Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


HAVE OUTSIDE FORCES TAKEN OVER NORTH CAROLINA'S GOP?: Is North Carolina’s Republican Party vanishing? Has it been bought out and swallowed up by former President Donald Trump and organizations backing his endorsed candidates? These are groups such as the “Conservative Outsider PAC” which shares many of the same donors as the Club for Growth that, with Trump, seems to be dominating this state’s GOP primary season. What have these groups been able to buy – in return for the more than $10 million that’s already been pumped into the state to promote their hand-picked candidates -- from the North Carolina GOP establishment? Pretty much anything and everything. What do those state GOP leaders get in return? What has been promised and to whom? What’s expected? Who’s in control? These are crucial questions – not just for the state’s Republicans, but for all North Carolina voters. Is political control being co-opted by big-dollar donors with no stake the state's welfare? BergerMoore have never been concerned about the state's welfare, and they've sold us out for over a decade. Whether it's Art Pope pulling the strings or Club For Growth, it almost doesn't matter. It's not the people, never has been.

THERE'S NO MYSTERY WHY SHOOTINGS ARE SOARING IN NC CITIES: The arrival of the pandemic and protests over George Floyd’s killing spurred a surge in people buying guns. Nationally, gun sales rose by 65 percent in 2020 to a record of nearly 23 million guns – many of them sold to first-time buyers. Texas, with seven gun sales per 100 adults, led the nation. Not surprisingly, the Lone Star State is experiencing a sharp increase in road rage shootings. Fortunately, the newly or additionally armed didn’t need the weapons to hold off marauding looters in a world turned lawless and desperate by plague and protests. However, many legal gun owners did create a hazard to public safety themselves by losing their guns to thieves, often by leaving their firearms unsecured in a vehicle. The Center for American Progress published an analysis in March 2020 that showed that across the U.S. 1.8 million guns were stolen from individuals between 2012 and 2017, including 97,467 in North Carolina. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein told me that reducing gun violence will take action from police and communities, but gun owners also must also play a role. “I support people’s constitutional right to have a gun, but when you have that gun, make sure it’s locked up. If it’s at home, it needs to be in a safe. If it’s in a car, it needs to be in a secure lock box,” he said. “What we have seen is a dramatic increase in the number of juveniles being arrested for firearm theft in the last couple of years.” When you’re in a hole, stop digging. When shootings soar, put more controls on the sale of guns and educate gun owners about keeping their firearms out of the hands of children and criminals. And just to set the record straight, nearly every "illegal" gun in the U.S. started out as a legal one. Why smuggle arms into a country that already has over 400 million of them?

EXPANDING MEDICAID IN NC MAKES ECONOMIC SENSE: Uninsured patients generate excessive cost from ED visits and greater need for hospitalizations. In NC the average primary care office visit costs $100-$150, ED visits cost an average of about $1600 and the expense for hospitalizations averages nearly $15,000, but may exceed hundreds thousands of dollars. Payment for these excessive expenses involves: a) Cost shifting for insured patients resulting in higher premiums for commercial insurance, b) Subsidies with local tax dollars, c) Deficits for smaller hospitals, and d) Altruistic generosity by physicians and surgeons. The outlay of dollars would be significantly less if these uninsured patients had access to primary care and a medical home rather than making so many trips to the hospital. To make Medicaid coverage available to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens would save overall costs in N.C. with little increase in state tax dollars. It would result in less economic hardship for smaller hospitals and generate tens of thousands of jobs. Recently the federal government has increased the economic incentives for states which expand Medicaid. Thirty-eight states have done so with North Carolina forfeiting about $29 billion dollars since 2010 in federal subsidies. Yet, NC taxpayers are helping to pay for healthcare in those other states. Since 2005, eleven rural hospitals in North Carolina have closed. Many others have been assimilated into large hospital systems. This consolidation has increased medical costs and decreased local control. The urban/rural divide in our state would be diminished if Medicaid were expanded. Bolding mine, because cause & effect are crystal clear on this issue.

STOP BLAMING MILLENNIALS FOR THE HOUSING CRISIS: Apparently, the problem is not the chronic underinvestment in new construction over the past decade. Nor is it exclusionary zoning and other NIMBYist obstruction of more, and denser, housing. Never mind that boomers are increasingly hanging on to their many-bedroom domiciles rather than downsizing upon retirement, in part because of state tax laws that reward incumbent homeowners for staying put. Ignore the persistent supply-chain problems and tariffs that have increased the cost and build time for new construction. No, the problem is us young(ish?) whippersnappers. We entered our prime childbearing years and then callously decided to put a roof over our children’s heads. If once millennials were accused of failure to launch, now we’re faulted for launching too aggressively. Such news coverage has made me wonder: Where, exactly, are millennials supposed to live these days? Definitely not with our parents. For years, we were mocked and scolded for crashing in mom’s basement, despite the fact that millennials graduated into a terrible job market that likely stunted our earnings for the next decade. We were urged to stop wasting our money on avocado toast so we could finally leave the nest and buy homes of our own. The median price for an existing home is $375,300; avocado toast is, at the pricier end, perhaps $15 a pop. So, we each need to buy about 25,000 fewer avocado toasts than whatever we might otherwise consume. Then, boom! Dream home, here we come. Once we do scrimp and save, that dream home mustn’t be in a big, expensive city, close to the highest-paying jobs. If we live there, we might contribute to gentrification, attracting bars, restaurants, boutiques and other desirable amenities that drive up property values and push out incumbent residents. We’re also not supposed to decamp to smaller “idyllic towns”; there, too, we’ll displace the legacy locals and force them into tent cities, according to some recent coverage. So let’s see: We can’t buy existing housing stock either close to work or far away from it, or pretty much anywhere in between, because then our bids would drive prices too high. Might it be acceptable for someone to build us new housing instead? Also, no. Not in cities, not in suburbs, not even in the countryside. She's not wrong, you know. See my comment below...

THE ONLY PLAUSIBLE PATH TO KEEP THE PRESSURE ON RUSSIA: The next phase of the war in Ukraine is now apparent. Over the next weeks and months, Russian forces will try to expand control of their occupied territories in eastern Ukraine and dig in. The Ukrainian army and people will resist fiercely, and low-grade battles will likely persist in these areas, as they have in the Donbas region since 2014. That means the only way out of this conflict is to put enough pressure on Russia to force it to the negotiating table and seek sanctions relief in exchange for a peace deal. To achieve this, the coalition against it needs the staying power to maintain and even ratchet up sanctions and embargoes against Moscow. And that is only conceivable in a scenario in which energy prices come down from their current highs. If oil prices remain over $100 a barrel — and they could easily go much higher — Europe will soon enter a recession, and the entire global economy will see a drop off of growth and political backlash against the sanctions. This would almost certainly mean the collapse of the coalition against Russia, as countries search for ways to gain cheaper energy. That is surely Vladimir’s Putin’s hope. The only plausible path to keep the pressure on Russia while not crippling the global economy is to get oil prices down. And the only sustainable way to do this is to get the world’s largest “swing producer,” Saudi Arabia, as well as other gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, to increase production of oil. That brings us to the central issue: Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. In the past, President Biden has called Saudi Arabia a “pariah.” He has yet to hold a formal meeting with him. In return, MBS (as he is often called) has refused U.S. requests to increase oil production and has moved to strengthen his relations with Russia and China. In a soon-to-be-published Council on Foreign Relations special report, Steven Cook and Martin Indyk propose a grand bargain in which the United States would improve relations with MBS and make more explicit pledges to protect Saudi Arabia in return for a series of Saudi moves, from working to end the war in Yemen to recognizing Israel to taking more explicit responsibility for the murder of journalist and Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. I don’t make this argument lightly. Jamal Khashoggi was my friend. In fact, when I visited Saudi Arabia in 2004, he was my companion and guide. I miss him dearly even now. But the fact of the matter is MBS is likely to rule Saudi Arabia for the next 50 years. Fareed is correct. As nauseating as it may seem, improving relations with that murdering bastard may be our best hope to bring an end to the bloodshed in Ukraine. Sometimes you gotta get your hands dirty when cleaning up messes.


JUDY KINCAID: THE THREAT TO DEMOCRACY: A recent interview I heard with voters who believe Donald Trump won the 2020 election was interesting. They admitted there was no evidence the election was stolen that they could point to, but said the fact that they kept hearing about it repeatedly meant “there must be something there.” What solution is being proposed to remedy the supposed stealing of this election? Are they aware that the proposed solution is to remove all power from voters like themselves and put it in the hands of politicians bought and paid for by the rich and powerful? That is what the Republican party is doing. It’s changing the laws, state by state, so that the state legislatures can overturn the results of elections in their states. Is this really what we want? This will be the end of democracy in America. The only way to keep democracy alive is for every single one of us to pay attention to what the candidates stand for and to vote in every single election. Most of us have relatives who fought and perhaps died for our democracy. The least we can do is vote. They keep "hearing about it repeatedly" because they're plugged into FOX or OAN, and both should be shut down by the FCC.

JIM WARREN: FOCUS ON CLEAN ENERGY: Regarding the N&O April 17 spread on climate, NC WARN appreciates Gov. Roy Cooper for making the crisis a visible priority. However, the elephant in the room remains methane (natural gas) and Duke Energy’s plans to build 9,600 megawatts of gas-fired power units by 2035 in the Carolinas. That plan clashes directly with last May’s UN-backed, international study emphasizing that stopping the expansion of methane-venting, gas infrastructure is the fastest way to slow the climate crisis — and essential to avoiding its worst impacts. The Duke University-based leader of that global study, Drew Shindell, and 40 retired EPA officials have openly called on Cooper to lead a national ban on additional gas infrastructure. They point out that his positive climate measures will be outmatched if Duke Energy leaders are allowed to build those 50-plus power units as planned. North Carolina cannot keep dodging the uncomfortable truths about Duke Energy’s “expand gas, limit renewables” business plan. And we don't need (if we ever did) gas as a "bridge" to renewables. Fugitive Methane from the entirety of the natural gas supply chain is arguably worse than coal, at least as far as greenhouse gas is concerned.

ELLIE KINNAIRD: REIGN IN CHARTER SCHOOLS: Ned Barnett’s April 14 Opinion column on charter school expansion pointed out the clustering of these charter schools’ effect on traditional school budgets. I voted for charter schools in the legislature when they were first proposed, in part, as a way to explore creative teaching that could enhance school experience in North Carolina. But I felt that one of the most important ways to keep charter schools truly public and available to every family was to require charters to provide lunch and transportation for students who needed those services, just as traditional public schools do. Without that, charter schools could become segregated by income and race, which has proved true. That those requirements have never been enacted into law is a failure of our legislature. Any expansion should first insist on legislation that requires all charter schools to provide lunch and transportation. Until then, there should be no expansion. Yeah, I keep seeing conservative pundits whining about Dems trying to hurt "needy" children by opposing charter schools, but you don't hear a peep from them about those kids needing food and transportation. Because the "needy" children thing has been a ruse from day one.



Do we have a quorum?

Thursday night the answer was no, for the first time since I became the (apparently perpetual) Chairman of our Planning Board. Finding volunteers has always been a challenge, but the behavior of the general public for the last 5 years has made it even more so. We have endured implied threats and muttered innuendo, to the point one of my (former) Board members snapped a few years ago and threw some of it back in their faces. Which (of course) generated the expected outrage and complaints to our elected superiors, who promptly removed him from his seat.

As the columnist mentioned above, new house construction was virtually dormant for several years following the sub-prime crisis of the mid-2000s. You may not believe that because of what you have seen in certain areas, but it is true. Prospective buyers flocking to new listings and homes being sold for 15%-20% above asking price should be evidence enough that housing stock is way too thin, but NIMBY don't care about evidence. NIMBY don't care about a lot of things, frankly.

What we're seeing in the school board meetings recently, with angry parents (or not parents) ranting about deteriorating morality and ideological indoctrination, thinly-veiled (or blatantly open) otherism, racism disguised as classism, etc., guess what? We've been seeing that in zoning meetings since about 2015, when developers started looking (once again) for construction opportunities.

Back to Thursday night. When I informed the 70-80 people who came to the meeting that we had to postpone said meeting for a week so we could legally proceed, they were not pleased. They had things to say by god, and this "needing a quorum" thing smelled like a trick. And the irony of not having a sufficient number of unpaid volunteers to listen to their ranting was lost on (most) of them.

I also tried to explain that expressing their viewpoints in the absence of Board members who were missing that night would be inefficient, inappropriate, and not helpful to their cause. But I let them do it anyway, because a) I don't believe in stifling people's voices, and b) I do understand their frustration.

Nobody likes to feel helpless in the face of change, and it's hard to see the good in land being developed for an increase in population, and the increase in noise and traffic that results from that. I get it. But I also understand the realities of our current housing shortage, and how that directly impacts the affordability conundrum. And I simply cannot foist that responsibility onto other towns, make it somebody else's problem, because that is a (major) contributing factor to our inability to solve this crisis.

You should consider serving on your local planning board. If nothing else, it teaches patience and humility. :)

Outside forces and the NCGOP

This editorial from WRAL is rich as they wring their hands over outside influence by Trumpian donors and PACS on the GOP.

I didn't see them doing any hand-wringing with Art Pope and the Koch network pumped millions into buying NC GOP candidates to pack the legislature several years ago.

It's just a continuation of what's been going on for years. The only difference is the degree of extremism being paid for.