SCHOOLS ARE FOR LEARNING, NOT A BATTLEFIELD IN A "CULTURE WAR": The data on the status of public education in North Carolina is shocking. More than 5,000 North Carolina classrooms without teachers. Fewer substitutes are available, many lack necessary teaching qualifications to do more than monitor classrooms. 10% of the buses don’t have drivers to get students to school. Shortages of nurses and counselors abound. These dire circumstances plague school districts large and small, urban and rural. No school, no system is immune. What kind of urgency do our state legislators bring to this crisis? None. They’re obsessed with waging their so-called culture war. In a state where there aren’t enough teachers for every classroom, the first topic on the agenda was legislation to prevent teachers from talking about certain subjects. Regretfully, North Carolina’s legislative leaders choose to play politics with their partisan base. They promote a facade of parental involvement while short-changing the schools their children attend. Stop the rhetoric and antics. End the disruptive tactics and start now to make the prudent decisions and investments in the education of students, the quality of those who lead their classrooms and the resources these students and teachers need so they have the quality learning opportunities they’ve been promised. Education is the cornerstone of a healthy economy, and it's even more critical in a state that is trying to evolve from textile and furniture manufacturing to higher tech 21st century operations. We need leaders who understand that, not bible-thumping demagogues.
NC'S "DON'T SAY GAY" BILL IS A HUMAN RIGHTS NIGHTMARE: Though promoted as a scheme to empower parents — a sponsor described it as an effort to prevent “government schools” from indoctrinating students in ways contrary to their family’s values — the bill is really as a practical matter, about three main issues: outing LGBTQ kids, banning obvious classroom questions and discussions that curious kids living in the 21st century will inevitably pursue, and demonizing LGBTQ people, while sending the message that they constitute a lesser and unmentionable class of people. As one former public schoolteacher insightfully explained to the committee considering the measure: “This bill perpetuates the harm of silencing queer youth and keeping communities ignorant instead of providing the information necessary for folks to understand and support one another. Under the guise of parental rights, you are trying to criminalize queerness. You want your children to share their pronouns and come out to you rather than legislating educators to traumatically out them? Try creating an inclusive environment at home that supports your child’s safety.” In other words, as with past efforts to crudely censor topics like sex education and the history of race in America, the “Parents Bill of Rights” isn’t so much about “rights” as it is about control and turning back the clock to prevent open and honest discussions (and the sharing of accurate information) with children for whom it would be hugely beneficial. The bottom line: While the sponsors and supporters of the legislation may not have noticed or be willing to admit it, the LGBTQ genie is — permanently and at long last — out of the bottle in our culture, and our kids can handle it. What they and their teachers need now is not judgment, censorship and silence, but love, support and accurate information. And it’s in light of this reality that the so-called Parents Bill of Rights bill represents a case of wasted energy and badly misplaced priorities at a time in which our schools can least afford to wander down such a road. And make no mistake, this bill will cost lives. The suicide rate amongst LGBTQ+ youth is already frighteningly high, and isolating them on the one hand while doxxing them to close-minded parents on the other is a recipe for heartbreaking disaster. The only "evil" that needs to be dealt with is bigotry.
THE EXPIRATION DATE ON SOCIAL SECURITY: What does social security mean to you? To me, it’s a term I associate with wrinkles and dentures. It’s something that doesn’t concern me until my hips chronically hurt, and I move to Florida to play bingo with my few surviving friends. It’s a mundane historical term I’ve convinced myself won’t be pertinent for me because of how much money I’ll make as a writer because this line of work is known for its sparkly tax bracket. How I wish I could remain that blasé. In 1935, the year when social security was signed into law, the average life span in America was about 61. The Act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after retirement. Therefore, the average worker was dead before he or she was able to receive benefits. That’s the government, always looking out for you. Today, the average life span in the U.S. is 79, meaning social security is a much more relevant and necessary institution than it was in the '30s. The benefits are primarily funded through a payroll tax paid by the current working class that supports those who are retired, disabled or have suffered the death of a spouse or parent. In the past, those taxes have generally been able to cover all the expenses of the program. Notice how I said generally. Hug your relatives and pray they leave an inheritance because we’re not getting jack from the government. Essentially, a recession sucks for a lot of reasons, but here’s one more to worry about. Increasing life spans and dismal economic outlooks have experts shrugging at younger generations while saying “good luck with that.” In a couple of decades, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than the exorbitant price of eggs. Job loss, reduced earnings and higher prices in recent years have wrought havoc on Social Security reserves. Many believe lawmakers will implement a plan to solve the Social Security shortfall before the agency is forced to cut back benefits. However, polls of younger generations reveal less than optimistic sentiment about how much of their retirement savings Social Security will account for. At least we’re not delusional. So, not only do we face a possible tax increase as we learn to navigate the 9-to-5 life, but we also may not reap any rewards from the very program we’re funding. Moral of the story? Take your parent’s advice and start saving. You’re on your own now, kid. See my comment below...
MASS SHOOTINGS ARE JUST ONE PART OF THE US'S GUN PROBLEM: The loss of even one life to gun violence is one too many, and every mass shooting is undoubtedly a tragedy. But if we are to truly understand and address America’s gun problem, we need to be able to look beyond mass shootings that make headlines and recognise the many more lives that are being lost to gun violence in contexts outside of these tragedies. According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm-related deaths in the US are increasing at alarming rates. In 2020, the most recent year data has been compiled, there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the US. This was an increase of nearly 14 percent over 2019. Perhaps even more alarming was that firearm-related deaths among children and adolescents (defined as individuals aged one to 19) increased nearly 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, becoming the leading cause of death for the age group, ahead of car accidents. Beyond the disproportionate emphasis on deadly mass shootings, the media’s coverage of gun violence in America also fails to communicate to the public who actually suffers the most from this problem. Despite what media reports underlining the prevalence of mass shootings and gun deaths may make you believe, firearm violence does not impact all Americans equally. Like most societal ills, gun violence impacts America’s marginalised and underprivileged communities the most. While the mass shootings in middle or working class neighbourhoods that are expected to be “safe” grab the most media attention, in many of America’s lowest income communities, firearm violence is an almost daily occurrence. Compared to counties with the lowest poverty levels, high-poverty counties have firearm homicide and suicide rates that are 4.5 and 1.3 times as high, respectively. Communities of colour, which suffer from systemic discrimination and racism as well as higher poverty rates, also experience more harm from guns – in all its forms – than the general population. In 2020, the number of Black males aged 10 to 24 who fell victim to firearm homicides was 21 times higher than that of their white counterparts. That same year, American Indian and Alaska Native people accounted for the largest proportion of firearm suicides. The operative word is proliferation. There are more guns than people in the United States, and that equates to a level of access which guarantees increased (violent) fatalities. Reducing that gun/person ratio is the best (only?) way to bring that death toll down.
WHY BLACK HISTORY MONTH EXISTS: Renowned historian and author John Hope Franklin said Carter G. Woodson, who founded Negro History Week in 1926, always believed that the day would come when there no longer would be a need to set aside such a time, because the history of African Americans would become an integral part of American history to be observed throughout the year. Until Woodson’s death in 1950, Franklin said, he continued to express hope that Negro History Week would outlive its usefulness. It hasn’t. But not for the best of reasons. The observance served a necessary purpose for Black youngsters in my generation. We needed to hear about the role of Black people in the making of America because we were being told by White people of our day that there was nothing about us, or our mommas and daddies, or other people who looked like us, that White people were bound to respect. And that disdain was expressed in tangible ways. I’m not talking about Black experiences learned from reading a book or classroom lectures, or from tales told by elders. I lived that history — that long, darkened slice of life that affected my heart and mind in ways unlikely ever to be undone. Those experiences will be with me until my dying day. Try living with knowledge that White Washingtonians have given the sanction of law to prevent Black-skinned children from attending their schools and our parents, preachers and teachers from entering their theaters and restaurants. Try growing up in a city that, by custom, denied Black people the chance to try on clothes in department stores or sit at drugstore counters; try having to tolerate a racial etiquette in which White men and White women were always addressed by “Mr.,” “Mrs.” or “Miss,” while first-name usage was reserved for Black men and women — regardless of rank, station or age. Imagine, if you can, what it’s like as a young teen looking for a job to open your morning newspapers and see job advertisements for Whites only. To know that the key reason you could not work inside a bank, a department store, a downtown office building or in a service station, drugstore or restaurant — except for menial jobs — is that you were born Black. Try knowing, even as a child and young adult, that you were receiving that kind of treatment because White people in our nation’s capital wanted to instill in you a sense of inferiority. That was my world. Legalized racism is now off the books, albeit not voluntarily, but by court orders and federal laws. Few employers, store and shop owners, public school leaders or neighborhood citizen associations of my day stopped, looked around and said, “Naw, I don’t want to do that anymore. Let’s do the right thing.” Law, not conscience, made the changes. Negro History Week, now Black History Month, seeks to refute racial denigration. But that the observance is still needed speaks volumes about where we are as a country. To think: Some states are banning teaching about the impact of racial bias in the pursuit of democracy under the guise of eliminating critical race theory. African American history is American history with all its warts. Period. White privilege can only continue to exist in an informational vacuum, a manufactured and white-washed history which elevates whites and ignores blacks. We can't let them continue that farce.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
MATT SMITH: STOP CUTTING MY TAXES: I implore N.C. legislators not to cut my taxes any more. I’d prefer to get an appointment at DMV in less than three months. I’d like to not to have to send school supplies to my kid’s school. I’d love to see our community college faculty paid better than 41st in the nation, and to have better mental health access for our community. Everywhere I go to access state services I see job openings blended with outdated facilities and equipment. None of us love paying taxes, but I am willing to pay if it improves my safety, efficiency and happiness. We rely on state employees. Give them the funding they need to do their jobs well. And therein lies the root motivation for GOP tax cuts: to make government operations less effective (and efficient, if you can believe it) to create an environment where privatization appears more enticing.
LINDSEY GOLDEN: MEDICARE SHOULD PAY FOR ALZHEIMER'S TREATMENT: In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved lecanemab, now known as Leqembi, using the accelerated approval pathway. After strong clinical trials, leading Alzheimer’s researchers agree this treatment changes the course of the disease in a meaningful way for people with early Alzheimer’s. But because of the decision the Center for Medical & Medicare Services (CMS) has put in place, Medicare will not cover this treatment. Never before has CMS imposed such drastic barriers to access FDA-approved drugs, especially for people facing a fatal disease. CMS’s policy is unjustified, harmful and unfair. Just as is true for individuals with every other disease today, people who are living with Alzheimer’s and their doctors should be able to decide if an FDA-approved treatment is right for them and should be covered by Medicare. I have asked my member of Congress, Rep. Dan Bishop, to send a letter to the CMS supporting full access to FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments. Please join me in urging Bishop to demand CMS take action to ensure individuals living with Alzheimer’s have equitable access to FDA-approved Alzheimer’s treatments. To learn more about how you can join the fight to end Alzheimer’s, visit alzimpact.org. Both of my parents suffered from this before passing, my dad for several years. At that time, medication did very little to alleviate the symptoms, and my mom struggled as a caregiver. If this new drug works even moderately well, it will improve the lives of everybody involved, not just the individual afflicted.
RUBY JONES: POLICING NEEDS TO CHANGE: As the new president elect of the Robeson County chapter of the NAACP, I feel it’s my civic duty to attempt to bring a stronger awareness of the unification of the African-American community. It saddens my heart, first as a mother and second as a human being, to see the killing of Mr. Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. This was a horrific as well as an inhumane occurrence. I am very deeply disappointed in law enforcement agencies across the country that continue to increase the use of lethal force upon unarmed individuals. It is a very sensitive, yet repetitive issue that mainly involves African-American victims. As a multitude, we need to call for more extensive training for seasoned officials as well as the inexperienced officers. Cultural sensitivity training should be an ongoing part of the law enforcement curriculum. This incident was a hit to our community as a whole. It is deeply disturbing to possibly predict another unjust monstrosity. In the event it was to happen again, we as a community should call for a reciprocation of the justice procedure performed in this case. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr. Nichols and other families that have endured the loss of loved ones to these vile and homicidal feats. Also, as a community, it is time to pull together in prayer and unification by way of marching, educational programs outside the usual classroom setting, reaching out to other nationalities for more peaceful resolution to hate. This is definitely a call for the religious community, civic leaders and people as a whole to make steps and decisions to piece together the parts of our broken society. These need to be time sensitive actions to prohibit further losses. This is not a time to shun away and take the “It Doesn’t Involve Me” attitude. We are all affected and we are living in an unprecedented time where unification and love can start and continue our healing process. Memphis officials acted quickly in dealing with these officers (and their unit), but I can't help wondering if race played a role there, as well. And conservatives, who usually pipe up with, "We need to wait for the facts!" were all-of-a-sudden in support of quick justice for the officers involved. Not defending said officers, but the message this sends to other LEOs is not as clear-cut as we are being led to believe.
About that Social Security...
First of all, we need to dispel the myth that Social Security is breathing its dying breaths, it's an "old" program that won't be around much longer. It will be around as long as we have the vision and wherewithal to support it.
And we also need to avoid "tweaking" the benefits and eligible age requirements, because a longer life span doesn't automatically equate to a longer production capability. The physical and mental stresses of full-time work often lead to health issues that far outpace the economic benefits of continuing to earn, and seniors need the flexibility to find a good balance.
But we also need, not a "back-up" plan, but a dual plan. Starting as soon as you are able (and even if you're not, frankly) you need to set aside earnings for the future. You'll notice I didn't say "retirement," because more than likely you will need to fall back on your savings long before you approach sunset. Shit happens, and you need to be prepared for it.
And before you call me Captain Obvious (which I am, of course), let me do a little old man ranting.
What do I see in the behavior of many friends and family? A seemingly profligate approach to life. $500 for concert tickets, thousands of dollars to float around on an over-sized petri dish, which of course you have to fly to get to, a couple hundred dollars for one tasty meal, that doesn't look nearly as appealing on Facebook as you think it does.
Yes, I suppose it is relative, if you're pulling in a six-figure income. But that doesn't make it smart, and it will be small comfort if that job disintegrates. Which they frequently do.
So, listen to that voice in your head. If it's telling you something is way too expensive, it probably is. That doesn't mean you don't take a vacation, or you don't eat out, or you don't enjoy live music. It just means you have to have to be creative. Go camping, go eat at a modest restaurant, go to the Cradle or some other local venue, and give that extra money to your future self. Because you are going to need it.
And you're going to need that Social Security also. If you play your cards right, that can be your fun money. And if you don't play your cards right, that can keep some food on the table and the lights on. But whatever the case, don't let fatalism cause you to disregard the importance of Social Security. It can't be replaced by other (yet to be created) programs. It can be supplemented by them, and most certainly should be. But not replaced, by public or private means.
You can thank me later.
Thank you now.
It's been brewing
for some time now. The old man rant, anyway.
I honestly try not to judge the way other people spend their money, and it may be a reaction to a couple years of Covid lockdowns, but damn. Some of the things I've seen recently just blow my mind.