Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


INCREASE VOTING ACCESS AND MAKE POLLING PLACES SAFE FOR VOTERS AND WORKERS: When it comes to keeping voting in North Carolina accessible and secure the state’s Republicans seem to be saying one thing and then doing another. They say they want voting accessible, the rules and procedures open and transparent and polling places to be secure. But then they block regulations and file lawsuits that limit voters’ opportunities to cast ballots and would actually make polling places less secure. Rather than acting to give voters more faith in the electoral process, these actions breed confusion and mistrust. These contradictions vividly came into focus recently – first at a non-partisan session of the N.C. Trusted Elections tour in Smithfield and a few days later in a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court by the state and national Republican parties. What is achieved by a baseless legal action that actually seeks to breed distrust and plant doubts about the conduct of the election? What is achieved is a continuation of the dangerous false narrative that Trump created to explain his defeat, in an effort to inspire harassment and belligerence targeting poll workers and minority voters. They should be ashamed, but they don't have the capacity.

HOW RIGHT-WING EXTREMISM HAS SHAPED NC AND ITS POLITICS: North Carolina has 28 hate groups monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — a relatively high number per capita, but not as striking as the disproportionate number in sparsely populated, largely rural states like Wyoming and New Hampshire. Some politicians in North Carolina are tied to extremism directly. Last year, an Oath Keepers internal roster listed state representatives Mike Clampitt and Keith Kidwell as members. U.S. Senate candidate Ted Budd welcomed an endorsement from Gun Owners of America, despite their extreme views on gun ownership. But not all extremists are affiliated with a particular group, and extremist rhetoric is creeping into the mainstream. In some ways, the recent uptick in right-wing extremism — and the failure of politicians to condemn the rhetoric and actions on their side — falls perfectly in line with previous reactions to progress. The rightward extremist tilt of North Carolina’s political scope dates back decades. While the Klu Klux Klan lost momentum after the Civil Rights era, the group maintained a presence into the 1980s in North Carolina. In 1985, the National Anti-Klan Network said North Carolina had one of the most active Klans in the United States and suggested there were about 1,500 Klansmen in the state. In recent years, Republican leaders often have failed to condemn right-wing extremism in North Carolina. In 2015, then-governor Pat McCrory and the General Assembly passed a law banning the removal of Confederate monuments. It was in response to protests surrounding Silent Sam, the memorial at UNC-Chapel Hill that was a source of controversy for the entirety of its time on campus. Naturally, this led to more protests from anti-fascist students, which then led to more neo-Confederate counter-protesters. The same groups were energized in response to the Black Lives Matter protests two years ago. “(Neo-Confederates) were activated in the summer of 2020 because there were a lot of counties and counties taking down Confederate monuments, and then that folded into Trumpism during the election, and then has gotten again swept up into these other larger national trends,” Jordan Green, an extremism reporter for Raw Story and co-founder of the alt-weekly Triad City Beat, told me. Some groups would prefer no government whatsoever. This sentiment is common among militias, from national organizations like the Oath Keepers to local groups like the Stokes County militia. While they have existed for decades, they have become more visible in the last two years. In 2021, a story from The Nation described how a Richmond County militia training ground was affecting residents in a nearby, majority-Black town. When you see only 10-15 outspoken nut-jobs gathered at a particular rally (Graham, NC or Silent Sam), it's tempting to write them off. But don't forget Charlottesville, or the Jan 6 Insurrection. If they know something's going to be well-attended, the rats will swarm, and people will die because of it.

5 ACTIONS TO TAKE NOW FOR OUR KIDS, TEACHERS, AND SCHOOLS: End the Teacher Pay Penalty: Raise base teacher pay by 24.5% -- That is the difference when you compare teacher salaries to non-teacher college graduates (EPI, 2022). We should address this immediately to support current and future teachers. For a beginning teacher, this would increase pay from $37,000 to $46,065. It would move NC from being in the bottom 10 to the top 20 states in terms of beginning teacher pay. It would make us #1 in the South and help to reduce the flow of NC teachers to other states, and ideally attract teachers to NC (NEA, 2022). Reinstate Masters Pay for Educators: To honor the advanced degrees earned by teachers and staff and reward professional growth, typical in other fields, states, and districts. Most school systems across the country recognize the value of advanced degrees with supplemental pay. Reinstating Masters Pay would be a simple way to both strengthen the teaching profession and boost educator morale. Create Incentives for the most experienced teachers to Stay in the Classroom: Florida has long had the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which allows teachers, to declare that they are in the program upon retirement time, have their retirement benefits go into a Trust that earns interest, continue to teach or work and receive their salary, and receive a lump sum from the Trust upon retirement (typically at 5 years after entering the program). This keeps many very effective educators in the field for longer. For educators and staff who have already retired, the limitations on returning to work in our public schools could be lifted to support schools and students. These individuals are typically certified and experienced. Improve A-F School Grading Scale: Elected officials, regardless of party label, and education organizations say the formula for calculating A-F School Grades must be changed. They recognize the importance of student growth as a larger part of the measurement. The current A-F School Performance Grades are more indicative of the percentage of students living in poverty than a measure of student learning. Revising the formula, for example to reflect 80% growth and 20% proficiency or even 50% growth and 50% proficiency, would be a simple and long overdue fix that would make a significant impact. Eliminate PRAXIS Core as a Requirement for Teacher Licensure: While there is significant work going on through the State Board of Education and PEPSC to revamp the teacher licensure pathways, we can make some changes now. PRAXIS Core is a standardized test that does not correlate to teacher effectiveness. Yet, it often keeps high quality educators from entering the profession. We can eliminate this requirement now and reduce a barrier to entry without sacrificing our high standards for the teaching profession. These are not so much "benefits" for teachers as they are investments in the state's future. If you want businesses to relocate or emerge here, a dynamic workforce is required. It ain't rocket surgery.

THE TRUMP-APPOINTED JUDGE DELIVERS THE GOODS FOR HER PATRON: No one is above the law, we once comforted ourselves. Even if Trump could not be indicted while he was president because of a (questionable) Justice Department policy, he would certainly face full accountability after he left office. He would be treated just like everyone else. Nope, said Cannon. Trump is still special. He has rights no one else has because he is an ex-president. She said so right out. “Based on the nature of this action,” Cannon wrote, “the principles of equity require the Court to consider the specific context at issue, and that consideration is inherently impacted by the position formerly held by Plaintiff.” Meaning that, even if no other American would enjoy the right to have a special master examine secret and top secret documents that any of the rest of us would likely be indicted for possessing, Trump is “inherently” above us. This is a ruling tailored for one man, which is not supposed to happen in a free society. Making matters worse, the judge said she had no way of assessing the government’s well-grounded claims that some of the documents in question “are classified government records,” even though Trump presented no evidence refuting them. Trump’s assertions that, like a high priest, he magically declassified everything with a virtual wave of his hand are for talk shows, not a legal proceeding. Trump, in any event, should not have possessed documents that are the government’s property, not his. From her first ruling earlier this month, Cannon’s judgments have been described by respected outsiders with words such as “unprecedented,” “untenable,” “radical,” “oblivious,” “deeply problematic” and “stupid.” And also “wrong” and “deeply flawed.” Those last two characterizations came from Trump’s former attorney general, William P. Barr, whose own efforts to protect the president could lead to congressional scrutiny. Maybe the 11th Circuit — even some in its majority named by Trump — will decide that Cannon’s ruling is too much of an embarrassment. Maybe Raymond Dearie, the special master she appointed, will save the day, allowing her to retreat. But Cannon has already shown why there is reason to shudder whenever we hear the words “Trump-appointed judge.” This is also known as Juristocracy. See my comment below...

THE WORLD'S ICE IS MELTING. HUMANITY MUST PREPARE FOR THE CONSEQUENCES: As this month’s unseasonably high temperatures drove unprecedented melting of the Greenland ice sheet, experts delivered a chilling message: Get used to it. Massive stores of ice sit atop land in Greenland and Antarctica, and if even a small fraction melted into the oceans, sea levels would rise dramatically. Scientists are still figuring out how fast this might happen. But new research leaves little room for optimism. Over the course of this century, countless millions of people will have to reckon with rising seas. There are few easy answers, but humanity must — with urgency — prepare now. In a new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers estimated that Greenland’s “zombie ice” — immense chunks destined to melt because of the changes that have already occurred — will boost sea levels by nearly a foot. The scientists calculate that some 3.3 percent of the island’s ice sheet is bound to disappear into the oceans, much of that over the course of this century, which equates to 110 trillion tons of ice. These estimates, based on direct observations of Greenland, are more pessimistic than previous projections, which relied on computer modeling. According to the researchers, their new estimates represent the minimum that could happen if global warming were to continue. These estimates do not take into account melting occurring in other areas, particularly Antarctica — and news from scientists on that end of the world, announced this month, was not good. A study published in Nature Geoscience revealed harrowing new details about Antarctica’s gigantic Thwaites Glacier — a frozen, Florida-size expanse also known as the “doomsday glacier” because its collapse could raise sea levels by 3 to 10 feet. Scientists are still figuring out how the glacier will respond to global warming. So researchers used an underwater robotic vehicle to map how the ice behaved when it encountered different sorts of circumstances in the past, particularly where it interacts with the seabed on which it is anchored. They found evidence that the ice responds quickly to adverse conditions, suggesting that “pulses of rapid retreat are likely to occur in the near future.” “Thwaites is really holding on today by its fingernails,” said the British Antarctic Survey’s Robert D. Larter, one of the co-authors. Smart planning is essential. State and local governments should impose building codes that account for ever-increasing flood risk, as Houston did after Hurricane Harvey flooded the city in 2017. Meanwhile, government at all levels should refuse to subsidize risky waterside development, such as by providing favorable flood insurance rates for flood-prone areas. A recent reform to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program brought premiums more in line with the risks homeowners face, substantially raising monthly costs for some property owners and eliciting howls of opposition. FEMA projects that far more coastal areas will face high flood risk by 2100, the high-risk zone expanding 55 percent, so it will be a perpetual challenge for property owners and the government to correctly gauge various places’ exposure. Just in the U.S. alone preparing is a monumental task. Globally, it's a nightmare. Coastal/sea level populations number in the Billions, and those people need to be moving right now, maybe to your back yard. Get used to it.


REBECCA BURMESTER: KANE'S PROPOSED PROJECT SHOULD BE REJECTED: Regarding “Raleigh leaders want more time on North Hills rezoning,” (Sept. 8): Who is developer John Kane fooling? Kane Realty is willing to build 600-square-foot micro-units as part of its request for greater density in the North Hills area. That sounds great until you realize the “affordable” rent for these units will be $1,500 a month. I suggest someone from Kane’s company walk around the North Hills area and ask how many employees earn $28.85 per hour — the hourly wage that would be needed to afford such an apartment. Maybe you are impressed with the civic mindedness of Kane’s proposal, but I am not. Nor am I. I'm also not impressed by Raleigh leaders who allow developers to define affordability for them. That's your job, and you are failing miserably at it.

LEILANI HARRIS: LET US RUN WITHOUT FEAR: Melissa A. Sullivan’s Sept. 13 op-ed, “I can’t outrun the risks of being a female runner,” revealed an unspoken reality: Society accepts that female runners are responsible for another person’s actions, and women must anticipate these actions to protect themselves from the people around them. Recently, an attempted kidnapping took place near my high school. News spread across my cross-country team like wildfire, and we were directed to run in groups and be situationally aware. But out of the more than 80 runners on the team, it felt as though this was enforced only with the 24 female runners. Somehow, it was our responsibility as teenage girls to protect ourselves from the people around us while we ran. The responsibility for predicting another person’s actions should not fall upon the targeted woman; youths should not be held responsible for the actions of an adult. We didn’t ask to be targeted, harassed or demeaned — we asked to run. Let us run. I no longer run, but I've got a couple thousand miles on my body's odometer, so give me a moment. Especially for long-distance runners, there is a pace (speed, whatever) you can hit where your body functions at optimum. It's extremely rare that two (or more) runners have the same optimum pace, so "running together" basically means that one (or all) can't achieve that pace. We used to run together 2-3 miles, then run back separately so each of us could achieve that optimum (personal) pace. It made a *huge* difference in the way our bodies felt (and performed), and asking women and girls to forego that is asking way too much. We need a better way.

SALLY COURTRIGHT: THERE ARE NO VALID REASONS FOR THE MOUNTAIN VALLEY PIPELINE: I applaud the hundreds of protesters, who vehemently opposed the Mountain Valley Pipeline project. This 303-mile proposed pipeline involves about 400 stream, river and wetland crossings and comes with a nearly $7 billion price tag. This infrastructure to move fracked gas is a travesty. Fracking pollutes water and soil. Transporting this fossil-fuel gas involves leaks of methane, especially at the very noisy compressor stations. When this gas is burned for energy, it releases climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels adversely affect human health and are responsible for many premature deaths. This summer has been full of climate disasters: Insidious wildfires, overwhelming heat waves and extreme flooding events have been rampant. A new report details the sea-level rise that is expected in the coming decades. Much of this heartbreak is brought to us by fossil-fuel use. A sane society would just say no to these fuels, especially when clean options such as wind and solar are available. A sane society would not spend $7 billion on a product shown to be just awful. A sane society would want to protect its water, land and citizenry. How much longer will this abuse continue? What Sally said. The fugitive methane emissions *alone* are enough to scrap this plan, and its proximity to the Haw River in my county (Alamance) should have the entire Cape Fear Valley (including the Triangle) up in arms. All permits need to be denied.




as defined by Ran Hirschl, "is part of a broader process whereby political and economic elites, while they profess support for democracy and sustained development, attempt to insulate policymaking from the vicissitudes of democratic politics."

Understand, this trend is being facilitated by both the left and the right, but for different reasons. The right seeks to use the judiciary to protect and validate their attacks on Constitutional rights, while the left sees the judiciary as a bulwark against those attacks. But further politicizing the courts will eventually serve to merely erode democracy and the representative government that defines it.

That said, we are locked in (at least for now) in this struggle, and must fight for every judicial seat that is being contested. And we will need to continue to do so, until the scourge of gerrymandering is removed from our redistricting process. That is the true enemy of democracy, because it stifles some voices and elevates others. The legislation that is produced from that is very often flawed, tainted with the prejudice of minority rule, and must be closely scrutinized for Constitutionality.

But that doesn't mean we should welcome the politicization of our courts. That should be viewed as a temporary, necessary evil.

Why, you ask? Because political considerations, ideological considerations, should be the farthest things in the minds of judges and justices. I would say completely absent from their thoughts, but they are not robots. They must be able to analyze the arguments presented to them free of the prejudice that colors those arguments.

Justice depends on that, and so should we.