Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


PLAYING POLITICS WITH A VIRUS THAT HAS NO IDEOLOGY IS A DEADLY GAME: School boards have had to face irrational and angry protests. Threats shut down Moore County’s school board meeting this week. In some communities, out-of-control protests and un-schooled boards are prompting retreats on necessary protocols to fight the pandemic. “Without a universal mask requirement in Union County Public Schools, a 14-day quarantine period remains the best option to provide for the protection of students, teachers, staff and members of the community,” Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner told the school board in a Sept. 10 letter. As of last week, 480 students and staff in the school system tested COVID-19 positive while 7,285 – 15% of the district’s total enrollment – were in quarantine. The Union school board is having none of it. No masks, no contact tracing, no quarantining, the board ordered. Ignore the facts and the problem goes away? Is that the misguided lesson this board and others are teaching? It's one of the lessons, and another is that "feelings" trump scientific reasoning. Both represent negligence.

NC REPUBLICANS SAY IDEOLOGY HAS NO PLACE IN SCHOOLS. DOES THAT INCLUDE PRIVATE ONES?: Supporters of the program — primarily Republicans — say it promotes school choice, extending equity and opportunity to lower-income students who otherwise may not have the means to attend private schools. But there’s not much accountability for private schools who receive state money. A 2020 report from Duke Law School’s Children’s Law Clinic found that 92% of the vouchers have been used to pay tuition at religious schools. More than three-quarters of those schools use a biblically-based curriculum with concepts that directly contradict the state’s educational standards, the report said. At least some of these schools use textbooks from publishers that offer a troubling view of history, reporting from the Asheville Citizen-Times shows. Republicans say that schools should be a place for truth, not ideology. But that only seems to be a problem when the ideology is something they disagree with. We’ve seen Republicans accuse teachers and public schools of indoctrinating students, and pass legislation that limits the discussion of concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism. Private schools, however, regularly mix ideology, curriculum and policy. After all, teaching through a “biblical worldview” could also be considered subjective. Private schools have the right to teach what they want, of course, but public money shouldn’t fund efforts to use a worldview to discriminate. And public money shouldn't be used to teach demonstrably false theories, like a 6,000 year-old Earth that was created in 6 days.

TRUITT'S SCHOOLS PLAN MUST EMBRACE LEANDRO, NOT DODGE IT: Truitt’s vision doesn’t see Leandro. It doesn’t encompass the carefully crafted program top educators and advocates worked to develop. It ignores the quarter of a century that the state has failed to deliver its promise to our children, despite the findings and court orders. Truitt offers up a pablum of proposals that won’t drive excellence but rather appease those partisan and business interests that are satisfied with mediocre public education. Her proposals are no call for excellence but a gussied-up defense of the status quo. Things may appear a little better but looks can deceive and it continues public education on the same path it has been for the last decade. Does Truitt believe that her report is an adequate answer to Leandro? Does she think the judge will approve of her program over the one worked out by the plaintiffs and defendants in his court? Truitt needs to choose. Is she going to stand with the partisan politicians who neglect public schools and those who work for them? Or is she going to take a strong and courageous stand in support of implementing the 7-year remedial plan that the court has adopted? Judging by her behavior to date, she will do exactly what BergerMoore want her to.

VACCINATION MANDATES SHOULD BE ENACTED IN NORTH CAROLINA: There is no question that vaccine mandates are legal, for the same reasons that governments can restrict driving privileges to adults who wear seat belts and are sober, ban indoor smoking in public venues and require that children in public schools be inoculated against smallpox. The constitutionality of vaccine mandates has been established since at least the early 1900s. While a nearly two-thirds majority of adult North Carolinians have already had at least one shot, many others express openness to vaccination if required. These individuals rightly see that governments and employers make actions they truly value — paying taxes, showing up at work to keep one’s job, avoiding drinking before driving — mandatory, rather than leaving the onus solely on individuals. Put another way, some individuals do not yet think of vaccination as a public good precisely because our institutions have not yet shown that they believe it is. Similarly, though most business owners recognize vaccination’s importance, some have been reluctant to act without stronger support from government. Recent memories of being cursed at, spat on and kicked for enforcing COVID-related safety policies may explain this hesitation. This is a case where only government action can free businesses to protect their own and their customers’ safety. As a former factory manager, I can tell you the biggest threat to business is lost production time. When you are Lean, a major spike in sick employees can spell disaster. Missed deadlines, expedited shipping, emergency overtime, all translate to lost profits, black turning to red. Not trying to focus on money over health, but it's important to understand that aspect so you can grasp the fact that business leaders actually favor government mandates like this, even if they don't admit it.

THE JAN 6 ATTACK DEMANDS WE PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS: I could never have imagined Jan. 6, nor will I ever forget it. I was in the Senate Chamber as Ted Cruz raised a specious objection to Arizona’s election results. Soon after debate commenced, Vice President Pence was rushed out of the chamber, Mitt Romney tried to exit the chamber but was sent back in by Capitol Police worried for his safety, and the constitutional process to certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s election came to a halt. We were barricaded in the chamber with Senate staff for 45 minutes, listening to the rampagers outside. At one point, we heard gunfire. We were eventually escorted to a Senate office building, twice in view of rioters battling with Capitol Police. There, senators and dozens of staff members were packed shoulder to shoulder into one room for hours during the peak of the covid-19 pandemic. Television screens showed the attack as it was happening. That attack was promoted by a president willing to trash American democracy and invent lies about election fraud because of his inability to accept that he had lost. It was more than just a violent protest or even a riot. It was a deliberate attack on a particular day and time specifically designed to overturn an election in which more than 80 million people had chosen Biden and Harris to be their next president and vice president. It was the biggest voter disenfranchisement effort in recent American history. Trump’s “big lie” animating the attack on the Capitol — that because he lost, there must have been fraud — is still corroding our democracy. States with Republican governors and legislatures are using that same lie to restrict access to the ballot, allow partisan politicians to override nonpartisan election officials, and even use fines and jail time to punish Americans who help their neighbors vote. The state officials taking these steps may not be wearing Camp Auschwitz T-shirts, brandishing Confederate symbols, or attacking police officers with flags and fence rails. But their objective is the same — to use the “big lie” as a reason to disenfranchise people, particularly communities of color and students. Those who try to disenfranchise others, whether by violent attacks or partisan lawyer-designed schemes, are enemies of the Constitution. Having lived through Jan. 6, we are duty-bound by our oaths to ensure that citizens of this country have the freedom to vote without obstacles or intimidation. That is what the Freedom to Vote Act does. The Senate must rise to the challenge and pass it.


MARGARET MAGNANI: TERRORISTS AMONG US: Regarding “Capitol rally seeks to rewrite Jan. 6 by exalting rioters,” (Sept. 14) and related articles: On Sept. 11, 2021, we remembered the sacrifice of the 40 passengers and crew of American Airlines Flight 93, who chose to die rather than have terrorists accomplish their goal of reaching and destroying the U.S. Capitol, the very symbol of our democracy. On Sept. 18, 2021, we faced the specter of American citizens gathering, with the support of a former president and elected Republican members of Congress, to seek “justice” for those who tried to destroy the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Our fear of “foreign” terrorists seems misplaced when some of our very own citizens share the terrorists’ goals of destroying our democracy — and others will seek “justice” for them when they try. Perhaps we need to redefine terrorism by its goals rather than the nationality or religion of the perpetrators. What she said.

DOLORES FAYE BANKS: WHY IS ANYBODY LISTENING TO MADISON CAWTHORN?: Regarding “Johnston delays vote on school masks. Congressman Cawthorn calls for end of mandate,” (Sept. 15): I find it hard to believe that the people of Johnston County had U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn attending a school board meeting to tell them what to do about their children. Cawthorn is not a medical doctor, he dropped out of college after a year because he failed his classes, he’s younger than most of the parents, and has a history of lying about many things. Is he the kind of person you want your kids to emulate as an outstanding citizen? He does like to hear himself rant and rave. I am actually embarrassed that he represents the great state of North Carolina. Those who care about the health and welfare of their children will do the right thing by them and protect them from this horrible disease. Canton, greater Haywood County, and other parts of Cawthorn's District are still reeling from the floods caused by tropical storm Fred, but instead of helping his own constituents, Maddy traveled 400 miles to stir up shit on the other side of the state.

JULIA PLASYNSKI: DO YOUR PART TO PROTECT OUR ENVIRONMENT: As the climate crisis proceeds, being conscious of our own carbon footprints and plastic use is imperative. As consumers, even our smallest of actions can create a wave of change in our society. One does not need to be a perfect vegan or live zero-waste to start making a difference in carbon outputs. An easy remedy could include cutting meat out of your diet one day a week or changing one plastic habit to a reusable one. Easy swaps could include reusable water bottles, reusable silicon bags, glass jars, reusable straws, beeswax wrap, and so many others. Right now, it is easy to feel doomed about the climate crisis and not see a reason for making these swaps. However, creating any sort of change is urgent. Future generations are depending on us. Sounds like good theme for my editorial comment...



The bane of plastics

Before I get into our obsession with single-use plastics, let's get a few things straight. The Left/Right dichotomy trends toward the separation of collective actions vs. individual actions, but this is (just one more) false premise. We need both to solve many of our problems, and that is especially applicable when it comes to environmental challenges. One without the other is a masturbatory exercise that will get us nowhere, so let's proceed with that in mind.

We are all aware (or should be, anyway) of the horrific environmental effects of plastics; our oceans have become the dumping ground for them, with massive plastic floating "islands" and a great deal of our fish and bird species being inundated with micro-plastics that have broken down from such containers. It's much worse than you probably think, and we are all responsible for it. That's me, and you, and not some nebulous multi-national corporation.

But that is the end result, which isn't the entire horror story.

Most consumer plastics are petrochemical in nature, and not necessarily byproducts of such. For years plastic makers have pushed that narrative, the "Oh well, we're already drilling for energy purposes, might as well make the best of it." In reality, crude oil, coal, and natural gas are being extracted in many cases specifically to feed the plastics industry.

"But Steve, I thought you said it was our fault, and not the corporations?"

That's right, because we keep buying and using that shit. If there was no market for it, they would stop. Try to keep up here.

In addition to the carbon emissions inherent in the extraction of fossil fuels for plastic manufacture (I've mentioned fugitive Methane enough times you should have memorized it by now), the actual refining is also a huge emission source. The cracking of alkanes into alkenes requires high temperatures (1000 degrees), and both the extreme heat and the action itself release hydrocarbons, to the tune of about 300 million metric tons per year. So before you even touch it, that plastic has already attacked our planet's atmosphere vigorously. And if you touch it only once, instead of as many times as it can be used, you are literally facilitating the destruction of our planet.

So let's talk about usage. Bottled water is a huge problem, for several reasons. This year (2021) some 500 Billion will be made and sold worldwide, and a big chunk of those are not necessary, because some 75% of the world's population have safe (clean) water delivered to their homes. Aside from a few isolated situations, your tap water is more than just "fine," it is possibly more pure than that case of Dasani you just bought. If you need reassurance, throw a water filter on your faucet, and/or have your water tested. But not by some company that wants to take over your municipal water supply. And you can check your local system's required reported data as well.

The bottom line: We do need to take collective action to (seriously) reduce the manufacturing and usage of single-use plastics, but we also need to drastically modify our (individual) consumer behavior. I don't need to remind you what's at stake.