Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


TAKE IT FROM US; POLITICIANS CAN'T BE TRUSTED TO DRAW ELECTORAL MAPS: Our states — Maryland and North Carolina — are among the most gerrymandered in the country. Take a look at our congressional district maps, and you will see some absurd-looking districts. This is no artistic statement; it is a scheme to concentrate one party’s voters — often using race as a proxy for party affiliation — in as few districts as possible, while spreading out another party’s voters into a larger number of districts that can still be comfortably won. Gerrymandering also has a toxic, polarizing effect on the conduct of elected officials. It makes them more beholden to the party leaders who draw the boundaries than to the voters who live within them. The fear of a primary challenger backed by their party leader forces them to fall into line and focus on the narrow interests of the party and its more stalwart voters. They become less responsive to the full spectrum of needs in their district, and common ground and the common good take a back seat to a safe seat. It is just wrong.

LACK OF COOPERATION SUNK THE DURHAM-ORANGE LIGHT RAIL PROJECT: U.S. Rep. David Price, as chairman of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, was well positioned to give secure federal funding for the light rail project. His statement on its end is worth noting here: “With the Triangle growing and developing rapidly, we cannot afford to sit on our hands and watch as our roads clog with traffic and prospective employers choose to locate elsewhere. Unfortunately, for now we have been stymied by unreasonable conditions imposed by the General Assembly and by the failure of essential participants to reach agreement.” If key parties stand separate, the Triangle will choke on its lack of options for getting from here to there. It’s not an attractive situation for major employers who might consider the Triangle, and eventually it will be discouraging for people who are here. That a transportation project failed is one thing. That the legislature and the Triangle failed to cooperate is more worrisome. Without cooperation — much more than without light rail — the Triangle isn’t going anywhere.

NC TEACHERS PREPARE TO MARCH TO RESTORE BENEFITS STRIPPED BY LEGISLATURE: After the state budget was passed in the summer of 2017, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger was quick to congratulate his legislative colleagues for what he referred to as an ongoing effort to “improve education outcomes.” But provisions buried deep in the budget’s fine print actually made it even more difficult to address our teacher shortage and in fact discourage teachers from entering the profession. The budget changed retirement health benefits for state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2021. Teachers hired after that date, who devote their lives to serving the children of North Carolina, will be forced to purchase their own health insurance after they retire. That’s a really scary prospect considering the exorbitant costs and uncertainty surrounding health care in the United States. This pending change comes as North Carolina is already mired in an education crisis and growing teacher shortage. Teacher salaries lag far behind the national average, career protections have been stripped, pay for advanced degrees has been revoked, and insurance premium costs have steadily risen.

THE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS AMONG AMERICA'S YOUTH IS REAL, AND STAGGERING: Although the increase in mental health issues occurred around the same time as the opioid epidemic, that crisis seemed to almost exclusively affect adults older than 25. But there was one societal shift over the past decade that influenced the lives of today’s teens and young adults more than any other generation: the spread of smartphones and digital media like social media, texting and gaming. While older people use these technologies as well, younger people adopted them more quickly and completely, and the impact on their social lives was more pronounced. In fact, it has drastically restructured their daily lives. Compared with their predecessors, teens today spend less time with their friends in person and more time communicating electronically, which study after study has found is associated with mental health issues.

THE SECRET DEATH TOLL OF AMERICA'S DRONES: The Pentagon says airstrikes by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State killed at least 1,257 civilians in Iraq and Syria as of the end of January. Airwars, a university-based monitoring group, estimates that those strikes killed at least 7,500 civilians in those countries. Those disparities show how poorly the American public understands the human cost of an air war fought largely by remote-controlled drones. Drones have been the main weapon in the counterterrorism fight for more than a decade. They kill extremists without risking American lives, making combat seem antiseptic on the home front. But the number of civilians killed in these attacks is shrouded in secrecy. President Trump has made it even harder to lift that shroud, by allowing the Central Intelligence Agency to keep secret how many civilians are killed in the agency’s airstrikes outside of the Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian war zones — in places like Yemen, the lawless border region of Pakistan and North Africa. Mr. Trump has also eroded constraints on civilian casualties. Since taking office, he has rescinded rules that required the military and the C.I.A. operating outside of hot battlefields like Afghanistan and Iraq to limit their targets to high-level militants rather than foot soldiers. He also, by eliminating an elaborate interagency approval process, gave military commanders more authority to order drone strikes.


PETER ANDREWS: BARR SUMMARY DOES NOT PASS THE SMELL TEST: The Mueller report summary does not pass the smell test. How can there have been no collusion when we have seen so much evidence of it? When 34 individuals and three corporations have been indicted? How can there have been no obstruction of justice when the president fired FBI Director James Comey and his assistant Andrew McCabe, continually criticized his attorney general for recusing himself, and for two years has attacked the Justice Department, the FBI, and special prosecutor in every way possible in order to discredit them and their work? What we’ve heard so far in Attorney General William Barr’s brief summary is simply not believable. I’ll summarize this in just five words: All roads led to Trump.

PAT MCCRARY: IF THIS IS GREATNESS, GIVE ME MEDIOCRITY: It is ironic that Donald Trump’s campaign catchphrase harkens back to a purportedly golden era in American life — a time when Americans were happier, more prosperous, industrious, law-abiding, reverent and so on. The implication would be that modern America is a muddle of disharmony, a socially rent, morally bankrupt — dare I say it? — swamp. Two years into the noble exercise that is MAGA it strikes this observer as odd that its orange-hued progenitor has coarsened our political and social discourse to such an extent that mendacity, belittling, demeaning language and general vitriol spews forth at agonizingly regular intervals — an Old Faithful of bombastic drivel. Compassion, integrity and selflessness are concepts spun off into a very postmodern oblivion at the hands of this avatar of soulless acquisitiveness. Only an incompetent, malignant boob would conceive of such “revitalization.” America has produced just such a man, and just such a uniquely revolting spectacle of id impulses run amok. This observer hopes fervently that 2020 sees us return to mere mediocrity.

ARLAND EYL: LISTEN TO THE CHILDREN'S VOICES ON CLIMATE CHANGE: On March 1, thousands of children around the world left their classrooms to share the message that we must do something to slow the steady deterioration of the environment. They know that, unless we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, their generation will grow up with the catastrophic consequences of a severely disrupted climate. While each of us must find ways to reduce our own carbon emissions, making rapid progress toward a solution depends on the policies of our government and the actions of corporations. A bipartisan bill to address carbon emissions has been introduced in the House of Representatives called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R.763). This policy puts a fee on carbon in fossil fuels coming into the country. The fee starts low but increases over time, providing incentive for everyone to move toward cleaner energy options. The collected fees are allocated in equal shares to the American people to spend as they see fit. The government does not keep any of the money from the carbon fee. The voices of our children are speaking clearly. Are we listening?



From the dark side

J. Peder Zane slides into his reserved seat again for defending white privilege:

The college admissions scandal unfolding in Hollywood powerfully debunks the left’s view of America as a rigged and racist society.

The 50 or so actors and executives implicated so far did not believe their wealth and power were enough to get their kids into top schools — hence their criminal scheme to lie and cheat their way to the top.

*sigh* Starting off by missing the entire point. In reality, they didn't believe their children had scored high enough and/or excelled in extra-academic activities to make the cut, so they used their wealth and power to rewrite their child's history. The fact they didn't blink an eye in doing so merely affirms that white privilege is alive and well, and taken for granted.

The worried wealthy strive to give their kids a leg up. They hire piano teachers and tutors, arrange summer camps at MIT and mission trips to Africa. As a result, they produce children who are more likely to earn the grades and test scores, to possess the extracurricular skills that elite schools prize. It is that demonstrated achievement that explains a 2017 Harvard study that found that more kids at 38 top schools come from families in the upper one percent of income than from the bottom 60 percent.

Is this unfair? In the abstract, yes. In reality, wealth will always be distributed unequally and parents have every right to spend their money as they see fit. Don’t we want parents to help their children reach the limits of their talents? Shouldn’t we reward that effort?

Oh, we reward that effort all right. We reward that effort by making sure the schools they attend are in top condition (no mold on the walls or lead in the drinking fountains for these kids), we reward that effort when we give them "warning" tickets for speeding and reckless driving, we reward that effort when they do end up in court by dropping charges and making sure their criminal records are either squeaky clean or sealed behind unbreakable walls, and we reward that effort when we refuse to prosecute them for date-rape.

Every time a black kid drives to the store, he's putting his future in jeopardy. A white kid? That's just a (drive) in the park.

Voices on the left ignore those dynamics, painting a portrait of privilege by harping on one area where some kids do enjoy unearned advantage: legacy admissions. It is troubling that applicants whose family members had attended the school before them receive extra consideration.

Still, there is no hard data detailing the size of the advantage given to legacies.

By contrast, we know that affirmative action programs make it easier--

I'm gonna cut you off right there, because that tired trope has been abused by you jackasses for too long already.

The (big) problem with Legacies is that institutions know as long as they honor that unspoken agreement, alumni will continue to donate. And if your alum parents write big checks, you probably will to, after you've graduated. It's a carousel that only the top earners can ride, and there is no valid rationalization for it.

So jackasses like Zane trot out their Affirmative Action arguments as a counterpoint, when in reality, it was the elitist legacy issue that required that fix in the first place. Talk about projection.

But there are too many other poor kids, especially African Americans and Hispanics, who are not reaching their potential. That is unacceptable. It is especially frustrating that decades of expensive interventions have not closed the achievement gap.

To assign that failure to dark forces is not only false, it’s a sign of surrender. It tells our most vulnerable kids don’t try. What they need to hear is that you raise yourself up in our meritocracy, where nothing is guaranteed and everything is possible.

Blah blah blah. We know a lot more about the drivers of academic failure now than we did fifty years ago, and "try harder" isn't even on the list of solutions anymore.

Two of the main drivers are malnutrition and trauma. The former may sound self-explanatory, but most people do not understand the link between nutrition and cognition, especially for children who are still growing at a rapid rate. But it's the latter (trauma) we are only now beginning to understand.

Trauma comes in many forms, and not all of them are related to violence. Being evicted from home, forced into a new environment that often is not welcoming, triggers an almost primal survival mode. When that happens, higher functioning such as learning complex math or science is extremely difficult. Your brain is busy trying to keep you alive and safe, leaving very little juice for personal "betterment."

But when people like Zane hear or read about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's), their conservative brains just shut down. They can't comprehend it, so it isn't real. We had a County Commissioner actually say, "That's a buncha bullshit!" when somebody tried to explain ACE's during a meeting.

As for Zane, he needs to "try harder" to understand issues he writes about. Or just quit writing, I don't fucking care which.