Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


RURAL COMMUNITIES NEED MEDICAID EXPANSION NOW: Despite careful planning and the tireless efforts of our team members, ECU Health is facing the same unprecedented challenges as other health systems. Some of our current challenges stem from unexpected and extremely high labor costs in addition to the rising cost of supplies like medicine and equipment, which are significantly higher than they were just one year ago. In rural regions like ours, navigating these realities is even more difficult. We already face a high burden of disease, a large geographical area where local providers and teams provide a literal lifeline to quality care and a large number of community members who don’t have access to adequate health insurance. That is why it is vital that the General Assembly pass Medicaid expansion and move forward with HASP funding. Together, these efforts will help close the insurance gap, provide care for our most vulnerable community members, lower medical bills, bring much-needed dollars to the state and allow health systems and hospitals to continue to provide high-quality care to those who depend on it. 9 out of 10 of the rural hospitals that have been forced to close their doors nationwide have been in states that have *not* expanded Medicaid. NC has lost 7 of those hospitals so far, and several more are teetering on the edge. The difference between traveling 20 miles for care or 120 miles is a deadly one, and those are deaths that don't need to happen.

NC HIGH COURT MUST STAND WITH SCHOOL CHILDREN AND UPHOLD THE STATE CONSTITUTION: Matthew Tilley, the lawyer representing legislative leaders state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, presented an almost other-worldly view. The failure to deliver on the state’s Constitutional promise of a right to a quality education applied only to Hoke County – the original plaintiff when the case was filed back in 1994. It is a contention contrary to state courts repeated rulings – including findings by the state Supreme Court in 1997 and again in 2004. He even conjured up the notion – without any evidence -- that state executive departments might use the courts to get money the legislature wouldn’t appropriate – and the state Supreme Court must block it. “The executive branch is necessarily going to be tempted to use admissions in a court case to get orders that would provide agencies things that they can't get in the legislative process. It's a way to circumvent the process.” Tilley’s contention found support, it appeared, from state Chief Justice Paul Newby and justices Phil Berger Jr. (the Senate leader’s son) and Tamara Barringer, who was a Republican state senator before being elected to the court in 2020. “Point to where a trial court said as a matter of law there was a statewide violation,” Justice Berger asked Majmundar, the state lawyer representing the State Board of Education. Tilley went so far as to contend the courts had never found the state in violation of the state Constitution. “Before a court can fashion and impose a remedy, it must first find a violation. That hasn’t happened,” he said in his closing remarks. It pains me to see Justices on our Supreme Court wielding the tools of Trumpism (obfuscation, innuendo, and outright lying) to argue their position. Not only is it stark evidence they are unqualified to hold those seats, it is a chilling warning of what we can expect if they secure a majority in the upcoming election. Democracy itself will be one of their targets.

MARK ROBINSON'S MYTHICAL "MAJORITY": The lieutenant governor of North Carolina, Mark Robinson, has written his autobiography, “We Are the Majority: The Life and Passions of a Patriot,” which will soon be available to the general public. While I have not read the autobiography, I trust the reports of it that I have read and am concerned about two of Robinson’s ideas. Robinson writes “I would get rid of it [the State Board of Education]. We need to have one entity, one person, where the buck stops. Right now we have at least three: the school boards, the state superintendent of education and the local school systems — and none are truly answerable to the others. We need one entity to be in charge of education in the state so that when the legislature has questions and concerns, they can go to that single institution and expect to influence the way education is done.” Perhaps Robinson, like so many politicians, is thinking of an authoritarian system where he or one of his flunkies can “influence the way education is done.” But what I find most disturbing is the above quotation from Robinson’s book. He would remove science and social studies from grades 1-5 curriculum. He writes “In those grades, [1-5] we don’t need to be teaching social studies. We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.” He writes that he would stress reading, writing and math. The study of science teaches critical thinking skills, and every democracy needs citizens who have that skill. All of these areas of study are best when introduced and built on at an early age, like the study of languages. Robinson shows his ignorance of early education. Imagine how, for one instant, a first grade teacher can explain the importance of raising hands, taking turns, standing in line and not bullying a classmate without raising the subject of social justice. Public education is built on equity and social justice and is the foundation of our democracy. Even fifty years ago, politicians spouting the Three Rs nonsense (readin', ritin, 'rithmatic) were considered foolish anachronisms. Now it's just sad. He feels comfortable appealing to the lowest common denominator (see what I did there, with the math?), but what he doesn't realize is: this approach demonstrates he actually fears educated children. He wants to keep them as dumb as possible, for as long as possible, because he thinks that will make him seem intelligent in comparison. Sorry dude, that sinking ship has sailed.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR REPUBLICANS: Yesterday, the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal wrote a piece bemoaning the lack of Republican professors at UNC-Chapel Hill. Of course, the implication is that conservatives don’t have voices on college campuses. The other implication is that universities should hire more conservatives. And I thought they opposed affirmative action. First, nothing is more common these days than conservatives whining that they’ve been slighted. Everybody is out to get them and they yearn for the good old days that exist only when looking backwards through rose-colored glasses. Second, of course most academics and intellectuals are more liberal. Conservatives have spent the last three decades denying science and empirical knowledge. They are just now coming around to believing in the reality of climate change, though many are still in denial. Even George H. W. Bush said the supply-side nonsense that holds tax cuts pay for themselves is little more than “voodoo economics.” They have embraced their anti-intellectual bent and wear ignorance on their sleeves, bragging about their lack of education and denigrating the value of liberal arts degrees. To put it another way, about 50% of Republican primary voters still support Donald Trump. Enough said. Third, conservatives and Republicans with college degrees tend to be more interested in making money than research or teaching. Of course in their minds, making money is helping other people through the all-powerful free market. It’s the Randian rationalization that their self-interest is in the best interest of society as a whole. So why would they accept less money in academia when they could make far more in the world of business? Finally, conservatives are, by nature, averse to change and much, if not most, of the research in universities and academia is about uncovering new ideas and introducing them to the world. William F. Buckley famously described a conservative as “someone who stands athwart history yelling Stop!” That philosophy stands in stark contrast to the people in academia who are exclaiming “Eureka!” I would add a fifth reason conservatives don't pursue a career in academia: they can't bring themselves to spout their nonsense in front of a well-educated class of students, because deep down they are aware of how faulty their opinions are. You might be able to bully grade-school children, but not college kids. Not for very long, anyway. And quoting Adam Smith will only get you so far before you are forced to present real-world examples of the Magical Free Market in action, and you can't present what doesn't exist.

THE MAR-A-LAGO CASE IS ABOUT NATIONAL SECURITY, NOT POLITICS: To protect our national security, we need to take politics out of the Mar-a-Lago documents case. For those who dislike former president Donald Trump, that means not jumping to conclusions about his motivations or even responsibility for retaining classified documents. For Republicans, that means stepping back from an automatic defense of the former president and considering what is really at stake here — understanding an extraordinary failure, for whatever reason and at whoever’s direction, to safeguard documents critical to our national security. Irresponsible attacks on law enforcement and improper demands for details of an ongoing investigation corrode faith in our judicial system. Based on the technical markings of the top secret documents (thus invariably labeled in red capital letters on each page) that spent many months at Mar-a-Lago, the information they contain could be absolutely critical to keeping our nation safe. Those papers could reveal identities of CIA sources or FBI informants, information about how our spy agencies conduct electronic surveillance on foreign adversaries, details of past or future covert operations against foreign terrorists, reports on secret military technologies, or even battle plans for how the United States might react to, say, the launch of a North Korean missile. None of this is far-fetched: Some of these documents, such as those classified under special access programs, by definition contain some of our most closely held national security secrets. Moreover, given human nature and what we know about Trump’s predilections, it’s more likely that he (or whoever took the documents from the White House when he moved out) grabbed the more interesting and sensitive ones. No American would want to endanger the lives of our troops or covert agents because these kinds of secrets fell into the hands of foreign adversaries. Yet that is precisely the risk posed simply by being careless with pieces of government paper labeled top secret. As part of their relentless efforts to steal such secrets, China, Russia and other countries deploy agents on our soil and seek to recruit Americans to help them. It’s not too hard to envision one of those agents trying to entice or blackmail a worker at Mar-a-Lago to get information. Indeed, during Trump’s presidency, two Chinese nationals were apprehended at Mar-a-Lago for unauthorized entry. One had five cellphone SIM cards, cameras, nine thumb drives and thousands of dollars in cash — hardly a typical Florida tourist’s baggage. She served eight months in prison and was deported to China. Is it possible that some of the recently retrieved documents — which had been stored in a room off a hallway used by guests — were accessed by someone unauthorized to do so? We don’t know. But we can’t exclude the possibility — and that conclusion has enormous potential ramifications. I agree with this assessment, to a certain extent. It is possible to both oppose Donald Trump *and* be deeply concerned about classified document control and national security. But it is also nothing to joke about. I have found myself in dangerous situations due to operational security failures, and until you've felt that tingling on the back of your neck as you walk down the street, do not minimize the seriousness of this issue.


DIANE TREW: DON'T SELL THE GUNS FROM THE BUY-BACK PROGRAM: I was delighted to learn of the Raleigh Police Department gun buy-back program to remove guns from the streets. Although it was not clear what would happen to the guns, at least one source suggested they would be destroyed. I happily waited in line with my late father’s guns for 2 1/2 hours and donated back the gift card in hopes they could use the money to remove even more guns. Now, I read that the guns may be sold. In my attic the guns were more “off the streets” than they may be now. What a disappointment! What a waste of those officers’ time and energy. This is a question I wanted to ask (but didn't) when friends of mine were promoting this on Facebook. I refrained because I didn't want to steal the wind from their sails, but where those guns go is an important question. They should be destroyed, but if they are sold, how will they be sold? It may sound counterintuitive, but if the police sold them individually, they could vet the buyers and have a record of the transaction. But the most likely route will be to sell them en-masse to a third party (dealer), and they will end up back on the street somewhere. Maybe not in the Triangle area, but that's beside the point. Either destroy them (preferable) or take responsibility for each gun. That third option should not be an option.

EILEEN HANSON-KELLY: THE TIME TO INVEST IN OUR CHILDREN IS NOW: The kids are back in school, and another year begins without a sound basic education for our children. Our State Constitution guarantees a sound, basic education for all children. Since 1994 the courts have consistently found that our state is failing to meet even those minimum standards, stemming from the Leandro v. State of North Carolina case. This is morally unacceptable and a violation of our children’s Constitutional rights. The children are the future of our state and our nation. Why are our political leaders lagging behind, searching for new ways to get around the court’s rulings over 28 years? Right now the state has a surplus of $6 billion. Leandro can be fully funded without raising taxes. Here in Rowan County it could mean a budget increase of $62.7 million for our children’s education, according to Every Child NC. This investment could put our children on a path to better compete in this rapidly changing world. If we leave them behind, we do so at our own peril. I call on Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore to stop making excuses and to lead the General Assembly to fully fund the Leandro Plan. Our children all deserve a sound, basic education. Bolding mine, because it is important to remember that $6 Billion surplus, and not get caught up in the GOP's predictable rhetoric. The money is already there, and should have (already) been spent.

JEANNIE ENGEL: YES, CHOICE IS THE RIGHT WORD: Laurel Marlantes’s Aug. 23 op-ed, “The language around the abortion debate falls short,” was compelling in her wishing the “need to face choices around abortion on no one.” Pro-choice is not pro-abortion. The pro-choice perspective is that women, regardless of “predicament,” can decide how to manage their bodies and pregnancies. The ability to choose how to proceed allows a choice among medical and family planning options. The choice is private and, though private terminology can be supportive, choice is the right terminology for conversation and policy. Jeannie is correct. If you try to inject too much "nuance" into this debate, the basic civil rights involved can become clouded. That doesn't mean everyone will be comfortable with the word, but personal discomfort is a small price to pay for freedom.



A labor union story.

No, it's not "my" story; I have never been lucky enough to be part of a union. I've never had anybody but myself representing my interests, and I have suffered numerous unjust actions because of that. I've had my paychecks arbitrarily reduced, been placed in several unsafe work environments, and have actually been injured seriously and sent right back to the production line. Later, as a manager, I tried to keep those experiences in mind when dealing with my employees. But I was also conflicted, an inescapable condition that elevates profits over workers.

This is a story about a good friend of mine. I met him when he was attending college here in NC, an expensive education purchased by his union-member father, who worked at an auto factory. When my friend graduated, he struggled to find decent employment, so he soon followed his father's footsteps and took a union job at the same factory.

This was in the early 1990's, and my friend was soon earning about $58,000 per year. That may not sound very impressive these days, but back then it was substantial. He had fantastic health coverage, 3 weeks of paid vacation every year, 10 paid "personal" days each year on top of that, and even a profit-sharing program that added thousands to his annual earnings.

He had a brand-new car he purchased with an employee discount, a nice condominium (townhome) in a great neighborhood within walking distance of the beach, and money to do whatever the hell he wanted to do. Concerts, sporting events, nice restaurants, the works.

But he also had some mental health challenges that money couldn't seem to fix.

He believed a female co-worker was trying to harass him. She never said anything, but the way she "looked" at him was wrong. He was fastidious, and every item that ended up in his designated work area (a tiny screw on the floor, for instance) was put there on purpose. He reported this (imaginary) problem to management, and they made an effort to placate him. His female co-worker voluntarily relocated to another part of the plant. But her replacement did the same things, so they must have conspired.

He walked out one day in the middle of a shift, without informing management or his union rep. Thus began a series of attempts by said union rep to get him back to work. Appointments were made to work this out, only to be broken by my friend for one reason or another. This went on for about five weeks. His union rep even called me (250 miles away) to try to reason with my friend and get him back to work. I tried my best, but it didn't work.

The rest of the story is even more depressing, and my friend is no longer alive. But what I learned from this is that unions do much more than just collect dues from workers, and organize the occasional strike. They secure major benefits for workers, a quality of life rarely found in the absence of such an organization, and they stand beside those workers when they find themselves at odds with management.

Such representation should be the standard, but sadly it is not. And we can't just blame it on anti-union efforts by management and some lawmakers. Distrust in our fellow workers (and neighbors) is the biggest barrier to collective action, and we must find a way to move past that distrust, or we will never see progress.

No Twitter post this week...

I'm on strike! Just kidding, but I did get somewhat nauseous looking at some Tweets, so we'll try again next week.