Tuesday, October 31, 2017

10 things you didn't know about the history of Halloween

10) While today's costumes channel an inner fantasy, they started with a much more solemn purpose.

  One of the earliest examples we have of people donning costumes comes from Hallow Mass, a ceremonial mass dedicated to prayers for the dead. People appealed to their ancestors for everything from happy marriages to fertility, and costumes were a part of that.

  It wasn't until the Victorian era that the idea of dressing up really went mainstream, and a lot of that started with the Robert Burns poem "Halloween." Originally, the best costumes were the ones that were creepy, which isn't entirely surprising. The Victorians were obsessed with the idea of spirituality and the afterlife, so pioneering the ghost costume made a lot of sense.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Women are driving the resistance

  The 2016 election season was a troubling reminder of the stubborn persistence of sexism and misogyny. Whether or not they chose to vote, millions of women across the United States were forced to confront a stark reality: Their country had elected a president who built his campaign on division, professing to want to empower women even as he consistently embraced and deployed hostile, disparaging rhetoric about and toward women. President Donald Trump has also surrounded himself with and elevated men—such as Vice President Mike Pence, former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions—who have consistently supported anti-women policies.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Trauma, not rehabilitation, in juvenile detention centers

  Elord Revolte died a tragic death in Florida’s juvenile justice system after he tried to get a carton of milk without permission.

  In a gut-wrenching series called “Fight Club,” The Miami Herald investigated more than a decade’s worth of records from the state’s juvenile justice system and found a culture of inconceivable violence that has resulted in at least 12 deaths of detained youths since 2000.

  It was such violence that cost Elord his life.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1585: Crazy can be good!

  Crazy. He is crazy. She is crazy. You are crazy. I am crazy. You are so crazy. Crazy can mean so much from a “low down put down” to a term of endearment. It can also mean beyond exceptional. I want to explore the beyond exceptional. Have you heard people say that “crazy” people are stronger, run faster, lift more, have greater stamina and perform all kinds of feats way beyond the ability of “normal” people? I don’t know whether there is truth in this perception of “crazy,” but I know I have heard it a lot. In fact, I sometimes apply it to myself. When we are crazy, we don’t know our own limitations so we keep exceeding them.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Jacob G. Hornberger: Isolationism and open borders

  In an implicit rebuke of President Trump, former President Bush delivered a speech last week in which he warned against “isolationism sentiments.”

  Isolationist sentiments? Is he kidding? Don’t make me laugh. Trump has made it very clear that he is firmly committed to continuing the forever wars that Bush launched in Afghanistan and Iraq more than 15 years ago and Bush’s perpetual “war on terrorism,” which he used to justify the adoption of such totalitarian powers as indefinite detention, torture, and assassination.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Poverty expert explains how we make it a crime to be poor

  Officially, the United States ended debtors’ prisons in 1833. Unofficially, as we saw in the Justice Department’s report on racially biased policing in Ferguson, there is a system of fines and fees for minor crimes that often result in jail time for the poor, mostly black citizens who cannot afford to pay them.

  To provide more context on the issue, I talked with Peter Edelman, Georgetown University law professor and former staffer for Robert F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, about his new book Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Around Alabama

  There have been quite a few political happenings in the Heart of Dixie during October. Birmingham has elected a new mayor. 36-year-old Randall Woodfin defeated two-term mayor William Bell. 

  I never got to know Bell that well; however, the few times I visited with him he seemed to be an affable fellow. He surely looked like a mayor. His distinguished demeanor and exquisite diction and appearance gave an elegant impression for Birmingham. He looked like he came out of Hollywood central casting.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Trump is the reason the Constitution has an anti-corruption clause

  The investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Russian attack on the U.S. election system has garnered significant attention. But, more quietly, another effort to limit foreign influence over our government continues apace.

  On October 18, a federal district court in New York heard arguments in Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump, in which the plaintiffs argued that President Donald Trump has violated the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause, an anti-corruption clause that prohibits government officials from receiving anything of value from foreign governments without the consent of Congress. While these cases are just beginning, the ongoing investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia have made clear that the problem of foreign influence in this administration is both very real and very dangerous.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1584: God bless the child that’s got its own

  Mama may have, Papa may have, but God bless the child that’s got his own. That is a key verse in the Billie Holiday song, "God Bless the Child." It captures a profound truth about the power of ownership. I will change the word “his” to “its” as I employ the verse as a refrain in this Sketches. God bless the child that’s got its own.

  I learned the power of ownership through an unforgettable childhood experience. Our family lived on heir property (real property inherited upon death resulting in multiple owners). However, my father Sam Sanders was not an heir to the property because my grandfather, Miles Sanders, was still alive. We had no ownership.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Craig Ford: Career tech should be just as much of a priority as college prep

  The largest school district in Maryland recently received a report from a consulting firm they hired to help improve their education system. The report’s conclusion was simple: career preparation has been marginalized as a priority, and the school system’s programs are not keeping pace with the changing nature of employment.

  More specifically, the report showed that the school system is putting most of its energy and resources into college preparation despite the fact that most of the available jobs are middle-skill positions that require less than a bachelor’s degree.

  Why should people in Alabama care about a report on Maryland’s school system? Because we – and the rest of America – have the same problem.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

For the cost of repealing the estate tax, Congress could buy everyone in America a pony

  You know how you’ve always wanted a pony? How as a child you dreamed of feeding carrots and sugar cubes out of the palm of your hand to a little chestnut-colored horse named Maple?

  It may sound fanciful to adults, but President Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress put together a wish list of tax cuts for the wealthy that are far more extravagant than ponies. It turns out for the cost of just one of these tax cuts—repealing the tax on wealthy estates—we could literally buy every single American a pony.

  A lovely little Shetland pony, specifically. For all 325 million of us. In fact, the benefits Trump’s own adult children could get from his estate tax repeal would fund nearly 1.4 million ponies—that alone is enough to cover giving a pony to everyone in the state of Maine.

Friday, October 20, 2017

This is how much average Americans will pay for Trump’s tax cuts for the 1 Percent

  On the heels of their humiliating health care debacle, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are stepping up efforts to push a tax plan designed to benefit the wealthy. The plan makes vague and unspecific overtures when it comes to provisions that could benefit working- and middle-class taxpayers, but it is crystal clear about the benefits it would bestow on rich individuals and wealthy corporations.

  For example, the plan removes taxes on extremely wealthy estates, slashes the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, and abolishes the alternative minimum tax, which ensures that higher-income households—which are often able to take advantage of lucrative deductions and credits—contribute at least some modicum of taxes. It also gives a special low tax rate to owners of pass-through businesses, who are already able to avoid corporate taxes by instead paying personal tax rates on their portion of the businesses’ profits, allowing them a lower effective tax rate. All of these provisions would benefit the wealthiest Americans, including Trump himself.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How a mass shooting made my town an advocate for gun safety

  My rough, unscientific estimate is that we are about three-quarters of the way through the national grieving process for Las Vegas. Americans are pretty familiar with the rhythmic mourning of mass shootings: Widespread shock, political chest-beating, internet rage, and then silence. Then our wounds start to heal and the nation moves on, leaving the thousands of people who were injured or lost someone they loved to recover on their own. Those individual broken hearts will keep bleeding for years—many, like mine, will burst open again every time there’s another shooting.

  My mind still flashes back to my hometown every time news of a shooting breaks even though Tomasz was killed almost five years ago. It was early on Christmas Eve in 2012 when a man set his family home on fire and shot the firefighters who responded to the blaze from a berm across the street. He used the same model of assault rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook massacre two weeks earlier.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Kay Ivey's stealth campaign

  Now that the dust has settled from the Republican Senate primary, we can focus on the much-anticipated 2018 elections.

  Kay Ivey is definitely running for governor. She raised over one million dollars in a few short weeks in August through an exploratory committee. As of the last reporting period, she has raised $1.2 million followed closely by Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who is at $1.1 million.

  Ivey has been running a stealth campaign, traveling the state and looking gubernatorial. On a recent day in Tuscaloosa, she visited the University of Alabama and then mid-morning visited a pre-kindergarten class in the Druid City. Allow me to share a story surrounding the governor's Tuscaloosa visit. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taylor Dawson: Religious liberty for all

  Free exercise of religion is a bedrock principle of American governance. As schoolchildren, we’re taught that Pilgrims fled to America to avoid persecution by the Church of England. While many of America’s founders were Christians, they prohibited government from favoring one religion over another. Our constitutional protection for religious exercise is listed first in the Bill of Rights. That wasn’t a mistake.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bigotry is not an American value

  On October 14, 1979, more than 100,000 people marched on Washington to demand equal rights for LGBT people.

  But nearly four decades after the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is intent on rolling back their rights.

  Just over a week ago, Sessions issued a memo to Department of Justice lawyers asserting that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination. His directive overturned the protective policy established under President Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Gene Policinski: To Trump on NBC ‘license’ tweet: No!

  There’s only one appropriate, spirit-of-freedom response to the “Trump tweet” on Wednesday asking when it’s “appropriate” for the government to punish NBC News for a story the president didn’t like:

  Never. And yes, the repetition of “appropriate” and the use of italics are for emphasis.

  Trump is disputing an NBC report earlier in the day — based on interviews with three officials in the room at the time — that during a July meeting Trump had proposed a massive increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal, which critics immediately pounced on as evidence he was naïve and ignorant of the cost, policy and treaty barriers to such an increase.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1583: Vision is really, really powerful!

  Vision is powerful. Vision is really, really powerful. Vision helps us to know where we are going to. Vision helps us to understand where we are coming from. Vision helps us to know where we are in relation to where we are going and where we are coming from. Vision helps us to know how to take what we have and make what we need to get to where we are going. Vision helps us know that it is not what we are going through but what we are going to. Vision is really, really powerful.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Craig Ford: Committee looking into school suspensions and expulsions is a step in the right direction

  The late actor Nelsan Ellis, who grew up in Bessemer and went on to become famous for his role on the HBO series “True Blood,” was interviewed by al.com back in 2009. When asked about his experience at Jess Lanier High School, he said, "It's hard to get an education when teachers spend 70 percent of their time trying to discipline students. I grew up knowing I wanted to escape that life, and the only escape was education."

  I believe he hit the nail on the head. Discipline issues are at the heart of why some schools are failing, and addressing those discipline issues is essential for fixing failing schools.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mississippi police called ICE then an agent shot an unarmed man

  Police in riot gear. Protesters blocking highways. A heated discussion about the acquittal of a white police officer for his role in the shooting of a black man.

  It’s becoming a familiar scene for St. Louis, Missouri.

  More than 300 protesters have been arrested in just 18 days following an innocent verdict in the non-jury murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley, who fatally shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Partisan drama in JeffCo and how it affects the race for Alabama AG

  Jefferson County is transitioning from a Republican to a Democratic county. In the process, they are having an interesting array of intriguing political happenings. You may recall that a few months back I wrote about the indictment of the newly-elected Jefferson County District Attorney, Charles Todd Henderson, on perjury charges. To say a lot has happened since then would be an understatement. 

  Dr. Robert Bentley has vacated the governor’s office under a scandalous cloud. Lt. Governor Kay Ivey has ascended to the governorship and appears to be the favorite to win election to a four-year term of her own in next year’s general election. We have had a special election to fill the remaining three years of Jeff Sessions’s six-year Senate term. Former Governor Bentley’s appointee, former state Attorney General Luther Strange, was overwhelmingly defeated by former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, and the Ten Commandments Judge is poised to become our junior U.S. Senator. And that brings me back to Henderson. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Laurence M. Vance: Decriminalization is not enough

  According to recently released FBI crime data, there were 1,572,579 drug arrests in the United States last year. That’s an average of one drug arrest nearly every 20 seconds. The total number is up by about 5.6 percent from the 1,488,707 arrests for drug crimes in the United States in 2015.

  Because of a change in how the annual law enforcement numbers are publicized, it’s harder to determine just how many people were busted for marijuana and how many were busted for other drugs. However, Tom Angell — founder of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and editor of the cannabis news portal Marijuana Moment — was able to determine that “marijuana arrests are on the rise in the U.S., even as more states legalize the drug.”

Monday, October 9, 2017

Trump administration's guidance on religious freedom undercuts LGBT rights

  Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued guidance Friday setting forth the views of the Department of Justice about how federal agencies should protect religious freedom.

  The guidance directs agencies to give the broadest possible protection to people, companies and government contractors who cite religious beliefs to avoid compliance with anti-discrimination and other laws.

  This latest memo reflects the Trump administration’s continuing campaign to roll back the rights of the most vulnerable members of society, including LGBT people. By saying virtually nothing about how the invocation of religious exemptions can cause real harm to real people, it invites taxpayer-funded agencies, government employees, government contractors and government grant recipients to discriminate against LGBT people, as long as they cite a religious reason for doing so.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Myth vs. Fact: Debunking the gun lobby’s favorite talking points

  The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), pursues a number of different policies in state legislatures across the country and in Congress, including eliminating permit requirements for concealed carry; expanding locations where guns may be carried; weakening regulation of the gun industry; and overriding duly enacted state laws that limit gun carrying. While each of these policies have different elements, all are united by a core set of dangerous and misleading arguments perpetuated by the NRA that more guns in more hands will lead to increased personal and community safety.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Trump’s anti-worker judges will outlast his administration

  President Donald Trump is transforming the federal judiciary through dozens of nominees to lifetime positions as federal judges, and many of his nominees have a record of siding with corporations over workers. By appointing Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump has ensured that the U.S. Supreme Court will become the same pro-corporate, anti-worker tribunal that it was when former Justice Antonin Scalia was on the court. With a reliable fifth conservative vote, the court has brought back cases that could hobble public employee unions and make it harder for employees to have their day in court if their employer does something wrong.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1582: The Invitation

  I received an invitation to attend services at a “White church” (a church whose pastor and members are all White). I wondered about the invitation. This may have been the first time in 46 years of living in Selma and 34 years of serving in the Alabama Senate that I was specifically invited to a “White church” on a particular Sunday. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America.”

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Kate Bahn: Economics of misogyny

  The term misogyny is often used in feminist analysis but not often used to analyze the government and market institutions that make up our society. Outright misogyny—from catcalling to gender-based violence—has been gaining more acknowledgment recently, as society develops a better understanding of concepts like consent and toxic masculinity. But though society has gotten better at identifying misogyny, the systematic role it plays in our world remains largely unnamed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: How Moore beat Strange

  Judge Roy Moore and his wife, Kayla, made their traditional horseback ride to their voting place in Gallant in Etowah County last Tuesday, and when all the votes were counted that night, they won a resounding victory. Moore’s capture of the GOP Senate nomination was impressive. A 55-45 margin is not a total trouncing, but it is considered a landslide.

  Despite being outspent by the Washington establishment 15-to-1, Moore prevailed. His solid bloc of conservative evangelical voters stood strong against an avalanche of negative ads.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Little Rock Nine – and America – 60 years later

  Sixty years before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, nine black teenagers in Little Rock, Arkansas, took a stand.

  The pictures have since become iconic: Elizabeth Eckford stoically walking as a white mob jeers and shouts at her; Terrence Roberts and Carlotta Walls LaNier clutching textbooks under the cover of armed soldiers; Minnijean Brown arriving at Little Rock Central High School, escorted by the 101st Division of the Airborne Command.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Supreme Court Preview: A Momentous Term

  As rumors of major changes circulate around the Supreme Court, the stakes have never been higher. The court has only set approximately half of its cases for the term, and the schedule already includes five blockbusters. These cases span issues from political representation and discrimination to the right to trial and the ability to form strong unions; several stand to affect the fundamental rights of millions of Americans.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Craig Ford: Sports teach lessons you might not learn in the classroom

  We all know that education and jobs go hand-in-hand. If you want to get a good job, you have to have a good education. And having good schools is an important part of recruiting jobs and industry to a community.

  Education gets a lot of attention in Alabama. You hear a lot about how we need to invest more in reading, math, science and computer courses, and we absolutely do need to invest more in those areas.

  You also hear a lot about sports. But what often gets overlooked is the educational benefits that come from playing sports.