Friday, December 31, 2010

Charles C. Haynes: A Tennessee mosque, a good American story

  The No. 1 religion story of 2010 was the emotional, often ugly debate over plans for an Islamic center two blocks from ground zero in Manhattan, according to Religion Newswriters Association members — and just about everyone else making a list.

  Not far behind was the media-driven obsession with the Florida pastor who got more than his 15 minutes of fame by dangling the threat of Quran-burning before eager reporters camped outside his church.

  But to really understand the growing fear of Islam in America in 2010 — and public reaction to it — we should move beyond the sensational and take a closer look at the lesser-known but more instructive mosque-building controversies in local communities, especially the yearlong fight in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1229

  Giving is powerful. I write this partly because we say that this is the season to give. However, I write to say that every season is the season to give. Every day in every season is a time to give.

  Some of us know how to give but don’t know how to receive. Too many of us know how to receive but don’t know how to give. The real challenge is to give and receive with equal facility for they are truly bound together.

  When I was a child I did not really know how to give or receive. I was bad at both. Then I learned to give but did not learn to receive. I still work on the receiving.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peter Swire: Homeowners are consumers, too

  Press reports this week note that financial regulators are split about whether and how to create new consumer protection rules for mortgage servicers—those companies that collect monthly mortgage payments from homeowners and forward the payments to investors in those mortgages. The debate also prompted 52 prominent economists and industry experts this week to write an open letter to federal regulators calling for new national standards for mortgage servicing. That key recommendation in the open letter is correct—reforms are badly needed in this area.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1228

  When we dig a hole for someone else, we may as well dig two for we will surely fall in the first one we dug. I heard these words from my mama and other wise old folks. There was such wisdom in the saying I drew on it during my turn at the podium of an extended debate on Senate Bill 2, which stripped AEA (Alabama Education Association) and several other employee organizations of effective membership privileges.

  We had fought hard in the Senate to kill Senate Bill 2 on Friday. After four plus hours, the Republicans cut off debate and passed the bill. The Alabama House of Representatives then fought valiantly for many more hours starting Tuesday but at about 3 am on Wednesday morning, the Republicans cut off debate and passed the bill by three votes. Governor Bob Riley and others leading these efforts dug a hole for AEA and other employee organizations.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Charles C. Haynes: To end Christmas wars, separate secular from sacred

  Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe singlehandedly breathed life into the flagging “war on Christmas” debate when he announced earlier this month that he wouldn’t ride his horse in the Tulsa Holiday Parade of Lights this year — something he has done for decades.

  Offended by a change of name (that actually took place last year) from “Christmas” to “holiday,” Inhofe accused parade organizers of taking Christ out of Christmas.

  Last week, other Tulsans angered by the name switch demanded that City Council deny a permit to the parade, which is a privately organized and funded event. Fortunately, the city attorney was there to remind the council that it would be unconstitutional to stop a parade because it wasn’t called “Christmas.” In a 5-3 vote, a reluctant council granted the permit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gary Palmer: Christmas Bells

  It is hard to put the ideas of war and Christmas in the proper context. War represents our worst fears - death and destruction and subjugation to our enemies; Christmas brings to mind our greatest hopes - peace on earth and the hope of eternity.

  War has destroyed the hope of many people. The incomprehensible death and destruction of World Wars I and II led almost directly to the nations of Europe swinging from Christianity to being largely agnostic or atheistic. For the majority of Europeans, the ringing of bells on Christmas Day has no meaning beyond sentimentalism for a lost faith.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eric Alterman: The Fox propaganda train rolls on

  Another day, and another piece of incontrovertible evidence that the folks at Fox News are exclusively in the business of pushing propaganda, rather than reporting “news.”

  Last week, The Daily Beast reported the existence of a memo by Fox News Vice President and Washington Managing Editor (and former Washington Times editor) Bill Sammon, on October 27, 2009. It advised all on-air personalities to “use the term ‘government-run health insurance,’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible.”

  The memo followed an on-air conversation between right-wing Republican consultant Frank Luntz and Fox News host Sean Hannity, in which the former advised, “If you call it a public option, the American people are split,” but “If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.” “A great point,” Hannity replied. “And from now on, I'm going to call it the government option, because that's what it is.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gary Palmer: Special session undermines AEA power

  Of the seven bills that passed during the special session, there was one bill in particular that hit Paul Hubbert and the AEA especially hard. It was the ban on the use of state resources to collect political contributions from state employees for A-VOTE, the AEA's political action committee (PAC).

  The AEA is by far the biggest source of PAC money in Alabama. From 2006 through 2010, A-VOTE collected well over $16 million in political contributions. And not all of the money came from education employees. One major contributor to A-VOTE during this time frame was gambling kingpin Milton McGregor. McGregor, who is under a federal corruption indictment, gave A-VOTE $603,000.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1227

  I was hoping I was wrong. I was hoping that this special session was not really about reducing the power of some and increasing the power of others. I was hoping that I was wrong about this special session being ostensibly called about ethics when it was in reality a pure power play. I was hoping against hope.

  The first indications came with who sponsored what bills. Four bills were introduced allegedly to deal with ethics. One was not centered on ethics and one was not about ethics at all. I looked to see whether the Senate President Pro Tem, the highest position in the Senate, was sponsoring one of the bills. He was, so I looked to see which one. He was the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 2, the vehicle to strip AEA (Alabama Education Association) of its organizational power base. I knew in my heart that was the real reason we were here in special session just two weeks before Christmas but I kept hoping I was wrong.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Michael Josephson: Character Counts: Keep your fork

  When a pessimist is told there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s likely to assume it’s an onrushing train. According to journalist Sydney Harris, “A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he’s prematurely disappointed in the future.”

  Pessimism and cynicism are fashionable these days, but it’s the people who see and celebrate the positive aspects of life who live best.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jonathan Gruber, Judy Feder: Why we need the minimum coverage mandate

  A district court judge in Virginia ruled Monday that the “minimum coverage” requirement in the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. The opinion is clearly at odds with other rulings in Virginia and in Michigan, where courts upheld the law.

  Judges may disagree, but there’s a consensus among legal and economic scholars that this requirement to purchase health insurance is essential to making health insurance available and affordable to everyone, without regard to health status or “pre-existing conditions.” Without this provision, the law is unworkable and the consumer protections it provides become unenforceable. As the issue wends its way through the courts, it is useful to review why this requirement is in the law and the valuable protections we have to lose if it’s eviscerated.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Douglas Lee: Pa. public-comment ruling could have unintended results

  As a long-time advocate for open government, I applaud the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Alekseev v. City Council of the City of Philadelphia. As a former school board president, however, I see why some might find it a bit naive.

  In Alekseev, the court held that Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act requires city councils and other public bodies in the state to allow public comment during their meetings. In doing so, the court rejected the practice of the Philadelphia City Council, which for 60 years has channeled public comment only to meetings of its committees.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eric Alterman: Florida 2000 forever

  As we pass the 10th anniversary of the Bush v. Gore decision—technically yesterday, December 12—it is interesting to note how much of our current political predicament can be discerned in the events of those days. The Bush-Gore election illustrates three key points about today’s political and media environment:

    * Conservatives fight harder and dirtier for what they want than progressives.

    * The mainstream media gives conservatives a pass for acting and speaking in their own political interest while criticizing progressives for the same thing.

    * Conservative commentators recognize few if any boundaries in their willingness to demonize progressives, with virtually no corollary of any kind among progressives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jennifer Marshall: 'Superman' exposes the myth of the common school

  'Each morning, wanting to believe in our schools, we take a leap of faith," filmmaker Davis Guggenheim says in Waiting for Superman. His much-acclaimed documentary then gives us every reason to doubt. By framing this account of the public school system's failure in terms of trust, the film manages to do something far more subversive than merely record union-induced systemic dysfunction. The documentary does nothing less than cast doubt on this core belief of America's civil religion: our faith in the public school system as the mediator of our national ideals and the gateway to opportunity for all children.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gary Palmer: Extending tax cuts would make Christmas merrier for Alabama

  Alabamians and the state of Alabama have a lot on the line in the ongoing debate in Congress over extending the Bush-era tax cuts.

  On December 7th, President Obama agreed to support extending all the Bush tax cuts for taxpayers for another two years. Originally, Obama and the Democrat leadership in Congress were determined to raise taxes on everyone with a yearly income above $250,000. They tried to cast wealthy families as rapacious and selfish in their latest attempt to “spread the wealth around.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Joe Bageant: Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga

Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

  If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

  One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? Those wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: What the legislative special session is really for

  Gov. Bob Riley has called a special session of the Alabama Legislature to pass ethics reform legislation. The major issues expected to be addressed include prohibiting the transfer of campaign money between political action committees, which essentially hides the original source of campaign contributions. This practice of PAC to PAC money laundering has rendered our campaign finance laws meaningless. The call will also include giving subpoena power to the Alabama Ethics Commission as well as requiring more stringent disclosure of lobbyists’ spending on public officials.

  The more logical and prudent avenue to address these issues would have been the way that Governor-elect Robert Bentley proposed. Gov. Bentley suggested that the wisest and most cost effective approach would be to tackle these issues in a special session sandwiched in between the March regular session. It would not cost the already depleted general fund much needed resources because Bentley’s way would expend no extra money.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Josh Carples: High Fructose Corn Syrup... not a fan

  I admit it. I have a sweet tooth. It’s true. Sometimes you just want some gummy bears or a Snickers. It happens.

  Luckily, it seems most of these products, while still not found in the health food aisle, are sweetened with sugar rather than High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

  I’m not a fan of HFCS, and it seems that a lot of other people are not either. If they were, there would be no TV ads sponsored by this country’s corn lobby touting the similarities of HFCS to regular sugar. Have you seen the ads? In the PR world, ads are usually judged by effectiveness, and these, I would say, are very ineffective.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gene Policinski: Koppel-Olbermann dispute misses local-news picture

  Former ABC “Nightline” host Ted Koppel and MSNBC host and pundit Keith Olbermann recently exchanged sharply opposing views about the state of the news business — as they know it.

  Kicking off the high-level spat, Koppel used a guest column in The Washington Post to slam the current trend toward journalism-as-opinion, naming Olbermann and others. In response, Olbermann opined that Koppel’s era never was as free of bias as he claimed — and that so-called “objectivity” in the news media never served the public all that well, anyway.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gary Palmer: The Special session is necessary

  The time has finally come. What we have needed and waited for, what was promised but never delivered, may about to finally be reality.

  On Wednesday, December 8th, the newly elected Alabama Legislature will go into a special session called by Gov. Bob Riley to take up the most comprehensive and most badly needed ethics and campaign finance reform legislation in Alabama’s modern history. The legislature will consider seven bills that constitute an historic transformation in state government and that will move Alabama to the top of the state rankings for tough ethics laws.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dr. Israel Drazin: Repealing the military’s gay ban will enhance religious freedom

  Sixty-five retired military chaplains wrote to President Barack Obama earlier this year urging him to maintain the military’s ban on service by openly gay men and women. These chaplains alleged that allowing gay men and women to serve openly would compel them to violate their religious principles, such as forcing them to perform same-sex marriages. They claim that if they would not officiate at such marriages, the military would discipline, demote, and perhaps even dismiss them from military service. Repealing the ban, commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” will force them to either “obey God or to obey man.”

  Nothing could be further from the truth. As a lawyer and retired assistant chief of chaplains with the rank of brigadier general, let me set the record straight.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1225

  “Hank, the black farmers appropriation passed the U. S. Senate. Isn’t that wonderful? I am celebrating!” Those words burst forth over the phone from Heather Gray of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. It was indeed a moment worth celebrating. I celebrated as well.

  The appropriation had passed the U. S. House of Representatives many months ago. The U. S. Senate had tried to pass it five or six times to no avail. This was the last real opportunity. So much had happened. As the old folks say, “If it was not one thing, it was another.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: What the Republican takeover means for Alabama

  Now that the dust has settled on the November 2nd General Election and we have had four weeks to let the results permeate, my perceptions and conclusions remain the same. The Republican tidal wave that engulfed Alabama was more like a tsunami. The devastation was so pervasive and devastating that it probably changed the political landscape in our state for the foreseeable future.

  George Wallace, when asked about possible political options, would reply never say never. I am not saying that the Democratic Party is dead in Alabama; however, it is on life support. If any aspiring politician asked me what party banner they should run on to be elected it would not take me long to give them an answer. My guess is that if George C. Wallace, the greatest politician in state history, were still running as a Democrat last month and saw the results of November 2nd, he would have changed parties by now.