Saturday, December 14, 2019

Schnapps, whipping and sacks: How Christmas traditions evolved around the world

  Christmas has become a cultural event, associated with the giving of gifts and lavish meals with friends and family.

  But the traditional understanding of Christmas is that it’s a Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus.

  The idea of giving gifts may be traced to the Bible, in which the infant Jesus was presented with gold, frankincense, and myrrh by the Three Wise Men, named in apocryphal texts as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Russian flags over an American base

  President Donald Trump’s erratic policy shifts on Syria this fall have planted the seeds for new security threats to the United States and its allies—and Americans are noticing.

  The zigs and zags of Trump’s approach to Syria—announcing a full withdrawal of U.S. troops one week then sending U.S. troops back to “secure the oil” the next—opened the door to new security threats, including the revival of ISIS, a humanitarian crisis, and a continued expansion of Russia’s destructive role in Syria and the broader Middle East. In addition to these immediate concerns, there are the long-term effects that will play out for years to come, such as the doubt cast on America’s reliability as a security partner and the troubling signal that U.S. foreign policy prioritizes protecting oil over human life.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Craig Ford: Building new prisons is not the answer

  Alabama should be building better schools, not better prisons. It’s as simple as that. And the truth is if we had done that from the beginning we probably wouldn’t have the overcrowded prisons we have today.

  It’s a statistical fact that if a child can’t read at a third-grade level by the time they graduate the third grade, then they are far more likely to end up in prison. And here’s another statistical fact: A non-violent offender who completes some sort of education training (like a trade such as carpentry or welding) while they are in prison has only a 20 percent chance of going back to prison, while an offender who does not get that training has an 80 percent chance of going back to prison.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Some Henry County stories

  One of the really good guys in Alabama government took over the reins as President of the Alabama Association of County Commissioners this summer. Henry County Probate Judge and County Commission Chairman, David Money, is an extremely outstanding and quality leader for his beloved county. He is revered by his folks in Abbeville, Headland, and throughout his home county. 

  Henry County is one of the friendliest counties you will ever enter. David Money is their boy, or maybe you might say, their David. You can see a look of admiration and reverence for their David in the eyes of his people when they look at him. He was raised in Henry County and therefore, he knows most of the folks there. His best buddy is his neighbor and friend, Jimmy Rane, the Yellow Fella. Some say this big ole Henry County boy is one of the wealthiest men in the state. Rane still lives in Abbeville and has his business center there. Rane and Money visit over coffee several times a week.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hate Christmas? A psychologist’s survival guide for Grinches

  Two years ago, I came into work on December 1 to find a bag on my desk labeled “Karen’s Christmas Intervention”. It contained many Christmas themed gifts and challenges – such as watching a Christmas DVD and going to a carol service. These were all designed to help me find something to like about Christmas. I tried everything – after all, someone had made a big effort. But while I enjoyed completing each challenge, it didn’t change my values. I remain a Grinch.

  In many parts of the world, we are expected to love Christmas and embrace all things about it. Anyone who doesn’t is quickly labeled a Grinch and advised to keep their views to themselves so that they don’t ruin a magical time for others. But how reasonable is this? And if you are a Grinch, how can you survive the yuletide season?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Five ways Trump and his supporters are using the same strategies as science deniers

  While watching the House impeachment hearings, I realized my two decades of research into why people ignore, reject, or deny science had a political parallel.

  From anti-evolutionists to anti-vaccine advocates, known as “anti-vaxxers,” climate change deniers to Flat Earthers, science deniers all follow a common pattern of faulty reasoning that allows them to reject what they don’t want to believe – and accept what they favor – based on a misunderstanding of how science deals with evidence.

  As I’ve been watching the hearings, I’ve noticed that a number of characteristics of this type of reasoning are now being embraced by President Donald Trump and his congressional supporters.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Why support for the death penalty is much higher among white Americans

  Sentencing a person to die is the ultimate punishment. There is no coming back from the permanence of the death penalty.

  In the United States, the death penalty is currently authorized by the federal government, the military, and 29 states. The primary rationale for using the death penalty is deterrence.

  As public policy, I believe that capital punishment has largely not proved to be an effective deterrent.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

How the American Civil War cemented modern Christmas tradition

  Shortly before Christmas Day 1864, Abraham Lincoln received an extraordinary Christmas present – Savannah, Georgia. Union General William Sherman presented the captured city to the president via telegram, noting his gift included guns, ammunition, and several thousand bales of cotton.

  An unusual gift, but the tale hints at how traditions bend during wartime. By the time the war broke out, the majority of Christmas traditions that we would recognize – and indeed celebrate today – were in place in America. Many of these built upon traditions from Europe. But the way these were upheld during the war went a long way towards cementing aspects of the American Christmas that has since been commercialized and exported around the globe.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Rick Perry’s belief that Trump was chosen by God is shared by many in a fast-growing Christian movement

  In a recent interview with Fox News, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry stated that Donald Trump was chosen by God to be president. He said that throughout history God had picked “imperfect people” such as King David or Solomon to lead their people.

  Perry is not alone. A large number of evangelical Christians in the United States believe that God has chosen Donald Trump to advance the kingdom of God on Earth. Several high-profile religious leaders have made similar claims, often comparing Trump to King Cyrus who was asked by God to rescue the nation of Israel from exile in Babylon.

  Many of these Christians are part of a movement that we call “Independent Network Charismatic,” or “INC Christianity” in our 2017 book.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

How to tell if your digital addiction is ruining your life

  The fear that digital distractions are ruining our lives and friendships is widespread.

  To be sure, digital addiction is real. Consider the 2,600 times we touch our phones every day, our panic when we temporarily misplace a device, the experience of “phantom vibration syndrome”, and how merely seeing a message alert can be as distracting as checking the message itself.

  This can have real consequences. For example, other people do take it personally if you stop talking to them to answer a message. And taking a break from a task to look at your cell phone precludes deep thinking on whatever you were doing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Race is on for the U.S. Senate

  We are less than three months away from the election for our number two U.S. Senate Seat. The winner of the Republican Primary on March 3, 2020 will be our next U.S. Senator. Winning the GOP primary for any statewide office in a presidential year is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.

  Jeff Sessions is the prohibitive favorite to win back the seat he held for 20 years. He probably regretted from day one leaving a safe U.S. Senate Seat with 20 years of seniority and four years left on his term to take a temporary Attorney General appointment for, at best, a four-year tenure. It amazed me when he did it. Sessions and Trump were at odds from the beginning over Sessions’ recusal from the Russian collusion probe by the Democrats. Trumps’ disenchantment with Sessions was quite obvious and outspoken.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

When words speak louder than actions

  Picture this scenario: A woman contacts a hitman. She tells him she wants her husband dead and promises to pay him $5,000 once the job is done. But the police find out about the plot before the murder can take place and the woman finds herself under arrest. Her defense? She never actually did anything to hurt her husband. All she did was exercise her freedom of speech by having a conversation with a contract killer.

  Does that argument work?

Monday, December 2, 2019

Tolerance and intolerance: The good, the bad, and the ugly

  What is tolerance and is it always a good thing? It helps to understand various aspects of this concept.

Basic Definition. Tolerance is demonstrated by an ability and willingness to accept and respect different people, ideas, and practices. Tolerance promotes non-judgmental, open-minded, patient, permissive "live and let live" attitudes toward diverse people, ideas, and practices. It is an essential virtue in a democratic society. Tolerance, an antonym of intolerance, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and prejudice, and it requires respectful acceptance of racial, ethnic and physical characteristics; unpopular, unorthodox, or offensive beliefs, opinions, and practices, especially those that tend to evoke hatred, prejudice, disdain, contempt, or passionate disagreement.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Gift-giving taboos that aren’t as bad as you think

  There are many social norms that dictate gift-giving, including when, how and what to give as gifts.

  Interestingly, these norms don’t seem to be about making sure that recipients get the gifts they want. What makes for a good or bad gift often differs in the eyes of givers and recipients.

  In fact, behavioral science research shows that gifts that may seem “taboo” to givers might actually be better appreciated by recipients than they might think.

Taboo #1: Giving money

  Givers often worry that giving cash or gift cards might be seen as impersonal, thoughtless or crass. Yet research we have done with Robyn LeBoeuf of Washington University in St Louis shows that recipients prefer these more versatile gifts more than givers think they do.

  We find that givers underestimate how much recipients like seemingly impersonal monetary gifts, mistakenly thinking that they’ll prefer a traditional gift to a gift card, for instance, or a gift card to cash, when the opposite is true. And, contrary to givers’ expectations, recipients think that these less personal gifts are more thoughtful, too.

  Why don’t givers realize this? We find that givers tend to focus on recipients’ enduring traits and tastes and choose gifts that are tailored to those characteristics, and recipients are more likely to focus on their varying wants and needs and prefer gifts that give them the freedom to get whatever they currently need or desire most.

  Prompting givers to shift their focus from what recipients are like to what they would like makes them more likely to choose the versatile gifts that recipients prefer.

Taboo #2: Giving a practical gift

  A classic sitcom plotline involves the gift-giving gaffe, with a prime example being the husband who buys his wife a vacuum cleaner or something else practical when the occasion seems to call for something more sentimental.

  These blundering husbands might not be as wrong as you’d think, though: research suggests that practical gifts are actually better-liked by recipients than givers expect. For instance, research by Ernest Baskin of Saint Joseph’s University and colleagues demonstrates that givers tend to focus on how desirable a gift is, when recipients might prefer they think a little more about how easy that gift is to use.

  A gift certificate to the best restaurant in the state might not be so great a gift if it takes three hours to get there; your recipient might think that a gift certificate to a less noteworthy but closer restaurant is actually a better gift.

  In fact, even gifts that aren’t much fun at all, like the fabled vacuum cleaner, can make for great gifts in recipients’ eyes. Work that Williams has done with Emily Rosenzweig of Tulane University shows that recipients have a stronger preference for useful rather than fun gifts than givers expect them to have.

  We find that the best gifts people have received are much more useful than the best gifts they think they have given, and they want givers to put less emphasis on the fun features of a gift and more emphasis on its useful features than they themselves would when picking out a gift to give to someone else.

Taboo #3: Giving an ‘uncreative’ gift

  Givers often feel pressure to think of creative gifts that demonstrate how much thought they put into the gift and how well they know the recipient.

  This means that, even when they are given explicit instructions on what to purchase, givers frequently ignore recipients’ wish lists or gift registries and instead try to come up with ideas for gifts by themselves. Givers think that their unsolicited gift ideas will be appreciated just as much as the ideas on wish lists and registries, but recipients would rather have the gifts they requested.

  Another implication of this is that givers often pass up gifts they know would be better-liked in favor of getting different gifts for each person they give a gift to, according to research by Steffel and LeBoeuf. Givers feel like they are being more thoughtful by getting something unique and creative for each person on their shopping list, but recipients would rather have what’s on the top of their wish list, especially if they are unlikely to compare gifts.

  We find that encouraging givers to consider what recipients would choose for themselves before choosing a gift makes them more likely to go ahead and get the same better-liked gift for more than one recipient.

Taboo #4: Giving a gift that can’t be unwrapped

  The very idea of exchanging gifts suggests to people that they need to give something that can be tied up with a pretty bow and then unwrapped, but, in fact, some of the best gifts aren’t things at all.

  A wealth of research has shown that money is often better spent on experiences than on material goods, and this seems to be true for gifts as well as personal purchases.

  Joseph Goodman of Washington University in St Louis and Sarah Lim of Seoul National University have found that givers think that material items that can be physically exchanged and unwrapped make for better gifts, when gifts that are experiences actually make recipients happier.

  Experiential gifts have benefits beyond simply boosting their recipients’ enjoyment, as well. Cindy Chan of the University of Toronto and Cassie Mogilner of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that receiving an experiential gift prompts stronger emotional reactions in recipients, and this makes them feel closer to the person who gave them the gift. In other words, opt for the swing dance lessons over the sweater – it will make the recipient happier, and bring the two of you closer together, to boot.

If you still can’t think of a gift…

  Gift-giving, especially around the holidays, can be a stressful process for both giver and recipient. An understanding of which gift-giving norms are misguided can perhaps relieve some of this stress and lead to better gifts and happier recipients (and givers, too).

  But even if givers ignore this advice, there is hope: one last taboo to bust is the taboo on regifting. According to Gabrielle Adams of the London Business School and colleagues, givers aren’t as bothered by regifting as recipients think.

  Even if what you get is not what you want, you can pass it along to someone else, and hope that next time, the norms will work in your favor.

  About the authors: Mary Steffel is an assistant professor of marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. Elanor Williams is an assistant professor of Marketing at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

  This article was published by The Conversation.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The struggle for Native American voting rights

  November is Native American Heritage Month – a fitting time to honor the resistance and resilience of Native peoples, including their fight to be heard by and represented in the government that dispossessed them for centuries.

  The first inhabitants of this land have been expressly disenfranchised for most of U.S. history.

  Excluded from birthright citizenship, American Indians found that, unlike immigrants, there wasn’t a naturalization process for them because they were not considered “foreigners.” During Reconstruction, they were excluded from rights acknowledged by the 14th Amendment, which bolstered civil rights for formerly enslaved people.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Why do Black Friday shoppers throw punches over bargains?

  Black Friday, the most celebrated shopping day of the year, abounds with tales of fistfights over discounted televisions or even stampedes as consumers rush to get that low-priced sweater they saw in an ad.

  Many people chalk it up to bad behavior. But marketers like me have a term to describe one feeling that contributes to it: psychological ownership.

  Have you ever felt as if another driver stole your parking spot? Or were supremely miffed when someone else nabbed the last red sweater that you had your eye on? And isn’t it irritating when someone else receives credit for your idea? If so, you have experienced psychological ownership.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Joseph O. Patton: Taking back Thanksgiving!

  I am genuinely elated to report that I have survived another Thanksgiving… or rather what remains of this rapidly deteriorating national holiday. I ate, I watched football, I napped. God ordained back in the Plymouth Rock days that we adhere to this sacred ritual, right? And doing so enables me to show my Turkey Day pride, get my festive gobble-gobble swerve thang on, but mostly just suffer from indigestion as a result of all that sweet, blessed gluttony.

  But increasingly each year something else is ominously creeping into the view from my yam-tinted glasses, vulgarly tinkling on my Thanksgiving joy and ruthlessly pushing all the pilgrim imagery to the side - its name: Christmas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Passeth the cranb'rry sauce! The medieval origins of Thanksgiving

  How and why did the dishes served at Thanksgiving dinner come to be so fixed?

  Many assume that most of them were simply eaten by the Pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving. For this reason, they continue to be eaten today. And it’s true that most of the ingredients are American in origin: the turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes – even the green beans in the casserole and the pecans in the pie.

  Yet we only have one firsthand account of the “first” Thanksgiving – a brief paragraph by Edward Winslow that doesn’t mention any of these foods. And it’s been shown, time and again, that the idea of a unique culinary tradition originating from a feast between the Pilgrims and their Native American neighbors is more advertising myth than historical truth.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

What the first Thanksgiving dinner actually looked like

  Most Americans probably don’t realize that we have a very limited understanding of the first Thanksgiving, which took place in 1621 in Massachusetts.

  Indeed, few of our present-day traditions resemble what happened almost 400 years ago, and there’s only one original account of the feast.

  As an anthropologist who specializes in reconstructing past diets, I can say that even though we don’t have a definitive account of the menu at the first Thanksgiving, letters and recorded oral histories give us a pretty good idea of what they probably ate. And we know for a fact that it didn’t include mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Beyond fact-checking: 5 things schools should do to foster news literacy

  When it comes to news literacy, schools often emphasize fact-checking and hoax-spotting. But as I argue in my new book, schools must go deeper with how they teach the subject if they want to help students thrive in a democratic society.

  As a new poll shows that Americans struggle to know if the information they find online is true, news literacy remains essential in student education.

  Separating fact from fiction is a vital skill for civic engagement, but students can be good fact-checkers only if they have a broader understanding of how news and information are produced and consumed in the digital age. Here are five questions students should be taught to ask.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Long wait times in ERs drive up costs, signal health care distress

  Wait times in emergency rooms are so out of control that researchers recently tested whether aromatherapy would make waiting in the ER more tolerable.

  It didn’t.

  Over a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine offered an ominous warning: “Underneath the surface, a national crisis in emergency care has been brewing and is now beginning to come into full view.”

  Now the view is quite clear. ERs are packed and wait times are growing longer each year. In fact, even if you’re having a heart attack, you may have to wait to get to the doctor.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Why saying ‘OK boomer’ at work is considered age discrimination – but millennial put-downs aren’t

  The phrase “OK boomer” has become a catch-all put-down that Generation Zers and young millennials have been using to dismiss retrograde arguments made by baby boomers, the generation of Americans who are currently 55 to 73 years old.

  Though it originated online and primarily is fueling memes, Twitter feuds, and a flurry of commentary, it has begun migrating to real life. Earlier this month, a New Zealand lawmaker lobbed the insult at an older legislator who had dismissed her argument about climate change.

  As the term enters our everyday vocabulary, HR professionals and employment law specialists like me now face the age-old question: What happens if people start saying “OK boomer” at work?

Friday, November 22, 2019

A city in California gave land back to indigenous people. It’s a start.

  On Oct. 21, the northern California city of Eureka returned more than 200 acres of land on Duluwat Island to the Wiyot Tribe, the indigenous inhabitants of the area. The land — which represents the physical and cultural center of the universe for Wiyot peoples — was taken during a massacre of the tribe’s women, children, and elders in 1860.

  This massacre, followed by subsequent relocation to Fort Humboldt, resulted in the death of nearly one half of the pre-contact Wiyot population — estimated at close to 2,000 people. Today, the tribe has returned to near its ancestral territory after long legal fights to gain federal recognition, with close to 600 Wiyot people living locally.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Military suicides shouldn’t surprise anyone

  The title of a recent New York Times op-ed by Carol Giacomo is an attention grabber: “Suicide Has Been Deadlier Than Combat for the Military.”

  The article points out that “more than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, more suicides than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

  The article states: “Other than pointing to national trends, officials have offered few explanations for why military suicides are rising. Studies seeking more answers are underway.”

  Permit me to offer my explanation for this deadly phenomenon: Iraq and Afghanistan and other places where U.S. service members have been obeying orders to participate in military operations involving the wrongful killing of people.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - John McMillan, a good man as Alabama Treasurer

  Alabama is in good hands with John McMillan. A good man is in the job of state treasurer of Alabama for the third straight quadrennium.

  Young Boozer served two successive four-year terms from 2010-2018. Mr. Boozer did an excellent job as treasurer. He was perfect for the job. He had been a successful banker. He ran for and did the job for the right reason, not for political gain or prestige, but to do a good job as Alabama’s treasurer. Some folks thought Young Boozer would make a good choice for higher statewide office. However, he and his wife, Sally, opted to enjoy a relaxed life. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Foreign aid and sanctions

  Amidst all the political brouhaha regarding foreign aid, it is important that we keep in mind the nature and purposes of this particular federal program, as well as its related program, sanctions.

  Foreign aid is money that the U.S. government sends to certain foreign regimes. The purpose of the money is to secure loyalty to the U.S. Empire. That loyalty comes in the form of votes in the United Nations or support for U.S. imperialist escapades abroad.

  There is hardly ever a formal quid pro quo involved in foreign aid. That is, U.S. officials do not expressly say to a foreign leader, “If you will agree to become a loyal member of the U.S. Empire and support whatever the Empire does, we will send you hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars.”

Monday, November 18, 2019

New FBI report shows increase in violent hate crime

  Although the FBI report released last week shows a minuscule decline in all hate crimes in 2018, it also shows a 12 percent rise in hate crimes involving violence.

  The overall decline was due to a decrease in hate crimes involving property, such as bias-related vandalism.

  This uptick in violent hate crimes comes on the heels of FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, when he said the majority of domestic terrorism investigations are connected to white supremacy.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Personal data isn’t the ‘new oil,’ it’s a way to manipulate capitalism

  My recent research increasingly focuses on how individuals can and do manipulate, or “game,” contemporary capitalism. It involves what social scientists call reflexivity and physicists call the observer effect.

  Reflexivity can be summed up as the way our knowledge claims end up changing the world and the behaviors we seek to describe and explain.

  Sometimes this is self-fulfilling. A knowledge claim — like “everyone is selfish,” for example — can change social institutions and social behaviors so that we actually end up acting more selfish, thereby enacting the original claim.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

WTF? Slurs offend young adults more than swearing

  In 1972, the comedian George Carlin performed a comedy routine in which he listed the seven words you couldn’t say on television. He opined that profanity related to sexual activities, body parts, and bodily functions wasn’t inherently good or bad. All words, he would say, are “innocent.”

  But reciting those seven words in public got him arrested, and when a New York radio station aired Carlin’s performance, a man listening with his young son sued. The case led to the Supreme Court ruling six years later that broadcasting profanity can constitute a public nuisance.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Five milestones that created the internet, 50 years after the first network message

  Fifty years ago, a UCLA computer science professor and his student sent the first message over the predecessor to the internet, a network called ARPANET.

  On Oct. 29, 1969, Leonard Kleinrock and Charley Kline sent Stanford University researcher Bill Duval a two-letter message: “lo.” The intended message, the full word “login,” was truncated by a computer crash.

  Much more traffic than that travels through the internet these days, with billions of emails sent and searches conducted daily. As a scholar of how the internet is governed, I know that today’s vast communications web is a result of governments and regulators making choices that collectively built the internet as it is today.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Inequality is higher in some states like New York and Louisiana because of corporate welfare

  Income inequality made big headlines recently after the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing that the gap between the richest and poorest Americans is at its highest level in at least half a century.

  Less reported was the significant variation among the states. New York and California had the highest inequality in 2018, while Utah and Alaska had the lowest. In addition, states as diverse as Alabama, Texas, and New Hampshire experienced large increases from the prior year.

  Why are some states more or less equal than others?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama Legislature not a very good stepping stone

  Early speculation on the 2020 U.S. Senate race had Alabama state Sen. Del Marsh listed as a potential GOP aspirant. He had considered making a plunge into the Special Election contest for Jeff Sessions’ seat in 2017 but opted out.

  Most astute observers never thought he would ultimately pull the trigger then or this year. Unlike others who have run and won statewide, Marsh is essentially unknown outside of the Capitol and is known only around his Anniston senate district. His best asset was probably that he had his own money to spend rather than his state senate influence.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Criminalizing homelessness in the Heart of Dixie

  Jonathan sleeps under a bridge at night or on a friend’s porch. During the day, he holds up a “homeless” sign in the grassy area near a highway exit and asks for money.

  Some motorists are kind and give him money. Others are cruel. They accuse him of pretending to be homeless, tell him to get a job or threaten to call the police.

  Jonathan – who suffers from pancreatitis, uncontrolled diabetes, and kidney failure, making it extremely difficult for him to find a job and thus to afford housing – was in his usual spot recently, holding up a sign that read: “HOMELESS. Today it is me, tomorrow it could be you.”

Monday, November 11, 2019

Commemorating the ‘Great War,’ America’s forgotten conflict

  World War I was still a living memory for most Americans when I was growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s.

  Aging doughboys who had fought on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918 still marched on Veterans Day. These World War I enlisted men often referred to this holiday by its original name, Armistice Day.

  My mother invariably bought and wore an artificial red poppy on Veterans Day. I learned much later the poppy signified the blood and sacrifice of those who died on Flanders Field, a Belgian battle site that was the subject of the war’s most famous poem.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

It is good to honor our veterans, but it is better to take action

  The word “sacrifice” gets used a lot, but it can be difficult to truly appreciate the full meaning of that word. For one group of people, “sacrifice” takes on a special meaning.

  This weekend we honor our nation’s veterans. While Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who died in military service, Veteran’s Day was created to honor all those who currently or previously served in the military.

  And those who served certainly know a lot about sacrifice. They sacrifice time with their children and families – often longer than a year – to serve our country. Many sacrificed their bodies to injuries and wounds sustained on foreign battlefields. Some sacrificed their very lives so that we can enjoy the peace and prosperity we have today.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Democrat or Republican, Americans are angry, frustrated and overwhelmed

  As the country looks ahead to President Donald Trump’s possible impeachment proceedings, as social scientists, we anticipate that not only will the Americans’ opinions be polarized, but so will their emotions.

  Based on our research, we believe that impeachment stories will likely feel increasingly more personal, passionate, and irritating to people as the proceedings unfold. For some, this will draw them in, while others will likely turn off from the news.

Friday, November 8, 2019

HHS proposal puts millions of Americans at risk of discrimination when accessing federally funded services

  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is tasked with ensuring the health and well-being of all Americans, developing strategies to address public health crises, and conducting research and designing treatment interventions to end deadly chronic diseases. It accounts for more than one-fourth of all federal spending and is made up of 11 operating divisions. Under the Trump administration, however, the agency’s mission has been upended by the harmful political agendas of individuals such as Vice President Mike Pence and Office for Civil Rights Director Roger Severino. Under their leadership, it has reallocated significant resources away from civil rights and patient privacy in order to expand religious exemptions, promulgate rules that severely restrict access to reproductive health care, and undermine strong nondiscrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

DeVos’ formula for success: Trash public schools and push privatization

  When U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos discussed the results from the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, she described them as “devastating” and part of a worsening crisis in education.

  The results showed a slight decline in reading scores and a flattening in math scores.

  She noted that two out of three of the nation’s children aren’t proficient in reading. She also decried as ineffective the US$1 trillion in federal spending on education over the past 40 years, saying it has done nothing to stop the widening gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The story of Dr. David Bronner, RSA, and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Courses

  Dr. David Bronner has marked his place in Alabama political and governmental history. He has headed the revered Retirement Systems of Alabama Pension Funds for 45 years. When Bronner took his present job with RSA, the Retirement Systems had approximately $500 million of funds. Today RSA has approximately $40 billion in investments, making our RSA the 50th largest public pension fund in the world.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

‘No rehabilitation,’ just oppression, behind bars in Alabama

  Frances Everson was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. The home she now lives in, previously rented by her mother, was always a family affair. She’s visited frequently by her family – her three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren included. Today, her mother lives right next door.

  Frances was the middle child of five. The youngest sibling was stillborn. Her second oldest brother was hit by a car and killed in 1971 when Frances was just 8. Her sister, only a year younger than she was, was shot and killed in 1981.

  That’s when all of the trauma really started to set in.

Monday, November 4, 2019

State laws can punish parents living in abusive households

  One in four women in the United States will experience some form of intimate partner violence in her lifetime. For men, that number is one in nine. And 90 percent of kids affected by domestic violence will view the abuse firsthand, often by one parent against another.

  These numbers are staggering. When you consider the impact of childhood trauma — which tells us that kids who experience or witness abuse are more likely to develop a slew of physical and mental illnesses as adults — those numbers are infuriating. And baffling. Domestic violence can be hard to escape, especially for those who have been in the mire of it for years, but once kids become involved, shouldn’t that be enough motivation to leave?

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1689 - The Second Amendment does not apply to Black folk

  The Second Amendment does not apply to Black folk. I knew that a long time ago. Alabama, where I live, is a strong Second Amendment state. It is an open-carry state. It has some of the most rigorous pro-gun laws in these United States. But I know that the Second Amendment does not apply to Black folk.

  I know that from current manifestations. I know that from recent history. I know that from the long history stretching way back beyond the founding of the country.

  I am convinced, and I stand to be corrected, that I cannot safely carry an open weapon in Alabama in spite of the law. I am a Black man who turned 77 last week. However, if I took a rifle or a pistol and walked into a Walmart or any other store, I would likely be shot. I don’t have to wave the gun or say anything; I just have to have it and for other people know it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Christians should protect freedom of expression for all people

  It’s an idea that we Evangelicals like because we usually hear it discussed in the vein of protecting our particular right to express and live out a Christian worldview. But do we really know what our constitutional right to religious liberty is rooted in, and what protecting it for the long haul will require of us?

  This tension was clear in the substance of a recent debate between fellow conservatives David French and Sohrab Ahmari. Both men are Christians but have markedly different views on how people of faith should counter pressures from the secular left to protect religious freedom and foster human flourishing.

Friday, November 1, 2019

After another death, will ICE finally atone for its actions?

  Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, an asylum-seeker from Cuba, was found dead in his cell on Oct. 16 at Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana.

  He had been trapped in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody since May while his immigration case was pending.

  He is now the second person to die in ICE custody during the fiscal year that began on Oct. 1. Last year, eight people died in ICE detention, including a man who hanged himself after being taken off suicide watch. Under President Trump’s watch, 24 people have died.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why has Halloween become so popular among adults?

  Halloween used to be kid stuff. To quit dressing up was an important rite of passage. It meant you
were one step closer to becoming an adult.

  Not anymore. Today adults have become avid Halloween revelers, especially young adults.

  By 2005, just over half of adults celebrated Halloween. Today, that number has grown to over 70 percent. Those between 18 and 34 years old participate at the highest rate, and they’re also the holiday’s biggest spenders, shelling out over twice as much on their costumes as older adults and children.

  Halloween celebrations have changed, too: less trick-or-treating and more parties and bar hopping. Today, alcohol is as important as candy to the Halloween economy.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

When Halloween became America’s most dangerous holiday

  The unquiet spirits, vampires, and the omnipresent zombies that take over American streets every October 31 may think Halloween is all about spooky fun. But what Halloween masqueraders may not realize is that in the early 1970s and well into the next decade, real fear took over.

  The media, police departments, and politicians began to tell a new kind of Halloween horror story – about poisoned candy.

  No actual events explained this fear: It was driven by social and cultural anxieties. And there is a lesson in that about the power of rumors on this day of dark fantasy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What is sex really for?

  Few topics arouse as much interest and controversy as sex. This is hardly surprising. The biological continuance of the species hinges on it – if human beings stopped having sex, there would soon be no more human beings. Popular culture overflows with sex, from cinema to advertising to, yes, even politics. And for many, sex represents one of the most intimate forms of human connection.

  Despite its universality, sex and its purpose have been understood very differently by different thinkers. I teach an annual course on sexuality at Indiana University, and this work has provided opportunities to ponder sex from some provocative angles, including the body, the psyche, and the spirit.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Analyzing online posts could help spot future mass shooters and terrorists

  In the weeks following two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, police forces across the United States made more than 20 arrests based on threats made on social media.

  Police in Florida, for example, arrested an alleged white supremacist who, police said, threatened a shooting at a Walmart. Richard Clayton, 26, allegedly posted on Facebook, “3 more days of probation left then I get my AR-15 back. Don’t go to Walmart next week.”

  People who are contemplating, or are even planning, serious crimes rarely make such clear public declarations of their intent. However, they might leave clues that, if properly understood, could offer opportunities to avert tragedy. We have teamed up with computer scientist Anna Rumshisky to collect and analyze more than 185,000 words of extremist or hateful narratives published online by people who have then gone on to commit large-scale shootings or terrorist crimes.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Trump’s offshore drilling plan would be an environmental disaster

  In 2018, the Trump administration put forward a highly controversial plan to expand offshore drilling off the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic coasts, the west coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska. Though this drilling proposal has been delayed as a result of litigation, coastal communities remain deeply concerned that the administration’s final decision will irreversibly damage the health of America’s coastal and marine environments.

  Opposition to the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan has been widespread and bipartisan. It includes governors from 17 coastal states; more than 330 municipalities; more than 2,100 local, state, and federally elected officials; the U.S. Department of Defense; the U.S. Air Force; the Florida Defense Support Task Force; NASA; and an alliance representing more than 43,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families. Furthermore, 60 percent of voters oppose expanding offshore drilling, and more than 70 percent favor giving states the power to veto federal offshore drilling plans near their coastlines. A recent House bill to ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) planning areas passed the House with 238 votes, including 12 votes from Republicans.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

A UN treaty guarantees youth rights everywhere on Earth – except the United States

  Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They’re arguing that climate change violates children’s rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.

  By petitioning the U.N. on behalf of the world’s children, their action made history. But it’s not the first time that kids have turned to this international accord in pursuit of social change.

Friday, October 25, 2019

From NBA to Trump to our ears and eyes, how free speech works

  Let’s chat for just a moment about free speech.

  Many of us have been talking about that very subject recently, from NBA stars and league executives to Chinese government officials, from President Trump to journalists and members of Congress.

  Some ground rules for our conversation: The First Amendment protects us from government attempts to control what we say or from punishment simply for having said it. Freedom of speech — one of five freedoms in the amendment — offers no protection from private companies or individuals who don’t like what we say or hold other views.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Toil and trouble: The myth of the witch is no myth at all

  Witches are usually relegated to the realm of fairy tales and sometimes explained as the manifestation of subconscious fears. They populate picture books, appear in fantasy-based films and television series, and their stereotypical features inspire Halloween costumes.

  But history provides numerous accounts of real witches. These were flesh-and-blood women who either seriously practiced magic and believed in its efficacy, identified as witches or, perhaps more fascinating, enacted certain stereotypical behaviors that, whether they liked it or not, aligned them with the frightening witches of fairy tales.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Rick Pate, Will Ainsworth, Jack Hawkins

  We have two men who were elected to statewide constitutional offices last year who seem to be doing a good job. They are both working quietly and diligently in their new posts. 

  Rick Pate was sworn in as the Alabama Agriculture Commissioner in January. He followed John McMillan, who served eight years in the post. McMillan took a nonpolitical, hardworking, business-like approach. Pate seems to have taken a page from his friend McMillan and seems to have the same non-flamboyant, business-like approach to the job.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1688 - Travel has made such a difference in my life!

  Travel. Travel. Travel. Travel changes us. Travel educates us. Travel expands our knowledge. Travel broadens our understanding. Travel lifts our vision. Travel has made such a difference in my life.

  I grew up in a very rural and poor area. We lived on a 13-acre heirs property farm. That experience forged a strong foundation upon which a lot was built over my lifetime. The foundation was solid, but so much needed to be added. Travel helped to build upon that foundation.

Monday, October 21, 2019

If impeachment comes to the Senate – 5 questions answered

Editor’s note: If the House of Representatives concludes its impeachment inquiry by passing articles of impeachment of President Donald Trump, attention will turn to the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is known as a master of the Senate’s rules and has been raising campaign donations with ads touting the power he would have over impeachment proceedings. Constitutional scholar Sarah Burns from the Rochester Institute of Technology answers some crucial questions already arising about what McConnell might be able to do, to either slow down the process or speed things along.

1) Will the Senate even take up a House impeachment?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Climate change is really about prosperity, peace, public health and posterity – not saving the environment

  The story of climate change is one that people have struggled to tell convincingly for more than two decades. But it’s not for lack of trying.

  The problem is emphatically not a lack of facts and figures. The world’s best scientific minds have produced blockbuster report after blockbuster report, setting out in ever more terrifying detail just how much of an impact we humans have had on the Earth since the dawn of the industrial revolution. Many people believe anthropogenic climate change – rapid and far-reaching shifts in the climate caused by human activity – is now the story that will define the 21st century, whether anyone’s good at telling it or not.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Eight things you need to know about poltergeists – just in time for Halloween

  Halloween is the time of year when interest in the paranormal peaks and people celebrate all things supernatural. Of particular fascination are stories and tales of ghosts and ghouls and poltergeists.

  The term poltergeist comes from the combining of two German words: poltern (crash) and geist (spirit or ghost). So in other words, a noisy or unruly ghost or spirit. Although less common than traditional hauntings, reports of poltergeist activity date back to the first century. In modern times the phenomenon has generated several major films and television programs.

  So with this in mind, here are the eight most important things you should know about poltergeists.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1687 - Forgiveness is powerful, but there is a strange sense of forgiveness in these United States of America

  Forgive. Forgiving. Forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness is strange. In whatever form, forgiveness is powerful. I believe strongly in forgiveness. I have spoken about forgiveness on many occasions. I have written about forgiveness on various occasions. I have shared my thoughts on forgiveness right here in Sketches. But there is a strange form of forgiveness in these United States of America.

  First, allow me to say several things about forgiveness. Forgiveness is really about the person doing the forgiving. It is not about the person who did wrong. The old African proverb frames the issue superbly: Not forgiving is like drinking poison and waiting on the person we refuse to forgive to die. Yes, yes, yes!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Craig Ford: Charter schools in Alabama continue national trend of waste, fraud and corruption

  One of the biggest arguments against charter schools is that they have been hotbeds of waste, fraud, and corruption. Nationally, charter schools have cost the taxpayers over $100 million in fraud and corruption.

  Now, Alabama has become the new victim of corruption and waste at the hands of charter schools.

  Nicole Ivey was the principal of LEAD Academy, the first charter school in Montgomery, until a few weeks ago. Ivey was fired after she raised questions about whether the school was following state laws that govern charter schools.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Congressman Jack Edwards, an Alabama legend, passes away

  One of the most outstanding congressmen and leaders in Alabama history is Congressman Jack Edwards. He passed away three weeks ago at age 91.

  He was born with the full name of William Jackson Edwards, III. However, he was always known as Jack. Although he was renowned as a Mobile/Baldwin County congressman, he was born and raised in Jefferson County. He received his early education in public schools and graduated high school in Homewood.

  He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1946. He continued his military service from 1946 through 1951 and served during the Korean War.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What’s so wrong about lying in a job interview?

  Getting a new job is tough.

  I know this not just because of my own research as a professor studying the intersection of business and ethics but also because of the countless candidates I interviewed for major firms in my previous career. It’s this experience I bring to mind as I consider a question I’ve seen and heard asked recently: When is it ethical to lie in a job interview?

  Philosophers and ethicists have identified many schools of thought around what makes a certain action ethically “good” instead of “evil.”

Monday, October 14, 2019

How Columbus, of all people, became a national symbol

  Christopher Columbus was a narcissist.

  He believed he was personally chosen by God for a mission that no one else could achieve. After 1493, he signed his name “xpo ferens” – “the Christbearer.” His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. His arrogance led to his downfall, that of millions of Native Americans – and eventually fostered his resurrection as the most enduring icon of the Americas.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Electoral College will never make everyone happy

  With the presidential election looming, worried observers of politics have already asked whether the Electoral College will again deliver a victory to the candidate with less than a majority of the popular vote.

  This has happened in two of the last five presidential elections.

  Critics like Vox’s Ezra Klein contend that this phenomenon is not only undemocratic but also politically biased because Republicans were the beneficiaries of both of these Electoral College hiccups. “American politics is edging into an era of crisis,” Klein writes.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Who are the real friends of the troops?

  Ever since the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it has been an article of faith that Americans should thank the troops for their service in those two countries.

  Yet, with the exception of libertarians and a few leftists, the fact is that during the two decades of death, injury, suffering, destruction, and out of control federal spending and debt that threatens to send the government into bankruptcy, the overwhelming majority of Americans never openly demanded that the U.S. government bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Friday, October 11, 2019

A brief history of television interviews – and why live TV helps those who lie and want to hide

  First, it happened on Fox News. Chris Wallace asked White House adviser Stephen Miller about the president’s decision to use private lawyers “to get information from the Ukrainian government rather than go through … agencies of his government.”

  Miller’s response began, “two different points –” when Wallace cut him off.

  “How about answering my question?” Wallace asked. Miller, changing the subject, ignored Wallace.

  Wallace’s question was never answered.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Confederate statue graveyard could help bury the Old South

  An estimated 114 Confederate symbols have been removed from public view since 2015. In many cases, these cast-iron Robert E. Lees and Jefferson Davises were sent to storage.

  If the aim of statue removal is to build a more racially just South, then, as many analysts have pointed out, putting these monuments in storage is a lost opportunity. Simply unseating Confederate statues from highly visible public spaces is just the first step in a much longer process of understanding, grieving, and mending the wounds of America’s violent past. Merely hiding away the monuments does not necessarily change the structural racism that birthed them.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Prison issue to be addressed in Special Session

  The second year of the reign of Gov. Kay Ivey may give her a second major accomplishment of her tenure. 

  In her first year, she spearheaded the measure to increase the state’s gasoline tax in order to allow Alabama to proceed with a much-needed massive infrastructure program labeled Rebuild Alabama.

  It is my belief that she and the Alabama Legislature will resolve the state’s looming prison problems. It was first thought and actually assumed that a Special Session would be called in late October. However, it now appears that the scenario used by the governor and her chief of staff, Jo Bonner, last year was so successful that they will replicate the road program plan. They will call a Special Session within next year’s Regular Session.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Trump’s bad Nixon imitation may cost him the presidency

  Whatever Donald Trump does, Richard Nixon usually did it first and better.

  Nixon got a foreign government’s help to win a presidential election over 50 years ago. Trump’s imitation of the master has proven far from perfect, and that may cost him the presidency.

  Trump’s first mistake was soliciting foreign interference personally. As a result, he cannot deny that he urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden. The proof is in his own White House’s record of their telephone call.

Monday, October 7, 2019

When justice depends on the size of your pocketbook

  Tella Barnett fears she’ll end up behind bars again if she gets behind on her payments.

  She’s one of the thousands of people in Alabama who pay to stay out of prison. One day last March, she paid a $30 monitoring fee as well as a $40 supervision fee. She paid $40 in drug testing fees and $30 in “rescheduling fees.”

  “Oh, my goodness, I can barely afford to eat,” said Barnett, 30. “I have three small children and I’m trying to pay for my home. I have $375 a month in rent, plus the power, plus the water, plus gas to get to work. It’s hard to pay that, it really is.”

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The impact of partisan gerrymandering

  Once a decade, every state redraws its electoral districts, determining which people will be represented by each politician. In many states, this means that politicians gather behind computer screens to figure out how they can manipulate the lines to box out their competition and maximize the power of their political party. While an increasing number of states employ independent commissions to draw district lines, the large majority still lack safeguards to prevent partisan favoritism in the redistricting process—also known as partisan gerrymandering.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Worse than Watergate

  Watergate has long been the standard by which other political scandals are judged. Commentators use the suffix “-gate” and talk about how contemporary events mirror those that occurred during the Watergate investigation.

  But the country is now confronted with a presidential scandal that presents an unprecedented danger to American democracy and national security. Evidence that has been released—by the White House no less—shows that President Donald Trump abused his authority to attempt to extort a foreign country to intervene in the 2020 election. And recent reporting shows that he withheld vital military aid to Ukraine as part of his unlawful pressure campaign.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Trump’s corporate tax cut is not trickling down

  Two years ago, President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent via the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). At the time, the Trump administration claimed that its corporate tax cuts would increase the average household income in the United States by $4,000. But two years later, there is little indication that the tax cut is even beginning to trickle down in the ways its proponents claimed.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

‘Always sticking to your convictions’ sounds like a good thing – but it isn’t

  There is nothing wrong with strong opinions. They are healthy in a democracy – an apathetic electorate is an ineffective electorate.

  But a curious fact about American society’s supercharged political culture is that even the most humble debates (think: Which fried chicken sandwiches are best?) turn a tweet into matters of conviction.

  The result is that many of us come to see criticism as intolerable and disagreement with our opinions as a mark of moral inferiority.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - 2020 U.S. Senate race right around the corner

  Even though qualifying does not begin until October 8, 2019, the field is probably set for the GOP Primary in March to unseat Democrat Doug Jones, who is sitting in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate seat.

  First District Congressman Bradley Bryne and Secretary of State John Merrill may be the favorites to lead the field and square off in a runoff. Either of the two will probably win by a 60-40 margin over Jones in November.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Why we’ll always be obsessed with – and afraid of – monsters

  Fear continues to saturate our lives: fear of nuclear destruction, fear of climate change, fear of the subversive, and fear of foreigners.

  But a Rolling Stone article about our “age of fear” notes that most Americans are living “in the safest place at the safest time in human history.”

Monday, September 30, 2019

Trump’s self-painted corner on Iran

  President Trump may not realize it yet, but it will almost certainly dawn on him at some point that he has painted himself into a corner with his bullying tactics against Iran.

  Trump’s plan was the following: He first would withdraw from the nuclear accord that the United States entered into with Iran, claiming that the deal that the Obama administration had struck was bad for the United States. He would then enter into a new agreement with Iran, which he would then trumpet as being far superior to the previous agreement and which would demonstrate his toughness and his skills in the “art of the deal.”

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1685 - The blindness of self-righteousness

  Blindness. Blindness prevents us from seeing. Blindness prevents us from understanding. Blindness prevents us from uniting (except in darkness or negativity). Blindness prevents us from moving forward. Blindness prevents us from seeing and being our best selves.

  We have multiple forms of blindness. We have physical blindness. We have emotional blindness. We have mental blindness. We have spiritual blindness. Each form of blindness limits us severely.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Partisan divide creates different Americas, separate lives

  When people try to explain why the United States is so politically polarized now, they frequently refer to the concept of “echo chambers.”

  That’s the idea that people on social media interact only with like-minded people, reinforcing each other’s beliefs. When people don’t encounter competing ideas, the argument goes, they become less willing to cooperate with political opponents.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The founders would have impeached Trump for his Ukraine-related misconduct

  From the very first days of our nation, the founders were intent on ensuring that foreign entities did not influence America’s democratic system. They knew that foreign involvement in U.S. elections or policymaking posed an enormous threat to our sovereignty and that a president who would invite foreign interference for his own political benefit would be subject to impeachment. They would have been horrified at President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to help dig up dirt on a potential political rival.

  The founders tackled many important issues during our nation’s formative years, but one of the paramount concerns during their debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention was their intense concern about foreign interference in American politics. Their concern was animated by the corrupting effects that foreign governments or foreign persons could have on elected officials, including the president.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Does the First Amendment protect speech made by artificial intelligence?

  When we talk about our right to speak freely, most of us know intuitively that isn’t just limited to the words that come out of our mouths. Because when we say that our “speech” is protected by the First Amendment, we’re also talking about books, movies, TV shows, video games, music, virtual reality simulations, art — every way that human beings express themselves. Recently someone posed the following question: What if the expression isn’t from a human being at all? Does the First Amendment protect speech made by artificial intelligence?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The political graveyard is full of Congressmen who have tried to run for the U.S. Senate

  The field is probably formulated for our 2020 U.S. Senate race. A Republican will be heavily favored to capture the seat currently held by our Democrat U.S. Senator Doug Jones. Alabama is one of if not the most Republican states in the nation. It is quite an anomaly that a liberal Democrat has sat in that seat for over a year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fed’s rate cut signals a recession may be ahead – and it may not have enough ammunition to fight it

  The Federal Reserve seems a lot more concerned about the state of the economy than it’s been letting on.

  The Fed lowered its target interest rate by a quarter-point on Sept. 18, the second such cut since July – and the first reductions since the Great Recession more than 10 years ago.

  Judging by the words of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this isn’t that big a deal. In his statement following the decision, he said: “We took this step to help keep the U.S. economy strong in the face of some notable developments and to provide insurance against ongoing risks.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Trump’s labor secretary nominee delights in destroying rights for disabled workers

  Following the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia to serve as the next labor secretary. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) plays a pivotal role in the lives of Americans with disabilities. Responsible for the regulation of subminimum wage programs—commonly referred to as 14(c) programs—workplace safety and health regulation, and the overall creation of disability employment policy, Scalia could have a significant and likely disastrous effect on the disability community if confirmed.

  Scalia’s legal career is a master class in dismantling worker protections for all, but he has seemed particularly prone to attacking workplace safety and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One in five working-age people has a disability, and Scalia’s confirmation would put the employment and economic rights of people with disabilities squarely on the chopping block.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

School officials need a First Amendment lesson

  Officials at Victory Preparatory Academy (VPA), a charter school in Colorado, need to read the First Amendment and recognize that students retain free-speech rights at school. Fortunately, a recent federal district court recognized in Flores v. Victory Preparatory Academy that students retain such rights and refused to dismiss their lawsuit.

  The dispute in question arose in September 2017, when the school held an assembly in the gym. During assemblies, students are expected to stand, salute the flag, and recite the school pledge. Several students sat down and did not recite the school pledge. The students were concerned about the overly authoritarian atmosphere and rigid discipline at the school.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Don’t ignore serious nonmilitary threats to U.S. national security

  Almost two decades after thousands died in the attacks of 9/11, there remain many active efforts underway to protect America from international terrorism.

  Since 9/11, American domestic and international security policy has been focused on individual terrorists, terrorist groups, and rogue countries as the primary threats. The country’s defensive response has been focused on the military and law enforcement capabilities. That’s natural because the military knows how to shoot, drop, and launch things at threats like that. And those dangers still exist.

  However, as someone who routinely analyzes threats, vulnerabilities, and risks, I see the U.S. again falling prey to a decades-old problem, which the 9/11 Commission termed a “failure of imagination.” That’s when leaders miss important, relevant connections or alternatives to what they’re focused on.

Friday, September 20, 2019

First Amendment freedoms not just ‘office hours’ or when convenient

  Our First Amendment freedoms don’t keep office hours.

  There’s nothing in the 45 words that start the Bill of Rights that says our freedom of speech only applies when it’s convenient for others, or polite, or gains official permission to be heard.

  There’s no provision for our right to petition the government for redress of grievances — in plainer terms, to ask our elected and appointed officials to fix something, to correct an error or simply to do a better job — to be shunted aside in favor of convenience.

  And nowhere in that First Amendment is a priority given to creating a positive public image or deference provided to some amorphous, bureaucratic search for “order” or efficiency.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

How disinformation could sway the 2020 election

  In 2016, Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to sow division among American voters and boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

  What the Russians used to accomplish this is called “disinformation,” which is false or misleading content intended to deceive or promote discord. Now, with the first presidential primary vote only five months away, the public should be aware of the sources and types of online disinformation likely to surface during the 2020 election.

  First, the Russians will be back. Don’t be reassured by the notorious Russian Internet Research Agency’s relatively negligible presence during last year’s midterm elections. The agency might have been keeping its powder dry in anticipation of the 2020 presidential race. And it helped that U.S. Cyber Command, an arm of the military, reportedly blocked the agency’s internet access for a few days right before the election in November 2018.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama unemployment rates at remarkably low levels

  During the late summer, it was revealed that Alabama’s economy set records for the number of people employed along with the lowest unemployment rate in decades. Figures released in August had the state with a record-breaking 3.3% unemployment rate.

  The numbers indicate a continued upward trend with 57,000 more people employed than at the same time a year ago.

  Gov. Kay Ivey said, “The effort we are making to bring jobs and employers to Alabama is working.” She further stated, “We are consistently improving our workforce and preparing Alabama for the future.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Craig Ford: Cities are only as strong as their local schools

  In the military, we have a saying: A platoon is only as strong as its weakest soldier. That concept applies to a lot of things in life and especially to how we as a society treat our public schools.

  Public schools are the backbone of any city or town. They train our future workers. They are usually one of, if not the, biggest employers in a county or city. They are one of the first things potential employers look at when deciding whether to build or expand a plant or factory in a community. And for those who go on to college, local schools are the pipeline that gets them there.

  Schools also play an important role in our quality of life. From Friday night football games to band competitions and everything in between, local schools play an important role in both children and adults’ social lives and add to our sense of community.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The problem of living inside echo chambers

  Pick any of the big topics of the day – Brexit, climate change, or Trump’s immigration policies – and wander online.

  What one is likely to find is radical polarization – different groups of people living in different worlds, populated with utterly different facts.

  Many people want to blame the “social media bubble” - a belief that everybody sorts themselves into like-minded communities and hears only like-minded views.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ten K-12 education policy questions every presidential candidate should answer

  After months of campaigning and two rounds of primary debates, presidential candidates still aren’t prioritizing K-12 education. While some have released specific plans, others have only put out general statements or mentioned the issue in passing—if at all. While understandably, proposals to increase access to early childhood and higher education are front and center, it is still disappointing that the 50 million students in K-12 public schools seem to be an afterthought.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

New abortion laws contribute to sexist environments that harm everyone’s health

  Nine states have passed laws in 2019 alone that restrict abortion at the earliest stages of pregnancy. Those of us who study public health are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential for negative health consequences of these kinds of policies on women.

  That’s because research has shown that laws limiting reproductive rights and services put women’s health and well-being at risk in many ways. This can be from increasing the likelihood of unsafe procedures to causing long-term mental and physical health damage by forcing the continuation of unwanted pregnancies.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Trumpster phenomenon

  One of the fascinating aspects of the Donald Trump presidency has been the rise of the Trumpster phenomenon. Trumpsters are conservatives who have become steadfast and unwavering followers and supporters of Trump.

  There are two distinguishing characteristics of Trumpsters: (1) their unconditional support of whatever Trump decides to do to “make America great again”; and (2) their refusal to tolerate any criticism or disagreement with Trump’s courses of action.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What we know about DACA recipients in the United States

  Two years ago, the Trump administration announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), leaving hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants in the dark. Despite President Donald Trump’s promise that he had “great heart” when it came to Dreamers, DACA recipients and their families face an uncertain future. Congress remains unable to enact permanent protections for them, and the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in November to determine whether the administration’s rescission effort was unlawful.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - What the new census means for Alabama

  The upcoming 2020 Census is extremely critical in Alabama and the rest of the states in the nation as well. The census affects the number of seats a state has in the U.S. Congress and ultimately the number of Electoral College votes you have for president. Also, very importantly, it determines the amount of federal funds a state will receive.

  Alabama is growing incrementally but not as fast as other states, especially our neighboring states of Georgia and Florida, and certainly not as much as California and Texas. Therefore, the bottom line is that we are projected to lose a congressional district to one of the aforementioned states. 

  We currently have seven seats in Congress. We will more than likely go to six, and we will lose our seat in the 2022 elections.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Time to cook is a luxury many families don’t have

  Have Americans forgotten how to cook? Many lament the fact that Americans spend less time cooking than they did in previous generations. Whereas women spent nearly two hours a day in the kitchen in 1965, they spent a little less than an hour preparing meals in 2016. Men are cooking more than they used to but still only cook 20 minutes a day.

  In a 2014 TED Talk, which has more than 8 million views, British chef and food celebrity Jamie Oliver paces the stage, lecturing the audience about the amount of processed food people in the United States consume. His message: Americans “need to start passing on cooking skills again.”

Monday, September 9, 2019

First Amendment protections resilient for free speech, free press

  Attempts to throttle journalists and frighten social media platforms have come to light recently, and while worthy of note — and criticism — none is likely to do serious harm to the First Amendment’s protections for our rights to free speech and a free press.

  In one instance, multiple news outlets report an effort by supporters of President Trump to raise funds to target and track journalists and cable TV pundits seen as opponents to the White House, aiming to use old social media posts to show bias or prejudice.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Stop calling it a choice: Biological factors drive homosexuality

  Across cultures, 2% to 10% of people report having same-sex relations. In the U.S., 1% to 2.2% of women and men, respectively, identify as gay. Despite these numbers, many people still consider homosexual behavior to be an anomalous choice. However, biologists have documented homosexual behavior in more than 450 species, arguing that same-sex behavior is not an unnatural choice, and may, in fact, play a vital role within populations.

  In a recent issue of Science magazine, geneticist Andrea Ganna at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and colleagues, describe the largest survey to date for genes associated with same-sex behavior. By analyzing the DNA of nearly half a million people from the U.S. and the U.K., they concluded that genes account for between 8% and 25% of same-sex behavior.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Stop the president from managing the economy

  For the past two years, President Trump and his loyal army of Trumpistas have been trumpeting what they say is Trump’s fantastic management of the economy. The stock market is soaring and unemployment is down, they crow. This shows, they say, that President Trump has been a great manager of the economy.

  Now that presidential campaign season is kicking into gear, Trump and his Trumpistas are getting nervous because it seems like economic hard times might be looming on the horizon. Does this mean that Trump has actually mismanaged the economy, especially with his out-of-control federal spending and debt and his destructive trade war against China?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Gov. Kay Ivey’s hurtful history and the way forward

  Alabama Governor Kay Ivey joins a growing list of elected leaders forced to admit that they once painted their faces black and performed racist skits or minstrel shows.

  Her qualified apology that she did not recall doing it, while pledging to do all she can “to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the 1960s,” only amplifies the problems facing our nation.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The next recession will be harder than it needs to be. Here’s why.

  Recessions are hardest on those who can least afford it.

  Take the Great Recession, the economic plunge that followed the 2008 financial crisis. It cost those in the poorest 10 percent of Americans more than 20 percent of their incomes, which was more than twice the drop experienced by the richest 10 percent. It was black and Hispanic workers, as well as workers who didn’t have a college degree, who saw higher rates of unemployment and longer durations without a job than other workers.

  Overall, the recession exacerbated already existing inequalities in wealth and income, with black and Hispanic families, as well as women, falling further behind their white, male counterparts in terms of asset building.

  And the next recession could be even harder.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Two Alabama Congressional seats are open in 2020

  Governor Kay Ivey has had a very successful first year as governor. One of the coups she pulled off was getting the legislature to pass legislation granting the governor the power to appoint the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The new law will give her all the new appointments to the Parole Board. Previously, the three-member Board picked the director. 

  The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019, and Governor Ivey wasted no time selecting the new director. She appointed longtime political figure Charlie Graddick, a former Alabama Attorney General and former Mobile County Circuit Judge.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1681 - The breadth, depth, and reach of 400 years of oppression is still alive today

  Four hundred years. 400 years of struggle. 400 years being held down, being held back, being discriminated against, and being considered less than. 400 years of continuous oppression in North America. 400 years of struggle in this place that became the United States of America. 400 years is a long, long time.

  It was late August in 1619 when the pirate ship White Lion put down its anchor at the mouth of the James River in a place called Point Comfort near Jamestown, Virginia. There were 20 or more enslaved Africans aboard. They had been robbed from Africa and placed on a Portuguese ship now referred to as the San Juan Bautista. Subsequently, the captains and the crews of two British pirate ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, robbed the Portuguese ship of about 50 of its enslaved Africans who had been robbed from what is now Angalo, West Africa. That was the inception of this enslavement in what is now the United States of America.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Have we forgotten the true meaning of Labor Day?

  Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people, it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.

  The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Getting poorer while working harder: The ‘cliff effect’

  Forty percent of all working-age Americans sometimes struggle to pay their monthly bills.

  There is no place in the country where a family supported by one minimum-wage worker with a full-time job can live and afford a 2-bedroom apartment at the average fair-market rent.

  Given the pressure to earn enough to make ends meet, you would think that low-paid workers would be clamoring for raises. But this is not always the case.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Craig Ford: Democracy isn’t the cause of our problems. It’s the solution.

  There is nothing more American than democracy. But to our leaders in the Alabama Senate, democracy just gets in the way of pushing their radical, anti-public education agenda.

  That’s why Sen. Del Marsh, the pro-tem of the Alabama Senate, has made it his personal mission to eliminate the state’s elected school board and replace it with one appointed by the governor.

  At the end of this year’s legislative session, Senator Marsh pushed a constitutional amendment through the legislature that would replace the state’s elected Board of Education with an education commission appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate. Because this plan means having to change the state’s constitution, the people of Alabama will get the chance to vote on the amendment this coming March.

Friday, August 30, 2019

ICE’s deliberate cruelty

  Five days after taking office, President Trump signed “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” – an executive order calling for the hiring of thousands of new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and the use of state and local police to enforce immigration law.

  It effectively broadened the scope of who was at risk of being deported: “We cannot faithfully execute the immigration laws of the United States if we exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”

  And so, Trump’s war on immigrants began as he set in motion an enforcement machine long dreamed of by the nativist movement Trump had championed during his campaign.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Racism and sexism combine to shortchange working Black women

  Black Women’s Equal Pay Day arrives around this time each year, marking the estimated number of extra months—roughly eight months—that a Black woman working full-time year-round in the United States must work into the current year to have earned what her white male counterpart earned during the prior year. This year, Black women will have to work well into the month of August to catch up to the wages that white men earned in 2018 alone. In concrete terms, this means that Black women experience a pay gap every day—and this gap adds up. In 2017, for example, Black women earned 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men, amounting to $23,653 less in earnings over an entire year. In the span of a 40-year career, this translates into an average lifetime earnings gap of $946,120 between Black women and white men.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The Summer of 1969

  As we say goodbye to the summer of 2019, allow me to reminisce with you and commemorate a summer exactly 50 years ago that was undoubtedly the most momentous summer in American history – the summer of 1969.

  It is amazing what all occurred in America during the last six weeks of the summer of 1969. Richard Nixon was in his first year as president. He had escalated the never-ending Vietnam War, and he had heightened the Tet offensive. The war was finally heading in our direction. A July assault on North Vietnam caused heavy casualties to the Viet Cong. Ho Chi Minh would die in Hanoi on September 2.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Can government contractors refuse workers based on religious beliefs?

  While religious freedom can mean many different things to you personally, within the U.S. Constitution it means only two things: the government can’t promote one religion over another (or promote religion over the lack of religion, or vice versa) and you have the right to worship, or not, as you choose —the government can’t penalize you for your religious beliefs.

  This month, the Department of Labor proposed a rule that could potentially pit these two types of religious freedoms against one another. The rule would allow federal government contractors to make hiring and firing decisions based on religious beliefs. Currently, federal government contractors are prohibited from discriminating against people on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin or disability — and under the Obama Administration, sexual orientation and gender identity were added to that list. The proposed rule wouldn’t overturn that policy; instead, it would make it easier for contractors to get a religious exemption so they don’t have to follow it.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Montgomery filmmakers seek the truth behind one of history's most prominent medical pioneers and those who suffered at his hands

"It moved me, and I was inspired to tell it." -"Remembering Anarcha" director Josh Carples

  When one Montgomery man learned the questionable tale of "the father of modern gynecology" - Dr. James Marion Sims - he felt compelled to pave over it with facts and set the record straight. But perhaps more importantly, he wanted to present the unsung story of the brave women who suffered at Sims' hands.

  Directed by Josh Carples (Terrible Master Films) and co-produced by C. DeWayne Cunningham (Carolyn Jean’s Son Visions) and Royce Williams (803 Films), "Remembering Anarcha" boldly chases the truth behind the career of Dr. Sims. The film examines which medical achievements can truly be attributed to him and how he contributed to the field of gynecology. And for the first time, it introduces the women who were not mere patients but enslaved women who truly suffered, typically without anesthesia, and who were experimented on in an inhumane manner by the physician.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Waiting for a check to clear sucks. The Fed wants to fix that.

  Many people have shared the experience of depositing a check and then waiting while it takes days to clear; the money is there, but not there.

  For low-income people, that experience isn’t just annoying. It can also be a real financial hardship. Mismatches between available funds and expenses can create a spiral of bank overdraft fees and denied transactions, and the deeper in someone gets, the more insurmountable it can feel.

  “It’s very embarrassing,” a commenter told TalkPoverty, describing a day of being hit with three separate overdraft fees while waiting on processing for a paycheck.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

How much damage will come from this trade war?

  First, the good news: the U.S. and world economies have not imploded, so far, as fallout from the rising trade tensions between the Trump administration and Xi Jinping’s government in China. Now, the bad news: there is no certainty that this will not play itself out as a serious and damaging trade war between the two countries that might spill over into grievous harm to many other parts of the world as well.

  From the day that Donald Trump became president, he has been telling the American people and everyone else that he believes that national economic prosperity requires seeing international trade as a zero-sum game. In his mind, the buying and selling of goods and the investing of capital across political lines on a map of the world is economic combat creating winners and losers.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Craig Ford: A good solution to the Tier 2 retirement system and Alabama’s teacher shortage

  Earlier this year I wrote about the teacher shortage in Alabama and a proposed bill from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would help address the issue by fixing the problems state leaders created in our teacher retirement system back in 2012.

  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.

  Lawmakers rushed through a plan to create a new tier of retirement for any employees hired after 2013 (those hired before 2013 are still considered Tier 1 and will be paid the benefits they were promised at the time they were hired). This new retirement tier, called Tier 2, pays fewer benefits, raises the age of retirement, and takes a “use it or lose it” approach to sick leave days.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Israeli and U.S. destruction of freedom of travel

  Proponents of trade and immigration controls oftentimes forget that there is another factor that comes with their socialist immigration system, that is, in addition to the death, suffering, police state, and destruction of the rights of economic liberty, liberty of contract, freedom of association, and private ownership of property. That factor is the destruction of freedom of travel, another fundamental, natural God-given right that adheres in all people everywhere and that preexists all governments.

  We are reminded of this fact in a current dust-up involving two members of Congress and the Israeli government, which, like the U.S. government, has a policy of governmentally-controlled borders. The two members of Congress are Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both of whom are Democrats who have come out publicly in favor of the boycott Israel movement owing to the Israeli government’s longtime mistreatment of Palestinians.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Hot political summer in Montgomery

  It has been a long hot summer in Montgomery, and I do not mean at the Capitol or Statehouse, but in the City of Montgomery itself.

  There is a heated and pivotal mayor’s race. It has been considered a foregone conclusion that Montgomery will elect their first African American mayor this year. It is probably about eight years later than expected. Montgomery has been a majority-minority city for a decade. It is well over 60 percent today. 

  A good many Montgomery citizens have moved to suburban enclaves like Prattville, Wetumpka, Millbrook, and now Pike Road. Most of the young families with school-age children have fled for a school system. However, there are still a significant number of older people living in the Capital City. It is a tried and true fact that older folks vote. These older Montgomerians probably will not vote for a black person for anything, much less for the mayor of their beloved city.