Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


LONG-STANDING, UNMET PRIORITIES ARE EVEN MORE CRITICAL NOW: Now, as much as ever, the legislature should take the steps to accomplish the following: Support implementation of the recommendations outlined in the report released by Superior Court Judge David Lee, so the state meets its constitutional mandate to provide EVERY student with an opportunity for a sound basic education in public schools – no matter where they live. In the more than two decades since the Leandro ruling North Carolina has, according to the report, lost ground in meeting the court order and our constitutional requirement rather than moving closer to it. Expand Medicaid to the 650,000 working North Carolina citizens who are currently denied access to health care. It is no exaggeration that this is a life-and-death matter. It is particularly critical as hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed citizens now have nowhere else to turn for healthcare coverage. Approve the requests state Board of Elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell presented in her March 26 letter to the governor and legislative leaders. They will help assure the fall election will be open and as many voters as possible will have the opportunity to cast ballots.

NICHOL: PANDEMIC ADDS TO NC'S ALREADY HIGH HUNGER RATE: In 2019, over 1.5 million Tar Heels couldn’t get enough to eat. One in seven. Nearly a half-million were kids. One of every five children. We had the tenth highest hunger rate among the states. We’re fourth worst for hunger among seniors. More than once in the last decade, Greensboro was tagged by the federal government as America’s hungriest city. Then came the coronavirus. Food insecurity – like poverty, unemployment, and loss of health care coverage – has exploded. We don’t yet have clear numbers for NC. But a new national Brookings study concludes food hardship, particularly for children, has risen “to an extent unprecedented in modern times. Twenty-three percent of households (now) lack money to get enough food, compared with 16% at the worst of the Great Recession." It’s tougher for families with children. Almost 35% of them don’t have enough to eat, up from 21% at the depth of the recession. The study also found “41% of mothers with children (12 and under) reported food insecurity since the onset of the epidemic.” The numbers are likely worse in North Carolina. They always are. As our lawmakers brag, year after year, of a purportedly colossal state economy, we regularly have one of the highest hunger rates in the country. Charlotte’s emergency food network, Loaves and Fishes, saw a 240% increase in April. Tina Postel reports “demand is through the roof with people figuring out how to navigate the system for the first time.” Some are past donors and food drive participants. Charlotte’s Crisis Assistance Ministry is aiding families who never imagined they’d be seeking help. They’ve developed a new program for people who were homeless, but temporarily living in hotels (1,292 families in one month).

BERGER SHOULD BACK THE GOVERNOR'S PANDEMIC PLAN: North Carolina needs just one person in charge. Voters made a clear choice with more than 2.3 million voting to put Cooper in charge. He is North Carolina’s CEO. Berger, by contrast, won election in his 4-county gerrymandered Senate district in 2018 – to be in charge of nothing but representing the constituents of Rockingham, Caswell, Stokes and Surry counties -- with slightly more than 43,000 votes. But his unyielding efforts to usurp and undermine the efforts of Cooper – particularly in the governor’s efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic – are more than an intramural bureaucratic distraction. They threaten to slow the state’s progress to emerge from the pandemic and revitalize the state's economy. More significantly, he espouses demands that place the lives of North Carolinians at risk – including demands on religious observance that diverge with the guidance of some of the state’s largest denominations. Cooper has developed and articulated a plan for confronting the COVID-19 pandemic in North Carolina. He has set out clear steps and goals to be met, so various sectors of our economy and society can, when appropriate, reopen in a measured way. At least three recent statewide polls show North Carolina voters overwhelmingly back Cooper’s approach – including a very substantial portion of Republicans.

THE THREE REASONS CONSPIRACY THEORIES ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN EVER: What’s different about this particular moment in conspiracy history? Three things, I think. First, conspiracy theories spread more efficiently by social media than by previous communications media. The online world is a post-truth space where there are no undisputed facts, only competing narratives, and even the most deranged claims (e.g., QAnon) can aggregate an audience. Second, the stakes are higher now. It doesn’t much matter if someone thinks that UFOs landed at Roswell, N.M., or that Elvis is still alive — but it matters greatly if someone thinks that the coronavirus isn’t real or that a vaccine may be more dangerous than the disease. Such beliefs, if they become widespread, pose a danger to public health. Indeed, anti-vaccine activists are already a menace. Third, we now have an unhinged conspiracy-monger in the White House. When he is not ranting about a vast, nebulous plot perpetrated by the prior administration (“Obamagate”) or about how Joe Scarborough supposedly murdered an aide, Trump is opining that the virus started in a Chinese lab, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective prophylactic, and that injections of bleach can treat the disease. His son, Eric, recently said that the coronavirus has been hyped by Democrats eager to stop his dad from holding rallies, and that “after Nov. 3, coronavirus, will magically all of a sudden go away.” This is nuts, but it gains credence by being promulgated by authority figures. In fact, the entire GOP — which just nominated a QAnon believer as its Senate candidate in Oregon — is becoming a modern-day Know Nothing Party, a cesspool of prejudice and irrationality. What was once the fringe has now moved into the mainstream — and will become even more prominent as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

CRUMBS FOR THE HUNGRY BUT WINDFALLS FOR THE RICH: While President Trump and his allies in Congress seek to tighten access to food stamps, they are showing compassion for one group: zillionaires. Their economic rescue package quietly allocated $135 billion — yes, that’s “billion” with a “b” — for the likes of wealthy real estate developers. My Times colleague Jesse Drucker notes that Trump himself, along with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may benefit financially from this provision. The fine print was mysteriously slipped into the March economic relief package, even though it has nothing to do with the coronavirus and offers retroactive tax breaks for periods long before Covid-19 arrived. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, both Democrats, have asked the Trump administration for any communications that illuminate how this provision sneaked into the 880-page bill. (Officially, the provision is called “Modification of Limitation on Losses for Taxpayers Other Than Corporations,” but that’s camouflage; I prefer to call it the “Zillionaire Giveaway.”) About 82 percent of the Zillionaire Giveaway goes to those earning more than $1 million a year, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those beneficiaries earning more than $1 million annually, the average benefit is $1.6 million. In other words, a single mom juggling two jobs gets a maximum $1,200 stimulus check — and then pays taxes so that a real estate mogul can receive $1.6 million. This is dog-eat-dog capitalism for struggling workers, and socialism for the rich.


BOB ETHERIDGE: TRUMP HAS BEEN A CURSE FOR RURAL NC: President Trump’s agenda for rural America has been terrible, from a disastrous trade war that hurt farmers to failed leadership on the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, coronavirus has severely exacerbated the inequities rural N.C. was facing. COVID-19 has hit counties with prisons and meatpacking plants particularly hard, along with majority-black rural counties across the South. To make matters worse, Trump’s administration launched a war on access to health care. While 1 in 4 rural hospitals remain in jeopardy, especially in states like North Carolina that have refused to expand Medicaid, Trump is challenging the Affordable Care Act in court, potentially kicking 20 million Americans off of their health care and forcing more rural hospitals to shut their doors. We desperately need to put a stop to Trump’s harmful policies and bring new, steady leadership back to our nation.

LINDA BURTON: ICE NEEDS TO RELEASE DETAINEES BEFORE AN OUTBREAK HITS: Regarding “Detained NC immigrants face coronavirus outbreak,” (May 19): Detention centers and prisons are cauldrons for disease due to crowded living conditions, lax healthcare, and poor nutrition. Fearing COVID-19, detainees at the Stewart Detention Center participated in a hunger strike, asking for masks and other protective gear plus nutritious food. As a registered nurse, I have worked with immigrants who have spent years here working, providing needed services, and paying taxes while trying to make a safer, better life for their families. Now, in detention, they’re being threatened with death by exposure to COVID-19. It is time to close Stewart and other detention centers, and to stop rounding up immigrants to fill them. Let these good men and women return to their families. ICE detention should not be a death sentence in America.

LORI SPANGLER: NURSES ARE STILL HAVING TO RATION PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT: My daughter is an ICU nurse in Washington, D.C. caring for COVID-19 patients. Her hospital is rationing personal protective equipment to the nurses, as they are running out. I’m asking U.S. Rep. David Price and Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to stand with nurses by mandating that OSHA enact an emergency temporary infectious diseases standard and mandate that President Trump fully utilize the Defense Production Act. Nurses across the country are reporting that they’re still not receiving the PPE they need to safely care for COVID-19 patients. Congress needs to act now to get nurses the PPE they need to take care of their patients and keep us all safe. If nurses become infected, they won’t be there when people need them.



From the dark side

J. Peder Zane is back on his throne for Sunday morning quarterbacking Gov. Cooper's pandemic response:

Gov. Roy Cooper’s move to open up more of the economy is welcome.

It is also long overdue. The public health benefits of the strict lockdown policies he and other leaders have imposed are far outweighed by their devastating effects on the economy – the 36.5 million Americans who have filed for unemployment since mid-March are just the canary in the coal mine of imminent fiscal doom.

Nah, you don't get to do that. You don't get to conflate Governor Cooper and the national unemployment numbers in such a fashion, just because you added "and other leaders" in there to cover your ass. Simple sentence mechanics would expose that broken and prejudicial observation, but it's a handy tool for the propagandist.

Except for a few hotspots, the tsunami of patients never came. We flattened the curve so much we devastated the health care industry. As emergency rooms and hospital beds have lain empty, the federal government reported that 1.4 million health care jobs were lost in April – including 135,000 jobs at hospitals.

Zane is doing the same thing a lot of conservative big-mouths are, focusing exclusively on the "beds" issue. But elective surgeries weren't suspended because of ICU beds, it was because those procedures would use up vital PPE resources that were (and still are) needed for pandemic patient care. See the above LTE about nurses as a reference.

The government’s absolutist restrictions have been especially misguided because they treat everyone as having equal risk of dying from the virus. Reflecting national statistics, North Carolina reported on Tuesday that just three percent of the state’s 661 COVID-19 deaths had occurred in people under 50. Eighty-five percent of deaths were in those 65 and older.

This pattern has been clear since March. Nevertheless, North Carolina and other states have followed blanket policies, including closing schools, even though the young are not especially vulnerable to the virus’ worst effects.

Let me explain this to you at the 8th grade level, since you apparently can't think for yourself: Those under 50 may not die at the rate of 70 year-olds, but those younger people are more active and mobile, and serve as ideal vectors for the disease. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Most senior citizens do not reside in nursing homes or retirement enclaves; they live right down the street. 1/3 of Americans are over 50, and it is physically impossible to segregate them from the rest of the population. It's time to stop this nonsense about "targeted" restrictions.

And as for those schoolchildren, COVID 19 is doing some pretty heinous stuff to an admittedly small percentage of them. I'll let the CDC 'splain it:

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. We do not yet know what causes MIS-C. However, we know that many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19. MIS-C can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition have gotten better with medical care.

Aside from this syndrome, children can be incredibly proficient vectors of the disease as well, so let's also stop the nonsense about schools being "unnecessarily" targeted for closure.

In addition to shutting down businesses, Cooper and others have urged us to wear masks in public spaces. Sounds reasonable but in the absence of specific studies regarding COVID-19, we don’t know how effective those masks actually are.

Good lord. It ain't rocket surgery; the virus is transmitted via tiny droplets that are exhaled. A mask over the face of somebody infected will greatly reduce the amount and distance of those droplets. This is information that has been disseminated to all corners of society, but apparently not to those who watch Fox News.

Again we are faced with two options: Zane doesn't know this, which means he really doesn't research his "articles" before publishing. Or he does know this, and is intentionally misleading his readers for partisan purposes. The former is embarrassing, but the latter places ideology over the health and well-being of citizens. Neither are acceptable, but only one of those things is forgivable.

And then there's the other point about schoolchildren:

their teachers often are in the groups most strongly affected by SARS-CoV-2 infection. While I'm sure that a rightwing idiot like Zane doesn't see anything wrong with "clearing out the deadwood" of older teachers (like me), we wouldn't be having open schools for very long when the teachers would be getting sick with Covid-19 at rapid rates.