Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bobcast: Fly them to the moon

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The skies are decidedly more costly for Auburn University’s top officials than they are for their counterparts in Tuscaloosa.
According to a story in Sunday’s Huntsville Times, AU administrators and trustees racked up $492,640 in expenses associated with use of the university’s two jets dur-ing the ’07-’08 fiscal year.

Over the same period trustees and administrators at the University of Alabama spent $30,500 on travel on one corporate jet. Neither school owns the jets; they belong to the private athletic booster clubs at both institutions. (As an aside this is but one more sign of where the real power resides – one the playing field and the court, not the class-room or the library.)

An Auburn spokesman defended the costly air travel, saying it saves time when compared to flying commercially.

And, we’d add, no commercial flights between Dothan and Andalusia exist. That’s the 65-mile distance flown in an Auburn jet by AU trustee James Rane to get to a May 2008 speaking engagement. The pricetag: $3,213.

Costs associated with college are rising. Taxpayer revenue to support higher ed is falling. A state fund set up to help parents save for college is in serious trouble.

The point seems to be that tooling around on a university jet on the state’s dime is a perk that looks distinctly out of touch with today’s economic downturn.

New Bobcast: Anniston's home-grown terrorists

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here. Inspiration comes from the Star's recent series on the 1965 killing of Willie Brewster.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bobcast: One more for Sunshine Week

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Let's have one more from the files of Sunshine Week, those seven days set aside to talk about the value of open records and open government.

"What do you want with it?" is the least meaningful question ever posed by a public official to a citizen and/or a reporter asking for public documents.

Let’s keep it simple. Public records are public for a reason. Accountable government doing its business in the amble sunshine builds trust. An unobstructed view puts more sets of eyes on the workings of the government, which is very the reason legislative bodies have made the laws in the first place.

"What do you want with it?" should never enter the equation.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bobcast: A bracket we can believe in

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

President Obama shared his NCAA basketball tournament bracket with the world the other day. (You know the thing where you take all the empty blanks of the tournament, fill ‘em and name a champion.)

Change, indeed, has arrived at the White House. Out goes the president who once owned a Major League Baseball team. In comes the president who is a basketball fan (and pickup game player).

Anyway, Louisville, Memphis, North Carolina and Pittsburgh make up Obama’s Final Four. Two swing states made it – hooray. The prez picked the Tar Heels of North Carolina to win the title.

It’s a smart pick and one millions, including the Bobcaster, would agree with, yet it’s not an inspiration worthy of man who recently won a historic campaign.

C’mon, Mr. President, what about the underdogs?

For example, why not audaciously pick the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, the South region’s 14th seed? They play Syracuse Friday in the opening round. The school from Nacogdoches, Texas, is making its first trip to the big dance.

A Final Four with the Lumberjacks or any of the countless other under-dogs would really be change we could believe in.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bobcast: Sunshine in Oxford

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

It's time for another tale for Sunshine Week, the seven days set aside by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to call attention to the public’s right to know about government.

Today we look in on Oxford.

In late January, The Star asked the city of Oxford for recent data on road-paving – money spent, roads paved and so on.

We know by state law and by common sense that there’s no doubt that this sort of information should be public. Public money spent on public roadway equals public document.

The good news is that Oxford compiled. The bad news it took more than a week for the city to hand over the data. City officials deftly passed the buck until they got an OK from Leon Smith, Oxford’s long-time mayor.

Here’s the point, and it's bigger than one city or one city’s would-be monarch.

Freedom of information is a cornerstone to a healthy and vital democracy. A public record is open to the public, not because of the whim of one elected official. It’s public because the law and good government practices say so.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bobcast: Mad about Sunshine Week

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

College basketball fans recognize this as the time when teams are selected for the NCAA tournament.

The event is a buffet of catch-phrases. Selection Sunday comes before the Play-In which builds upon March Madness. By next weekend we’ll have a Sweet Sixteen, then eventually the Final Four on the way to a champion.

Another spectacular starting this Sunday has its own name. I’m thinking of Sunshine Week. Its sponsor, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, calls it “a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.”

Credit for the name goes to a famed quote by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. "Sunshine is the best disinfectant" for closed and unaccountable gov-ernment, he said.

Alabama could use a little more of these healing rays. That’s why a group of reformers in Montgomery is hoping to improve the way we keep our eyes on state politicians. Currents rules allow for plenty of shadow when it comes to who is giving what to legislators.

History and statehouse insiders tell us the reformers’ odds are as long as the lowest of March Madness underdog. But the reason we watch the games is because sometimes David beats Goliath and maybe, just maybe, Alabama’s governmental forecast can turn a little sunnier.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bobcast: Spending for the future

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

A talking point against rising federal government spending is picking up steam in conservative circles.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sums up the thinking, saying increased federal spending "means our children and our grandchildren for a very long time are going to pay off for the politicians of this generation who have refused to solve problems and just keep borrowing more and more money."

A favored expression is these plans will “mortgage the future” of ensuing generations.

Granted, a lot is going out the door in the form of the $787 billion economic stimulus package, the $700 billion financial system bailout and the $400 billion spending bill recently signed by President Obama (behind closed doors, we’ll add). And there’s more to come if one looks closely at Obama proposed $3.5 trillion budget for next year.

Lost in this is the notion that Americans, in their own budgets, are familiar with mortgaged futures. Millions – 50 million by several estimates – are paying a home mortgage.

Said another way those American homeowners borrowed money for a roof over their heads that they hope to pay off over time. In this sense, a home loan is a promise toward the future, a vow that the borrower’s economic circumstances will improve over time or at the very least won’t go down. We all benefit from this promise as money circu-lates through the nation’s $14 trillion economy.

No guarantees though. Economists tell us 1-in-5 mortgage holders are in the fore-closure process, a key cause for our economic meltdown.

Government spending to keep Americans working again is indeed a mortgage on our future, as the critics say. The world’s most vibrant economy is making an investment, borrowing money it believes can be repaid in better days.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bobcast: Whole lotto college

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The ongoing Don Siegelman legal saga is a reminder of a missed lottery opportunity for Alabama.

The federal corruption case against the former governor centers on a contribution made to Siegelman’s pro-lottery war chest. Prosecutors claimed and a jury agreed that the contributor's loot came in exchange for a seat on a state medical board.

The case is on appeal, but that’s a story for another day.

Our concern for now is 1999’s state lottery vote. Siegelman campaigned in 1998’s gubernatorial race on delivering to Alabama what neighbor Georgia already had – namely, a lottery that funded college scholarships for Georgia high school grads.

Since 1993 when the Georgia lottery began, the state has helped more than 1.2 million students with $4.5 billion in college tuition.

The idea is spreading. In 2002, South Carolina implemented a similar lot-tery/scholarship plan. It’s been reported than in seven years schools there have received $2 billion in lottery proceeds.

If things had worked out differently in '99, Alabama would have had a lottery. It would have also opened college to tens of thousands of the state’s residents who might otherwise not have attended. That would have been good for students, state colleges and over time all residents, who reap benefits from a better educated state.

Alabama chose another path. It said "no" in 1999. Problem is it hasn’t said yes to a more viable and lucrative funding proposal for college or college students in the intervening 10 years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

RIP Willie King

AP reports: Alabama blues singer and guitarist Willie King has died, ending a career that took him from backwoods juke joints to the largest blues festivals in North America and Europe. He was 65.
More here and here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Bobcast: Sleepy savings

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Today’s offering: Quick facts about Daylight Saving Time, the recent affliction causing so many sleepy stares and missed appointments.

William Willet, a British inventor, is credited with devising Daylight Saving Time in the early part of the 20th century.

Willet was said to have been offended when he discovered how late Brits were sleeping in on summer mornings. However, his notion never took hold until the start of World War I.

In 2005 Congress mandated the extension of Daylight Saving Time by two months, meaning it now begins on the second Sunday in March and concludes on the first Sunday in November.

The 2005 bill contained numerous subsidies to large petroleum companies. In fact, Hillary Clinton has called it the "Dick Cheney lobbyist energy bill." A recent Department of Energy survey discovered the extension of Daylight Saving Time saved half of 1 percent of electricity usage in 2007.

There’s more to say on the time change. At least a dozen more facts on the setting of the clocks forward in spring could be listed. However just now, this correspondent is feeling the effects of a lost hour of sleep and so they’ll just have to wait.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bobcast: is the stimulus buffet line closing?

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

The Mississippi House of Representatives sent its governor a message Wednesday: The cafeteria is closing.

Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., had decided he would treat the federal government’s recently passed stimulus package like the buffet line at a restaurant. Figuratively speaking, he is willing to take the meat and the gravy (transportation dollars, for instance) but leave off the broccoli (in this case, $50 million in unemployment benefits for part-time workers).

Hold up, said the Mississippi House.

It voted to accept all Mississippi’s $2.8 billion share of the stimulus. The measure is now moving to the Senate in Jackson.

For his part, Barbour isn’t budging from his stance, despite seeing his state’s unemployment reach 9.2 percent in January.

Of course, Barbour isn’t alone. Several other Republican governors, including Alabama’s Bob Riley, have opted for a pick-and-choose stimulus plan.

Perhaps Mississippi is showing others how to shut down the cafeteria.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bobcast: Suspending free speech?

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

What would you call a presidential administration that would consider rescinding the First Amendment?

Until the release of 2001 Bush legal memos earlier this week, it’s likely that’s a question few ever pondered, or ever wished to ponder.

An Oct. 23, 2001, memo, by President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel reads, “The government’s compelling interests in wartime justify restrictions on the scope of individual liberty.” The author, John Yoo, continued, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”

We’re presented with another reminder that the previous administration believed terrorists more powerful than the U.S. Constitution. What else can we conclude? In pursuing bad guys after 9/11 the Bush White House took liberties with our liberties. Bush’s team detained prisoners without trial, employed interrogation techniques deemed torture by international treaty, spied on citizens without the benefit of a warrant, and so on.

What would you call a presidential administration that would consider rescinding the First Amendment?

Would it be wrong to note these actions were directly opposed to the principles laid out by our founders? Would it be wrong to call it anti-American?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bobcast: Ring, ring ring (Ha, ha, hey)

UPDATE: It's official. Get those dialing fingers ready.

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

To handle increased phone usage in Alabama’s 256 area code, state utility regulators are considering a fix that would require 10-digit dialing for all calls, even local ones.

Nobody likes change, especially when it comes to telephones. But in an earlier time 10-digit dialing would have been far more daunting. Those three extra digits will be a pain, but imagine doing it on those ancient rotary dial contraptions. It would make one long for the days when a caller picked up the phone and say, "Hey, Sarah, get me Mount Pilot."

Estimates project that more than 8-in-10 Americans own mobile phones today. By 2013, one industry observer predicts, that figure will move to 100 percent. Already in some parts of Europe there are more mobile phones than people.

On mobile phones, the digits used can range from one – to call a friend's number stored in memory – to scores when using the text-message function.

In Japan, a recent craze is cell phone novels. A young woman with time on her hands pounded out a novel using the keypad on her mobile in 2007. When the book called “Dreaming Firefly” was published, it became a bestseller, thus spawning many more cell-phone novelists.

Compared to all this, 10-digit dialing looks like practically nothing.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bobcast: Health care debate, 2.0

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Would 1993’s failed presidential health care initiative have worked out differently in an era of an activist netroots and a steadily worsening economy?

All the signs are suggesting we may soon find out.

This week President Obama’s administration plans to roll out it its health care ambitions, which might be summed up as crafting coverage that is more universal and less costly.

In 1993, the newly elected Clinton administration tried something similar. The proposal went down in flames, killed by a mixture of White House cluelessness, con-servative foes and health insurers.

The opposition was best summed up by a series of TV commercials featuring a fictional couple, Harry and Louise.

The message: Clinton would grant government health care regulators the ability to "choose."

"And we lose," Louise adds.

Times have changed. In fact, Harry and Louise were back during the 2008 presidential race, urging a national dialogue on improving U.S. health care.

The economy has changed, as well. And for the worse.

For the better since 1993, is the addition of an Internet, well-stocked with activists. Watch for real-life people to exercise their online power to illustrate frustrations against the current health care system and its inefficiencies and inequities.

Regardless of how Obama’s plans work out, it’s clear we’ll hear more voices in this year’s debate than we did in 1993.