The best editorial of the weekend: A physician explains the “desperation” NC’s Medicaid expansion blockade has caused

North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid is a cruel experiment that’s caused large numbers of premature and unnecessary deaths, write physician Steve Luking. Image: AdobeStock

If you haven’t already, be sure to catch the extraordinary essay that veteran Rockingham County physician Steve Luking penned for the Greensboro News & Record over the weekend. In “As lawmakers wait; people are dying,” Luking makes plain in straightforward human terms what statistics have shown repeatedly over the last decade as Republican legislators have refused to follow the lead of most other states by expanding Medicaid to cover uninsured lower income North Carolinians: the decision is quite literally killing people.

And, not surprisingly (at least to anyone with a heart and a brain) the pandemic has made things much worse — especially in rural areas like the ones he served for three decades. After describing how he and his brother/medical partner set up open-air tents in 2020 to deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients, Luking writes this:

If legislators had stood at my side as I cared for the uninsured sick, many who were essential workers, I think they would reconsider their votes against Medicaid expansion. More than one in eight essential workers are uninsured in our state. Expansion would have provided basic coverage for many of them.

For instance, a single mom with two children, Dianne (patients’ names have been changed to protect their privacy) worked in a local grocery store. She had lost her Medicaid coverage when she was hired. She did not qualify for insurance, and so she was stuck, essentially uninsurable.

I saw Dianne one day in my tent, early in the pandemic. She had a fever and a bad cough, and felt miserable and scared. Several co-workers had come down with COVID.

The swab was positive. She told me she couldn’t pay for it so I gave her a loaner oxygen monitor, and watched her leave to pick up her kids at school.

Very early in the pandemic, before we had office-based testing, I also saw a feverish, uninsured farmhand. He was wheezing and appeared potentially unstable. When I advised him to go to the ER, he shook his head no.

“No insurance, can’t afford it,” he said. He drove away, undiagnosed.

Another uninsured patient was an aide for an elderly client who was hospitalized with COVID-19. She, too, developed a fever and cough and rapid breathing, but refused to go to the ER because she already had a prior thousand-dollar bill.

What kind of society demands that essential workers keep working in a dangerous pandemic, while squarely rejecting their access to insurance?

Luking then goes on to take comfortable lawmakers, like Greensboro’s Rep. Jon Hardister, to task for their offensive statements about not expanding Medicaid to “able-bodied” people — a term that probably holds superficial appeal with right-wing focus groups, but makes no sense at all in the real world. Here’s Luking: Read more

NC Policy Watch investigative reporter Lisa Sorg claims prestigious national journalism award

NC Policy Watch investigative reporter Lisa Sorg is a 2021 winner of the National Press Foundation’s Thomas L. Stokes Award for excellence in reporting on energy and the environment.

The National Press Foundation announced today that NC Policy Watch investigative environmental reporter Lisa Sorg has won the prestigious Thomas L. Stokes Award, which is presented each year to a U.S.-based journalist for reporting excellence on energy and the environment.

The award was established in the spring of 1959 by friends and admirers of the late Thomas L. Stokes, a syndicated Washington columnist on national affairs. It is given annually for the best reporting “in the independent spirit of Tom Stokes” on subjects of interest to him including energy, natural resources and the environment.

Sorg, long one of the nation’s premiere reporters on environmental issues, was recognized for her remarkable two-part story from September of 2021, “Clear and present danger” (click here and here), which shined a spotlight on hazardous contamination at a former missile plant in Burlington that threatens a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood.

In lifting up Sorg’s reporting, judge Debbie Elliott of NPR said “She followed the money, uncovered government failure at every level, and she also got the human story.” Elliott described the work as “a fascinating piece of accountability journalism.”

In response to the news, Sorg expressed gratitude to the awards committee and to the people of the Burlington community “who welcomed me into their homes” and played such an important role in enabling her to report the “Clear and Present Danger” story.

Sorg will share the award with Ohio-based journalist Yanick Rice Lam, who was recognized for her story in Belt Magazine “The Rubber Industry’s Toxic Legacy in Akron.”

Read more of Sorg’s nonpareil reporting on environmental issues by clicking here and here.

Are the walls starting to close in on Mark Meadows?

Mark Meadows – Image: CSPAN)

There was new evidence yesterday that the sordid and hypocrisy-laced saga of former North Carolina Congressman and Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows could be heading toward at least one of the ignominious conclusions it so richly deserves.

As you may have heard by now, election officials in Macon County have removed him from the state’s voter rolls after learning that he voted in Virginia in the 2021 election. The news comes on top of last month’s remarkable revelation that when Meadows voted a North Carolina absentee ballot in the 2020 election, he did so based on having registered at an address at which he never lived, and may never have even visited.

As Ed Kilgore writes for New York magazine’s Intelligencer website, the new information adds more fuel to hypocrisy-based fire that’s been consuming Meadows’ career of late:

Did Meadows just forget to notify Macon County that he no longer “lived” in the trailer home he may have never visited? A lot of people do move from state to state without going through the trouble of dropping their old registration, though not many of them go to the further trouble of re-registering with a dubious address in the state from which they have moved. Additionally, you might figure there is an extra burden of care in such matters for a man who said this (as the Washington Post reported) about a month before he re-registered in North Carolina at the trailer-home address:

“I don’t want my vote or anyone else’s to be disenfranchised. … Do you realize how inaccurate the voter rolls are, with people just moving around. … Anytime you move, you’ll change your driver’s license, but you don’t call up and say, hey, by the way I’m re-registering.”

The irony is that Meadows apparently did re-register, but in two different states.

Just to make the whole situation even more absurd, Meadows’ wife Debra is still registered to vote at the rundown cabin in Scaly Mountain.

The bottom line: Meadows’ outrageous behavior is just the latest in a long line of incidents in which politicians of the right who rail about “voter integrity” have shown themselves to be opportunistic, “do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do” hypocrites for whom the real goal is suppressing the votes of disfavored groups, not faithful adherence to the law. Happily, a State Bureau of Investigations inquiry into the matter remains ongoing.

As Raleigh Congresswoman Deborah Ross tweeted yesterday:

When the voting fraud investigation is paired with his waist-deep involvement in Trump’s traitorous effort to overturn the 2020 election, it seems hard to imagine that Mr. Meadows won’t, like so many of Trump’s lackeys, be spending a great deal of time during the remainder of 2022 trying to fend off federal and state prosecutors.

Editorial: Lies are plentiful at weekend Trump rally

In case you missed it (and who could blame you if you did?), Donald Trump was back in North Carolina over the weekend doing what he does best: talking about himself and telling lies. A fine Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com captured the essence of the event accurately with the headline: “‘America First’ rally puts truth last.”

Here are some excerpts:

Any rational, sober and honest person watching and listening would better describe them as “truth last” Republicans. Let’s hope they represent a fringe group.

The errors of fact, the errors of omission, the errors of exaggeration and out-and-out dishonesty was shocking – even given the former president’s lowly standard for truthfulness.

We’ll start with the crowd. Right Side Broadcasting Network – launched to stream Trump rallies – contended there were 20,000 people at the rally. Nearly every other independent report put the crowd at about 2,000 to 5,000 tops.

Among the other lowlights detailed in the essay:

  • Congressman and Trump acolyte Dan Bishop trying bizarrely and delusionally to blame the January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection on House Speaker Pelosi,
  • Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Congressmen Madison Cawthorn taking to the podium to mouth nonsense about new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson (and women in general), and
  • Congressman Greg Murphy telling whoppers about the opioid crisis.

And of course, there was Trump with lots of other through-the-looking-glass claims:

…Trump called former Gov. Pat McCrory — who is running in the GOP Senate primary — as “the bathroom governor.” Trump added “what a mess that was!” It was a reference to the disastrous HB2 law concerning gender designation for bathroom use that cost the state billions in canceled tourism, athletic and economic development opportunities. What wasn’t mentioned —  it was Bishop who was the law’s chief architect when he was a state legislator.

…Finally there’s Trump’s error-filled speech. Set aside his lies about the election – which WAS NOT stolen – or his misstatements about Ukraine and Russia. What about his comments on wind energy? “Windmills, we want windmills all over the place. I don’t see any windmills here. … If you’re near a windmill and you have a house, your house is like pretty much worthless.  Kills all the birds, ruins your landscapes and it’s the most expensive form of energy there is.”  First, Scientific American reports that “wind energy is one of the cheapest sources of electricity.”

Second – just a two-hour drive east from Selma is the state’s major wind farm. Not only does it produce enough electricity to power 61,000 homes, the owners are the largest property taxpayers in rural Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. That is what a true jolt to the economy looks like.

Here’s the editorial’s on-the-mark conclusion:

You don’t make American great through the kind of prejudice and dishonesty on display at the Selma rally on Saturday. There was no surprise in Trump’s performance. North Carolina’s politicians at the event should know better and have offered something positive for North Carolina’s future. They’re a disappointment.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Claim about orgies and cocaine finally lands Cawthorn in trouble with GOP, but not very much

Rep. Madison Cawthorn — U.S. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy says Cawthorn has admitted he lied about orgies and cocaine use involving Republican politicians.

As you’ve probably heard by now, western North Carolina’s deeply troubled congressman, Madison Cawthorn, is in the midst of another you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up moment, and somewhat amusingly, this time he’s actually finding himself in some lukewarm water with his enablers in the leadership of the Republican Party.

The source of this new flap was Cawthorn’s claim in an interview captured on video that some conservative GOP pols in Washington had invited him to orgies and talked openly to him of using cocaine — a claim that according to U.S. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, Cawthorn has now admitted was a lie.

Of course, if this really was a lie (click here to see veteran politics observer Thomas Mills’ amusing take on that question), it would be far from the first time Cawthorn has told absurd tales or uttered dangerously irresponsible claims. What appears to be different on this occasion, however, is that the young GOP attack dog has nipped at his handlers rather than simply directing random outrageous attacks at other, more politically convenient targets.

According to a report by Dave Goldiner of the New York Daily News and headlined today by the Greensboro News & Record, Cawthorn is in at least a tiny bit of trouble with GOP bosses. But it ain’t much:

On Wednesday, Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who represents western North Carolina’s 11th District in the U.S. House, walked back blockbuster drugs-and-sex claims about fellow lawmakers in a brutal tongue-lashing from GOP leaders.

Cawthorn admitted to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that he made up claims that he saw lawmakers doing cocaine and that they invited him to orgies.

“He changes what he tells, and that’s not becoming of a congressman,” McCarthy said. “He did not tell the truth (and) that’s unacceptable”

…McCarthy said Cawthorn could face further disciplinary action.

“He’s lost my trust is gonna have to earn it back,” McCarthy told reporters. “And I laid out to him everything that I find is unbecoming.”

Yikes! That ought to show him. Let’s hope Cawthorn doesn’t tell another whopper or he might get sentenced to ten minutes in ‘time out’ or maybe a two-day delay in campaign checks from McCarthy’s PAC.

Earn back his trust? Give us a break.

Of course, the hard truth here is that much more powerful Republicans — including a certain former President of the United States — have been telling vastly more outrageous and dangerous lies than young Mr. Cawthorn for many years, and as with Cawthorn, supposedly responsible and patriotic leaders like McCarthy haven’t done diddly about it.

The bottom line: One supposes it’s possible this could be one of the last straws for Cawthorn. The New York Times reports that even some of the people who voted him into office in 2020 are, at long last, growing tired of his ridiculous shtick. But, for now, the Republican leaders with the real power and clout to do something about Cawthorn — people like McCarthy and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Pat McCrory and Ted Budd — are all too chicken to speak out plainly and openly for fear of riling the extremists who comprise his loyal and deeply disturbed base.

And those waiting to see things finally reach such a boiling point probably ought not to hold their breath.