Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

'We won't be erased': Transgender people's existence not up for debate

  The existence of transgender people is not up for debate.

  But the Trump administration seems to be proposing that our country do just that. The New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services is planning to change the definition of sex encoded in federal civil rights law to one in which sex would be determined by a person’s genitalia at birth.

  That would exclude transgender Americans from civil rights protections — and effectively write them out of legal existence. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

You think bombs will deter, discourage and destroy freedom? Think again.

  We — all of us, Americans and others around the world — will not be silenced by bombs, bombast or even murder.

  The lowlife behind the spate of pipe bombs sent to prominent critics of President Trump and his administration was engaged in a futile, juvenile attempt to punish a group of former public servants and private citizens, while trying to send a chilling message to all of us: “Speak out ‘the wrong way’ and you will die.”

  Message back: No luck, pal. Free expression in its many forms wins out every time. You’ve already failed.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Conservative lawmakers are suppressing voters—Here’s what you can do to fight back

  Another election year, more voter suppression. Every election, eligible Americans—particularly people of color, young people, and Americans with disabilities—are forced to fight for their fundamental right to vote.

  For years, conservative lawmakers have systematically excluded and actively prevented these groups from making their voices heard in the democratic process. Suppressing the vote of people of color, for example, dates to the origins of America, when voting was reserved for white male property owners. Even with the 15th Amendment, racially motivated disenfranchisement—such as poll taxes, felon disenfranchisement laws, issuance of English-only voting materials, and discriminatory voter purges—has become a horrific and shameful electoral tradition in the United States. Young Americans and Americans with disabilities have also historically been targeted by voter suppression measures, such as strict voter ID laws that exclude student IDs as acceptable forms of identification and polling places that are noncompliant with requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1637 - Take what we have and make what we need

  “How is the election coming?” I hear this question with increasing frequency, growing concern, and snapping urgency as the November 6th Alabama General Election draws nigh. My usual response is, “It is not just uphill; it is up-mountain. However, the real question is whether we are mountain climbers.” But that is just an initial part of my response. The complete response emerges only when there is a real conversation.

  My most profound and complete response commences with the sentence, "Take what we have and make what we need." As I was growing up, my mother imprinted this life lesson on my mind, my emotions, my heart, my spirit, and my life. I have shared it widely over the years. I helped make it the motto of the Black Belt Community Foundation in its formation. It’s my life motto. Take what we have and make what we need.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Winter is coming, and fuel costs will hit the poor the hardest

  Winter is coming, and it’s going to be colder for some than others.

  “Starting junior year,” recalls Alexis Stewart, a West Virginia-based writer and musician, “my mom said we couldn’t afford heat and I had to ‘suck it up.’ I don’t know if we didn’t qualify for [the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] those years or if the funding ran out before they got to us. I bought a space heater with money from my part-time job, but because of the poor insulation, I’d still wake up to a stiff, frozen blanket.”

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The benefit to Republicans in losing the House

  If Republicans lose control over the U.S House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, they don’t have to be totally depressed. The reason? They will then be able, once again, to campaign in the 2020 elections on the promise that if control over the House is restored to the Republicans, they will be able to rein in the out-of-control federal spending and debt that is threatening to take our country down.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Frank Johnson and the legend of the Free State of Winston

  Those of us who are Baby Boomers remember the tumultuous times of the 1960s. We lived through the Civil Rights revolution. Those of us who grew up here in the Heart of Dixie witnessed the transpiring of racial integration first hand. Most of the crusades and struggles occurred here in Alabama, especially Montgomery.

  A good many of the landmark Civil Rights court decisions were handed down in the Federal Court in Montgomery. The author and renderer of these epic rulings was Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Johnson, who served as Federal Judge in the Middle District of Alabama for 24 years from 1955 through 1979.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Craig Ford: The future of education is at stake on Election Day

  Do you believe money should be taken out of our local public schools so that kids in Birmingham, Montgomery and other parts of the state can go to a private school?

  That is what’s at stake when you go to vote in two weeks.

  In 2013, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill called the “Accountability Act.” The idea behind it was that money that would otherwise go to our public schools would instead be used to fund private school scholarships for kids who attend “failing schools.”

Monday, October 22, 2018

Michael Josephson: Unkind words are weapons

  With four teenage daughters, I frequently find myself correcting, disciplining, or simply protesting unnecessary and unkind comments certain to anger or wound a sister and evoke counterattacks that fill the air with nastiness.

  Hoping to get them to think before they speak in the future, I often ask, “What did you expect to accomplish by that remark?” and “Did it make things better or worse?” It rarely makes a difference.

  It’s as if their instinct to express anger or utter sarcasm, accusations, and complaints is too strong to allow for wise strategies like “Think before you speak” to operate.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Violence and hate, that's The Proud Boys in a nutshell

  On October 12, members of the hate group Proud Boys and at least three ultranationalist skinheads attacked protesters outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City.

  By the following Monday, NYPD announced it had enough evidence to charge nine of them.

  Even a few seconds of footage of the attack makes it clear why. In one video, an assailant in a group of at least 15 people kicks a person curled in the fetal position, yelling “Faggot!”

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How banks slid into the payday lending business

  Meet the new payday loan. It looks a lot like the old payday loan.

  Under the Obama administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau attempted to rein in abusive payday lending, by, among other measures, forcing lenders to ensure borrowers had the means to pay back their loans. The Trump administration, under interim CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, is looking to roll back those rules and give payday lenders, who as an industry donated significant amounts of money to Mulvaney when he was a congressman, more room to operate. A high-profile rule proffered by the CFPB to govern payday loans is under review, and Mulvaney’s CFPB has also dropped cases the bureau had previously pursued against payday lenders.

Friday, October 19, 2018

We should protest proposed restrictions on White House protests

  The White House.

  To the world, it’s the image of the United States.

  To Americans, it’s the “us” in U.S. — and the universally recognized metaphor for the president and the administration behind him.

  And for at least 100 years, it’s been the prime spot for demonstrators focused on many of society’s most important issues — war and peace, abortion and gun rights, health care policies and more.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The Shorty Price story

  Since this is Alabama vs. Tennessee week and we have a governor’s race in three weeks, allow me to share the story of Shorty Price.

  Alabama has had its share of what I call “run for the fun of it” candidates. The most colorful of all these perennial “also ran” candidates was Ralph “Shorty” Price. He ran for governor every time. His slogan was “Smoke Tampa Nugget cigars, drink Budweiser beer and vote for Shorty Price.”

  In one of Shorty’s campaigns for governor, his campaign speech contained this line, “If elected governor, I will reduce the governor’s tenure from four to two years. If you can’t steal enough to last you the rest of your life in two years, you ain’t got enough sense to have the office in the first place.”  He would use recycled campaign signs to save money, and he rarely garnered two percent of the votes in any campaign.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Seven implications of protectionism

  In a speech on the campaign trail in 2016, then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said about Hillary Clinton and trade,

    Hillary Clinton unleashed a trade war against the American worker when she supported one terrible deal after another, from NAFTA, to China to South Korea. It doesn’t matter. No matter where she went, the American worker was hurt and you’ll be hurt worse than ever before if she becomes president of the United States. That I can tell you.

  He then promised that a Trump administration would “end that war by getting a fair deal for the American people and the American worker.” “The era of economic surrender will finally be over,” he said. “You’re not going to see it anymore.”

  Donald Trump has now done what he accused Hillary Clinton of doing: He has unleashed a trade war.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Michael Josephson: The illusion of success

  Reach for the stars. Pursue goals beyond your grasp. These are good life strategies. We never know how much we can accomplish until we try.

  But what happens when we’re told we must reach the stars or suffer consequences?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Trump's unwitting devotion to socialism

  Donald Trump and, unfortunately, many of his conservative followers, are absolutely clueless when it comes to socialism. You couldn’t find a better example of this phenomenon than a Trump op-ed that was published in USA Today recently. In fact, Trump’s op-ed is a perfect demonstration of the life of the lie that has come to afflict the entire conservative movement.

  In his op-ed, Trump takes Democrats to task for supporting “Medicare for All,” which would essentially be a full-fledged socialist healthcare system. He says that this shows that Democrats are committed to turning the United States into another Venezuela, a country in chaos, crisis, poverty, and violence owing to its socialist economic system.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Ben Carson wants HUD to stop fighting housing segregation

  Today, a child born to a low-income family and raised in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans will have beaten the odds if they live past age 67. They can also expect to make just $20,000 a year by the time they reach their thirties.

  Just a 20-minute drive away, in the Uptown/Carrollton neighborhoods near Tulane and Loyola Universities, that same child could expect to live 20 years longer and take home roughly $53,000 more in annual salary.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

How you vote In November could decide whether you get to vote on a lottery

  The lottery has been talked about for decades in Alabama. There’s no question that the voters support it, but the Alabama Legislature has failed to pass a bill that would let the people vote.

  Two years ago, the lottery almost made it through the legislative process before it died in the Senate. But now the lottery is getting new attention after the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives told the press that a lottery would be on the legislature’s agenda next year.

  There’s no question that the lottery could do a lot of good for our state. The most recent estimates are that a lottery could bring in $332 million a year, and that kind of money could solve a lot of problems.

Friday, October 12, 2018

How to prepare for Russia’s October surprise

  Russia is in the business of mind control.

  They’re not doing it through sinister headgear, satellite interference, or dream invasion like in Inception, though.

  Instead, Russia seeks to control the minds of Americans through something we all have and spend arguably too much time on - social media.

  This isn’t news to many of us. For years we’ve heard how Russia infiltrated Facebook and Twitter in an effort to divide our nation during the 2016 election. It seems, however, that Russia’s interference in our last presidential election wasn’t a “one-and-done” deal.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Trump is rewriting our immigration law to come after families like mine

  Late last month, the Trump administration released a draft rule that would change the way immigration works in the United States. Under the proposal, immigration officials will try to predict whether a person applying for a green card might receive government assistance, like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, at any point during their future life in the United States. If it seems possible — because the applicant isn’t wealthy or has a disability — then the green card will be denied, even if the applicant has met all of the other criteria.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – Democrats have three viable candidates, but Republicans will prevail

  In politics, perception is reality. It is perceived and therefore factual that a Democrat cannot win a statewide race in Alabama.

  The proof is in the pudding. We have 29 elected statewide officeholders in the Heart of Dixie. All 29 of them are Republicans.

  In addition, 6 out of 7 of our members in Congress are Republican. We have one lone Democratic member of Congress. Terri Sewell occupies the seat in Congress designed to be held by an African American.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

'They served their time. Their voices could make a huge difference.'

  Lorena Barnum Sabbs was just 11 years old when she was arrested.

  She was trying to integrate the local movie theater in Americus, Georgia. But when the group of 30 girls refused to leave the balcony, police arrested them and drove them almost an hour away to the Leesburg Stockade. They slept on the cells’ cement floors. They were threatened. A snake was thrown into their cells. Some were held as long as 45 days.

  Their parents didn’t know where they were until a local dogcatcher spread the word. No one could get them out until the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee sent a photographer. Sabbs told the story of her 1963 arrest to Susan Chira, who interviewed more than 50 black women during a voter mobilization bus tour across Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi last week.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Three takeaways from the New York Times’ bombshell Trump investigation

  Last week, The New York Times published a bombshell investigative report alleging that the Trump family engaged in “outright fraud” and other schemes to dodge federal taxes over many years. Through these schemes, the Trump family may have avoided or evaded as much as $500 million of taxes on the transfer of wealth from President Donald Trump’s parents to him and his siblings.

  If true, the revelations in the 14,000-word story are shocking. They bear on Trump’s personal finances, his credibility, his greed, and—perhaps most importantly—his policies. The revelations include:

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Being basically honest

  After a workshop, a fellow came up to me and complained that I had made him feel uncomfortable. “I’m not perfect,” he said, “But I’m basically honest.” His implication was that it’s unfair to expect people to be honest all the time.

  His comment reminded me of a cartoon where one fellow confided to another, “I admire Webster’s honesty, but his insistence on being scrupulously honest is really annoying.”

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Detention system forces people to give up claims to stay in U.S.

  Before fleeing Somalia, Yuusuf was a teacher.

  He was dedicated to education and its ability to empower the next generation of Somalis. But Yuusuf’s passion for teaching also put him in the crosshairs of al-Shabab, the al-Qaida-linked extremist group that has terrorized his country.

  The group opposes Western-style education and is willing to kill teachers and students alike to stop its spread in the region. In 2015, extremists attacked Yuusuf’s school, slaughtering his fellow teachers.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Trump administration’s proposed MATS rollback is a direct attack on women and children

  This week, the Trump administration plans to take initial steps to allow power plants to spew toxic mercury and other hazardous pollution into the air, threatening the health of the American public. Like so many of the Trump administration’s rollbacks, this proposed change to undo the existing Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) comes with devastating health impacts for pregnant women and children. For this reason, the rollback has been criticized by many and is even opposed by a coalition of utilities and union groups.

  Worst of all, rolling back the MATS is likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on pregnant women and children—in particular, those living in communities located near coal- and oil-fired power plants. Furthermore, data show that people of color and people with disabilities are more likely to live in these communities, further increasing the health disparities that exist between these groups and the general population. Mercury exposure has been linked to severe damage to the lungs, brain, and other organs, and those who are exposed often later experience developmental disorders.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Some politicos learn lessons the hard way

  For some untold reason or some would say, ungodly reason, I have always been enthralled by and involved in politics. As a boy growing up in Troy, I was tutored and trained in the rules and rituals of Alabama politics by two masters of my county’s political history.

  The probate judge and state representative were my mentors. They both had been in politics for decades. Both mentors had taught me a lot of political tidbits over the years, but when it finally came time for me to make my first foray into the arena, they sat me down. I could tell that I was going to get some sage advice since both were present. They gave me one of the cardinal rules of politics – you run your own campaign and never ever get involved in other people’s races. They said you should be thankful that they elected you to your office. It made sense that it would be arrogant and presumptuous, even if you had been in your post for a while, that you should not offer your opinion on other races. In addition, the old adage applies – you make one ingrate and hundreds of enemies.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Lawsuits challenging DeVos’ anti-student higher education agenda

  Under the leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education has sought to unravel protections for college students. In an attempt to push back against the department’s dubious legal maneuvers, a number of state attorneys general, civil rights organizations, and advocacy groups have engaged the courts. The National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN), the Harvard Legal Services Center, the National Consumer Law Center, and others have sought to prevent the rollback of crucial regulations and bring more transparency to the department’s decision-making.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Social Security is more than unsustainable

  It seems that Russia is having the same problem as the United States when it comes to its government retirement system: the system is unsustainable because the number of retirees receiving benefits is growing faster than the number of workers supporting the system.

  Soon after his inauguration for a fourth term as president of Russia, Vladimir Putin spoke about his plans to cut poverty, boost economic growth, improve medical care, and increase life expectancy. When asked whether the retirement age would be raised, Putin gave an evasive response:

Monday, October 1, 2018

By undermining the ICC, Bolton is compromising America’s values

  In his first speech since becoming President Donald Trump’s national security adviser in April, John Bolton took aim at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Describing the court as “ineffective, unaccountable, and … outright dangerous,” Bolton announced that the Trump administration would use “any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”

  Far from being illegitimate, the ICC has been a critical mechanism for securing accountability and justice since its inception two decades ago. While it has had its challenges, the court is not known to have ever prosecuted cases unjustly. Nevertheless, in his speech, Bolton cited specific measures that the administration would take if the ICC were to pursue actions against the United States and Israel, including banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanctioning their funds in the United States, and prosecuting them in the U.S. criminal system—although for what crimes is unclear. He also threatened similar actions against any nation or company that assists the ICC in any investigations of Americans.