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In case you missed it, North Carolina is about to release yet another person who spent two decades in state prison for crimes he did not commit — thus further highlighting the absurdity of the death penalty in the 21st Century. This is from a post on the N.C. Innocence Project blog:

On Monday, a Superior Court judge in North Carolina dismissed all charges and vacated the convictions of Michael Parker who was convicted of multiple sex crimes against his three children. Parker spent more than 20 years behind bars and is expected to be released from Craggy Correctional Center today.

In January 1994, Parker was convicted of eight counts of first-degree sex offense and four counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor. He was sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life imprisonment for the first-degree sex offenses and an additional 40 years on the indecent liberties convictions.

Asheville attorney Sean Devereux brought the case to the Duke Law School Wrongful Conviction Clinic in 2011, about a decade after he was approached by Parker. Devereux told the Citizen-Times that Parker was convicted during the satanic ritual abuse frenzy of the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the Citizen-Times, Devereux said that not a single one of those satanic ritual sexual abuse accusations has proven to be true. He said that all of the defendants have seen their convictions overturned.

According to the judge’s ruling, advances in child medical examinations and forensic interviewing techniques warranted granting Parker’s petition for relief and that most of the evidence presented at trial was unreliable. The motion also listed ineffective assistance of trial counsel and recantation of one of the children’s testimony, among other vital factors to grant relief.

Devereux said that last year Parker was offered a deal to plead guilty, which would have vacated his convictions and allowed him to leave prison based on time served, but Parker refused to take the deal.

Click here to read more details on the Asheville Citizen-Times website.

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There’s a great editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning that ought to be mandatory reading for every critic of our public schools — especially the ones who want to de-fund them and turn their mission over to the the “genius of the free market.” The piece is entitled “Don’t take public education for granted.” Here are a few highlights:

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, some 156,000 and counting students were back in school this week. And in what is a remarkable feat of derring-do, most things worked smoothly.

Teachers perform miracles, it’s true. But the running of such a system is a miracle in itself: Buses have to be scheduled, enough teachers hired and in the classroom by that first day, food bought and prepared, supplies stored, classrooms decorated, curricula designed and extracurriculars planned.

And this:

Teachers, we hope, will begin the year with adequate supplies, but it won’t be long before they’re off to Target to resupply out of their own pockets. More affluent schools will have fundraisers to cover the multitude of extras not in the school budget. Others will just do without.

At one Wake elementary school toward the end of the last school year, a teacher was overheard telling a principal her pencil sharpener was broken. “Do we have some money for that?” the teacher asked. “I’m sorry, no,” said the principal.

A miracle worker can’t get a pencil sharpener?

And, finally this:

Yes, our public schools have been much criticized, unfortunately of late by self-serving politicians who have actually used underpaid and overworked public school teachers as targets. But every day, from dawn until dark, custodians and principals and classroom teachers and coaches and cafeteria workers and bus drivers pull off the miracle, somehow, and then do it for another day and another and another.

Merlin and David Copperfield had nothing on them. Many a military leader aware of what public school people do would be happy to have them consult on logistics and battlefield strategy. It’s simply amazing, this institution called public education, and we forget that sometimes while we’re taking it for granted.

To which all a body can say in reply is “amen.”

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Casino slots

Image: www.stoppredatorygambling.org

If you subscribe to or frequently check out Raleigh’s News & Observer, you probably saw the featured Sunday story that looked at casino gambling in Cherokee as well as the coming expansions and the efforts to introduce more of the same in South Carolina under the banner of the Catawba tribe. It was a good and well-written story — as far as it went.

Unfortunately,  here’s the one hugely important item that you didn’t see anywhere in the lengthy and quite-thoroughly illustrated story: Any mention whatsoever of the the way that large and predatory gambling corporations exploit Native American tribes along with a huge proportion of the customers who visit the casinos.

One would think it might have occurred. After all, one of the Cherokee customers interviewed for the story admitted that he frequents Cherokee “42-44 weekends a year.”  Good lord, what’s next? An upbeat profile of a regular slot machine player who shares a cheap hotel room with seven other people and frequents the local blood bank?

Not that it would be hard to find out the truth about the predations of the casino industry or the tribes and individuals it exploits. Les Bernal, the longtime executive director of the national nonprofit Stop Predatory Gambling (a group that does great work bringing together liberal and conservative gambling opponents) has been in North Carolina multiple times — including this summer — to speak out against the effort to create a Catawba Nation casino. Moreover, SPG’s website is chock full of stories and analyses detailing the disasters that predatory casino gambling typically begets. This is from a section devoted to Native American casinos: Read More

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Former House Speaker-turned lobbyist Harold Brubaker

Former House Speaker and current top-ranked lobbyist Harold Brubaker – Photo: NC General Assembly

The North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research is a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state. Moreover, its commitment to sober and thorough research in which the focus is on getting things right more than getting them fast is a welcome departure from the norm in today’s hyper-fast-paced policy environment.

That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual “rankings” of lobbyists and lawmakers.

Every year (or at least it seems like every year anyway — I’m actually not sure how often these darned things come out ), the Center releases the results of surveys it conducts of the denizens of the state Legislative Building on the “effectiveness” of lawmakers and lobbyists. The results are then converted into a “rankings” system and released with much fanfare. Think of it as a kind of once-per-year AP Top 25 football team poll for politicos. Today, the Center released its lobbyist list.

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word “effectiveness,” which as a practical matter, has come to mean “power and influence.” Surprise! This year, the “most effective” lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker. Similarly, last spring’s rankings touted Phil Berger and Thom Tillis as the “most effective” legislators. What a shocker that was! (I mean, who’s kidding who? Saying Harold Brubaker is “more effective” than some underpaid nonprofit advocate for sick kids or the environment is like seriously reporting that Florida State has a “more effective” football team than N.C. Central.)

Maybe it’s the notion Read More

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Solar powerA giant Swiss investment  bank thinks so. As the good folks at Think Progress point out in this story, the bank, UBS, has issued a new report in which it concludes that Europe may soon be approaching the point at which “large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past.”

The reason for this incredibly hopeful prospect is pretty straightforward: “a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles…will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas.” Talk about a great response to the problem of coal ash production!

Meanwhile, here in the states, activists and entrepreneurs continue to make important inroads in advancing the cause of renewables despite the stubborn resistance of giant fossil fuel companies and the politicians and right-wing “think tanks” on their payrolls. A classic and hopeful example was in my email inbox this morning from the state chapter of the Sierra Club:

“Clean Energy For Raleigh” kicks-off program to fast track solar and energy efficiency for homeowners and businesses

RALEIGH – Clean Energy For Raleigh (CE4R), a ground-breaking community-based program that makes the adoption of solar power and energy efficiency upgrades cheaper and easier, has made its way to Raleigh.

“This model blows away the three biggest barriers to adopting clean energy – cost, red-tape, and inaction,” said Chelsea Barnes, the CE4R community coordinator and a volunteer with the NC Sierra Club Capital Group, the program’s sponsor. Read More