Friday, January 31, 2014

Cameron Smith: Marketplace Fairness Act might hurt Alabama’s web-based businesses

  As our state government continues to face fiscal challenges, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and a number of other lawmakers are pushing the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) as an integral part of the revenue solution.

  In 1939, Alabama enacted a use tax to prevent businesses outside of the state from enjoying a competitive advantage over in-state businesses required to charge, collect and pay sales tax. Almost 75 years later, interstate commerce has changed radically. Lawmakers imposing the 1939 tax could never have anticipated the relatively recent explosive growth in e-commerce.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The politics of roads

  It seemed to go under the radar last year, but the Bentley administration quietly inaugurated the largest road-building program seen in the state in over six decades.

  Gov. Bentley launched the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP). The ATRIP program, coupled with another road program, the Rural Assistance Match Program, will bring the total for road and bridge construction in Bentley’s first term to well over $1 billion.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Our Stand: Missing in action: Robert Bentley's conscience

  Monday Governor Robert Bentley engaged in one of the most unconscionable acts to date during his time as governor. After appearing at a statewide news conference in which he stressed the severity of the coming winter storm and admonished Alabama drivers to stay off the roads Bentley - inexplicably and in the same breath - ordered the state's public servants to report to work Tuesday despite the threat, and in doing so placed many lives in danger without apology.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ken Paulson: Bloggers enjoy First Amendment protection against libel suits

  A website that castigates others as "evil doers" and "thugs" has exactly the same First Amendment protection as USA TODAY and the New York Times – and that’s a good thing.

  In a landmark decision on Friday, a federal appellate court held for the first time that blogs enjoy the same First Amendment protection from libel suits as traditional news media.

  At issue were the blog posts of Crystal Cox, who accused Bend, Oregon attorney Kevin Padrick and his firm Obsidian Finance Group of misconduct in connection with his role as a trustee in a bankruptcy case. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $2.5 million in damages.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Michael Josephson: Loopholes and slippery slopes

  As a former law professor, I know all about loopholes.

  I trained students to find omissions and ambiguities in wording — a perfectly legal way to evade the clear intent of laws and agreements. After all, that’s what lawyers are paid to do. And, despite commonly expressed disdain when lawyers do this, that’s precisely what most clients want and expect when they hire a lawyer.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Five more items for President Obama’s climate change to-do list

  On the eve of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, the Center for American Progress recommended 10 energy and environmental priorities for President Obama’s second term to build on his first-term clean energy successes. Now, one year later, with the annual State of the Union address coming up, we can assess the status of these recommendations and add five new actions that would further enhance our health and safety, grow our economy, and protect our air, water, and climate.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Katherine Green Robertson: Alabama must guard against attempts to restrain political speech

  For those who thought the exposure of the IRS as a political weapon was an exaggerated anomaly, think again. During Congress’s Thanksgiving recess, the U.S. Treasury and the IRS quietly published a new rule to change the parameters of permissible activities for 501(c) (4) organizations that could severely weaken these groups leading up to the 2014 elections.

  Currently, a 501(c) (4) organization must be operated "exclusively to promote social welfare." IRS guidance explains that a 501(c) (4) organization must be "primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people in the community."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Robert Wilkerson: Making the poor poorer

  "What are those men doing in my backyard?" she said, looking out her kitchen window. After watching them a few minutes, she charged out into the yard. There were three big white men out there with a wrecker that didn’t have a name on it. She yelled, "Get out of my backyard! Get out!" She had an envelope stuffed with money in her hand and said, "Here. Here’s the money. Take it and leave me alone!" The men ignored her. They didn’t say a word, and they didn’t take her money. She told them, "I got to that office one minute late yesterday, and I saw people inside. I banged and banged on the door, but nobody would come or take my money.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Alabama GOP targets last Democratic toehold

  It looks like our good doctor Gov. Robert Bentley will escape a serious challenge to his reelection bid this year. The GOP primary, which is tantamount to election in a statewide race in the Heart of Dixie, is less than five months away. If Gov. Bentley were going to get a significant opponent they would have surfaced by now. In fact, to mount a credible race, an opponent would have already started at least six months ago and raised over a million dollars. That probably would not have been enough. Bentley’s favorability and reelection polling numbers are through the roof.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Michael Josephson: Can we make Martin Luther King Day meaningful?

  Today we celebrate the legacy of one of my heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For many, it will be a time to enjoy a three-day weekend out of town with friends or family. Or perhaps it means an extra day to catch up on work around the house and in the yard.

  There is an uplifting aspect to the day when we think about the difference one man made to awaken the conscious of a nation founded on principles of equality and human rights. Let us never doubt the need for and power of passionate, persistent, idealistic, fearless leadership.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Larry M. Elkin: Spinning yarns about genetically modified crops

  A compelling narrative often makes a good engine to pull public policy. Unfortunately, this means we are sometimes unwilling to let facts get in the way of the story we want to tell.

  Consider, for example, the science and pseudo-science behind the ginned-up opposition to genetically modified crops ("organisms" in the parlance of critics who want to skip past the detail that crops are useful for feeding people), or GMOs.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Michael Josephson: The disease of low expectations

  The serious damage done to our economy, social institutions, and personal relationships by widespread cheating and dishonesty is bad enough. But widespread acceptance of such behavior as inevitable threatens to make our future a lot worse. In effect, our culture is being infected by a disease: the disease of low expectations.

  The disease is manifested by the corrosive assumption that human nature can’t be expected to withstand pressures or temptations. In other words, when there’s a conflict between self-interest and moral principles, self-interest – in fact, short-term self-interest – will generally prevail.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ken Gude: It’s time to get the government out of the mass collection business

  President Barack Obama will deliver a major speech tomorrow regarding the National Security Agency’s, or NSA’s, intelligence collection activities, both in the United States and around the world. There has been great controversy and confusion around these activities since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began leaking details of these and other NSA programs last June. Many Americans were particularly shocked by the revelation that the government maintained a secret database of all the telephone calls made by or to phones in the United States. The existence of government data collection on this scale could influence the choices Americans make with profound negative effects on our society and economy.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Brandon Demyan: Legislators must close the revolving door

  In 2013, five of Alabama’s elected officials resigned before their term expired to pursue other employment. Three members of the Alabama House of Representatives took positions that potentially require lobbying of the legislature. Currently, former state officials may not lobby their former department or "legislative body" until two years has elapsed; however, the Alabama Senate and Alabama House of Representatives have been determined by the Alabama Ethics Commission to be two separate bodies. In practice, this allows the three former representatives to immediately begin lobbying the Senate, or vice versa, without waiting the required two years. This "Legislative Body Loophole" runs contrary to the original intent of the statute and must be fixed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: What to expect from the Alabama Legislature this session

  The 2014 legislative session began today. Speculation is that it will be short and may not last the full four months allotted.

  The super majority Republican legislature will put their final touch on their four-year march to the right. They have made an indelible conservative mark on state government through both fiscal and social measures.

  The GOP House will emphasize financial incentives for job expansion. They are calling their agenda "Common Sense Conservative." It will include a bill to raise the threshold where small businesses have to pay a monthly estimated income tax from $1,000 to $2,500. They will also make filing state business taxes easier by creating an online tax filing system for all taxes.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Charles C. Haynes: In 2014, free the faithful

  It’s anything but a happy New Year for Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen who has spent the last 12 months in an Iranian prison because of his faith.

  In December 2012, the Idaho minister was visiting his native Iran to help start an orphanage when he was arrested for "undermining the Iranian government," according to the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal group working on Abedini’s behalf.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Michael Josephson: How much are you willing to pay for money?

  Disdain for money is a common theme among moralists and philosophers. But money’s not the problem. It’s what people do to get it and what they do with it when they get it.

  In Fiddler on the Roof, a poor man sings of his daydreams of the wonderful life he’d have if he were a rich man. And surely it would be better. As someone once said, "I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better."

  Yet the Biblical warning that "love of money is the root of all evil" reminds us to be aware of the difference between need and greed.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Adam Hersh: Weak report underscores need to extend jobless benefits

  Though recent economic data have signaled a strengthening U.S. economy through the end of 2013, new data released this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the economic recovery has yet to turn the corner. U.S. employers added a mere 74,000 jobs in December, slowing sharply from previous months. Waning job growth did not appear to be the result of inclement weather, as seasonal hiring maintained patterns similar to previous years.

  With job growth still so tepid and volatile, Congress must waste no more time in extending emergency unemployment insurance to the 1.3 million workers heartlessly and thoughtlessly kicked to the curb when this program expired on Dec. 28. Some 72,000 unemployed workers are expected to lose benefits each week of 2014 that Congress does not act.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Protecting the new age of Southern automotive manufacturing

  Since 1993, Alabama has become a powerhouse of automotive manufacturing. With a strong market in the U.S., Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, and Honda continue to show signs of increased production. That is great news for Alabama’s workforce and state economy. The good news does not stop there.

  Because of Alabama’s legislative successes to create a welcoming environment for manufacturing business, new facilities and suppliers are positioned to spring up all around the state. Others are taking notice.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

50 Years after LBJ’s War on Poverty

  Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared an "unconditional War on Poverty" in his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. The War on Poverty created a number of important federal and state initiatives that remain in place today—from Head Start to nutrition assistance to Medicare and Medicaid. These initiatives, coupled with the civil rights advances of the era and the overall strong economy in the 1960s, led to a reduction in the number of people living in poverty from around 19 percent to a historic low of 11.1 percent by the early 1970s.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The Alabama Legislature returns

  The 2014 Alabama Legislative Session begins next week. The session starts early in the fourth year of the quadrennium because it is an election year. Legislators want to come in and get out early so that they can go home and campaign.

  Usually legislatures do not do much other than pass the budgets in a campaign year session. They especially do not try to tackle any controversial issues that could stir up any ire with voters. However, this current group of legislators will tackle anything controversial as long as it has a right wing slant to it.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Cameron Smith: America’s shift from rule of law to rule by executive branch

  The "rule of law" has served as the backbone of democracy from America’s founding. First, all Americans agree to be held accountable under the law. To secure that consent, the process to enact, administer and enforce those laws must be transparent, democratically accessible, and impartial. While that process has rarely been perfect, it has consistently created stable, predictable laws that serve as the guiderails for civil society.

  The last several decades have marked a continued erosion of the rule of law in America’s federal government. The gradual change has resulted from Congress ceding its constitutional powers, leaving essentially a type of ad hoc rule by the President and the executive branch agencies.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Charles C. Haynes: From a 5th-grader, uncomfortable truth about religious conflict

  When children speak the truth, adults often squirm and shut them up.

  That’s apparently what happened to Zachary Golob-Drake a few weeks ago after he delivered a speech titled "In the Name of Religion" to his 5th-grade class at Patel Partnership School in Tampa, Fla. The teacher initially applauded Zachary’s speech, awarding him first prize and an opportunity to compete to represent his school at the regional 4-H Tropicana Public Speech Contest.

  But later that same day, school officials had second thoughts. An assistant principal took Zachary aside and explained that the speech wasn’t appropriate for 4th- and 5th-graders. As Zachary told WFLA-TV, "She thought that probably I would have to rewrite my speech, take the religion out or not compete."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bill Bowling: Toward a literate definition of socialism

  We are a nation full of armchair politicians and Archie Bunker throwbacks. We are also a nation brimming with a citizenry that isn't equipped to state what the Bill of Rights contains, much less discuss the more abstract conceptualizations of our political ethos. Yet that doesn't stop the large numbers of the ill-informed from spouting off about things they know nothing about. There is one term that these folks on the fringe like to toss around, presumably in the attempt to get the goat of all left leaners, or simply to stir up the stink in the big crap pond. That term is socialism.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Gene Policinski: Civility: Let’s try that free-speech option in 2014 in public life

  The First Amendment protects our freedom to say and write just about anything we want — but that doesn’t mean we ought to, particularly in public life.

  The difference rests between "can" and "should."

  Our nation’s Founders were no strangers to rude, callous and raucous debate in public life and to vicious commentary, even by today’s "anything goes" online standards. Sex scandals, infidelity, personal weaknesses and even religious differences were exposed, debated and mocked in public life and in the newspapers of the day with personal glee and political purpose.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Michael Josephson: Making resolutions of principle

  The tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions reflects one the very best qualities of human nature – the ability to reflect on and assess our lives in terms of the goals we set for ourselves and the principles we believe in.

  It’s still not too late to formulate a self-improvement plan to make our outer lives and inner selves better by adopting more positive attitudes, living up to our highest values, and strengthening our relationships.