Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


JEOPARDIZING PUBLIC TRUST IN THE IMPARTIALITY OF NC COURTS: The current turmoil over the status of congressional and legislative elections – and the gerrymandering of election districts that is at the heart of the matter – is threatening public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of our state’s courts. Since 2011 when Republican’s took control of the General Assembly they have worked to make state government and the courts more partisan – and bend rules in favor of the GOP and even look to draw judicial districts to favor Republican candidates for local judgeships. While this may be politically expedient, it is a slippery slope to where those seeking a fair hearing in our courts will come to see them only as places where justice is determined more on political affiliation than an impartial application of the law. As Republican legislators now jockey for how legal challenges to their gerrymandering of elections districts are handled, it only shines a brighter light on their efforts to politicize the courts. To whatever degree Republicans may look to point fingers and complain about partisanship in our state’s courts, they have only to look in the mirror. A good rule of thumb when dealing with the NC GOP: If they are complaining about something, they are guilty of it themselves.

IT'S TIME TO ADMIT IT, NC'S PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHER PROGRAM IS A FAILURE: Even at $5,900, the voucher isn’t enough to pay for a first-rate private school where the annual tuition can be more than $20,000. Instead, opportunity scholarships enable children to attend smaller, mostly religious schools, many of them offering a curriculum that does not meet the state’s public school standards. Indeed, the voucher program sends money to private schools without requiring that the schools even be accredited, have licensed teachers, offer clear measurement of students’ academic progress or, in most cases, submit an accounting of their finances. When Bonnie Bechard, an education researcher with the League of Women Voters, reviewed the curriculum at about 100 schools receiving vouchers in 2018, she found that more than three-fourths used a Bible-based curriculum that lacks academic rigor and is not accepted by major universities. She found one school where 17 of the 19 students had Opportunity Scholarships and the faculty consisted of a minister and his wife. The program, launched in 2014 and currently with 19,240 recipients, has been unable to spend its annual allocation. Despite the lack of demand, Republicans keep feeding the program more money. Current funding is scheduled to double to $240 million by 2032. By then, the state will have spent more than $1 billion on vouchers. Not only are they trying to drown public schools in a bathtub, they are building their future base: A collection of mostly ignorant bible-thumping bigots, vulnerable to the manufactured fear tactic du jour. And that's a bleak future for our state.

THE NEW, BULLYING BREED OF REPUBLICAN THAT INSPIRED MARK ROBINSON: With their cultural power in steady decline, the evangelical movement has shifted its efforts into the one arena of American life in which it still reigns supreme: politics. White, conservative evangelicals dominate the American political scene despite their minority status in the national population, due to a political system that was designed hundreds of years ago to privilege a propertied minority over other American citizens. The evangelicals, consumed with panic over their diminishing cultural hegemony, have assumed an ultra-combative stance in politics, and the politicians who attract their support happen to reflect this penchant for political aggression. Thus, the leading Republican politicians of the day tend to be bullies with a keen sense of how to provoke the media and the Left. The beau ideal of this political archetype is Donald Trump. Never before in American history have we seen a politician with his ability to manipulate and exploit the news media to build political momentum and destroy enemies. Trump’s influence continues despite the loss of his Twitter feed, and will receive rocket fuel when he resumes campaigning for president, as it seems likely he will. From Trump, the Republicans have grown a crop of “Mini-Donalds,” lesser Trumps who utilize his playbook for antagonizing the media and “owning the libs.” Governors Ron DeSantis, of Florida, and Gregg Abbott, of Texas, are instructive. Both of these men provoke constant battles with reporters and Democrats, eschewing substantive governance for high-profile cultural confrontations over identity and public health. In so doing, they have branded themselves as “fighters” and allowed their adoring supporters to experience the rush of combat through watching their governors fight. And if Abbott and DeSantis are mini-Trumps, Robinson is a two-bit demagogue aspiring to that status. He combines brash aggression with the mastery of electronic media that, after all, launched his political career. In addition, he flaunts his bigotry at every opportunity. He tried to be a Taliban Imam and "purify" school curriculum, but that flopped, so his current gambit is to sling so much hate around he can become the King of Bigots. But in reality he is merely the Court Jester.

UNDERMINING A BASIC RIGHT: REPUBLICAN POLITICIANS ESPOUSE A TRULY RADICAL STANCE ON PUBLIC EDUCATION: It’s a bedrock principle of American law that average people can vindicate their legal and constitutional rights in courts of law and have those courts compel or prevent acts of other branches of government. Without such a rule, many basic rights would be rendered as effectively meaningless as they are in countries like Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China. It’s true that the oversight process for enforcing such judgments frequently gets messy and contentious. But the basic premise — that courts have the fundamental power to compel government action (even when it requires the expenditure of public resources) — remains (and should remain) unassailable. Without such a basic rule, states would be free to house prisoners in outdoor pens like farm animals, lock patients suffering from mental illness into windowless dungeons, or cram schoolchildren, 70-per classroom, into tiny, unheated, and overcrowded trailers that fail to meet fire or electrical codes. What’s more, the people forced to endure such torturous conditions would be out of luck and without a possible remedy. Amazingly, however, this is the precise position that state Republican politicians say should prevail with respect to North Carolina’s landmark Leandro school funding case. Despite multiple judicial determinations that the state’s K-12 schools are unconstitutionally deficient, the Republican politicians — including, last week, a pair of appellate court judges — say that no court can order the legislature to actually fix the problem. The bottom line: If the position staked out by Berger and his pals somehow triumphs, it will set a potentially disastrous precedent that will almost certainly harm millions of schoolchildren and, quite conceivably, serve to undermine many other basic individual rights. The state Supreme Court should stand up for all North Carolinians and definitively reject this absurd and extreme stance as quickly as possible. One of the principle functions of our court system is to ensure our state Constitution is adhered to. If it cannot perform that function, said Constitution is meaningless. It's not even a lukewarm mission statement.

CONGRESS MUST ACT TO PROTECT DEMOCRACY FROM PRESIDENTIAL ABUSE, JUST AS IT DID AFTER NIXON: In the wake of presidential abuses of power during the Nixon administration, Congress responded with a broad set of reforms to strengthen the institutions of our democracy. The same must be done following the Trump administration. That is why the House on Thursday passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act to shore up our institutions against presidential abuses. It is essential the Senate does the same. After President Richard M. Nixon resigned, Congress implemented new campaign finance and ethics laws, transparency requirements and mandatory financial disclosures. It stood up inspector general offices to search out corruption and malfeasance. It also organized committees to oversee the intelligence agencies and circumscribed the president’s power to declare war. The list of Trump administration presidential abuses is nearly endless: violations of the Impoundment Act and usurpation of Congress’s power of the purse; the temporary appointment of Senate-confirmable positions to evade the need for Senate approval; the abuse of presidential emergency declarations; Trump’s gleeful acceptance of foreign help in one election and efforts to coerce another foreign power into helping him in the next (which led to the first of his two impeachments). This is why Congress needs a new set of democracy-affirming reforms. Indeed, because the Trumpian abuses of power are far more sweeping than anything undertaken by Nixon — and ultimately led to a violent attack on our Capitol — the need for stronger guardrails is greater than ever. Many of the protections in the bill have had bipartisan support in the past; in fact, many of these provisions had once been authored by Republicans. One would expect the GOP to embrace such reforms as desirable limits on the current Democratic administration. But Republicans may fear the reforms will alienate the former president and bring his disdain upon them. Once again, they will have to answer the question: Does their devotion to our Constitution outweigh their fear of Trump? For the sake of our country, we must hope that it does. Adam Schiff never ceases to amaze me with his guts and insight. Which is why Republicans hate him so much, because he is almost always right.


ANNE SUTHERLAND: TEENAGERS AND GUNS SHOULDN'T MIX: Keeping guns out of the hands of unsupervised teens would prevent much needless tragedy. The human brain is a complex organ that controls many functions, such as breathing, sleeping, emotions, thinking and planning. The executive function of the brain is vital in situations involving planning, decision making, trouble shooting, danger and resisting temptation. The frontal lobe is essential in regulating executive function. Unfortunately, it’s the last area of the brain to fully develop, i.e. not until age 24 or 25. This explains why teens often have a tendency to make poor decisions, such as speeding or drinking too much. Young people who’ve enlisted in the armed services (18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds) are trained in gun safety and are supervised by commanding officers. Teens should not own guns or be allowed to use guns without direct adult supervision. It's becoming more and more obvious that many parents are not responsible enough to be one. Like the parents of the 15 year-old Ohio school shooter, or Thomas Massie and Lauren Boebert, posting Christmas pictures with their children holding assault rifles. And they will probably get re-elected.

JULIE VON HAEFEN AND MARCIA MOREY: OIL & GAS GIANTS MUST HELP PAY FOR CLIMATE COSTS IN NC: Jasmine Gallup’s recent article speaks to a dire reality that we, as elected leaders in North Carolina, have all witnessed in our communities: those hit first and worst by climate change are also least resourced to respond to the increasingly costly damage. Communities across the state will need to find a way to weather the coming storms, and the costs Gallup names are just a start. But the big question still remains: Why are frontline communities still footing the bill on their own? Just 100 companies—most of them oil and gas companies—are responsible for over 71 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change since 1988, according to the latest Carbon Majors Report. Oil and gas giants have known since the 1960s that their fossil fuel products would cause dangerous climate impacts, but spent decades undermining climate science and lying to lawmakers and the public to prevent policies that would threaten their business-as-usual. Oil executives continued to line their pockets while efforts to address climate change remained at a standstill—and our communities were hung out to dry (or drown, as the case may be). That history was highlighted at the first-ever congressional hearing on climate disinformation this past October. The executives of oil giants Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP America, and others faced questions from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about their past and ongoing efforts to mislead Americans and delay climate action. Fossil fuel companies must be held accountable for the climate-driven damage now plaguing our communities in North Carolina. It’s long past time for this industry to pay its fair share—our infrastructure, livelihoods, homes, and safety all depend on it. Get that? Not only did they cause this problem, they knew they were doing it and worked hard to conceal it. In a civil courtroom, those proven facts would demand hefty restitution.

MERRYL BURPOE: ARE WE LIVING IN A THEOCRACY? I am outraged that the so-called conservatives on the Supreme Court appear ready to end a woman’s right to abortion. How dare they take away a woman’s rights in the name of their religion? Apparently, freedom of religion applies only to those who agree with them. My religion and that of most other Americans does not prohibit the right to terminate a pregnancy. When the Supreme Court denies me the right to practice my religion, it is violating one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution. More than 60 percent of Americans’ religious beliefs allow for termination of pregnancies in many cases. It is outrageous that a baker can express his religious beliefs if he doesn’t want to make a wedding cake, but women who believe in a right to abortion are being forced to continue pregnancies, often at their peril. We need to reframe this as a right to religion and make the justices say that only their religions count in dictating policies and laws in this country — in complete violation of our right to religious freedom. Then we need to throw the hypocrites out. What is even more outrageous (to me) is the fact that half of the voters in this country would apparently welcome a hateful dictator (Trump) to rise back to power, by whatever means necessary, even though (because?) he turned our highest court into a Sura (see Taliban). This is exactly the opposite of what the Founding Fathers envisioned, and they are welcoming it with open arms.



13 more days?

Am I the only one finding it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit? I mean, when I was a child, it was glorious. Out of school for 3+ weeks, watching a growing pile of treasures accumulate under the tree, concentrating hard on pictures in the Sears Christmas catalog, as if by sheer will I could transport those items from the page to the carpet in front of me.

As I grew older, the holiday grew less magical, but in a sense it was better, because it brought our family back together for a brief period. With age comes a certain drift, away from the nest and the uncertainties such drift entails. The lights from the tree, the corny decorations, are signals of a brief respite from the storm; a haven where strife and struggle can be forgotten, however briefly.

And watching the excitement of my own children opening their presents was a whole new magic, both different and much the same as I remembered from my childhood. A continuity that suggested the holiday would always be special. But that suggestion did not pan out.

It would be easy to blame the pandemic for the loss of magic. But in reality, it has been happening for many years. Consumerism and our misplaced value system permeate this season, which is odd because it's not like we wait until Christmas to buy expensive gifts (usually for ourselves). Nope. If we want something we get it now (not tomorrow), because we deserve that thing. We don't stop to think about whether we actually need that thing, or the precious natural resources that were drained or tainted in its production, or the abject slavery that makes it slightly less unaffordable. And the previous thing this new thing replaces will most likely end up in a massive pile of toxic scrapped electronics being picked over by undernourished children in Malawi, Shaanxi, or Romania.

And because we consume all year round in such a fervor, Christmas demands even more consumption. Because we think it will preserve the "specialness" of the holiday. Americans will spend somewhere between $850 to $1,000 on Christmas gifts on average this year, and an additional $500 on decorations and meals.

That's not magic, it's madness.

The Christmas spirit doesn't need a dollar figure attached to it to make it better, it just needs love. Cherish the moments you have together, because they are priceless.