Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


NAMELESS BUREAUCRATS AREN'T THE PROBLEM WITH NC SCHOOLS, IT'S LEGISLATIVE NEGLECT: The Education Law Center, in its “Making the Grade 2021: How fair is school funding in your state” gives North Carolina an “F” in funding level – 49th among the 50 states and Washington D.C. The state gets another “F” in funding effort – 47th. Who’s responsible for those bottom-of-the-barrel levels? Berger blames “a failed education bureaucracy.” Blame the bureaucrats. It’s a nebulous, meaningless dodge of the responsibility Berger shoulders. Who was the champion of abolishing the Teaching Fellows program? Who continues to push private school vouchers that funnel millions of dollars to schools that aren’t required to show reasonable or transparent measures of student achievement – they aren’t even required to show that students show up at class. Underfunding schools creates a surplus, and that surplus gives them an excuse for more tax cuts. Every year. The irresponsibility is breathtaking.

THE INFLATION WE'RE EXPERIENCING IS PAINFUL, BUT THE ALTERNATIVE WOULD HAVE BEEN MUCH WORSE: Around mid-March 2020, the global economy shut down. We faced a choice: do nothing and see a massive increase in unemployment and a catastrophic wave of financial defaults, or come together and pass an aid package to ensure Americans had the resources to make it through the pandemic. The decision was made, Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders passed the largest aid package in U.S. history. Democrats and Republicans chose not to leave fellow citizens behind and to help those that were going to be hit hardest. As the Delta-variant rose, threatening our recovery, the government once again passed a historic rescue package. Unlike the 2020 packages, this one passed strictly on party lines, with Republicans suddenly unable to stomach any more spending, even as all the data suggested our economy was still in dire shape and our neighbors still needed help. What is clear is that without relief measures we wouldn’t be talking about inflation right now, but we would be struggling with near double-digit unemployment, people out of work, people forced out of their homes, and entire communities broken apart. Many of us lost people we loved, and we all suffered, but there is no question that because the government acted the way that it did, we were able to save lives, save homes and save jobs, businesses, and the economy. We tackled that problem together and we need to do the same right now. Taking big steps to avert a disaster always creates other problems; the key is to remember why you took those steps. Way too many Americans simply don't have that capacity.

HOW UNC CAN PLAN FOR A SPRING SEMESTER WITH COVID-19 VARIANTS: Omicron is a very real issue — and one that UNC must be proactive and take actions against before students step foot on campus. Preventative measures taken by university administration now can keep outbreaks from arising on campus in January, and potentially save lives of students, faculty and the community. Require COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots. UNC can lead the charge across higher education by requiring booster vaccinations for students, faculty and staff upon return to campus. This will entail offering multiple sites to get the shot across campus. The move isn't unusual. The University of Oregon and Michigan State University are requiring the COVID-19 booster shots for students. UNC has never been at the forefront of making sound decisions regarding the pandemic – administration never implemented first and second dose vaccine requirements. However, that can change with this semester as the number of both vaccinated students and those with booster immunizations increases. UNC should consider moving classes online for the first few weeks of the semester. This provides the opportunity for students who traveled throughout the break to quarantine or stagger their return to campus. Additionally, once classes have resumed, it’s imperative to implement flexible attendance policies, as well offering hybrid formats for larger lectures. Students and professors should be given greater autonomy over their mode of instruction to fit the health and safety needs of themselves and the class. Testing, once again, is the answer to preventing clusters on campus. UNC should expand their asymptomatic testing hours and locations, including an off-campus location for students living across Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Random surveillance testing must be implemented for those, vaccinated and unvaccinated — and the frequency of testing for unvaccinated individuals must increase as well. Additionally, mask mandates must be enforced thoroughly. If you look around during a Carolina Basketball game, you’ll see hundreds of people unmasked, packed into an enclosed stadium. Considering the beginning of home ACC play for the team, it’s something the University must crack down on in the upcoming weeks. None of these recommendations are "radical," they are best practices that should have already been implemented, especially for a University that houses a teaching hospital.

TOYOTA DEAL HIGHLIGHTS THE CONTINUED CLIMATE DENIALISM OF NC'S CONSERVATIVES: For politicians like Senate GOP leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, the Toyota deal was okay. Both men issued statements endorsing it and, of course, claiming credit, but through it all, they continued to refuse to even acknowledge the climate elephant in the room. Maybe it’s just habit. After all, both men have been, effectively, denying the existence of climate change and advancing policies to prevent the state from taking action to address it for well over a decade. And then there are the “free market fundamentalists” at the Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation. As you may recall, this is a group that, for decades, denied the reality of climate change and/or its connection to fossil fuel consumption. Not only has the group panned the Toyota deal based on its longstanding opposition to economic incentives (even as it parroted the inaccurate claims of Berger and Moore that GOP tax cuts were the deciding factor), but it has repeatedly argued – in tandem with its long-time allies in the fossil fuel industry – that electric vehicles are a fraud. Indeed, the group seems so desperate to undermine fossil fuel competition that it has even resorted to borrowing progressive stances on other issues to do so. In a video the group released earlier this year featuring a man who long served as one of industry’s favorite (de)regulators – former state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Donald van der Vaart – electric vehicles are slammed because of the environmental damage that is caused by mining the minerals needed for batteries and – get this – the poor treatment of the miners! This, from a group, that’s scarcely ever met an environmental or worker protection regulation it didn’t want to repeal. It's also ironic that right-wing trolls on Facebook and Twitter are all-of-a-sudden worried about toxic pollution that might result from this EV battery plant. Such hypocrisy trickles down from groups like JLF on a daily basis, but pointing it out can be exhausting.

THE BAD GUYS ON SOCIAL MEDIA ARE LEARNING NEW TRICKS: The company formerly known as Facebook routinely shares how meddlers around the world are making mischief on its platforms, and how its investigative teams are trying to stop them. These missives have focused on what’s called coordinated inauthentic behavior, a frame that emphasizes conduct rather than content; no matter what you want to say, you can’t do it by creating an army of fake accounts. But the standard doesn’t capture a host of other harms also organized by malignant networks. Meta is adjusting in an attempt to keep up. December’s report homes in on two new categories that Meta is targeting for disruption — “brigading” and “mass reporting.” Both of these terms-of-service breaches are routinely carried out by real accounts in addition to fake ones, and both of them do something more than the typical flooding of the information space with lies or propaganda: They attempt also to silence those they disagree with by drowning them out. Brigading means commenting or posting repetitively and at volume to harass or silence others. Take, for instance, Meta’s removal of a network in Italy and France linked to an anti-vaccination movement known as V_V. In this case, the brigadiers planned on messaging platform Telegram to intimidate doctors, journalists and media out of discussing coronavirus vaccination. Where one vicious or misleading post might not have much of an impact, a thousand can make someone never want to speak up again — and intimidate those who identify with a bombarded individual. Mass reporting, by contrast, involves cooperating to get others incorrectly booted off Facebook. Meta points to a network in Vietnam that conspired to stymie the speech of government critics by flagging posts for various rules violations. Sometimes, the network would even set up accounts impersonating targets and then report the targets for impersonating them. This is a new way for people in power to shut down people who seek to challenge it. I know it's in style to blame Zuck for everything going wrong in the world, but policing that platform is hella complicated. Algorithms will only get you so far, and often in the wrong direction. It takes smart, objective, and dedicated people to keep it from being abused, and unfortunately those people are rare.


MARTHA GLASS: KUDOS FOR PRESERVING RALEIGH'S LIGON HOUSE: The article “Ligon House bought, preservation planned in Southeast Raleigh” (Dec. 23) made my heart feel so full during this season of gifting. Thanks to buyer Ashkan Hosseini for his generosity to Raleigh, and especially to the African-American community for this thoughtful present to preserve this special piece of history. Excerpt: “We understand the important role of Rev. John W. Ligon in Raleigh’s history and as a part of the historic East Raleigh-South Park neighborhood and we intend to preserve the house.” Born to former slaves, Ligon became a school principal fond of Shakespeare and Ralph Waldo Emerson, only to get fired in 1919 because he “dared to be a man” and ran for public office. In 1953, the city named its only Black high school for Ligon, building it for a then-unprecedented price of $1 million. It would produce graduates as notable as Chuck Davis, founder of the African American Dance Ensemble, and John Baker, the first Black sheriff in North Carolina since Reconstruction. Just down Lenoir Street from Ligon, now a prominent magnet middle school, the house where the Raleigh educator and pastor raised his family is now up for sale. Preservation groups sounded optimistic. Vacant for years, the house now stands with its windows covered in plywood. Makes you wonder how much Black history has been bulldozed without such consideration. Too much, I'm sure.

LINDA SUTTON: JAN 6 WAS A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY, TOO: As the anniversary of Jan. 6 approaches, I reflect on the Pearl Harbor attack and 9/11, which forever changed us yet brought us together. Jan. 6 was Americans attacking America. There are accusations that ex-President Trump and allies may have abetted the mob, including at a Willard Hotel planning session. Capitol police, our cherished historic Capitol, and good American people were forever harmed. Yet, many defend this infamous day. What’s happened to the Republican Party of my parents, grandparents and Lincoln? Unless there’s a monumental change, I will support the party of Infrastructure, rather than the party of insurrection. Trump did more damage to the character of America than any of our sworn enemies ever did. And until the Republican Party faces that truth, they simply can't be trusted to govern.

ROGER HIRSHBERG: MR. MEADOWS' DANGEROUS CHOICE: A growing body of damning evidence in the form of texts uncovered by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is revealing the deep involvement of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. But more significant, the text messages produced by the committee represent the clearest and most direct evidence yet of what has been a virtual certainty for nearly a year: that former president Donald Trump encouraged and provoked a mob into insurrection and felt no incentive to end it. We now learn that, as he witnessed hours of violence and sacking of the Capitol, Mr. Trump ignored pleas from family and allies to end the siege, something that he alone could do. Mr. Meadows collaborated as agent and lackey in a string of Mr. Trump’s bullying attempts to overturn the election leading up to and including Jan. 6, even as the events were unfolding in real time. Mr. Meadows stands in contempt of Congress because of his subservience to his corrupt boss. With other Trump loyalists, he has made a dangerous choice: to place the cult of personality above the rule of law at great cost to the country. Roger that, Roger.



Living in the past...

One of the most talked-about features of the James Webb Space Telescope is our ability to see back into the past. But in reality, we already are seeing the past. Even when we see Venus or Mars in the sky, we are seeing light that struck those planets a few minutes ago. The farther away, the more time has elapsed. Almost 200,000 years have elapsed since the light we see from the smaller Magellanic Clouds was produced. When you look up at night, some of those stars you see no longer exist, not in that same form, anyway. They have collapsed, or expanded massively, or have simply run out of gas.

I tell you that so you may better grasp the following: Your past no longer exists, not in the form you may perceive it, anyway.

While it's good to remember past experiences that had a positive impact on us, it's sometimes not so good to consider them as "standards" of what a good life is, or should be. Even if our memory was sound and accurate (it isn't), the world has changed, and achieving that standard is, in many cases, no longer possible. This often comes up in discussions about housing affordability, the cost of a college education, child care, etc. You can't go back, no matter how hard you try, and time spent dwelling on it is time lost.

If remembering the good stuff is questionable, remembering the bad stuff is leaps and bounds more counterproductive. We've all made mistakes. We've all suffered injustices at the hands of others. Been betrayed by people we trusted. Or at least we perceive these acts as betrayals. But unlike radioactive elements, the bitterness doesn't slowly fade with the passage of time, moving inexorably in the direction of stability. No. We play it over and over again in our minds, adding fuel when it seems to be burning lower. And we suffer unnecessarily for it.

But Steve, some things are unforgivable!

Are they? Okay, maybe they are. But that doesn't mean they are unforgettable. Even if we work from the dubious assumption that betrayal was the original intent, and not just an unfortunate series of events and actions that ended up harming us; and if we assume that individual still harbors us ill will, maybe decades later, wouldn't continuing to torture ourselves over it please this probably fictional nemesis? Yes, of course it would.

But the truth is, such evil intent was likely never present. It is a construct fashioned by our ego to explain our misfortune, a narrative that is supposed to shore up our self-esteem. But of course it does just the opposite of that, every time we play that scratched old record on the turntable of our memories.

Let it go, it no longer exists, if it ever did.