Sunday News: From the Editorial Pages


GOVERNOR COOPER OFFERS THE NC LEGISLATURE A PRESCRIPTION IT MUST FULFILL: “A responsibility to learn from adversity and make things better,” he said as he opened his State of the State Address Monday evening in the House Chamber of the State Legislative Building which is celebrating its 60th year of occupancy. Cooper harkened to another milestone of that time – the establishment of the Research Triangle Park – demonstrating “the foresight and resolve to invest in new ideas that have revolutionized our state impacting the generations that followed.” The style and presentation were in keeping with the way Cooper’s governed – pressing for cooperation, conciliation and investment in the future while eschewing confrontation, partisan cheap shots and unproductive lamentations on a false past. Along with his concern over the 25 years of procrastination in meeting the needs of North Carolina’s school children, Cooper rightly called on legislators to end the decade-long refusal to expand Medicaid and do it now -- without their planned delay. “Every month we wait to expand, not only cost lives, but costs our state more than $521 million a month in federal healthcare dollars,” he said, adding the warning that “if we don’t expand soon, we forfeit an additional $1.8 billion.” That is bad management that hurts the state budget no differently than failure to expand Medicaid has hurt more than 600,000 North Carolinians who haven’t been able to access the health care they need. Avoiding any direct confrontation or bullying finger-pointing, Cooper did take note of the kinds of legislation that, in the first weeks of the legislative session, has taken top priority. Cooper noted that when he took office six years ago, one of the first acts was to do away with the ill-conceived and costly so-called “bathroom bill” that resulted in cancelled economic development projects and moved or cancelled billions of dollars in convention, athletic championship and tourism business. “I challenge the General Assembly to keep us off the frontlines of those culture wars that hurt people and cost us jobs so we can continue our successful bipartisan work.” And I challenge Democratic members of the General Assembly to stand behind the Governor when he decides to oppose certain potential laws. Hold the line, or our Democracy will be further eroded.

SO MUCH RELIES ON ABORTION ACCESS: After the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the anti-choice movement attempted to reframe this attack on human rights as a decision supporting states rights. This is a distraction from their unpopular agenda to ban abortion nationwide and erase bodily autonomy. We’ve already heard the promises of introducing a national ban, and we are currently waiting for the court ruling that may take mifepristone, a common and safe medication for abortion care, off the market in all states — all in service to a national anti-abortion political agenda. The anti-choice movement hopes their "pro-woman" ideals camouflage their regressive agenda. But there is nothing pro-woman about erasing basic health care and controlling and endangering bodies. Rather than supporting women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, the anti-choice movement funnels federal and state healthcare dollars into anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. These CPCs engage in reproductive coercion, shame contraception users, spread non-medical advice, masquerade unlicensed "caregivers" as medical staff and do not require "providers" to follow HIPAA laws. From all angles, the anti-choice movement obscures medical evidence to promote its own political agenda. They continue to falsely claim that abortion bans will not harm miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy care while obscuring the fact that the medical treatment for these conditions is an abortion procedure. Anti-abortion lawmakers in the N.C. General Assembly are attempting to push this unpopular agenda forward. In August, an N.C. judge reinstated a 20-week abortion ban and conservative lawmakers are now considering restricting abortion care to 13 weeks or less. This is all on top of existing laws requiring a 72-hour waiting period, parental consent and biased counseling. North Carolina is one of the few southeastern states providing abortions, and that may not be the case for long. The state has received an influx of people from the surrounding states in the past few months seeking an abortion. So, this is not only about healthcare for North Carolinians, but thousands of others. Young people are disproportionately impacted by abortion bans. In 2019, more than 1 in 4 abortions in the state were sought out by young adults between the ages of 20-24 years old. If you look around your lecture halls, how many of those people are sitting next to you? Transportation complexities, employment conflicts and income challenges all confound the student experience, especially when seeking an abortion. As the number of abortion clinics in N.C. continues to dwindle, think of those people you pass every day on campus. These services allow them the agency to choose the direction of their own life. The anti-choice movement did not start with abortion, and it does not end there. They are coming for contraception, IVF, LGBTQIA+ equity, racial and ethnic equity, gender equity and so much more. They are not anti-choice but pro-birth, as they eliminate access to services and resources that enable the bodily autonomy of N.C. residents. The anti-choice movement relentlessly pushes for the indoctrination of their white, patriarchal agenda into schools, laws and social norms at the expense of our neighbors, friends and loved ones. Thanks to Harper and Emily for saying what needs to be said, and thanks to the Daily Tarheel for providing the platform. Follow the link below and donate what you can to keep the information flowing.

FROM THE HEART: EXPAND MEDICAID NOW: 600,000 -- By now we all know the number of people who will be able to get health care coverage if North Carolina expands Medicaid. A lot more numbers are involved – family size, signing bonuses and payments for hospitals. It adds up to billions, and in those dollars are 600,000 stories of how lives will change with better care. One such story for me is set in the tree tops of my friend Patrick’s yard, when I was 11. Patrick and I spent a lot of time in the woods behind his house – building forts, riding bikes, and climbing skywards to keep watch. But one day, gravity got the best of me. Hurricane Fran had battered Wilmington and left jagged branches snapped off at the trunk. On my way down, a branch stabbed my leg and ripped it open. In a flash, Patrick’s dad had me in his truck and we were off to urgent care, picking up my mom on the way. My mother’s first concern, of course, was me. I remember hearing her second when she leaned over to Patricks’ dad and whispered: “We don’t have health insurance.” My mom cleaned houses and my dad worked as a carpenter. They provided well for my brother and me: food, clothes, school supplies, and more. But health insurance was always out of reach. Their work was important and had value to others in our community, but health insurance was just too expensive. This story repeats every day for uninsured North Carolinians. And many families are far less lucky than we were: chronic illnesses, hazardous work, and other challenges make their lack of health insurance add up quickly into bad debt and lost lives. Expansion will change these daily stresses for the grocery store worker, allowing her to squeeze in a check-up between shifts. It will help the veteran who doesn’t have V.A. coverage see a therapist. It can provide treatment for a parent with a chronic illness, so they can live a longer and healthier life while caring for their disabled child. And it can be so much more – a point of inflection that improves health and well-being across North Carolina. The infusion of funding in rural areas will help hospitals stay open and keep services like labor and delivery available. That last part is critical, and it's a message that needs to be shouted in rural areas. NC is ranked #6 in the states who have had rural hospitals closed down for financial reasons. The top 9 are all states that have refused to expand Medicaid, and #10 (Kentucky) is a late-comer that piled on strict requirements for eligibility. Blatant cause & effect, which has cost thousands of lives and shortened many more through poor health outcomes. Fix it.

IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO "CANCEL" RACISTS LIKE SCOTT ADAMS: I try to resist the easy temptation to address the outrage du jour that preoccupies the attention of so many myopic columnists writing for Western-based news organisations. I have made an exception this time because, while the central character of this column is another inconsequential white, American male, what happened to him and why it happened to him are too irresistible not to write about. It is irresistible since it is a welcomed and much-needed reminder that a moral compass – which seems as distant as a faint star – somehow continues to exist, albeit on life support, in parts of this mad, angry and depressing world. So, forgive me, dear reader, for having to expose you to the likes of Scott Adams, a piddling cartoonist who doused himself in racism and, happily, has had to answer for it. Dilbert, the cartoon that Adams has sketched and derived a small measure of fame for, is, like the man, forgettable in my view. It is nowhere near as trenchant or funny as the dearly departed, single-pane comic strip marvel, The Far Side. For the millions of discerning readers unfamiliar with Adams or his ugly utterances that triggered his swift and delicious comeuppance, here is some important context. The first clue of Adams’s malignant attitudes is that, with the occasional caveat, he reveres Donald Trump as, among his other laudable qualities, a “master persuader”. Figures. The second clue confirms the first clue. Adams said this recently on his popular YouTube channel: “Based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people.” Beyond sharing this sickening slice of “best advice”, Adams repeatedly referred in his diatribe to people who are Black as members of a “hate group” or a “racist hate group” and said he would no longer “help Black Americans.” Sorry, if anyone warrants being “cancelled”, it is Scott Adams. More than that, there are times and circumstances when “cancellation” is not enough and which demand that toxic, unrepentant racists be erased – figuratively speaking – from mainstream culture and consigned, if possible, to the diseased, obscure pockets of the internet where they belong. I can think of several other toxic, unrepentant racists who deserve such erasure as a tonic to the gusher of hate and intolerance they spew with such predictable illiteracy and coarseness. And, for once, the irritating brigade of “free thinkers” seized with the career-consuming imperative to cleanse “wokeism” from the public discourse has gone mute. What a relief and blessing. Apparently, there are instances when the “free speech” warriors agree with the fragile sensibilities of the woke weaklings whom they damn and curse. Sometimes, it appears, the rhetoric goes too far and the injury is too deep to excuse or defend even for this set. Hypocrites. Car salesman Elon Musk was not so shy. The white knight got on his white horse (Twitter) to complain that Adams was a victim of US media that is “racist against Whites and Asians”. Reportedly, Musk deleted a tweet in which he replied to a comment from Adams about his comic strip being dumped, with this astonishing and instructive question, “What exactly are they complaining about?” See my comment below about conservative "news filtering."

WHAT THE MISINFORMATION SCARE REVEALS ABOUT FAITH IN DEMOCRACY: Who’s afraid of misinformation? That’s not a rhetorical question. The purported danger from misleading online news has been one of the biggest stories in the English-speaking world since 2016. A veritable industry of academic institutions and think-tank organs — with government encouragement — has sprung up in response. Meanwhile, some researchers have started to challenge the political establishment’s misinformation focus, and the debate about its significance is polarizing along partisan lines. But put partisanship to one side for the moment. Something else helps distinguish misinformation hawks from misinformation doves, according to a recent paper published in New Media & Society, a top communications journal. In short: The people who perceive the greatest social threat from misinformation tend to be those who have the gravest doubts about ordinary people’s common sense. That stands to reason: If you are confident in the general public’s ability to sniff out falsehoods online, then you won’t be so concerned about the falsehoods’ proliferation. Misinformation is dangerous in proportion to the likelihood that it will be influential and persuasive. Intuitive as it might be, the authors of the study — Sacha Altay of the University of Oxford and Alberto Acerbi of Brunel University — set out to demonstrate this relationship empirically. They asked respondents (about 600, split between United States and Britain) a series of questions to gauge their level of concern about misinformation, including whether it is a “problem for democracy.” Respondents also rated their own ability to identify misinformation — as well as the ability of “people in general” to do so. Unsurprisingly, most people have a higher opinion of their own informational savviness than that of others: “77% of participants believed that people in general were more vulnerable to misinformation than themselves, and only 18% believed that they were more vulnerable to misinformation than people in general,” the authors write. But the greater the gap (known as the “third-person effect”), the more a respondent was likely to worry about misinformation’s impact on society, on average. If the paper’s conclusions are correct, what are the implications for democracy? One interpretation might be that the misinformation scare is fundamentally antidemocratic. After all, if voters lack the ability to distinguish truth from falsity, as misinformation theory suggests, then they can easily fall under the sway of hucksters and demagogues. Surely that implies that the popular will ought to carry less weight in governing decisions. That view aligns with the current partisan debates: Conservatives have accused liberals of hyping the specter of misinformation to censor ordinary people and impose bureaucratic rule. But there’s a natural rejoinder from the misinformation hawks: That democracy can’t work properly if citizens are misinformed, and genuine public debate and reasoning are being drowned in a sea of falsehoods. Okay, this is an incredibly complex issue. Again, see my comment below.


CHARLOTTE BEST: CHURCH AND STATE GET MARRIED UNDER THE NC GOP: It was difficult to decide whether to laugh or cry at the March 2 photos of pious, kneeling pro-life religious leaders who urged members of the N.C. House to vote to make it difficult, if not impossible, for women and girls to obtain abortions because these men believe abortion is murder. While I am glad they can protest and that their protest is guaranteed by our Constitution, I believe they have forgotten another constitutional guarantee — separation of church and state. This constitutional principle leaves government unencumbered by religious motives, which otherwise might be forced upon those who believe differently. So hard to remember, but dangerous to forget. And the fact that they see nothing wrong with blending religion and government is frightening, to say the least. They don't call them the Tarheel Taliban for nothing. Actually, it was a Libertarian who coined that term in the first place, which shows you how far these "conservatives" have strayed from their original (alleged) course.

BETH MAYER-DAVIS: OUR GRADUATE STUDENTS NEED BETTER MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES: Advocacy to support mental health and well-being at UNC-Chapel Hill so our students can thrive is a critical endeavor. There is an acute need among our graduate and professional students for mental health and well-being support. Many of our students come to Carolina with a variety of life experiences and diverse backgrounds, and as a University for all, we are committed to their success. A well-being expo hosted by The Graduate School and several campus partners in early February demonstrated this need; nearly 525 graduate and professional students attended. More than 11,000 graduate and professional students, who come from a variety of disciplines, bolster our University’s mission of teaching, research and public service. What’s more, graduate students are the next generation of leaders who are pursuing careers in a variety of areas, including fields that champion mental health and well-being, such as nursing, social work and mental health counseling. We have a moral obligation to our students as we strive to equip them with the tools they need in order to flourish at UNC. More broadly, we must strive to support graduate and professional students across our state, supporting students in the UNC System and beyond, so we can all advance together. The pursuit of a graduate degree is designed to be rigorous, but it should not be undertaken at the expense of our students’ mental health and well-being. We can continue to build our community together by listening to our students, by providing the programming they need and by advocating for their success. Undergrads need more resources also, but Grad students face additional challenges that can break them mentally, physically, and financially. Just the time management alone is a bear, between working off campus (and on, as a TA) and doing the in-depth research required to meet the basic requirements of their degree program. I get tired just thinking about it.

BARBARA SZOMBATFOLVY: THEY ARE SHAMELESS: It honestly boiled my blood to see N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger on the March 3 front page beaming over Medicaid expansion. The opportunity to expand healthcare for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians has existed for nine years. Nine years! Yet, Republicans who did not want to be associated with “Obamacare” denied that healthcare to their constituents for nearly a decade. How many people died and suffered for lack of health care during that time? Moore and Berger shouldn’t be smiling. They should be shamefully apologizing to their constituents that they let them suffer unnecessarily for so long. Yah, it is infuriating. Their stubbornness over the years makes a 3 year-old seem reasonable in comparison. But...if we can (finally) get this thing done I'm prepared to hold my nose and let them preen their vulture feathers. Actually, that's not fair to vultures, who do serve a needed function.



The information problem...

I use a laptop quite a bit at work, I have a little cart I push around while inventorying (and inevitably fixing) our stock of replacement parts for laptops. As I was winding down Friday, a male co-worker made a comment that I would probably be glad to get a break over the weekend from staring at that little screen so much.

"Not really. I'm a writer, so I'll be doing a lot of that at home, too."

"Oh, really? What do you write about?"

I talked about some of the fiction I've written, long manuscripts and short stories. And a few op-eds that have been published in newspapers. And then I slipped up and mentioned political blogging. I say "slipped up" because I've learned it's often best to avoid political (or religious) discussions at work. It complicates things, and more often than not causes distractions that make my job harder.

Anyway, said co-worker asked me what I thought about Biden, and I told him I liked our President and thought he was doing a good job. At which point he launched on a diatribe, about how Biden had trouble speaking, didn't really know what he was talking about, and probably had Alzheimer's or some other condition. I didn't even have to ask where this guy got his news from, it was obvious.

I told him President Biden had a speech impediment, and he laughed and said, "That's for sure." I told him Joe has had to deal with this disability all of his life, it had nothing to do with his age, or his mental capacity, and he replied, "I didn't know that."

The reason he didn't know that is because Fox News and other right-wing outlets carefully select video clips to either increase or decrease the perceived intelligence and character of the subject at hand. The left does this as well, and it has caused me to stop watching (or reading) certain outlets. That may seem ironic coming from a leftie blogger, but we never claimed to be a neutral observer here. I can't properly analyze an event or policy if the information I draw from is already skewed. It causes me to make mistaken conclusions and miss critical components, something that I hate to do.

The study mentioned above highlights the dangers of being too concerned about misinformation, and how it leads to behavior that actually exacerbates the problem. And they are not completely wrong. But the success of Donald Trump in being elected, and subsequently eroding public policy and the courts, is proof positive that a misinformed population is a danger we cannot afford to ignore.

But we must do more than just oppose (and expose) misinformation perpetrated by the right. We must be just as adamant in our opposition to left-leaning outlets who do this. We must scrutinize and fact-check everything we consume and (especially) disseminate, because that's the only way to raise awareness and elevate the conversation.

What does this mean? Sometimes it means that boring wins out over blockbuster. Nudging instead of shaking. The truth isn't always as juicy as we'd like it to be, but you can't juice it up. Hyperbole is ultimately self-defeating anyway, and it can lead to disillusionment and disdain among those who desperately need the truth.

And that can lead to a low turnout at the polls, which is quite possibly the biggest threat to democracy that we face these days.