Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Show us the money

  As the world turns in Alabama politics, the 2013 legislative session is in the stretch run. The waning days will see the final passage of the 2014 budgets, which will begin in October.

  The most controversial and pivotal issue of the session is the infamous Accountability Act. It has sent the legislative session into an acrimonious partisan stalemate. To review the scenario, Republicans came forward with a controversial eight-page Education Flexibility Bill, which gave local school boards the option to opt out of strict state educational requirements. However, when the bill went to a conference committee, it grew into a 28-page bill that was completely different. It became a full-fledged voucher bill which allows a $3,500 tax credit to parents who choose to send their children to private schools.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sheldon Richman: Liberty, security and terrorism

  “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  It would be nice if Benjamin Franklin’s famous aphorism were as widely believed as it is quoted. I doubt that Sen. Lindsey Graham and his ilk would express disagreement, but one cannot really embrace Franklin’s wisdom while also claiming that “the homeland is the battlefield.” (The very word homeland should make Americans queasy.)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Michael Josephson: Eight laws of leadership

  Take a look around. Business, education, politics…. If there’s one thing we don’t have enough of, it’s good leaders – men and women who have the vision and the ability to change things for the better.

  Former Air Force General William Cohen wrote a fine book called The Stuff of Heroes in which he identified eight laws of leadership. Here are his rules:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Scott Lilly: Whack-a-Mole budgeting

  The preposterous legislative sideshow taking place around sequestration gives a pretty clear picture of how little the people who were elected to run the government actually know about it.

  Exactly four days after long-anticipated sequester furloughs began for air-traffic controllers, Congress decided the furloughs were not such a good idea after all. It also decided that perhaps it wasn’t a problem caused by an administrator trying to showboat the evils of across-the-board cuts but in fact a problem with the legislation that the members of Congress had crafted themselves—legislation directing that across-the-board cuts be taken from each program, project and activity within the $7.5 billion appropriated for air-traffic operations.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Andrew Kinnaird: Incentives for tax system changes

  April 18th was Tax Freedom Day for 2013.  On average, all income earned prior to April 18th went to pay federal, state and local taxes. This means that Americans were solely working for the government for the first 4.5 months of this year.

  In 2011 alone, 145,579,530 federal individual tax returns were filed. The U.S. Treasury estimates business and individual taxpayers together spent 6.1 billion hours, that’s 696,347 years’ worth of work, complying with tax law in 2011 alone. In light of the fact the tax code is 73,608 pages long, that time frame makes sense. Of course, the word “comply” is used very loosely here. Few know exactly what blanks to fill in with what information and what amounts to add and subtract.  The enormity and complexity of the tax code is overwhelming. Many recognize the pitfalls of the current system and offer feasible alternatives, yet the only changes seem to be even more additions to the tax code.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sally Steenland: Advocates continue efforts to prevent gun violence

  It’s time to bring back public shaming. I’m not saying that we should throw people in the stocks and humiliate them in the public square, but we should force the senators who voted last week against sensible measures to reduce gun violence to answer for their vote.

  It’s long past time to amplify how cowardly and antidemocratic their votes were—how irresponsible to their office, insulting to those killed and injured by gun violence, and craven to a cadre of gun-industry lobbyists, whose extreme opposition to common-sense gun laws contrasts with the 88 percent of gun owners in this country who support universal background checks.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Misbehavin’

  As the 2013 regular legislative session winds down, let us review some highlights.

  One of the highlights was a lowlight. It did not happen on the floor of the House but late at night at a Mobile legislator’s home while he was on his computer responding to emails. The email he responded to was a generic letter sent by a man in Jefferson County to all members of the legislature. It was not even intended specifically for Rep. Joseph Mitchell.

  Eddie Maxwell, a white, retired, Jefferson County coal miner sent a benign innocent letter to all members of the legislature urging all 140 members not to pass any laws that would restrict gun ownership. Maxwell sent his mass email to all state legislators at 10:54 p.m. on January 27. Rep. Joseph Mitchell responded from his Alabama House email account at 11:59 p.m. and boy did he respond.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jesse C. Moore: Should the United States subsidize fossil fuel companies?

  The world needs a reliable supply of energy. To ensure that, many countries have granted subsidies and tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to help develop energy resources. However, with the concern over our carbon emissions and over the economic crises that many countries are facing, the wisdom of continuing those subsidies needs to be examined. The fossil fuel companies are now quite profitable. The five most profitable companies in the United States are Ford ($20 billion), Microsoft ($23.2 billion), Apple ($25.9 billion), Chevron ($26.9 billion), and Exxon Mobil ($41.1 billion). The two most profitable companies are oil companies with Exxon Mobil greatly exceeding the profitability of the other four.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

David A. Bergeron: Moving away from credit hours in higher education

  The credit hour is currently the basic unit of measurement for student progress in higher education in the United States. The credit hour informs aspects of administration of higher-education institutions throughout the United States, including establishing teaching loads and graduation requirements, and is the basic structural unit of most college-level courses as well as the basis for federal student aid.

  Despite this fact, the term was formally undefined until 2010 when the U.S. Department of Education reluctantly defined a credit hour as the amount of work associated with intended learning outcomes that can be verified with evidence of student achievement.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Charles C. Haynes: No flowers for gay wedding: Discrimination or religious freedom?

  Imagine Robert Ingersoll’s hurt and humiliation last month when his local florist refused to do the flower arrangements for his wedding to Curt Freed, his partner of nine years.

  As longtime customers of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, Ingersoll and Freed had mistakenly assumed that shop owner Barronelle Stutzman would be happy to provide the service.

  But also imagine the pain Stutzman felt at having to turn down a friend and neighbor. Here’s how she described the awkward scene to KEPR-TV:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sam Fulwood III: The American media diet

  My cyber-friend Eric Garland, whom I wrote about late last year, recently undertook an intriguing experiment. He eschewed U.S.-based English-language mass media for a week and replaced it with news from around the globe that was written, produced, and/or broadcast in languages that are foreign to most Americans and targeted to a public beyond our shores.

  Garland, a writer who focuses on future trends, is one of the smartest people I’ve come across. He’s something of a Renaissance man: the author of three books, an in-demand orator, and a groovy bass player. He also travels the world and studies global cultures and languages, including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Japanese.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The Medicaid elephant in the room

  As the 2013 regular legislative session winds down, the continuing saga of balancing the beleaguered General Fund Budget will be issue number one.

  As legislators wrestle to finalize the General Fund Budget the obvious complementary dilemma that confronts lawmakers is what to do about Medicaid. The growth and expansion of Medicaid is the number one problem facing the General Fund and state government. One thing is for certain, Medicaid will continue to be problem number one when it comes to crafting and balancing Alabama’s budget.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gary Palmer: A Tribute to Margaret Thatcher

  “All beginnings are hopeful.”

  That’s what the principal of Somerville College, Oxford said to the students who arrived there in 1944. That statement made a lasting impression on Margaret Roberts, who would become Great Britain’s only female prime minister and rank among Britain’s greatest leaders.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Michael Josephson: Coaching for character

  I’ve spent lots of time with some of the world’s most successful coaches. I discovered that many of them think about character a lot, especially traits that are important to winning – like self-discipline, perseverance, resiliency, and courage. They pay less attention to virtues like honesty, integrity, responsibility, compassion, respect, and fairness – aspects of character that make a good person, citizen, spouse, or parent.

  The problem is that, even at the amateur level, many coaches are hired and paid to win, not to build character. Unless it interferes with performance, to worry about the kind of person an athlete is off the field is a waste of time.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gene Policinski: How not to protect religious liberty

  Here’s a quick primer on a recent proposal by two North Carolina legislators to permit the state to designate a state religion:

  First, the North Carolina Speaker of the House effectively killed the proposal one day after it was filed, saying it “will not advance” to a committee hearing.

  Second, even if enacted, it would not survive constitutional scrutiny under existing Supreme Court decisions.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Michael Linden: The President’s budget is another attempt to reach a fiscal deal

  President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget is unlike any previous presidential budget request in recent history. It is not a statement of the president’s vision for the federal budget. It does not represent what he thinks is the best course of action for spending, taxation, and broader federal fiscal policy. It is not, in short, his preferred budget plan. Rather, for the first time ever, it is a preemptive compromise budget.

  It includes more than $1 trillion in additional spending cuts, on top of the $1.9 trillion that the president has already accepted and signed into law. It includes significant changes to entitlement programs, as well as further cuts to a portion of the budget that was already cut down to historic lows. And it includes far less new revenue than the president has called for in the past. All told, President Obama’s compromise budget would raise less revenue and set government spending at approximately the same levels as the much-ballyhooed bipartisan plan proposed by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles in 2010. By that standard, the president’s compromise budget is to the right of Simpson-Bowles.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Who will they target next?

  The 2013 Legislative Session is heading into the homestretch. Balancing the State General Fund Budget will again be the paramount problem this year as they put the final pieces of the puzzle together. It is apparent that there is not enough revenue to meet the basic needs of state government.

  The governor and the legislature have adamantly declared that they will oppose any new tax increase measures. It is obvious to even the most casual observer that this cavalier ostrich approach cannot prevail forever. If the state survives until after the 2014 election, when the governor and legislature will not have to run on a no new tax pledge, what new revenue sources will be on the table?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jacob G. Hornberger: The National-security state, not North Korea, is the root of our woes

  In the current crisis with North Korea, what you see coming out of the mainstream media is the same mindset that characterizes the Pentagon and the CIA. The communists are engaging in provocation and threats of aggression and the U.S. national-security state, just minding its own business, now has to take the time and trouble to respond.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Charles C. Haynes: Ground Zero Cross: A display is not a shrine

  On March 28, a group of atheists in New York lost round one in their legal battle to keep the “Ground Zero Cross” out of the National September 11 Museum in lower Manhattan.

  Federal Judge Deborah Batts ruled that the object – two steel beams in the shape of a cross that survived the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 – may be displayed in the memorial museum without violating the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. (American Atheists, Inc. v. Port Authority of NY and NJ).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Melissa Boteach: House budget cuts to nutrition assistance are bad for the economy

  The House Republican budget for fiscal year 2014 proposes converting the nation’s bedrock nutrition-assistance program into a capped block grant to the states that would result in approximately $125 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. Forcing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to become a block grant, in addition to the extra $10 billion in cuts to the program within the budget proposal, could result in up to 12 million to 13 million people—mainly children, seniors, and people with disabilities—losing their nutrition aid.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cameron Smith: The AEA is only one perspective in Alabama education

  After years of the status quo in public education, the Alabama Legislature and Governor Bentley enacted the Alabama Accountability Act to create alternative public education options for students trapped in Alabama’s worst schools. But over the past several weeks, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) has waged an all-out war against the Accountability Act through telephone robocalls, radio ads and newspapers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sally Steenland: The Dark side of ‘Bright Young Things’

  The other day I saw a little girl—probably no older than 6 or 7 years old—dressed in a vinyl leopard-print miniskirt, a skinny hot pink tank top, and platform shoes. She was holding the hand of a woman who appeared to be her mother, who was wearing jeans, an oversized t-shirt, and running shoes. The mom looked like a tourist. The little girl looked like a hooker.

  It’s not news that children are being sexualized at younger and younger ages or that marketers see the youth population as ripe to exploit. Recently Victoria’s Secret’s PINK brand came under fire for allegedly targeting teen girls in its ad campaign for “Bright Young Things”—an underwear line whose bikini panties say things such as “call me” on the front and “wild” on the back.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The crux of low taxes

  As the Alabama Legislature wrestles with the crafting of next year’s budget the perennial issue of whether to cut vital services or raise new revenue is debated.

  A study released late last year revealed that state and local governments in Alabama collect less tax dollars than any other state, with the exception of Idaho. This ranking of income means Alabamians have fewer tax dollars to spend on schools, police, roads and all government services than 48 other states.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Michael Josephson: Establishing a culture of kindness

  Though intensive media attention on bullying has died down, the problem persists in many forms, and it continues to diminish the lives of tens of thousands of young people every day. According to a recent survey, roughly half of all high school students said that in the past year they were bullied in a manner that seriously upset them. A similar number said they had bullied someone else.

  That’s an awful lot of meanness.