The Week in Commentary
Think solar power can't compete with big utilities? Think again
John Farrell, a researcher who works on energy issues, says it's a misperception that solar energy can't be economically viable.
"Most Americans think clean energy is futuristic — a good idea some day, but not practical now. But a new report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance suggests that within 10 years, 100 million Americans in the nation's largest cities could get cheaper electricity from rooftop solar — without subsidies — than that provided by their utility. ...
"Subsidies for solar must change before exponential growth creates exponential resistance to rising costs. This requires us to move away from fixed, one-size-fits-all incentives like the federal solar tax credit toward more flexible and transparent incentives that can phase out as solar becomes competitive in different regions.
"The solar tax credit should also be replaced because it is inefficient. Indeed, as much as half of taxpayers' money goes not to solar power plants, but to the middle men who funnel it to large corporations and wealthy households."
"Anyone who thinks that locally owned solar will free them from their utilities will be rudely awakened at sunset." — R Sweeney
"I'd rather see a robust dispersed future than simply more huge, distant solar plants that lose 30 percent of their hard earned electrons via distribution line loss, just like our existing coal, gas and nuclear facilities. This article sheds light on how to avoid such a diminished future for 'green' energy production. Thank you!" — Terry Whisler, Milwaukie, Ore.
"Great article! The missing piece is that solar needs to be part of a hybrid system. I totally agree that new rules are critical because the current structure gives the utility incentives to resist this transition." — Peter Lilienthal, Boulder, Colo.
"Sure, solar quits working at sundown, but batteries are improving rapidly. Nevertheless, we are going to have an outdated power grid around for some time. At least solar can slow the growth of this dinosaur." — Morton Archibald, Huntsville, Ala.
Minneapolis Charter's requirement of a vote shouldn't get in the way of a stadium
Graduate student Abou Amara Jr. argues that the city charter is the wrong instrument for giving a policy preference the force of law.
"The same sentiment can, and should, apply to any policy issue that Minnesota politicians want to put in our Constitution — such as 'right to work' legislation, a balanced budget amendment or a ban on gay marriage. ... The Minneapolis Charter requirement for referendums on stadium funding is not a legitimate reason to oppose a stadium. The requirement doesn't belong in our charter in the first place.
"We elect people to make decisions on our behalf. We do so knowing that we, as members of society at large, don't get to vote on every single issue, and that our politicians are supposed to do it for us."
"Except that this requirement is already in the city charter and I think it's a very slippery slope when politicians start ignoring the legal requirements whenever they prove inconvenient." — Jim B., St. Paul
"Did Minneapolis have a full debate when the Twins stadium got pushed through? I must have missed it. Oh, wait, that's right. It was decided by other people's representatives." — Ellie Sims
Florida killing shines a harsh light on the power of images
Les Lester, the communications chair of the St. Paul NAACP, suggests that the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida had a lot to do with clothing and image.
"This incident points to the endemic institutional profiling of African-American men and boys that invariably manifests itself in American life. ... If I put on a skull cap and walk down the street, I'm not perceived as so friendly. It's not so much because I've changed, but because people's perceptions of me have changed. ...
"Too often, young people are walking manifestations of Madison Avenue advertising campaigns. If they see and hear the messages enough, they'll unconsciously buy into them. The lifestyles and accompanying fashions go hand in hand. So who are the real culprits in putting our youth at risk? Are they really the susceptible young people themselves?"
"What does wearing a 'hoodie' symbolize? It says the person wearing that getup belongs to a gang. If parents were more responsible there would be fewer hoodies walking the street." — Gary Krull, Faribault
"Pesky eyewitness testimony is ruining the trial by public media. Good thing these guys weren't in Salem in 1692. Arthur Miller would never have written 'The Crucible'!" — Jeff Sophia, Chicago
"I'm looking at the closet where I have four hoodies of various colors and design. Normally, I'm a retired educator. I guess when I'm wearing one of my hoodies on my walks in the neighborhood I should expect to be followed, confronted, and shot dead. What was I thinking?" — Jim G Gust, Eden Prairie
What Dick Cheney can expect after his heart transplant
David Hebestreit, a high school teacher and soccer coach in Michigan, offers insight into former Vice President Dick Cheney's heart transplant by describing his own experience with a similar operation six years ago.
"It won't take him long to realize that the heart he received was one that someone else also needed. This guilt may come and go quickly, or it may linger. It may never come at all. But other families will wish that their father, brother or son had received the new heart instead of Cheney. ...
"Cheney may meet with scorn of this nature as a result of his age, or because of his social position. But it isn't likely. Cheney is tucked away in some cool, white pavilion as he recovers, away from the masses. ...
"Eventually, Cheney will walk out of the hospital and into the cold sunlight of a Virginia afternoon, thankful for so many things, I am sure. Perhaps he will be thankful for the advancements in medicine and technology. Perhaps he will be thankful that he has received, again, the gift of life. Perhaps he will even be thankful that he is not one of the 42 million Americans without health insurance."
"Framing your comments within your personal experience not only provides a great deal of credibility, but also gives pause to allow those who place themselves in opposition to a universal health care program the opportunity to reflect on the inequalities and lack of compassion their stance represents. Mr. Cheney may never read this — even so he may, as a result of his experience, have yet another change of heart." — Tom James, San Antonio, Texas
A few things I like about you
We asked the heads of two local think tanks, Dane Smith of the liberal Growth & Justice and Mitch Pearlstein of the conservative Center of the American Experiment, to describe what they like or admire about each other's sides of the political divide.
Dane Smith: "Compassion and soft-heartedness are dominant values for progressives, and hard-headed mental toughness about the bottom line and the way the world really works is a corresponding and complementary strength for conservatives. It makes rough sense for the conservative cause to be taken up by CEOs and business managers and independent operators, while people in the teaching and helping and communicating professions are somewhat less likely to be conservatives. ...
"Keeping the better parts of the way we were, as we progress and improve our economy and society, is a sound idea. It's been said that conservatives are unconcerned or oblivious to current evils and injustices, while liberals wish to replace them with new evils and injustices. Not throwing the baby out with the bathwater is the trick to good policy, and conservatives tend to be strong that way."
Mitch Pearlstein: "What I respect and appreciate most about Americans of the responsible left are their passion and energy for equity, or social justice if you prefer. This has been the case for a long time regarding civil rights. ...
"As for vulnerable men, women and children, Hubert Humphrey famously spoke of 'those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.' I can happily point to research showing how good conservatives are just as eager as good liberals about helping people in need and in fact do so; it's just that they're far less enthused about mega-governmental programs as main remedies. Still, I admire how liberals are regularly quick in spotlighting the imperative of lifting shadows by helping people who hurt."
"Thank you, gentlemen. This made for a good start to the day." — Audrey Ferrey, Shoreview
"Kudos to MPR for this creative forum to facilitate dialogue and civility. A shout out as well for the two participants' generous-spirited reflections. If we all (myself included) spent a little more time humanizing our opponents and a little more time taking seriously their claims on political issues, genuine debate and authentic compromise would again reign in our public squares." — Monte Bute