Monday, September 30, 2019

Trump’s self-painted corner on Iran

  President Trump may not realize it yet, but it will almost certainly dawn on him at some point that he has painted himself into a corner with his bullying tactics against Iran.

  Trump’s plan was the following: He first would withdraw from the nuclear accord that the United States entered into with Iran, claiming that the deal that the Obama administration had struck was bad for the United States. He would then enter into a new agreement with Iran, which he would then trumpet as being far superior to the previous agreement and which would demonstrate his toughness and his skills in the “art of the deal.”

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1685 - The blindness of self-righteousness

  Blindness. Blindness prevents us from seeing. Blindness prevents us from understanding. Blindness prevents us from uniting (except in darkness or negativity). Blindness prevents us from moving forward. Blindness prevents us from seeing and being our best selves.

  We have multiple forms of blindness. We have physical blindness. We have emotional blindness. We have mental blindness. We have spiritual blindness. Each form of blindness limits us severely.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Partisan divide creates different Americas, separate lives

  When people try to explain why the United States is so politically polarized now, they frequently refer to the concept of “echo chambers.”

  That’s the idea that people on social media interact only with like-minded people, reinforcing each other’s beliefs. When people don’t encounter competing ideas, the argument goes, they become less willing to cooperate with political opponents.

Friday, September 27, 2019

The founders would have impeached Trump for his Ukraine-related misconduct

  From the very first days of our nation, the founders were intent on ensuring that foreign entities did not influence America’s democratic system. They knew that foreign involvement in U.S. elections or policymaking posed an enormous threat to our sovereignty and that a president who would invite foreign interference for his own political benefit would be subject to impeachment. They would have been horrified at President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to help dig up dirt on a potential political rival.

  The founders tackled many important issues during our nation’s formative years, but one of the paramount concerns during their debates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention was their intense concern about foreign interference in American politics. Their concern was animated by the corrupting effects that foreign governments or foreign persons could have on elected officials, including the president.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Does the First Amendment protect speech made by artificial intelligence?

  When we talk about our right to speak freely, most of us know intuitively that isn’t just limited to the words that come out of our mouths. Because when we say that our “speech” is protected by the First Amendment, we’re also talking about books, movies, TV shows, video games, music, virtual reality simulations, art — every way that human beings express themselves. Recently someone posed the following question: What if the expression isn’t from a human being at all? Does the First Amendment protect speech made by artificial intelligence?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - The political graveyard is full of Congressmen who have tried to run for the U.S. Senate

  The field is probably formulated for our 2020 U.S. Senate race. A Republican will be heavily favored to capture the seat currently held by our Democrat U.S. Senator Doug Jones. Alabama is one of if not the most Republican states in the nation. It is quite an anomaly that a liberal Democrat has sat in that seat for over a year.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fed’s rate cut signals a recession may be ahead – and it may not have enough ammunition to fight it

  The Federal Reserve seems a lot more concerned about the state of the economy than it’s been letting on.

  The Fed lowered its target interest rate by a quarter-point on Sept. 18, the second such cut since July – and the first reductions since the Great Recession more than 10 years ago.

  Judging by the words of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this isn’t that big a deal. In his statement following the decision, he said: “We took this step to help keep the U.S. economy strong in the face of some notable developments and to provide insurance against ongoing risks.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Trump’s labor secretary nominee delights in destroying rights for disabled workers

  Following the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump has nominated Eugene Scalia to serve as the next labor secretary. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) plays a pivotal role in the lives of Americans with disabilities. Responsible for the regulation of subminimum wage programs—commonly referred to as 14(c) programs—workplace safety and health regulation, and the overall creation of disability employment policy, Scalia could have a significant and likely disastrous effect on the disability community if confirmed.

  Scalia’s legal career is a master class in dismantling worker protections for all, but he has seemed particularly prone to attacking workplace safety and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One in five working-age people has a disability, and Scalia’s confirmation would put the employment and economic rights of people with disabilities squarely on the chopping block.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

School officials need a First Amendment lesson

  Officials at Victory Preparatory Academy (VPA), a charter school in Colorado, need to read the First Amendment and recognize that students retain free-speech rights at school. Fortunately, a recent federal district court recognized in Flores v. Victory Preparatory Academy that students retain such rights and refused to dismiss their lawsuit.

  The dispute in question arose in September 2017, when the school held an assembly in the gym. During assemblies, students are expected to stand, salute the flag, and recite the school pledge. Several students sat down and did not recite the school pledge. The students were concerned about the overly authoritarian atmosphere and rigid discipline at the school.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Don’t ignore serious nonmilitary threats to U.S. national security

  Almost two decades after thousands died in the attacks of 9/11, there remain many active efforts underway to protect America from international terrorism.

  Since 9/11, American domestic and international security policy has been focused on individual terrorists, terrorist groups, and rogue countries as the primary threats. The country’s defensive response has been focused on the military and law enforcement capabilities. That’s natural because the military knows how to shoot, drop, and launch things at threats like that. And those dangers still exist.

  However, as someone who routinely analyzes threats, vulnerabilities, and risks, I see the U.S. again falling prey to a decades-old problem, which the 9/11 Commission termed a “failure of imagination.” That’s when leaders miss important, relevant connections or alternatives to what they’re focused on.

Friday, September 20, 2019

First Amendment freedoms not just ‘office hours’ or when convenient

  Our First Amendment freedoms don’t keep office hours.

  There’s nothing in the 45 words that start the Bill of Rights that says our freedom of speech only applies when it’s convenient for others, or polite, or gains official permission to be heard.

  There’s no provision for our right to petition the government for redress of grievances — in plainer terms, to ask our elected and appointed officials to fix something, to correct an error or simply to do a better job — to be shunted aside in favor of convenience.

  And nowhere in that First Amendment is a priority given to creating a positive public image or deference provided to some amorphous, bureaucratic search for “order” or efficiency.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

How disinformation could sway the 2020 election

  In 2016, Russian operatives used Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to sow division among American voters and boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

  What the Russians used to accomplish this is called “disinformation,” which is false or misleading content intended to deceive or promote discord. Now, with the first presidential primary vote only five months away, the public should be aware of the sources and types of online disinformation likely to surface during the 2020 election.

  First, the Russians will be back. Don’t be reassured by the notorious Russian Internet Research Agency’s relatively negligible presence during last year’s midterm elections. The agency might have been keeping its powder dry in anticipation of the 2020 presidential race. And it helped that U.S. Cyber Command, an arm of the military, reportedly blocked the agency’s internet access for a few days right before the election in November 2018.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama unemployment rates at remarkably low levels

  During the late summer, it was revealed that Alabama’s economy set records for the number of people employed along with the lowest unemployment rate in decades. Figures released in August had the state with a record-breaking 3.3% unemployment rate.

  The numbers indicate a continued upward trend with 57,000 more people employed than at the same time a year ago.

  Gov. Kay Ivey said, “The effort we are making to bring jobs and employers to Alabama is working.” She further stated, “We are consistently improving our workforce and preparing Alabama for the future.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Craig Ford: Cities are only as strong as their local schools

  In the military, we have a saying: A platoon is only as strong as its weakest soldier. That concept applies to a lot of things in life and especially to how we as a society treat our public schools.

  Public schools are the backbone of any city or town. They train our future workers. They are usually one of, if not the, biggest employers in a county or city. They are one of the first things potential employers look at when deciding whether to build or expand a plant or factory in a community. And for those who go on to college, local schools are the pipeline that gets them there.

  Schools also play an important role in our quality of life. From Friday night football games to band competitions and everything in between, local schools play an important role in both children and adults’ social lives and add to our sense of community.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The problem of living inside echo chambers

  Pick any of the big topics of the day – Brexit, climate change, or Trump’s immigration policies – and wander online.

  What one is likely to find is radical polarization – different groups of people living in different worlds, populated with utterly different facts.

  Many people want to blame the “social media bubble” - a belief that everybody sorts themselves into like-minded communities and hears only like-minded views.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Ten K-12 education policy questions every presidential candidate should answer

  After months of campaigning and two rounds of primary debates, presidential candidates still aren’t prioritizing K-12 education. While some have released specific plans, others have only put out general statements or mentioned the issue in passing—if at all. While understandably, proposals to increase access to early childhood and higher education are front and center, it is still disappointing that the 50 million students in K-12 public schools seem to be an afterthought.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

New abortion laws contribute to sexist environments that harm everyone’s health

  Nine states have passed laws in 2019 alone that restrict abortion at the earliest stages of pregnancy. Those of us who study public health are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential for negative health consequences of these kinds of policies on women.

  That’s because research has shown that laws limiting reproductive rights and services put women’s health and well-being at risk in many ways. This can be from increasing the likelihood of unsafe procedures to causing long-term mental and physical health damage by forcing the continuation of unwanted pregnancies.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Trumpster phenomenon

  One of the fascinating aspects of the Donald Trump presidency has been the rise of the Trumpster phenomenon. Trumpsters are conservatives who have become steadfast and unwavering followers and supporters of Trump.

  There are two distinguishing characteristics of Trumpsters: (1) their unconditional support of whatever Trump decides to do to “make America great again”; and (2) their refusal to tolerate any criticism or disagreement with Trump’s courses of action.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

What we know about DACA recipients in the United States

  Two years ago, the Trump administration announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), leaving hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants in the dark. Despite President Donald Trump’s promise that he had “great heart” when it came to Dreamers, DACA recipients and their families face an uncertain future. Congress remains unable to enact permanent protections for them, and the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in November to determine whether the administration’s rescission effort was unlawful.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - What the new census means for Alabama

  The upcoming 2020 Census is extremely critical in Alabama and the rest of the states in the nation as well. The census affects the number of seats a state has in the U.S. Congress and ultimately the number of Electoral College votes you have for president. Also, very importantly, it determines the amount of federal funds a state will receive.

  Alabama is growing incrementally but not as fast as other states, especially our neighboring states of Georgia and Florida, and certainly not as much as California and Texas. Therefore, the bottom line is that we are projected to lose a congressional district to one of the aforementioned states. 

  We currently have seven seats in Congress. We will more than likely go to six, and we will lose our seat in the 2022 elections.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Time to cook is a luxury many families don’t have

  Have Americans forgotten how to cook? Many lament the fact that Americans spend less time cooking than they did in previous generations. Whereas women spent nearly two hours a day in the kitchen in 1965, they spent a little less than an hour preparing meals in 2016. Men are cooking more than they used to but still only cook 20 minutes a day.

  In a 2014 TED Talk, which has more than 8 million views, British chef and food celebrity Jamie Oliver paces the stage, lecturing the audience about the amount of processed food people in the United States consume. His message: Americans “need to start passing on cooking skills again.”

Monday, September 9, 2019

First Amendment protections resilient for free speech, free press

  Attempts to throttle journalists and frighten social media platforms have come to light recently, and while worthy of note — and criticism — none is likely to do serious harm to the First Amendment’s protections for our rights to free speech and a free press.

  In one instance, multiple news outlets report an effort by supporters of President Trump to raise funds to target and track journalists and cable TV pundits seen as opponents to the White House, aiming to use old social media posts to show bias or prejudice.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Stop calling it a choice: Biological factors drive homosexuality

  Across cultures, 2% to 10% of people report having same-sex relations. In the U.S., 1% to 2.2% of women and men, respectively, identify as gay. Despite these numbers, many people still consider homosexual behavior to be an anomalous choice. However, biologists have documented homosexual behavior in more than 450 species, arguing that same-sex behavior is not an unnatural choice, and may, in fact, play a vital role within populations.

  In a recent issue of Science magazine, geneticist Andrea Ganna at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and colleagues, describe the largest survey to date for genes associated with same-sex behavior. By analyzing the DNA of nearly half a million people from the U.S. and the U.K., they concluded that genes account for between 8% and 25% of same-sex behavior.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Stop the president from managing the economy

  For the past two years, President Trump and his loyal army of Trumpistas have been trumpeting what they say is Trump’s fantastic management of the economy. The stock market is soaring and unemployment is down, they crow. This shows, they say, that President Trump has been a great manager of the economy.

  Now that presidential campaign season is kicking into gear, Trump and his Trumpistas are getting nervous because it seems like economic hard times might be looming on the horizon. Does this mean that Trump has actually mismanaged the economy, especially with his out-of-control federal spending and debt and his destructive trade war against China?

Friday, September 6, 2019

Gov. Kay Ivey’s hurtful history and the way forward

  Alabama Governor Kay Ivey joins a growing list of elected leaders forced to admit that they once painted their faces black and performed racist skits or minstrel shows.

  Her qualified apology that she did not recall doing it, while pledging to do all she can “to help show the nation that the Alabama of today is a far cry from the Alabama of the 1960s,” only amplifies the problems facing our nation.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The next recession will be harder than it needs to be. Here’s why.

  Recessions are hardest on those who can least afford it.

  Take the Great Recession, the economic plunge that followed the 2008 financial crisis. It cost those in the poorest 10 percent of Americans more than 20 percent of their incomes, which was more than twice the drop experienced by the richest 10 percent. It was black and Hispanic workers, as well as workers who didn’t have a college degree, who saw higher rates of unemployment and longer durations without a job than other workers.

  Overall, the recession exacerbated already existing inequalities in wealth and income, with black and Hispanic families, as well as women, falling further behind their white, male counterparts in terms of asset building.

  And the next recession could be even harder.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Two Alabama Congressional seats are open in 2020

  Governor Kay Ivey has had a very successful first year as governor. One of the coups she pulled off was getting the legislature to pass legislation granting the governor the power to appoint the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The new law will give her all the new appointments to the Parole Board. Previously, the three-member Board picked the director. 

  The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019, and Governor Ivey wasted no time selecting the new director. She appointed longtime political figure Charlie Graddick, a former Alabama Attorney General and former Mobile County Circuit Judge.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1681 - The breadth, depth, and reach of 400 years of oppression is still alive today

  Four hundred years. 400 years of struggle. 400 years being held down, being held back, being discriminated against, and being considered less than. 400 years of continuous oppression in North America. 400 years of struggle in this place that became the United States of America. 400 years is a long, long time.

  It was late August in 1619 when the pirate ship White Lion put down its anchor at the mouth of the James River in a place called Point Comfort near Jamestown, Virginia. There were 20 or more enslaved Africans aboard. They had been robbed from Africa and placed on a Portuguese ship now referred to as the San Juan Bautista. Subsequently, the captains and the crews of two British pirate ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, robbed the Portuguese ship of about 50 of its enslaved Africans who had been robbed from what is now Angalo, West Africa. That was the inception of this enslavement in what is now the United States of America.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Have we forgotten the true meaning of Labor Day?

  Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people, it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.

  The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Getting poorer while working harder: The ‘cliff effect’

  Forty percent of all working-age Americans sometimes struggle to pay their monthly bills.

  There is no place in the country where a family supported by one minimum-wage worker with a full-time job can live and afford a 2-bedroom apartment at the average fair-market rent.

  Given the pressure to earn enough to make ends meet, you would think that low-paid workers would be clamoring for raises. But this is not always the case.