Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BIDEN'S COMPASSION AND CONCERN REPLACED SELFISHNESS AND CYNICISM: It is a tough job, being president amid an unprecedented pandemic and working to restore decorum and trust in a degraded institution. The presidency had come more to resemble the dishonesty of trashy reality television than the world’s most powerful voice for democracy. For the last year Biden’s been devoted to doing the job of president -- not shirking obligations or shifting responsibility. In the first year, Biden’s accomplishments have set the nation on a positive path as well as established a strong trajectory for unmet priorities and new initiatives for the coming three years. Biden has demonstrated genuine empathy to the challenges Americans face and works to uplift them as they struggle to cope. It’s not been an easy task to right the meandering and misguided course of Donald Trump’s presidency. And it's the main reason why right-wingers hate him so much; the contrast highlights just how bad a President Trump was.

THE UNFETTERED HYPOCRISY OF DALLAS WOODHOUSE AND THE JOHN LOCKE FOUNDATION: Woodhouse, now a political analyst for the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal, wrote last week that Republican legislators want to push the North Carolina primary from May 17 into June. He said Republicans think they may need the extra time to redraw the maps if the state Supreme Court court rejects them. He was right. A bill that would move the primary date to June 7 was filed in the Senate on Monday. However, should the state Supreme Court, frustrated by the legislature’s failure to adequately correct the maps, take it upon itself to redraw the lines, Woodhouse wrote, “Some legislators are pushing their leadership for an aggressive response.” As for what that would be, he wrote, “Other than the power to impeach the justices, it is unclear what the General Assembly could do.” With that, Woodhouse raised a nuclear option for protecting the Republican maps. Under a 1868 state law, a vote by the House to impeach – only a simple majority is needed – would suspend the targeted justice or justices from voting until a Senate trial ends in a verdict. Republicans have already called for Justices Anita Earls and Sam Ervin, both Democrats, to recuse themselves from ruling on the district maps because of their alleged conflicts of interest. If Earls and Ervin were impeached and suspended pending trial, the court would then have a 3-2 Republican majority that could uphold a lower court’s ruling that the maps are legally drawn. Still fresh in our memory is the outrage evinced by JLF when plaintiffs wanted Junior Berger and Tamara Barringer to recuse themselves. Which they misharacterized as "removing" from the bench, every time they spoke of it. Impeachment actually would remove these Justices from the bench, which is now all-of-a-sudden a reasonable approach. Hyperbole is soon followed by Hypocrisy in the dictionary, too.

TAX DOLLARS SHOULDN'T BE SPENT LIKE LEGISLATORS' WALKING AROUND MONEY: Why would any legislators believe they’re empowered to dish out money as they decree? As many of these same legislators like to say when they’re cutting corporate taxes or appealing on the campaign trail – it’s not their money, it’s the people’s money. Yet, in recent weeks legislators have been dashing about their districts with oversized “checks” to present to favored organizations they’ve designated for special budget appropriations. The just-enacted budget includes more than 900 of these legislator-favored spending items amounting to more than $2 billion. Too often, these are organizations’ link to the funding granted isn’t simply the services they provide their communities but more their connections to politicians. Sometimes legislators serve on the boards of these organizations, the groups have designated the legislators to receive special recognition or there might be a family connection. What there isn’t is an objective, openly available, evaluation as to the appropriateness, background, effectiveness track record or examination of the leadership of these recipients of tax dollars. What is really going on here? Simply put, it is vote-buying with taxpayer dollars. Legislative leaders use these funds to get votes from some reluctant rank-and-file. Powerful legislators use the money to payoff supporters back home – or win support from others. They should change their mascot from an elephant to a hog, because this is pure pork.

DEMOCRACY IS IN CRISIS. THE FILIBUSTER IS BLOCKING A SOLUTION: Over the years, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina’s state legislature have advanced injurious legislation that curbs voting access in the name of “election integrity.” They have, on multiple occasions, passed suppressive voter ID laws and gerrymandered maps that rob some North Carolinians of their voice at the polls. And some have sowed distrust in our electoral processes by dispensing false claims about election fraud. With Republican-led state legislatures across the country ushering in new anti-voter laws and aggressively manipulated maps, Democrats in Congress have spent the better part of a year attempting to pass historic legislation aimed at expanding voting access and reducing voter suppression. The latest of those efforts, now combined into one bill titled the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act,” passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday and heads to the Senate, where it faces a significant obstacle: the filibuster. The bill could be transformative in a state like North Carolina, where politicians have tried to restrict the right to vote far more than they’ve tried to protect it. Legislation of this caliber is desperately needed to combat the assault Republicans are waging on voting rights and elections across the country. If passed, the bill would prohibit states from enacting laws that make voting harder. Unfortunately, it’s all but doomed under the current Senate rules, which require a 60-vote threshold, rather than a simple majority, to bring legislation to a vote. It’s become increasingly clear that voting protections are out of the question unless the rules are changed. This is the fifth attempt by Democrats to consider voting rights legislation in the Senate in the last year. Each time, Republicans — including North Carolina’s own U.S. senators — used the filibuster to block debate and prevent the bills from ever reaching the floor. “State legislators can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities. If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority,” President Joe Biden said in a speech Tuesday. We agree. Urgent moments call for urgent action. Republicans’ refusal to defend democracy has created this crisis. Congress must act to fix it. I wholeheartedly endorse this message.

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO TRADE INDIVIDUAL STOCKS: Americans don’t need a degree in law or finance to understand that there’s something fishy about members of Congress being allowed to trade individual stocks. Senators and representatives receive a substantial amount of information that the public does not, including details about how U.S. companies operate and how the government scrutinizes businesses. The fact that so much congressional stock trading goes on — with thousands of stocks traded each year by members of both parties — raises legitimate questions about whether lawmakers are using their access to that information to enrich themselves, rather than to serve the public. There’s a simple solution to restore trust: Ban trading of individual stocks by members of Congress, something that is gaining bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The wisdom of such a prohibition is obvious. A majority of Democratic, independent and Republican voters supports prohibiting lawmakers from trading stocks, a recent Morning Consult poll shows. It’s also widely supported by good governance groups and ethics experts, who point out that while current law forbids any American from trading on “insider information,” it’s very hard to prove someone did that, especially if that someone is a member of Congress who needs that information to make policy decisions. Last month, Ms. Pelosi stunned many, including this editorial board, when she defended congressional stock trading. She argued it’s enough that lawmakers have to disclosure their trades for the public to see. In reality, 54 members of Congress failed to disclose their trades on time in the past two years, according to an Insider investigation. It’s time to put a stop to this highly questionable behavior. If lawmakers want to play the market, they should select a different career path. To be honest, forcing them to only buy and sell mutual funds, which rarely hold more than a few percent of any specific company's shares, would actually benefit lawmakers more than punish them.


MARTHA SHAFER: WHAT IS WRONG WITH REPUBLICANS? Our three Republican county commissioners are misguided when it comes to their recent votes against a mask mandate for Guilford County. As Alan Perdue, Justin Conrad and man without a discernible spine, James Upchurch, blather on about how mild omicron is, my 97-year-old mother lay in an uncomfortable ER bed for more than 24 hours last week with a broken hip, waiting for admission to an orthopedic floor that was housing COVID rather than orthopedic patients. After surgery, she was discharged to a skilled-nursing facility to get the rehabilitation service she needs, but a COVID outbreak among staff has left her without needed care. She is suffering, and her recovery has been delayed. Friends with a small child have only had day care four days out of the last 30 due to COVID outbreaks among staff. How are parents supposed to work? How can society function like this? The impacts of omicron on the lives of Guilford County residents I know are anything but “mild.” I am thankful to the commissioners who voted for the mask mandate, knowing that they are doing what they can to help control this public health crisis. If the Republican commissioners can’t see the negative, real-world impacts right here in Guilford County, I wonder if they’re spending more time watching Fox News than listening to health experts or residents who are affected. You should consider yourself lucky you live in one of the few counties in NC that don't have an overwhelming majority of Republicans as County Commissioners. They can vote against masks, pleasing their twisted base, while knowing the Democratic majority will do the right thing.

DEBORAH BROGDEN: DON'T BLAME BIDEN FOR CONGRESSIONAL INACTION: Members of Congress and the Senate voice objections to just about any piece of legislation that comes across their desks. Compromise and friendliness across party lines are memories from the past. Yet, within this “No way” culture, Biden gets the blame for lack of progress or for fulfillment of campaign promises. The answer cannot always be resounding “no,” if new and needed legislation is to come about. Senator No and his many and like-minded siblings will get us nowhere. It’s frustrating also to think that I contribute via my tax payments to their salaries. I am an unhappy enabler supporting this do-nothing Congress. It's even more infuriating when I see Democrats blaming Biden, because he's not using his magic wand to fix things. Or something.

EVA PATTERSON HEATH: USE AND PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE: In America, we are taught that our democracy is based on the fact that all men are created equal and have certain inalienable rights. We pledge allegiance to the flag by saying “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yet today, we stand on the cusp of recreating an unequal, divided society defined by partisan congressional legislation and minority rule. If our government is “of the people, by the people” why then are elected legislators now trying to deprive some citizens of the right to vote which is a constitutional right. District lines are being gerrymandered to limit access to that right. If America is that shining beacon of democratic light for other nations to see, how can instigators of a blatant violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election continue to be allowed to lead? What message does this send to other groups who feel they are not pleased with how our government is run? Where is the justice for all? Coretta Scott King reminded us “the struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” It is time for this generation to realize the struggle is real and it is right now. Call your senators and demand that they vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act which addresses among other things discriminatory voting practices. Stand with the tax paying citizens of Washington, D.C., in their fight for statehood. Most importantly as American citizens, pay attention to how your elected officials represent you and be sure to exercise your right to vote at every level of government in order to form that more perfect union. What Eva said.



In defense of government...

I see it every day, both generalized and specific, criticisms about the acts of government. Or the lack of action. And when I see both of those expressed by a single individual, often followed by an exhortation that more people need to vote, the urge to scream comes bubbling to the surface.

Understand, I have been to places where democracy was struggling to be born; where people were, in many cases, afraid to vote. Afraid to voice their opinions. And some of these situations were actually created by those who attach themselves to our elected officials like leeches, dreaming of Empire and the personal wealth and prestige that would bring. But that didn't shake my faith in democracy, it made me more determined to see it properly administered.

When we levy blanket criticisms on "politicians," as if they are some sub-class of citizens who are inherently evil and corrupt, confidence in our electoral process suffers. It makes it much easier for would-be dictators like Trump to drum up support for the idea of overthrowing an elected government and replacing it with a populist demagogue.

He never intended to "drain the swamp," he saw the swamp for what it was, a hyperbolic construct of small-minded people who project their own irresponsibility onto others. They don't believe in public service, because they are only concerned with their own personal wants and desires. Ergo, politicians must be pursuing the same ends when they run for office.

Some are, but most aren't. You might ask how I arrived at that supposition, so I will tell you. In addition to researching and studying public policy in depth for some fifteen years or more, I've gotten to know many politicians. Hundreds. I've had discussions, debates, even heated arguments with them. By any reasonable measure, I am a politician. I've ran for office, and am currently sitting on a board and a commission. I consider myself a good judge of character, and if you shine me on, try to mask your true intent, my spidey sense tingles.

So I can safely say, shoving all these folks into the same corrupt basket is extremely inaccurate. It's downright lazy. But even worse is the effect that has on voter confidence. We try to skewer those who refuse to vote as being irresponsible, but what do you expect? We tell them (by our actions) that their vote doesn't matter, that corporations run everything and decide our future, and that they are virtually powerless compared to the wealthy. And then we wave a voter registration form in their face.

If you want to place blame for voter apathy, look in a mirror.