The Wire

  • More Americans watched the royal wedding than the Alabama-Georgia national title game

    Excerpt from WSFA:

    Nielsen reported 29.2 million Americans tuned in to 15 channels to catch a glimpse of the American actress marrying Europe’s most popular prince.

    Numbers in the United Kingdom were about 18 million. That’s down from the 24 million Britons who watched the last royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, according to CNN. The audience in the United States was only 23 million.

    With an extra 6 million viewers, there’s no question the new Duchess of Sussex spiked American interest this time around.

    But how does her wedding compare to TV ratings for other major events?

    It did not surpass Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017, although it came noticeably close. Trump had a TV audience of 30.6 million.

    And the NFL’s super bowl still sits far above the rest of the field with 103.4 million viewers in 2018.

    Even so, the royal wedding topped these major TV events of the last year:

    — 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship – Alabama vs. Georgia – 16.7 million
    — 2018 Men’s basketball national championship game – Villanova vs. Michigan – 16.5 million

  • Rabid fox bites two people at Fairhope golf course

    Excerpt from WKRG:

    Fairhope Police say two people were bitten by a rabid fox at the Rock Creek Golf Club.

    The first person was bitten Sunday while playing golf. When he got out of his cart the red fox ran up and bit his leg. The golfer went to the hospital for treatment.

    On Monday morning, police say the fox bit another person. A member of the course’s ground crew saw the animal and another person was bitten in the leg trying to catch it. Fairhope Animal Control came and to the scene and took the fox away. According to a press release, “it was taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences for testing, and it tested positive for rabies.  The persons bitten have been notified to seek appropriate treatment.”

    Fairhope Police are asking the public to report any strange behavior in animals. Foxes are reclusive and are rarely seen during the day, the department says. They also avoid human contact.

  • VIDEO: New Ainsworth Ad Calls For Teachers To Be Trained And Armed To Combat School Shootings

    Excerpt from a news release:

    Republican lieutenant governor candidate Will Ainsworth on Monday began airing a new campaign commercial that promotes his plan to combat school shooter situations by training, certifying, and voluntarily arming teachers.

    “Our new ad should serve as a call to action because every school shooting that takes place in another state around the country brings us one step closer to an active shooter attacking classrooms here, in Alabama” Ainsworth said. “Signs reading ‘Gun Free Zone’ are a magnet for those who wish to do harm, so we must provide teachers with the training, knowledge, and ability to defend their students with something more lethal than a ruler and a No. 2 pencil.”

    Under the provisions of legislation Ainsworth introduced during the regular session, teachers and administrators who are approved by a local school board, local superintendent, and local law enforcement director may volunteer to undergo mental health evaluation and complete thorough law enforcement training in areas like firearms safety, crisis management, active shooter engagements, and hostile situations.

    Once certified, teachers would be authorized to voluntarily “carry, possess, store, or otherwise control an authorized weapon while on the premises of a public school.” Much like undercover air marshals who are allowed to be armed on planes, the identities of armed educators will be provided to law enforcement agencies but otherwise kept confidential.
    Its script reads:

    Following the deadly school shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday, Ainsworth called on Gov. Kay Ivey to convene a special session on school safety so his legislation and other needed classroom security measures may be passed and put in place during the upcoming summer break.

2 hours ago

Canary responds to YH News

(BCA/Facebook)

In recent months, there have been ongoing and coordinated efforts to paint the Business Council of Alabama as an ineffective and financially troubled organization. These attacks are maliciously false.

Those attacking our organization for their own political purposes are resorting to extreme lengths to undermine our organization. They continue to sling one baseless attack after another and hope something sticks.

This tactic was seen in Thursday’s Yellowhammer News editorial that looked at the BCA’s 2016 IRS Form 990 and made the determination that the BCA’s financial health “could be in jeopardy.” Once again, this is a claim that is simply not true.

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In describing themselves the Yellowhammer News asserts in its Declaration: Our Philosophy. Our Principles. Our Promises…states: “We will abide by the letter and spirit of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, developing content with both integrity and perspective.” Somehow this article fell short of that pledge by distorting the facts and knowingly asserting a premise that is false.

Information on a Form 990 does not show an organization’s ongoing financial health. The BCA finished 2016 with a balanced operating budget and a surplus. The BCA has zero debt and more than one-year’s operating budget in reserves. Hardly the picture of a crumbling organization.

One must ask the question – is this election year politics at its worst? Over the last several years, the BCA has built one of the largest political war chests in the state. Legislative success happens when the right people are elected, and that’s what our political action is all about – electing pro-job candidates who understand the issues and are not afraid to step up and lead Alabama in the right direction.

As a business advocacy organization, we continue to look to the future to create a climate in Alabama for new and existing businesses to locate or expand. Past success is no guarantee, but it does demonstrate how a united business community can accomplish worthwhile goals.

As BCA Chairman Perry Hand has said, “We will not be intimidated into bad decision making.” We know all too well that when you are relevant, you put yourself in the crosshairs, and that’s exactly where we are today.

From a national platform, the BCA is Alabama’s exclusive representative to the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Here in Alabama, the BCA represents the interests and concerns of nearly 1 million working Alabamians through its member companies that include businesses of all sizes and virtually every segment of Alabama’s business community-from manufacturing to retail, agriculture to financial services and many, more. Our organization is a deliberative body guided by our by-laws and our legislative agenda that is developed by our active members of all sizes.

The BCA’s legislative agenda is adopted by our board of directors annually in advance of every legislative session and focuses on improving major areas that impact every single business in Alabama: Education/Workforce, Healthcare, Infrastructure and Regulations. Fortunately, we have a governor and legislative leaders who are focused on improving Alabama’s standing in all these areas. Just as in year’s past, we will not be deterred by election year smear tactics.

The BCA’s guiding force is as important today as when first envisioned in 1985 when the BCA was created: We work together to create a vibrant economic climate and an educated workforce. These are the keys to creating and sustaining jobs for employees and their families.

William J. Canary is the president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.

1 day ago

The challenge of ministering in a politically polarized nation

(Pixabay)

America has always held a kaleidoscope of ideas, values, and religious concepts. Today’s post-Christian nation may seem more complex, but haven’t we always been a complicated people? This is especially true when it comes to politics.

Some pastors have sacrificed gospel literacy at the altar of political expediency. And others have been so reticent they have become culturally irrelevant. Their congregations are woefully equipped to handle the intricate social issues facing our culture. Knowing the exact balance of political engagement is a delicate art form that few pastors master well.

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Multicolored realities

Our current political climate makes public engagement challenging. The American vision is filled with vast ideological differences between those living in conservative red states and liberal blue states. Over the past 15 years, I have had the privilege of ministering in both Bible-Belt red states and progressive blue states. Let me be clear; pastoral ministry is difficult regardless of your context. Our enemy is not Republican or Democrat, and he seeks nothing more than to bring division. Nevertheless, the various ideologies of our individual context bring unique challenges for the entire church across our land.
For instance, those who minister in red states are challenged with the monumental task of convincing people that moralism is not the same thing as the gospel. It is commonplace in many red state congregations for patriotism and piety to become one in the same. And those who minister in blue states are challenged with the task of convincing people that objective morality actually does exist and is good for the entire community. In many blue states, the idea of a universal moral standard is viewed as an attack on individual civil rights. It is standard in many blue state congregations to equate liberty with license.

Blue state blues

I minister today in the Northeastern United States. In my region, any moral claim that finds kinship with a political agenda is immediately met with hostility. I remember sharing the gospel with a young man around the time of the 2012 election. After months of evangelizing, sharing life, and serving side-by-side, the young man boldly stated, “I am not willing to become a Republican!”

I was shocked because not once in the course of our conversations had politics or the presidential election come up. For months, this young man believed the call to “surrender all” was a charge to switch political parties. Our electorate is so polarized that people cannot separate politics from every aspect of life—religion means politics, and politics is a religion for many. Ministering in a blue state now requires acumen, precision, and sensitivity to untangle the gospel message from perceived political agendas and party affiliations.

Red state sorrows

At the same time, ministering in a red state comes with unique challenges. In conservative red states, pastors must help church members love their neighbors who might lobby for gender fluidity, abortion, and radical egalitarianism. Calling a congregation to love those with different ideologies can be professionally dangerous. The command to love your enemy is a bit more palatable if your enemy at least shares your political views.

Many may even perceive that crossing the aisle to love your political adversary may be the same as endorsing his or her political positions. Today’s tax collectors and sinners are as close as the other side of the ballot. Loving a political opponent is not the same as endorsing his or her political position. Nevertheless, when emotions run strong, the distinction can be blurred. Ministers in red states face the challenge of helping people see his or her political opponents as creatures made in the image of God and not enemies to defeat.

Brotherly love across multi-colored lines

Red state pastors who step into the political sphere are certainly not wrong. Neither are those who publicly endorse political candidates. Christians should support and applaud legislators who create laws that coincide with divine law. But brotherly love must also consider how these endorsements will affect brothers and sisters ministering in other parts of the country.

Ministers in blue states often encounter a backlash when denominational leaders in red states go “all in” with one particular candidate, especially when that candidate’s character is questionable, or worse yet, explicitly contrary to Christian ethics. When religious leaders publicly endorse a candidate, perhaps they ought to consider how this endorsement might affect Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the country. Our evangelical witness is much better off when we focus our energy on an apologetic for the culture and not apologizing for the sins of the candidates we endorse.

At the same time, red state pastors may need to encourage blue state pastors to become more active in the public debate. Religious liberty is a bulwark that protects all free people from tyranny and oppression from an overreaching power of the state. But it is easy for church leaders to simply cede their place in the public dialogue when they find themselves in the lonely position of the minority.

There is no doubt that religious leaders are viewed with a great deal of suspicion all across our nation. Nevertheless, faithful men who will engage their local public square with courage, charity, and shrewdness may actually do much to build trust and rebuild the credibility of the clergy. Evangelicals have an image crisis in blue states in particular. And perhaps faithful and consistent public service in the pulpit and in the public square may help rebuild our tarnished perception. Billy Graham taught us many things, but perhaps the most important lessons for ministers today is the power of a long-term faithful witness. Few can argue with the power of integrity lived out in the public sphere.

The Christian ethic of sexuality, marriage, care for the marginalized, and radical generosity are compelling regardless of the color of your state. And it is a joy to explain to my unbelieving friends why Christians are pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and pro-religious liberty. Many times political conversations actually open the door to gospel conversations about grace, mercy, and justice. We may end up agreeing to disagree (which happens more often than not), but the power of civility and charitable dialogue not only strengthens Christian witness but the common good of our communities.

The hyper-polarization we live under will not go away soon. But perhaps evangelical engagement that is gentle, thoughtful, and considers brothers and sisters ministering across our nation might accomplish the goal of evangelism. Pastoral ministry in a red state requires thoughtful consideration for how my influence may help or harm brothers pastoring in the other parts of the nation. Pastoral ministry in a blue state will demand courage and boldness to engage hostile debates in sometimes very lonely environments. There is much uncertainty about how the church should engage our polarized multicolored nation. But a good starting place is to consider how my actions or non-actions might affect those living outside my voting district.

(Courtesy of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)

1 day ago

Maturity in an increasingly juvenilized society

(Pixabay)

The soon-to-be-married couple sat in front of us all in our living room while we showered them with words of blessing and challenge. Of course, their college friends were there—many of whom will stand with them on their wedding day. Both sets of the engaged couple’s parents were present. The parents are still married to each other—a rarity today.

It was an intergenerational gathering. Some were younger. Some were older. Some were not married. Some were married with kids. Some were grandparents. Everyone recognized and embraced the new chapter that was coming for our friends to walk in wisdom as they entered into marriage.

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The expectation of growing into adulthood

Experience is teaching me that the purpose of youth is to prepare for adulthood. I am surrounded by youth. I work on a college campus. At home, my wife and I have five growing boys under our roof. Right now, they may act their shoe size, but in a few years, I will expect them to act their age. Children and college-aged students don’t stay that age forever, nor should they. We would say that something is terribly wrong if a grown man were to act like a student or a child. We expect our young people to grow up, and to grow up well.
When he was on the earth, Jesus grew up. He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). Peter said, “Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). He also said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

The apostle Paul challenged the Corinthian church, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 4:20). He said that God gave gifts of leadership to the church “to equip the saints . . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood.” He told them to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:12-14, 15). Paul labored, proclaiming Christ in order to “present everyone mature in Christ.” And Epaphras struggled for the Colossians in prayer because he wanted them to “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 1:28; 4:12). In life, maturation is the expectation.

The juvenilization of “grown-ups”

Several years ago, Thomas E. Bergler, professor of ministry and missions at Huntingdon University, wrote The Juvenilization of American Christianity. He argues that well-meaning efforts to reach young people have unintentionally contributed to a crisis of spiritual immaturity. In this and his subsequent book, From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity, he focuses on the life of the evangelical church. It seems to me that his accurate assessment of evangelical churches could be broadened to apply to the juvenilization of American society. Juvenilization is “the process by which religious beliefs, practices and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults.”

Responsibility, self-denial, and service to others might be seen as old-fashioned ideals by some, but our desire to lead young people into adulthood must include these necessary building blocks. In the early part of the 20th century, people entered adulthood in their teens or early 20s as they got married, got a job, and began having children. Today, adulthood is often delayed as young people refuse to make decisions, often remain single by choice, and often move back in with their parents.

Immerse in an intergenerational context

One of the best things young people can do is value age and immerse themselves in an intergenerational context where they will rub shoulders regularly with those who have more experience and have walked before them. When Rehoboam became king, he pursued the folly of youth and spoke harshly to his followers rather than serving them and speaking good words to them (1 Kings 12). Rehoboam was foolish because he abandoned the counsel of the older men around him. Flannery O’Connor was right, “Conviction without experience makes for harshness.”

When it comes to parenting, we certainly do not do it all right, but my wife and I are glad that our boys are growing up in an intergenerational church. Each week, they see kids, teenagers, and young adults like us gathering in the Sanctuary. But they also see the elderly blind man shuffling in to take his pew behind the gray-haired women who have been a part of the church for years.

My boys may not be experiencing excitement that comes from a single-generation group of Christians on Sunday morning, but there is no doubt that they are being immersed in a community of godly wisdom. I’m thankful my kids know octogenarian believers. In a day when many are interested in more young people coming to church, this middle-aged dad is thankful for the warm-hearted, Christ-centered, gray heads who gather regularly under our steeple.

Old age may not be popular in our world of cosmetic surgeries, Botox, Viagra, wrinkle cream, and photoshopped images, but we are meant to age. It’s a part of the process. With apologies to Cher, we can’t turn back time. We can’t slow down the proverbial clock. We can tuck and pad and stretch and cover, but we must remember that all men are like grass. That is why the Psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).

Wisdom and youth are not mutually exclusive, but I think Ralph Waldo Emerson was on to something when he said, “The best tunes are played on the oldest fiddles.” As I have watched, it appears to me that those who spend their energies pursuing youth often seem to lack wisdom and have lives that sound strangely out of tune. Although wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, it often will if a Christian spends a lifetime pursuing it (Prov. 2:1-2, 5). Now that I’m older, I realize that if I went back to my younger days and was given the choice between youth and wisdom, I’d choose wisdom and a life that’s in tune. I hope my kids do too.

(Courtesy of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)

2 days ago

Explainer: Supreme Court ends ban on sports gambling

(YHN/Pixabay)

What just happened?

On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that prohibited states from allowing betting on amateur or professional sports.

In the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act violated the 10th amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

What is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act?

The court’s ruling struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (also known as PASPA or the Bradley Act). This law made it unlawful for a “governmental entity to sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license, or authorize by law or compact,” or “a person to sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote, pursuant to the law or compact of a governmental entity, a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based, directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.”
PASPA does not make sports gambling itself a federal crime, but merely allows the U.S. Attorney General, as well as professional and amateur sports organizations, to bring civil actions against violators.

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The law gave “grandfather” exemptions to sports lotteries in Delaware, Montana, and Oregon, as well as the licensed sports pools in Nevada.

What is Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)?

New Jersey voters approved an amendment to their state constitution giving the legislature the authority to legalize sports gambling in Atlantic City and at horseracing tracks. The NCAA and three major professional sports leagues filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the action violated PASPA. New Jersey countered that PASPA violates the Constitution’s “anti-commandeering” principle.

In a 6-3 ruling, Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kennedy, Thomas, Kagan, and Gorsuch, agreed with New Jersey and ruled PASPA was unconstitutional.

The majority opinion notes that, “The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject.” But the justices said the decision of whether to legalize sports gambling “requires an important policy choice” which “is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.”

What are the 10th Amendment and the Anti-Commandeering Principle?

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The Anti-Commandeering Principle is a doctrine based on the 10th Amendment and established by the Supreme Court in New York v. United States and Printz v. United States (1992), prohibiting the federal government from “commandeering” state governments. As Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority in New York v. United States decision, “As an initial matter, Congress may not simply ‘commandee[r] the legislative processes of the States by directly compelling them to enact and enforce a federal regulatory program.’”

“While Congress has substantial powers to govern the Nation directly, including in areas of intimate concern to the States, the Constitution has never been understood to confer upon Congress the ability to require the States to govern according to Congress’ instructions,” O’Connor added.

What are the implications of this case?

The ruling in Murphy v. NCAA strengthens the Anti-Commandeering Principle, thus shifting power from the federal government to the states. Because this ruling will likely be used as support for other cases, it could have a significant impact apart from the gambling issue.

“Their decision not only opens the door for states around the country to allow sports betting,” says Amy Howe, “but it also could give significantly more power to states generally, on issues ranging from the decriminalization of marijuana to sanctuary cities.” Howe adds,

Today’s ruling could also have a much broader reach, potentially affecting a range of topics that bear little resemblance to sports betting. For example, supporters of so-called “sanctuary cities” – cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws – have cited the 10th Amendment in recent challenges to the federal government’s efforts to implement conditions on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for either recreational or medical use may also be based on the 10th Amendment.

What is the problem with sports betting?

As David E. Prince explained in an article on fantasy football gambling leagues:

Simply put, gambling is a societal evil that preys on those most in need. While some may say, “You don’t have to participate in gambling, so it’s nothing to be concerned about,” that way of thinking does not hold for one who desires to follow Christ. Our Lord does not call us to love ourselves; rather, we are to love him and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).

The biblical witness is clear that one of the vital ways we love God is by loving our neighbor. Gambling appeals to greed, and there is simply no way for a follower of Jesus to gamble to the glory of God and the good of his neighbor. Proverbs 28:25 says, “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Anyone who has ever witnessed the devastation wrought by people who gamble their future away, attempting to get something-for-nothing, knows well the expansive tornadic path of destruction gambling greed produces.

(Courtesy of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

3 days ago

Why I’m voting for Rusty Glover for lieutenant governor

(Glover Campaign/Facebook)

For what it’s worth, I will be voting for Rusty Glover for Lieutenant Governor of Alabama.

This is not an “endorsement.” As a journalist, it is almost never my place to make endorsements, which imply that I am asking other people to vote for somebody. And even though I write this post as a private citizen, not as a journalist, I want to make clear: I have not “covered” this race to the degree that gives me adequate expertise on all the candidates.

But I write this because people often do ask me who I’m voting for. Sometimes, when I believe strongly enough in my choice, I tell them.

This is one of those times.

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I am voting for Rusty Glover because, as I have watched him in office for the past 16 years, I have been impressed with the following characteristics of his: He is honest, earnest, and a principled conservative. For lieutenant governor, those are the three most important baseline character traits required.

On substance, I have been most impressed with Glover’s leadership in steadfast opposition to the horrid, counterproductive Common Core educational standards that have reversed the gains Alabama had been making in education. As a career educator himself, Glover understands how classrooms work, how teachers best transmit knowledge, and how students learn. Glover quickly recognized that Common Core disastrously undermines those processes, and thus disastrously undermines effective education.

On top of that, Glover seems like a truly nice individual. When I was running for Congress, he often was out at the same events I attended; even though he knew and was friendly with several of my opponents far better than he knew me, he always greeted me not just with courtesy but with warmth. He clearly recognized that campaigns need not require personal animosity, and indeed that they can instill a very friendly respect.

Glover is running a fairly low-budget, grassroots campaign. Unlike his opponents, he is not raking in the money from Goat Hill’s entrenched “big mule” interests. He is independent of their malign influence. If he wins, it will show that grassroots conservative reformers can defeat the power brokers.

I like and trust Rusty Glover. He has earned my vote.

Disclaimer (in the interest of candor, lest some people accuse me of being disingenuous): A few people know that when Tracy Roberts unexpectedly resigned from the state school board, Glover asked Governor Bentley — without me even knowing it until afterwards, much less requesting that Glover do so — to appoint me to the position, based largely on my deep journalistic dives into, and opposition to, Common Core. (Bentley already had made up his mind, though, to appoint Al Thompson, and did so within 24 hours.)

That unrequested action by Glover has nothing to do with my publishing this today. Proof: I similarly announced here that I would vote for Trip Pittman for U.S. Senator — even though Pittman had strenuously and effectively opposed my appointment to the same state school board position when it opened up again and I truly was interested in it.

Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.

3 days ago

Civil asset forfeiture and the Alabama attorney general race

(W.Miller/YHN)

An unlikely dynamic has emerged in the Alabama Attorney General’s race: Three of the four Republicans running and both Democrats have acknowledged that one of the most powerful local law enforcement tools, the authority to confiscate property from citizens without charging them with a crime, raises serious constitutional questions. Even the lone defender of the status quo, interim Attorney General Steve Marshall, concedes that the public is entitled to more information about how this process known as civil forfeiture works and what happens to cash and property once they fall into the arms of local authorities.

The political pressure in a red state is always to own the “tough on crime” mantle. But in this AG’s race, there is a rising awareness that defending the Constitution means property rights too. That should hearten both liberals and conservatives who fear the dangerous intersection of a built-in profit motive for local officers with a legal system that rubber-stamps civil forfeitures, and where many property owners don’t even have a lawyer.

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It could also be another false dawn. A broad bipartisan consensus around forfeiture reform in the past legislative session slowly unraveled. A bill requiring criminal convictions for local forfeitures passed the Senate Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly: then it stalled under an aggressive counter-attack from district attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs. Conservative advocates scaled their sights back to a bill that left civil forfeiture intact, but mandated sweeping new annual disclosures, including details about how much cash and what kinds of property are recovered by each local agency, how many forfeitures end up being connected to charged crimes, and how seized cash ends up being spent.

That compromise failed too, the victim of last-minute maneuvers in the Senate that included an amendment dragging the ever-contentious fight over gambling into the debate.

These fractures aren’t going anywhere and will make meaningful action on forfeiture elusive. That is why two right of center groups, the Alabama Policy Institute and the Institute for Justice, are working to craft a solution reconciling law enforcement’s goal of getting the proceeds of crime out of the hands of lawbreakers with the values of due process.

The outlines of a path forward would look like this:

(1)   A criminal conviction should be the pre-requisite for the government acquiring private property through forfeiture. But as Attorney General Marshall has pointed out, and I can attest as a former federal prosecutor, there are instances where large sums of cash are seized in valid searches but there is not enough evidence to responsibly charge any one person with a crime.

The practical reality though is that most of the time, the drivers or passengers or homeowners say nothing or insist the cash is not theirs. Nor does anyone else come forward to claim the cash since volunteering to be a subject of interest to law enforcement is understood to be an unwise move.

In these situations, we believe the law should regard the unclaimed cash as abandoned property, a classification which would waive the conviction requirement. For prosecutors, this would improve the condition in current Alabama law that to be considered abandoned, property must be “intentionally relinquished”, a consistently difficult standard to satisfy. (Prosecutors will still have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the abandoned cash was connected to criminal activity).

(2) The 2018 reform bill was legitimately criticized for allowing too many different intervals for defendants or third parties to file challenges to a forfeiture. The windows for contesting a forfeiture should be more straightforward: defendants can file a claim to keep their property immediately after seizure, and the hearing will be held at the time of their first court appearance. For defendants who don’t file a pre-trial challenge, forfeiture will be determined in a single post-conviction hearing, similar to a sentencing. For third parties who claim innocent ownership, their claim may be filed at any time prior to a criminal judgment being entered, but not after; last session’s version would have allowed pre-conviction and post-conviction third-party challenges.

(3) Local authorities don’t need and shouldn’t be given the perverse incentive of a profit motive to file forfeitures. The proceeds from forfeiture need to be deposited in a state fund, where legislators and state officials can exercise judgment over how forfeited funds can be deployed to actually fight crime.

Forfeiture done the right way punishes criminals without trading constitutional values like property rights and due process. It’s encouraging that in a law and order state, even most of the conservatives agree.

 Former U.S. Representative Artur Davis is a senior policy consultant for the Institute of Justice.

4 days ago

State Sen. Glover: Education is key to Alabama’s future

(Pixabay)

As a former high school educator my time in the classroom gave me many valuable life lessons. Not a single year passed where I did not see the effects that cuts had on our students, their achievements, and even their parents.

While we are beginning to see an economic renaissance nationally, the figures from the latest hard data in 2016 show just how slow the recovery was for many people. In my own area of Southwest Alabama, the most recent figures show an underemployment rate of 23.7% – nearly 1 in 4 people are looking for better jobs and are willing to commute longer distances for those jobs.

Yet, of the five fastest growing occupations in the same area – four of the occupations can either be taught or outright require a community or technical college training.

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Education will be part of the next legislative session. In a time when it seems everything is in flux – education and its impact on our communities remains a constant.

In a 2017 article, it was reported that of 67 counties – 18 had either local school systems or colleges as the county’s largest employer. It should be noted, that of the top eight counties for population – the largest employer in six of them are education institutions or school systems.

However, what is our plan? I never taught without planning my own lessons. How then can we effectively seize our future without a plan?

What I propose is to get back to the basics. Greater localized control, while working with every school system in the state to reduce classroom sizes can help our children quickly.

For those in high schools, I pledge to work and develop more streamlined pathways to community and technical college training. Increasing access to broadband at the same time will allow students across the state to take advantage of our higher education resources in a quick, thorough, and efficient fashion.

This can deliver to Alabama both the higher personal incomes and long term tax base our state needs – without raising personal taxes.

As your Lieutenant Governor, I would bring the perspective of a teacher – one who understands what cuts to education looks like at the dinner table and who understands the importance of education to our local communities.

State Sen. Rusty Glover is a Republican from Semmes.

4 days ago

No need to mourn defective Iran nuclear deal

(White House)

No need to mourn the Iran nuclear deal. When President Donald Trump pulled the plug on it, after months of warning that the flawed 2015 agreement needed to be ended or mended, he was just taking a defective agreement off life support.

In his speech announcing the renewal of nuclear sanctions on Iran that had been suspended under the deal, the president noted that at the heart of the nuclear agreement “was a giant fiction that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program.”

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In fact, the controversial agreement was making things worse. It did a much better job in dismantling sanctions against Iran than it did in dismantling Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure. None of the illicit facilities that the regime covertly built in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty were required to be permanently closed down under the deal.

By allowing Iran to retain its nuclear facilities and rewarding it for cheating, the agreement in effect legitimized Iran as a threshold nuclear state.

Iran also was granted a better deal on uranium enrichment than Washington offered to its own allies. South Korea, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates were denied uranium enrichment arrangements.

Incredibly, the Obama administration approved enrichment capabilities for Iran that the Ford Administration had denied to Iran when it was a U.S. ally, before the 1979 revolution.

Moreover, the risky agreement gave Tehran massive sanctions relief up-front, while only requiring it to make temporary and easily reversible concessions that would delay, but not halt its nuclear ambitions.

Key restrictions on uranium enrichment would have been lifted after 10 to 15 years under the deal. Tehran then would have been free to ramp up its enrichment program to an industrial scale and build up its stockpile of enriched uranium, enabling it to make a final sprint to a nuclear breakout.

This is why the president warned: “The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

Contrary to the promises of the Obama administration, the nuclear deal did not moderate Iran’s hostile foreign policy. In fact, Tehran stepped up its malign activities in the Middle East since 2015, and the nuclear agreement has made a bad situation worse by boosting Iran’s dictatorship in the economic, military, and geopolitical spheres.

President Trump also warned that: “If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before.”

But he was careful to distinguish between the regime and “the long-suffering people of Iran.” whom he assured: “The people of America stand with you.”

This implicit call for regime change was balanced with a willingness to negotiate a new deal with Iran. He ended on a hopeful note after acknowledging that Iran’s leaders had ruled out new nuclear negotiations: “But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people. When they do, I am ready, willing and able.”

This was precisely the right message to send. Iran’s repressive rulers know that they stand on shaky ground. They are increasingly unpopular and were targeted by a wave of public protests in January in which they were denounced for their mismanagement of Iran’s faltering economy, widespread corruption and squandering Iran’s resources by meddling in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

Trump’s triggering of economic sanctions now confronts Iran’s regime with a dilemma: if it clings to its nuclear ambitions it risks provoking a renewed popular rebellion against its misplaced priorities, in addition to a possible military confrontation with the United States.

The diplomatic ball is now in Tehran’s court.

But Trump has changed the nature of the game. He is trying to work with the Iranian people to leverage their growing disaffection with their own rulers.

Iran’s rulers can make the situation worse by threatening to crank up their nuclear program, or they can seek a diplomatic solution to their deepening economic and political problems.

Either way, President Trump has indicated he is willing and able to respond.

Jim Phillips is Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

5 days ago

‘Racism is racism whether it’s black or white’ — black radio talk show host confronts Alabama pastor

Joe Lockett left, Rev. Michael Jordan right (contributed / WVTM 13 FB)

If a white pastor would have put that racist garbage in front of his church, we would have been marching and running the pastor and his congregation out of Birmingham, Alabama, right now — rightfully so.

But, someway, somehow, when this pastor puts this racist garbage on his church, I hear people saying there’s some truth to what he’s saying. Let me say this to everybody: A broke clock is right twice a day; that doesn’t make it right.

The same garbage that I hear being spewed — that there’s some truth in what he’s saying — is the same thing the Ku Klux Klan said when they tried to justify what they were doing. Racism is racism, whether it’s black or white — it’s wrong on any front — and I’m sick and tired of sitting here waiting, listening to people trying to give an excuse for it.

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We demonize the white man when he shows racism or we think there’s racism, but when it comes to the black community, if somebody spews racism, we say, “Oh, they can’t be racist.”

Yes, they can.

And let me say this: For everybody that thinks that every white person is out to get the black community, it’s not true.

Are there racist people in the world? Yes. Are there racist black people in this world? Yes. And, at the end of the day, will racism ever go away? No, it won’t, but there are white people who truly want to do something to help.

WATCH Lockett share these thoughts:

Now, I don’t know Pastor Hodges personally, but everything I’ve seen these people do from Highlands, and from everything I’ve researched, I haven’t heard anything bad, that they’re trying to take over the community, trying to get black people to leave the Church of the Highlands to go to the black Church of the Highlands because they don’t want the black people in the white Church of the Highlands.

Last I checked from everybody I know, they’re diversified to the hilt and it’s not 50/50, but there’s a lot of blacks that have been going to the Church of the Highlands for a long time.

It’s time for people to wake up and stop buying into this racism crap.

Now, let me pause and not say “racism crap” — the “racism rhetoric” that we’re hearing. Everything in America is not racism and if we continue, like we’re doing now, to holler racism about every single thing, when true racism shows its ugly head, no one is going to listen because people are tired of hearing it.

Now, when we’re talking about the church, we’ve got two men of the cloth here. My question is: What you have to say, you couldn’t call that man to sit down with the pastor and see what his reasoning was and see what the program was? You had to put that out there? I don’t agree with it. I think it’s horrible.

The First Amendment, everybody has a right to freedom of speech, just like I’m doing right now, but let me just ask this question: What the hell does the black community want? Do we want an answer to problems or, if a black person doesn’t find the answer, it can’t be right because it’s white?

Let me say that again: Do black people want an answer to their problems or, if it’s white, it can’t be right? Think about that because here’s a man, a pastor in a congregation, saying, “Hey, we want to help.” Now, do we know it’s going to help? We don’t know, but one thing I know for sure, what we’re doing right now is not working.

I don’t have the right answers — my program’s not working — and whatever other programs that we are doing in our communities right now are not curbing the violence and stopping crime. So, if these people want to come in and it works, why not implement their program in your church? Or, if you have a program that’s working, why don’t you show the mayor what you’re doing and he’ll implement that?

But to go out and crucify and demonize somebody trying to help you and not asking for taxpayers’ money — he couldn’t come after that — they’re not asking for your money from your church — they’re not asking for that — and they’re bringing their own funds and their own resources and so we demonize that?

We say we want help. “What is the white man going to do? When are they going to lend a hand?” But, now they’re trying and we’re saying that we don’t want it — some people are — even if it’s coming from the church.

In our community, when are we going to realize that there are some times that we have to open our hearts? Yes, we’ve been hurt. Yes, white people have screwed us over. Yes, but we did not get our civil rights by ourselves.

And let me say this in closing: Black people community, if we’re ever going to move forward, we have to understand we always have to be optimistic and we always have to remember our heritage but there are cases where sometimes people just want to help.

And, if we are true Christians at the end of the day and you believe in God, it doesn’t matter the color of a man or woman’s skin that brings the help to you. If God is sending help, He’s sending help and, sometimes, we just need to listen and obey.

Joe Lockett lives in Jefferson County and is a radio/TV talk show host.

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5 days ago

Secondary statewide races on ballot this year

(W.Miller/YHN)

Folks, we are less than three weeks away from our June 5th primary. Besides the governor’s race, all of our secondary constitutional races are on the ballot.

As we head into the home stretch, there appears to be very little interest in the primary elections.

People seem disinterested and disillusioned. There have been a good many scandals and ethics convictions over the past quadrennium, which has put a damper on the enthusiasm generally associated with a gubernatorial election year. Even fundraising has been down considerably.

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This voting ambivalence will result in a lower than normal turnout. This accrues to the advantage of incumbents and those with name identification.

The governor’s race has not been that interesting. However, the Democrats have fielded quality candidates in that race. The winner of the June GOP Primary will have to mount a campaign in the fall against either Walt Maddox or Sue Bell Cobb.

The secondary races are being lost in the shuffle of the avalanche of races on the ballot. The best race, as was expected, has been the Attorney General contest.

Former Governor, Robert Bentley, during his last days as governor, appointed an obscure former District Attorney named Steve Marshall, as the acting Attorney General. As expected Marshall did the bidding of Bentley and allowed him leniency in any further prosecution. Marshall has used every tool of incumbency to strong arm campaign contributions for his race for a full term.

However, polling indicates that his efforts will be to no avail.

With so little interest in the secondary statewide races, former Attorney General Troy King, is perceived as the incumbent and enjoys a comfortable lead in this race due to his name identification. As we head to “Amen” corner, my guess is that King leads the race and former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is in a runoff with Troy King.

Birmingham attorney, Chess Bedsole, could be a late surprise if he spends a significant amount of his own money. He is not a political novice. He was an integral part of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

The winner will probably face off against Joseph Siegelman, a handsome, progressive, young heir to an iconic Alabama Democratic name.

The Lt. Governor race has changed very little since the beginning of the campaign season four months ago. Public Service Commission President, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, holds a commanding lead in all polls. She knows how to run statewide and has headed the state Republican Party. Even though her polling lead is daunting, her results in three weeks may even exceed her formidable lead in the polls. She has built a statewide grassroots campaign organization over the years, which her two challengers lack.

The last polls reveal that Twinkle Cavanaugh leads Mobile State Senator Rusty Glover and Sand Mountain State Representative Will Ainsworth. Polls reveal that Glover will get a good friends and neighbors vote from his home Mobile region. This may hold him in good stead in a race for Congress in two years, if Mobile-Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne runs for the U.S. Senate
in 2020.

Will Ainsworth has made a significant television buy in the lieutenant governor’s race, which should propel him into second place in that contest.

Secretary of State John Merrill will waltz to a second term as Secretary of State. He is the best retail politician on the Alabama political scene. Even though he has token opposition, he has probably outworked every candidate on the ballot. When his office counts all the ballots on June 6, Merrill will probably be the top vote getter in all statewide races.

Right behind Merrill winning in a landslide, will be Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, who will have an overwhelming victory as State Treasurer.

Rick Pate has gotten a lot of traction in the Agriculture Commissioner race. He has garnered most of the major endorsements, including ALFA and BCA.

Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker should coast to reelection victories as members of the Public Service Commission for another four years.

Beeker, Oden and Twinkle Cavanaugh should benefit from their recent vote to save Alabama Power customers $337 million over the next two years, a cut made possible by the Trump administration and Republican Congress’ passage of federal tax reform.

Folks, that is a big win for Alabama’s economy. It is sure to put a smile on the faces of families and small business owners across the state. Cavanaugh, Beeker, and Oden deserve credit for making it happen.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

U.S. Rep. Byrne: A standing ovation for teachers

(Rep. Byrne/Facebook)

Teachers hardly get the credit they deserve for the challenging jobs they do every day. Not only do they educate our children, but teachers also provide guidance, support, and serve as positive role models for the next generation. Their efforts and sacrifices should not go unnoticed.

I have dedicated a good part of my life to improving education in our community. From my time on the Alabama State School Board to serving as chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, I have spent a fair amount of time in classrooms throughout Alabama. As a Congressman, I serve on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over K-12 education.

In each of these roles, I have interacted with the many teachers, support staff, and administrators who keep our schools running. The dedication of these men and women on a daily basis is impressive, though they rarely get the attention they deserve. Without fail, I always leave these visits with a greater appreciation for the work our teachers do and the challenges they face each day.

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Just last week, we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week, a time when we take extra steps to show our support for the educators who make a living prioritizing our children’s futures. Whether it is simply saying an extra “thank you” or treating a teacher to a special gift, this week is all about displaying our appreciation for the work they do year-round.

Ultimately, teachers educate our students so they may have bright and successful futures. In fact, it is often teachers who make the biggest impression on our young students. Be it teachers in the classroom, coaches on the school sports team, or faculty keeping activities running smoothly, these leaders play a significant role in our students’ lives.

Very few professions can totally alter the course of someone’s life like a teacher can. Personally, this week gives me time to reflect on the meaningful figures I have had throughout my life. I always think of Ms. Kay Ladd, my first grade teacher who taught me how to read. As such an integral part of my childhood, she will be forever in my thoughts as one of the most remarkable women I know.

Another important figure that stands out to me is Colonel Tim Reddy, who taught my four children at Fairhope High School. Tim Reddy was an Army Colonel who taught math and coached the soccer and swim teams. Sadly, Col. Reddy passed away after a battle with cancer. As we look to the future of education, we need to elevate people like Col. Reddy and Kay Ladd who made such a positive impact both in and out of the classroom.

The work I do in Washington is just one of the ways I show my appreciation for our educators. As a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, one of my top priorities is rolling back the red tape and paperwork that burden our teachers. I am always looking for ways to return control of education to the local level, where it belongs.

When Washington plays the middle man, it prevents teachers from doing their jobs and negatively impacts the overall education system. Our local teachers and administrators best know the needs of their own students, and there is no room for the federal government to interfere with day-to-day operations.

I will always appreciate the unique, pivotal role that teachers play in our education system. It is because of their commitment, guidance, and sacrifice that our children can pave the way to a better future.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Rep. Roby: Strengthening our hand with Iran

(B. Froberg/Flickr)

President Trump recently announced he will withdraw the United States from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. From the very beginning, I said this was a flawed, weak deal that serves the interests of bad actors in Iran at the expense of our own. I support the Trump Administration’s efforts to ensure that we truly end Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

After all, wasn’t that the point of this agreement in the first place? Under the deal, the Iranian regime was to dismantle their nuclear weapons program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Needless to say, this didn’t work out, and that’s largely because the Obama Administration failed to uphold the basic tenets they laid out for this agreement from the start.

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For example, when the previous Administration was negotiating this agreement more than three years ago, they originally said the United States would perform inspections on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities that could occur anywhere, at any time, to ensure that this rogue regime wouldn’t be able to quietly continue their efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. In reality, the Iranians ended up having up to 24 days’ notice in many cases before inspections were allowed to occur. Even then, Americans were prohibited from unilaterally performing them. This is just one example of the many ways the Iran deal fell far short of accomplishing what the Obama Administration promised Congress and the American people.

Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism, and that hasn’t changed over the last three years. While actively supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, the nation has been part of horrific terrorism in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The regime has also been developing long-range ballistic missiles. Their ballistic missiles program threatens Israel, our allies in the region, and even U.S. forces.

It is no secret that Iran has not stopped its mission to obtain a nuclear weapon, and Israeli intelligence actually proved Iran deceived negotiators from the outset by covering up their nuclear weapons program prior to signing the agreement in 2015. So now, the regime has the best of both worlds: relief from economic sanctions and the freedom to continue their nuclear weapons program without consequence.

For starters, I believe it is imperative that we reinstate the economic sanctions against Iran that were in place prior to the Obama-era nuclear agreement. In the House, I have supported policies like this that strengthen our hand towards Iran, including the Iran Sanctions Extension Act, which Congress passed in 2016 to reauthorize for ten years the economic penalties used by the United States to deter Iran from furthering developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorism.

Clearly, there is great room for improvement in our dealings with this rogue nation. As I have said many times before, the Obama Administration’s behavior towards Iran was truly baffling, and I am glad that we have now reversed course. I am hopeful that the Trump Administration can strengthen our hand with Iran after eight years of it being severely weakened. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program, support for terrorist organizations, and development of ballistic missiles pose a direct threat to the United States and our allies. We must take this very seriously throughout future negotiations with this regime. To do otherwise compromises our own national security.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

From morning to midnight, Alabamians are taxed enough already

(Ainsworth Campaign)

Consider the fact that from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you close them again at night, you are being taxed.

The electricity that powers the light that you turn on as soon as you awaken and the water you use to shower and brush your teeth are taxed.

The over-the-counter medications that you take in the morning for headaches, allergies, or other conditions are taxed.

The car you drive to work and the gas and fluids that make it run are taxed. The coffee you drink and the doughnut you eat for breakfast are taxed.

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The salary you earn at work, the lunch you eat, and the landline that you use to talk to clients or customers are taxed, taxed, and taxed.

The Internet service that you use to send and receive emails is taxed.

The groceries you purchase on your way home are taxed.

The smartphone that sends your texts to friends and family is taxed, and the apps and games you download to it are taxed, as well.

The cable or satellite television that you watch before going to bed is taxed.

In addition to the levies that I named above, there are dozens of additional taxes that you pay each day.

My point is a simple one. Alabamians are taxed enough already.

That is why I have dedicated my term in the Alabama House toward fighting the tax raisers, combating new levies, and killing tax bills that were introduced.

Working alongside a group of deeply conservative freshman and sophomore House members, I helped block roughly $1 billion in taxes over the past four years.

When Robert Bentley proposed $700 million in new taxes in 2015, I was among the first legislators to oppose his plan and highlight his broken re-election campaign promise of “no new taxes.”

Alabama currently collects enough revenue to meet our needs and provide essential services, but our state government lacks the flexibility to shift money to meet emergencies and unexpected challenges.

In years past, whenever a new tax was approved, its proceeds were earmarked for one specific purpose or another. Some of these earmarks are constitutional, which means the voters, in their wisdom, dedicated the taxes to an agency, initiative, or spotlighted need during referendum elections.

Many of Alabama’s statutory earmarks, however, were put in place many years ago through back room bargains between lobbyists and long-retired politicians who no longer roam the State House halls. Removing these earmarks will allow us to avoid new taxes and set priorities based on need, not on decades-old, money-hoarding schemes that lobbyists locked into our budgets.

At 91 percent, we have the highest percentage of earmarked tax dollars in the nation. The national average is just 24 percent, and the next highest state behind Alabama is Michigan with 63 percent. Rhode Island is the lowest in the United States with only 4 percent of its tax revenues being earmarked.

Attempting to raise taxes without first addressing earmarking is like pouring water into a bucket that has a large hole in the bottom of it. No matter how much water you pour, the bucket is never going to fill up. That is why I sponsored legislation that attempted to plug the hole in the bottom of the bucket first and prevent any more trips to the taxpayers’ well.

My bill would have removed the statutory earmarks that exist in our code, which would allow us the freedom to budget like families gathered at the kitchen table – placing our bills on one side, our income on the other, and setting priorities that meet critical needs while living within our means.

Unfortunately, the same special interests that carved out those earmarks and the career politicians that do their bidding united against my legislation. If elected, I plan to use the bully pulpit of the lieutenant governor’s office to make another push for commonsense, conservative unearmarking legislation

By right-sizing state government, attacking waste where it exists, and removing the handcuffs that earmarks present, Alabama can resolve its fiscal problems without forcing its citizens to pay more taxes.

State Rep. Will Ainsworth is a Republican from Guntersville.

1 week ago

A bereaved mother’s fight on Mother’s Day

(Pixabay)

Soon after recovering physically from my first miscarriage, my husband and I returned to church to worship alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. That Sunday was not easy. Returning to “normal life” after tragedy strikes never is.

There is simply no escaping the feeling—whether justified or not—that those around you are oblivious to the gravity of the pain you are experiencing. For you, the world has been forever altered. Eternal realities of life, death, pain, and longing have been your constant companions. Yet all around, people seem to live and laugh as though nothing of significance has happened.

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Our church at the time was located a couple minutes away from the seminary my husband attended. Its membership was made up predominantly of young seminary students and their families. Their growing families. And as we found a place to sit in one of the pews, I remember looking down the row of people it held, mentally noting each of the swollen bellies it contained. Those who did not carry their children within them, rocked car seat carriers back and forth, gently hushing their little ones to sleep.

Instinctively, I touched my empty belly, and grieved for the life that only weeks before resided within. My eyes filled with tears as I sought to accept the providence of God in my life and in theirs—that while he had chosen life for their children, he had allowed death to befall mine; that while he was calling them to the privilege of motherhood, he was calling me to the privilege of suffering.

The battle within

In that moment I fought a spiritual battle that I now realize I will be fighting for the rest of my earthly life—a battle to grasp and truly treasure the Lord’s sovereignty in my life and in the lives of those around me. This battle demands that I put to death the sins of comparison and envy with the only weapon strong enough to vanquish them, the sword of Truth.

God’s Word tells us with unwavering certainty that he cares for each of his children uniquely. He doesn’t haphazardly distribute his blessings nor does he sadistically inflict pain on this children. He loves them, even to the point of death.

With Mother’s Day approaching, I know that many women who’ve lost children to miscarriage and stillbirth, or who struggle with infertility, will find themselves in similarly difficult situations. I know that they will be tempted to believe God has been unkind to them, that he must not care for them as much as he does the mothers of living children in their midst, and that the celebration of motherhood by the world and the church on Mother’s Day is just another cruel twist of the knife in an already gruesome and infected wound.

The capable weapon

If this is where you find yourself, dear sister, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not the first woman to fight this battle, nor will you be the last. You must draw near to the Lord and put to use his sword of Truth if you wish to overcome. He has not left you defenseless. Look to the Psalms that tell of his goodness (Ps. 34:8, 106:1, 119:68; 145), remind yourself of the incomprehensible price Jesus paid for you on the cross (Rom. 5:9-11; 2 Cor. 2:16; Heb. 10:14; Rev. 5:9), and never forget the continuing and intimate work God is doing in you through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ps. 138:8; Rom. 8:28-29; Phil 1:6).

Above all, do not allow yourself to exist in a hopeless state of denial when it comes to God’s sovereign control of your life. The Bible tells us that God controls all things, from the seemingly insignificant flip of a coin (Prov. 16:33) to the kingdom-shaping decisions of kings (Prov. 21:1). We are told that God works “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). This means that the God who is good in all he does, who gave his very life for you, and who continues to work in your heart today to conform you to his image, has every single moment of your life planned out. He is working it all according to his will and as Romans 8 tells us, for your good. It also means that he is doing the same wonderful work in the lives of the other women around you.

The glorious outcome

This knowledge changes the way we approach Mother’s Day as bereaved women. It means that it’s possible to mourn the loss of your own child and your own unfulfilled longings as a mother, while simultaneously celebrating the good gift of motherhood he’s given to others. This is because we know, through the power of his Word, that he is in control of all things and that he is working uniquely in each woman’s life for their good and his glory.

The same is true for those who are blessed with fruitful wombs. Through the power of God’s Word it is possible for them to rejoice in the Lord for his tangible blessings in the form of children, while at the same time soberly caring for and tending to the hurting women in their midst. Each of us benefits from one another.

This is what is meant by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians when he said, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

Allies, not enemies

The beauty of being a part of the body of Christ is that we are intrinsically connected to one another. We do not always live this way, to be sure, but it is how we are meant to live. Jesus has united us together in such a way that we are meant to feel one another’s sorrows and joys as though they are our very own. For the woman who has suffered the loss of children, this means she shares her grief with others by letting them in on the anguish of her heart, while simultaneously fighting to rejoice in the gift of children given to others within the body.

This is no easy task. I was not kidding when I said it will be a battle within your soul. And yet, let us not, as women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth, or infertility, diminish the inherent beauty of the very thing we long for by disdaining its manifestation in other people’s lives. Motherhood is a blessing. It is precisely because of this that God’s withholding of children from some is so painful. It is good and right to acknowledge this reality, and dangerous to deny it.

I’ve often heard of women refraining from attending church on Mother’s Day because it is simply too painful a reminder of what they have been denied. I understand this impulse, but I humbly submit that this is not the ultimate answer to the pain a bereaved mother is experiencing. She will not ultimately find healing by missing church every time motherhood is discussed or visible. True healing lies not in drawing away from other mothers, but by drawing near to our heavenly Father. The more we seek to understand our good and loving God through his Word, the better we will be able to embrace the unique ways he weaves together the trials and blessings in each of our lives. It is then that we will truly, with sincerity of heart, be able to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I stood next to my pregnant sisters in Christ that Sunday morning after my first miscarriage and we lifted our voices together as one body in worship to the Lord, we testified together of the goodness of our sovereign Savior. True, God had dealt very differently with each of us, and yet in the most important sense, he was doing the exact same thing in my life as he was in theirs: he was working all things for good.

(Courtesy of ERLC)

1 week ago

Why I’m running to become Alabama’s lieutenant governor — State Sen. Rusty Glover

(Glover Campaign)

In politics, as in life, it’s crucial to always be honest with yourself and everyone else. That’s why I strive to never make promises I cannot keep, during my campaign to become Alabama’s next lieutenant governor, and in my life as a husband, father, new grandfather and life-long resident of this great state.

I’m writing this, in part, to help inform voters about the duties assigned to the lieutenant governor, such as approving or denying tax-payer funded travel for senators and assigning bills to committees. While the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, he or she can typically only cast a vote to break a tie.

It’s important to know what your public servants can and cannot do when determining who will receive your vote. If elected, I won’t take a driver because it’s the right thing to do. With a shortage of State Troopers, we need every officer available to keep our roadways and residents safe.

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Since 2017 when I announced my intention to seek the office of lieutenant governor, I have traveled the state, listening to our people, learning what’s important to small business owners and parents, farmers, leaders of industry and everyone in between.

I’m not a millionaire. And while my war chest is modest, it’s a point of pride that a substantial amount of my donations have come from individual donors. I’m truly honored and grateful for the passionate support from so many people all across the state who believe in me and the conservative values I stand for.

I have been so encouraged these last few months by the positive responses I receive on the campaign trail. A retired teacher, I spent 25 years helping high school students determine what their futures might look like. It was an awesome responsibility. Pursuing an education, whether in a traditional college setting or through a career tech program, can be transformational to an individual and his or her family. Education has the power to change the course of your life.

As voters, you owe it to yourselves to learn as much as possible about the candidates and make informed choices about who will do the best job leading Alabama forward.

The Republican primary is June 5 in Alabama. Please go to the polls and vote. It’s a challenge I hope everyone will take.

State Senator Rusty Glover is a Republican from Semmes

Rep. Rogers: How the defense bill affects East Alabama

(Congressman Rogers/Facebook)

This week the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19). Although this bill focuses on our country’s Department of Defense, there are many pieces of the legislation that will have a huge impact back home in East Alabama.

The NDAA starts by strengthening our military after years of being weakened under the Obama Administration.

It gives a much-deserved 2.6 percent raise for our troops. This is the biggest pay increase in almost a decade.

The Stryker A1 combat vehicle – which is overhauled and maintained at Anniston Army Depot (ANAD) – will get an increase authorizing a total of $360 million. I appreciate the committee recognizing the importance of this diverse combat vehicle after many of my colleagues from the House sent a letter to U.S. Army Secretary Esper to bring his attention to it.

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For the ANAD, the NDAA provides another increase in funding – $21.8 billion for equipment maintenance and $3.7 billion for spare parts. This will help ensure our troops have the best equipment we can provide them for training.

The NDAA also helps the ANAD by tweaking the carry over formula to allow leaders at the Depot the flexibility needed to better manage their funding from year to year and not be penalized by issues out of their control.

Big picture, the NDAA also includes some movement on an important initiative I have been working on for a couple years. It includes steps to help ensure we are on the right path when it comes to National Security Space. I was pleased to see President Trump recently reaffirmed his support for Space Force and I am hoping it will continue to gain traction. The NDAA still has a way to go in the legislative process, but I am optimistic it will be completed soon and help provide for our nation’s security and our brave men and women in uniform.

I would like to hear from you on this or any issue. Please sign up for my e-Newsletter by visiting here. To stay up to date, you can also like me on Facebook at Congressman Mike D. Rogers, follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram at RepMikeRogersAL, on Tumblr and you can also subscribe to my YouTube page at MikeRogersAL03.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is a Republican from Saks

2 weeks ago

Low voter turnout expected for primary

(Wikicommons)

We are less than four weeks away from our June 5th primary. Those of us who follow Alabama politics have pointed to this year as being a very entertaining and interesting gubernatorial year.

However, last year’s resignation by former Governor, Robert Bentley and the ascension of Kay Ivey from Lt. Governor to the Governor’s office has put a damper on the excitement we anticipated in the governor’s race.

Kay took over the reins of state government and her appearance as a seasoned veteran of state politics seems to resonate with voters. Polling indicates that the governor’s race is hers to lose.

Therefore, the less she does may be the best course. Her support is a mile wide and an inch deep. A slip and fall could derail her train.

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Her perch reminds me of a story surrounding the last truly colorful southern governor, Edwin Edwards of Louisiana. Ole Edwin had a wide lead like Kay’s in the polls a few weeks prior to his race for reelection as governor of the Pelican state. The press asked him about two weeks out about his significant lead in the polls. Edwin’s reply was, “Yeah, the only way that ole Edwin
can lose this race is to get caught in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.”

Tommy Battle, the popular Mayor of Huntsville is poised to make a formidable run at Kay in the closing weeks. He has some money in the bank and will come out of the vote rich Tennessee Valley with a good friends and neighbors vote. The Evangelical Roy Moore voters appear to be coalescing around Evangelist Scott Dawson.

My guess is that Walt Maddox, the young 45-year old Mayor of Tuscaloosa is benefitting from a grass roots support among African American voters in the Democratic primary. If indeed this is the case, Maddox will be favored to capture the Democratic nomination.
Will Barfoot has emerged as the frontrunner in the closely watched open Montgomery/River Region Republican seat. Incumbent State Senator Paul Bussman is in a close contest with Cullman City Council President Garlan Grudger. Polling indicates that this one may be too close to call. Bussman’s departure from the GOP Senate Caucus has given his constituents the
perception that he may be rendered ineffective. This district is politically savvy.

Veteran educator, Wayne Reynolds, may be poised to win the State Board of Education District 8 seat in the Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area being vacated by Mary Scott Hunter. Mary Scott and Sam Givhan are battling for an open state Senate seat in Huntsville. This race is one of the best Senate races in the state. Both Givhan and Hunter are heirs to great Alabama legacies.

Givhan’s grandfather was legendary Black Belt State Senator Walter Givhan. Ms. Hunter’s daddy, Scott Hunter, is one of Bear Bryant’s famous quarterbacks.

Speaking of legends, Alabama political icon, Milton McGregor, was laid to rest a few weeks ago. He would have been 79 today. Montgomery’s Frazer Memorial Methodist Church was overflowing. A good many of the state’s past and present political powers were there, including several past governors and a sitting U.S. Senator.

One of the state’s most famous and personable preachers, John Ed Mathison, presented a masterful sermon. He is a great man. He and his wife were best friends with Milton and Pat.

It was actually a joyous political homecoming event. As folks were visiting and reminiscing, one of Alabama’s most prominent pulmonary physicians, Dr. David Thrasher, who has been a doctor to many famous Alabamians and was one of Milton’s pallbearers was visiting with me and said, “Steve, I was at Governor Wallace’s funeral when Franklin Graham spoke and it
doesn’t compare to this.” Then he quipped, “Steve, I got a call from Billy Graham. He said that he had met a nice guy at breakfast by the name of Milton McGregor. Milton said to tell John Ed to remind the people down here that if they did good and believed in Jesus that they could be a winner too and join him.” That’s what John Ed said.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

2 weeks ago

The death of individual thought: All or nothing views on Trump must end

(W.Miller/YHN)

The entire country was thrown into a firestorm last week when hip-hop artist Kanye West came out on Twitter in support of Candace Owens, a popular YouTuber under the moniker Red Pill Black and current communications director for Turning Point USA. Kanye followed up those tweets by tweeting out his affections for our current President Donald Trump and a picture of his signed MAGA hat. In reading the comments and subsequent tweets Mr.West received, it was clear that America had become unhinged. Former Obama campaign members were calling West an attention seeker. Cenk Uygur, the owner of the popular progressive news website The Young Turks called West, “an empty celebrity who is dumb, narcissistic, and shameless.”

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It hasn’t just been the left that couldn’t believe one of their heroes who was once famous for stating that former President George W. Bush “didn’t care about black people” in a video for the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, but it’s been the right as well. I have seen so many on Fox News and in talk radio speaking as if West had come out quoting Milton Freedman in economics. It has become apparent to this writer that conservatism is increasingly being defined not by your positions on the issues but by how intently you support the president.

This point was confirmed when conservative talk radio show host Eric Erickson posted an article from his website, The Resurgent, detailing the most recent round of firings at the popular conservative website RedState. In his article, Erickson makes it clear that many of those targeted such as Caleb Howe and Susan Wright were targeted partly based on their opposition to the president. This idea was reinforced when Kimberly Ross tweeted “1. I’m still (for now) employed by RedState. 2. If I’m told to forsake principles and bend to Trump, I won’t do it.”

Erickson went even further when he posted an article detailing his experience during the 2016 election cycle. After disinviting Trump to the RedState Gathering in 2015 and being extremely critical of Trump in both print and radio, Erickson was savagely attacked. He detailed how people were calling his seminary asking that he be removed, calling his radio station requesting he be fired, accosting his family in stores, and how he received emails from people cheering the idea that his wife had lung cancer.

Erikson’s story isn’t unique. Yellowhammer columnist and WVNN radio show host Dale Jackson has been very open about the emails and tweets he has received for his criticism of Trump. He has stated that he has lost advertisers, radio stations, money, and career advancement because he has been critical of the president. I saw this in my own life after the 2016 primaries when I came out openly among my friends and family stating that I couldn’t in good conscience vote for Trump. I was called a traitor to my country. I sat in awe wondering how people who I have known since I was a child who had never done a thing for this country, outside of living their lives, could look at someone like me with two deployments, a Combat Action Badge, and over seven years of military service and question my patriotism all because I refused to support their “Cheeto Jesus.”

Those of us on the right are quick to point out the rampant hypocrisy of those on the left who claim to be champions of diversity and critical thinking, yet riot and shut down college campuses when speakers such as Ben Shapiro or Ann Coulter are invited to events. We rightfully recognize this as the creation of echo chambers designed to indoctrinate and proselytize those within their sphere of influence into thinking and believing one-dimensionally.

However, we often refuse to see that when we harass, insult, or call for those to lose their jobs simply for expressing opinions critical of the things and people we like we are no different than the mobs on our college campuses. By creating echo chambers where we surround ourselves with only the points of view we agree with and condemn any ideas, arguments, or opinions that are critical of the people we believe in, we are guilty of creating the same “safe spaces” that we mock.

We need to realize that it is perfectly acceptable to praise Trump for his work on North Korea while also condemning him for his lies about paying off a porn star with which he had an affair. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and this type of all or nothing view toward our president must end if we hope to have any credibility left when he isn’t in office.

Alabama Rep. Byrne: The fight against childhood cancer

(Pixabay)

As a father of four, it is difficult to even contemplate a child’s life being cut short due to cancer or another terminal illness. As Danny Thomas, the founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, once stated, “no child should die in the dawn of life.” This powerful statement rang true recently when I met the mother of William the Warrior.

Just one month ago, three-year-old William Marion lost his battle after being diagnosed with a rare form of sarcoma. His mother, Jessica Marion, recently visited my office in Washington to share the story of her son’s life and their family’s tragic loss.

Sadly, William is just one of thousands of American children who have been impacted by cancer. Each year, 175,000 children ages 14 and under are diagnosed with some form of pediatric cancer. Thankfully, due to medical innovation, more than 80 percent of children diagnosed in the United States become survivors. However, we must continue to fight for better treatments and for those who are not among the fortunate.

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Jessica brought to my attention H.R.820, the Childhood Cancer STAR Act, and asked for my support. After learning more about the bill and hearing Jessica and William’s story, I happily agreed to add my name as a cosponsor in memory of William and all other children who have lost their lives to cancer.

The STAR Act enhances efforts to identify and track childhood cancer cases, seeks to improve the quality of life for childhood cancer survivors, and expands research opportunities for therapeutics used in the medical treatment of childhood cancer.

It is imperative that we redouble our efforts to end childhood cancer and ensure no more children and families will suffer from this tragedy. While this legislation cannot bring William back, the STAR Act reaffirms my commitment to keep alive the quest for a cure.

The STAR Act is not the first time I have supported live-saving initiatives. Throughout my time in Congress, I have strongly supported efforts to boost funding for medical research and reform the process for approving new medical treatments.

Most recently, I voted in favor of increased medical research funding, which will ensure our doctors and scientists have the resources they need to perform life-saving research. Among many other important provisions, the most recent government funding bill increased funding for the National Institutes of Health by $3 billion, which will continue progress toward finding cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other life-threatening conditions.

Additionally, the House recently passed H.R. 5247, the Right to Try Act of 2018, with my strong support. As you may recall, President Trump discussed the need for “Right to Try” legislation in his State of the Union speech earlier this year. Right to Try allows terminally ill patients to take advantage of experimental medical treatments that otherwise may not be available.

I also strongly supported the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act to improve our nation’s medical research programs and spur medical innovation. It is not often that Congress passes legislation that can actually save lives, but the 21st Century Cures Act can do just that by making some critical updates to our nation’s health programs.

Ultimately, there is no legislation that can take away the heartbreak that comes with losing a loved one to cancer or another terminal disease. However, Congress must continue to make medical research a top priority as we fight to end childhood cancer once and for all.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

2 weeks ago

Alabama Rep. Roby: Setting the record straight

(LifeInstitute/YouTube)

Congressman Henry J. Hyde from Illinois served in the House of Representatives from 1975 to 2007. During his expansive career in Congress, Hyde was a strong voice for the conservative agenda. If his name sounds familiar, you may remember him for being the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990’s.

Shortly before Congressman Hyde’s election to the House of Representatives, the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade ruled that abortions were legal in the United States. In response, during Congressman Hyde’s first term in Congress, he proposed an amendment to the annual appropriations bill that funds the Department of Health and Human Services directing that no federal funding could be used to provide abortions.

This amendment, now commonly known as the Hyde Amendment, was signed into law in 1976. Unfortunately, it was immediately challenged in the courts, and it wasn’t until 1980 that the Hyde Amendment was enforced thanks to a Supreme Court ruling.

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Since that year, every annual appropriations bill that funds the federal government’s discretionary spending has contained a version of this original Hyde Amendment in order to make it clear that the federal government does not directly fund abortions in this country.

I am always proud to support the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment in all funding bills, including in the most recent Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus bill that President Trump signed into law two months ago. Still, there were numerous sources claiming that this bill funds Planned Parenthood, so I’d like to set the record straight: Thanks to the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment, this government funding package designates absolutely no money for abortion or for Planned Parenthood – not one dime.

By now, I don’t think it’s a secret that I am unapologetically pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, and I consider it one of my greatest responsibilities in Congress to fight on behalf of the unborn.

That said, I have always been candid and up-front with the people I represent about the stark reality we face with the Planned Parenthood machine. It would be very difficult to completely defund this organization because there are procedures and deeply entrenched special interests that are dedicated to protecting it.

Still, this would never stop me from trying. I have proudly voted in the House of Representatives several times to ban Planned Parenthood from applying to receive funding through the Health Resources Services Title X programs. In addition, states around the country, including Alabama, have attempted to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements for their services.

This strict language I have always supported in the House to restrict Planned Parenthood always falters in the United States Senate. Our pro-life efforts face a clear challenge: The Senate does not have enough pro-life supporters to overcome the threshold of votes needed to pass these bills and send them to the President for his signature.

I have said numerous times that the Senate should reconsider its rules, especially as it relates to funding bills, in order for our pro-life language to even receive consideration.

I’ve fought the battle for the unborn alongside my pro-life colleagues throughout my time in Congress, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made despite the Planned Parenthood machine that is alive and well. Now that we finally have an Administration that shares our commitment to the cause, I’m hopeful we can make even more progress, but we still face significant challenges.

As it stands now, the aforementioned Title X program allows abortion clinics and Title X general medical clinics to be “co-located,” meaning the two can share the same facilities and even the same staff. This is particularly concerning since Title X provides abortion referrals from their medical clinics to the “co-located” clinics.

This is unacceptable, and I was one of 153 members of Congress who recently signed a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar requesting that the practice be stopped. Our letter directs the Department to issue new regulations for the Title X program to mandate that the federally funded Title X clinics be physically and financially separate from facilities that perform abortions. Additionally, we are asking that abortion referrals be eliminated from the grant program altogether.

During my time in Congress, I have been a vocal advocate for those who cannot yet speak for themselves. Because of this, I have consistently received a 100% rating from National Right to Life and a 0% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I will continue to defend the defenseless among us – even when Planned Parenthood and its allies seek to dismiss them. Our work is far from being complete, but I am proud of the steps we’ve taken, and I won’t stop fighting.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is a Republican from Montgomery.

Public Service Commission vote on Alabama Power rates benefits consumers

(L. Glenn/Alabama NewsCenter)

The Alabama Public Service Commission’s decision last week to allow Alabama Power to modify its rate system and to reduce rates for consumers a total of $337 million over the next two years is a triumph for ratepayers.

Rate stability is something that Alabama Power customers have not always enjoyed. In the past four decades, there have been some chaotic times with some broad swings in electricity costs.

Customers of Alabama Power – especially industrial users and critical industry sectors such as healthcare – must have reliable and affordable energy.

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“Reliable and affordable” has become a slogan for Alabama Power, but it is not just an advertising strategy.

Large-scale and sustainable economic development is impossible without a strong and stable energy infrastructure, something that Alabama Power’s leadership and our elected leaders recognize.

Alabama business executives and elected officials have worked hard to share the state’s “open for business” stance with companies looking to expand. We have enjoyed some great successes in attracting new industry to the state and this decision by the PSC can only be considered another arrow in the quiver in our hunt for more high-paying jobs for the people of Alabama.

The rate reduction made possible by President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will be 5 percent for the remainder of 2018. The typical ratepayer will see a reduction of more than $9 in monthly bills beginning in July. The total reduction will be $257 million for the final six months of the year with another $50 million in 2019, due to the tax reform enacted by Congress. Fuel costs will be reduced by an additional $30 million as well.

PSC Commissioners Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Jeremy H. Oden and Chip Beeker hammered out an agreement with Alabama Power that guarantees no increases in the company’s base rates through 2020. And due to the changes in the corporate tax rate, Alabama Power’s credit rating could have been degraded and raised the cost of debt – which would have been passed on to customers. The PSC’s decision to allow the company’s modification of its rate structure saved consumers money.

Over the past four years, consumers have enjoyed the most stable rates in Alabama history and now thank to the PSC, we are assured of at least two more years of stability. The Alabama Power Company and the Public Service Commission are to be commended on working to give consumers this financial windfall.

Rosemary Elebash is the Alabama director for the National Federation of Independent Business and George Clark is president of Manufacture Alabama. 

2 weeks ago

We need to break out of our own shackles when it comes to discussing race

(CNN/YouTube)

In regards to the disturbance caused by Kanye West’s comments on slavery, West provided clarification that I believe is much less inflammatory than the original statement.

That statement seemed to mean that he believes slavery was voluntary—an ignorant, insulting comment without the clarification that followed.

I found that the media at times did not include the totality of his first statement, and many publicized reactions did not include the clarification. Here is what he originally said:

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“When you hear about slavery for 400 years, for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all? It’s like we’re mentally in prison. I like the word ‘prison’ because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks.”

In the same interview, West went on to say, “Prison is something that unites us as one race, blacks and whites being one race. We’re the human race.”

Afterward, Kanye West tweeted the following to clarify his comments in the interview:

“We need to have open discussions and ideas on unsettled pain, to make myself clear. Of course, I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved. They cut our tongues so we couldn’t communicate to each other. I will not allow my tongue to be cut.”

“We are programmed to always talk and fight race issues,” he added. “We need to update our conversation. the reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can’t be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought it was just an idea. once again I am being attacked for presenting new ideas.”

Personally, I accept his clarification as a valid expression of opinion- whether I agree or not. I do agree that black people should not feel restricted to the politically acceptable view of anything, nor should they refrain from expressing a contrary view.

Thinking for yourself and expressing your opinion on vital issues, with or against the grain of any culture, are colorless rights. All people deserve respect for their sincerely held opinions, regardless of skin color.

In fact, in my opinion, bringing unspoken views to the surface (being more transparent) is the best way to progress in regard to race and race relations in our society.

This is not easy. I realize that the shackles of slavery were not simply shed with the Emancipation Proclamation. So—black or white—we can’t simply open up any more than we can “just get over it.”

The tangible effects of those shackles lingered through many years of restricted voting rights as well as whites-only bathrooms, water fountains, and schools. Legally supported slavery and its physical shackles may have disappeared well over 150 years ago, but those other legally-supported restrictive shackles were maintained for another hundred! It was not that long ago.

Victims still bear the pain of those post-slavery shackles while others bear that pain in their love for parent and grandparent victims who still suffer. Then, there are the day-to-day, very real burdens of social and economic racism borne by some more than others.

To be honest, as long as sin is alive in our society, I do not expect this or even more radical forms of racism perpetrated by sinful people to disappear. However, we can and must progress in race relations. This is America, and now is the time to begin the transparency real progress will require! It may be another generation who receives the full benefit of real relationships—good race relations, after all, being dependent on good, open relationships.

The purpose statement for my book, Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist, is consistent with this in terms of promoting a new, better approach to improving race relations, and I quote it here for your consideration: “I want Better Than Them to contribute to a fresh, constructive dialogue on race relations in our nation—one rooted more in transparency than in political correctness.”

From all I have gathered in my experience as well as research for, feedback on, and many diverse discussions about the contents of my book, we need to break out of our own shackles when it comes to discussing race and race relations. Not much does more damage to relationships than the elephants in rooms that we see but never talk about. Going back to a turning point in this regard, was good or harm done by not having interracial discussions about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri? What about Confederate statues? Ask yourself the good/harm question if you denied those elephants in the room, and only spoke transparently when others in the room obviously shared your views.

I say that this is indeed the time to start communicating our own individual views about the elephant—political correctness and tenacious fears notwithstanding! Leave the professional activists and politicians out of it. Relationship building is a grass-roots thing.

Yes, it is still not easy to talk about race and race relations – to give our own views, to be transparent. Beginnings rarely are – just like childbirth. Still, until we break the silence, many of us—black and white—are indeed voluntarily submitting to a form of slavery. In that regard, at least, Kanye is right. We are all in the same prison.

S. McEachin “Mac” Otts is the author of Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist and lives in Mobile. 

2 weeks ago

New religious law and persecution in eastern Ukraine

(Pixabay)

War continues to ravage eastern Ukraine, where conflict erupted in April 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the violent actions of pro-Russian separatists.

Along with forcing millions of people from their homes, the ongoing conflict has also resulted in the harsh persecution of Protestant pastors and churches throughout the territories that are occupied by pro-Russian separatist groups.

One such group is the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), which is located in Ukraine’s Luhansk region and declared independence in May 2014.

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While the international community does not recognize the LNR as a legitimate state, this group’s totalitarian power is growing. During the last four years, the LNR has committed countless acts of religious persecution against Protestant pastors and churches in the Luhansk region, including abduction, torture, and property confiscation. In fact, on March 27, 2018, the LNR raided the House of Prayer, a church in Stahanov, taking everything and leaving the church completely empty.

For the last four years, Mission Eurasia has drawn the attention of the international community to the systematic religious freedom violations committed by the LNR in eastern Ukraine. Now, these violations are considered a central part of the LNR’s legal framework.

According to a new law passed on February 2, 2018,[2] the LNR is permitted to discriminate against any and all non-Orthodox religious communities.[3] This law violates universal human rights, severely limits religious freedom, and threatens eastern Ukraine’s existing network of religious communities and organizations.

While the law itself is a new development, the LNR has been violating religious freedom rights in Ukraine’s Luhansk region since the spring of 2014. Rather than protecting the rights of pre-existing religious communities, the LNR follows Russia’s harsh religion laws. Therefore, in line with Russia’s strict religious freedom legislation, all religious communities and organizations in Luhansk, other than those associated with the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (Russian Orthodox Church has preferential status), must now prove their loyalty and re-register with the LNR.

The following points laid out in the LNR’s new religion law are particularly concerning for churches in Luhansk:

–All religious communities and organizations must re-register with the LNR within six months of the law’s inception in order to continue operating;
–The LNR will play an increasingly significant role in regulating religious communities and organizations, and in protecting the societal role of the Russian Orthodox Church;
–All registered religious communities and organizations are required to provide detailed reports on all of their activities on a regular basis;
–Religious communities and organizations must have juridical person status to be considered legitimate;
–Religious communities and organizations must have at least 30 members to register;
–Religious communities and organizations are prohibited from leading activities in private residences, which is particularly dangerous for the many home churches in Luhansk;
–There are many grounds on which the LNR can suspend the activities of religious communities and organizations, such as suspected espionage, extremism, and terrorism;
–Religious communities and organizations are required to coordinate the distribution of all religious materials, even among their own members, with the LNR;
–There are very strict regulations placed on all religious communities and organizations that receive financial support from foreign sources.

The Baptist Union of Ukraine asserts that even if churches in Luhansk try to re-register with the LNR, they will not be able to meet all of the requirements laid out in the new religion law. In response, Mission Eurasia and our partner churches in Luhansk urge the global Christian community to prayerfully support our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine. We also implore international government leaders and human rights organizations to pressure the LNR to repeal the new law and restore religious freedom so that all religious communities in Luhansk and throughout Ukraine can worship freely.

At present, the pastors of many churches in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine are refusing to participate in the re-registration process required by the LNR’s new religion law. These courageous leaders need our support as they stand firm in the face of escalating religious persecution.

(Courtesy of Ethics of Religious Liberty Commission)

2 weeks ago

You are the biggest social media problem

(Pixabay)

A major evangelical website recently reviewed a new book on the rise of technology in which the review lamented the challenges Christians face when navigating the digital world led by Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

It was a helpful review of what seems to be a valuable book. But there was plenty of cyberspace irony.

The title of the post was optimized for Google’s search algorithms. The review featured a “buy this book on Amazon” widget. And the website prominently displayed easy-to-link quotes to share on social platforms such as Facebook.

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The problems with social media

Such is digital life for Christians in the modern age. We have a love-hate relationship with the online realm. Everyone is dependent on technology, but everyone loathes some aspects of it. For example, it seems like every week one of my friends creates a Twitter thread about how he is going to quit Twitter (some for the third or fourth time). And I can’t count how many times I’ve seen an article about “Why I left social media, and how it made my life better” go viral on social media.

There are, indeed, major problems with big tech that have led to some people deciding it is time to pull the plug. Privacy concerns have caused some to abandon social media once they realize just how much information big tech companies use to monetize their activity. Others become jaded by the false intimacy that social media provides as it creates the appearance of relationships without the substance. Still, others feel the burnout that comes with social media addictions that cause them to scroll mindlessly through their feeds any time there is nothing to do (and, often, when they should be doing something else).

Social media, furthermore, often fosters our worst shortcomings as fallen humans. When people Instagram a group shot from an event we couldn’t make, we’re seized by a fear of missing out. When a fellow Christian humble brags about a recent achievement (“So blessed to see this amazing thing God did that I want to subtly take credit for”), we’re gripped by jealousy and envy. When someone from an opposing tribe says something we disagree with, a never-ending supply of snark bubbles up from the recesses of our sinful hearts as we race to decide the most cutting way to point out their hypocrisy.

Worst of all, social media can be a distraction from the most valuable things in life. It’s a hindrance when a dad scrolls in one hand while pushing his child’s swing in the other; when a married couple with young kids finally escapes on a date night only to swap time showing Instagram pictures to each other, while capturing the perfect selfie to post later on; when the pull of the latest updates on the glowing rectangle on your nightstand means you choose Twitter over devotional time with the Lord in the morning, yet again.

Let’s be honest—we are all guilty of things just like this.

The problem isn’t social media

But the problem isn’t social media. The problem is you and me. We can’t blame technology for our shortcomings when we have Genesis 3 hearts in a Romans 1 digital world. Social media has weaponized the way Satan battles for our souls. It incubates, accelerates, and magnifies our appetites in ways that are deeply deceptive.

We can’t blame technology for our shortcomings when we have Genesis 3 hearts in a Romans 1 digital world.

Social media reveals root issues about our hearts. In a sense, we are what we tweet. From the outflow of the heart, a man Instagrams. Social media can bring about the best in our hearts as we celebrate what God is doing around the world. But it can also reveal envy, pettiness, snark, and the uncrucified portions. Moreover, what we consistently expose ourselves to online can have a shaping effect on our hearts. The danger for all of us is to manage our digital engagement without digging into the deeper issues of the heart that are the actual problem.

Social media reveals root issues about our time. If we spend one hour a day on social media, we will spend over two weeks of our year consuming digital content. Is that the best stewardship of our time? Should we be doing more productive things instead? Those are important questions, but the more fundamental issue is: How does our social media use fit into the call to make disciples? The danger for all of us is to restrict our digital consumption without digging into the deeper issues of our time and how we use it to make disciples.

Social media reveals root issues about our motives. If we are being honest about our motives, social media is more about personal brand management for many of us. It’s how we shape the way people perceive us. We minimize reality to maximize likes. We are tempted to manage our image at the cost of our integrity. The danger is that we modify our digital engagement without digging into the deeper issues of what it reveals about our motives and priorities.

Many people consume social media like we consume food. We start with good intentions, get undisciplined over time because we can’t resist the appeal, then we become ashamed at these patterns and go on a crash diet to try to correct the problem and get back to normal. That’s not a successful approach to dieting, so why would we think that will work when it comes to social media?

Colossians 2:23 warns us about approaches that have “the appearance of wisdom” in addressing an issue but that are “of no value in stopping the indulgences of the flesh.” Too often, we can overreact to troubling trends in our social media use with solutions that have the appearance of wisdom but are of no value in addressing our root issues.

How to use social media without forfeiting your soul

So, how can we use social media without forfeiting our souls? There are three ways we can engage with any form of technology, including social media.

1. We can be slaves. Slaves to social media embrace it indiscriminately, without concern for how it shapes our character or how it connects to making disciples. That’s not the way of wisdom.
2. We can be solitaires. Solitaires abandon social media entirely, without concern for what good elements we may miss out on. That’s not the way of opportunity.
3. We can be stewards. This is the way of wisdom and opportunity. Stewards of social media recognize both the rewards and risks—the duties and the dangers—of digital consumption in a fallen world. While regularly examining our hearts, we keep the gospel in the forefront of our minds as we engage the digital world.

So, what are some practical tips for how to use social media without forfeiting our souls? Here are some keys:

Contribute to the digital community: The best thing you can do is have a clear picture of what your “lane” is in social media. Then, find intentional ways to add value to the digital community in that space. Don’t just be there to consume; make a contribution.

Curate your consumption: Every two to three months, I do a thorough review of who and what I follow on social media and prune it relentlessly. I haven’t been on Facebook for years, and my Instagram account is inactive. Instead, I have chosen Twitter as my primary platform, in part because I can use lists to sort and select who and what I see. The key is for you, not an algorithm, to control what you consume.

Establish boundaries: Social media will expand to absorb any amount of time you’ll allow it. So, it’s key to set boundaries. I no longer keep technology on my bedside table because I don’t want a glowing rectangle competing against my devotional time in the mornings. I try (and sometimes fail) to set “dead hours” during family dinner and on Sunday mornings where digital access is off limits. You need to find what works for you.

Consider digital fasts: Rather than quitting social media entirely, maybe you should consider a digital fast. Whether it is for a day, a week, or a month, you can disengage from all social media for a season to redeploy the time in other ways. When you notice that no one comments on how much they’ve missed you while you were gone, it will shatter your illusions of digital self-importance.

Maintain awareness and accountability: Before you post, ask yourself some diagnostic questions to ensure it’s worth it: Is this true? Is it edifying? Is it wise? I probably delete three to five tweets a week that don’t meet this threshold. Beyond your own self-awareness, it’s helpful to include digital media in your accountability rhythms. For example, one of my close friends will check in with me if he has hesitations on whether something he is about to post is appropriate.

Delay your consumption: One of the dangers of social media is the allure of staying current on the latest developments and breaking news. To break the cycle of urgency, delay your consumption. For instance, use an app like Pocket or email an article to yourself instead of clicking a link right away. You’d be surprised at how often the article that seemed so enticing in the moment isn’t all that relevant later that night or that week when you take time to read it.

Remember the past: One of the values of social media is that it leaves a digital trail of past experiences. I love using the Timehop app to remember the past and relive social media memories. It enables me to look back at God’s faithfulness in the good times and the bad. Remembering our past experiences on social media can empower us to reshape our current activities in the digital world.

Social media has created enormous opportunities and challenges for 21st-century Christians. The most important thing we must realize is that the problem isn’t with social media—it’s with us. But if we seek to be good stewards of our digital platforms, we can learn to use social media without forfeiting our souls.

(Courtesy of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)