Monday, March 31, 2014

Charles C. Haynes: Push for ‘school prayer’ is about power, not prayer

  Never say die.

  That must be the motto of politicians, religious leaders and school leaders who keep pushing for state-sponsored prayers in public schools more than 50 years after the Supreme Court struck down the practice as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

  The latest prayer restoration scheme comes from an Alabama state representative who proposed a law last month that would require teachers to read a prayer from the Congressional Record every day to students in Alabama classrooms.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jacob G. Hornberger: Pardon Martha Stewart and Joseph Nacchio

  The Get Out of Jail Free card that the Justice Department has given to national-security state official James R. Clapper can’t help to bring to mind what the feds did to Martha Stewart.

  Clapper commits perjury before Congress and nothing happens to him.

  Stewart lies to some federal agent when she’s not even under oath and she’s indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to five months in prison and fined.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Paul Larkin: Program offers HOPE for repeat drug offenders

  American prisons hold more than 1.5 million convicts. Ninety-five percent of them will return to the community at some point, and few will be better off than when they have left it.

  One of the holy grails of correctional policy has been to find an alternative to imprisonment that has teeth but doesn’t bite off a leg. Probation has been the traditional alternative, but it doesn’t often work well.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Congress should reassess the importance of two corporate tax breaks

  A series of tax breaks expired at the end of 2013. These tax breaks are all technically temporary, but they are extended so regularly that they are collectively known as the tax extenders. Some of these tax extenders are good policy, such as relief for foreclosure victims, support for energy efficiency and renewable energy, incentives for businesses to hire disadvantaged workers and veterans, and tax credits to revitalize economically depressed areas. Other tax extenders, however, offer fewer public benefits and primarily subsidize big multinational corporations.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cameron Smith: Pension reform will protect state retirees and our financial future

  In January, the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Reform (PDF) for the 2013 fiscal year. The report was received with little fanfare. During an election year, no politician wants to run afoul of the RSA and the billions it invests in Alabama.

  Unfortunately, this head-in-the-sand approach to public pension accountability is not working, and it will have painful consequences for Alabama’s future. While state politicians have made needed adjustments to the state retirement system over the last several years, they have left the defined benefit structure of the RSA intact.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The GOP Birmingham club

  There is a cadre of politicos in Birmingham who are approaching their 60s that have been a close knit group of true blue Republicans since the get go. They have probably never been or needed to run as Democrats. More than likely, they were Goldwater Republicans when they were little boys. Most certainly they were Nixon and Reagan Republicans in their youth.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Joshua Field: Hobby Lobby’s potentially slippery slope

  This term, the Supreme Court will rule on whether the religious beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a for-profit, secular corporation, can be used as justification to deny the company’s employees the contraceptive health coverage they are entitled to under the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. The U.S. Constitution, federal laws such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and an exemption to the ACA’s contraception rule have historically protected faith-based entities—such as churches and religiously affiliated hospitals and universities—from taking actions at odds with their religious beliefs.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Michael Josephson: Respect means knowing when to back off

  I’ve talked before about the ethical obligation to treat others with respect by attentive listening. Today, I want to talk about the flip side of respect: the duty to back off and accept the fact that while others should listen to us, we can’t demand that they agree with us.

  Such unreasonable demands are especially prevalent when someone in authority (boss or parent) lectures, criticizes, sermonizes, or berates an employee or child well past the point of legitimate communication. But it isn’t just people of authority who seek to impose their ideas through bulldozer tactics.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Nina Hachigian: What joins the United States and China and what divides them?

  Next week, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet on the sidelines of the third Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands. The summit will highlight an issue on which the United States and China have cooperated to a degree in the past: nuclear proliferation. But the bilateral meeting will also cover more touchy subjects, including the current crisis in Ukraine, cyber theft, and regional territorial disputes. Such is the ever-dual nature of U.S.-China relations in the modern era.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cameron Smith: Five questions to ask Alabama’s state candidates for elected office

  Although Alabama’s primary elections are held in June, the political season is well underway. Positions on religious liberty, gun rights and abortion remain a virtual litmus test for Alabama’s more-conservative voters, but most state politicians are well versed at navigating them every four years.

  Even the clearest answers on those issues leave unanswered questions about critical issues facing the State of Alabama. Here are five additional questions that Alabama’s voters should ask candidates for state office this year:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sally Steenland: How to reduce poverty and save taxpayers $4.6 billion per year

  A single number can change the public debate on an issue that seems stalled. Two weeks ago, such a number appeared in a report by the Center for American Progress and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment that connects a higher minimum wage with decreased costs in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

  The number is $4.6 billion, and it represents how much money taxpayers will save annually if the federal minimum wage is raised to $10.10 per hour. Paying workers a higher minimum wage will reduce their need for federal assistance, creating huge savings for the taxpayer-funded program.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Who are you?

  A while back I wrote a column entitled "The State Legislature Is A Good Training Ground For Governor, But Not A Good Stepping Stone To Governor." The essence of my hypothesis was being one of the 105 members of the Alabama House of Representatives or even one of the 35 members of the Senate does not lend itself to building name identification, which is essential to being elected to statewide office.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Larry M. Elkin: The hazards of secondhand news

  Let's talk about a product found in virtually every American household that sometimes causes serious side effects, including anxiety, depression, delusions, and even fits of anger. You might think this product should come labeled with advice to keep it out of the reach of children.

  It does not. I am talking about the news.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Michael Josephson: Kids like to win; adults need to win

  Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you have to acknowledge the powerful cultural influence that sports have on our culture. The values of millions of participants and spectators are shaped by the values conveyed in sports, including our views of what is permissible and proper in the competitive pursuit of personal goals.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sam Fulwood III: In pursuit of equitable change

  Gentrification is a difficult subject to discuss civilly and publicly.

  For some people, such as filmmaker Spike Lee, just the mention of the word is blasphemy and a reason to launch into an expletive-filled discourse on the ills wrought by hipsters with rat-dogs on leashes and yuppie moms with baby strollers displacing residents in his old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Katherine Green Robertson: The changing objectives of government assistance

  Under the Obama administration, "reforms" to federal assistance programs have simply increased the programs’ recipients and spending rather than implementing more oversight or accountability. Specifically, the administration has taken proactive steps to recruit Americans into programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and water down eligibility requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). Work requirements for recipients, previously tied to TANF eligibility since 1996, were rendered optional by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for state enforcement in 2012.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Jacob G. Hornberger: Russia reminds us of us

  U.S. officials and the mainstream press are aflame with outrage and indignation over Russia’s invasion of Crimea. If only they would feel the same degree of outrage and indignation over what the U.S. national security state, which was grafted onto our governmental system without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, has done to our American republic.

  Isn’t it fascinating how U.S. officials and the mainstream media are able to quickly arrive at a moral judgment condemning foreign interventionism on the part of Russia while, at the same time, blocking out of their minds all the foreign interventionism on the part of the U.S. government for the past many decades?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Down-ballot drama

  Last week we highlighted and handicapped the statewide races for the top five constitutional offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and agriculture commissioner. All of these offices are held by incumbent Republicans. Therefore, it would be an upset if any of them went down to defeat.

  In fact, currently there are 31 statewide elected offices in Alabama and all 31 are held by Republicans. However, the Democrats have fielded a respectable slate of candidates. We will see if indeed winning the GOP primary is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Adam Hersh: Bad policy choices, not bad weather, restraining job growth

  Employment growth rebounded in February, according to last week's employment situation report (PDF) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, proving economists wrong—people can actually work in the cold and snow. The U.S. economy added 175,000 new jobs in February, and revised figures show job growth averaging just 129,000 jobs per month over the past three months.

  Job growth is trending in the right direction, although still short of what is needed to return the U.S. labor market to full employment or drive real wage gains in the near future. The unemployment rate overall crept up one notch to 6.7 percent as more people returned to the labor force, but the number of people employed relative to the overall population remained unchanged.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Jacob G. Hornberger: Private vs. government data collection

  When referring to the massive, super-secret NSA surveillance scheme over the American people (and the people of the world), commentators oftentimes conflate data collection by the government with data collection by private entities, especially those on the Internet. The notion is that it’s all sort of the same thing and that since people are willing to let Google, Yahoo, Amazon, retailers, and physicians know so much about them, they really shouldn’t have any reservations about letting the government do the same thing.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sally Steenland: Cracking the edifice of injustice

  Almost 60 years ago, a black Korean War veteran named Clyde Kennard applied to Mississippi Southern College after serving seven years in the Army. The all-white school rejected him for a spurious reason. It required him to provide references from five white alumni in his county, yet when he asked for a list of alumni names, they refused to give it to him. Kennard met every other criteria for admission. The school’s president reported Kennard’s enrollment attempt to the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a governmental agency that spied on civil rights workers, along with anyone considered sympathetic to the cause.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cameron Smith: "Last in, first out" rewards length of service over performance

  At the end of 2013, Governor Bentley outlined the results of his efforts to reduce cost and increase efficiency in state government. Bentley stated that Alabamians elected him and the Republican-controlled legislature to "make state government more efficient and live within our means without raising taxes or cutting essential services." Part of that effort included savings from "right-sizing" the state’s workforce. Unfortunately, the outdated personnel policy of "last-in, first-out," or "LIFO" means that Alabama’s reduced workforce may not necessarily be the best it could be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Harry Stein: President Obama’s budget resets the fiscal debate

  President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 shifts the political conversation toward our most urgent national problem: creating jobs and growing the economy. This should have been our political system’s primary focus for the past several years, but Congress instead allowed itself to get sidetracked by a misguided focus on austerity and debt. Presidents cannot control the economy, and President Obama does not have a magic wand to make Congress enact his budget. But presidents do have the power to set the agenda and focus attention on issues of their choosing. Setting the agenda on the question of how to grow the economy is among the most important aspects of President Obama’s new budget.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Surprises looming in 2014?

  For the past year it has appeared that this year’s election was going to be less than exciting. Now that the dust has settled it looks like that will pretty much be the case. This lackluster year has been created by the fact that incumbents hold all five of the top constitutional offices and all five, especially the governor, are pretty popular.

  The field is set and the lineup card is in the hands of the scorekeeper. The primaries are set for June 3 with the runoffs coming six weeks later on July 15. The general election will be November 3. More than likely the governor, attorney general, lieutenant governor, agriculture commissioner and treasurer--all Republicans--will be reelected to a second four-year term.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Brandon Demyan: Medicaid overdose: Bigger is not better

  Much has been made about the continual refusal by Governor Robert Bentley to expand Medicaid. In the push to pass the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), President Obama explained in 2009 that "we can’t simply put more people into a broken system that doesn’t work." Medicaid was originally created to provide healthcare to pregnant women, children, and the disabled. Instead of reforming the broken system, Obamacare simply expanded Medicaid to include all able-bodied adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty line.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Michael Josephson: Confessions of a Lincoln groupie

  I am an Abraham Lincoln groupie. He is my biggest hero. I have a huge collection of books and Lincoln memorabilia, my daughter, Abrielle, was named after him as was one of our family dogs. And by blind chance, my son Justin was born on his birthday, February 12.

  I often visit the Lincoln Memorial and stand in awe of his magnificent eloquence and his legacy of honor, courage, compassion, humility and humor.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Jacob G. Hornberger: Is the drug-war worth this?

  For the past week, the mainstream media has been agog over the arrest of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, much as they’ve gone agog over every other big drug bust for the past 50 years or so. The hoopla surrounding these much-ballyhooed drug busts is to ensure that the citizenry, who have become increasingly disenchanted with the drug war, don’t lose faith and that they continue to support the drug war for another 50 years.