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 days ago

Air superiority then, space superiority now — The Battle of Britain 80 years hence

(Wikicommons, U.S. Space Force/Contributed, YHN)

Eighty years ago this week, hurricane season ended when the Royal Air Force won the Battle of Britain by stopping the Nazi war machine at the edge of the English Channel. Before the summer of 1940, Hitler had derided Great Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. Göring’s seemingly superior Luftwaffe pilots were outdone by the young British RAF, aided by friendly forces — not the least of which was a squadron of Polish pilots. They had shown the world that the Nazi juggernaut could be countered through perseverance, aided by the novel design of quick and lethal airplanes: the spitfire and hurricane.

Churchill named this battle when he declared after Dunkirk that with the conclusion of the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain would begin. Unlike past battles, the critical objective was as amorphous as it was strategic: the achievement of air superiority. It was a testament to the fact that warfare had changed forever, tilting the scales in favor of technology over brute strength.

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Even Hitler and his retinue of yes-men knew that subjugating Britain would require a risky and complex invasion. The English Channel, though relatively narrow at some points, served as a giant moat that required amphibious landings on slow-moving vessels, which would be vulnerable to attack from above. Nazi control of the air would be the key to a successful invasion. With proper preparations for a seaborne invasion many months out, Göring pushed for an air campaign, and Hitler approved.

The Luftwaffe’s first objective was to destroy RAF airfields, but Luftwaffe planes were not designed for this mission, and their pilots — though experienced — were no match for the RAF’s pilots in spitfires and hurricanes. These planes had unmatched maneuverability, and home-field advantage played an equally important role. The British had a superior early warning radar system that enabled them to plot the likely flight path of incoming enemies and to scramble their gassed and fully loaded planes efficiently. Over Britain, each downed German represented not only a lost airplane but also a lost pilot. Maintaining air superiority was a fight for survival, and the British pilots knew that the fate of freedom for their island, and perhaps for civilization, rested on their shoulders. They turned the tide of the war in fighting, as Churchill noted, “undaunted by the odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger.”

While the concept of air superiority was initially academic, the Battle of Britain proved it critical to modern military success. Since then, the need for air superiority has remained unquestioned. A country might not win with air superiority, but failure was guaranteed without it. The use of airpower to master the skies has been the first order of business in every major conflict since World War II. Even today, with the development of defensive missile shields and the capability of intercepting incoming aircraft and missiles, air superiority is and will remain a critical objective in any conflict. But air superiority is starting to give way to space superiority.

As we become more and more dependent on satellites, and as human activity in space becomes less of a novelty, controlling space will be critical not only for commercial and economic success, but also for global stability and the defense of our nation. The nation that controls space will control the destiny of the entire world. To be dominant in space is to be dominant period, and the dominating nation will have the final say over many aspects of our lives.

Those who would object to the militarization of space do not understand, or refuse to see, today’s reality. The activities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in space are similar to those of the nations who sought to control the sea in the 19th century and the air in the 20th century. At present, these activities are largely unchecked by other nations and international organizations.

There was a time when the United Nations was capable of limiting space to peaceful means. Similar to the control of nuclear weapons, the United Nations provided a means of achieving an international consensus that limiting weapons in space was beneficial for all nations. But, as with any large organization attempting to achieve consensus among diverse groups, the only real agreement among nations became the lowest common denominator. Thus, UN limits on the militarization of space are limited, weak, and ineffective.

This void of international leadership is being filled by a resurgent communist China, intent on achieving world domination — a long-term national goal. With few international limitations, the CCP is seeking space superiority to impose its ideas on the world and thereby supplant civilization’s shared liberal principles. The UN has been aggressively helpless or simply unable to check China’s dreams of space superiority. While the CCP has yet to obtain the domination it seeks, it is clearly on track with covert military missions, like developing its own GPS system that would aid in obtaining space superiority.

The United States cannot let this happen. Students of history know that many of the great and terrible military conflicts could have been prevented or mitigated with proper foresight and preparation. Unless the United States acts soon to check CCP aggression in space, we may have extremely limited choices in the future.

Our new Space Force must explain the seriousness of this threat and develop strategic plans to protect space from the domination of any one country. This grand effort will require allies who not only understand the threat, but who are financially able to join with the United States to dominate space for peaceful purposes. The free world’s shared cultural and civic traditions could form the basis for ensuring that space can never be dominated by one country.

During World War I and in the following decades, Churchill stressed the importance of developing radar, the tank and the airplane. Without these developments, the Battle of Britain would have ended much differently. As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of victory at the Battle of Britain, and as we understand the strategic necessity of air superiority in protecting the island nation from foreign invasion, we should recognize the strategic necessity of space superiority today.

The United States and her friends cannot allow a country that is utterly opposed to freedom to control space and, in turn, Earth. The free world must develop space first and create enforceable laws to allow space to be an extension of the liberty we currently enjoy. In order to do that, we must overhaul our outdated legal regime concerning the development and deployment of space technologies, support the private development of space properly, and remove the bureaucratic barriers hindering important breakthroughs. We must not surrender space to totalitarians who would use it to subjugate free peoples around the globe. If we heed the call to action and engage in this new endeavor, we can ensure that the limitless possibilities of space are secured for future generations.

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

3 weeks ago

The vice presidential debate that never was

(Wikicommons, PikRepo, YHN)

Over the last few election cycles, we’ve become accustomed to seeing the candidates for vice president square off in a debate. Perhaps this is acknowledging the greater responsibilities performed by modern-day vice presidents. I’ve always regretted that 60 years ago, vice presidential hopefuls Lyndon Johnson and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. didn’t debate. It would have been a show of contrasts and with the election so razor-thin, just might have made more of a difference. I’d like to imagine the refined and striking Cabot Lodge gracefully walking on the debate stage and standing adroitly behind the podium, poised and ready for repartee.

The scion of a blue blood Boston family, Lodge was a dedicated public servant having served his country in the House and then in the Senate as his family had done for generations. While he lost his senate seat in 1952 to Jack Kennedy, he continued to serve his country as Ambassador to the United Nations. In this role, he became the embodiment of Eisenhower foreign policy.

In stark contrast, think of Lyndon Johnson, lanky and awkward not especially polished with suits that weren’t precisely tailored. If there was another side of the tracks, that is where Lyndon grew up. The hardscrabble life he embodied, his limited education and his inarticulation was something even the Kennedy’s described as “hick” and “cornpone.” Johnson’s entry into politics was less of a calling to public service and more of a way out of insignificance. In fact, he won his senate seat by a mere 89 votes; rumors of fraud haunted him earning him the nickname “Landslide Lyndon.” Lodge’s entry to the Senate saw him win a decisive vote and any thought of impropriety was unfounded.

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But in 1960, Johnson was majority leader of the Senate and not only possessed power but exercised it as absolutely as his mentor Sam Rayburn did in the House. Johnson wielded enormous influence. Lodge had been in the minority most his entire tenure in the Senate. But he too wielded power, but his power was a mastery of nuances in rules and personal persuasion that allowed him to effectively pass legislation that by its nature was bipartisan. Using rules to impose majority rule is easy since you have the votes. Johnson’s role as majority leader was to corral his fellow democrats into line and balance the more progressive factions of the party from Northern states with the conservatives from the South. That he did this well is evident in how the senate operated. Lodge’s task was harder; he wasn’t in the majority or in a leadership position and had to gracefully weave and bob through the senate rules and personal relationships to be effective.

If the debate featured questions about military service, Johnson would have been embarrassed. While he wore his silver star lapel pin, the story behind his valor had less to do with action in combat and more to do with political influence. If competent journalists had probed the record and incident further, they would have discovered that contrary to Johnson’s recitation of his heroism, he had in fact been on the ground in a malfunctioning B-26, when other planes in the same squadron were attacked by the Japanese. While Johnson was supposed to be an observer on a bombing run over Lae, his plane developed engine trouble and had to return to base. Somehow Johnson created a myth that he engaged the enemy and took actions of such magnitude that he was award the silver star. It would have been uncomfortable for sure if the Swift Board Veterans for Truth had their sights on Johnson. Lodge on the other hand had the distinction of being the first sitting senator since the Civil War to resign from the Senate and serve on active duty. And Lodge’s service was not in the rear echelon, but he was engaged in combat and even captured a German patrol. He went on to assist General Deavers in France and was a liaison officer to the Free French commanding general. Any questions about military service and comparison of war records would have favored Lodge on every level. For him, active duty meant just that, and his medals and citations were real and deserved. And even after the war, he continued to serve with distinction in the reserves.

While Johnson was classified as a Southerner, he was much more of a populist and new dealer. For a Republican, Lodge was very progressive and did not find many aspects of the new deal to be objectionable. Probably ahead of his time, he was more of a globalist and understood the need for the United States to be and stay involved in world affairs; foreign affairs was his bailiwick and he had ably advocated U.S. policy in the United Nations and spared frequently with Russian disinformation. Johnson was more of a domestic policy man and his view of domestic policy was finding policies that had large price tags that could be implemented to benefit his family, friends, and supporters. Not coming from money, Johnson used his power to create an empire of radio and TV stations that somehow escaped effective regulations by the FCC. If Lodge had a self-interest, it was advocating for the United States. And his advocacy wasn’t always appreciated by American allies as when he took the British and French to task over the Suez Canal. Communist countries especially resented Lodge’s unashamed dedication to peace and freedom and his advocacy for stability and against hostilities.

But the one policy that created the starkest and most significant divide was race relations and civil rights. Had there been a debate, the money question garnering the most viewers was when the moderator asked each of the candidates for their position on civil rights. The question would have been a trap for Johnson. He had voted against every civil rights bill during his entire time in federal office. While the Kennedy team pointed to his help in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to assuage liberal constituents, most people knew that Johnson had watered down the bill so much that it was only window dressing and had limited impact. Lodge was a progressive on race and had supporters any number of bills to end discrimination and enforce desegregation. On the campaign trail, he even suggested that he was in favor of having a black man in the cabinet. In fact, it was Lodge who suggested that Ralph Bunche would be a wonderful ambassador to Moscow. This progressive thinking in 1960 was hardly well-received in all quarters.

So, if a debate had taken place anyone viewing or listening would have seen two different visions of American progress. But the debate didn’t occur, and we can only imagine what might have happened. Funny enough, Johnson’s record on Civil rights was embarrassing to the Kennedy clan; and, while Nixon was a strong supporter of civil rights, he had to distance himself from some of Lodge’s more progressive ideas.

Knowing how close the election in 1960 was and the allegations of voter fraud in Chicago and Texas, had Johnson and Lodge debated, who knows but that the election might have had a different outcome.

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

2 months ago

75 years after ending World War II: Celebrating a lasting peace

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Seventy-five years ago today, World War II officially ended. After six years of global conflagration, the guns fell silent and the lights, a barometer of civilization, began to once again chase the darkness from the world.

The war left Europe decimated with 60 million people dead and the islands of Japan smoldering piles of rubble and ash. Although victory in Europe had been secured four months earlier in May, it took the horrific devastation of two atomic bombs to convince the Japanese that continued resistance was futile. In the years that immediately followed, the American occupiers punished Japanese war criminals while exercising restraint not to humiliate or dishonor the Japanese people. Perhaps the finest moment in the United States’ ascension to superpower status was its treatment of the vanquished Empire of Japan. The plan to occupy, restore, and rehabilitate Japan transformed the nation from fierce enemy to valuable ally.

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The occupation of Japan contrasts sharply with the experience in Europe. There, Germany and its capital, Berlin, were divided among the four major Allied powers, with France, Britain and the United States overseeing West Germany and the Soviet Union controlling East Germany. This geographic and political division immediately set the stage for the Cold War.

In Japan, there was only one occupying power – the United States – and it gave near absolute authority to General Douglas MacArthur to organize and deploy a systematic plan to bring democracy to the Japanese people. Other allied nations attempted to insert themselves so as to influence Japan’s future, but MacArthur would have none of it. In fact, the Russians, who conveniently declared war on Japan less than a month before Japan surrendered, planned to invade Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost and second-largest main island. Imprudently, Stalin notified President Truman of his intention, and Truman emphatically responded that all of mainland Japan would be placed under General MacArthur’s control. At the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, MacArthur reportedly told a Soviet general that he would not tolerate a divided Japan and would use military force against any attempt to place Russian troops on Japanese soil. The Soviets backed down, and MacArthur proceeded to rebuild Japan completely free from Russian interference.

MacArthur approached his mission to win the peace in Japan with the same tenacity he exhibited when fighting the Japanese during the war. After securing for the Japanese people the basic necessities of food and shelter, he set about to secure their trust. To do so, he made the bold move of permitting Emperor Hirohito to remain the titular head of state. This did not sit well with a number of MacArthur’s contemporaries and allies, who viewed Hirohito as only a notch below Hitler on the evil-dictator scale. MacArthur understood that if the Emperor publicly approved of MacArthur’s plans, the Japanese people would acquiesce peacefully and without objection. An example of MacArthur’s keen understanding of Japanese culture, which revolved around shame and honor, took place when he allowed the Emperor, in his own time, to visit him and accord him the respect of a hereditary monarch. Such steps taken by MacArthur went a long way toward gaining trust and cooperation with the people of Japan.

MacArthur’s plan for post-war Japan stands in stark contrast to the treatment of Germany after World War I. Following the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was required to pay reparations amounting to $12.5 billion in today’s currency. The German economy was so weak that only a small percentage of reparations were ever paid, and what little was paid may have contributed to the hyperinflation Germany experienced in the 1920s. Having fought bravely in WWI, MacArthur learned many lessons from observing first-hand the failure of the Allied powers to enforce the treaty and secure lasting peace in Europe. Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, MacArthur refused to exact a crippling, retributive fine from the Japanese people to fund his plan to rebuild Japan. Instead, he tapped the United States Treasury to finance the occupation. Some 75 years hence, we can be proud that our policy was to rehabilitate and not humiliate. MacArthur wisely realized that Japan was an anchor in the Pacific and, as an ally, would be of great utility in providing stability to the region. What may have appeared as an excessively charitable approach toward conquered Japan at the time has proven incredibly prudent. The plan to forgive, rebuild, and democratize gained the United States a key ally in the Asia Pacific Rim.

MacArthur became a modern-day Moses, basically writing a constitution, encouraging collective bargaining and installing a market-driven economy to bring Japan’s industries to their pre-war production level. His Civil Liberties Directive is the clearest example of how radical his plan had to be in order to successfully transform Japan’s feudalistic society into one of democracy and liberty. This Directive lifted all restrictions on political, civil, and religious rights; political prisoners were freed and censorship of the press was abolished. MacArthur authorized free elections and not only gave women the right to vote but saw 38 women elected to the Diet, Japan’s equivalent to Congress. Up to that point in Japan, property rights were practically nonexistent. Most Japanese farmers worked under a system of virtual slavery, in which they were forbidden from purchasing their own land but were required to give a disproportionate amount of their crops to a small group of landowners. MacArthur extinguished this last vestige of feudalism by requiring the government to buy land at fair prices and then sell parcels to farmers on affordable terms. After the land reform program was fully implemented, nearly 90% of all farming land was owned by the people who lived on and cultivated it.

Seventy-five years ago, the mighty Japanese Empire, which initiated a war that killed millions of soldiers and civilians, was brought to heel and surrendered unconditionally on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. From the ruins of total defeat began the process of total reconstruction. The United States, through the command of General MacArthur, guided the Japanese people as they beat their spears into plowshares and started down the path toward modernization and alliance with the West. Americans can be proud of the far-sighted policy of Gen. MacArthur who totally and unconditionally won the peace. When MacArthur left Japan, ordinary citizens spontaneously lined the route of his departure, most with thankful tears in their eyes for an American soldier who changed their country, secured their rights and gave them a stable constitutional government that stands today as the high mark of benevolent conquest.

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

3 months ago

Will Sellers: Alabama’s finest hour

Gov. Kay Ivey lays a wreath at the casket of Congressman John Lewis as he lays in state at the Capitol on Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

In describing his constituents, George Wallace used to say that “the people of Alabama are just as cultured, refined and gracious as anyone else in America.” Whether it was true when he said it or not, it made Alabamians stand a little higher and feel better about their circumstances.

If actions speak louder than words, on Sunday the people Alabama in memorializing John Lewis demonstrated to the nation how truly refined, gracious and cultured we really are.

While other parts of the nation were literally on fire and factions seethed with hate, Alabamians provided a stark contrast in honoring Congressman Lewis.

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Where 55 years ago State Troopers severely beat John Lewis, on Sunday fully integrated law enforcement officers saluted him and gave him the dignity and respect he earned and deserved. Where once the Governor of Alabama prevented civil rights marchers from entering the Capitol, on Sunday Alabama Governor Kay Ivey silently stood near Jefferson Davis’ star and with respect and solemnly saluted and welcomed the casket of the 80-year-old congressman.

In other parts of America, Democrats and Republicans engage in angry debates, neither giving nor receiving quarter. In Montgomery on Sunday, members of both parties came together, transcended partisanship and found common ground in recognizing someone who lived a faithful life in support of peace, justice and mutual understanding.

Indeed, in some cities in our country federal law enforcement officials, without invitation or consent from mayors or governors, were engaged in riot control. At the Capitol in Montgomery, federal officials were not only invited but attended and participated in a memorial service. Federal troops came, not with a show of force, but as an honor guard to drape the mortal remains with an American flag as a pall to lie in state. While federal marshals were present, they were there to pay their respects and mourn Congressman Lewis, not to protect federal property from destruction.

On Sunday, Alabama taught the world what racial harmony looks like; Alabama showed an integrated community embracing a hopeful future.

Any outsider saw clearly that Alabama is no longer tied to a past anchored in division, but is a mosaic of people from all walks of life coming together, laying aside their differences and agreeing that when a great man dies, the brightness of his sun setting reveals a glorious legacy for all to pause, reflect and regard in all its majesty.

Sunday was a testament to dreams anticipated and while not yet fulfilled, much closer to reality. The celebration of John Lewis in his native Alabama served to acknowledge the legacy of the civil rights movement that still motivates us to judge people not on their externals, but on the internals of kindness reflected in the content of each one’s character.

Progress for unity comes in fits and starts. Sunday in Alabama was a giant leap forward and a day that helps define our future.

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

5 months 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.

7 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

11 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