Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: The wall of a dictator

  On Wednesday President Donald Trump ordered the construction of his much-ballyhooed wall along the U.S-Mexico border to begin. Obviously Trump doesn’t see any need to go to Congress to seek approval for his gigantic, socialist, public-works, multibillion-dollar edifice. He’s the president. He can issue “executive orders.” He can do whatever he wants. Who needs congressional approval? Anyway, Congress might turn him down. Or they might delay construction by deliberating and debating the issue. Who needs all that when one can simply issue an executive order to get the wall built?

  This is how dictators have always operated — simply by decree. They don’t need legislatures and, therefore, they either ignore them or they abolish them. And they expect the judiciaries to fall into line and support whatever they do.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Craig Ford: Are our schools really failing?

  A lot has been said about the state of Alabama’s public school system. And for the last six years, state leaders have been obsessed with defining public schools as failing, even going so far as to require by law that at least six percent of all schools must be labeled as failing.

  Making the situation worse is that students and schools have seemingly been set up to fail.

  To decide which schools are failing, the state requires students to take the ACT Aspire test. But the ACT Aspire test is not designed to test accountability or academic progress, and no other state in the entire country uses the ACT Aspire like Alabama does.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Richard Cohen: Trump’s whisperer-in-chief is treading on dangerous ground

  The chief strategist in the White House, a man who rallied a growing white nationalist movement behind Donald Trump, is now telling the news media to “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.”

  We should all be outraged – and more than a little unnerved.

  We all know that conservative politicians have been trying to delegitimize the mainstream press for decades. And, indeed, conservatives have created a constellation of alternative media more to their liking – Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, to name the most obvious.

  But with Trump, we’re witnessing something different, something more insidious. Something that seems pathological.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Cassidy-Collins ACA ‘replacement’ plan forces states to choose from three bad options

  When Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) promoted his ACA “replacement” proposal, introduced this week with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), he said, “Republicans think that if you like your insurance, you should keep it.” Yet a review of the Cassidy-Collins legislative text shows that the bill falls short on that promise.

  Under the proposal, the Patient Freedom Act of 2017, states must choose from one of three options: (1) to continue implementing the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, albeit with reduced funding for the financial assistance that makes coverage affordable for lower- and moderate-income individuals; (2) to opt for the legislation’s preferred State Alternative Option; or (3) to reject any federal funding, though the state would still have to follow some ACA provisions.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Copying the communists

  The biggest mistake the American people ever made was the conversion of the federal government from a constitutionally limited republic to a national-security state, a type of governmental apparatus that characterizes totalitarian regimes. A national-security state consists of a large, permanent military establishment and a secretive “intelligence” agency with omnipotent powers and whose purported mission is to gather “intelligence” about supposed threats to the country.

  That fateful decision ended up costing the American people their founding governmental structure of a republic. Even worse, it stultified the consciences of the American people, leading them to defer blindly to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA as those three components of the national-security establishment led the country increasingly toward the dark side that characterizes totalitarian regimes.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Preserving international justice in the age of Donald Trump

  The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States imperils many of the accomplishments of the post-Cold War international order. Of these, perhaps none is more fragile than the project of international criminal justice and, in particular, its flagship institution: the International Criminal Court, or ICC. Since 1993, the United Nations—with strong support from the United States—has established tribunals with jurisdiction over war crimes and other human rights abuses committed in Bosnia, Croatia, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, and Cambodia, along with the ICC, whose jurisdiction is currently recognized by more than 120 countries. Collectively, these bodies have investigated more than 300 cases, prosecuted more than 200 defendants, and obtained more than 150 convictions.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Alabama's glass ceiling was shattered in the 1950s

  Hillary Clinton’s quest to break the proverbial glass ceiling in American politics came up a little short. More than 100 men have been nominated for president by the nation’s political parties over the past 220 years. She was the first female to be the nominee of one of the two major parties.

  After Hillary became the Democratic nominee last year, former Colorado Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, who ran for president in 1988, said it best, “It’s been the ultimate tree house with a 'no girls allowed sign' posted on it.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Michael Josephson: Meanness and bullying

  Though intensive media attention on bullying has died down, the problem persists in many forms, and it continues to diminish the lives of tens of thousands of young people every day. According to a recent survey, roughly half of all high school students said that in the past year they were bullied in a manner that seriously upset them. A similar number said they had bullied someone else.

  That’s an awful lot of meanness.

Monday, January 23, 2017

12 Faith leaders to watch in 2017

  The 2016 elections drew immense attention to religious identities and values. The news reported on a flood of hateful rhetoric about immigrants, women, people with disabilities, people of color, and religious minorities. Muslim Americans experienced the highest levels of hate crimes since the period immediately following 9/11. And state legislatures across the country introduced and passed an onslaught of anti-LGBT and anti-choice legislation.

  People of faith did not stand idly by. They are activists, advocates, educators, and organizers working tirelessly as forces for social change across many issues areas, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, rights; reproductive justice; racial justice; religious liberty; economic justice; and education. The country will need them more than ever this year.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gene Policinski: An 'open letter' to the rest of us

  Sending an “open letter” to President Trump has been in vogue these days.

  Social activists, business moguls, media chieftains and political leaders all have penned a multitude of them since the November election. Some offer advice, some raise alarms, some offer praise and some just convey insults.

  All well and good – those exchanges and more are in the “free speech and free press” ethos protected by the First Amendment of speaking “truth to power” – even if the response from Trump more often and not has been to vigorously tar unfavorable messages as “untruth.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Craig Ford: The goal of education

  When it comes to education policy, I don’t often agree with my colleague, Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur). But this year she plans to bring legislation that would set education goals for our state, and I like this idea.

  I like this idea because it finally forces us to address the most important and fundamental question concerning education: What is the goal?

  It’s a question that I’m afraid too often gets lost in the debate over education policy and reform. It certainly gets lost in our obsession with standardized test scores.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1545: What do you do when something is important, but the odds are greatly against you?

  What do you do when something is truly important, but the odds are greatly against you? Do you fight on regardless? Do you cave in and give up? Do you join what looks like the winning side? Do you let it ride and do nothing? What do you do when something is truly important, but the odds are greatly against you?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Elizabeth Slattery: As government grows, so does need for Fifth Amendment

  We're all familiar with "pleading the Fifth" - the privilege against self-incrimination. But there's a lot more to the Fifth Amendment than that.

  Along with the Sixth Amendment, it lays the foundation for how government must treat suspects - providing all of us with several protections from arbitrary and abusive government actions.

  Under its grand jury requirement governing "capital, or otherwise infamous crime," 23 jurors must decide whether there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges and proceed with a trial in federal court. The aim is to protect citizens from over-zealous prosecutors.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: On the passing of Albert Brewer

  The passing of Governor Albert Brewer on January 2nd at 88 years old, marks the passing of an era in Alabama politics.

  Albert P. Brewer was a good man and a true public servant. Brewer was born in Tennessee, but his folks moved to Decatur when he was very young after his father accepted a job with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

  He graduated from Decatur High School with honors, then matriculated to the University of Alabama where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. Brewer returned to Decatur to begin his law practice. Soon thereafter he was elected to the Alabama Legislature at the ripe old age of 25. He was elected without opposition three times, and during his third term he became Speaker of the House. Brewer was the youngest Speaker in state history. In 1966, he beat two prominent state senators without a runoff to win the lieutenant governor’s job, which was much more powerful than it is today.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and a pay-to-play nomination

  Billionaire activist Betsy DeVos and her family have given a massive $4 million to the Republicans who will decide whether to confirm her as Trump’s secretary of education, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress.

  DeVos’ hearing begins this Wednesday, and her family has donated a quarter of a million dollars alone to the members of the education committee who are tasked with vetting her nomination. The DeVos family has given a total of more than $950,000 to 21 senators who will have the opportunity to vote on her confirmation.

Monday, January 16, 2017

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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sam Fulwood III: Bending toward justice

  As Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House, his impending presidency nonetheless refutes the now-fraught notion of American exceptionalism—an idea that our society is self-governed by informed citizens whose individual actions collectively work for the best interests of those who live in the nation. As this political theory goes, the United States stands alone among nations in world history as the “shining city upon a hill.”

  Rarely is this argument challenged as the nationalistic hubris that it is. Americans—and many others around the world—accept it as fact, I suspect, because they want to believe its veracity. Until now. Donald Trump promises to plunge a wooden spike through the heart of anyone who fantasized that the political horrors that befuddle lesser nations could never happen here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Michael Josephson: Do you know 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, January 13, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: U.S. bombs and anti-American terrorism

  When the next terrorist attack against Americans takes place, you can be certain that there will still be at least a few Americans, including within the Pentagon and the CIA, who will come out with their standard line about how the terrorists are motivated by their hatred for America’s freedom and values. A few others will claim that the attacks are part of some centuries-old caliphate conspiracy by Muslims to take over the world.

  Consider this: According to a story on Alternet, the U.S. government dropped at least 26,171 bombs in seven Muslim-majority countries in 2016. In a related article on the same subject, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said that this amounts to three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fact Sheet: Affordable Care Act repeal

  Despite the fact that only 26 percent of Americans support repealing the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, congressional Republicans currently plan to repeal much of the ACA early next year. In addition, they plan to delay the implementation of this repeal by three years since they do not yet have a specific replacement.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: What Trump's presidency means for Alabama

  Alabama is going to fare wall under President Trump. There is an old adage that says, “Those that bake the pie get to eat it.” We truly baked the pie for Trump. We overwhelmingly supported him in the GOP primary and helped him secure the nomination. We then gave him one of the largest mandates in the nation in the November General Election.

  Trump is indeed returning the favor. He has named our own Jeff Sessions Attorney General. His confirmation hearings begin this week. In addition, speculation is that Alabama’s Bill Pryor is on a very short list to be named to the U.S. Supreme Court by Trump to fill the vacancy on the Court created by the passing of Antonin Scalia.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Laurence M. Vance: Time to smack down the Small Business Administration

  In 2012, Barack Obama elevated the administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) to a Cabinet-level position, where the office had been under Bill Clinton. The current administrator, Maria Contreras-Sweet, is unknown to the overwhelming majority of Americans, as are the thirty-three administrators who preceded her. This ignorance is about to change, for, according to a statement issued last month by Donald Trump,

    My “America First” agenda is going to bring back our jobs and roll back the burdensome regulations that are hurting our middle-class workers and small businesses. To help push our agenda forward, I am pleased to nominate Linda McMahon as the head of the Small Business Administration.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rex Tillerson’s Big Oil ties endanger the climate and national security

  The direct link between climate change threats and the duties of the secretary of state is strong. As droughts, floods, heat waves, and other symptoms of a warming world increase both in number and intensity—throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Arctic, Europe, and the United States—the next U.S. secretary of state will face urgent pressure to curb climate change and manage the effects of a warming planet that can no longer be avoided. Failure to do so will damage the global economy and destabilize an already wobbly security landscape, with potentially dire consequences for U.S. national security interests.

  The next U.S. secretary of state must, as Secretary John Kerry has, protect U.S. foreign policy and security interests and demonstrate a track record of personal and diplomatic credibility. President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the job, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, does not meet those qualifications.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Michael Josephson: We shape our own character

  Character may determine our fate, but character is not determined by fate.

  There’s no doubt that our character has a profound effect on our future. What we must remember, however, is not merely how powerful character is in influencing our destiny, but how powerful we are in shaping our own character and, therefore, our own destiny.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Liz Kennedy: Congress tries to kill independent ethics watchdog, Americans fight back

  The Office of Congressional Ethics, or OCE, is an independent, bipartisan ethics panel and fact-finding agency that is crucial to protecting the public’s interest in honest services and fair representation from government officials. It has limited yet critical investigative authority and an essential role in publicizing and deterring corruption. The office has been instrumental in successful prosecutions of lawmakers who violated ethics laws instead of working for Americans.

  It is truly unfortunate that House Republicans attempted to start their period of unified control of the federal government by dramatically weakening one of the most effective anti-corruption and accountability tools that exists in Washington. Monday night in a secret vote during a closed party meeting, the Republican majority voted 119-74 to change the proposed rules for the next Congress and eviscerate the independent congressional ethics watchdog. Public outrage ensued, and after members’ offices were flooded with calls in a few short hours, the majority dropped its attack on the OCE—for now.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Charles C. Haynes: To uphold religious freedom in 2017, do small things with great love

  Farewell to 2016, arguably the worst year for religious freedom in living memory.

  From genocide in Syria and Iraq to ethnic cleansing in Burma, religious oppression and persecution destroyed countless lives, exiled millions and fueled the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

  Most of the world’s population – more than 5 billion people – now lives in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1543: When we embrace struggle, we win victories

  “Senator Sanders, did you hear about the victory on the driver’s license offices?” This call came the day after Christmas and I considered it a gift. But it was a gift forged by continuing struggle. Victory often comes unexpectedly, but it never comes without struggle. To paraphrase the great Frederick Douglass, “Victory cannot come without struggle. It never did and it never will.” We struggled, and we won victories.

  The struggle started when the State of Alabama closed 32 driver’s license offices in 28 of Alabama’s 67 counties on October 1, 2014. It made no sense because driver’s licenses are necessary to drive, vote, board airplanes, participate in commercial transactions and much more. Driver’s licenses are critical but Alabama said certain citizens should go to other counties to apply. We struggled, and we won victories.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: What to expect in 2017

  This past year in Alabama politics was surprisingly more interesting than was expected. The Judicial Inquiry Commission removed Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore from the bench for telling the probate judges in the state to not perform marriage ceremonies for gay people. He said marriage should be between a man and a woman, as most people in Alabama in feel. This removal by this panel of former lawyers and judges has caused legislators to call for an investigation of the panel and how they have this much power.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Laurence M. Vance: The United States, China, and Taiwan

  There are 194 recognized countries in the world, all of which are member states of the United Nations (UN), except for Vatican City. There are also Palestine, Kosovo, and Taiwan.

  Palestine, which is recognized by 136 UN member states, is one of two permanent non-member observer states at the UN, the other being Vatican City. Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. It is recognized by 114 UN member states. Taiwan, which is officially the Republic of China (ROC), represented China at the UN until 1971, but lost its UN membership after China, officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC), was given China’s seat.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Alden Abbott: Supreme Court’s Samsung v. Apple decision and the status of design patents

  On December 6 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its much anticipated decision in Samsung Electronic Co. v. Apple Inc.  The opinion deferred for another day clarification of key policy questions raised by the design patent system.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Economic impacts of removing unauthorized immigrant workers

  In every state and in every industry across the United States, immigrants—authorized and unauthorized—are contributing to the U.S. economy. Immigrant labor and entrepreneurship are believed to be powerful forces of economic revitalization for communities struggling with population decline. Estimates suggest that the total number of unauthorized immigrants currently residing in the United States is approximately 11.3 million, or about 3.5 percent of the total 2015 resident population of 324.4 million. Of those 11.3 million, we estimate that 7 million are workers. What is the economic contribution of these unauthorized workers? What would the nation stand to lose in terms of production and income if these workers were removed and returned to their home countries?