Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Greensboro News and Record. September 8, 2022.

Editorial: Burr’s suspicious stock maneuvers

Greater transparency in government dealings is almost always in the public’s interest. It provides us with more complete information on which to base our judgments — as we’re learning from every subsequent revelation emerging from the recent FBI search of Mar-a-Lago.

It’s no less true in the case of our own Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem, whose dealings in the stock market as COVID became a major concern led to an FBI investigation.

On Tuesday, a less-redacted version of a federal search warrant was released, revealing that Burr and his wife avoided a loss of at least $87,000 “as a result of well-timed stock sales” in February 2020. They also profited by at least $164,000.

That seems beneficial.

The Burrs began selling stocks, including shares of corporations that were battered during the early months of the pandemic, just ahead, by hours, of the declaration of COVID-19 as a national public-health emergency, made by U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar on Jan. 31, 2020.

Had they hesitated by even a day, they would have taken a significant loss.

Further suspicious sales and purchases followed.

The suggestion that Richard Burr may have benefited from insider knowledge — the result of regular congressional briefings about the coronavirus in January — gained traction when he gave a speech to a private group on Feb. 27, 2020, in which he warned that the coronavirus would have a “dire effect” on the economy and population — in contrast to the rosier assessment he’d been giving to the general public, including in an op-ed for Fox News. That Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, also sold valuable stocks on the same day following a conversation with Burr added to suspicions.

The less-redacted search warrant (approved by then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr, which allowed FBI agents to confiscate Burr’s phone) also revealed Burr’s defense for the sale: “Senator Burr explained that he was uncomfortable with a lot of things in the market and other things generally happening around the world; that Burr discussed the fact that there had been a long bull market and that it was due for a correction; and that the surge of (U.S. Sen.) Bernie Sanders in the Democratic party’s nomination process was a risk to the market.” Burr also claimed concern about how the virus could affect the supply chains of U.S. companies that were dependent on Chinese suppliers.

We’d like to think that’s all there is to it. The possibility that Burr was involved in insider trading and securities fraud — the potential offenses described in the warrant — is disappointing to many in his hometown, even among those who sit on the other side of the political divide, who still thought of him as honorable.

The damage to his reputation, as we’ve said before, is a sad note on which to end his congressional career.

But as the investigation continues, it’s hard to avoid concluding that more was at work than business savvy and coincidence — and it’s hard to avoid a sense of betrayal of the trust many placed in him.

This is one instance in which “whataboutism” may be a sympathetic defense. Republican and Democratic legislators are regularly exposed to privileged information, and many walk away from public service with much more in their bank accounts than when they began — sometimes millions more. The temptation to avoid impending financial loss — and to profit — may be overwhelming. Indeed, Burr wasn’t the only U.S. senator to sell off stocks as COVID grew more troublesome.

Some have suggested that legislators should be banned from trading stock while serving. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced legislation in 2018 to ban members of Congress and White House staff from owning individual stocks, which she renewed in 2020. Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia co-sponsored similar legislation with Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy in 2020.

“There’s many professions where there are limitations placed on what someone can do financially,” Spanberger said. “This requirement is an absolutely reasonable one for those of us who choose to enter this profession.”

Considering that only about 15% of the American public owns individual stocks — and considering both the temptation and the possible damage to reputations — we think it’s a proposal worth serious consideration.

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Winston-Salem Journal. September 8, 2022.

Editorial: A deplorable raffle

Some members of a western North Carolina community are selling raffle tickets at $5 apiece to support youth football players and cheerleaders.

Good for them. What could be more wholesome and upstanding?

Until you consider that the grand prize is a killing machine: an FN 15 Patrol Carbine M-LOK rifle.

The semi-automatic FN 15 was “specifically developed with law enforcement officers’ needs in mind,” a gun-selling website notes, adding that its magazine features “AR-style 30-round capacity” that guarantees “accuracy in every mission.”

As The Charlotte Observer recently reported, the nonprofit East Henderson Youth Football and Cheer organization will announce the lucky winner during the halftime of a game in October.

And, in case you’re wondering, the football players in the league are 5 to 13 years old and the cheerleaders are 4 to 13.

Not everyone is enthralled with the idea. One Facebook commenter described the fundraiser as “disgusting and deplorable.”

The timing of the raffle is also troubling, as elementary students in Uvalde, Texas, who fall squarely within the age range of the players and cheer team members, resumed classes this week for the first time since a gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers with a similar weapon.

Some of the students are not returning to Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School out of fear that they are still unsafe, despite the presence of state troopers and hall monitors on campus.

“They can hire 10 cops and 15 cops it’s not going to make a difference. People do not feel safe in Uvalde,” Vincent Salazar, the grandfather of one of the children who died in the shooting, told a Houston television station.

School systems all over the country are hardening security out of fear that something similar could happen — including in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, where only a year ago, a student brought a gun onto the Mount Tabor High School campus and shot another. We then joined the sad ranks of too many schools that have suffered shootings, dating back to Columbine High School in 1999. Since January of this year, 28 people have died and 85 have been injured in 29 school shootings, Education Week reports.

Texas lawmakers earmarked more than $105 million for school safety upgrades, including panic-alert systems and bullet-resistant shields for school police. Ohio set aside $100 million, Arkansas $50 million.

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools have also increased security measures, including walk-through scanners and upgraded security cameras.

So, it’s only fair to wonder what the East Henderson Youth Football and Cheer organization could have been thinking.

Which it told us in a response to the criticism it has received: It needs the money.

“The use of the field, the stadium and facilities are not free,” the nonprofit said in its defense on Facebook. “The lost uniforms, mouthpieces, chin straps, ear pads, bows and socks are not free. Equipment is not free. The insurance is not free. And all the other fees the league must pay are not free.

“If we’re not raising enough money, we’re forced to raise fees.”

In other words, the goodness of the cause justifies a prize whose reason for existence is to kill as many targets as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The raffle recalls an ongoing one by the Forsyth County Republican Party that offers guns and ammo as prizes, including semiautomatic rifles, and was begun earlier in the summer, amid a rash of mass shootings.

And if you don’t like the crass insensitivity of it all, well, too bad. “The only people who are upset about gun raffles are people who are hostile to guns and gun owners,” raffle organizer Vernon Robinson huffed to the Journal back in July, as if hesitancy to embrace deadly weapons indicated some kind of disorder.

As for the good folks in East Henderson, “The AR raffle has taken place three years consecutive and brings in the most support we’ve ever had,” the nonprofit says on Facebook.

So, no matter what message this sends or how many lives have been lost to madmen wielding such weapons, the bottom line is the bottom line.

But surely a hand-held weapon of mass destruction can’t be the only marketable prize worth offering to finance youth football shoulder pads and pom-poms. Can it?

If it is, then God help us all.

END