Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


YOU WANT TO PRESERVE YOUR FREEDOMS? GET VACCINATED: There are few threats to personal freedom greater these days than the COVID pandemic. And the answer to those threats isn’t assertion of narrow personal rights that put the good of the community in jeopardy. It is the understanding – as this state and nation has shown in other times of great challenge – that focusing on the common good strengthens or most cherished liberties and rights. Get vaccinated. The greater good infinitely outweighs the minimal risk. Real patriots are listening to the scientists and medical experts. True lovers of liberty are taking the steps necessary not to overburden our medical care facilities so they can best tend to those in most urgent and critical need of care. Real rights advocates look to help those essential workers – whether they are public safety workers or emergency responders; educators in our schools and on university campuses; service personnel in grocery stores, pharmacies and other places necessary for the conduct of our daily lives and communities. Ignorance and stubbornness are proving to be just as deadly (if not more) than the virus itself.

NCGA IS FUNDING THE WRONG APPROACH TO OPIOID TREATMENT: The overdose epidemic has already claimed a record 3,595 lives in North Carolina this year, more than ever before. In our state, most overdose deaths are caused by opioids. Fortunately, effective, life-saving medications to treat opioid addiction have existed for decades. These medications reduce drug use, crime and overdoses. Yet the N.C. budget directed tens of millions of dollars to programs that don’t use medications. Some programs, like TROSA in Durham, which received $11 million, denies services to individuals who use the safest and most effective medications for opioid addiction. The federal government has deemed this practice a violation of the American with Disabilities Act. The reason many addiction programs reject the most effective medications is because of a lack of understanding. These medications work on the brain’s opioid receptors, so some people wrongly think that using these medicines is akin to substituting one addictive drug for another. Nothing could be further from the truth. While heroin strongly activates opioid receptors for a short time to create a euphoric experience, medications like buprenorphine provide a low-level, long-acting effect that prevents withdrawal and actually blocks the effects of opioids like heroin. Some programs are run by faith-based organizations that perceive medications to be incompatible with salvation. But that’s like asking a drowning person to choose between a lifejacket and prayer. There’s no reason you can’t have both. And some of these faith-based programs refuse to use medication because they don't want qualified medical personnel involved with their operation, and that should scare the bejesus out of you.

BIDEN IS QUIETLY ERASING ONE OF TRUMP'S CRUELEST LEGACIES: It has been overshadowed by months of Democratic infighting and the searing national debate over Jan. 6, but the Biden administration is quietly erasing one of the cruelest legacies of Donald Trump’s presidency. This is a genuine achievement, in both symbolic and practical terms. On Thursday, the administration rejected Georgia’s proposal to impose work requirements and premiums on Medicaid recipients. This was effectively the last nail in the coffin of Trump’s zombie attempt to make Medicaid more cumbersome and bureaucratic, in hopes of knocking as many people off health coverage as possible. When Biden took office, nearly 20 mostly Republican-controlled states were in the process of crafting work requirements for Medicaid, on which 76 million Americans rely. Now, Medicaid work requirements are all but dead in all those states. That erases a legacy of the Trump administration, which had invited states to submit proposals to impose such requirements. Proposals were eventually approved for 12 states — all with Republican legislatures, governors or both — while a half-dozen others were pending when Trump left office. In the most visible case, under Arkansas’s 2018 requirements, nearly 17,000 people lost health coverage. That wasn’t necessarily because they weren’t working. It was mainly because it was so difficult to satisfy all the reporting requirements. Which is a feature, not a bug, of work requirements. By forcing recipients to prove they’re working and navigate a bureaucratic maze to stay in the program, the state gives itself an excuse to kick off those who make a paperwork mistake or miss a reporting deadline. I was not aware of this, but I am also not surprised. Biden has been responsibly managing our country, not trying to manage his reputation like Trump did. That's a feature I can live with.

MY HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY TEXTBOOK SENDS A DAMAGING MESSAGE: WOMEN DON'T MATTER: Once, after second-grade history class, I came home and jokingly asked, “So did women just not exist?” Ten years later, the question stands. But I’m no longer laughing. I’m a high school senior who recently completed AP U.S. History, whose curriculum is the national standard for advanced high school history education. Although my textbook — branded AMSCO, and published by a company called Perfection Learning — isn’t endorsed by AP or the College Board, it closely follows the official AP U.S. History curriculum. Perhaps some would say of course there are fewer famously influential women than men throughout history, considering the cultural norms that long created gender-based divisions and hierarchies. But that’s a lazy assumption. Curious, I did the least I could do — Googled “important women in American history” — and obtained myriad results. Which raises the question: Why did the writers of my textbook neglect to do the same? Or if they did bother, why was the information excluded? If education reflects our societal values — and if textbooks provide the foundation of our education — then AP U.S. History is perpetuating for all students the idea that women are comparatively worthless. Worse, it’s sending the message to girls that their stories and accomplishments don’t matter. After encountering the “Women” paragraph, I decided to conduct an (admittedly unscientific) experiment. I asked two questions of about 30 students from several Northern Virginia schools, half of them girls and half of them boys, ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old: 1) Who are some important people in American history? 2) Who are some important women in American history? (Note: The second question is one I shouldn’t have had to break out. But I suspected it was necessary.) Respondents to the first question named a total of 35 men — and one woman. The girl who mentioned a woman was my second-grade cousin, who told me about Amelia Earhart because her substitute teacher had read her class a story about the acclaimed aviator earlier that day. Responses to the second question were shocking. “I can’t think of any; we didn’t really learn about women,” a 10th-grade boy said. “As a girl it’s embarrassing that I can only name one,” a 14-year-old responded. No doubt people like Mark Robinson would see no problem with this, and would fight any effort to change it. But it needs to be changed, nonetheless.

THIS IS THE WORST ECONOMY WE NEVER HAD: Fox News told viewers that “Christmas presents for your kids may not arrive on time or even at all” (Sean Hannity), that the president is “the Biden Who Stole Christmas” (Laura Ingraham) and that Biden is “facing a nightmare come Christmastime,” when “gifts are going to cost a fortune, and that’s even if you’re lucky enough to snag anything” (Jesse Watters). And then — a Christmas miracle! Holiday retail sales were the highest ever, jumping 8.5 percent from last year and nearly 11 percent from pre-pandemic 2019, as “consumers splurged throughout the season,” Mastercard reported Sunday. Stores were stocked. Package deliveries were overwhelmingly on time. Inflation, though a serious concern, clearly didn’t deter shoppers, and holiday motorists found gas prices 14 cents a gallon lower than in November. After a year of such deception, the United States is experiencing the worst economy we never had. The economy is going gangbusters — historically so. Yet Americans, particularly Republicans, express a gloom not matched by economic reality — or by their own spending behaviors. Polls and consumer-confidence indices show an economic pessimism as grim as when millions lost jobs in the pandemic shutdown. This is, in large part, because disinformation has prevailed. Partisanship long colored economic views, but now Republicans, in addition to occupying a parallel political reality, are expanding an alternate economic universe. “America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years notwithstanding the contrary media narrative contributing to dour public opinion,” Matthew Winkler, former editor in chief of Bloomberg News, wrote last week. Among the gains: The economy expanded an estimated 5.5 percent in 2021 (fourth-quarter growth dramatically outpaced Europe and even China). Unemployment plunged to 4.2 percent. Record-setting U.S. stock markets (the S&P 500 is up nearly 30 percent) outperformed the world. Productivity jumped. Corporate profits are the largest since 1950 and corporate debt the lowest in 30. Consumer credit expanded. Confidence among CEOs is the highest in 20 years. The American Rescue Plan cut child poverty in half. Unfortunately, we are living in a post-truth era, where people won't even believe what's right in front of their f**king faces, much less statistics about the (real) economy.


CHARLENE REISS: BIDEN IS DOING A FANTASTIC JOB: Enough with the op-eds from those who insist Joe Biden’s presidency is somehow a disaster because in 11 months he hasn’t managed to undo all the damage wrought by his predecessor. The pull-out from Afghanistan was messy — and there was no other option given what had been started in 2020. The economy is not in trouble — it is booming with the highest growth numbers and lowest unemployment in decades. Not sending more American soldiers to engage in combat does not equal being soft on Russia. And the Democrats are negotiating bills in Congress, a concept Republicans equate to treason. Truth is, the Biden-Harris presidency has achieved great progress for ordinary Americans in its first 11 months. Yep. He's been successful even without comparing him to Trump, but that becomes "wildly" successful when you do compare them.

HOLLY BURKHALTER: HOW, AND WHY, WE STUDY CRITICAL RACE THEORY: In his Dec. 26 op-ed, “The common enemy of the left and the right,” George F. Will stated that critical race theory “subsumes individualism, dissolving it into group membership — racial solidarity.” My understanding of critical race theory is that it is the reverse: It is a factual analysis of economic, cultural, historical and political structures that negate Black Americans’ individual rights. Throughout history, Black Americans were not treated as individuals; they were and are treated as a group — a despised group. As a group, they were enslaved. As a group, they were denied the right to vote. As a group, they were redlined out of neighborhoods, denied government services and consigned to poor schools and poor jobs. Because of their membership in a group, Black men are presumed to be criminals, jailed in staggeringly disproportionate numbers and murdered by police and White vigilantes. Critical race theory holds that Black Americans possess individual rights — and it exposes and condemns the history, culture and institutions that deny the enjoyment of them. Mr. Will, given his career-long defense of individual rights, should be CRT’s foremost proponent. And he probably (deep down) agrees with you, but he makes a living pandering to the right, so don't hold your breath.

SUSAN LIMBERG: STOP ASKING ME TO "UNDERSTAND" ANTI-VAXXERS: To the list of dangers we are facing in these challenging times, I would like to add Kathleen Parker’s warmhearted endorsement of the stubbornly anti-vaxxed in her Dec. 26 op-ed, “Get the vaccine, but understand those who won’t.” She made the point that she is fully vaccinated and boosted but she believes that mandates, be they masks or shots, threaten individual rights. Let me suggest that certain “rights” might also be considered “threatened” by seat belts, smoking bans and drunken-driving prohibitions. Coronavirus mandates in themselves do not vilify anyone. Rather, they are sensible lifesaving tools to rebuild healthy lives. It's the classic clash between freedoms; your freedom to be a dangerous idiot and my freedom to stay alive. We understand it very well, it is purely selfish and childish.



It's not "nice" outside, it's catastrophic

I never cease to be amazed by our ability to deceive ourselves. "Make lemonade out of lemons." As if adding sugar to one of the healthiest fruits (ask a urologist) is some sort of victory.

I am referring (in my usual metaphoric fashion) to how dozens of people I've encountered in the last few weeks have reacted to 79 degrees in late December. Yeah, NC has always had some weird weather, but I don't need to hear that shit in your effort to whistle past the graveyard. Our climate is crashing, and it's not just some regional quirk, or a "blessing" as one church lady described it to me, or a silver lining of some sort. It is a catastrophe, and anthropogenic catastrophe, meaning that we caused it.

I can't help but see an element of suppressed shame in those who rationalize what's happening. And that may be a construct of my own, to suppress the shame I feel at our collective ignorance in the face of this catastrophe. Who knows.

Those flowers that are blooming right now (instead of three months from now) are trying to tell us something important, but many are not listening. They are enjoying a fleeting moment of unexpected beauty. And I guess that's not as damning as I sometimes feel. We need to enjoy those fleeting moments, whatever their cause. But part of my brain still recoils at that.

Why? Because we have fiddled for decades while our planet has literally burned. In the decade from 2010-2020, we lost about 40% more of our global forests than we did the previous decade. Even the "accidental" fires can be traced back to reckless land use, trees cut down for one reason or another, and left to dry out and rot. Which of course releases a shit-ton of carbon. Here in North Carolina, we cut down tens of thousands of acres, including old-growth hardwoods, just to make wood pellets to be burned in Europe. Hell, our state has given some $7 million in subsidies to these plants, and Europe has given much more to the wood-burning power plants that consume them.

So no, don't expect me to make lemonade out of this crisis we're facing. I can't do it, I won't do it, and you shouldn't either.