Friday, August 31, 2012

Gene Policinski: Technology takes freedoms forward, law catches up

  As it made the quantum leap from parchment to paper through the electronic era to digital formats, First Amendment law on freedom of expression has lagged behind technology. Today, this delayed legal reaction is playing out once again with Twitter, Facebook and the World Wide Web.

  The 45 words that protect our religious liberty, freedoms of speech and press, and the rights of assembly and petition, adopted in 1791, begin with the phrase “Congress shall make no law….” And for more than a century, courts saw the First Amendment through that legal lens, as restricting only federal laws and actions.

  But beginning in the 1920s the U.S. Supreme Court started, case-by-case, to apply the First Amendment to the states through the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment. With an eye toward current controversies, it’s worth considering the meandering path in which we have regulated, or decided not to regulate, new media and the technology of providing information, entertainment and communication.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Michael Josephson: Don’t brag, but be proud

  Today, after winning a big game it’s common for athletes and fans to chant, “We’re number one,” in a classless display of self-praise that comes off as conceit and disrespectful taunting. I sometimes feel that way about materials praising America. Still, national pride is important. Reminders about the high principles on which this nation was based are essential to keep our idealism alive.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ken Paulson: Real cost of ‘free’ downloads

  Nashville’s Craig Carothers is a singer-songwriter whose livelihood depends on concerts and CD sales. Yet sometimes, his biggest fans make that job tougher.

  “I’ve had the experience more than once of having someone come up to me and — completely pure of heart — excitedly tell me they bought copies of my CDs when I was last in town and they enjoyed them so much they made copies for 15 or so of their friends,” said Carothers.

  There goes the revenue stream. The unauthorized copying and downloading of music has been a hot topic since the 1999 launch of Napster, the peer-to-peer file-sharing service, and neither prosecution nor legislation has meaningfully stemmed the tide. The failure of the Stop Online Piracy Act and a companion anti-piracy bill months ago knocked the entertainment industry back on its heels, raising questions about whether Congress has the political will to pass legislation.

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: A Different Labor Day in Alabama

  This week we celebrate Labor Day. Like Memorial Day, it is a uniquely American holiday. Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer.

  It has been a long, hot summer here in the Heart of Dixie. For that matter is has been a record breaking hot summer throughout the nation.

  Labor Day also marks the official beginning of the presidential election campaign season and, more importantly here in Alabama, the beginning of college football season. When I was a boy it also marked the beginning of the school year in Alabama.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Steven Bucci: How will defense cuts affect you?

  Washington is abuzz with wonky discussions on potential mandatory budget cuts that will hit on Jan. 2. The process is called "sequestration." It is so technical that right now you may be tempted to move on to another article. After all, this is merely "inside Washington baseball," right? Sadly, it isn't.

  The Department of Defense (DoD) budget is set to absorb the lion's share of the New Year's cuts, which will go into effect if steps are not taken to stop them. DoD makes up about 11 percent of federal spending, but will eat 47 percent of the cuts. That's a pretty sizable chunk.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Michael Josephson: The Illusion of success

  A common management strategy to spur achievement is to set aggressive performance objectives that, like the mechanical rabbits that pace racing greyhounds, push employees to maximum effort. Using “stretch goals” can be successful, but unreasonably high performance goals often spawn dishonesty and irresponsibility.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scott Lilly: Rep. Mack’s ‘Penny Plan’ disguises painful choices

  Budgets are about choices. Families must decide whether to replace the car or cut back on meals out and entertainment. Those of us who are weathering hard times must make far more difficult choices. But the fundamentals of budgeting are always about weighing alternatives and finding the one that is either the most enjoyable or the least painful.

  Then there are pretend budgets. The most egregious example may be the “Penny Plan” introduced in 2011 by Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), which now has more than 70 co-sponsors, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and is not really a budget at all. It contains the numbers but not the choices. Worse, it attempts to conceal from the public the kind of pain it would endure, particularly in states such as the one Rep. Mack represents, Florida.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Peter Brookes: Afghanistan mission's new woes

  The recent string of “green-on-blue” (Afghan on US/Coalition troops) attacks in Afghanistan are cause for real worry: Not only might the Coalition’s vital mission to provide security training to the Afghan police and army be in trouble, but the country’s entire future might be in question, too.

  Without the high-quality training the Afghan security forces desperately will need after Coalition forces leave in 2014 (or maybe sooner), it’s possible Afghanistan will once again fall to the likes of the Taliban.

  And that’s exactly what the Taliban, the Haqqani network, al Qaeda — and maybe others — want.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cameron Smith: The Best prison sentencing reform you heard nothing about

  Since Alabamians will vote September 18th on a measure designed to prevent the “mass release of prisoners,” every voter should know about a change in Alabama’s prison sentencing enacted during the last legislative session. The new law, which garnered little attention outside of Montgomery, may provide a meaningful remedy for a portion of the budgetary issues facing Alabama’s prisons and the state General Fund.

  Alabama’s prisons face significant pressure from a number of sources. The annual cost to house an Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) inmate was $15,118.30, as recently as fiscal year 2009. When multiplied by the 32,000 inmates housed in 29 facilities statewide, the budgetary impact becomes apparent. More importantly, the U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics show that Alabama’s state prisons are operating at nearly 200 percent of their physical capacity to hold inmates. This overcrowding increases danger to prison staff, may result in costly litigation, and creates significant pressure to build costly new facilities.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: The Tampa coronation

  The Republican Convention is next week in Tampa, Florida. It is not by accident that this central Florida city has been chosen by the GOP for their national convention. They want to do everything under the sun to ingratiate themselves to Floridians.

  Under our Electoral College system only about six, maybe ten states matter in the process. I refer to it as a process rather than an election because our archaic Electoral College system of selecting our president is not really a national election. The states of Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia are the battleground states. The most important of these swing states is Florida. It is the grand prize with 29 electoral votes.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Todd Phillips and Andrew Blotky: The Conservative takeover of state judiciaries

  Since the New Deal, despite several attempts, no state in our nation has shifted to a system for seating state court judges that makes these judges more vulnerable to politics. But that might well change this year. This November, ballot measures in three states would politicize state courts in an unprecedented way, calling into serious question whether the citizens in those states can get a fair day in court.

  Legislators in 24 states proposed legislation during the past legislative session (2011–2012) that would enable governors to replace competent state judges, a power that would, in practice, result in more conservative replacements in states across the country. Legislators in Missouri, Florida, and Arizona managed to place referendums on this November’s ballot that if approved by voters would severely restrict judicial independence and belie the promise of fairness before the law. State judges that are expected to protect citizens’ rights will become more and more aligned with conservative and corporate interests.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Michael Josephson: The Golden Rule as the Road of Honor

  Five hundred years before the birth of Christ, Confucius was asked, “Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?”

  He answered, “Reciprocity. What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” This basic principle, now called the Golden Rule, can be found in every major religion and philosophy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Gary Palmer: Access to energy reserves could change a lot of things

  For the last three years, the federal government has been in mad pursuit of green energy alternatives to redefine our economy and improve job markets. In the process, billions of taxpayer dollars were wasted on green energy companies that didn’t produce reliable alternative energy resources, economic growth or new jobs.

  Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued thousands of pages of regulations that threaten existing energy producers with catastrophic fines and industry-killing regulations that smother the U.S. economy and force energy prices higher. Among these are regulations that are shutting down coal-fired power facilities because power companies cannot afford compliance costs.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ken Paulson: Impersonating a cop vs. pretending to be a war hero

  When the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Alvarez struck down the Stolen Valor act, concluding that lying about receiving high military honors was protected under the First Amendment, many analysts made a point about the laws the Court’s decision would not invalidate. Most believed that state laws prohibiting the impersonation of police officers would stand.

  That view was put to the test in a case decided this week by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a 2-to-1 decision, the court upheld the constitutionality of a Virginia statute barring the impersonation of a police officer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sam Fulwood III: Secession isn’t the answer

  I am a Southerner and proud of it. I’m also a black American and proud of it, too. Is there an inherent contradiction? Not one that I can see.

  A provocative column by AlterNet editor and senior writer Joshua Holland seems to hint otherwise. Holland interviews Chuck Thompson, a travel writer and the author of Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, a book of dubious merit based on his tour of the American South and his conversations with the folks who live there. Thompson’s thesis: Northern and Southern Americans can’t live with each other so the nation should consider a regional divorce.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Romney and the “Big Mo”

  This year’s GOP presidential contest has been one for the record books. There has been a continuous topsy-turvy, up and down, kaleidoscope of front-runners to be the Republican nominee.

  Mitt Romney will be nominated in Tampa next week. However, he had to fight for the nomination. Going back to last year we have seen a candidates surge to the top of the pack and then after a few weeks in the spotlight they faltered and fell. In fact, they fell so fast and hard that they folded and exited the race.

  Leading the flavor of the month club pack was first Michelle Bachman. Then she was followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who looked like the real McCoy, but faltered right out of the gate. Then pizza mogul Herman Cain had his day in the sun and his sunset. Then Newt Gingrich soared for a few weeks but was swept away by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Charles C. Haynes: In presidential race, the religious test that wasn’t

  Remember all the media chatter during the primaries about how the “Mormon factor” could undermine Mitt Romney’s candidacy?

  Forget about it.

  American voters, it turns out, are mostly unconcerned about Romney’s religious affiliation or have no idea what it is.

  Only 60% of voters are aware that Romney is a Mormon, 9% percent think he is something else and 32% can’t identify his faith, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center released July 26.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ian M. MacIsaac: Surprise, it's Paul Ryan! Will his radical views help or hurt a flagging Romney campaign?

  The announcement came at a rally in Norfolk, Va. early this morning, at the outset of an economy-and-jobs tour through the crucial swing states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio.

  The jobs-themed, four-state stretch had been in Romney's public plans for weeks, but today unfolded with the surreal yet somewhat fitting accompaniment of Paul Ryan next to Governor Romney, two handsome, well-chinned Midwesterners with twin coiffed brown haircuts, advertising a revamped, joint economic plan.

  The Ryan pick is thoroughly different, especially for a deliberate thinker and planner like Romney. Since the McGovern campaign's disaster with vice presidential candidate Tom Eagleton during the 1972 campaign against Richard Nixon, the abiding principle for VP picks is the old medical adage: first, do no harm.

Tim Kelly: The MAD Myth

  Cold War dogma asserts that mutually assured destruction, however troubling, has worked in averting a nuclear war between the United States and Russia.

  Lending superficial credence to this idea is the fact the world has not yet been incinerated in a nuclear conflagration. This fact has been cited as vindication of the U.S. government's decision to amass a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons during the Cold War, and it is still used today to justify retention of that arsenal.

  Mutually assured destruction, or MAD, is a military doctrine based on the strategy of deterrence. This doctrine states that a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two opposing sides would effectively result in the complete destruction of both the attacker and the defender. The theory here is that neither side, once armed, has any incentive either to initiate a conflict or disarm.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Alabama Policy Institute: In upcoming elections, one vote matters

  The Declaration of Independence states that to secure certain unalienable rights, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...." Likewise, the Alabama Constitution notes "[t]hat all political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority...." Sadly, the powers of modern government seem to be derived from the silence of the majority rather than their consent.

  In 2008, about 131,144,000 citizens, or 43% of the country, voted in the presidential race to decide who would represent 304,093,966 Americans. President Barack Obama's win by 52.9% of the vote essentially reflected the affirmative consent of less than a quarter of the United States' population (22.8%).

Thursday, August 9, 2012

John Thibault: Congress deserves a D, but my congressman gets an A!

  According to a recent poll the job performance rating of Congress continues to reflect a very low 7% positive job approval score. Why is that?

  Why do we accept such poor performance? Do we think if they did more, worked harder, longer, smarter, they'd get a better result?

  Do we want Congress to be more productive and pass more laws with more pages? Even now we learn that Dodd-Frank has 5,320 pages covering 400 new regulations. ObamaCare was a 2,700-page bill and so far has 13,000 pages of new regulations. Or do we want Congress to undo some of the old laws that we no longer like? Would we prefer Congress respond to issues that we think are important? Or did we elect our member to vote the way he or she wants?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Bentley introduces GARVEE

  The second regular legislative session of the quadrennium ended a few months ago with a plethora of legislation. It was not quite as prolific as last year, but pretty close. However, it was just as conservative as the first. This group may not be deliberative but they are very focused, efficient and productive.

  Gov. Bentley does not appear to be leading the parade. Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh are the ringleaders. They call the shots in the House and Senate. Bentley is generally on the same page and serves primarily as a cheerleader for the show.

  This is not your old-timey George Wallace rodeo. Wallace called all of the plays in the legislature from his office on the first floor of the Capitol. He would call the House and Senate Rules Committee Chairmen down to his office every morning to give them the playbook. They would dance to whatever tune the “Fighting Little Judge” would call.

Monday, August 6, 2012

David L. Hudson, Jr.: Four lack standing to challenge federal hate-crimes law

  Three Christian ministers and an anti-homosexuality advocate lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of a federal hate-crimes law, a federal appeals court has ruled.

  Gary Glenn, who heads the American Family Association of Michigan, and Michigan pastors Levon Yuille, Rene B. Ouellette and James Combs contended that the 2009 federal law violated the First Amendment because it could subject them to prosecution for their religious-based speech against homosexuality.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Michael Josephson: Democracy - respectful discourse

  One quality of our democracy is that every citizen is a public official. Thus, the passionate advocacy of political convictions is not only a right, it’s a patriotic obligation.

  What worries me, however, is the tendency of many basically good people to be overcome with self-righteous certainty that they’re right and that those who disagree with them are wrong.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gene Policinski: Cities should keep hands off Chick-fil-A

  You and I are free to agree or disagree openly with the president of the Chick-fil-A fast-food chain over his public statements against gay marriage. The First Amendment protects his and our right to express our views.

  But when government officials take sides, they walk a much finer line between protected expression of personal views and the implication — if not open threat — of government punishment for free speech.

  Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press last week, in response to a question, that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.” In a later radio interview, he went further: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’”