Sunday, February 25, 2024

The NetChoice cases: Will the Supreme Court turn First Amendment law on its head?

  On February 26, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases—NetChoice v. Paxton and Moody v. NetChoice—that address whether Florida and Texas can enact laws prohibiting social media platforms from moderating content posted by their users.

  The Florida law predominantly limits social media platforms’ ability to “censor”—demonetize, remove, or otherwise restrict—political candidates and certain journalistic outlets. It would also prevent the platforms from moderating harmful mis- and disinformation from several sources, even prohibiting them from attaching labels that guide users to verified information. The Texas law is far broader, preventing most widely used websites, from Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, to Etsy and Yelp, from enforcing community standards by prohibiting the removal of nearly any content that’s based on viewpoint. This includes preventing the removal of heinous and objectionable material—Nazi propaganda, deepfakes, socially damaging conspiracy theories, etc.—from any platform unless it falls under specific narrow exceptions, particularly within the narrowly and technically legal definition of being “unlawful.”

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Alabama can’t look away from difficult history

  Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) predicted in January that a “divisive concepts” bill — which presumes exposure to hard or unflattering history will melt children into gelatin — would pass in the first or second week of the legislative session.

  And happy Black History Month to you, too. The good news is that the 2024 Alabama Legislature finished its second week last Thursday without the bill — sponsored by Oliver over the last several years — rearing its rage-choked head in the Statehouse.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Voters don’t always have final say – state legislatures and governors are increasingly undermining ballot measures that win

  Less than half of Americans trust elected officials to act in the public’s interest.

  When voters want something done on an issue and their elected officials fail to act, they may turn to citizen initiatives to pursue their goals instead. The citizen initiative process varies by state, but in general, citizens collect signatures to have an issue put directly on the ballot for the voters to voice their preferences. Nearly half the states, 24 of them, allow citizen initiatives.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

For 150 years, Black journalists have known what Confederate monuments really stood for

  In October 2023, nearly seven years after the deadly Unite the Right white supremacist rally, the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia was melted down. Since then, two more major Confederate monuments have been removed: the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and the Monument to the Women of the Confederacy in Jacksonville, Florida.

  Defenders of Confederate monuments have argued that the statues should be left standing to educate future generations. One such defender is former President Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential nominee in 2024.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Dietary supplements and protein powders fall under a ‘wild west’ of unregulated products that necessitate caveats and caution

  Dietary supplements are a big business. The industry made almost US$39 billion in revenue in 2022, and with very little regulation and oversight, it stands to keep growing.

  The marketing of dietary supplements has been quite effective, with 77% of Americans reporting feeling that the supplement industry is trustworthy. The idea of taking your health into your own hands is appealing, and supplements are popular with athletes, parents, and people trying to recover more quickly from a cold or flu, just to name a few.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Ohio v. EPA threatens the EPA’s ability to regulate air pollution nationwide

  On February 21, 2024, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for an emergency petition to postpone implementing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “good neighbor plan,” which is meant to protect downwind states from high levels of ozone pollution. Unusually, the court is holding oral argument in this matter even though it originates in the notorious emergency docket known as the “shadow docket.” Unlike in the traditional merits docket, cases heard in the shadow docket typically are decided without oral argument on a fast-tracked basis and often are procedural in nature. In Ohio v. EPA, the court has chosen to hear arguments to determine whether the good neighbor plan should be paused while litigation in the lower courts continues. A stay of the plan could allow upwind states to emit approximately 70,000 additional tons of smog-creating nitrous oxide by the peak of the 2026 summertime ozone season, causing up to 1,300 premature deaths and increased hospital visits for thousands of Americans with asthma or other respiratory problems each year. This case serves as another opportunity for this radical, right-wing Supreme Court to rule in favor of powerful industry polluters over the safety and welfare of the American people.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Mexico is suing US gun-makers for arming its gangs − and a US court could award billions in damages

  The government of Mexico is suing U.S. gun-makers for their role in facilitating cross-border gun trafficking that has supercharged violent crime in Mexico.

  The lawsuit seeks US$10 billion in damages and a court order to force the companies named in the lawsuit – including Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock, Beretta, and Ruger – to change the way they do business. In January, a federal appeals court in Boston decided that the industry’s immunity shield, which so far has protected gun-makers from civil liability, does not apply to Mexico’s lawsuit.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

2023’s billion-dollar disasters list shattered the US record with 28 big weather and climate disasters amid Earth’s hottest year on record

  National weather analysts released their 2023 “billion-dollar disasters list” on Jan. 9, just as 2024 was getting off to a ferocious start. A blizzard was sweeping across across the Plains and Midwest, and the South and East faced flood risks from extreme downpours.

  The U.S. set an unwelcome record for weather and climate disasters in 2023, with 28 disasters that exceeded more than US$1 billion in damage each.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

With higher fees and more ads, streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu are cashing in by using the old tactics of cable TV

  There’s one thing that television viewers can count on in 2024: higher fees and more commercials.

  The major streaming services – Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Max – have all announced rate hikes and new advertising policies.

Friday, February 16, 2024

George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is a story of jazz, race and the fraught notion of America’s melting pot

  February 12, 1924 was a frigid day in New York City. But that didn’t stop an intrepid group of concertgoers from gathering in midtown Manhattan’s Aeolian Hall for “An Experiment in Modern Music.” The organizer, bandleader Paul Whiteman, wanted to show how jazz and classical music could come together. So he commissioned a new work by a 25-year-old Jewish-American upstart named George Gershwin.

  Gershwin’s contribution to the program, “Rhapsody in Blue,” would go on to exceed anyone’s wildest expectations, becoming one of the best-known works of the 20th century. Beyond the concert hall, it would appear in iconic films such as Woody Allen’s “Manhattan” and Disney’s “Fantasia 2000.” It was performed during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and if you ever fly on United Airlines, you’ll hear it playing during the preflight safety videos.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

What Americans can learn from Danish masculinity

  When a leader cries in public, is it a sign of weakness?

  On Jan. 14, 2023, Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik was crowned King Frederik X after his mother, Queen Margrethe II, announced she would be abdicating the throne during her annual New Year’s Eve speech.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Drunk and bitter on Valentine's Day

  I'm not opposed to love. In fact, I love love, especially the sex part. It's not even that I hate Valentine's Day. But like every event in our society that contains even the slightest hint of sappy sentimentality, it has been done to death. (Can you say, "Titanic?")

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Joseph O. Patton: How I survived Mardi Gras in Mobile

  Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the March 17, 2000 edition of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn Montgomery. It was also released through two national college news wires.

  I will freely admit that I had strong misgivings about letting loose on the grand city of Mobile, Ala. during the madness of Mardi Gras -- especially with my girl-crazy assistant, Matt "lookin' for love in all the wrong places" Jorgensen.

Monday, February 12, 2024

A Senate committee shows everything wrong with Alabama government

  I want to seal the Feb. 7 meeting of the Alabama Senate’s State Governmental Affairs Committee in amber.

  I want to mail copies of it to every house in the state. I want to paint it in bright colors and sell it next to prints of Van Tiffin and Chris Davis.

  Because I have never seen anything that so embodied everything wrong with governance in Alabama.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Defense Department’s China Military Power Report: The threat is worse than advertised

  The Defense Department’s latest annual China Military Power Report gets a lot right. It accurately identifies the scope of China’s global ambitions and many of the structural changes being implemented by Xi Jinping to make China the preeminent military power in Asia and the Pacific. Even so, the report appears to undersell the threat posed by China and what will be required from the U.S. to counter it.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Your body already has a built-in weight loss system that works like Wegovy, Ozempic and Mounjaro – food and your gut microbiome

  Wegovy, Ozempic, and Mounjaro are weight loss and diabetes drugs that have made quite a splash in health news. They target regulatory pathways involved in both obesity and diabetes and are widely considered breakthroughs for weight loss and blood sugar control.

  But do these drugs point toward a root cause of metabolic disease? What inspired their development in the first place?

Friday, February 9, 2024

Why Trump’s control of the Republican Party is bad for democracy

  As former President Donald Trump edges closer to clinching the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, our political science research has shown that a second Trump presidency is likely to damage American democracy even more than his first term did. The reason has less to do with Trump and his ambitions than with how power dynamics have shifted within the Republican Party.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Are social media apps ‘dangerous products’? 2 scholars explain how the companies rely on young users but fail to protect them

    “You have blood on your hands.”

    “I’m sorry for everything you have all been through.”

  These quotes, the first from Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C), speaking to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the second from Zuckerberg to families of victims of online child abuse in the audience, are highlights from an extraordinary day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about protecting children online.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Why Mercedes-Benz workers are considering a union

  Here are two reminders of how our state leaders feel about unions.

  “These are out-of-state special interest groups, and their special interests do not include Alabama or the men and women earning a career in Alabama’s automotive industry,” Gov. Kay Ivey wrote after Mercedes-Benz workers announced an organization drive last month.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Rebuilding the IRS improves customer service and reduces the tax gap

  As the 2024 tax filing season begins, the IRS continues to build on the improvements made possible by the infusion of funds from the Inflation Reduction Act. The added support reversed more than a decade of disinvestment in tax administration and enforcement by appropriating $80 billion to modernize the IRS over 10 years. The infusion of long-term funding allows the IRS to invest in new technology and the staff needed to rebuild the agency, improve customer service, and ensure that the nation’s tax laws are enforced effectively.

Monday, February 5, 2024

How to protect your data privacy: A digital media expert provides steps you can take and explains why you can’t go it alone

  Perfect safety is no more possible online than it is when driving on a crowded road with strangers or walking alone through a city at night. Like roads and cities, the internet’s dangers arise from choices society has made. To enjoy the freedom of cars comes with the risk of accidents; to have the pleasures of a city full of unexpected encounters means some of those encounters can harm you. To have an open internet means people can always find ways to hurt each other.

  But some highways and cities are safer than others. Together, people can make their online lives safer, too.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

70 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, public schools still deeply segregated

  Brown vs. Board of Education, the pivotal Supreme Court decision that made school segregation unconstitutional, turns 70 years old on May 17, 2024.

  At the time of the 1954 ruling, 17 U.S. states had laws permitting or requiring racially segregated schools. The Brown decision declared that segregation in public schools was “inherently unequal.” This was, in part, because the court argued that access to equitable, nonsegregated education played a critical role in creating informed citizens – a paramount concern for the political establishment amid the Cold War. With Brown, the justices overturned decades of legal precedent that kept Black Americans in separate and unequal schools.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Nonwhite people are drastically underrepresented in local government

  Elected representatives in government don’t always look like the people they serve.

  The people who serve in local governments – cities, counties, and other entities below the state level – represent the vast majority of elected officials in the U.S. My recent research with Diana Da In Lee, Yamil Velez, and Chris Warshaw finds that, like in the federal and state governments, nonwhite people are drastically underrepresented in local government.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - New 2nd Congressional District is the race to watch in 2024

  The most interesting race to watch this year in Alabama will be for the newly drawn Second Congressional District.

  The new seat was drawn by the federal courts to create a second majority-minority district in Alabama. Currently we have six Republicans and one Democrat representing Alabama in Washington. If a Democrat wins the seat, we will have five Republicans and two Democrats on the Potomac in 2025. The new seat includes all of Montgomery and extends through the Black Belt, and gathers most of the black voters in Mobile.

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Finding objective ways to talk about religion in the classroom is tough − but the cost of not doing so is clear

  Religious strife continues in many places. While the United States has a great deal of litigation and controversy over religion’s place in public life, it has largely avoided violence. Yet our society often seems unprepared to talk constructively about this contentious topic, especially in schools.