Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


ENOUGH CLOWNING, WASHINGTON NEEDS TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT PANDEMIC RELIEF: It was the middle of May – more than seven months ago – that the House of Representatives passed a bill to provide an additional wave of COVID-19 relief to provide more stimulus for the economy and to help state and local governments, millions of unemployed workers and their families. The Senate, since receiving the bill in May, did nothing for months – no hearings on the bill; no alternative legislation; no concern for the plight of the nation’s workers and families. All the American people got was partisan posturing as U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, complained of a so-called “blue-state bailout” for state and local governments. The final passage and signing of the relief bill was the apotheosis of dysfunction that has plagued Washington amid the reign of President Trump and McConnell’s rule of the Senate.

GENE NICHOL: WHAT COVID 19 HAS DONE TO RACIAL INEQUALITY IN NC: Racial income disparity is huge. But racial wealth disparity astonishes. Black households, on average, claim less than a tenth of the economic assets of white Tar Heel families. Racial minorities are dramatically more likely, in North Carolina, to be unemployed, uninsured, food insecure, housing insecure, and trapped in low wage work. And then came the tragic, terrifying COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Tar Heels were cast, anew, into poverty. No Kid Hungry estimates that, this year, one in four Tar Heel children won’t be able to get enough to eat. State food pantries report a 38% increase in demand over recent months. Since March, over half of Black families, and 43% of Latinx households, lost significant employment income sources. There is much irony here – from varied directions. Over the last decade, North Carolina has produced one of the nation’s most brutal anti-poverty-relief programs. Restrictions on health care, unemployment compensation, earned income tax credits, food stamps, legal services, child care and subsistence welfare have been implemented in the apparent belief that poor Tar Heels are unworthy. They are, it is said, lazy, unwilling to work, without ambition or discipline. They seek to live on the generosity of others. Not here.

MARC BASNIGHT WAS A BRIDGE TO A BETTER NC: Marc Basnight was not formally educated. But Marc Basnight was a learned man. He understood what an education could mean, both for himself and for every North Carolinian. And that translated to strong, steadfast support for higher education in North Carolina. “In everything he did, his focus was on how this project would move North Carolina forward, how it would improve the lives and economic opportunities of ‘the little guy,’” said former UNC System President Erskine Bowles. In 2000, Basnight pushed through a $3.1 billion bond issue on behalf of UNC institutions and N.C. community colleges – the biggest higher-education bond issue in U.S. history at the time. He absorbed the world around him. So after a wave of hog-lagoon spills and fish kills, in 1996 he created the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which eventually grew to $100 million a year to protect streams and watersheds across the state. All those streams flow to the sea, after all. From his modest origins, his relentless reading, his chats with farmers and fishermen and what he observed in a cancer hospital, Marc Basnight saw what North Carolina could become. And he acted on it in ways North Carolinians will feel for generations.

OUR BIGGEST TASK IN THE NEW YEAR: END THE CHAOS: Disorder, turmoil, uncertainty, lies and misinformation are all marks of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. Bureaus, departments and ministries are set against one another. Power is delegated to compliant minions, whose one goal is to please the leader. Large parts of a nation’s wealth are funneled into the coffers of cronies. Confusion is deliberately created as to who is in charge of what, and personal pledges of loyalty to the leader are demanded. Efforts are made to turn the judiciary into a servant of the regime. Collegial ties with democratic allies are neglected, and new ones are formed with various bosses and presidents-for-life. To what extent the Trump administration has been guilty of any or all of these things can be debated, but the president’s post-election behavior — pardoning unpardonable offenses and maligning state officials for performing their election duties honestly and in accord with the law — is beyond argument; it is disgusting. President-elect Joe Biden clearly recognizes the job before him and has the temperament for it. One word often used in speaking of him is “decent.” But the same adjective has been applied to several other presidents of recent memory who were not reelected. What Mr. Biden must deal with is the legacy of a classic demagogue, someone who seizes on people’s discontent and assures them there are simple answers for it, usually involving plots, conspiracies and the behavior of “others”: minorities, foreigners, the media, whatever. The incoming president will have a huge task before him. His primary tool should be an old one, somewhat in disuse at the White House in recent times: the truth.

NURSING HOME PATIENTS ARE DYING OF LONELINESS: Chronic loneliness increases the odds of an early death by about 20 percent, according to the 2008 book “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.” The stress hormones that come from feeling socially isolated can have as serious an impact on the human body as smoking or obesity, presenting such a public health crisis that the British government appointed a minister for loneliness in 2017. For elderly people who struggle to hear and see on phone and video calls, the loneliness of nursing homes could feel overwhelming even before the pandemic set in. Social isolation because of the coronavirus in nursing homes has increased depression, weight loss and other forms of physical deterioration, especially for Alzheimer’s patients, who often need more help than understaffed centers can provide. Families play an important role in the routine care of patients in long-term care homes, which often include feeding, grooming and encouraging mental and physical exercise. Since the pandemic began, at least five states have expanded access for “compassionate care” visitors who are allowed in even when the general public is kept at bay. Minnesota eased restrictions on visits over the summer after medical examiners began listing “COVID-19 social isolation” as a cause of death or a contributing factor for patients in long-term care centers. Those national guidelines have allowed for “compassionate care” visits since the beginning of the pandemic, but the term was widely interpreted as referring to special visitation for patients on the verge of death. In September, the agency issued a clarification that “compassionate care” visits could also be used for patients in other situations, such as those who recently transitioned to a nursing home and have been traumatized by the sudden lack of family contact. The national guidelines also suggested that more outdoor visits could be held if space and weather permitted.


CRAIG RHYNE: IT'S A SHAME THAT FACTS AREN'T IMPORTANT IN POLITICS: The Post recently published information on the editorial page of its printed edition about U.S. Rep. Ted Budd’s objection to Congress counting certain electoral votes generated from the recent presidential election. This latest effort by Budd and others to challenge election results in other states without providing evidence of widespread fraud or other improper activity is as ridiculous as the numerous failed attempts over the past several weeks to have the judicial branch intervene. In a court of law, facts are important. It is a shame there are no such evidential requirements in the world of politics. These reckless stunts do far more to erode confidence in our electoral system than rare, isolated incidents of misconduct. If by Jan. 20, when the new president takes the oath of office, Budd still has not shown factually why this election should be nullified, then he should apologize to his constituents for misleading them. He should also apologize to the voters he tried to disenfranchise in states that worked hard to successfully preserve election integrity and ensure ballot access in challenging times.

SCOTT BEBB: INTERNET PROVIDERS NEED TO COOPERATE, GET SERVICE TO RURAL AREAS: With all of the bad news lately, it was a welcome change of pace to read your Dec. 18 article on rural internet expansion in southern Robeson County through the Brunswick County-based cooperative, ATMC. As welcome as the news was, it left some of us poor rural folk without home internet service asking a simple question: why can’t our local county cooperative be as proactive? LREMC has the basic backbone of the network already in place; evenly spaced throughout their service area via strategically located fiber-optic hubs. Apparently, their business model prohibits them from utilizing most of these hubs and completing “the last mile” connection until they can recoup the capital they expended on infrastructure. Understandable. To their credit, ATMC found a way through federal and state grant money that has been out there for the asking for years. Unfortunately, these sporadic grants only offer a piecemeal approach to real rural expansion and lack economy of scale. There are relatively few people served at a high cost and with time lags with each iteration of these grants’ implementation. Until all high-speed internet providers start cooperating in a real effort to provide an essential service to the entire rural community, this expansion will continue at a glacial pace. And these providers will continue separately to eke out just enough expansion to be competitive for the next round of grants.

DR. LUCY LAWRENCE: A SURVIVOR'S BRAVERY-AND ASHEVILLE SCHOOL'S COWARDICE-SHOW URGENT NEED FOR CHANGE: I am inspired by Agnes Hill’s courage and bravery to tell her humiliating story of violation and sexual violence as a student at the Asheville School (Asheville Citizen Times, Dec. 13). While the details of Agnes’ story are unique, many women can relate to her response of freezing and dissociation during an act of sexual violence. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women in the United States experiences sexual violence in their lifetimes, with younger people at highest risk. Agnes is a strong and true young woman, and a survivor with integrity. I applaud her for using her voice intentionally to turn her trauma into a case laid bare, in hopes that her experience can bring about structural change and justice. Agnes’ case demonstrates two levels of structural change urgently needed in our society. 1) We must understand the nature of consent. In the affidavit, the perpetrator voluntarily details the actions of his violations against Agnes. That “arching her back” was interpreted as consent. Reminiscent of the “boys will be boys” mentality played out publicly in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2018, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was dismissed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. 2) Educational institutions, public or private, must observe laws and rules for the greater good of their communities. Institutions must resist the urge to subjugate others for the sake of appearance and to preserve reputation. This behavior was evident in Dr. Sgro’s attempt to buy Dr. Hill’s silence in return for allowing his family to exit the school with dignity. The School’s handling of the Title IX investigation is troubling. In coming forward with her story, Agnes is passing the torch to others. Her struggle has left her demoralized and isolated. This is common for survivors of sexual violence, whose mental and physical health, relationships, and work/school can be negatively affected by the traumatic event. Agnes’ case is mortifying. It illustrates an institutional defense of the status quo as it relates to the protection and preservation of masculine fragility and misdeeds.



No more conspiracy theories

In response to a friend's question about things we would like to see change in 2021, I wrote this:

No more bullshit. No more conspiracy theories. Occam's Razor sharpened. Put science so far above superstition there's no longer a conflict between the two, and no more polite humoring of those who would bring back that conflict.

Understand, Trump leaving office will not automatically make this come to pass. And it isn't just those on the right who perpetuate such "straying from reality."

A recent video posted on BlueNC discussed how conspiracy theories help people tie things up in a nice little package, with an evil bow on top. It helps bring focus to anger over situations, but focusing on things that don't really exist is both futile and counterproductive.

Only by focusing on the most likely explanation (Occams' Razor) can you even attempt to fix a problem. True, there are some overarching themes (corporate deregulation) that can (must) be recognized and opposed, but that still requires a focus on the individual regulations that have been compromised, in order to repair the damage. We can talk about the Big Bad Wolf all day long, but we need to be building a better fence while we're doing it. If that makes any sense.

What we shouldn't be doing is emulating the behavior of traitorous Republicans. They've made a mockery of our Constitution, our traditional balance of powers. But for the most part, it has failed. Gohmert's idiotic lawsuit to give VP Mike Pence the authority to ignore election results is just one example. But I've also seen Democrats promote the idea of VP Kamala Harris using her position presiding over the Senate to push bills to the floor for a vote, thus undermining McConnell's chokehold over that body.

Sounds like a good idea, right? Wrong. If the Executive Branch can dictate the business of the Legislative Branch, we might as well live in an Autocracy.

We would probably never have considered such a thing were it not for the behavior of Republicans. Read that again. Our Democracy has been put to the test, and strained to the limits. The very last thing we need to do is strain it further. It's tempting to contemplate radical changes to address the radical changes that have brought this country to its knees.

We need to resist that temptation.