BFP Volume 9

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August 2012

Here at the Birmingham Free Press, we think it's important to keep up with certain issues, but we also understand a thing called news fatigue. When you see articles over and over about the same topic, especially when the news is depressing, you tend to start ignoring them. The result is that after a while, you don't really know what's going on in the world because you are ignoring all the news. To combat this, we've compiled this update on all the perennial bad news in short digestible bites, so you can get the information you need, and hopefully it won't be too painful.

National News: The War(s)
This newspaper is primarily concentrated on local issues, but one national issue we find impossible to ignore is that of our country's ongoing military actions in the Middle East.

The United States withdrew all combat troops from Iraq on December 18, last year. Since then, there has been an increase in violence among insurgent groups and fears of a civil war. The future of Iraq remains uncertain. The U.S. maintains an embassy in Iraq that is reportedly the size of Vatican City.

The war in Afghanistan rages on, one of the longest lasting wars in U.S. history. In case you missed it, we killed Osama bin Laden about a year ago. The Taliban has been severely weakened, but they still maintain a presence in Afghanistan and rural Pakistan. The democratic government in Afghanistan has recently come to agreements with the United States that could allow troops to begin withdrawing as early as this year, with the final U.S. troops coming home in 2014.

The 2012 Elections
Also, on the national front, Mitt Romney has beaten out several more conspicuously psychotic opponents in the Republican primaries and is the presumptive Republican nominee. The upside is that President Obama is expected to win a second term. Easily.

Unfortunately, neither of Alabama's current useless U.S. Senators is up for re-election this year. Democrats are expected to hold onto a majority in the Senate, but it will be close.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, all seven incumbents (six of whom are Republicans) are up for re-election. We will delve more into these races, as well as state and local elections, as November draws nearer.

The Shepard Bend Mine
An ongoing local issue that we have followed is the proposed Shepard Bend mine along the banks of the Black Warrior River. The mine is proposed to be built on land largely controlled by the University of Alabama System. Among other environmental concerns, the proposed mine is considered a serious hazard to Birmingham's drinking water, and several petitions have been lodged asking the UA System to stop the mine. The UA System has not made a committed statement either way. Environmental groups continue to fail in their legal efforts to stop the mine. Most recently, in March, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a Notice of Appeal with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals to stop the proposal. A decision is still pending.

The Northern Beltline
Construction has already begun on a beltline that will connect I-59, I-65, and I-20 north of the city and then loop around to connect with the western terminus of I-459. Environmental groups consider the project to be extremely damaging to the Black Warrior Watershed Region. It is also expected to increase problems related to urban sprawl, such as automobile dependency, fast food restaurants, and strip malls.

Even as construction for the project is underway, funding for it is in danger. Fuel tax revenues earmarked to pay for the project have not kept pace with the road's $4.7 billion price tag. The beltway is expected to be completed in 2048. Yes, you read that correctly: 2048. Expect many more problems between now and then.

Immigration Law
Alabama's immigration law (HB-56), enacted last year is one of the most controversial laws on the books. Since the law passed, Latinos in the state have faced increased hostility and discrimination, regardless of their immigration status. Problems include people being cheated out of wages, being denied medical treatment, and even refused service in some retail stores. The law creates an atmosphere where people who are already inclined toward hateful behavior feel free to express their hatred more openly.

A committee in the Alabama House of Representatives voted recently on some modifications and clarifications to the law. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center and other opponents claim that these proposed modifications do not even come close to addressing the problems with the law.

County Bankruptcy
Jefferson County's financial problems, spurred largely by a mismanaged sewer construction plan, continue to plague county leaders. Recently a Wall Street bank reduced the credit limit on the county's credit cards, forcing county departments to use cash for many purchases. A local credit union, however, came to the rescue and provided the county with a new line of credit.

Air Pollution in Birmingham
Last year, the American Lung Association vested Birmingham with the honor of having the most polluted air in the South, and the eighth most polluted air in the country. The air here, like the news, is still (mostly) bad.

by M. David Hornbuckle

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