Thursday, February 28, 2019

Meaningful protection from surprise medical bills

  Many Americans purchase health insurance under the impression that doing so will protect them from exorbitant, one-time costs associated with medical care. Insured patients pay premiums every month rather than having to worry about paying a large medical expense at once. In some instances, however, insured patients visit their doctors and receive a costly, unexpected bill. This is a consequence of the current structure of health insurance and provider networks, wherein insurers and health care providers negotiate to accept discounted payments as payments in full for services in exchange for sending patients to those providers. When patients visit out-of-network providers—those who haven’t agreed to these discounts—they can lose the benefit of their insurance. The provider may charge them the entire, non-discounted price for a service—and insurance may not cover any of the bill.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - 2020 campaigns are kicking off

  A lot has happened politically in the first quarter of 2019. The governor and all of our constitutional officials have been sworn in and have begun their four-year terms in office with Kay Ivey as governor, Will Ainsworth as lieutenant governor, John Merrill as Alabama Secretary of State, John McMillan as Alabama Treasurer, Rick Pate as Alabama Agriculture Commissioner, and Jim Ziegler in his second term as Alabama Auditor.

  More importantly, the Alabama Legislature has organized and the regular session begins next week. Lawmakers will be dealing with a myriad of major issues, not the least of which are the two state budgets. The legislature is more important than who the governor is in state government. The reason being is they appropriate the money. Those who have the gold make the rules. Another apropos adage is, the governor proposes but the legislature disposes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Roscoe Jones – First Amendment hero

  For Black History Month, it makes sense to honor a First Amendment hero of the highest order. Roscoe Jones certainly qualifies. This African-American Jehovah Witness preacher had the temerity to travel all across the Southeast promoting his religious faith even in all-white areas.

  Courage apparently came naturally for Jones, who was born in 1895 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He saw heavy combat duty in World War I. Facing German bombardments in France, Jones recounted the German bombing in his 1968 Watchtower article “Putting Kingdom Interests First”:

Monday, February 25, 2019

What if the FBI hadn't caught the Coast Guard officer with a hit list and weapons?

  He called himself “a man of action” — but luckily, he never got a chance to prove it.

  The FBI arrested active-duty U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson, labeling him a domestic terrorist who pushed for a “white homeland.”

  Hasson had a hit list of Democratic politicians and media figures that included U.S. Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Richard Blumenthal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Joe Biden, and MSNBC hosts Ari Melber, Chris Hayes, and Joe Scarborough.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

News — Can we own it? Should we be able to?

  News permeates our lives. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Mahlon Pitney, it’s “the history of the day.” We consume it constantly and analyze it endlessly. We debate its value and its veracity. But here’s another aspect to discuss: Can we own it? And should we be able to?

  Capitol Forum is a subscription news service that produces policy reports on mergers and acquisitions, corporate investigations, and antitrust enforcement. Not exactly page-turners, but the kind of information investors rely on to make business decisions.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hate groups reach record high

  The number of hate groups operating across America rose to a record high – 1,020 – in 2018 as President Trump continued to fan the flames of white resentment over immigration and the country’s changing demographics.

  It was the fourth straight year of hate group growth – a 30 percent increase roughly coinciding with Trump’s campaign and presidency – following three consecutive years of decline near the end of the Obama administration.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Trump and Maduro, birds of a feather

  Even while still keeping U.S. troops mired in America’s forever wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, President Donald “America First” Trump is threatening to order his army to invade Venezuela in order to oust Venezuelan dictator Vincente Maduro from office and install a pro-U.S. puppet in his stead. As Ronald Reagan might have put it, “There he goes again.”

  In 2017, Maduro used his federal judiciary to annul the Venezuelan National Assembly. He then engineered a new congress that consisted of his lackeys. Not surprisingly, Maduro’s actions received condemnation from all over the world. The head of the OAS called it a coup and declared it to be the final blow to democracy. The U.S. government said it was a “serious setback for democracy in Venezuela.”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

New law could eliminate disability minimum wage loophole

  Earlier this month, Representative Bobby Scott (D-IL) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to eliminate the subminimum wage for workers with disabilities. The bill, the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act, phases out section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which made it legal for certified “sheltered workshops” to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama leads the way with women in governmental leadership

  There has been a lot of talk about the advancement of women in politics over the past year. It has been suggested that more progressive states have led the way with this change. The citizens of Alabama can very well make the case that we lead the nation in women taking leadership roles in our state.

  It is very doubtful that any state in the nation can claim a female governor and a female chief executive of their state's leading business organization.

  Kay Ivey became governor on January 14 after being elected to her own four-year term in November. Ivey had previously been the state treasurer for eight-years and lieutenant governor for six years. She was serving an unexpired term as governor for two years prior to her election last year.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The MLB makes millions on minor leaguers, but it refuses to pay minimum wage

  Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training last week, the first sign that Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is drawing near. But amid the hope that springs up with every new baseball season is an unacceptable fact: Many of the players at spring training aren’t being paid.

  “Each year, every major league team has their minor league players report to spring training. Most fans don’t know those minor league players have to work 31 straight days for no pay,” said Garrett Broshius, a former minor league baseball player and current attorney who is attempting to sue Major League Baseball to ensure that minor leaguers receive fair pay for not only spring training but all year round.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Improving infrastructure to benefit communities—without harming the environment

  Improving and upgrading U.S. roads, bridges, and transportation networks; energy production and transmission systems; and other elements of human-made infrastructure is long overdue. As the new Congress begins its bipartisan, bicameral effort to pass an infrastructure bill, it’s important that it not come at a cost to the natural resources that benefit society. Instead, policymakers should view the infrastructure package as an opportunity to protect bedrock conservation laws and reinvest in America’s natural resource infrastructure.

  Parks, forests, and public lands are not only an essential part of the American landscape—they are also foundational to its economy and well-being. They clean our water and air, and they buffer against the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon and mitigating natural disasters. For these reasons, any infrastructure proposals must be managed with natural resources’ short- and long-term benefits in mind.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Donald Trump - America’s elected dictator

  After losing his battle against Congress to secure funding for his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump is declaring that that the congressional rebuff is irrelevant anyway. The reason? Trump is declaring an “emergency” under the “National Emergencies Act,” which, he says, authorizes him to spend U.S. taxpayer money on the wall without congressional authorization. He’s going to have the U.S. military, which will dutifully follow his orders, construct his Berlin Wall.

  Trump’s action is the very essence of dictatorship. Check out other dictators around the world — Maduro in Venezuela, Ortega in Nicaragua, Diaz-Canel in Cuba, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, el-Sisi in Egypt, and Zi in China. They don’t have to jack around with congresses. They have the authority to just act or order. That’s what makes them dictators.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Six things to know before the second Trump-Kim summit

  On February 27 and 28, U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. This second summit could answer a key question: Does Trump remain only interested in the appearance of progress, or can he extract genuine concessions from North Korea on its nuclear program?

  When Trump and Kim met for the first time on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, they promised “to cooperate for the development of new U.S.–DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.” Yet beyond establishing vague areas of diplomatic focus and promising to return the remains of U.S. prisoners of war (POWs) and military personnel listed as missing in action (MIA), there were no concrete agreements on denuclearization. While Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Singapore summit was a success, there is scant evidence that North Korea has changed its behavior since then. Indeed, some observers believe that the United States gave up more than it received by providing a global platform for one of the world’s most brutal dictators without any tangible return.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1653 - When we don’t know our full history, we cannot tap into our full power

  I love history. I loved history as a child. I especially loved Black History. I loved Black history, but I did not understand the power of Black history. I had to look back from a decades-later perch to fully understand the power of Black history. I do not want our youth of today to have to look back decades later to fully understand the power of Black history. I want all people to better understand the power of history. I know the power of Black history.

  I returned to the South because of the power of Black history. I left the Deep South at 18 years of age. I returned several years later to attend Talladega College. I left again for the state of Massachusetts to attend law school. I returned to the South again. The real reason I returned both times to the South sprung from the power of Black history.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Farming’s next generation has nowhere to grow

  The farmland clearinghouse ads read a bit like listings on a dating site, but way more practical:

    Ernst Weissing is seeking to rent 20+ acres of tillable farmland in southeastern Minnesota. Land with a barn or pole shed and access to water is preferred; no house is required.

    Kelly Schaefer is seeking to rent 20 acres of farmland in Minnesota, Arkansas, Oklahoma or Kentucky. Land with pasture, fencing, water, power, outbuildings and a house is preferred.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – AEA... dead or not?

  The Alabama Education Association (AEA) was the most powerful and influential political organization in Alabama for close to three decades. The late Dr. Paul Hubbert was the builder and king of this powerful organization. He became known as the King of Goat Hill. He reigned omnipotently over the Alabama Legislature.

  All dynasties have to end. The AEA reign began to end with Dr. Hubbert’s retirement. The choice to succeed Dr. Hubbert with Henry Mabry was devastating for the organization. Mabry’s ludicrous and foolhardy stay was the worst nightmare that Hubbert could have imagined.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reclaiming religious freedom

  Last month, the most religiously diverse U.S. Congress in our nation’s history was sworn into office. For proponents of religious liberty, this was an incredible opportunity to celebrate this fundamental American right. At the same time, however, the current political context raises crucial challenges to religious liberty that this Congress must urgently address. Even as more religious minorities are elected to our nation’s highest offices, protections for those groups are widely being stripped away. And in recent years, many self-proclaimed religious liberty advocates have instead done much to abuse this right by privileging the religious beliefs of a select few over the freedom of all people. Their efforts have eroded the separation of church and state in order to discriminate against specific vulnerable communities. The right to religious liberty should protect these communities and all people from discrimination—not cause them harm.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1652 - The Jubilee is coming!

  The Jubilee is coming! The Jubilee is upon us! The 27th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee is coming to Selma, Alabama. It is less than a month away. It arrives on Thursday, February 28th and continues through Sunday, March 3rd. The Jubilee is really upon us!

  The Jubilee is massive. There are 40-50 events over the four-day Jubilee period. Additional events not sponsored by the Jubilee take place as well. There is so much happening. The Jubilee is massive in many ways.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The shutdown shook faith in government jobs, and that’s bad for everyone

  The federal government has reopened after the longest shutdown in history, which caused federal workers to miss two paychecks and cost the economy $11 billion dollars — $3 billion of which will never be recouped. The scariest part, though, might be that this horror show is starting to seem normal.

  This is the third time the government has shut down in the last year and — unless President Donald Trump drops his demand for a border wall — everything from the national parks to the National Science Foundation could be closing up shop again on Feb. 16.

  In the face of all that, America’s federal workers are thinking twice about their careers — and that’s bad for workers and the country.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hurtling toward bankruptcy

  The federal government owes people almost $22 trillion. That means that American taxpayers owe people almost $22 trillion. That’s because the federal government has no money of its own. The money it gets comes entirely from American taxpayers. That’s what the IRS is for — to make certain that everyone sends his or her required amount of taxes to the federal government to enable it to cover its expenditures.

  According to (which is an Internet spectacle worth looking at), federal tax revenue amounts to around $3.3 trillion. The amount of federal expenditures is over $4.1 trillion. That means that almost another trillion dollars will be added to the government’s debt load, making it $23 trillion.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Burnout is a capitalism problem, not a millennial one

  Over the weekend, the New York Times ran another iteration in the conversation about millennial burnout, this time focusing on the hustling economy — a topic that has been amply critiqued in recent years. Writer Erin Griffith explored “toil glamour” and the high expectations to love the work you’re doing so much that you’ll put in long hours at the hustle. #RiseAndGrind, you’re falling behind. It followed on Anne Helen Petersen’s incredibly popular Buzzfeed piece on millennial burnout that focused on debt, disrupted career paths, dashed dreams, and reluctance to do errands.

  The fundamental flaw of such pieces — often beautifully written and deeply intimate — is that they are personal. They highlight the struggles of a narrow swath of the authors’ generation but fail to consider the larger implications that their experiences may have for the country as a whole. They bemoan a failure to achieve a promised life, but this life was only promised to, and expected by, a specific group of people.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The U.S. government's love of foreign dictatorships

  Lest anyone be tempted to believe that President Trump and other U.S. interventionists are intervening in Venezuela because of some purported concern for the Venezuelan people, let’s examine just a few examples that will bring a dose of reality to the situation. This latest intervention is nothing more than another interventionist power play, one intended to replace one dictatorial regime with another.

  Egypt comes to mind. It is ruled by one of the most brutal and tyrannical military dictatorships in the world. The U.S. government loves it, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for the Egyptian citizenry, who have to suffer under this brutal tyranny and oppression.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse – Organizational session, legislative leadership, and potential new stars

  Alabama lawmakers have met for their organizational session and elected their leadership for the next four years.

  Both the House and Senate leadership groups remain essentially the same as the last quadrennium.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

So you want to tax the rich: A how-to guide

  Taxing the rich has been a hot subject of late thanks to a few Congressional Democrats. First, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez floated the idea of raising the top marginal income tax rate to 70 percent. Then Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a “wealth tax” on those who have at least $50 million in assets. And last week, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed increasing the estate tax for those who inherit more than $3.5 million.

  These ideas have been met with predictable consternation from conservatives. CEOs and Wall Street-types gathered at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos even had a good laugh when asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s idea.

  But raising taxes on the rich isn’t a joke. It’s an economic necessity.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Student journalism: More 'journalism,' more needed, than ever

  In more communities today than ever, student publications are doing double-duty — reporting news of schools and surrounding communities — and doing both well.

  As a nation, and for anyone who supports a free press, that dual rule is worthy of notice, honor, and support. We take note of the great work being done by journalists who happen to be students as we recognize the 50th anniversary of a major student-First Amendment decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  The Freedom Forum Institute (FFI), the Newseum and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) are declaring 2019 the “Year of the Student Journalist.” For more information:

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Energy-efficient buildings are central to modernizing U.S. infrastructure

  If roads, bridges, and phone and transmission lines are the veins of American infrastructure, buildings are the heart. Whether residential or commercially owned, the buildings that serve as places of work and living in the United States unquestionably shape public health, safety, and economic productivity. As buildings’ multiplying energy needs increasingly force their integration into the United States’ energy grid, it has become necessary to update building practices and technologies accordingly. These updates should minimize energy leakage and make greater use of each unit of energy consumed.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Comprehensive reform to lower prescription drug prices

  In recent months, the need to lower prescription drug costs has become increasingly apparent. Despite tough rhetoric from President Donald Trump, drug prices continue to soar under his administration. Last year, nearly 30 drug companies announced that price increases would take effect in January; Pfizer alone announced that it would raise the prices of 41 drugs. Critical medications, such as insulin and opioid addiction treatments, have already seen dramatic price hikes this year. These rising prices continue to take a toll on patients. In a 2018 poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 24 percent of respondents reported that they or a family member had not filled a prescription, cut pills in half, or skipped doses due to cost.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Bible literacy or Bible wars?

  From everything I know about President Donald Trump, it would surprise me if he studies the Bible – or has even read it. Nevertheless, Trump seems to want other people to study the Bible, including students in public schools.

  “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible,” Trump tweeted on Jan. 28. “Starting to make a turn back? Great!”

  The trigger for Trump’s Bible tweet appears to have been a Fox Network Fox & Friends segment about the spate of “Bible literacy” bills recently introduced in a number of states including Indiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Missouri. This initiative – called Project Blitz – is currently being pushed by a coalition of conservative Christian political groups.