Dazed and confused

10 POTATO HEADI cannot believe that I am writing this article. It seems like America is trying its best to neuter nature on sexually inanimate objects. Dr. Seuss gets schooled on what is hurtful and wrong. Coke tries to change skin color through instruction while the government is doing its part to reduce the world’s population, all in the last few weeks.

Hasbro decided they will make the beloved Mr. Potato Head gender-neutral when it announced that it would be dropping “Mr.” and “Mrs.” from the brand as part of a gender-inclusive push.

Mr. Potato Head was invented and developed by George Lerner in 1949 and first manufactured and distributed by Hasbro in 1952. By 1953, it became clear that Mr. Potato Head needed a family. Mrs. Potato Head hit the market, and they had two children, Yam and Spud. Even their kids who had friends called Kate the Carrot, Pete the Pepper, Oscar the Orange, and Cookie Cucumber, soon joined the family. The Head’s worked hard, and their makers blessed them with such luxury as a car, boat and a kitchen.

The last time we really saw the Potato Heads was in the “Toy Story” movies. Throughout the history of the toy, no one told Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head that they did not have genitalia. For most kids, it was hard enough to keep up with their ears, eyes and assorted hats, never mind their private parts. However, the big brains at Hasbro are not leaving the idea of kids being able to mix parts up; they put the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head right on the front pages by announcing the name changes to “Potato Heads.”

“Culture has evolved. Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences,” Kimberly Boyd, Hasbro’s senior vice president of global brands, told Fast Company. “The way the brand currently exists — with the ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’ — is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”

Hours later, after an uproar on social media, Hasbro tweeted, “Hold that Tot – your main spud, MR. POTATO HEAD isn’t going anywhere!” Hasbro said that it was the toy brand that was being changed and would release a “family kit” that will allow children to create all types of families.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises decided to stop publishing six books, including “And to Think That I saw it Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” McElligot’s Pool,” On Beyond Zebra!,” Scrambled Eggs Super!,” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.”

The Enterprise told the Associated Press that it stopped the books’ publication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

In Coca-Cola’s diversity training, a slide presentation told employees “to be less white is to: be less oppressive, be less arrogant, be less certain, be less defensive, be less ignorant, be more humble, listen, believe, break with apathy, break with white solidarity.” I do not have the answer to corporate racial issues, but this sounds very racist.

Some stories are better seen than reading. It is worth the time to watch the full six-minute exchange on YouTube. During the confirmation hearings of President Biden’s choice for Assistant Secretary for Health, Senator and Doctor, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), asked Dr. Rachel Levine if she supported youth transgender reassignment and was criticized because he asked, “genital mutilation is considered particularly egregious because ... it is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.” He went on to ask if she supports permitting the government to override a parent’s consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and “amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia.” Dr. Levin responded with this is “a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed.” She promised that if confirmed, she would come to his office for a discussion on standards of care for transgender minors.

Paul went on to say that Dr. Levin supported the acceleration of minors and to allow decisions on such life-changing procedures. For the record, many parents will not allow a child to buy a cell phone more or less change their sex.

President Biden signed an executive order reversing the Mexico City policy, permitting U.S. aid money to fund groups that provide or promote abortion around the globe. This policy was first put in place by President Reagan in order to ensure that taxpayers were not required to indirectly fund abortions in other countries. This policy was expanded under the Trump administration to deny assistance to foreign nongovernmental organizations that fund other groups that support abortion services. President Biden signed executive actions aimed at expanding access to Obamacare during the coronavirus pandemic and rolling back anti-abortion policies that had been expanded by former President
Donald Trump.

“I’m not initiating any new law, any new aspect of the law,” Biden said before signing the orders. “This is going back to what the situation was prior to the president’s executive orders.”

COVID stimulus bill is reckless

07 money clotheslineThe $1.9 trillion “COVID relief” bill just enacted by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden gives out $1,400 checks to most Americans. It boosts the child-tax credit, keeps weekly unemployment-insurance checks $300 higher than normal, and throws lots of other (borrowed) money around.

I realize that, given the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, most voters seem to like Biden’s bill. But I think they are mistaken. It is a reckless and irresponsible bill — one that, I’m pleased to report, most of North Carolina’s congressional delegation voted against.

Over the past year, the federal government has authorized $4.1 trillion in response to the COVID crisis. I supported some of that initial spending. We had a public-health emergency and a sudden, sharp economic decline. It was reasonable to expand UI eligibility and payments for a time. It was reasonable to supply liquidity to businesses clobbered by public-health regulations. It was reasonable to put billions of dollars on the table for vaccine development, assisting and incentivizing the pharmaceutical industry to achieve one of the greatest medical advances in the history of our planet.

Given that the federal government entered the crisis with its budget already severely out-of-whack — running trillion-dollar deficits — it was even reasonable to pay for last year’s COVID response with borrowed money. We weren’t going to raise federal taxes in the midst of all this.

Of course, all federal debts are paid with federal taxes in one form or another. To spend $4.1 trillion today on reasonable priorities is, inevitably, to spend $4.1 trillion less in the future on other things, or to pay $4.1 trillion (plus interest) in higher taxes in the future. That’s just math.

Actually, though, we didn’t spend all that $4.1 trillion authorized in 2020. According to the latest estimates, some $1 trillion of it remains unspent at this writing. So here’s strike one against Biden’s new $1.9 spending spree — last year’s spending spree isn’t even over yet!

Clearly some of last year’s “emergency” need wasn’t a true emergency. Biden has doubled-down, and then some, on that mistake. His 2021 package includes a $350 billion bailout of states and localities whose true COVID-related fiscal shortfalls are only a fraction of that amount.

Comparatively well-governed North Carolina will get $9 billion of it, yes, but poorly governed jurisdictions will get more. The implicit message to politicians is: spend recklessly, create fiscal messes, and Congress will eventually come along to bail you out with federal debt. As a result, we’ll get worse state and local governance in the future.

In addition to that, the Biden bill directs $126 billion to public schools, supposedly for COVID mitigation, though the Congressional Budget Office estimates only five percent of it will be spent by this fall. In fact, more of these funds will be spent in 2026 than in 2021.
COVID mitigation this is not.

There are too many other problematic provisions to list in a single column. Instead, I’ll answer the obvious questions. Doesn’t our economy need another dose of stimulus? Isn’t that worth adding an average of $14,000 per household to the federal debt?

No and no. Although the COVID recession was disastrous for many families, it is already in the process of receding. North Carolina’s headline unemployment rate shot up to nearly 13% in April and May. It is now 6.2% — higher than it should be, of course, but hardly the emergency we faced a year ago.

Many firms and households have accumulated significant balances that they’ll be spending over the coming months and years on both consumption and investment. To borrow another $1.9 trillion for “stimulus” in this scenario is indefensible.

In 2009, newly elected President Barack Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus. Many were outraged by such fiscal irresponsibility, as they should have been, though the unemployment rate was much higher then (North Carolina’s averaged 11% during 2009). Adjusted for inflation, Obama’s stimulus would be about $1 trillion today.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion mess should earn him scorn, not approval.

Spring brings new possibilities

15 Easter lily and crown of thornsAre you ready? Spring is officially here, and good news is everywhere! For those of the Christian faith, Easter is a time for renewal and refreshing, and that is exactly what's happening all around us.

The news recently reported Fayetteville's signature Dogwood Festival is back in action after an unfortunate hiatus brought on by the pandemic. The organizers promise it to be smaller and safer, but just as fun as we've come to expect of the hometown festival rooted right here in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

After a year of virtual everything, I've pretty much reached 'Zoom Fatigue' and have recently met with local church and civic leaders excited about everything from fun family activities like egg hunts and days in the park to what one local pastor called the “... super bowl of Easters.”

One thing is certain, over the past year we've learned we need each other. A recent survey cited a surprising 52% of Americans who volunteered to do things for others for the first time in their lives. Donating blood, caring for elderly neighbors, working with and donating to food pantries – the first time! That's a trend we can all hope will catch on.

This is a great time to be alive, and while we blame the virus for so many of the bad things that came our way, we can even find plenty to be thankful for on its heels.

While masks and other precautions may be the norm for now, it's still exciting to see the country – and our local communities – spring to life once again. I can honestly say I was never before happy to get stuck behind a school bus on the two-lane cut-through to get to work, but I almost clapped my hands when it happened a couple of weeks ago. NOTE: I didn't actually clap my hands; I was on a motorcycle, and that would have been a little irresponsible.

If there is a central point to any of this, it's that we can find reasons to rejoice regardless of the circumstances surrounding us. There is much more to this life than what we may see as the interruptions. The blessings we long for – family, friends and celebrations of both – are the very things we learned to chase and find when they were dangled six feet away, or held captive behind the walls of a senior care facility over the past 12 months.

If you haven't yet, thank God for allowing you to see and experience what you have. We are living in a historical moment as we create memories no one can take away. And while I wouldn't wish the bad parts of the pandemic on anyone, I will certainly rejoice in the good that has come through the experience. I hope you will too.

A year into COVID-19

09 people in masksThis time last year, we were just beginning to grasp what had already hit us. A man who visited a nursing facility in Washington state apparently brought COVID to North Carolina, but most of us did not know anyone infected with COVID even though other carriers were likely circulating. Wearing a mask had yet to occur to us, although we were beginning to think about what we now call “social distancing.” Those who could began isolating and schools shut their doors. An 80-year-old immunologist in Atlanta became a national guru.

What a difference a year makes! Amid illness and deaths that hit different parts of our nation at different times, we fast tracked the development and distribution of highly effective vaccines, and we figured out what to do to protect ourselves and our loved ones to some degree. We decided to protect our elderly first, even though COVID was spread by younger people more often. We made mistakes, but we have learned.

Among our lessons is that COVID is not the last pandemic we will face. Given that reality, what knowledge should we apply to prepare ourselves for the next one? With more than half a million Americans dead of COVID, public health experts have their individual takes on this, of course, but there is agreement on big issues.

Science trumps politics every time. People died while we mocked masks and partied. We can never allow this again.

Viruses do not know about or respect state lines, so it makes no sense to have individual states do their own thing during a pandemic. Communication, collaboration and common goals and practices will go a long way in stemming a national pandemic as will a significantly beefed up national public health system. COVID is a worldwide issue, and the United States will be more successful now and in the future if we act as a whole.

Racial and ethnic minorities and people in poverty have been disproportionately affected by COVID, both by contracting the virus and by its effects on families and economics. Inequities exist in our country in jobs, education, housing, food access, and health care, and the pandemic shone a glaring spotlight on them. Think the difference between having your groceries delivered to your door and the person making those deliveries. Think those able to work from home and those required to go to a workplace. During what is being dubbed an “inter-pandemic period,” it is time to address these disparities. We really are all in this together.

We human beings are social creatures, and forced isolation has been hard on us, including on children locked out of schools and trying to learn virtually. It has been hard, too, on parents trying to work remotely from home or struggling for child care. As we come out of isolation, we should cut ourselves and others some slack. We have missed human company, and it will take a while to ease back into what we think of as “normal.”

And, finally, as painful as it is to write this, we Americans have some soul searching to do. Millions of us apparently care more about our own individual rights than about the wellbeing of others, loved ones included. When we believe our own “right” not to mask is more important than the health of others with whom we have contact — many of whom are essential workers helping us, something is seriously wrong with our thinking. The pandemic has exposed such selfishness as never before, and it is not a pretty picture or a reflection of portrait we have historically shown the world. And, make no mistake — the world is watching us

Up & Coming Weekly: no stranger to cancel culture

18 CancelledFor 25 years, the Up & Coming Weekly community newspaper has enjoyed echoing the achievements of a community that has for too long suffered from a bruised, tattered and unwarranted reputation.

During this past year, our community has struggled along with a frustrated and polarized nation in dealing with COVID viruses, mask mandates, vaccine choices, lock down's, shutdowns and destructive racial ambiguity that selfishly serves the self-serving.

A defenseless, vulnerable and abused Fayetteville has always been reluctant to tell its own story. This is why we have enjoyed a successful quarter-century run of doing just that: telling the Fayetteville and Cumberland County story.

Until this past year, we had plenty to write about: business events, arts and culture venues, and local concerts and festivals. After more than twelve months of Zoom meetings, even our most enthusiastic community cheerleaders are turning into anti-social zombies. Or perhaps I should say, Zoombies! OMG! I'm beginning to sound like Pitt Dickey.
I'll get to the point: this past year has been tough on all of us; however, your support and loyalty to our community newspaper have been steadfast and appreciated.

Thank you for your calls, emails and text messages. We hear your message loud and clear. Up & Coming Weekly has no intention of deserting this community or our mission and mandates of showcasing the people, programs, organizations, businesses and institutions that make Fayetteville and Cumberland County a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Up & Coming Weekly showcase features about the Two Docs, Gates Four, Kaleo Supports, Fayetteville Technical Community College and PWC are just a few of the contributors to our community's quality of life. Our features provide insights and vision you won't find on any social media platform. Enjoy!

One final note and message to those who would like to 'cancel' us: Up & Coming Weekly has battled the 'cancel culture' since 1996. Our foes are people who did something wrong, are doing something wrong, have something to hide, or all three. Otherwise, I ask you: What's not to like? Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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