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It’s a wonderful world

Have you noticed? Lots of things have been happening lately. Like Dick Halloran told Danny Torrance at the Overlook Hotel, “not all of them was good.” Kind of hard to avoid the Corona Cooties on the TV or in the produce section of the grocery store. But there have been some good things that have occurred that should give all of us hope for a brighter day tomorrow, or maybe Autumn 2021. So, let’s focus on the good stuff for the moment. Recall what Johnny Mercer once sang: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ And latch on to the affirmative/ Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between/.”

What is the most positive thing you can clutch to your bosom in this plague time? Consider Dear Leader’s best buddy North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Lots of gossip about Kim and his status as to whether he is healthy, lying in a permanent vegetative state floating in Hollandaise sauce or taking the dirt nap. As of the writing of this column’s assault on the intelligence of both my readers, to quote Winston Churchill, Kim’s health “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” The usual unreliable sources have it that Kim took America’s Dear Leader’s advice and tried the Clorox cure to get out of Corona’s grasp. The Clorox didn’t work out so well. Allegedly the insertion of an ultra-violet lamp into a southern orifice of the North Korean didn’t bring Kim around. Some sort of cardiac surgery was then attempted on the portly prince of communism, which also seems to have gone askew.

So, what, you ask, is positive about Kim’s medical misfortune other than it may be a bit more difficult for him to launch ICBMs at America while he is enjoying a coma? The good news, and excellent news it is, is that you are not the cardiology surgeon who operated on Kim. Kim does not seem inclined to be forgiving of much of anything. A botched heart surgery is not something Kim would take lightly if he ultimately survives. Things are quite likely to be bad for the surgeon, the surgeon’s family, the surgeon’s village, the surgeon’s neighbors, the surgeon’s dog and the surgeon’s goldfish. You may rejoice in the fact that you are none of these entities. Whatever sort of day you are having, no matter how stressful, it’s gonna be better than the surgeon’s day and anyone or anything connected to the surgeon.

There are other good things to be happy about. Consider following day brighteners as the late Ann Landers would counsel. While sheltering in place, the dogs playing poker are continuing their card games. The Bull Dog’s bluff has been called. He lost, and the other dogs at the table are convulsed with laughter at his pair of twos losing to a full house. Gotta love dogs playing poker.

The governor of Georgia is taking medical advice from his new science advisor, Rasputin, who told the governor to open up the tattoo parlors,and  hair and nail salons. If you are in need of an emergency tattoo (and who isn’t?) you can hie yourself down I-95 to Georgia and get a battleship tattooed across your chest. Thank you, Gov. Brian Kemp, on behalf of “Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be tattooed.”

Our old college buddy Flounder did not throw up in front of Dean Wormer. He threw up on Dean Wormer. Every time I see that scene in “Animal House,” tears of joy well up in my eyes. If you can think of that event and not laugh, you, my friend, do not have a heart. However, I know a surgeon in North Korea I can refer you to who is looking for new patients.

Unfortunately, the Clorox cure, the magical healing month of April, rectal internal lighting, and hydroxychloroquine turned out to be ineffective remedies for Corona. Dear Leader has instructed the CDC to cease trying to fix the boring and apparently insoluble problem of providing enough Corona tests. Instead, the CDC has been directed to look into the possibility of whether Slim Whitman yodeling songs could be used to destroy the Corona virus, which was so successfully done to destroy Martians in “Mars Attacks.” Many people are saying, “Sir, the Slim Whitman songs ‘Indian Love Call’ and ‘Paloma Blanca’ could be simultaneously played at full volume by all of the world’s radio stations and all Alexa and Google smart speakers, thereby causing the Coronavirus to explode.”

Dr. Birx will head up the Slim Whitman task force. She was last heard yodeling, “Una Paloma Blanca/ I’m just a bird in the sky/ Una Paloma Blanca/ Over the mountain I shall fly.”

 Now, don’t you feel better already? Put on a happy face and smile brother, smile.

They broke the mold

A mighty oak tree fell last week when longtime Cumberland County Senator Tony Rand met his maker.

Rand was a political animal from the get-go and had the skills of a master. His mind worked like a lightning bolt, giving him the intellectual heft to see needs and to make change. His quick wit and Southern charm gave him the honey to make change palatable even to those who opposed it. He could skewer a colleague on the Senate floor with a smile, telling someone to go to you-know-where in such a way that the victim looked forward to the trip. One of my favorite Rand quips comes from a Senate debate involving a senator from Johnston County. Said Rand on the Senate floor, “Now it might be that all the judicial wisdom of western civilization resides in Johnston County, but I doubt it.”

He understood and was a decadeslong player in big-dog politics in North Carolina, but he never lost sight of what would build up and enhance the lives of everyday people. He could play hardball, and he could and did fight hard for resources, programs and laws that would help North Carolina rise and prosper.

His legacy in Cumberland County is all around us, including increased resources for Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Technical Community College, Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Cape Fear Regional Theatre and the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra. Our community still uses 910 as our area code in part because Tony Rand suggested to the Utilities Commission that soldiers in combat zones already knew 910 and could remember it when calling home. It was the Greensboro metropolitan area that changed to the 336 area code, not Fayetteville. Goodyear remains in our community because he championed incentive legislation that encouraged the company to stay.

Rand’s fingerprints are visible in every community in North Carolina as well. He advocated for and secured funding for early childhood education, the UNC system and the UNC health care system during his legislative career. He created a formula for funding public education in low-wealth counties, including Cumberland, Hoke and Robeson, to help put their students more on par with students from wealthier school systems.

His more than two decades in the General Assembly earned him friends from all ages and walks of life — from presidents to prison guards, from generals to gofers. He treated each of them with respect and good humor, and they loved him for it. He never forgot that he grew up in small-town North Carolina and was grateful.

With his sense of perfect timing, Rand resigned his Senate seat in late 2009 and went to work using his legal skills as chair of the North Carolina Parole Commission. He then applied his knowledge of the community college system to workforce development at FTCC, and in what was a closing-of-the-circle moment, he served as Chair of the North Carolina Education Lottery Commission.

Establishing a lottery in North Carolina had been a long-running and highly controversial issue for years. On the day it finally passed the General Assembly in 2005, I was barely into my second term in the North Carolina House, and for reasons I no longer remember, I decided to pop into the Senate chamber to watch the lottery debate. Sen. Rand was running the show, of course, and with an in-depth knowledge of legislative rules and procedures coupled with exquisite political timing, he engineered a tie vote. The tie was broken with a quick “aye” vote from then Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, a Rand friend and ally, and — presto! — North Carolina had it’s own Education Lottery.

A newbie senator turned to me and said, “Margaret, you and I are here playing checkers, but that guy is playing chess in 3-D with a blindfold.”

Amen to that.

Tony Rand’s was a life well and fully lived and much enjoyed.

Changed for the better

11 aw creative fI TKWjKYls unsplashLife’s been weird, right?

I don’t know how else to start this article. What do you say? What is there left to say? I don’t even want to really talk about it any more, if I’m being honest.

Quarantine has been weird; social distancing has been weird. The world — the literal whole world — being shut down has been weird. I guess since this is being published, I should use a 50-cent word and say its “unprecedented,” but let’s be real.

This. Has. Been. Weird.

And heartbreaking. Devastating. Frustrating. Intimidating. Scary.

There will most likely never be another time in our generation — so we pray — where doing absolutely nothing can help save the world.In a society that is used to things changing in an instant, we’ve gone from moving a hundred miles an hour to moving at a snail’s pace as we’ve waited for COVID-19 to pass us by. Waiting is not our strong suit. 

We’ve lived seemingly invincibly for so long, thinking nothing will touch us here in America — no wars on our turf, no major catastrophes, no major economic downfall — yet here we are, stuck with the great equalizer — rich or poor, tall or short, young or old, no one is immune. 

For me, it has been a break. I’ve been very fortunate to have the privilege to work from home, and my husband has been able to continue his job. My son has been at home with me instead of daycare, and my dog now favors me over my husband because I get to take her outside so much more and give her treats. For me, it is a big win.

For others, this pandemic has hit them hard — so hard, they may not recover for a  long while, which brings me back to my first thought. What do you even say?

 Just one piece of dumb advice, if you haven’t done it already — don’t cut yourself quarantine bangs. Put down the scissors, Judy. It just isn’t worth it. You’ll end up looking like you feel and right now — that is, unreliable. Just wait for your stylist or barber, not that I know from experience. Dear God, help me.

But on a more serious note, I had a realization in all of this that I don’t want this not to change me. I want to remember and honor the elderly. I want to remember that everyone is going through something, so I mind my words and my impatience. I want to spend more time at home. I want to spend less money on nonessentials. I want to cook more at home. I want to remember that whether I realize it at the time or not, my actions do affect the people around me, even people I don’t know.

I want to remember that just because someone is famous, it doesn’t make them a hero, and that advertising and Hollywood don’t own me. I want to remember what it's like not to hug my family so I’ll never pull away or take another hug for granted. 

 What is normal anyway? Whatever it is, it's overrated, overexpected and just plain over. I’m done with normal. I want keep some of this weirdness and be changed for the better.

Don’t bet against the House

02 N1908P58009CLadies and gentlemen, step right up and place your bets. In Las Vegas, Nevada, every smart gambler knows it’s not a good idea to bet against the House (Casino). The House is always bigger, more intelligent and has a lot more resources and staying power than you do. Hence, it will ultimately win. Or, more appropriately, you will eventually lose. This could be where the phrase “you should know when to quit” originated.

Many Americans are currently feeling that local, state and national governments are betting against the House as we wrestle our way out of the grip of this nasty COVID-19 pandemic. In this case, the House is America with its God-fearing inhabitants, who strongly believe in the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. It would be a sucker’s bet to wager on any person or group of people who, regardless of title or position, ignores and disregards the freedoms upon which this country was built. Yet they do.

I hope that by the time you read this article that North Carolina’s governor, Roy Cooper, has figured out that it’s time to quit acquiescing to half-truths and partisan gamesmanship and open up North Carolina’s businesses so people can get back to work, and more importantly, get on with their lives. Cooper, along with dozens of other governors and mayors across the country, is betting against the American people (the House) when it comes to subjecting them to the Draconian rules and regulations that have accompanied the “sheltering in place” edicts. What are they thinking? Or, are they thinking at all? Thank God we have a competent U.S. Attorney General in William Barr, who believes his job is to enforce the U.S. Constitution and protect the rights of American citizens. What’s really scary about this situation is that he is protecting us against the governors and mayors and bureaucrats across the country who have taken the same oath of office he did.

What are these people thinking? Are they so greedy, self-absorbed and drunk with power that they are oblivious to their obligations and responsibilities as elected officials? Are they so desperate that they are willing to lie, cheat and destroy our country just to gain power and authority over the American people? Well, it sure seems that way. We have witnessed far too many situations where government actions lack logic and lack common sense. Need examples? In New Jersey, where liquor and hardware stores are deemed “essential,” the governor, Phil Murphy, bans church gatherings. He even went as far as having 15 Jewish men arrested at a synagogue in April as part of coronavirus quarantine enforcement. When a reporter asked him if he was concerned about violating people’s constitutional rights or if he had heard of the Bill of Rights, he replied, “That’s above my pay grade ... I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we
did this.”

What? He wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights? Free speech? The right to assemble? Freedom of religion? And, this is a governor?

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper had a similar brain cramp when he gave the executive order to limit outdoor social gatherings and activities and classified protesting as “nonessential activity.” Again, being drunk on power must be the only explanation for declaring the First Amendment as “nonessential activity.”

Hopefully, Cooper will follow the example of the more pragmatic government leaders and free North Carolina so people can go back to work. Then businesses can open back up and people can  start earning a living again and getting their lives back.

 The American people are smart; they are not willing to sit back and allow their constitutional rights to be trampled. You are betting against the House if you think Americans are going to accept or tolerate government drones flying overhead, digital surveillance or being told what to do, where to be and when to be there. The last 50 days could almost be a sneak preview into what it would be like living in a socialist or communist country. Bernie Sanders followers should feel proud.

With nearly 30 million people collecting unemployment and Congress taking a pass on working, I think we may not be able to buy our way out of this. The only solution is to let Americans do what they do best — work. Otherwise, if we keep throwing money at this problem, the cure could end up being worse than the disease.

Don’t bet against the House. Americans are tough and resilient. We are going through a rough period, fighting off two diseases. One, for which we are working on a cure, is on the surface. The second is from within our government. It is a disease caused by power, greed and selfishness of those we elected. The cure here is easy and much less complicated — we unelect those who have become diseased and replace them with people who genuinely want to make America great again.

Don’t bet against the House.

Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

America’s practice of politics: An existential threat

04 N0902P33007CColumn Gist: The way politics is practiced in America threatens the survival of our nation.

Without a doubt, the American form of government has proved to be amazingly effective. The measure of that effectiveness shows in what the nation accomplished in a relatively short period. The political component, as designed, is an asset to our form of government. A Google search yields this definition of politics: “…the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” Our problem is that the current practice of politics is an existential threat to this nation.

It seems that “existential” shows up everywhere now. From grammarist.com, “An existential threat is a threat to something’s survival.” The indicators as to how the practice of politics, not the system as designed, threatens our survival as a nation, are present in abundance. However, how most politicians are responding to the horrendous challenge of COVID-19 lays bare the existential threat posed by America’s current practice of politics.

In the big picture, governors of many states, members of the House and Senate, mayors and liberal media personalities are railing against the Trump administration for allegedly not providing, in a timely fashion, sufficient ventilators, personal protective gear, virus testing capability and other actions needed by states to combat COVID-19. All of these entities and individuals present their outrage with total conviction that the federal government has a responsibility to provide these items, and other actions, in support of a health threat. Further, they have citizens — voters — convinced that doing all of this is a federal responsibility and, therefore, any failure to deliver can and should be blamed on President Donald J. Trump. None of these people bother to tell the American public that health care is not a federal responsibility under the United States Constitution. 

I contend that this refusal to tell the people the “real story”— when doing so works against one’s political security and advancement — is the political norm in America. This political practice sets us up for exactly what we are experiencing in America: division, distrust, back-stabbing and far less effectiveness than should be the case. 

The truth is that, under the Constitution, individual states are responsible for health care in their state. In a federal system, as in the United States, the states and federal government have some powers that are held by one, but not the other. Then there are concurrent powers that are held by both states and the federal government. Article I, Section 8 details the powers of the federal government. There is no mention of health care or any broader category that would include it. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Again, health care is the responsibility of states … not the federal government.

A bit of looking back shows that states being responsible for health care was understood and applied. Following is from a research article titled, “The Role of State and Local Government in Health” by Drew E. Altman and Douglas H. Morgan:

State and local government involvement in public health began with the great epidemics of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The first of these, the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, struck in 1793, and epidemics of cholera, small pox, and yellow fever were frequent occurrences over the next fifty years. Initially, the government responded to these epidemics by instituting quarantine measures and efforts to improve community sanitation. Generally, these were directed by physicians appointed by the city or state government.

Note that the yellow fever plague mentioned above occurred after the U.S. Constitution had been ratified on June 21, 1788. The event was addressed by state and local governments. 

Far more recently, an effort by Michael Bloomberg, while serving as mayor of New York, points to his understanding of local and state responsibility for health care. The following segments from an article by Justin Elliott, Annie Waldman and Joshua Kaplan titled, “How New York City’s Emergency Ventilator Stockpile Ended Up on the Auction Block” summarize what happened:

In July 2006, with an aggressive and novel strain of the flu circulating in Asia and the Middle East, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a sweeping pandemic preparedness plan.

Using computer models to calculate how a disease could spread rapidly through the city’s five boroughs, experts concluded New York needed a substantial stockpile of both masks and ventilators. If the city confronted a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish flu, the experts found, it would face a “projected shortfall of between 2,036 and 9,454 ventilators.”

The city’s department of health, working with the state, was to begin purchasing ventilators and to “stockpile a supply of facemasks,” according to the report. Shortly after it was released, Bloomberg held a pandemic planning summit with top federal officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, now the face of the national coronavirus response.

In the end, the alarming predictions failed to spur action. In the months that followed, the city acquired just 500 additional ventilators as the effort to create a larger stockpile fizzled amid budget cuts.

I contend that this action by Bloomberg makes his understanding clear that health care is a state, and even local, responsibility.

Given that, by the Constitution, health care is a state responsibility, the reasonable question is, how did the federal government get so involved? An article at www.khanacademy.org titled, “The relationship between the states and the federal government” opens the door to an answer: “As we noted above, the balance of power between states and the federal government has changed a great deal over time. In the early United States, the division between state powers and federal powers was very clear. States regulated within their borders, and the federal government regulated national and international issues. 

“But since the Civil War in the 1860s, the federal government’s powers have overlapped and intertwined with state powers. In times of crisis, like the Great Depression, the federal government has stepped in to provide much-needed aid in areas typically controlled at the state level.” 

Point blank, the answer is that the federal government has repeatedly stepped in to help states when it did not have a constitutional responsibility to do so. As is human nature, especially over years and generations, people came to expect much more from the federal government than is required of it by the U.S. Constitution. 

COVID-19 comes upon us in this condition where the federal government is expected to solve problems for which it is not constitutionally responsible, not adequately funded and not sufficiently manned or organized to routinely address. States are constitutionally expected to be prepared for health emergencies such as this. The quickness with which so many governors and mayors started calling at the Trump administration to provide equipment and materials that states and cities should have been stockpiling, as Michael Bloomberg attempted to do, screams that they were not nearly prepared for this (or an even lesser event). 

This is where the existential threat of America’s practice of politics shows through. It is in the actions of governors, such as Andrew Cuomo of New York state and mayors like Bill de Blasio of New York City. These leaders, and others at the state and local level, failed to prepare for a COVID-19 challenge. These people of influence do not acknowledge failure nor educate people as to state and local responsibilities and then work in unity with all who might contribute to solving the problems at hand. Instead, they complain vociferously about the federal government in general, but specifically about Trump’s performance in this crisis. There is an unbelievably high level of finger-pointing at Trump. Granted, as of April 20, Cuomo did make some positive comments over the past few days regarding Trump and federal support. However, this was done while insisting the federal government must provide more funding and support to states.

This is the state of political practice in America. It divides Americans, including politicians, into destructively, even hate-filled, competing groups, the result of which is a country that finds itself unable to, in an orderly manner, respond to a crisis. More importantly, we are losing the ability to carry on the routine functions of government. All of this poses an existential threat to this nation.

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