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- Democracy Wins ... for Now
Surprise, the Democrats held the Senate and did not lose as many seats in the House of Representatives as projected. Most election followers listening to news reports were expecting a “red wave” of Republican victories in the House and Senate. That did not happen. The country can no longer count on polling as a predicator of election results. That’s a key takeaway from the 2022 midterms. The polls have proven again, as they did in 2020, that they are not reliable predictors of election outcomes. That’s true for a variety of reasons, including that they rely on people to answer their spam-ridden cell phones and to engage with a pollster. But is prediction really the point? Or should we be placing more focus on the most important issues and demanding that candidates address them? Given our interminably long campaign cycles, a lot of valuable time and space in the media gets squandered on hand-wringing and polling analysis instead of examining the candidates and the issues and following executive, judicial and legislative action day by day. Whatever the predictions, here’s hoping voters continue turning out in record numbers to exercise their constitutional privilege of voting for their candidate of choice, despite voter suppression strategies by the Republicans. Here’s another takeaway from the midterm elections. In North Carolina, residents need to pay close attention to the Supreme Court, as Republicans picked up two seats. This is a game-changer for conservative policies. We should expect to see more action on voter ID and other issues related to voting and elections. The Republican majority in the General Assembly has already signaled that it plans to redraw congressional district lines in 2023 and based on past performance, it’s reasonable to expect the new maps will be gerrymandered to favor Republicans. A Republican majority on the court makes it much more likely that those new maps will stick for longer than one election cycle. Not surprising in Eastern North Carolina, five African American incumbent legislators lost their elections due to lower turnout and gerrymandering, despite having large African American populations. A cause for concern is NC voter turnout was lower than midterm 2018. According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, roughly 53% — 3,755,778 — of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2018 General Election. This year, that percentage was about 51%, or 3,745, 547 North Carolina voters. Consider this, Americans care about democracy and want to protect it. Yes, we have high inflation, the President has low approval ratings, housing prices have skyrocketed, women lost the right to choose, kids have lost ground with their education, the Nasdaq stock market has lost almost a third of its value. Despite Republican voter suppression, in North Carolina and other states voters found ways to vote with early voting, voting by mail and simply going to the polls on election day. They did so as we recover from the pandemic that took over a million American lives. Let me repeat that. Covid killed more than a million Americans! Yet Americans turned out and voted. Voters gave Democrats continued control of the Senate with a majority 50 to 49 as this is written. The Senate election in Georgia is still undecided, with a runoff scheduled for Dec. 6 between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker. A win for the Dems is important because it would diminish the power of any single Democrat to hijack the President’s priorities. Even so, with the Republicans poised to win the House of Representatives, Americans are faced with the potential for more gridlock, unless President Biden can use his influence and gain nonpartisan approval of his Build Back Better for America agenda. North Carolina can benefit from the President’s agenda. It would address the cost of prescription drugs, lower housing costs, and increase funding for Medicaid, delivering health care coverage through Affordable Care Act premium tax credits to up to 4 million uninsured people in states, including North Carolina, that have locked them out of Medicaid. The N.C. General Assembly rejected federal Medicaid dollars, choosing GOP politics over the health of North Carolina residents. In the often uncivil and sometimes alarming political climate leading up to the 2022 midterms, it hasn’t always been easy to fathom, but maybe the biggest takeaway of the election is that Americans are looking for politicians to work together and get things done, despite their differing views. At the end of the day, notwithstanding the less than noble tactics many use to get elected, the job of the politicians we choose to become lawmakers is to protect democracy and improve the lives of Americans. It’s up to the media to keep tabs on them and make sure we the people know how well they’re doing that job. Just in, Trump announces his run for President. Buckle Up! Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and writes for Carolina Commentary.
- Be informed and vote on issues that matter
When early voting ended Saturday in North Carolina, more than 2.1 million voters had cast their ballots. That’s almost 28 percent of the state’s more than 7.4 million registered voters. For some perspective, it’s helpful to know that by the end of the 2018 midterm election, a total of 52 percent of voters had cast a ballot. Of those, 21.8 percent of eligible voters voted early. Given the stakes, it’s not surprising that interest in this midterm election runs high. Worries about voter intimidation don’t seem to be deterring North Carolina voters from exercising their right to vote, even though the state was one of ten viewed by the Brennan Center for as being at high risk for intimidation to disrupt the process. The center released a guideproviding an overview of federal and state laws, including those in North Carolina, that protect against intimidation. Despite concerns raised by the false claims of Republican candidates influenced by former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie’’ that the 2020 election was stolen from him, the Brennan Center’s director of voting rights, Sean Morales-Doyle, told “The Pulse,” an N.C. Policy Watch blog, that voters should go to the polls with confidence. “Yes, there’s reason to be more concerned in some ways this year than in previous years,” he said. “But I want to temper that concern and say that most voters are not going to face intimidation . if they do run into some trouble, they’ve got election protection and election officials and many, many advocates who are watching developments closely, who they can rely upon to ensure that there won’t be any major disruption to our elections.” Based on early voting turnout, the biggest challenge voters are likely to face Tuesday will be lines. Polling places will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and any voter in line at 7:30 p.m. at their assigned polling place will be allowed to vote. Every election is important because we the people are choosing those leaders who will make the laws that govern our lives. In every election cycle there are candidates who distort the truth and try to make the election about emotionally charged issues that incite unfounded fears and bring out our basest feelings. Candidates do that because fear works. A meta-analysis conducted by Dolores Albarracin, PhD, professor of psychology, business, and medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleagues found that messages with fear are nearly twice as effective as messages without fear. The study was published in Psychological Bulletin in November 2015. As a result, we often end up casting ballots based on non-issues – concerns that have little effect on the matters that determine the quality of our lives. To find out where candidates stand on the issues that do shape our lives – laws that affect the economy, education, the environment, our rights and freedoms – requires research and comparison that many voters don’t have much time to do. That makes us vulnerable to scare tactics. It also makes it harder to vote with a focus on the principles that we believe in. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “We must be willing, individually and as a Nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” In North Carolina this election cycle, voters will choose a new U.S. Senator, 14 U.S. representatives, state legislators, numerous judges and local officials. All of these elected leaders will have the power to affect our lives. It’s critical that all of us do our research before we go to the polls in order to choose candidates that truly care about serving their constituents. Most candidates have websites where their positions on issues can be researched. The North Carolina League of Women Voters has a highly informative nonpartisan voters’ guide. Don’t waste your vote on non-issues. Become informed before you go to the polls and vote based on your interests and the principles that guide you. Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.
- Project reassures voters N.C. elections are secure
It ironic that at a time when elections, at least in North Carolina, are undoubtedly the safest, most secure and most accurate they’ve ever been, fears of election fraud and tampering are rampant. Election fears result primarily from the rantings of ousted former President Donald Trump who gracelessly refused to accept defeat and made outlandish accusations of election fraud while he himself attempted to “find” votes and rig the system. As hundreds of Republican candidates around the nation echo Trump’s false claims, fears are growing of election disruptions in 2022 and 2024. In response to that concern, the North Carolina Network for Fair, Safe and Secure Elections, a bi-partisan grassroots group of individuals and organizations, are holding town hall meetings around North Carolina to provide information about the electoral process and to rebuild trust in our voting system. Henderson County Information Technology Director Mark Seelenbacher vouched for the system recently at a town hall held at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Lots of things keep him up at night, he said, but, ““I’ve got to be honest with you. Election security in North Carolina…isn’t one…. I’ve been in local government and in IT for over 20 years. I’ve worked elections for most of those years, supporting on the IT side. We’ve got a fantastic process.” The town hall at A-B Tech was one of 14 being held in each of the state’s congressional districts. A 15th was held virtually. Former Republican N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr and former Democratic Charlotte Mayor and Mecklenburg County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts are leading the project with support from the North Carolina League of Women Voters and the U.S. Veterans Hall of Fame. At each town hall, panels of local cybersecurity experts, election officials and election law attorneys explain how voting machines and election procedures work and encourage voter questions. North Carolina and three other states, Arizona, Georgia and part of Florida, are also participating. The project was initiated by The Carter Center with a goal of expanding nationwide before the 2024 election. The A-B Tech panel included Buncombe County’s Board of Elections Chair Jake Quinn and Election Services Director Corinne Duncan and Henderson County’s Board of Elections Chair Charles Medd and Director of Elections Karen Hebb. They described a transparent, redundant system of checks and balances governed by state laws and regulations. The system is designed to make sure every eligible voter has an opportunity to vote while preventing voter fraud, they said. From Boards of Elections to poll workers, election activities are carried out by bipartisan teams, preventing hyper-partisan actors from gaming the system. Voting machines are backed up by paper ballots. They are not connected to the internet. There is no opportunity for foreign actors or anyone else to tamper with vote counts. “They’re not connected to anything but a power source and if the power goes off, the batteries kick in,” Medd said. Voter registration rolls are kept updated and are available online at the State Board of Elections website. Anyone can check to see if they or anyone else is registered to vote and review their voting history. “Election fraud is very rare,” Quinn said. “One of the reasons it’s so rare in this state is because the checks and balances are so strong. If anyone actually tries to vote multiple times or vote fraudulently, they’ve got to have a pretty good idea that they are going to get caught, that they are going to get prosecuted.” The state board of elections has an investigative division, Hebb said. Anyone who suspects voter fraud should report it to their local board or directly to the state. If there’s enough evidence, a felony conviction can result. “I don’t know of anybody who thinks one vote is worth going to prison or having a felony on your record,” she said. “Is there fraud? Probably, but at a very, very small level…. If you commit voter fraud, you are opening yourself up to going to jail.” In addition to voter fraud, the panel fielded questions about provisionary ballots, absentee ballots and even the possibility of hand-counting ballots. Provisionary ballots are a failsafe form of voting, Duncan said, offered anytime there is an issue at a location that a poll worker can’t resolve. Elections staff members heavily research those ballots to determine voter eligibility and present them to the local board of elections, which decides whether the ballot is counted. Absentee ballots must be requested by the voter and returned by the voter with the signatures of two witnesses or a notary, panelists said. All absentee ballots are reviewed by the local elections board before being accepted and, once accepted, the voter rolls are updated to reflect that voter has voted so that he or she cannot attempt to vote again on election day. Elections board meetings where provisionary and absentee ballots are reviewed are open to the public. As for returning to hand-counting ballots, Quinn said, “There were 5.5 million ballots cast in the state of North Carolina in the 2020 election. Does anyone have any idea how long it would take to count 5.5 million ballots by hand, understanding that on each ballot you are looking at multiple races? There’s the time factor. Now let’s get to the human factor. I love people, but they are not nearly as adept and accurate at tabulating vast quantities of data as machines that were designed for that task. So, if you want it done accurately and you want it done quickly, we don’t have any alternative that I can see.” Town halls sponsored by the Network for Fair, Safe and Secure Elections will be held through Oct. 6. A list of locations can be found at nctrustedelections.com or the virtual town hall can be viewed on Reimagining America Project’s YouTube channel. The state board of elections website has a section that contains great information about election security. The one good thing election deniers have done is shine a light on election integrity. We should all remain vigilant, but these resources provide voters with assurance that our precious right to choose those who lead us is securely and fairly administered in North Carolina. Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.
- Attacks on reproductive rights harm women’s health and rob their Constitutional rights
The Supreme Court's June overrule of Roe v. Wade denies women the right to control their bodies. Those privacy rights are constitutionally guaranteed—to women and men—by the 14th Amendment, the same amendment that underpinned the Court’s original decision affirming women’s right to abortion. “When states coerce and force women, girls, and people with the capacity for pregnancy to remain pregnant against their will, they create human chattel and incubators of them,” says Dr. Michele Goodwin, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. “By doing so, state lawmakers force their bodies into the service of state interests.” Women of color, especially black women, will suffer most. Republicans need win only two more seats in the N.C. Senate and three in the House to attain a supermajority that could override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of anti-abortion legislation; two contested N.C. Supreme Court seats could change that court’s current composition of four Democrats and three Republicans. Polling reveals that most N.C. voters support abortion rights; anti-abortion Republican candidates are now backtracking from abortion-ban positions, but don’t be fooled by these softened stances. The barbaric restrictions on this fundamental freedom not only hurts women, but also democracy, already plagued by voter suppression and gerrymandered districts by the same minority of political extremists attacking women’s right to control their bodies. Stakes are high. In North Carolina, it’s not easy to get an abortion. The abortion ban at 20 weeks was reinstated by U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr. Fetal viability typically falls between 24 and 26 weeks of pregnancy.Patients are forced to wait 72 hours after counseling (though not required in-person); state Medicaid coverage of abortion care is restricted to very limited circumstances; the state bans the use of telehealth or mail for medication abortion; parental consent or notice is required for a minor's abortion; only physicians, and no other qualified healthcare professionals, may perform abortions. As abortion bans in states take effect, chaos and confusion prevail, whether intended or unintended. Legislators know little about healthcare; their laws reflect ignorance or deliberate obfuscation or both, and only lead to more questions: As many as 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, the spontaneous loss of a fetus; while some resolve naturally, risks such as infection or excess bleeding may require treatment with the same drugs used in abortion. Similar confusion has arisen around ectopic pregnancies, which cannot produce viable embryos under any circumstance; such pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus, often in fallopian tubes. The embryo does not develop into a baby. Delaying or denying treatment for such common complications risks women’s lives. Providers have no time to consult lawyers before treating a patient’s emergency. Anti-abortion activists are resorting to civil lawsuits. In Arizona, an ex-husband sued a clinic and doctors, claiming wrongful death, for prescribing an abortion pill four years ago. Allowing an ex-partner to pursue a woman after the fact, using the court system, is tantamount to abuse. Legal experts say such civil suits may become more common: The National Right to Life Committee has released model legislation, a playbook for state lawmakers. Those most vulnerable in restrictive states are women of color, poor women, young women, rural women, and women in abusive relationships. Carolina Commentary has already detailed economic consequences not only for these women but also society. Maternal mortality rates will climb; more children will be born into single-parent households, and fewer will graduate from high school and college. The economy will suffer as fewer women of any color are able to plan families, successfully enter the workforce, and stay employed. Abortion foes sow fear through vague and ignorant language combined with false narratives; this creates a chilling effect for the women who need medical care the most. Women are scared to talk about medical needs, pregnancies, and medical histories; they fear using period-trackers; they fear medical records may incriminate them. Any criminalization of pregnancy, or even the threat of it, is a national shame. The U.S. already ranks highest among developed nations in maternal mortality—death from any cause related to or aggravated by conditions related to pregnancy. States with the strictest anti-abortion laws have the highest maternal mortality rates. Think Mississippi. The loss of privacy rights can be deadly for girls and women of reproductive age; black women are 3.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-or-birth-related causes than white women. That’s a shame, but there’s no time to cry. Even women’s right to prevent pregnancy is coming next: the right to use contraception. Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Greensboro News & Record and the Hendersonville Times-News before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, an anthology of literary short stories that probe Americans' complicated relationship to firearms. (University of New Mexico Press, 2017.)
- Homelessness in America
You’ve heard the term, “home is where the heart is.” Everyone wants and needs a place to call home, where they can go for shelter, a safe place to relax and place to house their belongings and in many cases live with their spouse, children, relatives and friends. Your home in many cases is the asset that drives individual and family wealth for most people who live anyplace in the world. In America, we have a problem with homelessness, where thousands of people live an unsheltered environment in many parts of the United States, according to USA FACTS. USA FACTS reports the homeless population in America in 2020 was 580,466, which surprisingly is down 30.8% compared to 2006. California is first in the nation for homeless population, with 161,548, followed by New York with 91,271. North Carolina was 15th in the nation with 9,280 homeless people in 2020. In San Francisco, the homeless rate as February 2022 was 0.54% of the total population. Only Los Angeles had a higher rate of 0.67%. Who are the homeless? They represent a cross section of America, with 48% White, 39% Black, 6% Multi-racial and a combined 6% of Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American. They are veterans, children and families. Their average income is $15,000 and the largest age group is over 24 years old. When comparing the United States to our neighbors to the north and south the homeless numbers per 10,000 is 17.6; Canada is 10 and Mexico is 35.4. World Atlas, reports the United States is the 8th wealthiest nation in the world based on GDP, or the Gross Domestic Product, which is comprised of export revenues, incomes, consumption, and the value of goods and services the nation produces in the span of a year. “The GDP per capita is the wealth divided by the number of inhabitants in the country, which is a helpful measurement that can provide insight into the quality of life in a country.” The question is, why is there homelessness in the 8th wealthiest nation in the world and what is being done about it? The two cities in the nation for homelessness, Los Angeles and San Francisco are taking practical and prototypical approaches for addressing the issues. San Francisco is offering a podcast called "Fixing our City" that offers real stories and solutions to address the issue of preventing homelessness to reduce the growth of the unsheltered population. The Skid Row Housing Trust, which is designed to provide permanent housing along with to support sustainable living and wellness. Los Angeles County has developed a comprehensive and humane strategy for address the unsheltered issue for people in Los Angeles. The strategy is not a one a total solution, however it is a great start at addressing an issue that is faced by nations around the world and it many urban areas across America. or individuals and families, with restrooms, showers and counseling to assist people in transitioning from unsheltered to sheltered and potential employment. The Los Angeles County’s homeless services system began in 2017 with a legislative initiative designed to provide funding from a ¼ cent sales tax approved by voters to address and reduce homelessness. The model provides This is a model that can be replicated in cities across the nation and the world. Kudos to the people of California for their compassion and realizing the importance of finding a home for its residents. Homelessness can be reduced and eliminated in the 8th wealthiest nation in the world and two of the wealthiest cities in the world. .
- Court case could put monkey wrench in future elections
There was a time not so long ago when North Carolina’s top judicial races, while still certainly containing a stiff shot of politics, were more genteel. For a while there were no party labels appearing on the ballot, and for a while there was a degree of public funding. Those days are gone. The state Supreme Court is composed of six associate justices and one chief justice, with Democrats holding a 4-3 edge. Two of those Democrats, both associate justices, are up for election, so only one has to be picked off to give the GOP a majority. If you haven’t heard about these races, you will. Outside money in the tens of millions of dollars is expected to flood into the state, meaning no airwave, mailbox or social media channel is going to be safe. There’s a lot at stake, as the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in many matters of justice in North Carolina. But in the background, there’s a legal case that has surfaced in North Carolina that has the potential to defang the state’s courts in some very fundamental ways. Welcome to Moore v. Harper. To back up: Many voters likely noticed the election was a bit of a mess this year, with filing deadlines and election dates jumping around, and state legislative and U.S. congressional maps in a state of uncertainty. Much of the latter can be traced to a map passed in a party-line vote by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature that would have given Republicans 10 of the state’s 14 congressional seats, despite an essentially even political balance in North Carolina. In the past legal action against extreme gerrymandering would have been taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that body has ruled federal courts can’t hear such cases. So the maps were challenged in state court, and the N.C. Supreme Court struck them down. A second gerrymandered map was passed, and a state court ordered a special master to draw fair maps for 2022. Two state GOP legislators (House Speaker Tim Moore being one) asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the gerrymandered map under a legal theory known as the “independent state legislative theory,’’ which holds that the U.S. Constitution’s Election Clause gives state legislators the power – virtually exclusive power – to regulate federal elections. The federal court didn’t reinstate the maps, but it did agree to hear the broader argument in its upcoming term. Opponents of the state legislative theory fear that, should the U.S. Supreme Court accept the base argument being put forward, state legislatures would have the power to run free of the traditional checks and balances – no state court or governor’s veto, or conceivably any wording in a state constitution could stop partisan gerrymandering or conceivably other mischief. If the court endorses the doctrine, the question is how far will it go? The most extreme interpretation of the independent state legislature theory was dear to the heart of Trump lawyer John Eastman, who advocated for Georgia legislators to replace Biden electors with Trump electors. As federal law frowns on state legislatures overturning election results, it’s doubtful anything like that could happen. But should the Supremes put any validity to the theory, it could usher in an era of chaos where elections, voting procedures and who knows what else are challenged up and down the legal ladder, eroding trust in the process. In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, three legal experts wrote, “The theory would disable state courts from protecting voting rights in federal elections by eliminating state constitutional protections in those elections. And it would do so at a time when voting rights are under attack, including at the Supreme Court itself.” Our government was set up with a system of checks and balances, with courts, legislative bodies and executives expected to take their turn at putting things back in balance when one branch exercised a power grab. In the case of the independent state legislature theory, that raises a question: What if they couldn’t? That would be a good question to ask state Supreme Court candidates. Not to mention General Assembly candidates. This commentary was first published in the Sylva Herald.
- Subjugating Women Hurts Us All
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent overrule of its 1973 decision that upheld a woman’s right to abortion is not about motherhood or babies: It’s about controlling and subjugating women by denying women control over their reproductive future. If the issue were truly about children, wouldn’t we have high-quality universal childcare, health care, and paid maternity leave? We don’t. This fall, vote for candidates who support women’s reproductive rights. N.C. House and Senate Democrats have introduced legislation to codify the state’s current abortion rights, and would also lift abortion restrictions, passed by Republican majorities, such as the 72-hour waiting period, the counseling mandate, and the ultrasound requirement. Justice Samuel Alito based his opinion on a constitutional interpretation, though women had no separate legal existence apart from a husband during most of American history when a woman could not own property in her own name or control her own earnings. Women were chattel. Contraception and the right to a safe and legal abortion affect fertility and employment decisions. Those determine lifetime income streams, mobility, and well-being. Living in a state with oppressive restrictions can thwart women’s ability to move into higher-wage jobs, harm their health, and even send them to jail for stillbirths or miscarriages. The Roe decision will especially hurt women of color trapped in low-paying jobs, a legacy of race discrimination. Legalization has improved women’s lives through education, labor force participation, and earnings, according to an amicus brief filed and signed by 150 prominent economists supporting Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision. Some startling statistics include: • Nearly half of pregnancies are unintended, and nearly half of these end in abortion. • Contraception can be inaccessible and unaffordable, especially for young people; more than 15 percent of those aged 15 to 34 have no health insurance. • Legalization affected young women and Black women the most. Allowing young women to obtain an abortion without parental consent cut teen motherhood by 34 percent and teen marriage by 20 percent. • Maternal mortality also fell by 28 percent to 40 percent among Black women. This effect on Black women “aligns with historical narratives” suggesting that, pre-legalization, white women could access, or travel, to receive secret abortions. Effects were strongest overall for Black women. Delaying an unplanned pregnancy through abortion, according to one study, showed an hourly wage increase of 11 percent later in life; a 20 percent increase in the likelihood they’ll attend college; and a 40 percent increase in the probability that they’ll enter a professional occupation. Not only has legalization improved women's outcomes, it has also benefited children. Fewer children are born into single-parent households; fewer are abused or neglected; and more children graduate from high school and college. The Court's decision hurts everybody. We the people will pick up the tab for this expensive, short-sighted, and shameful abrogation of women's rights. The overrule helps no one but will cost everyone. Especially women, who have lost the right to privacy guaranteed in the 14th Amendment. BettyJoyce Nash reported for the Greensboro News & Record and the Hendersonville Times-News before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, an anthology of literary short stories that probe Americans' complicated relationship to firearms. (University of New Mexico Press, 2017.)
- A brief encounter now a haunting memory
In the mid-1990s, along with an adventurous companion named Kitty Boniske, I traveled by train from Moscow to Vladikavkaz, a beautiful city in the Caucasus Mountains. We were participating in a newspaper exchange arranged through Sister Cities. An intrepid traveler, Kitty wanted to take a 36-hour train ride rather than fly from Moscow to our destination. Besides being fearless, she’d been to Russia before and had hosted a Russian student while he attended Warren-Wilson College. He was now back in Moscow and did his best to dissuade us from taking the train, but Kitty and I were eager to see the Russian countryside. In the end, he took charge of getting us to the right platform in the monstrous Moscow train station, where there were no signs in English, and he spent a considerable amount of time talking to the Russian woman who was in charge of our sleeping car. Kitty later speculated that money changed hands. We spent what daylight we had glued to the windows as we passed through a land that felt like a third-world country, despite having recently been the world’s other superpower. We saw what appeared to be huge rusting industrial complexes, old women in headscarves tending gardens beside the tracks, and people in every train station hustling clothing and other items out of duffle bags. When darkness fell, we changed into night clothes and were lulled to sleep by the rumbling train. Sometime after midnight we awoke when the train stopped. Before long someone banged on the door of our compartment. I reached out and slid it open. A tall young man in uniform filled the space. Another man in uniform stood behind him. The young officer proceeded to say a whole bunch of words rather loudly and emphatically in what I assumed was Russian. I explained that we didn’t speak Russian. He said a bunch more words. I explained again that we didn’t speak Russian. Kitty said, “Joy, he doesn’t understand loud English either.” The second time through, we had grasped three words, “Ukraine Exit Visa,” and figured out that he was asking for a document we did not have. Repressing a mild attack of panic, I took my reporter’s notebook and drew a couple of stick figures. I pointed to one and then to myself. I pointed to the other and then to him. He grinned and nodded. Between the two figures’ outstretched arms I drew a circle, wrote the word VISA, and drew a slash through it, hoping he would understand. He frowned and conferred with his colleague. Kitty suggested that I offer him money, since that was how things got done in Russia. I drew two more stick figures, he nodded and grinned again. This time, I drew a dollar sign between their outstretched arms. His smile turned to a scowl. “Nyet! Nyet!” he said angrily. He turned and conferred with his colleague again. He looked back at us, shrugged his shoulders, and walked on down the aisle. Kitty and I looked at each other and I slowly closed the door. Until the train pulled out some time later, we sat wondering if we would be taken off and detained. We would later learn, through our own experience, that bribing officials was part of daily life in Russia. But this was Ukraine. Ever geographically challenged, I hadn’t known the train passed through Ukraine and I suspect Kitty didn’t either. This would have been soon after Ukraine declared its independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. I think about that experience at the Ukrainian/Russian border every time I read Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people,” his justification for invading a sovereign nation. One day recently a story about a Ukrainian soldier in his 50s killed in the fighting left me wondering about the fate of that young soldier who would be about that age now. On the day I read that story, my husband and I were heading home to the mountains from the North Carolina coast. As we crossed the Neuse River Bridge, the view of New Bern laid out before us caused me to think what a lovely city it is. North Carolina’s second oldest town after Bath, New Bern lies on a spit of land at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers. It is home to Tryon Palace, North Carolina’s first capitol, and beautiful Christ Church, established in 1715, whose spire can be seen rising above the town. On that fine morning as the blue river and the green riverfront park created a splendid vista, I tried to imagine it being bombed as Ukrainian cities have been, and the engineering feat that is the Neuse River Bridge being smashed into the river. I can’t fully comprehend what the Ukrainian people feel as they watch their homeland being destroyed and their loved ones killed. But my heart aches for them, and for a young Ukrainian soldier that I met a long time ago who had a sense of humor and of honor. Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.
- Arming Teachers is Not a Strategy
The proposal to arm teachers in Texas to solve gun violence in the schools is preposterous. While there may be individuals with the ability and training and know how to effectively guard their classrooms in addition to teaching children and performing the myriad other tasks (counseling, discipline, reporting to parents and administrators) and are willing to accept the substandard wages and working conditions provided to most teachers, the fact is there is currently a teacher shortage without adding commando to the job description. I am a gun owner who has invested significant time and effort into training in the effective and safe use of a gun. I am proficient and confident of my abilities to defend myself in normal circumstances. However, this has taken years of both tactical and defensive training and if I were a teacher, there is no way I would consider attempting to both teach and defend myself, much less dozens of panicked children at a moment’s notice from a well-a rmed and armored, emotionally disturbed, mad man. I think about my dear friend Ellen. She is a 3rd grade reading teacher. A kind, gentle soul who has a passion for imbuing children with the ability to discover the magical world of books, she is petite and not entirely enthusiastic about firearms. I could never hope to replace her as a teacher. To expect her to suddenly become more adept at shooting than I am with the limited training offered by the state is ridiculous. I imagine being in a classroom full of 8-year-olds managing the daily mayhem and unannounced, a man bursts into the room with a long gun and starts mowing children down. My little 9mm handgun is in a lockbox under my desk as per sensible school guidelines. (Walk around school grounds with a loaded firearm on my hip? Not advisable. Two children of significant size could easily overpower me if I were caught unawares.) So, assuming that I am still ambulatory, I turn away and leave these children who are now presumably injured and dive for my lockbox. Oh wait, the key is in my purse, which is in the f aculty lounge or maybe it opens by combination and I can, amid all the chaos and with trembling fingers remember the combination and open it up. Time has passed and our shooter has loaded his second magazine. If I am very, very lucky he is a horrible shot or is taking his time. However, even if he is nervous and a bad shot, his weapon is built for combat and he will do a lot of damage even if he just sprays and prays. Now, I retrieve my 9mm or maybe, if I am not afraid of weapons or I have large hands, a .45. If it is a Glock, I probably have it on Israeli load which is to say I have to rack the slide and then steady myself to take aim. If it is 1911 I have to remember how the locking mechanism works and since I don’t fire this thing every day, I’ve got to fiddle with it. Oh…ok…NOW I am ready to take aim. Wait. Because there is a potential that a child might be able to get in the lockbox, the magazine is not in the weapon. I have to fish around in the box and find it , and, orienting the magazine…bullets are facing out, right? Seat the magazine (did I hear it click? I can’t hear anything) and then rack the slide before I can chamber my first round. I have barely the grip strength to do this standing calmly next to the range instructor but now I’m going to with shaking hands and wet palms. Ready! Okay, now to take aim. You have a highly limited number of tries here. A standard magazine will hold 10-15 rounds and then you have to reload, which means you need another magazine which you may not have or if you do, you probably do not have access to at this point. In the meantime, the intruder can use a high capacity magazine that will hold 60 rounds, and he probably carries several spares. Even if he is a terrible shot…or his weapon jams…or something lucky happens, he has probably done considerable damage before I am ready to take aim and shoot. I haven’t shot in a while so my first one is probably going to go to waste and piss him off…like swatting a bee. Oh…right…the sights on the weapon. Forgot about that. Yeah…the standard sights aren’t that good. Most of the time you are going to want com petition sights and the better ones are a bit pricey, perhaps beyond the budget? Oh…forgot about the trigger. Is this a single action or double action? Is this a Glock, which is neither? Do I remember? I don’t do this very often and my training class was a while ago…I am not sure, as even when I was on the range, it’s intimidating to shoot this thing and I only wanted that class to be over with. Unfortunately, now is not the time to make the distinction. Then there is form. I don’t train like a soldier every day so I’m a bit rusty and I have to adjust my stance a bit and remember to breathe in and keep the firearm close to my body and lean into the shot…not like they show on tv raring back on your heels like a horse getting ready to buck. Is my grip correct? Don’t stick the thing straight out in front of you. Geeze this is just so different than it was on the range where it was quiet and I had on “ears” and there was only the hum of others in the distance. The sound of children crying out in pain, shrieking in agony, was not how I trained but here I am. And…there are only two possible shots for me to take. One is center of mass and the other is a head shot…otherwise I’m not going to stop the threat. And I have to do this on a moving target that has FAR more firepower than I do and has effectively murdered just about everyone in the room and I’m looking down at young, lifeless, mangled bodies now covered in blood and I ready myself to take my shot. EVEN if you were a professional with hours and hours and days of professional training and indeed you trained every day…success in this scenario is a stretch at best. Anyone who is an honest firearms owner with sufficient training knows this solution is not viable. If you have had the opportunity to participate in mock scenarios in a “shoot house” it becomes quickly apparent that for the normal person it’s extremely easy to become confused and shoot the good guy or disengage with the target and si mply waste all your shots. You miss! You are full of adrenaline and scared…it is not going to go down like you think. And to all those blowhards who say “yeah, I could do it” …maybe. The only successful case scenario of which I am aware of was a church in Ft. Worth where the guy shot the gunman. He was a firearms instructor with thousands of hours or training and practice under his belt and he had the element of surprise…there is no surprise at an elementary school when someone with a mental issue walks through the door. But it is to the Ellen’s of the world that this “strategy” is directed. This is NOT a strategy. It is a macho pipedream for individuals who refuse to admit (because they do indeed know, whether they admit it or not) that until we put forward sensible gun laws (there is no way an 18-year-old should have possession of an AR-15, nor should people who are emotionally disturbed) we are going to pray, offer condolences and wring our hands when this scenario plays out again, and again, and again... Olivia Casey is a former journalist with the Detroit News and The Dallas Morning News. She lives in Dallas, Texas, and currently works in public health.
- Can't See the Forest for the Trees?
Suppose you own an investment portfolio that contains valuable, goods-producing assets, some of which are too costly to buy, or may not even exist in the marketplace. The United States Forest Service [USFS] manages many taxpayer-owned natural assets. Among the best-performing is the Pisgah-Nantahala Forest, the most visited national forest in the nation—seven million people annually. The USFS’s proposed new plan will establish a management agenda for the next two to three decades. Published in March, the proposal set a record for the number of objections. Among the most egregious insults to the forest ecosystem? Logging several old-growth tracts. The Southern Environmental Law Center laments that not only should some of these targeted areas be spared, but also, rather than restoring diverse species and ecological processes, the plan relies on “outdated and heavy-handed logging methods that produce unnatural results.” Our portfolio manager, the USFS, says the methods make “commercial sense.” But the traditional concept of “commercial sense,” like some logging methods, is outdated and clumsy, and needs an overhaul. There’s reason to hope the USFS will thoroughly revisit new evidence about the forests’ economic value before publishing a final draft. A new paper by scientists Jeannine Cavender-Bares and co-authors, including economist Stephen Polasky, both of the University of Minnesota, suggests that trees in the contiguous United States produce “far more valuable services as climate and air quality regulators than they generate as wood products, food crops, and Christmas trees.” The authors estimate the value of five eco-system services generated by forest in the United States at $114 billion annually in 2012. Trees in the pine and oak family provided 42 percent of that. Trees store carbon. This accounts for 51% of net annual value. Trees filter dirty air and mitigate damage to human health—respiratory illnesses and deaths. This tree service represented 37% of the annual net value. The remaining 12% of the net annual value came from “provisioning services,” such as wood products. The authors assessed these forest services to establish a base, as climate change threatens the services they provide, at risk from “pests and pathogens.” Compromises had been worked out among stakeholders during the public comment period. SELC worked with conservation groups in the The Nantahala-Pisgah Forest Partnership, including timber and hunting interests, in recommending some increases in timber harvests to restore “degraded forests, and it paired those increases with strong protections for our healthiest forests.” Those efforts may have protected old growth and rare habitats, to sequester more carbon. The USFS didn’t see it the same way. Common sense as well as $114 billion in services should make the USFS scrap original recommendations, targeted logging areas, and methods. Why not submit a plan to solve 21st century problems? The U.S. Forest Service manages our portfolio. Our resources deserve a thorough analysis to manage the earth's future. Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Hendersonville Times-News and the Greensboro News & Record before moving to Virginia. She writes journalism and fiction from Charlottesville. In 2017, the University of New Mexico Press published Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, a book of short stories she co-edited with a colleague. The stories probe Americans’ complicated relationship to firearms. For more information, see www.bettyjoycenash.com
- Speech isn’t free in election season
Early voting has begun for North Carolina’s May 17 primary. Most folks likely know a good bit about local candidates for seats on their county commissions, school boards, and Sheriffs. But they likely know a lot less about hopefuls for the seat being vacated by Republican Richard Burr. That’s because the U.S. Senate race features a cast of thousands, with 14 candidates lined up on the Republican ticket alone. That contest looks to be a three-man race between former Gov. Pat McCrory, U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. Currently, polling seems to favor Budd, but McCrory has demonstrated appeal in the past, being the first Republican elected governor in North Carolina in two decades. On the flip side, he was also the first sitting governor in North Carolina history to lose a re-election bid. Regardless, this is a competitive race, and ads—often bruising ones—are filling the airwaves. The School Freedom Fund, a pro-school choice political action group riding the deep pockets of a Wall Street billionaire, has dropped $1.3 million for pro-Budd and/or anti-McCrory ads. The Club for Growth Action, one of two political action groups of the conservative Club for Growth, plans to spend $14 million along the same lines. There’s plenty more money rolling in from similar political action groups. Once the general election candidates have been decided, additional funds will flow freely from groups across the political spectrum. While there’s some question about contenders on the Republican side, the Democratic primary, which features 11 candidates, seems settled outside of unforeseen events. Cheri Beasley, who lost her state Supreme Court seat to Paul Newby in 2000 by 400 votes, is the clear frontrunner now that her main party challenger, N.C. State Sen. Jeff Jackson, exited the race to seek a congressional seat. Center and left-leaning groups will undoubtedly jump in to help Beasley. Beasley is beginning to advertise, but they’re genteel “get to know me’’ spots. Once the dust settles from the primary, well, hang on to your hat. The 2020 N.C. U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic nominee Cal Cunningham saw unheard-of spending levels that topped $270 million. In an election year, where the power balance of the U.S. Senate could be changed by a unicycle accident—one seat would change the balance—it’s a safe bet we’ll see spending levels approaching, or surpassing, the 2020 total. As to learning something about the serious issues facing North Carolina and the nation, from the ads all that money will buy, well, good luck. The ads will be nasty, and they’ll be everywhere. No radio, TV channel, website, neighborhood Facebook site or mailbox will be safe from May 18th forward. It’s going to be a wild ride, fueled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that corporations and others can raise and spend unlimited money on elections. This opened the floodgates to largely unregulated, often essentially anonymous, campaign dollars. That decision codified the notion that money is speech. That can be debated. What can’t be debated is that money can overwhelm deserving, but less well-heeled, candidates by buying a bigger bullhorn and cranking that sucker up. So enjoy the relatively placid political waters of late April. They’re going to get real choppy, real soon.
- Why are Black Americans treated as second class citizens
The United States of America positions itself as the greatest nation the world has ever known. The nation was founded on the principle of “We the People” and majority rule and minority rights. I recall as a young man in junior and senior high school that the nation was truly focused on its principle of justice and fairness for all. I knew the nation was falling short as I watched the characterization of Black Americans on television, in magazines and in newspapers. To my disappointment, the nation continues to treat Black Americans as second class citizens. Supreme Court Justice Nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a well-educated and experienced jurist who was confirmed by the Senate, is being challenged for not being qualified. Tucker Carlson, commentator for Fox News asked to see Judge’s Brown LSAT score. This is shameful and another example of a Black person being subjected to a different standard. Carlson never asked for the LSAT score for the previous three White Supreme Court nominees. President Joe Biden calls Judge Brown “one of our top legal minds.” Don’t disrespect her and Americans with such outlandish requests! Being an athlete, I paid close attention to how my heroes were discussed, profiled and treated. We are all familiar with the fact that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for major league baseball in 1947. We are not as familiar with Robinson’s story. He was not only a legendary and hall of fame baseball player, he was a civil rights icon. Starting in 1957, Robinson was vice president of personnel for the coffee company Chock full o’Nuts. If an employee had a complaint, he was the guy to talk to. That same year, Robinson started getting heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement, looking for equality for all African Americans. He spent a lot of time raising money for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), according to a story by Bill Ladson, who writes for MLB.com. America has recognized the greatness and courage of Jackie Robinson. I mentioned Robinson because of h is fame, but there are so many more Black Americans who have made significant contributions to the culture and greatness of America. Which brings me to the question of why Black people are treated differently in our country. It troubles me to see Americans such as Ahmaud Arbury being suspected of stealing while he is simply jogging down a quiet American street. His killers, Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan have been held accountable for basically saying he’s Black, we’ve had break-ins, so he must be the perpetrator. Fortunately, an all-White jury convicted these men for their racist and murderous act and they were convicted of federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery for targeting him because he was Black. That is a good thing. But Arbury should never have been killed. During a recent incident in New Jersey, police handcuffed and placed a knee in the back of a Black teen and directed the White Latino teen to sit on the sofa. The 15-year-old Joey, who identified himself as Latino, told a news outlet he was confused about why he wasn’t also detained, according to a report by Garin Flowers, an award-winning journalist and writing coach at the University of Southern California. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy called this incident disturbing. I would agree. The point is, we have far too many instances of Blacks being killed by police and treated differently in this country. The question is, why? The same question could be asked about the unfair sentencing laws. Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who mistakenly drew a gun instead of a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop was sentenced to an unbelievable 24 months. The sentence comes nearly two months after Potter was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors had requested seven years and two months while Potter's attorneys argued for a lesser sentence, pointing to her lack of a prior criminal history and remorse for Wright's death, according to CNN. I know an individual who has served more than 25 years in prison for a marijuana charge, albeit the since discontinued California “three strikes” sentencing guidelines. The family of Daunte Wright has every right to be upset with the sentence handed down by Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu, who called the sentence "an extremely difficult decision." Judge Chu was so upset she was on the verge of tears having sentenced Potter to 16 months after good time served and a $1,000 fine. DUI defendants receive more stringent sentences. This was a miscarriage of justice. That parents and school districts around the nation are focused on eliminating history that upsets or makes White people feel bad is a travesty. Are we ashamed of the history of Jackie Robinson? Who is now considered an American hero? Every player in Major League Baseball wears his number on April 15th every year. A mosaic of people contributed to the success of America. Yet we want to distort history because some folks are ashamed of parts of our history and don’t want children to know the truth. If Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Harvard graduate and distinguished jurist, is not qualified to be considered for the highest court in the land, Black people will never be considered equals in America. Our forefathers certainly embraced slavery, an act that is consciously abhorrent. Yet they had the wisdom to frame a document, the U.S. Constitution that began with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” We have to move beyond the belief that Black Americans and People of Color are second class citizens, if we truly are to be a great nation that espouses these principles and values the contributions of everyone. Dr. Martin Luther King, said it best: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Virgil L. Smith formerly served as president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times and Vice President for Human Resources for the Gannett Company. He is the principal for the Smith Edwards Group and writes for Carolina Commentary.