Commentary, COVID-19

Editorial, responsible religious leaders: Rushing back to church was and is a mistake (Video)

In case you missed it yesterday, be sure to check out the Sunday lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal entitled “A prayer for judgment.” In it, the paper rightfully critiques a recent federal court decision allowing churches to again hold large, indoor services as the pandemic continues to rage. In the ruling, Judge James Dever stated that “the Governor appears to trust citizens to perform non-religious activities indoors (such as shopping or working or selling merchandise) but does not trust them to do the same when they worship together indoors.”

Here’s the Journal in response:

As we see it, the issue here isn’t “trust.” It’s a highly communicable disease that thrives in close quarters — and has proven especially transmissible in religious services. On Mother’s Day, 180 people were exposed to the novel coronavirus during services at a church in California after a person who had attended later tested positive for COVID-19. The service had been held in defiance of stay-at-home orders….

The governor’s cautious and incremental approach to resuming life as we used to know it — or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof — is the right strategy. But he chose not to appeal. So, for now it will be left to faith leaders to decide for themselves. We hope they choose wisely, but we worry. During a Raleigh rally in favor of the lawsuit, speakers cited safety concerns as top-of-mind. Yet many attendees neither wore masks nor practiced social distancing.”

Even in light of the ruling, many faith leaders do appear wary of the health risks, including 75 churches, mosques and temples in Charlotte. “Lest we forget, faith communities who sang together, shared meals, and stood shoulder to shoulder were initially hit hardest by the virus,” they said in a collective statement. “Regathering prematurely risks the spike of infection. It is the health, safety, and well-being of our communities and neighbors that motivate us towards making decisions that will care for and protect one another.”

And isn’t that the point of the rules in the first place? Not only to protect yourself and your loved ones but strangers as well — “to love thy neighbour as thyself.”

And here’s the Rev. Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director of the N.C. Council Of Churches with another common sense message:


Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Failing the ‘Republican goddess’ test

One of the symptoms of COVID House Arrest is you start going down a lot of “rabbit holes” on your computer. I realized things might be getting out of hand when I actually Googled “Derivation of phrase going down rabbit hole.”

Look it up for yourself. I’m not your mama.

With so much extra time (and sanitizer) on my hands these days—I just dusted the light bulb in the beer fridge for the SECOND time—I’ve discovered it takes little provocation to research something, anything that might distract from the “unseen enemy” as the president insists on calling the coronavirus. Such a drama queen.

Which is how I arrived at the most incredible website:

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Because how can you NOT investigate this?

My friend, “L,” shared her discovery with me via text and I responded “all in.” She is the same person who told me about all the iterations of “90 Day Fiance” so I trust her reccs completely.

Sadly, it’s not exactly what I’d hoped—hordes of well-scrubbed Republicans looking to escape the ho-jum likes of Hinge in search of more of their own kind.

Nope, it’s just one guy. And he is, as Aunt Verlie might say, a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

I’m not saying he’s not a nice man, but let’s just say he has very unusual standards when it comes to finding his Republican Goddess.

As in, there’s a lengthy—and weird—vetting questionnaire. Did I take it? Well, of COURSE I took it because “dammit Jim, I’m a scientist!” In my mind.

Sadly, I kept getting kicked out of the questionnaire because apparently I was nobody’s idea of a Republican goddess. Huh.

Things hit the skids at Question 1, which was basically “how much do you love President Trump?” (a lot, more than my children or just enough to get in the country club)…

I should’ve realized when he prefaced the questionnaire by saying he considered Trump and his “personal guru” to be the two greatest living heroes, where we were headed with this.

It didn’t take this “deep state loving feminist” to figure out you could just go back and try again. I hit all the right answers and easily arrived at the page which assured me I was in the running.

Is a man who wears a short-sleeved sports shirt with a TIE and who boasts of mad “tantric skill” the best match for me? Mmmmm. No. Besides, I’m already married, although it should be noted our guy is very much in favor of plural marriage – and, interestingly, plural divorce.

It broke my heart a little when he admitted he wasn’t perfect. “I need dental implants and wear hearing aids” and he hinted at a “third health issue” which he would discuss on a need to know basis.

And now I REALLY need to know.

There’s a lid for every pot so I hope he finds his honey. But he might want to go easy on the tantric talk. Makes him sound like a Democrat.

Celia Rivenbark needs some more Netflix suggestions, y’all.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

First look at NC’s potential revenue losses from pandemic points to an obvious policy course

Image: AdobeStock

The consensus revenue forecast released by the General Assembly today provides further evidence of both the enormous economic harm COVID-19 is inflicting on the state and some important long-term certainties about our economy. More than ever, it’s clear that how people are faring and what policy decisions are made to support their well-being will make a difference for the state’s economic recovery.

Economists with the Fiscal Research Division and Office of State Budget and Management are cautiously projecting revenue losses as deep as the Great Recession, but they also lift up many questions that remain about how this downturn and the recovery will play out. They also make clear that the numbers reflected in today’s forecast could change.

One thing we know for certain, however, is that our leaders in Washington and Raleigh can and should put policies in place today to support people and thereby, in turn, our economy.

Only through a bold policy agenda that rejects the status quo can our state hope to bend this latest curve upward so that we can secure an inclusive recovery and ensure all communities can thrive.

The hard truth is that weaknesses of our last economic expansion left our state less resilient in the face of this pandemic. Too many North Carolinians were already living paycheck to paycheck; too many didn’t have access to affordable health insurance; too many couldn’t afford safe housing or afford to put food on the table each night. Too many barriers to good jobs and the capital to start new businesses persisted for Black and brown North Carolinians.

Our leaders must go further to provide people with the supports to make it through this pandemic. A pro-growth agenda can’t ignore the drag of inequities and hardship any longer, but must first invest in every person’s well-being.

Even with the projected revenue losses, North Carolina leaders can make smart choices to quicken the recovery for more people.

Now is the time for our state leaders to call for additional federal aid to state and local governments that is sufficient and flexible to fill this revenue shortfall. Now is the time to look to smart, targeted revenue options at the state level that can undo tax cuts that have hampered our public response.

In this moment and for the future, North Carolina must have the foundation of public services and institutions in place to deliver well-being to all.

Alexandra Sirota is the Director of the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

Commentary, News

Burr, Tillis cast key vote against privacy for American citizens (a decision Burr, at least, may regret)

Sen. Thom Tillis, left, and Sen. Richard Burr, right

Last week, Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis voted against a proposed amendment to the PATRIOT Act that would have prevented the FBI from searching U.S. citizens’ browser histories and other web browsing data without a warrant.

The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and attached to the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, aimed to prohibit a practice created by Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to collect nearly any form of data it deems relevant to an ongoing investigation.

It received bipartisan support, with “yea” votes coming from prominent figures on both sides of the aisle such as Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). The amendment received 59 out of the 60 votes it needed to pass, with a bipartisan set of 37 senators (Burr and Tillis among them) voting “nay” and four senators abstaining.

One of the “nay” votes, along with Burr and Tillis, was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), who was planning to introduce an amendment that would expressly permit the FBI to collect browsing data and search history without a warrant. McConnell’s amendment would have done nothing more than codifying existing practice into law; ultimately, it did not make it to the floor because the Wyden-Daines amendment failed.

The bill passed the Senate with another amendment, sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), that strengthens legal protections for targets of federal surveillance. The Lee-Leahy amendment passed with 77 “yea” votes, well over the 60-vote threshold it needed. The bill itself passed with 80 “yea” votes, Tillis among them.

Remarkably, Burr voted against the final iteration of the Reauthorization Act. It seems Burr might have regretted giving the FBI such wide-ranging powers, considering he is under federal investigation right now. His cell phone was seized by the FBI just hours after he voted against both the Wyden-Daines and the Lee-Leahy amendments.

Here is a timeline of the events last week:

May 13, 12:15 p.m. – Burr votes against the Wyden-Daines amendment, which would have prevented the FBI from searching internet data and browser history without a warrant. The amendment fails.

May 13, 4:20 p.m. – Burr votes against the Lee-Leahy amendment, which protects targets of federal surveillance. The amendment passes anyway and becomes part of the bill.

May 13, 6:54 p.m. – Federal agents execute a warrant on Burr and seize his cell phone, ramping up the investigation into allegations that he engaged in illegal insider trading by dumping stock after receiving a confidential briefing about the likely impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

May 14, 1:24 p.m. – Burr, perhaps realizing he just made a huge mistake, votes against the Reauthorization Act.

The bill now goes to the president’s desk.

Commentary, Higher Ed

Fetzer’s long overdue departure offers a ray of sunlight at UNC

Tom Fetzer

There hasn’t been much good news emanating from the UNC system in recent years. Ever since Republican legislators peppered the system’s Board of Governors with of a cadre of cronies and conservative ideologues, most of the news has involved controversy, backbiting, investigations and constant turnover in leadership.

Yesterday, however, there was a ray of sunlight when Tom Fetzer, one of the chief architects of board’s dysfunction, finally took his leave.

Fetzer, a corporate lobbyist, former politician and full-time right-wing firebrand has been an almost constant source of conflict and chaos at UNC.

He’s regularly worked to undermine the concerted efforts of his fellow board members with rogue actions – including destructively inserting himself into the chancellor searches at both Western Carolina and East Carolina, and indeed, seeking the jobs for himself.

He’s been a similarly unhelpful participant in efforts to do away with the “Silent Sam” statue that served as a hateful symbol of white supremacy to so many in the Chapel Hill community.

Fetzer says he resigned to spend time with his family, but the evidence indicates other board members had grown weary of his stunts and self-dealing and forced him out. As PW’s Joe Killian reported:

Fetzer’s announcement comes as the board is finalizing changes to its policies and procedures that would more strictly outline its members’ responsibilities. The policies will include censure and recommendation for removal of board members who overstep their roles. The changes were instigated by repeated problems with Fetzer acting in ways his colleagues said were inappropriate and possibly legally dangerous for the UNC System.

While most of the board was silent on Fetzer’s announcement, two members spoke to Policy Watch about it Wednesday. The members asked not to be identified so that they could characterize closed-session discussions of the board.

“I think the writing was on the wall for him that the board wasn’t going to put up with the kinds of things he was involved in,” one board member said. “We are putting some teeth into our policies and he is not stupid. He’s a very intelligent man. He knows if he continues to operate the way he has, he’s going to end up in trouble.”

Another board member said he believed Fetzer could “read the room” and tell that the majority of the board had no further stomach for scandals from its own board members.

“His personality is just not going to allow him to be on the board without going beyond the lines that most of us observe,” the board member said. “He just has the kind of nature where he’s going to do what he wants to do and he likes to get into it with people, and I think our board is trying to move beyond that. We’ve had too much of it in the last few years.”

Let’s hope this news signals a long overdue shift at UNC away from personal and political agendas and toward supporting the university of the people.