Saturday, November 30, 2013

Katherine Green Robertson: Federal government backs down on obstruction of school choice

  In 2008, under the leadership of Governor Bobby Jindal, Louisiana launched an educational scholarship program in New Orleans. The Louisiana Scholarship Program, similar to Alabama’s new scholarship program created by the Accountability Act, is designed to provide low-income students zoned for underperforming schools with opportunities to attend qualified private schools within the state. In 2012, Governor Jindal prioritized expansion of the program which is now available to students anywhere in the State. Over 5,000 students took advantage of the program in its first year.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Ianta Summers: Working to stay poor

  I have a friend who works at Foot Locker—the successful international retail chain of more than 3,300 stores—who is struggling to make ends meet.

  He’s an assistant manager at a store in a suburb of Washington, D.C. He told me he earns $7.55 an hour for a 40-hour work week. In addition, he said he gets a twp percent commission on sales, discounts on in-store purchases, stock options, and health care. My friend does well, selling dozens of pairs of sneakers every pay period that cost as much as $250 each. But even if those benefits seem generous, when his check reaches his pocket, he doesn’t have enough money to support himself—or a family.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Robert Wilkerson: Thanksgiving controversy

  For the first time I can remember, there is a controversy going on over Thanksgiving. In the past, Thanksgiving has been set aside as a special day for God and family. In relation to God, it has been a time to thank Him for His goodness and mercy, and to count our blessings. In relation to family, it has been a time for family, near and far, to come together to express love for each other, and to enjoy a delicious meal.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: South Alabama political shuffle

  The political spotlight has been focused on Mobile for most of this year. They had a historical and sensational mayor’s race that ended in early fall. It resulted in a new mayor - Sandy Stimpson. Incumbent mayor Sam Jones lost to Stimpson after eight years in office.

  Although mayors do not run under partisan labels, it was a classic Republican versus Democrat race. Stimpson is a wealthy white businessman. Mayor Jones is the classic African American Democratic politician. Both men are in their 60s and have been successful in their careers. Stimpson will approach running the port city in an open and businesslike fashion. He defeated Jones with a plan that always works in politics. He outspent him and, more importantly, he outworked him.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sally Steenland: Business and belief

  According to Gallup pollsters, more than 9 in 10 Americans believe in God. It follows, then, that religious people own many businesses in this country. They might be Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Jewish, Mormon, Christian Scientist, Quaker, Muslim, Buddhist, or something else.

  Depending on his or her religion, the boss might believe that gambling is a sin; that prayer cures illness; that war is always wrong; or that gay people are condemned to hell. Their employees, however, are likely to hold different beliefs. In fact, given our nation’s diversity, a vast mix of faiths and philosophies can be found in America’s workplaces—increasingly including no religious belief at all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cameron Smith: Measuring the Affordable Care Act’s problem-solving progress

  Health care reform has dominated the political landscape since the early months of 2009 when President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate began to draft what would ultimately become the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in March of 2010.

  The President has conceded that the implementation of the PPACA has not gone as planned. Delays, significant technology issues, the Supreme Court’s modification of the law’s Medicaid provisions, and a host of other challenges have plagued the PPACA. Most recently, the President and supporters of the PPACA have come under intense scrutiny regarding whether or not the supporters of the law misled the American people about their ability to keep their preferred health insurance as the law takes effect.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sarah Ayres: Why Congress must extend emergency unemployment benefits

  Since 2008, federal lawmakers have provided extra weeks of unemployment benefits for Americans who want a job but cannot find one—a group that totals 11.3 million people today. Recognizing that unemployment rates have remained high since the start of the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, Congress has repeatedly enacted legislation to extend these benefits. Under the most recent extension, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, emergency unemployment benefits will expire at the end of 2013. But extending emergency unemployment benefits will prevent 3.1 million Americans from being cut off from benefits in the coming months and will lead to the creation of 310,000 additional jobs next year. Maintaining these benefits is the right thing to do for the U.S. economy and for the families who rely on unemployment insurance to pay their bills.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Robert Wilkerson: "Entitlement" is not a dirty word

  The word "entitlement" is not a dirty word. Although certain individuals and political parties have tried to convince us that it is. The word simply means "a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract."

  Programs designed to aid and assist needy Americans began with President Theodore Roosevelt, and they were added, or expanded, by several presidents following him as need dictated. They were created to help alleviate the suffering and distress among needy people who, due to no fault of their own (old age, disability, etc.), could not work. They were never for those who could work, but would not!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sam Fulwood III: Is white supremacy making a comeback?

  In almost every discussion of race in this country—whether private conversations among friends and family or public debates between political antagonists—those engaged tend to talk past one another. Passions often displace reason; facts disappear like smoke in the wind, blown aside in the rhetoric of extreme beliefs.

  Who among us, having lived any appreciable time in the United States, lacks an awareness of our nation’s intractable racial frictions? And, after rubbing against the rough edges, who eschews the seemingly hard-wired opinions shared by peers of the racial others?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Michael Josephson: The peculiar concept of “ethics laws”

  Cynicism about the ethics of elected officials may be at an all-time high, continually fueled by new stories of outright corruption or bad judgment. At every level of government there are politicians who can’t seem to recognize or resist conflicts of interest, inappropriate gifts, improper use of the power or property entrusted to them, or the discrediting impact of shameful private conduct.

  Thus, it’s no surprise that news media are continually shining light on real and perceived improprieties and putting the heat on federal, state, and city legislatures to pass new and tougher ethics laws to restore public trust.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Effect of childhood vaccine exemptions on disease outbreaks

  Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective and successful public health interventions. Each year, vaccines save an estimated 6 million to 9 million lives worldwide, including the lives of 3 million children. In the United States, vaccinations have decreased most vaccine-preventable childhood diseases by more than 95 percent. Vaccines have minimized or eliminated outbreaks of certain diseases that were once lethal to large numbers of people, including measles and polio in the United States and smallpox worldwide. But because the bacteria and viruses that cause diseases still exist, the public health gains achieved through vaccines can only be maintained by ensuring that vaccination rates remain high enough to prevent outbreaks.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Adam Hersh: Most new jobs don’t pay a middle-class wage

  Last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data about the October employment situation that show the surprising resilience of U.S. labor markets—even as extreme conservatives in Congress risked economic calamity by hijacking the political debate. The U.S. economy added 204,000 net new jobs in October, even with the loss of 12,000 federal workers from the public service. Although the government shutdown disrupted administration of these economic surveys, the data do not appear to be systematically affected, according to the BLS.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jacob G. Hornberger: The cause of our violent and drug-ridden society

  We Americans live in a violent society, one in which there are lots of homicides, family abuse, mass murders of people, and other acts of violence.

  We also live in a drug-ridden society. The war on drugs has been an absolute failure when it comes to dissuading Americans from using drugs. The number of people taking illicit drugs has to be inordinately high. Otherwise there would be no reason to continue the drug war. Add to that the countless Americans suffering from alcoholism. And now the feds are cracking down on prescription drug abuse, given the large numbers of Americans moving in that direction.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Targeting underage drinking

  In recent years, there has been significant emphasis on warning people about the dangers of texting and driving and rightfully so. The number of accidents caused by texting is alarming. However, the primary culprit for accidents among young people is still due to underage drinking.

  Surveys reveal that 40 percent of Alabama students in grades 9-12 have had one or more drinks within the past month. By age 18 more than 17 percent of teens have taken a drink of alcohol. In Alabama 41 percent of young people ages 18-20, still illegal drinkers, say they have engaged in dangerous binge drinking. The measure for binge drinking is when they have at least five drinks on the same occasion. Among all college students, 61 percent are drinkers and 40 percent are binge drinkers. Again, most of these college students are under age 21 so they are illegal drinkers as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Robert Wilkerson: Veterans Day: Crossing out war

  Armistice Day, which was first celebrated on November 11, 1918, was changed to Veterans Day when our government passed a bill to that effect on June 2, 1954. Originally, it was a celebration of the ending of World War I, but today it commemorates the service of those who fought in all wars. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could cross out war?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Laurence M. Vance: A flood of government intervention

  Some Americans are outraged at the federal government for reasons other than the recent government shutdown.

  No, they are not outraged because the National Science Foundation is funding the development of card games, videos and other educational programs "to engage adult learners and inform public understanding and response to climate change" through the $5.7 million Polar Learning and Responding (PoLAR) project. No, they are not outraged because the National Institutes of Health gave $1.5 million to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to "study biological and social factors for why ‘three-quarters’ of lesbians are obese and why gay males are not." And no, they are not outraged because of any of the top 100 "wasteful and low priority government spending" documented in Senator Tom Coburn’s "Wastebook."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Eric Alterman: The super-rich and their monster

  As Ian Reifowitz of the Daily Kos pointed out, an article in The New York Times’s business section shows that our tax system has been successfully gamed to the point where the wealthiest Americans pay a much smaller percentage of their income than salaried, middle-class taxpayers. Using 2009 IRS data—the most recent available—America’s top 400 earners, who take in an average adjusted gross income of more than $200 million, paid less than 20 percent of those princely sums to the tax man. Those who only made it into the top 1 percent of earners—a few of whom earn as little as $344,000—paid 24 percent.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cameron Smith: The confounding southern conservative

  In the South, political perspectives are as likely to be shaped by conversation between friends at the corner store as they are by The Washington Post or CNN. Most of us who take the time to vote make the decision based on the information at our disposal, cast our vote at the polls, and move on with our lives. The choice belongs to us, and we know our interests better than anyone else.

  Or do we?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The Armed Forces' impact on Alabama

  Alabama is without a doubt one of the most heavily laden military employee states in the union. In fact, if you took the federal military employment and automobile manufacturing employment out of Alabama we would be decimated.

  When the federal furloughs occurred recently it had a profound effect on Alabama. When the furloughs hit more than 20,000 Alabama workers, mostly civilians, were affected.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Emily Oshima Lee: The costs of delaying the individual mandate

  Despite lower-than-expected premiums for plans in insurance exchanges, major technological issues with the website are frustrating consumers who are trying to compare and enroll in a health plan. As a result, some members of Congress have called for a one-year delay of the individual mandate to purchase health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. Thousands of Americans, however, have already successfully enrolled in plans through state-based exchanges, making such a delay unnecessary and harmful. Although the administration must continue to urgently repair the federally facilitated exchange website, a one-year delay of the mandate would undermine the success of state-based exchanges and harm millions of Americans, resulting in significantly more uninsured individuals and more costly premiums for consumers in plans both in and out of exchanges.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Robert Wilkerson: Do the right thing, Governer Bentley

  Some of us in our comfortable homes, with our nice cars, and our balanced household budgets may not know it, but thousands of people in Alabama are poor and needy. Thousands don’t have health insurance; therefore, many will suffer, and some will die.

  Their suffering can be helped. The U.S. Government has recognized their needs and made large sums of money available for them through a real sweetheart of a deal. Alabama can get $1.5 billion each year for 2014, 2015, and 2016 without paying anything. Starting in 2016, the state would only pay 10 percent. The money is available to help over 300,000 needy women and children through the expansion of the Alabama Medicaid Program, which will be funded by the Affordable Care Act.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sheldon Richman: Inflation is the last thing we need

  "Some economists say more inflation is just what the American economy needs to escape from a half-decade of sluggish growth and high unemployment," the New York Times reports.

  One is Harvard economist Kenneth S. Rogoff, quoted in the Times: "Weighed against the political, social and economic risks of continued slow growth after a once-in-a-century financial crisis, a sustained burst of moderate inflation is not something to worry about. It should be embraced." He favors an annual rate of 6 percent.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Eric Alterman: The Tea Party’s forebears are a movement of the rich

  It is an unfortunate irony of our age that describing academics’ work as "journalism" and journalists’ work as "history" risks insult to the respective authors. Each profession suffers tremendously from its prejudice against the other. Academics rarely write with sufficient clarity to communicate outside their specific disciplines and often neglect to draw useful conclusions, lest they be accused of overreaching their evidence; conversely, journalists rarely imbue their stories with sufficient context to reveal a situation’s underlying complexity. As a consequence, even relatively conscientious reporting can be misleading—often focusing to a fault on the "new" in "news."