Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Those who bake the pie get to eat it

  Governor Kay Ivey’s first legislative session of the quadrennium was very successful.  Her prowess at getting things accomplished with this legislature is remarkable. She knows what she is doing, but it should not be surprising given her background and experience.

  Kay Ivey has been around state government for most of her adult life. She has dealt with the Alabama Legislature for over four decades. 

  Her adroitness in the passage of the infrastructure package was similar to the legislative success enjoyed by Governor George Wallace in his prime years. Like Wallace, Ivey knows how to reward her friends and punish her enemies.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Let’s get "mad as hell" about the vital information we won't get to see

  The U.S. Supreme Court last month said we can’t see certain kinds of information we may well need to participate in democracy as self-governing citizens. To paraphrase a line from “Network,” the movie and play recently on Broadway, we should be “mad as hell” about it.

  The court ruled, 6-3, in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not provide the public with access to records from private companies given to a federal agency if the agency obtained the information with a promise to keep it secret.

  In the decision, the court voided a decades-long practice — supported by lower court decisions — that such “confidential” information could be released unless it caused “substantial harm” to the business, with an eye toward disclosures in the public interest related to safety concerns, or to the exposing of waste, fraud or abuse, among other points.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1676 - We should all be frightened

  “If you are not happy here, you can leave.” These words were a slap in my face. “So interesting to see progressive Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worse, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (If they even have a functioning government at all . . . )”  These words pierced my being. These words came from the President of the United States of America.

  "Go back to Africa!" These words have been spit in my face. I even observed these words written on signs shown on television and directed at President Barack Obama. Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! These words were shouted en masse at a Trump rally. I was frightened in the deepest core of my being. I was frightened for these four women. I was frightened for people of color. I was frightened for this country.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Donald Trump, big spender

  As much as conservatives would like to believe that the Trump administration has been different from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the fact is that all three administrations have been one long disastrous continuum. Not only has Trump continued the forever wars that Bush and Obama waged, he has also continued every single socialist, interventionist, and imperialist program maintained by his predecessors, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the minimum wage, the regulated economy, the war on immigrants, the war on drugs, the war on Muslims, the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the CIA, the NSA, and all the hundreds of federal welfare-warfare-state bureaucracies, departments, and agencies.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

New Trump rule could threaten school lunch for many students

  75 percent of school districts have outstanding “lunch debt” racked up by students who couldn’t pay for meals. In large districts, that number can approach $1 million. At the end of the school year, when that debt comes due, kids with outstanding balances are denied opportunities to participate in activities, prevented from graduating, or forced to watch school cafeteria staff throw their food away. Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley West School District even threatened to place children owing as little as $10 for school lunch into foster care.

  Now, a new Trump administration rule could make paying for lunch even harder for thousands of students. Via changes to a rule known as “categorical eligibility,” the Trump administration is trying to undermine access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This program is commonly used as a basis for certifying kids for free and reduced lunch. That could increase the number of kids going hungry at home and struggling to pay for lunch at school.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Ruler of the world

  Recently released secret documents from Chinese company Huawei provide insights into how the U.S. Empire rules the world. According to the Washington Post, the documents reveal that Huawei secretly helped North Korea “build and maintain the country’s commercial wireless network.”

  What’s wrong with that? you ask.

  It violates U.S. sanctions against North Korea!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - 2020 U.S. Senate race

  The long, hot summer has brought some crystallization to the 2020 U.S. Senate race. This seat is the Senate seat held by Jeff Sessions for almost two decades. He unwittingly made a strange and probably very regrettable decision to join President Donald J. Trump’s administration as attorney general. Very few U. S. Senators with 20 years seniority would leave their permanent seat in the illustrious, powerful, and elite body for a temporary - four-year at best - tenure in a tumultuous and transient cabinet post. 

  Trump is tempestuous at the least and still likes to think of himself as the host of his TV reality show, The Apprentice, who famously says, “You’re fired!” Trump has recently tweeted that Sessions' appointment as U.S. Attorney General was the most regrettable appointment that he has made. You can more than likely ascertain that Jeff Sessions feels the same way about his decision to leave his safe Senate seat for a shot as Trump’s AG. However, you could safely bet that the reserved, squeaky clean, Dudley-Do-Right, Eagle Scout Sessions will not do any tweeting, or betting, on anything, much less his Trump controversy.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Racism is killing black Americans

  Racism affects every aspect of American life – none more so than our medical system.

  Numerous studies over the years have laid bare the gap in health outcomes between minority groups and white Americans.

  African Americans have a lower life expectancy than white people. They are more likely to suffer and die from chronic conditions like kidney, cardiovascular, and lung disease.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

John Paul Stevens had "indelible" commitment to First Amendment

  Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who served nearly 35 years on the court, left an indelible mark on many areas of First Amendment jurisprudence.

  Stevens consistently defended the principle of church-state separation in Establishment Clause cases and forcefully argued for significant protection for commercial speech, which was often relegated to second-class status in the First Amendment family.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Joseph O. Patton: Montgomery should pass on Artur Davis

Editor's note: This article was published in the Capital City Free Press on January 26, 2015. It has been updated to reflect Artur Davis qualifying as a candidate for mayor of Montgomery, Ala. The Montgomery Municipal Election is scheduled for August 27, 2019.

  Just when I foolishly believed I had washed the foul political aftertaste of Artur Davis out of my mouth, he's uncorking another bottle of his trademark bitterness, shameless opportunism, and ego-tripping.

  Last week, Davis qualified as a candidate for mayor of Montgomery along with 11 other candidates. It will be an open seat as Todd Strange is not seeking reelection. Strange spanked Davis and three other candidates in 2015, garnering enough votes to avoid a runoff. But which version of Artur Davis this happens to be would be anyone's guess....

Sunday, July 21, 2019

How child protective services can trap the parents they’re supposed to help

  I woke to the sound of my 3-year-old daughter crying. It was a hard, bitter cry. If you have young children, you know the one — it punches through the walls and triggers your heart into a frenzy. I sprang up, ready to run to her bedside. But as wakefulness returned, the sound faded. My daughter was not crying for me. She wasn’t even there. She and her 4-year-old sister were taken from my custody more than a year earlier by the State of Florida.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Attack on the ACA: Undermining protections for LGBTQ patients and language accessibility requirements

  The Trump administration is proposing to undermine strong and clear protections against discrimination in health care by giving health care providers, pharmacy benefit managers, and insurers a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people and many others. The existing rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the Health Care Rights Law, was promulgated by the Obama administration in 2016 after a rigorous six-year process. The rule characterized discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity as impermissible sex discrimination under the law. It also prohibited insurance providers using the marketplace from discriminating against protected characteristics, provided strong language access and notice requirements, and established many other critical patient protections.

Friday, July 19, 2019

America, love it or leave it!

  President Trump’s rant against four members of Congress, all of whom are American citizens, in which he told them to return to their “crime-infested” countries, brings to mind the rant that conservatives have long used against anyone who disagrees with the policies or programs of the U.S. government: “America, love it or leave it!”

  Anyone who lived during the Vietnam War era will recall that this was a favorite refrain of conservatives against anyone who opposed the war. The opponents of the war were accused of hating America and were often told that since they obviously didn’t love their country, they should move to North Vietnam or some other communist country.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Like Chilton County’s peach trees, Alabama’s occupational license laws need regular pruning

  Motorists who travel I-65 between Birmingham and Montgomery during summertime often enjoy the tradition of stopping in Clanton for a freshly-picked basket of Chilton County’s famous peaches.

  There’s something special about that part of Alabama, a Goldilocks zone that produces those thick, juicy, tasty treats. Not too cold. Not too hot. Just right. Well, that and an awful lot of pruning.

  Thing is, peach trees need to be cut back annually so that they can continually produce the best and most fruit. A snip here. A lop there. Just planting them and walking away isn’t enough.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How Medicaid cuts almost forced a disabled student to drop out

  Anna Landre is by every measure a highly successful student. The Georgetown University School of Foreign Service student and high school valedictorian has maintained a 3.9 GPA as a Regional and Comparative Studies major since she left her New Jersey hometown two years ago. She has also served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner representing the city of Georgetown and surrounding neighborhoods with policy recommendations for the District of Columbia’s government.

  Like nearly 20 percent of American college students, Landre is disabled. And because Landre has spinal muscular atrophy type 2 and uses a wheelchair, her success is possible in part due to Medicaid-funded personal care assistance. The hours of personal care she receives at home allow Landre to live and study independently, while attendants help her complete crucial daily tasks related to hygiene, eating, and safety. But just a few weeks ago, her insurance company’s decision to cut her care hours from 112 hours per week to 70 nearly brought her college career to an end.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Americans should adopt unilateral free trade

  Given the ongoing destruction of liberty and prosperity from President Trump’s trade wars, tariffs, sanctions, and embargoes, it’s time to think at a higher level, one that goes beyond mere criticism of Trump’s trade antics. It’s time to think in terms of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government, all of which translates to the idea of unilateral free trade.

  What does unilateral free trade mean? It means that the U.S. government should simply lift, dismantle, abolish, repeal, and end all of its tariffs, trade restrictions, sanctions, embargoes, import quotas, and trade wars. No meetings. No negotiations. No demands. No “free trade” agreements. Just free the American people to travel wherever they want and trade with whomever they want.

Monday, July 15, 2019

We once went “MAD” for the magazine — and it was fun and funny

  The world is soon going to be a little bit less MAD — and the poorer for it.

  The quintessential baby boomer-era satire mag, MAD magazine has announced it will soon contain only re-published content, on a monthly basis — industry-speak for trying to garner what nostalgia-tinged profits might still be obtained from those who recall better days.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Declaration of Independence applies to immigrants

  Now that the Fourth of July celebrations are over, it’s worth asking whether a particular phrase enunciated in the Declaration of Independence is true or false.

  The phrase in question? “The pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration states that the pursuit of happiness is a natural, God-given right, one with which all people are endowed. Not just American citizens. Everyone. Everyone in the world is endowed with the natural, God-given right to pursue happiness.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1674 - History either lifts us or holds us down

  I am still in my "power of history" moment. July 4th gives me a unique opportunity to explore the power of history. History either lifts us or weighs us down. When history weighs us down, everything is more difficult. When history lifts us up, everything is easier. When history lifts us, we see further, reach higher, and go farther. When history weighs us down, we cannot reach as high or see further, or go as far. History is about our past but, more importantly, our present and our future. History either lifts us or holds us down.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Bernhardt Doctrine: Dismissing rules and dodging oversight

  U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is hard to put a finger on. Attempts to understand what he’s doing or who he’s meeting with through Freedom of Information Act requests have yielded surprisingly few documents and sparse calendars. Bernhardt has granted relatively few—or brief, if at all—on-the-record interviews with reporters. He has also largely avoided testifying in front of Congress before May of this year.

  Despite this opaqueness, a picture of Bernhardt’s approach to governance is starting to emerge—one of a former oil and gas lobbyist pushing a destructive anti-conservation agenda with a flagrant disregard for the coequal branches of U.S. government. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Bernhardt era—his time as deputy secretary and now secretary—is marked by actions that consistently ignore Congress and the rule of law. While the courts have begun to provide a check on Bernhardt’s approach, he continues to both circumvent public input and accountability and undermine Congress’ oversight role.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Trump reminds us that America is a military nation

  President Trump is being criticized for surrounding himself with tanks, armored vehicles, flyovers, and generals and admirals during his Fourth of July celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Critics say that it was unseemly for the president to be showing off the federal government’s military process on Independence Day. Some said it conjured up images of the Soviet Union when that communist regime would showcase its tanks and military hardware in parades in Moscow’s Red Square.

  But the fact is that America is a military nation. As Trump pointed out in his Independence Day address, the United States has the most powerful military in history, one that can pulverize any other nation on earth. His critics don’t have any problem with that. They just don’t want Trump to highlight it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Supreme Court’s decision in vulgar trademark case affirms core principles

  The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Iancu v. Brunetti (2019), striking down a provision of federal trademark law barring the registration of “immoral or scandalous” trademarks, affirms fundamental First Amendment principles. These fundamental principles concern viewpoint discrimination and overbreadth.

  To recap, the court addressed the trademark provision in the case of Erik Brunetti, an artist and entrepreneur who founded a clothing line named FUCT. The name obviously bears a close resemblance to a profanity.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

SCOTUS should preserve workplace protections for LGBTQ people

  Soon after Y.B. took the night shift as a forklift operator, her boss started harassing her because she is a lesbian.

  “I want to turn you back into a woman. I want you to like men again,” he said. “Are you a girl or a man?”

  Y.B. endured the harassment for weeks, but eventually complained to the company’s human resources department. The next day, she was fired.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Is fear making us better news consumers?

  The majority of Americans consider fake news and misinformation to be serious threats to democracy — and that fear may actually be making us better and savvier news consumers.

  Last month, the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute released the results of the 2019 State of the First Amendment survey. We’ve been conducting this survey since 1997, taking stock of what Americans know and how they feel about their expressive freedoms — and each year we brace ourselves for bad news.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Five revelations from children in border patrol facilities

  In the past year, at least seven migrant children—Mariee Juárez (age 18 months), Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez (age 2), Jakelin Caal Maquín (age 7), Felipe Alonzo Gómez (age 8), Darlyn Valle (age 10), Juan de León Gutiérrez (age 16), and Carlos Hernández Vásquez (age 16)—have died after being taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol.

  As their families confront the grief of losing a child, it is important not to mistake these deaths for isolated tragedies. Recent accounts demonstrate that these events are symptoms of a broader agenda that victimizes families. Detention centers, a visible consequence of this agenda, are not just bad for children; they are deliberately run in cruel, dangerous ways.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The solution to Trump’s Iran mayhem

  Undoubtedly, President Trump is fantasizing about the possibility of being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for deciding at the last minute to not bomb Iran in retaliation for Iran’s shoot-down of a Pentagon drone. Apparently experiencing a crisis of conscience, Trump called off the strike when he learned that it would kill an estimated 150 people, which he decided would be disproportionate to the downing of an unmanned drone.

  Meanwhile, Trump is not only continuing his brutal system of sanctions on Iran but actually ratcheting them up even more. His goal? To kill more Iranians through economic deprivation, either through starvation, illness, or domestic plane crashes arising from an inability to secure needed parts for maintenance and repair.

Friday, July 5, 2019

We know more about the First Amendment — for the wrong reasons

  Americans know more about their First Amendment freedoms than in many years previously — but if we’re honest about it, it may well be because we’re now worried about keeping them.

  The 2019 State of the First Amendment survey, released last week by the Freedom Forum Institute, shows the highest awareness of those basic rights than at any time in the 22-year history of the national sampling.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Craig Ford: This 4th of July, remember what it means to be an American

  Today our nation celebrates its 243rd birthday. Most of us will spend the day celebrating with family and friends, barbequing, and watching fireworks. But between the fireworks and cheeseburgers, it is important that we take a moment to think about what it means to be an American and pause to remember those who have fought for this country.

  It is easy to take for granted the freedom that we have in this country, or the fact that we get to choose who leads our government. We are blessed to live in a country where we can speak and worship freely without fear of persecution.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Legislative session for most part successful, especially for Governor Ivey

  The 2019 Alabama Legislative Session was one of the most controversial yet productive sessions in memory.

  Governor Kay Ivey’s first session of the quadrennial was a roaring success. It’s hard to remember a governor getting everything they wanted since the George Wallace heydays.

  Wallace in his prime simply controlled the legislature. It was more like an appendage of the governor’s office. Kay Ivey has apparently taken a page from the old Wallace playbook. By the way, that is probably apropos as she cut her teeth in Alabama politics working for and learning from the Wallaces.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

States are going around Trump to get more workers overtime pay

  Getting a promotion is usually a cause for celebration. But after Chip Ahlgren was made a general manager at a Jiffy Lube in Washington state, he moved from an hourly position to a salaried one and was no longer owed overtime pay when he put in more than 40 hours a week. Instead, Ahlgren could be asked to work as many hours as his boss demands for the same $52,000 a year.

  These days, he’s putting in around 60 hours a week, even though his contract says he’s supposed to work 50 hours and the payroll system only counts 40 hours a week for the purpose of accruing sick leave. His managers keep giving him more to do. “They just add and add and add,” he said. “There’s no way for us to get everything done.”

Monday, July 1, 2019

Five ways people of faith have led LGBTQ advocacy efforts since the 1969 Stonewall riots

  June 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, often deemed as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ rights movement. On June 28, 1969, police raided New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a bar and gathering space for members of the LGBTQ community. Riots ensued between the police and LGBTQ patrons and passersby, led by transgender women of color including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Despite high-profile examples of faith-based opposition to LGBTQ rights since the riots, these anti-equality viewpoints do not reflect the attitudes of all faith communities. Faith leaders and religious communities have also played a key role in the LGBTQ rights movement.