Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


FACE THE FACTS, OBEY THE COURT. ALL NC KIDS DESERVE A QUALITY EDUCATION: Only eight of the 51 items listed as related to the Comprehensive Plan received full funding and just 12 more got partial funding, according to the detailed accounting from the Budget Office. That means 31 of the initiatives that were supposed to be implemented over the next two years were ignored. No matter the view - looking at the number of programs recommended compared to those adopted or the resources needed to fully implement the order versus what was appropriated – the conclusion still comes out the same. North Carolina’s legislators failed the promise they made to uphold the state Constitution they all swore an oath to keep. It remains a mystery why the state’s legislative leaders have been so intractable in the refusal to obey the court’s order. It is not a question of resources – it’s estimated there’s $4.25 billion in unappropriated savings reserves in the budget that was passed – more than enough to fully implement the first two years of the plan. It's not that big of a mystery; NC's Republicans have waged a war on public schools for more than a decade, while bending over backwards to promote charters and (mostly religious) private schools. For them, failing public schools is a feature, not a flaw.

THE 2022 ELECTION COULD DECIDE THE FATE OF REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS IN NC: The “most important election of our lifetimes” seems to happen every other year. But with reproductive rights hanging in the balance, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the 2022 midterms. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling this summer on a Mississippi law that could overturn, or at least significantly weaken, the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Such a ruling could, in effect, give states the ability to decide whether to outlaw abortions, which could be catastrophic in states that have long sought to restrict it. Already, a number of state legislatures have passed anti-abortion laws of varying severity. States like Arizona and Florida have opted to ban abortion after 15 weeks, while Oklahoma passed a law that would eliminate it almost entirely. Despite the fragility of abortion rights in North Carolina, they appear to be safe — at least for now. That, however, is predicated on the assumption that Republicans will be unable to regain a veto-proof majority in the state legislature this year, which isn’t a sure bet. “It is clear that abortion is on the ballot, that this is the election that matters, and it’s arguably the most important election of our lifetime for those of us who care deeply about access to health care and safeguarding safe and legal abortion,” Paige Johnson, chief program officer for Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, told me. “Protecting access to abortion in North Carolina could mean protecting access to safe and legal abortion in the entire Southeast,” Johnson said. “When we look at states like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina that are poised to pass restrictions or outright bans on abortion, all roads lead to North Carolina for people to be able to seek safe and legal abortion.” See my comment below...

TRUITT MUST FOCUS ON QUALITY NC SCHOOLS, NOT HOT-BUTTON COLLEGE SPORTS ISSUES: “The rules intended to protect women’s sports are failing to do so and our daughters are the ones who are unfairly impacted. This isn’t right,” she said in comments about college swimming competition. What does North Carolina’s school superintendent have to do with collegiate athletics? Nothing. It’s just one of the hot-button issues pushed by her political patrons. There’s been near silence from Truitt when it comes to the most significant issue facing public education in the state today – and for the last quarter century. That of course is implementation of the N.C. Supreme Court’s order to obey the state Constitution’s mandate to provide every child with access to a quality education. Where do you stand, Superintendent Truitt? How are you displaying the advocacy and independence anticipated by the Republicans who wrote state’s Constitution? How are you upholding their call for a quality public education for every child? The framers of our state Constitution, 158 years ago, wanted an independent voice for public schools. There are plenty of politicians pushing the hot button issues – but way too few willing to take a stand to make sure every child has access to a quality education. She was complaining about a Pennsylvania swimmer, by the way. If you're going to push a hot-button, at least make sure it's geographically relevant, FFS.

JOSH STEIN: HERE IS OUR CHANCE TO TURN THE TIDE ON THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC: More than 20,000 North Carolinians have lost their lives to opioid overdoses. Still more are struggling with the disease of addiction, and many thousands more live in fear that they will lose someone they love. The morphine molecule has left a trail of death, destruction, and damaged families and communities in its wake all across our state. After years of reading horrible statistics and devastating stories, help is on the way. I am so proud that my office led the bi-partisan, multi-state negotiations with the four major companies responsible for manufacturing and distributing opioids – Cardinal, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Johnson & Johnson. These companies made billions of dollars while millions of Americans got hooked on opioids. Too many people are mourning their loved ones and too many jails are filled with people addicted to opioids. We achieved a historic $26 billion agreement that will distribute relief to state and local governments around the nation. North Carolina will receive $750 million, most of which will go straight to county governments to make a difference where it is needed the most. Now is the time for Richmond County to work with its local leaders and residents to decide on proven, effective strategies to address the opioid epidemic. This settlement money represents a transformative tool in our fight against the opioid epidemic. The deal requires funds to go directly to strategies to attack the crisis. It also requires the companies to fundamentally change their business practices to ensure something like this never happens again. As a result of the national opioid settlement and the programs it will fund, I am certain that there will be people alive in North Carolina a year from now who otherwise wouldn’t be. In sum, this settlement brings much-needed hope to every corner of our state. Thank you, sir. Too often the human cost of this is overlooked due to the nature of the problem, and the victims. But it affects every family, regardless of where on the socioeconomic ladder they are perched.

UKRAINE WAR SHOWS UNITED NATIONS' STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had strong words for the United Nations on Tuesday. Speaking via remote video conference to the Security Council a day after he visited the scene of Russian atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv, Mr. Zelensky depicted Moscow’s war against his country as a failure of the entire U.N. system. “It is obvious that the key institution of the world designed to combat aggression and ensure peace cannot work effectively,” he said. And Mr. Zelensky certainly had a point: Through resolutions that have the character of international law, the Security Council is supposed to be able to deter and punish clear-cut violations of the U.N. charter, such as the invasion of Ukraine that began Feb. 24. This has proved impossible, however, since the invader — Russia — is one of five nations empowered with a Security Council veto. Catch-22. Does this evident failure support Mr. Zelensky’s broader indictment of the U.N. system? Yes and no. Plainly, obstruction by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representatives on the Security Council has prevented globally enforceable economic sanctions against Moscow, like those imposed on Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and on Iran for unlawful nuclear weapons development in 2006. It is even less conceivable that the council would authorize the use of force to stop Russia, as it did in response to North Korean aggression against South Korea in 1950, or Iraqi aggression against Kuwait in 1990. This is not a new problem, however; as the North Korea and Iraq exceptions prove, the historical rule is that great-power rivalry prevents Security Council consensus. Other features of the U.N. system nevertheless retain some usefulness, as the current crisis has shown. The first is the charter itself, which, even if not strictly enforced due to the Russian veto, provided Ukraine with an irrefutable legal standard of aggression around which to rally domestic and international support. That norm became the basis of a General Assembly resolution, supported by 141 nations, deploring the Russian attack, defining it, albeit nonbindingly, as illegal aggression, and demanding its cessation. The United Nations has an internationally selected permanent staff, whose titular head — Secretary General António Guterres — has added his voice and prestige to condemnations of Russia’s conduct. The UN may be hamstrung in its ability to forcefully deter Russian aggression, but it is ethically bound to investigate human rights abuses. A failure to do that would undermine that body's core function, and its very existence, in the process.


KAREN WIEBE: THIS IS WHAT A DEMOCRACY SHOULD BE DOING: In his April 7 Opinion column, Leonard Pitts wrote clearly and succinctly about the “stealth coup” against our democracy. I agree that a democratic government must answer to the people. So may we consider these improvements? How about feeding our citizenry, respecting our teachers and each other, cleaning up our environments, making voting and paying taxes fair and easy, caring for the mentally and physically challenged, regulating pharmaceutical and insurance industries and reforming and simplifying our health care system. And just perhaps, making our elections less of an embarrassing spectacle by shortening the season and limiting spending. I would also add: making sure we don't incarcerate people who can't afford to compete in our increasingly expensive criminal justice system. You shouldn't have to buy your freedom.

LYNN MITCHELL KOHN: TIME TO KICK THE FOSSIL FUEL HABIT: Much attention has been paid to the effect the war in Ukraine has had on energy supplies, especially access to Russian oil and gas. Predictably there have been calls to pump and drill more. Less attention has been paid to the way the war presents yet more reasons to end our dependence on fossil fuels. If dire warnings from scientists and the UN that time is running out and increasingly frequent extreme weather events aren’t enough reason to transition to renewables, there is the realization that money from oil and gas helps tyrants like Vladimir Putin stay in power. Our oil and gas addiction makes us hostage to the whims of autocrats and vulnerable to conflicts happening far away in dangerously volatile parts of the world. It is time to kick the habit. This problem is even more acute in the developing world, where governments are being toppled because they can't protect their citizens from runaway inflation and skyrocketing energy bills. Clean, renewable energy is the only way forward.

BILL DOLBOW: STOP DUKE ENERGY FROM STIFLING RESIDENTIAL SOLAR: Duke Energy is proposing changes to net metering, which allows homes with solar panels to send excess electricity they produce to the grid, thus providing a cheap, clean source of energy. It also allows these homes to “bank” extra electricity for months when they don’t produce enough. Unfortunately Duke is proposing disincentives to this arrangement. We need an electrical power company that will encourage people to install solar panels. This will provide more jobs for solar installers and help mitigate the effects of climate change. Future generations deserve a cleaner world that will have fewer weather conditions, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, and also stem rising sea levels. I will freely admit, I have spent much more time pushing Solar farms than residential Solar installations, because of the sheer volume of energy involved. But both are critical in replacing coal and gas.



Preservation as progress

I often find myself frustrated by the positions taken by many in the Progressive movement, of which I consider myself a member. I have been (rightly) accused of being an Incrementalist, and you'll notice I capitalized that to stress the insulting quality that has been attributed to that classification. And I will freely admit that, being a white male, I may not be as sensitive to the need for change as others who directly suffer when that change moves slowly. Granted. But logic dictates that both progress and regress need to be considered in this formula, especially in how we apply our energies.

Before I confuse you more, let's look at a logical disconnect that might help clarify the above. A common complaint from Progressives is that incremental change is easier to "roll back" than massive change. But when it comes to opposing such regressive moves, many Progressives are awol. Why waste their energy preserving such "lukewarm" progress? We should have done more in the first place! Thus it becomes a self-perpetuating problem.

In mathematics, Zero is not the lowest number. The same goes for public policy. Back in early 2020 I was discussing General Assembly races with a couple of folks, and when I was asked if we could win back the majority, I said something along the lines of, "It's possible, but not likely." To which one person replied, "Then what's the point?" I was halfway through explaining how important preserving the Governor's Veto power was when I noticed the look of distaste/contempt on his face. Like somebody had farted in an elevator. And a brief summary of what that Veto had prevented had zero effect. He eventually stated something I have heard from others:

"I don't care what Republicans want to do, they are idiots."

Astounding. And not in a good way. Politics aren't sports. They have a very real impact on the lives of people, families, children. Those whom society has marginalized. Rights that are taken for granted are soon lost, like the right of women to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.

Preserving those rights is every bit as important as securing them in the first place, and well-deserving of your energy. Don't let your desire for "big" change make you blind to the dangers of regression. Progress is a constant struggle to keep what we have gained while also striving for new gains. Climbing a hill requires both reaching for more and a healthy respect for gravity, if you want to reach the top.

Excellent advice

We have big challenges and I don't see a lot of clear thinking about how to approach them. Instead of a messaging and policy platform filled with "stunning integrity," we see the same old tired talking points that fall on deaf ears again and again and again.

I'm not talking about radical policies, I'm talking about practical policies. Things that most people want to see done. We know what those things are, but we continue to talk about them with political double-speak and equivocation.

What are those practical policies we need?

1. Schools that work, led by teachers who are free to do their jobs.
2. Free and fair elections, where people who want to vote can vote.
3. The freedom to be left alone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or religion.
4. The freedom to smoke pot.
5. The freedom to make our own decisions about our own lives and our own bodies.

We have to reclaim freedom, and there's not much time left.