Saturday, January 30, 2016

Gene Policinski: Trump, Fox, Kelly and the history, hype and hope of debates

  What’s going on with presidential primary debates?

  And I don’t mean the latest issue many will think of first: The flap between Fox News and GOP front-runner Donald Trump over Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.

  Granted, the discussion over which journalists will or will not get to ask questions in televised debates generally plays out behind closed doors — in talks between campaign officials and debate sponsors — not in the Twittersphere and in the nightly news.

  Rather, the observation that should catch the attention of First Amendment advocates is Trump’s view of the purpose behind this last Republican debate before the Iowa primary, apparently shared by many, that the point of the exercise is television ratings and network profits.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sam Fulwood III: Why #OscarsSoWhite matters

  Hollywood has an image problem. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the nominees for its top acting awards for films produced in 2015, controversy erupted over the fact that—for the second year in a row—all of those honored were white people. Predictably, social media mavens rushed in to complain, resurrecting the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, which quickly went viral. Meanwhile, some celebrities called for a boycott of the Academy Awards show when it airs next month.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Craig Ford: Is the Republican lottery bill really just an attempt to kill the lottery?

  There’s no doubt that momentum for the lottery is building in Alabama. A public opinion poll, paid for by the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, found that 62 percent of likely Republican Primary voters support the lottery, and 59 percent even support expanding gambling in Alabama.

  These strong numbers show why two Republican state legislators, Rep. Alan Harper and Sen. Jim McClendon, recently put out their own lottery bill.

  At first, this would seem like an encouraging turn of events. Finally, after decades of Republican legislators fighting the lottery, there seems to be enough support from both parties to actually let the people vote.

  But what if the real goal isn’t to pass a lottery but to kill it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Bracing for a raid of Alabama's education budget

  As discussed last week, several of the headline Alabama news stories of 2015 may also be the blockbusters of 2016. The Mike Hubbard trial and the decision of the federal courts on Alabama’s legislative district lines will be determined in the first half of this year.

  The biggest news and political story of this year may be a continuation of last year’s major issue, and it also surrounds the Alabama Legislature. The state's General Fund woes will again be front and center.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Darrio Melton: Alabama Republicans can't keep fighting a fictional war against Obama

  If you've turned on a TV lately, you might have caught Senator Richard Shelby's latest TV ads featuring him driving a Ford Explorer through the Alabama country roads and talking about how he fights Obama in Washington every day. Sound familiar?

  Senator Shelby isn't the only Alabama politician who prioritizes fighting President Obama, and the sentiment is echoed loudly and frequently throughout the Alabama Legislature. The sentiment also creates problems when it comes to fixing our budget woes and putting Alabama back on track for a successful future.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Charles C. Haynes: Religious diversity, school calendars and the quest for fairness

  The school board in Howard County, Maryland took the religious-diversity plunge this month by voting unanimously to close schools for the Hindu festival of Diwali, the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Asian celebration of Lunar New Year.

  Students in the suburban Maryland district already get days off for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

  Welcome to the new religious America – a pluralistic society where Protestants are no longer the majority and people of every conceivable faith and belief are increasingly visible in the public square.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1493: Is democracy dying on the vines in the United States?

  Is democracy dying on the vines in these United States of America? There are some pervasive signs. My one vote won’t make a difference. My vote doesn’t count. Voting doesn’t change anything. The situation raises the question: is democracy dying on the vines in these United States of America?

  In President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address, he said, “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.” Is democracy dying on the vines?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Craig Ford: Republicans' proposed pay raise for teachers is ripe for abuse and deeply flawed

  When the Alabama Legislature returns to Montgomery in two weeks, one of the top issues will be a cost-of-living pay raise for educators. Both parties agree that the money is there and now is the time. But there are some major differences in how Republicans and Democrats are approaching this.

  House Democrats will propose a 5 percent pay raise for all teachers, support personnel and retirees. The bill some Republicans are working on is much different. It would not only fundamentally change how teachers are paid but would also create an expensive and intrusive new bureaucracy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Darrio Melton: MLK'S legacy depends on you

  This week we took a day out of our schedules to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a tireless advocate for socioeconomic justice and equal rights at a time of tremendous upheaval in our nation's history. Dr. King shared his dream with America and empowered us to continue moving the bar forward, never accepting less than fair and equal representation for all people.

  Yet in 2016, almost 50 years after Dr. King's death, we still face tremendous socioeconomic and political disparities in our state and in our nation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Keep an eye on the Hubbard drama and the redistricting challenge this year

  A good many of the news stories that were the most noteworthy events of 2015 will continue into this new year of 2016 and may repeat as the major headlines of this year.

  Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard will go on trial in his home of Lee County in early spring. Hubbard, the Republican Speaker, is the architect and leader of the GOP takeover of the Alabama House. Ironically, one of the cornerstone issues heralded by Hubbard in his coup was ethics reform. Interestingly, one of the most incriminating emails revealed during discovery was one in which Hubbard essentially asked his buddy, former Gov. Bob Riley, why in the world did we pass that ethics law?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1492: My experience with a healing teacher

  Teachers must be healers. My dear wife woke up one morning last week with this thought ringing in her head and shared it with me. It’s a powerful notion. I shared with her an experience that powerfully illustrates the point. I want to share the experience with you. Teachers must be healers.

  When I was in the fourth or fifth grade at Vaughan Jr. High School in North Baldwin County, Ala., I had serious problems with teachers and others. The situation was so bad that teachers would not call on me in class. No matter how often I raised my hand, they simply would not call on me. As best as I can remember, this practice started in the third grade and continued in the fourth and fifth grades. I believe it developed in response to my mean self-righteous and know-it-all attitude. I know the practice was utilized by more than one teacher during more than one year. Teachers must be healers.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Michael Josephson: The wisdom and philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  For a man who never reached the age of 40, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left a powerful and
important body of thought. He was a preacher and orator, so rather than writing in the form of books or treatises, Dr. King spoke to the world in sermons and speeches and a few articles.

  His impact and image as a social activist is so prominent that I think his contributions as a philosopher are underestimated. Here is a very brief tour of a few things he said worth noting. (I have also compiled 58 quotes well worth reading in this blog post.)

  In one of his earliest writings in 1958 he said, “Government action is not the whole answer to the present crisis, but it is an important partial answer. Morals cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated. The law cannot make an employer love me, but it can keep him from refusing to hire me because of the color of my skin.”

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sam Fulwood III: Saving the best for last

  As President Barack Obama delivered his seventh—and final—State of the Union address Tuesday night, I looked on with amazement that bordered upon disorientation. Did this really happen, a black president of the United States completing the circuit of his duties with a valedictory speech?

  Or have I spent these past few years on htraE, a Bizzaro world where everything is oddly opposite of all that we know to be true on this planet? After all, it was only a decade ago that I—and, dare I say, nearly every other person on Earth—believed it impossible that this nation, conceived with chattel slavery endorsed in its Constitution, would ever elect a black American as its leader.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Craig Ford: Alabamians want a lottery, but not a "blank check" lottery

  As droves of Alabamians flooded into Tennessee, Georgia and Florida for a chance to win the $1.6 billion Powerball, it’s obvious the people of Alabama want to play the lottery.

  People in 44 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands are all allowed to purchase lottery tickets. Alabama is one of just six states that don’t have a lottery.

  Instead, every year, Alabama sends hundreds-of-millions of dollars to other states to play their lotteries; spending our money to pay for those states’ government services, and to send their kids to college at our expense.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

David L. Hudson Jr.: Public school officials need First Amendment lesson

  Giles County (Tennessee) public school officials got a lesson in First Amendment principles recently from U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp.

  Richland High School senior Rebecca Young had worn a t-shirt on the first day of her senior year with the message: “Some People are Gay, Get Over It.” The t-shirt caused no disruption from her classmates or teachers.

  However, her principal was upset by the t-shirt and allegedly told Young she could not wear to school “any t-shirt referencing LGBT rights.” School officials later claimed such action was necessary to protect Young from would-be harassers and bullies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Is Bush the GOP's only hope in 2016?

  Last week we discussed the presidential race. The GOP race for the nomination has been one of the most illuminating in history. Never before have political novices been the frontrunners. It is obvious that voters prefer an outsider with no governmental experience. Donald Trump and Ben Carson would both be considered outsiders, both lacking in political experience and skills and Trump lacking tact. No matter what they say or the amateurish blunders they make, they doggedly cling to their lead in the polls.

  Over the years I have been able to predict Alabama political races with some accuracy -  national and presidential politics, not so much. A prime example would be the presidential race eight years ago. In 2008, I looked at Fred Thompson and saw a presidential winner. He was tall with a deep gravelly voice. He had charisma and gravitas, not to mention a perfect resume and bio to be president.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Executive power and the role of Congress in the Paris climate and Iran nuclear agreements

  In recent months, multilateral efforts have produced two historic agreements aimed at improving global security: the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate agreement.

  The Iran nuclear agreement, which blocks Iran’s nuclear capacity in exchange for a gradual lifting of economic sanctions, was finalized in July and is expected to be implemented imminently. Before negotiations concluded, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which gave Congress a 60-day period in which it could seek to pass a joint resolution of disapproval. On September 10, all but four Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted to filibuster such a resolution. The agreement, which is nonbinding under international law, therefore proceeded without the need for a presidential veto.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Darrio Melton: Our teachers shouldn't be on the chopping block to fix the state's problems

  We have a lot of issues on our plate for the upcoming legislative session, and we've talked a lot about many of the critical issues: our state's budget crisis, lack of Medicaid expansion, prison overcrowding, jobs, and so on.

  As we move closer to the 2016 session, rumors are beginning to circulate about several legislators' plans to revisit the issue of teacher tenure and bring No Child Left Behind back to Alabama.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Charles C. Haynes: In 2016, genocide is taking place and it must end

  The New Year begins, mass killings continue, and the United States government has yet to declare what is happening in Iraq and Syria “genocide.”

  By now, the evidence is overwhelming: ISIS is systematically eradicating Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in territories controlled by the terrorist group.

  What’s at stake is more than a question of semantics: A declaration of genocide has significant legal and moral implications that would require the United States – and likeminded countries – to do whatever it takes to rescue the refugees and end the killing.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Craig Ford: Fix the Alabama Accountability Act or repeal it

  If the Alabama Legislature won't repeal the Accountability Act, then they should fix it so that the money is actually going to kids in failing schools.

  New Years is a time of reflection and resolutions—a time for changes and fixing mistakes. With the state’s next legislative session beginning in less than a month, there’s a resolution I would like our state leaders to make: fix the problems with the Accountability Act.

  The Accountability Act was sold to us as a way to give children trapped in failing schools a way to attend different schools. But now we know that the Accountability Act is not helping the children it was designed to help.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

SPLC expands ethics complaint against Chief Justice Roy Moore

  Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore should be removed from the bench for advising state probate judges to enforce Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a new supplement filed yesterday in its ongoing ethics complaint against Moore.

  “Chief Justice Roy Moore is once again demonstrating that he is unfit to hold office,” SPLC President Richard Cohen said. “Despite the fact that Alabama probate judges are under a federal court order that bars them from discriminating against same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses, Justice Moore has irresponsibly advised them to do the opposite. You would think after being removed from the bench once before that the chief justice would know better.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: GOP primary a toss-up, but Hillary seems poised to win it all

  Folks, we are in the midst of a presidential race. It has been ongoing for well over a year. We will select a new president in November. Barack Obama has served his eight year limit. Thus, the parade of candidates seeking to occupy the Oval Office has been long, especially on the Republican side.

  You may have noticed that in the previous paragraph I used the word "select" rather than "elect." That would be the proper term since we do not elect our president. The Electoral College selects him or her. It does not matter if one person receives more votes than the other nationwide. The candidate who carries the proper number of states and garners the most electoral votes from those states is declared the president.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Darrio Melton: Alabama can't ignore public transportation needs any longer

  The 2016 legislative session is right around the corner and the Republican supermajority is already divided on the best approach to the budget blunder: increasing taxes or cutting services.

  During the last session many legislators considered an increase in the gasoline tax as a way to shore up the general fund, knowing the state's share of the gas tax goes exclusively to road and bridge maintenance.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Gene Policinski: What a strange year it’s been for First Amendment freedoms

  What a strange, challenging and dangerous year 2015 was for First Amendment freedoms, at home and abroad.

  2015 was but seven days old when terrorists, claiming to be angry over the publishing of satirical drawings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, burst into the offices of the French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people.

  The tragedy sparked a worldwide outpouring of support for free expression — remember the signs and t-shirts declaring “Je suis Charlie” — I am Charlie? But the incident also prompted draconian proposals in France to limit certain kinds of free expression and new restrictions on Muslims simply because of their religious faith. And Nov. 13 attacks in Paris in which 130 died only added fuel to that.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Michael Josephson: Make 2016 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 develop the ambition to be better.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Craig Ford: It’s time to expand pre-K In Alabama

  Since 2008, education spending for K-12 in Alabama has gone down by more than 20 percent. Those cuts have been felt in every classroom in the state from outdated textbooks and technology, to larger class sizes.

  But this year, the state has an opportunity to invest in education again instead of cutting it.