Saturday, April 20, 2019

What the Supreme Court ruling could mean for civil asset forfeiture

  As the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out on Feb. 20, the constitutional clause that protects Americans from having to pay “excessive fines” traces its lineage to the Magna Carta, which set forth certain rights in England more than 800 years ago.

  The Founding Fathers considered this concept so important to the new American democracy that they enshrined it in the Bill of Rights. The Eighth Amendment holds that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Friday, April 19, 2019

IRS cuts have benefited wealthy tax cheats

  Recently, high-profile investigations have brought tax evasion to the forefront of the public consciousness. Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, confidantes of President Donald Trump, were found guilty on counts of tax fraud and evasion, among other crimes. These investigations raise questions about why these individuals thought they could get away with tax evasion and why they only got caught after becoming entangled in separate investigations. One reason seems to be that when it comes to policing high-end tax evasion, there are nowhere near enough cops on the beat.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Drug laws versus freedom

  People who live in a society in which there are drug laws are living in an unfree society no matter how much they believe otherwise. That’s because, in a genuinely free society, people have the right to ingest whatever they want without being punished for it by the state.

  It never ceases to amaze me how both conservatives and liberals are unable to grasp this fundamental point about freedom. Even progressives who are now, finally, calling for the legalization of marijuana insist on keeping drug laws in place with respect to heroin, cocaine, meth, opioids, and other illicit drugs. They just don’t get it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Host of young and female lobbyists have taken over the Statehouse

  As I observe the Alabama Legislature, it occurs to me that I am getting older. A lot of the legislators and lobbyists I have known over the years have moved on.

  Montgomery is no longer an “Old Boys Club.” A cursory look at a typical day at the Alabama Statehouse would surprise you. An increasing number of professional women are a major part of the lawmaking process. There is a host of brilliant women under 40 that is at the forefront and yield a great deal of influence over the process of policy-making in Alabama.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A good solution to Alabama's "Tier 2" retirement system

  Unintended consequences are a common problem when it comes to making laws and government policy. A good example of this is the changes lawmakers made in 2012 to the retirement systems for education and state employees in Alabama.

  The economic recession that began in 2008 had severely hurt the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s investments. The slowness of the recovery made things worse, and the state was looking at a situation where, in the long run, the government wouldn’t have the money to pay education and state employee retirees the benefits they had earned.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1661 - The Hugging Senator

  The Hugging Senator. I have been called The Hugging Senator over the years. The Hugging Senator title reflects an important part of how I interact. It reflects a key part of my being. My hugs say, “I care about you.” And that is very important. The Hugging Senator.

  I recently began to reassess The Hugging Senator. I talked with several women about it. I sought their advice about The Hugging Senator. I will share some of their responses later in this Sketches.

  I believe that hugs are very therapeutic. Hugs make us feel better. Hugs make us do better. Hugs make us be better. Hugs impact our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Hugs are really powerful and therefore important for all the population, men as well as women.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

School voucher proponents love socialism too

  As the debate over socialism between President Trump and his potential Democratic presidential opponents heats up, we shouldn’t forget a socialist program that Trump and other conservatives have come to love — the school voucher program.

  Like other welfare-state programs, vouchers are based on the socialist concept of using the force of government to take money from one group of people and using it to pay for the education of another group of people. The irony is that conservatives justify their socialist program by saying that it is being used to save children from the disastrous consequences of another socialist program, public schooling.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Five ways Wheeler is dirtying our water

  In a recent interview, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that access to clean drinking water across the globe is “the biggest environmental threat.”

  However, these empty words represent the extent of Wheeler’s effort to support clean water. In reality, Wheeler’s countless actions show that the former coal lobbyist has actively dirtied our water. Since he stepped into the acting EPA administrator role in July of 2018 after the scandal-ridden tenure of Scott Pruitt, Wheeler has done nothing but maintain his predecessor’s dirty agenda.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Using transparency to deter Russia’s asymmetric attacks on the West

  Russia is a relatively weak state on the international stage. A former great power, today it has a gross domestic product roughly equal to that of New York state; this feeds into the country’s insecurity about its role in the world and its economic and military strength compared with those of its chief competitors. Russia knows it cannot compete with the West on an even playing field. Thus, it has developed a shadowy, asymmetric strategy to subvert opponents and alter the global status quo. A key part of this approach is the country’s strategic use of ambiguity. As the United States responds to these attacks and seeks to prevent future ones, it must take into account that public transparency, as well as its relationships with allies, are integral to any effective response.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

I’m disabled. The Trump administration’s new rule could take my SNAP anyway.

  Last month, the Trump administration introduced a new rule to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The rule is geared towards so-called “able-bodied adults without dependents” who are unable to document 20 hours of work a week. When I heard the news, I double-checked my schedule, and I was in the clear: 35 hours that week. If I had missed a shift or two, then the outlook wouldn’t be so optimistic.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the State House - Other legislative issues

  There is no question that Gov. Kay Ivey’s infrastructure/gas tax program was the cornerstone issue of this legislative session. This monumental legislation will be a tremendous enhancement for Alabama’s economic development for decades to come. Governor Ivey and the legislative leadership deserve accolades for addressing this important issue. They were indeed thinking of the next generation rather than the next election. Governor Ivey deserves most of the credit. She reached across the aisle and garnered almost unanimous support from the Democratic legislators. Indeed, the legislation passed the House on an 84-20 vote and passed 28-6 in the Senate.

  However, other major issues will be on the table. The Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking a $42 million increase in its budget in order to hire much needed additional correctional officers. A federal judge has ordered the state to increase the number of guards and mental health professionals.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Conservative court packing

  There has been a recent spate of attention to court packing, stemming largely from remarks by former Attorney General Eric Holder and other prominent progressives about adding justices to the Supreme Court.

  While these comments highlighted the need for a broader discussion about court reform, the conversation they generated has lacked important context: Court packing is not a theoretical possibility but rather an ongoing effort by conservatives happening right now.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Democrats clueless on farm woes

  Last week, the Washington Post carried a story about five Democratic presidential candidates who took to a stage in Iowa to address an audience that was filled with farmers who are suffering severe economic and financial distress. The title of the article says it all: “No Democratic Candidate Has Been Able to Figure Out How to Help Farm Country.” The candidates were Julian Castro, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren.

  Not surprisingly, the five proposed “solutions” that involve more government intervention. They just don’t get it. They don’t understand that it is government intervention that is the root cause of farmers’ woes. How is more government intervention going to be the cure for a problem that is caused by government intervention? It’s like giving a patient who has swallowed poison more poison.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The incorrigible hypocrisy of conservatives

  Last week, a Wall Street Journal editorial revealed the incorrigible hypocrisy with which conservatives have long suffered. Conservatives, of course, have long suffered this malady with respect to domestic policy given their ardent devotion to Social Security, Medicare, foreign aid, and other welfare-state programs even while decrying the left’s devotion to socialism. But this particular WSJ editorial revealed the incorrigible conservative hypocrisy with respect to foreign policy.

  The editorial was titled “Putin Pulls a Syria in Venezuela.” The opening sentence is comical: “Vladimir Putin has made a career of intervening abroad and seeing if the world lets him get away with it.”

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Alabama Voting Rights Project helps 2,000 people cast ballots in Alabama, but many more do not know they can vote

  Rodney Lofton had never cast a ballot before a felony conviction stripped him of his voting rights in 2015.

  After he served his sentence, the Alabama Voting Rights Project, a partnership between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Campaign Legal Center, walked him through the paperwork to get his rights restored.

  He got a voter registration card and voted for the first time in his life in the November 2018 elections.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Free speech makes hypocrites of us all

  This month, President Trump signed an executive order to withhold federal funding from public and private colleges and universities that do not protect free speech on their campuses. Despite the dramatic lead-up, the order itself doesn’t say all that much. It requires public colleges to comply with the First Amendment and private colleges to comply with their own speech policies — things they’re already required to do — and unsurprisingly, it’s been described as redundant (it’s also been referred to as a “nothingburger”).

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Food banks warn they will not be able to meet demand if food stamp cuts take effect

  On the heels of the thirty-two-day government shutdown, a proposed administrative rule change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) once again threatens food access for people who rely on the program for basic needs — this time for an estimated 755,000 people.

  For households that qualify for SNAP, February, the shortest month of the year, was a long one. During the government shutdown, 40 million Americans who participate in the program experienced as many as 60 days between the issuance of their February and March SNAP benefits. The shortages in household budgets meant that food banks across the country were inundated.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - State budgets are priority number one

  After their successful five-day special session, the Alabama Legislature has been in their regular session for a few weeks now. The session will end in June, so it is about one-fourth over. Almost one-third of the members are new, freshmen if you will. Even though they are for the most part a bright and talented group, they are still wet behind the ears when it comes to legislative ways. 

  Most are still striving to find their way to the bathrooms. Most major issues, especially revenue-enhancement measures, are addressed in the first year of a four-year quadrennium. Bless their hearts! Right off the bat, they were hit with a major vote to increase the gas tax to support an infrastructure plan. That will make the rest of their first year a downhill slide.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Debunking the Trump administration’s new water rule

  In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its revised “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. The proposed rule dramatically restricts what falls under the purview of the Clean Water Act, the environmental law that has led to the cleanup of thousands of rivers and lakes in the United States. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the rule would remove federal protections for 18 percent of stream and river miles and 51 percent of wetlands in the United States, putting protections at their lowest levels since the Reagan administration and leaving millions of Americans vulnerable to polluted water.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1659 - Selma must help Selma!

  I recently wrote a Sketches and editorial about how we must give back to Selma. Giving back to Selma is just one half of what must be done. One half comes from those outside of Selma – from Alabama, around this country, across this world. The other half must come from Selma itself. Selma must give to Selma.

  I do not claim to have any special knowledge or any special wisdom. However, I will venture a few thoughts. I invite you to share your thoughts, ideas, hopes, and fears. No thought is too insignificant; no thought is too crazy. I share my thoughts in spite of my reservations, my fears and the likelihood of attacks.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Equal pay is fundamental for women’s success in the new economy

  In recent months, opponents of strengthening equal pay protections have parroted a common refrain from the Trump administration and its supporters by focusing on the fact that women gained 58 percent—or roughly 1.5 million—of all new private sector jobs created in 2018. They tout this singular piece of data as evidence that the economy must be working well for women and their wages. However, this talking point obscures and oversimplifies the diverse experiences of working women—particularly women of color—and ignores why equal pay is so critical to women’s economic progress. Women’s full participation in the economy is indeed vital to U.S. economic growth and gender equality. Yet women must also have access to quality, well-paying jobs in which they have a fair chance in order to succeed and maximize their contributions to their families and the economy.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Conscription is slavery

  Last month a federal judge in Texas declared the all-male military draft to be unconstitutional because it applies only to men and not also to women. The decision flies in the face of a decision by the Supreme Court in 1981 that upheld the constitutionality of the draft-registration process. Back then, however, women were not permitted to serve in combat roles, which was the justification for the Court’s ruling. Today, women are permitted to serve in combat roles, a point cited by that Texas federal judge.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Existing libel laws protect the right to speak freely – for all of us

  There is a lot of “libel talk” — and filing of mega-million-dollar lawsuits — in the air, and as long as such stays there, the people’s ability to openly criticize public officials is safe.

  Advocates of free speech, free press, and holding government publicly accountable — liberals and conservatives alike — need to keep cautious eyes on new, perhaps coordinated, efforts to chill critics and water down legal protections regarding public comments about officials and famous individuals. In the space of a few weeks:

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1658 - Women’s History Month

  March is designated as National Women’s History Month. We have National Women’s History Month because the history of women, like that certain other peoples, gets lost in the shuffle of history. Women’s History Month is just a beginning step in recognizing and acknowledging women who overcame great odds to achieve great success.

  There is an African proverb that says, “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” That’s true of the story of women as well. As long as men are telling the stories, they will always glorify men. It will always be history. Therefore, we will never know the great challenges and achievements of women. Women must tell the stories of women so it will be her story rather than "hisstory."

  Whoever tells his story or her story makes decisions about what the great challenges were, who faced the great challenges, who overcame the great challenges, and who celebrated the overcoming of the great challenges. We men have one set of criteria for determining these factors. For us men, the criterion is usually about the exercise of power in contests with other men. For women, it may well be other criteria. If the writer does not understand that something was a great challenge, he cannot go to the next steps of who faced, overcame, and celebrated the overcoming of the challenge. I do not know those criteria for women, and I am holding myself back from sharing my perceptions. However, I will offer one example that involves my mother, and every child can speak about his or her mother. March is Women’s History (Herstory) Month.

  Family is the very foundation of society. It is the most critical institution. However, men rarely tell the overcoming story of family. In my opinion, women usually value the challenges and achievements of family very differently. Our very language is pregnant with prejudices for the male character such as history and heroes. There is no place for "herstory" and "sheroes." My mother, Ola Mae Sanders, was heroic or should I say sheroic. She will not make the usual history books. She was "sheroic" because she met and overcame the great challenges of stifling poverty, a huge family, a limited formal education. and oppressive white supremacy.

  The Ola Mae Sanders family was not just poor, but “Po.” At one time the family lived in a three-room house with nine children, a mother, and a father. But she led the family in overcoming that poverty. Not only did she eventually do better herself, but all of her children escaped poverty. Every child has owned his or her own home and more. Ola Mae Sanders was sheroic.

  My mother overcame the great challenges of having a limited formal education. She had a seventh-grade education. Her husband, Sam Sanders, just went to the first grade and could not write his name. Yet, they managed to graduate 12 of their 13 children from high school. (The 13th died as a baby). All but two of her children went to college, and several obtained doctorate degrees. In the face of these challenging circumstances, this was a great achievement. March is Women’s Herstory Month.

  I have touched on the size of the family, the poverty, and limited education. However, I need to further explore the challenges of a big family. A big family meant not having the kind and amount of food needed. But Ola Mae Sanders took what she had and made what was needed. A big family meant stuffing 11 persons – nine children, a mother, and a father – in three rooms, (a kitchen, a middle room, and a front room). But Ola Mae Sanders took what she had and made what was needed. The family couldn’t afford toothbrushes, but she taught the children to take twigs from a certain tree, peel the bark, chew the end until it became soft and use salt to brush their teeth. Ola Mae Sanders took what she had and made what was needed. Poverty added to the challenges of a big family. A big family added to the challenges of poverty. But my mother met and overcame both challenges.

  The challenges of poverty, a big family, and a limited formal education were multiplied by the oppressive burden of white supremacy. White supremacy constrained my mother at every turn in what education she could get, what work she could do, what money she could make, what she could accumulate, what respect she could have, what she could say to white folk, where she could go and so forth. It was a heavy burden on her self esteem and the self esteem of her children. But Ola Mae managed to achieve a sense of self-worth for herself and impart a sense of self-worth in her children. Ola Mae Sanders met and overcame these collective challenges. In addition, she became a strong community leader. People came from miles around to seek her wisdom. She had her flaws, but so does every hero and shero. Ola Mae Sanders was sheroic. March is Women’s Herstory Month.

  History and/or "herstory" acknowledge and celebrate the overcoming of great challenges. Did Ola Mae Sanders not meet great challenges? Did Ola Mae Sanders not overcome great challenges? Is her story not history? Can you see most men perceiving and writing this as history? It is herstory. It is history. March is Women’s History Month.

EPILOGUE – Because the victors write the history, I hope more women will see their victories and write their stories so we can have "herstory" as well as history.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represented District 23 in the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Infrastructure: Alabama needs a road program

  One of the obvious political changes in Alabama government over the last decades with the Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature has been the reluctance to raise new revenue to fund state government. Many of the current Republican legislators came to Montgomery in 2010 with a "no new tax pledge". Voting for any kind of tax or fee increase was considered blasphemous.

  In bygone days, powerful governors like Big Jim Folsom and George Wallace would raise taxes at the drop of a hat, especially when it came to a gasoline tax to build roads. It was perfunctory and almost mandatory for a governor to have a road program. That was their legacy and how they and their legislative allies made friends. It was expected that a governor would build roads. Raising the gas tax was the only way to fund a road program. Folks didn’t seem to mind. Looks like this current legislature may have realized that they need a road program.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Craig Ford: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

  One of the problems exposed during the gas tax debate was the fact that $63 million a year gets diverted out of the Alabama Department of Transportation’s road and bridge funding to pay for state troopers and the court system.

  The logic (if you can call it that) for this transfer of funds is that the troopers patrol the roads and the courts process the tickets and arrests the troopers make, so therefore, they should be eligible for a portion of that road and bridge funding.

  Many of those who opposed the gas tax argued that the state should keep that $63 million in the Department of Transportation’s budget and find other sources of revenue for the troopers and courts.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Trump’s pick to run Interior looms large behind ocean sell-off

  On March 20, 2019, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) opened all planning areas in the Gulf of Mexico for the fourth-straight offshore oil and gas lease sale since President Donald Trump took office. Throughout the past 35 years, the DOI has typically auctioned leases in 1 of 3 Gulf sections at a time. But ever since David Bernhardt, the current acting secretary, was sworn in as deputy interior secretary in August of 2017, the whole Gulf has essentially been up for grabs. These Gulfwide auctions are likely watering down the competition, allowing the oil and gas industry to buy up America’s taxpayer-owned mineral resources at fire sale prices—and Bernhardt’s former industry clients are among those who benefit.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

College executives need to pay up when their schools close abruptly

  Within the last few weeks, students attending several Argosy University campuses across the country received a nasty shock: Their campuses would be shutting down in 48 hours. The move leaves thousands of students in the lurch with unclear futures and millions of dollars in missing federal financial aid that the school received from the federal government but failed to disburse to students.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Free trade: A key to a rising standard of living

  Trade is a key to a rising standard of living in society, especially for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

  In every exchange, both sides benefit from their own individual subjective perspective. That’s because, at the moment of the trade, they are both giving up something they value less for something they value more. Thus, trade enables people to improve their standard of living. The greater the ability of people to trade, the better off they are.

Friday, March 22, 2019

David Bernhardt is President Trump’s most conflicted Cabinet nominee

  On the whole, President Donald Trump’s Cabinet has not demonstrated integrity, honesty, or accountability to the American public. Four top Trump administration officials have resigned under a cloud of corruption after wasting taxpayer dollars or abusing their position for personal gain: U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt; U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin; and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.

  Rather than cleaning house in the wake of these controversies and resignations, President Trump is doubling down on nominating conflicted individuals to his Cabinet. In February, the U.S. Senate confirmed former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as Pruitt’s replacement at the EPA, the federal agency that enforces air and water protections. And this month, Trump nominated David Bernhardt to lead the U.S. Department of the Interior. Currently serving as the acting interior secretary since Zinke’s departure, Bernhardt is a former oil and gas lobbyist—and has so many conflicts of interest that he must carry around a list of former clients to remember them.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Horrific, long-term consequences of regime change

  84-year-old Emma Thiessen Alvarez has never forgotten the day in 1981 when Guatemalan officials came to her house looking for her daughter, a student leader who had escaped from military custody. Unable to find her, the officials settled for Thiessen’s 14-year-old son. She never saw him again.

  Thiesen’s story was highlighted in a recent New York Times article because the Guatemalan legislature is now contemplating granting blanket amnesty to military officials who participated in the reign of terror that the Guatemalan national-security establishment inflicted on the Guatemalan people for a period of some 36 years.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Rural roads need fixing

  Last week, we talked about the importance of roads to economic development. We spoke about urban growth and expansion, especially the need for highways in Huntsville and the improvement of the port in Mobile.

  Well, I overlooked the need for and importance of our rural roads. Make no doubt about it, our rural roads need fixing too. A good many of the rural bridges in the state have been condemned and are hazardous for heavy trucks and school buses to travel. Many folks figure it would be cheaper to pay more for gasoline than it is to pay for having their front-ends aligned and tires balanced every few weeks from hitting potholes in the road.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Trump’s effort to cut SNAP by fiat would kill 178,000 jobs over the next decade

  President Donald Trump’s latest budget blueprint is out, and it again calls for eviscerating nearly every program that helps families afford the basics, including cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—the United States’ largest food assistance program, which helps nearly 39 million people get enough to eat—by a staggering $220 billion, literally shrinking the program by one-third. While presidential budgets are often considered dead on arrival, since they do not themselves become law, one particular proposed cut to SNAP poses an immediate and dangerous threat, given that Trump is trying to sidestep Congress to enact it by fiat.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The ongoing, never-ending U.S. death star

  The U.S. national-security establishment’s death star continues operating at full-speed and on auto-pilot. According to an article in Newsweek, the Pentagon and the CIA have now killed half-a-million people since 9/11. The article didn’t say how many of those dead people are estimated to have participated in the 9/11 attacks, but I’d say that a reasonable estimate would be maybe 10 or 20 at the most. That would mean that 498,980 people who have been killed by the U.S. death star since 9/11 had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

  Moreover, those half-a-million deaths don’t include the hundreds of thousands of people who have been killed in the U.S.-incited civil wars in Syria and Lebanon.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Trump’s education budget ignores needs of students and schools

  When it comes to education policy, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have no new ideas. Much like the Department of Education’s proposed budgets for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, the FY 2020 budget asks for students and teachers to pay for the administration’s misguided policy aims in the form of cuts to education programs. Though DeVos’ education agenda has never been popular, this year’s budget proposal is particularly tone deaf to the needs of students and schools. The Trump administration has been fiscally irresponsible to the extreme, granting enormous tax cuts to wealthy corporations at taxpayers’ expense and letting a costly partial government shutdown drag on. And yet, every year when the budget is released, programs that help students and families seem to come last on its list of priorities, receiving huge cuts or being targeted for elimination.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

New Zealand attack shows white supremacy is global terrorist movement

  The atrocity in New Zealand shows us, once again, that we’re dealing with an international terrorist movement linked by a dangerous white supremacist ideology that’s metastasizing in the echo chambers of internet chat rooms and on social media networks.

  This hatred is even being amplified by our own president, who speaks of an “invasion of our country.”

Friday, March 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1657 - Selma has given so much; we must all give back

  Selma has given so much. We must give back. Selma has given so much to Alabama. Alabama must give back. Selma has given so much to the South. The South must give back. Selma has given so much to the United States of America. The United States of America must give back. Selma has given so much to the world. The world must give back. Selma has given so much. We all must give back.

  Selma is a powerful symbol. A symbol for struggle. A symbol for overcoming great odds. A symbol for freedom. A symbol for voting rights. A symbol for democracy. A symbol for nonviolence overcoming violence. Selma is a symbol all across this country and around the world.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Trump’s FY 2020 budget exposes his false promises and misplaced priorities

  If there is truth in the old adage that “budgets are moral documents,” then-President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget is morally bankrupt. It aims debilitating cuts at programs on which American families rely in order to pay for tax cuts, strips regulators’ ability to stop corporate wrongdoers and polluters, and launches yet another brutal attack on Americans’ health care. Every year, pundits declare the president’s budget “dead on arrival,” but Americans should make no mistake: Trump’s FY 2020 budget is a clear statement of his priorities, and its policies are those the president would enact if given the opportunity. And Trump’s priorities and policies reveal his sheer contempt for the “forgotten men and women” for whom he pledged to fight.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Infrastructure package is sailing through the legislature

  Gov. Kay Ivey has made infrastructure improvement in the state her cornerstone issue for this year, and more importantly, for her term as governor. Within less than three months in office, she and the Alabama Legislature have successfully accomplished this mission.

  Last Friday, the Alabama House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed monumental legislation on an 84-20 vote. It was a remarkable victory for the governor and the House leadership. It was a bipartisan coalition of support. Only 18 of the 77 Republicans voted against the bills, and only 2 of the 28 Democrats voted no. It is expected to pass in the Senate this week.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Why is racism still America’s biggest problem?

  It rained on marchers from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, and it rained on them again this month they commemorated the day when police beat civil rights marchers so badly that the date became known the nation over as Bloody Sunday.

  Fifty-four years have passed since that historic march for voting rights, but as speakers lamented at the commemoration, we are still fighting for the right to vote today.

  However, as Rep. John Lewis told a crowd at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery as part of the Bloody Sunday anniversary, “We come with the spirit and the belief that we can change things. We have the power. We have the ability. We can do it.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

On campus speech: Thanks, Mr. President — but no thanks

  At first hearing, President Trump’s recent announcement of a planned presidential order to mandate free speech on college campuses might seem to be just what free expression advocates would support.

  However, regrettably, they should not. Keep reading, please.

  Taking a shortcut through the First Amendment in the name of free speech is not a good idea — and that’s what Trump’s approach will be, no matter how admirable the stated goal of encouraging and protecting the rights of all in university communities to speak freely.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

I paid 118 percent on a payday loan. The administration is canceling efforts to rein them in.

  There was a moment in my life when it felt as if everything that could go wrong went wrong — and all at the same time.

  I had just started a new job. My household went from two incomes to just one, and we were definitely starting to feel it. The mortgage was due, all of the regular household bills and responsibilities were still there, and my son still needed money to cover school and sports expenses.

  I managed to use the remainder of my savings to pay for everything, but I was still $500 short for my mortgage payment. I was stressed out, trying my best to make ends meet and keep some normalcy in my son’s life. I knew I had a paycheck coming, but it would not arrive in time to avoid all of the late fees and the credit hit for being 30 days late on my mortgage.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1656 - Come with me as I participate in the 27th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee!

  Come with me. Come with me as I participate in the 27th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, Alabama. I will not go into the months of preparation. I will not share the behind-the-scenes developments. I will just start with the first day of the 2019 Bridge Crossing Jubilee. Come with me vicariously as I participate in the 27th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

  Jubilee is comprised of so many events I cannot possibly participate in all or most, or half or even a quarter of these 40-50 events. You are now vicariously experiencing some of my participation.

Friday, March 8, 2019

National-security statism and North Korea’s nukes

  The Pentagon and the CIA and their policy of foreign interventionism are the root cause of the nuclear crisis with North Korea.

  Keep in mind that we are talking about one country, Korea, which was artificially divided into two halves, North Korea and South Korea. Therefore, the war that ultimately broke out between North Korea and South Korea was actually nothing more than a civil war, one in which the North was trying to reunite the country under communist rule and in which the South was trying to retain its independence.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

'If I’d been white, I guarantee you they wouldn’t have taken my money'

  “The robber didn’t get anything, but the police got everything.”

  That’s what Isiah Kinloch told The Greenville News during its investigation into civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina.

  Kinloch fought off a home intruder, sustaining head injuries that put him in the hospital. He called 911, and when North Charleston police arrived at his apartment, they found an ounce of marijuana, charged him with possession with intent to distribute, and seized the $1,800 in cash they found in his apartment.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - State revenues up as legislature prepares for session

  The governor has been inaugurated and the Alabama Legislature has had its organizational session. The quadrennium has begun. It is time for our state officials to get to work.

  Among the three branches of government, legislative, executive and judicial, our 1901 Alabama Constitution renders our legislative branch as the most powerful.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

How one tribe is fighting for their food culture in the face of climate change

  As in many tribal communities, the Swinomish relationship with the environment is complex. The Northwest coastal tribe not only uses the land for food, medicine, and material goods, but many cultural traditions like ceremonies are land-based.

  The federal government has long attempted to sever tribes from the land — their source of knowledge, culture, and health. Through war and forced relocation, tribes were physically removed. Policies such as the 1887 General Allotment Act forced many to adopt sedentary lifestyles and use Western agricultural techniques. And contemporary legal restrictions on centuries-old fishing, hunting, and gathering techniques mean that tribes are still limited in how they can gather foods and medicines.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Gas tax increase should be ‘Even Steven’ – raise one tax, lower another

  Can Alabamians support raising our gas tax for better roads while remaining true to our belief in limited government and protecting a beneficial, low-tax environment for our businesses, our families, and our future?

  Yes … if taxes are lowered elsewhere so that the overall amount of money taken from the people doesn’t increase.

  The concept is called “revenue neutral tax reform.” It essentially means that if Alabama raises one tax by $100 million next year, then it should have a comparable decrease in something else.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

We should be building great schools, not great prisons

  Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her plan to spend almost a billion dollars of taxpayer money to build three new prisons for men (there will be no new prisons for women, even though it was the conditions at the women’s prison in Elmore County that started the whole prison debate).

  There’s no question that the hard-working men and women who staff and run our prison system deserve to have a safe and proper work environment (they also deserve to be paid a whole lot more than they are, and deserve some help in the form of more corrections officers and healthcare staff).

  But I question any state leader who would choose to spend a billion dollars on prisons instead of education.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

The legal loophole that lets companies like Doordash steal tips

  Popular courier services such as Instacart, Doordash, and Amazon Fresh have been making headlines recently with the news that they’re meeting minimum pay promises to drivers by cutting compensation and using tips to make up the difference. In other words, customers were tipping under the impression that drivers got tips on top of the delivery fee earned per trip, but instead, the companies subtracted the value of those “tips” from the payments that they had promised to workers — saving the company money but cheating drivers. (Under pressure, Instacart recently reversed its policy.)

  Why can these companies get away with such behavior, especially in states like Washington where the tipped minimum wage is illegal? The answer is that these workers aren’t employees. They’re independent contractors, and labor law for independent contractors is very different than it is for employees. As self-employed workers, they are entitled to fewer protections, but also, in theory, have a greater degree of freedom and control.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1654 - A 400-year sojourn of continuous struggle

  The year 1619 does not mean much to most Americans. For those who understand the significance of 1619, it was the beginning of a journey of 400 years of continuous struggle for Africans in America. It is now 2019, and the struggle continues and continues and continues.

  It was in 1619 that 350 Africans were stolen from the continent of Africa, likely in the area of what is now Angola. They were intended to be taken to Mexico on a slave ship named Bautista. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the ship was robbed by pirates. A number of enslaved Africans were stolen from Bautista. Of the 350 Africans who left the West Coast of Africa, 147 arrived in Mexico. More than 20 arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. Many died in what was known as the Middle Passage.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meaningful protection from surprise medical bills

  Many Americans purchase health insurance under the impression that doing so will protect them from exorbitant, one-time costs associated with medical care. Insured patients pay premiums every month rather than having to worry about paying a large medical expense at once. In some instances, however, insured patients visit their doctors and receive a costly, unexpected bill. This is a consequence of the current structure of health insurance and provider networks, wherein insurers and health care providers negotiate to accept discounted payments as payments in full for services in exchange for sending patients to those providers. When patients visit out-of-network providers—those who haven’t agreed to these discounts—they can lose the benefit of their insurance. The provider may charge them the entire, non-discounted price for a service—and insurance may not cover any of the bill.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - 2020 campaigns are kicking off

  A lot has happened politically in the first quarter of 2019. The governor and all of our constitutional officials have been sworn in and have begun their four-year terms in office with Kay Ivey as governor, Will Ainsworth as lieutenant governor, John Merrill as Alabama Secretary of State, John McMillan as Alabama Treasurer, Rick Pate as Alabama Agriculture Commissioner, and Jim Ziegler in his second term as Alabama Auditor.

  More importantly, the Alabama Legislature has organized and the regular session begins next week. Lawmakers will be dealing with a myriad of major issues, not the least of which are the two state budgets. The legislature is more important than who the governor is in state government. The reason being is they appropriate the money. Those who have the gold make the rules. Another apropos adage is, the governor proposes but the legislature disposes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Roscoe Jones – First Amendment hero

  For Black History Month, it makes sense to honor a First Amendment hero of the highest order. Roscoe Jones certainly qualifies. This African-American Jehovah Witness preacher had the temerity to travel all across the Southeast promoting his religious faith even in all-white areas.

  Courage apparently came naturally for Jones, who was born in 1895 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He saw heavy combat duty in World War I. Facing German bombardments in France, Jones recounted the German bombing in his 1968 Watchtower article “Putting Kingdom Interests First”:

Monday, February 25, 2019

What if the FBI hadn't caught the Coast Guard officer with a hit list and weapons?

  He called himself “a man of action” — but luckily, he never got a chance to prove it.

  The FBI arrested active-duty U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson, labeling him a domestic terrorist who pushed for a “white homeland.”

  Hasson had a hit list of Democratic politicians and media figures that included U.S. Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Richard Blumenthal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Joe Biden, and MSNBC hosts Ari Melber, Chris Hayes, and Joe Scarborough.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

News — Can we own it? Should we be able to?

  News permeates our lives. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Mahlon Pitney, it’s “the history of the day.” We consume it constantly and analyze it endlessly. We debate its value and its veracity. But here’s another aspect to discuss: Can we own it? And should we be able to?

  Capitol Forum is a subscription news service that produces policy reports on mergers and acquisitions, corporate investigations, and antitrust enforcement. Not exactly page-turners, but the kind of information investors rely on to make business decisions.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hate groups reach record high

  The number of hate groups operating across America rose to a record high – 1,020 – in 2018 as President Trump continued to fan the flames of white resentment over immigration and the country’s changing demographics.

  It was the fourth straight year of hate group growth – a 30 percent increase roughly coinciding with Trump’s campaign and presidency – following three consecutive years of decline near the end of the Obama administration.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Trump and Maduro, birds of a feather

  Even while still keeping U.S. troops mired in America’s forever wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, President Donald “America First” Trump is threatening to order his army to invade Venezuela in order to oust Venezuelan dictator Vincente Maduro from office and install a pro-U.S. puppet in his stead. As Ronald Reagan might have put it, “There he goes again.”

  In 2017, Maduro used his federal judiciary to annul the Venezuelan National Assembly. He then engineered a new congress that consisted of his lackeys. Not surprisingly, Maduro’s actions received condemnation from all over the world. The head of the OAS called it a coup and declared it to be the final blow to democracy. The U.S. government said it was a “serious setback for democracy in Venezuela.”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

New law could eliminate disability minimum wage loophole

  Earlier this month, Representative Bobby Scott (D-IL) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to eliminate the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. The bill, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, phases out section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which made it legal for certified “sheltered workshops” to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama leads the way with women in governmental leadership

  There has been a lot of talk about the advancement of women in politics over the past year. It has been suggested that more progressive states have led the way with this change. The citizens of Alabama can very well make the case that we lead the nation in women taking leadership roles in our state.

  It is very doubtful that any state in the nation can claim a female governor and a female chief executive of their state's leading business organization.

  Kay Ivey became governor on January 14 after being elected to her own four-year term in November. Ivey had previously been the state treasurer for eight-years and lieutenant governor for six years. She was serving an unexpired term as governor for two years prior to her election last year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The MLB makes millions on minor leaguers, but it refuses to pay minimum wage

  Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training last week, the first sign that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is drawing near. But amid the hope that springs up with every new baseball season is an unacceptable fact: Many of the players at spring training aren’t being paid.

  “Each year, every major league team has their minor league players report to spring training. Most fans don’t know those minor league players have to work 31 straight days for no pay,” said Garrett Broshius, a former minor league baseball player and current attorney who is attempting to sue Major League Baseball to ensure that minor leaguers receive fair pay for not only spring training but all year round.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Improving infrastructure to benefit communities—without harming the environment

  Improving and upgrading U.S. roads, bridges, and transportation networks; energy production and transmission systems; and other elements of human-made infrastructure is long overdue. As the new Congress begins its bipartisan, bicameral effort to pass an infrastructure bill, it’s important that it not come at a cost to the natural resources that benefit society. Instead, policymakers should view the infrastructure package as an opportunity to protect bedrock conservation laws and reinvest in America’s natural resource infrastructure.

  Parks, forests, and public lands are not only an essential part of the American landscape—they are also foundational to its economy and well-being. They clean our water and air, and they buffer against the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon and mitigating natural disasters. For these reasons, any infrastructure proposals must be managed with natural resources’ short- and long-term benefits in mind.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Donald Trump - America’s elected dictator

  After losing his battle against Congress to secure funding for his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump is declaring that that the congressional rebuff is irrelevant anyway. The reason? Trump is declaring an “emergency” under the “National Emergencies Act,” which, he says, authorizes him to spend U.S. taxpayer money on the wall without congressional authorization. He’s going to have the U.S. military, which will dutifully follow his orders, construct his Berlin Wall.

  Trump’s action is the very essence of dictatorship. Check out other dictators around the world — Maduro in Venezuela, Ortega in Nicaragua, Diaz-Canel in Cuba, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, el-Sisi in Egypt, and Zi in China. They don’t have to jack around with congresses. They have the authority to just act or order. That’s what makes them dictators.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Six things to know before the second Trump-Kim summit

  On February 27 and 28, U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. This second summit could answer a key question: Does Trump remain only interested in the appearance of progress, or can he extract genuine concessions from North Korea on its nuclear program?

  When Trump and Kim met for the first time on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, they promised “to cooperate for the development of new U.S.–DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.” Yet beyond establishing vague areas of diplomatic focus and promising to return the remains of U.S. prisoners of war (POWs) and military personnel listed as missing in action (MIA), there were no concrete agreements on denuclearization. While Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Singapore summit was a success, there is scant evidence that North Korea has changed its behavior since then. Indeed, some observers believe that the United States gave up more than it received by providing a global platform for one of the world’s most brutal dictators without any tangible return.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1653 - When we don’t know our full history, we cannot tap into our full power

  I love history. I loved history as a child. I especially loved Black History. I loved Black history, but I did not understand the power of Black history. I had to look back from a decades-later perch to fully understand the power of Black history. I do not want our youth of today to have to look back decades later to fully understand the power of Black history. I want all people to better understand the power of history. I know the power of Black history.

  I returned to the South because of the power of Black history. I left the Deep South at 18 years of age. I returned several years later to attend Talladega College. I left again for the state of Massachusetts to attend law school. I returned to the South again. The real reason I returned both times to the South sprung from the power of Black history.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Farming’s next generation has nowhere to grow

  The farmland clearinghouse ads read a bit like listings on a dating site, but way more practical:

    Ernst Weissing is seeking to rent 20+ acres of tillable farmland in southeastern Minnesota. Land with a barn or pole shed and access to water is preferred; no house is required.

    Kelly Schaefer is seeking to rent 20 acres of farmland in Minnesota, Arkansas, Oklahoma or Kentucky. Land with pasture, fencing, water, power, outbuildings and a house is preferred.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – AEA... dead or not?

  The Alabama Education Association (AEA) was the most powerful and influential political organization in Alabama for close to three decades. The late Dr. Paul Hubbert was the builder and king of this powerful organization. He became known as the King of Goat Hill. He reigned omnipotently over the Alabama Legislature.

  All dynasties have to end. The AEA reign began to end with Dr. Hubbert’s retirement. The choice to succeed Dr. Hubbert with Henry Mabry was devastating for the organization. Mabry’s ludicrous and foolhardy stay was the worst nightmare that Hubbert could have imagined.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reclaiming religious freedom

  Last month, the most religiously diverse U.S. Congress in our nation’s history was sworn into office. For proponents of religious liberty, this was an incredible opportunity to celebrate this fundamental American right. At the same time, however, the current political context raises crucial challenges to religious liberty that this Congress must urgently address. Even as more religious minorities are elected to our nation’s highest offices, protections for those groups are widely being stripped away. And in recent years, many self-proclaimed religious liberty advocates have instead done much to abuse this right by privileging the religious beliefs of a select few over the freedom of all people. Their efforts have eroded the separation of church and state in order to discriminate against specific vulnerable communities. The right to religious liberty should protect these communities and all people from discrimination—not cause them harm.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1652 - The Jubilee is coming!

  The Jubilee is coming! The Jubilee is upon us! The 27th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee is coming to Selma, Alabama. It is less than a month away. It arrives on Thursday, February 28th and continues through Sunday, March 3rd. The Jubilee is really upon us!

  The Jubilee is massive. There are 40-50 events over the four-day Jubilee period. Additional events not sponsored by the Jubilee take place as well. There is so much happening. The Jubilee is massive in many ways.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The shutdown shook faith in government jobs, and that’s bad for everyone

  The federal government has reopened after the longest shutdown in history, which caused federal workers to miss two paychecks and cost the economy $11 billion dollars — $3 billion of which will never be recouped. The scariest part, though, might be that this horror show is starting to seem normal.

  This is the third time the government has shut down in the last year and — unless President Donald Trump drops his demand for a border wall — everything from the national parks to the National Science Foundation could be closing up shop again on Feb. 16.

  In the face of all that, America’s federal workers are thinking twice about their careers — and that’s bad for workers and the country.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hurtling toward bankruptcy

  The federal government owes people almost $22 trillion. That means that American taxpayers owe people almost $22 trillion. That’s because the federal government has no money of its own. The money it gets comes entirely from American taxpayers. That’s what the IRS is for — to make certain that everyone sends his or her required amount of taxes to the federal government to enable it to cover its expenditures.

  According to usdebtclock.org (which is an Internet spectacle worth looking at), federal tax revenue amounts to around $3.3 trillion. The amount of federal expenditures is over $4.1 trillion. That means that almost another trillion dollars will be added to the government’s debt load, making it $23 trillion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Burnout is a capitalism problem, not a millennial one

  Over the weekend, the New York Times ran another iteration in the conversation about millennial burnout, this time focusing on the hustling economy — a topic that has been amply critiqued in recent years. Writer Erin Griffith explored “toil glamour” and the high expectations to love the work you’re doing so much that you’ll put in long hours at the hustle. #RiseAndGrind, you’re falling behind. It followed on Anne Helen Petersen’s incredibly popular Buzzfeed piece on millennial burnout that focused on debt, disrupted career paths, dashed dreams, and reluctance to do errands.

  The fundamental flaw of such pieces — often beautifully written and deeply intimate — is that they are personal. They highlight the struggles of a narrow swath of the authors’ generation but fail to consider the larger implications that their experiences may have for the country as a whole. They bemoan a failure to achieve a promised life, but this life was only promised to, and expected by, a specific group of people.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The U.S. government's love of foreign dictatorships

  Lest anyone be tempted to believe that President Trump and other U.S. interventionists are intervening in Venezuela because of some purported concern for the Venezuelan people, let’s examine just a few examples that will bring a dose of reality to the situation. This latest intervention is nothing more than another interventionist power play, one intended to replace one dictatorial regime with another.

  Egypt comes to mind. It is ruled by one of the most brutal and tyrannical military dictatorships in the world. The U.S. government loves it, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for the Egyptian citizenry, who have to suffer under this brutal tyranny and oppression.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – Organizational session, legislative leadership, and potential new stars

  Alabama lawmakers have met for their organizational session and elected their leadership for the next four years.

  Both the House and Senate leadership groups remain essentially the same as the last quadrennium.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

So you want to tax the rich: A how-to guide

  Taxing the rich has been a hot subject of late thanks to a few Congressional Democrats. First, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez floated the idea of raising the top marginal income tax rate to 70 percent. Then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a “wealth tax” on those who have at least $50 million in assets. And last week, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed increasing the estate tax for those who inherit more than $3.5 million.

  These ideas have been met with predictable consternation from conservatives. CEOs and Wall Street-types gathered at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos even had a good laugh when asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s idea.

  But raising taxes on the rich isn’t a joke. It’s an economic necessity.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Student journalism: More 'journalism,' more needed, than ever

  In more communities today than ever, student publications are doing double-duty — reporting news of schools and surrounding communities — and doing both well.

  As a nation, and for anyone who supports a free press, that dual rule is worthy of notice, honor, and support. We take note of the great work being done by journalists who happen to be students as we recognize the 50th anniversary of a major student-First Amendment decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  The Freedom Forum Institute (FFI), the Newseum and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) are declaring 2019 the “Year of the Student Journalist.” For more information: www.splc.org/year-of-the-student-journalist.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Energy-efficient buildings are central to modernizing U.S. infrastructure

  If roads, bridges, and phone and transmission lines are the veins of American infrastructure, buildings are the heart. Whether residential or commercially owned, the buildings that serve as places of work and living in the United States unquestionably shape public health, safety, and economic productivity. As buildings’ multiplying energy needs increasingly force their integration into the United States’ energy grid, it has become necessary to update building practices and technologies accordingly. These updates should minimize energy leakage and make greater use of each unit of energy consumed.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Comprehensive reform to lower prescription drug prices

  In recent months, the need to lower prescription drug costs has become increasingly apparent. Despite tough rhetoric from President Donald Trump, drug prices continue to soar under his administration. Last year, nearly 30 drug companies announced that price increases would take effect in January; Pfizer alone announced that it would raise the prices of 41 drugs. Critical medications, such as insulin and opioid addiction treatments, have already seen dramatic price hikes this year. These rising prices continue to take a toll on patients. In a 2018 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 24 percent of respondents reported that they or a family member had not filled a prescription, cut pills in half, or skipped doses due to cost.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Bible literacy or Bible wars?

  From everything I know about President Donald Trump, it would surprise me if he studies the Bible – or has even read it. Nevertheless, Trump seems to want other people to study the Bible, including students in public schools.

  “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 28. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

  The trigger for Trump’s Bible tweet appears to have been a Fox Network Fox & Friends segment about the spate of “Bible literacy” bills recently introduced in a number of states including Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Missouri. This initiative – called Project Blitz – is currently being pushed by a coalition of conservative Christian political groups.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

What should and should not be in any Homeland Security funding deal

  It is almost hard to believe that the very same funding deal that President Donald Trump rejected in December when he drove the country into a partial government shutdown—and that Trump and all but six Senate Republicans rejected again last week—is the one that Congress finally adopted unanimously and that President Trump ultimately signed the very next day. The pain the shutdown caused to approximately two million federal government workers and contractors, as well as to their families and communities, was literally all for nothing. With this deal, Trump temporarily caved on his commitment to shut down the government for “months or even years” if he failed to secure $5.7 billion for wall funding. However, securing that funding remains his top focus heading into a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee that aims to produce full-year government funding legislation for both House and Senate consideration.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – Infrastructure program should be priority one

  As the new quadrennium crests in Alabama government, everybody looks toward a new beginning. There is a new, fresh four-year period for the newly elected leaders. They are overwhelmingly Republican. The governor is a Republican and all of the accompanying constitutional officeholders are members of the GOP. More importantly, the Alabama Legislature, both the House and the Senate majorities, are Republican. In fact, over two-thirds of each chamber is Republican. It is a supermajority.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Justifying the 17-year war

  When I first learned about the Thirty Years War in a history class in college, I was both fascinated and amazed. How in the world could a war go on for 30 years? That just seemed incomprehensible to me.

  Not anymore. The U.S. war on Afghanistan has now been going on for 17 years. And if the American people follow the advice of Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, it’s a virtual certainty that the United States will easily surpass the Thirty Years War and, maybe, the Hundred Years War, which needless to say, also amazed and fascinated me when I learned about its existence.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Your ultrasound isn’t a car. Why are you told to shop like it is?

  When my doctor suggested an ultrasound for the pelvic pain I was experiencing, my first question was “How much will that cost?” I am one of the many Americans with a high-deductible health care plan — $10,000 to be exact. I often scoff that my health insurance is a “get-in-a-doctor’s-door-plan,” because I pay cash for basically everything anyway.

  My doctor, recalling my poor insurance, asked, “Do you ever get to the other side of the state?” I looked at her quizzically. “Because there’s an imaging service over there that offers ultrasounds for …” She paused and searched her computer. “Let’s see … $137, maybe closer to $300 if they think you need both abdominal and transvaginal. But it’s like a two-hour drive.”

Sunday, January 27, 2019

'I’m going to be paying it down until I die.'

  The women incarcerated in Corinth, Mississippi have a phrase for it: “sitting it out.” We have another name for it: “debtors’ prison.”

  Since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has been clear that it’s unconstitutional to jail people simply because they can’t afford to pay fines and fees.

  But in states across the South — and across the country — that’s exactly what cash-strapped municipalities are doing.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1650 - The power of celebrating service and the power of the humble servant!

  A lot was packed into this one event. The event celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s actual birthday. It had a swearing-in for a recently elected official. It has an activity for the Selma Nonviolence Center that included over a hundred students from the Midwest. A lot was packed into this one celebration.

  It started out simple. Faya Rose Toure and I were talking about a special person who is such a good community worker and gives so much. However, she is almost never honored or appropriately recognized. I wanted it to be a simple dinner, but Faya wanted it to be a surprise and more. I did not think we could keep it a secret.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Suffering from Trump's eminent-domain tyranny

  In my blog post, “Stealing Land to Build Trump’s Wall,” I explained how a system of immigration controls, in general, entail tyrannical enforcement measures and how Trump’s wall, in particular, entails the use of eminent domain to steal people’s land on which to build the wall.

  Coincidentally, Global Village Space published an article detailing one family’s fight against the eminent-domain stealing of their land to construct a portion of Trump’s wall. U.S. officials are using their power of eminent domain to steal land belonging to 69-year old Jose Alfredo Cavazos and his sister Eloisa, who live in Mission, Texas, which is located in the Rio Grande Valley. The Cavazos family has lived on their property their entire lives.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Treading water: The current challenges of women’s work

  The rosy economic narrative that the Trump administration often touts glosses over women’s diverse experiences—and a closer look at economic data suggests that this narrative is dangerously deceptive. Since 2000, for example, women’s wages have grown more slowly than men’s wages, and women overall have been less likely to participate in the labor force. The labor force participation of some women, particularly women of color, is irregular or has stagnated. Persistent racial and ethnic disparities in wages only compound challenges for many women of color, who disproportionately work in low-wage jobs. These trends make it difficult for women, especially those working in low-wage jobs, to keep up with the United States’ soaring costs of living. This means that women must work more while making less and struggling to get ahead. In other words, women workers today are treading water.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: New federal judges in Alabama

  Regardless of what happens in Donald Trump’s administration over the next two years, he will have a proven record of success as president, especially if you are a conservative American.

  One of, if not the most important accomplishment of any president is the opportunity to appoint a United States Supreme Court Justice. Folks, Trump has appointed and gotten confirmed two members of the Supreme Court in two years. This is a remarkable achievement. Justices Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will have an immense impact on American laws and values for more than likely over two decades, long after Donald Trump is dead and gone. Both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are young, in their early 50s, and will be a part of many landmark rulings that will profoundly affect American public policy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

There’s a retirement crisis and the new $15 minimum wage bill could help

  We’re several weeks into the 116th Congress, every day of which has been consumed by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. The president has manufactured this crisis, holding the government hostage to fund a symbol of his xenophobia, while ignoring the deep, snowballing damage he is inflicting on workers, families, and the economy. But Trump’s shutdown doesn’t mean newly-empowered congressional Democrats have been twiddling their thumbs.

  Last week, House and Senate Democratic leadership introduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2024. It would also link the minimum wage to median wage growth thereafter, and phase out sub-minimum wages for tipped workers, which has been stuck at $2.13 per hour for 28 years, and workers with disabilities, which allows employers to pay disabled workers as little as pennies per hour.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The wisdom and philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  For a man who never reached the age of 40, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left a powerful and important body of thought. He was a preacher and orator, so rather than writing in the form of books or treatises, Dr. King spoke to the world in sermons and speeches and a few articles.

  His impact and image as a social activist are so prominent that I think his contributions as a philosopher are underestimated. Here is a very brief tour of a few things he said worth noting.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Five ways the Trump shutdown is harming struggling workers, families, and communities

  For an in-depth overview of the individuals, families, and grants affected by the shutdown, see Table 1.

  President Donald Trump recently claimed that he can relate to the strain experienced by federal workers living paycheck-to-paycheck. However, his efforts to prolong the current government shutdown—already the longest in U.S. history—suggest otherwise. In addition to furloughed federal workers, this cruel, manufactured crisis has added immeasurable uncertainty to already stressed low-wage workers and families, disproportionately harming low-income families with children, people with disabilities, and seniors.

  Here are just five of the myriad ways that Trump’s shutdown is irresponsibly harming and holding low-income communities hostage.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

We need King’s radical message as badly as we did in 1968

  On Monday, we’ll celebrate Martin Luther King Day, the 33rd time our nation has officially honored this giant of American history.

  But the figure we’ll honor seems to bear a little less resemblance to the real Dr. King with each passing year.

  In speeches and commemorations, America will inevitably hold up the martyred leader of the nonviolent movement that toppled Jim Crow – the brilliant, charismatic pastor whose soaring rhetoric, typically laced with biblical metaphors, inspired millions of people across the globe to march for justice.

  King was all that. And he was much more.

Friday, January 18, 2019

For low-income Americans, the IRS is always shut down

  The ongoing partial government shutdown has dragged on for more than 27 days, and it doesn’t look like the Trump administration is interested in ending it any time soon. One of the agencies affected is the IRS, and the longer the shutdown continues, the likelier it is that tax season becomes ensnared in a significant way. The Trump administration was spooked enough by the prospect of people not receiving their 2018 tax refunds that it ordered furloughed IRS employees back to work despite the fact that it may be illegal.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Trump's nighttime trip to Iraq confirms the debacle

  What better proof of the Iraq debacle than President Trump’s middle-of-the-night trip to that country at Christmastime to visit U.S. troops who are still occupying the country some 15 years after the Pentagon and the CIA invaded?

  The U.S. national-security establishment has had a decade-and-a-half to bring its federally planned paradise into existence. From the very first day of the U.S. conquest of Iraq - a country that had never attacked the United States - the Pentagon and the CIA wielded total control over the country, being able to install whatever type of regime they wanted, with no pesky constitutional restraints to inhibit whatever they wanted to do.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – What will our Congressional districts look like after the 2020 Census?

  Preparations are being made to take the 2020 Census. This process is not just a fun game to spell out demographic changes and interesting tidbits about Americans. It is a very important mandate dictated by the U.S. Constitution. The number of people counted determines how many seats each state has in Congress. Thus, it is taken every 10-years.

  The country has been changing, demographically, over the last decade, as it always has over the course of history. The states of California, Texas, and Florida continue to grow exponentially. All Americans, not just older ones, seek the sun. They like a sunny, warm climate. That is why our neighboring state of Florida is, and has been for decades, America’s growth state.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

2019 threats to First Amendment freedoms

  First Amendment threats and defenses have, for much of the past 100 years, largely focused on protecting individual speech — the rights of any one of us to express ourselves without interference or punishment by the government.

  Not to be too glib but, oh, those were the days! This glee is due, in no small part, to the degree that individual speech and press rights triumphed in that era. But looking into this new year, that situation — and those victories — may be more nostalgia than the norm. There is increasing danger to our core freedoms from what I’ll call “systemic” challenges, which often appear focused on other issues but which carry a First Amendment impact, if not a wallop.

Monday, January 14, 2019

For low-income people, generosity is a survival tactic

  If you aren’t one of Renee Rushka’s neighbors in Bethel, Connecticut, you probably don’t know about the chain of events that took place there this past December. They were small and quiet and didn’t change the world, but they changed the lives of the people they touched. It started a few weeks before Christmas when Rushka was a few dollars short of what she needed to pay for her groceries. Someone behind her in line offered to cover what Rushka couldn’t. The following week she posted a thank you on the neighborhood’s Facebook page. There was an immediate flood of replies, she says, from people asking whether her family needed anything else to get through the holiday. There was also one woman asking if Rushka could recommend resources because she was struggling too.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Risks in Betsy DeVos’ rethink of higher education

  In its first two years, the Trump administration bent over backward to gut Obama administration regulations designed to hold colleges or programs accountable for ripping off students. Now, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is kicking 2019 off with an attempt to dismantle bedrock protections created decades ago that define what it means to receive a college education and the role gatekeepers play in conducting quality oversight.

  Last week, the U.S. Department of Education detailed exactly how it plans to accomplish its goals. The elimination of these protections risks the proliferation of poor-quality schools in the name of innovation, leading to more dead ends and broken promises for students.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tucker Carlson and Fox News are wrong, on both immigration and free speech

  Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson got himself into some hot water with Fox News advertisers last month after he made a derogatory comment about immigrants on his show. According to Hollywood Reporter, at least 24 advertisers decided to boycott Carlson’s show in response to his comment, including Toyota, Lexus, Farmers Insurance, ancestry.com, IHOP, Pacific Life Insurance, Bowflex, and Samsung.

  What did Carlson say that caused this large exodus of advertisers from his show? He suggested that immigrants make America “dirtier.” Carlson’s advertisers clearly did not agree with his assessment and registered their discontent by pulling their ads from his show.

Friday, January 11, 2019

9th Circuit panel rejects religious school's use of ministerial exception, creates circuit split

  A religious school in California cannot use the “ministerial exception” to label one of its former teachers and, therefore, avoid her disability discrimination lawsuit, a divided federal appeals court has ruled. The court’s decision creates a split among the federal appellate circuits and could cause the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit and perhaps provide more guidance on the meaning of its 2012 decision on the ministerial exception.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

How long should the workday be?

  It has been eighty years since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1938. The FLSA established a national minimum wage of 25¢ an hour, mandated time and a half for overtime in certain jobs, prohibited most child labor, and established a 44-hour workweek (lowered to 40 hours in 1940).

  Although the national minimum wage has steadily risen to $7.25 per hour (where it has stood since 2009), the workweek has never been lowered below 40 hours.

  Some people want that to change.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – Alabama’s 1940s congressional delegation

  Recently I came across a copy of an old congressional directory from 1942. It is always fun for me to read about this era in American political history.

  Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been first elected in 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression. He would go on to be reelected in 1936, 1940, and 1944 and would have been reelected into perpetuity. However, he died in Warm Springs, Georgia in April of 1945, only four months into his fourth term. He was the closest thing we Americans have ever had to having a king. Nobody has or ever will serve four terms as President. After FDR's omnipotent reign, the Constitution was changed to limit our presidents to two four-year terms.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Missing paychecks due to Trump shutdown total $2 billion every two weeks

  President Donald Trump has suggested his shutdown could last “for months or even a year or longer” due to his insistence on extorting taxpayer money for a border wall that the American public overwhelmingly opposes—one that he swore Mexico would pay for. The new Democratic House majority passed legislation to reopen the government, but there is no indication that the Republican-controlled Senate will agree to end this impasse soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has voiced his refusal to bring legislation to reopen the government to the Senate floor despite the fact that the chamber passed a similar deal unanimously just three weeks ago.

Monday, January 7, 2019

What Trump leaves out when he talks about the black unemployment rate

  President Donald Trump has a lot to say about the economy. His tweets on it are as incessant as they are unreliable: There’s his insistence that we have the “best jobs numbers” in the history of the country (job creation has slowed since Obama’s presidency ended), the time he bragged that we have the “hottest jobs market on planet Earth,” and his confusing claim that he has revitalized the steel industry and spurred the development of six new steel mills (he has not).

  None of those claims are exactly true, but the one that happened during his State of the Union address last year is what keeps me up at night. While making the case for his economic platform, Trump specifically touted low black unemployment, saying, “[It’s] something I’m very proud of, African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” Republicans cheered; Democrats grimaced. I rolled my eyes.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"This is what a family looks like."

  Jay was worried he wouldn’t be fed. He was in trouble at school. He was sick a lot.

  And he was only 5 years old.

  Before he met Chelsey and Bailey Glassco, Jay (not his real name) had never lived with a foster family longer than 90 days. But the Glasscos, who were shunned by their tight-knit Southern, Christian communities when they came out, have what they call “a soft spot” for foster kids.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The "great man" theory of governance

  One of the political phenomena that the Trump administration has brought to the surface is the political philosophy that now guides much of the conservative movement. Unlike libertarians, who have a deep philosophical commitment to the principle of a government with very few, limited powers, conservatives have come to embrace what can be called the "great man" theory of governance.  It holds that people should elect (or select) a great man to serve as president and then loyally and unconditionally support whatever he decides to do in the interests of the nation.

Friday, January 4, 2019

We already have a border wall. It’s an environmental disaster.

  As of Friday, the U.S. government has been partially shut down for 14 days due to the Trump administration’s demand that a new funding package include money for a border wall with Mexico. The new House Democratic majority intends to vote on a bill to re-open the government that doesn’t include such funding soon after it’s sworn in. The administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have called the bill a non-starter.

  But ask anyone living along the U.S.-Mexico line, and they’ll tell you: We already have fences and walls, drones and helicopters, surveillance towers, checkpoints, and border patrol agents speeding their ATVs across the fragile biotic crust of the desert.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

While the Supreme Court deliberates, Alabama should shine the light on asset forfeiture

  The U.S. Supreme Court recently signaled that it’s ready to limit the government’s power to confiscate things like cars, houses, and cash that prosecutors have proven, or maybe just reasonably suspect, were involved in crimes.

  The court heard oral arguments related to Indiana’s use of the power, known as asset forfeiture, to confiscate a $42,000 vehicle — a value nearly four times the maximum fine for the underlying crime. Specifically, the court is looking at whether the state is subject to the Eighth Amendment’s ban on imposing excessive fines.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – A new quadrennium: Alabama potpourri and trivia

  As we begin this new year of 2019, Alabama begins a new quadrennium in state government.

  All of our Alabama Constitutional officeholders begin their new four-year terms this month. Gov. Kay Ivey will be sworn in for a four-year term on January 14. Also, being sworn in on Inauguration Day will be Will Ainsworth as lieutenant governor, John Merrill as Alabama Secretary of State, John McMillan as state treasurer, Rick Pate as Alabama Agriculture Commissioner, Steve Marshall as Alabama Attorney General and Jim Ziegler will be sworn in for a second term as Alabama Auditor. By the way, all of the above and indeed all statewide officeholders in Alabama, are Republicans.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

How about the truth regarding the Department of “Defense”?

  With all the born-again fervor for truth among the mainstream press within the context of the Donald Trump regime, would it be too much to ask for the truth regarding the U.S. Department of “Defense”?

  I mean, come on, there is no way that what U.S. troops have been doing overseas for the past 70 years has anything to do with the defense of the United States. Instead,  it has all been about empire and intervention.

  So, while we are on the subject of truth, how about if we change the name of the Department of Defense to the Department of Empire and Intervention?