Sunday News: From the Editorial Pages


BEFORE MORE TAX-CUTTING, LEGISLATURE MUST FUND UNMET OBLIGATIONS: Are we “collecting more money than we’re needing?” No, not even close. There are vast needs the legislature is obligated to provide that are going, and have gone, unmet. It is the duty and obligation our state Constitution requires of all branches of state government to meet: Providing a quality public education to all the state’s children and making sure those kids can get to school; Assuring that all citizens are healthy and safe; Making sure that higher education “as far as practicable” is “free of expense.” For whom is taxation a “burden,” as Berger terms it? Not the state’s businesses. The corporate income tax rate has dropped from 6.9% in 2011 to 2.5% this year. A decade ago the money from corporate income and franchise taxes was 10% of state tax revenues. Today it’s down to 8%. At the same time collection of sales and use taxes – the most unfair form of taxation since those with the least ability to pay must spend a greater share of their income on those taxes – has increased from 28% of revenues to 32% of total tax revenues. It is past time that North Carolina met it’s obligation to school children by providing the resources to give all access to a quality education – as the state Constitution promises and the courts have ordered. The truth is, their perpetual tax-cutting serves two main purposes: the erosion of public agencies and services, and their political campaigns that thrive on irresponsible voters. That second thing may be hard for many reading this to swallow, but it's the only logical conclusion to draw from the GOP's continued success at the polls.

SCHOOL OF CIVIC LIFE IS JUST ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF IDEOLOGICAL COMBATIVENESS: In January, the UNC Board of Trustees unveiled the School of Civic Life and Leadership – a new school within the College of Arts and Sciences. A resolution to accelerate the creation of the program was passed on Jan. 26 without the prior knowledge of faculty. The new school will supposedly promote democracy and protect free speech at UNC. It’s astonishingly clear that the school is merely a Trojan horse for a blatantly conservative political agenda, a trend in political discourse that precedes this proposal. The concept of self-censorship is too often used as a defense for this egregious overstep of administrative power. Those wary of voicing their views, out of fear of damaging relationships or villainizing themselves in the eyes of professors, often opt for silencing themselves. If you are in perpetual fear of consequences for the things you have to say, it’s time to take a personal inventory of your views and ask why they might alienate your peers or have consequences – and why you do are unwilling to be held accountable for those views. Let us be clear. There is no free speech crisis at UNC. We have a crisis of campus employees not being paid livable wages. We have a crisis of not being able to hire and retain faculty members of color. We have a pervasive sexual assault crisis. A lead in the water crisis. A billion-dollar maintenance backlog crisis. But, a free speech crisis? We don’t think so. To suggest you cannot comfortably be conservative in a country, state and academic institution with deeply conservative roots is to take on a victim complex that does not mirror the reality of right-leaning lived experiences. The audacity of politicians to dictate class content down to the exact percentage weight of exams is indicative of their distrust and disrespect of educators. Politicians' involvement in education is politicizing education. Not the other way around. This isn’t a proposal on behalf of a righteous conviction for promoting “civic leadership.” Millions of volunteer hours compiled and the swathes of student-led philanthropic clubs and organizations prove civic leadership is already in abundance. It’s the fact that UNC is predominantly liberal — the “wrong” kind of civic engagement in the eyes of the BOT. Free speech and unbiased curricula are important, and no one's voice should feel stifled in the classroom. But is it the students and faculty who are scared of liberal discourse, or the BOT? They’ve certainly overstepped their job description to remedy it. It's not "Liberal indoctrination" that steers students and future professors to the left, it's intellectual evolution that does this. See my comment below...

DENIERS ARE SILENT AS ELECTION WORKERS TOIL TO ASSURE HONEST VOTE: On Jan. 8, 2023 North Carolina listed 7,413,909 voters on registration rolls. Just eight weeks later, there are 7,219,097 voters listed on voter registration rolls. That’s as if every voter in Brunswick and Pender counties suddenly disappeared. Why aren’t the election deniers up in arms? Why aren’t our legislative leaders, who have been quick with criticism of state election administrators in their efforts to impose discriminatory voter ID laws, offering up outrage? (Again, just a reminder, we FAVOR voter ID – but in ways that DO NOT discriminate or prevent eligible citizens from exercising their right to cast ballots. It can be done.) There’s a simple reason for their silence. North Carolina has diligent oversight over elections, voting and voter registration. Voting officials are doing their job to make sure only those who are properly qualified can register to vote. And when those voters cast their ballots, it is done by the same person who is registered. In an orderly and proscribed manner, local elections officials go through their voter rolls. Voters who are listed as “inactive” for casting ballots in at least eight years or failing to respond to official correspondence from election officials concerning confirmation of their residence are removed from the rolls. Since the first of this year more than 264,000 inactive voters have been deleted from voter lists. I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of aggressive voter roll maintenance. Considering how dismal our voter turnout usually is, a system that leans on "activity" is bound to target some who simply haven't been "moved" to vote, for one reason or another. It shouldn't be a "use it or lose it" proposition; it's not a fricking sales coupon, it's a Constitutional right.

BATTLEGROUND UNIVERSITY: NEOLIBERALISM IS SILENCING EDUCATION: Institutions like the University of Iowa and John A Logan College in Illinois put diversity-focused initiatives and events on hold. But while President Joe Biden’s administration overturned the directive, the so-called culture wars have continued. There have been legislative efforts in a majority of US states to effectively ban conversations on racism and white privilege from the classroom. Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are among those that have already imposed bans and restrictions. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s office has celebrated his state’s anti-critical race theory legislation as a rejection of “the progressivist higher education indoctrination agenda”. DeSantis has committed to “removing all woke positions and ideologies” from the curriculum. Meanwhile, many institutions have now adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, which it equates with criticism of Israel and its policies. These attacks on progressive thought and scholarship are often carried out under the guise of keeping excessive activism out of the classroom. The argument is that woke ideologies and an activist approach to teaching and learning rooted in issues such as racism, colonialism and gender undermines the sanctity of scientific knowledge production and dissemination. Of course, such claims ignore the ample evidence that shows that scientific progress has been anything but apolitical. We could, for instance, look to the Tuskegee syphilis study from 1932 to 1972, in which 400 African American men were infected with syphilis without their knowledge and left untreated to see the development of the disease. But claims of excessive activism in academia also rest on the neoliberal rethinking of the university and its purpose. Today’s neoliberal universities are no longer concerned with widening intellectual horizons and inspiring future generations to build a better tomorrow. Higher education is seen as a financial investment made by students. This commodification of higher education has also gone hand in hand with expansive cuts in national higher education budgets, increases in tuition fees, precarious working conditions and gender pay gaps. The writing is on the wall, especially as social sciences and humanities faculties feel the crunch of austerity. This was the case in 2015 when the Japanese government ordered all 86 of the country’s universities to take “steps to abolish [social science and humanities] organisations or to convert them to serve areas that better meet society’s needs”. While the leadership at some of the most prestigious universities pushed back, 26 universities confirmed that they would either “close or scale back” social science and humanities faculties. The arts, humanities and social science faculties are now facing a similar attack in the UK, where public funding is being redirected towards STEM and the health sciences. The government has justified the latest round of cuts as necessary to meet the needs and realities of a post-pandemic world. Make no mistake, the degradation of the Humanities in higher education (and lower) goes hand-in-hand with the degradation of democracy itself, and we won't be able to recognize the latter when it happens.

THE GOP'S EPIC DEFEAT ON HEALTH CARE IS LAID BARE IN NORTH CAROLINA: Just after the Affordable Care Act fully took effect in 2014, around two dozen GOP-run states were refusing to implement the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. This left millions of Americans languishing in a needless crisis, all because ACA-despising Republican legislators were turning away enormous sums of federal cash earmarked to cover their state’s poorest adult residents. But in the near-decade since, health-care advocates have painstakingly overcome that opposition, and many of those states have now embraced the expansion. Between this and the failure of years of ACA repeal drives, the GOP has essentially been routed in the Obamacare wars. The scale of this defeat is evident in big news out of North Carolina, where leaders in the GOP-controlled legislature announced a deal Thursday to accept the expansion. It will require hospitals to pay the state’s minimal contribution to the cost. (The federal government generally funds 90 percent.) Republicans accepted this deal only after years of ferocious resistance. And this is a tremendous win for advocates and Democrats, because it stands to cover as many as 600,000 poor North Carolinians, in a state that proponents have targeted for years. The popularity of Medicaid appears to have surprised conservatives, who apparently saw it as an easily targeted big-government program for poor people. The prospect of cuts to Medicare — whose beneficiaries are vocal, organized seniors — presented a well-understood danger. But surely Medicaid cuts wouldn’t matter as much politically. Reality has shown otherwise. In the past dozen years or so, voters in seven GOP-run or red-leaning holdout states have defied Republican legislatures by voting in referendums to accept the expansion. In a number of others, Republican officials have initiated acceptance through executive actions or legislation. If North Carolina’s legislature passes the new deal, only 10 holdout states will remain. On the state level, it’s becoming clearer that resisting the expansion is politically untenable, particularly in purplish states. In North Carolina, for instance, the expansion has had overwhelming public support. When the state Senate leader finally accepted the expansion in principle last year, he openly admitted he had fought it long and hard before capitulating to its fundamental financial logic. “Most red states have come around to the view that the federal money on the table for their low-income residents is too hard to turn your back on,” Larry Levitt, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s executive vice president for health policy, tells us. Pretty sure BergerMoore don't give two shits about NC's working poor, but I don't want to put the kibosh on this thing, so I'ma hold my tongue. For now...


JEANNE YOCUM: WE NEED MORE FROM BETH WOOD: In “NC auditor indicates she won’t resign over hit-and-run,” (March 1) Beth Wood says, “...all I can take responsibility for the accident and fix what was broken.” But she isn’t taking responsibility or fixing the chief thing that has been broken, the public trust in our state auditor. Instead, Wood has hidden behind lawyers, avoided a court appearance, and largely ignored the media. Paying for damages caused by the wreck falls into the “least she can do” category. To truly fix things, she needs to tell us honestly what happened that night. Had she done that in December, all but the legal outcome of this sorry episode would be behind her. Instead, it lingers around her like a bad smell. Waiting for the facts to come out in court might be a good legal tactic, but for a public official, it’s disastrous. The public deserves and wants more from our leaders. What Jeanne said. We Dems have a bad habit of ignoring the bad behavior of some of our electeds (I hate using that word, BTW), and it has tarnished our brand, to say the least. This whole episode stinks to high heaven, and that laundry needs to be aired.

DIERDRE MACK: BOYS PRAYING? COME ON: Regarding the March 2 front-page photo... The group praying with former U.S. Rep Mark Walker for a six-week abortion ban appeared to be primarily male. Perhaps if men were required to pay child support until any offspring reached age 21 and were required to help women who must bear a perhaps unwanted child, maybe they would have second thoughts. Also, at six weeks many women cannot be sure of pregnancy, or have time to consider what’s the best option for her medically, financially or emotionally. Of course they're mostly male, because the subjugation of women is a core tenet of the White Male Patriarchy. And it shouldn't just be the paternal fathers who pay for these unwanted pregnancies; all men who would take this decision away from women should be forced to pay. Maybe then they would STFU.

KATHY MEGYERI: FAREWELL TO THE ENGLISH MAJOR: Marymount University’s dismantling of programs in economics and English was a startling revelation for my husband and me since we both made a living from those fields. My husband went on to earn a law degree, MBA and CPA, and retired from the House Judiciary Committee as a staffer. I taught high school English for 34 years in Montgomery County Public Schools. These majors gave us good middle-class careers and a comfortable retirement, but now we learn that those fields are not considered “fulfilling, in-demand careers of the future,” as stated by Marymount University. St. Mary’s University of Minnesota is also phasing out liberal arts majors such as English, and I’m sure it is only a matter of time before larger universities nationwide follow suit. Never before have I thought our skill sets were worthless, irrelevant and antiquated. Setting aside the "marketability" of a Liberal Arts degree, the impact of doing away with these programs will be disastrous. All of the Humanities are important, but both communication and the very acquisition of knowledge hinge upon a healthy understanding of our language. It's utility should not be in question, and the fact that it is should be a warning in itself.



The evolution of a Liberal...

My parents were both Republicans, and so were many of the parents of families we socialized with. Not all, but many. So there was a certain amount of indoctrination to which I was exposed at an early age. Not so much direct indoctrination; parents back then paid as little attention to their kids as they could get away with. Which was fine, frankly. We had our own agendas, which usually involved things they wouldn't approve of anyway. But osmosis was in effect, and something as boring as politics was suitable for that type of assimilation.

So as I entered adulthood, I was firmly (if not excitedly) in the R camp. I voted for Reagan like the good robot I was, and ironically ended up serving in the military under his leadership. It was that exposure which began my evolution.

The main function of Special Forces at the time was to help manage our proxy wars with the Soviet Union in the 3rd World, and my area of operation was Africa and the Middle East. Mostly Africa. I came to understand it was not really an ideological struggle as much as it was a strategic one, between the two superpowers. Good guys and bad guys became increasingly hard to discern, just as it did in Central and South America, with Right-Wing death squads targeting Catholic nuns and such. In a word, it was a mess.

But it did force me to learn more about the genesis of African countries, how their individual histories had developed. Which led me to European colonization, Social Darwnism, irredentism, and other issues, which must needs be studied more deeply.

So, when I re-enlisted (because I hate change, and leaving the military to start over again frightened the bejesus out of me), I took advantage of the semester release option and went (back to) to college full time for 6 months. That six months turned into two years of night school, and because of the nature of the courses, I completed some 86 hours of courses via two month "terms." Needless to say, being on active duty and attending full-time classes was exhausting. But I was on the Deans List throughout, although I paid the price with a failed marriage...That's another story for another time.

I lolled at somebody who once accused me of being indoctrinated with a Liberal education. I attended Campbell University, which included 3 semesters of required bible study. I turned Liberal in spite of that institution, not because of it. My pursuit of knowledge actually undermined my ability to achieve a Degree, because I chose my classes based on what I wanted to know, and not what I needed to check off of a list. Almost exclusively History courses, which included a couple of 500 level grad courses that I shouldn't have been able to take yet. But I aced 'em, so my professors kinda ignored my undergrad status. I didn't completely ignore the sciences, I threw in Abnormal Psychology and a grueling Geology lab. But mostly History, with a dash of lit and composition.

What did I learn? Primary sources are critical. Like Beha ed Din's What Befell The Sultan Yusuf, about Salah ed Din's rise to power. Where I learned of the massacre on the Plain of Acre by Richard the Lionheart. The struggle of African leaders to shed the influence of Colonialism, while European (and American) administrations constantly pushed minority rule to keep said countries in line. And the growing realization that American institutions were filtering history to suit a selfish and greedy agenda, and equality was more of a myth than a reality.

This was in the 1980's, and I genuinely felt outrage at the deception. Our universities have come a long way since then, and the pursuit of truth and critical thinking has improved greatly. But there are those who would take us back, replace developmental growth with deception once again. And we cannot allow that to happen.