Sunday, January 31, 2021

Biden can transform the US from a humanitarian laggard into a global leader – here’s how

  Even after the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to slash foreign aid and global partnerships, the United States remains the world’s largest source of official development assistance for low-income countries.

  Still, based on what I’ve learned during a career straddling academia and government service in jobs that involved international development and climate change, I believe that the United States lost prestige, influence, and capacity during President Donald Trump’s time in office.

  Nearly all my close former colleagues at the United States Agency for International Development – the development agency known as USAID – have left the agency out of frustration, and those still working there are reportedly suffering from generally low morale.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

White supremacists who stormed US Capitol are only the most visible product of racism

  Among the Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were members of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and Three Percenters.

  The increasing violence and visibility of these groups have turned them into symbols of white supremacy and racism. They were involved in the deadly Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and street clashes with racial justice protesters in Portland, Oregon last year. At a Trump rally in Washington, D.C., in December, Black Lives Matter banners were torn from two historically Black churches and destroyed. The Proud Boys’ leader has been criminally charged in those acts.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Outstanding class of freshman state senators

  The 2021 Alabama Regular Legislative Session begins next week. Over the years, I have observed some outstanding classes of freshman legislators. Some stand out more than others, and occasionally you have a very stellar class. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Biden is inheriting a wrecked economy, but Democrats have a record of avoiding recession and reducing unemployment

  The newly inaugurated President Joe Biden has to manage a devastated economy – much as he and former President Barack Obama did 12 years ago.

  What can the country expect?

  Forecasting how the economy will perform under a new president is generally a fool’s errand. How much or how little credit the person in the White House deserves for the health of the economy is a matter of debate, and no economist can confidently predict how the president’s policies will play out – if they even go into effect – or what challenges might emerge.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Steve Flowers - Inside the Statehouse: Prison issues continue

  As the 2021 Regular Legislative Session looms, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the prison issue. The situation has grown more dire because the U.S. Justice Department has now filed suit against the State of Alabama. 

  When Gov. Kay Ivey took office in January of 2019, she and the new legislature knew that they were going to have to address the prison problem in the state. Fixing prisons is not a popular issue. It wins you no votes to fix a broken prison system. Prisoners do not vote. However, victims of crime generally are voters, and they are adamant and vociferous in their belief that those who committed crimes should be put behind bars, locked up, and the keys thrown away.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Two-thirds of Earth’s land is on pace to lose water as the climate warms – that’s a problem for people, crops and forests

  The world watched with a sense of dread in 2018 as Cape Town, South Africa counted down the days until the city would run out of water. The region’s surface reservoirs were going dry amid its worst drought on record, and the public countdown was a plea for help.

  By drastically cutting their water use, Cape Town residents and farmers were able to push back “Day Zero” until the rain came, but the close call showed just how precarious water security can be. California also faced severe water restrictions during its recent multi-year drought. And Mexico City is now facing water restrictions after a year with little rain.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Alabama CARES Act funding feeds government, not its people

  In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread across the United States, impacting the lives of all Americans. In response, Congress passed a massive health and economic relief bill, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).

  The CARES Act included $150 billion in direct aid to state and local governments. Money that was intended to help support state governments as they responded to the healthcare and financial hardships faced by citizens.

  Thus far, Alabama has missed the mark in using CARES funds to provide direct assistance to struggling Alabamians in an effective and timely manner, choosing instead to feed government and provide narrowly targeted aid to private organizations. With the CARES Act state spending deadline extended through 2021, the state should use the more than $270 million left to help its people, not further grow government.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The need for a White House Office of Democracy Reform

  The United States has just emerged from an election that former National Security Adviser and incoming Director of the Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice described as “our democracy’s near-death experience.” The outgoing president, with the complicity of many congressional Republicans, engaged in an effort to undermine the results of that election with bad-faith, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Their lies culminated in an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building—led by conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, and other right-wing extremists intent on preventing Congress from certifying the electoral votes. While that effort failed, it sent a stark message: American democracy can no longer be taken for granted.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Racial bias in U.S. policing is a national security threat

  The events of Jan. 6, 2021 made unmistakably clear that racial bias is a national security threat.

  The events of 2020 – George Floyd’s extrajudicial killing played out over eight minutes and 46 seconds on millions of screens, Breonna Taylor shot to death in her home by police, among far too many others – finally moved Americans to a reckoning with the racism that has always been a mortal threat to the lives of Black people in this country.

  Now the rest of the story has been unmasked. Racism threatens not just the lives of the Black, Indigenous, and people of color who are its obvious targets. Racism threatens the survival of our democracy and our security as a nation.

Friday, January 22, 2021

5 strategies for cultivating hope this year

  The raging coronavirus pandemic, along with political turbulence and uncertainty, have overwhelmed many of us.

  From almost the start of 2020, people have been faced with bleak prospects as illness, death, isolation, and job losses became unwelcome parts of our reality. Many of us watched in horror and despair as insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol.

  Indeed, all through these times, both the dark and bright sides of human nature were evident as many people engaged in extraordinary compassion and courage when others were committing acts of violence, self-interest, or greed.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Biden plans to fight climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before

  Joe Biden is preparing to deal with climate change in a way no U.S. president has done before – by mobilizing his entire administration to take on the challenge from every angle in a strategic, integrated way.

  The strategy is evident in the people Biden has chosen for his Cabinet and senior leadership roles: Most have track records for incorporating climate change concerns into a wide range of policies, and they have experience partnering across agencies and levels of government.

  Those skills are crucial because slowing climate change will require a comprehensive and coordinated “all hands on deck” approach.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Whether slow or fast, here’s how your metabolism influences how many calories you burn each day

  It’s a common dieter’s lament: “Ugh, my metabolism is so slow, I’m never going to lose any weight.”

  When people talk about a fast or slow metabolism, what they’re really getting at is how many calories their body burns as they go about their day. The idea is that someone with a slow metabolism just won’t use up the same amount of energy to do the same task as does someone with a fast metabolism.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How the Biden administration can reduce the political spending of foreign-influenced U.S. corporations

  One of the foundational principles of U.S. democracy is that elections must be decided by Americans. Election law makes it illegal for foreign governments, corporations, or people to spend money to influence U.S. elections, either directly or indirectly. This bedrock principle was established by the nation’s founders, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and reaffirmed in federal court. This principle is necessary primarily because foreign entities often have policy and political interests—regarding, for example, taxes, the environment, workers’ rights, or national security—that do not align with the best interests of the United States.

  Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court’s misguided 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission introduced a loophole that makes U.S. elections more vulnerable to foreign influence: Foreign entities are now able to influence America’s political process by investing in U.S. corporations, which in turn spend enormous amounts of money to sway the results of elections and ballot measures.

Monday, January 18, 2021

What shaped King’s prophetic vision?

  The name Martin Luther King Jr. is iconic in the United States. President Barack Obama spoke of King in both his Democratic National Convention nomination acceptance and victory speeches in 2008:

    “[King] brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial… to speak of his dream.”

  Indeed, much of King’s legacy lives on in such arresting oral performances. They made him a global figure.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

How many people need to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to stop the coronavirus?

  It has been clear for a while that, at least in the U.S., the only way out of the coronavirus pandemic will be through vaccination. The rapid deployment of coronavirus vaccines is underway, but how many people need to be vaccinated in order to control this pandemic?

  I am a computational biologist who uses data and computer models to answer biological questions at the University of Connecticut. I have been tracking my state’s COVID-19 epidemic with a computer model to help forecast the number of hospitalizations at the University of Connecticut’s John Dempsey Hospital.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Trump tapped into white victimhood – leaving fertile ground for white supremacists

  Despite failed lawsuits, recounts, and formal confirmation that President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump and his supporters continue to maintain that the election was rigged and that he and the American people are victims of massive voter fraud.

  This politicization of victimhood is nothing new to the Trump presidency.

  It was there from the beginning. When Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his presidential campaign in 2015, he stoked fears of Mexican rapists and drug traffickers attacking U.S. citizens.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Steve Flowers - Inside the Statehouse: Alabama could lose a congressional seat

  It has been speculated for several years that Alabama could lose a congressional seat after the 2020 Census. It was thought to be a foregone conclusion. However, in recent days, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicate that we might dodge that bullet. They say we are on the cusp and if we have had a good count, we could keep our current seven seats in congress. 

  This will be extremely beneficial for Alabama if this miracle occurs. We have a very heavy laden Republican congressional delegation. We have six Republicans and one lone Democrat. We have two freshmen Republican congressmen, Jerry Carl in the 1st District and Barry Moore in the 2nd District. Both of these men will be reliably Republican votes. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Slow down the machine police

  Suppose an intelligent machine deems you guilty of a crime. Suppose the police were to treat the machine’s judgment as evidence of your guilt. Would it matter that you are actually innocent?

  This hypothetical was once a plot device of dystopian novels and films. As law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on traffic cameras, cell phone data, and other information technologies, we should take care that fiction does not become reality.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - We lost some good ones in 2020

  As is my annual ritual, this column pays tribute to Alabama political legends who have passed away during the year. 

  Sonny Cauthen passed away in Montgomery at age 70. He was the ultimate inside man in Alabama politics. Cauthen was a lobbyist before lobbying was a business. He kept his cards close to his vest, and you never knew what he was doing. He was the ultimate optimist who knew what needed to be achieved and found like-minded allies with whom to work. When he had something to get done, he bulldozed ahead and achieved his mission. Cauthen was a yellow dog Democrat who believed in equal treatment and rewarding hard work. He was an avid outdoorsman and hunter and mentored a good many young men in Montgomery.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Why getting back to ‘normal’ doesn’t have to involve police in schools

  Since COVID-19 forced many of America’s schools to teach kids remotely, parents and elected officials have been rightly concerned about when things will get back to normal.

  But there are certain aspects of education where a return to a pre-pandemic “normal” may not be in the best interests of America’s students.

  I believe that stationing large numbers of police officers inside public schools is one reality ripe for reform. I say this not only as a scholar of the politics of education but as former deputy chancellor of New York City’s public schools. I served right before New York City’s mayor at the time – Rudolph Giuliani – moved to have the police department take over school security for the city’s school system.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Can Joe Biden ‘heal’ the United States? Political experts disagree

  Editor’s note: When Joe Biden becomes president on Jan. 20, 2021, he will lead a fractured nation whose political factions are separated by a chasm. In his victory speech, Biden asked Americans to “come together” and “stop treating opponents as enemies.”

  Is healing possible between red America and blue America? We asked experts on political polarization whether Biden’s goal is realistic.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

7 research-based resolutions that will help strengthen your relationship in the year ahead

  The new year is going to be better. It has to be better. Maybe you’re one of the 74% of Americans in one survey who said they planned on hitting the reset button on Jan. 1 and resolving to improve. Those New Year’s resolutions most commonly focus on eating healthier, exercising, losing weight, and being a better person.

  Admirable goals, to be sure. But focusing on body and mind neglects something equally important: your romantic relationship. Couples with better marriages report higher well-being, and a recent study found that having a better romantic relationship not only promoted well-being and better health now but that those benefits extend into the future.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

How to outsmart your COVID-19 fears and boost your mood in 2021

  After a year of toxic stress ignited by so much fear and uncertainty, now is a good time to reset, pay attention to your mental health, and develop some healthy ways to manage the pressures going forward.

  Brain science has led to some drug-free techniques that you can put to use right now.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Would you eat indoors at a restaurant? We asked five health experts

  Earlier this fall, many of the nation’s restaurants opened their doors to patrons to eat inside, especially as the weather turned cold in places. Now, as COVID-19 cases surge across the country, some cities and towns have banned indoor dining while others have permitted it with restrictions. Still other geographies have no bans at all.

  The restaurant and hospitality industry has reacted strongly, filing lawsuits challenging indoor dining bans and, in New York state, pointing to data that showed restaurants and bars accounted for only 1.4% of cases there – far lower compared with private gatherings.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

President Trump’s use of the authoritarian playbook will have lasting consequences

  Six weeks after the U.S. election, President Donald Trump had still not accepted defeat. This behavior is not typical in mature democracies. And it’s reminiscent of countries with what political scientists call “hybrid regimes” – nations that have elements of democracy but in practice are not democracies.

  For us – politics scholars studying Latin America and the former Soviet Union – Trump’s resistance to election results underscores the fragility of democratic institutions when confronted with authoritarian practices. These include delegitimizing election results, interfering with judicial independence, and attacking independent media and opposition.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Steve Flowers - Inside the Statehouse: Reapportionment will be paramount issue with legislature

  As we close the book on 2020, we will close the door on national politics and get back to the basics, good old Alabama politics.  That’s my game.  It is what I know and enjoy writing and talking about. Some say my prognostications and observations on Alabama politics are sometimes accurate. However, not so much so on the national level.

  About a decade ago, there was an open presidential race and a spirited Republican battle for the nomination had begun. One of the entrants stood out to me. U.S. Senator Fred Thompson from Tennessee looked like the real thing to me. He was tall, tough, articulate, a movie star, and a major player in the Watergate hearings. He looked like a president. He had a deep authoritative voice and gravitas, and he had done a good job as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee. He actually had been born in Alabama.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Puerto Rico wants statehood – but only Congress can make it the 51st state in the United States

  Puerto Ricans requested statehood on Nov. 3, 2020, with 52.3% of voters asking to change the island’s status from unincorporated territory to U.S. state.

  This is the sixth time statehood has been on the ballot since Puerto Rico ratified its Constitution in 1952. Voters rejected the status change in 1967, 1993, and 1998.

  The 2012 election results were unclear because some voters did not answer both parts of a two-part statehood question. In 2017, statehood won decisively, albeit with very low turnout of around 23%.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The morality of canceling student debt

  President-elect Joe Biden promised to forgive at least some student debt during his campaign, and he now supports immediately canceling US$10,000 per borrower as part of COVID-19 relief measures.

  Such proposals are likely to be quite popular. A poll from 2019 found that 58% of voters support canceling all federal student debt.

  But there are those who question the idea of debt forgiveness and call it unfair to those who never took out student debt or already paid it off.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Biden’s chance to revive U.S. tradition of inserting ethics in foreign policy

  Donald Trump’s foreign policy has, in the judgment of many analysts, damaged U.S. moral standing around the world. During four years of “America First,” the Trump administration has gotten cozy with governments that disdain human rights norms and laws, restricted immigration on the basis of religion, and withdrawn from treaties aimed to bolster international well-being.

  Joe Biden has promised to set a different course, to “reclaim” America’s “position as the moral and economic leader of the world.” Doing so might be vital as the U.S. competes for international influence against rival powers China and Russia.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Electoral College system isn’t ‘one person, one vote’

  When it became clear that President Donald Trump would lose the popular vote in November’s election, questions again arose about the Electoral College and whether it is fair.

  A presidential candidate can lose the popular vote and still win the Electoral College vote, and therefore, the presidency. That’s what happened with Trump in 2016.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Launching the New Year with a commitment to be self-consciously reflective

  Expanding on the theme that the best way to improve your life and have an exceptionally successful and fulfilling New Year is to increase your wisdom and optimism, I urge you not to just skim this essay but to take some serious reflection time to answer these questions.

  What did you learn last year that will help you become wiser and better? And for that matter, what did you learn last month, last week, yesterday?