Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Yet another reason raising the Social Security retirement age is a terrible idea

  Social Security has long been a bedrock of economic security for American workers and their families, helping them stay afloat when a breadwinner can no longer work because of old age, disability, or death. Today, some 240 million Americans ages 20 and older are insured under the program.

  The benefits that Social Security provides are modest—the typical retired worker receives just $16,140 each year, not far above the federal poverty line. But these benefits are vital to Americans’ retirement security. More than half of seniors rely on Social Security for all or most of their income, and the program protects more than 16 million elderly Americans from poverty each year.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Paul Vann: Do you know the real meaning of Memorial Day?

  There is something special about observing Memorial Day and it involves reconciliation. In other words, the history of this observance finds its genesis in the Civil War and the families who carried on with their lives after losing loved ones in combat.

  There are a lot of claims as to its actual beginnings, with many cities claiming to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Organized women groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War to observe the lost of the war dead.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Laurence M. Vance: Should marijuana be legalized and taxed?

  Although 24 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana, the federal government still classifies marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.”

  Beginning with Oregon in 1973, 18 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Three of them (Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon) and the District of Columbia went on to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. They were joined by the state of Washington. Nevertheless, the federal government still considers growing, distributing, buying, selling, possessing, or smoking marijuana to be a violation of federal law.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Charles C. Haynes: Without virtue, freedom fails

  Civic virtue – or the loss of civic virtue – doesn’t make the top ten list of issues pollsters ask voters to rank. But I suspect many, if not most, Americans are doing a fair amount of private handwringing these days about our collective descent into the proverbial mud.

  In the brave new world of presidential politics, personal attacks, insults and ridicule are becoming the new normal. Protesters shout down candidates, partisans get into violent confrontations, and users of social media create daily streams of vitriol and hate.

  The easy answer, of course, is to blame Donald Trump. After all, Trump has broken every unspoken rule about how presidential candidates speak and behave (apparently a significant part of his appeal). Because Trump hurls insults, intimidates the media, mocks the disabled, the argument goes, the lid is off for the rest of us to do likewise.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Craig Ford: Another missed opportunity to vote on the lottery

  Another legislative session has come and gone, and the Republican leadership in Montgomery has still not allowed lottery or casino legislation to come up for a vote.

  Every year the Republican leadership tells us they need more money to fund the budget, but they refuse to consider the most popular revenue-raising tool we could have. (I would argue the lottery is the only popular way we could raise revenue.)

  A lottery and casino gambling are “voluntary taxes.” If you don’t want to pay it, don’t play it. And it sure beats the $86 million in new taxes on medicine and nursing home beds that the Republicans passed last year, or transferring more money out of education, like the $80 million they transferred out of the education budget last year.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sam Fulwood III: Buchanan’s fantasy past isn’t prologue to America’s future

  I’ve lived in many Americas.

  As a child of the 1960s, I remember the racial segregation of separate bathrooms and drinking fountains in my North Carolina hometown. In the late ‘70s, I was a beneficiary of affirmative action programs that provided both educational and occupational opportunities that my parents and grandparents were denied. Through the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early part of this century, I witnessed the rise, fall, and rebound of our nation’s economy; the decimation of jobs and industries; a growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots; amazing advances in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, rights; and a persistently stubborn gap in wages between men and women. In 2008—and again in 2012—I saw something I thought impossible: the election and re-election of an African American as president of the United States.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Remembering Chief Justice Perry Hooper, Sr.

  A few weeks ago former Alabama Chief Justice Perry O. Hooper Sr. died at his home in Montgomery at age 91. He was the epitome of the southern gentleman. He was also one of the founding fathers of the modern Republican Party in Alabama.

  Hooper Sr. was a GOP leader long before it was cool to be a Republican in Alabama. He was the state’s longtime National Committee Chairman as well as a one-time party chairman. Many of Hooper’s early GOP stalwarts, like Wynton Blount and Jim Martin, used to jest that there were so few Republicans in the state that they could call a state executive committee meeting or convention in a phone booth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Darrio Melton: Republicans aren't practicing what they preach

  As a member of the clergy, "practice what you preach" has a very literal meaning in my life. When I deliver a sermon or lead a Bible study, I'm called not just to be a messenger, but a teacher and example of the lessons set forth on Sundays. That's not to say I don't fall short, because we all fall short. But it is to say that I have an obligation to my parishioners not to lead a Bible study on Wednesday then go out and act like a fool on Friday.

  Being a lawmaker is very similar. When I hold a town hall event or write one of these articles, I have an obligation to my constituents not to say one thing in a stump speech and turn around and go to Montgomery and do something completely different.

  It's called integrity. It's about standing by your values.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Gene Policinski: Hello Facebook! Welcome to the wide, wild world of news media

  Forgive me for a little old-fashioned smirking when following the digital-era dilemma of Facebook having to own up to some human involvement in its tidy, algorithmic universe.

  Millennials and others were outraged — outraged! — at the recent disclosure that the internet social media giant’s “trending topics” report may have had more than a smidge of real people decision-making involved in the daily determination of what’s hot in posted news.

  On May 9, web tech blog Gizmodo carried a report citing an anonymous former contractor who claimed that while he worked on the “topics” report, he and colleagues were directed to regularly insert liberal topics into the report while suppressing conservative subjects.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Craig Ford: Expanding pre-K is a step in the right direction

  With all the bad we see in our political news, it's good to know there is some good news out there, too!

  These days, it’s easy to think nothing good ever comes out of our government – especially here in Alabama! But for all the bad you hear about, there are a lot of great things going on in our state and in our public schools. A perfect example is Alabama’s pre-K program, which has just been named the best pre-K program in the country for the tenth year in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Michael Josephson: The one-minute graduation speech

  I’ve given my share of commencement addresses, and I confess it’s a head-swelling experience to tell a captive crowd how you think they ought to live their lives while wearing an academic robe and a very silly hat. After all, didn’t they come primarily to hear what you have to say? Actually, they didn’t. In fact, graduation speakers are impediments to the real goal of the day – celebration, not reflection.

  So what we need is a good one-minute graduation speech. Here’s my effort:

Friday, May 20, 2016

New Medicare and Medicaid services proposal tests ways to lower drug expenditures

  The current payment methodology for drugs covered under Medicare Part B, which includes costly physician-administered drugs, does not work for patients. It encourages drug companies to charge sky-high prices and creates financial incentives to overprescribe higher-priced drugs, increasing patient costs. This is why the Center for American Progress strongly supports a proposal by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, to test new ways to pay for these medications.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1510: The fight to reopen driver's license offices

  Sometimes things just seem to be working out, but there is an old saying: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” That thought repeated itself in my mind over and over again. I was so thankful because I knew the way things were working was much bigger than me. It was even bigger than all those who helped in so many ways. Sometimes things just seem to be working out, but I know not to count our chickens before they hatch.

  In late September 2015, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) announced that 31 driver's license offices would be closed. As a result, citizens in 28 counties would have to travel to other counties to secure driver’s licenses. In the Alabama Black Belt, 11 of 13 counties did not have a driver's license office. Because driver licenses are the number one document for driving, voting, travel by plane, business transactions, etc., outrage was strong. The matter was even picked up by MSNBC and other national news organizations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: It takes an act of Congress

  Last week we talked about how difficult it is to win passage of a piece of legislation in the Alabama Legislature. It does not matter if the proposed bill is for apple pie and motherhood. If for nothing else, the bill has to go before both House and Senate committees, win approval, and not get an amendment put on it. If it gets an amendment placed on it, it has to basically start all over again. It then has to get placed on the special order calendar set by the Rules Committee, and there are hundreds of bills waiting to get on this calendar. Only a few bills ever get on the calendar each day, and there are only 30 legislative days in the session. If it gets on the calendar, it then has to pass both chambers and hopefully the governor is also for apple pie and motherhood, because if he vetoes it, it has to start all over again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Darrio Melton: Medicaid funding must be addressed in a special session

  The 2016 regular session of the Alabama Legislature is in the books, but for many politicos on Goat Hill, it seemed more like a rush to get out of school for the summer so we can get to the "fun stuff" in the coming months.

  Unfortunately for most Alabamians, the trials and investigations don't impact their lives and communities the way the decisions made in the legislature do. For those people, the end of the legislative session meant they're left without solutions to their problems and without answers to their questions.

  This is why we have no choice but to call a special session, and lawmakers have a duty to focus our time and work on finding real answers and solutions, not debating feel-good legislation or wasting time with political posturing.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Michael Josephson: Intellectual humility and the pursuit of wisdom

  This is a reminder of the need to be as rigorously honest, informed and objective about our own ideas as we are when we evaluate those of others.

  Wisdom requires courage and humility to receive and consider new facts, opinions and perspectives, even when they challenge long and deeply held beliefs.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Charles C. Haynes: Make America safe again: Reject Islamophobia

  Two weeks ago, three men assaulted a 19-year-old American Muslim in Astoria, Queens. One suspect shouted “Arab” and punched the victim twice in the face. A second screamed “ISIS” and approached with a metal pipe. When a bystander appeared, the three suspects fled the scene.

  What’s especially alarming about this incident is how commonplace such hate crimes have become across the United States. Attacks on American Muslims and Muslim institutions have surged over the past year – a surge that can be directly correlated to anti-Muslim rhetoric in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a study released by the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Craig Ford: Alabama's GOP leadership has become Robin Hood in reverse

  Alabama’s leadership has been acting like Robin Hood in reverse. They take from children, educators and correctional officers, and they want to give to murderers, rapists and child abusers.

  State leaders in Montgomery have become Robin Hoods—just not the kind that everyone remembers hearing about as a child. Instead of taking from the rich to help the poor, we’ve started taking from the poor to give to criminals. Alabama’s leadership has become nothing more than Robin Hood in reverse.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Tackling the real scandal behind the Panama Papers

  The Panama Papers leak exposed to the world the offshore holdings of world leaders and their families. Iceland’s prime minister, Ukraine’s president, and the king of Saudi Arabia, as well as close associates of Hosni Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad, and Vladimir Putin, were among those exposed when names linked to the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

  But, while big names captured the headlines, it wasn’t just the impunity of a powerful few that caused the scandal. The more disturbing revelation is the tangled web of financial flows—both licit and illicit—that made such impunity possible in the first place. Despite the rise of a global anti-corruption movement and technologically driven advances in transparency that have made privacy all but impossible in other spheres, hiding money for illicit purposes is nearly as easy today as it was 25 years ago. The real scandal of the Panama Papers is not that corruption continues to exist; it is that many of the methods that kleptocrats and criminals use to hide dirty money remain perfectly legal.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hank Sanders: An open letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump:

  I write out of a piercing pain and a searing sorrow. I write in spite of little hope this letter will make a difference with you. I write because you are the presumptive presidential nominee of a major political party. Most of all, I write because I can do no less as a man, as a father of daughters by birth and foster relationship, and as a grandfather of seven granddaughters by birth and more by foster relationship. I am making this an open letter in the hope that it will make a difference with others as well as with you.  

  Mr. Trump, I respect you even though you show little respect for so many others: women, Hispanics, Muslims, African Americans, the poor, those with handicaps, etc. It is far too much to address all these groups in this one letter. Therefore, I want to focus on women, just one of the many groups for which you demonstrate a profound lack of respect.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Roads and history

  For the past five or six years the Alabama Legislature has pretty much cut state government to the bone. One of the areas that legislators have taken an ax to are Alabama’s cultural heritage agencies. These organizations throughout the state have taken it on the chin.

  There is an informal partnership of seven state agencies that has sought to educate Alabamians about the importance of our rich and dynamic history. The alliance is comprised of the Alabama Agricultural Museum in Dothan, Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park in Brierfield, Tannehill Ironworks State Park in McCalla, the Historic Blakely Authority in Spanish Fort, the historic Chattahoochee Commission in Eufaula, the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, and the St. Stephens Historical Commission in St. Stephens.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Darrio Melton: Poor leadership is wasting time and taxpayers' dollars

  I would start this piece by talking about how the Alabama Legislature finally adjourned for 2016, but the past few years have shown that adjourning is really just an intermission in the legislative process.

  Over the past few years, the regular session has simply been "part one" of the Republican leadership's circus, because we know we're always coming back for at least one special session to finish what wasn't accomplished the first time.

  Despite the super-majority's ability to bring bills up out of order and set the agenda for each day of the session, remarkably little gets done during the regular session, and this past session was no different.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Richard Cohen: Roy Moore has 'disgraced his office' and should be removed

  Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has disgraced his office for far too long. He’s such a religious zealot, such an egomaniac, that he thinks he doesn’t have to follow federal court rulings he disagrees with. For the good of the state, he should be kicked out of office.

  In 2003, Moore was removed from office for violating a federal court order. What he's done this time—tell the state's 68 probate judges to violate a federal court order—is far worse.

  As the Southern Poverty Law Center's ethics complaints lay out clearly, Moore has violated his oath of office and the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics multiple times.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hank Sanders: Every day should be Mother’s Day!

  Mother’s Day was coming. I wanted to do something special for all the mothers in my life. In fact, I wished I could do something special for every mother in the whole world.

  Some time ago, Barbara Brown asked me to be the Mother’s Day speaker for the 11 o’clock services at Calvary Baptist Church. I felt strongly that a mother should be the speaker on Mother’s Day. Therefore, I did not feel worthy of filling that role.

  Sister Brown explained it so I could understand. She said, “This is a program to lift and honor mothers. You may not know what it is to birth a child, but you lift mothers as well as anyone. Nearly every time you speak, you lift your mother or some mother.” I still felt unworthy, but I agreed to speak.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Edwin J. Feulner: How to encourage peace in North Korea

SEOUL – Every Korean I know remains saddened by the division of the Korean people into a North and a South at the 38th parallel. The Korean people still dream of reunification, even as they tell me about their appreciation for the sacrifices that their friends, the Americans, made for Korea’s freedom.

  When we talk about the situation north of the demilitarized zone, it’s with enduring concern. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is the son and the grandson of North Korea’s former dictators. U.N. Security Council resolutions have repeatedly condemned North Korean nuclear activities. A special international U.N. committee has censured human rights violations by these dictators. But they keep on going.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1508: We get what we pay for

  “You may not get all you pay for, but you will certainly pay for all you get.” These words of wisdom were spoken by Frederick Douglass in 1857, some 159 years ago. For this Sketches, I hereby shorten this famous saying to, “We get what we pay for.”

  Alabama has the lowest per capita level of tax collection in the United States of America. According to the PARCA Report dated December 4, 2015, Alabama’s state and local taxes per person comes to $3,046. Some Alabamians are very proud of this ranking. All I can say is we get what we pay for.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Discriminatory legislation seeks to strip workplace protections for LGBT workers

  Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee added an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that would rescind important existing workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, employees of federal contractors. This harmful legislation would gut a 2014 executive order issued by President Barack Obama that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected from discrimination by any company or entity receiving $10,000 or more in federal contracts per year. In total, President Obama’s executive order enhanced workplace protections for 28 million people, or roughly one-fifth of the American workforce.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Goldwater effect still felt in Alabama today

  At this time of year Washington, D.C. is a beautiful place to visit. The city is aglow with the blooming of the cherry blossom trees. The cherry blossoms offer a glorious scene as you stroll down the mall and look toward our nation’s capital. This scene has been glimpsed by tourists and visitors for over a century.

  Each year the National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates a 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Japan to the United States. The current Cherry Blossom Festival has grown tremendously. It is now one of our nation’s greatest springtime celebrations. The first festival was held in 1927, and it has continued to grow over the years. The festival expanded to two weeks beginning in 1944. In 2012, the festival expanded to five weeks to honor the 100 year anniversary of the gift of the trees.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Darrio Melton: Bentley believes prisons are the future of Alabama

  Last week the Alabama Legislature voted to issue a bond for $800 million to build new, super-max style prisons in Alabama. When it's all said and done, this prison plan will cost our children and grandchildren nearly $1.5 billion--and when, or if, it finally gets paid back, these prisons will be 100 years old and in need of a $1.5 billion upgrade.

  Republicans try to paint themselves as fiscally conservative, but this prison plan is anything but fiscally conservative. It's an irresponsible decision and evidence of poor leadership at all levels of our state's government.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Study finds 1,500 government-backed tributes to the Confederacy across U.S.

  At least 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be found in public spaces across the country, mostly in the Deep South, according to a report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Most were put in place during the early decades of Jim Crow or in reaction to the civil rights movement.

  The report – Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy – catalogs 1,503 examples of monuments and statues; flags; city, county and school names; lakes, dams and other public works; state holidays; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Charles C. Haynes: With Bible bill vetoes, governors uphold religious freedom

  The culture wars took an expected turn this month when two Republican governors vetoed “Bible bills” in the reliably red states of Idaho and Tennessee.

  The Idaho legislation would have permitted the Bible to be used “for reference purposes” in teaching literature, history, government and other subjects in public schools. To placate critics, amendments had deleted any mention of geology, astronomy and biology, and added “other religious texts.”

  In his veto message, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter wrote that although he has “deep respect and appreciation for the Bible as religious doctrine,” allowing the bill to become law would violate the Idaho Constitution’s prohibition on teaching “religious tenets or doctrines” in public schools.