Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Are Alabama’s state revenue streams too ‘wild’ to enact permanent tax cuts?

  The question of what to do with Alabama’s $3 billion revenue surplus continues as the 2023 Alabama Legislature regular session approaches.

  Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, discussed the prospects of permanent tax cuts vs. tax rebates on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” recently.

  Like other lawmakers weighing in on the issue, Garrett thinks lawmakers will eventually “do a rebate of some size.” But he also cautioned about the pushback over implementing a rebate versus putting all the money back into state government.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Anti-LGBTQ+ groups have ties to International Religious Freedom Summit

  The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit that ended earlier this month in Washington, D.C., has been praised for bringing together a diverse, seemingly incompatible group of politicians, activists, and dignitaries in furtherance of a common goal: the promotion of international religious freedom, a concept deeply embedded in our nation’s ideals and a sign of a healthy and open democracy.

  But make no mistake: The presence and deep influence of virulently anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups and other far-right extremists – some of whom have used religious rhetoric to advocate for the criminalization of and even the death penalty for LGBTQ+ people – cannot be ignored.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Is it time for teachers to get a raise?

  In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Joe Biden called for public school teachers to get a raise but offered no specifics on how that could be done. Here, Michael Addonizio, an education policy expert at Wayne State University, provides insight on the current state of teacher salaries, whether a collective raise is in order, and how one might be achieved.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Our Congressional delegation has garnered good committee assignments

  For the past several decades, Alabama’s power has been centered around the U.S. Senate – primarily because of Richard Shelby’s immense power and influence. During Senator Shelby’s 36-year tenure, he chaired the Intelligence, Banking, and Rules Committees. However, he became immensely powerful his last six years as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. 

  Shelby practically moved Washington to Alabama when it came to bringing home earmarked funds to the Heart of Dixie. We received more federal funding than any state in America. National publications labeled Shelby the Greatest Pork King in federal history, surpassing the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Less we forget, Shelby also had a very respected and tenured wingman in Sen. Jeff Sessions, who served with distinction for 20 years in the U.S. Senate. They were a great team.

Friday, February 24, 2023

CBD is not a cure-all – here’s what science says about its real health benefits

  Over the last five years, an often forgotten piece of U.S. federal legislation – the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill – has ushered in an explosion of interest in the medical potential of cannabis-derived cannabidiol, or CBD.

  After decades of debate, the bill made it legal for farmers to grow industrial hemp, a plant rich in CBD. Hemp itself has tremendous value as a cash crop; it’s used to produce biofuel, textiles, and animal feed. But the CBD extracted from the hemp plant also has numerous medicinal properties with the potential to benefit millions through the treatment of seizure disorders, pain, or anxiety.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Five years after Parkland, school shootings haven’t stopped, and kill more people

  In the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting on Valentine’s Day 2018, many Americans hoped that, finally, something would be done to address the problem of gun violence in the nation’s schools.

  Despite the outpouring of grief and calls for action that followed the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, school shootings continue to occur with alarming frequency. While progress has been made in some areas, such as increased funding for school security and mental health resources, there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety and well-being of students and educators in schools across the country.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Millions of Americans are problem gamblers – so why do so few people ever seek treatment?

  The opportunity to gamble has moved from a trip to Vegas, to a drive to a local casino, to the phone in your pocket. And if you’re a sports fan, nudges to place bets have become nearly impossible to ignore, with sports gambling ads and promos routinely appearing on TV, social media, sports radio, and in arenas.

  The stunning expansion of sports wagering following decades of casino expansion certainly gives any rational person reason to pause.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The story of Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, America’s first black pop star

  In 1851, a concert soprano named Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield embarked on a national tour that upended America’s music scene.

  In antebellum America, operatic and concert songs were very popular forms of entertainment. European concert sopranos, such as Jenny Lind and Catherine Hayes, drew huge crowds and rave reviews during their U.S. tours. Lind was so popular that baby cribs still bear her name, and you can now visit an unincorporated community called Jenny Lind, California.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Joe Cain returned Mardi Gras to Mobile

  Though Mardi Gras had been celebrated for nearly a century and a half in both New Orleans, Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama, as with many things, the Civil War had nearly ended this celebration permanently. Though no one ever gets to know what might have been, one thing is certain, Mardi Gras was no longer being celebrated once the long and gruesome war had come to end.

  To set the stage for what was occurring in the Deep South at the end of this period of history, one must realize that what had been a thriving, jubilant society had come to a sudden and final death. The society of southern planters was in mourning for their fathers, sons, and husbands, and life as they had known it had been irrevocably altered. The south was occupied by the Union army and reflected this occupation in every facet of life.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

How some enslaved Black people stayed in Southern slaveholding states – and found freedom

  For generations, the Underground Railroad has been the quintessential story of resistance against oppression.

  Yet, the story is incomplete.

  What is far less known is that the majority of enslaved people who fled Southern slavery before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation never crossed the Mason-Dixon line to freedom in the Northern states.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Diversity and moderation over tradition – why Democrats moved South Carolina to the start of the 2024 presidential campaign

  The Democratic National Committee approved a proposal on Feb. 4, 2023 that puts South Carolina first on the party’s presidential nominating calendar, upending 50 years of tradition. For the first time, voters of color, moderates, hourly workers – and Southerners – will have the first say in choosing the party’s nominee.

  President Biden weighed in on changes to the nominating calendar in a Dec. 1, 2022 letter to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee. He wrote that early nominating states should reflect the diversity of the party and nation and that time-consuming caucuses, like those held in Iowa, should no longer be a part of the process because they disadvantage hourly workers and others who can’t take the required time away from work.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Alabama making strides in broadband expansion

  If you took a nighttime plane ride across much of the rural South in the early 1900s, you would see nothing but darkness on the ground below because electricity at the time was centered mainly around highly populated areas.

  But through federal, state, and private sector partnerships, electricity was brought to rural America to light up homes and power the products many of us today take for granted. Life without access to electricity is tough for most of us to even imagine, but there was a time not too long ago when many simply did not have it. The same is true today of high-speed internet access.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Civil rights legislation sparked powerful backlash that’s still shaping American politics

  For nearly 60 years, conservatives have been trying to gut the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement. As a scholar of American voting rights, I believe their long game is finally bearing fruit.

  The 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder seemed to be the death knell for the Voting Rights Act.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

The ‘real’ St. Valentine was no patron of love

  Sweethearts of all ages will exchange cards, flowers, candy, and more lavish gifts in the name of St. Valentine today. But as a historian of Christianity, I can tell you that at the root of our modern holiday is a beautiful fiction. St. Valentine was no lover or patron of love.

  Valentine’s Day, in fact, originated as a liturgical feast to celebrate the decapitation of a third-century Christian martyr, or perhaps two. So, how did we get from beheading to betrothing on Valentine’s Day?

Monday, February 13, 2023

The ethical dilemmas behind plans for involuntary treatment to target homelessness, mental illness and addiction

  Over the past year, cities across the United States have unveiled new policy plans to address homelessness amid rising concerns about health and crime – for homeless people themselves as well as for surrounding communities. Notably, several proposals include civil commitment, also referred to as involuntary treatment, for people with severe mental illness or substance use disorders.

  In November 2022, for example, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan to use mental health laws to facilitate involuntary treatment when people are unable to care for themselves or when their actions endanger others.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

America’s always had black inventors – even when the patent system explicitly excluded them

  America has long been the land of innovation. More than 13,000 years ago, the Clovis people created what many call the “first American invention” – a stone tool used primarily to hunt large game. This spirit of American creativity has persisted through the millennia, through the first American patent granted in 1641 and on to today.

  One group of prolific innovators, however, has been largely ignored by history: black inventors born or forced into American slavery. Though U.S. patent law was created with color-blind language to foster innovation, the patent system consistently excluded these inventors from recognition.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

How California’s ambitious new climate plan could help speed energy transformation around the world

  California is embarking on an audacious new climate plan that aims to eliminate the state’s greenhouse gas footprint by 2045, and in the process, slash emissions far beyond its borders. The blueprint calls for massive transformations in industry, energy, and transportation, as well as changes in institutions and human behaviors.

  These transformations won’t be easy. Two years of developing the plan have exposed myriad challenges and tensions, including environmental justice, affordability, and local rule.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The EV transition isn’t just about cars – the broader goal should be access to clean mobility for everyone

  The race to decarbonize passenger cars and light-duty trucks in the U.S. is accelerating. Battery electric vehicles accounted for almost 6% of all new vehicle sales in 2022, up from close to 3% in 2021, and demand is outstripping supply, even as manufacturers roll out new models and designs. The Biden administration is spending billions of dollars to build out EV charging networks and providing incentives for purchasing new and used EVs.

  This shift offers big economic and environmental benefits, but they’re not spread equitably. People who bear the most burdens in our current transportation systems often receive the fewest benefits and are least able to change their situations.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1860 - Bloody Sunday in Selma is sacred

  Bloody Sunday in Selma is sacred. Bloody Sunday was made sacred on Sunday, March 7, 1965, when 600 or so people crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. They were marching to Montgomery to protest the brutal murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion, Perry County, Alabama and the ongoing denial of Black voting rights. Alabama State Troopers and local law enforcement beat people bloody. Bloody Sunday is sacred.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

How evangelicals moved from supporting environmental stewardship to climate skepticism

  White conservative evangelicals, who make up most of the religious right movement, largely oppose government regulation to protect the environmental initiatives, including efforts to curb human-caused climate change. Multiple social scientific studies, for example, consistently reveal that this group maintains a significant level of climate skepticism.

  Contrary to popular perception, however, this hasn’t always been the case.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

W.E.B. Du Bois, Black History Month and the importance of African American studies

  The opening days of Black History Month 2023 coincided with controversy about the teaching and broader meaning of African American studies.

  On Feb. 1, 2023, the College Board released a revised curriculum for its newly developed Advanced Placement African American studies course.

  Critics have accused the College Board of caving to political pressure stemming from conservative backlash and the decision of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to ban the course from public high schools in Florida because of what he characterized as its radical content and inclusion of topics such as critical race theory, reparations, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Monday, February 6, 2023

US is spending record amounts servicing its national debt – interest rate hikes add billions to the cost

  Consumers and businesses aren’t the only ones feeling the pain of higher borrowing costs because of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Uncle Sam is too.

  The U.S. government spent a record US$213 billion on interest payments on its debt in the fourth quarter, up $63 billion from a year earlier. Indeed, a jump of almost $30 billion on the previous quarter represents the biggest quarterly jump on record. That comes as the Fed lifted interest rates a whopping 4.25 percentage points from March through December.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Five times LGBTQ activism relied on First Amendment freedoms to create change

  For generations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans lived in secrecy and fear. Politicians, the media, popular culture, and religious figures labeled them depraved or criminal. Though LGBTQ activism wasn’t new, it took a six-day uprising in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, an illegal gay bar in New York, to propel the grassroots movement to a new era. The Stonewall uprising inspired a new generation of activists to use their First Amendment freedoms to challenge stereotypes, work for justice and pave the way for equality.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Americans are taking more control over their work lives – because they have to

  One thing that’s become clear in the past few tumultuous – and for many, traumatic – years is that it’s easy to feel like there is no control in our lives. Control is a basic psychological need that helps people feel like they have agency, from how they live to where they work. One area where people have tried to wrestle back control is around work.

  As a Rice University business school professor and author, I’ve examined through my research, teaching, and readership the complex relationships between employees and their employers for nearly two decades. The aftermath of the pandemic is the latest iteration of a timeless negotiation between labor and management over control that took on added significance these past few years.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Tyre Nichols’ death underscores the troubled history of specialized police units

  The officers charged in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols were not your everyday uniformed patrol officers.

  Rather, they were part of an elite squad: Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION team. A rather tortured acronym for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods,” SCORPION is a crime suppression unit – that is, officers detailed specifically to prevent, detect, and interrupt violent crime by proactively using stops, frisks, searches, and arrests. Such specialized units are common in forces across the U.S. and tend to rely on aggressive policing tactics.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Why do groundhogs emerge on February 2 if it’s not to predict the weather?

  According to legend, if the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2nd, there will be six more weeks of winter; if not, an early spring is predicted.

  Of course groundhogs – also known as woodchucks – don’t emerge at this time just to be furry weather predictors. So what’s the real reason? Research into groundhog biology shows they have other priorities in early February than mingling with the people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Parsing which foods are healthy and which are less so isn’t always straightforward – a new rating system aims to demystify the process

  Many people aim to start the year off with healthier food choices. But how do you choose between seemingly similar foods, snacks, or beverages? How does a bagel with cream cheese compare to toast topped with avocado, for instance? Or a protein-based shake compare to a smoothie packed with fruits? Or two chicken dishes, prepared in different ways?

  As nutrition scientists who have spent our entire careers studying how different foods influence health, our team at Tufts University has created a new food rating system, the Food Compass, that could help consumers and others make informed choices about these kinds of questions.