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.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Are social media companies going “too far” to regulate content on their platforms?

  In the past few years, social media companies have faced intense criticism for not taking a more active role in stopping the spread of hate speech and misinformation on their platforms. Meanwhile, the White House thinks those same companies are going too far in their efforts to regulate content and is currently drafting an executive order called, “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship,” which would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight over these decisions. The order seems to be an outgrowth of the social media summit that President Trump held last month, where his 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said, “At a time when social media platforms are banning conservative voices and supporters of the president, it’s important for President Trump to emphasize that he appreciates their support and wants to protect their First Amendment rights.”

Monday, August 19, 2019

Slavery shaped America’s pathology on race and whiteness

  Four hundred years ago this month, the White Lion, a warship commanded by English privateers, docked at Point Comfort in the colony of Virginia.

  On board were “20 and odd” Africans who had been captured by Portuguese slavers in present-day Angola and then stolen during an act of piracy on the high seas. Once on land, the African men and women were bought by the “Governor and Cape Marchant … at the best and easyest rate they could,” wrote John Rolfe, the colony’s first successful tobacco planter.

  The arrival of the White Lion is frequently thought of as the beginning of chattel slavery in what is now the United States and, as such, the genesis of African-American history and culture.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Punishing Congress members for free speech violates First Amendment

  President Trump’s encouragement of a decision Thursday by Israel to bar two U.S. Congress members because of their alleged anti-Israel views ought to outrage all Americans — irrespective of domestic or international politics.

  The essence of our First Amendment freedoms is the government may not inhibit or punish us for our speech, regardless of the content of that speech, with few exceptions, generally tied to wartime considerations, child pornography, or causing immediate harm to others.

  On Thursday, Trump hailed the action by the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu — whom Trump publicly endorsed for re-election some weeks ago — to bar Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit. Israel later said it would allow Tlaib to visit her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank. Tlaib, in turn, chose not to make the trip, citing “oppressive conditions.”

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Political polarization is about feelings, not facts

  Politicians and pundits from all quarters often lament democracy’s polarized condition.

  Similarly, citizens frustrated with polarized politics also demand greater flexibility from the other side.

  Decrying polarization has become a way of impugning adversaries. Meanwhile, the political deadlock and resentment that polarization produces goe unaddressed. Ironic, right?

  Commentators rarely say what they mean by polarization. But if Americans are to figure out how to combat it, they need to begin from a clear understanding of what polarization is.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines must be banned

  Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines have repeatedly been used to commit some of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history, and they contribute to the daily toll of gun violence in communities around the country. They are weapons of war that have no place in civilian society. Congress must enact a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to keep these dangerous weapons out of U.S. communities.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why do so many working class Americans feel politics is pointless?

  In sociologist Jennifer Silva’s first book, “Coming Up Short,” she interviewed working-class young adults in Lowell, Mass., and Richmond, Virginia.

  Most had a tough time earning decent wages. Many felt like they were in a perpetual state of limbo, unable to reach the traditional markers of adulthood: job, marriage, house, and kids. But Silva was surprised to learn that many blamed themselves for their situations and believed that relying on others could only result in disappointment.

  After the book was published, it bothered Silva that she never pressed her subjects further on their politics to see how they might be connected to their worldview.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The story of Floyd Mann

  One of the legendary figures in Alabama political lore is Floyd Mann.

  Colonel Mann was Alabama Public Safety Director for two governors. His lifetime friend, John Patterson, made him his director while he was governor (1958-1962), and Gov. Albert Brewer chose Colonel Mann to be his director while he was governor (1968-1970). 

  The public safety director in those days was referred to as the Head of the State Troopers. It was during the Patterson administration that Mann made his mark in Alabama history.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Back-to-school tax holidays are a scam

  The arrival of the hot, heavy days of August means that, in many places, it’s time to think about back-to-school shopping. And thanks to the confluence of shrinking school budgets and the integration of more gadgets and gizmos into classrooms, the total that parents shell out to equip their kids is big and growing. The average household is expected to spend more than $500 this year on back-to-school supplies, an increase of several hundred dollars over the amount spent just a few years ago.

  In an attempt to give parents, particularly those with little disposable income, a break from those big numbers, many states turn to an old tax policy standby: sales tax holidays.

Monday, August 12, 2019

I worked at Capital One. Hacks like this are most dangerous for low-income people.

  The Capital One breach announced recently compromised the data of 100 million Americans, which is nearly 40 percent of all U.S. adults. After the Equifax, Target, Home Depot, and Marriott hacks, it can be easy to shrug off the news of another leak, but one group of consumers is at particular risk in the Capital One breach: 80,000 Americans who applied for secured credit cards with the company.

  The hacker, Paige Thompson, gained access to personal information such as income, address, and credit scores for seemingly all recent applicants to Capital One credit cards. For secured card applicants, who tend to be low-income, bank account information was compromised as well.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Calling 911 or not mowing the lawn can cost disabled people their homes

  Richard McGary lost his home because he wasn’t able to clean his yard.

  When McGary lived in Portland, Oregon, a city inspector decided he had too much debris in his yard and cited his home as a “nuisance” property under the city’s local nuisance ordinance. McGary, who was living with AIDS, asked volunteers from a local AIDS project to help. But before they could clear the yard to the city’s satisfaction, McGary was hospitalized with AIDS-related complications. His patient advocate informed the city that McGary was an individual with a disability and requested more time, but Portland refused. The city issued a warrant for violating the city’s chronic nuisance ordinance and charged him $1,818.83 for the cost of clean-up. When McGary couldn’t pay, Portland claimed rights to his home — and forced McGary to sell it to satisfy his debt to the city.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Harassment, accountability, and the erosion of judicial legitimacy

  Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court further weakened the public’s eroding sense of faith in the court’s legitimacy, a facet essential to its functioning as an institution. Kavanaugh’s vigorous denials of sexual assault allegations stemming from his youth, combined with aggressive efforts—by him and his powerful supporters—to discredit his accuser, mirrored how the judiciary has swept its own sexual harassment challenges under the rug.

  However, Kavanaugh’s confirmation went beyond simply exposing issues of sexual harassment; it opened the floodgates by drawing attention to a wider array of discriminatory practices and ethical quandaries. Today, for instance, the judiciary is under scrutiny for its alarming lack of diversity, its inability to hold judges accountable for misconduct, and the elitism reflected in its hiring practices. Because the Supreme Court’s legitimacy hinges on the public’s faith, it is critical that the judiciary address these issues to restore the sense that it is an impartial institution.

The impact of sexual harassment in the judiciary

  In October 1991, Anita Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was sexually harassed by now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, her superior during her time at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After three grueling days of nationally televised hearings during which the all-male Judiciary Committee tore apart Hill’s character, Justice Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the Supreme Court. Twenty-seven years later, history seemed to be repeating itself when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was sexually assaulted by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Despite the enormous controversy associated with its decision, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by a razor-thin majority.

  Not only did Kavanaugh’s confirmation cast doubt on just how far the women’s equality movement has advanced since Justice Thomas’s confirmation, it also reinforced the toxic power dynamics that govern the nation’s political system and damaged the legitimacy of the Supreme Court by threatening its image of nonpartisanship. Kavanaugh’s confirmation led to an increase in crisis calls from survivors and cast doubt on how sensitive the judiciary would be to issues of sexual harassment, while also raising serious questions about potential bias on the Supreme Court and the influence of politics and ideology on the rule of law. Ultimately, the confirmation process was a reminder of the broader failure of the judiciary to police itself, undermining its integrity as an independent institution.

  Survivors of sexual assault have been deeply affected by the aftermath of Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, and the effects are ongoing. For instance, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network experienced a 338 percent increase in its hotline traffic during the weekend following Dr. Ford’s testimony. For many, the hearings evoked memories of past pain and trauma. Dr. Ford’s testimony particularly affected survivors, many of whom were forced to relive their own experiences of sexual assault. Experts such as psychology professor Dr. Jennifer Freyd note that the entire confirmation process could have lasting impacts on the psychology of sexual assault survivors, as it invalidated their experiences and further tainted their image of the court, thus contributing to the broader deterioration of public faith in the judiciary.

  Perhaps one of the most significant direct impacts of Kavanaugh’s confirmation was the rightward shift it had on the ideological balance of the Supreme Court and the concerns it raised about ideology trumping the rule of law. Since his confirmation, hopeful anti-abortion legislators in numerous states have passed laws that effectively ban abortion outright or limit the procedure at specific points in pregnancy; placed unreasonable restrictions on health professionals and institutions; and generally restricted women’s decision-making powers. Kavanaugh’s confirmation incentivized conservative legislators across the country to pass laws restricting abortion. In fact, many legislators are passing these laws in hopes that they will be challenged and end up before the newly constituted—and more conservative—Supreme Court, giving it the chance to undermine abortion rights at the federal level.

  The number of abortion laws passed in state legislative sessions has skyrocketed in 2019, and these laws are significantly different from those passed before Kavanaugh’s nomination, signaling a considerable shift in tactics at the state level. They are going further than ever before to challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s ruling establishing federal protections for abortion. For instance, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi have all instituted bills that ban abortion as early as six weeks, before most women even know that they are pregnant. Alabama has passed an even more restrictive ban on all abortions except those medically necessary to prevent serious health risks to women; the ban does not even make any exceptions for cases of incest or sexual assault. This restrictive abortion legislation is setting the stage for pivotal courtroom battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America. Given that the majority of Americans believe in upholding Roe v. Wade, this is further undermining the public’s faith in the judiciary’s legitimacy.

Part of a broader ethics issue

  In the wake of Judge Alex Kozinski’s retirement, Chief Justice John Roberts ordered an investigation of sexual harassment in the courts to see how the judicial branch has dealt with such allegations. Kavanaugh’s confirmation only further opened the floodgates to allegations of sexual misconduct hidden within the judiciary. However, uncovering issues of sexual harassment only begins to shed light on the pattern of unaccountability that exists within the judiciary.

  For instance, there currently is not an effective way to hold judges accountable for their actions. If federal judges are being investigated by their institution or their peers, they can easily put an end to the inquiry by retiring from their judgeship, as did former 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski. When the Judicial Council of the 2nd Circuit received a sexual harassment allegation against the judge, it dismissed the complaint just eight weeks after it had been filed because Kozinski stepped down from his position—despite a growing number of women who came forward with accusations. In another example, Maryanne Trump Barry, President Donald Trump’s older sister, was able to avoid further investigation into her participation in fraudulent tax schemes that violated judicial conduct rules by retiring from her federal appellate judgeship. Ultimately, because panels of judges nationwide have concluded that they lack the authority to continue investigating a judge who has stepped down from the bench, both Barry and Kozinski are able to collect an annual pension of approximately $220,000 for the rest of their lives.

  Additionally, while the rest of the federal judiciary is bound by the Code of Conduct for United States Judges—a code that provides guidance on issues of judicial integrity, diligence, and impartiality—the Supreme Court is not. However, all nine justices are capable of committing various ethical oversights. For instance, in the past, justices have left assets off of their annual financial disclosure reports, spoken at partisan events, and ruled on cases despite obvious conflicts of interest. In 2014, the Supreme Court heard ABC v. Aereo, and Time Warner filed an amicus brief arguing that the court should rule in favor of the broadcaster. Chief Justice Roberts would not recuse himself from the case, despite owning as much as $500,000 in Time Warner stock at the time. In 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump nominee, attended a luncheon and gave the keynote address at the Trump International Hotel, whose revenue goes in part to President Trump. Just last year, Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, who may own up to $300,000 in United Technologies shares, refused to recuse themselves in a certiorari case involving Rockwell Collins, a company recently acquired by United Technologies Corporation. The list of ethical oversights goes on and includes justices across the ideological spectrum. In the absence of a written code for the Supreme Court, the public is left in the dark about how to address and resolve judicial ethics violations, further compromising the public’s faith in the court’s legitimacy and fundamental integrity.

Conclusion

  In order to counter the diminishing perception of its legitimacy, the judiciary must address issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and repair its reputation of impartiality. Effectively tackling sexual harassment requires expanding and mandating training for all judicial actors—including judges, clerks, and judicial staff—as well as establishing a confidential system that allows individuals to report sexual harassment anonymously. Prioritizing increased diversity of judges, establishing mandatory reporting mechanisms for judicial staff and judges who learn about issues of sexual harassment, and strengthening judicial ethics requirements and enforcement mechanisms in order to hold judges accountable for their misconduct are all also critical to improving the situation. Ultimately, enhancing public confidence in the judicial branch and redeeming judicial legitimacy is an ongoing process, but taking the necessary steps to combat the lack of accountability is imperative to the successful function of America’s courts.

  About the author: Nina Reddy is an intern for Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress.

  This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

Friday, August 9, 2019

There’s a dark political history to language that strips people of their dignity

  Dehumanizing language often precedes genocide.

  One tragic example: Extreme dehumanizing language was a strong contributor to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As I have written, the Hutu majority used a popular radio station to continually refer to Tutsi tribal members, a minority in Rwanda, as “cockroaches.”

  As support for this characterization grew among Hutus, it essentially stripped away any moral obligation to see Tutsis as fellow humans. They were just vermin that needed to be eradicated.

  Students of 20th-century history will also recognize this pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” During the Holocaust, Germans described Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans.

  On July 27, President Trump tweeted that Baltimore was a “"disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “No human being would want to live there.”

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The Phenix City story

  There are very few Alabamians left who remember the 1950s story of Phenix City, Alabama. After World War II, a good many of the military soldiers, enlisted men, stayed on for a while.  A host of them was stationed at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia. As many of you know, Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama are essentially the same city. They are only separated by a bridge and the Chattahoochee River.

  Phenix City figured that these soldiers needed some entertainment, so our border city became the poor man’s Las Vegas and Guadalajara, Mexico rolled into one. Phenix City became known as the most sinful place in America. It was openly run by a tough redneck mafia that made the New York mafia look like choir boys.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Donald Trump - Trade dictator

  President Trump announced that he is upping his trade war against China by imposing another $300 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods. According to the Washington Post, Trump said that his tariffs would begin at 10 percent on such products as cellphones, television sets, toilet seats, and pillows but could increase to 25 percent. As Trump adviser Peter Navarro declared, “We love tariffs. Tariffs are a wonderful thing.”

  Okay, so our nation’s Republican president loves taxes, which is precisely what tariffs are. No surprise there. Despite their customary “reduce taxes” rhetoric, Republicans have long been supporters of big spending, along with the taxes to fund them — income taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes, tariffs, excise taxes, property taxes, poll taxes, sales taxes, inflation taxes, and, well, every other forcible extraction of money from people to fund the ever-voracious needs of the federal government.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Fighting an internal threat to our democracy

  In his recent testimony before Congress, Special Counsel Robert Mueller pointedly warned the nation about Russia’s ongoing attempts to meddle in our nation’s elections.

  All Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, should be gravely concerned about this threat from abroad. But we should be equally – perhaps even more – concerned about efforts to rig our elections from within.

  Since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, partisan politicians at the state level have enacted a wave of voting restrictions that have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of people.

Monday, August 5, 2019

How states are combating Trump’s ACA sabotage

  Following his failure to legislatively repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Donald Trump and his administration have waged a campaign to undermine and sabotage the landmark health care law. The administration has employed numerous strategies, including expanding access to short-term junk plans; eliminating cost-saving reinsurance programs; and cutting enrollment outreach funding. The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) has been tracking these efforts to undermine enrollment, force coverage loses, and increase the cost of care for millions of Americans.

  The Trump administration and congressional Republicans delivered a blow to the ACA in its repeal of the act’s individual coverage mandate, which was included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. With that provision of the law repealed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with 19 other Republican state attorneys general, sued the federal government, arguing that the remainder of the law would now be unconstitutional. In 2018, a federal district court judge sided with the plaintiffs, ruling the ACA unconstitutional in a decision that is now being appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The fate of the ACA remains uncertain the near future, as the case is likely to reach the U.S. Supreme Court regardless of the 5th Circuit’s decision.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Alabama must build more prisons, but taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill

  Vicious assault. Brutal rape. Cold-blooded murder.

  These are some of the crimes that will get you thrown into prison, but what if they’re also what could happen to you once you get there?

  Sadly, a federal investigation found this is happening in Alabama’s prison system, and part of the problem is we’ve simply run out of room.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Senate inaction on paycheck fairness harms women

  Under current federal law, it is illegal to pay women less than men for equal work. And yet, the gender wage gap still exists, and the persistent lack of equal pay is one piece of the puzzle. It is an issue that affects women at all levels, in all types of jobs, across race, ethnicity, and other factors. This includes women in high profile roles, such as the current World Cup champions, to roles behind the scenes, like clerical workers and teachers.

  The gender wage gap is caused by a number of differing elements, including some that can be measured. But a sizable portion of the wage gap—around 38 percent by some estimates—can not be explained by measurable differences between genders. Many researchers hypothesize that this unexplained portion, along with at least some of the other observable differences, are attributable to gender discrimination.

Tackling the gender wage gap

  Reducing the gender wage gap requires a lasting, comprehensive solution that addresses the different factors that drive the gap, including discrimination. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, enacted more than 50 years ago, established the core principle of “equal pay for equal work” to root out entrenched pay discrimination that consistently denied women fair wages. But, over time, the courts have narrowed the law’s reach, making it harder to hold employers accountable for discriminatory practices, even as the gender wage gap has persisted.

  On March 27, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives took a significant, much-needed step forward to promote equal pay, combat pay discrimination, and—in the process—tackle a portion of the gender wage gap by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 7) with bipartisan support. However, as of the end of July 2019, the Senate has no clear plans to pass or even act on the equal pay legislation.

  If enacted, the Paycheck Fairness Act would close legal loopholes that have been used to foreclose plaintiffs’ opportunities to vindicate their rights; remove obstacles to plaintiffs collectively challenging illegal practices through class action litigation; and improve remedies for plaintiffs so that they are consistent with the remedies available for pay discrimination and other forms of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also will combat discriminatory pay practices by better protecting workers from retaliation; limiting the use of salary history in the hiring process, which can perpetuate entrenched pay disparities and pay discrimination throughout a woman’s career; and requiring regular, disaggregated pay data collection to enhance employer transparency, identify significant pay gaps, and to bolster investigations of discrimination claims. While the Paycheck Fairness Act alone will not close the gender wage gap, it will be an important step in the right direction.

The cost of the pay gap for women

  Long-standing pay disparities have depressed women’s earnings and weakened their economic stability for years. For millions of women and their families, the lack of equal pay is a pressing problem that impacts their daily lives and their ability to make ends meet. The Senate’s inaction on the Paycheck Fairness Act reveals a stubborn indifference to this real-world plight and, instead, sends the troubling message that women’s economic stresses are of little concern. In the 100 days after H.R. 7 passed the House, more than 55 million women working full time in the United States collectively earned $159 billion less than men due to the gender wage gap, according to new Center for American Progress analysis of monthly labor force numbers and median weekly earnings of full-time workers in the first and second fiscal quarters of 2019.* This number serves as a reminder that, while the wage gap is often referred to as a 20-cent gap between men and women, the cumulative impact is much larger than a couple of dimes. And, for most women of color, these disparities are far worse.

  According to CAP analysis*, a woman working full time earned, on average, $2,828.57 less than a man working full time, due to the gender wage gap in the 100 days after the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Broken down further during that same time period, on average, an African American woman earned $4,628.57 less than a white man working full time; a white woman earned $2,957.14 less; a Hispanic woman earned $5,742.86 less; and an Asian woman earned $228.57 less. However, this calculation for an Asian woman may vastly underestimate the actual gap for a woman belonging to an ethnic Asian subgroup because of the wide diversity across Asian subgroups. For example, while Asian women overall earn 85 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men, Cambodian women earn just 60 cents in the same comparison. Due to the limitations of the source data, the authors could not analyze the wage losses for ethnic Asian subgroups nor for Native women.

Why the Paycheck Fairness Act is needed

  The Paycheck Fairness Act could begin to level the playing field by chipping away at the portion of the persistent gender wage gap that is likely caused, or at least affected, by discrimination. If the male-female earnings gap had been reduced by even 38 percent—the estimated portion that is unexplained and potentially attributed to discrimination—in the 100 days following the passage of H.R. 7, women would have earned an additional $60 billion. That would mean $60 billion that could have helped cover mortgage payments, student loans, childcare costs, prescription costs, household bills, car repairs, groceries, emergency expenses, and more.

  When the Paycheck Fairness Act’s co-sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), brought H.R. 7 to the floor on April 2 for a vote of unanimous consent, the motion was swiftly rejected. Sen. Murray introduced a Senate version of the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 270) back in January of 2019, which was referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. However, there has been no further formal action. Instead, the Paycheck Fairness Act is at a standstill, being blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

  Inaction is unacceptable. Today’s wage gap has only decreased by two cents in the past 10 years.

  At the current rate, experts estimate that the gender wage gap in the U.S. will not close until 2059. That’s 40 years away. Over the course of a 40-year career, an individual woman loses more than $406,000 to the gender wage gap. And, predictably, the estimated losses are much higher for many women of color: An African American woman loses $946,120; a Native woman loses $977,720; a Latina loses $1,135,440; and an Asian woman loses $360,400.

Conclusion

  As the Senate fails to act, the losses to the gender wage gap will only continue to grow. Lawmakers must give more than the occasional feigned support for equal pay. They must demonstrate a true commitment to “equal pay for equal work,” and they must do so for all workers—not just the rich and famous who make headlines. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would be a great start. On this issue, inaction is injustice.

  About the authors: Robin Bleiweis is a research assistant of women’s economic security for the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Jocelyn Frye is a senior fellow at the Center. Sarah Jane Glynn is a nonresident senior fellow at the Center.

  *Authors’ note: Unless otherwise noted, this analysis uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The individual earnings gaps reported compare median weekly earnings (Table 2) for full-time workers by race and gender from the first and second fiscal quarters of 2019. The cumulative earnings gap reported compares those same earnings to monthly labor force totals for employed, full-time working women for March, April, May, and June 2019. Authors did not have access to July labor force numbers at the time of publication and projected June labor force numbers for analysis of the first five days of July to calculate the earnings gap for March 27 to July 5. Women whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

  This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

Friday, August 2, 2019

School lunches

  Pennsylvania officials came under last week when they attempted to collect money owed for school lunches in one of the poorest districts in the state.

  After failing to reach families through other modes of communication, the director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District sent a letter to about 1,000 families, who owed an average of $28, stating that:

Thursday, August 1, 2019

You think airline food is bad? The conditions it’s made in are worse.

  On Tuesday evening, passengers at Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) were greeted with shouts of “one job should be enough!” and “when we fight, we win!” by airline catering workers holding an informational picket and rally. The UNITE HERE union members were out in force to draw attention to the conditions they’re experiencing on the job and to warn that 15,000 fed-up airline catering workers across 32 U.S. airports just voted to authorize a strike.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Those who bake the pie get to eat it

  Governor Kay Ivey’s first legislative session of the quadrennium was very successful.  Her prowess at getting things accomplished with this legislature is remarkable. She knows what she is doing, but it should not be surprising given her background and experience.

  Kay Ivey has been around state government for most of her adult life. She has dealt with the Alabama Legislature for over four decades. 

  Her adroitness in the passage of the infrastructure package was similar to the legislative success enjoyed by Governor George Wallace in his prime years. Like Wallace, Ivey knows how to reward her friends and punish her enemies.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Let’s get "mad as hell" about the vital information we won't get to see

  The U.S. Supreme Court last month said we can’t see certain kinds of information we may well need to participate in democracy as self-governing citizens. To paraphrase a line from “Network,” the movie and play recently on Broadway, we should be “mad as hell” about it.

  The court ruled, 6-3, in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not provide the public with access to records from private companies given to a federal agency if the agency obtained the information with a promise to keep it secret.

  In the decision, the court voided a decades-long practice — supported by lower court decisions — that such “confidential” information could be released unless it caused “substantial harm” to the business, with an eye toward disclosures in the public interest related to safety concerns, or to the exposing of waste, fraud or abuse, among other points.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1676 - We should all be frightened

  “If you are not happy here, you can leave.” These words were a slap in my face. “So interesting to see progressive Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worse, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (If they even have a functioning government at all . . . )”  These words pierced my being. These words came from the President of the United States of America.

  "Go back to Africa!" These words have been spit in my face. I even observed these words written on signs shown on television and directed at President Barack Obama. Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! These words were shouted en masse at a Trump rally. I was frightened in the deepest core of my being. I was frightened for these four women. I was frightened for people of color. I was frightened for this country.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Donald Trump, big spender

  As much as conservatives would like to believe that the Trump administration has been different from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the fact is that all three administrations have been one long disastrous continuum. Not only has Trump continued the forever wars that Bush and Obama waged, he has also continued every single socialist, interventionist, and imperialist program maintained by his predecessors, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the minimum wage, the regulated economy, the war on immigrants, the war on drugs, the war on Muslims, the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, the NSA, and all the hundreds of federal welfare-warfare-state bureaucracies, departments, and agencies.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

New Trump rule could threaten school lunch for many students

  75 percent of school districts have outstanding “lunch debt” racked up by students who couldn’t pay for meals. In large districts, that number can approach $1 million. At the end of the school year, when that debt comes due, kids with outstanding balances are denied opportunities to participate in activities, prevented from graduating, or forced to watch school cafeteria staff throw their food away. Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley West School District even threatened to place children owing as little as $10 for school lunch into foster care.

  Now, a new Trump administration rule could make paying for lunch even harder for thousands of students. Via changes to a rule known as “categorical eligibility,” the Trump administration is trying to undermine access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This program is commonly used as a basis for certifying kids for free and reduced lunch. That could increase the number of kids going hungry at home and struggling to pay for lunch at school.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Ruler of the world

  Recently released secret documents from Chinese company Huawei provide insights into how the U.S. Empire rules the world. According to the Washington Post, the documents reveal that Huawei secretly helped North Korea “build and maintain the country’s commercial wireless network.”

  What’s wrong with that? you ask.

  It violates U.S. sanctions against North Korea!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

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

  The long, hot summer has brought some crystallization to the 2020 U.S. Senate race. This seat is the Senate seat held by Jeff Sessions for almost two decades. He unwittingly made a strange and probably very regrettable decision to join President Donald J. Trump’s administration as attorney general. Very few U. S. Senators with 20 years seniority would leave their permanent seat in the illustrious, powerful, and elite body for a temporary - four-year at best - tenure in a tumultuous and transient cabinet post. 

  Trump is tempestuous at the least and still likes to think of himself as the host of his TV reality show, The Apprentice, who famously says, “You’re fired!” Trump has recently tweeted that Sessions' appointment as U.S. Attorney General was the most regrettable appointment that he has made. You can more than likely ascertain that Jeff Sessions feels the same way about his decision to leave his safe Senate seat for a shot as Trump’s AG. However, you could safely bet that the reserved, squeaky clean, Dudley-Do-Right, Eagle Scout Sessions will not do any tweeting, or betting, on anything, much less his Trump controversy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Racism is killing black Americans

  Racism affects every aspect of American life – none more so than our medical system.

  Numerous studies over the years have laid bare the gap in health outcomes between minority groups and white Americans.

  African Americans have a lower life expectancy than white people. They are more likely to suffer and die from chronic conditions like kidney, cardiovascular, and lung disease.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

John Paul Stevens had "indelible" commitment to First Amendment

  Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who served nearly 35 years on the court, left an indelible mark on many areas of First Amendment jurisprudence.

  Stevens consistently defended the principle of church-state separation in Establishment Clause cases and forcefully argued for significant protection for commercial speech, which was often relegated to second-class status in the First Amendment family.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Joseph O. Patton: Montgomery should pass on Artur Davis

Editor's note: This article was published in the Capital City Free Press on January 26, 2015. It has been updated to reflect Artur Davis qualifying as a candidate for mayor of Montgomery, Ala. The Montgomery Municipal Election is scheduled for August 27, 2019.

  Just when I foolishly believed I had washed the foul political aftertaste of Artur Davis out of my mouth, he's uncorking another bottle of his trademark bitterness, shameless opportunism, and ego-tripping.

  Last week, Davis qualified as a candidate for mayor of Montgomery along with 11 other candidates. It will be an open seat as Todd Strange is not seeking reelection. Strange spanked Davis and three other candidates in 2015, garnering enough votes to avoid a runoff. But which version of Artur Davis this happens to be would be anyone's guess....

Sunday, July 21, 2019

How child protective services can trap the parents they’re supposed to help

  I woke to the sound of my 3-year-old daughter crying. It was a hard, bitter cry. If you have young children, you know the one — it punches through the walls and triggers your heart into a frenzy. I sprang up, ready to run to her bedside. But as wakefulness returned, the sound faded. My daughter was not crying for me. She wasn’t even there. She and her 4-year-old sister were taken from my custody more than a year earlier by the State of Florida.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Attack on the ACA: Undermining protections for LGBTQ patients and language accessibility requirements

  The Trump administration is proposing to undermine strong and clear protections against discrimination in health care by giving health care providers, pharmacy benefit managers, and insurers a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people and many others. The existing rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the Health Care Rights Law, was promulgated by the Obama administration in 2016 after a rigorous six-year process. The rule characterized discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity as impermissible sex discrimination under the law. It also prohibited insurance providers using the marketplace from discriminating against protected characteristics, provided strong language access and notice requirements, and established many other critical patient protections.

Friday, July 19, 2019

America, love it or leave it!

  President Trump’s rant against four members of Congress, all of whom are American citizens, in which he told them to return to their “crime-infested” countries, brings to mind the rant that conservatives have long used against anyone who disagrees with the policies or programs of the U.S. government: “America, love it or leave it!”

  Anyone who lived during the Vietnam War era will recall that this was a favorite refrain of conservatives against anyone who opposed the war. The opponents of the war were accused of hating America and were often told that since they obviously didn’t love their country, they should move to North Vietnam or some other communist country.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Like Chilton County’s peach trees, Alabama’s occupational license laws need regular pruning

  Motorists who travel I-65 between Birmingham and Montgomery during summertime often enjoy the tradition of stopping in Clanton for a freshly-picked basket of Chilton County’s famous peaches.

  There’s something special about that part of Alabama, a Goldilocks zone that produces those thick, juicy, tasty treats. Not too cold. Not too hot. Just right. Well, that and an awful lot of pruning.

  Thing is, peach trees need to be cut back annually so that they can continually produce the best and most fruit. A snip here. A lop there. Just planting them and walking away isn’t enough.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How Medicaid cuts almost forced a disabled student to drop out

  Anna Landre is by every measure a highly successful student. The Georgetown University School of Foreign Service student and high school valedictorian has maintained a 3.9 GPA as a Regional and Comparative Studies major since she left her New Jersey hometown two years ago. She has also served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner representing the city of Georgetown and surrounding neighborhoods with policy recommendations for the District of Columbia’s government.

  Like nearly 20 percent of American college students, Landre is disabled. And because Landre has spinal muscular atrophy type 2 and uses a wheelchair, her success is possible in part due to Medicaid-funded personal care assistance. The hours of personal care she receives at home allow Landre to live and study independently, while attendants help her complete crucial daily tasks related to hygiene, eating, and safety. But just a few weeks ago, her insurance company’s decision to cut her care hours from 112 hours per week to 70 nearly brought her college career to an end.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Americans should adopt unilateral free trade

  Given the ongoing destruction of liberty and prosperity from President Trump’s trade wars, tariffs, sanctions, and embargoes, it’s time to think at a higher level, one that goes beyond mere criticism of Trump’s trade antics. It’s time to think in terms of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government, all of which translates to the idea of unilateral free trade.

  What does unilateral free trade mean? It means that the U.S. government should simply lift, dismantle, abolish, repeal, and end all of its tariffs, trade restrictions, sanctions, embargoes, import quotas, and trade wars. No meetings. No negotiations. No demands. No “free trade” agreements. Just free the American people to travel wherever they want and trade with whomever they want.

Monday, July 15, 2019

We once went “MAD” for the magazine — and it was fun and funny

  The world is soon going to be a little bit less MAD — and the poorer for it.

  The quintessential baby boomer-era satire mag, MAD magazine has announced it will soon contain only re-published content, on a monthly basis — industry-speak for trying to garner what nostalgia-tinged profits might still be obtained from those who recall better days.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Declaration of Independence applies to immigrants

  Now that the Fourth of July celebrations are over, it’s worth asking whether a particular phrase enunciated in the Declaration of Independence is true or false.

  The phrase in question? “The pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration states that the pursuit of happiness is a natural, God-given right, one with which all people are endowed. Not just American citizens. Everyone. Everyone in the world is endowed with the natural, God-given right to pursue happiness.