The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

3 weeks ago

Let’s celebrate the Magna Carta!

(Wikicommons)

In just a few weeks, fireworks will illuminate the night sky, parades will proceed down Main Streets, and the American people, even while social distancing, will pause to celebrate the Fourth of July, or Independence Day. And what event are we commemorating? Not a military victory, not a birth or death, but a mere vote! That vote, once and for all, declared the American colonies free and independent from British domination.

The many grounds justifying this vote are famously spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. John Adams wrote to Abagail in July 1776 predicting that the vote for independence would be “celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” and “commemorated … by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty,” accompanied by “bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” How prescient of John Adams, and how appropriate that we Americans continue to celebrate our independence even 245 years after the vote for independence was announced.

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The Declaration of Independence rightly holds a preeminent place in American history; yet, there is another, much older document from history worth celebrating too. That document is Magna Carta, “the Great Charter,” signed this day [June 15] in the year 1215 A.D. by English barons and King John. It is not an exaggeration to say Magna Carta changed the concept of government forever. In fact, never before had a ruler, in what was almost a bloodless coup, agreed to limitations on royal power. Magna Carta changed the dialog about the divine rights of kings and absolute power. We would do well to remember 805 years hence and reflect on what civilization has achieved by limiting the power of government and giving liberty to the governed.

Besides chartering a peace between some rebellious barons and the King of England, what did Magna Carta do? To be clear, it did not establish the concept of government by democracy; the Greeks had managed their affairs by majority vote well over a millennium earlier. Rather, Magna Carta planted the first seeds of constitutional government. A constitutional government recognizes the truth that all citizens, including those in the government, are under the law. No one, not even the king, is above the law. In medieval times, this innovative concept challenged the regime that ceded absolute power in the monarchy, which was so prevalent in Europe and the rest of the world. Magna Carta placed the ruler under the law, forbidding him from dictating to his subjects above the limitations of the law.

Magna Carta calls this supreme law the “law of the land.” This law is not necessarily written down. Rather, it reflects the rights and customs of the people populating the land. From this novel concept came what we call “the common law.” The common law is built not at once, but as any structure is built – brick by brick, case by case. Each judgment handed down by the court sets a precedent which will inform the next judgment of the same kind. In societies embracing the common law, judges do not create the law of the land. Rather, they declare what it already is and apply it to each situation. And how do they know what the law is? They look to prior judgments, to immemorial custom, and to the fundamental rights of the people. In short, they look to practical experience, the tried and true, over the philosophical and speculative.

Magna Carta itself and the common law jurists and statesmen who followed conceived of rights in negative terms. Property rights, for example, are the natural corollaries of other peoples’ duties not to steal and destroy. Everyone besides the property owner has a duty not to trespass on the property owned by another, which means that owners have a right to the exclusive use and possession of their property. Fundamentally, rights are not invented by the government; they are inherent in what it means to be human. If the government has the power to create rights, then it can just as easily take them away. Magna Carta reflected fundamental rights and reduced them to writing, thus acting as a fence to clearly mark the boundaries between the government and the governed.

Magna Carta was viewed as so foundational to constitutional government, that it featured prominently in the early American colonies. For example, the first Massachusetts code of law explicitly cites Magna Carta as the source of the laws comprising that code. Additionally, South Carolina, when separating from North Carolina in the early 18th century, enacted a statute that incorporated the English common law, as established by Magna Carta, into its own set of laws. Alabama, like many other states, followed this trend. Furthermore, William Penn, of Pennsylvania fame, arranged for the first printing in America of Magna Carta, and the seal used by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress contained the image of a patriot with a sword in his right hand and a copy of Magna Carta in his left.

These historical tidbits evidence the importance Magna Carta held for our American ancestors, but the best evidence is our own written constitution. That document, like Magna Carta, places the law of the land above the government and recognizes certain individual rights, which the government must never infringe upon, much less violate. If the government ever acts “above the law” by exceeding its enumerated powers granted by the Constitution, it ceases to be a proper government. Under constitutional government, laws have parameters in which to operate, but they cannot curtail rights clearly expressed in both our federal and state constitutions.

For today, its 805th anniversary, let us never forget the grandfather of our Constitution, Magna Carta. We should celebrate the concept of constitutional government it ushered into the world and the growing impact of its civilizing influence. Under Magna Carta and its offspring, the United States Constitution and the Alabama Constitution, we should always hold our own elected officials accountable to govern according to and under the “law of the land.” And, we must always remember that government exists not to create our rights, but to protect the rights we inherently possess. When King John exceeded these rights, he set in motion a movement to constrain government by recognizing pre-existing rights and enumerating them lest future rulers forget their limitations. That is something well worth celebrating!

Will Sellers is an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama.

3 months ago

It’s time to take a stand against China

(Pixabay, YHN)

Napoleon predicted that China’s “wokeness” would move the world; returning the compliment, the Chinese contend that it is too soon to measure the impact of the French Revolution. Today, China is very much awake and is revealing the dangerous ideas unleashed by the French Revolution.

Although half-way around the globe, China continues to command our daily attention. After all, it is the most populous country on the planet, the second wealthiest, and, recently has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of the coronavirus. It truly is a remarkable nation.

In half-a-century, it has transformed itself from a third-world country into an international superpower, competing on the world stage against the biggest players: the European Union, Russia, and even the United States. The machine that is China may appear to contain a well-oiled and durably built engine powering the country up the hill of international clout. But soon the strain of its flagging economy will cause this Chinese engine to lock up, bringing the machine to a jarring halt before it begins its backwards slide.

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History and economics teach us that the writing is on the wall for China’s recent trend of success. President Xi Jinping is ignoring the warnings, and his administration’s expansion and bolstering of the government’s authoritarian powers will accelerate China’s decline.

The root of China’s woes lies in the centralized, dictatorial control its government exercises on its nation’s citizens and industries. This creates log jams, stifles real growth, and throttles the creative potential of the Chinese people.

Under this authoritarian system, citizens have little motivation to take initiative, and those who do are met with an impenetrable barricade of bureaucratic red tape. Their entrepreneurial spirit, which years ago appeared unleashed, has now been squashed, and all that remains is a stagnant pool of government-issued status quo. Throughout history, the Chinese people have displayed a vibrant and creative spirit, but Chinese-style communism has sacrificed this spirit at the altar of power, efficiency, and uniformity.

Any system of government that stifles the human spirit is doomed to failure. Because people naturally yearn to be free, authoritarian regimes require armies of watchers surveilling the populace’s every move. The government must then enlist watchers to watch the watchers! So long as it exists, this kind of absurd societal structure engenders a culture of fear that paralyzes individual initiative.

Parents can no longer trust their children, who have been educated, or rather brainwashed, to report any violation occurring within the family to the state. The inevitable consequence is that China will fall behind those nations where the inalienable rights of the people are protected and where the spirit of ingenuity and entrepreneurship is encouraged, rewarded, and supported.

A prime example of China’s looming decline is exhibited by its infamous practice of stealing intellectual property from more technologically advanced countries. While the Chinese people have proven to be experts at reverse engineering existing tech, they lack the creative freedom to envision the infrastructure necessary to implement a new generation of technology.

This strategy necessarily results in China playing technological catch-up to the rest of the first world superpowers. That only works for so long. Much like a student who passes a class by cheating will later suffer the consequence of not being able to compete in the professional world, China has hamstrung itself by failing to establish the research infrastructure necessary to develop, much less envision, independent technologies for the future.

A practical consequence of this strategy is the production of second-rate military technologically inferior to that of its adversaries. China’s military is massive; there is no question about that. But in the 21st century, military strength is less about quantity and more about precise weapons systems delivering violent power with limited risk to military personnel.

Invading Korea with a million-man army may have worked 70 years ago, but times have changed. Simply put, because China has stolen the technology for its weapon systems, it does not and will never possess the infrastructure required to maintain and improve on those systems. To wage a 21st century-style conflict requires military personnel to make snap decisions in an asymmetrical environment. China’s bureaucracy could never support a winning strategy in the modern era of warfare.

Furthermore, we are now beginning to see the inevitable result of a centrally-controlled market – a crumbling infrastructure. China’s government has attempted not only to predict the nation’s internal growth, but to force growth to conform to the government’s direction and design. This leads to cities being built in government-projected locations with no inhabitants moving there.

Imagine the huge waste of resources involved in such a strategy. Economic expansion cannot be mandated by a government; growth is fundamentally organic and is tied to human action and human decision. As a government increasingly inserts itself into the ebb and flow of the market, waste begins to accrue and its accumulation further limits economic growth. Eventually, the system itself will crumble under its own weight.

This is starting to happen.

The only hope for China is for the central authority under President Xi to change course and adopt policies giving the Chinese people more control of their government with greater personal freedoms. As liberty and the evolution of self-government are engrained in our nation’s development and explicitly inscribed in our Constitution, we can help.

First, we should curtail the economic dislocation of a trade war. Retaliatory tariffs serve no purpose other than empowering central governments and increasing the costs of goods for Chinese and Americans alike.

Second, we should strengthen our military alliances in the Far East. If the Peoples Liberation Army decides to take action in its hemisphere of the world, it must be met with nothing but resistance from surrounding countries. The United States must not only project influence but also be a reliable partner.

Third, we should aggressively enforce international agreements regarding intellectual property. China must pay the price for choosing to steal rather than to invest in its own technological development.

Finally, we should clandestinely support Hong Kong and its struggle to regain liberty. Hong Kong’s culture of independence can spread like fire throughout China if fueled, and America can supply that fuel. The Chinese people are not so cut off from the rest of the world so as to be ignorant of their suffering.

There is hope for the country, but, ultimately, it must come from the bottom up, when the people demand the liberty to choose their own government.

Will Sellers is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama

7 months ago

As Alabamians prepare to watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ a reflection on the unabashedly patriotic films of Frank Capra

(Wikicommons)

As Thanksgiving morphs into Christmas, the December television schedule will be filled with the usual assortment of Christmas classics, not the least of which is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen his movie and unlike some classics that are tiresome, Wonderful Life always grabs me. The idea of selfless giving is made manifest when the entire community comes to George Bailey’s aid. I think every small business owner secretly views his business as the Building and Loan and himself as George Bailey!

But Wonderful Life was not Capra’s masterpiece. His pre-war films all exalt the humble everyman taking on the various goliaths of the age. If you like Wonderful Life, let me suggest a Capra Trilogy to enjoy with your family over Christmas: You Can’t Take It With You; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Meet John Doe. Each of these movies plants a seed of a theme culminating in Wonderful Life. I don’t think you can watch any of these movies without a renewed sense of what it means to be an individual pitted against a soulless property developer, corrupt political leaders or a manipulative selfish tycoon.

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Capra was a master of giving depression area people a toe hold in a uniquely American system that made Davids believe that Goliath could be defeated. But the doom of the strong was the happiness that radiated from the seemingly powerless little man. Though possessed of limited resources, he had the intangibles that faithful people know as the fruit of the spirit: Love, joy, peace patience, kindness, etc. In fact, all of Capra’s movies are really a morality play to inspire people to take on the challenges of their life and to stand up to the shameless bullies who yield power mainly for powers sake and the ego that comes with flexing muscles to show off.

The strain of populism so ingrained in the lives of Americans is perfectly reflected in Capra’s films. His focus was on the human action of simple everyday people making decisions based on visions of simple moral clarity. He lifted the permanent things that are so often neglected when compared to the temporary glitz and glamour of material gain. Each film contains a large dose of middle American values magnified time and again against the traps and situations of a complicated impregnable bureaucratic world. And in each case, the little guy wins, and the big mules not only lose face but are publicly shamed into accepting if not participating in their own defeat.

These films are in many ways a large mirror reflecting not only the tenor of the times, but also the implicit impact of the original sin of human nature struggling for freedom. In short, people can see themselves in these films and identify with the characters. Everyone wants to see the characteristics of the white hatted hero in themselves but are reminded by conscience that some of the traits of the villain are part of their psyche too. Everyone hopes that internally within their personal OODA loop, they will make wise and prudent choices when faced with decisions of moral consequence. Everyone in Capra’s films has a shot at redemption but not every character accepts the offer; the developing conflicts are what make each film so entertaining.

Capra’s films had consequence when they were initially screened by uplifting average people and giving them hope and a feel-good sense of their personal significance. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the impact of Capra’s films is that Mr. Smith was the last American film shown in France after the Nazi occupation. To the consternation of almost all of the American political class (including Ambassador Joseph Kennedy), the French were so inspired by a country that allowed dissention, vigorous debate and free speech, that as the lights of their freedom were dimming, they chose to see America at its best in the person of Jefferson Smith. There is no way to measure the number of French resistance fighters embolden by this film.

If you liked Wonderful Life, be inspired by the unabashed patriotic films of Frank Capra. You’ll be motivated and perhaps even challenged to identify with a character to live out the American dream in simple community with others who also struggle against human nature to find goodness and selfless service in their daily life.

Will Sellers is an associate justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama