2 years ago

POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential business leaders

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

This year’s list is being released in three segments: Government officials and politicians, lobbyists and consultants, and today’s segment, business leaders.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 2nd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Friday, May 13th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. Last year’s event attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, numerous members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

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Rick Burgess, nationally syndicated talk radio host, Rick & Bubba Show

As the only media personality on the Power & Influence 50, Burgess is a unique fit among the state’s business elite. He and his co-host, Bill “Bubba” Bussey, have built a radio empire that gives them an unmatched platform to entertain listeners across Alabama and beyond, as well as advance their Christian, conservative worldview and political agenda.

Burgess represents the duo on the Power & Influence list because he has shown a greater willingness to throw his weight behind political candidates in recent years, most notably Congressman Gary Palmer, whom Burgess helped propel into office with a giant wave of ads featuring his endorsement. He has also become one of the state’s most outspoken opponents of gambling expansions of any kind.

Candidates will be lining up to garner Burgess’s backing in the years to come, but he’s already proven to be very picky when it comes to supporting politicians. That makes his endorsement even more valuable.

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Mark Crosswhite, CEO, Alabama Power Company

Crosswhite is now two years into his tenure atop the Power Company and continues to impress with his exacting approach to both internal company operations and governmental affairs.

APCO’s operation is so vast that almost every state policy has the potential to affect their business in some way. For that reason, the company has been an active player for decades in every nook and cranny of state government — from the county and municipal levels up to the legislative and executive branches.

Crosswhite served as Alabama Power’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs for almost three years; then became CEO and President of Gulf Power, another Southern Company subsidiary. He was then Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Southern Company from mid-2012 until March of 2014 when he became CEO of Alabama Power at the age of 50.

With seemingly limitless resources, Crosswhite and Alabama Power wield influence on a level that most others — including many on this list — can only dream of.

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Garry Neil Drummond, CEO, Drummond Coal

The Drummond family built a multinational coal juggernaut off of a $300 loan from Walker County Bank in Jasper, Alabama, using three mules as collateral on the note.

As the third generation CEO (he took over the company in 1961 and spurred it on to previously unfathomable heights), Mr. Drummond has endured the Obama administration’s wrath to an extent that few Americans can even imagine.

No other industry in America has been the target of such fierce opposition from the government, but Drummond has thrived by diversifying his company’s holdings and continuing to run one of the most efficient mining operations in the world.

Forbes ranks him as Alabama’s wealthiest individual, which means he is one of the few Alabama businessmen who routinely gets courted by national politicians. Presidential candidates have been known to carve out chunks of entire days to try to get on Mr. Drummond’s calendar for a meeting.

For most businessmen it works the other way around. Drummond’s in a league of his own in the Yellowhammer State. He doesn’t just work for a giant company — he is a giant company.

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Joe Espy, President, Melton Espy & Williams PC

Espy is the preeminent criminal defense attorney in Alabama and the first call when almost any top tier political figure needs legal counsel. When it comes to needing the type of representation Espy provides, there are no party lines. He has represented Democrats and Republicans alike. He currently reps the governor, which means he will likely be omnipresent in political circles for the foreseeable future.

On top of his highly successful law practice, Espy is also a University of Alabama Trustee, placing him in rarified air among the state’s business elite.

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Grayson Hall, CEO, Regions Bank

Hall has banking in his bloodstream. There was little doubt where he was headed after earning his MBA at the University of Alabama and later graduating from the Stonier School of Banking. He has been working his way up since then and now helms the largest publicly traded company in Alabama.

He is a fierce believer in the concept of “shared value,” which is essentially the idea that all company initiatives should create value in some way for its customers, employees, shareholders and communities. That approach has earned Regions the best reputation among banks nationally, up from No. 19 just a few years ago.

In addition to his enviable position atop Regions, Hall also serves on a handful of other influential boards of directors, including Alabama Power’s.

Every ambitious politician from Alabama or passing through the state — from members of Congress to presidential candidates — has Hall on their call list.

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Johnny Johns, Chairman, President and CEO, Protective Life Corporation

The soft-spoken CEO of Protective Life Corporation has an unrivaled rolodex and intense desire to leave the state of Alabama better than he found it. Under Johns’ leadership, Protective has been a philanthropic powerhouse in the Birmingham community. After merging with Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. last year, the newly combined companies donated a stunning $4.1 million toward initiatives that will impact medical research, education and culture in Alabama for many years to come. This year the company donated $500,000 toward to the UAB Athletic Foundation’s $15 million goal for a proposed Football Operations Building.

Johns is on numerous influential boards of directors, including Regions Financial Corporation, Southern Company and the University of Alabama System.

His influence on Alabama’s political landscape extends back to the mid-90s when he and a group of powerful businessmen put together a successful effort to flip Alabama’s courts — which had become known as “tort hell” — to Republican control. He was also a major contributor to the 2010 effort to end 136 years of Democratic control in the Alabama legislature.

Johns is one of the first calls for any aspiring statewide candidate.

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Terry Kellogg, CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Kellogg has spent three decades with BCBS, rising up through the ranks to become the company’s CEO in 2010. He has earned a reputation for being brilliant and not scared to tell it like it is. BCBS of Alabama maintains the largest market share of any health insurer in the country.

Under Kellogg’s leadership, BCBS has been one of the most politically active companies in Alabama, maintaining a strong presence at the Statehouse and actively engaging in a wide variety of policy issues. He has guided the company well through the tumultuous implementation of ObamaCare.

Kellogg told the Birmingham Business Journal last year that his leadership style is inspired by Dwight Eisenhower.

“Eisenhower was on the ground everywhere,” he said, “present all the time and accessible.”

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Thomas M. “Tommy” Lee

Lee is president and CEO of Vulcan, Inc., an aluminum manufacturer based in Foley, and he’s got over four decades of south Alabama business and political connections at his disposal. He is a former Chairman of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and a past winner of the Walton M. Vines Free Enterprise Person of the Year.

He is making his first ever appearance on the Power & Influence 50 this year due in large part to his ascendance to the chairmanship of the Business Council of Alabama, a powerful voice representing the statewide business community’s interests before state government.

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John McMahon, Chairman, Ligon Industries

McMahon is the kind of industrialist who would fit right in in the pages of an Ayn Rand novel — a legendary investor in the Alabama business community whose holdings span diverse industries and dot the U.S. map. He is also on numerous influential boards of directors, including Protective Life Insurance Corporation, ProAssurance Corporation, National Bank of Commerce, Cooper/T. Smith Corporation and UAB Health Systems.

He keeps his head down and avoids the spotlights, but anyone in the know understands just how influential he has been and continues to be in Alabama politics. He was a key player in the business community’s revolt against “tort hell” in the mid-90s, a movement whose impact continues to ripple across Alabama’s economic landscape. Since then he has been a powerful ally for numerous powerful politicians, including state legislators, members of congress and presidential candidates.

When McMahon calls, everyone answers.

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Claude B. Nielsen, CEO, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc.

Claude Nielsen joined Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. in 1979 and has been the company’s CEO since 1991. Under his direction, Coca-Cola UNITED has become the largest privately held Coca-Cola Bottler in the United States and is the 7th largest privately held company in Alabama.

He flexed his muscle politically last year by personally making calls to lawmakers in an effort kill a proposed soda tax increase. One legislator who was on the fence about the issue told Yellowhammer, “Once he called, I was a ‘no,’ end of discussion.”

That’s the level of influence that has propelled Nielsen onto this year’s Power & Influence 50.

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Craft O’Neal, Chairman and CEO, O’Neal Industries

O’Neal runs Birmingham’s second largest private company, a $2.5 billion per year juggernaut that employs roughly 370 people in the Magic City alone.

The O’Neal name is golden in Alabama business circles. His grandfather founded O’Neal Steel, which is now O’Neal Industries, and his father ran the company for many years as the younger O’Neal worked his way up and ultimately succeeded him as chairman and CEO.

O’Neal flexed his muscle this past year by helping pull together a group of Birmingham heavyweights to resurrect UAB football. With O’Neal playing a key role, the group navigated a labyrinth of political challenges and ultimately succeeded, a result that could have a profound impact on the Birmingham community for decades to come.

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Jimmy Parnell, President, CEO and Chairman, Alfa

Simply put: Parnell is a great American.

He was driving a tractor when he was five and managing his family farm’s payroll by age 12. His subsequent success in private business (he’s a partner in his family’s beef cattle farm and timber business) and deep farming background (he’s a fifth generation farmer) prepared him for his current role as CEO of Alfa, an organization whose agriculture and insurance interests make them one of the top players in Alabama’s economic and political landscape.

There isn’t an organization in the state that can touch Alfa’s grassroots capabilities. When their members get engaged on an issue or back a candidate, it matters. Their governmental affairs team is one of the largest and most active on Goat Hill.

It is hard to believe there was a time prior to Parnell’s tenure when Alfa was behind the curve in adjusting to Republican control after the 2010 election cycle. With Parnell at the helm, they’re not behind the curve on anything — ever.

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Jimmy Rane, CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving Incorporated

Alabama’s preeminent entrepreneur built a multinational lumber empire from the tiny town of Abbeville, then devoted his resources to sustaining and developing his hometown’s economy and culture. As a result he is beloved by the local community and revered by his employees.

Rane, who is commonly known as the “Yella Fella” after portraying that character in popular Yellawood TV commercials, now owns and runs the largest lumber treatment company on the planet.

Politically, Rane has long been one of the Republican Party’s most influential supporters, even while Democrats held total sway over the state. He was a major financial backer of the GOP’s successful effort to takeover the legislature in 2010, and remains a close ally of legislative leadership.

He is the most influential member of the Auburn University board of trustees, currently serving as president pro tem.

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Britt Sexton, CEO, Sexton Inc.

Anyone who can position himself as a vocal leader on the University of Alabama Board of Trustees must have some serious juice. Behind the scenes, Sexton has been a major part of waking the sleeping political giant that is the UA System.

He is one of the state’s most successful investors, with business interests ranging from financial services and private equity to software and real estate.

His financial resources have allowed him to become one of north Alabama’s most significant philanthropists.

And when it comes to politics, any ambitious politician would do well to try to enter his orbit, because while many other power players of his stature are in the twilight of their careers, Sexton has decades ahead of him.

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Gary Smith, President & CEO, PowerSouth

Smith has really shepherded a new era at PowerSouth. The company has gone from a small co-op at odds with the state’s largest utility, to a major statewide player in economic development and energy policy and a partner with Alabama Power.

Their influence will continue to grow in the political space with the founding of the The Energy Institute of Alabama, an advocacy group aimed at promoting the state’s energy sector that is being chaired by PowerSouth VP Seth Hammett.

Smith has put together a good team with a mix of veterans and young talent. This is his first year on the Power & Influence 50. Expect him and his company to continue to rise in the years to come.

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Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company

There has been a lot of internal shuffling at Alabama Power in recent months, which has actually allowed Smith — a longtime member of the Power & Influence 50 — to consolidate power with regard to the company’s enormous external affairs operation.

He has drawn rave reviews for his leadership on the Alabama Workforce Council, an organization that is leading the effort to redesign the state’s workforce development initiatives and prepare the next generation to compete in the global marketplace. Smith was personally tapped by the governor to spearhead the group, just one example of his stature in the upper echelons of Alabama’s political and business structure.

He is one of the few individuals whose political network and influence is felt in both Montgomery and Washington. Whether you’re a freshman state legislator or a long-time United States senator, you want Smith in your corner.

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Finis St. John, IV, Attorney

“Fess,” as he is known, is perhaps the most influential member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and currently serves as the System’s Athletic Chair. He has been a fierce proponent of the UA System’s multi-campus setup. Most recently he has been the driving force behind the UA System getting more involved in federal and state governmental affairs, an initiative that could change the state’s political landscape in profound ways.

St. John’s family has a long history in Alabama politics. His father served as president pro tem of the senate in the late 1970s.

Today he and his wife run a highly successful law firm in Cullman. They are the only husband-wife pair who are members of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is a big deal in the legal community.

St. John is Chairman of the Board of Directors for Southern Community Bankshares and First Community Bank and also is Chairman of the Board of Directors and co-founder of Cullman Environmental.

He has carved out an influential space for himself, in spite of not being based in the traditional power centers of Birmingham or Montgomery.

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Lee Styslinger, III, CEO, Altec Inc.

From Birmingham, Styslinger runs an electric and telecommunications equipment manufacturer whose products can be found getting work done in over 100 countries.

His political influence, similar to his business interests, expands outside of Alabama. He is among the first Alabamians any aspiring Republican presidential candidate will try to get on the phone. When Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney came to Alabama, Styslinger was their guy. When Jeb Bush sought an Alabamian to activate his giant fundraising base in the state, Styslinger is the man he tapped to do it.

He is a member of the extremely powerful Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs of major U.S. corporations, and of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Perhaps most impressively in sports crazed Alabama, Styslinger is a member of the Augusta National Golf Club and part of the Masters Tournament Committee.

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Mike Thompson, CEO, Thompson Tractor

When it comes to infrastructure projects in the state of Alabama, few people are as engaged as Thompson, whose machines have helped build an unfathomable number of miles of highway in the Yellowhammer State.

He was one of the key financial backers of the Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2010, and on the national level he is a coveted “bundler” for presidential candidates, most notably the Bushes.

Thompson has been known to call state lawmakers into his office to personally persuade them to support legislation he cares about. They usually get on board quickly.

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Dr. Robert Witt, Chancellor, University of Alabama System

The UA System is Alabama’s largest employer and the umbrella organization for the state’s most iconic institution. That alone would make Witt one of the most influential individuals in the state, but in the same way he executed an unprecedented growth strategy in his previous post as president of the System’s flagship university, he is now taking the System’s political influence to new heights as well.

With the teachers union crippled, Witt and his allies on the UA Board saw an opportunity to fill the power vacuum with an advocacy group focused on education outcomes, rather than just teacher benefits. Witt now chairs Alabama Unites for Education, and is building out a multi-pronged political operation that includes lobbying, grassroots advocacy and candidate recruitment and support.

Witt is one of the few individuals whose influences touches all of Alabama’s “big three” — politics, business and sports.

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60 mins ago

GQ condemns the Holy Bible: ‘Repetitive, Self-Contradictory, Sententious, Foolish … Ill-Intentioned’

In an article by “The Editors of GQ,” the men’s magazine blasts the Holy Bible, declares it a book you don’t have to read, and suggests an alternative.

“It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

In its April 19 article, “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read” (originally, “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read Before You Die”), Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ) trashes 20 books (“Huckleberry Finn” is counted twice, for some reason) it deems undeserving of their literary stature:

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“[N]ot all the Great Books have aged well. Some are racist and some are sexist, but most are just really, really boring. So we—and a group of un-boring writers—give you permission to strike these books from the canon. Here’s what you should read instead.”

GQ’s review of the Holy Bible begins with a snarky slight of Christians:

“The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.”

As for the content of the holy book, GQ’s contempt is summed up by this one sentence: “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”

Instead, the editors at GQ would have you read a tale of two brothers “who have to get along”:

“If the thing you heard was good about the Bible was the nasty bits, then I propose Agota Kristof’s The Notebook, a marvelous tale of two brothers who have to get along when things get rough. The subtlety and cruelty of this story is like that famous sword stroke (from below the boat) that plunged upward through the bowels, the lungs, and the throat and into the brain of the rower.”

Here is the complete list of famous books panned by GQ, and the magazine’s recommended replacements:

  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – Instead: The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – Instead: Olivia: A Novel by Dorothy Strachey
  • Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves – Instead: Dispatches by Michael Herr
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – Instead: The Summer Bookby Tove Jansson
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – Instead: Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – Instead: The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy – Instead: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • John Adams by David McCullough – Instead: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
  • 9 & 10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Instead: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Fredrick Douglass
  • The Ambassadors by Henry James – Instead: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
  • The Bible – Instead: The Notebook by Agota Kristof
  • Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger – Instead: Death Comes for the Archbishopby Willa Cather
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – Instead: Earthsea Series by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – Instead: Angels by Denis Johnson
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – Instead: The American Granddaughter by Inaam Kachachi
  • Life by Keith Richards – Instead: The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – Instead: Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – Instead: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Instead: Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – Instead: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

(Courtesy CNSNews.com)

2 hours ago

Does Facebook hate Catholics?

Sen. Ted Cruz informed Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that his company “has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages,” noting they were prevented from posting on Facebook because “their content and brand were, quote, ‘unsafe to the community.'” None of the pages came even close to constituting hate speech.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers grilled Zuckerberg about an ad that was initially blocked by Facebook because it featured Jesus on the Cross. The ad was submitted by Franciscan University of Steubenville as a theology degree advertisement. Facebook deemed it to be “excessively violent” and “sensational.” Crucifixions usually are.

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The company later apologized. The congresswoman from Washington wasn’t convinced. “Could you tell [us] what was so shocking, sensational or excessively violent about the ad to cause it to be initially censored?” “It sounds like we made a mistake there,” Zuckerberg replied.

Not mentioned in the hearings was an incident that took place between last Thanksgiving and Christmas. A Catholic vocational organization, Mater Ecclesiae Fund for Vocations, had its ads unduly held up for a bogus reason. Facebook told the organization that its content potentially violated Facebook’s policy on discrimination for housing ads. But the ad had absolutely nothing to do with housing. By the time the ad was permitted, it was too late to matter, the effect of which was to kill the fundraising effort.

A thorough search of the two-day testimony reveals that there were no examples of Jewish or Muslim groups having their ads blocked. Moreover, no examples of anti-Semitism were mentioned. There were two references to anti-Muslim posts.

An Internet search of Facebook complaints made by Jews and Muslims turned up a few instances of alleged bias against both groups. But instances where Jewish and Muslim pages were blocked, save for clear examples of hate speech, are virtually non-existent.

What gives? Why the singling out of Catholics for censorship?

When Sen. Cruz pressed Zuckerberg about blocking some two dozen Catholic pages, the Facebook co-founder replied that he tries to make sure “we do not have any bias,” but conceded that his company is “located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place.”

In other words, Zuckerberg’s attempt to screen out anti-Catholicism is being thwarted by his own employees because they harbor extremist left-wing views. This is quite a concession. It raises two questions: Why has he failed to check the bigotry, and why do left-wingers hate Catholicism?

One reason why Zuckerberg has failed in squashing anti-Catholic bigotry is the difficulty of policing his staff. He admits that he has upwards of 20,000 people working on content review. Cruz asked, “Do you know the political orientation of those 15,000 to 20,000 people engaging in content review?” “No senator,” he replied.

Actually, he does: Zuckerberg admitted that his company is located in an “extremely left-leaning” community, and no one suspects he is importing his staff from Kansas.

Furthermore, Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. Jeff Duncan, and Rep. McMorris Rodgers all noted the anti-conservative bias at Facebook. The latter cited what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said last November: he maintained that “edge providers routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” No doubt the censors consider themselves to be beacons of tolerance.

Now it is understandable why left-wingers might harbor an animus against conservatives—they are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. But why do they hate Catholics?

In fact, Facebook does not hate Catholics—it’s just orthodox Catholics it loathes. To wit: there is no evidence that any of the Catholic pages blocked by Facebook are associated with dissident or liberal Catholic causes.

None of this is surprising. It all boils down to sex. The “extremely left-leaning” Facebook employees, just like “extremely left-leaning” persons everywhere, are in a rage over the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality. It is not Church teachings on the Trinity that exercises them—it’s the conviction that marriage is properly understood as a union between a man and a woman.

Zuckerberg told Rep. McMorris Rodgers, “I wouldn’t extrapolate from a few examples to assuming that the overall system is biased.” But we are not talking about a few anecdotes or hard choices: a pattern of bigotry is evident, and the pages being censored are not Catholic assaults on others.

Rep. Kevin John Cramer from North Dakota suggested to Zuckerberg that he should look to hire more people from places like Bismarck where people tend to have “common sense.”

It’s more common decency and fairness that is the problem. The fact is that those who are the captains of censorship in America work in places like the tech companies, higher education, the media, publishing, the arts, and Hollywood. What do they have in common? They are all examples of “extremely left-leaning” places that hate Catholic sexual ethics.

Zuckerberg has his work cut out for him. He can begin by hiring practicing orthodox Catholics in senior positions monitoring content review. He should also be ready to pay for relocation fees.

Bill Donohue is president of the Catholic League.

3 hours ago

‘America deserves better’: Author Brad Thor to challenge Trump in GOP primary

Best-selling author Brad Thor will challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary, Thor confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation on Saturday.The conservative author’s biggest problem with the Trump presidency is the man himself. “He’s mentally unfit,” Thor told TheDCNF.

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Thor teased out his announcement on Twitter Saturday evening, pledging to run if no other conservative will challenge Trump. “America deserves better leadership,” Thor said. He added a few minutes later: “In fact, let’s make it official. I’m in.”

“The pages of history do not care if you were a farmer, a soldier, a doctor, or a butcher,” Thor told TheDCNF. “They care whether or not, when called, if you rose up to serve. Our Republic cries out for leadership, someone who will respect our Constitutional norms and represent the world’s greatest minority – the individual. That is who I am running for.”

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

(Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.)

3 hours ago

The fall of James Comey

I originally assumed that former FBI Director James Comey is an honorable and truthful man who was striving to be objective and avoid undue political influence. He has earned my change of mind.

Our law enforcement and judicial institutions should operate, to the extent possible, above politics to ensure equal justice under the law.

The term “justice is blind” is more than a cliche. Justice, by definition, must be administered impartially, without regard to wealth, power, gender, race, religion or any other special status. The law must guide the judicial system, from start to finish — from the decision to indict to the verdict of guilt or acquittal.

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Comey presents himself as a consummate professional, a moral paragon, dedicated to the law and consciously above rank political concerns. He has systematically undermined this carefully crafted image with his unseemly forays into the public arena, his professional decisions, his public statements, his book and his interviews.

FBI officials and agents I’ve met have always been highly professional, discreet and circumspect — so close to the vest that they won’t even share with friends information pertaining to ongoing investigations. They want to make clear that they operate with no favoritism and that their allegiance is to justice and the law.

I assumed Comey would be no different. He initially projected a patina of professionalism, as we witnessed during parts of his news conference in which he announced he wouldn’t prosecute Hillary Clinton and during his congressional testimony. He came off as consciously committed to operating above the political fray and following the law.

As his news conference unfolded, it became obvious that he was trying to be all things to all people, but instead of pleasing everyone, he alienated most. He meticulously documented the litany of damning facts against Clinton as if he were presenting a closing argument to a jury. But then he essentially told us that none of that mattered because she hadn’t intended to break the law. My BS antenna started sending me strong signals, which were later confirmed when consulting the relevant statutes. He couldn’t have laid out a better case for gross negligence and even willful criminal behavior, yet he chose to characterize her actions as noncriminal. If this weren’t bad enough, we later learned that he drafted a statement clearing Clinton of charges two months before the FBI interviewed her in its probe. His twisting the law into a pretzel to avoid prosecuting Clinton screams that political considerations were paramount and superseded any legal analysis.

Moreover, Comey admitted in his interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he factored the likelihood of Clinton’s winning the election into his decision to publicly announce reopening her email investigation, fearing that she would immediately become an illegitimate president. He might as well have just worn a sign into his interview reading “political animal.”

Comey’s decision to write a tell-all book about an ongoing investigation on which he was the senior investigator and for which he could be a witness was abominable. It has gravely diminished him and the FBI, and it has contradicted his claim that he is concerned with protecting the image and integrity of the bureau. I doubt that Comey would have ever been appointed to such a position in the FBI had people known he was the type to air dirty laundry and share inside information on matters that demand discretion. Indeed, many current and former colleagues are recoiling with disdain.

Some of Comey’s statements in the book and interviews were particularly inappropriate. His duty of professionalism didn’t end when he left office. His comments on Donald Trump’s appearance were especially petty, more fitting for a teenage Twitter thread than from a former high-ranking law enforcement official.

Even worse was his reckless opinion to Stephanopoulos that it’s “possible” that Trump obstructed justice, even though he admitted there is no evidence. Then there were his gratuitous statements that the Russians may have something on Trump and that it’s possible the alleged incident involving prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room happened. How could anyone watch that interview and still respect Comey’s intellectual honesty?

Free speech guarantees certainly apply to this publicity hound, but they don’t insulate him from our reasoned opinion that he has no business saying Trump behaved like a mob boss or that he is morally unfit to serve.

Comey’s conduct in this affair has been disgraceful. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that he made “serious mistakes,” that he won’t admit his mistakes and that both Democrats and Republicans called for his termination. Former attorneys general, judges and lead prosecutors believe that Comey violated his duty to preserve, protect and defend the FBI. He violated Justice Department policies and tradition. And he leaked four memos, at least one of which was classified, to a friend for publication instead of turning them over to investigators.

I suspect that Comey began writing this book expecting financial profit and professional and personal vindication. I’m afraid he’ll have to settle for the big bucks alone. I would feel sorry for him if he weren’t so sanctimonious.

David Limbaugh is a writer, author and attorney.

(Creators, copyright 2018)

4 hours ago

Survey: Optimism abounds as Alabama business owners project hiring, wage increases

A tight labor market and mounting economic enthusiasm among business owners could equal more jobs and higher wages for Alabama workers in the next six months.

The findings in PNC Financial Services Group Inc.’s Spring 2018 Economic Outlook survey for Alabama suggest small business owners across Alabama are increasingly optimistic about near-term labor and wage trends despite questions regarding tariffs and tax reform. The bi-annual survey by the Pittsburgh-based company examines hiring, pricing, sales and other economic trends for the state’s small and mid-size business owners.

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PNC Chief Economist Gus Faucher said projected hiring and compensation boosts reflect increased economic confidence by Alabama business owners that could lead to the highest rate for wage increases in the six-year history of PNC’s Alabama survey. Faucher pointed to the following key takeaways from the most recent report:

— Reflecting new highs for the survey, nearly 68 percent of respondents anticipate increased sales during the next six months, compared with only 54 percent last fall, while 55 percent expect increased profits, compared with 46 percent in fall 2017;

— Thirty-nine percent of Alabama business leaders surveyed anticipate boosting employee compensation in the next six months, compared with 32 percent in the fall;

— One-quarter of respondents expect to add full-time staff, while 20 percent plan to hire part-time employees, compared with 20 percent and 13 percent respectively in the fall;

— Forty-one percent of respondents anticipate the new tax legislation will have a positive impact on their bottom lines, with 16 percent expecting no change and only 6 percent anticipating a negative impact; and

— Forty-four 44 percent of respondents expect the legislation to have a major or moderate positive effect on their business taxes.

In addition, 49 percent of respondents describe their outlook for the national economy as optimistic, compared with only 32 percent in fall 2017. Meanwhile, half are optimistic about their own companies’ prospects for the next six months, compared with only 39 percent last fall.

“The Alabama economy is doing really, really well,” Faucher said, noting it mirrors or outperforms national trends during the second-longest period of economic growth in U.S. history. The current expansion is tied at 106 months with a 1960s expansion and trails only the 120-month expansion of the 1990s.

Specifically, he said, Alabama’s statewide unemployment rate of 3.7 percent for February fell below the national rate of 4.1 percent for the same period, or less than one-third of its peak 11.8 percent reported during the Great Recession. Statewide job growth in 2017 of 1.5 percent nearly doubled the national rate of 0.8 percent for the same 12-month period.

The Alabama industries leading job growth include manufacturing, professional and business services and hospitality and leisure, while the trade, transportation/utilities and information sectors are soft.

Alabama wages, Faucher said, are “solid right now” because employers are finding it difficult to recruit the skill sets needed to fill open positions, so existing employees’ wages will continue to increase until that gap is bridged.

“So far this year, wages in Alabama are up about 3.5 percent from one year ago, which is a little better than the national average. This reflects the tighter job market, businesses competing for workers and the lower unemployment rate. All of this is good for Alabama incomes and consumer spending,” he said.

With federal spending increasing, Faucher said Alabama’s defense contractors and facilities stand to continue benefiting from the uptick well into 2019. Auburn University at Montgomery economist Keivan Deravi contends the current optimism among Alabama business owners is “totally justified and explainable,” but he cautioned against projecting too far into the future because of recent volatility across the national economic landscape.

“One month ago, the stock market was surging, and then came the tax changes that were very lopsided toward corporations,” he said, noting many operations saw their tax burden slip from 33 percent to 22 percent and chose to sink those savings into capital investments, stock buy-backs and even employee bonuses.

Moreover, with both national and state unemployment rates so low, projected wage increases of 3-4 percent “could easily be handled” and the removal or relaxing of federal banking and environmental regulations are encouraging to bottom lines, he said.

“You look at this big picture, and you see the economy is doing fine. Consumers are spending, and the optimism is there. All of the sudden, rather than standing still, something is pushing us forward,” Deravi said.

Within the past month, however, the Federal Reserve has indicated rate hikes are imminent, the stock market has become “erratic” and talk of an international trade war is “generating a little uncertainty in the business community.”

“The optimism, especially in Alabama, is warranted, but nothing is guaranteed,” Deravi said. “Successful businesses like two things: money and certainty. If the certainty is removed – even if they have money – they’re going to pause and say, ‘Wait a minute. What’s going on?’ And the past month is proof that uncertainty can creep in from several different directions very quickly.”

(Courtesy Alabama News Center)