Saturday, April 20, 2019

What the Supreme Court ruling could mean for civil asset forfeiture

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

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

Friday, April 19, 2019

IRS cuts have benefited wealthy tax cheats

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Drug laws versus freedom

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

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

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

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

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

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1661 - The Hugging Senator

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

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

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

School voucher proponents love socialism too

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

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

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Five ways Wheeler is dirtying our water

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

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

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

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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

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

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the State House - Other legislative issues

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

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Conservative court packing

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

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

Monday, April 8, 2019

Democrats clueless on farm woes

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

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

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The incorrigible hypocrisy of conservatives

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

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

Saturday, April 6, 2019

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 5, 2019

Free speech makes hypocrites of us all

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

Thursday, April 4, 2019

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Debunking the Trump administration’s new water rule

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

Monday, April 1, 2019

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

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

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