Wanted this holiday season: More wise men and women on the Hill

Any true connoisseur of “A Christmas Carol” would rank Alistair Sim’s 1951 star turn at the top of the list. It’s impossible to resist sharing the sheer joy of his Ebenezer Scrooge, waking up to discover he’s been given a second chance to become a human being, one who can make the world a better place with generosity and kindness. And he gets something out of the deal, as well.

Cue the happy ending and lessons learned.

For this holiday season, a remake is in order, with Scrooge a sucker for falling for Bob Cratchit’s tale of woe. A raise? Times are tough, or haven’t you heard how many people would love to have that clerk job. The greedy Jacob Marley may not be loved, but he sure would be admired, perhaps even praised, for accumulating as much wealth as possible in this life, with little regard for his soul in the next.

And what’s that hiding under the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come? Not Ignorance and Want, which come with a warning of harm if these societal ills are ignored. But instead, sacks filled with fraudulent mail-in ballots from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The point of so many holiday tales, when you think of it, hinges on transformation — that moment when the protagonist opens his or her heart. Think of the Grinch, whose actual heart seems to grow three sizes when he hears the gift-less residents of Whoville raising their voices in glorious song.

The demeaning of ‘woke’ — or when attention to injustice becomes too much

Endesha Ida Mae Holland smiled as she recounted the events of the Mississippi voter registration movement for the 1994 documentary “Freedom on My Mind.” That movement, from 1961 to 1964, was marked by the bravery of activists and the violence meted out by those who felt threatened by the very idea of Black citizens exercising their fundamental rights.

Holland’s upbringing as a young African American in Mississippi, her work in the struggle and the retaliation that followed had left her unprepared for her first encounter at a Southern lunch counter following the passage of civil rights laws she fought so hard for. She said that when the clerk politely greeted her, it was so overwhelming and appreciated, she ordered everything on the menu, just to experience the balm of kind words covering her again and again.

At the close of Freedom Summer — only a few years after a Black farmer who tried to register to vote was shot and killed by a Mississippi state representative, who got away with it — respect seemed a triumph to someone whose humanity had been denied for so long.

Remember the phrase “political correctness”? It’s not so in vogue these days, mostly because it has outlived its usefulness.

I remember when it was all the rage, an effort to reframe any rude and insensitive lout as a bold rule-breaker. My feelings about all the fuss? Despite protests to the contrary, there was never a prohibition against making rude remarks, no law that punished anyone who chucked racist or misogynistic or homophobic comments toward acquaintances or perfect strangers or who viewed the world through a lens of hardened stereotypes.

‘What has come of America?’

Civil rights leader and National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial says he is “damn worried” about the state of American democracy. Mary C. Curtis sits down with Morial to talk about voting rights, infrastructure, the filibuster and so much more.

Virginia Elections Recap

If you’ve never seen a political pummeling on election day before… you now know what one looks like.  All you have to do is turn to Virginia’s election results.  Republicans ran the board from the governor’s race all the way to the house and have the political clout to do pretty much what they want once they take office.  What happened and why?

The dangers of a short memory in recognizing — and fighting — hate

June 17, 2015.

Though it wasn’t that long ago, far too many Americans only dimly recall what happened on that date, when a racist murderer sat down to pray with parishioners at the historically Black Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., then pulled out a .45-caliber handgun and started shooting. He killed nine people who had welcomed him and did it without — not then nor in the years since — a shred of remorse.

Maybe some have had memories tweaked with the recent news that the Justice Department has agreed to pay the victims’ families and the survivors $88 million to compensate for a background check failure.

But those families needed no reminder and would give anything to have their loved ones back on this earth.

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Graham Hurd, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Myra Thompson — they were caring community leaders and so much more than names scrolling across the bottom of a TV screen, as Hurd’s younger brother Malcolm Graham said in a 2015 Washington Post column about his sister.

She was a librarian, who surely would have helped high school dropout Dylann Roof with his educational challenges. Instead, the white supremacist, schooled by online bile, turned to violence toward African Americans. That I mention Hurd is no coincidence. I did not know her well, but we had met. And I do know her brother Malcolm, a former North Carolina state senator and current Charlotte city council member, who established the Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation for Reading and Civic Engagement to continue her work and legacy.

Does it take a connection for Americans to feel?

Sometimes, it’s as simple as getting clean water

Washington must seem increasingly irrelevant to citizens dealing with Life 101.

For just one example, turn to a state where too many citizens can’t count on a basic commodity. What must the residents of Benton Harbor, Mich., be thinking as they observe their leaders in Washington debating infrastructure and reconciliation bills? They have been advised by state officials to continue to use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing their teeth while action catches up to need — the need being attention paid to a contaminated water supply and aging pipes leaching lead.

The city would like some help from FEMA, the National Guard and officials on the federal level, so local officials voted last week to enact a state of emergency to cut through the noise.

If it all sounds eerily similar to the situation that continues to bedevil Flint, Mich., that’s because it is. In that city, after seven years dealing with its own state-caused, contaminated water disaster, after lawsuits and a resulting program to check and replace its lead pipes, after President Joe Biden this summer declared “Never again” while touting his infrastructure package, residents are still wary. And can you blame them?

What happened to all the lessons that were supposedly learned? What happens when a crisis passes from the headlines, and pretty quickly when those affected are minorities? (That’s the case in majority Black cities such as Benton Harbor, Flint and Jackson, Miss., whose water crisis may not even have crossed most Americans’ radar.) The lack of political will to invest in these cities is another column.

Well, what happens is the country moves on to another scandal, real or trumped up.

In the real category, I would place investigations into the hidden motives that drive social media operations, and also throw in the Jan. 6 attempt to overturn an election and democracy itself — in fact, that last one could use more attention. Trumped up? That the Virginia gubernatorial contest may hinge on a white student having “nightmares” over reading “Beloved,” an award-winning Toni Morrison book about enslavement, earns a high spot, especially when compared to the lack of focused concern for the children who may have cognitive impairment from contaminated water.

That is, until the crisis happens to you.

Local News Roundup: ‘Historic’ water main break, COVID-19 vaccines for kids on the way, redistricting work continues

On the Local News Roundup: a water main break disrupts service to much of Charlotte, creating a geyser taller than the trees. We were told to boil water before drinking, but that order has now been rescinded.

Voting districts are being redrawn at all levels and, this week, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board got to work drawing its new districts.

COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11 are just over the horizon, perhaps just weeks away. We look at what that rollout may be like.

And CMS continues to experience staffing woes with teachers quitting and subs in short supply because of the pandemic.

Our roundtable of reporters fills us in on those stories and more.

Guests

Ann Doss Helms, education reporter for WFAE

Katie Peralta Soloff, reporter for Axios Charlotte

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com and host of their “Equal Time” podcast

Joe Bruno, reporter for WSOC-TV

Will those who yell the loudest teach kids how the world really works?

We teach our children lessons about leading with empathy and intelligence, about taking the high road, about playing fair. And we warn them that bullies never win in the end. Be the bigger person. Follow the right and righteous path, and you shall be rewarded.

But the examples being set on very public stages tell an entirely different story, one that says accumulating power is the goal, with no guardrails on how you acquire and keep it. Rules are for suckers, unless you’re the one who makes them.

Take voting rights. If the goal of our democracy is to let all eligible Americans vote and for every one of those votes to count, the Freedom to Vote Act would have had a clear glide path to passage. But when, as promised by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the compromise bill massaged by holdout West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was brought to the floor Wednesday, not for a vote but for a mere discussion, Republicans offered no help.

How far Democrats will go to pass rules that creep toward restoring parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, obliterated by the Supreme Court, is uncertain. But for anyone interested in a true representative form of government in the United States, something is needed.

Dysfunction in America is no longer just knocking on the door

My college roommate has been much in demand in the last few years. (In truth, the presidency of Donald Trump marked a definite uptick in her mainstream media popularity.) You see, her academic specialty is Sinclair Lewis. And if his 1935 novel, “It Can’t Happen Here,” was once seen as dystopian political fantasy, it became — in some circles — a plausible blueprint for the state of the United States of America. What, exactly, is happening here?

It’s human nature not to take crises too seriously until they come knocking at your front door. But we’ve passed that point on a host of issues, with too many citizens either in denial or using the dysfunction as a partisan tool rather than an all-hands-on-deck call to action.

Joe Biden, in his first address to the United Nations as president, asked questions the world hasn’t yet answered: “Will we meet the threat of challenging climate — the challenging climate we’re all feeling already ravaging every part of our world with extreme weather? Or will we suffer the merciless march of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes, longer heat waves and rising seas?”

It wasn’t that long ago, in 2015, in fact, that Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe toted a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that the globe was not warming. And while that demonstration stands out for its absurdity and rejection of science, there are still leaders who downplay the importance of the effects of global warming, despite the reality of ever-more-destructive hurricanes in the South, never-ending fires in the West and scenes of New York subway stations awash in flood waters.

The U.S. has rejoined the Paris climate agreement that the Trump administration backed the country out of. But the size and scope of provisions in the congressional budget package to deal with the effects of climate change, a major part of the Biden agenda, are still being debated, including within the Democratic Party that barely controls the House and Senate.

That won’t stop climate from touching almost every other issue, from housing to food production to immigration. Certainly, those seeking refuge in the U.S. from places such as Central America and Haiti, ravaged by developments they may have had nothing to do with, won’t be stopped by walls or agents on horseback.

Explaining reconciliation and the social issues at stake, with Mary C. Curtis

Congress will be back in earnest next week with a lot on the to-do list, including two infrastructure bills.

The first, a bipartisan, Senate-passed infrastructure package, would spend billions of dollars to improve roads, bridges, waterways — but it’s yet to be passed by the House. And then there’s the partisan “human” infrastructure bill that would provide sweeping funds for President Joe Biden’s social agenda, including subsidies for child care, education, paid leave, health care, clean energy programs and more.

Democrats’ only chance at passing such a bold measure without GOP support? A process called budget reconciliation.

Mary C. Curtis, Roll Call columnist and host of the Equal Time podcast, sat down with Norm Ornstein, senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, to better understand reconciliation. She also talked with Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison to understand more about what’s at stake for the party with the bold social priorities.