Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: 2014 and beyond

  With each passing day it becomes less likely that Gov. Robert Bentley will get any serious opposition in his reelection bid. We are only five months away from the June 3, 2014 GOP primary. It would be very difficult for someone to mount a significant challenge to the popular incumbent in that time span.

  It also appears that Sen. Jeff Sessions and Attorney General Luther Strange will have smooth sailing towards their reelections. Young Boozer and John McMillan also appear to be headed towards reelection to second terms as Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sheldon Richman: Congress must not cede its war power to Israel

  The American people should know that pending right now in Congress is a bipartisan bill that would virtually commit the United States to go to war against Iran if Israel attacks the Islamic Republic. "The bill outsources any decision about resort to military action to the government of Israel," Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick wrote to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in protest, one of the bill’s principal sponsors.

  The mind boggles at the thought that Congress would let a foreign government decide when America goes to war, so here is the language (PDF):

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Michael Josephson: Make 2014 the best year ever

  I hope the past year will go down in your book of life as one filled with great pleasures and grand memories. But whether the year was good, bad, or indifferent, I hope you’ll enter the new year wiser and stronger for your experiences, and optimistic that the best is yet to come.

  A vital quality of a happy and successful personal and professional life is continual growth spurred by a commitment to learn through study and experience. This requires the humility to accept that however good you are you can get better and the ambition to be better.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Jacob G. Hornberger: Why federal spending continues to soar

  The Washington establishment, not surprisingly, is celebrating the budget deal that Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and Democrat Sen. Patty Murray reached. They’re calling it a great example of "bipartisanship."

  And why not? The deal calls for increases in federal spending, doesn’t it? What’s not to like about that, from the standpoint of the Washington establishment?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: A final salute

  As the year 2013 comes to an end, as is our custom, we will reminisce and remember some of the great names of Alabama politics that have passed away this year.

  Former Supreme Court Justice, John Tyson, passed away at 86 at his Montgomery home. Tyson was a revered, Montgomerian and a real gentleman. His best friend was Bubba Trotman of Montgomery. If I had to define the term Southern gentleman, Judge Tyson and Bubba Trotman epitomize this demeanor.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gene Policinski: Here are three ‘Duck Dynasty’ free-speech lessons

  Okay, America: Here’s a quick, basic course in the First Amendment:

  Lesson #1."Duck Dynasty"’s Phil Robertson has a First Amendment right to state his views on homosexuality, minorities and pretty much anything else on this unlikely reality-TV star’s mind, whenever he wants.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Michael Josephson: ‘Tis the season to be jolly — even while shopping

  People are not at their best in crowds. It’s as if every survival-of-the-fittest primordial instinct comes out to obliterate thousands of years of civilization. Pre-and post-holiday shopping, and the inevitable lines, test our character.

  My wife’s a professional shopper. She has strategies on where to park and how to find the fastest moving line (which I’ve discovered is not always the shortest). But what I admire most is her resolve not to let it get her down. In fact, this is her "good attitude Olympics."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Katherine Green Robertson: Food trucks hit speed bump at Birmingham City Council

  When you hear the phrase "burdensome regulations," what comes to mind? The U.S. EPA’s endless list of red-tape and hefty compliance costs or the thousands of pages of onerous regulations contained in the Affordable Care Act? Especially in business, regulatory burdens are synonymous with federal agencies; yet, for small businesses and independent citizens, some of the most oppressive regulations originate at the local level.

  This week, the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance that establishes a general operating permit fee for food trucks, creates "food zones" where trucks can set up, requires that the trucks be parked at least 150 feet from existing restaurants, and limits the hours of truck operation from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with some exceptions.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gene Policinski: When and why we need to hear 911 calls

  The word "restraint" and the First Amendment usually exist in uneasy tension.

  The 45 words of the First Amendment don’t include it. The Pentagon Papers case in 1971 settled the issue of "prior restraint" by the government on what the press may publish: Nothing doing.

  Many critics of the news media slam news outlets for a lack of it, from graphic TV images beamed live from car chases to unrestrained paparazzi photographers stalking celebrities. And in the digital age, whole new ethical controversies have arisen over images being captured and distributed via the ubiquitous presence of cell phone cameras.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sally Steenland: Love and work

  Here’s a puzzle: Many conservatives who praise marriage and its values of fidelity, protection, and commitment seem to forget those values when it comes to another institution that gives our life meaning—work.

  When it comes to marriage, for instance, many conservatives support state covenant laws that make it harder for couples to divorce by limiting the grounds on which they can do so. While opponents of covenant laws argue that they can be used to endanger domestic violence victims, many conservatives dismiss such claims as being more theoretical than real, arguing that laws that make it harder to dissolve the bonds of marriage are good for society.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The rise of ALFA

  When I went to the legislature in 1982 as a 30-year-old freshman, there were two powerful organizations. The Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) and the Alabama Education Association (AEA) were omnipotent. The Farmers Federation had prevailed as the King of Goat Hill for decades and probably going back to when Alabama became a state in 1901.

  You chose early which side you were on, either ALFA or AEA. It was almost like football in our state where you have to side either with Auburn or Alabama. My choice was easy. Being from a rural county and being a business person, I made my allegiance to ALFA.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Charles C. Haynes: Don’t worry, Santa, the ‘war on Christmas’ isn’t real

  When I read that 52% of American adults say they believe in Santa Claus (according to a survey from Public Policy Polling), I wasn’t surprised to learn in the same poll that 42% also believe there is a "war on Christmas."

  After all (spoiler alert), both are figments of the imagination.

  Belief in Santa, at least, perpetuates a spirit of joy and goodwill. But the "war on Christmas" narrative, by contrast, does little more than stir up anger and ill will.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jacob G. Hornberger: Unilaterally and immediatetly lift the Cuban embargo

  Much ado is being made about President Obama’s decision to shake hands with Cuban President Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service. People are wondering whether the handshake could be the start of a thaw in the fifty-year state of hostility between Cuba and the United States.

  To no one’s surprise, Cold War anti-communist dead-enders are objecting to Obama’s handshake, no doubt thinking that Obama might have been infected by communism, which the dead-enders are still convinced is a contagious malady that could easily be spread throughout America and the rest of the world. They’re saying that there should be no change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Budget agreement is imperfect, but a good first step

  Budgets are about choices. The budget agreement announced by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) makes plenty of choices—many of them good, others less so—but the sum total of their choices results in a package that moves the country in a positive direction. The Murray-Ryan deal would, for the time being, put the seemingly constant fiscal crises to rest and roll back some of the damaging austerity spending cuts that have been undermining the economic recovery.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Michael Josephson: Give good memories

  In a society preoccupied with the quest for material possessions, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our most valuable possessions are our best memories.

  Good memories are a form of wealth. They are not simply something we own, they become part of who we are. Through our memories we can literally re-live and re-experience past pleasures.

  So, if you want to give a gift that truly keeps on giving, use the opportunities of holiday gatherings to give good memories.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Robert Wilkerson: Don’t blow it, Bentley

  The best deal in history is being offered to Alabama to expand our Medicaid program. It is best for the needy, helping some 300,000 of Alabama’s lowest income people who have no healthcare coverage. It will prevent some from suffering and even death. It will help the unemployed by creating 30,000 jobs. It will help some Alabama hospitals that may be forced to close their doors due to too much uncompensated care. It will help Alabama’s economy generating over a $28 billion dollar increase in business activity from 2014 to 2020.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The year of the quitter

  The year 2013 could be called the year of the quitter in Alabama politics. We have seen some high profile and significant political resignations during the year.

  The parade of departures began with 1st District Congressman Jo Bonner. He served 10 years as the coastal Mobile/Baldwin Counties’ representative in Washington. He left Congress and doubled his congressional pay to take a position with the University of Alabama system.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Michael Josephson: Nelson Mandela’s inspiring example

  “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

— Nelson Mandela, at Walter Sisulu’s 90th birthday celebration, Johannesburg, May 18, 2002

  I am impressed and deeply moved by the universal wall-to-wall coverage of the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. He was a man of immense stature and influence. What’s important is that he was a very human man with strong passions who had used and was willing to use violence to advance his cause but he was so dedicated and disciplined that he made the choice to repress his resentment and anger in favor of forgiveness. It was a brilliant political strategy but also a mark of great character.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cameron Smith: Rejecting the common refrain of big government

  Over the last several months, liberal politicians, members of the media, hospitals and even the head of Alabama’s retirement system have renewed their calls for Alabama to expand Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

  The left and right have quibbled over economic projections, job creation, state costs, and political motivations. Every special interest, crony business or power hungry politician with a shot at either controlling or benefitting from a short-term federal cash infusion acts as if rejecting federal money is irresponsible and harmful to the most vulnerable in our state.

Friday, December 6, 2013

David L. Hudson, Jr.: A victory for student speech, but will it be Pyrrhic?

  Two middle-school female students at a Pennsylvania public school had a First Amendment right to wear "I Love Boobies" bracelets, because those bracelets were not plainly lewd, did not substantially disrupt school activities and did not invade the rights of others.

  Such was the ruling of the majority of the full 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in B.H. v. Easton Area School District (2013), a case closely watched in the student-speech community.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sally Steenland: Repairing Christianity’s damaged brand

  One of the saddest and most damaging consequences of the Religious Right’s grip on partisan power over the past three decades has been the tarnishing of Christianity.

  Since the 1980s, the Religious Right—an organized political force consisting of extremely conservative Christians—has inserted its theological views into federal and state laws and attempted to impose its doctrines on a diverse, pluralistic nation. Leaders in the Religious Right have partnered with conservatives in the Republican Party to oppose LGBT equality, women’s reproductive health and rights, the teaching of evolution in schools, government safety net programs for the poor, and more.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Robert Wilkerson: Football religion

  Football has become the religion of the South. It has thousands of followers who eat, sleep and breathe it. They make pilgrimages to their shrines (Bryant-Denny, Jordan-Hare, Tiger Stadium). They love their high priests (Sabin, Malzahan, Miles). Once their services (the games) start, they yell, scream, shout, wave their hands, and some even dance. Their emotions range from sadness and depression to the highest expression of joy and delight. Recently, the gods have approved of their zeal by giving them miracles.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Political polarization

  Believe it or not we are approaching the fourth year of this legislative quadrennium. The legislature will meet early next year because it is an election year. All 140 seats in the House and Senate are up for election in 2014.

  These legislators were elected in 2010. Most of them are Republicans. The GOP owns a two to one super majority in both the House and Senate. These folks are not just Republicans in name only, sometimes referred to as "RINOs." They are real Republicans.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Jacob G. Hornberger: Killing unnamed children in Afghanistan

  When I read this Washington Post article about the two-year-old child that U.S. forces just killed in Afghanistan, I wondered what the child’s name was. Nowhere was it to be found in the article. Maybe the Post hadn’t acquired the name. Or maybe it just doesn’t matter. It’s just one more death among the countless Afghan deaths at the hands of U.S. forces during the past 12 years.

  The commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., issued an apology for killing the child. I wonder if he cited the child’s name in his apology. In any event, no doubt Dunford is hoping that the apology will help the U.S. government secure permission from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan past 2014.