Commentary

The best editorial of the weekend: NC Revenue Department needs to get with the program

In case you missed it, the Winston-Salem Journal had a good editorial over the weekend in it which lauded Gov. Roy Cooper for his generally solid work to advance the cause of sustainable energy, but blasted Cooper’s Revenue Department for doing just the opposite.

After pointing out that Cooper’s recently announced clean energy plan has numerous good aspects, the editorial noted:

For about two decades, North Carolina used tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to invest in renewable energy partnerships. Investors could get tax credits as high as 35 percent on money they invested in various clean energy projects. The credits had to be taken in five equal installments.

That particular program ended in 2016, but investors who had projects in progress could keep taking the credits until they had used them up. Some people involved in solar projects created partnerships not only with energy companies but also with banks, insurance companies and other institutions that essentially bought the tax credits.

Then last fall, the Revenue Department said it wasn’t going to allow the tax credits in some of those partnership deals that had been used to pay for solar energy projects.

Suddenly, investors who been important in the development of the state’s solar farms stood to lose as much as $500 million….

After noting that Revenue officials are relying on an unnecessarily cramped reading of the law, it closes by calling on Gov. Cooper to get his people in line in support of a vital cause:

But North Carolina’s tax code can differ from the federal one when state laws differ from federal laws. By insisting on this narrow view, the Revenue Department is in effect making policy, a policy that’s not that of the governor and that also seems to go against the intent of the General Assembly and a recent state Supreme Court ruling involving the IRS code.

The Revenue Department is also unfairly changing the rules on investors who acted in good faith, in a move that will make it tough for future clean-energy projects here to find financial backing.

The Revenue Department is a part of Cooper’s administration just as surely as the Department of Environmental Quality is.

Cooper should do what it takes to get the Revenue Department on board with his ambitious clean energy proposals.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Of impeachable offenses and telemarketing scams

U.S. State Department Building

Aunt Verlie was panic-stricken by the time I arrived at the If You’re Not Livin’, You’re Dyin’ Eldercare Villas. Someone had been calling all day long—actually, several someones—leaving messages saying her assets (Seriously? Four half empty bottles of Nivea lotion and a CVS heating pad with cold spots?) were going to be SEIZED and her Social Security number had been “fatally compromised.”

The voicemails were stern, forceful, of the devil.

I wrapped an arm around Verlie’s thin shoulders, turned on “The Property Brothers” to keep her calm and reminded her it’s not rude to hang up on creepy scammers, ever.

I couldn’t help but think how these wretched souls remind me of the Trump administration’s State Department which has been, according to The Washington Post, notifying staffers who worked with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton their emails have been “retroactively classified and now constitute potential security violations.”

Horse manure.

Trump’s State Department says this has nothing to do with the president; it just takes a long time to go through all those emails. But to anyone with an above room temp IQ, it’s obvious this is another example of the president abusing his power to punish his political adversaries.

Why would we expect anything else?

There is no difference whatsoever, ethically speaking, between what the State Department goons are doing and what honestly happened to Aunt Verlie on a sunny Saturday at a location I made up. Who knows? Maybe it’s the same people? Maybe “Mr. Adam Drake from the Internal Revenue Service” moonlights.

The Post quotes letters to Clinton’s former staffers and other Democratic key personnel as “You have been identified as possibly bearing some culpability” in, supposedly newly uncovered “security incidents.”

Who does that sound like? Hmmmmm?

Now the wacky thing here is Trump’s State Department clutching its pearls and gettin’ the vapors over Hillary using that private email server years ago but turning a blind eye to Trump’s repeated  blathering nonstop on insecure cell phones and routinely sharing classified information to foreign officials with all the circumspection of a drunk 12-year-old at a slumber party.

You gotta love the stones on this Mike Pompeo guy. Trump’s most recent Secretary of State is said to be overseeing this nonsense at the behest of Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, 118, of Iowa, who is believed to be the only person still alive who regularly uses the word “consarned” with nary a trace of irony.

That’s the same Mike Pompeo, by the by, who thinks it’s OK to withhold millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine until sufficient dirt is uncovered on Joe Biden because Trump’s woke to the fact that sleepy Joe could beat him.

The threatening language with its “I know what you did last presidency” is typical ham-handed thuggery from an administration that will stop at nothing to divert attention from its crimes.

In the words of that great immigrant, Melania Trump, using your immense power to bully others kinda suck-ski’s.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times -bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Education, News

The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

1. New analysis indicates that toxics were present in Wilmington drinking water at extreme levels


Tests of samples collected between 2014 and 2016 reveal sky-high PFAS readings

Astronomical concentrations of toxic compounds commonly known as PFAS were present in the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, years before researchers had the technology to detect them.

According to a new analysis of preserved samples from 2014 to 2016, PFAS that contain an ether molecule were found at concentrations of at least as high as 130,000 parts per trillion near Lock and Dam No. 1, near the drinking water intake for the City of Wilmington. The contamination originated at the Chemours/DuPont facility more than 80 miles upstream.

The samples at Lock and Dam No. 1 were taken in 2015 near by NC State and EPA researchers. But only now, with advanced technology, can scientists more accurately measure the concentrations of PFAS in water. [Read more...]

 

2. Superintendent candidates focus on racial equity at Raleigh education forum

As the proud owner of a new restaurant, Leonardo Williams surely had other things to do this past Saturday.

But there he was, taking notes and listening closely to six state superintendent candidates who want to replace Mark Johnson in the November 2020 general election.

For the record, Johnson has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

Williams, a former educator and two-time Teacher of the Year in Durham who still has more than a passing interest in educational issues because of his work as a consultant, explained that the superintendent’s race will be the most important statewide race on the ballot.

He said the winner of the election — he’s betting it’ll be one of the six announced candidates present Saturday — will be charged with the important work of slowing what he sees as an attempt by the Republican-led General Assembly to privatize public schools. [Read more…]

 

3. Equality advocates express concern, determination to fight on as high court weighs LGBTQ discrimination

This week, five years after a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up an issue that, for some, could be even more consequential for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.

The nation’s highest court heard opening arguments Tuesday in three cases that could decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ people from employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or status as transgender people.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, said that while the community has been fighting for employment protection in all states for decades, it is daunting to have it before the current Supreme Court.

“For me personally, it’s creating a great deal of anxiety to have this issue in the hands of the court with its current makeup,” Johnson said. [Read more…]

 

4. Latest Supreme Court battle a reminder that true LGBTQ equality is far from won

“The struggle for gay rights is over,” the writer James Kirchick wrote in The Atlantic in June. And just like that, you could almost smell the smoldering keyboards across the country.

I loathe sports metaphors, but if we were playing football, this headline still smacks of celebrating a touchdown on the opposing team’s 20-yard-line.

Yet it’s safe to assume Kirchick – a Brookings Institute fellow and openly gay reporter who, in 2007, won the National Gay and Lesbian Journalist Association’s award for “Journalist of the Year” – revels in a robust debate, else he wouldn’t pen such a provocative piece. That piece, it should be noted, is more nuanced and thoughtful than the headline.

(Indeed, I’m convinced he enjoys a good dust-up after watching Kirchick’s glorious trolling of the Russian propaganda network RT in 2016, in which he donned rainbow suspenders and dismantled the Kremlin’s anti-gay laws before the network booted him.)[Read more…]

5. It’s up to the court now: A redistricting update after the final round of filings

It’s a strikingly familiar tale in North Carolina: voters are waiting with bated breath for a court to either approve legislatively-drawn remedial House and Senate maps or to assign the job to a neutral third-party to correct unconstitutional gerrymandering issues.

Republicans drew the 2017 legislative maps to entrench themselves in political power and dilute the Democratic vote, a three-judge panel ruled in September. The panel gave lawmakers another bite at the apple to draw districts without partisan considerations ahead of the 2020 election.

Now there is a battle over whether legislators followed the court’s instructions or just ended up creating another unconstitutional scheme that continues to disadvantage voters.

The political stakes are high – 2020 is a Census year, so whichever party is elected to the majority will control the next cycle of redistricting, likely with some partisan intent if history gives any indication. [Read more…]

 

6. Legislature pushes another troubling attack on voting and immigrants

Sometimes you have to wonder if there isn’t a very specific chapter in the political playbook of Donald Trump’s modern American right that includes the following entries under the heading “default strategies”:

A. Attack immigrants
B. Restrict voting rights
C. If possible, combine strategies a and b

After all, any political movement that would, a) stubbornly stand by a president who proposes to employ tactics reminiscent of the East German Stasi in dealing with border crossing immigrants and, b) host “how to” confabs in which architects and defenders of some of the most notorious gerrymanders and voter suppression schemes in U.S. history hold forth for politicians from across the country, is doing little to disguise its objectives.

By almost every indication, the right sees the demographic wave that is headed squarely in its direction over the next few decades and is scrambling madly to do everything its leaders can think of to hold back the tide. [Read more…]

 

7. Weekly radio commentaries and newsmaker interviews:

 

8. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Commentary, Trump Administration

If Trump is innocent, why lock up the evidence?

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump has placed a heavy shroud of silence over the executive branch.

Under his orders, no witnesses from the State Department, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, the Department of Justice, the White House or any other executive agency will be allowed to testify under oath to Congress. It’s all shut down.

Likewise, no documents, no memos, no email or text-message exchanges will be made available to Congress as it considers impeachment.

That’s an odd thing to do if you’re innocent.

If you’re innocent, why would you keep all the copious evidence of your innocence locked away from Congress and the world? Why would you tell eyewitnesses to your innocence that they can’t utter a word about it? Why would federal judges feel it necessary to order you not to destroy evidence of this innocence?

The most obvious explanation is that you in fact are not innocent. The most obvious explanation is that you realize that your only hope of retaining office and any degree of public support is to hide as much evidence of your wrongdoing as possible, for as long as possible, using every desperate measure at your command.

In a letter to Congress this week, White House lawyers did just that.

“There is no basis for your inquiry,” those lawyers told Congress, condemning the investigation as “partisan and unconstitutional,” “constitutionally invalid,” “an unconstitutional exercise in political theater” and “illegitimate.”

Writing about a controversial phone call with the Ukrainian president, they claim that a rough transcript of that call proves it “was completely appropriate, that the President did nothing wrong, and that there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry.”

This would be the phone call in which the Ukrainian president begs Trump for permission to buy U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, which he needs to protect his country from Russian invasion. The very next words out of Trump’s mouth are fateful:

“I would like you to do us a favor though….”

As Trump explains, that favor involves two investigations. Read more

Commentary

Rep. Lewis’ loan deal emblematic of a larger problem in NC politics

Rep. David Lewis

There are a lot of troubling aspects to the recently disclosed loan deal between North Carolina House Rules Committee chair, Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and John Gray — one of four individuals indicted earlier this year in an alleged bribery scheme involving businessman Greg Lindberg and former Republican congressman and state party chairman Robin Hayes.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Travis Fain of WRAL reported earlier this week that Gray provided a personal loan to Lewis of $500,000 in June of 2018 that was supposed to be for four months. This is from Fain’s report:

Deeds of trust filed in the deal show that Lewis and his wife, along with their farm and property company, put up land in four North Carolina counties as collateral. The loan has not been repaid, and Gray has not foreclosed on the properties as the deeds indicate he could.

Hurricane Florence hit two months after the loan closed, causing “catastrophic loss” at Lewis’ farm, the lawmaker said. Gray, who Lewis said he’s known for about 10 years, agreed to extend the loan.

While Lewis disclosed the loan arrangement between the two men, and its existence may not have broken any laws, it certainly doesn’t look or smell good. Gray was a consultant to Greg Lindberg — a wealthy insurance business owner whose company was registered to lobby the General Assembly at the time of the loan. What’s more, as WRAL also reported, Lindberg and his team had multiple meetings with GOP leaders in 2017 in which there were discussions of large potential contributions to Republican campaign efforts.

Simply put: It strains credulity to imagine that a powerful GOP lawmaker like Lewis was wholly unaware of these lobbying efforts or discussions of campaign contributions. After all, he told Fain that he’s known Gray for “about 10 years.” What’s more, Gray had also donated more than $7,000 to Lewis’ campaigns.

Perhaps more importantly, it also strains credulity to imagine that Lewis would have been able obtain such a large personal loan if he was a run-of-the-mill Harnett County farmer and not an important elected official.

In other words, even if the arrangement between the two men was completely legal, it stinks that a powerful politician can gain access to a half-million dollar loan from a deep-pocketed individual with lots of business before the public body in which that politician serves.

And this fact serves to illustrate a larger point.

For decades now, men and women of both political parties have come to the General Assembly with the obvious objective of “cashing in” on their public service. For some, this means finding work as a well-paid lobbyist after leaving the legislature. For others, it involves securing full-time employment with the state or a regulated industry. And for others, it just means making connections with wealthy and powerful interests who can provide other perks and benefits.

And while such arrangements are devilishly difficult to prevent or even regulate, it doesn’t make them right. Unfortunately, in the dark era of Trump, they seem, increasingly, to amount to business as usual.