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.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Data privacy laws in the US protect profit but prevent sharing data for public good – people want the opposite

  In 2021, an investigation revealed that home loan algorithms systematically discriminate against qualified minority applicants. Unfortunately, stories of dubious profit-driven data uses like this are all too common.

  Meanwhile, laws often impede nonprofits and public health agencies from using similar data – like credit and financial data – to alleviate inequities or improve people’s well-being.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

An old soldier’s denial on Afghanistan

  In a letter to the Los Angeles Times regarding the Afghanistan debacle, Stephen Sloane, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy who served in the Vietnam War, is a perfect demonstration of how so many people, especially in the military, live lives of denial when it comes to foreign interventionism.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Is it a crime to forge a vaccine card? And what’s the penalty for using a fake?

  Schools, businesses, the military, and local governments are requiring proof of vaccination. Yet, unlike the European Union and Australia, which have secure digital proof of vaccination, the United States has not created a systematic way to track vaccinations around the nation. Most places in the U.S. instead rely on paper cards with handwritten notes, which can be easily forged.