Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Abolish foreign aid, all of it

  As most everyone knows, the federal government is now in debt to the tune of more than $22 trillion. Since federal officials are now spending, on an annual basis, around a trillion dollars more than what they are bringing in with taxes, that is going to raise the federal debt by a trillion dollars every year. We are reminded of this phenomenon by the periodic debate on whether Congress should raise the debt ceiling, an implicit acknowledgment that too much federal debt is not a good thing, especially since the feds will ultimately tax the American people to pay back what they have borrowed to fund their welfare-warfare state.

  On the welfare-state side, the big-ticket items are Social Security and Medicare, the two crown jewels of the American welfare state. Abolishing them would go a long way toward resolving the fiscal problem.

Monday, April 29, 2019

When Americans get their tax refunds, they go to the dentist

  Megan, who currently lives in Pittsburgh, was hospitalized in September for pneumonia. It was just a one-day stay, and she had health insurance, but even so, the bills piled up, eventually totaling $6,500.

  The only thing that made paying them realistic, she said, was that she received a $4,200 tax refund this year.

  “I would have put off my medical payments [without the refund],” she told me via email. “Between rent and day to day expenses, I don’t have the income to pay both. … Even with insurance, the numbers seemed insurmountable until I got my refund. If it wasn’t for that I would have had to reapply for payment plans with the risk of being sent to collections.”

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Who will take Doug Jones out next year?

  It is a foregone conclusion that a Republican will take out our anomaly, liberal Democratic senator, Doug Jones, next year. The question is which Republican will be the nominee and capture the seat.

  The early favorite is U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne. There is an old adage that often holds true: the early bird gets the worm.

  Byrne made the commitment to run over a year ago, and he has been dedicated to the race and is running full speed ahead. He is raising good money and crisscrossing the state in a very organized manner. Byrne ran a good race for governor in 2010, so he knows what he is doing. He has served coastal Alabama in the Alabama Senate and now for six years in Congress. If he is the only major candidate from the Mobile/Baldwin area in the primary, he will get a good “Friends and Neighbors” vote in his 1st Congressional District. Republican primaries begin and end in vote-rich Baldwin County now.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Five reasons why strengthening the EITC and CTC is the kind of tax reform America needs

  As Americans filed their taxes this season—a process filled with confusion for many and startlingly small refunds for some—Democrats in Congress offered a sharp contrast to President Donald Trump’s unpopular tax law in the form of two ambitious tax plans that actually work for working families. While Trump’s 2017 tax law rewrote the tax code to further enrich millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations, congressional Democrats’ proposals—the American Family Act (AFA) and the Working Families Tax Relief Act (WFTRA)—would double down on two of the tax code’s most effective income boosters for working and middle-class families: the earned income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit (CTC).

Friday, April 26, 2019

Does sportsmanship matter?

  Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Capital City Free Press on November 14, 2009.

  To lots of athletes, coaches, and fans, sportsmanship is an outdated concept. Like the Miss Congeniality Award in beauty contests, many think it’s for runners-up and losers.

  The barbarians believe rules are made to be broken, that it’s wise and proper to do whatever you can get away with.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Getting out of jury duty

  Last week, I dyed my hair orange - not red, not the subtle hue of a delicate tiger lily bloom, but bright, shiny traffic cone orange. This is actually not an unusual occurrence. I've dyed my hair various less-than-conservative shades on the color wheel, and invariably I have received contrasting responses that have ranged from "Hey, cool!" to genuine concern from those who believe that I am yet another victim of the devil's crack rock.

  This kind of stuff has never bothered me, though. I have come to realize that there are certain individuals who can't handle discrepancies in what they consider to be "normal." I have also come to realize that I am and always will be one of those discrepancies. In fact, I celebrate it, and occasionally I even use it to my advantage.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

First Amendment includes separation of church and state

  The phrase “separation of church and state,” once a widely shared article of civic faith in the United States, has become a flashpoint for culture-war debates over the role of religion in American public life.

  On one extreme are those who insist that “separation of church and state” isn’t in the First Amendment. On the other extreme are those who interpret “separation” to mean eliminating religion from the public square entirely.

  The truth falls somewhere in between. The drafters of the Bill of Rights didn’t use the words “separation of church and state” in the First Amendment. But by prohibiting the federal government from passing any law “respecting an establishment of religion” — what is now called the establishment clause — the Framers clearly and unambiguously separated the institutions of government and religion on the federal level.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The intimidating power of integrity

  A teacher once wrote me to, telling me that a parent with a great deal of clout at her school asked her to change attendance records to make her child’s record look better. The teacher said she thought long and hard about the request but eventually refused, knowing it would make the parent angry.

  I commended her moral courage. I wish it didn’t take courage to do the right thing, especially in such a clear case as this, but in the real world, people with power often retaliate when they don’t get what they want. This can make our lives difficult.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Gitmo confirms our ancestors’ concerns

  What the Pentagon and the CIA have done with their prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba reflects the concern of our American ancestors who demanded the enactment of the Bill of Rights immediately after the Constitution brought into existence the federal government.

  Recall that when the Constitutional Convention met, it was with the purpose of simply amending the Articles of Confederation, the governmental system under which the United States had been operating for 13 years.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Trump administration is making it harder for workers to hold big corporations accountable

  The government wants to make it much harder for workers to hold employers accountable for wage theft, hours violations, and union-busting by complicating the answer to a simple question: Who do you work for?

  Historically, if two entities oversee aspects of someone’s work experience — such as wages, hours, and policies — either separately or together, they could be considered “joint employers,” which means they are both liable for labor violations. While this standard isn’t used very often, it can be a powerful tool for holding large corporations accountable.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

What the Supreme Court ruling could mean for civil asset forfeiture

  As the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out on Feb. 20, the constitutional clause that protects Americans from having to pay “excessive fines” traces its lineage to the Magna Carta, which set forth certain rights in England more than 800 years ago.

  The Founding Fathers considered this concept so important to the new American democracy that they enshrined it in the Bill of Rights. The Eighth Amendment holds that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Friday, April 19, 2019

IRS cuts have benefited wealthy tax cheats

  Recently, high-profile investigations have brought tax evasion to the forefront of the public consciousness. Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, confidantes of President Donald Trump, were found guilty on counts of tax fraud and evasion, among other crimes. These investigations raise questions about why these individuals thought they could get away with tax evasion and why they only got caught after becoming entangled in separate investigations. One reason seems to be that when it comes to policing high-end tax evasion, there are nowhere near enough cops on the beat.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Drug laws versus freedom

  People who live in a society in which there are drug laws are living in an unfree society no matter how much they believe otherwise. That’s because, in a genuinely free society, people have the right to ingest whatever they want without being punished for it by the state.

  It never ceases to amaze me how both conservatives and liberals are unable to grasp this fundamental point about freedom. Even progressives who are now, finally, calling for the legalization of marijuana insist on keeping drug laws in place with respect to heroin, cocaine, meth, opioids, and other illicit drugs. They just don’t get it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Host of young and female lobbyists have taken over the Statehouse

  As I observe the Alabama Legislature, it occurs to me that I am getting older. A lot of the legislators and lobbyists I have known over the years have moved on.

  Montgomery is no longer an “Old Boys Club.” A cursory look at a typical day at the Alabama Statehouse would surprise you. An increasing number of professional women are a major part of the lawmaking process. There is a host of brilliant women under 40 that is at the forefront and yield a great deal of influence over the process of policy-making in Alabama.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A good solution to Alabama's "Tier 2" retirement system

  Unintended consequences are a common problem when it comes to making laws and government policy. A good example of this is the changes lawmakers made in 2012 to the retirement systems for education and state employees in Alabama.

  The economic recession that began in 2008 had severely hurt the Retirement Systems of Alabama’s investments. The slowness of the recovery made things worse, and the state was looking at a situation where, in the long run, the government wouldn’t have the money to pay education and state employee retirees the benefits they had earned.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1661 - The Hugging Senator

  The Hugging Senator. I have been called The Hugging Senator over the years. The Hugging Senator title reflects an important part of how I interact. It reflects a key part of my being. My hugs say, “I care about you.” And that is very important. The Hugging Senator.

  I recently began to reassess The Hugging Senator. I talked with several women about it. I sought their advice about The Hugging Senator. I will share some of their responses later in this Sketches.

  I believe that hugs are very therapeutic. Hugs make us feel better. Hugs make us do better. Hugs make us be better. Hugs impact our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Hugs are really powerful and therefore important for all the population, men as well as women.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

School voucher proponents love socialism too

  As the debate over socialism between President Trump and his potential Democratic presidential opponents heats up, we shouldn’t forget a socialist program that Trump and other conservatives have come to love — the school voucher program.

  Like other welfare-state programs, vouchers are based on the socialist concept of using the force of government to take money from one group of people and using it to pay for the education of another group of people. The irony is that conservatives justify their socialist program by saying that it is being used to save children from the disastrous consequences of another socialist program, public schooling.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Five ways Wheeler is dirtying our water

  In a recent interview, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler said that access to clean drinking water across the globe is “the biggest environmental threat.”

  However, these empty words represent the extent of Wheeler’s effort to support clean water. In reality, Wheeler’s countless actions show that the former coal lobbyist has actively dirtied our water. Since he stepped into the acting EPA administrator role in July of 2018 after the scandal-ridden tenure of Scott Pruitt, Wheeler has done nothing but maintain his predecessor’s dirty agenda.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Using transparency to deter Russia’s asymmetric attacks on the West

  Russia is a relatively weak state on the international stage. A former great power, today it has a gross domestic product roughly equal to that of New York state; this feeds into the country’s insecurity about its role in the world and its economic and military strength compared with those of its chief competitors. Russia knows it cannot compete with the West on an even playing field. Thus, it has developed a shadowy, asymmetric strategy to subvert opponents and alter the global status quo. A key part of this approach is the country’s strategic use of ambiguity. As the United States responds to these attacks and seeks to prevent future ones, it must take into account that public transparency, as well as its relationships with allies, are integral to any effective response.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

I’m disabled. The Trump administration’s new rule could take my SNAP anyway.

  Last month, the Trump administration introduced a new rule to cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The rule is geared towards so-called “able-bodied adults without dependents” who are unable to document 20 hours of work a week. When I heard the news, I double-checked my schedule, and I was in the clear: 35 hours that week. If I had missed a shift or two, then the outlook wouldn’t be so optimistic.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the State House - Other legislative issues

  There is no question that Gov. Kay Ivey’s infrastructure/gas tax program was the cornerstone issue of this legislative session. This monumental legislation will be a tremendous enhancement for Alabama’s economic development for decades to come. Governor Ivey and the legislative leadership deserve accolades for addressing this important issue. They were indeed thinking of the next generation rather than the next election. Governor Ivey deserves most of the credit. She reached across the aisle and garnered almost unanimous support from the Democratic legislators. Indeed, the legislation passed the House on an 84-20 vote and passed 28-6 in the Senate.

  However, other major issues will be on the table. The Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking a $42 million increase in its budget in order to hire much needed additional correctional officers. A federal judge has ordered the state to increase the number of guards and mental health professionals.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Conservative court packing

  There has been a recent spate of attention to court packing, stemming largely from remarks by former Attorney General Eric Holder and other prominent progressives about adding justices to the Supreme Court.

  While these comments highlighted the need for a broader discussion about court reform, the conversation they generated has lacked important context: Court packing is not a theoretical possibility but rather an ongoing effort by conservatives happening right now.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Democrats clueless on farm woes

  Last week, the Washington Post carried a story about five Democratic presidential candidates who took to a stage in Iowa to address an audience that was filled with farmers who are suffering severe economic and financial distress. The title of the article says it all: “No Democratic Candidate Has Been Able to Figure Out How to Help Farm Country.” The candidates were Julian Castro, John Delaney, Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren.

  Not surprisingly, the five proposed “solutions” that involve more government intervention. They just don’t get it. They don’t understand that it is government intervention that is the root cause of farmers’ woes. How is more government intervention going to be the cure for a problem that is caused by government intervention? It’s like giving a patient who has swallowed poison more poison.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The incorrigible hypocrisy of conservatives

  Last week, a Wall Street Journal editorial revealed the incorrigible hypocrisy with which conservatives have long suffered. Conservatives, of course, have long suffered this malady with respect to domestic policy given their ardent devotion to Social Security, Medicare, foreign aid, and other welfare-state programs even while decrying the left’s devotion to socialism. But this particular WSJ editorial revealed the incorrigible conservative hypocrisy with respect to foreign policy.

  The editorial was titled “Putin Pulls a Syria in Venezuela.” The opening sentence is comical: “Vladimir Putin has made a career of intervening abroad and seeing if the world lets him get away with it.”

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Alabama Voting Rights Project helps 2,000 people cast ballots in Alabama, but many more do not know they can vote

  Rodney Lofton had never cast a ballot before a felony conviction stripped him of his voting rights in 2015.

  After he served his sentence, the Alabama Voting Rights Project, a partnership between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Campaign Legal Center, walked him through the paperwork to get his rights restored.

  He got a voter registration card and voted for the first time in his life in the November 2018 elections.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Free speech makes hypocrites of us all

  This month, President Trump signed an executive order to withhold federal funding from public and private colleges and universities that do not protect free speech on their campuses. Despite the dramatic lead-up, the order itself doesn’t say all that much. It requires public colleges to comply with the First Amendment and private colleges to comply with their own speech policies — things they’re already required to do — and unsurprisingly, it’s been described as redundant (it’s also been referred to as a “nothingburger”).

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Food banks warn they will not be able to meet demand if food stamp cuts take effect

  On the heels of the thirty-two-day government shutdown, a proposed administrative rule change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) once again threatens food access for people who rely on the program for basic needs — this time for an estimated 755,000 people.

  For households that qualify for SNAP, February, the shortest month of the year, was a long one. During the government shutdown, 40 million Americans who participate in the program experienced as many as 60 days between the issuance of their February and March SNAP benefits. The shortages in household budgets meant that food banks across the country were inundated.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - State budgets are priority number one

  After their successful five-day special session, the Alabama Legislature has been in their regular session for a few weeks now. The session will end in June, so it is about one-fourth over. Almost one-third of the members are new, freshmen if you will. Even though they are for the most part a bright and talented group, they are still wet behind the ears when it comes to legislative ways. 

  Most are still striving to find their way to the bathrooms. Most major issues, especially revenue-enhancement measures, are addressed in the first year of a four-year quadrennium. Bless their hearts! Right off the bat, they were hit with a major vote to increase the gas tax to support an infrastructure plan. That will make the rest of their first year a downhill slide.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Debunking the Trump administration’s new water rule

  In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its revised “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. The proposed rule dramatically restricts what falls under the purview of the Clean Water Act, the environmental law that has led to the cleanup of thousands of rivers and lakes in the United States. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that the rule would remove federal protections for 18 percent of stream and river miles and 51 percent of wetlands in the United States, putting protections at their lowest levels since the Reagan administration and leaving millions of Americans vulnerable to polluted water.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1659 - Selma must help Selma!

  I recently wrote a Sketches and editorial about how we must give back to Selma. Giving back to Selma is just one half of what must be done. One half comes from those outside of Selma – from Alabama, around this country, across this world. The other half must come from Selma itself. Selma must give to Selma.

  I do not claim to have any special knowledge or any special wisdom. However, I will venture a few thoughts. I invite you to share your thoughts, ideas, hopes, and fears. No thought is too insignificant; no thought is too crazy. I share my thoughts in spite of my reservations, my fears and the likelihood of attacks.