Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Labor Day in Alabama

  With Labor Day approaching, it signifies that the long hot summer will soon be coming to an end. It seems that the summers are getting hotter and hotter. I was born and raised in south Alabama, so I was accustomed to long, hot summers. I remember when there was no air conditioning in houses or cars. It was hot, but seems hotter today. I think we have gotten softer. It also seems that we do not have the spring or fall seasons anymore. All of a sudden one day in mid-May, it is 86 degrees and it never goes below that through mid-September, or maybe even October. We have about 5 months out of the year where the temperature is mostly in the 90s.

  This Monday is Labor Day. It usually does not cool off much, but we Alabamians seem to think that Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. I guess it is because it also usually marks the beginning of college football season. For those of us who are political junkies, Labor Day also marks the beginning of the political season.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Extremist File: What is the Alt-Right?

  The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Michael Josephson: Too poor to give

  When Teresa, a widow with four young children, saw a notice that members of her church would gather to deliver presents and food to a needy family, she took $10 out of her savings jar and bought the ingredients to make three dozen cookies. She got to the church parking lot just in time to join a convoy going to the home that was to receive the congregation’s help.

  The route was familiar, and she was stunned when the cars pulled up in front of her house. When the pastor saw her, he said, “We never expected you to join us, Teresa. We know it’s been a great struggle since your husband died, and we all wanted to support you.”

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Jacob G. Hornberger: Do you want a peaceful and prosperous society or not?

  Every Sunday at my church, we are exhorted to pray, among other things, for peace in the world and for the men and women who serve our nation — i.e., the military and the CIA. Naturally, the priests who craft the prayer, along with most of the congregation, fail to see the irony of those two prayers. That is, they fail to see that it is the Pentagon and the CIA whose activities around the world, especially in the Middle East and Afghanistan, are a major reason that Americans live without peace and prosperity.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SPLC backs consumer protection rule restricting forced arbitration

  The Southern Poverty Law Center joined 286 advocacy groups on August 23 voicing support for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposal to restrict the financial industry’s use of forced arbitration – a tactic employed by Wall Street banks and predatory lenders to prevent consumers from challenging illegal practices in court.

  In a letter submitted on the final day of the proposed rule’s public comment period, the groups lauded it as “a significant step forward in the ongoing fight to curb predatory practices in consumer financial products and services.” The CFPB will consider the public’s comments before issuing the final rule.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Dividends of coastal conservation in the United States

  In his 2015 Earth Day speech at Everglades National Park, President Barack Obama hailed America’s national parks, proclaiming, “We are blessed with the most beautiful God-given landscape in the world.” He is not the only one who feels this way.

  In 2015, more than 1 million people visited the Everglades National Park to enjoy its mangrove forests, sawgrass prairies, and extraordinary wildlife. Located on the southern tip of Florida, it is just one of hundreds of coastal and marine parks, wildlife refuges, and marine sanctuaries in the United States. All of these places were designated to preserve America’s publicly owned natural and cultural treasures, both along its shores and under its seas and Great Lakes. Not only do these jewels of American natural and cultural heritage hold immeasurable intrinsic value, but they also provide bountiful economic benefits to their surrounding communities and to the U.S. economy as a whole. The 1.08 million visitors to Everglades National Park in 2015 spent more than $103 million in nearby communities, helping sustain 1,521 jobs and diversify the economies of the surrounding counties.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Gene Policinski: Trump, Clinton show value of a free, independent press

  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may well be the best things that have happened to a free press in a long time.

  “Best” not in terms of ratings, circulation, advertising or such, though some media will see a temporary bump up.  And it’s certainly not because the pair are singing the news media’s praises.  Far from it. Trump finds time seemingly every day to slam the “corrupt, dishonest, media.” And Clinton hasn’t had a news conference in … well, several reporters covering her campaign said in recent days they have lost track after about 250 on how many days it’s been since she last sat for one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Is this the end of television's political power?

  In 1960, television was a new medium. Most Americans did not have televisions in the early 1950s. However, by 1960 the majority of the country had fallen in love with Lucy and TV.

  Presidential races had been run by party bosses in urban enclaves like New York and Boston. Political parties and party conventions were extremely important. The parties were controlled by longtime political pols and insiders. Powerful governors and senators would control their state delegations at the nominating conventions and would yield inordinate power at a critical point in the process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Richard Cohen: Donald Trump, poll watchers and voter fraud

  The strangest presidential campaign is getting even stranger.

  Donald Trump has recently raised the specter of massive voter fraud, saying that he could lose in Pennsylvania only if “in certain sections of the state they cheat.” And he’s proposed a remedy: volunteer poll watchers.

  It’s a remedy that’s now being trumpeted by white supremacists and far-right conspiracy theorists.

  The great irony here is that we have far more to fear from efforts to combat voter fraud, including the potential for an army of Trump poll watchers, than we do from any actual voter fraud.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sam Fulwood III: Police gone wild

  The U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation of police misconduct in Baltimore is 163 pages of horror reading.

  Almost Kafkaesque—albeit in a dry, statistic-laden prose—the report details how Baltimore’s nearly 3,000-member police force acts like an occupying military force in some unruly wilderness. The feds wasted no time in getting to the point—indeed, in the opening paragraph of the executive summary, the investigators “[conclude] that there is reasonable cause to believe that [the Baltimore Police Department] engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law.”

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1523: How do we lift our children?

  How do we lift our children? In everything I try to do, my most important mission is to lift our children. I saw our children lifted in a special way last weekend. Before I get to this special lifting, I want to lay the foundation by sharing a family experience that lifted my children.

  When my children were growing up, we would drive to far-off places so they could go along and learn. As we traveled, we shared stories from our life experiences. Among my children’s favorites were the stories of struggle about my growing up. They would ask me over and over again to tell some of the same stories of struggle.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Craig Ford: Debt is the real reason for the special legislative session

  The Alabama Legislature returned to Montgomery this week for what may end up being only the first of more special legislative sessions.

  Gov. Robert Bentley said the purpose for this legislative session was to vote on a lottery to fund Medicaid and other general fund proposals.

  While the lottery is being debated in the Senate, the Alabama House of Representatives is debating how to spend $850 million from the BP oil spill settlement.

  But the devil is always in the details, and what these bills are really about is debt.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Michael Josephson: Rebuilding your life and reputation

  Larry wrote me the following letter: “I’ve been a small businessman for almost 23 years in a business where people lie, cheat, and steal. I’m sorry to say I became one of them. In the short term it may have helped, but long term it came back to haunt me. There’s no amount of success that’s worth it. I am now 48 years old. I have lost my good name; my values and my ethics have been destroyed. Is there any way I will ever be able to restore my reputation and lead a life of integrity?”

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Rhetoric vs. Reality: Paid family and medical leave

  Access to comprehensive paid family and medical leave strengthens all American families because everyone potentially needs to take off from work at some point to recover from an illness, care for a family member, or welcome a new child. But the United States is the world’s only advanced economy that does not guarantee some form of paid leave for workers. The result is that only 12 percent of private-sector workers in the United States have paid family and medical leave. In most American families, all the parents in the home are employed, meaning there is no full-time stay-at-home caregiver, and the majority of American families rely on a female breadwinner or co-breadwinner. Paid family and medical leave policies are already working across the United States, as cities, states, and individual employers embrace them. But without a national solution, millions of workers and their families are left out.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Will the running mates matter?

  Political experts and historians have consistently chronicled the fact that vice presidential choices have no significant effect on the outcome of the presidential race.

  However, this has been a very unconventional presidential political year. My assessment is that the selection of Mike Pence by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s choosing Tim Kaine were extremely wise and helpful decisions. If for nothing else, I believe that Pence insures Indiana for the GOP and Kaine sews up the pivotal swing state of Virginia for Hillary. They are both very popular in their home states and are capable and stable choices.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Jacob G. Hornberger: The military base dole

  During my recent visit to my hometown of Laredo, Texas, as I was heading out of town toward Corpus Christi, I passed by the former site of Laredo Air Force Base. Serving as a training base for new pilots, the base was a prominent part of Laredo life when I was growing up.

  During that time, public officials and much of the citizenry were scared to death that the base might close. Like many people on the dole and like many other American communities with military bases, Laredoans were convinced that without LAFB, the city would die.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ending the pass-through tax loophole for Big Business

  In 2012, more than 100,000 big U.S. businesses managed to shelter billions of dollars of income in a single tax haven and pay no corporate income tax on it.

  This tax haven is not Panama, Switzerland, or the Cayman Islands. In fact, it cannot even be found on a map—rather, it exists in the pages of the U.S. tax code. These businesses—with revenue of more than $10 million each—managed to pay no U.S. corporate income tax by pretending to be small businesses and thus saved their wealthy owners billions of dollars.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Laurence M. Vance: Prohibition is alive and well

  The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution that instituted Prohibition was proposed by Congress in December 1917, ratified by the requisite number of states in January 1919, and took effect in January 1920.

  The first and relevant section of the Amendment reads:

       After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Craig Ford: The state giveth and the state taketh away

  When it comes to pay raises for our educators, the state giveth and the state taketh away.

  This year was supposed to be the first time our public educators received a true raise since 2008. Before that, the Alabama Legislature cut educators’ and state employees’ pay by 2.5 percent (by making them pay more for their benefits), and tried to make up for it a couple of years later by giving 2 percent back.

  They called it a raise, but educators were still bringing home a half-percent less than they were before the changes to their benefits.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1522: What’s at stake in the Special Session?

  What will this looming special legislative session bring? Will it bring fiscal solutions for Medicaid? Will it bring solutions for the hemorrhaging General Fund? Will it bring an expansion of Medicaid? Will it bring long-lurking gambling efforts to a head? Will it bring better or worse public education? What will this looming special session bring?

  Medicaid was underfunded by $85 million in the 2016-2017 General Fund. This morphs into a billion dollar loss when we factor in matching federal funds and grants. Payments for services by doctors have already been cut by 50 percent. Doctors with large Medicaid practices will be crushed. Rural hospitals teetering on the brink will tumble over. Something must be done. What will this looming special legislative session bring?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Black families work more, earn less, and face difficult child care choices

  Families across the United States are facing a child care crisis, but African American families are especially hard hit by the rising cost of child care and limited options for working families. Today, three in four African American children under age 6 have all residential parents in the workforce. By comparison, the rate is only 63 percent for non-African American children. For decades, African American women have worked at higher rates than other women, meaning that child care has long been a necessity for these families.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Is it time for a lottery?

  As anticipated, a special legislative session of the Alabama Legislature has been called by Gov. Robert Bentley. The session is set to begin this Monday, August 15.

  Dr. Bentley has bemoaned the fact that the legislature refused to grant Medicaid the $85 million they said they needed in the budget fiscal year, which begins October 1.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sam Fulwood III: Voting rights victories are pyrrhic but worth celebrating

  Over the past month, a set of state-level voter suppression laws have fallen like shaky dominoes on a tilted floor.

  In decision after decision, courts have clearly and unambiguously rendered clear-eyed rulings—from Texas to Wisconsin to North Carolina to Kansas to Michigan to North Dakota—arguing that these state legislatures willfully pushed racist laws with the exclusive intent to restrict African Americans and other voters of color from exercising their franchise rights.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Charles C. Haynes: Republicans, Democrats and the stakes for religious freedom

  As this strange, unorthodox and downright scary presidential campaign heads into the final stretch, let’s pause to consider what’s at stake for religious freedom in this election.

  Like motherhood and apple pie, religious freedom is universally popular with members of both major parties. But you don’t have to read far in the party platforms to discover that Republican and Democratic definitions of religious freedom could not be farther apart in meaning and application.

  According to the GOP platform, religious freedom involves, among other things:  Defending marriage as the union between one man and one woman; passing laws protecting people of faith who refuse service to same-sex couples; and displaying the Ten Commandments in public places.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Craig Ford: It will take more than a lottery

  In less than two weeks, the Alabama Legislature will return to Montgomery to take up a lottery bill that no one has seen.

  Gov. Robert Bentley, who has prided himself on using “the element of surprise” when it comes to calling special legislative sessions, has still not released any details or even had any conversations with legislators about the lottery he plans to introduce.

  All the governor has said is that his lottery will be used for the General Fund budget instead of the education budget.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1521: It was an unforgettable week!

  It was a series of unforgettable moments. The moments were cast over four days. Each day had multiple unforgettable moments. Each day was unforgettable in its own way. Each day built on the previous day. For me, it was up close and personal.

  Day One. First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech was unforgettable. She spoke so beautifully and powerfully. She touched something deep inside of me that exploded throughout my being. I was moved to tears. She calmed and lifted the convention waters. She set extremely high standards for the speakers to follow.

Friday, August 5, 2016

House GOP proposals would make health coverage less secure for all Americans

  Seven years after first promised, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has released a vague policy white paper that outlines how House Republicans would attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded health insurance coverage to more than 20 million Americans since 2010 at a cost of billions of dollars less than expected. The document is a comprehensive list of conservatives’ recycled, unpopular ideas. Instead of designing a health care system that works for all Americans, the paper outlines a plan to quarantine people who are old and/or sick in separate, more expensive, and unsustainable markets. These reforms would transfer assistance from low-income people to high-income people and from the sick to the healthy. They would not only raise costs for older and less healthy Americans but also would destabilize the entire health care system, shift costs to patients and families, and make everyone’s coverage less secure.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Michael Josephson: Lying is like drunk driving

  Sometimes lying makes our lives easier. If you want the day off, just call in sick. If your boss asks if you’ve finished a report, say you left it at home. And if an irate customer calls, just make up a good cover story. Technically these are lies, but since no one’s hurt, what’s the big deal?

  We tell ourselves they’re harmless, but are they really? Telling lies is like drunk driving. If we’re lucky, we won’t get caught and no one will get hurt. Still, drunk driving is wrong because it’s irresponsible to recklessly endanger human life. Most lies are wrong because they recklessly endanger human relationships. What’s more, lies are habit-forming. The more lies we tell, the easier it becomes, so we tell more lies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: As the world turns in Alabama politics

  Now that the national conventions are over and we have had a glimpse of what to expect in the upcoming fall presidential contest, let us turn our attention back to our good ole Alabama politics.

  Even though we do not have any good state races this year, it does not mean that we have not had our share of political happenings. We have been so active that we have garnered national publicity.

  Let us reminisce and get caught up on our soap opera, As the World Turns in Alabama Politics. As the year began we knew that the Mike Hubbard corruption trial would finally unfold. It ended in a convincing conviction and the removal of the once powerful speaker from office and legislative leadership.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Richard M. Ebeling: The entitlement state and America’s fiscal crisis

  The Republican and Democrat Party Conventions are now behind us, but through all the cheers and jeers, hoopla and poopla, warnings of a dark and dangerous future or promises of a bright and beautiful shape-of-things-to-come, one of the most serious shadows hanging over America was hardly mentioned at all: the unsustainability of the “entitlement” programs of the welfare state.

  In fact, Clinton and the Democrats have proposed to both maintain and expand the redistributive state, and Trump has expressed his intention of not challenging Social Security or Medicare.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sam Fulwood III: Broadening our policy awareness to include urban Native Americans

  Every now and then I discover something that restructures what I previously thought I knew. Like the first time I heard that the overwhelming majority of the nation’s 5.4 million Native Americans live in urban areas—not on struggling, hard-scrabble reservations.

  Who knew? Not me. In all honesty, I rarely have thought much about where or how Native Americans live in the United States, and—I dare say it—I doubt most Americans have either.