03margaretBarely into a new year, we yearn to feel fresh and hopeful, but not all our news is good.

One of the most disturbing reads I have had lately was published last week in The New York Times. Writing on the op-ed page, David Leonhardt addressed racism in America, quoting Steve Bannon as saying, “I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Leonhardt weighs in by saying that racism is alive and well and should be addressed but that emphasizing concerns of middle- and working-class voters is a better way to get their attention. Says Leonhardt, “Race is different. When it’s at the center of the political debate, a large group of voters can become more likely to choose white-nationalist candidates like Trump, as Bannon understood – and exploited – in 2016. You can lament that fact. I certainly do. But don’t make the mistake of denying it.”

Hard to argue with that assessment.

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North Carolina is no longer a full democracy, according to the Electoral Integrity Project, an independent research effort with team members at Harvard University and the University of Sydney. Since 2012, the EIP has measured 213 elections in 153 countries, evaluating how fair, free and democratic those elections were. EIP also evaluated North Carolina’s 2016 elections, giving our state electoral integrity a score of 58/100, similar to the scores Cuba, Sierra Leone and Indonesia received. Drilling down, regarding voter registration, North Carolina ranked with Iran and Venezuela, and no nation has ever received as low a score as North Carolina did on unfair districting.

EIP also criticized North Carolina for limiting citizens’ rights based on their born identities in the infamous House Bill 2, sometimes called the bathroom bill.

Writing in The News and Observer, Andrew Reynolds proposed a remedy to how far North Carolina has fallen.

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As the mother of three young American adults, this news obviously caught my eye.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said late last year that U.S. life expectancy is no longer rising compared to our world counterparts. A typical American born in 1979 could expect to live to age 73.9, a year and a half longer than people born in other First World, predominantly western nations. By 2015, though, a typical American born that year could expect to live slightly less than 79 years, while people born in our counterpart nations could expect to make it to almost 81 years of age.

The CDC cites several factors underlying the change.

While health care in the United States can be excellent, it is also spotty and out of reach for those who cannot afford health insurance.

Violence and specifically gun violence are factors. Americans are more likely to be murdered than are people in other rich nations, and more than 25-times likelier to be shot to death.

Also, our national safety nets to address issues like smoking, drug abuse, obesity and others are frayed compared to those in our counterpart countries.

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On a considerably lighter note, Walmart has released the most popular items sold online last year. Across the board, shoppers bought paper towels and other household items, but the most-bought list is far more interesting by state. Who knew Walmart shoppers’ tastes vary so dramatically just across state lines?

Alabamians bought crayons. Coloradans adore Peanut M&Ms. Hawaiians love the Barbie farmer doll, while Idahoans can’t do without the My Little Pony Mini Collection. Indianans made a run on instant coffee, but Kentuckians took the prize for 4X6 photo prints. Marylanders bought glue sticks, while folks in Michigan made major purchases – refrigerators. Minnesotans love Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, while Nebraskans – presumably women – took the prize for pressed powder makeup purchases. North Dakotans led on the watermelon-flavored gum front, and Pennsylvanians bought the most plastic hangers. Wisconsin residents triumphed on Green Bay Packers bathmats. Our neighbors in South Carolina (coin banks), Tennessee (Disney Infinity Power Discs) and Virginia (coolers) did their own things, too.

So what did North Carolinians buy most often? Mayonnaise, although Walmart did not disclose whether we prefer Duke’s or Hellman’s.

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