Monday, November 29, 2010

Ken Paulson: How obscene is video-game violence?

  My generation blew up blobs.

  Sure, the multicolored objects on the screen of my Atari 2600 video game system were supposed to represent alien invaders or menacing spaceships, but they were pretty much indistinguishable blobs with an occasional appendage or two. In the heat of battle, pixels would scatter, but nobody got hurt.

  Contrast that 1980 technology with the imagery of the highly sophisticated video games that are now the subject of a pivotal Supreme Court case (Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association). The justices are grappling with whether to uphold a California law that bans sales or rentals to minors of highly violent video games such as Postal 2, which graphically depicts beheadings, amputations and young girls pleading for mercy.

  It's not pretty stuff.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Laurence M. Vance: Why don’t conservatives oppose the War on Drugs?

  The war on drugs is a failure.

  According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: “Drug use in the United States increased in 2009, reversing downward trends since 2002. ” There was a spike in the number of Americans admitting to using marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.

  Yet, no matter how much it costs to wage the federal drug war (more than $41 billion according to a just-released Cato Institute study), conservatives generally support it. I know of no prominent conservative who publicly calls for drug legalization. I know of no Republican candidate in the recent election (outside of Ron Paul) who has ever publicly voiced his support for the decriminalization of drug possession. Republicans in Congress — by an overwhelming majority — have even criminalized the purchase of over-the-counter allergy-relief products like Sudafed because they contain pseudoephedrine.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Heather Boushey and Jordan Eizenga: The Economic case for unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

  Businesses can expect a dreary holiday shopping season if Congress does not continue benefits for the long-term unemployed. These benefits help families to weather hard times, and right now millions of American families remain out of work or underemployed. They help families keep a roof over their head and food on the table while they search for work and wait for the economy to improve.

  Unemployment insurance, or UI, along with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, stabilize the economy by increasing the demand for basic goods and services. Stabilizing demand remains critical to saving and creating jobs and boosting earnings at this point in the economic recovery. If Congress allows benefits for the long-term unemployed to expire at the end of November, this could potentially reduce the gains in retail sales in December by 14 percent compared to December 2009.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Michael Ciamarra: The Business of Alabama is small business

  A national ranking of Alabama was released that could become the blueprint to follow over the next decade but it was little noticed. The prestigious news was elbowed out by Cam Newton, political corruption, and ongoing saga of the BP oil spill.

  Alabama was ranked the 10th best place in the nation by the industry journal Site Selection. This ranking was the culmination of excellent workforce skills, necessary low taxes, transportation infrastructure, incentives and access to utility networks. Those criteria appear to be a template for consistent success. But do all politicians pay attention to this minimalist government approach?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Inside the Iron Bowl

  It is Alabama vs. Auburn week in Alabama. It is the fiercest of college football rivalries. It is the game of the year. It is a state civil war that divides friends and even families. It is bragging rights for the entire year. The loser has to live with his boasting next door neighbor for 364 days. It seems that one must choose a side regardless of whether you despise college football and could care less who wins. Newcomers to our state are bewildered on this fall day each year. They cannot comprehend the madness that surrounds this epic war. It is truly that – a war. It is the game of the year!

  Young boys all over Alabama grow up playing football in their front yards and dreaming of playing in this big game. It is said that when these two rivals meet one can throw out the record books. However, that is not true. In fact, in 90 percent of the games the favorite wins. A lot of SEC championships and bowl games have been decided by this game. It has made many Alabamians’ Thanksgiving holidays either joyous or sad.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Charles C. Haynes: Sharia fear-mongering threatens religious freedom

  Much of the news media seemed bemused or bewildered when Sharron Angle warned of an Islamic-law takeover in America during her unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Harry Reid.

  Angle was widely ridiculed for citing Frankford, Texas (a town that no longer exists), and Dearborn, Mich. (with a large population of Arab-Americans living under American law), as examples of the imposition of Islamic or sharia law.

  On Election Day, Angle lost in Nevada. But a thousand miles away in Oklahoma, voters took the issue seriously and adopted a state constitutional amendment barring courts from considering sharia law or international law when deciding cases. The amendment passed with 70 percent of the vote.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Gary Palmer: An empty place at the Thanksgiving table

  With so many American men and women deployed in the war against terror, it is fitting and appropriate in this Thanksgiving season to give special attention to, and thanks for, the sacrifices made by many American families who will have an empty place at their table on this Thanksgiving Day. Normally, we do not think of Thanksgiving in the context of war. But as an official United States holiday, Thanksgiving is inextricably linked to our nation's founding and to our times of war.

  The first official thanksgiving proclamation was issued in 1777 by the Continental Congress after the American victory in the Battle of Saratoga. The proclamation asked God to " upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defense and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Eric Alterman: When money talks, who listens (besides politicians)?

  Everybody knows money talks in politics, but people—and particularly the press—rarely pay attention to exactly how. It can define potential alternatives, invent arguments, inundate with propaganda, and threaten with merely hypothetical opposition.

  Politicians do not need to "switch" their votes to meet its demands. They can bury bills, rewrite the language of bills that are presented, convince certain congressmen to schedule a golf tournament back home on a day of a key committee vote, confuse debate, and bankroll primary opposition.

  The manner and means through which money can operate is almost as infinite as its uses in any bordello, casino, or Wall Street brokerage. Just about the only thing money can't buy in politics is love. But that’s okay because, as Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) or ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer can tell you, politics provides plenty of substitutes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sheldon Richman: Blood on his hands

  As George W. Bush hawks his memoir, “Decision Points,” he seems especially driven to justify his decision to invade and occupy Iraq. He emphasizes how sickened he was at learning that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, though not too sick to kid about it at the White House correspondents’ dinner. While he refuses to say whether he would have ordered the invasion had he known the truth — and there’s good reason to suspect that he did know the truth — Bush insists that 25 million Iraqis are better off without Saddam in power.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Corruption not as rampant as it once was

  In addition to being a gubernatorial election year, this year has seen its share of political scandal and corruption.

  The junior college scandal led by Roy Johnson was one for the record books as far as outright open greed and blatant thievery. The indictment of 11 lobbyists, senators and casino owners four weeks before the election stole the headlines but seemed to have a negligible effect on the statewide races for governor and only minimal impact on the four senate races involved with the indictments.

  It might appear that Alabamians are becoming somewhat blasé and accustomed to corruption and indictments in Montgomery. It has been said by many a professional prosecutor that you can pretty much indict almost anyone for anything. The bar for an indictment is a lot lower than for a conviction. It is often said by prosecutors that you can indict a potato.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charles C. Haynes: First Amendment includes separation of church and state

  The phrase “separation of church and state,” once a widely shared article of civic faith in the United States, has become a flash point for culture-war debates over the role of religion in American public life.

  On one extreme are those who insist that “separation of church and state” isn’t in the First Amendment. On the other extreme are those who interpret “separation” to mean eliminating religion from the public square entirely.

  The truth falls somewhere in between. The drafters of the Bill of Rights didn’t use the words “separation of church and state” in the First Amendment. But by prohibiting the federal government from passing any law “respecting an establishment of religion” — what is now called the establishment clause — the Framers clearly and unambiguously separated the institutions of government and religion on the federal level.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Joseph O. Patton: Ethically-speaking…

  What would you buy with $300,000?

  Outgoing Governor Bob Riley and a passel of newly elected Alabama lawmakers are leaping about, tongues wagging and slinging drool like overly excited puppies, aiming to hold a legislative special session and tackle ethics reform. And though the buying, selling and renting of Alabama legislators is a chronic problem facing our great state, it is nonetheless not the most pressing issue facing us. Revenues are down, unemployment rates are up, and yet many new office-holders are more concerned with itemizing and making public gifts to said lawmakers as insignificant as a cup of coffee.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ian MacIsaac: Fear and loathing in the airport security line: Stripped of your clothing and your rights

  The new security methods being promulgated at airports across the nation by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have received a huge amount of attention in the media and huge complaints from the public. Interest groups, online travel sites, and tourist destinations have all mounted serious complaints against the new, incredibly thorough methods of routine search being employed in major American airports by the government-run TSA. "Full-body imaging" machines have been installed in numerous airports across the country, which take, effectively, a full nude photograph of each passenger, ostensibly to make sure he does not pose a terrorist threat. When the scans are not required or where the scanners have not been installed, the only other option is metal-scanning and then a rigorous pat-down, in which rarely even the male genitals are spared a suspicious poke and prod.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sam Fulwood III: The Leaders of the African-American Tea Party

  When the 112th Congress is seated in January, two newcomers, Allen West of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina, will make history as they become one of the rarest of political species. They are black and Republican, a combination that rarely finds success at the ballot box—or elsewhere in contemporary U.S. politics. Now, the question is how will the GOP receive them?

  Defying the odds, West and Scott were the only two winners of the 32 black Republican candidates seeking seats in the U.S. House this year. By surviving, they are poised to command the spotlight as soon as they arrive in Washington. No doubt they will be in great demand by conservative television and talk radio, offering up living proof that the GOP has a drop of melanin in its lily-white portrait. Scott, in particular, landed a plumb assignment within the first week of his victory. He’s one of three incoming freshmen legislators appointed to the 22-member transition team that will craft House rules under the Republican leadership.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1222

  It was a massive electoral wave, bringing massive victory to some and massive defeat to others. I was among those experiencing the pain of massive defeat. No, I was not swept out of the Alabama Senate, but I experienced massive defeat anyway.

  The wave swept across America bringing defeat and victory in equal proportion. For every defeat, there was a victory and for every victory, there was a defeat. I will not attempt to deal with the national implications of this massive wave in this Sketches although I reserve the right to explore them in the future. I will focus on Alabama in general and the Alabama Senate in particular.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Laurence M. Vance: NPR flap shows true nature of conservatives

  Although it isn’t often that conservatives and Fox News come to the defense of a liberal journalist, I come not to congratulate them, but to condemn them.

  Award-winning liberal journalist Juan Williams was fired by NPR on October 20 for politically incorrect remarks he made about Muslims on The O’Reilly Factor. Fox News then granted him a $2 million, three-year contract.

  Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wants Congress to investigate NPR for censorship and calls for “consider cutting off its public funding.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Charles C. Haynes: Is civility America’s lost cause?

  From Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson’s ad in Florida demonizing Republican Dan Webster as “Taliban Dan,” to Republican Sharon Angle’s ads in Nevada demonizing Latinos, negative campaigning reached new lows in the 2010 election cycle.

  Grayson and Angle both lost. But since their opponents aired their share of attack ads, it’s hard to tell what worked with voters and what didn’t.

  What we do know is that going negative was the preferred strategy in most campaigns. According to The New York Times, more than half of all political television ads during the mid-term election campaign were attack ads, continuing a trend that has tracked steadily upward since 2004.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Seth Hanlon: Conservatives now need to do the math

  “You campaign in poetry and govern in prose,” is a classic phrase attributed to former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. But the reality nowadays is that governing is done in numbers—hard numbers representing budgets, taxes, and debt. During the midterm campaign season that ended last week, Republicans pledged to bring down the deficit and build long-term fiscal stability. The presumptive next Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-OH) said Republicans are “ready to work with President Obama” toward these goals.

  Both Democrats and Republicans say fiscal responsibility is a key priority, presenting an opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. But if the new Republican majority in the House is genuinely committed to reducing our nation’s debt, its members are going to have to put aside some of their campaign talking points and take a closer look at the numbers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Joe Bageant: Algorithms and Red Wine - Is the 'digital hive' a soft totalitarian state?

Ferrara, Italy

  Sitting in a trendy wine bar, one of those that brings out food to match your particular choice of wine, mystified by the table setting. What was that tiny baby spoon for? Cappuccino surely, at some point, but why no big spoon to go with the knife and fork? The things a redneck American does not know grow exponentially in Bella Italia, starting with the restaurants -- not to mention several civilizations beneath one’s feet. Being in a house that has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years -- resisting the temptation to piss in the hotel room bidet, that sort of thing.

  One thing the Italians can never be accused of is being a culture given to vinyl sided sameness, fast food franchises. Another thing is lack of a good educational system, given that Italy’s is among the very best in the world. So here I am sitting with some college kids trying to hang onto my end of a discussion of evolutionary consciousness, and whether Italy can withstand the cultural leveling of globalism.

  “And Mr Bageent, what do you think of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the hive mind and the noosphere? Can monolithism and totalitarianism possibly be resisted in the cybernetic age?”


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gary Palmer: The Republican majority should stand and deliver

  The Republican majority just elected to the Alabama State Legislature have an opportunity to enact historic reforms that fundamentally change state government for the better. In a stunning repudiation of the culture of corruption and special interests domination that has been pervasive in our state government for generations, Alabama voters gave Republicans a majority in both the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in 136 years.

  After the 2006 election, the Democrats maintained their chokehold on the state legislature with a 63-42 majority in the state house and a 23-12 majority in the state senate. On November 2nd, Alabama voters reversed those numbers and gave the Republicans super-majorities in both chambers - 62 to 43 in the house and 22 to 12, with one independent in the senate.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Digital Roundtable: CCFP editors examine the Alabama general election results

Editor's note: This discussion between Capital City Free Press Editors Joseph Patton and Josh Carples examines the results of Alabama's most hotly contested races from the November 2 election.


Patton: No true surprise in the race for governor. Robert Bentley polled well ahead of Ron Sparks throughout this race. What intrigues me about the situation is we really don’t know Bentley. He was not a high-profile member of the Alabama Legislature and he was a counted-out dark horse candidate in the Republican primary. He arguably jetted into the nomination by default as a result of Republican voters’ distaste for Bradley Byrne’s and Tim James’ negative campaigning. Anyone among us know what we’re getting into with Bentley? He seems to be respected across party lines, which is always a plus, but it’s not necessarily indicative of how he may govern.