Sunday, May 31, 2015

8 Facts you should know about the criminal justice system and people of color

  The nation’s criminal justice system is broken. People of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, are unfairly targeted by the police and face harsher prison sentences than their white counterparts. Given the nation’s coming demographic shift, in which there will be no clear racial or ethnic majority by 2044, the United States cannot afford for these trends to continue. Not only could the money spent on mass incarceration—$80 billion in 2010—be put to better use, but the consequences for people who become entangled in the criminal justice system are also lifelong, leading to barriers to employment and housing, among many other things.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1459: The Alabama Legislative Session is coming to an end

  It’s coming to an end. We have six days left in the 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature. That’s about two legislative days per week for the next three weeks. The projected last day is June 11. The 2015 Legislative Session is coming to an end.

  As the end of the session approaches, so many things change. Therefore, I want to share several legislative matters that I participated in during the past week.

  Item # 1 – I had challenged a bill that would abolish marriage licenses in Alabama. Under this bill, Alabamians would marry by contract which would be filed in the county probate office. Probate judges would not have to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples or anyone else.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Gene Policinski: After 800 years, does the Magna Carta’s legacy of freedom persist?

  The signing of the Magna Carta was a major step toward the concept of speaking truth to power in the Western world – and was neither a rock band nor has anything to do with volcanoes, both responses the other day from a quick set of man-on-the-street interviews in Washington D.C.

  In fact, the Magna Carta is an 800-year old document setting out certain baronial rights in England in 1215. Granted, at first thought, that occurrence may not necessarily set our collective Colonial toes to tapping. But perhaps it should.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Marriage equality - it's all over by the shouting

  This has been an eventful year. Thousands of tourists have flocked to Alabama to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March for Civil and Voting Rights. The events that happened in Alabama spurred the enactment of the landmark acts that broke down the legal barriers prohibiting African Americans from voting in the South.

  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it unlawful to discriminate based on race. It was followed up the next year with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that assured African Americans the right to vote.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Craig Ford: Dear Senators, what would Jesus do?

  Before the Alabama Senate votes on the General Fund budget, the senators need to ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?"

  We are often reminded that this nation was founded on Christian principles, and certainly a majority of the representatives in the Alabama Legislature are Christians. So when the General Fund budget, which finances all government services and agencies outside of education, came up for a vote last week, I couldn’t help but think about that popular phrase from the 90s, “What would Jesus do?” The “WWJD” phrase has been used to guide Christians through a lot of tough decisions. So it only makes sense that most members of the Alabama House should have asked themselves that question before they voted on that budget.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It’s time to hit the panic button on pension reform

  Over the past 10 years, Alabama’s public retirement system has seen its liabilities overtake its assets by more than $15 billion. This means the system has only 66 cents for every dollar owed to current and future retirees.

  Worse still, the shortfall has been growing by $4 million each day that our elected officials fail to tackle three of the biggest contributors to the problem.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sam Fulwood III: Choosing our words carefully

  Not long after the violent shootout at a Twin Peaks Restaurant in Waco, Texas, my Twitter newsfeed lit up with comments that linked what many media outlets termed a “brawl” to the public protests and disturbances last month in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. The comparison was largely unfavorable, as many noted a race-tinged discrepancy in the language used to describe two separate acts of lawlessness.

  In Baltimore, the activity involved black people and the language was less than subtle, typically describing the looters as “thugs” and their behavior as a “riot.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

Katherine Green Robertson: If everything is a priority then nothing is a priority

  As the debate over Alabama’s General Fund budget shortfall continues, four schools of thought have emerged on how to solve this problem: a) tax increases, b) gambling revenue, c) unearmarking, d) and across-the-board cuts. Each one of these proposals has been deemed the obvious, simple solution to the problem, but none would actually be that straightforward. As proposed, three of the four would require the second, overlooked step of prioritizing spending—a difficult task in a currently fragmented Republican majority.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Right-to-Work takes us in the wrong direction

  Anti-union state and local policymakers in communities across the country are attacking an already weakened labor movement by enacting so-called right-to-work laws that inhibit workers from bargaining for better wages and benefits. Wisconsin became the 25th state to enact a right-to-work law this spring. Following on its heels, the Republican-led Missouri legislature enacted a similar law last week. And where statewide legislation has previously failed, a new strategy has emerged among anti-union lawmakers. These laws are going local in Kentucky and Illinois, with city and county governments enacting ordinances to create local right-to-work zones.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Ward leads charge on prison reform

  The hallmark accomplishment of this year’s legislative session will be a comprehensive prison reform package. This legislation is the one long-term substantive issue tackled by the super majority Republican legislative body.

  This comprehensive prison project has been in the works for a while. A lot of research and planning went into the plan. Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) has been the steward of the project. Senator Ward chairs the Prison Reform Task Force, which formulated the plan. He is also Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and he shepherded the plan through the legislative process.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Charles C. Haynes: Tattooed Jesus, yoga and the debate over school endorsement of religion

  Legal battles over when and where to draw the church-state line on school endorsement of religion can be a nightmare for administrators, a headache for judges and a payday for lawyers.

  Consider the recent lawsuit in Lubbock, Texas over an advertisement a company called Little Pencil wanted to display during the football games played at the local high school.

  The ad featured a depiction of Jesus wearing a crown of thorns with words like “outcast,” “addicted” and “jealous” tattooed across his upper body (symbolizing the belief that Jesus took on the sins of the world).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Craig Ford: Who’s leading the Alabama House of Representatives?

  Who’s really leading the Alabama House of Representatives? Or maybe the better question is: who is ready to step up and lead?

  "Who’s Leading The Alabama House of Representatives?"

  Every organization needs leaders. An Army needs a general. A team needs a coach. A company needs a president or CEO.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Michael Josephson: How to succeed by failing forward

  The best way to teach our children to succeed is to teach them to fail.

  After all, if getting everything you want on the first try is success, and everything else is failure, we all fail much more often than we succeed.

  People who learn how to grow from unsuccessful efforts succeed more often and at higher levels because they become wiser and tougher.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Robert Wilkerson: An outrageous proposal

  It is outrageous that gambling is being considered for legalization in this state. Have our political leaders sunk so low they are willing to use the methods associated with and dominated by criminals and organized crime to bring in money? Gambling should be against the law and looked upon as a crime. It has been shown that legalizing gambling does not limit it. On the contrary, organized crime and criminal activity thrive where gambling is legalized.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

David L. Hudson Jr.: Government surveillance threatens First Amendment freedoms

  Mass governmental surveillance impacts First Amendment freedoms in profound ways, chilling speech and even thought.

  We tend to think of such surveillance under the rubric of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits the government from engaging in “unreasonable searches and seizures.” But, surveillance also negatively impacts freedom of speech, assembly, association – and even thought.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Will the legislative session go to extra innings?

  Unless you've been living under a rock for the past six months, you know that the Alabama General Fund has a shortfall and Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed a $540 million tax increase solution to resolve the problem.

  This crisis has been brewing for close to a decade now. It is under Dr. Bentley’s watch that the train wreck has finally occurred and the chickens have come home to roost. During Bob Riley’s eight year ride, money was shuffled around and a lot of federal stimulus money fell on the state like manna from Heaven. Riley got to spend his last two years in office playing cops and robbers. He rounded up all the troopers and rode around the state closing down constitutionally sanctioned and tax paying gaming casinos with the zeal of a child pretending to chase Al Capone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Craig Ford: Republicans are trading in that 'Jobs, jobs, jobs' slogan for 'Taxes, taxes, taxes'"

  After five years of passing millions of dollars in tax cuts for big businesses and billion-dollar, out-of-state corporations that, in some cases, pay zero state income taxes, Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives are about to raise taxes on working men and women.

  Only six months after campaigning on a pledge to create more jobs and never raise taxes, House Republicans have traded in that “jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign slogan for “taxes, taxes, taxes.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Richard Cohen: Underlying dynamics of civil unrest in Baltimore are same as identified 50 years ago

  The indictment of six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray was greeted with cheers from many in Baltimore and a collective sigh of relief from much of the country. At the same time, fully 96 percent of Americans expect additional racial disturbances this summer, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.

  For better or worse, the polls are probably right. Although the indictments may quell the anger in Baltimore, the underlying dynamics that fuel the cycle of police violence and community outrage in so many American cities will not change in the absence of deep reforms. Neither indictments nor body cameras will be enough.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

David L. Hudson Jr.: No First Amendment right to not cut grass

  Not every free-expression lawsuit has a prayer of being accepted in court – a lesson from an Indiana appellate court involving a man who asserted freedom of conscience and free-speech defenses to not mowing his lawn.

  Alexander Gul of Bloomington believes that modern-day lawn maintenance practices harm the environment, and he refused to cut his yard, causing his grass to reach more than eight inches in height.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Bill Morlin: U.S. Military ‘Jade Helm’ training plan draws fears from the antigovernment right

  The U.S. military’s plan to conduct a training exercise this summer across seven states has become the latest hot-button topic for antigovernment conspiracy mongers who are advancing a plethora of wild-eyed theories.

  The exercise, called “Jade Helm,” is tantamount to martial law, they say, where special operations forces from four branches of the U.S. military will secretly train and further militarize local police, blending in with local populations and gearing up for an eventual battle to disarm Americans.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1456: Why don't we celebrate the end of slavery in the United States?

  I wonder why the end of slavery is not celebrated annually in these United States of America? I wonder why the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery is not celebrated in 2015? I wonder!

  The end of slavery was one of the most momentous events in the history of this country.  Slavery affected nearly everyone and everything. The end of slavery also affected everyone and everything. Yet, slavery’s end is not celebrated. Not even the 150th anniversary is being truly celebrated this year. I wonder why.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Craig Ford: Our legislature thinks brown shrimp are more important than people

  When I first saw the list of bills we would be debating in the Alabama House of Representative last Thursday, I thought it was a joke. The first bill up for debate was a bill to make brown shrimp the official state crustacean.

  This is your state legislature's priorities, folks. Not peoples’ lives or jobs, and certainly not being responsible with your tax dollars... brown shrimp. That's the priority. You just can't make this stuff up!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The redistricting chickens are coming home to roost

  There is an ominous cloud hanging over this legislative session. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court surprisingly agreed to hear a Hail Mary complaint filed by the black legislative caucus over the 2014 redistricting plan. In an even more surprising opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the complainants and remanded the case back to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, instructing the lower court to tell the legislature to try again.

  The super majority Republican legislature fully complied with the Voting Rights Act and the Justice Department guidelines when they crafted the new districts prior to the 2014 legislative elections. Specifically, they protected African American districts. The plan not only reserved the current number of minority districts, which by the way has the best reflection of African American districts of any state in America, they actually created a new additional minority House seat in Huntsville.

Monday, May 4, 2015

From risk to resilience: Preparing U.S. coasts for climate change

  America’s coastal cities are global centers of innovation, output, employment, and trade. The communities built around the country’s beaches and working harbors capitalize on marine natural resources to promote fishing, tourism, aquaculture, and other industries. As a result, America’s coastal counties produce nearly half of U.S. economic output while taking up less than 10 percent of its land area. And they continue to grow faster in population than the nation as a whole. Put simply, America’s coasts are a pillar of success and vitality for the entire nation.

  Yet even as population and production continue to concentrate along U.S. coasts, overwhelming physical evidence shows that coastal counties sit squarely in the destructive path of climate change. Intensifying storms, accelerating sea-level rise, chronic “nuisance” flooding, and the intrusion of salt water into aquifers and wastewater infrastructure are all prime examples of the impacts already beginning to undermine the attributes that make America’s coasts special. Scientists say that these impacts will only worsen during the century ahead.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Michael Josephson: Do a little more

  In 1964, a young woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment building in Queens, New York. She was attacked repeatedly over the course of an hour and despite her screams, none of the 38 neighbors intervened or called for help. Some were afraid. Some didn’t want to get involved. Some thought someone else would do it.

  This incident has become a symbol of the increased callousness, self-centeredness and fearfulness of a society where brutes, bullies and other bad guys act without worry of interference from onlookers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1455: An open letter to Governor Robert Bentley on Medicaid expansion

Dear Governor Bentley:

  I write this as an open letter because the people of Alabama have a critical stake in your decision. I want Alabamians to fully understand what is at stake, so I am sharing this letter with them as I share it with you.

  Governor, I really pray for Alabama. I pray for Alabama to be the very best that it can be. I also weep for Alabama. I really weep for Alabama because we sometimes seem to be hell bent on being the very worst that we can be. It’s terrible to be constantly praying for the best and yet constantly weeping because the worst is forging our reality.