Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


NEW STATE BUDGET IS JUST A START. PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS NEED MUCH MORE: Prior to the Thanksgiving break, North Carolina’s leaders enacted a new state budget for the first time in 3.5 years — at a time when the needs of our state’s 1.5 million public school students are greater than ever. Teacher vacancies and the myriad challenges educators and staff face are significant. Students’ academic, social, and emotional needs are enormous, given a global pandemic that has upended our world order. In spite of these challenges, we continue to have amazing and effective educators, administrators, and staff who give their all every day for students to give them access to a high quality and equitable education. However, we are in the middle of a teacher shortage with a dramatically reduced pipeline; the teaching profession overall has been attacked, and the working conditions of teachers are challenging and dire for many. The serious drop in performance by students due to pandemic measures should have been a wake-up call. Parents are simply not equipped to deal with the challenge, and textbooks and online programs fall short as well. The missing element was the teacher her (or him) self, for which there really is no effective substitute.

LOUIS DEJOY MAY BE RETURNED TO SENDER: Like a stubborn skid-mark that endures even after several washings, Greensboro resident Louis DeJoy remains as one of the last stinking vestiges of the Trump Administration. And now, finally, with the appointment of two new members to the USPS Board of Governors, DeJoy can be removed from office. It is a known thing that DeJoy was appointed as postmaster general to jam up the works at the US Postal Service before the 2020 Election, just one of many dirty tricks employed by the former president to subvert democracy and instill corrupt loyalists into the federal government. Quality of service declined measurably under DeJoy’s tenure, with accusations of wage theft and record-setting executive bonuses highlighting a long list of aggravating circumstances. The USPS has been under attack from the right since the Reagan Era, when Republicans began their campaign to privatize the post office for their friends in the logistics sector. This includes de Joy, who became a prolific fundraiser for GOP candidates while CEO of New Breed Logistics. In 2006, under President GW Bush, the USPS was dealt a near-fatal blow: a requirement that its pension account be completely funded for the next 75 years, crippling it financially. This requirement is unique among all federal agencies. It’s important to understand that the USPS is not a business, which is ruled by a profit motive, but a public service, the goal of which is to provide something useful at the lowest possible cost. Advocates of privatization often conveniently forget that every delivery service — FedEx, UPS, DHS, Amazon and virtually every other one — uses the spine created by the post office at some point in its distribution. Mail delivery is something the federal government actually does well, despite the fact that about 80 percent of what they deliver goes straight into the recycling bin — which is a subject for another day. Hoping this will be one of the last times I have to refer to the "Kakistocracy," but in future Presidential debates, who a candidate might pick to head up Federal agencies (and why) needs to be one of the top questions. It's no longer an issue we can ignore until it's too late.

NC REPUBLICANS ARE BECOMING THE PARTY OF BIGOTS, INSURRECTIONISTS, AND THE COWARDLY WHO LET IT HAPPEN: “This is not who we are.” Six relatively simple words. Why won’t North Carolina Republicans say them — or, better yet, act on them? North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the state’s highest elected Republican, again made abhorrent remarks about LGBTQ+ people at a sermon in Winston-Salem on Nov. 14. In the sermon, which was posted to YouTube, Robinson said heterosexual couples are “superior” to gay couples and compared being gay to “what the cows leave behind” as well as maggots and flies. And just last week, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn praised a Wisconsin jury’s acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, a then-17-year-old white vigilante who shot three men, killing two, during a protest in Kenosha last year. Cawthorn offered Rittenhouse an internship and told his followers to “be armed, be dangerous and be moral” on Instagram Friday. Of course, that’s hardly surprising from Cawthorn, who reportedly helped plan the events of Jan. 6 and warned of “bloodshed” if our elections “continue to be stolen.” What do North Carolina Republicans have to say about that? You can probably guess: nothing. Actually, they are just starting to criticize Madison Cawthorn, but not for the reasons they should. They're angry he won't stay in his own lane, and angry he does what all Republicans do, bash his potential opponents with innuendo and hyperbolic, nonsensical bullshit. His fomenting of violence and sedition? That's just fine. The GOP only polices its own when party loyalty is at stake.

KYLE RITTENHOUSE AND AMERICA'S UNREGULATED MILITIA: The Kyle Rittenhouse incident illustrates so many of the problems we’re facing in this country right now. I knew from watching the video that he would be acquitted of any charges related to shooting those people. I hoped that some law would hold him accountable for wading into a volatile situation armed with an assault weapon. I guess not. Nothing illustrates the Second Amendment’s first clause better than this incident. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Founding Fathers were talking about using an organized military made up of citizens to protect the country. Rittenhouse was not part of a well-regulated militia. He was a loner, unregulated and unchecked, who is now a pawn of right-wing propagandists and a symbol of injustice to left-wing propagandists. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this saga. I suspect Rittenhouse will face either federal charges or civil charges. He had no reason to go to Kenosha that night and, if he hadn’t, two people would probably still be alive. Until then, he’ll be paraded around right-wing shows and groups as a hero and he’ll be vilified by the left as a murderer gone free. He’s the modern-day Bernard Goetz. The incident brings up so many of our national divisions. We have cops too quick to shoot. We have provocateurs who want violence and mayhem on both sides of the spectrum. We have people who fetishize guns and violence. And we have too many laws that protect people who shoot other people, encouraging vigilantism and extremism. It’s all a mess. It is a mess, but that's exactly what they want. "They" being gun manufacturers and dealers and the fetishists they happily supply. You want to be a hero? It only takes $799. Better get one now while you can!

WHAT AGE IS "TOO YOUNG" TO HURL A RACIAL SLUR?: My dad first heard one thrown at him in the first grade — by another first-grader. For my mom, it occurred in the fourth grade. Several years ago, I mentored a Black middle schooler who told me that, as a younger child, he had been called the n-word at summer camp. Now, as a college counselor, I read essays by Black and brown high schoolers recounting the racial trauma they’ve experienced from painfully young ages: children as young as 6 years old, called “dirty” for having dark skin, socially ostracized for their complexion and told to chemically straighten their hair so they could look pretty. These distressing rites of passage occurred in the most innocent of settings: school playgrounds. So when I hear parents argue that their school-age children are “too young” to learn about race, I’m baffled. That’s one of the arguments voiced by parents in a recent CBS News documentary, “The Trials of Critical Race Theory,” about the current fight over how and whether race and racism should be taught in schools. “I don’t want them to see racism yet — to engage, to learn racism,” Robin Steenman, a member of Moms for Liberty — which fashions itself a “parental rights” group — says in the documentary. She adds: “We feel that’s too heavy for a second-grader.” No one wants a child to suffer from exposure to racism. But how can a second-grader be too young to learn about race when first-graders have called my students the n-word? If children are not too young to learn a hateful word and inflict it on a peer, they are certainly not too young to be taught about racism. I grew up hearing family stories reflecting the racial hostilities of American society across the generations — from the 1940s-era tales of my grandparents and their siblings, to my parents’ accounts from the 1960s and ’70s. Through these stories, I learned that racial conflict was inescapable, something endured over time and absorbed by the youngest minds. My family knew that protecting my innocence from the ugliness of racism was not an option in a nation in which white supremacy lurked among swing sets and jungle gyms. The ugly truth is, many of these parents want to retain the power of teaching their kids about racism, the wrong way. This is how prejudice survives, in a day and age when it should no longer exist. We have to challenge their "right" to perpetuate this travesty, which is actually an affront to the cause of Liberty.


SHELLEY ALLEN: MARK ROBINSON AND VIOLENCE AGAINST LGBTQ PEOPLE: Regarding “NC Lt. Gov. Robinson calls straight couples ‘superior’ to gays in sermon, video shows,” (Nov. 21): A 2020 UCLA Williams Institute report found that LGBTQ people were almost four times as likely to be victims of violent crime. Earlier this year, Jenna Franks, a transgender woman, was brutally murdered in Onslow County, her body dumped in a creek. Her devastated mom and sisters have pleaded for compassion. Instead, Republican leadership has amplified Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s statements, inspiring more intolerance of, and violence against, LGBTQ community members. Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20) honored those killed in anti-transgender acts of violence. Let it serve as a reminder to vote hateful Republicans like Robinson out of office. He is being groomed (and grooming himself) to become Governor, and with the highly possible return of a GOP supermajority in the NCGA, it will be open season on anybody who doesn't conform to their Chistofascist mindset.

SIOBHAN DUGAN: ATONEMENT IS IMPOSSIBLE IN THE FACE OF GERRYMANDERING: Steve Luxenberg’s Nov. 23 op-ed, “Plessy’s pardon brings opportunity for atonement,” on the planned pardon of Homer Plessy for illegally riding in a segregated rail car in 1892, was uplifting. Justice was severely delayed in the case, but as Mr. Luxenberg noted, the pardon offers the opportunity “to learn about and honor the long line of 19th-century men and women on whose shoulders [Plessy] stood.” Turning to that day’s front page, though, my hopes for that opportunity were dashed by the headline “ ‘Some votes carry more weight than others,’ ” regarding redistricting efforts in Ohio that will likely diminish the strength of Democrats, particularly African American and Hispanic voters. Segregation is no longer legal in this country, and the descendants of those involved in the case, who sought the pardon, can board a train with no worry of being arrested for sitting in the “wrong” car. But gerrymandering is undermining the impact of certain segments of the electorate, leaving me to wonder whether our country will ever overcome its racist history. Insidious, is the word that comes to mind, when reflecting on the difficulty in overcoming racism. Which is why I refuse to use the argument that CRT is actually a college-level subject, and not something taught to younger students. As my friend Lex Alexander noted, it "should" be taught to younger students, because by the time they get to college, it's too late to be formative.

AISHAT OLATUNDE: ABORTION IS NOT LACK OF AN OPTION. IT IS AN OPTION: The Nov. 15 front-page article “After Tex. abortion law, need for help has grown” amplified the Allied Women’s Center and other crisis pregnancy centers that try to dissuade people from seeking abortions in deceitful ways, often to the point of pushing abortion care out of reach. As a physician who provides abortions, I have taken care of patients who are parents seeking out abortions and struggling to access both abortion care and the resources they need to care for the children they already have. We should approach these individuals with compassion under a reproductive justice framework, giving them the autonomy to determine whether to parent, and do so without shame, dishonesty or intentional trickery to coerce the individual into making a choice that isn’t entirely their own. Abortion is not a lack of an option. It is one of many options, and we should trust people to choose what is right for them and their situation. Crisis pregnancy centers are mostly designed to delay a woman's decision, until gestation reaches a stage where abortion is no longer an option, either legally or emotionally. It is not healthcare, by any stretch of the imagination, and public funding for such nonsense needs to be shut off at the at the source.



Let yourself be happy, from time to time...

But Steve, how can I allow myself to be happy when there is so much pain and injustice in this world?

You can't fix everything, or everybody, but you may be able to fix yourself. Or make minor adjustments so you can keep moving down that road towards enlightenment, however distant it may seem.

Riding in the car with my son, trying to process the lyrics,

"Reaching out for something to hold
Looking for a love where the climate is cold
Manic moves and drowsy dreams
Or living in the middle between the two extremes
Smoking guns hot to the touch
Would cool down if we didn't use them so much, yeah"

In the context of this discussion, the two extremes are "responsible for nothing" and "responsible for everything."

Understand, we must be active participants in the pursuit of social justice and human rights, but we can't be effective in that pursuit if we abandon all hope. If we no longer remember how to laugh and love. The word "empathy" is rooted in the Greek word Pathos, dealing with suffering on an emotional (as opposed to physical) level. But in order for us to put that empathy to work in the world around us, it must be tempered by the idea that there is a path out of pathology. A better place, where laughter and love can exist in the absence of personal shame.

I know that sounds new-agey, and I can't help that, but overcoming the barriers to mental health are difficult. I can talk about the physiological benefits of reducing stress, but if one doesn't believe self-care is justifiable, science becomes almost meaningless. So it must be framed as an integral part of being socially responsible.

Social progress is a marathon, not a sprint. And in order to finish that marathon, you must do certain things to prepare yourself. As odd as it may sound, finding and valuing humor is one of those things. It's not a luxury you cannot afford; it's just the opposite, a critical element. Monsters can't survive in a humorous environment. They melt, and run into the gutters, to be eventually washed out to sea. By the same token, social barriers cannot withstand genuine humor. It crashes against the shaky foundation of prejudice and malice, and erodes the mortar between the stones. Without that mortar, they will topple.

Let it flow, I say.