Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


FACTS & FIXES TO REALLY HELP NC'S UNEMPLOYED: A look at the fine print in the law, says any change in the number of weeks for benefits to be paid will be based on “the average of the seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for the state for the preceding months of January, February and March” for the change that would be made on July 1. With that standard, state law allows for NO change in the number of weeks benefits are paid. Why? Because – and here’s the math – the January unemployment rate was 3.6%. The February unemployment rate was 3.6% and the March unemployment rate was 4.4%. That comes to an average of 3.9% -- well below the 5.6% needed to add even another week – let alone the maximum to add an additional 8 weeks when the rate exceeds 9%. So, thanks to the clever bill authors in 2013, even though there’s likely to continue to be high unemployment rates – it won’t be until January 2021 that there’s any hope of increasing the number of weeks benefits are offered.

VOTE FOR RATIONALITY, VOTE FOR PEOPLE ABOVE PROFITS (Diane Hubbard): The whole federal response to this pandemic is a lesson in what not to do in an emergency. The Trump administration dragged its feet for two months while the virus gained a foothold here. He told states to find their own personal protection equipment (PPE) for health workers and first responders. Yet when some states worked out deals with manufacturers, the feds swooped in and confiscated the supplies. Those supplies then disappeared to parts unknown. Some Republican governors are opening non-essential businesses again. This is highly irresponsible. Limited reopening might have been possible if we had adequate testing to identify hotspots, but because of Trump’s slow response, we don’t have those tests in adequate numbers. Incidentally, early reopening is also a way for states to not have to pay for unemployment insurance for laid off workers. The “ReOpen America” faction is unbelievably reckless. Follow the money and you’ll find that these protests are funded by conservative groups who represent business owners who want their low-wage workers to go back to work, even without PPE. What are a few thousand poor people drowning in their own mucus when hotels and casinos are losing money?

1918 PANDEMIC'S LESSON: DON'T REOPEN NC EARLY: “What gives me pause when I look back at 1918 is I think about the second wave,” Leloudis said. “People did social distancing and there was this sense of ‘that’s behind us and we can all move on’ and then the second wave hit and it was just devastating.” By the end, 20 percent of the state – some 520,000 people – were infected and 13,644 died. Leloudis said one troubling aspect of the COVID-19 crisis is that it also mirrors the racial inequities of a century ago. In the current crisis, blacks are also more vulnerable. They are 22% of the population but represent 39% of COVID-19 cases and 35% of deaths from the disease. It was the same in 1918. The death rate among whites then was 286 per 100,000. Among blacks it was 413 per 100,000. Then, as now, blacks had less access to health care and a higher incidence of health issues related to poverty. “It’s really sobering that a century later that kind of racial health disparity is so familiar,” he said. “You would have hoped that post-civil rights and the war on poverty we would have changed some of that, but it turns out it’s a very familiar story.” This time, though, Leloudis said the we are not doomed to repeat history. “It really is an opportunity for all of us to pause and think about what kind of state we want to live in and what kind of country, to think about the obligations we owe each other,” Leloudis said. “It would be a terrible loss to let that opportunity pass.”

IT'S TIME TO STOP THINKING OF BROADBAND AS A LUXURY: At the NC Rural Center, we’ve been actively advocating for broadband expansion for the past five years, and we applaud the significant, bipartisan measures that seek to better connect all corners of North Carolina. Policy measures like the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program, an effort passed by the NC General Assembly and administered by the State Broadband Infrastructure Office, which provides grants to help deploy broadband service to unserved areas. State-level polices like GREAT are a significant step in the right direction, but as COVID-19 continues to impact our state, it’s clear that now is the time to act on this issue at an even higher order of magnitude. Flattening the curve and keeping North Carolinians healthy during this time gets easier when people can visit their doctors through telehealth services and students and teachers can access online learning platforms at home. And as we at the Rural Center are seeing firsthand, broadband is a lifeline, keeping many businesses and nonprofits running during these times of social distancing and sheltering-in-place. And it’s not just COVID-19 that is raising greater awareness about the importance of broadband access. For the first time, the decennial census is available online, with the goal to make completing the census as easy as possible. But without broadband, the very mechanism intended to ensure an accurate count in places already at risk for an undercount, is rendered ineffective. Expanding broadband access and affordability will require a significant, increased fiscal allocation, public-private partnerships that leverage existing assets, and a commitment from every sector to not stop advocating until every household is connected, down to the last mile.

TRUMP VALUES POMP MORE THAN THE LIVES OF THE CADETS HE'S DRAGGING BACK TO WEST POINT: The decision to go ahead with ceremonies at West Point, pushed back from the original date of May 23, means the recall of 1,000 cadets who are scattered across the country. They will travel into airports in New York and New Jersey, states that have been hit hard by the pandemic, to a location that is 50 miles north of the pandemic’s epicenter in New York City. They will have to undergo testing and face up to three weeks of quarantine in campus barracks, perhaps one person to a room. Partial audio recording obtained by The Post of a video call made by a West Point instructor to a group of 25 cadets April 21, four days after Mr. Trump announced his plans, has raised concerns because of the instructor’s estimate that as many as 60 percent of the class might have the coronavirus, and the uncertainties that still surround this disease and the reliability of testing. Military officials insist they can safely hold the graduation, making the feeble argument that cadets would have had to return to pick up their belongings and get future orders. Why, though, increase any chance of spreading the virus? Why take any risk with the health of the future leaders of the country’s military? Is it really worth the costs and inconveniences? The answer, of course, is that Mr. Trump won’t pass up the chance to give a showy election-year speech amid the military pomp he seems to value much more than the men and women who are willing to lay down their lives.


ALLISON RIGGS: THE LEGISLATURE NEEDS TO ASSIST AND PROTECT VOTERS: The N.C. General Assembly needs to act immediately to ensure safe and accessible voting in 2020. While much attention has been paid to expanding access to absentee mail ballots, which is desperately needed, we must also preserve in-person voting and make it safe. That means recruiting poll workers to move voters in and out of polling places swiftly. We need to pay poll workers more and counties need money to hire more people to process absentee ballots. The two-witness requirement for absentee-by-mail ballots must be waived for this election. Voters should not be asked to sacrifice their health to find witnesses. Voter registration is also being threatened by the pandemic. We are already seeing a disheartening downward trend. We need to extend the registration deadline and open up additional ways for people to register. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice strongly urges N.C. legislators to make protecting voters a priority now. We’ve lost so much to this pandemic — we cannot afford to lose our democracy as well.

PATRICK O'NEILL: COVID 19 HAS TURNED NC'S PRISONS INTO DEATH TRAPS: A sixth coronavirus death has occurred at the Butner Federal Prison. This time, a 73-year old man serving 20 years on a marijuana distribution charge - William Walker Minto - died despite the prison knowing he had a pre-existing medical condition. His death was tantamount to an execution for a nonviolent crime. Why wasn’t he furloughed in light of his medical condition? There is no way to be socially distant in jails and prisons. They are death traps for the vulnerable. The U.S., with 2.3 million people under lock and key, has the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the vast majority of those are in prison for nonviolent crimes. Prisoners have a right to live and a right to protection from the coronavirus. Our mistreatment of “the least of these” is sinful and unconscionable.

FRED GUNTHER: WHEN WILL VOTERS RECOGNIZE THE IRRESPONSIBILITY OF REPUBLICANS?: In 2008-2009 this country endured an existential financial crisis. It was precipitated by Republican-sponsored legislation that eliminated the barriers separating commercial banking from the securities industry, followed by deregulation of the derivatives markets. Eight years of the Bush administration refusing to rein in the rampant excesses of the mortgage industry and Wall Street completed the disaster. Fortunately, the actions of the Obama administration put this country on the track of recovery, economic expansion and full employment. Now here we are again. In 2018, Donald Trump disbanded the White House pandemic response team. This was followed by months of Trump ignoring the warnings of experts and downplaying what is now an epic health and economic threat to us all. How long will the American people continue to allow themselves to be victimized by the intellectually and morally bankrupt policies of the Republican Party?



From the dark side

This week's foil is that nostalgic dinosaur Walter Williams:

Dr. Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a military historian and a professor emeritus of classics at California State University, Fresno. He has written two articles relevant to today’s society. Last October he published, “Members of Previous Generations Now Seem Like Giants,” and he recently wrote, “Is America a Roaring Giant or Crying Baby?”

In the first article, Hanson starts with some observations and questions regarding the greatness of previous generations compared with today’s Americans. He asks: “Does anyone believe that contemporary Americans could build another transcontinental railroad in six years? ... America went to the moon in 1969 with supposedly primitive computers and backward engineering. Does anyone believe we could launch a similar moonshot today?”

The "transcontinental" railroad was already halfway constructed when that project began, and the new part was slapped together so poorly (corporate greed) it was plagued with maintenance problems for decades afterwards.

As to another moonshot, of course we could do that again, easily. But the same problem that would make that impossible also precludes another massive rail project: Republican intransigence. They would never spend that kind of money these days, unless wealthy corporate oligarchs wanted them to.

Hanson observes: “We have been fighting in Afghanistan without result for 18 years. Our forefathers helped to win World War II and defeat the Axis Powers in four years.” Keep in mind that the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) had far greater firepower than the Afghan rebels that we’ve fought.

We toppled the Taliban government in a little over two months in 2001. The "war" should have ended at that time, with the Northern Alliance taking the reins of government. But Dubya's inner circle, littered with Neocons, were more interested in turning Afghanistan into a strategic stronghold than allowing it to rule itself, so there we are, still.

Hanson also could have asked whether today’s Americans could build a 1,700-mile road such as the ALCAN Highway, connecting the lower 48 states to Alaska, whose construction started in March 1942 and was completed in October that year.

Again, many sections of that road already existed before the project began, and almost as soon as it was "finished," improvement projects had already begun. It was a phenomenal accomplishment, thanks to a lot of African-American soldiers in the Corp of Engineers. But it was wartime, and a lot of amazing construction projects took place.

And not to put too fine a point on it, if the U.S. government drafted (conscripted) tens of thousands of Americans just to build some roads, Walter Williams would be screaming "Socialism!" in several breathless Op-Eds. But that is exactly what happened with that Alaskan highway.

In terms of learning, Hanson asks whether anyone believes that a 2020 college graduate knows half of what a 1950 graduate knew. In the 1940s, he says, young people read the works of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck. He doubts that today’s high school graduates could even finish “The Good Earth” or “The Grapes of Wrath.” I attended Benjamin Franklin High School from 1950 to 1954, and our senior English class required reading included Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” and William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar.” By the way, when I attended Benjamin Franklin High, it was ranked the lowest among Philadelphia’s high schools.

Oh fer fuck's sake. In the 1950's they were still doing extreme hydrotherapy (hot and cold baths), electric shock treatments that were often fatal, and frontal lobotomies, on mental health issues that are now mostly out-patient cases. As far as the classics are concerned, I guarantee most college students these days have read at least a few of them. I just hope to God they don't read this column, because the dude that wrote it has absolutely no wisdom to impart.

I missed the 3 year birthday...

This is the 158th installment of this weekly feature, and further proof that time is a human construct that is impossible to fathom, at least for the weak-minded like myself...