Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


PROTECT LIFE. PASS THE ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN AND BETTER BACKGROUND CHECKS: They didn’t die because the school has too many doors (As Texas Senator Ted Cruz has claimed). They didn’t die because their teachers were not armed. They didn’t die because they were some place they shouldn’t be. They were where they were supposed to be and where they assumed was as safe as any place on the planet. They are dead because a person, protecting himself with body armor and ladened with weapons of mass destruction and ammunition he’d purchased just days earlier, entered a classroom and in just a few minutes blasted away at as many as he could. They are dead because some politicians are more fearful of campaign retribution from the well-financed gun lobby than they’re concerned about the safety of their constituents. Why is it such a struggle to pass common-sense laws that would require criminal checks on those who purchase firearms at gun shows and through the internet? Why is it such an onerous slog to pass legislation to lengthen the waiting period for gun-buyers who are flagged by instant background checks so law enforcement can do further investigation? The original assault weapons ban passed in 1994 after three mass shooting events occurred within six years. We have that many now every three weeks. It takes courage and conviction to serve the public, traits sorely lacking in the GOP these days.

NORTH CAROLINA GETS ITS OWN "DON'T SAY GAY" BILL, AND YES, IT'S AWFUL: The bill proposed by North Carolina Republicans would prohibit instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from being included in the curriculum in kindergarten through third grade. It also would likely result in the forced outing of LGBTQ students by requiring parents to be notified if a student chooses to change their pronouns, makes use of school counseling services or even just discusses matters related to their “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being” with a teacher or counselor. And it would allow parents to sue the school if they feel their parental rights have been violated — and schools would have to pay the court costs. Other “parental rights” enumerated in the bill include the right to object to textbooks and supplementary materials, the right to see which books their child checked out from the school library and more. Republicans don’t like that it’s being framed as another example of “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. At a press conference Tuesday, Senate leader Phil Berger insisted “there is no attempt to squelch folks from talking about things.” Students would still be allowed to ask questions about sexuality and gender identity, and teachers would be allowed to answer them. However, teachers would be expected to tell parents if that happens. “If my child asked a question about something like that, I think I would want to know about it,” Berger said. “And I think it would be incumbent upon the school to notify a parent that those are the kinds of inquiries that a child is making.” But it’s hard to see how their bill wouldn’t have the same effect. If a teacher has to report that a student asked about something, that does, in its own way, limit discussion. Students who know that such conversations will be reported to parents may feel that silence is the better option. Once again I am forced to remind people that, statistically speaking, home is the most dangerous place for children. 60% of sexual assaults of children occur in their own home or the home of a friend, and half of transgender individuals are sexually assaulted. 5 children in the U.S. die each and every day from domestic child abuse. Forcing teachers to inform parents of these sensitive conversations *will* result in more dead children, and that alone should scuttle this bill immediately.

THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST MORAL MELTDOWN: One woman, Jennifer Lyell, said she’d been sexually abused while a student at a Southern Baptist seminary. In an article, the church’s communications arm made it sound as if she were confessing to a consensual affair. Paige Patterson, then the head of one seminary, told one student not to report a rape, according to the report, and later, at another seminary, “emailed his intention to meet with another student who had reported an assault, with no other officials present, so he could ‘break her down.’” In 2007, a woman named Christa Brown had the courage to testify before Southern Baptist officials that her youth pastor had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was 16. She reported that one official turned his back, literally refusing to look at her, refusing to see her. That is the sort of dehumanization that creates indifference that enables rape, abuse and all the other horrific dehumanizing acts down the road. As social scientists have shown in one experiment after another, it’s very easy to get people to dehumanize each other. You divide people into in-groups and out-groups. You spread a tacit ideology that says women are less important than men or Black people are less important than white people. You use euphemistic language so that horrific acts can be abstracted into sanitized jargon. You tell a victimization story: We are under attack. They’re out to get us. They’re monsters. They deserve what they get. You tell a righteousness story: We do the Lord’s work. Our mission is vital. Anybody who interferes is a beast. Never been much of a David Brooks fan, but he nailed this one. Evangelicals get the whole good/evil thing wrong frequently, because they've lost the ability (if they ever had it) to find truth via critical thinking processes. If your faith gets "shaken," it's the Devil's work, not misplaced faith. That's how cults are born, and very often die.

LONG COVID IS A GROWING PROBLEM. MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE TO TREAT IT: A study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five people under 65 who had been infected with COVID experienced a health condition associated with long COVID. For people 65 and older, the incidence was one in four. Long COVID can create new ailments or aggravate preexisting ones, such as arthritis or heart issues. Symptoms include severe fatigue, shortness of breath, “brain fog” and depression, among other things. It can be debilitating. Joni White, a patient at the UNC clinic, recently told the News & Observer about what hit her weeks after she thought she had recovered from a COVID infection. “All of the sudden the brain fog and the fatigue, you know, the heaviness in the chest. I could not remember anything. I couldn’t add two plus two. It was just so many things,” she said. White, a Hillsborough resident, said this week that she feels well now, but her recovery took over a year. Despite such effects, the risk of long COVID – and it’s there even for the vaccinated and those who had mild or asymptomatic infections – is being largely ignored. Concerts, sporting events, restaurants and airplanes are packed and mask mandates are mostly gone. Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, said, “I think long COVID is not getting the attention it needs and the capacity we have to help people with this is limited. We need a really concise definition of what it is and what we can do to help people cope with things we don’t have a good treatment for.” So far, that’s not happening. The National Institutes of Health will spend $1.15 billion over the next four years to study the causes and treatments of long COVID, but the results of those trials are years away. Just the damage to the heart muscle alone will likely shorten the lives of Long COVID victims. Scary stuff.

CLICHÉS WON'T GET THE JOB DONE WHEN IT COMES TO AMERICA'S GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC: “Unspeakable.” This appears to a top platitude of choice for modern, gun-loving American politicians these days as they respond to each new horrific tragedy that the easy and widespread availability of mass killing machines visits on our society. That and “praying” for the families of the victims. This is from North Carolina Republican Congressman Dan Bishop – a politician who’s spent his career in office opposing commonsense gun regulations – responding to yesterday’s mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: “Unspeakable evil showed its face in Uvalde, TX today. Please join Jo and me in praying for the families who are grieving the tragic loss of a child or a loved one.” And then there was gun-loving Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who called it “another unspeakable crime.” Meanwhile, here’s Congressman Ted Budd – a man who made a living selling killing machines before becoming a politician: “Please join me in praying for the children and families involved in this horrific shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Words cannot express our grief over such an unspeakable act of evil.” The truth, however, is that there is nothing “unspeakable” – that is, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “incapable of being expressed in words” – about what happened yesterday. We know what happened, and tragically, that horrific truth is quite amenable to being spelled out in the English language. Simply put: A deeply disturbed person who should never have come close to possessing a firearm of any kind obtained at least two AR-15 style rifles along with hundreds of rounds of lethal ammunition and then used this small arsenal to systematically execute at least 21 innocent human beings in an elementary school classroom. There it is – no confusion or mystery about what happened. And the prayers? Please spare us. We hear this “prayer” nonsense from these same politicians each time the nation is forced to endure yet another mass, assault weapon murder and, as is made plain by the anguished faces of the parents who lost their fourth graders yesterday, it does absolutely no good whatsoever. These people don’t want your prayers. They want their babies back. Yeah, I am more than tired of this "prayer" nonsense. Aside from it being ineffective, it's just another personal accoutrement like a necktie or earring, that people wear to advertise their holiness. You want to pray? Go for it. But don't tell me about it, because that's just a piety in the face.


SONDRA STEIN: BAN THESE GUNS NOW: I am so tired of hearing about better background checks. As if the problem with gun violence is who has access to guns. No! The problem is the availability of guns. Banning all semi-automatic weapons (except in the military) will not interfere with anyone’s Second Amendment rights. It will not make it more difficult for people to defend themselves or their families. It will absolutely reduce the prevalence of these horrid mass shootings of innocents across our country. Let’s unite behind this simple demand of our state and federal elected officials: Ban semiautomatic weapons. All of them. Now. She's not wrong, especially considering how local law enforcement and courts are hesitant to report anything to the Federal government. A background check is only as good as the data that is shared, and that's woefully inadequate. That being said, background checks must be a part of the process, if not the silver bullet itself.

JEAN JONES: RAISE THE AGE TO BUY RIFLES: I sell guns almost daily in my job as a pawn sales associate. I own several handguns. When I was 18 people my age could buy beer and wine legally. That changed after drunk driving deaths rose. The age went up to 21. Today, I can’t sell a handgun to an 18-year-old but I can sell a high-powered rifle to an 18-year-old. This makes no sense. I believe all guns, rifles and handguns should only be sold to people 21 or older. People’s gun rights would not be taken away, but selling guns to people who are mature enough to have one would lead to a decrease in gun deaths. This alone would likely have stopped the Buffalo and Uvalde massacres. This should be the easy part, just do it.

MINDY OSHRAIN: BURR AND TILLIS HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS: Our senators have blood on their hands, the blood of children and teachers in Texas, shoppers in Buffalo, countless others. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis are owned by the NRA, receiving millions in blood money. They represent the gun lobby rather than the citizens of North Carolina — a majority of whom support commonsense gun laws to stop the killing of innocents. I am a psychiatrist; this is not about mental health, but the availability of guns. Republicans, keep your thoughts and prayers and your “pro-life” talk. Voters, you know what to do. We can't rely on Republican voters to do the right thing, they chose a gun-shop owner to run for Burr's seat. That leaves Dems and Unaffiliated voters, which is more than enough to take that seat.

LINDA JACOBY: STOP BEING COWARDS: I have a message is to every senator, representative and every governor in every state of the United States — and for every member of the U.S. Congress. You are cowards! You are being held hostage by the NRA. It’s time to put on your big boy or girl pants and do something constructive about gun control. How many more children, men and women must die because of your cowardly inaction? What she said.



Remember them all...

You'll see a lot of people trying to remind you what Memorial Day is all about, and it's good to be reminded. It's also good to celebrate the courage of those who are no longer with us, and whose sacrifices made such celebrations possible.

And you will also hear (or read) people say, "We will not forget." But here's the thing, you can't forget something you never knew. Thousands of members of our armed forces have died in covert actions, classified assignments, training accidents, etc. Some have died from illnesses they contracted while serving, and some 21 veterans take their own lives every day.

But I'll just tell you the story of one of those people. I won't use his name, because that's (probably) still classified. We'll just call him Cranky Old Bastard for narrative's sake. He was not a likeable person. It took me quite some time to warm up to him. Our first encounter came very close to violence, because he overheard me talking about a "rickety" Huey helicopter ride I had, and then he proceeded to tell me how many times he pulled dumbasses like me out of harm's way in Vietnam.

As irony would have it, a few months later I was tasked with teaching National Guard, Reserve, and foreign militaries how to conduct airmobile operations using rotary-wing aircraft. I knew the basics, but I needed more, so I asked COB a bunch of questions. At first he told me to...well, let's just say it was physically impossible, and leave it at that. When he realized I was genuinely interested, we had to clear off a table and get a sketch pad. Security perimeter for landing zones was a biggie, and when he explained the reason, I understood why he was always squirming in his seat. 7.62 in the ass will do that.

I put a lot of what I learned from COB in my training. Airmobile operations are inherently dangerous, because you've got multiple birds in the air flying in close formation, and they've got to get in and out with the quickness. Seasoned chopper pilots don't like doing it, even in training. But it's (by far) the best way to insert light infantry units where they need to go, so...

COB took off for an extended TDY in Central America, and while he was down there a soldier was shot in the chest by accident. Just one of those stupid things, troops had been slogging through the mountain woods for hours and somebody got clumsy. Chest wound, fairly nasty. When the radio call came in, it was raining like hell. Not ideal helicopter weather. But COB had flown in worse, many times, so he volunteered to medevac the guy out. That's just who he was. He was a CW4 who could have easily had somebody else (try to) do it, but COB knew he was that kid's best hope. Keep in mind, that injured troop was not "one of ours" (an American soldier), he was a no-rank, host-country soldier. That did not matter to COB, only that somebody desperately needed help.

And he got there, probably in time to save the guy's life. The last radio message from the chopper reported he was stable. But shortly after that, COB flew into the side of a mountain on the way back. Three tours in Vietnam, the last as a fresh new Warrant Officer flying UH1H helicopters. Thousands of flight hours, often under hostile fire. Then dead on a mountainside about six months before retirement.

There were only about 25 people at his funeral. It was not in the paper. COB was never in the paper. And towards the end of the service, four UH1H choppers flew right over our heads. And then one of them peeled off, flying directly into the setting sun. We watched it for several minutes, while the tears blurred our vision.

That's what Memorial Day is all about. Remembering those we knew, and those we didn't know.