Friday, December 31, 2021

What I’ve learned

  It’s traditional to start the New Year with resolutions designed to help us live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives. But it’s also useful to reflect on some of the things we’ve learned over the years, the things that make us not only smarter, but wiser.

  For instance, I’ve learned that trying to be a good person is a lifelong commitment and that it often requires me to do the right thing even when it costs more than I want to pay.

  I’ve learned that kindness is more important than cleverness and that carrying grudges is foolish and self-defeating.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Research on how self-control works could help you stick with New Year’s resolutions

  Many of us have already decided that things will be different this year. We’ll eat better, get more exercise, save more money, or finally get around to decluttering those closets.

  But by the time February rolls around, most of us – perhaps as many as 80 percent of the Americans who make New Year’s resolutions – will have already given up.

  Why does our self-control falter, so often leaving us to revert to our old ways? The answer to this question has consequences beyond our waistlines and bank balances.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The illusion of success

  Reach for the stars. Pursue goals beyond your grasp. These are good life strategies. We never know how much we can accomplish until we try.

  But what happens when we’re told we must reach the stars or suffer consequences?

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Can’t keep your New Year’s resolutions? Try being kind to yourself

  Many of us will start out the New Year by making a list of resolutions – changes we want to make to be happier such as eating better, volunteering more often, being a more attentive spouse, and so on. But, as we know, we will often fail. After a few failures, we will typically give up and go back to our old habits.

  Why is it so hard to stick to resolutions that require us to make effective or lasting changes?

Monday, December 27, 2021

The peculiar concept of “ethics laws”

  Cynicism about the ethics of elected officials may be at an all-time high, continually fueled by new stories of outright corruption or bad judgment. At every level of government, there are politicians who can’t seem to recognize or resist conflicts of interest, inappropriate gifts, improper use of the power or property entrusted to them, or the discrediting impact of shameful private conduct.

  Thus, it’s no surprise that news media are continually shining light on real and perceived improprieties and putting the heat on federal, state, and city legislatures to pass new and tougher ethics laws to restore public trust.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Paradoxical Commandments

  In 1968, when Kent M. Keith was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, he wrote “The Paradoxical Commandments” as part of a booklet for student leaders. He describes the Commandments as guidelines for finding personal meaning in the face of adversity:

Saturday, December 25, 2021

How Charles Dickens redeemed the spirit of Christmas

  Though today regarded as the literary titan of the Victorian age, in late 1843, the 31-year-old Charles Dickens worried that his popularity was fading. His latest novel was not selling well, his finances were strained, and his wife was pregnant with their fifth child.

  Dickens had recently visited the industrial city of Manchester, an experience that left him deeply moved by the plight of the poor. He understood their circumstances on a personal level – as a boy, Dickens had been humiliated when his father was forced into debtors’ prison.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Was Jesus really born in Bethlehem? Why the Gospels disagree over the circumstances of Christ’s birth

  Every Christmas, a relatively small town in the Palestinian West Bank comes center stage: Bethlehem. Jesus, according to some biblical sources, was born in this town some two millennia ago.

  Yet the New Testament Gospels do not agree about the details of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Some do not mention Bethlehem or Jesus’ birth at all.

  The Gospels’ different views might be hard to reconcile. But as a scholar of the New Testament, what I argue is that the Gospels offer an important insight into the Greco-Roman views of ethnic identity, including genealogies.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

An anthropologist explains why we love holiday rituals and traditions

  The mere thought of holiday traditions brings smiles to most people’s faces and elicits feelings of sweet anticipation and nostalgia. We can almost smell those candles, taste those special meals, hear those familiar songs in our minds.

  Ritual marks some of the most important moments in our lives, from personal milestones like birthdays and weddings to seasonal celebrations like Thanksgiving and religious holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah. And the more important the moment, the fancier the ritual.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

What is a good Christmas?

  Will this be a good Christmas?

  How will you measure it?

  For lots of kids, the answer may be embedded in the response to the question, “What did ya get?”

  On the other hand, retailers and Wall Street investors will look to sales and profits.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

What Kwanzaa means for Black Americans

  On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations, and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing.

  It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous Black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Craig Ford: Remembering Christmas

  What does Christmas mean to you? It’s a question that will probably get a different answer from every person you ask. Every family has their own traditions and customs that make Christmas unique to them.

  Of course, certain things about Christmas are universal. For every Christian, Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. He is literally the reason for the season; the “Christ” in “Christmas.”

  But even many who aren’t Christians still celebrate Christmas and embrace its values.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Christmas around the world

  Christmas is both a religious holiday and increasingly a secular holiday heavily influenced by local culture. As a result, Christmas traditions are as diverse as the world itself.

  In the United States, for example, Christmas traditions are a literal potpourri of the Christmas traditions brought by immigrants, mostly European. For example, Yule log (English), Christmas tree (German), carols or noels (France), Santa Claus (Dutch). In more recent times, newer Christmas traditions have arrived with the most recent immigrants such as luminaries (Mexico) and the greeting, "Feliz Navidad!" (Latin America generally).

Saturday, December 18, 2021

What Americans hear about social justice at church – and what they do about it

  On June 5, 2020, it had been just over a week since a white Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, killed George Floyd, an unarmed, African American man. Protests were underway outside Central United Methodist Church, an interracial church in downtown Detroit with a long history of activism on civil rights, peace, immigrant rights, and poverty issues.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Tornadoes and climate change: What a warming world means for deadly twisters and the type of storms that spawn them

  The deadly tornado outbreak that tore through communities from Arkansas to Illinois on the night of Dec. 10-11, 2021, was so unusual in its duration and strength, particularly for December, that a lot of people including the U.S. president are asking what role climate change might have played – and whether tornadoes will become more common in a warming world.

  Both questions are easier asked than answered, but research is offering new clues.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

How conspiracy theories in the US became more personal, more cruel and more mainstream after the Sandy Hook shootings

  Conspiracy theories are powerful forces in the U.S. They have damaged public health amid a global pandemic, shaken faith in the democratic process, and helped spark a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021.

  These conspiracy theories are part of a dangerous misinformation crisis that has been building for years in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Why is inflation so high? Is it bad? An economist answers 3 questions about soaring consumer prices

  Consumer prices jumped 6.8% in November 2021 from a year earlier – the fastest rate of increase since 1982, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published on Dec. 10, 2021. The biggest jumps during the month were in energy, used cars, and clothing. The Conversation U.S. asked University of South Carolina economist William Hauk to explain what’s driving the recent increase in inflation and how it affects consumers, companies, and the economy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The average person’s daily choices can still make a big difference in fighting climate change – and getting governments and utilities to tackle it, too

  The average American’s everyday interactions with energy sources are limited. They range from turning appliances on or off, to commuting, to paying utility bills.

  The connections between those acts and rising global temperatures may seem distant.

  However, individuals hold many keys to unlocking solutions to climate change – the biggest challenge our species currently faces – which is perhaps why the fossil fuel industry spent decades misleading and misinforming the public about it.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Plastic trash in the ocean is a global problem, and the US is the top source – a new report urges action

  Plastic waste of all shapes and sizes permeates the world’s oceans. It shows up on beaches, in fish, and even in Arctic sea ice. And a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine makes clear that the U.S. is a big part of the problem.

  As the report shows, the U.S. produces a large share of the global supply of plastic resin – the precursor material to all plastic industrial and consumer products. It also imports and exports billions of dollars’ worth of plastic products every year.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Quitting your job or thinking about joining the ‘great resignation’? Here’s what an employment lawyer advises

  Record numbers of Americans have quit their jobs in recent months, with more than 4.4 million submitting their resignation in September alone. Millions more may be preparing to follow them to the exits – one survey found that around a third of workers wanted to make a career change.

  But one of the things I learned over the years as a lawyer and later as a professor specializing in employment law is that timing and preparation matter when it comes to quitting a job. So even if you have another job lined up, it’s worth considering a few factors that might influence whether you quit now or stay in your current role for a few weeks – or months.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Figuring out omicron – here’s what scientists are doing right now to understand the new coronavirus variant

  Scientists around the world have been racing to learn more about the new omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2, first declared a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26, 2021 by the World Health Organization. Officials cautioned that it would take several weeks before they’d know whether the recently emerged coronavirus variant is more contagious and causes more or less serious COVID-19 than delta and other earlier variants and whether current vaccines can ward it off.

  Peter Kasson is a virologist and biophysicist at the University of Virginia who studies how viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 enter cells and what can be done to stop them. Here he explains what lab-based scientists are doing to help answer the outstanding questions about omicron.

Friday, December 10, 2021

How Christmas became an American holiday tradition, with a Santa Claus, gifts and a tree

  Each season, the celebration of Christmas has religious leaders and conservatives publicly complaining about the commercialization of the holiday and the growing lack of Christian sentiment. Many people seem to believe that there was once a way to celebrate the birth of Christ in a more spiritual way.

  Such perceptions about Christmas celebrations have, however, little basis in history. As a scholar of transnational and global history, I have studied the emergence of Christmas celebrations in German towns around 1800 and the global spread of this holiday ritual.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Nuns against nuclear weapons – Plowshares protesters have fought for disarmament for over 40 years, going to prison for peace

  In July 2012, Sister Megan Rice, an 82-year-old Catholic nun, and two men walked past multiple broken security cameras and into the heart of a high-security nuclear complex. Y-12 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was the birthplace of the atomic bomb and now stores enriched uranium for nuclear warheads. Although thanked by Congress for exposing astoundingly lax contractor security, the three were also convicted and served two years in prison.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Modern-day culture wars are playing out on historic tours of slaveholding plantations

  Located on nearly 2,000 acres along the banks of the Potomac River, Stratford Hall Plantation is the birthplace of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the home of four generations of the Lee family, including two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee.

  It was also the home of hundreds of enslaved Africans and African Americans. From sunup to sundown, they worked in the fields and in the Great House. Until fairly recently, the stories of these enslaved Africans and of their brothers and sisters toiling at plantations across the Southern U.S. were absent from any discussions during modern-day tours of plantations such as Stratford Hall.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Most school shooters get their guns from home – and during the pandemic, the number of firearms in households with teenagers went up

  Four days before a 15-year-old sophomore killed four students and wounded others at a high school shooting in Michigan, his father purchased the firearm used in the attack.

  That the teenager used a weapon from home during the Nov. 30 attack is not unusual. Most school shooters obtain the firearm from home. And the number of guns within reach of high school-age teenagers has increased during the pandemic – highlighting the importance of locking firearms and keeping them unloaded in the home.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Tax cuts seem to be everywhere – except in Alabama’s future

  Kansas, one of a handful of states alongside Alabama that still fully taxes the sale of food, recently announced a bipartisan plan to “Axe the Food Tax”. 

  Just before Thanksgiving, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a budget into law that will make sweeping changes to the state’s tax code, fully repealing the corporate income tax by the end of the decade and cutting the personal income tax rate by 1.26% over the next five years.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Three major wins for workers in the bipartisan infrastructure package

  On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law. The new law will invest $1.2 trillion in rebuilding crumbling roads, bridges, and public transportation systems; supporting advanced energy technologies and clean water infrastructure; closing the digital divide; and modernizing the electric grid. These investments will create hundreds of thousands of good construction and manufacturing jobs that pay decent wages and benefits; are located in the United States; and have the potential to increase access for women, workers of color, and LGBTQI+ Americans.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The concrete effects of body cameras on police accountability

  Without video evidence, it’s unlikely we would have ever heard of George Floyd or witnessed the prosecution of his killer, a Minneapolis police officer.

  The recording of Floyd’s killing echoed the documentation in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two Black men who were killed at the hands of police.

  The circulation of such videos – witness cellphones, dashcams, and police body-worn cameras – have helped awaken a protest movement centered on police accountability and systemic racism in the United States.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Want to take an online course? Here are 4 tips to make sure you get the most out of it for your career

  The “Great Resignation” has left a lot of people with time on their hands. And while this time may be a welcome respite from the daily grind, most folks will need to get back to work eventually. For many, this period is a time of reflection and a chance to pursue a new career.

  But how do you make the switch? And even if you plan to return to the same field, how do you show that you have kept current with the changes and trends that affected most industries during the pandemic?

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The most powerful space telescope ever built will look back in time to the Dark Ages of the universe

  Some have called NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope the “telescope that ate astronomy.” It is the most powerful space telescope ever built and a complex piece of mechanical origami that has pushed the limits of human engineering. On Dec. 18, 2021, after years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the telescope is scheduled to launch into orbit and usher in the next era of astronomy.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Confederate Christmas ornaments are smaller than statues – but they send the same racist message

  As Christmas approaches, many families undertake a familiar ritual: an annual sojourn to the attic, basement, or closet to pull out a box of treasured ornaments bought, created, and collected over years, even generations.

  Hanging these ornaments on the tree is an opportunity to reconnect with memories of personal milestones, holiday icons and, in many cases, destinations visited.

  But, I argue, it may be time to take some of these old travel keepsakes off the tree.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Retail... why I hate Christmas

  I work in retail, therefore, I hate Christmas. Yes, that's what I said: I HATE CHRISTMAS. People often cluck their tongues and shake their heads in appalled disbelief when I tell them this, and then they often follow up the shaking of their heads with the same response: "I love Christmas because people are nicer to each other."

  Obviously these people do not and have never worked in a grocery store during the holiday season. Wherever these kindler, gentler folk are, they definitely aren't anywhere near my place of employment. Of course, I work at the customer service desk, which on any given day, is overcrowded with pissed-off patrons demanding refunds and making general threats in order to get free food. During the holidays, this volatile behavior inevitably increases twofold, only to be compounded by the insane repetition of the Muzak in the background playing the 975th version of "White Christmas."

Monday, November 29, 2021

Find the spirit of Christmas that you once had

  Every year the Christmas season comes earlier. It used to be that we put up our outside Christmas lights on the last weekend of November. Shortly after, we gradually transformed the inside of our house with Christmas decorations. This culminated with the purchase of a real pine tree, which we decorated shortly before Christmas, at times as late as Christmas Eve. The earliest that we went to get our tree was a couple of weeks before Christmas.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Hanukkah’s true meaning is about Jewish survival

  Every December, Jews celebrate the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, perhaps the best-known and certainly the most visible Jewish holiday.

  While critics sometimes identify Christmas as promoting the prevalence in America today of what one might refer to as Hanukkah kitsch, this assessment misses the social and theological significance of Hanukkah within Judaism itself.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Keep your fork

  When a pessimist is told there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he’s likely to assume it’s an onrushing train. According to journalist Sydney Harris, “A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he’s prematurely disappointed in the future.”

  Pessimism and cynicism are fashionable these days, but it’s the people who see and celebrate the positive aspects of life who live best.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Unkind words are weapons

  With four teenage daughters, I frequently find myself correcting, disciplining, or simply protesting unnecessary and unkind comments certain to anger or wound a sister and evoke counterattacks that fill the air with nastiness.

  Hoping to get them to think before they speak in the future, I often ask, “What did you expect to accomplish by that remark?” and “Did it make things better or worse?” It rarely makes a difference.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

What the first Thanksgiving dinner actually looked like

  Most Americans probably don’t realize that we have a very limited understanding of the first Thanksgiving, which took place in 1621 in Massachusetts.

  Indeed, few of our present-day traditions resemble what happened almost 400 years ago, and there’s only one original account of the feast.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Asian roots of umami – the ‘fifth’ taste central to Thanksgiving fare

  Thanksgiving is perhaps the quintessential American holiday. The fourth Thursday in November provides a moment to reflect on the good fortune of the past year and a chance to share a meal with friends and family. Iconic images of Thanksgiving place America’s native bird, the turkey, at the center of the feast, as are corn, pumpkins, and other indigenous species.

  Unlike other holidays including Valentine's Day, Halloween, and even Christmas, though, the flavors of Thanksgiving are savory rather than sweet. And just as there is a history to the Thanksgiving menu, so too, there is a history to the holiday’s primary taste: umami.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

‘Constructive arguing’ can help keep the peace at your Thanksgiving table

  Sex, income, religion, and politics – these are some of the biggies on the list of taboo topics during polite discussion. Even a conciliatory tone doesn’t always protect you if the subjects are spicy. When singer Katy Perry tweeted post-election encouragement in 2020 to reach out to family members who supported the other candidate, she was skewered online.

  Traditionally the year-end holidays are a time when friends and family with diverse points of view gather. In a pre-Thanksgiving Pew Research Center survey in 2018, people who reported more family discord about politics were less likely to be comfortable talking politics with their family, with 40% of respondents saying they try to avoid the subject.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Retail rage: Why Black Friday leads shoppers to behave badly

  The manic nature of Black Friday has at times led shoppers to engage in fistfights and other misbehavior in their desperation to snatch up the last ultra-discounted television, computer, or pair of pants.

  What is it about the day after Thanksgiving – a day meant to celebrate togetherness and shared feasting – that inspires consumers to misbehave?

Sunday, November 21, 2021

What is family estrangement? A relationship expert describes the problem and research agenda

  Holidays are often a time of strengthening family bonds and relationships. But for those who have difficult relationships with siblings, parents, and extended family, it can be a stressful and upsetting time. We asked Kristina Scharp to explain why family relationships sometimes break down – and some things to consider when talking to those in this situation.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Taking back Thanksgiving!

  I am genuinely elated to report that I have survived another Thanksgiving… or rather what remains of this rapidly deteriorating national holiday. I ate, I watched football, I napped. God ordained back in the Plymouth Rock days that we adhere to this sacred ritual, right? And doing so enables me to show my Turkey Day pride, get my festive gobble-gobble swerve thang on… and have gas until New Year’s from all that gorging.

  But increasingly each year something else is ominously creeping into the view from my yam-tinted glasses, vulgarly tinkling on my Thanksgiving joy and ruthlessly pushing all the pilgrim imagery to the side - its name, Christmas.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Gun violence soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study finds – but the reasons why are complex

  In a new study, we found that the overall U.S. gun violence rate rose by 30% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the year before. In 28 states, the rates were substantially higher between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic period from Feb. 1, 2019 through Feb. 29, 2020. There were 51,063 incidents of gun violence events resulting in injury or death in the United States in the first 13 months of the pandemic compared to 38,919 incidents in the same time span pre-pandemic.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The ‘great resignation’ is a trend that began before the pandemic – and bosses need to get used to it

  Finding good employees has always been a challenge - but these days, it’s harder than ever. And it is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

  The so-called quit rate – the share of workers who voluntarily leave their jobs – hit a new record of 3% in September 2021, according to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The rate was highest in the leisure and hospitality sector, where 6.4% of workers quit their jobs in September. In all, 20.2 million workers left their employers from May through September.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Nurses don’t want to be hailed as ‘heroes’ during a pandemic – they want more resources and support

  Nurses stepped up to the challenge of caring for patients during the pandemic, and over 1,150 of us have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. As cases and deaths surge, nurses continue working in a broken system with minimal support and resources to care for critically sick patients, many of whom will still die.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Hatch Act, the law Trump deputies are said to have broken, requires government employees to work for the public interest, not partisan campaigns

  Thirteen top officials of the Trump administration violated the federal law known as the Hatch Act, which prohibits political campaigning while employed by the federal government. That’s the conclusion of a federal government report issued by the Special Counsel Henry Kerner.

  The officials, including then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “chose to use their official authority not for the legitimate functions of the government, but to promote the reelection of President Trump in violation of the law.”

Monday, November 15, 2021

The federal poverty line struggles to capture the economic hardship that half of Americans face

  Michael Chase works two jobs in southeast Ohio: one as a hotel night clerk and one as retail support – sorting through donations, setting new merchandise out, cleaning – at a nonprofit.

  His schedule is not fixed in either job, and his hours are not guaranteed. Some weeks he works back-to-back eight-hour shifts. Some weeks he works fewer than 30 hours. Neither job offers sick leave, vacation time, or health insurance.

  Chase shares an apartment with three other people, something he finds stressful. And he is not always confident that he can make his portion of the rent. Between the two jobs, Chase earns less than US$16,000 a year. While it may not sound like a lot, that places him well above the federal poverty line for a single person: $12,760.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The future of work is hybrid – here’s an expert’s recommendations

  COVID-19 has changed the way we work.

  Even before the pandemic, the U.S. workforce increasingly relied on remote collaboration technologies like videoconferencing and Slack. The global crisis accelerated the adoption of these work tools and practices in an unprecedented way. By April 2020, about half of companies reported that more than 80% of their employees worked from home because of COVID-19.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Are people lying more since the rise of social media and smartphones?

  Technology has given people more ways to connect, but has it also given them more opportunities to lie?

  You might text your friend a white lie to get out of going to dinner, exaggerate your height on a dating profile to appear more attractive, or invent an excuse to your boss over email to save face.

  Social psychologists and communication scholars have long wondered not just who lies the most but where people tend to lie the most – that is, in person or through some other communication medium.

Friday, November 12, 2021

The US was not prepared for a pandemic – free market capitalism and government deregulation may be to blame

  It’s unclear when the pandemic will come to an end. What may be an even more important question is whether the U.S. will be prepared for the next one. The past year and a half suggests that the answer may be no.

  As a medical anthropologist who has spent the past 20 years studying how the Chinese government reacts to infectious disease, my research can provide insight into how countries, including the U.S., can better prepare for disease outbreaks.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Thank you, veterans!

  A cold north wind chilled the backs of their necks as they waited outside the church. Tired, hungry, and homesick, the soldiers of the 353rd Infantry stood like time-worn statues against the tattered and war-worn buildings of stone. Some of them had dreamed of seeing France one day, but not like this. All they wanted now was a hot meal, a bath, and a good night's sleep in their own beds back home.

  It was November 11th, 1918, and these brave individuals had given their all to defend the freedoms of millions of people they would never meet. Slowly the minutes ticked by and, after what seemed like forever, the moment finally arrived. The Armistice was signed, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War I, "the war to end all wars," was over.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Wages up as Americans are encouraged back to work and into the office – 3 takeaways from the latest jobs report

  After a lackluster jobs report in September 2021, the latest news on employment gives Americans plenty of cheer about ahead of the holiday season.

  In total, 531,000 jobs were added in October – outstripping the already optimistic predictions of economists. This caused the unemployment rate to fall 0.2 percentage points to 4.6%.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

East Coast flooding is a reminder that sea level is rising as the climate warms – here’s why the ocean is pouring in more often

  The U.S. East Coast has been experiencing hurricane-like flooding recently, with Georgia and the Carolinas getting the latest round. High tides are part of the problem, but there’s another risk that has been slowly creeping up: sea level rise.

  Since 1880, average global sea levels have risen by more than 8 inches (23 centimeters), and the rate has been accelerating with climate change.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Interventionists ignore 9/11 motive to our detriment

  In the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, some interventionists are ignoring the most important factor in the Afghanistan debacle: what motivated the terrorists to commit the 9/11 attacks. 

  Or, even worse, some interventionists continue to buy into the motive that U.S. officials ascribed immediately after the attacks: that the terrorists struck on 9/11 because they hated America for its “freedom and values” or because they were Muslims who were engaged in a centuries-old quest to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate, one that would put the United States under Sharia law.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Congress passes $1T infrastructure bill – but how does the government go about spending that much money?

  The U.S. Congress passed an infrastructure bill that funds more than a trillion dollars in nationwide federal spending on Nov. 5.

  The bill puts about US$240 billion toward building or rebuilding roads, bridges, public transit, airports, and railways. More than $150 billion is slated for projects that address climate change, like building electric vehicle charging stations, upgrading energy grids, and production to work better with renewables, and making public transit more environmentally sustainable.

  There’s funding for cybersecurity, clean water, and waste treatment systems, broadband internet connections, and more.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Is COVID-19 here to stay? A team of biologists explains what it means for a virus to become endemic

  Now that kids ages 5 to 11 are eligible for COVID-19 vaccination and the number of fully vaccinated people in the U.S. is rising, many people may be wondering what the endgame is for COVID-19.

  Early on in the pandemic, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) might just go away since historically some pandemic viruses have simply disappeared.

Friday, November 5, 2021

What American schools can learn from other countries about civic disagreement

  Few areas of American life have experienced more conflict of late than public education. The conflict has largely revolved around how public schools should deal with the difficult subjects of race and racism. The situation has become so inflamed that a national school board group asked the federal government to step in and protect school officials and educators from what they said were a growing number of attacks from angry citizens.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Unlike the US, Europe is setting ambitious targets for producing more organic food

  President Joe Biden has called for an all-of-government response to climate change that looks for solutions and opportunities in every sector of the U.S. economy. That includes agriculture, which emits over 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year – more than the total national emissions of the United Kingdom, Australia, France, or Italy.

  Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change and willing to make lifestyle changes to address it. Other surveys show that many U.S. consumers are worried about the possible health risks of eating food produced with pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

COVID-19 threatens the already shaky status of arts education in schools

  Parents can watch their kids draw and paint at home or perform in school music concerts and dance recitals. But they may not know how their school arts program compares with others around the country.

  As a music education professor and a researcher who studies arts education policies, I know that access to and the quality of arts programs vary greatly among states, districts, and even schools within the same district.

  Additionally, I see that disruptions from the pandemic are threatening the already tenuous status of the arts in public schools.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The American founders didn’t believe your sacred freedom means you can do whatever you want – not even when it comes to vaccines and your own body

  President Joe Biden has mandated vaccines for a large part of the American workforce, a requirement that has prompted protest from those opposed to the measure.

  Meanwhile, a similar move in New York City to enforce vaccinations has resulted in more than a dozen businesses being fined for flouting the rules.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Cities worldwide aren’t adapting to climate change quickly enough

  Climate change is magnifying threats such as flooding, wildfires, tropical storms, and drought. In 2020, the U.S. experienced a record-breaking 22 weather and climate disasters that each caused at least US$1 billion in damage. So far in 2021, the count stands at 18.

  I study urban issues and have analyzed cities’ relationship with nature for many years. As I see it, cities are quickly becoming more vulnerable to extreme weather events and permanent shifts in their climate zones.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Tricking and treating has a history

  Over the past few decades, Halloween celebrations have gained in popularity, not only with children and families but with all those fascinated with the spooky and scary.

  As a scholar of myth and religion in popular culture, I look at Halloween with particular interest – especially the ways in which today’s Halloween tradition came to evolve.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

More ‘disease’ than ‘Dracula’ – how the vampire myth was born

  The vampire is a common image in today’s pop culture, and one that takes many forms: from Alucard, the dashing spawn of Dracula in the PlayStation game “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”; to Edward, the romantic, idealistic lover in the “Twilight” series.

  In many respects, the vampire of today is far removed from its roots in Eastern European folklore. As a professor of Slavic studies who has taught a course on vampires called “Dracula” for more than a decade, I’m always fascinated by the vampire’s popularity, considering its origins – as a demonic creature strongly associated with disease.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Ancient Americans made art deep within the dark zones of caves throughout the Southeast

  On a cold winter’s day in 1980, a group of recreational cavers entered a narrow, wet stream passage south of Knoxville, Tennessee. They navigated a slippery mud slope and a tight keyhole through the cave wall, trudged through the stream itself, ducked through another keyhole, and climbed more mud. Eventually they entered a high and relatively dry passage deep in the cave’s “dark zone” – beyond the reach of external light.

  On the walls around them, they began to see lines and figures traced into remnant mud banks laid down long ago when the stream flowed at this higher level. No modern or historic graffiti marred the surfaces. They saw images of animals, people, and transformational characters blending human characteristics with those of birds and those of snakes with mammals.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

What happens to your life stories if you delete your Facebook account?

  If the latest deluge of Facebook controversies has you ready to kick the app to the digital curb, you are not alone. There are plenty of good guides out there on how to do it right. Even Facebook makes it pretty easy to understand the nuances of saying “see ya later” (deactivating) or “never speak to me again” (deleting).

  But before you go, you might want to consider this: What happens to your life stories?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Teachers must often face student attacks alone

  When “Ms. Kyles,” a social studies teacher in a suburban district, heard her colleague scream in a nearby classroom, she ran to her aid. It appeared that a female student had attacked a classmate.

  “I grabbed the student to restrain her, and I said to the teacher, ‘You go back to your students, I’ll take care of her,’” Ms. Kyles said.

  After locking herself in an empty classroom with the student, Ms. Kyles – that’s a pseudonym to protect her privacy – learned that the student had stabbed a female classmate four times in the chest and back, killing her. Then the student threatened Ms. Kyles.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Will Congress act to shore up its financing?

  Social Security has grown far beyond its original mission. It now costs workers two and a half times what was originally planned, yet even so, the program faces a $19.8 trillion shortfall—the equivalent of $154,000 per household.

  Propping up the program through benefit cuts or tax increases alone would be a raw deal for current and future workers. There's a better way.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The science of fright: Why we love to be scared

  Fear may be as old as life on Earth. It is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threats to their integrity or existence. Fear may be as simple as a cringe of an antenna in a snail that is touched or as complex as existential anxiety in a human.

  Whether we love or hate to experience fear, it’s hard to deny that we certainly revere it – devoting an entire holiday to the celebration of fear.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

How many lives have coronavirus vaccines saved? We used state data on deaths and vaccination rates to find out

  More than 200 million U.S. residents have gotten at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine with the expectation that the vaccines slow virus transmission and save lives.

  Researchers know the efficacy of the vaccines from large-scale clinical trials, the gold standard for medical research. The studies found the vaccines to be very effective at preventing severe COVID–19 and especially good at preventing death. But it’s important to track any new treatment in the real world as the population-level benefits of vaccines could differ from the efficacy found in clinical trials.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

State government takes more revenue from citizens than ever before

  In 2021, Alabama’s state government took more money from taxpayers than ever before. The big question is, what will state government leadership do with it? It should be used to provide tax relief to citizens and businesses, not to continue to grow government. 

  According to end of fiscal year 2021 data from, the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets took in a whopping $11.2 billion in revenue last year. That’s nearly $1.2 billion (11.6%) more than the state collected in fiscal year 2020.

Friday, October 22, 2021

E-cigarettes get FDA approval: 5 essential reads on the harms and benefits of vaping

  After being on the U.S. market for around 15 years, an e-cigarette has, for the first time, been authorized for sale by the Food and Drug Administration.

  The government agency announced on Oct. 12 that three products from the vaping company Vuse had been given the green light to be marketed, along with one device in which the approved cartridges are placed.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

4 reasons Americans are still seeing empty shelves and long waits – with Christmas just around the corner

  Walk into any U.S. store these days and you’re likely to see empty shelves.

  Shortages of virtually every type of product – from toilet paper and sneakers to pickup trucks and chicken – are showing up across the country. Looking for a book, bicycle, baby crib, or boat? You may have to wait weeks or months longer than usual to get your hands on it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Why believing in ghosts can make you a better person

  Halloween is a time when ghosts and spooky decorations are on public display, reminding us of the realm of the dead. But could they also be instructing us in important lessons on how to lead moral lives?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why North Korea unleashed a flurry of missile tests

  Pyongyang continues to augment and diversify its threat to U.S. allies in Asia with mobile missiles more difficult to detect and more adept at evading missile defenses. In September, North Korea revealed three new offensive missiles, a new rail-based launch system, and claimed to have developed a quicker missile fueling system.

  The regime is rapidly implementing Kim Jong-un’s January directive to develop and test numerous new missiles. Pyongyang may yet test two new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and a massive multi-warhead ICBM revealed during recent parades. Doing so would significantly escalate tensions in the region and push North Korea to the top of the Biden administration’s security agenda.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Is social distancing unraveling the bonds that keep society together?

  With birthday celebrations being downsized, religious services moving back online, and indoor playdates getting canceled, millions of Americans are having fewer social interactions because of persistently high case numbers and high rates of transmission.

  It’s not just interactions with friends and families that are getting cut. Routine yet beneficial interactions with people at fitness and child care centers and volunteer organizations are also being eliminated.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why charter schools are not as ‘public’ as they claim to be

  Proponents of charter schools insist that they are public schools “open to all students.” But the truth is more nuanced. As an education policy researcher – and as an author of a new book about charter schools I wrote with fellow researcher Wagma Mommandi – I have discovered that charter schools are not as accessible to the public as they are often made out to be.

  This finding is particularly relevant in light of the fact that charter school enrollment reportedly grew at a rapid rate during the pandemic. Specifically, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, enrollment increased 7% from 2019-20 to 2020-21. The organization says that is the biggest enrollment jump in a half-decade.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The brutal trade in enslaved people within the US has been largely whitewashed out of history

  For my recently published book, “The Ledger and the Chain,” I visited more than 30 archives in over a dozen states, from Louisiana to Connecticut. Along the way, I uncovered mountains of material that exposed the depravity of the men who ran the largest domestic slave trading operation in American history and revealed the fortitude of the enslaved people they trafficked as merchandise.

  But I also learned that many Americans do not realize that a domestic slave trade existed in the U.S. at all.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Halloween isn’t about candy and costumes for modern-day pagans

  This Halloween, there are likely to be fewer pint-sized witches going door to door in search of candy. Concerns over the coronavirus have meant that in many places, trick-or-treating is off the menu. Even in Salem, Massachusetts, the place associated with the infamous witch trials of 1692 and the epicenter of Halloween gatherings, festivities are expected to be subdued.

  But for members of the minority religion of Wicca and witchcraft, part of contemporary paganism, Halloween has never been primarily a children’s holiday. As a sociologist doing research on contemporary pagans for over 30 years, I have observed how it is marked as a sacred day known as Samhain in which death is celebrated.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Cherry-picking the Bible and using verses out of context isn’t a practice confined to those opposed to vaccines – it has been done for centuries

  A devout evangelical Christian friend of mine recently texted to explain why he was not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Jesus went around healing lepers and touched them without fear of getting leprosy,” he said.

  This story that St. Luke tells in his gospel (17:11-19) is not the only Bible verse I have seen and heard evangelical Christians use to justify anti-vaccine convictions. Other popular passages include Psalm 30:2: “Lord, I called to you for help, and you healed me.”; 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”; and Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How education reforms can support teachers around the world instead of undermining them

  World Teachers’ Day, held on October 5 each year since 1994, is an annual event to reflect on the progress teachers have made.

  But in many countries, including the United States, the professional status of teachers has declined in the last decade.

  For example, studies in Britain, Japan, and Hong Kong show an erosion of teacher autonomy and public confidence in teachers, which leads to teachers feeling disempowered and demoralized. Job satisfaction has also deteriorated among teachers in the U.S., where teacher education itself has become a target of policymakers who think it requires higher standards and greater state control.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The ultimate drug-war crackdown

  Throughout the long sordid history of America’s war on drugs, drug-war proponents have claimed that if only government officials would really crack down on drug use and drug distribution, the decades-old war on drugs could finally — finally! — be won. 

  But one big problem is that throughout the decades of drug warfare, there have been crackdowns — big crackdowns. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

‘Imagine’ at 50: Why John Lennon’s ode to humanism still resonates

  Fifty years ago, John Lennon released one of the most beautiful, inspirational, and catchy pop anthems of the 20th century: “Imagine.”

  Gentle and yet increasingly stirring as the song progresses, “Imagine” is unabashedly utopian and deeply moral, calling on people to live, as one humanity, in peace. It is also purposely and powerfully irreligious. From its opening lyric, “Imagine there’s no heaven,” to the refrain, “And no religion too,” Lennon sets out what is, to many, a clear atheistic message.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

More Americans couldn’t get enough to eat in 2020 – a change that hit the middle class hardest

The big idea

  Americans in households with annual incomes from $50,000 to $75,000 experienced the sharpest increase in food insufficiency when the COVID-19 pandemic began – meaning that many people in the middle class didn’t have enough to eat at some point within the previous seven days, according to our peer-reviewed study that will soon be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

  We also found that food banks, food pantries, and similar emergency services helped reduce food insufficiency, especially for middle-income Americans, by the end of 2020.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

How oil lobbyists use a rigged system to hamstring Biden’s climate agenda

  During President Joe Biden’s first week in office, he announced a pause on all new lease sales on public lands and waters alongside a review of the entire federal oil and gas program. Despite these attempts, a Trump-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty in Louisiana blocked the leasing pause, and the Biden administration announced they would hold lease sales both on and offshore in the coming months. The onshore lease sales are poised to offer up 740,000 acres of public lands, and offshore plans will offer a whopping 80 million acres of public ocean to oil companies to lease. Federal leases lock in oil development for decades, and the offshore lease sale alone has the potential to emit 723 million metric tons of CO2* into the atmosphere over its lifetime, equivalent to operating more than 70 percent of the United States’ coal-fired power plants for a year.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Can healthy people who eat right and exercise skip the COVID-19 vaccine? A research scientist and fitness enthusiast explains why the answer is no

  I’m a fitness enthusiast. I also adhere to a nutrient-dense, “clean” eating program, which means I minimize my sugar intake and eat a lot of whole foods for the purpose of optimizing my health.

  You might wonder how effective such a diet and exercise plan would be in the fight against COVID-19, since some have suggested – without supporting evidence – that vaccination may be unnecessary if a detailed wellness lifestyle is closely followed.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Who pays and who benefits from a massive expansion of solar power?

  Electricity generation produces a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. The electric grid also is highly vulnerable to climate change effects, such as more frequent and severe droughts, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.

  For both of these reasons, the power sector is central to the Biden administration’s climate policy.

  President Joe Biden’s proposal to produce 45% of the nation’s electricity from solar energy by 2050 seeks to transform the power sector from problem child into child prodigy. As the details evolve, two cornerstones have emerged.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Facebook’s scandals and outage test users’ frenemy relationship

  When Facebook was down for most of the day on Oct. 4, 2021, did you miss it, were you relieved, or some of both? Social scientists have compiled an expansive body of research that shows how people have come to develop a love-hate relationship with the social media giant with nearly 3 billion users.

  Many users have felt their relationship with the platform devolve into a messy codependence, mired by ambiguity and mistrust. For others, reliance on the platform is taken for granted, if occasionally appreciated in moments of pandemic isolation.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

How lawyers could prevent America’s eviction crisis from getting a whole lot worse

  Lawyers may be the only thing standing in the way of eviction for millions of renters.

  With the end of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium on Aug. 26, 2021, most landlords can now ask courts to evict tenants who haven’t been paying their rent. As a result, new eviction filings are already spiking across the country. Data shows that once an eviction court begins a case, it’s very likely the tenant will quickly be out on the street – unless they have legal representation.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Global supply-chain woes may imperil more than Christmas shopping

  A global shipping crisis has been quietly brewing for months. Soon it will lead to layoffs, higher prices, and fewer options at the grocery store. In time, it could threaten our nation’s security. 

  Vice President Kamala Harris caught a glimpse of the unfolding problem during her recent swing through Asia. In Singapore, a global hub for maritime trade, she learned that congestion at its piers was causing shipping companies to bypass the port. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

21 million Americans say Biden is ‘illegitimate’ and Trump should be restored by violence, survey finds

  A recent Washington demonstration supporting those charged with crimes for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol fizzled, with no more than 200 demonstrators showing up. The organizers had promised 700 people would turn out – or more.

  But the threat from far-right insurrectionists is not over.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Changing your mind about something as important as vaccination isn’t a sign of weakness

  Culturally, this is an era in which people are held in high esteem when they stick with their beliefs and negatively labeled as “flip-floppers” or “wishy-washy” when they change what they think.

  While the courage of convictions can be a plus in situations where people are fighting for justice, sticking with beliefs in a dynamic world is shortsighted and dangerous because new evidence can and should be taken into account. Rapidly changing environments are uncomfortable for people because you can’t effectively use experience to guide choices about the future.

Friday, October 1, 2021

How did the superstition that broken mirrors cause bad luck start and why does it still exist?

  Every human culture has superstitions. In some Asian societies, people believe that sweeping a floor after sunset brings bad luck and that it’s a curse to leave chopsticks standing in a bowl of rice. In the U.S., some people panic if they accidentally walk under a ladder or see a black cat cross their path. Also, many tall buildings don’t label their 13th floors as such because of that number’s association with bad luck.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Combatting an invisible killer: New WHO air pollution guidelines recommend sharply lower limits

  Air pollution is the world’s fourth leading cause of death, contributing to about 13 premature deaths every minute. The gases and tiny particles can travel deep into your lungs, enter your bloodstream, and damage your cells.

  Even when you can’t see air pollutants, and even when their levels are below legal limits set by many countries worldwide, they can cause serious health problems that affect multiple organ systems in people of all ages.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The U.S.-South Korea Alliance is a historic success (and could get even better)

  Not all U.S. foreign policy ends in a debacle. The Biden administration’s precipitous, unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan destroyed hopes of freedom and security there and has shaken our allies’ trust in Washington’s commitments to them.

  But foreign policy done well has the opposite effect. Exhibit A: the enduring alliance between the United States and South Korea.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Pandemic prompts more teachers to consider early retirement or new career

The big idea

  The COVID-19 pandemic reduced teachers’ commitment to remain in the classroom, our study on teacher turnover found.

  When schools resumed classes in the fall of 2020, teachers faced a host of new challenges. These included things such as adapting to combinations of in-person, hybrid, and remote learning models and managing health concerns during the pandemic. As a result, teachers experienced even higher levels of stress and burnout than before the pandemic. This in turn has raised concerns about a potential exodus of teachers as well as teacher shortages.

Monday, September 27, 2021

‘Tax the rich’? Democrats’ plans to make the wealthy pay a little more will barely dent America’s long slide from progressive taxation

  Demanding tax increases on the rich is back in fashion – both in the corridors of the House of Representatives and on the red carpet of the Met Gala.

  The House Ways and Means Committee outlined plans on Sept. 13, 2021, to move the top marginal income rate up a couple of notches to 39.6% and to introduce a 3% surtax on incomes above $5 million. That proposal would fall short of calls to really “tax the rich,” as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dress demanded at a glitzy New York bash just hours later.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Supreme Court has overturned precedent dozens of times in the past 60 years, including when it struck down legal segregation

  It is a central principle of law: Courts are supposed to follow earlier decisions – precedent – to resolve current disputes. But it’s inevitable that sometimes, the precedent has to go, and a court has to overrule another court or even its own decision from an earlier case.

  In its upcoming term, the U.S. Supreme Court faces the question of whether to overrule itself on abortion rights. Recent laws in Texas and Mississippi restrict the right of women to terminate pregnancies in ways that appear to challenge the long-standing precedent of the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which allowed women to have abortions in most circumstances.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Huntsville is Alabama’s largest city

  Huntsville has rocketed past Birmingham as Alabama’s largest city. It isn't named the Rocket City for nothing. The Census Bureau had been predicting this amazing boom in population in the Madison (Huntsville)/Limestone area, but the actual figures recently released reveal a bigger growth than expected. Huntsville grew by 20% or 35,000 people and is now a little over 215,000.  

  On the other hand, Birmingham shrank by 12,000 or 5% to 201,000 people. Montgomery held its own, and Montgomery and Birmingham are actually in a virtual tie for second at around 200,000. Mobile shrank to 187,000 and is now the smallest of the “big four” cities in the state.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Nurses are leaving the profession, and replacing them won’t be easy

  The fourth wave of COVID-19 is exacerbating the ongoing crisis for the nursing workforce and has led to burnout for many nurses. As a result, many are quitting their jobs in substantial numbers all across the country, with 62% of hospitals reporting a nurse vacancy rate higher than 7.5%, according to a 2021 NSI Nursing Solutions report.

  But the global pandemic has only worsened problems that have long existed within the nursing profession – in particular, widespread stress and burnout, health and safety issues, depression, and work-related post-traumatic stress disorder, and even increased risk of suicide.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Texas voting law builds on long legacy of racism from GOP leaders

  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill on Sept. 7, 2021, that reduces opportunities for people to vote, allows partisan poll watchers more access, and creates steeper penalties for violating voting laws.

  The Republican governor argued that the legislation would “solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.” Democratic opponents of the measure, however, said Republican legislators presented no evidence of widespread voter fraud during debate on the bill.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Why America has a debt ceiling: 5 questions answered

  Republicans and Democrats are again waging a battle of wills over the U.S. debt ceiling, which is a statutory limit on how much the government can borrow to pay its bills. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says no member of his party will support a bill lifting or suspending the debt limit – even though he says he wants to see it raised – and Democrats are reluctant to do it on their own. At the moment, Democrats hope to do it as part of a must-pass spending bill.

  Congress suspended the debt ceiling in 2019 for two years, ending July 31, 2021. Since then, the U.S. Treasury Department has taken emergency measures that allow it to keep borrowing without an increase in the limit. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that those options will run out in October and that if the U.S. doesn’t allow more borrowing, it faces “catastrophe” – either drastic across-the-board spending cuts or the prospect of an unprecedented default.

  Economist Steve Pressman explains why we have a ceiling – and why he thinks it’s time to abolish it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Political orientation predicts science denial – here’s what that means for getting Americans vaccinated against COVID-19

  Vaccine refusal is a major reason COVID-19 infections continue to surge in the U.S. Safe and effective vaccines have been available for months, but as of mid-September 2021, only 65% of eligible American adults are fully vaccinated. In many areas, a majority of eligible adults haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated.

  In the U.S., polling on intent to get vaccinated shows a massive political divide. Counties that went for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election show higher vaccination rates than counties that went for Donald Trump. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s summer meeting cheered the fact that the U.S. didn’t meet Biden’s July 4 vaccination goals for the country.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Critical race theory is an important tool in better understanding how religion operates in America

  The debate over critical race theory has played out in TV studios, school board meetings, and state legislatures across the U.S. It has also found its way into churches.

  The theory comprises a set of concepts that frame racism as structural, rather than simply expressed through personal discrimination. Scholars point to racial discrepancies in educational achievement, economic and employment opportunities, and in the criminal justice system as evidence of how racism is embedded in U.S. institutions.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tariffs are never a good idea, those on aluminum are especially bad

  Aluminum prices are up 59% from a year ago, and America’s 10% tariffs on the metal are not relieving any headaches at beer and non-alcoholic beverage manufacturers.

  The tariffs were originally put in place in 2018, ostensibly to protect domestic aluminum producers. The theory was that China and other foreign producers were “dumping” aluminum into the U.S. at low prices below cost to capture market share and supposedly drive American producers of aluminum out of business.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Remove white supremacy from state’s Jim Crow-era constitution

  Like their counterparts in other Southern states, Alabama lawmakers adopted a new constitution during the early stages of the Jim Crow era with the explicit intent to deny Black citizens access to the ballot and to establish white supremacy and racial segregation as the law of the land.

  That 1901 constitution – which legalized discrimination against Black citizens for more than six decades – is still in effect today. And even though many of its provisions have been shredded by federal court decisions and civil rights laws, its racist language and other harmful effects remain.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Revealing census results

  Well, folks, the final census figures are in from last year’s 2020 nose count. The census is taken every 10 years to determine the lines and boundaries of congressional and legislative districts. However, the census reveals a lot more information about us as a state and nation than just how many of us there are. It paints a picture of who we are as people and what we look like.

  The most recent census unveils an America much different than those of us who were born in the 1950s and are referred to as the “Baby Boomer” generation. We are one diverse country. Indeed, we are a true melting pot. The United States is now less than 60% white/Caucasian – 57% to be exact. The black/African-American population has basically remained the same at about 12% of the population. The most remarkable figure is that 20% of our population identifies as Hispanic. The Asian population has doubled over the 10 years from 3% to 6% percent. It is a new America.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Jim Crow tactics reborn in Texas abortion law, deputizing citizens to enforce legally suspect provisions

  The new Texas law that bans most abortions uses a method employed by Texas and other states to enforce racist Jim Crow laws in the 19th and 20th centuries that aimed to disenfranchise African Americans.

  Rather than giving state officials, such as the police, the power to enforce the law, the Texas law instead allows enforcement by “any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state.” This enforcement mechanism relies solely on citizens, rather than on government officials, to enforce the law.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

How ‘engagement’ makes you vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation on social media

  Facebook has been quietly experimenting with reducing the amount of political content it puts in users’ news feeds. The move is a tacit acknowledgment that the way the company’s algorithms work can be a problem.

  The heart of the matter is the distinction between provoking a response and providing content people want. Social media algorithms – the rules their computers follow in deciding the content that you see – rely heavily on people’s behavior to make these decisions. In particular, they watch for content that people respond to or “engage” with by liking, commenting, and sharing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Biden’s proposed tenfold increase in solar power would remake the US electricity system

  President Joe Biden has called for major clean energy investments as a way to curb climate change and generate jobs. On Sept. 8, the White House released a report produced by the U.S. Department of Energy that found that solar power could generate up to 45% of the U.S. electricity supply by 2050, compared to less than 4% today. We asked Joshua D. Rhodes, an energy technology and policy researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, what it would take to meet this target.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Dealing with North Korea’s dangerous cyberthreat

  North Korea appears to have restarted its nuclear reactor, enabling it to augment its ongoing production of approximately seven or more nuclear weapons per year. Pyongyang’s missiles and nuclear weapons have long garnered fear, international condemnation, and tough sanctions.

  The regime’s cyber activities, however, have elicited less response despite their repeated attacks on governments, financial institutions, and industries.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Medicaid coverage gap requires permanent closure

  Inequities and disparities in U.S. health care access have had insidious impacts on communities for centuries and will require robust and long-term action to remedy. As of March 2020, 13 million people had gained Medicaid coverage in states that implemented the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion. However, in 11 of the remaining states that have not expanded the program, 2.2 million people are stuck in the “coverage gap”: Despite having incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL), they do not qualify for Medicaid and are also ineligible for financial assistance for marketplace coverage. As a result, millions of low-income individuals—who are disproportionately Black and Latino—are unable to access the coverage they need.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - 20th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks

  Today marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation. It was a day in your life where you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard of the attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It changed our world.

  Like most people, I thought the first plane that flew into the towering Trade Center was an accident. However, when the second plane hit, you knew it was not pilot error. It was traumatic and terrifying. I asked several of our state leaders about their memories of that fateful day. Allow me to share some of their experiences.

Friday, September 10, 2021

The next attack on the Affordable Care Act may cost you free preventive health care

  Many Americans breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court left the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in place following its third major legal challenge in June 2021. This decision left widely supported policies in place, like ensuring coverage regardless of preexisting conditions, coverage for dependents up to age 26 on their parents’ plan, and removal of annual and lifetime benefit limits.

  But the hits keep coming. One of the most popular benefits offered by the ACA, free preventive care through many employer-based and marketplace insurance plans, is under attack by another legal domino, Kelley v. Becerra. As University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley sees it, “[t]his time, the law’s opponents stand a good chance of succeeding.”

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A new lawsuit illustrates the problem of U.S. guns in Mexico

  Last month, the Mexican government filed a lawsuit against major U.S. arms manufacturers and distributors in a U.S. federal court, suing the companies for damages caused by the illegal flow of their guns into Mexico. The lawsuit not only looks for compensation—with some damages estimated at $10 billion—but also to change the commercial practices of U.S. gun companies that facilitate the flow of guns. Regardless of how the lawsuit ends—considering existing U.S. laws offer gun companies broad immunity from civil litigation—it is important to acknowledge the huge impacts of the flow of U.S. guns into Mexico. It is equally important to address disinformation surrounding this flow and recognize that America can and should do more to stop it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Removing the propaganda

  In the 1860s, Robert Mills Lusher served as a Confederate tax collector and then as Louisiana’s superintendent of education following the Civil War. The Reconstruction-era educator wrote in his journal that the chief goal of education was to “vindicate the honor and supremacy of the Caucasian race.”

  In the last decade of his life, Lusher edited his Louisiana Journal of Education, where he called for “manual training” for Black students and the removal of rights from Black citizens. He filled the pages of his unfinished memoir by reminiscing over a lifetime of advocacy for white supremacy. 

  Simply put, Lusher did not believe in educating Black people. But today, a K-12 public school in New Orleans – one with a majority Black student population – bears his name.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Lessons about 9/11 often provoke harassment of Muslim students

  Near the start of each school year, many U.S. schools wrestle with how to teach about 9/11 – the deadliest foreign attack ever on American soil.

  In interviews I conducted recently in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area – one of three places where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001 – I found that Muslim students are often subjected to ridicule and blame for the 9/11 attacks.

  “Even if they’re joking around, they’ll say ‘terrorist’ and stuff like that,” one student told me. “That used to trigger me a lot.”

Monday, September 6, 2021

Have we forgotten the true meaning of Labor Day?

  Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday of 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 5, 2021

Amid calls to #TaxTheChurches – what and how much do US religious organizations not pay the taxman?

  The hashtag #TaxTheChurches began trending on Twitter in mid-July.

  The spark was allegations about the wealth of celebrity pastor Joel Osteen. But it wasn’t the first time that “tax the churches” has circulated. In fact, it is slogan that long predates social media – Frank Zappa was singing it back in 1981, and Mark Twain expressed similar sentiments many decades before that.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

These 3 energy storage technologies can help solve the challenge of moving to 100% renewable electricity

  In recent decades, the cost of wind and solar power generation has dropped dramatically. This is one reason that the U.S. Department of Energy projects that renewable energy will be the fastest-growing U.S. energy source through 2050.

  However, it’s still relatively expensive to store energy. And since renewable energy generation isn’t available all the time – it happens when the wind blows or the sun shines – storage is essential.