, say to add an item, delete an item or to increase or decrease the amount of spending on any provision. There is nothing in the law or rules of the House that say it requires a certain number of Democrats or Republicans to make up those 61 votes. That may be somewhat of a surprise to House Speaker Tim Moore, who says he won’t allow a vote on getting Medicaid expansion. Moore says his Republican Party caucus won’t support expansion. In a Tweet last week, Gov. Roy Cooper termed Moore’s reasoning a bit differently. “The speaker could not get enough Republican House members to support it,” Cooper said. Now, there are 69 Republicans and 51 Democrats in the state House. Does anyone, right now, know just how many of those Republicans and Democrats are supporting Medicaid Expansion? Let’s do something that is supposed to happen in a REAL democracy. How about letting the people North Carolinians elected to represent them stand up and be counted. Let them vote on Medicaid expansion. Reading the bitter tea leaves of our Orwellian GOP leaders leads me to one conclusion: there actually *are* enough Republican votes to reach that 61 vote margin, which is why Moore doesn't want them to vote on Medicaid expansion. That is not democracy, it's oligarchy; being governed by a handful of elites. Calling it anything else is merely lipstick on a pig.

WHAT NC MUST DO TO REDUCE GUN VIOLENCE, DEATHS OF CHILDREN: Gun violence is tearing families and communities apart throughout North Carolina. And 2020 was our state’s most violent year since 1999. Gun deaths, excluding suicides, rose by 31% in 2020 over 2019. According to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics, child firearm deaths rose from 56 to 105 last year, an 88% increase. The number of N.C. youth who have taken their own lives with a gun doubled from 2008 to 2018. Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs focus on individuals at the highest risk of violence, and employ intervention strategies to reduce retaliation and violence. Maintaining North Carolina’s Pistol Purchase Permit law is also critical. Indeed, our gun violence epidemic would be worse without pistol permitting. It is a proven, effective gun violence prevention law. When Missouri repealed its law in 2007, the state’s firearm homicide rate increased 47% from 2008 to 2016. The firearm suicide rate increased 24%. Yet, our General Assembly passed a bill that would repeal our Pistol Purchase Permitting system. Thankfully Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it. We call on all lawmakers to uphold the veto. Finally, we need to promote the safe storage of firearms to prevent child accidental shootings and suicides. According to the N.C. State Center for Health Statistics, before the pandemic one in three parents owned a gun and one in four of those guns were unsecured. I just had a conversation with a family member over this, when a "sock drawer" handgun was mentioned in passing. Yes, children are frequently in the house. "Does it at least have a trigger lock?" "Not sure." "Find out." And of course the issue of "easy access" came up, which goes to the core of the problem. People worry that if it takes them too long to be ready to fire, the theoretical house intruder will get the draw on them. But that "easy access" goes the other way, too. An 8 year-old can grab it and shoot before you can say, "Are you back there in my bedroom?" Lock it up, before it's too late.

LEANDRO, A QUARTER-CENTURY OF BICKERING: Burley Mitchell says he now knows how justices on the U.S. Supreme Court felt when Southern states dragged their feet on school desegregation after the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Mitchell, as Chief Justice, authored the N.C. Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in the Leandro case, which found the state did not provide enough funds to guarantee every student an opportunity to receive a sound basic education, as the state Constitution requires. Twenty-four years after that decision, we’re still arguing about it. And the state still hasn’t stepped up. “The State has not met this challenge and, therefore, has not met its constitutional obligation to the children of North Carolina,” Superior Court Judge David Lee wrote last week. “The orders of our Supreme Court are not advisory. This Court can no longer ignore the State’s constitutional violation.” The plan endorsed by all parties in the case found that when adjusted for inflation, state spending per K-12 pupil in North Carolina had declined 6% since 2010 and ranked 6th-lowest in the nation by 2018. That’s shameful. This state is clearly underfunding K-12 public education. With a $6.5 billion budget surplus over the next two years, North Carolina has the money. We don’t care whether the legislature or courts spend it. The truth is, Republicans don't want public schools to succeed, for a couple of different reasons. First and foremost, a well-educated population is much harder to rule than an ignorant one. This is why dictators round up the teachers first when they take over. And secondly, Republicans are infatuated with the idea of the private sector running our schools. Whether it's for-profit private schools or board-ran charters, religion and personal wealth are in the forefront, not academic qualifications. The White Male Patriarchy thrives in that environment.

KYLE RITTENHOUSE VERDICT DOES NOT MEAN HE'S MORALLY INNOCENT: Prosecutor Thomas Binger said in his closing argument at Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial: “You can’t claim self-defense for a danger that you create.” It turns out you can, at least in Wisconsin. But just because the 18-year-old was found not guilty on all five charges he faced does not mean he is morally innocent. Rittenhouse showed no contrition or remorse for taking the lives of two other human beings or seriously wounding a third. He broke down sobbing during his testimony, not because of what he did but because of the danger he said he felt. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rittenhouse testified. But of course he did. Rittenhouse had no business owning or possessing his Smith & Wesson M&P 15 or being in Kenosha, Wis., that night. A friend bought the gun, which Rittenhouse paid for using a government stimulus check, because he was too young to purchase the assault rifle. The rifle gave the boy — and that’s what he was last year — unearned swagger. Wisconsin is an “open carry” state, but his behavior was needlessly provocative. Rittenhouse crossed state lines from his home in Illinois and foolishly put himself in harm’s way. He was the only person to pull a trigger that night. Schroeder blocked prosecutors from introducing three pieces of evidence that illustrated the trigger-happy defendant’s propensity for violence. A video recorded 15 days before the bloodshed in Kenosha shows Rittenhouse lamenting that he didn’t have his gun as he watched what he believed were shoplifters exiting a CVS store. “Bro, I wish I had my [expletive] AR,” he says. “I’d start shooting rounds at them.” Second, Rittenhouse appeared in January with members of the Proud Boys, a group that embraces political violence. Third, the judge wouldn’t allow the prosecution to introduce evidence showing that Rittenhouse attacked a woman in June 2020 as she was fighting his sister. The judge ruled that none of this was relevant to what happened the night of the shootings. The jury should have gotten the chance to decide for themselves whether Rittenhouse’s state of mind meant he was looking for trouble. I agree, but this judge plainly wanted the blubbering tears to drive the jury's decision, not the reality of this dude's bent philosophy. He should be summarily removed from the bench for judicial misconduct, and sent to Australia to hang out with the other kangaroos.

MY SKIN COLOR SHOULD NOT PREVENT ME FROM ATTENDING THE TRIAL OF AHMAUD ARBERY'S KILLERS: When Ahmaud Arbery’s parents reached out to invite me to attend the trial of the men who chased and killed their unarmed son in Brunswick, Ga., I agreed to come because I am a pastor. For 30 years, I have walked and prayed with people in hospitals and courthouses, on picket lines and in jail cells. I pastor a congregation in eastern North Carolina, but I am also ordained as a bishop to minister among those who hunger and thirst for justice in this world. I joined the Arbery family in Brunswick, prayed with Ahmaud’s niece and nephews at the courthouse, and joined a multiracial march for justice because this is the work God has called me to do. But after my visit to the courthouse last week, defense attorney Kevin Gough asked Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to bar any more “Black pastors” from attending the trial. In an argument the judge said he found “reprehensible,” Gough asserted that the presence in the courtroom of Black pastors such as the Rev. Al Sharpton could be “intimidating” to jurors. Sharpton had been in court with the Arbery family the day before I was there. Gough subsequently apologized “to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended” by his comments. But when the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended the trial on Monday, Gough reiterated his objection, emphasizing again his concern about “Black pastors.” “Which pastor is next?” he asked. I don’t think Gough’s objection is about me or any of the other clergy who have been at this trial; rather, it cuts to the heart of a dangerous mind-set in our society. However much we may want to believe that racism is the ignorance of a bygone era, perpetuated only by the few who say the “n-word" or maintain hatred toward others, white supremacy has always been an unjust order that people either consider it their duty to defend or dismantle. Though slavery is in our past, the racial order it created is not. Black Lives Matter has pointed to continued racial disparity in policing, but the inequities we have inherited are everywhere in our society. Racism means Black people in the United States are twice as likely as their White neighbors to die of covid-19. It translates into persistent racial disparities in income, wealth, health outcomes, education and exposure to environmental hazards. When those who challenge these inequities are called dangerous or “intimidating,” to use Gough’s word, the old lies of racism are repeated. As usual, Bishop Barber is correct. There are no "neutral" observers in the war against White Supremacy. Pick a side, and proudly defend it. If you can't bring yourself to defend White Supremacy, then you must actively oppose it.


DANA SARGENT: TIME TO CRACK DOWN ON FOREVER CHEMICALS: The EPA released a major assessment Oct. 25 of the forever chemical known as GenX, confirming the substance is far more dangerous to human health than industry and state regulators have been willing to admit. The EPA’s toxicity assessment pointed to a variety of adverse health impacts to animals exposed to GenX, including links to cancer and problems with the liver, kidneys, immune system and development. The level of exposure needed to trigger adverse impacts is 26 times lower than levels regulators expected. GenX must be viewed as the tip of the iceberg. It is just one of a family of thousands of lesser-known compounds whose health and environmental impacts may be as severe or worse. What’s more, most people are exposed to several PFAS compounds at a time. Rather than taking a whack-a-mole approach to regulating these compounds, state regulators must curb our exposure to all PFAS. The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality must use its authority to end forever chemical pollution at the source. Understand, GenX was developed because DuPont poisoned several communities in West Virginia and Ohio, and they needed a slightly different "compound" so they could start all over again. The Chemical Lobby has been wildly successful in ensuring that these new compounds escape review on toxicity, so they can make their profits and avoid costly best practices in handling. We can give them the benefit of the doubt no longer.

SONDRA STEIN: THE GOP IS DESTROYING PUBLIC EDUCATION: Reading the N&O’s special section on public education was heartbreaking. The Republicans who’ve controlled the N.C. General Assembly for the last 10 years have been successful at destroying our public education system. They have starved the system and transferred money out of it to support charter schools and scholarships for parents who want to put their children in religious schools. They also ended a model program aimed at bringing more young people into the teaching profession. They did away with funding for teaching assistants and refused to add money for nurses and social workers. Then, they say our public school system is inadequate. Seems to me their refusal to invest in our schools made them inadequate. And unsafe — since Republicans legislators have refused to invest in capital expenditures too. Our early leaders understood how important education was to building and maintaining a democratic form of government. It’s time that the Republicans stopped dismantling our public institutions and fought for what’s best for all of us — starting with well-funded, well-resourced public schools. They don't care about *all* children, they only care about a sub-set, the wealthy white ones.

ADDISON BRITT: THE DANGERS OF GROWING UP FEMALE: It is hard growing up as a female in America, related to sexual/sexist harassment and assault — including the remarks made in a woman’s work place. The impact this has made on our women and female minors has caused us to be scared to step foot out of our own homes. This has also caused us to sometimes accept the sexual abuse when they are in relationships and we recognize this as love including the domestic violence we can endure in relationships. We often remain quiet and unspoken. Female injustice in America is by far in itself one of the most overlooked concepts in our country right now. What we wear is often an excuse for a male to cover for their actions. Consider the March 28, 2016 incident when a 1-year-old-baby girl in Indiana is raped and smothered to death by a family friend. Every 2 minutes a woman/female minor is being assaulted or raped in America; 22% of victims were younger than 12; 32% were between 12-17 years of age; 43% were lesbian or bisexual; 34% native or foreign woman; 19% being African American women; 18% white women; 7% Asian American. And what’s worse is 83% being disabled women. Women are taught that boys will be boys. Watch how you dress yourself, don’t be tempting, and differently don’t walk in that neighborhood. So as you can see a woman can simply not just go about her day. Our clothes at school are to be fingertip length or below the knee, shoulders are to be covered, and Lord help every guy at school if he sees a little bit of skin. Oh, and the holes in your jeans make sure they are close to your knee length otherwise it is definitely inappropriate. We need to teach our upcoming generations self control and respect which a lot of our men and younger male adults lack. At you will find the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization that helps victims, fights for justice and provides support. There also is a hot-line for active victims. As a young woman who deeply understands this subject, I say it will never be too late to come forward and there will be service and justice provided for us may it be one day at a time. I'm glad to see a high school girl speak out like this, but it also breaks my heart that she has to do so.



No Fear? We should be so lucky...

Let's start with this truism:

As a friend noted, it is a vicious cycle. While there is a place for fear in our psychological makeup (it's supposed to keep us from doing stupid, dangerous stuff), misplaced fear can actually expose us to danger. A preoccupation with unlikely scenarios can blind us to what is actually taking place right under our noses.

Case in point: You are much more likely to be shot by a family member or acquaintance than you are a stranger. It may be accidental or on purpose, but keeping a firearm in your home increases your risk of homicide threefold, and it increases the risk of suicide among teens four times than in homes without firearms. I know many reading this are probably not affected, because they refrain from firearm ownership.

But recent events may change that. Or at least some of the comments I'm seeing lead me to believe that might change. The aura of Kyle Rittenhouse's not guilty verdict is hanging over all of us, as is the likelihood of increased vigilantism in the wake of it. It's only natural for fear to emerge under these circumstances, causing the unthinkable to be contemplated.

But that fear doesn't change the basic facts re the safety of your family. They (and you) are much safer in the absence of deadly firearms, either in your home or on your person. If you doubt that, just do some research. Especially before you make that purchase. Because once that happens, that gun becomes a liability that you simply cannot ignore.

But let's get back to fear itself, the emotional condition. It often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety, in either an acute or generalized sense. It's not abnormal, until it becomes so. Our brains don't always function in the healthiest fashion, and they can freely supply us with all the information we need to cycle up into an extremely agitated state. And of course that can filter new information, and channel it to reinforcing already existing anxiety.

That is unhealthy enough on its own, but it also thwarts our decision-making processes. Things we should do to ensure our safety and prosperity are often sidelined, and replaced by things we should probably not do. Like buy a gun. Which of course will only increase our anxiety, but that realization has been sidelined. And the cycle continues.

I don't have a cure for that. I'm not sure if there is a cure. But being aware of it can only help.