Monday, July 31, 2017

Four ways Trump and Congress are making it harder to breathe

  Over the past six months, President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress have taken unprecedented steps to undermine federal protections for air quality, putting Americans’ lungs and health at risk.

  President Trump has filled his administration with former oil, gas, and coal lobbyists who have sought for years to undo environmental protections. With their help, President Trump and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt have already started to dismantle key EPA pollution standards for power plants and oil and gas facilities. For its part, Congress is considering legislation to block the EPA from setting stronger air quality standards to protect the health of children and the elderly. Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate are working hand in hand with the Trump administration to slash funding for EPA programs that enforce laws to protect the environment and clean up the country’s air, land, and waters.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

For many rural Southerners, no health care to lose

  Last week, the Senate took a series of votes aimed at repealing parts or all of the Affordable Care Act. Under any of the plans put forth by Republicans – all voted down thus far – millions of Americans would lose their health care coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

  But in places like southwestern Virginia, many simply have no health insurance — or access to medical care — to lose.

  Last weekend, more than 2,000 people in Wise, Virginia, waited in long lines and sweltering heat for basic health services from the Remote Area Medical Expedition. At a county fairground over a period of three days, volunteer doctors pulled teeth, performed chest X-rays, tested insulin levels, and handed out eyeglasses to people too poor or too sick to get health care any other way.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Killing and dying for minerals

  Americans might soon have a new reason to thank the troops for their service, at least in Afghanistan, where the troops have been killing and dying for almost 16 years. According to an article in Wednesday’s New York Times, “President Trump, searching for a reason to keep the United States in Afghanistan after 16 years of war, has latched on to a prospect that tantalized previous administrations: Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by Western countries.”

  If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does. How do empire and foreign interventionism become more morally perverse than that?

Friday, July 28, 2017

David L. Hudson Jr.: There’s no First Amendment right to be a helicopter parent

  Public elementary school officials had the right to limit campus access of parents who were disruptive, a federal judge has ruled. Because of disruptive behavior, the school’s access in limiting access was reasonable.

  Corey and Misty Camfield had three children attending Jefferson Elementary School in Redondo Beach, California. Both parents were issued “disruptive parent” letters. Parents who receive a disruptive parent letter generally must give 24-hour notice and seek permission before coming to campus other than for picking up and dropping off their children. Corey Camfield had gotten into a heated argument with another parent. Misty Camfield allegedly called the principal a profane name and repeatedly entered the school’s Learning Center without an appointment in violation of school rules.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Minibus spending bill shortchanges American jobs and energy

  The House of Representatives is considering a spending bill for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year that would make huge cuts to groundbreaking science and energy research and development—and even cut jobs programs in coal country—all while shoveling even more money than President Donald Trump requested to the U.S. Department of Defense. This bill is known as a “minibus,” because it combines several of the annual appropriations bills that Congress must pass to fund the government; an “omnibus” package would include all 12 appropriations bills. This minibus includes four appropriations bills: defense, military construction and veterans’ affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Business Council should dump Billy Canary

  During my tenure in the Alabama Legislature in the 1980s and 1990s, political party affiliation was not as pronounced as it is today.

  We were identified within the Montgomery/Capitol arena as either a conservative, pro-business legislator or a liberal, pro-union/pro-trial lawyer legislator.

  Similar to when someone new arrives in Alabama and they are asked to choose sides in college football, you have to make your allegiance with either Alabama or Auburn. We had to make the same choice as legislators. I chose early to be on the side of businesses. I even took a leading role and was the sponsor of most of the tort reform legislation. Therefore, most observers rated me as an arch pro-business conservative.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Trump’s dictatorial travel ban to North Korea

  Last Friday, President Trump issued a decree-law that prohibits Americans from traveling to North Korea. His justification for infringing on one of the most fundamental rights of man — freedom of travel — is two-fold: to watch over and take care of Americans by refusing to permit them to travel to a brutal communist regime that might do bad things to them and to punish North Korea by depriving the country of tourist revenue.

  It’s not difficult to see the irony.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Trump vacations while slashing summer programs for low-income kids

  President Donald Trump’s frequent and lavish vacations have been well documented. He has been away on vacation at his resorts in Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster Township more than 40 percent of the weekends he has been president, asking taxpayers to foot a record-breaking $28.6 million bill.

  The job of president is grueling and taking some vacation is understandable. But Trump seems to have two standards for spending taxpayer dollars. When it comes to his own vacations at his family’s properties, money is no object. After all, it’s going back into his family’s own pockets anyway. But when it comes to the nation’s children, his Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney emphasizes that the government needs to eliminate summer enrichment programs for low-income children out of “compassion” for the taxpayer.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

How 'highway robbery' allows police to seize cash, property

  In cities and towns around the country, law enforcement agencies have the power to seize people’s cash and property through a process called civil asset forfeiture.

  And they need only to suspect the property owner of wrongdoing.

  Law enforcement may keep some or all of what they take, depending on the state. In 13 states and the District of Columbia, agencies are not required to record or report what they’ve taken — or how much it’s worth, or why it was confiscated in the first place.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Full 4th Circuit invalidates legislator-led prayer, could lead to Supreme Court review

  Rowan County, North Carolina’s practice of having its Board of Commissioners lead off meetings with prayer violates the Establishment Clause, a divided full panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The decision very well could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and may be a good candidate for high court review.

  The County’s Board of Commissioners opened each session with prayers, asking attendees to stand and pray with the commissioners. All of the prayers were Christian. Three citizens sued, contending that the exclusively Christian prayers at the Commissioner meetings violated the Establishment Clause. A federal district court agreed the prayer practices were unconstitutional, but a divided three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit reversed and found the practice constitutional.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Craig Ford: Replacing ACT Aspire with the actual ACT is as dumb as it gets

  Last week, our state superintendent of education announced a decision that is so spectacularly stupid that you almost have to assume the intention is to hurt our schools.

  That decision is to replace the ACT preparation exam, called the ACT Aspire, with the actual ACT as a measure of school accountability.

  Think about that for a second. Replacing the preparation exam with the actual exam is like sending a minor league baseball player who has a low batting average up to the major league and expecting him to start knocking balls out of the park.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Mainstreaming of Trump’s reckless worldviews

  When former FBI Director James Comey testified before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he referred to conversations with President Donald Trump as “a very disturbing thing. Very concerning.” While politicians and pundits characterized the president’s alleged comments as obstruction of justice, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) had another take. He defended the president by saying Trump is “new at this” and “learning as he goes.”

  In Speaker Ryan, the president has an expert partner willing to try to enact his plan to pay for his vision of government and America’s place in the world. Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate, is also a former budget committee chairman famous for his efforts to shred the social safety net while heaping tax breaks on the wealthiest few Americans; he knows a thing or two about writing a budget blueprint. While Trump’s initial budget proposal released earlier this year earned widespread criticism even from Republican lawmakers, the 2018 budget proposal released by House Republican leaders Tuesday reflects the president’s imbalanced approach to national security that slashes critical tools of American power.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Caretaker or ideologue?

  As the horse race for our open U.S. Senate seat heads down the stretch, let’s look at the lay of the land.

  All indications are that Roy Moore and Luther Strange are headed for a one-two finish on August 15 and ultimately a runoff on September 26. The winner of that match will be our junior U. S. Senator for the next three years of the Jeff Sessions’ seat term.

  The short window for the campaign helps Moore and Strange. They both have name identification and have run several successful campaigns for significant statewide offices.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Constantly shifting array of official enemies

  After George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq ended up producing ISIS, which was quickly made into a new official enemy of the United States, I am sure that there were lots of Americans saying to themselves, “Oh my gosh, another official enemy. But once we vanquish this one, it will finally be over. We will finally have peace, tranquility, and prosperity.”

  Those people were living a pipe dream. Now that ISIS has been vanquished, is the Pentagon bringing the troops home? Is there going to be a ticker-tape military parade in New York City? Is George W. Bush going to do a painting entitled “Mission Accomplished”?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Betsy DeVos: Secretary of Discrimination?

  The opportunity to learn is a fundamental American value, which no student should ever be denied because of discrimination or harassment. But just months into her tenure, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is sending mixed messages about her commitment to protect young people from discrimination in schools. During a congressional hearing in May, she refused to cite a single example of a time when she thought it was appropriate for the federal government to intervene in cases of discrimination by private schools receiving federal voucher funds. Secretary DeVos has said that she opposes discrimination in any form—but under her leadership, the U.S. Department of Education is rolling back its enforcement of civil rights laws and undermining critical protections for vulnerable students.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sessions lends credibility of office to anti-LGBT group

  Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lent the credibility of his office to a group committed to legalizing discrimination against the LGBT community.

  In a major speech to Alliance Defending Freedom at the group's "Summit on Religious Liberty" in Dana Point, California, Sessions expressed sympathy for the group's contention that its religious freedom is jeopardized by laws and court rulings that protect the rights of LGBT people.

  Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen noted the irony that the attorney general "would suggest that the rights of ADF sympathizers are under attack when the ADF is doing everything in its power to deny the equal protection of the law to the LGBT community."

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Craig Ford: You can’t fix schools by abandoning them

  We all pay our taxes; therefore, all of our kids should receive a quality education.

  You can’t fix something that is broken by abandoning it. A car that breaks down on the side of the road won’t repair itself. If you want the car to run again, you have to give it the repairs it needs.

  The same is true when it comes to education.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1570: The power of July 2nd and the power of the human spirit

  Some dates reflect power. It seems that powerful things happen on the same date over and over down through generations. These happenings sometimes change countries, sometimes change a people, and sometimes change the world. July 2nd is one such date.

  I want to share just three critical events that happened on July 2nd that changed the world. The spirit of each is connected to the spirit of the other. One happened in 1776. Another happened in 1839. The third happened in 1964. The connecting circumstances involved human oppression. The connecting spirit was a will to liberty.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Six things Betsy DeVos has done on higher ed

  July 1 marked the beginning of a new year for federal financial aid for higher education, bringing changes that will affect the millions of Americans who use these programs. On the positive side, low-income students will be able to access additional Pell Grant aid thanks to Congress bringing back year-round Pell, a program that provides additional funds for students who attempt more coursework—often during a summer session. In less fortunate news, the annual reset of student loan interest rates resulted in a 69-basis point increase to 4.45 percent for undergraduates.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Battle for U.S. Senate seat heats up

  The race for our open U.S. Senate seat is evolving. Folks, we are in a brief, 33-day sprint to the primary on August 15. The winner of the Republican Primary will be our next junior U.S. Senator. The December 12 General Election will be a coronation for the Republican. The eight Democratic candidates are irrelevant as are at least six of the Republican qualifiers.

  It is doubtful that either candidate can win the August GOP Primary without a runoff. Therefore, the two left standing will square off on September 26, after six more weeks of grueling and negative campaigning.

  All early indications pointed to a two-man race between Roy Moore and Luther Strange. However, both of these high-profile veterans of state politics have high negatives. These high negatives surrounding Moore and Strange point to the high possibility of a third person winning this race.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Laurence M. Vance: Liquor socialism

  As long as America has been a nation, governments at all levels have sought to tax, regulate, control, and even prohibit the manufacture, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages.

  The most infamous example, of course, is the era of Prohibition.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Exportation of Trump’s anti-woman agenda

  The Trump administration’s anti-woman agenda seeks to deny women access to vital health services and stifle their economic security. That agenda—no longer aimed solely at women in the United States—is now transcending borders. Whether it’s the elimination of funding for vital women’s health programs, expansion of the Global Gag Rule, or failure to appoint an ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, President Donald Trump has made it clear that women’s health and livelihoods are not even being considered as this administration develops its policy priorities.

  The failure to consider women will have consequences. Women make up half of the world's population and contribute to the greater good of our societies and the global economy. Their health, well-being, and ability to thrive are directly linked to world peace and security. The president’s anti-woman agenda not only hurts women here in the United States; it also hurts women in other parts of the world.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Don’t be surprised to see Trump bomb North Korea

  After the in-your-face Fourth of July “gift” that North Korea delivered to President Trump in the form of an intercontinental ballistic missile test, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see President Trump and the Pentagon retaliate by bombing North Korea. The reason goes not only to Trump’s erratic behavior, especially when teased or taunted, but also because a bombing attack would reflect the Cold War mentality that unfortunately still holds the Pentagon in its grip.

  I’ll bet that most Americans today do not realize that during the Kennedy administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were recommending that the president initiate a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, much like the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Gene Policinski: No ‘backflips’ in the newsrooms quite yet

  Attention you so-called “enemies of the people”: There’s reason to think fewer people than last year might see you that way, despite the ongoing, politicized attacks from multiple quarters on the news media’s credibility.

  President Donald Trump hurled that “enemies” epithet at journalists earlier this year, complaining about the news coverage of his administration – and of his presidential campaign in 2016. But such criticism comes at varying levels of vitriol from a variety of political quarters, and started long before Trump took office.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1569: The profound impact of people in our lives

  Her name was Margaret Montgomery. We students called her Peg Montgomery behind her back. She was also our Humanities teacher at Talladega College more than 50 years ago. She was white and female. She impacted my life in profound ways. I never told her how much I appreciated the ways she helped me.

  I remember the first time we connected. It was in September of 1963. I had been on the Talladega College campus just a few days. We had been discussing the importance of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington in her Humanities class. That’s where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech. Then she said that she wished the marchers had done just one thing more. She asked if anyone could guess what it was. I looked around waiting for others to speak. No one raised a hand or spoke. I raised my hand, and she called on me. I said, “You wished the marchers had picked up all the trash from the march.” She said, “That’s right.” From that moment on she took a special interest in me and helped in so many ways.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Military spouses: Lead us out of the quagmire!

  For the life of me, I just can’t figure out why the American people do not rise up en masse against the forever wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan in which the United States has been embroiled for more than 15 years.

  After all, by now everyone must surely realize, despite the superficial rhetoric to the contrary, that U.S. soldiers are not over there killing and dying to defend our country or protect our freedoms here at home. They are over there killing and dying to protect the regimes the U.S. invasions and occupations put into power. That’s killing and dying for the sake of empire and interventionism, which, to belabor the obvious, is different from killing and dying for our country or to defend our freedoms.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Eventful 2017 so far

  As we take a mid-year look at Alabama politics, it has been an eventful first half of the year.

  It is not every year that a governor resigns mid-term. Governor Robert Bentley’s resignation from office on April 10 will more than likely be the most newsworthy story of the year.

  Bentley’s saga had begun 18 months ago. His troubles stemmed from his relationship with his primary and probably only advisor, who was married to a quiet man whom Bentley had placed in a vague $90,000 position with the state. It was a titillating story that led to an investigation and later a finding by the Alabama Ethics Commission that there was reasonable evidence that Bentley may have violated the law. Facing probable impeachment by the legislature, Bentley resigned in disgrace.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Lata Nott: Our love-hate relationship with the First Amendment

  Common practice for liberals and conservatives now is to take turns calling each other enemies of the First Amendment. The results of this year’s “State of the First Amendment” survey gave us the opportunity to consider these insults – and after the numbers are crunched, who is the real enemy of the First Amendment?

  Well, no one. And, everyone.

  Most of our fellow citizens, regardless of their political ideology, are quite fond of the First Amendment, at least in the abstract. The people who think that the First Amendment goes too far are a minority–22.5% of us. A majority of Americans (67.7%) think that the press plays an important role as a watchdog on government; a slightly narrower majority (58.8%) thinks that freedom of religion should extend to all religious groups, even those widely considered extreme or fringe.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Time to act on Russia sanctions

  On June 15, in a remarkable feat of bipartisan cooperation on a critical national security issue, the U.S. Senate passed tough Russia sanctions legislation by a stunning vote of 98-2. By taking this long overdue action, the Senate recognized clearly what the U.S. intelligence community described six months ago as Russia’s “unprecedented” attack on America’s democratic process during the 2016 elections and took the first step to a meaningful response.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Supreme Court upholds the right of churches to steal

  On Monday the U.S. Supreme Court held that churches have the right to steal from people to get the money to fund their activities. No, the Court didn’t use the word “stealing,” but that is the import of its ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a case in which the Court held that states cannot discriminate against churches in the granting of government funds.

  Since all of us living today have been raised in what is called a welfare state, we have become accustomed to people using the political process to take money from some people in order to give it to other people. The tax-and-redistribute process has become such an established part of American life that few Americans ever think about the moral implications of what is happening.

  The Trinity Lutheran Church decision provides a perfect demonstration of the corruption of morality and conscience that has accompanied the welfare state.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Senate repeal bill will increase average costs for exchange enrollees by $2,294

  Now that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released its score of the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), it is clear why the Senate majority worked so hard to keep the text of the bill a secret. The truth is now out: an estimated 22 million people would lose coverage under the BCRA compared to the ACA.

  But the people who would lose coverage are not the only ones who would be worse off. Many Americans who kept their insurance would still face higher costs under the BCRA. For the average marketplace enrollee in 2026, the BCRA would raise their total costs, including net premiums plus cost-sharing, by $2,294.