- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Jan. 20

News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on settling marriage debate:

It is the moment advocates of same-sex marriage have been anticipating and perhaps hoping for. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the wake of differing federal appellate court opinions, will settle the issue of whether bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

With marriage, the legal ties and rights are many, and same-sex couples have long sought those rights and, in some states, have gotten it. Other states, North Carolina among them, have gone to great lengths to ban same-sex marriage.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes North Carolina, has struck down state bans on same-sex marriage - something that sent advocates of North Carolina’s ban into a tizzy. Those advocates, including legislators, have wasted ridiculous amounts of time fighting to uphold bad law.

Unfortunately, other federal appeals courts have upheld same-sex marriage bans, even though 36 states have approved the unions. So now the nation’s highest court will consolidate several cases and make a definitive ruling, probably this summer.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage are sincere in their belief that such unions are not supported by theology and are harmful to society and the bedrock institution of marriage. But those opponents have too often been used by politicians to smite anything with a “liberal” image.

Regardless of personal religious beliefs, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of all Americans, and the high court isn’t going to be ruling on anything except that constitutional guarantee. The question will be whether the 14th Amendment, which promises all Americans “equal protection” and “due process” under the law, covers those of the same sex who wish to marry.

A number of courts have ruled that it does, and thousands of marriages have taken place without any apparent damage to traditional marriage or society at large.

And in terms of the views of the American people, there is a definite difference in the generations. Gay marriage simply isn’t much of a question for younger people, who have grown up in an era when civil rights extending to gay Americans, exclusive of marriage, has become more established and respected.

Justice Anthony Kennedy already has written an opinion upholding the right of same-sex couples to obtain federal benefits in contradiction to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. On a nine-member court sharply divided between conservatives and liberals, Kennedy might have a significant role to play. His ruling in that 2013 Defense of Marriage Act case may indicate he believes there are constitutional guarantees for same-sex couples.

There are, of course, different ways to interpret the Constitution, but it’s hard to read those guarantees provided to all Americans and not believe they should apply to all, regardless of sexual preference. The American culture is big and diverse and should welcome people of all backgrounds and beliefs to its institutions.

Same-sex marriage is simply not a threat to anyone. It does not infringe on the rights of those with conventional marriages.

Let us hope the Supreme Court will affirm the rights of all couples under the Constitution to be the same.




Jan. 17

Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal on coal ash plan:

As the state and Duke Energy begin to implement plans for cleaning up the coal ash ponds that have caused so much distress in North Carolina, constant monitoring and thorough review is required. This is a complex problem with many factors yet undetermined. Officials need be ready to respond to events on the ground - and put more safeguards in place when required.

One proposal for disposing of the coal ash is to bury it in decommissioned open-pit mines in Lee and Chatham counties, the McClatchy Tribune news service reported recently. The pits would be graded and lined with plastic before being filled with the coal ash residue. Eventually they could be capped and planted over. Duke Energy and Charah Inc., the company that would own and operate the fill sites, say their methods are safe; the techniques and technologies they plan to use are proven.

“We know it will take a lot of effort on our part to demonstrate that we can be trusted in this and we will do the right thing,” Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks told McClatchy Tribune.

But local residents, understandably, have their doubts. Some say that not enough is known about how the coal ash will behave in this kind of long-term storage. If the mines leak into ground water, the consequences could be dire, both in terms of future economic growth and public health.

The boards of commissioners in both counties have adopted resolutions opposing the coal ash dumps, and residents are consulting with lawyers and environmentalists to see what actions they can take to stop or stall the plans, McClatchy Tribune reported. Lee County Manager John Crumpton has questioned how much of the coal ash will wind up being buried in the first place, noting that some 70 percent of it is slated to be stored on land that was never mined, according to Lee County’s mapping specialist. Charah disputes that analysis.

But if they can’t halt the process, they would at least like their respective counties to be compensated financially for their risk - bearing the bulk of a state problem.

Neither the legislation for cleaning up the coal ash nor the companies involved has made provision for compensation. When asked about the possibility, Brooks said, “We’re hoping to find ways to alleviate their concerns and make this a project that will benefit the communities as well as our customers.”

In either case, compensation seems fair. It’s not unusual to pay governments for using their property as landfills, and this is riskier material than usual. And even after heavy legislation, the rules for these former mines are less strict than for landfills.

In the meantime, even as Gov. Pat McCrory, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the state legislature and Duke Energy monitor the situation, the public will have to, also, and should take full advantage of the public comment process that will be made available. This problem is far from over.




Jan. 20

Charlotte Observer on the middle class:

President Obama pulled off quite the stunt in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night: He helped the middle class by offering a dead-on-arrival plan to help the middle class.

Republican leaders in Congress rejected the president’s plan before he’d even spoken to it. That makes it their turn, and they are on the defensive at the moment. If they are savvy, though, their party could ride this opening all the way to the White House in 2016.

Pundits can debate the 1 percent or the 0.1 percent, economic mobility or economic inequality. All middle class workers know is they are being left behind in both bad times and good. The party they’re convinced will fix that will win the presidency next year.

There is precisely zero chance that a heavily Republican Congress will pass the proposal Obama spelled out Tuesday. But by tapping into the defining domestic issue of our time, he cemented the agenda for both parties in the 2016 elections.

Obama called for an array of tax cuts for the lower and middle class.

Among the ideas:

- Tripling child care tax credits from $1,000 to $3,000 for each child under age 5.

- A $500 tax credit for families with two working spouses.

- Free community college for most students.

These would be paid for by tax hikes on the very wealthy, including:

- Raising the capital gains tax rate from 23.4 percent to 28 percent for those making more than $500,000 a year.

- Requiring estates to pay capital gains taxes at the time assets are passed down to the next generation.

Tweaking the tax code is not going to end the massive income inequality and immobility that plague America to a degree they haven’t in generations. That’s particularly true if there’s no push to slay some of the meatiest sacred cows, such as the “carried-interest” provision that lavishes billions on hedge fund managers while doing nothing to create jobs.

Still, a more progressive tax code would help, and it’s one of the only things the federal government directly controls and can change immediately.

Republicans, one would think, would embrace calls for tax cuts for the majority of Americans. In fact, they probably will, and a presidential election will only incite them to up the ante. The difference from Obama’s proposals is that they are unlikely to have a concrete way to pay for those cuts. That’s easier to get away with now that the annual deficit has about returned to historically normal levels.

What’s undeniable is that a strong middle class was a hallmark of the United States for generations, and it’s been struggling for years now. That - whether through tax code changes or, even better, education and job-creation initiatives - is what Congress and presidential candidates must tackle.



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