Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BIDEN'S AMERICA FINDS ITS VOICE: Zelenskyy and his fellow Ukrainians have reminded Americans of the values and causes we used to admire in ourselves — the ardent hunger for freedom, the deep-rooted respect for equality and human dignity, the willingness to fight against brutal authoritarians who would crush the human face under the heel of their muddy boots. It is as if Ukraine and Zelenskyy have rekindled a forgotten song, and suddenly everybody has remembered how to sing it. Zelenskyy was not subtle about making this point. He said that what Ukraine is fighting for today has echoes in what so many Americans fought for over centuries. I thought of John Adams, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt, George Marshall, Fannie Lou Hamer, the many unsung heroes of the Cold War. His words reminded us that America supports Ukraine not only out of national interest — to preserve a stable liberal world order — but also to live out a faith that is essential to this country’s being and identity. The thing that really holds America together is this fervent idea. Finally, Zelenskyy reminded us that while the authoritarians of the world have shown they can amass power, there is something vital they lack: a vision of a society that preserves human dignity, which inspires people to fight and binds people to one another. The lust for power, which leads to tyranny and subjugation, has been with us since we began to walk upright on two legs. And it will be with us long into the future. But these "Strongmen" are actually exhibiting weakness; a flaw in their character that drives them to dominate others. We have to (constantly) make the cost for such behavior higher than the benefit. De oppresso liber, forever.

ASSURE THE RIGHT TO A LIFE IN NORTH CAROLINA: It is one thing to demand all women carry pregnancies to term. It is another – but FAR MORE significant – to make sure ALL those women get the prenatal and post-natal care they need; that the babies are delivered safely and will get ALL the care they need for a healthy start to life; and that there is affordable quality childcare available for the parents and children who need it. The Berger-Moore legislature to date has fallen far short of doing what ALL mothers, babies and their families in North Carolina need. While infant mortality nationwide has been dropping, in North Carolina it is increasing. The state has the 8th worst in the nation. The 2020 infant mortality rate – the most recent available -- in NC was 6.9 per 1,000 births, up from 6.8 the year before. Meanwhile the national rate in 2020 was 5.4 -- a drop from 5.6 the year earlier. The portion of low birth-weight babies has increased and remains greater than the national rate. Infant deaths – children who died in their first year of life – accounted for 63% of all child deaths in the state. Leading causes – low birthweight, prematurity, birth defects and maternal complications. All concerns that with proper prenatal care could in most cases, be diagnosed and addressed. Further, other contributing factors such as being in rural areas with little access to healthcare services, poverty and unemployment can increase risks to pregnant women and their babies. Sloganeering is easy. Taking action, making decisions and providing the badly needed services to back up rhetoric takes empathy, care and commitment. One huge step would be for the legislature to end is ban on federally funded Medicaid expansion. More than a half-million North Carolinians – women, children and men, would gain access to affordable health care. Gov. Roy Cooper regularly includes expansion in his proposed budget and legislative leaders continue to block it. It takes a cold-heart to continue to deny this most basic need – at such a small cost – to do this. Forty states, including Indiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas, have done it. The frustrating thing is, Phil Berger knows the vast majority of NC citizens want this. It's why he openly flirted with the idea last session, waving a carrot he never intended to let go of. Voters should be furious, but their memory loss is getting worse as time goes by.

BEING A GRANDPA HAS REVIVED MY CHRISTMAS SPIRIT: For several years prior to my grandson’s arrival, I had lost the childhood thrill of Christmas. It’s no longer about that fictional birthday for Jesus. Outside of the folks I list on my IRS 1040 form, I don’t do the holiday. It tickles me to see grown folks get upset because they didn’t get the gift they wanted. Instead of the reason for the season, starting after Thanksgiving, people go into debt spending money on folks they don’t like, that don’t like them, or who they don’t talk to on a regular basis, but they’ll still try to impress them. I marvel at how folks will risk bankruptcy for one day a year trying to outshine another person with how much unnecessary spending they can engage in, all to enjoy depreciable materialism. People’s guilt from participating in so much unnecessary consumerism prompts them to donate to the bell ringers and snatch paper angels off of a donor tree. What bothers me so much about this type of humanity is everyone feels it in December, but forget those same people have similar needs the next June and July. Sadly, as the thermometer climbs north, those people become invisible. When I recognized Christmas gift giving ceased being from the heart and started being about how long the receipt was, I threw my hands up in defeat, and yelled “no mas” to those living outside of my front door. My grandson isn’t fully aware of what the holiday is about, but his daily energy and unconditional love has changed that Scrooge and Grinch like behavior in me. Our house looks like Christmas got sick and threw up in it with decorations everywhere. It starts with the fully decorated tree inside and on the front porch, and Santa’s face on the toilet seat lids. I’m on a first name basis with the Amazon Prime and Fed-ex delivery folks that brought packages for him almost daily. My spirit has been revived, and just like when my boys were little chitlins themselves, I’m more excited than my grandson will be on this Christmas morning. I hear you, Kenneth. I had Christmas with my grandsons yesterday (they're going to the beach this year), and seeing them play with the toys I got them was magical.

YOU CAN'T FOOL MOTHER NATURE: I love being in the presence of smart, articulate and visionary folks, even on a rainy, unseasonably cool mid-November evening. A large crowd gathered at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University for their acclaimed Face-to-Face lecture series. The featured speaker was noted author and NY Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman. Friedman said little about the midterm elections, instead focusing mainly on foreign affairs. The interviewer started by asking Friedman if the world is still hot, flat and crowded, the title of one of Friedman's best-selling books. He responded it was more so than ever, explaining we are operating in a technology planet, with more people competing on more platforms than ever. Two-thirds of this planet now has a smart phone and individuals can now act globally. In discussing the increasingly threatening world climate change problem, Friedman posited that we have gone about this as a hobby. It requires more serious effort than that. We are in a race to see who can innovate enough,soon enough in order for humans to stay on this planet. Eighty percent of the world's energy production still involves fossil fuels, Friedman reminded his audience. To survive, we must transition from them, but it can’t happen overnight. As things now stand Father profit is prevailing by people making large sums selling energy that pollutes our air and destroys our climate. But Mother Nature isn't fooled, the author states. She is dealing in chemistry, biology and physics and if we are to continue to live here, we must also. Mother Nature is not pragmatic, either. She is not impressed with short-term economic gains or the PPE ratio of your stock. When the balance is lost, she will let us tip over.

JAN 6 COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD (MOSTLY) HELP SAVE DEMOCRACY: The overhaul of the Electoral Count Act, which the House passed on Friday as part of its end-of-year omnibus spending bill, is a splendid Christmas gift for anyone who cherishes democracy. Hashed out by a bipartisan group led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), these reforms clarify legislation from 1887 that President Donald Trump tried to abuse on Jan. 6, 2021, so he could cling to power after losing reelection. No wonder, then, that fixing the Electoral Count Act is the first, and most important, of 11 recommendations in the 845-page report that the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 released on Thursday. The updated law makes clear that the vice president serves a ministerial role at the joint session in which electoral college votes are counted and does not have the authority to reject electors certified by the states, as Mr. Trump pressured Mike Pence to do. The threshold for objecting to a state’s electoral votes will increase from one member in each chamber to requiring one-fifth of all members in both the House and Senate. The measure also strikes a provision from an archaic 1845 statute that could have been used by state legislatures to override the popular vote simply by declaring that an election had “failed,” a term not defined in the law. Yet this is only one step the country should take to secure democracy, according to the Jan. 6 committee. Congress should enhance criminal penalties for threats against poll workers, as well as consider amending certain laws, such as the one defining obstruction of an official proceeding, to make it clear that people who participate in acts such as the Capitol riot bear criminal responsibility. The past 18 months revealed the House’s limited authority to enforce subpoenas through civil litigation. Both parties should support a bill that would create a cause of action so that the legislative branch could sue to facilitate more timely oversight of the executive branch in the future. Federal agencies should improve intelligence sharing about violent anti-government groups, just as they did for foreign extremists after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Congress is already conducting more regular and rigorous oversight of the Capitol Police, a need Jan. 6 exposed. And it makes sense to designate joint sessions of Congress in which electoral votes get counted as National Security Special Events, akin to the State of the Union address, which makes extra law enforcement resources available. Homeland Security was created in the wake of 9/11 to ensure better communication between law enforcement entities. If it has failed that mission, it should be disbanded so we can start over from scratch.


EVELYN HAWTHORNE: WATCH OUT FOR PEDESTRIANS: Recent media coverage has rightly shone a light on the increase in pedestrian deaths in our state. On April 6, 2016, I was a pedestrian hit by a car near the legislative complex in Raleigh. I lived to tell the tale, but I continue to deal with long-term effects. More must be done to make Raleigh safer for pedestrians. More obvious flashing lights and audible warnings to drivers and pedestrians come to mind. The biggest obstacle is the lack of attention paid by drivers and pedestrians alike, often due to cellphone use. And some pedestrians make poor decisions about where and when to cross busy roads. Public service announcements and better education, including during driver’s ed courses, would raise awareness. I pray that no other pedestrians go through my experience or are killed. Almost all pedestrian deaths are preventable. Everybody needs to pay closer attention. Turn your phone off and look around you.

CAROLYN,SETH,TALIA, RACHEL: UNIVERSITIES EXPLOIT ADJUNCTS, THE PEOPLE WHO DO THE REAL WORK: Helaine Olen’s Thursday Opinion column on Dec. 15, “How progressive can a college be when instructors make poverty wages?,” vividly revealed the injustice of the adjunct system. Universities have decided to charge outrageous tuition fees while having courses taught by part-time temporary workers who are paid starvation wages. The collapses of the University of California system and the New School in New York City reveal that grotesquely exploiting the people who do the real work of a college is not a solution. Unfair labor practices hurt everyone, including the students whose professors cannot afford food or medical care. That may not have been the intention in the beginning, but it has become the reality now. Fix it.

MICHAEL MARTIN: A BAN ON TROPHY HUNTING IS LONG OVERDUE: Hunting to feed one’s family is justifiable in the eyes of most of us. Trophy hunting is something else. A select few of our species, with the wealth to support their goals, hunt down and kill the biggest and strongest of every species on the planet. When they have succeeded in doing so, they lower the bar and continue to kill the biggest and strongest that remain. The gene pools of many animals on the planet have, over the years of our domination, been culled of their greatest assets. Should a group of wealthy alien hunters decide that we (humans) are worthy adversaries to be hunted for trophies, what would be the effect on our population? On our gene pool? Who would be the most attractive of our species to kill and mount on a wall for bragging rights? Isn’t it long overdue to ban this form of self-aggrandizement that comes at such a high cost to those with whom we share this fragile planet? If biodiversity is to be truly protected, is this not a necessary first step? Frankly, I've always found it morbid. When I enter somebody's home and see a deer's head (or even just antlers) on the wall, my respect for that person drops considerably. Grow the f**k up.



You think this is cold?

You're right, it is cold. Almost cold enough for me to put on long underwear, but I refuse to. Because freedom. But I gotta hurry up and write this so I can wrap myself up like an enchilada and go horizontal on the couch with a remote in my hand.

What's the coldest I've ever been? Most likely Syracuse, NY. Trying to sleep in my truck waiting to get unloaded. Parked from 10:30pm until just shy of 5am, howling wind chill at about minus 10 degrees. I've actually been in lower temperatures than that, like -25 in Montana. But it was a dry cold, did not get into your bones, if you know what I mean. Or Chicago at -15, which did get into your bones because the wind was coming right off lake Michigan. And it might have been due to my age (50 at the time) that Syracuse felt so cold, but damn. I just got a chill writing about it.

Okay, let's shift gears and talk about warm places. Like the Yucatan jungle in October.

But Steve, that's Fall!

No it's not! That's High Summer on the Equator. You'd think somebody as well-read and experienced as I am would consider axial tilt before booking a trip. But you would be wrong. 98 degrees with 97% humidity, combined with 0 breeze, is breathtakingly hot.

Or that same Chicago apartment, in an ancient building with (inadequate) steam heat, but no form of air conditioning, during August. You can call it metropolitan heat sink if you will, but that won't stop the sweating. Ugh. 85 degrees there is miserable. I've been in the Sahara proper, the sea of sand, when it was 120-something. But that was tolerable, as long as you were constantly hydrating. And then it would drop sixty degrees at night, and...No! We're not talking about cold anymore.

Okay, it's roll Steve up in the blankie time. Enjoy your holiday, folks...