That North Carolina Town Is Afraid of Solar Power Because They Have No Ownership

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week, the internet collectively shook its head at the residents of Woodland, a small North Carolina town. At a meeting to discuss a proposed new field of solar panels, Woodland residents offered up some ridiculous protests. One worried that solar panels cause cancer. (They don’t.) A complaint was raised that solar panels draw sunlight away from chlorophyll-producing plants. (Not even remotely true.) And another suggested that the panels “would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.” Everyone on the internet had a good laugh at the Woodlanders’ expense and promptly moved on.

But David Roberts at Vox published an excellent piece today that explores the story a little further. He discovers that Woodland is an incredibly poor town, and like many poor American towns it’s suffering from a youth drain—young people are moving away at rapid rates. Four out of every ten residents does not have a high school diploma—a demographic that we learned yesterday is losing more ground in America than anyone else. Residents are rightfully worried that their town is slowly being abandoned.

Roberts points out that Woodland doesn’t benefit from the solar panels at all. They don’t get taxes from the solar farms, or jobs, or any cuts to their energy bills. So far as they’re concerned, the panels are just taking up space. Is it any wonder that they’re spreading rumors about the panels? They’re terrifying, they provide no benefit to the town, and they’re a reminder that people have abandoned Woodland.

By way of a solution, Roberts suggests benefit sharing. He shows that complaints from locals go way down when benefit sharing takes place, and he shares some benefit sharing mechanisms from an EU report that have helped clean energy achieve immense levels of popularity in Europe.

1. Community Funds: the local developer provides funds which are at the disposal of the community for common projects or lowering local taxes. These funds are either paid directly into a community fund or collected indirectly through local taxes by the municipality. The use of the funds is managed either by the community or the municipality.

2. Local (Co-)Ownership: the developer grants or offers shares in the project to the local community.

3. Compensation: the developer compensates for possible damages such as ecological damages (e.g. by creating a new habitat for species endangered by the development).

4. Benefits-in-kind: the developer creates improvements to the community, usually during the construction phase.

5. Local Employment: local employment is prioritised the construction phase and/or in the operation phase.

6. Local Contracting: local business are awarded contracts or involved in the development.

7. Energy Price Reduction for the Local Community: the local community is granted the opportunity to either consume energy directly from the development at a discount or to purchase energy at lower prices.

8. Indirect Social Benefits: any other benefit accruing to the community which is not directly quantifiable such as prestige, eco-tourism, knowledge etc.

The point of all this is that inclusion works. People don’t fear what they view as part of their community. Clean energy corporations should do something to help America’s shrinking small towns, rather than exploit them. After all, the more they include towns like Woodland in their plans, the more customers they’ll have.

Daily Clips: December 18th, 2015

Matthew Yglesias on Marco Rubio: As per usual, Yglesias writes an op-ed that neatly unpackages what the Skunk Works team has been grappling with in private. His opening sentence, in particular, is very apt:

Virtually every Democrat I talk to in Washington is equal parts delighted and baffled that Republican Party stakeholders have as of yet done nothing to seriously try to unify the party establishment behind Marco Rubio.

That has been the conversation we’ve all been having privately for a long time. Rubio is the only GOP candidate that scares us for the 2016 election. Cruz? Trump? No way. Jeb!? Yes, but there’s almost no chance that he gets the nomination.

Hillary’s Economic Balancing Act: Even though Republicans have completely ignored the economy, we know this issue will be front and center come 2016. Hillary Clinton, when she becomes the Democratic nominee, will have a difficult time addressing Americans economic concerns, however. As the author points out:

How do you run a campaign that capitalizes on the country’s populist mood—and anger—while also touting the economic advances made under Obama?

This economic balancing act will not be easy. And the Fed’s recent decision to raise rates from near zero will force the conversation upon Hillary Clinton, most likely at tomorrow’s Democratic debate (isn’t it refreshing that one party actually talks about the economy?).

Nonetheless, Hillary should take comfort in the fact that “A large body of research shows that voters are more inclined to stick with the incumbent party when the economy is doing well and to support the opposition when it’s not. Recent elections have borne this out.”

The path to 270 in 2016: The Center for American Progress has just published a new report which lays out a roadmap to victory for the Democratic presidential nominee. It’s an in-depth piece of research worthy of your time.

Donald Trump Is the End Result of the Republican Party’s Exclusionary Tactics

Trump the Game: It's all fun until you've excluded all your potential voters.

Trump the Game: It’s all fun until you’ve excluded all your potential voters.

Adam Serwer’s excellent assessment of the Trump campaign—it’s titled “The Antidote to Trump“—is absolutely worth your time. Here’s the thesis statement:

The force that can scour Trumpism from the Republican Party for good is the same one that gave Truman the ability to defy the Dixiecrats: a diverse base. Not the feel-good diversity of tokenism or having “black friends,” but the division of power.

This is absolutely true. Trump’s rise to popularity in the Republican Party could only have happened with the help of a homogenous base. And the only way to stop this kind of exclusionary talk is by diversifying that base. On the face of it, this seems to be a catch-22, but Serwer correctly points out that both Democrats and Republicans have successfully incorporated more diverse viewpoints at multiple times in their histories. More to the point, the diversification often came after demagogues single-handedly drove the parties to their worst moments.

Nobody can seriously deny that the party of Trump is at a low point. Unless you’re a straight white male, the Republican Party has likely overtly offended you in the last few years. In this primary alone, politicians have worked to exclude, vilify, or outright deny the rights of every minority imaginable. This is not sustainable.

Diversity, as Civic Skunk Works co-founder Nick Hanauer has said, is the key to innovation of all kinds: “The more cognitive diversity we have — the more people simultaneously approaching the same problem from as many different backgrounds and perspectives as possible — the greater the rate of innovation.” And yes, that includes political innovation. Without diversity, your answers become more and more myopic, until finally the solutions to all your problems start to look remarkably like Donald Trump: hateful, exclusionary, and cruel.

Donald Trump is the end result of the negative feedback loop that Hanauer has warned us about: Trump happens when you run out of innovative solutions to complex problems. By continually scaring away diverse populations, the Republican Party has bombed itself back to the stone age, rhetorically speaking; all their problem-solving capabilities have been reduced to clubs and sharp rocks. Exclude these people, give tax cuts to the rich, and invade any country that disagrees with us is not a platform. It’s a prescription for destruction.

In This Economy, High School Grads Are Falling Out of The Middle Class

Last week, Pew Research released a 74-page report, “The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground,” which examined economic data from 1971 to 2015. The study discovered that “after more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it.” In other words, our economy has been hollowed out from the middle. We have become a nation of “haves” and “have-nots.”

Predictably, this evaporation of the middle class has affected some demographic groups more than others. Hispanics and millennials were hit hard, but no one lost more ground economically than adults who had no more than a high school diploma. Look at this graphic from the report:

"College isn't for everyone," says the person with a college degree.

“College isn’t for everyone,” says the person with a college degree.

As you can see, those with high school degrees lost even more income share (-21.9 percent) than those with less than a high school degree (-18.1 percent).

But did those with college degrees do much better? The answer is an unequivocal yes. During the period researched by Pew, “only one educational attainment group did not lose income status: college graduates.” Marinate on that for a second. Now look here:

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 3.51.08 PM

These numbers are startling. Americans with college degrees are “eight times as likely as adults who did not graduate from high school to live in upper-income households, and they are more than twice as likely as high school graduates or adults with some college education to be in the upper-income tier.”

Pew Research adds:

As the U.S. economy increasingly rewards those with job skills, college-educated Americans have an economic edge over other adults, even when the costs of going to college are factored in. They have a growing earnings advantage over those with no more than a high school diploma.

Their study seems to be pointing to a clear solution: in order to create a more robust middle class, we must ensure “open and universal access to postsecondary education.” Bernie Sanders, to his credit, has been cogently making this case for some time now:

Today, there is universal access to free, public schools across the United States for kindergarten through 12th grade. That didn’t happen by presidential decree. It took populist pressure from the progressive movement, beginning in the 1890s, to make widespread access to free public schools a reality. By 1940, half of all young people were graduating from high school. As of 2013, that number was 81 percent. But that achievement is no longer enough. A college degree is the new high school diploma.

Sanders is not wrong. I would only add this: a college degree is the new high school diploma for ensuring a middle-class life. This Pew study has shown why we find ourselves with an increasingly bifurcated economy: America has not equipped its citizens with the appropriate levels of education to ensure a strong middle class. Thomas Friedman made this case beautifully back in 2011:

When we were an agrarian society, that meant introducing universal primary education; as we became an industrial society, that meant promoting universal high school education; as we became a knowledge economy, that meant at least aspiring to universal postsecondary education.

The time for aspiration, though, has come and gone. Pew’s study illustrates that if we want a strong middle class, establishing universal postsecondary education would be an extremely effective solution. In an age where wages are frustratingly stagnant and consumer spending continues to disappoint, why aren’t we actively pursuing a policy change which we know cultivates larger incomes? We need a larger middle class because we need more robust participants in the economy. This, after all, is the fundamental law of capitalism:

If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople…the true job creators. Which means a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it.

Morally, universal postsecondary education will create a much more equal (and educated) society, where a greater proportion of our population has an increased opportunity of securing a middle-class lifestyle.  And economically, it will bolster our nation’s “true job creators,” thereby empowering the source of American economic growth. If we want to restore the middle class in the 21st century, postsecondary education must play a key role. Our economic prosperity depends upon it.

Scott Walker Hopes You Won’t Notice Him Quietly Killing Voter Rights in Wisconsin

In a private ceremony far away from the prying eyes of the media, Wisconsin Governor (and failed presidential candidate) Scott Walker signed two new bills into law. The first strips power from a nonpartisan elections panel and instead creates two new partisan committees to oversee elections. And the second, in the words of Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post

…relaxes campaign finance rules, doubling the limit for individual contributions, eliminating the requirement that donors must identify their employer and allowing corporate donations to political parties and legislative campaign committees.

Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain.

Pay no attention to the man in front of the curtain.

Yep. If you asked me how to destroy a democracy as quickly as possible, those are pretty much the steps I’d outline: remove nonpartisan oversight and give outsize power to big money interests. These kind of policies have been enacted in Republican strongholds across the country, and they are incredibly detrimental to democracy.

Walker signed those bills in secret, which is telling: it indicates to me that he knows what he’s doing isn’t in the public’s interest. Unlike most conservative pushes against voter rights, he can’t even hold up a bogus claim of voter fraud as a reason for these policies. What he’s doing will strip the electorate of their voice, and devalue that quintessential American idea of one vote for every citizen. Instead, poor people, minorities, and other populations will lose their chance for equal representation.

Meanwhile, Walker might not have won the presidency—in fact, he made a total hash of his presidential campaign—but you can bet he’ll retire from his governorship into a fancy high-paying position for one of the companies that supported the anti-voter legislation that he signed into law. The ugliness is so overt; opponents of election equality aren’t even trying to hide their goals behind euphemism and coded language anymore. They’re just trying to get what they want and sneak off like thieves into the night.

Daily Clips: December 17th, 2015

An appalling silence on gun control: The New York Times Editorial Board published what we were all thinking, complaining that the Republican debate completely ignored the gun violence epidemic that offers “a lethal, daily threat” to Americans.

It’s easier for these candidates to engage in eerie discussions of whether the next president should be free to bomb civilians in Syria or shoot down Russian bombers in a no-fly zone. They are experts at stoking fears about terrorism and great at wringing their hands about the unfounded bomb scare that shut down the Los Angeles school district on Tuesday, but actually facing up to gun violence — which kills more than 33,000Americans a year — is beyond their capacity or courage. Far from offering any ideas, their statements on the campaign trail are a national embarrassment.

Why portable benefits should be a priority in this new economy: Our economy has changed. And the lack of portable benefits is one of the biggest impediments blocking US workers from thriving in this new economy. As the author says,

…The system for supporting the independent workers who provide these services is the opposite of flexible. Our health insurance, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation are rigidly attached to the employer. When you leave the company, you lose your employee benefits. This system makes no sense in today’s economy, where people move from job to job to build a career.

The Fed is hiking rates for the first time since 2006. That’s a big deal: 

After seven years of keeping a key interest rate near zero percent, the Federal Reserve has voted for a rate increase. The decision signals the central bank’s growing confidence in the economy. The Fed is raising its target for the federal funds rate — the rate banks charge when they lend money to one another — from 0 percent to 0.25 percent. By itself, that modest increase isn’t going to have a big impact on the American economy. But the move is significant because it’s widely seen as the first step in a longer sequence of rate increases over the next couple of years.

Marco Rubio Says You Can’t Live on $10/Hr, So…What? People Just Die?

marco rubio minimum wage

Marco Rubio: Thirsty for jobs that pay more

At a campaign event back in October, Marco Rubio said something that is factually accurate: That poverty wages simply are not enough to support a family.

“I have full confidence that the American private sector…won’t just create millions of jobs. They’ll create millions of jobs that pay more,” he said, standing in a backyard in (according to the clip) Portsmouth. “Because even the jobs that are being created now don’t pay enough. You can’t live on $10 an hour! You can’t live $11 an hour! We need to create jobs that pay much more than that. But we have to have an economy and economic policy that make America the best place in the world to create jobs that pay more.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s go point by point:

  • Marco Rubio believes that the private sector, not the government, should be creating jobs and spreading wealth, even though he’s often said that a tax credit is the best way to put more money in the pockets of Americans.
  • Marco Rubio doesn’t like the jobs that are being created now, even though he’s very much a believer that the economy is a game of straight supply-and-demand and thus, theoretically should believe that the jobs being created are the ones that are most in demand.
  • Marco Rubio admits that the minimum wage—well below $10 or $11 in all states—is not enough to live on, and yet, does not suggest what to do about that.
  • Marco Rubio wants people to be paid more than $11 per hour, but somehow refuses to admit that a quick way to do that is to raise the minimum wage.
  • Marco Rubio says that to pay people more, we need to have “an economy and economic policy” that would favor job creators, though he fails to quite put together that a good way to do that is to, again, give more purchasing power to people who spend their money with job creators.

In this address, he admits that the minimum wage is not enough to live on, which forces the question: Who does he think works for the minimum wage?

People who…are not alive? People who don’t need to live on those wages?

Perhaps, like a lot of misinformed people, Rubio believes that the minimum wage is not for people who need to survive on it, i.e., it is just for teenagers. If so, that could be a major problem; BLS numbers showing that more than 3.3 million Americans earn at or below the Federal minimum wage, and Census data demonstrates that the US has the lowest percentage of teenagers we’ve ever had. If minimum wage jobs really are just for those who don’t have a family to support, we may actually not have enough of a workforce to keep it afloat.

Or, perhaps Rubio is just perfectly ok with a caste system, wherein some people get to live and others do not. After all, he’s previously stated that the best way to raise wages is to “make America the best place in the world to start a business”—but of course, in suggesting this, he’s stating that business owners deserve a living wage, but their employees, who would ostensibly be pulling down make wages of $10 or $11 per hour do not.

Rubio’s statements echo those of fellow Republican Paul Ryan, who delivered his first major policy address as Speaker of the House earlier this month, and focused almost entirely on poverty and income inequality. And, much like Rubio, he got oh-so-close to actually admitting that increasing the minimum wage could actually be the best possible thing for the economy…but he, too, couldn’t quite get there.

Writing for the Nation, Rebecca Vallas and Melissa Boteach explained it pretty concisely:

As Speaker Ryan so eloquently points out, our minimum wage is a poverty wage and not nearly enough for working parents to support their families, leaving many with no choice but to turn to public assistance to make ends meet.

“So say you’re a single mom with one kid. You’re making minimum wage. You’re on food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other assistance.”

So, by raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 as the Murray-Scott bill would do, not only would 35 million Americans get a raise, but we would also save nearly $53 billion over the next 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program alone.

Unfortunately, Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage at least 10 times since he’s been in office.

Because here is what is becoming extremely clear about the Republican party: They can see the issue (which is that people simply are not earning enough money), but for some reason they can’t seem to just say the words:

We could solve these problems by ensuring that all workers receive a wage that is economically feasible.

The GOP loves to tout the private sector and decry the use of social services by people living in poverty, but it’s the private sector’s unwillingness to pay its workers enough to purchase basic necessities—like a one-bedroom apartment, which the minimum wage can’t cover in any state—that results in the reliance on social services. Republican presidential hopefuls talk a big game about “creating jobs” and “pushing up wages,” but can’t quite follow the end of that thought to “if people had more money, demand for goods and services would increase.”

There seems to be some cognitive dissonance that exists right in the way of drawing these conclusions. What is it?

marco rubio minimum wage

I tried to do some scratch math but was unable.

Could it be that their major donors are the exact members of the private sector who are posting record high CEO pay while paying their workers a wage that all but requires them to rely on food assistance and other social services? That would certainly make sense statistically; in an article for Salon, Sean McElwee points to the fact that while plenty of GOP voters actually do support raising the minimum wage, it’s the donors who do not.

“A whopping 63 percent of Republican non-donors support a higher minimum wage, compared to only 32 percent of donors who gave more than $1,000,” McElwee notes—indicating that conservatives who are struggling, who don’t have $1,000 or more to give, really do believe in higher wages, while those with means are hoping to keep their money by railing against redistribution.

Or is it just that all of these men are so bound by the ideas of trickle-down economics that they legitimately do not see the fact that it’s not working?

Because that’s exactly what Rubio, Ryan, and their ilk are saying when they make these claims about the needs to “create jobs that pay more”—they are saying that our current system, a system where the minimum wage has neither kept up with inflation or productivity, but where tax cuts for the wealthy are tipping the scales, isn’t doing what they want it to do.

Daily Clips: December 16th, 2015

The winners and losers of last night’s debate, according to Jennifer Rubin: Rubin is a rigidly conventional thinker and an establishment Republican at the Washington Post. And within her analysis of last night’s debate, she does everything she can to make you think that Rubio and Bush were the best candidates on stage.

Her winners and losers were perfectly demarcated between establishment candidates and outsiders:

Winners: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, CNN (for tough, substantive questions on foreign policy)

Losers: Trump, Cruz, Dr. Ben Carson (who seemed barely there)

A couple of things: How did she possibly think Jeb Bush won that debate? He was downright awful. And how does she think that CNN did a good job on foreign policy when they never even brought up the historic Paris agreement? Their adherence to terrorism was pathetic and cheap. Deep down, CNN is shallow.

CNN leaves anti-choice domestic terrorism out of GOP Debate: 

During the final Republican presidential primary debate of 2015, which was focused on national security and terrorism, CNN moderators failed to ask the Republican presidential primary candidates about the deadly shooting attack at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, which has been linked by many in the media to heated anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric from the GOP.

The GOP debate explained in one tweet:

 Rand Paul decided to show up to this debate: