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Commentary, News

If you’re looking for a measure of good news to get you through the weekend (and are willing to look outside North Carolina), check out this story (and the amazing photos) on NPR.org detailing the massive new solar power plant in the northwest African nation of Morocco. To quote:

Image: http://www.maroc.ma/en

Image: http://www.maroc.ma/en

“Morocco has officially turned on a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert, kicking off the first phase of a planned project to provide renewable energy to more than a million Moroccans.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It’s capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants.

When the next two phases, Noor II and Noor III, are finished, the plant will be the single largest solar power production facility in the world, The Guardian says.

Morocco currently relies on imported sources for 97 percent of its energy consumption, according to the World Bank, which helped fund the Noor power plant project. Investing in renewable energy will make Morocco less reliant on those imports as well as reduce the nation’s long-term carbon emissions by millions of tons.”

The plant is especially exciting because it uses a technology that will allow it to generate electricity well after the sun goes down each day.

Mind you this is a country with roughly one-fifth the gross domestic product of North Carolina. And still, somehow, it has managed to muster the kind of world-changing investment that all nations need to be pursuing. If the Moroccans can do it, surely so can Americans (and North Carolinians). The fact that the U.S. solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy and created more jobs than were created by the oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined last year indicates that we’re already on the right track.

For more information on North Carolina’s mixed/wavering commitment to this essential field, check out a pair of interviews on yesterday’s edition of WUNC’s The State of Things by clicking here and here.

Commentary

An editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer (“In NC a teacher shortage develops by design”) tells it like it is:

“One would have thought, when Republican lawmakers raised starting teacher pay in North Carolina to $35,000, that they’d marched into classrooms in North Carolina with sacks of gold and silver. Of course, that salary is hardly a king’s ransom, and teachers with more experience didn’t fare so well. The state remains in the bottom half of the country in teacher compensation.

Teachers also are skeptical of these GOP lawmakers, who have so cheated public education at all levels and undermined conventional public schools with a too-rapid expansion of charter schools and public “scholarships” for children in private schools.

So it should come as no surprise that enrollment in the 15 schools of education in the public university system has dropped – by 30 percent since 2010.

This forecasts a deepening teacher shortage in North Carolina, one that will impact tens of thousands of families.”

After refuting the notion that the decline is driven merely by the fact that young people are more interested in “making a lot of money as opposed to making a difference,” the editorial concludes this way:

“Republicans are going to reap what they sowed with their lackluster support of public education. Unfortunately, the rest of us are going to reap it, too. When there are not enough teachers to get the job done, and classrooms are overloaded and children are being deprived, the political rhetoric from the GOP about lowering taxes on the wealthy and big business for the good of North Carolina isn’t going to pass muster with the people of North Carolina, who support more investment in public education.”

The bottom line: Would-be teachers have eyes and ears. They see and hear how low the morale is amongst a large percentage of current educators — not just because of low pay, but also because of the Right’s multi-front attack on the profession and public education generally. Plenty of people are willing to make sacrifices to become teachers, but understandably, fewer and fewer are willing to endure the constant attacks on the very idea of public education (e.g. the effort to eliminate their professional association, the derisive drumbeat of attacks on “government schools,” the deceptive snake oil “competition” provided by unaccountable voucher and charter schools, the efforts by the religious right to dismantle the teaching of actual science).

Sadly, despite the crocodile tears being shed in some corners, the new numbers are exactly what the ideologues on the right had in mind decades ago when they commenced their effort to dismantle and privatize our public schools. It’s going to take sustained commitment over the next couple of decades for caring and thinking people to roll back the tide.

Commentary

Dan ForestIf ever you find yourself in need of a moment of mirth in today’s stressed out news cycle and you’ve already checked out all the day’s headlines at The Onion, here’s a great #2 option: surf on over to the website of the “Faith Driven Consumer” and check out their latest LOL ratings of corporate America.

As we’ve reported on a few occasions previously (most recently last December), the group, which was co-founded by North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest, purports to assess businesses for their “commitment to full equality and inclusion of the Faith Driven Consumer market segment” (which basically translates to how closely the companies toe the values and political lines laid down by the religious right). One of the group’s previous Christmas shopping guides, for instance, downgraded the giant retailed Sears because it included lingerie models in its catalogs. The current “index” gives higher scores to companies that support an anti-choice position when it comes to reproductive freedom for women.

This week, in an effort to grab a few seconds of attention in the media circus surrounding the Super Bowl, the group issued a statement taking the National Football League to task for registering a “score” of only 24 out of 100 on the “faith equality index.” This is from the statement:

“The National Football League is significantly comprised of Christian players, coaches, and executives, and as such, many in our community assume the organization is welcoming of Faith Driven Consumers. But its score of 24 out of 100 says otherwise.”

As to how and why the grade was bestowed, Forest’s buddies aren’t (as has been the case ever since the days of the hysterical lingerie downgrade) providing many details. Read More

Commentary

UNCLogoThere they go again. A few months after the UNC Board of Governors dropped some big cash on system chancellors, UNC Chapel Hill trustees have bestowed big, retroactive raises on an array of already extremely well-paid administrators. This is, of course, at a time when other North Carolina public employees of more modest stature are mostly doing without.

As Jane Stancill of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning:

“UNC-Chapel Hill’s athletic director, Bubba Cunningham, recently received a 10 percent raise, bringing his annual pay to $642,268.

The $58,388 increase for Cunningham was the largest among those approved for nine high-ranking university administrators, who got raises or bonuses ranging from 1 percent to 10 percent.

The increases were part of the annual raise process, according to a university spokesman who said new salary levels were retroactive to July 1, 2015. Trustees initially approved the increases in a December mail ballot, which was ratified last week. The vote last week was unanimous.”

The article goes on to report that the trustees hope to “make adjustments in faculty pay” as well, but as always seems to be the case, that will come after the folks at the top are taken care of. No word about adjunct instructors, food service workers, janitors, etc….

Of course, it seems likely that the conservative leaders in state government will be all in with this approach. After all, they always talk about wanting to “run government like a business” and what could be more business-like in modern America than bestowing big raises on the bosses first and leaving the crumbs for everyone else?

(As an aside, it’s also worth noting that all of the folks receiving raises have received extremely large state income tax cuts in recent years thanks to the the shortsighted policies at work in Raleigh).

Click here to read the rest of Stancil’s story ans see the full list of raises.

Commentary

The wonks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities are out with a new report that, once again, derides the central premise  of the “economic development” strategy being pursued by Governor Pat McCrory and the General Assembly.

Here’s the opening to “State Job Creation Strategies Often Off Base”:

To create jobs and build strong economies, states should focus on producing more home-grown entrepreneurs and on helping startups and young, fast-growing firms already located in the state to survive and to grow ? not on cutting taxes and trying to lure businesses from other states.  That’s the conclusion from a new analysis of data about which businesses create jobs and where they create them.

The data show that:

  • The vast majority of jobs are created by businesses that start up or are already present in a state — not by the relocation or branching into a state by out-of-state firms. Jobs that move into one state from another typically represent only 1 to 4 percent of total job creation each year, depending on the state.  Jobs created by out-of-state businesses expanding into a state through the opening of new branches represent less than one-sixth of total job creation.  In other words, “home-grown” jobs contribute more than 80 percent of total job creation in every state.
  • During periods of healthy economic growth, startups and young, fast-growing companies are responsible for most new jobs.  During the Internet-driven boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, for example, startup firms (those less than one year old) and high-growth firms — which are likely to be young — accounted for about 70 percent of all new jobs in the U.S. economy.  Firms older than one year actually lost jobs on average; any new jobs they created were more than offset by jobs they eliminated through downsizing or closure.  In short, startups and young, fast-growing firms are the fundamental drivers of job creation when the U.S. economy is performing well.

State economic development policies that ignore these fundamental realities about job creation are bound to fail.  A good example is the deep income tax cuts many states have enacted or are proposing.  Such tax cuts are largely irrelevant to owners of young, fast-growing firms because they generally have little taxable income.  And, tax cuts take money away from schools, universities, and other public investments essential to producing the talented workforce that entrepreneurs require.  Many policymakers also continue to focus their efforts heavily on tax breaks aimed at luring companies from other states — even though startups and young, fast-growing firms already in the state are much more important sources of job creation.”

If only our state policymakers would pay attention and abandon their archaic and failed , tax cuts uber alles approach to the economy, North Carolina might really be making some hay. Unfortunately, that clearly is not the case.

Click here to read the entire report.