Friday, May 31, 2019

It’s time for an appointed state school board in Alabama

  A new plan by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh and Gov. Kay Ivey seeks to replace a group of elected positions, those of the Alabama School Board members, to positions appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate. Though it will be first voted on by the legislature, it must ultimately be approved by the voters of Alabama as a constitutional amendment.

  Is this a good idea?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Waging a new war on poverty

  The movement for racial justice in America is inextricably linked to the fight for economic justice.

  Prominent African-American activists like Frederick Douglas W.E.B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, and Angela Davis recognized that black emancipation requires economic empowerment.

  That sentiment is probably no better exemplified in American history than by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s shift in messaging near the end of his life.

  King began to call for the redistribution of economic and political power in the United States, launching a national campaign that culminated in the Poor People's March on Washington in the summer of 1968. The march took place weeks after his assassination in Memphis, where he had traveled to rally support for the city’s striking sanitation workers.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - An act of Congress

  A good many people wonder why simple, straightforward, no-nonsense, good-government legislation fails to pass even though it appears to have universal, overwhelming support and appeal for many voters and legislators.

  You will recall old sayings that you heard from your elders when you were young, old bits of wisdom spouted from the lips of your grandparents and older folks, which went in one ear and out the other. Sayings like, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything”, and “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it”. And if you are a golfer, there is no truer euphuism than, “You drive for show and putt for dough”, and “it ain’t how you drive, it's how you arrive”. The older you get, it occurs to you how wise these old adages are in actual life. They are golden facts.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Who actually pays tariffs?

  Donald Trump’s economic ignorance knows no bounds. And especially when it comes to the subject of trade.

  Trade is always a win-win proposition. In every exchange, each party gives up something valued less for something valued more. Each party to a transaction values differently the goods or services being exchanged. Each party anticipates a gain from the exchange or there would be no commerce between the two parties. And each party will repeat the exchange again if its estimated gain has proved to be satisfactory.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Please don’t forget Memorial Day’s meaning

  America has undergone a lot of maturing between the Vietnam War and the conflicts of the 21st century. I know, I wore a uniform during both periods.

  On Memorial Day, let’s not regress in that maturity.

  When I was still a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, I watched our instructors (all multi-tour Vietnam veterans) deal with the end of the war.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Trump administration’s 10 most dangerous actions concerning Iran

  President Donald Trump’s erratic Iran policy has left America more isolated and less safe. In his first week in office, he alienated Iranians by banning them from America. Then he ignored the warnings of the world, nuclear experts, and his own national security team to shred a functioning nuclear agreement. For all Iran’s continued destabilizing behavior, President Trump’s actions have made America the instigator of the current crisis in the eyes of the world. He has ratcheted up tensions with no plan for success.

  Even now, there remains a serious risk that Trump and his team will blunder into a preventable and unnecessary war. Trump’s clumsy attempts at diplomacy with Iran are likely to fail—just as they have with North Korea. The chaos is obvious, and productive results are nowhere to be seen.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Trump is lying about immigrant crime – and the research proves it

  Since he began campaigning, President Trump has demonized Latino immigrants as “criminals.” He has called them “rapists,” drug dealers, “animals” and “bad hombres” who “infest our country.”

  He has claimed that immigrant gang members “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die.”

  Along the border, he has claimed without any evidence at all, that “[w]omen are tied up, with duct tape on their faces, put in the backs of vans.”

  Trump deploys this dehumanizing language to justify his inhumane policies of caging children, shredding the asylum system in violation of the law, shattering families across America, incarcerating tens of thousands of law-abiding people in inhumane prisons, and more.

  But he is wrong.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea’s nukes

  From the start of the brouhaha that President Trump initiated against North Korea for refusing to destroy its nuclear weapons, I have consistently maintained that the communist regime would never rid itself of its nukes. Even when Trump suddenly did an about-face and fell in love with North Korean communist dictator Kim Jong-Un and convinced himself that his new-found communist friend would “denuclearize,” I said it just wasn’t going to happen. I also said that there was zero chance that Kim would trade his nukes for Trump’s promise of beautiful condo projects along North Korean beaches.

  Why was I so certain that Kim would never let go of his nukes? Because he knows that his nukes are what is deterring U.S. officials, including Cold War anticommunist dead-enders like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Elliott Abrams, from initiating a regime-change war against his regime.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Defending all of us by defending a free press

  Police raids in lieu of legal due process. Undercover surveillance on reporters because of their work. Street “sweeps” in which journalists are handcuffed and carted away to “headquarters.” The use of force as an alternative to courts and legal means.

  Such are the tactics of dictators, despots, and those for whom democratic ideals and the rule of law are expendable in the name of expediency, political gains, or a desire to avoid being held accountable to the public.

  Recent examples of these strong-arm methods have appeared here in our nation — and every citizen ought to hear his/her First Amendment threat alarm sounding.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Road rage and deer hunting bills take center stage in legislature

  Over 20 years ago when I was a legislator, the Alabama State Trooper assigned to my county asked if he could visit with me. “Of course,” I said. When he came, he had a somber look on his face. I thought maybe he had a serious personal problem or had lost a loved one.

  He began, “This may not sound like a major highway problem, but one of the things that causes a good many accidents and incidents on our roads is people driving slow in the left lane and not moving over.” I never pursued legislation to this effect. However, he made me aware of the need to remedy this problem.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

2.2 million Americans are behind bars, and that’s more than the prison system can handle

  Sam was no stranger to arrest. Since becoming addicted to methamphetamine after moving to Hawaii for a chef position, he spent years bouncing between jails, rehabs, and the streets. But when his module caught fire during a riot at the Maui Community Correctional Facility, he found himself faced with an impossible choice: Go back inside the burning building or extend his sentence.

  The conditions that led to the riot were nothing new. MCCC was designed to hold 301 people, but at the time was packed with over 400. The jail has a history of chronic overcrowding; in 2016 the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a complaint that named MCCC as the most “egregiously overcrowded” on the islands, to the point that it was unsafe. Among other issues, the report notes that it was common for three, four, or sometimes five people to be placed into cells designed for two, forcing them to sleep on the floor among roaches and rats, sometimes with their heads beneath the toilet.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Immigration tyranny and cruelty come home

  I can’t help but wonder if what has happened to Theresa Todd will cause conservative-leaning libertarians to abandon their support of immigration controls, the system of immigration central planning, cruelty, and tyranny that both conservatives and progressives have unfortunately foisted upon our land.

  Todd lives in West Texas. One night she was driving down a highway when she was flagged down by three young Central American migrants — Carlos, 22, his brother Francisco 20, and their sister Esmeralda, 18.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Setting the record straight: Real talk about immigration courts

  The Trump administration’s recent “fact sheet” on U.S. immigration proceedings excludes critical information about the immigration system and only serves to spread misinformation and distrust of immigrants and asylum seekers.

  The document, issued by the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review sparked former immigration judges and members of the Board of Immigration Appeals to object to such “political pandering” that makes a mockery of the agency’s obligation to ensure the full and fair resolution of immigration cases. The document’s claims have also been rebutted by advocates and the media. What’s more, at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, our clients and attorneys have witnessed the routine abuses of a court system increasingly bent on deporting individuals rather than administering justice.

  Because Americans deserve the truth, here are some real facts about the immigration courts.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Craig Ford: Education and state retirees also deserve a pay raise

  Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but here we are once again. Another year, another budget, and another failure to provide our retirees with a cost-of-living pay raise.

  It’s becoming a disturbing tradition that every year I have to write about our legislature’s failure to treat our retirees with the respect they deserve. But for some reason, our state representatives and senators think that retirees only deserve the occasional, one-time bonus payments rather than a permanent cost-of-living pay increase.

Friday, May 17, 2019

It’s time to reform occupational licensing in Alabama

  Did you know that it’s against the law to braid hair, wash hair, or even plant flowers professionally in Alabama without a license?

  That’s because occupational licensing, originally meant to protect consumers, has gotten way out of hand. A video recently produced by the Alabama Policy Institute illustrates just how ridiculous it has become.

  Sure, licensing certain occupations is a good thing. We need to know our builders, physicians, attorneys, and those practicing many other specialized and potentially dangerous professions are being well regulated.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Congress should revive the Office of Technology Assessment

  In recent decades, the U.S. economy and society have been propelled forward by a boom in science and technology innovation—but the legislative branch has failed to keep pace with the resultant shifts in policy concerns. American life is rife with newly entrenched science and technologies that have been met with concern and confusion—from the genetic modification of food to personal data privacy on social media. Additionally, the emergence of highly technical concerns such as climate change, cybersecurity, and new energy technologies have had considerable domestic and geopolitical implications and require unprecedented levels of interdisciplinary analysis.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Infrastructure package a huge achievement for Ivey and legislature

  The five-day Special Legislative Session of the Alabama Legislature that addressed the increase in the gas tax to fund an Infrastructure Rebuilding Program for the state was a remarkable success. I still marvel at the adroitness, efficiency, and expediency with which the governor accomplished this monumental initiative. She called for a Special Session on the night of her State of the State Address and within one week, it was signed, sealed, and delivered.

  I have seen some successful special sessions in my lifetime of watching Alabama politics. However, I have never seen anything like this. George Wallace used special sessions regularly during his 20-year reign as King of Alabama Politics. He got things accomplished this way. It is the way to go to crystallize the importance of an issue. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Trump’s plan to lower poverty by redefining it, explained

  Last week, the Trump administration proposed changing how the official poverty measure (OPM) is adjusted for inflation. The Office of Management and Budget is describing the policy change as an opportunity to consider “the strengths and weaknesses of different indexes” and “best practices for their use.” However, this seemingly technical distinction would artificially decrease the count of people living in poverty, laying the groundwork for cuts to dozens of programs, such as Head Start, school lunch, energy assistance, and legal services.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Losing our core freedoms by not knowing we have them

  Ignorance may well have been bliss to 18th-century English poet Thomas Gray, but in 2019, widespread ignorance of our core freedoms and how our government functions is just plain dangerous.

  A just-released Survey of Civic Literacy, conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA) and released May 1 to mark national Law Day, finds many of us do not know much about either subject.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

I helped patients get through abortion clinic parking lots and what I saw was horrifying

  In the first three months of 2019, more than 300 restrictive abortion bills were introduced, proposing everything from making abortion a felony to increasing restrictions on clinics. Recently, the Georgia Legislature moved to join three other states in enacting “heartbeat” bans that will prohibit abortion after fetal pole cardiac activity can be detected — as early as six weeks, before many people know they’re pregnant — essentially outlawing the procedure in those states.

  Abortion barriers are not new. In order to receive an abortion, the average person will pay anywhere from $400-$1,000 for the procedure, travel up to 168 miles, and wait up to 72 hours. Low-income people and people of color face additional barriers, such as trouble getting time off, difficulty securing travel funds, and bans on insurance coverage. Even after jumping all of these bureaucratic hurdles, people still face physical obstruction and harassment at the clinics themselves from anti-abortion protestors.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Which new war next: Iran or Venezuela?

  Pity President Donald “America First” Trump, Secretary of State (and former CIA Director) Mike Pompeo, National-Security Advisor (and Cold War fanatic) John Bolton, and Special U.S. Representative to Venezuela (and Cold War fanatic) Eliott Abrams. Knowing that the American people have grown weary with their forever wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, these four interventionists can’t decide whether to initiate a new war against Venezuela or against Iran, or against both. They just know that they want a new war, an exciting war, a winnable war against a poor Third World country, a war that will cause Americans to forget about the ongoing fiascoes in the Middle East and Afghanistan and that will hopefully restore America to greatness through “mission-accomplished” conquest, bombing, death, destruction, and regime-change. One can easily imagine the arguments that must be taking place in the White House: “Iran! They ousted our Shah from power!” “No, Venezuela! It’s part of the worldwide communist conspiracy to take over America!”

Friday, May 10, 2019

Administration-sanctioned discrimination is keeping foster kids out of loving homes

  "Alex" (name has been changed for privacy) was adopted from foster care at age two and came out to her adoptive family when she was 14. After that point, Alex never felt safe at home. Immediately after coming out, her adoptive family began calling her names, making derogatory comments about her sexual orientation, and prohibiting her from participating in age-appropriate activities such as spending time with friends or participating in extracurriculars. “It was heck for me,” Alex said. “I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere, and I wasn’t allowed to do after-school activities, and [my adoptive mother] thought I was just lying to her to go meet up with a girl or something. Once I became 18, I actually got kicked out.”

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Flint still doesn’t have clean water, and it’s not alone

  April 25th of this year marked the fifth anniversary of when the state-controlled government of Flint, Michigan negligently chose to prioritize short-sighted cost-savings over its residents’ health and access to clean, safe water. The toll of this state-sanctioned poisoning affected more than 9,000 Flint children under the age of six, a portion of whom are set to start kindergarten this year.

  The children of Flint and another 3,000 communities across the U.S. with dangerously elevated lead levels in their blood face an uphill, lifelong road littered with lead-induced developmental challenges, caused and exacerbated by long-neglected infrastructure ill-equipped to meet their needs, and a national public seemingly reluctant (if not apathetic) to do anything meaningful about it. Infrastructure might not be the “hottest” policy issue to pursue, but the consequences of ignoring it are all too clearly costly and deadly.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - After Richard Shelby

  Our senior U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby, turns 85 this week. In March, he reached another milestone – he surpassed Sen. John Sparkman as the longest serving U.S. Senator in Alabama history. Shelby has been our senator for 32 plus years. 

  Alabama has a treasure in Richard Shelby. He is not only the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Alabama history; he is also the most successful U.S. Senator in Alabama history. During his illustrious tenure, Senator Shelby has chaired the Senate Banking Committee, Intelligence Committee, and Rules Committee. However, his current perch as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is unparalleled.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Trump’s trade wars destroy our freedom

  Given President Trump’s trade wars against China and other countries, the natural tendency is to focus on Chinese and American producers and consumers as the victims of Trump’s destructive trade folly.

  Keep in mind that in every trade, both sides benefit by improving their respective standard of living. That’s because in every trade, both traders give up something they value less for something they value more. Thus, standards of living can rise through the simple act of trade.

Monday, May 6, 2019

New Jersey is proving that bail reform works

  Ever since the state of New Jersey approved comprehensive reforms to its money bail system in 2014, opponents have warned that the changes — which eliminate cash bail for people accused of low-level crimes — would lead to “dangerous and violent offenders [being] cut loose from jails and shoved into communities where innocent people suffer.”

  Numerous law enforcement officials, prosecutors, lawmakers, and local media outlets have been strong opponents of the elimination of cash bail, which is the payment required from a defendant in return for being released from jail as they await trial. The fiercest resistance to change has come from the powerful for-profit bail bond industry.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1663 - Raising children is a great challenge

  Raising children is a great challenge. Children are raised all over the world. Children are raised in every culture. Children are raised in every country. Children are raised everywhere. Nearly everyone says that it is more difficult to raise children today. Every generation says it’s more difficult now than in the past. But it was always difficult to raise children.  Raising children is a great challenge.

  I remember my mother by marriage, Mrs. Ora Lee Gaines, saying to Faya and me: "You all are doing your children wrong by bringing all these other children into this house. These children will be a bad influence on them." Mrs. Gaines loved our children. Mrs. Gaines loved McRae Gaines' children. Mrs. Gaines loved children period. But she was living with us during the week as she directed McRae Gaines Learning Center and going home to Birmingham on the weekends. She was also helping raise our children. We had to give consideration to the issues raised.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Divided 10th Circuit panel gives inadequate First Amendment protection to employee demoted for truthful sworn court testimony

  The 10th Circuit rejected the First Amendment claim of a public employee who was demoted after giving sworn testimony in a judicial proceeding involving a domestic child custody dispute between his sister-in-law and a fellow public employee. The decision gives inadequate protection to public employees who testify in court and creates a circuit split that may require ultimate review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

  Jerud Butler works as a supervisor for the San Miguel County (Colorado) Road and Bridge Department. He suffered a demotion after he testified in a court proceeding involving his sister-in-law and her ex-husband, who also works for the San Miguel County Road and Bridge Department. Two of Butler’s work superiors investigated his court testimony and gave him a written reprimand and demotion.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Trump’s border wall is an expensive, ineffective application of eminent domain

  The Trump administration has made building a wall along the southwest border a cornerstone of its overall agenda. The proposed wall has generated intense debate, and Congress—even while under unified Republican control—has repeatedly refused to appropriate the amount of money demanded by President Donald Trump to fund the project. At the end of 2018, the standoff resulted in the longest government shutdown in American history.

  As President Trump continues to blatantly misappropriate government funds—including $3.6 billion in money allocated for military construction—to build the wall, he has ignored an equally important element: land. Building the wall will require the seizure of thousands of acres of privately owned land along the border. Existing laws, namely the Fifth Amendment and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996, allow the government to seize land for public use—specifically, the IIRIRA allows the government to construct border fencing. However, while Trump has referred to eminent domain as “a wonderful thing,” past experiences with the 2006 Secure Fence Act prove that massive government land takings generally are neither well-received nor easy.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Trump’s citizenship question

  The Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a count of all of the people living in the United States every 10 years.

  The census determines each state’s number of federal representatives and the amount of money states and localities receive for infrastructure, health care, social safety nets, and other federal programs. It also influences where district lines are drawn for federal representation.

  The census has undercounted marginalized groups since it began. The Constitution outlines that: “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned … according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama's prison issue is front and center

  Folks, taking care of prisoners is not a popular political issue. However, every so often Alabama politicians pragmatically have to acquiesce to the mandates of federal judges and grant our transgressing citizens their rights as determined by the courts.

  Federal courts have determined that our felons deserve the rights to adequate imprisonment. You just cannot log them in, lock them up, and give them a basic bunk and rations three times a day. Courts want them to have sufficient space and access to mental health care.