Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


STEIN RIGHT TO GO AFTER DRUG FIRMS AS MAJOR PART OF OPIOID ABUSE PLAGUE: In 2016 health care prescribers in the state wrote an opioid prescription for nearly every man, woman and child. There were 705 million opioid pills prescribed in North Carolina –705 per person -- in 2016. This crisis is no accident. Its origins are with pharmaceutical manufacturers. “The majority of persons with opioid addiction started with prescribed painkillers,” wrote Rebecca Haffajee and Michelle Mello in the New England Journal of Medicine. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein last week filed a lawsuit against drug maker Purdue Pharma over its opioid marketing practices. Five other states have filed similar lawsuits against Purdue. The latest legal action comes after a lawsuit Stein filed late last year against Insys Therapeutics over an alleged scheme that included kickbacks, deception and fraud in marketing Subsys – a spray form of synthetic fentanyl.

WHERE IS THE MEDIA WHEN BLACK AND BROWN STUDENTS GET SHOT? Predominantly black and brown communities and schools have suffered from and protested against gun violence for years. Yet it is only now when gun violence targets a white and affluent area that people start to listen, states pass gun-control bills, and Americans start saying, ‘Oh, this really is a problem.’ And that’s bull. Don’t get me wrong. I fully stand with these Parkland protesters and all U.S. students involved in these peaceful protests. We need to support these students who are forcing acknowledgment of America’s gun problem. But we can’t ignore the deeply ingrained power of race, class, and socioeconomic status in predicting the visibility of these movements. We can’t disregard the fact that people only begin to care when white bodies are targeted. When gun violence targets predominantly minority schools and communities, which happens daily, media attention is usually minimal or nonexistent.

WIDESPREAD BROADBAND ACCESS IN NC NEEDS TO BE MORE THAN CAMPAIGN PHOTO-OP: Hopping a ride on a band wagon doesn’t entitle anyone to lead the parade. That isn’t stopping Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. He proclaims atop his Facebook Page “FIRST CONNECTED North Carolina first in the nation to connect every classroom to high-speed broadband.” He hosted a made-for-a-campaign-commercial media event Tuesday with Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai and a bevy of Republican state legislators at Graham High School in Alamance County to boast about it. It is no small achievement. However, it’s not quite his to brag about. If Forest’s fellow Republicans had their way, there would be nothing to celebrate. In 2007 only one Republican, former state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, voted for the state budget that included the school connectivity initiative. Given the lieutenant governor’s vocal praise and commitment to open and free broadband access it would be an abdication of his responsibility if he didn’t tell his political ally, Chairman Pai, that equal access must extend beyond the public school classroom.

CUT FROM THE NC BUDGET: DEMOCRACY: Just a week after more than 15,000 North Carolina teachers marched on the State Capitol demanding change, they got a change – but not the one they wanted. Instead of lawmakers debating how much the state should spend to increase teacher pay and boost funding for school support personnel, textbooks and school safety, the General Assembly’s Republican leaders have shut down the discussion. Legislative leaders have announced that the second half of the current two-year budget will be settled behind closed doors, then offered for a vote as a conference report. That means lawmakers can vote yes or no, but no amendments are allowed. This bit of parliamentary chicanery is the Republicans’ latest assault on the democratic process. They’ve undermined voting rights, illegally gerrymandered voting districts, truncated the public hearing process and arrested more than a thousand protesters. Now they want to put a plan on how to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars into law without giving any lawmaker a chance to propose changes.

HOW TO AVOID YOUR NEXT SOCIAL MEDIA BLUNDER: Today, too many people – including political leaders – are engaging in stream of consciousness tweeting and other means of flying by the seat of their thumbs. Case in point: Charlotte City Council member LaWana Mayfield has been on the defensive lately, following her recent social media posts suggesting a 9/11 conspiracy theory and likening law enforcement officers to terrorists. Mature people think before they tweet. Mature people allow their potential public statements to pass through an internal filter of some kind – considering them in even the dimmest light of logic, reason, or consideration of impact on others. Mature people communicate with perspective and intention, rather than allowing whatever bubbles up from their id to run the show. Otherwise, such heedless, rapid-fire public rantings simply serve to break our community down further.


IHAB MIKATI: DURHAM POLICE CAN LEARN NOTHING GOOD FROM ISRAELI IDF: Last week’s events in Gaza – where thousands of Palestinian protesters were wounded by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) – make it as clear as ever that Durham City Council made the correct decision by forbidding police exchanges with foreign militaries last month. We’ve seen what the “counter-terrorism” taught in such exchanges really means. On May 15th, the IDF’s official Twitter account posted an image captioned “Hamas can turn anything into a weapon of terror.” Among the terrifying objects listed were “children” and “disabled civilians.” The end goal of this state-endorsed position is clear: If you criminalize an entire people, you don’t need to worry about criminalizing their actions. Every challenge from Palestinians in their open-air prison, even their mere existence, becomes a violent threat in the eyes of these heavily-armed forces. America has had enough with criminalizing people’s existences. The United States has a history of oppressive policing that extends much further back than modern Israel’s. Our jails overflow with those committing the crime of existing in poverty . The Durham City Council has rightly recognized that we have nothing to learn from practitioners of such oppressive philosophies.

CHUCK MANN: DOUBLE STANDARD REIGNS IN MIDDLE EAST: When the Syrian government killed at least 70 people in a chemical weapons attack, the Trump administration called it an atrocity. On the day of the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem the Israeli government killed at least 60 Palestinians and injured more than 2,000. The conservative, right-wing Trump administration calls this self-defense. Shouldn’t this be called an atrocity? The conservative, right-wing government of Bibi Netanyahu was atrocious. I guess that atrocities, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholders. Imagine if the Iranian government had killed 60 Jews that were protesting. The Trump administration wouldn’t be talking about self-defense. We Americans need to stand against hypocrisy and double standards. We need a federal government that has a standardized foreign policy that treats all countries by the same standards. We need a government that supports human rights, equality and democracy at home as well as abroad.

LISA FALK: INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE PACT NEEDED: For the three-quarters of Americans who say they are particularly concerned about the environment, “UN votes to take first step toward a global environment pact” (May 10) might offer either hope or despair. On the one hand, we should applaud the nearly unanimous decision of the international community to move toward establishing a global pact for the environment. But it’s hard not to be disappointed by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s take on it: “When international bodies attempt to force America into vague environmental commitments, it’s a sure sign that American citizens and businesses will get stuck paying a large bill without getting large benefits.” If Ambassador Haley doesn’t want the U.S. to be forced into “vague environmental commitments” internationally, it is time to take clear action at the national level. Don’t want to “get stuck paying a large bill without getting large benefits”? How about pushing Congress to enact a carbon fee and dividend plan? By putting a steadily rising fee on fossil fuel extraction at the source and returning the revenue to all American households, we would drastically reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously providing a stimulus to the U.S. economy and protecting the most vulnerable populations.



From the dark side

This week we are given one more reason to be concerned about the UNC Board of Governors with this "bright idea" from Board member Joe Knott:

As UNC-Chapel Hill business professor Michael Jacobs recently wrote in The News & Observer, there is evidence that the university is one-sided philosophically. This should not come as a surprise since the top research universities in the country suffer from what has been described as “intellectual monoculture” or a lack of “viewpoint diversity.”

Academic excellence suffers in an intellectual monoculture. With intellectual unanimity comes intellectual ennui. If everyone agrees, then there is nothing left to debate. There can be phony debates of course, like an election in Cuba, but real debate requires real disagreement.

You know what a tell-tale sign of a "phony" debate is? Dropping some barely-under-the-radar piece of innuendo into your opening salvo. That reference to Cuba is not casual, it's a dog-whistle about Socialism. It's the literary equivalent of a single frame subliminal message used by advertisers to sell their products. And ironically, it's also standard operating procedure for conservative "intellectuals" trying their best to promote patently indefensible theories.

If scholars are not free, the search for Truth is over and with that goes the value of the individual, the sanctity of conscience, freedom of speech, religion, and Western civilization itself. We are not running a business in which new owners routinely fire old staff and hire new employees to execute a new business plan. The university is not a bank or chain of stores.

So, if we cannot tell our scholars what to conclude, and if those scholars are tenured and duty bound to seek truth as they see it, we seem to be caught in a conundrum.

Oh my god. This is the man who was at the epicenter of the dismantling of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and he's whining about not having enough power to get rid of people and dictate curricula? In a word, it's astounding how drunk with power this guy is. But as we predicted when that happened, here's what he really wants:

I believe we can fix this problem. The flagship school in the UNC system is a world-renown center of academic excellence. Because of its long established academic stature, it has a unique ability to attract elite scholars and teachers.

My proposal is that we establish at our flagship university an Honors College with the stated purpose of bringing to North Carolina the best, most respected and accomplished scholars in the world who love and defend Western civilization.

Once established in their own College, free from bureaucratic interference and control by the existing faculty, these scholars can articulately and respectfully begin the debate that has been missing. These scholars, without fear of having their classes disallowed, changed to include “approved” texts or forced to submit to majority norms, can teach and defend the glories and roots of Western civilization and culture as they see fit.

A little grammar "housecleaning" before I bite into that tainted meat: "Renown" is a noun, so that compound adjective should be "world-renowned." And dropping that painfully misused word into a sentence that ends with "academic excellence" had me this close {} to spitting coffee on my keyboard, which would have been unfortunate.

As to the idea itself, it's based on a whole lot of incorrect assumptions and conclusions. Western civilization is already studied and revered probably more than it deserves to be, because the original efforts at Democracy (Athenian) were stymied by two millennia of European Autocracy. What culture emerged from that reign of terror is far eclipsed by the human suffering endured.

But aside from that false worship, Joe Knott is also guilty of either a) Brainlessly undermining his own argument, or b) A stunning level of hypocrisy.

He begins this missive with a call for healthy debate at UNC, and bemoans the "ennui" that results from a lack of diverse opinions. But then his solution is to create an institution which is insulated from the rest of the University, one which only hires professors of a narrow ideological perspective, who are so dedicated to that perspective they actually "love" Western Civilization.

He doesn't want "viewpoint diversity," he wants an incubator. An academic creche that will produce a whole new batch of young (future) leaders, who will be a buttress against the erosion of white male dominance of our society.

Several years ago UNC turned down Art Pope's "offer" to create such a school, and the faculty and extremely influential alums need to make sure that wise decision stands.