Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gene Policinski: Offensive views need airing so they can be better rebutted

  By now there likely are few Americans who don’t recognize the names of a tiny Topeka, Kan., church and of the family that makes up most of its members — Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps family.

  For years, various Phelpses have been demonstrating at funerals — most notably at services for U.S. military service members killed in combat overseas — to condemn America’s acceptance of homosexuality and other “sins.” In early March, the family won an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a lawsuit brought by the father of a Marine who died in 2006.

  The 8-1 decision supported public protest that involves issues of public concern. Margie Phelps — the family’s lead lawyer in successfully arguing the case — appeared recently in New York City at a convention of college journalists, in a standing-room-only discussion that I moderated.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Friends and enemies

  There is a well known maxim that says keep your friends close and your enemies closer. That adage came to mind when Gov. Robert Bentley brought his Democratic gubernatorial opponent Ron Sparks into the fold of his cabinet.

  Bentley appointed his former rival to head the newly created Alabama Rural Development office. On the surface it would appear to be a Machiavellian political maneuver. However, it is vintage Bentley. He simply wanted to get the best person available while at the same time saving state dollars. Bentley’s predecessor Bob Riley had created two agencies, the Alabama Rural Action Commission and the Black Belt Action Commission, by executive order. Bentley rolled them into one agency and got the perfect appointee in Sparks whose love and passion is agriculture. By his own admission Sparks never really wanted to run for governor but would have chosen to run for Agriculture Commissioner again if he had not been prohibited constitutionally from seeking a third successive term.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jonathan Cykman: Misplaced union envy

  Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and homes since the financial collapse of 2008. Tens of millions more are in fear of losing their jobs and homes. Conservatives and tea party activists have chosen to blame the government and public sector workers for what ails us. This narrative has flourished in our political discourse despite the facts to the contrary.

  And what this clearly demonstrates is that a fearful electorate can be easily manipulated by a corrupt and self-serving political elite. The most recent targets of anti-government forces are American unions, especially public sector unions. Why, you ask? It's a political calculation. Deny unions the ability to organize and collect union dues and you rob the Democratic Party of a major source of political campaign funding and muscle.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Christian E. Weller: The Consequences of conservatism

  The 2012 presidential primary season is already upon us and the Grand Old Party is, not surprisingly, engaged in a grand old opportunity to rewrite history about the causes and consequences of the Great Recession. So it’s time, once again, to set the record straight.

  The Great Recession was so great not just because of very sharp unemployment increases but also due to an unprecedented decline in wealth—as the Federal Reserve detailed in a report released this week. That wealth destruction is key to understanding the Great Recession since massive house price drops led to a foreclosure crisis that then fueled massive layoffs. Much of the unprecedented wealth destruction in 2007 and 2008 can be traced back to failed economic policies under President George W. Bush, when opportunities to put the economy and the labor market on the right track were ignored.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Charles C. Haynes: Shariah hysteria: unwarranted, unconstitutional

  In my last column, I sounded an alarm about rise of Islamophobia in the United States, calling attempts in various states to pass anti-Shariah legislation an attack on religious freedom.

  That inspired a good number of irate readers to sound their own alarm about what they view as my naïve and dangerous dismissal of the threat Shariah (Islamic law) poses to the United States.

  “This is not a First Amendment issue,” explains one reader. “This is a life and death issue. Muslims have already taken over Europe. They will not succeed here.”

  Another reader sees my defense of American Muslims and opposition to anti-Shariah laws as downright un-American.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Eesha Pandit: Top five ways health reform is helping women and their families

  Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and yesterday advocates were celebrating the health care reform law’s advantages for women.

  This past year, however, many of the law’s improvements in insurance coverage were overshadowed by attacks on the Affordable Care Act and on women’s reproductive health care coverage. The criticisms have left many women confused about what health reform means for them. Simply put, the law is working for women, our families, and our communities. But, the fight for women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care in health reform is ongoing, and there are other important issues that still need our voices.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ian MacIsaac: A Paralyzed Republican field cowers in the face of the Obama campaign machine--Who's Running in 2012?

  There is something rotten in Denmark--or at least in the Republican Party. At this point on the calendar in the last election, all of the major candidates--Clinton, Obama, Romney, McCain--had all announced: Obama himself announced in February 2007, a full 19 months before the election. But we're pushing into April and no one has announced yet, not counting Newt Gingrich's sorta-kinda exploratory thing. What's going on?

  I happen to understand American presidential politics better than I understand almost anything else in the world, and I can't help but feel absolutely sure it has something to do with how strong the president is among the people right now. Whatever it was that gave him a major boost at the beginning of this year, Obama has gone from the nadir of his presidency at the time of the 2010 midterms to holding a very strong electoral position looking forward to the upcoming election. Pew--second only to Gallup in exceptional polling results--released a poll on Wednesday conducted March 8-14 showing that Americans prefer reelecting Obama to electing a Republican in 2012 by a 48%-35% margin, with 16% saying they "didn't know."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Governor Bentley's off to a positive start

  Our new governor, Dr. Robert Bentley, now has two months under his belt as our state’s leader. Although he inherited a ship of state that is fiscally sinking, he has rolled up his sleeves and gotten to work.

  Bentley is the right man for the job in these trying times. He is a plow horse rather than a show horse. He is a meat and potatoes type of guy who works to solve problems rather than worrying about who gets the credit. He has gathered around him an excellent cabinet and they are not panicking or anxiously throwing chairs off the deck. Instead, they are resolutely rearranging the chairs in an effort to keep the ship afloat.

  Even though Bentley is not glamorous he does have a way with communication that depicts and displays his down home country doctor persona. He aptly says that he applied for the job of governor for 18 months and the people of Alabama hired him. He applied for the job for the right reasons. He wants to do a good job.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Eric Alterman: NPR and O’Keefe: Déjà vu all over again

  It’s difficult to decide what is most infuriating—or depressing—about the spectacular success of James O’Keefe’s sting operation. But here are a few nominees.

  O’Keefe is a known fabricator, and the mainstream media has already allowed him to make them look like idiots. And yet they did it again. I went on the NPR show “On Point” last week to discuss the still-exploding scandal and suggested that whenever anyone discussed any alleged malfeasance discovered and presented by the criminal right-wing provocateur, it’s a good idea to wait a few days and find out what he’s lying about.

  O’Keefe lied to the country about his big ACORN sting. He lied about his meetings with ACORN officials and the videos he doctored in support of those lies. You can find examples here, here, here, and here. He makes no bones about this. O’Keefe sets up his sources, lies to them, and then lies to the public about what they said and did. And he’s not above using criminal methods to stalk his prey.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gary Palmer: Alabama Legislature must address overall pension reform

  If you wondered why there has been so much emphasis on eliminating the Alabama Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) program, it can be summed up fairly simply…it is part of an effort to pull the state of Alabama back from the brink of fiscal insolvency.

  Despite the misguided attacks launched by Alabama Education Association (AEA) lobbyists and AEA-backed legislators who supported DROP, the Legislature has taken a needed step toward reforming the state’s benefits and pension plans to make them affordable and sustainable.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gene Policinski: Government is clearly still not transparent enough

  WASHINGTON — The national picture for Freedom of Information laws, celebrated during national Sunshine Week (March 13-19), is a bit brighter thanks to two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and some White House initiatives.

  But to give a twist on the old saying, “There’s a cloud in every silver lining.”

  In the last few weeks, the Supreme Court limited two major exemptions to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In FCC v. AT&T, the Court said an exemption for “personal information” did not apply to information about corporations. And in Milner v. Department of the Navy, the justices forbade wide use of a “personnel” exemption they found was often used to withhold a broad range of materials.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Does Daylight Saving Time work?

  Most Americans woke up a little bit groggier this past Sunday. Thanks to daylight saving time, or DST, clocks in most parts of the United States were set one hour ahead—robbing millions of precious sleep but rewarding them with extra daylight in return.

  The interval for DST has been longer in the past four years. That’s because the Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated that DST be extended by one month. It used to last from the first Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October, but now lasts from the second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in November.

  Why the switch? Or, more to the point, why have DST at all? The answer lies in the desire to conserve energy. DST proponents argue that waking up earlier to take advantage of the increased daylight reduces the need for artificial forms of lighting—and they have been making this argument for literally hundreds of years.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Checking out the cabinet

  Gov. Robert Bentley has garnered an excellent cabinet. Much like his predecessor Bob Riley, he has chosen and coaxed into service people who are serving to better the state and not themselves.

  Many, if not all, of Bentley’s appointments are financially independent, comfortably retired or career public servants uniquely and highly qualified to run the state agencies they will oversee. Bentley’s cabinet members are very similar to Riley’s cabinet. In fact, at least five of Bentley’s appointments are holdovers from Riley’s illustrious team.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sam Fulwood III: Race and Beyond: Every (Black Man) an Obama?

  Almost immediately after Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, conservative pundits quickly shifted gears from predicting calamity to heralding the dawn of a post-racial society. Ah, if only it were so.

  It’s a cruel jujutsu of politics and sociology to listen to those voices, declaring that racism is dead and all is dandy across the land because of one election. Setting aside the tremendous historic accomplishment and emotional satisfaction, President Obama’s election didn’t lift the place of black Americans. For black men, in particular, a host of disparities continue to affect their life choices and chances despite the example of President Obama in the White House.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.: What could cause America’s decline?

  Are America’s best days over?

  The doomsayers are everywhere. Some say we’re suffering from what they call “imperial overstretch” — an overly committed military that’s bankrupting the country. Others think we’re afflicted less with imperial than “entitlements overstretch” — unsustainable social spending and debt. Still others see China rising and surpassing America by 2025.

  All these prognosticators share one premise: They see history (and America’s decline) as inevitable. They’re resigned to, or actually pleased with, the prospect of America’s diminished role abroad.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Charles C. Haynes: The truth about Muslims in America

  Throughout our history, the United States has endured periodic outbreaks of fear and hysteria — from the Red Scare to the Yellow Peril. To that ignoble list, we can now add the “Muslim Menace.”

  Echoing “takeover” rhetoric from the past (communists in government, Asians in the workplace), demagogues and anti-Islam groups are using legitimate concerns about homegrown terrorism as an opportunity to stir fears of a stealth Muslim takeover of the United States.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Eric Alterman: “Follow the Money”

  Deep Throat’s advice worked for Woodward and Bernstein, and it remains useful today. Take a look at the major stories of the day. Most often, they are portrayed in the media as clashes of personality first and ideology second. But almost always, they are, at bottom, about money.

  The “resignation” of National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller is being played by the avatars of conventional wisdom as the result of her inability to rein in the crazy liberalism of the place. Well, not so much. In the first place, the refs have worked NPR so effectively that it feels compelled to include the views of certified lunatic David Horowitz in an obituary of leftist historian Howard Zinn.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Laurence M. Vance: The Irrelevance of the Second Amendment

  The killing of six people on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona, and attempted assassination of a public servant and her staff members has brought forth a predictable response from the left and gun-control groups: We need stricter gun-control laws to prevent tragedies like the Tucson shooting.

  But calls for banning extended-capacity magazines, instituting gun-free zones, more thorough background checks, longer waiting periods for gun purchases, limits on gun purchases, stricter licensing of gun dealers, comprehensive databases of gun owners, repealing concealed-carry laws, gun registration and licensing, and outright gun bans will not prevent gun violence any more than drug-prohibition laws stop people from using drugs.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: The New power players in the Alabama Legislature

  The historic partisan sea change that occurred in Alabama last November has been chronicled. However, the magnitude of the shift does not hit home until you see it close up. Many of us, who have observed the politics of Goat Hill for many years, are still amazed at the dramatic change that has occurred in the legislative branch of our state government.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sally Steenland: Setting the record straight on Sharia

  Intisar Rabb is a member of the law faculty at Boston College Law School where she teaches advanced constitutional law, criminal law, and comparative and Islamic law. She is also a research affiliate at the Harvard Law School Islamic Legal Studies Program and a 2010 Carnegie Scholar. She is particularly interested in questions at the intersection of criminal justice, legislative policy, and judicial process in American law and in the law of the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

  She has served as a law clerk to the Hon. Thomas L. Ambro of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and subsequently worked with members of the bench and bar in the United Kingdom as a Temple Bar Scholar through the American Inns of Court. Rabb has traveled for research to Egypt, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere.

  Sally Steenland: Sharia has been in the news these past few months as states like Oklahoma have passed laws banning Sharia and other states are proposing similar laws. Most people, however, don't actually know what Sharia is. Can you tell us what Sharia is—and what it is not?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gary Palmer: Eliminating DROP is not an attack on state employees

  During the first week of the 2011 legislative session, Alabama made a significant move toward getting its fiscal house in order when both the House and Senate committees approved legislation to eliminate the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP).

  According to projections from the Legislative Fiscal Office, eliminating DROP could save the state of Alabama up to $70 million.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Joseph O. Patton: Oh AUM, where art thou?

Editor's note: This article appears exclusively in the AUMnibus, the independent student newspaper of Auburn University Montgomery. Read the article here...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Josh Carples: Thou Shalt Not Pander

  It’s good to see that at least one member of the Alabama legislature has his priorities in order. With the education budget at three percent proration, coming cuts to the state's general fund, possible layoffs, cuts in services, and the myriad of other issues affecting the state and the economy, it’s nice to know that Sen. Gerald Dial (R – Lineville) has taken time to introduce a bill of the utmost importance – the Ten Commandments amendment.

  All sarcasm aside, Sen. Dial is hoping that the seventh time is the charm, since this is the seventh time he has introduced the bill.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1238

  Voting is powerful. It’s the difference in being spoken for by others and speaking for ourselves. It’s the difference between being half a citizen and being a whole citizen. It’s the difference between being recognized as fully human as opposed to being a little less than human. Voting is that powerful.

  When I reached 21 years of age, I could not vote in Alabama. My mother could not vote even though she had been grown for years and had given birth to 13 children and raised 12. My father could not vote either and he was older than she was and had raised as many children. Not being able to vote somehow said we were not intelligent enough, not worthy enough, not capable enough.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: The Cupboard is bare

  As the Alabama Legislature begins the first regular session of the quadrennium this week, they face the daunting task of crafting a state budget demolished by the Great Recession.

  The new Republican legislature and governor have inherited a ship of state that is essentially sinking. It is analogous to walking onto the deck of the Titanic. They have been given the keys to a candy store that has no candy and the keys to a vault with no money. They will have the dismal task of drastically reducing state services. Then they get to go back to their hotel rooms and eat cold peanut butter sandwiches for supper because they passed laws in their first capacity as legislators disallowing lobbyists from buying their dinner. They will have to cry in their own beer.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Daniel J. Weiss, Valeri Vasquez: Big Oil Gains from higher prices while families pay the price

  Political instability in the Middle East over the past month has driven parallel unrest in world oil prices. The drive for political freedom in the Middle East has rightfully captured the world's attention but it has also roiled oil markets. Governments across the globe are worried that sustained unrest will escalate oil prices past $100 per barrel on their way to $120 or more, choking the struggling economic recovery in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. One entity, however, is almost certain to benefit from this volatility: Big Oil companies.

  On Friday, January 28, oil closed at $89 a barrel—$4 or 5 percent higher than the previous day. This leap reflected concerns that the Egyptian revolution would interfere with Persian Gulf oil transportation and deliveries. Prices returned to $85 a barrel when President Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11, reflecting some stability.