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Religious libertyIf you had any doubts about how ridiculous it is for government officials to be commencing public events with religious prayers, check out the squabble between two members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners as explained in this morning’s Charlotte Observer.

As reporters Tim Funk and David Perlmutt explain, the dispute apparently developed as the result of the Board of Commissioners’ policy of rotating the responsibility for opening meetings with prayer between members. One member, though herself a church goer, did not want to to lead prayers.  This, in turn, led another member to take offense and conclude that the other member was not pulling her weight. The dispute spiraled from there into an embarrassing spat that featured name-calling and all sorts of troubling statements about religion.

The Mecklenburg mess, of course, comes right on the heels of the recent debacle in Lincoln County in which a commissioner said the following about the possibility of his board opening its meetings with anything other than a Christian prayer:

“Other religions, or whatever, are in the minority. The U.S. was founded on Christianity. I don’t believe we need to be bowing to the minorities. The U.S. and the Constitution were founded on Christianity. This is what the majority of people believe in, and it’s what I’m standing up for.”

This kind of nonsense shows precisely why it is impossible for government to get involved in promoting prayer and religion in a useful way. For prayer to have any real meaning, it can’t just be comprised of sanitized and generic platitudes. But once one goes down the road of making it meaningful and specific, it inevitably excludes large swaths of the population with whose views and beliefs it does not comport.

That’s why the best solution (as the American Founding Fathers figured out almost 230 years ago) is to leave prayer to individuals and private institutions and keep public events and institutions religion-free. It’s better for government and better for religion.

Commentary

Solar powerIt’s hard to imagine a better public investment when it comes to long-term societal well-being than solar energy. In a time of increasingly dire environmental news, solar has the potential to bring huge benefits to the health of the planet while, at the same time, freeing numerous countries from their heroin-like addiction to the oil of various theocracies and dictatorships. Even if solar energy required significant and permanent public subsidies to be economically viable, it would be more than worth the investment.

Here, however, is the cool part: Solar energy is an increasingly viable and competitive industry that will require less and less public stimulus as time goes on. As demand rises and costs of solar installations (both large and small scale) continue to fall, solar is fast becoming a genuine rival to the fossil fuel industry. It is, in short, a best-of-both-worlds scenario: a money-making capitalist enterprise that could help save the world.

Unfortunately,  the fossil fuel industry and its apologists are doing everything they can to stifle this progress. A classic case in point is taking place right now in North Carolina where lawmakers are looking to decimate a law that has helped prime the solar energy  pump and place the industry on the road to full economic viability. Contributor Jesse Grossman explains in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“HB 760 would reduce the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard from the existing 12.5 percent by 2020 goal to 6 percent. REPS has been critical to solar in North Carolina since it became law in 2007 and has fended off attacks with bipartisan support several times, most recently this April.

A REPS rollback would hamstring the market’s forward velocity and overall potential and is counter-intuitive considering solar’s statewide economic contributions and other states increasing their renewable energy targets. Read More

Commentary

The reviews are coming in as more and more people wade through the details of the House budget proposal. Here’s another sobering take from the executive director of NC Child:

Tiny plates and the House budget
By Michelle Hughes, Executive Director of NC Child

One of the most simplistic reheated bits of diet advice ever sold in the grocery checkout line is to eat your regular food, but to use a small plate and a small fork.

You’ll think your plate is full!! If you go back for seconds you won’t overeat so much!

Really?

The latest state budget for children’s services seems to have a few similar beliefs baked in–the key one being that before long you’ll believe that the plate in front of you is a regular-sized plate. Even though plates on your right and left are normal, you will not notice the one in front of you is small. Substitute ”appropriation” for “plate” and you get the point.

Set the budget table with tiny plates for many children’s programs and there you have the post-recession and post-2013 tax cut reality. The legislature fundamentally re-set the state’s budget priorities with tax cuts in 2013 and funding has not reached pre-recession levels since, although the state has grown in population and investment needs.

For instance, North Carolina’s premiere early childhood education programs, Smart Start and NC Pre-K, saw their funding reduced by 20% during the recession and have never seen that funding restored. Now, despite a growing population of children, we’re able to provide fewer of them with the strong start they need. Read More

Commentary

The good people at the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters did a great job this morning of exposing the dishonesty in the latest attacks on renewable energy in North Carolina in recent weeks from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. This is from this morning’s LCV Weekly Conservation Bulletin:

“Meanwhile on another key legislative front, one of the most well-heeled anti-environmental advocacy groups, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), has rolled out its latest dollars-and-nonsense attack on clean energy. AFP, which not coincidentally receives much funding from oil industry and other dirty energy sources, loves to attack clean, renewable energy development with factually questionable claims. In its latest assault on clean energy, AFP has launched a grab bag of dubious allegations attacking North Carolina’s imperiled Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS).

(For those who came in late, REPS requires electric utilities operating in North Carolina – especially Duke Energy – to produce or purchase a modest minimum percentage of its electricity from renewable sources like solar. REPS shares responsibility with the renewable energy development tax credits for the enormous boom in solar energy generation and related jobs in NC over the past eight years. Unfortunately, the House’s latest regulatory ‘reform’ bill, HB 760, was amended on the House floor to include anti-REPS changes. HB 760 passed the House and is now pending in the state Senate).

In working to gin up support for gutting REPS, AFP is flinging muddy claims about cost. Read More

Commentary
Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

In case you missed it over the weekend, Gene Nichol had a fine editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he shined a light on the utter madness of the narrow U.S. Supreme Court majority that, has, effectively, handed our national presidential elections over to a small group of billionaire plutocrats.

Here’s Nichol, after reminding us of Lincoln’s famous call to “allow the governed an equal voice in the government”:

“Few spectacles could more profoundly debase Lincoln’s sense of the meaning of America than the recent parade of presidential hopefuls seeking audience, in supplication, before a growing list of billionaire funders.

The Koch brothers announced that a billion dollars is up for grabs in 2016 for the candidate who most pleases them. Casino operator Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly coughed up $100 million in 2012, allowed tribute to be paid, and sought, a couple of weeks ago at his Las Vegas hotel. Republican candidates appeared with bells on.

Hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer announced he’ll sponsor Ted Cruz. Rick Santorum, once again, will carry the colors of investment manager Foster Friess. Florida billionaire Norman Braman will provide at least $10 million for Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush’s new Super PAC, Right To Rise, will reportedly secure $100 million of individual and corporate donations before the end of May.

Democrats are no better. Hillary Clinton followed up her announcement that curing the evils of money and politics will be a core component of her campaign by traveling to California to seek massive contributions for the Priorities USA Super PAC. She’s confident we’ve forgotten the Lincoln bedroom leases and the overtly purchased attentions (and pardons) of her husband’s administration….

The Washington Post described the unfolding primary as “a brawl of billionaires.” The elites of the super donor class shield and secure their own, seemingly essential, primary. The Center for Responsive Politics reminds that, in 2012, about a hundred people and their spouses contributed 67 percent of all Super PAC funding. The 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent.”

After reminding us that this ridiculous situation has all been made possible by a series of Supreme Court rulings that have equated unfettered spending by billionaires with “free speech,” he concludes this way:

“We are not without weapons. Jurisdiction can be curtailed. New seats can be added to the court. Judges can be impeached for attempting to destroy democracy. Enough is enough. Tom Paine wouldn’t put up with this. Neither would old Abe.”

He’s right. let’s get to work.