The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

9 hours ago

Hey, ABC Board … know your role!

(Pixabay, YHN)

Let’s start with clearing the air … generally speaking, I don’t hang out in bars. This is not a puff piece to defend pub crawls. So before any of my folks, fans or friends think that I’m writing this because I was hoping for one last round after 11 p.m., the answer is “no.”

What I do have a problem with is unelected bureaucrats enacting policy outside of their charter that has the effect of shutting down private enterprise. Last week the Alabama Beverage Control Board did just that.

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Before putting my thoughts in print I took the time to review the enabling legislation that established the ABC Board and its mission. I also took the time to review Governor Ivey’s proclamations regarding Alabama’s societal efforts against the coronavirus. Nothing in the Code of Alabama or the various iterations of Governor Ivey’s orders told the ABC Board that they should become the arbiters of what time of day is considered safe and healthy. Although one Board member did espouse concern that late-night consumption could increase fraternization. Well, that’s every country song ever sung. But despite a complete lack of marshaling orders the members of the Board allegedly agonized over how best to save the good people of the state of Alabama from themselves … after 11 p.m. And just like that another regulatory agency created a sweeping blanket regulation that stymies the free market.

The immediate assumption if you take this at face value is that drinking alcohol in a social setting is inherently more dangerous after the evening news has concluded. It’s a true headscratcher. And in the meantime, business owners who have invested in tourism locales, entertainment venues, restaurants, and yes – bars, have to take another hit from the government that does damage to their ability to run a business. Only this time it wasn’t from the people they elected to watch over the state. It wasn’t from some form of representative leadership. The body blow this time came from an unelected group of people whose sole function is the determination of licensure to operate.

That’s right. The business owners on the receiving end of this jackslap face the potential loss of their license because it is the licensing authority who made the rule. That’s not my interpretation. The Board explicitly stated in their emergency proclamation that violators will be subject to license revocation.

Having reviewed the verbiage in the various statutes and proclamations I suspect that the ABC Board will attempt to assert that 28-3-47 of the Code of Alabama states “The board may, with the approval of the Governor, temporarily close all licensed places within any municipality during any period of emergency proclaimed to be such by the Governor.” But they didn’t do that. Nowhere in the ABC Board resolution does it state that the Governor approved of anything. The Board resolution simply recites the fact that the Governor has declared a state of emergency. The Board then took it upon themselves to shut down businesses at 11 p.m. each night.

I could also reasonably foresee the Board responding that 28-3-2 of the Code authorizes the ABC Board to act “for the protection of the public welfare, health, peace and morals of the people of the state.” We can set aside the part about peace and morals for now…what about “health?” Is it really the purview of the ABC Board, the body that issues and regulates liquor licenses, to interpret the time of day at which bars become “unhealthy?” The Supreme Court of Alabama has already weighed in on this in the 1995 case of Krupp Oil Co. v. Yeargan by affirming that the legislature may delegate certain powers to the various executive boards and branches (such as the ABC Board) to promulgate rules at their discretion but only if clear guidance is given to do so. In this case, the guidance given required the “approval of the Governor.”

The ABC Board is made up of appointees. They are non-elected officials with regulatory authority. They are not the governor. They are not the legislature. They are not the various city councils or county commissions in which these businesses lie. And they are not the owners of businesses who have been shut down for months and are struggling to do everything right under extreme conditions only to have their regulatory agency tell them that they cannot be trusted.

The law of this state does not give the ABC Board the authority to act in this manner without the express and open approval of the governor. The Board cannot speak for the governor, only the governor can voice that approval.

This is another proverbial slippery slope. If we sit idly by and say nothing which board of appointees will act next to limit life as we used to know it? Will the Board of Dental Examiners decide that cavities can only be filled after 3 p.m.? Will the Real Estate Commission decide that houses cannot be sold during the hours of darkness? This is not about bars my friends. This is about liberty, and regulatory intrusion, and the erosion of the free market.

Hey, ABC Board … know your role.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

13 hours ago

Roby: Stay prepared during hurricane season

(Representative Martha Roby/Facebook, YHN)

It’s hard to believe that we have reached the month of August, and summer will be ending soon. Although many schools have delayed start dates or chose to begin the school year virtually, students across the state will soon be back to school in some form or fashion. Typically, we are gearing up this time of year for the start of college football season. The current health pandemic has pushed back many of our most anticipated fall events, but there is one season that will persist regardless of the coronavirus: hurricane season.

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Hurricanes are one of nature’s most powerful and destructive forces. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday released an annual August update stating the 2020 hurricane season is expected to be an “extremely active” season, one of the “most active seasonal forecasts NOAA has produced in its 22-year history of hurricane outlooks,” according to the agency.

NOAA predicts 19 to 25 named storms this season, which began on June 1 and runs through November 30. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico, and there have already been nine so far this season. Last week, Tropical Storm Isaias swept across the East Coast, leaving millions without power. Alabama Power sent several lineworkers and support personnel to assist FirstEnergy, an electric utility company.

As we navigate a path forward to combat the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is also important to remember to stay aware of any severe weather and implement a plan to keep you and your family safe. Now is the time to organize plans and make any necessary preparations; do not wait until danger approaches, and it is too late. Below are suggested questions to discuss with your family from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help prepare:

Another important factor to keep in mind during hurricane season is making sure you and your family understand National Weather Service (NWS) forecast language. There’s a difference between a hurricane watch and a hurricane warning, and it’s essential to have a strong understanding of the two. Read about this by visiting www.weather.gov/safety/hurricane-ww.

I hope you will share this information with loved ones during this time of year, especially as we continue to focus on the impacts of Coronavirus and how to move forward. In many cases, planning and preparation can make a huge difference. I encourage you to prepare now and remind your friends and family to do the same.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

Ainsworth: Democrat Doug Jones fiddles while America’s cities burn

(Senator Doug Jones/Facebook, CBS Evening News/YouTube, YHN)

America is under attack by liberal fanatics.

Violence, arson, looting and vandalism are becoming commonplace from socialist mobs, and scenarios once seen only in movies like “Mad Max” are happening in real-life on the streets of Portland and other major, Democrat-controlled cities.

If we are going to restore law and order across the country and return a measure of civility to our daily lives, we have to elect tough, strong, conservative leaders to hold the line in Washington, D.C.

Leaders like Coach Tommy Tuberville.

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Coach Tuberville fully supports the men and women who serve in law enforcement, and he recognizes the inherent dangers they face each time they report for work.

He believes that the “Defund the Police” movement is perhaps the single craziest public policy initiative ever offered in the history of our American republic, while, at the same time, many of the backers of this dangerous, outlandish and unrealistic idea have donated thousands of dollars to Democrat Doug Jones’ campaign for U.S. Senate.

Coach understands that if someone is the victim of a robbery or a home invasion or another serious crime, they do not want the city to send a social worker, a mediator and a representative from Planned Parenthood in response. They rightly expect the city to send several highly-trained, fully-equipped law enforcement officers who will apprehend those responsible and put them in jail.

He also embraces the fact that our nation was founded upon the principle of peaceful protest, and he knows that because our founders believed it so important, they made that right the very First Amendment in our Bill of Rights.

Great changes have come throughout history from peaceful protest. Women gained the right to vote through peaceful protest, and voting rights were secured and civil rights were expanded to all citizens through peaceful protest.

But while Coach Tuberville will always fight to protect your rights to protest peacefully, he believes that the violent protests erupting in California, New York and other locales are altogether unacceptable.

He, like all law-abiding Americans, thinks that protesters who throw rocks, attack police officers, vandalize public property and engage in other serious and unlawful behaviors should be tossed behind bars and handed the harshest punishments available.

Doug Jones has remained largely mute on the topic of anarchy in the streets, and his few comments have dismissed the frequent violent uprisings as mere inconvenient distractions.

Alabama’s junior senator once helped prosecute the men who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four innocent girls – and our state and nation are better for it – but his commitment to law and order seems to have since given way to partisanship, politics and pandering to his liberal base.

His lack of respect for the laws of our nation is also evidenced by the fact that as an attorney, he represented murderous drug kingpins, bank robbers and other dangerous felons.

Doug Jones also defended former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat politician who was so corrupt that even the Obama Justice Department refused to consider his request for a pardon or commutation of his six-and-a-half-year prison sentence.

Almost as egregious as turning a blind eye to crimes when they do occur, Jones voted twice to remove Donald Trump from office despite the fact that absolutely no evidence of presidential wrongdoing existed. Jones, in essence, voted to convict an innocent man simply because he does not like his politics.

Similarly, Alabama’s junior senator has allied with other liberal Democrats in opposing most of the almost 200 law-and-order federal judges that President Trump has nominated since Jones took office, and he famously worked to derail Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accession to the high court.

When Doug Jones first ran for the U.S. Senate, he promised to be a new kind of Democrat – an independent thinker who would buck his party elders when necessary and set a middle-road course. Too many Alabamians made the serious mistake of taking him at his word.

He has, instead, proven to be a committed, lock-step liberal whose silence on social upheaval enables the most fanatical wing of the extremist left to promote its Socialist agenda through violence, force and terroristic threats.

A vote for Coach Tommy Tuberville is a vote to support our men and women in law enforcement, reclaim our streets and once again place the rule of law above mob rule.

I encourage you to let your voice be heard on November 3.

Will Ainsworth is the lieutenant governor of Alabama

Rogers: Trump administration’s FYI Initiative reaffirms commitment to underprivileged communities

(Wikicommons, Congressman Mike D. Rogers, Secretary Ben Carson/Facebook, YHN)

In July of last year, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a new initiative to help young adults in underprivileged communities. President Donald Trump’s pledge to help those who need it most through the Foster Youth to Independence (FYI) Initiative reaffirms that commitment.

The FYI initiative helps vulnerable young adults find housing as they age out of foster care, instead of being left out on the street. It offers housing vouchers to public housing authorities to assist young men and women who leave the foster care system without a home to go to. In a pivotal moment in their lives, these vouchers can mean the difference between a life of homelessness, crime and addiction verses becoming a contributing member of our community.

I was pleased to see first steps made in the great State of Alabama this year, as the Birmingham Housing Authority received over $16,000 for this initiative.

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I was more than proud to see President Trump and HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson invest in a program to help our young people have the stability necessary to succeed and be productive citizens in our society.

This is another strong step forward by President Trump, following his historic First Step Act, to get young adults — especially those of color — out of our criminal justice system and into our economy. Too many young men from our underprivileged communities are left with little hope and fewer options.

While Democrats and the media push their divisive and hateful narrative in an attempt to tear us apart in pursuit of their partisan political agenda, I will continue to work with President Trump to serve everyone in our communities and ensure more economic opportunity for all Alabamians and Americans.

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) serves in the United States House of Representatives, where he is the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee

Byrne: A way forward on coronavirus relief

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Last week was pretty frustrating in Washington. While the House frittered away at useless Democrat messaging bills which have no chance of passage in the Senate, Speaker Pelosi refused negotiations with the Senate on a $1 trillion dollar bill to address the nation’s ongoing needs as a result of COVID-19. At the end of the week, she and Senator Schumer refused offers from the White House to extend for four months the extra $600 a week those on unemployment insurance received as a result of the CARES Act we passed in March.

What’s all this about? We are in the middle of a historic pandemic and there are critical national needs to be addressed and last week in the House we just wasted time while the Democrat leadership played games. What is their game? By now, it’s all too obvious. They believe they have an opportunity to run the table in the November elections, take both houses of Congress and the presidency. Then, with an obviously weakened and limited Joe Biden as president, Pelosi and Schumer hold all the power, and in January they wield that power for their benefit and the benefit of the powerful special interests that fund them.

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If this sounds raw and cynical that’s because it is. They don’t mind putting the entire country through unnecessary pain for months if that means it enhances their power, because that’s all this is about – their power. They can confidently rely on the support of a national news media that is institutionally and culturally leftist to amplify their message to the detriment of the average person in this country. Just last week I e-mailed one of these news reporters to point out things she left out of a story she wrote. Did I get a reply? No, of course I didn’t get a reply, because the information I provided didn’t help her pre-ordained message. Such is the state of modern so-called “journalism.”

So, what is the way forward? First, let’s continue in our legislative work to focus on the disease. More money for testing and rapid turnaround of results. More money for those healthcare providers on the frontline. More money for domestically produced PPE and for effective therapies. And continued support for vaccine development and ultimate distribution. Second, protection for those laid off through no fault of their own and up to 70% of their state’s average pay. Third, more help for struggling small businesses to keep their workers employed and just stay alive, which means extending the Paycheck Protection Program and expanding allowed uses of those funds. Fourth, more help for schools to open. Fifth, liability protection for all – there is simply no excuse for allowing a small group of lawyers to profit off this crisis.

I know I’m hearing from many of you about these priorities, and I’m sure Democrat members are hearing from their constituents as well. But Pelosi’s hold on many of them is very strong, and she is feeling heat from the far-left interest groups that now dictate the policy positions of the Democrat Party. Based on the polls I’ve seen, the average Democrat is not as far left as this regressive group of neo-Marxists, but they have the money that Pelosi needs to win elections and she’s all about that.

Meanwhile, like robots, we are called to the House floor in groups to vote on bills on which we’ve had no input, and then hurried out of the room by the floor staff. This isn’t a republic anymore, and certainly not what the framers had in mind. It’s all controlled by one person and her special interest cronies, smug in their assurance the national media will paint only the most positive picture of the charade.

But, in the end, the people still hold the real power in this country. My hope is this November they won’t continue in supporting the Pelosi regime, or elect a toady for her as president. The way forward is a House of Representatives whose members think for themselves and are allowed to be the real crafters of legislation. Then, we can solve our national problems the way the framers of our Constitution intended and do the people’s business the way they want us to.

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

Ledbetter: Alabama’s teachers are standing tall with return to classroom instruction

(Pixbay, YHN)

All of the personality traits, values and life lessons that we carry with us as adults were shaped and instilled in us by the people we encountered in childhood. For many, the strongest influences came from our schoolteachers, who opened new worlds of knowledge and taught us skills that remain with us today.

Consider for a moment the music teacher who taught you to play an instrument, the math teacher who led you to a love of numbers, the history teacher who brought to life the stories of our nation’s past, or the English teacher who inspired you to love great literature.

Teaching is one of the few professions whose impact continues to last for decades after the individual who does the job retires.

As many children across Alabama are preparing to return to school even while the coronavirus pandemic continues, teachers have never been more important or vital or deserving of our deepest appreciation.

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Returning to brick-and-mortar school instruction will, hopefully, restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s lives in these decidedly abnormal times.

A return to the classroom and even resuming the online instruction that some are adopting will also help our students maintain their education progress and continue the important social and emotional development that interaction with their peers and instructors allows.

Our English second language learners will receive the communication skills they need in order to better assimilate, and many low-income students will receive the healthy nourishment from the school lunch program that might be denied them at home.

Given the current circumstances and environment, I recognize that some of our public school employees may have a sense of trepidation about returning to school, and that is certainly understandable. Wearing a face mask to do something as simple as shopping for groceries, paying for gas or walking into a restaurant offers all of us a constant reminder that COVID-19 is a very contagious virus.

But our teachers and educators are setting their concerns aside and answering the call to duty.

I know that Gov. Kay Ivey, State Superintendent Eric Mackey and the staff of the Alabama Department of Education took great care in developing the “Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools,” and local school boards are being equally diligent in creating and implementing their own safety guidelines.

The importance of sanitization will be stressed more than ever before, and billions of dollars made available to Alabama through the federal CARES Act will help ensure that any resources that are needed to reopen schools safely will be readily available.

As the majority leader of the Alabama House, I can also offer assurances that the legislature stands ready to pass legislation or make appropriations that are necessary to ease the return to classroom instruction once we are in session.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an even deeper appreciation of the frontline heroes who have remained on the job and provided the most essential services throughout the crisis.

Doctors and nurses in our hospitals and health clinics; grocery store and other retail employees; law enforcement officers, emergency workers and firefighters; postal workers; sanitation workers; restaurant personnel; and those in dozens of other professions are among those who continued working even when times were their toughest.

I am proud to say that the teachers, school nurses, administrators and support personnel in Alabama’s schools also rank high upon the list of those who have stood tall, and their already invaluable service to our state is even more important to students and parents in each of our cities, towns and crossroads today.

Helen Keller, one of Alabama’s most inspirational figures, once said, “It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me.”

As I close by wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy school year, we would all do well to keep Helen Keller’s words in mind.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) serves as majority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives

5 days ago

McInnis: Alabama businesses need our congressional delegation to pass liability protections

(City of Montgomery/Contributed)

Before Congress heads out for August recess, members of Congress must pass the next round of coronavirus relief. As American families are struggling to make ends meet, there are a host of issues that need to be addressed. For Alabama businesses, reasonable liability protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits will be key to help protect small businesses and aid in our economic recovery.

Small business owners across the state have faced unprecedented challenges during this crisis. From the uncertainty regarding shutdown orders and trying to protect the jobs of their employees, to spending time and resources to ensure that they put safety precautions in place to protect customers.

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Now, besides facing uncertainty regarding whether they will stay open, and what the economy will look like over the next few months, businesses may face coronavirus-related lawsuits, particularly if they are essential businesses that have stayed open throughout the pandemic.

The cost of fighting unwarranted coronavirus-related lawsuits, particularly for small businesses, would be devastating and many could not withstand the financial burden. Given that the virus has reached “community spread,” it would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to prove where someone contracted the virus and also prove that they did not contract it in a specific business.

Thankfully, small businesses can be provided a lifeline if Congress passes reasonable liability protections for coronavirus-related lawsuits. We should not extend these protections to businesses that behaved negligently, but should for businesses that have taken the precautions necessary to protect the safety of their employees and customers. Hopefully, Senator Doug Jones will stand up for small businesses and join his colleagues in supporting much-needed liability protections.

Clay McInnis represents District 7 on the Montgomery City Council

6 days ago

Should we trust experts?

(Pixabay, YHN)

Experts in public health and epidemiology have driven policymaking during the COVID-19 pandemic. How much should we trust experts? Critics dismiss Republicans who voice distrust of experts as anti-science. Yet even experts know very little about complex economies and societies.

Frustration with experts does cross party lines. New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo recently remarked of experts’ forecasts of hospital usage, “They were all wrong.”

The “Wisdom of Crowds” argument, wonderfully explained by James Suroweicki, provides a first reason for doubt. Numerous seemingly poorly informed opinions can be remarkably wise. Mr. Suroweicki relates a story from British scientist Francis Galton about a contest at a country fair in 1906. Nearly 800 people paid sixpence to guess the weight of an ox (after being slaughtered and dressed); the average was only one pound off.

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The theory of efficient financial markets illustrates another reason for skepticism. An old joke was that darts thrown at the stock page were as reliable as a broker’s recommendations. Why? Stock prices quickly incorporate all available information. With all information priced, a stock price is as likely to go up as down. The market can be consistently beaten only with inside information.

The central planning of socialism represents the most thorough application of expertise to an economy. Proponents thought that “scientific” socialism would replace the chaos and waste of the market with rationally ordered economic activity. Only a handful of economists in the 1930s and 1940s, notably Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, argued coherently that socialism would fail.

Socialism failed in part due to the different nature of truths in the physical and social sciences. Truth in the physical sciences in general and timeless: water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and boils at 212 degrees. Truth in economics depends on time and place. Are trains the best way to travel between American cities? True in the latter half of the 1800s, but now flying and driving dominate.

Another factor is the subjective value of goods and services, meaning based on the wants, needs and desires of consumers. Goods are valuable because people will pay money for them. People differ greatly in their wants and needs, making it nearly impossible to predict what will be valuable, as pet rocks from the 1970s and the variety of videos on YouTube with millions of views illustrate.

Experts are disadvantaged on economic questions. Truths cannot be learned from a textbook, may not hold everywhere (or anywhere tomorrow), and depend on idiosyncratic consumer preferences.

The other part of the argument against socialism is the miraculous degree of coordination in markets. Thousands of products from around the world are available in a grocery store without preordering a week in advance. The times we can’t get what we want, like the recent toilet paper shortage, stand out.

By contrast, central planning in the former Soviet Union produced empty shelves. People would wait in line for hours to buy goods. Russians would join lines without even asking what people were waiting for.

No one would hold a high school dance without a committee to plan the event. Yet the market economy has no one in charge, no one with the power to command others. Coordination occurs voluntarily and is called spontaneous order. And the market does not merely repeat what was done yesterday, it offers improvements too. No one ordered Mark Zuckerberg to start Facebook, he just decided to try.

Politicians rely on experts to devise policies because America has, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, a government “for the people.” In America, restrictions on our freedom can be justified only if they make us – as opposed to the rulers – better off.

Politicians consequently seek out the experts willing to justify policies. Economists who do not understand economic knowledge, subjective value and spontaneous order will offer unrealistic claims about how government will improve our lives. Such experts exhibit what Professor Hayek called, “The Fatal Conceit.” We should not trust experts who are unaware of the limits of their expertise.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

Roby: Celebrating the life of John Lewis

(M. Roby/Contributed)

John Lewis once said, “You cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out for what you believe. You have to have courage, raw courage.” He also encouraged us to “Get into good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.” John Lewis’ journey through this world started right here in the middle of the Second Congressional District. His life and legacy were well honored this past week with services in Alabama, Washington, D.C., and Georgia.

I had the privilege to attend John’s celebration of life service in Atlanta and remember the remarkable life of not only a colleague but a very dear friend. It is no secret that he was a true American patriot who dedicated his very existence to the pursuit of equal justice for all. John has been an inspiration to countless individuals throughout the entirety of his meaningful life.

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As many Alabamians know, John has a deep connection to the state of Alabama. He was born in Troy in 1940 and made a commitment as a child to become a part of a movement of great importance to him – the civil rights movement. He went off to college and dedicated much of his time to non-violent protests and the organization of several activists groups. He was a keynote speaker at the 1963 March on Washington and marched alongside his childhood inspiration, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma on Bloody Sunday.

John Lewis’ long list of accomplishments throughout his life speaks volumes about the substantial footprint he left on the fight for equality. In Former President George W. Bush’s remarks earlier this week, he said, “The story that began in Troy isn’t ending here, nor is the work. John Lewis lives forever in his Father’s house, and he will live forever in the hearts of Americans, who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.”

Before he left us, John spoke to us one more time in a piece to be published the day of his funeral. He stated, “While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society…”

John’s final words leave us with a call and duty, to always stand up for what is right. His legacy will be everlasting, inspiring many for generations to come. Thank you, John Lewis, for your selfless courage and fervent passion. This world is a much better place because you were in it, and we will do our best to follow in your footsteps.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

State Sen. Elliott: There’s still work to be done

(Representative Will Dismukes, Senator Chris Elliott/Facebook, YHN)

Last weekend should have been a shining moment for the state of Alabama, a celebration of the life and efforts of Congressman John Lewis – a true freedom fighter and hero for civil rights and equality in our nation.

It was also an opportunity to reflect on our past and be proud of how far we Alabamians have come. Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites – all came together to honor and remember the life of Alabama’s courageous and remarkable son.

Well, not all, apparently.

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What possible reason could a public official have to attend a 199th birthday party for the founder of the Ku Klux Klan while you’re in the same city as the funeral procession of a venerated civil rights hero who was literally beaten by that same Klan?

It almost seems absurd that we should have to have these conversations here in 2020, but here we are.

It is especially disconcerting to see behavior like this coming from someone so young. Perhaps one could expect this sort of thing from a grandparent or great-grandparent, as they were products of an era that may still hold those problematic, antiquated views – but from a 30-year-old, someone who should exemplify how far we have come as a state? It is worrying, to say the least.

To lack the basic knowledge of history to know that the 199-year-old birthday boy at your party was the founder of the KKK seems incongruent with the career of this young House member, who continues to claim to be a student of Confederate history. Perhaps it’s willful ignorance – it’s tough to tell.

For all the progress our state has made in moving forward from our history of racial divisiveness and strife, incidents like the one involving this young state representative are an important lesson that while it is important for us to remember our past, our priority must be our continued journey to the better, brighter future that awaits us all and, thanks to Will Dismukes, that journey is clearly not over yet.

Representative Dismukes has, however, shone a bright light for those of us that thought racism was something we could put behind us. In the words of Congressman John Lewis from our own Edmund Pettus Bridge, “We must use this moment to recommit ourselves to do all we can to finish the work. There’s still work left to be done.”

Sen. Chris Elliott (R–Daphne) represents Baldwin County in the Alabama State Senate and serves as the Vice-Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

1 week ago

Keep a weather eye on the horizon – A legal storm is brewing

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the displeasure of being at sea when a major storm develops. It is disconcerting, to say the least. As the deck pitches and rolls, the mental review of the all-hands disaster planning takes place in the mind. Pulling into a safe harbor and putting feet on dry land is a multi-layered relief.

In Alabama, we have a legal storm brewing on the horizon and businesses, churches, hospitals and non-profits are all sailing directly into the maelstrom.

2020 has sucked the life out of businesses across the nation, and Alabama is no different. The effects of having our economy forcefully shut down by the government have left many employers and their employees reeling and some have already called it quits for good. As of July 30th, Business Insider magazine reported that U.S. GDP plunged 33% in the second quarter, all of which was self-imposed.

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As we begin to come to grips with the pandemic and its economic fallout, government leaders are under a literal duty to do all that is possible to rekindle our flagging economy and to ensure that the second and third order effects of coronavirus fallout don’t serve to destroy what’s left. One of those very real side effects is a legal environment that stokes the flames of “jackpot justice” and allows businesses, churches, hospitals and non-profits to be subjected to frivolous coronavirus tort litigation.

Don’t think for a second that it won’t happen. It was in recent memory that Alabama was lampooned in the national media as “tort hell.” Certain communities in this state saw the railroads pull up their tracks, restaurants close down, and factories move elsewhere, because the legal environment was no longer just and impartial. We’ve come a long way since then.

But as we speak, I would lay strong odds that there are lawsuits being pondered that should never be allowed the light of day. Imagine if you will that someone contracts COVID-19 and decides that their barber didn’t have his mask on well enough. Lawsuit. Or that someone went to church and realized that there was someone singing hymns close by who took off their mask. Lawsuit. What if a factory calls its people back to work and despite taking reasonable precautions they have an outbreak in the workforce. Lawsuit.

Suddenly, everyone is filing claims on their liability policy or, worse yet, filing bankruptcy because they cannot sustain the litigation.

Now let’s be clear, I am not saying that aggrieved citizens should not be given their day in court if they have a cognizable claim for damages that is the proximate result of someone’s actions or omissions. I am a lawyer myself. I litigate claims as needed on a regular basis and I affirm that the first rule of civil procedure is to afford every claimant “the just, speedy, and inexpensive” adjudication of their claim.

The question is one of proof. Coronavirus has affected us all, whether physically, economically, or both. To bring someone into court for that damage a plaintiff had better be darn sure that they can meet the requisite standards, or burden of proof.

Enter what State Senator Arthur Orr brought before the legislature in the recent regular session which was known then as Senate Bill 330. SB330 specifically ascribed that a claimant in litigation for a coronavirus related lawsuit must have a burden of proof that met the standard of clear and convincing evidence. For those who don’t practice law that basically means that bare-bones accusations are not enough – you best know what you mean and have the unadulterated means of proving it.

SB330 should already be law. The Alabama State Senate took the matter up and passed it without difficulty. But for reasons known to themselves the Alabama House saw fit to adjourn the Session without giving SB330 any debate.

The Alabama Policy Institute has been on the record now for some time advocating for the governor to call the legislature back into a Special Session solely related to the needs of the State in the wake of the coronavirus. In doing so API has published its 6-point RESTORE Alabama Plan for such a legislative session and the first order of business in the plan is SB330.

Interestingly enough, on the second page of Senator Orr’s original bill, it actually states “providing such a safe harbor to businesses that operate reasonably consistent with applicable public health guidance will help ameliorate the social harms of a closed economy and the resulting unemployment.”

Just such a safe harbor is what we need in the face of an oncoming legal storm.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

1 week ago

Combatting addiction means re-thinking pain treatment

(AF Medical Service/Contributed)

Getting the resources you need to battle addiction is hard enough. Doing it during COVID-19 can be nearly impossible, and the current state of our country could be making the severity of Alabama’s addiction crisis far worse.

Quarantine can be isolating; for those who are economically insecure, it can also mean real fear of losing a home, health insurance or the ability to put food on the table. Studies have indicated, nationwide, that the COVID-19 crisis is increasing rates of drug and alcohol addiction. Yet, many of our own state’s treatment facilities remain closed or unable to operate at full capacity. In Alabama, the opioid addiction crisis was already causing immeasurable damage statewide before COVID-19; in fact, Walker County had the highest rate of addiction in the entire country. Getting our state back on the track to recovery, both from COVID-19 and the opioid epidemic, will require a fundamental rethinking of the way we prevent addiction in our society, from top to bottom.

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As the chief program officer at The Foundry Ministries, a Christian organization in North and Central Alabama, aiming to help with addiction recovery and poverty, I work closely with many of our region’s most at-risk populations. The Foundry’s recovery program is a resource that works, on a local scale, to help break up the cycle of addiction that’s eating away at our communities. In 2019 alone, we provided more than 100,000 nights of shelter, 345,000 meals, 25,000 hours of counseling/aftercare services, and 640,000 education/employment readiness hours.

Community-facing addiction service work has been the most challenging and rewarding part of my career, but it also teaches you just how deeply-rooted our addiction and poverty crises are. One stumble with addiction can derail someone’s life, and reclaiming control over their life is a struggle felt with each step, every day along the path to recovery. In my role on Governor’s Commission on Opioid Abuse and Overdose, I focus my efforts on expanding access to treatment and recovery services like The Foundry’s. But I also know that our work has to begin before someone ends up seeking treatment.

While we, as a state, must put in the work to expand access to treatment and recovery services, those programs must be a last resort for addressing the addiction epidemic. On the front end, our work begins in hospitals, by reforming the prescribing rules and systems that get so many vulnerable Alabamans hooked on opioids in the first place. High-prescribing facilities, dubbed “pill mills” often make large profits off the over-prescription of opioid medications. Fortunately, non-opioid options pose an opportunity to avoid the risks of opioid addiction while continuing to treat pain, if we can leverage them properly.

But when a patient could benefit from the use of non-opioid pain treatments, those drugs often remain unavailable or prohibitively expensive, tangled in red tape from insurers and coverage gaps. Even with health programs like Medicare, the surgery reimbursement rules weren’t designed to give patients a non-opioid option. Right now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services bundle together reimbursement payments into one sum, covering general, average surgery costs. Unfortunately, this creates an incentive for medical facilities to choose the cheapest pain treatment option – inevitably, “penny-a-pill” opioids. If the facility chooses to administer an in-hospital pain treatment option, like many of today’s non-opioid therapies, they take on the additional costs of those procedures, giving our state’s medical facilities a reason to limit access to potentially life-saving treatments. It’s long past time that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services change these rules. Fortunately, legislation in Congress today would make that change.

The NOPAIN Act would revise Medicare’s repayment rules to cover today’s full range of safer pain treatment options. Passing this bill and advocating for those without a voice or a platform is our responsibility as caring neighbors and responsible citizens.

Due to my previous work with the Alabama legislature, I know that if we put resources where they’re needed and build policies that encourage our doctors to make the responsible prescribing decisions, we can help eradicate addiction once and for all. Please join members of the Alabama delegation and the growing, bipartisan group of lawmakers calling for the immediate passage of the NOPAIN Act.

As the Foundry Ministries’ Program Officer, Brandon Lackey serves on Governor Kay Ivey’s Opioid Use and Overdose Committee, is a founding board member of the Alabama Association of Christian Recovery Ministries and has more than 18 years of Christ-centered recovery services leadership experience.

1 week ago

Mo Brooks: Send open borders advocate Doug Jones packing in November

(Office of Sen. Doug Jones/Facebook)VOA News/YouTube)

Have you noticed how often politicians claim they want to help American families yet support policies that make poverty and hardship even worse?

Socialist Democrats like Doug Jones, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threaten America’s national security, suppress American worker wages, and take needed American jobs from struggling American families by luring millions of illegal aliens into America with promises of amnesty, voting rights, jobs and “free” welfare.

For example, socialist Democrats have, in numerous cities, passed local laws letting illegal aliens vote in American elections, thereby undermining the ability of Americans to control their own governments! And make no bones about it. They want the same anti-American laws for ALL elections in America!

Consider Jones’ border security positions:

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When President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border to free up billions TO BUILD THE WALL, Jones voted “No.”

Jones worked against Americans and with socialist Democrats to kill efforts to withhold tax dollars from “sanctuary cities” that illegally support illegal aliens.

How much damage do illegal aliens (supported by Doug Jones) do to American citizens?

Per federal crime data, illegal aliens average killing 2,000+ Americans on American soil each year. These Americans would be alive today but for Doug Jones’ policies.

Per Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), illegal aliens cost American taxpayers a net tax loss of close to $9,000/illegal alien/year, for a total of $100+ BILLION per year in net tax losses! That money should be spent helping Americans, not illegal aliens.

Per Harvard economist Jorge Borjas, the surge in illegal alien labor costs struggling blue-collar families over $1,000 per year in suppressed & lost wages/year. Per Pew, illegal aliens also take millions of job opportunities from Americans each year.

Per federal data, illegal narcotics like fentanyl, cocaine and the like that are smuggled across America’s porous southern border kill 30,000+ Americans each year.

But illegal aliens are only part of the problem. Cheap legal foreign labor suppresses wages of and takes jobs from America’s white-collar workers.

America must cut the importation of lawful foreign workers to reflect and help the 40+ million Americans who lost their jobs this year because of COVID19 & economic shutdowns by America’s governors and mayors.

America needs TWO Alabama senators who prefer Americans over cheap foreign labor and will work with President Trump to combat cheap foreign labor that so badly hurts struggling American families and secure our southern border.

Coach Tuberville supports President Trump and his immigration policies, and, just as importantly, President Trump supports Coach Tuberville.

I urge all Alabamians who want to secure America’s porous southern border, who support freedom and liberty, who understand the foundational principles that have made America the greatest nation in world history, to join me.

I am voting for Coach Tommy Tuberville on November 3. I urge you to fight for America by joining me and casting your ballot for Coach Tommy Tuberville, too.

U.S. Representative Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District

2 weeks ago

Will Sellers: Alabama’s finest hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byrne: Education in the time of the pandemic

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Last week, I had a virtual conference with the leaders of the local school systems in our district. Starting a new school year is a difficult task in the best of times. Doing so in the middle of a pandemic with the disease spreading as it is now makes this normally difficult job truly daunting.

I greatly appreciate what these leaders and their staff are going through. Over $500 million of the CARES Act money Congress sent to Alabama will be used to help schools deal with COVID-19, and the purpose of our call was to bring them up to speed on that federal money coming their way and to offer them the support of my office.

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The first and most important decision our local school systems have to make is whether to allow students to return this year in person. Most of our local systems in southwest Alabama have decided to do that starting in August but with an option for parents to decide if they prefer for their children to only participate virtually. The Mobile County system has elected to delay start of the school year until September 1 and provide instruction during the first quarter, which lasts nine weeks, in remote fashion only. Then they will reassess.

Actually, all of these systems will have to constantly monitor the situation and potentially reassess based on how things are going. It’s important to know that flu season begins in October and peaks between December and February, which is relevant because public health experts warn that COVID-19 spread could worsen during this same time. We will just have to wait and see because like so much else with regard to this disease, the experts really don’t know.

Why is there such a push to reopen schools? We had a hearing on the Education Committee last month, and testimony indicated that virtual or distance learning may work for some students but for many it doesn’t. That may be because they don’t have access to the internet or because they just need in-person help from a teacher physically present in the classroom. For the many students for whom distance learning doesn’t work, virtual classes are the same as no classes.

In April, the Collaborative for Student Growth, a non-partisan education research organization, released a study on the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement. It projected that the early closure last spring resulted in a 30% loss in reading gains for the academic year, and a 50% loss in mathematics. And that was for missing only part of a semester. That same month the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning research organization, released preliminary findings on the cost to students’ future earnings caused by the spring closures. It came to a loss of over $1300 in future income per year, per student, and a 12% hit to national GDP.

On the health side, in May the U.S. Center for Disease Control issued a resource for school leaders called “Considerations for Schools” which lays out how schools can open with safe environments and operations. Last week it issued new guidelines for schools and a statement on “The Importance of Reopening American Schools This Fall,” concluding that the health risk of COVID-19 to children is small when compared to the considerable benefits of in person education.

And, just a few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatricians, which is “Dedicated to the Health of All Children,” issued a “Guidance for School Re-Entry” in which it emphasized that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” It noted that “children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease” from COVID-19. It also provided detailed guidance for schools.

There is another important consideration here. The AAP found that “schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.” At a time when the US is having a major national discussion on inequality, we need to consider the potential long term, serious, and disproportionately negative effect not opening schools will have on poor children and children of color. They are more likely not to have internet at home or a caregiver there during the school day as their parents are more likely to have to work. Not being in school for an extended period is a big issue for any child, but for these children it will likely mean a permanent, lifelong setback.

Finally, we all should include in our considerations the health and safety of our educators. Putting them physically in a classroom exposes them to risks, and some of them have justifiably expressed their concerns. The CDC guidance on healthy school environments and operations will help protect students and teachers. But there will also be extra stress on our educators as they cope with the challenges posed by the disease, and the AAP’s Guidance directly addresses the need to help them with that stress. As with health care providers during this pandemic, educators operating in person are front line heroes and deserve our support.

As we work our way through the experience with this disease, let’s not forget that there will be a vaccine that effectively provides immunity, and an effective treatment so that those who have it won’t face hospitalization or death. As a result, we will return to a new normal in which we won’t be so distanced from one another and schools will operate closer to the old normal. Let’s make decisions for today with an eye to this future new normal. And let’s take care of our children in their health AND their education.

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

2 weeks ago

Rep. Simpson: Prison system issues show ‘lack of institutional control’

(Screenshot/APTV)

“Lack of institutional control.”

Growing up as a sports fan in Alabama, and even when I attended the University of Alabama, I became familiar with that phrase as the NCAA brought down sanctions on our beloved athletic programs.

Our athletics programs should hold themselves to higher standards, the champion level programs we’ve come to expect in our state, whether you say “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.”

Shouldn’t we hold the officials in charge of running and managing Alabama’s prison systems to at least a modicum of the same standards?

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When you look at the Department of Justice report released last week detailing the continued horrendous abuses within our state’s prison system, there is no way that you can read the horrors outlined there and not think there’s a lack of institutional control that starts at the very top.

When a prisoner handcuffed to a bed is beaten with a baton while an officer yells “I am the reaper of death, now say my name!” there is a lack of institutional control.

When an inmate is punched in the face for simply sticking their tongue out, there is a lack of institutional control.

When the officials in charge of our prison system have known about these violations for years and know they are under investigation from the federal government and the abuses still continue to happen, there is a lack of institutional control.

Our prison guards, corrections officers and staff are overworked, underpaid and understaffed, with some of our prisons remaining at half of their full hiring capacity – despite the fact that last year, the legislature appropriated more than enough money to fill those positions and create new ones to help secure and make safer our correctional institutions. Those positions, both current and new, have not been filled, so our officers and staff at these prisons continue to not get the support they need and deserve due to the inaction of our Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner.

Not using the ample resources and funding that have been given to you – again, it’s a clear lack of institutional control by the Alabama Department of Corrections’ leadership and something has to change.

We need new leadership who is actually willing to address these problems head-on and make the changes necessary to fix these problems.

We need new leadership who is willing to work with the legislature and not try to do things behind the scenes of behind closed doors. The entire nation is watching how we handle this, and we need to be as open, as honest and as transparent as we possibly can be.

Our Department of Corrections is not being run in a manner that the people of Alabama should accept, and it is past time to make a change there.

Lack of institutional control – we would not allow and have not tolerated it from a football coach, and we certainly don’t need to continue to tolerate it from appointed government officials who should be working for the people.

Rep. Matt Simpson (R- Daphne) represents House District 96, which includes portions of Mobile and Baldwin counties, in the Alabama House of Representatives.

2 weeks ago

Rethinking medical care

(Pixabay, YHN)

Governor Ivey imposed a statewide mask mandate last week as Alabama’s intensive care units (ICUs) approached capacity. We have experienced unprecedented restrictions on freedom to prevent COVID-19 from overwhelming our healthcare system. The COVID pandemic will hopefully lead us to recognize that healthcare is an economic good.

Economists would identify a lack of hospital or ICU beds or ventilators as a shortage: the quantity people demand exceeds the supply. Shortages occur occasionally in markets, like the recent toilet paper shortage. Shortages can become permanent with government controls, as with apartments under rent control or basically everything in the former Soviet Union.

Shortages though do not normally lead to restrictions on freedom. The toilet paper shortage and the 1970s gas shortages (due to government price controls) certainly affected our lives. People curtailed driving, and long lines at gas stations were a pain. Yet states did not close businesses or issue stay-at-home orders to limit driving.

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Furthermore, no argument for freedom I know of says that people should be free only when certain goods are plentiful. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are not void when hospitals are full. Yet in recent months, governments have prevented church services and funerals.

The difference stems, I think, from an economic confusion. We view healthcare as an objective good, not in subjective terms as we do other goods and services. The objective good fallacy rationalizes other government interventions into healthcare.

Subjectivity as used by economists means from the perspective and values of the subject (the consumer). Goods have value because we will trade our time, effort, or money for them. This makes voluntary exchange in markets possible. Consumers’ willingness to give up things of value for food, clothing or televisions gives suppliers an incentive to produce them.

Economics does not try to explain why people value certain things. And markets do not require justification of these values to anyone.

By contrast, we view healthcare objectively, or independent of subjects’ perceptions. Healthcare has an objective element; life or death is an objective fact. An elixir will not cure cancer just because we believe that it does.

This objective element, however, does not eliminate subjective value. Whether a car provides transportation is objective. The value people get from cars is largely subjective; driving a Corvette is not merely about getting from point A to point B.

The misperception that medical care is an objective good makes it seem like experts, namely doctors and bureaucrats, can efficiently ration it. Doctors determine the medicine or treatment needed to restore a person’s health. This illusion provides the rationale for Certificate of Need laws imposed by Alabama and other states. Under these laws, healthcare providers must get permission from state regulators to open a new hospital or clinic; experts decide what we “need” to avoid wasteful excess capacity. And objectivity means we must justify our desire for medicines to a doctor.

Shortages in markets are rare and short-lived, but capacity constraints affect many goods. Airplanes and hotels have fixed numbers of seats and rooms and can sell out. Markets manage such constraints through contracts. If you arrive at a hotel without a reservation, you might be out of luck; non-refundable reservations will guarantee you a room.

Our expert-driven system treats hospitals and ventilators as open access resources. This means that hospital beds are simply made available when someone is sick. We do not rely on contracts to determine access in the event of crowding.

Concierge medicine illustrates how markets might handle access to equipment. These doctors’ wealthy customers pay enough to ensure they have access to facilities when needed; I’m sure concierge doctors obtained ventilators as COVID-19 spread. While we might view this as hoarding or preferential access, I see it as empowering customers over experts.

Healthcare officials trampled our freedom to prevent excess demand for ICU beds. We would never consider stay-at-home orders to prevent the overcrowding of flights. If we find restrictions on freedom due to healthcare shortages intolerable, we should start thinking about medicine as a subjective good.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

2 weeks ago

Race relations — Making a difference!

(W.Miller/YHN)

Roy Williams, on behalf of the Birmingham Public Library, interviewed me recently about my book — “Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist.”

He also asked me some important questions about the George Floyd incident and implications going forward. Copied below is that part of the Q&A plus my answer to a final question about my book that relates very directly to where we find ourselves today.

Regardless of your race or political persuasion, I believe that you can make a constructive difference in race relations by taking part in the day-to-day, grassroots change I propose. (The entire interview is available here).

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BPL: Given the discussion on race that is going on in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, what is your reaction as someone who admits they were a racist before changing your views?

Otts: The incident sickened me. As a Christian, I saw his terrible killing as not only a legal matter deserving of severe charges, but as sin deserving of repentance (like racism itself). As shown in my book, race is way too convenient as a hook to hang hang-ups on. I do not think white people need to just shut up and listen.

We need to talk too! I think police reform is needed, but not some cookie cutter approach that ignores the need for transparent community-based discussion. That’s why I favor federal incentives to bring about change and community efforts to hold authorities accountable for implementation of the type of communication that will not just result in policy changes, but in relationship changes. On the private side, churches should step up without politics. Since people are church, that means folks of faith.

BPL: What do you hope comes out of this discussion on race in wake of Floyd?

Otts: I hope we finally gain a foothold on a major key to building better race relations – a form of communication about race and our personal experiences and views that is not dependent on fear or political correctness, but is characterized by the type of transparency reflected in my book and all I and others have done to communicate constructively. We have, as a society, been in our adolescence in this regard – time to grow up!

BPL: Why do you think this issue of Floyd death is capturing support from whites and other non-blacks while so many other killings by police and others of unarmed blacks did not?

Otts: I think it has gained momentum from an intersection of factors in our society, not the least of which is growth from the seeds planted during the Civil Rights Movement. People like me have either changed or are moving on! Racism is still a big problem. As a society, as I said, we have been adolescent – time to grow up!

BPL: What lessons do you hope readers of your book will learn?

Otts: I hope they will learn about the importance of process and transparency as it relates to racism and growing relationships across racial lines – as well as the practical difference they can make by taking improving race relations to be a day-to-day personal challenge. We all have something that will make a difference. Let’s tell our stories!

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

2 weeks ago

Roby: Honoring our service members

(M. Roby/Facebook)

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to be a top focus throughout the country, it is important we do not forget about the selfless service members who dedicate themselves to protecting us all.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have considered it a tremendous privilege and responsibility to represent a district that is home to two of our country’s finest military installations – Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass and Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery. One of my top priorities in office has always been to support and advocate for military members, their families, and our veterans in the Second District.

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The numerous lifestyle modifications made over the last several months to combat the current health crisis have required major adjustments for all – adults and parents are working remotely, students are participating in virtual schooling, and millions are following state and local public health orders. As the school year approaches, I want to especially remember the mothers and fathers who are deployed, doing their duty to protect us while also ensuring their children are adjusting to an unprecedented return to school.

Each year, Congress passes legislation that authorizes the various military programs and defense activities in the Department of Defense. The House and Senate passed their own versions this past week of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021. I am hopeful both chambers of Congress can work together to ensure our military has all the necessary resources to protect this great nation.

Our men and women in uniform sacrifice so much to defend this country, especially during these challenging times worldwide. I would like to give a special thank you to all our military members. Your bravery and unwavering service to the United States is never forgotten. Because of your service and sacrifice, America remains the Land of the Free. I continue to pray for our military families as our nation navigates a path forward and a road to recovery.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

3 weeks ago

Don’t be fooled by a self-licking ice cream cone

(API/Contributed, YHN)

What if I told you that the government could tax you, then shut down your ability to pay the taxes, then provide you the funds to keep operating, but then tax you an extra amount on the funds they sent you. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, we’re on the brink of finding out whether it will be our reality in Alabama.

I heard a relevant term for the first time in a military briefing. Someone briefed the commander on issues that seemed to be self-perpetuating and self-glorifying. The response? “What you just gave me was a self-licking ice cream cone!” No one knew whether to laugh or just start doing pushups. A quick online search shows that “In political jargon, a self-licking ice cream cone is a self-perpetuating system that has no purpose other than to sustain itself.”

Government should never be allowed to hand its people a self-licking ice cream cone and call it a treat.

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As we pass the half-year-mark of COVID-19 and the mass government-imposed economic shutdowns, people and businesses are still reeling. One of the unfortunate results of a government decision to shut down an economy meant that elected officials chose winners and losers – some thrived as they became the only source available, while others suffered because they were not allowed to earn a living.

Enter the federal government with trillions of dollars in relief funds through the CARES Act. Individuals received stimulus dollars in the form of personal checks. Businesses received payroll protection loans and EIDL grants with the possibility of future forgiveness of the debt. The rub comes in when you consider that the State of Alabama could choose to look at these federal funds as “windfall revenue” that are taxable by the state. That cannot happen.

During the most recent legislative session, State Senator Chris Elliott had a bill that, in his words, is “still teed up and ready.” Formerly known as SB342, the bill would have ensured that there is no loophole by which the state could assume federal relief dollars under the CARES Act as taxable by the Alabama Department of Revenue. Of course, the legislative session ended abruptly and that all-important piece of legislation was left on the Senate floor.

A review of our state economic policies by the staff at the Alabama Policy Institute creates somewhat of a gray area here. Some would argue that we, as a state, are already in conformity with federal policy on this issue and those funds are not taxable. Conversely, there is enough gray that red flags should be waving and every individual and business who received those funds should be screaming that SB342 should be revived just to drive a stake through this issue’s cold dark heart.

In short, if our elected officials really want to ensure that their constituents won’t face the awful penalty of being put out of work, then provided with some form of relief, only to be taxed on the relief by the same government that created the need for it … then SB342 needs to be passed at the first opportunity.

The Alabama Policy Institute has been on the record for some time now urging the Governor to call a special session of the legislature solely for the purpose of post-corona recovery. Within the six-point RESTORE plan promoted by API is this exact measure that would lock in the concept that relief is for relief…not for government to generate its own version of a self-licking ice cream cone.

Phil Williams, API Director of Policy Strategy and General Counsel, is a former State Senator from Gadsden. For updates, follow him on Twitter at @SenPhilWilliams and visit alabamapolicy.org.

3 weeks ago

The freedom to speak and criticize

(Pixabay, YHN)

Harper’s magazine recently posted a letter signed by over 150 leading authors, journalists and public intellectuals calling for greater support for freedom of speech. The letter criticized the intolerance for opposing views frequently exhibited on Twitter and social media. Does the freedom to criticize speech threaten the free exchange of ideas?

Signers included David Brooks, Noam Chomsky, Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem and Matt Yglesias. To quote from the letter, “The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. … We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.”

A society organized for the benefit of people as opposed to the glory of rulers requires freedom for people to think, voice their ideas, and engage with others. Our rational faculties require critical exchange. And limiting government requires freedom to criticize our leaders.

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Some commentators have criticized social media censorship by companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google while others want more active removal of offensive content. The censorship claim is technically false, as only governments truly censor, whether through prior restraint to prevent publication of views or punishments for speech.

Is freedom from government coercion sufficient, or can the actions of private individuals neutralize freedom of expression? Negative reactions to the Harper’s letter ultimately turn on these questions.

Third parties can illegitimately chill speech, as Harper’s signatory Salman Rushdie can attest to. His 1988 novel The Satanic Verses was considered blasphemous by Muslims; Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwah on – or order to Muslims to kill – Mr. Rushdie, who spent a decade in hiding. In January 2015, armed gunmen killed 11 employees at the offices of the French radical magazine Charlie Hedbo over offensive content.

Criminal acts are unacceptable. We will not have free exchange if violence is the price of speaking. Are other forms of outrage over or criticism of speech acceptable?

Some must be. People who found Mr. Rushdie’s book offensive should be free not to buy it. The writing of letters by newspaper readers or television viewers demanding that certain columnists or reporters be fired also seems acceptable.

Social media mobs seem more adept at getting offenders fired than letter writers ever were. A parallel for today’s events might be the Hollywood blacklist during the anti-communist McCarthy era. While Senator McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Affairs exercised government power, the blacklist was private reprisal. The entertainment industry feared public backlash from employing actors, actresses, directors or writers seen as communists or communist sympathizers.

Is there anything different and more dangerous about social media? For one, social media permanently records peoples’ misstatements and offensive actions. An inappropriate Halloween costume lives forever on Facebook or Instagram and cannot be denied. Furthermore, social media outrage organizes at warp speed compared to the letter-writing campaigns of yesterday.

Yet social media critics cannot fire businesses’ employees; they prevail only by persuading business managers of the merits of their complaints. I may think that businesses respond too quickly and overreact to social media outrage. As an economist, I recognize that business leaders know the challenges they face much better than I do.

Consider the recent resignation of CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman in the wake of his criticism of protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Was his company “taken” from him unjustly? Not necessarily; the financial harm he caused was real. Reportedly 1,000 of the company’s 14,000 gyms ended their affiliations in response, and Reebok severed a decade-long licensing deal. CrossFit is privately held, but investors sought to make money, not lose due to Mr. Glassman’s comments.

Loss of one’s ability to earn a livelihood is a harsh penalty likely to chill speech, both now and during the Hollywood blacklist. Ultimately, however, social media protests only succeed by persuading others that someone’s speech is offensive. Persuasion and criticism are part of life in a voluntary society.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

3 weeks ago

Roby: Your census response matters

(Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

As I recently wrote about all the ways government agencies are assisting during the current health pandemic, I want to focus on a significant action Alabamians can take now to support our state for years to come. As you know, the U.S. Census Bureau is in the process of conducting the 2020 Census. Several census operations were adapted or delayed due to Coronavirus in order to protect the health and safety of the Census Bureau staff and the public. The Census Bureau is dedicated to ensuring the population is counted, even amid this global pandemic.

According to the Census Bureau, information provided daily to the Bureau from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local officials regarding the Coronavirus is used to guide the Bureau’s next steps with timing decisions. Particular field operations will resume on a phased schedule and a geographic basis. The original “self-response phase” began March 12 and was scheduled to end at the end of this month. The revised deadline for individuals to submit a self-response online, in the mail, or over the phone is now set for October 31.

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This new deadline allows for an additional three months to respond to the census, which can greatly impact the number of responses submitted to the Census Bureau. The most up-to-date data from the U.S. Census Bureau on July 16 shows the national self-response rate is 62.1 percent, Alabama’s rate is 59.8 percent, and the Second Congressional District’s rate is 58.2 percent. In the 2010 Census, the final self-response rate for the Second District was 63.5 percent.

Your response is critical for the future of our state. The census not only counts the American population, but it also determines Alabama’s congressional representation in Washington, the amount of federal funding the state receives, and data that will impact our communities in the future. My office is dedicated to dispersing 2020 Census guidance and data as well as informing Alabamians on how to participate. My staff and I have been talking with state agencies and the Census Bureau to learn more about ways in which we can encourage participation and help spread insightful information regarding the Census, and I recently began weekly social media updates spotlighting the 2020 Census.

I want to thank each individual who has done their part by completing their census response. If you have not yet answered your 2020 Census, you can do so online now. You can also complete your response by mail or telephone (1-844-330-2020). Responding is quick, easy, secure, and confidential. The future of our state’s representation in Congress and the Electoral College are at stake, and we must ensure that Alabama receives its fair share of federal funding for numerous programs. Your response will help to direct billions of federal dollars to support our local schools, infrastructure projects, emergency services, and many other public services. Alabama needs an accurate count, and your response makes a difference.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

Byrne: A fiscal reckoning

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

When the House returns to business next Monday, we will take up the National Defense Authorization Act I wrote about last week. Then, we will take up appropriations bills for next fiscal year, which begins October 1, and likely another coronavirus bill.

This spring I voted for both of the CARES Acts, which together spent $3 trillion. That was on top of this year’s projected total federal spending of $4.8 trillion, which was already going to add $1 trillion to our national debt. With the CARES Act spending, however, the total deficit for this fiscal year will be $3.7 trillion. The deficit for the month of June alone was $864 billion.

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Following the work of the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week, I became very concerned about the bills they will pass out of their committee this week and that the House will vote on later this month. They are exceeding the spending cap deal reached by their leadership, Senate leadership and President Trump last year. Just as bad, they are loading up their spending bills with controversial policy riders they know Republicans won’t vote for. Unless they make a big change, I’m going to vote against the House version of appropriations for next year. I hope the Senate brings some sanity to the process.

I also have big concerns over another coronavirus bill. We’ve spent so much money already, money we don’t have and are borrowing. And I don’t agree with the Modern Monetary Theory which says deficits don’t matter. I won’t bore you with the very solid arguments against it by eminent economists because common sense is all you need to understand individuals and nations can’t borrow unlimited amounts of money over the long term. That’s even true for the richest nation the world has ever known.

Investors buy U.S. government debt in the form of treasury bills (which are government securities due to be paid in a year), treasury notes and bonds (which mature over a longer time frame), and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (bonds indexed to inflation). They don’t do that out of patriotism or the good of their hearts. This isn’t World Wars I or II where bonds are purchased in a great national effort. No, the investors who buy our debt do it for their own self-interested reasons, and they expect to be paid back in full and on time. If they believe that they may not get paid back because the U.S. won’t be able to make the ever-growing payments, they will stop buying our debt.

And that’s when reality kicks in. It recently happened to Greece and Italy, both of which experienced severe economic turmoil and downturns. It could happen here too because even the U.S. is not immune from the laws of economics. It would be catastrophic for us, but it would be catastrophic for the world as well. If the U.S. falls economically, who gains the most? The answer is China, which already has concrete plans to replace us as the most powerful country in the world. We owe them $1 trillion and counting.

So, we need to start thinking longer term which hasn’t been a U.S. strong point for some time. Yes, we must deal with COVID-19 both as a health crisis and a danger to our economy. But, it’s time to be more focused and avoid the panicky temptation to just shovel out money. The money we have already approved hasn’t even been all spent.

What should be our priorities in the next coronavirus bill? First, it’s the cost of developing and making readily available a vaccine, just as the U.S. did with the polio vaccine during my childhood. Second, it’s the care for those who contract COVID-19, which includes effective therapeutics, and protecting the caregivers themselves. Third, it’s making sure we have the tests and PPE we need. These three all deal directly with the disease because our society and economy cannot return to “normal” until we address the disease more effectively. All of us have an individual duty in this regard, to avoid large gatherings and those most at risk of the disease, to social distance and wear face masks inside buildings.

But, when we turn to the economy, I have great concerns. I know the PPP loans/grants worked to save millions of U.S. jobs and bring many of those laid off back to work. So, maybe we start there. But, as I drive around, I see many “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs, and I hear from many business owners that they can’t get employees back to work. So, we must ask the question, do we need to keep paying the extra $600 a week to those drawing unemployment? Have we created a disincentive to work? Everyone has their hand out: colleges, schools, hospitals, this industry and that industry, the states and local governments. Where will all this money come from?

So, as we approach these two big spending projects, I am very skeptical. I’m not saying I won’t vote for either, but it looks like the FY 21 appropriations bills will just be too much for me to support. On a new coronavirus bill, I’m taking a wait and see position. My mind is open but not empty. It’s time we start reckoning with our fiscal deficits – before we’re painfully forced to by our creditors.

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

4 weeks ago

To educate our children

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Children often bear the worst of our challenges, and our disagreements.

When Alabama public schools shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we saw (again) that the promise of education is not equally available to all young people. Many government-run school administrators were unable to deliver education to the children within their districts.

At the same time, elite legal scholars propose that states should have more control over education. Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet recently received attention for proposing that states ban home schooling. She is just one of many elites who believe that parents cannot be trusted to give their children what they need, and that central governments must bear primary responsibility to decide which assertions of truth children are allowed to learn.

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Many of those elites argue that government must control education because each child has a right to be educated. And indeed, every child has such a right. But the meaning of that idea is sometimes unclear.

The right to an education emphatically does not mean that children belong to the state, or that the state has a right to direct the education of children. As the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), those rights belong to parents. To see why, it is helpful to understand how rights work.

The point of a right is to direct us how to act toward other persons. A right does this work by imposing on us some duty. That you have a right not to be murdered or maimed means that I have a duty not to murder or maim you. That my children have a right to be fed and clothed means that I have a duty to feed and clothe them.

As those examples show, rights generate two different kinds of duties. Some rights impose duties to refrain from acting in certain ways — for example, duties not to kill and maim. These duties of abstention correlate with liberties, which are sometimes called “negative rights.” These fundamental liberties are impersonal and universal. I have the same duties not to kill or maim all persons, and all persons, including powerful people and government officials, have a duty not to kill or maim me.

Other rights impose duties to act in certain ways toward particular persons — duties to feed my children, to show up for work, to teach my students truths about the law. These duties are necessarily personal and particular. Because they require some action, they are not the same for everyone. To my children, it matters that I feed and clothe them, and not someone else.

The right to be educated is of the second kind. It imposes a duty of action and is therefore personal and particular. The right of my children to receive an education is a right to receive a particular education from me or from some teacher whom I trust to whom I delegate responsibility. And the right is also personal and particular. I must pay attention to the different abilities and interests of my different children and give each the education that will best enable her to succeed in life.

For this reason, there is no uniform right to be educated. The duty to educate a child, and the right to decide how best to educate the child, belong to the person who is most intimately responsible for the child: parents.

The particularity of the right requires some qualification. Sadly, many children today are abandoned by a parent (often their father). Others are raised by well-meaning parents who lack the financial resources or educational attainment necessary to give the child opportunities he needs in a fast-changing, information economy. Others live in poor communities, where such opportunities do not exist.

So, there is a role for states to help remove barriers to education. Racial segregation is one such barrier, and states have a duty to tear segregation down.

Beyond that, we the people have a general, open-ended obligation to the children of less fortunate parents to provide them at least the minimal knowledge necessary to earn a living and be good citizens. But this does not mean that a state should force children into a system of government-run schools. Private school vouchers, charter schools, education cooperatives, apprenticeships and other means of delivering education might do the job better for different kids.

It is not surprising that 80% of respondents to a recent Cygnal poll agree that Alabama should “Expand school choice, so that families with children in failing schools should have the option to move to a better school of their choice.” Parents want the best possible education for each of their children, and they want bureaucrats to get out of the way.

The state can reasonably subsidize infrastructure for Internet access and provide other means for children to learn. Above all, the state must not cause harm to the family, especially the parent-child relationship, in its laws and official actions. If the right to be educated means anything, it means that the state must do nothing to deprive children of access to their parents and should, within the law, encourage and assist parents to give children the knowledge they need.

Adam J. MacLeod is Professorial Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute and Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Jones School of Law. He is a prolific writer and his latest book, The Age of Selfies: Reasoning About Rights When the Stakes Are Personal, is available on Amazon.