Charlotte Observer. Oct. 31, 2021.

Editorial: North Carolina just got another reminder of Richard Burr’s COVID betrayal

Richard Burr has been cleared in one investigation into possible insider trading in the early days of the pandemic, but another probe has unearthed new problems for North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator. And as new revelations reminded us this week, his worst transgression might not be what he did when COVID-19 first threatened his state and country. It’s what he didn’t do.

New details arose Thursday regarding a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into possible insider trading by Burr. According to an SEC filing first reported by ProPublica, Burr possessed “material nonpublic information” regarding the incoming economic impact of the virus when he dumped roughly $1.6 million in stocks in February 2020. After doing so, he called his brother-in-law, the filing says — and the very next minute, Burr’s brother-in-law called his stock broker.

Burr’s big sale was previously the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department, who informed the senator in January that it would not pursue charges against him. But he — and his brother-in-law — remain under investigation by the SEC. And despite having an estimated net worth of $7.4 million in 2018, Burr has been raising big money to help foot his hefty legal bills. Thirty-three current or former U.S. senators, as well as other sitting members of Congress, have contributed to the Richard Burr Legal Expense Trust Fund as of September, the News & Observer reported. The fund has raised more than $524,000 and paid $565,000 to Latham & Watkins, a major law firm.

Perhaps Burr thought that the stain of his actions would wash away with time. It hasn’t. We said last year that Burr’s actions were an affront to North Carolinians and embarrassing to the state, and nothing has changed our mind. Regardless of whether the SEC concludes that his actions were criminal, he has failed as a public servant, profiting off of a deadly virus while failing to convey to the public the seriousness of the threat it posed.

A reminder of Burr did and didn’t do: According to reports last year, members of Congress had been receiving “ominous, classified warnings” from U.S. intelligence agencies about the danger posed by COVID as early as January and February. Publicly, Burr was co-authoring op-eds reassuring the public that the United States was prepared to confront the virus. Privately, though, he seemed to be suggesting otherwise. Fourteen days after dumping his stocks, Burr also warned members of the Tar Heel Circle, a nonpartisan group of North Carolina businesses and organizations, at a February 2020 luncheon that the coronavirus would spread rapidly, and that it was “probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” Still, he didn’t share that assessment with the general public, even as then-president Donald Trump downplayed the situation, hindering the nation’s early pandemic response.

His assessment wasn’t wrong. As of September, COVID-19 has surpassed the 1918 Spanish flu to become the deadliest pandemic in American history, with 743,000 lives lost thus far. Still, Burr has yet to take responsibility for not sharing that knowledge publicly, or for using it to benefit financially. He’s offered little through public statements but has claimed that he “relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13.” That’s something the SEC filing seems to dispute.

Though Burr has long planned to step down in 2022, he ought to consider taking an earlier retirement. No matter what happens during the last year of his term, he will continue to be a politician who broke his commitment to serve and protect us when we needed him most. North Carolinians deserved better than that.

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Winston-Salem Journal. Oct. 28, 2021.

Editorial: : Welcome the coyotes

That howling you may soon hear in the evening when the sky gets dark isn’t related so much to Halloween or political disappointment as to wildlife and urban sprawl. This is the time of year when young coyotes leave their parents to establish a home of their own, according to a press release from the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission. They howl or bark to each other, essentially, to say, “I’m over here.”

And since their options have been limited by encroaching human development, more of them are likely to explore and perhaps settle down in the forests and green patches that stitch together our neighborhoods. So we’re likely to hear and see more of them than before.

But while some may find their songs and their presence disturbing, there’s no cause for alarm. With a modicum of forethought, we can co-exist, as we have for decades and centuries before now.

Coyotes are canids, like dogs, and have reddish to dark gray thick fur. They have long slender snouts, bushy tails and pointed ears and can grow up to 45 pounds. They’re considered an invasive species, having first moved into North Carolina in the 1980s from neighboring states.

There’s no official count on how many live in our area, but there are an estimated 50,000 of them spread through the 100 counties of North Carolina, according to American Military News. As they search for unclaimed territory, they may travel up to 300 miles before settling down.

They’re looking for good hunting grounds, where they can find a lot of rabbits, insects and gophers, and for safe quarters in which to mingle. Coyotes are social animals.

They’re opportunistic hunters and may feast on a cat or small dog if they have the chance. They may also eat discarded people food.

So it’s a good idea to be aware of their presence and help them avoid temptation.

To make our homes and neighborhoods less attractive to coyotes, the Wildlife Commission recommends we do the following:

Supervise small pets when they’re outside, especially around dawn and dusk.

Keep cats indoors and poultry in a predator-proof pen.

Feed pets indoors or remove all food when a pet is finished eating outside.

Store food waste in secure containers with tight-fitting lids.

Keep birdseed off the ground around feeders or choose to attract birds with native plants.

People should never feed coyotes, even with the best of intentions. “Like other wildlife, they will become bold and habituated if people feed them, either purposely or inadvertently, such as with garbage or outdoor pet food,” the Wildlife Commission says.

Coyotes have been known to attack people on rare occasion. In a pair of instances in 2018, a 7-year-old girl and her father were attacked by a coyote in Mocksville, as well as a 9-year-old girl in Advance. In both cases, the people involved were minding their own business when the coyotes came out of nowhere and pounced.

But these attacks were oddities. It’s much more common for coyotes to run away from people. “Normal coyote behavior is to be curious, but wary, when close to humans,” the Wildlife Commission reports.

The best thing to do if you’re approached by a coyote is to make a lot of noise, the commission advises. Yell, rattle keys, clap hands. That’s likely to scare them off.

Despite their wild nature, there are advantages to their presence.

“Coyotes are awesome neighbors,” Aspen Stevanovski, a local coyote researcher, told the Journal. “They are incredible rodent control, and help scavenge carcasses (like roadkill deer) to keep the environment clean. They sometimes eat seeds, and when they eject the seeds through scat they help disperse the seeds. Since coyotes prey on animals that are detrimental to songbird populations, there are strong associations between healthy songbird populations and healthy coyote populations. Raptor populations tend to be healthy in areas with coyotes because of that higher songbird population.”

Coyotes are but one caucus in the wildlife constituency that many find to be enriching to their well-being. They serve as a reminder that there’s more going on than we usually take the time to see — a deeper, more patient reality. Awareness of their presence may lead us to other fresh discoveries. As the season changes, bringing cooler temperatures and colorful foliage, keep an eye out for our new neighbors. They are surely aware of you.

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Greensboro News & Record. Oct. 26, 2021.

Editorial: N.C. redistricting: New game, same playbook

Everybody wants to win.

And while our society often rewards those who fight hard to accomplish that goal, we’re less supportive when the winning involves cheating.

Unless it’s politics and it’s our side that’s stacking the deck. Then, magically, it’s OK.

But it shouldn’t be.

Members of North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature are drawing new maps for General Assembly and U.S. House districts — Tuesday was the final day for public comment — maps that will endure for the next 10 years, establishing the borders within which our representatives will be chosen.

North Carolina is gaining a 14th House seat this time around, thanks to population growth.

The Republicans involved in drawing the maps say they’re being fair — unlike a decade ago, when, despite a near-equal number of Republican and Democratic voters, they drew lines that created a 10-3 GOP advantage. A federal court had to step in because their sharply drawn maps illegally undermined Black voters, depriving them of their right to fair political representation.

The redrawn maps gave the Republicans an 8-5 advantage.

Same old song

This time around, they’ve pledged not to use race or partisan data as they draw the lines. But as Associated Press reporters Bryan Anderson and Nicholas Riccari pointed out in Monday’s News & Record, it’s a claim with little credibility. The veteran legislators who are drawing the maps already know where voters of different races and parties live — enough so that they’re attempting to split both Wake and Mecklenburg counties into at least three districts apiece, which would again dilute the power of Black voters. That’s no coincidence.

Of course they’re putting their thumbs on the scale. They wouldn’t be politicians if they weren’t. And they wouldn’t be modern-day Republicans if they weren’t seeking every advantage. This is the party that has responded to shifting demographics, which threaten to reduce their numbers significantly, not only by gerrymandering to an unprecedented degree, but also with ginned-up, phony claims of “voter fraud.” Those claims may not be accurate, but “they cheated” is more appealing to wounded egos than “we lost fair and square.”

Thirty years ago, Democrats, who were then in the majority, also gerrymandered districts in their favor — thus we wound up with the pretzel-like 12th Congressional District.

But Republicans’ efforts have been shameless, and have been assisted by modern-day technology that has allowed them to split their opponents’ power more precisely than ever before.

A better way

This needs to end here and now. This can’t be a matter of “They did it, so we can, too” — not when it’s North Carolina voters whose right to fair representation is undermined. Gerrymandering not only tilts the board in one party’s favor, but it helps keep bad legislators on both sides in office.

There is a better way. Some states, among them Colorado and Michigan, have enlisted independent redistricting commissions to draw their legislative maps, thus eliminating the more egregious partisan influence.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature have supported independent redistricting — usually when the other side was in power. The N.C. House actually passed a bipartisan redistricting commission bill in 2019.

Unfortunately, the Republican-majority Senate wouldn’t touch it.

The federal For the People Act would require states to institute independent redistricting commissions, but that’s not likely to pass, either.

In the past we’ve urged legislators to lead from the middle, not dipping too extremely toward one side or another. That seems proper, rational and bearable in a “purple” state.

They’ve not always listened to that advice. Some have indulged too often in hot-button issues that generate a lot of heat without much light.

But it would be easier to do if the districts were as evenly divided as the voters.

The Republican-drawn maps are likely to wind up in court again, a process that will cost taxpayers more money and time and uncertainty. So it goes.

What we all need, what we all deserve, is a level playing field and an opportunity to choose our representatives fairly. Some good-government groups like Common Cause N.C., Democracy North Carolina and the League of Women Voters are working toward that goal. It’s an indictment of our system that they’ve needed to.

END

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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