Published: Monday 4 March 2013
Shelby County Counsel Bert Rein Staggers Through Early Verbal Gauntlet Into Scalia's and Alito's Fond Embrace

 

Alabama, you got


The weight on your shoulders


That's breaking your back.


Your Cadillac


Has got a wheel in the ditch

 


And a wheel on the track

 

Neil Young,  Alabama


Harvest (1972)

What are you doing Alabama?

Yesterday's oral argument did not begin well for Bert W. Rein, Shelby County's lead counsel in the blockbuster Voting Rights Act case, Shelby County v. Holder. The word "gauntlet" comes to mind, an ordeal swiftly doled out by Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan. It was left to Justice Anthony Kennedy to calm the fray a bit. Inevitably, though, Rein fell into the loving arms of the dark eminences, Justices Scalia and Alito (while their brother dark eminence, Justice Thomas, retained his usual oral argument quietude).

Nonetheless, the initial four questioners - a literal minority of the Court - sought to undress and uncover an obvious truth: Despite Rein's arguments, and the state's voting rights kicking-and-screaming progress since 1965, on its overall record, Alabama has "a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track." Still.

Putting aside the legal and practical value of the three Madame Justices' fully unplugged and ...

Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012
“Southeastern utilities are spotlighted in the report as those with the highest number of coal-fired units that are ripe for retirement.”

Today the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released the report Ripe for Retirement: The Case for Closing America’s Costliest Coal Plants, which highlights the financial uncertainty of many coal plants around the nation. It turns out that the Southeast is home to a staggering number of inefficient and uneconomic coal plants.

As of  May 31, a total of 288 coal-fired generating units representing 41.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity across the U.S. have been scheduled for closure. Many of the owners of these on-the-way-out coal-fired units based their decision to close up shop on economic grounds. Now that there are many cleaner, lower-cost alternatives for electric generation, coal plant owners are concluding that paying for costly upgrades to keep their outdated coal plants running is a bad investment.

UCS’ new report bolsters these ideas as they have identified up to 353 coal-fired electric utility generating units, many with multiple ...

Published: Wednesday 5 September 2012
“Over the previous four years, however, Florida cut per pupil spending by $569.”

States have made deep cuts to their education budgets in the years since the Great Recession, and as their budgets remained crunched by lower levels of tax revenues, more than half are spending less on education this school year than they did last year, a new analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found. Overall, 26 states will spend less per pupil in fiscal year 2013 than they spent in 2012, while 35 are still spending less than they did before the recession.

As the following chart from CBPP shows, Alaska, Alabama, and Washington are leading the way in education cuts, reducing funding by at least $200 per student:

Education spending isn’t back to its pre-recession levels in nine additional states, including Florida, which is boosting per pupil funding by $273 this year. Over the previous four years, however, Florida cut per pupil spending by $569. Seventeen states, according to CBPP, have cut their education budgets by at least 10 percent over the last five years.

These cuts actually helped make the economic downturn worse, as they forced states and localities to layoff teachers and other education-sector workers. Since 2009, more than 200,000 teaching jobs have vanished.

But the cuts also have damaging effects on America’s education system as a whole. Cutting education budgets forces school districts to scale back services and programs. The cuts, as CBPP notes, can undermine education reform efforts, and since they are often disproportionately targeted at low-income school districts, education cuts can ...

Published: Friday 24 August 2012
Published: Saturday 18 August 2012
In June, South Carolina officials indicated in federal court filings that they will quickly implement the law before the November election if it is upheld.

 

Raymond Rutherford has voted for decades. But this year, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to cast a ballot.

The Sumter, S.C., resident, 59, has never had a government-issued photo ID because a midwife’s error listed him as Ramon Croskey on his birth certificate. It’s wrong on his Social Security card, too.

Rutherford has tried to find the time and money to correct his birth certificate as he waits to see if the photo voter ID law is upheld by a three-judge U.S. District Court panel, scheduled to convene in Washington, D.C., in late September.

In June, South Carolina officials indicated in federal court filings that they will quickly implement the law before the November election if it is upheld. Voters without photo ID by November would be able to sign an affidavit explaining why they could not get an ID in time.

South Carolina’s photo voter ID law is similar to a series of restrictive election measures passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures in states of the former Confederacy, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia. North Carolina’s General Assembly failed to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of a photo voter ID bill. 

Thirty-seven states have considered photo voter ID laws since 2010. In November, five states — Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Kansas and Pennsylvania — will vote under new strict photo voter ID laws. A judge soon could decide whether the Pennsylvania law violates the state constitution, as voting rights advocates claim.

Supporters argue the laws are important protections against in-person voter impersonation fraud, but civil rights organizations and election historians see evidence of a more sinister legacy. Obtaining certificates of birth, marriage and divorce needed to get a proper photo ID can be an obstacle ...

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
“The Alabama legislature has tried to pass bills before repealing the 1939 law, most recently in 2009, but those bills have failed to advance to the Governor’s desk.”

It took almost three quarters of a century, but one Sheriff in Alabama is finally speaking out against a 1939 law that allows for the state’s 67 sheriffs to keep leftover money the state provides to each municipality for feeding inmates in local prisons.

Sheriff Mike Rainey reportedly received $295,294 from the local, state and federal governments to spend on food for the county’s inmate population. But thanks to the old law, Rainey is entitled to pocket any money left over after he fulfills his responsibility of feeding his inmates.

It’s not hard to imagine how such a system could lead to massive corruption. In 2009, former Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett was himself ...

Published: Tuesday 12 June 2012
“The civil penalty against SABIC Innovative Plastics, announced May 31, targets leak detection and repair failings that resulted in hundreds of tons of hazardous air pollutant releases every year, the federal agency said.”

 

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a $1 million fine against a global plastics producer for alleged Clean Air Act violations at its plants in two small, polluted communities seven hours apart in Alabama and Indiana.

The civil penalty against SABIC Innovative Plastics, announced May 31, targets leak detection and repair failings that resulted in hundreds of tons of hazardous air pollutant releases every year, the federal agency said.

SABIC, a global producer of polymers and thermoplastics, is a top employer in the two towns involved: Burkville, a rural community best known for hosting Alabama’s annual Okra Festival, and Mount Vernon, a town of just under 6,700 nestled in the southernmost tip of Indiana.

The EPA’s 15-count complaint said SABIC skirted Clean Air Act rules on monitoring and repairing equipment leaks, complying with chemical plant regulations and reporting known violations. SABIC agreed to the penalty to settle the case.

The Mount Vernon plant recently won several environmental awards. In 2011, the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable recognized it with a Most Valuable Pollution Prevention award. This April, the plant won three Responsible Care Energy Efficiency Awards from the American Chemistry Council.

SABIC said in a news release at the time that such recognition demonstrates its commitment to “minimize environmental impact while strengthening operational excellence.”

Now, SABIC must reform its monitoring practices, replace valves, reengineer emission controls and invest in an environmental project to control hazardous air emissions. The upgrades will cost the ...

Published: Monday 11 June 2012
“Often, the animus is internalized within the psyches of the official operatives of the state who are given carte blanche to harass and oppress minority groups, political dissidents, and enemies of the state, real and imagined.”

 

 

My parents modest, single-level, brick home stands on property that was once part of a sprawling estate owned by the Candler family, Atlanta's Coca-Cola patricians. Built during the post-war, 1950s building boom, the small house is situated in a deep ravine that once served as the grounds of the Candler's private zoo. On the hilltop above, the point of highest elevation in the Atlanta metro area, the Candler family, in the tradition of the powerful and elite, laid claim to the highest ground. 

 

In the 1960s, and apropos to the era, in an odd twist of historical circumstance, the grounds of the estate -- earlier endowed to the state of Georgia by the heirs of the Candler fortune -- were appropriated for development as a state mental health institution, a sprawling complex of modernist structures, housing those committed for treatment for issues related to psychological disorders.

 

Emblematic of the decade of the 1960s, the highest ground in the city became the site of a madhouse. Aptly, as opposed to emanating from its traditional source i.e., insular precincts of privilege and power, in the 1960s, spontaneous upwelling of cultural madness were more egalitarian in nature…seemingly, a development that the corporate and governmental elite found so troubling that they swore that they would never again abide similar types of cultural phenomenon--instigated by underling upstarts who (apparently) forgot their social station--to rise unfettered. Consequently, the swift and brutal repression the Occupy Wall Street movement has endured in its struggle against the present structures of calcified psychopathology known as the corporate state.       

 

Yet, cultures must allow for creative chaos. Otherwise, stultifying social structures tend to engender a sense of powerlessness among the populace, creating a pervasive sense of nebulous ...

Published: Friday 8 June 2012
Back in 2010 marine geochemist Chris Reddy and environmental engineer Richard Camilli pinged the plume of spilt oil in Gulf Coast waters with sonar.

 

An op-ed written by two Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, or WHOI, scientists in The Boston Globe this week is heating up a debate about how chilly legal scrutiny can be when it comes to ocean science.

Back in 2010 marine geochemist Chris Reddy and environmental engineer Richard Camilli pinged the plume of spilt oil in Gulf Coast waters with sonar. Remote-operated vehicles thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface helped tell them where the oil was. They analyzed the makeup of that subsurface plume to figure out what kind of light, aromatic hydrocarbons were in it. They calculated an average flow rate of 57,000 barrels of oil a day, for a total release of 4.9 million barrels of oil.

READ FULL POST 2 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 5 April 2012
Alabama’s HB 56, known as the toughest immigration law in the country, requires police to ask people for their papers during routine traffic stops, also forbids the government from doing business with anyone who is undocumented.

Civil rights groups are turning to a new potential ally in the fight against Alabama’s harsh immigration law: the state’s top automakers. 

 

A coalition of six of the nation’s leading labor and human rights organizations sent out letters last month to Alabama’s top three car manufacturers – Honda, Hyundai and Daimler AG – to urge them to use their influence to convince lawmakers to repeal the law. So far they have received a response from Hyundai, which has agreed to meet with the advocates.

 

Published: Sunday 1 April 2012
In some campaigns the long march was used primarily to heighten awareness, while in others it was to gain new allies.

What do Native Americans, Costa Ricans, Thai villagers, Hispanic students in U.S. colleges, Indian independence activists and Maasai women have in common? They’ve all organized long marches as part of campaigns for justice. Their campaigns’ very different choices about how to use the tactic raises strategic questions for us today. In some campaigns the long march was used primarily to heighten awareness, while in others it was to gain new allies. Sometimes it was used to launch other kinds of direct action. It has also been used at the end of a campaign, to escalate the pressure (just as a general strike is sometimes used). But what conditions make a long walk a truly effective tactic in a campaign, rather than just a chance to get some good exercise?

For me, that question is personal right now. On April 30, I will begin a 200-mile walk to the Pittsburgh, PA, headquarters of the PNC Bank to challenge its funding of mountaintop removal coal mining. The march is organized by the Philadelphia-based Earth Quaker Action Team as part of its BLAM! campaign: Bank Like Appalachia Matters! For that reason — and with the help of the Global — I’ve been reviewing the ways in which long marches like this have been used by others, with varying degrees of success.

One of the most recent long walks was taken by four Miami College undocumented students who walked from Florida to the U.S. Capitol in support of the immigration reform proposed in the Dream Act. They called their 2010 march The Trail of Dreams. They not only ended up expanding support for the legislation, but also stimulated five students to add an additional walk of 250 miles from New York to Washington, timed to arrive at the same time as the walkers from Miami. Although the Dream Act was not passed, the action certainly increased the momentum behind it.

In 2009, Tanzanian police set fire to eight Maasai ...

Published: Saturday 3 March 2012
“ALEC is far from the only way that wealthy corporate interests corrupt our political system, but, thanks to a lot of recent investigative work, it’s become one of the most visible.”

Remember Wisconsin’s union-busting Budget Repair Bill, the one that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Madison—and was then partially reproduced in Ohio and other states? What about Arizona’s SB-1070 READ FULL POST 3 COMMENTS

Published: Monday 30 January 2012
“Caroline is one of more than 50 million men, women and children who do not have health insurance in the United States.”

“It shouldn’t be this way,” read the subject line of an email I received Friday morning from a conservative friend and fellow Southerner. “People shouldn’t have to beg for money to pay for medical care.”

At first, I thought he was referring to my column last week in which I wrote about the fundraising effort to cover the bills, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, that the husband of Canadian skier Sarah Burke is now facing. Burke died on January 19, nine days after sustaining severe head injuries in a skiing accident in Park City, Utah. I noted that had the accident occurred in Burke’s native Canada, which has a system of universal coverage, the fundraiser would not have been necessary.

But my friend was not writing about Sarah Burke. He wanted to alert me to another fundraiser, this one on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, to help pay for the mounting medical expenses for a beautiful 13-year-old girl fighting for her life at USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile, Ala.

In late November, Caroline Richmond was rushed to the hospital after collapsing on the way home from school. Doctors quickly determined she’d had a stroke and required immediate surgery. The bad news just kept coming. The ...

Published: Monday 23 January 2012
“According to the data, only 10 ‘blue states’ were net recipients of federal subsidies, as opposed to 22 ‘red states.’”

We’ve all heard it: “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” I often wonder if the same logic applies to electoral politics. Though conflating “the political” with “the sartorial” isn’t at all my intention, I cannot help but believe that we vote for the lives we want, not the ones we have. Politics, broadly understood, helps to bridge the chasm between the immediate and the aspirational, to negotiate the oscillation of our material needs and our magical desires. To this end, I think there is sufficient evidence to argue that politics is what we do when metaphysics fails, what we do when transhistorical categories of supposed universality become unlaced.

So what exactly constitutes the ground for our political calculus? And what happens when voting for our future aspirations negates our current needs?

Traditional scholars in the field of political science often suggest that our unobstructed self interest (premised on rational choice theory) tends to produce policy preferences and electoral outcomes largely reflective of our material interests. Regrettably, however, according to a 2007 report published by the Tax Foundation entitled “Federal Spending Received Per Dollar Paid by State,” U.S. states that rely most heavily on federal subsidies for public programs routinely elect politicians who are determined to excoriate such funding sources. The articulation of policy preferences and, indeed, the creation and maintenance of a deeply democratic society are co-premised on free and equal access to reliable information, but even a cursory exegesis of the Tax Foundation data compels one to conclude that the particular states most dependent on aid from the federal government are the very same states whose residents voted overwhelmingly for John McCain in 2008. How could this be?

According to the data, only 10 ...

Published: Friday 20 January 2012
“Newly-appointed bureau head Richard Cordray intends to research the industry and its enforcement actions that pose ‘immediate risk to consumers and are clearly illegal.’”

As a growing number of Americans slip out of the middle-class into economic insecurity, they are increasingly vulnerable to predatory lending schemes like the payday loan. Each year, about 12 million Americans incur long-term debt by taking out a short-term loan that’s intended to cover a borrowers’ expenses until they receive their next paycheck. Payday lending takes “unfair advantage of lower-income borrowers,” with most taking out nine repeat loans per year with an interest rate as high as 400 percent. Forty-four percent of borrowers ...

Published: Monday 16 January 2012
“Romney’s views on immigration are radical even in a field of candidates who appear to be competing to take the most radical views on this subject.”

On a day set aside to honor civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitt Romney plans to tout his extreme immigration positions during a campaign stop in South Carolina today — with Kris Kobach, the author of Arizona’s and Alabama’s immigration laws, at his side. He will attack his competitors Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for their softer immigration stances, which could resonate with South Carolina voters who support that state’s harmful immigration law.

“Mitt Romney stands apart from the others. He’s the only one who’s taken a strong across-the-board position on immigration,” Kobach said, and he told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that Romney was much farther to the right on illegal immigration than his fellow presidential candidates.

 

Considering Kobach’s own opinions and associations, however, his endorsement may not be one Romney wants to tout.

Before he became Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach worked for Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal branch of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled as a “nativist hate group.” One of FAIR’s main goals is to overturn the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which “

Published: Sunday 15 January 2012
“Congress may be deadlocked, but practical, popular solutions are gaining momentum at the state level.”

In the year since conservatives took control of the U.S. House of Representatives and legislative bodies in states across the nation, we’ve seen them move their agenda with alarming disregard for both democracy and the economic security of the nation. From the irresponsibly provoked debt ceiling “crisis” to the wholesale obstruction of job creation efforts, conservatives on the national stage took an approach of reckless political brinksmanship over the past year that put the entire economy at risk. And from Wisconsin to Alabama and beyond, 2011 saw conservatives in the states—buoyed by support from their corporate allies in the 1%—launch attack after attack on workers, women, voters, and immigrants.

But the new year brings new hope for progressives looking to turn the tide—hope that, for the time being, largely resides not in the halls of Congress but in the 50 states. Elections in every corner of the country last November—from Arizona to Maine to Ohio—saw voters decisively reject a range of right-wing legislative attacks. The shady practice of corporations writing state laws to benefit their own bottom lines (through organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council) has been subject to an increasing amount of  READ FULL POST 5 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 10 November 2011
Published: Tuesday 8 November 2011
Published: Monday 26 September 2011
“This program isn’t just unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional even under conservative Justice Antonin Scalia’s vision of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause.”

This week, the Alabama town of Bay Minette will implement a bizarre and unconstitutional way of keeping minor offenders in check — go to church or go to jail:

Operation Restore Our Community or “ROC”…begins next week.  READ FULL POST 121 COMMENTS

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