Sunday News: From the Editorial Pages


UNC TRUSTEES' NEW "SCHOOL" IS AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR THE PRIVILEGED: In a recent column, no doubt drafted with at least the aid of a public relations firm hired at $50,000 of public expense, he contended that research showed “more than half of Carolina’s conservative students and one in five centrist students censor themselves in political discussions.” What Boliek didn’t say is the research he is referencing includes the views of just 2.5% of UNC-CH’s undergraduates. And even of the 506 who did offer up survey responses, a mere 15% (80) identified themselves as conservatives while 14% (70) said they were moderates. It is unwise at best to make assumptions based on less than half a percent of the undergraduate student body. What Boliek didn’t mention from the survey was that it found “faculty generally do not push political agendas in class.” The survey goes even further. “We find little evidence that faculty create a highly politicized atmosphere in UNC System classrooms.” The findings for the UNC-CH campus were similar to those found on the other seven campuses surveyed. Why doesn’t he give that finding similar weight? The obvious (and more damning) takeaway from this survey is: the more students learn, the less likely they are to espouse conservative viewpoints. And that is not surprising at all, considering how conservatives at least tolerated if not championed a serial liar and con-man for the last six years. But they would rather blame (nonexistent) indoctrination than look in a mirror for the culprit.

NC LEGISLATORS FIND YET ANOTHER VULNERABLE GROUP TO PREY UPON: HOMELESS FAMILIES: Some people are able to access shelters made available by churches and nonprofits. In Raleigh this winter, thanks to the city’s maddening lack of any coherent plan, a trio of modest-sized religious congregations have struggled mightily to shelter scores of homeless people through what’s known as a “white flag” system, whereby a limited number of cots are made available after a certain hour on the nights the temperature falls below 35 degrees. And then there’s another option of which most well-off Americans are probably only vaguely aware: lower-rung hotels and motels. For decades in our state and across the U.S., owners of these facilities – picture an aging and dogeared one- or two-story budget motel on a noisy highway – have found a profitable business model in which they rent housing of last resort to struggling families and individuals with no place else to go. Across the state each year, thousands of children list these places as their home addresses in registering for school. Many are picked up and returned there each day by school buses. And now sponsors of a proposal at the North Carolina General Assembly are looking to make things even tougher on these people by changing a 30-year-old law established by the state’s appellate courts. The law stems from an incident that took place more than three decades ago on a cold Christmas Eve night in Union County, when the operator of a motel decided to evict all of the facility’s residents (along with their belongings) without warning – many of whom were otherwise homeless families. As the former Legal Aid lawyer-turned-present-day-pastor who aided the displaced families noted in a letter to lawmakers when the issue arose in 2021, this remarkably cruel act helped lead the state courts to rule that persons residing in such places as their sole or primary residence are tenants entitled to the same (though still quite minimal) notice and process rights as people facing eviction from conventional apartments and houses. Now, however, Republican state lawmakers want to end this protection. Under bills advancing in both the state House and Senate, the Appellate Court’s unanimous 1991 ruling in Baker v. Rushing would be overturned, and basic tenant rights would no longer apply to motel residents for the first 90 days they reside in the facility. Until that point, the motel operator would be free to evict anyone (along with their belongings) for just about any reason at any time without notice. Homeless = powerless. Powerless to organize, powerless to seek legal assistance, powerless to wield influence over politicians and government officials. Hell, many of them can't even vote because of the residency requirements. Left to rely on the compassion and empathy of elected officials, and with the current majority, those traits are nonexistent.

POLITICIANS TREAT COURTS LIKE AN EXTENSION OF THE LEGISLATURE: In 2022, our state Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings in defense of the rights and freedoms of every North Carolinian. The court overturned unconstitutional voter restrictions which discriminated against millions of Black voters; judges also shot down a partisan-manipulated electoral map drawn by a small handful of extremist politicians to serve their political interests instead of our communities’ needs. Their map would have carved up our neighborhoods, dividing Tar Heels across the state into districts engineered to ensure the reelection of politicians by silencing the voices of certain voters. Last month, lawmakers demanded that our state Supreme Court take up the electoral map case once more. Successful rehearing requests are unbelievably rare, only happening four times before in state history, and the granting of this latest request sets a dangerous precedent. For perspective, the last time such a request was granted was in 1987 – four years before Coach K won his first national championship with Duke. North Carolina’s judicial elections in November saw two new and notably partisan justices elected to our state’s highest court. Their arrival swung the court in a frightening direction, with many concerned that the new majority would serve as a rubber stamp for extremists in our legislature. It didn’t take long for those concerns to bear out. This month, the court voted on party lines to take up the case once more on March 14. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why this disturbing decision presents such a huge threat to the rights and freedoms of North Carolinians. It doesn’t matter which corner of our great state you call home or who you voted for in the last election, all North Carolinians can agree that we deserve a court system loyal to our constitution and focused on protecting our rights and freedoms. It’s time for us to come together to demand that lawmakers stop politicizing our courts and that our courts stop functioning as a third chamber of the legislature. We need our judges to stand up for our voting rights and to reject attempts by politicians to steal the power of our votes and silence our voices. Bolding mine, because that is what the appellate courts are for, their very reason for existence. If that is swept aside and forgotten, democracy will soon follow.

THE UNMISTAKEABLE MUSK OF FEUDALISM: Ever since his takeover of Twitter, Elon Musk has been running the social media company like a medieval nobleman lording it over his own personal fiefdom. The tech billionaire clearly believes he knows everything better than everyone else at Twitter, and treats the employees of his new company as though they are modern-day serfs. Anyone who is unlucky enough to work for Musk’s Twitter has only two options: submit to his “extremely hardcore” working conditions and accept his passing fancies, or be fired. The arrogant incompetence Musk has displayed since taking the helm of Twitter disproved yet again the myth that billionaires are extraordinary people with extraordinary minds and extraordinary ideas – that they are “superheroes” a cut above us mortals. In fact, Musk’s Twitter antics proved that, much like the feudal lords of the past, today’s billionaires are, for large part, nothing other than ordinary people with ordinary shortcomings who have been given extraordinary powers. Of course, there are some significant differences between the likes of Musk and the suzerains of the past. Our 21st-century overlords possess more wealth, in absolute terms, than anyone who came before them but must submit, at least in theory, to greater democratic checks and balances. Nevertheless, the power they exercise is not confined to a manor or even a state – their fiefdoms are their global corporations and unregulated or under-regulated areas of the globe. Our current social order – where inequality is rife and billionaires have absolute power over corporations that are challenging the authority of states, where our collective ability to keep the powerful in check resides – has led some academics to dub our current system of governance dominated by the likes of Musk “neo-feudalism”. The neo-feudal arrangement we have found ourselves in became more obvious and much more extreme than ever before in the past few years, when the majority of humans on the planet have been hit by several interconnected crises, from the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate emergency to devastating conflicts and disruptions to the energy market. While all these, and the consequent global economic downturn, made most of us significantly poorer, they somehow added to the wealth and power of the modern overlords – the superrich. Yeah, even when they lose they win. You know, if they were simply riding the waves of global economy, and making their money from such, I wouldn't be as concerned. But they are making the very waves they are riding, and drowning millions in the process. And we're letting them do it.

THERE CAN BE NO REAL PEACE IN UKRAINE WITHOUT JUSTICE: The war in Ukraine is a war about values. This could not be clearer. Russia is striving to convince the world that democracy, rule of law and human rights don’t matter. Russia aims to prove that the only thing that matters is force — that a state with a powerful military and nuclear weapons can impose its desires on the world and modify internationally recognized borders. In this regard, this is not just a war between two states. It’s a war between two systems: authoritarianism and democracy. Let me be clear about one thing: Ukraine desires peace more than anyone else. But I must also be clear on this: Once the fighting with an invaded country stops, that is not peace — it’s occupation. Lasting peace requires justice, and justice requires accountability — even before the war comes to an end. Under occupation, people have no chance to protect their freedom, their property, their life, their loved ones. In Izyum, Russians killed children’s writer Volodymyr Vakulenko for his pro-Ukrainian position. In Kherson, Russians killed musician and conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko for refusing to perform at a concert. In Bucha, Russians killed Ruslan Nechyporenko and injured his son, who was searching for medicine and food, just because they could. For this reason, those who decline to provide Ukraine with weapons for its defense because this allegedly contributes to escalation of the conflict are not just wrong. They are immoral. The world largely ignored the suffering of people in the territories that were occupied by Russia in 2014. It is harder, it would seem, to ignore the struggle of people against a full-blown invasion. If you don’t help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s attack, this means that you are helping Russia to occupy Ukraine. In this war, Ukraine is fighting for freedom in all its senses: for the freedom to be an independent country, not a Russian colony; for the freedom to have its own identity; for the freedom to have a democratic choice and to live in a society where the government does not determine what you believe, whom you love, what you say, where you go and what you die for. This war is genocidal in nature. It’s about the possibility of our existence. If we stop fighting, there will be no more us. Therefore, we have no other choice but to resist the Russian occupation and destruction of Ukrainian identity. People who suffered Russian captivity told me that Russians who were beating, raping and electrocuting them were convinced of their impunity. The democratic world must act to prevent impunity and to ensure that those who are guilty will be brought to account. The U.S. has joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue justice for the war crimes being committed by Russia in Ukraine. Granted, it's a limited, à la carte agreement, not an across-the-board support for the Court as we should have done already. But it's a start, and it has probably already saved lives.


SARAH STEIN: DON'T THROW LGBTQ KIDS UNDER THE BUS: I was glad to read the Editorial Board’s Feb. 9 rebuttal of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, rightly claiming it is actually intended to “tell LGBTQ kids, especially trans kids, that they don’t matter.” LGBTQ kids and adults lives are sufficiently jeopardized in our society without adding another layer of harm, as this legislation would do. But I would point out further harm — to the student and parent body, as a whole. We live in a world that is wonderfully diverse — sexually, racially, religiously, culturally, and more. To deny the exploration and knowledge of that diversity at any age is to impoverish us all. Sowing division is their bread and butter, and LGBTQ+ are the perfect target. Bible-thumpers either love these attacks or will say nothing against them, which is even worse in many ways. It amounts to tacit approval of bigotry, and is beyond shameful.

LESLIE HAINES: PROTECT THE EARTH SCIENCES: As a retired science teacher, I was horrified by the N.C. legislature’s proposal to require students to take computer science and drop the earth science requirement. Don’t 21st century high school students need to learn about the solar system, meteorology, the rock cycle and tectonic processes, to name a few earth science concepts? These topics are not covered in biology, as was implied by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt’s director of Government Affairs. Computer skills are vital for today’s students, but do we have to increase their computer skills at the expense of the fundamentals of earth science? Let’s find another way. Reducing science instruction is not the path to producing STEM-competitive high school grads. Starting to see a pattern here, and I don't like it. First it was social studies, and now science. Get rid of something that has the potential to undermine your propaganda by "prioritizing" some other needed thing. It took decades to recognize Climate Change for the danger that it is, and I have no doubt this attack on Earth sciences is at least tangentially connected with that issue.

CAROL POMEROY: CONFEDERATE FLAG HAS NO PLACE IN 21ST CENTURY SOCIETY: The Confederate flag represents the pseudo-history of the Lost Cause myth which mitigates the atrocities of slavery. The Lost Cause denied that slavery was the central cause of the Civil War and instead was in defense of states’ rights and was necessary to protect their agrarian economy. The reality is that the states’ rights that proponents espoused was the right to own slaves. The real history of slavery and the treatment of Black and brown people is being silenced. If that history was allowed to be taught perhaps more people would understand why the Confederate flag is so hurtful and a form of intimidation to people of color. This shouldn’t be a political issue or labeled as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. It’s an issue of respecting all people regardless of the color of their skin, their religious affiliation, their country of origin or their gender identity. The Confederate flag has been flown at White Nationalism events and protests. They believe that white people are inherently superior to all other racial and ethnic groups. To fly the flag is to exert white identity and support white supremacy. Today the Confederate flag is regularly weaponized by neo-Nazis and far-right extremist groups as they seek to intimidate African Americans and to promote anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred. Those who favor continuing to fly the flag claim that it represents their heritage and not racism or hate. They claim personal expression or freedom of speech as their basis. The belief that one can display such a symbol that does have a history of slavery, segregation, racism, inequality and brokenness does not take any responsibility for acknowledging what actually took place in the past or continues to take place in today’s society. The Confederate flag flown in a war lost by the Confederacy 158 years ago does not belong in public places or in the Faith Fourth of July parade. Wouldn’t Faith want to be seen as a town that encourages rather than intimidates, includes rather than excludes, unifies rather than divides? What Carol said.



Let's get through 2023 first...

I know everybody (well, almost everybody) is excited about the new leadership elected to the NCDP, and I am as well. But the first challenge of that new leadership is not the 2024 Presidential, Congressional, and state-level races. It's the 2023 Municipal elections.

Over 500 NC municipalities are holding elections this year, and these will set the stage for a wide variety of public programs to aid the less fortunate, dictate policing matters, deal with zoning requests, and whole laundry list of other critical social issues.

Voter turnout has been abysmal in most of these contests, leaving a much smaller demographic deciding our fate. Make no mistake; the Republican Party has been deeply involved, and Democrats simply can't afford to be ambivalent as to their outcome. Just because most of them are non-partisan races, it doesn't mean they are (really) non-partisan.

And the GOP thrives in this focus-lacking environment. It allows them to get away with stunning hypocrisy in many cases. Take Alamance County for instance. An all-Republican County Commission pushed through the single biggest property tax increase in recent history. They raised the rate from 56 cents per $100 to 68 cents per $100, and the vast majority of citizens I have asked about this assume Democrats were behind it.

That's right, they voted in the Republicans, got screwed, and still didn't realize what happened. So they voted them back in again.

Granted, most of those Commissioner races were/are in even years, and those folks coat-tailed on upper-ballot races. But it's the lack of focus, the lack of interest on the part of voters, that is behind this alarming trend.

The only way to fix that is to energize the grass roots, and municipal contests are the best way to begin that. This will also help next year, especially in identifying and recruiting candidates for Legislative races. But also from the organization and outreach developed to facilitate municipal contests.

All politics is local. And if you fail there you will fail elsewhere.

I am a high school science teacher...

who primarily teaches Earth science. I totally agree that this is about getting rid of things that rightwingers would rather not have in the science curriculum, like environmental awareness (which students do not get in-depth in the biology curriculum), climate change, resource use and abuse (mining, pollution, etc.) and other topics that are central to the Earth science course. This bill could easily have added the computer science requirement without getting rid of the Earth science requirement, simply by replacing one of the six elective credits required for graduation with the computer science requirement. That would actually be a good thing and one I am entirely in favor of as my school's robotics team mentor. You'd be hard pressed to find a science teacher who didn't support it, though finding enough computer science teachers to fulfill the teaching needs for it will be...interesting. But using this as a way to eliminate a science requirement that the rightwing hates is just using a fig leaf to cover their naked disregard for science and the things it tells them that they don't want to hear (or have their children hear.)

Earth science is critical

And it is apolitical, which it has to be to reach proper conclusions.

But that's inconvenient for fossil fuel and chemical companies, who know damn well the damage they are causing. By framing science in political terms, they can dodge government oversight and avoid general public scrutiny. And Republicans placing more faith in corporations than they do the scientific community is just one more example of their irresponsibilty.