Sunday News: From the Editorial Pages


WHAT NC'S REGIONAL TEACHERS OF THE YEAR WANT YOU TO KNOW: Clinton Todd: "I would want our audience to know that our most underrepresented populations have value and worth, and there's so much potential there if we just invest and take that time and energy and place it in the places where it's most important." Ashtyn Berry: "There's room for duality. I'm going to quote Dr. Graham ... and I'm going to say that the issues that the general public is seeing with public education are systemic and structural. However, it is so, so important to look at schools and speak about schools through an asset-based lens right now. Otherwise, this issue of retaining teachers and recruiting teachers is not going to get better." Ryan Mitchell: "There's a lot of talk about learning loss and deficits and it's important to have that asset-minded mindset. ... I want the public to know that we are working. We are working. I have been to a bunch of schools as a part of this opportunity as a teacher of the year and in every school I go in teaching, our teachers are working so hard. I'm here at school right now and I am not the last car in the parking lot. And that is not something that's unique to my school. So trust us, work with us, let's be partners in the educational process, and let's do what's best for kids." NC is still in the bottom quartile on per-student spending, and that could easily be addressed by shifting some of the surplus revenues. But the GOP majority stubbornly refuses to do what the courts have directed them to, and instead have done their level best to turn parents against teachers. Shame on them.

TRUITT NEEDS TO STAND WITH STUDENTS AND TEACHERS: North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt seems more concerned with appeasing the Republican partisans who rule the state legislature than making sure every school child has access to a quality public education and their schools and teachers have the resources needed to do it. It is the clear message revealed during Truitt’s recent interview on WUNC-FM. When asked if North Carolina schools are adequately funded – that is does the legislature provide the resources needed to meet the state Constitution’s mandate that EVERY child is entitled to a quality education – she dodges. “I would say it depends on your definition of adequately funded,” she said. No, it doesn’t depend on that. There is a very clear answer to that question – delivered repeatedly by North Carolina’s highest court. North Carolina -- for more than a quarter century as a matter of legally established fact -- has not provided the resources to provide the education every child is entitled to. It doesn’t depend on what legislative bosses like state Sen. Phil Berger or state House Speaker Tim Moore say is “adequate.” It doesn’t depend on what Gov. Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, state Treasurer Dale Folwell or the state Board of Education says. It is what the North Carolina Constitution says that matters. The body our Constitution gives the duty to determine that – the state Supreme Court under the leadership of Democrats and Republicans – has repeatedly said our schools are being shortchanged. North Carolina’s schools are in crisis. The state is 50th in school funding effort, 48th in overall funding level. How bad? The state level was $10,791 per student in 2020, $4,655 less than the national average. Since 2008, the state’s ranking has dropped from 46 to 48. If Truitt REALLY wants more nurses and counselors in schools, if she wants better resources and pay for teachers, if she wants to obey the state Constitution and fulfill its promise to school children, she will talk less to appease the partisan leaders in the legislature and raise her voice to immediately adopt and fund the court-ordered Comprehensive Remedial Program -- that includes all of those things she claims she wants. Much like having a Labor Secretary that ignores workplace safety and wage violations, Truitt has been ignoring the most critical aspects of what citizens pay her to do. Very frustrating, to say the least.

FALSE PROPHETS AND RAVENING WOLVES: What is wrong with Republicans? Why do they insist on making White people who kill innocent people, especially Black people, heroes? And why do they go out of their way to smear the victims of gun violence? Do they have no sense of empathy? They did it with George Zimmerman who killed Trayvon Martin and they’ve done it to Kyle Rittenhouse who killed two people during riots following the George Floyd murder. If the officer who killed Floyd had been acquitted, you can bet he would be on the right-wing lecture and media circuit. Same with those racists who killed Ahmaud Arbery. Celebrating murderers has a long, sordid history in this country, especially in the South. For most of the 20thcentury, White people could kill Black people without worrying too much about consequences. When the White killers were arrested and tried, White defenders made them out to be the victims and, often, turned them into celebrities. Emmett Till’s murderers were acquitted by an all-White jury and then went on to detail their crimes in a national magazine. Lynch mobs were rarely ever held accountable, but victims of lynching were smeared regardless of their guilt or innocence. On the flip side, when Blacks killed Whites, they were more likely to end up at the end of a rope or in the electric chair. Justice was not color blind. The legacy of that era is the distrust many Black Americans have toward the justice system today. About 25 years ago, I lived in rural Chatham County. One day, my neighbor’s cow was giving birth by the edge of the road. I stopped to watch and struck up a conversation. Somehow, the Martin Luther King holiday came up. My neighbor said, “We celebrate the day he was shot.” Back then, hearing my neighbor say that was shocking. Even within the GOP, such sentiments were way outside of the mainstream, at least when they were publicly acknowledged. Today, Republicans openly hail killers of Black men as celebrities with little fear of rebuke from the leaders of their party. Some may quietly disagree, but their criticism will be muffled by the reality that they need the support of the people who hold those views. Truth be told, white people don't like feeling guilty. They stubbornly (and quickly) strike out at that emotion before it can take hold, desperately searching for a reason that black person caused his (or her) own death. Drugs? Gang affiliation? Criminal behavior? Even a whiff of any of these will do in a pinch. They don't want anything to change, because they value their privilege. Even more than the lives of the innocent.

WATCHDOG OR LAPDOG? NC SUPREME COURT MUST DECIDE: There are many factors that go into building and sustaining a strong and healthy democracy: free, clean and transparently funded elections; inclusive suffrage; freedom of speech and association; an independent news media; predictable and reliable law enforcement; and an absence of widespread corruption. Oh, and at least one more: a strong and independent judiciary that prioritizes protecting citizen rights. Across the globe – particularly in nations where democracy is fragile or struggling – the stories of corrupt and/or compromised judiciaries are sadly familiar: high courts that operate as little more than rubber stamps for the powers that be; judges who float between the political and judicial realms; judicial systems in which precedent and trial court findings of fact are largely ignored or dismissed as inconvenient distractions. Happily, for most of its history, neither the independence nor the legitimacy of the judiciary in this country have been called into question that often. Sadly, however, in recent years, this important and exceptional state of affairs (along with public confidence in the courts) has waned. Because of a relentless, well-funded and decades-long campaign by the American political right, many corners of the U.S. judiciary have been weakened and transformed in recent decades, as strong and independent judges committed to the protection of individual rights have been gradually replaced with agenda-driven politicians. And now, thanks to a pair of motions filed by Republican legislators with the North Carolina Supreme Court last week, we will soon find out just how far things have fallen. At issue are a pair of deeply researched and carefully crafted landmark rulings handed down by the court in December on the issues of Voter ID and gerrymandering. In Holmes v Moore, the court upheld a lower court ruling that a 2018 voter ID law was unlawfully “motivated by a racially discriminatory purpose.” In Harper v. Hall, the court ruled that the partisan gerrymandering in which GOP legislators engaged in drawing congressional and legislative maps violated the state constitution. On Jan. 20, however, just 35 days after they were handed down, the GOP lawmakers asked the court to reconsider these rulings and reverse itself. The NC Supreme Court shouldn't even entertain these motions, much less overrule their previous rulings. But the corrupting influence of power tends to make people forget the important things, like impartiality and integrity. And the fact gerrymandering is the single biggest threat to democracy. A dark chapter is unfolding in NC.

THE PENTAGON IS ABOUT TO GO ON A WEAPONS-BUYING SPREE: Normally, the military signs long-term, noncompetitive contracts chiefly with firms which produce big-ticket items that take decades to design, engineer and produce, such as ships, aircraft and satellites. Tucked into the new budget, however, is an “emergency” provision allowing the Pentagon to sign multiyear, noncompetitive agreements to produce more run-of-the-mill items: munitions, missiles, rockets and other existing systems. That’s a departure from current practice. The unorthodox bulk-buying approach should enable the Pentagon, at least in theory, to buy these weapons at a lower price. That’s important because the United States needs to quickly replace the thousands of weapons sent since last spring to Ukraine. The United States and European nations just announced tank shipments to Ukraine, but the United States is going through all sorts of military hardware, such as artillery shells, and faster than anyone anticipated. Yet the Pentagon’s new budget, backed by a bipartisan group of senators, would do far more than replenish U.S. stockpiles. It lays the foundation for a vastly revitalized defense industrial base — and does so with one eye on the People’s Republic of China. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has continued to buy some weapons each year in small quantities, while relying on existing stockpiles for many others. Many of these systems were developed a generation ago, upgraded and improved over the years and, fortunately, rarely used in battle. In some cases, the Pentagon long ago stopped buying many of them. The United States last bought the Stinger, the shoulder-mounted antiaircraft missile system first used in the early 1980s, in 2004. The assembly line that produced the HIMARS rocket system, which has performed so well in Ukraine, shut down in 2014 and 2015 before restarting in 2016. The question is how many weapons are necessary — and how soon? The quantities imagined by the latest budget are far in excess of what is required to replenish those sent to Ukraine. Congress authorized 700 copies of the HIMARS platform at a moment when the Pentagon has so far shipped only 20 launchers to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the budget authorizes the purchase of 2,600 Harpoon anti-ship missiles and nearly 1,000 long-range anti-ship missiles — weapons designed for a naval battle in the South China Sea rather than a fight on the plains of eastern Ukraine. The military-industrial complex is alive and well, nevermind the fact we're squandering resources that could lift millions out of poverty. *sigh*


MARILYN CLAYTON: DOWN WITH THE TRICKSTERS: Our new legislature has been sworn in. The question on my mind: Will they fairly represent the people of North Carolina, or will they use trickery to reach goals by sidestepping the democratic process? I believe in the democratic process they are sworn to uphold. Calling for a vote without fair notice is a betrayal of their oath of office. This year, critical decisions that impact our health will be made, including Medicaid expansion and reproductive rights. We must not undercut essential freedoms for our people because someone had to go to the bathroom when a vote was called without notice. I call on everyone elected to the General Assembly to support fair procedures that will allow all of them to cast their votes on key issues that affect North Carolinians. Keep in mind, each legislator has literally thousands of constituents. It's the backbone of representative government. Any sleight of hand that denies that rep a vote is the same as denying a voice to thousands of citizens. That's not democracy, it's anocracy, an inherently unstable form of governing that often leads to a violent struggle for control. Enough said.

MIRANDA CROUCH: FOOD INSECURITY: According to the Orange County United Way, roughly 300,000 residents in the county are food insecure, including many seniors. It’s important that we continue to advocate for development and funding of programs that address food insecurity in our elderly population. As a fourth year medical student at UNC-Chapel Hill, I unfortunately see many seniors who are food insecure and often unaware of local resources, such as the Senior Grocery Program of Second Harvest Bank, Meals on Wheels, and the Congregate Nutrition Program to name a few. We must work together to do more to reduce food insecurity among the most vulnerable in our community. There are many factors coming to bear which place our aging population at risk. More in my comment below...

JUDY FISHER: A CHILD SHOULD NEVER HAVE ACCESS TO A GUN: Regarding the Jan. 20 Metro article “Family’s attorney says gun had lock”: Let’s focus on the problem: The family of the 6-year-old who shot his teacher “issued a statement asserting that the gun … ‘was secured.’” An attorney for the family said the gun was kept on a shelf of the mother’s closet. Responsible gun owners know guns should be stored unloaded in a locked container with ammunition stored separately, also locked. Even with the child’s “acute disability,” the teacher would not have been shot had the child been unable to access his mother’s gun. Obviously, the trigger lock the owner claims that the gun had didn’t prevent the child from firing the gun. Again, if the child had not gained access to the gun, the shooting would not have happened. The consequences of the shooting include not only the physical injuries suffered by the teacher, but also the trauma she and the children in the class experienced. Parents who send their little ones off to school will question themselves every day. The consequences of an unsecured gun will be felt over and over again by teachers, students and parents in that school. This child accessed a gun and shot his teacher. The gun owner must be held accountable for negligence to the fullest extent possible. Regardless of what the family attorney says, there is no excuse for this. This gun was not secured, that 6 year-old is not Houdini. I doubt the gun was even *in* the closet, much less on a high shelf, and did not have a trigger lock either. We need to stop making (and accepting) excuses for irresponsible parents.



Retire? Hah!

As a late Boomer, my "time of transition" is slowly approaching. I am eligible for early retirement right now, but the limited Social Security benefits will keep me working for several more years. I will pay off my mortgage in a few months, but I have several needed home improvement projects that will eat up that extra cash for at least a few years. I've been told I'm one of the "lucky" ones, and I've had to bite my tongue to keep from sounding too much like the Boomer I am.

The truth is, I don't feel lucky. I just got a revaluation of my property done by my county tax people, and it has literally doubled since it was last done. I live inside a municipality, so that's two property tax bills per year. And they won't be handled by my mortgage company anymore via escrow, which may not be an added cost but it's an added pain in the ass.

And then there's the medical stuff. I'm in pretty good physical condition (some would say great, because of course I'm lucky), but the cost increases are insane. And I don't want to hear any crap about CON laws, because there are numerous CT scan operations in my area, but it still cost over $5,000 for that procedure. Medicare will be nice once I have it, but the supplemental insurance required? Not so nice.

And then there's food, utilities, car insurance, and other things that are not "necessary" but are kinda necessary if I want to keep from going insane.

I know. Everybody is struggling with the cost of living. And it's all relative.

But we (as a society) are not doing ourselves any favors. The real estate market is out of control, and we don't seem willing to do anything (collectively) to reign it in. The same goes for health care costs. And don't whine to me about the cost of gasoline while you're driving a fricking Canyonero, which has a double-size gas tank so you don't have to stop every three days and fill it up. If aliens were watching the roads to see what kind of people we are they would think 90% of us are f**king farmers.

So I will keep working, because I'm lucky. Relatively speaking...