Saturday, June 29, 2013

Joshua Field: Creating a federal right to vote

  This week the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a vital piece of legislation that was widely hailed as the nation’s most effective civil rights law. Shelby County, Alabama, had challenged the law, arguing that it was unconstitutional to require “covered” states and localities with a history of voter discrimination to get permission or “preclearance” from a federal court or the Justice Department before changing voting procedures.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Gene Policinski: Arresting journalists-at-work is a double-negative

  Government surveillance of news media operations ranging from The Associated Press to Fox News has made national headlines for more than month now.

  But there’s an ongoing government-press conflict that also is important in its effect on journalists’ ability to gather news and report to the rest of us, and to the proper role of a free press under the First Amendment.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cameron Smith: Voting Rights Act’s extraordinary remedy requires modern application

  For decades, the Voting Rights Act has prevented changes to election laws in certain states and jurisdictions until those changes have either been approved by the Department of Justice or upheld in a lawsuit before the United States District Court of the District of Columbia.

  On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court struck down the formula under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which is used to determine which states and jurisdictions are subject to the Act’s pre-clearance requirements. The Court’s ruling leaves intact the vast majority of the Voting Rights Act, including provisions permitting the federal government to challenge racially discriminatory laws.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Andrew Cray and Crosby Burns: Two victories for marriage equality at the Supreme Court

  Today the Supreme Court delivered two historic rulings impacting the rights of marriage for same-sex couples.

  In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court held that Dennis Hollingsworth, the head of, did not have the authority to appeal a district court decision striking down California’s Proposition 8. Proposition 8, passed in 2008, stripped thousands of same-sex couples of the right to marry the person they love. Though today’s decision poses a number of questions, it appears that the district court’s order prohibiting the state from enforcing Proposition 8 will stand. This means that marriage equality will once again return to California.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Becoming VOCAL

  Five days before Christmas in 1976 a beautiful, bright Birmingham-Southern coed named Quenette Shehane was going to a convenience store near her home close to the campus in Birmingham. She was making a quick trip to get salad dressing to go with the steaks she and her boyfriend were cooking at his fraternity house. Quenette never made it back. She was kidnapped from the store parking lot. Her body was found the next day.

  After several years of anguish and justice system logjams, Quenette’s murderers were found and finally tried. One was executed nearly 14 years after the crime. Another was sentenced to life in prison and the third was also sentenced to life in prison but without the possibility of parole.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Richard W. Caperton and Daniel J. Weiss: Moving forward on reducing carbon pollution

  “This is the global threat of our time. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work.” – President Barack Obama, June 19, 2013

  President Obama knows that climate change is the defining challenge of our time and his presidency. Early in his administration, he committed to putting the United States on a path to reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change. This commitment—made in Copenhagen in 2009—is a pledge by the United States to reduce its greenhouse-gas pollution to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The president took significant actions during his first term to fulfill that promise, and news reports indicate that on Tuesday he will announce the most important step in this effort: reducing carbon pollution from power plants.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sheldon Richman: National servitude

  To make citizens, we must facilitate the shared experiences that cultivate civic pride and responsibility.

  This should mean a period of full-time national service as a rite of passage for every young American, ages 18 to 28. Such service could be military or civilian. Young adults could choose the Army or Peace Corps, Marine Corps or AmeriCorps, the Navy or VISTA.

  So exhort John Bridgeland and Alan Khazei, co-chairs of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, writing at Politico under the title “National Service Is Key to National Strength.”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sam Fulwood III: Witness to whiteness

  Nora Howell thinks deeply about what it means to be white in America.

  She’s spent much of her adult life wrestling with terms such as “privilege,” “responsibility,” “fear,” and “opportunity,” as they relate to people and race in this nation. Now, at age 26, she’s surrendered to exploring themes of what whiteness means in her life by making performance-based art and by teaching art in inner-city schools in Baltimore.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Katherine Robertson: Accountability Act provides incentives, tools for failing schools

  The State Superintendent of Education has released the names of 78 Alabama schools that are now designated as ‘failing’ under the Alabama Accountability Act.  Under the Act, students who are enrolled in or assigned to these schools will now have the opportunity to transfer to a non-failing public school or non-public school should they choose to do so. Administrators and instructors who found their schools on the list have understandably expressed displeasure and argue that the school will have a difficult time improving with less student revenue due to transfers.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Charles C. Haynes: Ban on “gruesome images” threatens free speech

  For those of us who worry about the vitality of free speech in the “land of the free,” the news last week wasn’t good.

  On June 10, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a Colorado appeals court decision banning anti-abortion activists from displaying “gruesome images” of mutilated fetuses that might be seen by children.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Closing the online sales tax loophole

  Alabama’s beleaguered budgets could receive some relief if congress passes legislation to allow states to collect the online sales taxes due them.

  These are not new taxes. They are taxes being avoided and are already owed. It is simply a basic fairness issue. It is not fair that retail stores, who build buildings and hire employees, are made to collect sales taxes while hotline online companies are not required to collect these taxes owed to Alabama.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tom Kenworthy: Fracking can strain U.S. water supplies

  As the level of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in the United States has intensified in recent years, much of the mounting public concern has centered on fears that underground water supplies could be contaminated with the toxic chemicals used in the well-stimulation technique that cracks rock formations and releases trapped oil and gas. But in some parts of the country, worries are also growing about fracking’s effect on the water supply, as the water-intensive process stirs competition for the resources already stretched thin by drought or other factors.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Gene Policinski: When free speech is shouted down

  So how “free” is free speech, really?

  By law, under the First Amendment, speech is very free. Government can only stop us from speaking, or punish us for what we’ve said, under very limited circumstances.

  Sometimes, those limits on free speech are pretty clear and generally agreed upon. For example, speech that is involved in a criminal act like extortion or blackmail finds no shelter in the First Amendment.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cameron Smith: Government data grab: Privacy and the PRISM

  Last week The Guardian released a classified order from the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requiring Verizon to hand over a massive amount of information about their phone customers. According to Senator Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the PRISM program used to sweep up massive amounts of information has been in operation since 2007.

  Subsequently The Washington Post released a classified slide show about the PRISM program which identified major participant companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Michael Josephson: What your checkbook and calendar say about your values

  If I wanted to check your credit worthiness, I’d look at your balance sheet – what you have and what you owe – and I’d want to know about your history of paying your debts. If I wanted to know your values, I’d look at your calendar and checkbook.

  How come? Well, the term “values” refers to core beliefs and convictions that drive decisions. Our values are revealed not by what we say but by what we do.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sally Steenland: God versus godless—a false choice

  Depending on which pundits you follow, America is either a nation that’s drenched in religion and hostile to nonbelievers, or a severely secular place that hates people of faith. On either side you’ll find plenty of examples to support your claim.

  You may be convinced that we’re becoming a theocracy, pointing to religion’s steady intrusion into public policies in the fields of science, public health, and foreign aid, just to name a few. Add to that the stigma many atheists claim to face, and it’s clear that America is on the verge of dumping the Constitution and making the Bible its governing document.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Will 2013 legislative actions help or hinder 2014 reelection bids?

  The 2013 legislative session is now history. The super Republican majority has continued their conservative march to the sea leaving dissident Democrats in disarray the way Sherman left Atlanta.

  A cloture petition leaving very little room for debate accompanies each semi controversial measure. Most legislation is decided on by the House or Senate leadership in a cloakroom. The governor is kept abreast but he is not leading the parade. That is not to say that the governor is being ignored or run over. He is on the same page with 90% of the issues. They are all singing out of the same hymnbook. These folks are not RINOs. They are real Republicans.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gene Policinski: Second try at a shield law echoes the first

  An irony of timing twice has put U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning in the headlines at critical moments in gaining congressional approval of a federal shield law that would protect journalists and their confidential sources.

  On Capitol Hill, there’s new-found  White House support and congressional action behind  proposals to for the first time provide legal means in federal courts for journalists to keep secret their confidential sources and unpublished information. President Obama called for passage of federal shield law in the wake of two controversies in May involving Department of Justice moves to seize journalists’ phone record, e-mail and other data.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Katherine Robertson: Obama seeks to transform nation’s second highest court

  This week, President Obama nominated three judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often viewed as the second highest court in America. Confirmation of these nominees would mark a substantial shift in the ideology of this powerful court that would likely last for decades. Currently, there are 14 sitting D.C. Circuit Court judges, eight of which are active and six of which are on senior status. Of the eight active judges, four are Republican appointees and four are Democrat. If President Obama’s nominees are seated, the Democrats would gain a 7-4 margin in active D.C. Circuit judges.

Friday, June 7, 2013

5 Myths about military sexual assault

  On Tuesday the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Judge Advocate Generals of the Armed Forces testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on various proposals to combat sexual assault in the military. Testimony was offered in the wake of the release of the Defense Department’s annual report showing that despite the military’s efforts to ramp up sexual assault prevention programs in recent years, rates of sexual assault in the military climbed by 34 percent between 2010 and 2012. A total of 26,000 service members are estimated to have experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012 compared to 19,300 in 2010. Moreover, less than 3 out of every 100 estimated sexual assaults in the military in 2012 were ever prosecuted—a shockingly low percentage that has shown no sign of improvement.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Daren Bakst: The Costly and outdated farm bill

  Congress is once again taking up the farm bill - and continuing to treat agriculture like it was 1933, not 2013. The result: billions of taxpayer dollars going to waste.

  This is unacceptable. It's time for lawmakers to make reforms that reflect the reality of modern-day agriculture.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Charles C. Haynes: Legislative prayers, the Supreme Court’s self-created quagmire

  When the U.S. Supreme Court declared legislative prayers constitutional 30 years ago, the justices sent a convoluted message to legislatures, city councils and other government bodies:

  You may open your sessions with prayer, a tradition that dates back to the founding of the Republic. But don’t exploit the prayer opportunity “to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief.” (Marsh v. Chambers, 1983)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: When businessmen take over

  The 2013 legislative session has come to an end. Our legislature, both the House and Senate, is Republican controlled. In fact, both chambers have super Republican majorities. They were elected in 2010. Therefore, this is the third year of their four-year reign. The GOP holds about a two to one advantage in both the upper and lower chambers. This will more than likely remain the same after the 2014 elections.

  These GOP lawmakers have left an indelible conservative mark on state government and public policy. Their reactionary philosophy has resonated on both social and budgetary matters. Perhaps they are a reflection of the state. My perception is that they are an accurate mirror of their constituency. Their actions over the past three years have not only been conservative, they have been decisive and functional.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Michael Josephson: We expect more of adults

  Although 11-year-old Mark wasn’t much of an athlete, his dad urged him to play youth baseball. Mark liked to play, but he was hurt by the remarks of teammates and spectators whenever he struck out or dropped a ball. Just before the fourth game of the season, Mark told his dad he didn’t want to go. “I’m no good,” he said, “and everyone knows it.”

  His father urged him to stick with it. “Just do your best,” he said. “That’s all anyone can ask. Your best is good enough.”

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Following the money in four Alabama city governments

  Since the beginning of the Great Recession, cities across the United States have struggled to keep their municipal budgets in the black, balancing rising costs for healthcare, energy and pensions while facing reductions in revenues. Some of Alabama’s municipalities are healthy enough to quickly rebound once the need for fiscal belt tightening ends. For others, the economic woes of the past five years are part of a never-ending string of financial crises. It is often hard for the average person to tell whether their hometown is trying to right-size itself in a sluggish economy or if its economic woes are symptomatic of more serious problems.