The Wire

  • The surprising link between Alabama seafood, timber and U.S. national security, and how Shelby is leading the way

    Excerpt:

    There are plenty of areas of debate over exactly how and where the U.S. should spend its foreign aid dollars. But for Alabamians in particular — and the entire Gulf Coast region more broadly — the international assistance that flows into cracking down on illegal wildlife trafficking is paying massive dividends, both economically and, perhaps more surprisingly, in terms of national security.

    A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates Americans grossly overestimate the amount the federal government spends on foreign aid.  The average answer was foreign aid accounts for a whopping 31 percent of spending. Fifteen percent of respondents actually thought it represented over half of the U.S. budget.

    In reality, according to the Congressional Research Service, it accounts for about 1 percent total when military, economic development and humanitarian efforts are combined.  And it is paying massive dividends for Alabama.

    Here’s how:

  • Rep. Byrne to Hold 12 Town Hall Meetings

    From a Congressman Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced today that he will hold twelve town hall meetings during the August District Work Period.

    Known as the “Better Off Now” Town Hall Tour, Congressman Byrne will hold public town halls in each of the counties that make up Alabama’s First Congressional District. Byrne will discuss how the American people are better off now thanks to a booming economy, stronger military, and safer communities.

    Byrne ranks among the top of all Members of Congress for the number of town hall meetings held. Since assuming office in late 2013, Byrne has held over 100 town hall meetings, including meetings over the phone and through Facebook.

    All the town hall meetings are open to the public and free to attend. All the information can be found online below.

  • HudsonAlpha technology director to present at Google Cloud conference

    Excerpt from a HudsonAlpha news release:

    HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Technology Director Katreena Mullican has been invited to present at the Google Next ‘18 conference in San Francisco, Calif, July 24-26.

    Google Next is an international conference where more than 10,000 developers, technology leaders, and entrepreneurs come together to have a collaborative discussion about the Google Cloud Platform.

    Mullican has more than 20 years of experience in architecting Linux, virtualization and hybrid cloud solutions. As HudsonAlpha’s Cloud Whisperer, Mullican brings her expertise in automation of on-prem composable and public cloud infrastructure for scientific applications and workflows to the Institute.

    “HudsonAlpha is one of the top sequencing centers in the world, so it’s my job to think outside the box to design hybrid platforms appropriate for our sequencing and research workloads,” said Mullican.

    Mullican will participate in a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Cloud Talk Tuesday at 1:00 pm in the South Hall to discuss how HudsonAlpha uses the composable HPE Synergy platform for an on-premises Kubernetes cluster that can scale to Google Cloud Platform.

Rep. Martha Roby: Pro-growth policies are working in AL-02 communities

(Congresswoman Roby/Facebook)

Over the last year and a half, Republicans in Congress and the Trump Administration have worked tirelessly to unleash our economy and foster growth right here in the United States. Since November of 2016, 3.7 million jobs have been created, and one million of those came after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law. Unemployment numbers are at the lowest point they’ve been in decades. Job openings are at a record high – 213,000 jobs were added in June alone. Also last month, there were 6.7 million job openings, which marks the first time since the year 2000 that the number of job openings is larger than the number of people unemployed.

As you may know, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act roughly doubled the standard deduction while lowering tax rates. Because of this historic tax reform, 90 percent of Americans have seen bigger paychecks this year. Plus, more than four million Americans have seen increased wages, bonuses, and expanded retirement options.

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Thanks to tax reform and our efforts to spur economic growth, Americans are working and businesses are growing – and Alabama’s Second District hasn’t missed out on the momentum. Since the enactment of our tax overhaul last year, several businesses have announced they are opening branches in our district, expanding existing ones, offering pay increases to employees, and more. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly share some of the great economic news we’ve received so far.

Most recently, Alabama manufacturer Sabel Steel, which has locations in Montgomery and Dothan, announced they will provide pay increases to all employees, invest in new equipment, expand existing facilities, and hire additional workers thanks to tax reform. I believe the company’s CEO Keith Sabel said it best himself: “There’s optimism. With the previous administration, we were hammered by rule changes and regulations. It was like trying to drink water out of a firehose. The change in policy under President Trump was enormous, and the attitude among businessmen and especially other steel manufacturers has been incredibly optimistic. Tax reform and other policies psychologically have made an enormous difference.”

James Hardie Building Products announced plans to open a new manufacturing plant in Prattville. This project is the largest industrial development in Autauga County in 50 years, and it will have a significant economic impact on the area.

U.S. firearms maker Kimber Gun Manufacturing also announced a project in AL-02. By early 2019, the company will open a $38 million production facility in Troy that will create more than 350 high-paying jobs over the next five years.

Also in Troy, Rex Lumber Co. will soon open a state of the art sawmill operation that will employ more than 100 people. This $110 million investment will create quality employment opportunities and a significant new timber market in Pike County.

In Coffee County, Wayne Farms has announced a $105 million expansion at their Enterprise fresh processing facility. This investment will bring a strong economic boost to the area.

Last, but certainly not least, Great Southern Wood Preserving based in Abbeville recently announced it will use savings from the tax overhaul to invest in additional employee benefits, including lower health care costs, more paid time off, and a new scholarship program. In addition, the company has given pay increases to employees across the board.

So you see, thanks to our pro-growth policies and a commitment to fostering economic growth in this country, Americans are confident in our economy – and rightfully so. Hardworking people in our very own communities have already benefited tremendously as a result of these important efforts, and I am eager to see this positive forward momentum continue for all Alabamians.

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

2 days ago

Yes, we DO get along!

(Andy Andrews)

I don’t remember the airline or where the flight was headed. But I will never forget the woman seated next to me.

During the course of our brief conversation, I mentioned that my family lives in Orange Beach, Alabama. Her eyebrows furrowed as she received that fairly innocuous information. Without hesitation, however, she said, “I wouldn’t live there in a million years.”

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I was taken aback, but smiled gamely, and asked, “Really? Why’s that?”

“I just couldn’t take the rain,” the woman told me.

I was silent for a beat or two, looking into the woman’s eyes, mentally scrambling to figure out what I had missed. She also continued to look at me, waiting I suppose, for a response. When none tumbled from my lips, she leaned in my direction somewhat aggressively and as if she were talking to an idiot, being forced to explain something obvious and simple, said, “The Rain. Your rain. It rains all the time in Orange Beach. I could never live in a place like that.”

I nodded as if I understood and asked how many times she had been to Orange Beach.

“Twice,” she told me. “Once for three days and another time for a whole week. We never saw the sunshine. It rains constantly in Orange Beach.”

I’ve thought about that woman off and on for years. It was such a ridiculous exchange that I’ve never really decided if it was funny or just stupid.

Obviously, it rained the only two times she ever visited. Now, I don’t study weather patterns, I don’t know Jim Cantore, and I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in a long time, but I’m fairly certain that it rains every day somewhere! In a lot of places, I’ll bet it even rains for a week at a time! And who, over the age of six or seven, has not seen it rain during a vacation?

Yeah, I’m sorry, but for a person to single out a week and a half and believe they can accurately extrapolate the cloud and moisture conditions that visitors to Orange Beach can expect for the rest of forever…is nuts. It’s beyond nuts.

Except that you and I virtually do the same thing almost every day.

We allow the media to dictate what we believe is “happening everywhere.” In print, online, and on television, we allow our fears to be stoked and our thoughts to be directed. By consuming “overlarge” portions of what they are serving, we encourage the news media’s overwhelming coverage of All Things Horrible.

Understand, I am not blaming the media for what they do or how they do it. I’m not even suggesting they do anything differently. Would it have any effect if I did? (The correct answer is “no”.)

Neither am I suggesting that racial anger, regional bias, political selfishness, or deranged behavior do not exist. But if you and I begin our day with the news and check in on the news several times during the day, then end our day with the news, it doesn’t take long for us to become convinced that what we see in the news is an accurate portrayal of society. And it’s
not.

Consider the fact that there are 19,519 towns and cities in America today. There are another 16,360 unincorporated townships. We have a population of 326 million people. All those people have access to multiple channels and online entities. They are available to us 24-hours a day. And they use those twenty-four hours every single day to keep us “informed” about exactly what is happening—not just in America, but in the whole world…

So here’s a question: If things are as bad as many of us have begun to believe, what are all those news outlets leaving out?

Shouldn’t there be at least enough bad stuff to fill twenty-four hours without repeating the same things again and again?

But as far as I can tell, when something crazy happens, not only does every channel “break” the same news, they “report” it over and over for days on end.

Look, we do care about what’s happening nationally. You and I care about race relations and politics and schools and statues and prison reform and the Boy Scouts and killer lettuce and whatever the heck that goofy looking psycho in North Korea will do next…

But I have to believe that you and I would rather put more time and constructive thought into our own families and communities. Yet, even those subjects—when they are mentioned at all—are delivered by most of our national media drenched with the overarching message: People who are different from each other in visible ways do not get along.

My point is a simple one. I’m convinced that we get along better than some folks would have us think. I’ve been watching this whole thing for quite a while now. I travel extensively and am through airports, in hotels, visiting cities, their suburbs, and exploring small towns.

I don’t always fly. I drive—sometimes long distances—and stop often to talk with the people I meet. I’ve spoken to and talked with the students on more than 400 college campuses, eaten at great restaurants, not so great restaurants, and locally favorite restaurants in every corner of this nation.

I have spoken to audiences in all fifty states and each of our nation’s territories. I have spoken to convention halls filled with men and arenas with thousands of women. I have spent time with the men and women who serve on military installations around the world.

I have watched people pull together during times of enormous stress. I have witnessed families with nothing to spare, give generously to families with nothing at all.

And after all that, I must say that I’m not sure why the media appears so determined to convince us that we do not get along…(the only possible answer is “ratings”) but assuming their efforts will not stop, we need to recognize the effect it has on us and at least stop bathing in the information.

We understand what drives television ratings. We know what sells newspapers. I wonder however, if we understand the strategy the media employs in order to attract enough viewers to stay on the air?

There is one major rule governing that strategy and it is this: If there is no large and wide-spread amount of anger and outrage to show the public, we will seek out the largest that can be found at the moment. Even if the only anger and outrage we find is a small and contained amount, with proper camera angles and specific wording by the reporter, it can be presented as an example of “what is happening everywhere.”

Except that it’s not.

What is happening almost everywhere? Folks are being polite. They are being considerate.

Yes, especially in the south.

I was checking out of the Bay Minette, Alabama Wal-Mart last week. As the cashier scanned my items, a forty-ish-year-old guy in a ball cap leaned around me, apologized for the interruption and spoke to the cashier. The following, word for word, is exactly what each of them said to the other.

Man: Excuse me, ma’am. When you get a chance, I need some help in the Photo department.

Cashier: Sure. (She turns to speak to a manager several lines away…) Miss Dana! Miss Dana, there’s a gentleman who needs help in Photos.

Man: (walking away) Thank you, ma’am.

Cashier: You’re welcome, sir.

I have to say, I smiled. I was proud of us. Yeah, us. You know…America. The South. Alabama. Baldwin County. Bay
Minette. Us!

Oh sure, I was proud of the cashier and the man. But they are us. It is, after all, how most of us act. Especially in Orange Beach. Even when it rains.

One more thing about the cashier and the man in the ball cap….Seeing them act with such respect towards each other really made my day. It crossed my mind to hug them. But I didn’t. I didn’t even know their names…

So I just took their picture. For US!

Let’s all do our part this week and continue to “Get Along.”

Perform an act of kindness or “Notice” a good gesture—then let me know about it in the Comments section of my website or on Facebook or Instagram.

I would love to continue to hear about how we are continuing to get along.

Andy Andrews is hailed by New York Times reporter as “someone who has quietly become one of the most influential people in America,” Andy Andrews is the author of multiple international bestsellers including The Traveler’s Gift and The Noticer. He is also an in-demand speaker, coach, and consultant for the world’s largest organizations.

Learning from President Trump: Words matter

(White House/YouTube)

“I don’t see any reason why it would be”.

Those words, voiced by President Trump when asked whether he believed it was true that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, set off a media firestorm early this week.

Trump, of course, is used to media criticism, but this time was different. Joining the normal critics were a multitude of Fox News hosts including Neil Cavuto, Bret Baier, Brit Hume, Dana Perino, and even Brian Kilmeade of the oft-lauded by Trump Fox and Friends.

The morning after Trump’s press conference with President Putin, Kilmeade spoke in second person “you” language and pleaded for President Trump to clarify his statement and his belief in our intelligence agencies over Russians who, as Kilmeade said “hate democracy.”

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To his credit, Trump – who had previously agreed that Russian meddling existed – corrected his statement within twenty-four hours.

Regardless of whether his clarification was believable or timely, this episode reminds us that in politics and government – and in everyday life – words matter.

19thcentury German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche recognized the power of words. Nietzsche wrote, “All I need is a sheet of paper, and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down”.

Nietzsche’s statement wasn’t merely hypothetical. His declaration that “God is dead” shattered worldviews across western civilization into pieces that PureFlix (the movie company behind God’s Not Dead and its sequels) is still trying to pick up.

Even so, it seems that many have forgotten the power of words and have embraced the idea that simply being heard, regardless of content, is of utmost importance.

In NBC’s hit show The Office, Michael Scott tells viewers, “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” I think a lot of us are more like Michael Scott than we’d like to admit.

We might do well to envision more intentional dialogue from ourselves and from our elected officials, especially our state and local representatives.

In an environment where soundbites are everything, Trump’s statements in Helsinki and the backlash that ensued ought to prompt Alabama officials and candidates to rethink any “wing it” sympathies they may have towards public statements, press conferences, or tweets.

This is even more important in the post-primary period of our election cycle.

Now that the nominees are chosen, we must remind each of their responsibility as leaders to use words, strategies, and express differences in a way that is less divisive and more unifying, less bombastic and more genuine. Our officials and candidates should think twice before resorting to name-calling or vilifying their opponents, as doing so endorses that type of behavior and lowers the standard of Alabamians for those who represent them.

We should also expect, now that the in-fighting of our primary process is over, nominees to run thoughtful campaigns where issues, not personalities, are articulately debated.

Candidates and regular Alabamians alike must remember that words yield tremendous power. Therefore, as Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the BFG, and Matilda, suggests, “Don’t gobblefunk around with words”.

Parker Snider is Manager of Policy Relations for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

Rep. Byrne: Americans are better off now

(Rep. Bradley Byrne/Twitter)

Two years ago, I joined other Republican House members in unveiling our “Better Way” agenda. The agenda covered everything from national security to tax reform to the economy. It was a bold vision about a different path for America that wasn’t driven by a larger, more powerful federal government. Instead, we advocated for a better way where we got government out of the way and allowed the American people to flourish.

Working with President Trump, we have held true to our promises to the American people. Two years later and with many parts of the agenda in place, we can safely say that Americans are better off now. Our communities are safer. The economy is booming. Our military is being rebuilt. Our “Better Way” is paying off.

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Our communities are safer because we have made supporting law enforcement a top priority. We have passed historic legislation to address the opioid crisis, which is having a horrible impact on communities in Alabama and throughout the country. In addition to better policy, we have invested $4 billion in grants and programs to help combat the opioid crisis.

We passed legislation to devote more resources to school safety, and we have made real progress in the fight against human trafficking. In fact, we have seen a 60 percent decline in online advertising for sex trafficking.

Also, important to keeping our communities safe, we set aside $1.5 billion for physical barriers and technology along the southern border and provided for over 90 miles of a border wall system. Border security is national security.

No one can deny that the American economy is booming. Just consider these numbers: 90% of Americans are seeing larger paychecks under our tax reform bill. 3.7 million jobs have been created since November 2016. There are 6.6 million job openings in the United States as of May 2018, meaning more jobs than job seekers. And, $4.1 billion has been saved in agency regulatory costs by rolling back burdensome government regulations.

One of my biggest concerns during the Obama Administration was the hollowing out of our military. We had planes that couldn’t fly and ships that couldn’t sail. We were not making the continuous critical investment in our military necessary to keep up with our adversaries. Thankfully, those days are over.

We have made the largest investment in our military in 15 years. This means 20,000 new troops, the largest pay increase for our service members since 2010, more training time, better equipment, new ships, and much more.

On the world stage, countries know that the United States means what we say. ISIS is on the run in the Middle East, North Korea has come to the negotiating table, and China is being held accountable for their dangerous trade practices.

Now, I want to make clear that much work remains. For example, we have to keep working to fix our broken immigration system and ensure that our borders are finally secure. We also cannot give up on our efforts to improve health care in our country. Costs remain too high and rural communities right here in Alabama are facing dangerous hospital closures.

But, despite what some on the other side of the aisle and the national news media want you to believe, the American people are better off now than they were two years ago. That is a testament to our pro-growth agenda, but, more importantly, it is a testament to the spirit and drive of the American people.

Want to know more? I encourage you to visit Better.gop to learn more about the various ways the American people are better off now.

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

7 days ago

Del Marsh: Judge Kavanaugh’s record is clear — He deserves to be confirmed

(WH/YouTube)

When the name Brett Kavanaugh was first mentioned to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, like many of you, I did not know who he was or much about him. I began looking into him for more information as to what kind of Supreme Court justice he would be, should he be confirmed by the United States Senate. What I found was a fair, mainstream judge who believes in the United States Constitution, who has dedicated his life to public service and a judge who shares our conservative Alabama values.

His academic record is just what you would want to see from someone who sits on the highest court. He graduated from Yale for both his undergraduate studies and for law school. He has been a clerk for judges on the Third and the Ninth Circuit courts, as well as a clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the United States Supreme Court. Since 2009, he has been a lecturer at Harvard’s law school.

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Judge Kavanaugh has published over 300 opinions in his career and his decisions show a judge who will apply the law as written and enforce the text, structure, and original understanding of the Constitution. His opinions have been cited as law by over 200 judges from across the country. He is no stranger to the current make-up of the Supreme Court as many of those who
have clerked for him have gone onto work in the Supreme Court, and dozens of his opinions have been endorsed by the current members of the Court.

As impressive as his professional career has been, his personal character seems to be impeccable. He serves as a coach for youth basketball, is a leader in his church, serves meals to needy families, and is a tutor for children at local elementary schools in the Washington D.C. area.

All of this has led me to believe that Judge Kavanaugh is the most qualified person in the country to serve on the Supreme Court. In his current role in the D.C. Circuit Court, he was confirmed with bipartisan support – and nothing will have changed from that confirmation until now.

Unfortunately, this vote will be a very close vote and many experts believe that the confirmation could come down to the decision of Alabama’s Senator Doug Jones. If Senator Jones wants to represent the people of Alabama, he will take a look at Judge Kavanaugh’s record, as I have, and vote to confirm him to the Supreme Court. Alabama should not have a Senator that shares the same values as far-Left extremists such as Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren. Since he has been in the Senate, Senator Jones has a history of deferring his opinion on important issues until they have been decided by others (confirming the Secretary of State and the CIA Director are the first issues that come to mind). He has vowed to have an “independent review” of Judge Kavanaugh’s record. If he is serious about his slogan of Country over Party, I believe that the record speaks for itself and he will have no choice but to vote to confirm President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Senator Shelby has already said that Judge Kavanaugh has “impressive credentials” and that “This nomination is one of the most important items that we will consider this year.” I completely agree and I hope that the Senate will do the right thing and confirm Brett Kavanaugh as the next Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

We need a justice in the Supreme Court who will uphold and apply the laws of the Constitution, not an activist judge who will re-write our laws to gain political points from those who have an extreme agenda. It is clear that Judge Kavanaugh is the kind of high character public servant we need.

Del Marsh is president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, representing the 12th District.

Rep. Martha Roby: Pro-life movement momentum is strong

(Congresswoman Roby/Facebook)

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have the privilege each year to advocate for the priorities most important to the people who live and work in Alabama’s Second District.  Among many other key issues, I have been proud to stand up and fight for a strong military and smart agriculture policy on this committee. On the reverse, I am also in a strong position fight against funding from being steered towards programs or organizations that I adamantly oppose. Recently when the Appropriations Committee approved our Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) Fiscal Year 2019 funding bill, I had the opportunity to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves: the unborn.

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As a member of the Labor-HHS Subcommittee, I am extremely proud to report that our bill passed by the full Committee includes the strong pro-life language I have fought for year after year and implements additional policy riders to defend life. Every single one of these measures is critically important and further ensures that no taxpayer dollars can be used for abortions.

Among the key pro-life provisions included in the Labor-HHS FY19 funding bill are the Hyde Amendment, which directs that no taxpayer dollars be used to fund abortions, and the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which bans Labor-HHS funding from being used on research that harms human embryos.

In addition to these longstanding pro-life measures, our bill also includes several other important pro-life provisions that continue our efforts to assign greater protections for life under the law. These measures include the Conscience Science Protection Act, which protects the rights of health care providers that do not participate in abortion.

In addition, the bill includes language that prohibits funding for fetal tissue research obtained from abortion. This measure might sound familiar because it is a direct response to the 2015 scandal that revealed how Planned Parenthood officials were systematically altering abortion procedures to preserve babies’ organs in order to sell them to researchers for profit. Planned Parenthood’s action was sick, callous, and completely inhuman.

Finally, the bill includes language to prohibit abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving any available funding, including through Title X family grants. This measure works hand-in-hand with the Trump Administration’s “Protect Life” rule, which also directs that Planned Parenthood is not eligible to receive Title X grant money. As I have said many, many times: Abortion is not family planning. Abortion is not health care. Organizations that offer these services should not receive taxpayer dollars that are intended for family planning.

Throughout my time in Congress, I have remained unapologetically pro-life. I believe life begins at conception, and our laws and policies should reflect a strong commitment to defending life at every stage. I have considered it a great privilege to have a platform with which I can serve as a voice for the voiceless.

After eight long years of coming up short pro-life victories, I am encouraged that we now have a President who supports our efforts and is willing to sign important measures into law. The pro-life movement’s momentum is strong, and I look forward to seeing it grow as we continue to impact meaningful change on behalf of the unborn. I am eager to support our Labor-HHS funding bill when it comes before the full House for a vote.

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

U.S. Rep. Byrne: Border security must always come first

(U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr)

If you have turned on your television recently, you have probably heard about the ongoing immigration debate in our country. Here in Congress, it is an issue that has drawn much of our attention as well.

Since being elected to Congress, I have held two top principles when it comes to the immigration debate. First, I do not and will not support granting amnesty to those who are in our country illegally. Second, any immigration reform bill must start with a sincere and tangible effort to secure the border. Until the border is secure, any other immigration efforts would be in vain.

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Recently, the House voted on two separate immigration bills that were designed to help crack down on illegal immigration. One bill, the Securing America’s Future Act, earned my support. The bill included very strong border security provisions, made the E-Verify program mandatory, and satisfied President Trump’s four pillars for immigration reform. Unfortunately, the bill failed by a vote of 193 to 231.

Another bill, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act, failed to earn my support. The bill would have created a special pathway to citizenship for over 1.8 million illegal immigrants. The legislation would have unfairly allowed these illegal immigrants to jump in front of thousands who are waiting to come into our country the right way. Thankfully, the bill did not receive the support necessary to pass.

Despite the failure of these two bills, we must not give up in our efforts to secure the border, close loopholes in our immigration system, and ensure our immigration laws are fully enforced. This issue is far too important to the safety and security of the American people.

The immigration issue has also hit close to home with reports that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense are considering housing up to 25,000 illegal immigrants at Navy outlying airfields in south Baldwin County.

I am working with local leaders and my Alabama colleagues to once again fight this flawed proposal tooth and nail. Housing anyone in tents on the Gulf Coast during the heat of summer and the heart of hurricane season would be inhumane and a major mistake. Not to mention that these airfields lack even basic infrastructure, such as running water, housing, or restroom facilities, to provide even basic needs for detained immigrants.

I also believe we need to return these illegal immigrants to their home countries as quickly as possible. It makes no sense to bring them so far away from the border when the ultimate goal is to return them to their home countries.

Another issue that has drawn national attention is the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance policy, which says that anyone who crosses the border illegally will be prosecuted. I strongly support the policy because we are a nation of laws, and we must enforce the laws.

That said, like President Trump, I do not support separating children from their families at the border. This is why I have co-sponsored a bill from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Congressman Dave Brat (R-VA) that would allow families to stay together while speeding up the processing and review of asylum cases. The bill would also devote funding to double the number of federal immigration judges and authorize the construction of new temporary shelters close to the border to keep families together.

As we continue to crack down on illegal immigration and ensure our borders are secure, I welcome your ideas and feedback. These are complicated and difficult issues, but they are so critical to the future of our country. We cannot become a country with open borders and no rule of law.

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

2 weeks ago

U.S. Rep. Roby: House takes steps to rebuild our military

(Martha Roby/YouTube)

Over the last year and a half, our unified government has taken big steps to unleash our economy and foster growth here in the United States. Because of this work, our economy is strong today. In fact, since the enactment of our historic tax overhaul six months ago, more than one million new jobs have been created. Because of this work, businesses are growing, Americans are working, and our economy is strong.

Now, we must do the work required to ensure that our military is strong, too, especially after the damaging sequestration cuts and funding limitations put into place by the Obama Administration. As a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I have been grateful to have a seat at the table  as we’ve worked to properly fund our military through H.R. 6157, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 359-49.

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I was proud to vote in favor of the legislation, and I spoke on the House floor to urge my colleagues to support it, too. Alabama’s Second District is home to two of our nation’s finest military installations, Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, and Fort Rucker down in the Wiregrass. I am especially glad that this funding bill provides the resources to support their critical missions.

H.R. 6157 contains an overall amount of $674.6 billion in military funding. This amount covers important funding for Army Aviation programs important to Fort Rucker, including resources for four additional Lakota helicopters, 58 additional Blackhawk helicopters, and 66 additional Apache helicopters. The bill also provides support for other key Alabama programs, including additional funding for a total of three Littoral Combat Ships that are built in Mobile, resources to upgrade the Stryker Vehicle, and strong funding for missile programs, including THAAD, Hellfire, and LRASM. Also importantly, the bill allocates funding for 93 F-35 aircraft, some of which will soon be flown by the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field in Montgomery.

This bill is of critical importance to our national security and the missions in Alabama’s Second District. By passing this legislation, the House has kept our promise to rebuild our military and support our servicemembers. I’d like to share a few more reasons why this bill is so very important.

First, it provides a 2.6 percent pay increase to our men and women in uniform – the largest raise they have received in nine years. Our servicemembers sacrifice their own personal safety to protect us, and they deserve this pay raise.

Second, the bill allocates $34.4 billion for the Defense Health Program so troops, their families, and retirees can receive the care they need. This program includes funding for cancer research, psychological health research, and more.

Third, it addresses our military readiness problem. It is no secret that our military faced damaging cuts under the Obama Administration that have significantly hindered readiness. This bill makes investments in training, maintenance, and other military readiness programs.

Fourth, the bill upgrades our military equipment. The legislation provides more than $145 billion to upgrade and secure military equipment across all branches of the military, including replenishing our Naval fleet.

Fifth, this legislation supports counterterrorism efforts. The bill directs funding towards our military’s current operations against terrorist organizations by supporting additional personnel, facilities, and equipment. Our country still faces real and serious threats across the globe, and it is imperative that we enable the Pentagon to not only plan for today, but to be prepared for emerging threats around the world.

The bottom line is that the Fiscal Year 2019 Defense funding bill continues our efforts to rebuild our military after several years of harmful cuts and hollowing out. Now, we are making sure the military has the tools and resources it needs to rebuild. One of Congress’ most fundamental constitutional duties is to “provide for the common defense.” This important legislation fulfills that responsibility and ensures that our military not only remains the tip of the spear, but that it grows stronger and well-equipped to face whatever challenges come our way.

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

2 weeks ago

Rep. Roby: Touring Southeast Alabama farms with Ag Chairman Conaway

(J Poor/YHN)

With Congress recently out of session for the Independence Day district work period, I took the opportunity to travel throughout Alabama’s Second District to share an update from Washington and hear directly from the people I represent. I spent time in Clayton, Eufaula, Andalusia, Montgomery, Troy, Slocomb, and Brundidge, just to name a few. Throughout my recent time on the road, one issue that came up frequently was agriculture policy, and I was glad to be able to share a timely update about the lay of the land as it relates to farm policy.

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During one day of this district work period, I had the privilege of hosting House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and his wife Suzanne for an agriculture tour of Alabama’s Second District. Together we held a large farmers’ roundtable discussion in conjunction with the Alabama Farmers Federation at the Pike County Cattlemen Association in Troy. This was a truly valuable opportunity for the farmers I represent to ask questions and get some answers. During the roundtable, we had conversations about the status of expanding access to rural broadband, possible solutions for our country’s feral hog problem, the importance of strict work requirements for welfare recipients, maintaining a strong crop insurance program, and more.

After the roundtable, Chairman Conaway and I visited two family farms in Coffee and Geneva Counties for tours and briefings on their respective crops and operations. In Coffee County, we stopped by a beautiful farm that produces a variety of crops, including peanuts, cotton, and corn. In Geneva County, we visited a cotton farm that just recently planted a crop in early June.

Chairman Conaway’s visit comes during a key time for agriculture policy in this country. As you may know, the House and Senate have passed our own different versions of the farm bill, and we will soon go to conference committee to work out the differences. In the House, we passed a conservative farm bill that includes strict work requirements for welfare recipients. I believe it’s important that we offer assistance to the most vulnerable Americans when they truly need it while providing tools to help them improve their circumstances. I have always said that we absolutely must encourage able-bodied individuals to work instead of incentivizing them to remain dependent on the federal government. The House farm bill reflects our conservative position on this issue, and I was proud to support it.

Since the Senate is currently bound by a 60-vote threshold to pass legislation, their farm bill is considerably different than our version and doesn’t include conservative work requirements. When we go to conference to work through our differences, the bill that we ultimately pass will likely be a mixture of both versions. As I told the farmers in southeast Alabama, I am eager to continue working alongside my colleagues in Congress to get the work done and send a smart, strong farm bill to the President for his signature.

I deeply appreciate Chairman Conaway and his wife Suzanne for making themselves available to the farmers I represent. We were able to have many one-on-one conversations with the hardworking men and women who are impacted by agriculture policy each and every day.

I am also grateful to every farmer who attended the roundtable, asked meaningful questions, and hosted us on their properties. As Chairman Conaway said, “The decisions are made by the people who show up.” Thanks to the farmers who showed up, our day of agriculture policy discussion was very successful. I will continue to work alongside the Chairman and my colleagues to deliver agriculture policy that gives fair treatment to our Alabama commodities while making the farmers’ work easier, not more difficult. At the end of the day, my goal is for our farm bill to enable the farmers I represent to do the work they do best: provide the food and fiber that feeds our state, our country, and the world.

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

Rep. Bradley Byrne: Celebrating our independence

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. On this important day in our nation’s history, our Founding Fathers put their signatures on a piece of paper that not only declared independence from Great Britain, but also declared the essential values that define us as Americans.

This document ignited a sense of American pride with the memorable and historic opening statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As I reflect on what these words mean to us as Americans, I am reminded of the great sacrifices of the men who wrote them and those who defend this promise still to this day.

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It is important for us to remember that the Declaration of Independence was just the beginning. The words inked into history set the core principles for American values: bravery, service, sacrifice, optimism, and honor.

From the triumph at Yorktown and the surrender of General Cornwallis to the battles we fight across the world today, brave men and women have answered the call of service and defended these core American values at home and abroad.

It is because of the sacrifices of our servicemembers that Americans can sleep soundly at night knowing their freedoms are protected.

This week, like every year, Americans will don the colors of the flag and remember that momentous day over two hundred years ago when our nation was born.

People across the country will celebrate our nation’s history with fireworks, trips to the beach, barbecues, and family vacations. One tradition I hold dear is reading the entire Declaration of Independence aloud with family and friends, assigning different parts to different people, including children. There is nothing more powerful than hearing the words written in that historic and fundamental document.

When the Founding Fathers got together to compose the Declaration, they came from different backgrounds and upbringings with their own, unique ideas for forming the American government. At such a pivotal time in our nation’s history, they succeeded in setting aside their differences for a common goal to create our own American identity. Who knows where we would be today if they had not worked together and overcome their differences.

Much like then, there are forces at work in our society today seeking to divide us against one another and weaken our national spirit. Regardless of your race, religion, or creed, this Fourth of July, I urge you to look closely at the many ways we are united as Americans, rather than focus on our differences. At the end of the day, we all salute the red, white, and blue and should not let our differences dissolve our core values and beliefs.

That said, do not give up on the American dream. Do not back down from the challenges of today. Do not let anyone tell you that our country’s best days are in the past. We have so much to be thankful for in the United States, and I am confident that we have so much to look forward to.

As we reflect on this renewed sense of American pride, let us look to the future with determination and confidence and keep alive the vision that our Founding Fathers had on that day back in 1776. Happy Fourth of July to you and your family, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

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

3 weeks ago

Are we free to discuss America’s real problems?

(Pixabay)

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on December 12, 2017, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., as part of the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.

There is a lot of abstract talk these days on American college campuses about free speech and the values of free inquiry, with plenty of lip service being paid to expansive notions of free expression and the marketplace of ideas. What I’ve learned through my recent experience of writing a controversial op-ed is that most of this talk is not worth much. It is only when people are confronted with speech they don’t like that we see whether these abstractions are real to them.

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The op-ed, which I co-authored with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 9 under the title, “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture.” It began by listing some of the ills afflicting American society: 

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries. 

We then discussed the “cultural script”—a list of behavioral norms—that was almost universally endorsed between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s: 

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime. 

These norms defined a concept of adult responsibility that was, we wrote, “a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.” The fact that the “bourgeois culture” these norms embodied has broken down since the 1960s, we argued, largely explains today’s social pathologies—and re-embracing that culture would go a long way toward addressing those pathologies. 

In what became perhaps the most controversial passage, we pointed out that cultures are not equal in terms of preparing people to be productive citizens in a modern technological society, and we gave some examples of cultures less suited to achieve this: 

The culture of the Plains Indians was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a First World, 21st-century environment. Nor are the single-parent, antisocial habits prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. 

The reactions to this piece raise the question of how unorthodox opinions should be dealt with in academia—and in American society at large.

It is well documented that American universities today, more than ever before, are dominated by academics on the left end of the political spectrum. How should these academics handle opinions that depart, even quite sharply, from their “politically correct” views? The proper response would be to engage in reasoned debate—to attempt to explain, using logic, evidence, facts, and substantive arguments, why those opinions are wrong. This kind of civil discourse is obviously important at law schools like mine, because law schools are dedicated to teaching students how to think about and argue all sides of a question. But academic institutions in general should also be places where people are free to think and reason about important questions that affect our society and our way of life—something not possible in today’s atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy. 

What those of us in academia should certainly not do is engage in unreasoned speech: hurling slurs and epithets, name-calling, vilification, and mindless labeling. Likewise we should not reject the views of others without providing reasoned arguments. Yet these once common standards of practice have been violated repeatedly at my own and at other academic institutions in recent years—and we increasingly see this trend in society as well.  

One might respond, of course, that unreasoned slurs and outright condemnations are also speech and must be defended. My recent experience has caused me to rethink this position. In debating others, we should have higher standards. Of course one has the right to hurl labels like “racist,” “sexist,” and “xenophobic” without good reason—but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Hurling such labels doesn’t enlighten, inform, edify, or educate. Indeed, it undermines these goals by discouraging or stifling dissent.

So what happened after our op-ed was published last August? A raft of letters, statements, and petitions from students and professors at my university and elsewhere condemned the piece as racist, white supremacist, hate speech, heteropatriarchial, xenophobic, etc. There were demands that I be removed from the classroom and from academic committees. None of these demands even purported to address our arguments in any serious or systematic way. 

A response published in the Daily Pennsylvanian, our school newspaper, and signed by five of my Penn Law School colleagues, charged us with the sin of praising the 1950s—a decade when racial discrimination was openly practiced and opportunities for women were limited. I do not agree with the contention that because a past era is marked by benighted attitudes and practices—attitudes and practices we had acknowledged in our op-ed!—it has nothing to teach us. But at least this response attempted to make an argument. 

Not so an open letter published in the Daily Pennsylvanian and signed by 33 of my colleagues. This letter quoted random passages from the op-ed and from a subsequent interview I gave to the school newspaper, condemned both, and categorically rejected all of my views. It then invited students, in effect, to monitor me and to report any “stereotyping and bias” they might experience or perceive. This letter contained no argument, no substance, no reasoning, no explanation whatsoever as to how our op-ed was in error.

We hear a lot of talk about role models—people to be emulated, who set a positive example for students and others. In my view, the 33 professors who signed this letter are anti-role models. To students and citizens alike I say: don’t emulate them in condemning people for their views without providing a reasoned argument. Reject their example. Not only are they failing to teach you the practice of civil discourse—the sine qua non of liberal education and of democracy—they are sending the message that civil discourse is unnecessary. As Jonathan Haidt of NYU wrote on September 2 on his website Heterodox Academy: “Every open letter you sign to condemn a colleague for his or her words brings us closer to a world in which academic disagreements are resolved by social force and political power, not by argumentation and persuasion.”

It is gratifying to note that the reader comments on the open letter were overwhelmingly critical. The letter has “no counterevidence,” one reader wrote, “no rebuttal to [Wax’s] arguments, just an assertion that she’s wrong. . . . This is embarrassing.” Another wrote: “This letter is an exercise in self-righteous virtue-signaling that utterly fails to deal with the argument so cogently presented by Wax and Alexander. . . . Note to parents, if you want your daughter or son to learn to address an argument, do not send them to Penn Law.”

Shortly after the op-ed appeared, I ran into a colleague I hadn’t seen for a while and asked how his summer was going. He said he’d had a terrible summer, and in saying it he looked so serious I thought someone had died. He then explained that the reason his summer had been ruined was my op-ed, and he accused me of attacking and causing damage to the university, the students, and the faculty. One of my left-leaning friends at Yale Law School found this story funny—who would have guessed an op-ed could ruin someone’s summer? But beyond the absurdity, note the choice of words: “attack” and “damage” are words one uses with one’s enemies, not colleagues or fellow citizens. At the very least, they are not words that encourage the expression of unpopular ideas. They reflect a spirit hostile to such ideas—indeed, a spirit that might seek to punish the expression of such ideas. 

I had a similar conversation with a deputy dean. She had been unable to sign the open letter because of her official position, but she defended it as having been necessary. It needed to be written to get my attention, she told me, so that I would rethink what I had written and understand the hurt I had inflicted and the damage I had done, so that I wouldn’t do it again. The message was clear: cease the heresy.

Only half of my colleagues in the law school signed the open letter. One who didn’t sent me a thoughtful and lawyerly email explaining how and why she disagreed with particular points in the op-ed. We had an amicable email exchange, from which I learned a lot—some of her points stick with me—and we remain cordial colleagues. That is how things should work.

Of the 33 who signed the letter, only one came to talk to me about it—and I am grateful for that. About three minutes into our conversation, he admitted that he didn’t categorically reject everything in the op-ed. Bourgeois values aren’t really so bad, he conceded, nor are all cultures equally worthy. Given that those were the main points of the op-ed, I asked him why he had signed the letter. His answer was that he didn’t like my saying, in my interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, that the tendency of global migrants to flock to white European countries indicates the superiority of some cultures. This struck him as “code,” he said, for Nazism. 

Well, let me state for the record that I don’t endorse Nazism! 

Furthermore, the charge that a statement is “code” for something else, or a “dog whistle” of some kind—we frequently hear this charge leveled, even against people who are stating demonstrable facts—is unanswerable. It is like accusing a speaker of causing emotional injury or feelings of marginalization. Using this kind of language, which students have learned to do all too well, is intended to bring discussion and debate to a stop—to silence speech deemed unacceptable. 

As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, we can make words mean whatever we want them to mean. And who decides what is code for something else or what qualifies as a dog whistle? Those in power, of course—which in academia means the Left. 

My 33 colleagues might have believed they were protecting students from being injured by harmful opinions, but they were doing those students no favors. Students need the opposite of protection from diverse arguments and points of view. They need exposure to them. This exposure will teach them how to think. As John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” 

I have received more than 1,000 emails from around the country in the months since the op-ed was published—mostly supportive, some critical, and for the most part thoughtful and respectful. Many expressed the thought, “You said what we are thinking but are afraid to say”—a sad commentary on the state of civil discourse in our society. Many urged me not to back down, cower, or apologize. And I agree with them that dissenters apologize far too often.

Democracy thrives on talk and debate, and it is not for the faint of heart. I read things every day in the media and hear things every day at my job that I find exasperating and insulting, including falsehoods and half-truths about people who are my friends. Offense and upset go with the territory; they are part and parcel of an open society. We should be teaching our young people to get used to these things, but instead we are teaching them the opposite.

Disliking, avoiding, and shunning people who don’t share our politics is not good for our country. We live together, and we need to solve our problems together. It is also always possible that people we disagree with have something to offer, something to contribute, something to teach us. We ignore this at our peril. As Heather Mac Donald wrote in National Review on August 29: “What if the progressive analysis of inequality is wrong . . . and a cultural analysis is closest to the truth? If confronting the need to change behavior is punishable ‘hate speech,’ then it is hard to see how the country can resolve its social problems.” In other words, we are at risk of being led astray by received opinion.

The American way is to conduct free and open debate in a civil manner. We should return to doing that on our college campuses and in our society at large.

(Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College)

3 weeks ago

Explainer: Supreme Court protects free speech of pro-life pregnancy centers

(Pixabay)

What just happened?

The Supreme Court ruled on National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California, a case regarding a California law that threatened to shut down pregnancy resource centers serving women and children in need.

What is this case about?

The case of NIFLA v. Becerra dealt with important First Amendment freedom issues as related to pregnancy resource centers who work with a pro-life mission.

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In October 2015, California enacted the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act. This law requires that licensed medical centers, including pro-life pregnancy centers (aka crisis-pregnancy centers [CPC]/pregnancy help organizations [PHO]) provide a notice to women stating, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”

The law also forces non-medical pregnancy centers to add to all advertisements a large disclosure in multiple languages about their non-medical status. Violation of this law results in a fine of $500 for a first offense and then $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

That same month the law was passed, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a national legal network of 1,430 pro-life pregnancy centers, filed lawsuits in each of California’s four district courts to stop the law from going into effect. The ERLC joined other pro-life ministries in January 2018 in filing an amicus brief for this case advocating for the center’s First Amendment rights.

Multiple pregnancy resource centers filed lawsuits based on free speech and religious exercise claims immediately following passage of the Reproductive FACT Act. While one religious non-profit was successful in court, most pro-life centers have not been able to be exempted from the regulations.

NIFLA sought a preliminary injunction to prohibit the law’s enforcement. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case and rejected NIFLA’s free speech and religious exercise arguments. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in November 2017, but agreed to hear only NIFLA’s free speech claims.

How did the Court rule?

The Court ruled that the licensed notice likely violates the First Amendment. Because of the posture of the case, the Court did not rule on this issue directly, but the Court’s reasoning leaves little doubt that the California law will be struck down. The Court held that the licensed notice is a content-based regulation and compels petitioners to speak a particular message and alters the content of their speech.

The California law required clinics to provide a government-drafted script about the availability of state-sponsored abortion services, as well as contact information for how to obtain them—the very practice the clinics are devoted to opposing. The Supreme Court said that by requiring the clinics to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions—while at the same time they were trying to dissuade women from choosing that option— the licensed notice plainly “alters the content” of petitioners’ speech.

The Ninth Circuit did not apply strict scrutiny because it concluded that the notice regulates “professional speech.” But in the majority opinion the justices note that the Supreme Court has never recognized “professional speech” as a separate category of speech subject to different rules, and that speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals.

The Court also determined that the requirement non-medical pregnancy centers post a notice they are not medical centers is “unjustified and unduly burdensome” because the requirements for the notice “drowns out the facility’s own message.” The example the Court gives is a billboard for an pregnancy center that says “Choose Life” would have to surround that two-word statement with a 29-word statement from the government, in as many as 13 different languages.

How did the justices vote in this case?

The vote was 5-4 with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch voting for and Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan voting against.

Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, and Gorsuch joined. Justice Kennedy also filed a concurring opinion, in which Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch joined. Justice Breyer filed dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined.

What are the broader implications of this case?

The ruling is a significant victory for free speech, and signals that the Supreme Court will not allow an individual’s speech to be compelled by the states without sufficient justification or warrant.

The Court also held that so-called “professional speech” is also protected under the First Amendment. The majority opinion notes that as with other kinds of speech, regulating the content of professionals’ speech “pose[s] the inherent risk that the Government seeks not to advance a legitimate regulatory goal, but to suppress unpopular ideas or information.” The ruling also points out that when the government polices the content of professional speech, it can fail to “‘preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.’” As Justice Thomas writes,

Professionals might have a host of good faith disagreements, both with each other and with the government, on many topics in their respective fields. Doctors and nurses might disagree about the ethics of assisted suicide or the benefits of medical marijuana; lawyers and marriage counselors might disagree about the prudence of prenuptial agreements or the wisdom of divorce; bankers and accountants might disagree about the amount of money that should be devoted to savings or the benefits of tax reform. “[T]he best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” (Abrams v. United States), and the people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.

The ruling does, however, leave open the possibility that there may be a legitimate “reason for treating professional speech as a unique category that is exempt from ordinary First Amendment principles.” But California failed to make a persuasive case in their licensing notice. The ruling also does not challenge the legality of health and safety warnings “long considered permissible, or purely factual and uncontroversial disclosures about commercial products.”

In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy summarizes why allowing laws like this to stand poses a threat to free expression:

This law is a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression. For here the State requires primarily pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the State’s own preferred message advertising abortions. This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these.

And the history of the Act’s passage and its underinclusive application suggest a real possibility that these individuals were targeted because of their beliefs.

3 weeks ago

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh: Putting Alabama Families First

(Cavanaugh Campaign)

When you run for public office, you think of family first – your spouse, your children, and your parents. Both of my parents were teachers. I grew up in a modest home where education was important, and where I was rooted in the kind of traditional family values which everyone can appreciate. The lessons I learned then are the lessons that I am trying to pass on to my children and my grandchildren today. Yet, we are constantly being told by, what Ronald Reagan called a “distant elite,” that we need to change. But what exactly are these people asking us to change?

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher said, “it’s passionately interesting for me that the things that I learned in a small town, in a very modest home, are just the things that I believe have won the election.”

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Isn’t that what we want again in our government? We as Alabamians have seen too many people who come to Montgomery and bill themselves as the one who will change the system, only to find out that it is the system that has changed them. The moment change asks you to put your values aside, is the time when danger looms on the horizon. Values which are a mile wide and one inch deep will not be able to change the course of our great state. But values rooted in the soil of belief and the principles of our nations’ founding will be able to deliver on better infrastructure and a better education for our most precious resource – our children.

Hard work, honesty, faith in God, respect for life, and a rugged optimism which believes that tomorrow can always be better – have held many Alabamians through good times and dark times. Simple, yes. But it is in these same deeply-rooted, proven values, which lies the confidence we need to address the future. We are a people who look to God, while rolling up our sleeves to work harder in the jobs we do and for the families we raise.

This is precisely why I am running for Lt. Governor. I want to continue bringing our timeless Alabama values to Montgomery. I want to bring about jobs – good, high-paying jobs – for our state, so that families become stronger. I want to strengthen our high school, community college and higher education offerings, so that our children today will be the best and brightest. I want to be the Lt. Governor who puts our families and our values first – rejecting self-interest and special interests. These are the values which create the real leaders in Alabama, and this can be our future. Our brighter future.

The above is the opinion of Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, the President of the Alabama Public Service Commission. Twinkle is a small business owner and former Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Opinions expressed do not represent the position of the Public Service Commission or its other commissioners.

3 weeks ago

5 facts about Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

(Wikicommons)

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced this week that he will retire from the U.S. Supreme Court on July 31. Here are five facts you should know about the high court’s primary “swing vote” on social issues:

1. Anthony Kennedy, age 81, served as a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 1975 to 1988. Justice Kennedy was nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. President Ronald Reagan initially nominated Robert Bork, who was rejected by the Senate, and Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew from consideration after admitting to using marijuana while a law school professor. Kennedy has served as an associate justice since February 18, 1988. His retirement will mark 30 years on the court.

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2. When he nominated Kennedy, Reagan called Kennedy a “true conservative.” For the first four years he was on the Court, Kennedy was indeed considered a reliably conservative justice. In his first term, he voted with two of the court’s most conservative members (Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia) more than 90 percent of the time. In 1992, though, Kennedy began siding more often with the liberal side. In 1992, Kennedy joined Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice David Souter in writing the court’s plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Casey reaffirmed Roe v Wade and imposed a new standard to determine the validity of laws restricting abortions. The new standard asks whether a state abortion regulation has the purpose or effect of imposing an “undue burden,” which is defined as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

3. In 2013, Kennedy provided the key swing vote in United States v. Windsor, the case that invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, in which he said, “The State’s decision to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import.” He also added that “DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of states-sanctioned same-sex marriages.”

4. Kennedy’s opinion in Windsor was followed up two years later by his support for Obergefell v. Hodges. In that ruling—in which Kennedy again cast the deciding vote—the state of Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional. The ruling federalized the marriage issue and made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Once again writing the majority decision, Kennedy’s majority opinion said that the “limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest. With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

5. Although Kennedy frequently sides with the liberal side of the Court on most social  issues—especially abortion and LGBT rights—he has tended to take a libertarian position on First Amendment issues. Kennedy voted to protect flag burning in the case of Texas v. Johnson and to strike down a congressional law prohibiting “virtual” child pornography in Ashcroft v. ACLU. More recently, Kennedy supported the free speech rights of a Christian baker in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, wrote a strong concurring opinion in NIFLA v. Becerra defending the free speech of pro-life pregnancy resource centers and in Janus v. AFSCME supported the right of public sector employees not to subsidize the speech of other private speakers.

(Courtesy of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)

U.S. Rep. Byrne: Supporting Alabama’s number one industry

(Pixabay)

Agriculture is our country’s oldest industry. Since the beginning, America’s farmers have worked the land and sustained our communities. Today, agriculture is the top industry in rural America, and it remains the number one industry in Alabama.

As our manufacturing industry continues to grow, I have made a commitment to never forget about the backbone of Alabama’s economy: our hardworking farmers who help feed America. Farming, forestry, livestock and crop production represent more than $70 billion in annual economic output, so it remains imperative that we reinforce programs that sustain and support the agriculture industry.

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Since being elected to Congress, I have always worked to be a steadfast advocate for agriculture and forestry. In fact, one of the first major votes I took in office was in favor of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Four years later, I am proud that we could pass H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill supports our nation’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years.

Among the many important provisions, the bill includes support for Alabama’s cotton and peanut farmers and maintains access to crop insurance. This legislation also improves existing programs to maximize efficiency, reduces waste, and maintains fiscally responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Very important to me, the Farm Bill establishes substantive work requirements for work-capable adults in order to receive SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps. It is important to note that the 2018 Farm Bill does not cut SNAP benefits. Rather, this provision puts more resources toward helping able-bodied adults find jobs and get back to work.

In this economy, there is no excuse for capable Americans to not seek out employment. By encouraging Americans to find and retain jobs, we ultimately lift people out of poverty, strengthen the overall economy, and help save taxpayer money.

Another significant issue facing our rural communities is a lack of broadband access. The Farm Bill authorizes substantial annual funding for rural broadband and requires the Department of Agriculture to establish forward-looking broadband standards.

Finally, this bill helps equip and train the next generation of farmers. The bill enhances access to crop insurance and establishes a scholarship program at 1890 Land Grant Institutions designed to assist students interested in agriculture careers. Many family farms transcend generations, and it is critical that we provide support for up-and-coming farmers to ensure they have the resources they need.

Each year, I travel across Southwest Alabama on my annual “Ag Matters” tour. This tour gives me the chance to visit family farms and forest land throughout Southwest Alabama and learn more about our state’s top industry.

Ultimately, the “Ag Matters” Tour helps me better understand and appreciate the unique challenges facing our local farmers and foresters. Farming is unlike most other industries and dependent on so many external factors, like weather, that are outside the control of the farmers. It is important farmers have the certainty they need to provide the American people with a safe and reliable food source.

As I travel to these family farms and speak with those who work the land, it never fails that the Farm Bill is one of the most talked about issues. This legislation truly has a huge impact on our family farms.

Our farmers and foresters are good stewards of the land, and I am pleased the House could pass this important legislation to ensure that our family farms and rural communities have the resources they need to keep up with the challenges of today.

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

4 weeks ago

Alabama’s Rep. Roby: Summertime softball tradition benefits a worthy cause

(Congressional Women's Softball Game/Facebook)

One of my favorite traditions I’ve been able to participate in as a member of Congress is the Congressional Women’s Softball Game that takes place each summer. During the game, female members of Congress face members of the Washington, D.C., press corps in a friendly softball game to raise funds and awareness for the Young Survival Coalition (YSC).

YSC is the premier global organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. The organization offers resources to help women feel supported and hopeful. Since 2009, the Congressional Women’s Softball Game has raised more than $1 million for YSC.

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 Each year, players in the game honor real women who are battling cancer, defeated cancer, or lost their lives in the fight. This year, I was proud to play in honor of Courtney Pruitt, a Montgomery native and recent graduate of Alabama Christian Academy (ACA) who is currently undergoing intense treatment to fight leukemia. Courtney is a bright, intelligent, and beautiful young woman who played softball for most of her life. Shortly before she graduated from ACA this year, she received the heartbreaking diagnosis and is now courageously battling this disease. Courtney is the daughter of my dear friend, Montgomery City Councilman Glen Pruitt. It’s a true honor to be able to show my support for their family in this way, and I believe this annual tradition demonstrates what we can accomplish when we put our differences aside to rally for a worthy cause.

Cancer is something few people ever think will happen to them, especially at an early age. I deeply admire the bravery of those, like Courtney, who fight this dreaded disease, and I’m glad to have opportunities like the Congressional Women’s Softball Game to raise awareness and support for cancer patients and survivors across the country. I believe that our government should do whatever possible to ease the burden on cancer patients and survivors during what I can only imagine would be a terribly frightening and trying time.

One of my constituents in Alabama’s Second District recently brought to my attention that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) currently does not cover custom breast prosthetics for women who are either not candidates for reconstructive surgery or who do not prefer to endure additional surgery following a mastectomy. CMS only covers a reconstructive surgery, which is significantly more costly than custom prosthetics, or a prefabricated breast prosthetic.

It is deeply concerning to me that CMS has taken this position, so I am gathering a coalition of members of Congress to request that they reconsider and modify this lack of coverage. I was proud to lead the charge on this on behalf of the many women who are living with breast cancer, those who have defeated it, and those who will be diagnosed in the future. Women who battle breast cancer should be given the options that work best for them and not be subjected to a one-size-fits-all approach.

I am inspired by those who fight cancer of any kind, and I truly enjoyed participating in the Congressional Women’s Baseball Game again this year. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t hold out for the game, so the umpires called it while Team Press was leading. If the rain hadn’t ended things early, I know Team Congress would have made a comeback. Win, lose, or draw, it is my hope that the proceeds raised during this great event better the lives and outlooks of many women across our country who are bravely battling cancer. My even greater hope is that we will one day see this dreaded disease eradicated for good.

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

4 weeks ago

Alabama mom opens up about breastfeeding and her tearful first month of motherhood

(Pixabay)

I love being a mom! It is more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed, but my first month of motherhood is one that I will never forget. It’s hard to say this, but it was one of the hardest times of my life. I felt so alone, confused, and ashamed for feeling sad when I should’ve felt so happy. That’s why I’m sharing my story with you. You see, nothing about my story is really all that unique. I wasn’t alone in my struggle, but I just hadn’t heard it talked about before. So, here goes…

I felt as prepared as I could have been to have a baby. I knew it would be hard. There would be labor and delivery, followed by long sleepless nights, but I had a plan to get through those and expected it to mainly be cute squishy baby cuddles filled with sweet memories and picture-perfect moments. I really think for some people it is that way, but obviously that wasn’t my experience.

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My son, Graham, was born at Brookwood at 41 weeks after a long labor and weighed 8 pounds 8 ounces. He was taken to the NICU for low oxygen levels, where he remained for 5 days. Our NICU stay was actually a really good experience. Those amazing nurses gave me confidence in showing me how to breastfeed, bathe, and change my new baby boy. Graham was a happy baby in the NICU and because of his IV fluids, bottle feeds, and nursing sessions, he left weighing over nine pounds!

The nurses had him on a feeding schedule of every three hours. Once we got home, I started nursing him every two hours because he immediately seemed to be hungrier.

After a couple of days, my happy baby wasn’t quite as happy anymore. He started crying a lot. I started nursing him more often. After we had been home from the hospital for one week, he cried almost constantly. I knew that babies cried a lot, but was it normal for a baby to cry until he passed out from exhaustion?

Graham would nurse for only a minute or two on each side and then begin to scream again. All my efforts to help him continue to nurse longer only made him more and more frustrated. I suspected a low milk supply, so I started pumping after each feed. While I rocked screaming Graham in the bouncer with one foot, I pumped, and pumped, and pumped some more, but only to produce drops.

I did research, called nursing clinics, leagues, and hotlines. All responses were the same.

“You are a woman. You are a mom. You were made for this! Every woman can breastfeed if you try hard enough. Keep going! You are doing great!”

I took all the advice I was given. I ate certain foods to increase my supply and took recommended supplements. I started triple feeding and power pumping and despite all my efforts, I never produced more than a tablespoon of milk in a five-hour period.

Not only did Graham cry scream constantly, now I was crying too. Everyday. For the next 4 weeks.

My happy, chunky baby was not so happy and not so chunky anymore.

As I prayed that God would give me wisdom on how to take care of my child, I remembered a new mom I had met at church before Graham was born. She told me, “The first month was so much harder than I had thought it would be.” Remembering her comment, I messaged her on Facebook and in our conversation she recommended the Brookwood Breastfeeding support groups.

There are four support groups in Birmingham and I went the next day to the one closest to me. I walked into the church room where this support group met, and there were several moms sitting together nursing and talking. I met the Brookwood Lactation specialists who run the groups and they helped me get started. First, they weighed Graham to get a starting point. I was shocked to find out that at five weeks old, he weighed 8 pounds and 10 ounces. Despite nursing around the clock, he had lost 7 ounces in the last four weeks. (I have a feeling the 2 bottles of gripe water we went through were really the only thing keeping him from losing more during that time.)

After weighing him, the specialists examined our nursing routine. They were confident that his latch was good and that everything looked normal. After nursing one side they weighed him again and there was no change in weight. They let me know that wasn’t normal. I nursed the other side and we weighed the baby again. This time, the scale moved less than half an ounce.

The next few minutes are moments I will never forget. The head of the lactation team sat me down and gave me a sweet hug and said, “Honey, you are doing a great job, because your intuition was correct. This isn’t enough to sustain life for your son. We don’t tell people this often, but you need to supplement with formula. You are not a failure. It isn’t true what they say. Not every woman can breastfeed. I know that’s not fair, but it is true. You have been brave.”

I finally had answers for my child, and I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Although my baby was screaming through the store from hunger, I was embarrassed for a minute to be buying formula. I felt like a failure and that everyone was looking at me and thinking I was giving up right there in Target.

I took one look at my precious, helpless baby and pushed aside all my foolishness to make the best purchase I had ever made. I sat down and immediately fed my crying baby. And just like that, he stopped crying, he drank his bottle, and then he looked up at me and smiled for the first time. That moment melted my heart forever. The beautiful moment continued when he fell asleep in my arms, full, and fully content.

Everything changed! I was feeding my baby. Not the way I had planned or hoped, but he was fed and he was happy and so was I. And there was sleep! Sleep for everyone!

Since that time I’ve shared my experiences with other moms, and there have been many well-meaning people tell me all the things I should have done differently or how I should have pushed through longer. Maybe. I just let it all roll off my back because I have a happy, healthy, and smart little three-year-old boy. I truly feel that his life was saved by that sweet lactation nurse and the formula that was worth its weight in gold to me. I would gladly let my pride die over and over so my child could live. With each child I have I will attempt to nurse again, but in the end, fed is best for us.

If you are a struggling new mom reading this blog post, you are not alone! You are a good mommy. You were made for this, but caring for your baby may look just a little different than you had planned. Be flexible. Be patient. Forgive yourself when you need to, and move on.

A wise mom once told me, “Don’t measure your success as a mother by your first month of motherhood.”

Man, was she right!

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Rebekah McKee is a stay-at-home mother in Calera and a contributing writer at Birmingham Moms Blog

4 weeks ago

Explainer: How the refugee and asylum process works in the U.S.

(Pixabay)

Yesterday was World Refugee Day, an annual observance created by the United Nations to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.” Here is what you should know about refugee and asylum policy in the United States.

What is a refugee?

The U.S. government defines “refugee” as any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

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What is asylum?

Asylum is government-sanctioned protection granted to foreign nationals already in the United States or at the border who meet the legal definition of a “refugee.” As a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, and through U.S. immigration law, the U.S. has legal obligations to provide protection to those who qualify as refugees.

How do refugees apply for asylum in the U.S.?

The Refugee Act of 1980 allows for two paths to obtain refugee status—either from abroad as a resettled refugee or in the U.S. as an asylum seeker.

If done abroad, a refugee must receive a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee. If they receive a referral, they refugee will receive help filling out their application and then be interviewed abroad by a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer who will determine whether they are eligible for refugee resettlement.

Asylum seekers who are already in the country (such as on a travel visa) or who have arrived at a U.S. port of entry must file the application with an immigration judge at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in the Department of Justice. Almost all refugee applicants who fail to apply for asylum within one year of entering the U.S. are barred from receiving asylum.

What happens if a refugee shows up a port of entry or crosses the border unlawfully?

Whether they are caught at the border crossing illegally or present themselves to immigration officials at a port of entry, refugee candidates are subject to “expedited removal,” a policy that allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deport an undocumented person without giving them a chance to defend against deportation in immigration court.

To prevent immediate deportation, asylum seekers who are placed in an expedited removal process must tell a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official they fear persecution, torture, or returning to their country, or that they wish to apply for asylum. If an U.S. asylum officer determines asylum seeker has a “credible fear” of persecution or torture, they can proceed with the asylum application process.

If a person has re-entered the U.S. unlawfully after a prior deportation order or is a noncitizen convicted of certain crimes, they are subject to a different expedited removal process called “reinstatement of removal.” Asylum seekers in this process must meet the “reasonable fear” standard in an interview with an asylum officer. To demonstrate a reasonable fear, the asylum seeker must meet the definition of refugee and show there is a “reasonable possibility” they will be persecuted or tortured in the country of removal.

All asylum seekers have the burden of proving that they meet the definition of a refugee

How many people are currently seeking asylum and how many are approved?

In 2016, the last year for which complete data is available, 20,455 people were granted asylum. In fiscal year 2018, there are 714,067 pending asylum cases in the U.S. (If the 2016 rate holds in 2018, then only about 3 percent of current asylum seekers will be granted asylum.)

How long must a refugee wait before asylum is granted?

In fiscal year 2018, the average asylum seeker will wait 721 days for their case to be resolved.

Can refugees and asylum seekers work in the U.S. while they are waiting adjudication?

Yes. Both refugees and asylum seekers who are allowed to await adjudication in the U.S. are authorized and entitled to work.

Can a refugee or asylum seeker become a U.S. citizen?

Yes. A refugee or asylee may apply for permanent resident status in the U.S. one year after being admitted as a refugee or being granted asylum status. Refugees are required by law to apply for permanent resident status one year after being admitted to the United States in refugee status. Asylees are not required to apply for permanent resident status after being granted asylum for one year, but it may not be in their best interest to do so as it may affect their benefits they would receive if granted refugee status.

Who is responsible for overseeing the resettlement of refugees in the U.S.?

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the federal government agency charged with providing benefits and services to assist the resettlement and local integration of refugee populations. Some of the ORR programs include Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance (for up to 8 months); Refugee Social Services, such as job and language training (for up to 5 years); and temporary custody and care to unaccompanied refugee children. But according to a recent paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, by the time refugees who entered the U.S. as adults have been here for 20 years, they will have paid, on average, $21,000 more in taxes to all levels of government than they received in benefits over that time span.

(Courtesy of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission)

4 weeks ago

U.S. Rep. Rogers: IG report proves Mueller probe needs to be shut down

(M. Rogers/Facebook)

Folks across East Alabama may have recently seen the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) Report findings were released.

The IG report details the mishandling of the FBI investigation involving Hillary Clinton and her private email server.

Anyone that denies that the FBI’s Clinton investigation was rigged in her favor is delusional.

The political bias clearly shown during the investigation and the double standard of justice was rampant and deliberate.

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 This is the same crooked group at the FBI that started the investigation of President Trump that led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

So here is what we know:

Mr. Comey was FBI Director at the time the investigation was started. The IG found his actions at the FBI were insubordinate and he may currently by under investigation for leaking classified material.

Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired and is under investigation for lying to investigators.

Special Agent Peter Strzok has clearly demonstrated his hate and contempt for President Trump through his texts.  He most recently was escorted out of the FBI headquarters.

Congressional investigators now believe FBI documents may have been altered to convict Michael Flynn after the two FBI agents that interviewed him found him to be truthful.

We are also now finding out about FBI spies being planted inside the Trump campaign along with FBI abuse of the FISA warrants.

Enough is enough.

If all of this pans out, which I believe it will, there was no original basis for appointing Robert Mueller.

As I discussed during my Fox Business interview this week, the Mueller witch hunt needs to be shut down immediately.

We cannot continue to let it go on and be a distraction for the American people and Trump Administration.

Our economy is booming, unemployment rates are low and the American Dream is back – but with this nonsense continuing on the side – it is hard to focus on our goals.

The American people deserve better.

Mike Rogers is a Republican congressman from Semmes

Please sign up for my e-Newsletter by visiting my website. To stay up to date, you can also like me on Facebook at Congressman Mike D. Rogers, follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram at RepMikeRogersAL, on Tumblr and you can also subscribe to my YouTube page at MikeRogersAL03. 

Rep. Bradley Byrne: Fighting the opioid epidemic

(Pixabay)

For too long, a problem of epic proportion has been growing outside of the headlines in the United States: the opioid epidemic. The reality is that we can no longer wait to take action. Drug overdose is now a leading cause of death in the United Sates. One hundred seventy-five Americans are dying every day from this crisis. From big cities to small towns, the opioid epidemic has hit our communities hard.

Unfortunately, Alabama has not been spared. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alabama ranks highest in the nation as having more opioid prescriptions than people. Alabama also ranks number one as the highest prescribing state in the nation for opioid pain reliever prescriptions. These statistics are incredibly alarming.

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An opioid is a type of narcotic derived from the opium poppy, which includes drugs such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. While these drugs are often prescribed in response to injuries and body pains, they can be prone to abuse and addiction.

The reality is many of the people who become addicted to opioids first start taking the drugs legally after receiving a prescription from a doctor. For example, I have heard testimony from athletes who suffer a sports-related injury, undergo surgery, and then become addicted to opioids during the recovery process. In many cases, this addiction can escalate, driving individuals to street drugs like heroin.

Almost all of us have a loved one or know somebody who has been affected by this terrible epidemic. The personal stories are what make this nightmare a harsh reality. Right here in Southwest Alabama, I have heard far too many stories about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. The impacts of this crisis reach far beyond the person suffering from addiction to parents, to children, to brothers and sisters. So many have been hurt.

On October 26, 2017, President Trump announced that his administration would declare the opioid crisis a Nationwide Public Health Emergency. On a strongly bipartisan basis alongside President Trump, Congress is also responding.

In March, the House voted to set aside $4 million toward combating the opioid crisis in the government funding bill for Fiscal Year 2018. We kept up the momentum last week when the House passed over 25 targeted bills to help prevent and treat opioid addiction and abuse while also ensuring our nation’s drug laws are working to stop the flow of illegal drugs.

One such bill that passed the House is the THRIVE Act, which creates a program to provide low-income individuals recovering from opioid and other substance use disorders with a clean, safe, and structured environment following rehabilitation.

Additionally, the House passed the STOP Act, which aims to halt opioids like fentanyl from coming into America from other countries through a loophole at the Postal Service. The majority of opioids arrive to America through the mail from other nations, such as China, Mexico and Canada. So, this legislation represents an important step to help solve the problem.

It is clear that our work to end the opioid epidemic is far from over. However, I was pleased to see such strong bipartisan support for many opioid bills this week as we work to make a real difference on behalf of the American people. You can learn more about the legislation we are working on at www.opioidcrisis.gop.

We cannot and will not sit back and allow the opioid crisis to take the lives of the people we love. We must fight back and ensure Americans get the help they need. I look forward to continuing the work with President Trump to end this epidemic once and for all.

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

1 month ago

Judicial races in Alabama highlighted

(YHN/Pixabay)

This is not just a gubernatorial year in the Heart of Dixie.

We have every constitutional office up for election which includes Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Agriculture Commissioner.

We also have a good many of the State Judicial races on the ballot. We have nine seats on our State Supreme Court. We have five judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, as well as five seats on the Court of Civil Appeals. All of these judicial posts are held by Republicans.

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Therefore, it is more than likely safe to assume that the winner of the Republican primary will be elected to a six-year term and can be fitted for their robe, at least by July 17. In fact, Democrats usually do not even field candidates in state judicial races.

Over the past two decades, a prevailing theme has been that women have become favored in state judicial races. In fact, it was safe to say that if you put two candidates on the ballot for a state judicial position, one named John Doe and the other Jane Doe, and neither campaigned or spent any money, Jane Doe would defeat John Doe.

However, for some inexplicable reason, this prevalence reversed itself on June 5 in the Republican primary. In the much-anticipated race for the extremely important Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, position two of the sitting members of the Supreme Court were pitted against each other.

Justice Lyn Stuart, who is the longest serving member on the State Supreme Court, had moved into the Chief Justice role after the departure of Judge Roy Moore. She was running for Chief Justice for the full six-year term. Justice Tom Parker was Roy Moore’s closest ally and is now the most socially conservative activist on the court. Parker and Moore dip from the same well.

Parker chose to challenge Stuart for Chief Justice. The Lyn Stuart vs Tom Parker contest was billed as one of the Titanic battles of the Primary season. Stuart was the darling of the business community. Parker openly was carrying the banner of the social conservatives. Parker bested Stuart 52 percent to 48 percent. Most of Parker’s financial backing came from plaintiff trial lawyers. Parker does have Democratic opposition from Birmingham attorney, Robert Vance, Jr.

However, he should win election in November.

Judge Brad Mendheim was facing two prominent female Circuit judges, Debra Jones of Anniston and Sarah Hicks Stewart of Mobile, for Place 1 on the State Supreme Court.

Mendheim has been a longtime popular Circuit Judge in Dothan. He was appointed to this Supreme Court seat by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year. Mendheim decisively outdistanced his female opponents by garnering 43 percent of the vote. He is expected to win election to a full six-year term on the high tribunal on July 17.

Another example of the male uprising in the court contests occurred in the race for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. Judge Terri Willingham Thomas, who has been on this court since 2006 and has served with distinction, was shockingly defeated by her unknown male opponent, Chad Hanson.

Pickens County Prosecutor Chris McCool forged to the front in the race for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. He led 43 to 35 over Rich Anderson from the Montgomery/River Region.

In the other court races, the candidate who raised the most money and was able to buy some TV time prevailed.

In the State Supreme Court race in Place 4, two Birmingham attorneys, John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, were pitted against each other. Mitchell significantly outspent Bahaked and won 73 to 27.

Christy Edwards of Montgomery and Michelle Thomason of Baldwin County are headed for a runoff for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals.

Richard Minor defeated Riggs Walker overwhelmingly 66 to 34 for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the seat for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals there was yet another display of male dominance in the court races. Bill Cole bested Donna Beaulieu 60 to 40.

On Saturday before the Primary, legendary Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Clement Clay “Bo” Torbert, passed away at 88 in his beloved City of Opelika. His funeral was on Election Day. Judge Torbert served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for 12 years, 1976 to 1988. He had previously served two terms in the State Senate prior to his election as Chief Justice.

See you next week.

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

1 month ago

Rep. Roby: Combatting the opioid crisis at home and across the country

(AF Medical Service)

There are countless important issues currently facing our state and nation. From our ongoing conversations with North Korea to the continuing need for enhanced security at the southern border, there’s no shortage of priorities that warrant discussion. Unfortunately, there is one very serious issue that continues to make headlines: the horrific opioid epidemic that is gripping our state and the entire country.

I’m sure most of us know someone whose life has been affected by opioid abuse. Whether it’s prescription pain relievers or synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the crisis has only gotten worse. 64,070 people died from overdoses in our country in 2016, and 756 of those individuals were Alabamians. Now, in 2018, the problem has not improved. Did you know that 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioid drugs every single day? Just this year alone, it is estimated that more than 2 million Americans will suffer from opioid addiction.

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I’m pleased that last October, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This epidemic has been wreaking havoc on communities and families across our country for far too long. While the statistics are certainly shocking, this is about so much more than numbers. Hundreds of thousands of real American people with lives, careers, and families have lost the battle with opioid drug abuse. That’s why the House has made combating this crisis a top priority over the last several years.

You may remember that back in 2016, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. Earlier this year, we provided $4 billion in government funding specifically to address the opioid crisis. Building upon this work, the House recently passed dozens of meaningful bills to further combat the opioid epidemic, and I’d like to share the four ways we are using this legislation to help fight this serious issue.

First, with the recently passed legislation, the House is focusing on treatment and recovery. Our bills improve and expand access to treatment and recovery services, provide incentives for enhanced care, and establish comprehensive opioid recovery centers. Hundreds of thousands of Americans from all walks of life are currently trapped by addiction, and it is imperative that we provide the resources to treat their addiction and help them recover.

Second, we’re aiming for prevention. Opioids are an important part of modern day medical care for pain treatment, but they are prescribed entirely too often – and at alarming rates. Our legislation addresses these high prescribing rates while enhancing prescription drug monitoring programs. We have the technology, and it’s past time we used it to more effectively address this crisis. Our legislation also encourages non-addictive opioid alternatives, when practical, to treat pain, and improves the data that allows us to identify and help at-risk patients before the problem becomes dangerously serious.

Third, we’re making efforts to better protect communities of all sizes throughout the country by giving law enforcement the tools necessary to remove dangerous drugs. Our bills also enable us to better intercept illicit opioids at international mail facilities and improve access to federal resources for local communities.

Last but certainly not least, we’re fighting fentanyl. The legislation we passed in the House allows us to better tackle these ever-changing synthetic drugs, crack down on foreign shipments of illicit drugs, and provide grants for communities to combat fentanyl that is destroying lives as we speak.

I am proud of the efforts we’ve made in the House recently to press forward in our fight against this horrible crisis gripping our state and nation, but our work is far from complete. We owe it to the more than 40,000 Americans who die every year – and their families – to push on until strong progress is made. You can read more about our work to combat the opioid epidemic by visiting www.opioidcrisis.gop.

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

1 month ago

Survey: Electric vehicles make sense for Alabama drivers

(ACFC)

As many as 50 million Americans are about to flip the switch over to electric automobiles with their next purchase, according to the American Automobile Association. A recent survey conducted by the AAA found that popularity of electric cars is trending upwards. With infrastructure and availability all here, Alabama can lead the charge toward electric vehicles.

In its survey, AAA asked Americans if they were considering electric vehicles for their next car purchase. The survey found that 20 percent of Americans say their next vehicle will be an electric car – up 5 percent from 2017.

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The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition encourages Alabamians to make the move to an alternative fuel vehicle, such as an electric car. Electric vehicles offer nothing but benefits, from being more cost-efficient due to cheaper fuel to less expensive maintenance to being environmentally friendly.

Alabama’s relationship with Mercedes-Benz could be a factor in the state’s future with electric vehicles, too. The automaker announced in January it would be rolling out an electric version of each of its vehicles by 2022. With Mercedes – and most other automakers – launching more electric options, there have never been more alternative fuel vehicle options than we have today.

The Tuscaloosa County facility is the only Mercedes plant in the United States, and it will play a central role in the production of these electric vehicles. As these electric vehicles begin to be produced by the people of Alabama, the next logical step is for them to begin driving them as well.

There has never been a better time to switch over to electric. It is a common misconception that it is a hassle to charge your electric car, whether that be at home or on the road. Charging at home can be done through a 120-amp power supply, which is the same three-prong outlet that powers your television.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition is determined to make driving an electric vehicle in Alabama comfortable by assisting in getting proper infrastructure in place. Alabama currently has 84 electric charging stations, and a total of 198 charging outlets scattered across the state in almost all major cities.

More and more charging stations will continue to pop up across the state as more electric vehicles hit the streets. Current electric charging stations can be found at convenient locations in public, and some residential areas. The new Tesla charging stations in downtown Birmingham are just one prominent example. Several online sites, such as plugshare.com, provide charger locations.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition serves as the principal coordinating point for clean, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle activities in Alabama. The ACFC is part of the national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions that bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging technologies.

According to Alabama AAA PR and Marketing Director Clay Ingram, our state is warming up to electric vehicles as the technology and infrastructure begins to develop at a rapid pace.

“We have come a long way in accepting this, in a short number of years,” Ingram said. “We love our vehicles in Alabama, and I think there is a lot of room for (electric vehicles) as the technology continues to develop.”

With an average gas price of $2.91 – its highest cost since 2014. Gas prices are expected to increase over time without any anticipation of dropping. The average American spends $1,400 on gasoline a year, while average electric vehicle charging costs are $540 annually. Unlike gasoline cars, electric vehicles don’t typically require oil changes, fuel filters, spark plug replacements or emission checks. In electric vehicles, even brake pad replacements are rare due to the fact regenerative braking returns energy to the battery.

With all the aforementioned factors in mind, it is no surprise that the AAA estimated a below-average cost of ownership with electric vehicles. Electric cars also are the least expensive when it comes to yearly maintenance.

Since the 1970s, lawmakers in the United States have been putting effort into facilitating the research and growth of electric cars. The urge to reduce carbon emissions has given electric car production a lift. Electric vehicles emit an average of 4,500 pounds of CO2, with gasoline cars emitting more than double that.

This current shift to electric will not only have an environmental impact, but also an economic one. According the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States has made progress in importing less oil, but still imports nearly 20 percent of what is consumed. The increasing use of electricity as an alternative fuel will further push the United States toward economic independence from foreign countries.

The benefits to driving an electric car are endless! To learn more about the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and advice on purchasing an alternative fuel vehicle, please visit www.alabamacleanfuels.org.

Mark Bentley is the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.

1 month ago

Auburn researcher: Biofuels are still an important component of our energy mix

(S. Taylor)

During the last 15 years, biofuels have been a hot topic in the energy production world. You could hardly turn on the television or radio without hearing about the latest research and benefits of biofuels, which can be produced from agricultural and forest residues and dedicated energy crops. In fact, to help encourage the development of biofuel technologies, Congress provided tax breaks and incentives for companies that produced and sold biofuels.

Times have changed, though, and biofuels are not a front-page story today. Presently, natural gas is the darling of the electrical power industry for baseload operations. It’s clean, relatively inexpensive and readily available. Many power plants and manufacturing facilities are converting their old boilers to burn natural gas. Natural gas is on a high and there’s no forecast to determine when it will come down.

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But for a moment, let’s reexamine biofuels, as they can still play an important role in our state’s energy production and economic development. According to the Energy Institute of Alabama, our state ranks fifth in the nation for electricity generation from biomass-based fuels. Biomass consists of plants or plant-based materials such as agricultural crop residues, forest residues, or dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass or fast-growing trees. These various sources of biomass can be used not only for generating electrical power or making liquid transportation fuels like gasoline or diesel fuel, but they can create a wide array of co-products like plastics and adhesives.

Here at Auburn University, we are conducting research to maximize the usage of biomass for conversion to biofuels and valuable co-products. While most people think of corn-based ethanol when biofuels are mentioned, researchers at Auburn are advancing the technology to convert grasses, pine trees and hardwoods to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. And to make the fuel production process more economically feasible, we are developing a suite of co-products
that can be produced at the same time.

Through grants from Alabama Power Co., the Electric Power Research Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have been addressing many of the challenges in using biomass to create renewable biofuels and electrical power. One of the greatest challenges with biomass-based fuels is logistics. Forest and agricultural biomass is usually scattered and is difficult to collect and transport cost-effectively using traditional
harvesting machines and trucks. In projects sponsored by the Departments of Energy and Agriculture, we have developed innovative and efficient ways to collect and transport the biomass from its original site to a power plant, refinery, or manufacturing facility. Other research is developing biochemical and thermochemical methods to convert the biomass to liquid fuels, chemical products, and electrical power.

Auburn researchers are also tackling the challenge of capturing gases emitted from landfills. Currently, it’s cheaper to flare the landfill gas than it is to clean and transport it to another location for re-use. Our faculty have developed methods to remove unwanted sulfur from the gas which then makes the gas valuable for production of electrical power or liquid fuels.

Additional research has developed smaller-scale, more cost-effective reactors that can convert this gas to gasoline and diesel. Once these processes have been perfected, it will not only allow electric utilities and fuel producers another viable option in clean fuel choices, but the resulting new industries will open the door for more employment opportunities, particularly in our rural areas where forest and agricultural biomass is produced.

As you can see, these are exciting times for Alabama’s energy industry. We are continuing to  expand our diverse energy base, while finding new ways to utilize resources already in place. Biomass and the resulting biofuels can and will continue to play an important role in adding to our resource mix. To learn more about Alabama’s reliable, clean, affordable energy resources, visit the Energy Institute of Alabama.

Dr. Steven Taylor is a professor and associate dean for research at the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn University.