The Wire

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

    Excerpt:

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

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

Carl: President Biden needs to wake up and address the border crisis

(Congressman Jerry Carl, President Joe Biden/Facebook, YHN)

Several colleagues and I visited the U.S.-Mexico border to see firsthand the situation at the border. For many months, I’ve seen and heard countless reports about how bad the situation is, but I did not even come close to realizing the full extent of the crisis until I saw it with my own eyes.

On the trip, we met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who gave us a tour of the San Ysidro Port of Entry and different portions of the nearby border. They briefed us on what an average day is like at the border, and what we heard was unbelievable. Just that morning alone, more than 140 pounds of meth from smugglers attempting to cross the border had been seized by agents at this one port of entry. Agents told us they are absolutely overwhelmed and are unable to stop the flow of drugs, so all they can do is attempt to slow it down and stop some of the trafficking.

After spending time in San Diego, my colleagues and I visited Yuma, Arizona, where border patrol agents at Yuma Station informed us they seized 519 pounds of meth last week alone. Meanwhile, they are seeing a 600% increase in the number of illegal border crossings this year. Many of the people attempting to cross the border are not from Mexico or anywhere in Central or South America – in fact, they are seeing attempted crossings by people from more than 140 different countries.

449

I also saw firsthand how important it is to finish the wall on the southern border. The wall is extremely effective, but President Biden stopped construction of it as soon as he took office. We already have materials on the ground to build more of the wall, but they are all just sitting in piles not being used. Border patrol agents told us they are having to move agents around to plug these gaps in the wall, which is putting a critical strain on their manpower.

People from all over the world are flying into Mexico and are getting bussed to the border so they can take advantage of President Biden’s leadership failures and seek asylum in America. Even worse, many Democrats are calling to defund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is the only agency with the authority to hold people for more than 72 hours. Without ICE fully funded and operational, cartels can flood a particular spot on the border for days at a time and overwhelm border patrol agents, who do not have the authority to hold people for more than 72 hours. As a result, border patrol agents are left with no option other than bussing migrants into the United States and relocating them wherever they can find room. This is unacceptable, and it needs to stop now.

When people think of Alabama, they think of community, family, strong American values, and of course football, but unfortunately our way of life is being threatened by the horrific situation at the border. Although Alabama does not share a border with Mexico, drugs are being trafficked into the United States and transported right into my district in south Alabama. The cartels are able to haul drugs from the southern border to Alabama within 24 hours, where they end up in the hands of our children and our grandchildren. This is unacceptable and despite the incredible work being done by border patrol and law enforcement agencies, drugs are flowing all over America and are crippling our communities.

Without a serious change in policy from this Administration, there is no end in sight to this crisis. Even before taking office, President Biden’s rhetoric encouraged people to come to the United States illegally, and since being in office he has failed to enforce our immigration laws and continue building the wall. I am urging the president and vice president to visit the border and finally take this crisis serious. Let’s build the wall, secure our border, and make the health and safety of American citizens our top priority. President Biden and Vice President Harris can no longer ignore this crisis. The time to act is now.

Jerry Carl represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

3 days ago

Reforming occupational licensing

(Pixabay)

Occupational licensing involves government-imposed requirements for practitioners in different professions, or what critics call government permission slips to work. Despite a lack of evidence of benefits to consumers, licensing has been proliferating across Alabama and America, with the percentage of workers covered rising from 5% to over 20%.

A new report from the Alabama Policy Institute and the Archbridge Institute offers some potential reforms. Not-So Sweet Home Alabama: How Licensing Holds Back the Yellowhammer State is written by Dr. Edward Timmons and Conor Norris of Saint Francis University. Dr. Timmons has extensively researched licensing, including a 2019 case study of Alabama barbers.

The economic argument for licensing is consumers’ difficulty verifying expertise. Does a person claiming to be an electrician truly know this job? If you knew the trade, you could quiz or test them. Yet our economy is built on the division of labor, which is really a division of knowledge. Instead of learning how to repair a car, you hire someone who knows how.

515

Markets can assure consumers of experts’ expertise. Reputation in various forms – including references, positive word-of-mouth, Yelp ratings, and brand names – accomplish this. Insurance also helps. An insurance company will only offer medical malpractice coverage to med school graduates.

Yet skepticism about how well markets work leads to calls for licensing. A state licensing law establishes a board of experts to set education, training, and testing requirements. The board verifies applicants’ qualifications and working without a license becomes illegal. Revoking licenses for professional misconduct weeds out bad apples.

Research finds that licensing increases prices for consumers and incomes for professionals without improving the quality of services. Education and training requirements must produce higher prices to let doctors, plumbers and hair stylists recoup their training and education costs.
The lack of quality improvement implies no gains for consumers to compensate for higher prices. Licensing boards may enact unnecessary requirements to artificially restrict the number of practitioners and boost earnings. Enriching some citizens at the expense of others is not, however, a legitimate task of government.

Public choice economics helps explain the proliferation of licensing. The return on political action to support or oppose a bill depends on the amount one has at stake. Licensing can boost practitioners’ incomes by thousands of dollars a year, while consumers pay a little extra when using a service, with the extra hidden in the overall price. Only professionals seeking licensing vote or make campaign contributions based on passage of the bill.

Timmons and Norris offer two reform proposals. The first is for Alabama to accept other states’ licenses, or reciprocity. Licensing reduces mobility because once licensed, a professional might have to incur significant costs to get licensed in another state.

This imposes a heavy burden on some people, particularly military spouses. The spouse of a service member who gets stationed in Alabama may lose the freedom to work in their profession without incurring costs to obtain an Alabama license. Some licensed professions already have reciprocity agreements; this proposal would require all to do so.

A second reform is sunrise review of new licensing proposals. Sunrise review is a variation of the sunset reviews required in Alabama and other states. Sunset review involves a study by a designated agency recommending either renewal or termination of a program, after which legislators must vote to reauthorize the program. Sunrise review requires an evaluation before establishing licensing.

As Timmons and Norris explain, licensing is the most extensive way government can regulate a profession; less intrusive forms of regulation include certification, registration, and insurance requirements. An objective review of the evidence makes sense; extensive regulation should only be employed for serious market problems.

Occupational licensing may improve the performance of some professional services markets. But licensing’s extensive application is likely due to the nature of legislative politics. We should seriously consider Not-So Sweet Home Alabama’s proposed reforms.

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

4 days ago

Guest: Alabama’s contributions important to recognize during Drinking Water Week

(Manufacture Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

MONTGOMERY, AL – This is National Drinking Water Week, a week in which we highlight the essential role of drinking water in our society and economy. Given the pandemic we have experienced and are rapidly overcoming, the reliability of our public water supply is probably more appreciated than in years past. But how did we get here?

Municipal water systems are a more recent development than many realize. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, workers and their families moved from rural areas, and cities rapidly grew to support the factories driving the Industrial Revolution. Many got their water from a well in the backyard and used a nearby outhouse in the same backyard. Waterborne disease was common, and in what seems too familiar today, it was not unusual for cities to lose tens of thousands to typhoid, cholera, and other water-borne diseases, especially in hot summers. Common drinking cups on trains and at public wells were super-spreaders of disease. Visionary leaders in various locales across the country 120 to 150 years ago saw the need and the resultant benefits of municipal water systems, chlorination and public health standards.

390

As a result, clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world. We see clean water ministries and initiatives around the world today, and they are worthy of our support. We take for granted here in America that our tap has clean and pure water safe to drink, cook and bathe. And the price we pay for this precious and necessary component of our lives is likely the greatest value in our budgets.

When these municipal water systems were built, options were few, and cast iron was the pipe material of choice. We should be thankful it was, because iron pipe has served exceptionally well. Even with a plethora of contemporary material options today, modern ductile iron continues to be the strongest, most sustainable, and most resilient material. Ductile iron pipe is made from recycled iron and steel, requires less energy to operate and use, lasts longer, and has greater life-cycle value than seemingly glitzier alternatives. Other pipe materials such as lead, asbestos-cement and plastic PVC have come, and most have gone; but iron pipe remains sure and steady as the standard for quality municipal water system construction.

Birmingham, Alabama, is the ductile iron pipe manufacturing capital of America, and many steel mills across our state make coil used to make larger diameter welded steel water pipe. The Alabama Iron and Steel Council is proud to salute our ductile iron and steel producing members and the products they manufacture to build the world’s safest and most sustainable drinking water systems.

Iron and Steel Pipe: It’s what America is Built On.

Maury D. Gaston is Chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama, and a Director and past Chairman of the state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. The AISC operates as an independent industry council of Manufacture Alabama, the state’s only trade association dedicated exclusively to manufacturers and their supplier/vendor partners. AISC member companies include AM/NS Calvert, AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, CMC Steel, McWane, Inc., Nucor Steel, Outokumpu Stainless USA, SSAB Americas, U.S. Pipe & Foundry, United States Steel, Alabama Power Company, Colburn Construction, Inc., ERP Compliant Coke, OMI-Bisco Refractories, O’Neal Manufacturing Services, Reno Refractories, Southeast Gas, and Southern Alloy Corporation. Gaston is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University and Manager of Marketing for American Cast Iron Pipe in Birmingham.

and 6 days ago

Guests: Stop the slide and start the climb

(Alabama Workforce Council/Contributed, YHN)

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education are unparalleled in American history. Projected learning loss, particularly for our most at-risk students, may be irreversible if we do not maximize the utility of each dollar Alabama receives for the pandemic recovery. Alabama’s students are already near last on the National Assessment on Educational Progress (NAEP), the only national standardized test that all public-school students are required to take in both fourth and eighth grades. It is imperative that Alabama wisely invests these funds to stop the COVID-19 learning loss and begin our climb towards increased student achievement immediately.

Fortunately, due to numerous federal programs approximately $4 billion will be allocated to Alabama’s K-12 schools. Due to this one-time allocation of Federal dollars, the Alabama Workforce Council, the Business Education Alliance and employers statewide recommend and fully support the expenditure of an adequate portion of the federal funding to strategically align Alabama’s Career Technical Education (CTE) programs to the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP) in-demand jobs and career pathways. Doing so will help to close the current 12 percentage point gap between Alabama’s high school graduation rate of 90% and the college and career readiness rate of 78%. Aligning Alabama’s CTE programs and credential readiness indicators to the ACCCP’s list of in-demand jobs will ensure that preparing our students for high-skill, high demand CTE careers remains a vital focus as we continue making progress against Governor Ivey’s attainment goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the workforce by 2025.

205

We also fully support the use of these funds to bolster summer and afterschool programs for enrichment in reading, math, and science so our students are prepared for careers in Alabama upon completion of their educational pursuits. All of Alabama’s school districts should invest their allocations of federal dollars toward educational programs to support the strategic initiatives that Governor Ivey and State Superintendent Eric Mackey have previously set forth in Governor Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish strategic plan and Dr. Mackey’s Alabama Achieves strategic plan.

Our organizations stand ready to help in meeting the challenge of ensuring that the billions of dollars our state is about to receive are spent wisely. This is a once in a lifetime chance, and Alabama must wisely leverage these dollars towards ensuring that all students are reading on grade level and on grade level in math by the time they enter the fourth grade, are college and career ready at the time of graduation from high school, and are attaining postsecondary credentials of value for in-demand, high-wage jobs.

Tim McCartney is Chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council. Dr. Joe Morton is President of the Business Education Alliance and a member of the Alabama Workforce Council. For more information, visit www.alabamaworks.com.

7 days ago

Alabama – A paradise of water

(Manufacture Alabama/Contributed, Sam Dellaporta/Unsplash, YHN)

Alabama is blessed with many natural resources. Water is one of the most important because it is so vital to Alabama’s environment, economy, recreation, biodiversity and quality of life.

In fact, Alabama has 132,000 miles of rivers and streams as well as large groundwater supplies available for our personal use and recreational enjoyment, for keeping our farming and forestry-based opportunities functioning at optimal levels, and for supporting the industries that provide products and jobs for our residents.

But what do we know about our water resources and who helps the state prepare for extremes such as droughts or floods? Fortunately, there is a plan and a process designed to monitor water data and bring representatives of water-use groups at every level together for their input and perspectives. It has served Alabama well.

564

The primary entity for monitoring Alabama’s water resources is the Office of Water Resources (OWR), a division of the Alabama Department of Economic Community Affairs (ADECA). OWR is supported by the Geological Survey of Alabama for groundwater assessment and availability.

The OWR was created in 1993 to improve the understanding of how, when, and where water is used and to improve Alabama’s ability to negotiate with Georgia, Florida and the US Army Corps of Engineers in the litigation commonly referred to as the “water wars.” The Alabama Water Resources Act tasked the OWR as the lead technical group supporting interstate litigation issues and as the office with the primary responsibility for monitoring statewide water use.

The Act also created an advisory committee to the Governor and Legislature – the Alabama Water Resources Commission (AWRC). The AWRC is composed of 19 members, representing various water uses such as agriculture, industry, water utilities, navigation, and recreation as well as specific regions of the state. Roy McAuley, Executive Director of the Alabama Pulp and Paper Council, currently chairs the Commission.

Times of extremes – droughts or floods – bring greater awareness of Alabama’s water resources. To support drought planning and response, the Alabama Drought Assessment Planning Team (ADAPT) is a committee consisting of state and federal agency representatives, plus representatives from agriculture, forestry, electric utilities, and industry, who are appointed by the Governor. ADAPT advises OWR and the Governor when drought conditions present significant impacts and provides recommendations on responses. ADAPT’s Monitoring and Impact Group Technical Subcommittee meets regularly to evaluate current and anticipated conditions which help guide OWR when it periodically issues an Alabama Drought Declaration.

Additionally, Alabama has adopted a statewide Drought Management Plan to help guide drought planning and response. The drought plan works, as demonstrated in the 2016 drought; which had a major impact in central Alabama. The frequent communication and coordination under the plan helped water users manage their supplies to ensure availability throughout this period. The process also encourages public and private water users to ensure sustainability by having alternative water supply sources and activating local drought response plans when necessary.

At the other end of the water spectrum is flooding. OWR plays a major role in the development, modification, and approval of flood risk maps used by local leaders to determine and minimize risk in their communities. They are also important to the management of the National Flood Insurance Program that guides municipalities in the prevention and mitigation of flood impacts to property, homes, and businesses.

Finally, OWR has led Alabama’s efforts to provide reports of water availability and use. These reports help us better understand how water is used and the resulting trends. Total water use in Alabama has not increased in about 40 years, while our population has increased about 25%. This is strong evidence that Alabama water users know the importance of our water resources and are working to help ensure that Alabama will continue to be a “Paradise of Water.”
ADECA’s OWR is at the forefront of these efforts to help manage the state’s water resources, and Governor Ivey’s support is appreciated in this continuing effort.

George Clark is the president of Manufacture Alabama, the only trade association in Alabama dedicated to creating a business and political climate that promotes a positive, competitive environment and enhances the opportunity for growth of Alabama manufacturers.” As president, Clark acts as CEO and principal for the organization.

1 week ago

Guest: ABC Board worked to ensure strong safeguards accompany new alcohol bills

(Andreas M, CHUTTERSNAP/Unsplash, YHN)

The Alabama Legislature on Thursday gave its final approval to legislation that would allow wineries anywhere in the country to ship limited quantities of wine directly to Alabama consumers. The bill, HB437, will become law if signed by Gov. Kay Ivey.

This follows a bill, SB126, passed earlier by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor that will allow ABC Board-licensed businesses in the state to deliver wine, beer and spirits to customers’ homes.

In addition, numerous other bills were introduced in this session of the Legislature and are in various stages of the legislative process with their fates undetermined. This session, the ABC Board has tracked 39 bills dealing with alcoholic beverages or affecting some aspect of our regulatory functions. We have not experienced as high a volume of bills in my 10-year tenure as administrator of the ABC Board.

640

With such a barrage of bills, both passed and pending, it’s easy to be confused, especially by various versions of legislation dealing with seemingly related topics.

Let me try to clarify things a bit regarding the two bills that have perhaps generated the most confusion – home delivery of beer, wine and spirits (SB126) and direct shipment of wine (HB437).

While these bills might sound similar, they are vastly different.

The home delivery bill (SB126) deals with licensed in-state retailers only – package stores, grocery stores, wineries, breweries, distillers, restaurants, etc. Businesses could use either their employees or third-party contractors to deliver alcohol to customers.

While the measure allows the delivery of beer, wine and spirits, it sets limits on the amounts that can be sold to a customer in any one day.

For canned or bottled beer, the maximum is 120 12-ounce containers. For draft beer, it’s 288 ounces. For wine and spirits, it’s 9,000 milliliters (about 304 ounces).

Businesses with on-premises licenses, such as restaurants, cannot exceed 375 ml of alcoholic beverages, and the delivery must also be accompanied by a meal.

The wine direct shipment bill (HB437), on the other hand, concerns only wine and allows shipments only from wineries to consumers.

A licensed manufacturer of wine, in state or outside Alabama, would be able to get a direct wine shipper license to ship wine to buyers in Alabama. A fulfillment center acting as the agent of the winery would also have to be state-licensed. Customers would be able to buy up to 12 9-liter cases of wine a year from the winery.

ABC’s Regulatory Function

I must point out that the ABC Board does not take a political position on the wisdom of these bills. In our regulatory capacity, our primary concern is to ensure there are adequate and enforceable safeguards in place to protect public safety and public health, including keeping alcohol out of the hands of those under age 21 and those who are already intoxicated.

The ABC Board worked with legislators and the proponents of both bills to strengthen safeguards or put in additional ones where we thought they were lacking. We are satisfied that the safeguards in both bills, combined with specific rules and regulations we are drafting, as called for in the legislation, are adequate to ensure these new services being made available to Alabama consumers will be provided safely and responsibly.

With the home delivery bill, delivery employees will be subject to criminal background checks and fingerprinted, as well as undergo training to help them identify underage or intoxicated individuals and faked or altered IDs. They must require each recipient provide a valid photo ID to confirm the person is 21 or older, and that the recipient sign for the order. If the recipient cannot prove his or her age or appears intoxicated, the delivery person must return the alcoholic beverage purchase to the retailer. The purchase cannot be left unattended under any circumstance.

There are similar safeguards for direct wine shipment. Wine cannot be shipped to a school, dormitory, prison, health care facility, locker, mailbox, storage facility, or another premises licensed by the board. A fulfillment center cannot mask as a retailer. Alabama would be only the third state to require the licensing, reporting and oversight of fulfillment centers – an important tool in guarding against possible abuses.

Licensees under both measures must pay licensing fees, keep detailed records of purchases and file reports with the ABC Board and Alabama Department of Revenue.

These new laws passed by the Legislature bring added responsibilities to the ABC Board. As the state agency tasked with protecting public safety and health from the misuse and abuse of alcohol, we will ensure all the rules and regulations governing home delivery and direct wine shipments are strictly enforced.

Just as we do with all other alcohol laws in Alabama.

H. Mac Gipson is administrator of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

1 week ago

Guest: Use federal relief to expand summer learning and afterschool programs

(Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash)

Despite the best efforts of parents and educators across our state, over the past year, social isolation, hunger and lost instructional time have hit our students hard. According to VOICES for Alabama’s Children, Alabama ranks 47th in the nation for child well-being and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges faced by children and families. 

As we emerge from the pandemic and turn our focus to recovery, our children need our support.

With summer approaching and as we plan for the year ahead, afterschool and summer learning programs are essential for re-engaging students and accelerating their academic, social and emotional recovery.

697

In Alabama, afterschool and summer learning programs provide enriching opportunities that inspire kids to learn and keep them safe and supported. These programs offer so much more than academic support, giving students opportunities to explore their passions in a fun, informal environment where kids learn together through hands-on, team-building activities. 

The American Rescue Plan provides an unprecedented opportunity to support students’ learning needs. The latest COVID-19 relief package provides more than $2 billion in funding for Alabama’s state and local education agencies to use for learning recovery and to meet students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Recognizing how critical afterschool and summer learning programs are to the pandemic recovery, the Act encourages partnerships between schools and youth-serving organizations. 

As education leaders in Alabama allocate federal funding for recovery and school districts determine how to spend those funds, it’s crucial that schools partner with community-based programs to support students—starting this summer.

Funding can support programs like Tuscaloosa City Schools’ Summer Learning Academies, co-led by Skyland Elementary School counselor Lindsey Blevins, which will serve about 4,000 kids in kindergarten through twelfth grade; 65% of students in the district are on the free- and reduced-price lunch program. The free programs mix fun activities with academic instruction in math, science, and reading skills to spark kids’ excitement for learning. Ms. Blevins and other district staff are getting extra creative by giving each school’s academy its own theme. For example, Skyland Elementary’s theme will be “Lights, Camera, Action.” It’s their way of ensuring kids have fun, while giving students the opportunity to reacclimate to attending school in-person five days a week, after many months of remote learning and isolation. 

Decades of data prove afterschool and summer learning programs support kids’ social and emotional development, accelerate learning gains, improve students’ reading and math skills, and boost on-time graduation. Additionally, these programs are a lifeline for our families. In Alabama, 94% of parents say afterschool helps them keep their jobs or work more hours, arguably more important than ever before as our economy recovers from the COVID-19 fallout.

Although summer and afterschool programs are popular and proven effective, they have been chronically underfunded in Alabama. Every year, afterschool and summer learning programs across the state cobble together funding from federal, state, and local sources to support their programs. For example, Skyland Elementary’s SPARK program and a handful of other Tuscaloosa afterschool and summer learning programs have been funded for the past few years by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. Because of this funding, Ms. Blevins has been able to serve more students, but she has to re-apply every three years and supplement the funding with state and local funds to support Skyland’s and other schools’ programs. During COVID-19, the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club in Birmingham relied on the United Way’s funding to stay open for full days as a community learning hub, where kids could log into virtual classrooms and receive help with their school work. 

Without the hard work of grant directors like Ms. Blevins and leaders at the Boys & Girls Clubs who are dedicated to seeking and securing adequate funding from a patchwork of sources, many students in Alabama won’t have access to afterschool and summer learning programming. In fact, currently, for every Alabama student in an afterschool program, four more children (335,000) are waiting to get in. Kids from families with low income and communities of color are most likely to miss out due to cost, transportation issues, and lack of access to programs.

With the American Rescue Plan, we have the opportunity to fund afterschool and summer learning programs, making them more accessible for more kids. This is an essential strategy for an equitable, robust recovery and a necessary investment in our children’s future. I urge our state and local education agencies to use funding from the American Rescue Plan to address the unmet demand for afterschool and summer enrichment programs to help more kids emerge from this crisis strong, resilient and hopeful. 

Felicia Simpson is director of the Alabama Afterschool Community Network, housed at the University of Alabama’s College of Education.

1 week ago

Guest: The SHIPYARD Act will help South Alabama

(M. Kittrell/Alabama NewsCenter)

A bipartisan bill in Washington could bring a welcome influx of cash and resources to South Alabama’s shipbuilding industry. Senators and representatives from Mississippi, Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Wisconsin have introduced the Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act, which would appropriate $25 billion toward shipyard infrastructure improvements (you can always count on Congress to fit a tongue-tying, mouthful of a bill title into a catchy acronym).

While the lion’s share of the dollars would go to public shipyards outside of Alabama, $4 billion is reserved for work at private new construction and repair shipyards. Austal’s shipyard in Mobile and the Ingalls facility in Mississippi — which employs scores of Alabamians — fall into both of those categories.

The measure comes amid efforts within Congress and the Pentagon to grow the U.S. Navy as a response to the growth of China’s military power. In 2020, the U.S. Navy released its 30-year shipbuilding plan, which aims to grow its current fleet of fewer than 300 ships to a whopping 546 ships by 2050. Doing so will require an estimated $25.6 billion per year over that period.

While that growth seems sharp and expensive, for Washington seapower advocates, the Navy cannot grow fast enough. In 2017, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed, a bill stating that established a U.S. policy to achieve a 355-ship Navy. Under the Navy’s plan, the U.S. will not hit that mark until the mid-2030s.

800

As the Navy and Congress seek an increased fleet, private and public shipyards will need to grow their footprints to keep up with the demand. In late March, Austal, one of only seven private new construction shipyards in the U.S., took a major step towards increasing output by breaking ground on a production line for steel-hulled ships. The new line will enable Austal to compete for more Navy contracts, as Austal currently is only able to build aluminum-hulled ships.

The SHIPYARD Act, according to a white paper released by the bill’s sponsors, would subsidize efforts like Austal’s production line expansion, calling private shipyards the “lifeblood of our Navy.”

For nearly two decades, Austal has been providing the Navy with small surface combatant ships, namely the littoral combat ship (LCS). While the LCS program has faced harsh criticism for cost overruns and underperformance, most problematic LCS platforms originate from the Marinette Marine facility in Wisconsin, which produces a separate variant of the LCS.

During a late April hearing on Capitol Hill, the Navy’s leadership, Admiral Mike Gilday and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker, praised the performance of Austal-built LCS platforms conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South Pacific and counter narcotics missions Latin America. Gilday also testified that the Navy plans to further invest in the operational LCS fleet by outfitting the ships with Naval Strike Missiles. The move will add needed firepower to ships at the forefront of the U.S. effort to combat increasing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

So, what is next for the SHIPYARD Act?

Most of the bill’s key sponsors, including U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), are all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Subcommittee on Seapower. While they will likely work to get some policy provisions of the bill into the committee’s upcoming mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act, the committee and NDAA can only authorize spending rather than actually appropriate dollars.

For appropriations, the bill will need approval of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the ranking Republican; he is also the top Republican on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Defense. Shelby has been a champion for South Alabama’s shipbuilding industry, overseeing appropriations for 20 Austal-built LCS and 15 Expeditionary Fast Transports ships, another platform produced by Austal for the Navy. Shelby has announced that he will retire at the end of his current term but will assuredly be laser-focused on supporting Alabama’s defense industry until his final day in office.

While no Alabama representatives are initial sponsors or cosponsors of the SHIPYARD Act, there will be plenty of opportunities for Shelby, along with U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01), Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Representative Mike Rogers (AL-03), to support the bill. Tuberville, Carl and Rogers all sit on the Armed Services Committee of their respective chambers, with Rogers serving as the lead House Republican on Armed Services; meanwhile, Aderholt is a senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense.

Additionally, Representative Mo Brooks (AL-05), who is widely viewed as the current front-runner to replace Shelby in the Senate, also sits on the House Armed Services Committee and will be seeking the support of South Alabamians, including from Austal and Ingalls workers, for his campaign.

Outside of the defense committees, Congress is preparing to debate and consider President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Rescue Plan, pitched as a move to overhaul U.S. infrastructure. SHIPYARD Act supporters are certain to push for the bill to be included in the legislation, arguing doing so would enable the economic and national security benefits of growing U.S. shipbuilding infrastructure.

Regardless of the vehicle for advancing the SHIPYARD Act, movement of a measure to assist U.S. shipyards is welcome news for the industry. While this bill alone will not be enough to ensure shipyards are ready to build the 355-ship navy, it shows that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are aware of the issue and want to act on it. And, as anyone who has worked in Washington can tell you, getting an issue on the table for discussion can be half the battle.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He currently works in business development at a software company in Washington, D.C., focusing on the company’s intelligence community and defense work. He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Carl: Biden’s first 100 days — A failure to lead

(Congressman Jerry Carl, President Joe Biden/Facebook)

When President Biden ran for office, he promised to work in a bipartisan manner for the betterment of all Americans. In an attempt to build goodwill, several colleagues and I sent President Biden a letter on his first day in office letting him know we would like a seat at the table on specific issues such as infrastructure and COVID relief, but our requests have been entirely ignored. Last week marked President Biden’s first 100 days in office – during that time, he has failed to meet with Republican leadership and has chosen to govern in a partisan manner with his pen and paper.

President Biden’s failure to enforce our immigration laws has caused an unprecedented crisis at the border, but he refused to admit to his wrongdoing. Vice President Harris was appointed “border czar” weeks ago but has not made a single trip to the border and has not offered a single plan to address the crisis. It’s time to get serious about this crisis: let’s finish the wall, reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy, implement Title 42 (which President Trump used to control the flow of migrants), require a negative COVID test before the release of all migrants, and send a clear message that absolutely nobody should come to the U.S. illegally.

332

President Biden has also failed to lead on a reasonable infrastructure plan. Whether it’s improved roads and bridges or increased access to rural broadband, virtually all Americans would agree our nation’s infrastructure needs improvement and expansion. Unfortunately, President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan would result in more than $2 trillion being borrowed from you and your children and would have almost nothing to do with infrastructure. The facts are clear – less than 6% of this “infrastructure” plan would go toward what you and I consider infrastructure. Most of this money would go toward radical Green New Deal provisions and unsustainable projects. Even worse, this plan would put more money into electric vehicle charging stations than roads and bridges. This is simply unacceptable.

The Biden administration has also gone on a crusade against our 2nd Amendment rights. President Biden, who was a leader behind the 1993 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, has made it clear he intends to take his anti-gun crusade even further. He is determined to strip law-abiding Americans of their 2nd Amendment rights, while doing nothing to address the real causes of gun violence. The 2nd Amendment is crystal clear, though: the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. I have already been working with my colleagues to make sure these gun-grabbing proposals are dead on arrival, and I will never stop fighting to protect our rights.

Whether it’s failing to address the border crisis, borrowing trillions of dollars from you to pay for his radical agenda, attempting to erode our 2nd Amendment rights, or killing thousands of jobs with harmful executive orders, President Biden has been a disappointing failure during his first days in office. Despite this, I remain committed to fighting for you and making sure your voice is heard in Washington. I will continue doing my part to hold this administration accountable and ensure our rights and our freedoms are never trampled.

Jerry Carl represents Alabama’s First Congressional District. He lives in Mobile with his wife Tina.

Congressman Robert Aderholt: Ending the war on restaurants

(Robert Aderholt, President Joe Biden/Facebook, YHN)

In President Biden’s first address to Congress Wednesday night, he talked about showing that American government can work. He believes that only government can lead the way and only government can solve our big problems. (A far cry from when President Reagan told us the truth, that government isn’t the answer to our problems, it is the problem.) Let me talk about one particular situation where the government is causing great harm right now: the restaurant business.

After a year when the restaurant industry has been hit the hardest, government is doing everything It can to keep those businesses from bouncing back. Just when Americans want to get out and go eat, the government has created programs that pay people to stay at home, rather than take the jobs that are necessary to allow people to get out and enjoy their new freedoms.

Restaurants are having to operate drive-thrus only, reduce open hours or even close on some days. Why? They can’t find people who want to work. They had rather draw unemployment, set their own schedule with the same amount of pay, and honestly, who can blame them?

489

The Dairy Queen in Hanceville recently posted the sign above. And you’ve probably experienced the same situation where you live as well. The Cardinal Drive-in in Red Bay can’t even open for lunch now, only dinner, because they can’t find enough workers. Even bigger chains like Cracker Barrell are feeling this pinch. The location in Guntersville has at times only had enough staff to open for breakfast and lunch, and close for dinner.

With the pandemic coming to an end and with vaccinations available to everyone, there is no excuse to continue pay people to not work. There is no logic behind this approach.

If you get the state unemployment maximum, which is $275 per week, plus the federal $300 per week, that works out to more than $14.00 per hour, tax free. Then you can add the stimulus payments and dependent payments on top of this.

Some might say, “well if we just increased the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, this would solve the problem.” Many restaurants in Alabama are already paying close to this in wages, and now, are offering signing bonuses. But many small, locally owned restaurants in rural areas simply can’t afford to pay $15.00 per hour. They would go out of business and just close entirely.

The left talks about increasing the minimum wage as if the money to pay these wages will just appear in the small business owner’s pocket. And while you might not think of restaurants like McDonald’s or Dairy Queen as being small businesses, keep in mind that most of those restaurants are actually operated by independent franchisees, a.k.a. small business owners.

When COVID first hit, and we didn’t know exactly what we were facing and how to safely work, stimulus for the economy made sense. It kept our economy afloat. But now that the pandemic is coming to an end, more government spending, more expanded unemployment insurance and a higher minimum wage is like continuing to give the patient more medicine when they are healed. It will only make them sick again.

Small businesses like restaurants have been through enough in the past year. Many did not make it and will never reopen. Why are we now, with the pandemic quickly ending, taking aim at them again by making it more lucrative for their workforce to stay home than come earn a paycheck?

America has always been based on our freedom, liberty, an entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately our faith in God. This is the fundamental strength of America that sets us apart in the word. Unfortunately, President Biden and the left are trying to govern in such a way that makes one think our strength comes from an overreaching and intrusive federal government. Government, if used in the right way, the way the Founders intended, can be helpful, but it is never the ultimate answer to our problems.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) is a Republican from Haleyville.

1 week ago

Gambling, revenue and freedom

(Aidan Howe/Unsplash, YHN)

Like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies, the proposed lottery for Alabama is back from the dead. By the time you read this, however, Alabama’s Jason might have been killed again. If so, I suspect he will return for another sequel soon.

A bill allowing a lottery, casinos and sports betting failed in March to pass the Senate by the required three-fifths majority. A subsequent lottery-only bill passed after being amended to include casinos and sports. If the House approves, state residents will vote on a constitutional amendment.

Why should gambling be illegal? Remember, government prohibition is not about whether you wish to engage because legalization will not make anyone buy lottery tickets or make bets. Prohibition is about using government force against willing participants.

Unlike assault, burglary or murder, gambling does not physically harm others – or violate persons or property rights – and is thus a “victimless crime.” Without a victim to report the crime, enforcement difficulties allow illegal gambling to persist.

506

Although some commit crimes to get gambling money, the potential for purchase with stolen money provides is a bad reason to prohibit activities. Desperate people will steal for food or to buy Christmas gifts for their children.

Governments have long criminalized vices. Yet, dislike by others would allow any unpopular activity to be banned. “Live and let live” offers, I think, a better way to organize society because we do not have to spend our time, effort and money fighting to keep our favorite activities from being banned.

Even if once considered a vice, changing societal attitudes are shrinking support for gambling prohibition. And while laws can signal official disapproval, the moral force is very limited when so many states have legalized some gambling.

The strongest argument for prohibition, I think, is the potential for problem gamblers to harm themselves and their loved ones. Prohibition here serves as a form of self-constraint. Increasing the cost of gambling means fewer people starting and then developing an addiction.

Addiction’s harms should never be dismissed, especially the harm to gamblers’ children. Yet, prohibition primarily drives gambling underground and illegality often worsens societal harm.

We can regulate public companies running legal gambling to limit the harm problem gamblers can do to themselves until they are ready to get help. We cannot make illegal bookmakers and loan sharks be kind to those who owe them money. The risk of prosecution from participation in an illegal activity also keeps problem gamblers from seeking help.

Prohibition’s costs are significant, beginning with inconveniencing Alabama’s many responsible gamblers. It also disadvantages Alabama businesses. How much more attractive might Mobile be as a convention destination with a nearby casino? And businesses can have difficulty recruiting workers who enjoy recreational gambling. Plus, the state loses revenue when Alabamians spend gambling dollars in Florida or Mississippi.

AL.com columnist Cameron Smith raises an intriguing problem with funding government on gaming revenues. Gambling as a tax is paid disproportionately by lower income households. Big lottery jackpots offer a false hope of instant riches. Mr. Smith observes, “For as inept as government can be, it must not knowingly harm citizens.”

Although sounding paternalistic, this really is a question about political philosophy. Should the state pay for ads designed to make heads of cash-strapped households buy more lottery tickets? Alabamians who believe that the state needs additional revenue should feel very uncomfortable about a tax which relies on questionable decisions by fellow citizens. Mr. Smith proposes taxing private lotteries to keep government out of the gaming business.

Many Alabamians enjoy spending some of their time and money on various forms of gambling. Legalization should be about the freedom to gamble, with regulations to limit the harm to problem gamblers. The ensuing revenue is then from a reputable leisure time activity, not the wages of sin.

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

2 weeks ago

Bake the cake, or else: Birmingham’s criminalization of Christianity

(Alabama Center for Law & Liberty/Contributed, YHN)

Four centuries ago, the pilgrims left the only homes they had ever known, braving the journey across the Atlantic and establishing a colony in the new and unknown world. This venture would cost many of them their lives, but it was a price they were willing to pay. What would compel these people to take such a risk? The answer was simple: they wanted the freedom to freely exercise their faith. After the American Revolution and the ratification of our Constitution, the nation enshrined this cherished right to free exercise of religion in the First Amendment, making America the foremost outpost of religious freedom in the world.

Sadly, our first freedom is under assault across the nation. In Colorado, the state’s “civil rights commission” came after Jack Phillips, a Christian baker who made beautiful custom cakes, for declining to use his artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex wedding. In Washington State, the state government came after Barronelle Stutzman, a Christian grandmother who ran a floral shop, for politely declining to create a custom floral arrangement for a same-sex couple. And in Oregon, the state’s civil rights commission came down on Aaron and Melissa Klein, a Christian couple who ran a bakery for politely declining to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

549

If you thought that government efforts to stamp out religious dissent could not happen in Alabama, think again. A few years ago, Birmingham enacted the first ordinance in Alabama to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While Alabama has enacted a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which significantly strengthens legal protection for religious liberty, Birmingham has bucked state law and placed Christian creative professionals in its crosshairs. Christian artists who sing or play music, bake cakes, take photographs or videos, or provide floral arrangements must now make a choice: provide these services to same-sex weddings in violation of their religious beliefs or face financial penalties for simply living in accordance with their faith.

The City of Birmingham may contend, as it did in the introduction to the ordinance, that it wants the City to be a diverse and inclusive place where no person has to face discrimination. But such an argument misses the point: Christians who object to catering to same-sex weddings do not discriminate against the person but merely object to the event. The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). If the rule was that a Christian could not serve sinners, then Christians would have no customers, because everyone sins. Instead, the Bible teaches that Christians cannot participate in a sinful act. This is why, for instance, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could continue to serve King Nebuchadnezzar but could not bow down to his golden image. In the same way, Christians today cannot bow down to the new LGBT orthodoxy.

Fortunately, Christian creative professionals have been winning recently when they bring First Amendment challenges to ordinances and laws like Birmingham’s. For instance, two Christian videographers successfully challenged a Minnesota law that would have required them to cater to same-sex weddings in addition to opposite sex weddings. The Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the couple, reasoning that the law would compel them to speak a message with which they did not agree and that the law also infringed on their right to free exercise of religion. The Arizona Supreme Court likewise ruled in favor of two Christian artists for the same reasons. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court is currently considering whether the government may force religious adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples against their religious views. The Court will probably render its decision in June, but the religious adoption agency is expected to win.

If a Christian creative professional in Birmingham wanted to challenge the ordinance, it appears that their chances of success would be high. As the decisions cited above demonstrate, the courts are leaning more and more in favor of Christian creative professionals who do not want to be forced to speak a message contrary to their deeply held religious beliefs. Our hope is that someone challenges Birmingham’s ordinance before more cities adopt ordinances like it. The Constitution protects one’s right to not speak a message that violates their deeply held religious beliefs, and we believe the courts in this jurisdiction would say the same.

Matt Clark serves as the Alabama Center for Law & Liberty’s Executive Director. ACLL is the non-profit litigation arm of the Alabama Policy Institute. For more information, visit alabamalawandliberty.org.

2 weeks ago

Guest: State leaders should scrutinize Chinese overtures and investments in Alabama

(Pixabay, YHN)

Foreign investment in Alabama is not a bad thing. In fact, it should be encouraged under the right circumstances. However, as state leaders consider solicitations from foreign countries to bring business to Alabama, particularly from China, they should be vigilant and consider the long-term impacts it could have on America’s national security and Alabama businesses.

The good news is that business has been booming in Alabama, and business leaders expect that to continue. The influx of investment, much of it coming from companies based overseas, has strengthened and diversified Alabama’s economy and provided thousands of good-paying jobs in the state. Pro-business policies championed in the state have been a large catalyst to the growth, as have federal policies rewarding companies for keeping their operations within the United States rather than abroad.

This growth has led many state leaders to develop closer relationships with foreign countries, particularly with the communist People’s Republic of China. This has taken the form of seemingly harmless trips to China for state officials, sister state and sister city programs further linking Chinese officials to their counterparts in the United States, and lucrative investments in American states.

However, before getting into bed with China, state leaders should consider the warnings from the federal government about China’s influence operations in the United States. As the saying goes: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

1060

Former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prior to leaving office, warned state leaders that lucrative Chinese investment in the United States often falls under China’s long-term efforts to influence state policies and politicians to the Communist Party’s benefit. Saying that Chinese overtures are “not in the spirit of true cooperation or friendship” Pompeo urged state leaders to investigate who is truly behind the investments and China’s grooming of state officials.

Further, Trump-appointed and current Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray has also warned that Chinese investment in the United States is often linked to Chinese intelligence and influence operations. These efforts leverage connections within the United States to achieve China’s own foreign policy goals to the detriment of American and allied international efforts to promote democracy over authoritarianism and communism.

So, what is the real danger?

Among the immediate consequences of this cooperation that could be particularly dangerous to Alabamians is China’s well documented theft of intellectual property from American companies. The 2017 National Security Strategy estimated that China makes off with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of American technology each year. To do business with China, American companies are often required to provide sensitive data on critical technologies. China then uses that information to build a competitive edge for Chinese companies in an effort to eventually supplant American companies in the global market. So, accepting investment from China now could prove detrimental to companies down the road.

An issue in addressing this threat is that most of the information about such nefarious Chinese activities lives in the federal government and larger companies and does not always trickle down to officials at the state and local levels. To address this, Alabama’s congressional delegation, along with all members of Congress, should work with federal agencies that govern foreign investment in the United States, as well as with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI, to facilitate more information flow to the state level. Such information will help illuminate the threat of Chinese intellectual property theft and the long-term impact it can have on businesses in Alabama.

Another danger of investment from China is, as previously alluded to, their efforts to influence American state and local politicians and policies. FBI Director Wray said in a July 2020 speech that China uses its connections in state and local governments, enabled by their economic investment in those states, to influence business policies at the state and federal level. Sometimes, this is done through overt methods, but Wray said it can also be achieved through clandestine methods to coerce American politicians through blackmail and influence operations in which the hand of the Chinese government is hidden. Chinese intelligence activity, including these influence operations, is at an all-time high in the United States, with the FBI opening a new China-related counterintelligence operation every 10 hours, according to Wray. That should terrify all Alabamians, especially its political leaders, and spur them to demand action.

Much of the threat of coercion likely originates from the relationships and benefits Chinese officials offer to state officials to gain their favor. One of the key tools China uses to do this is providing free trips to China for key leaders. To hedge against this practice, the state of Alabama should consider legislation to strengthen the transparency surrounding officials’ travel to foreign countries, particularly those paid for by governments considered adversaries of the United States. It should also be easier for citizens of Alabama to access those disclosures, so the legislation should include requirements for a website and smartphone application where journalists and Alabama citizens can query the travel activities of their elected officials. This type of accountability exists for federal elected representatives in Congress and their staff. It should also exist for state leaders who are clearly a target of these Chinese activities.

A third, and far from the final threat Chinese investment poses to the American security, is the link between many Chinese companies and their military. Chinese investment in the United States often targets sectors that seem harmless at face value, such as precious metals or computer technology, but have dual-use applications in the military sphere. China can use the knowledge it learns and accesses through investing in unique American manufacturing and technology industries and transfer that knowledge to its military and security services.  Providing China’s military with superior American technology could have devastating consequences for free and fair trade around the world, particularly as the United States and its allies compete with China to establish global security and economic norms.

In a positive trend on this issue, Congress in 2018 strengthened the ability of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, to filter nefarious investment and procurement of American companies by China. This was done through the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 to update CFIUS’s authority and ability to block Chinese efforts to purchase sensitive technologies. While it is a welcome step forward, it does not remove all risk, and state and federal leaders should continue to strengthen protections against China’s efforts.

So, while not every foreign or Chinese investment in Alabama and other states is malign, state leaders should be prudent to not take Chinese overtures at face value. There are plenty of American partnered and allied nations that have and will continue to contribute to Alabama’s economy in more mutually beneficial arrangements than what is offered by China’s communist government. With the ongoing upgrades at the Port of Mobile, this will only become more of an issue as access to Alabama will prove more and more profitable for international actors. As business in Alabama continues to grow and diversify business interests in the state, our leaders should keep that in mind.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He currently works in business development at Palantir Technologies in Washington, D.C., focusing on the company’s intelligence community and defense work. He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of Palantir Technologies, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

2 weeks ago

Carl: Backing the blue

(Congressman Jerry Carl/Facebook)

For the last few years, police officers around the country have been retiring or quitting their jobs in record numbers. The New York Police Department alone had 5,300 uniformed officers retire or quit in 2020, which is 15% of the total number of officers on their entire force. This is nearly double the rate who retired or quit during the previous year. So far this year, 830 additional officers have left the NYPD. The anti-police sentiment brewing in many parts of the country, coupled with historically low pay and working incredibly long, tough hours has taken an awful toll on the morale of law enforcement nationwide.

Making matters worse, several Democrats in Congress have repeatedly made comments contributing to anti-police sentiment. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) tweeted a few more weeks ago saying, “No more policing, incarceration, it can’t be reformed.” More recently, Maxine Waters (D-CA) told violent rioters to “get more confrontational.” This rhetoric is not only unacceptable for members of Congress, but also it has real consequences that affect our communities directly.

254

Last week, I spent time with local law enforcement discussing ways I can better support them from the federal level. After spending 8 years on the county commission working closely with our local law enforcement, I know how hard they work, and I understand just how important it is for them to have the support of elected officials and the communities they serve.

I invited all our local sheriffs and police chiefs to a roundtable to share with me what their needs and concerns are, and so we could discuss ways I can help them as they work to recruit high-quality officers and secure the best technology and equipment. I also took time Friday afternoon to do a ride-along with Escambia County Sheriff Heath Jackson so I could see firsthand what a day in his life is like. Folks like Sheriff Jackson work tirelessly to keep south Alabama a safe place to live, work, and raise a family, and I’m incredibly grateful for their service.

Now, more than ever, our local law enforcement is in desperate need of increased resources as well as support from the communities they serve. Police officers willingly choose a tough job with long hours and inadequate pay, so it is critical for us to give them the support and respect they need. South Alabama is blessed with incredible law enforcement officers, and I will continue doing all I can to support them from the federal level.

Jerry Carl represents Alabama’s First Congressional District. He lives in Mobile with his wife Tina.

3 weeks ago

Earth Day: Alabama’s iron and steel manufacturing contributes to our environment

(Manufacture Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

MONTGOMERY, AL — I was in fifth grade on the first Earth Day. There was an abandoned earth mover in the woods near my elementary school, and Mrs. Fields’ social studies class painted it with bright colors to improve our visual environment. It was 1970, Richard Nixon was President, and later that year he would establish the Environmental Protection Agency.

Little did I know then that Earth Day is about science, there are economics within environmentalism, and I would have a career promoting stewardship of the earth.

Clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world. In the span of human history, it was not too long ago that foul water was a much greater threat than today’s COVID pandemic. Did you know Wilbur Wright of Wright Brothers fame died of water-borne typhoid fever in 1912, 36 years before his brother’s passing? Frankly, it was not uncommon.

337

Into that environment, the municipal water industry developed, providing clean water and sanitary sewers. Iron pipe was the predominant material then and remains the most resilient and robust today. And of special interest on Earth Day, today’s modern ductile iron pipe is made from 100% recycled iron and steel.

Other materials have been developed or used for water pipe, but they have soon been exposed for their shortcomings and retired from service, leaving in their wake innumerable problems and costs. Iron pipe, however, continues to serve faithfully for generations. And even better yet, because of its strength and flow properties, less energy is required to deliver water through iron pipe than plastic PVC pipe. That’s less electricity for pumps, fewer carbon emissions for the atmosphere, and better financial life-cycle returns for public and private utilities using iron pipe.

Not only iron pipe, but all of Alabama’s extensive iron and steel industry uses recycled iron and steel as raw materials, serving to clean up and restore our environment while we build new infrastructure, automobiles, homes and appliances. Millions of tons of Alabama iron and steel are recycled each year, providing tens of thousands of jobs and promoting positive environmental policy with proven economics.

Iron and steel: safe for you, good for the environment – on Earth Day and every day.

Maury D. Gaston is Chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama, and a Director and past Chairman of the state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. The AISC operates as an independent industry council of Manufacture Alabama, the state’s only trade association dedicated exclusively to manufacturers and their supplier/vendor partners. AISC member companies include AM/NS Calvert, AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, CMC Steel, McWane, Inc., Nucor Steel, SSAB Americas, U.S. Pipe & Foundry, United States Steel, Alabama Power Company, ERP Compliant Coke, OMI-Bisco Refractories, O’Neal Manufacturing Services, Reno Refractories, Southeast Gas, and Southern Alloy Corporation. Gaston is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University and Manager of Marketing for American Cast Iron Pipe in Birmingham.

3 weeks ago

Guest: Trust is a privilege that all Alabama schools need to uphold

(Thomas Park/Unsplash, YHN)

Not every virtual school is the same.

The opportunity to lead students is a privilege that all educators and school districts must uphold. We cannot group every school that is maintaining this trust with the bad actors that damage the reputation of all virtual schools. Just as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model that works for every student learning, we cannot put all virtual schools into one box.

Amid a report highlighting the alleged practices used at other virtual charter schools in the state, I want to share with you how I remain accountable and transparent. My school, Alabama Virtual Academy (ALVA), together with our authorizing school district Eufaula City Schools, remain dedicated to upholding the trust placed on us by the state.

Here are three key components of our extensive commitment, and items that all virtual schools can embrace to ensure accountability.

435

1. A Comprehensive, Verified Enrollment Process

Comprehensive checks are important to ensure that students are properly enrolled at, and only with, their school. When requesting to enroll, families must submit a series of documents to demonstrate where their student previously attended school and proof of residency in the state of Alabama.

These documents are verified through a statewide system, INow, to ensure that they are no longer enrolled at any other school in the state. Parents must also sign an acknowledgement form that explains students cannot attend a school anywhere else while still enrolled in these programs. This ensures that student funding is going to the proper school

2. Compliance Checks & Balances at all Levels

Employing a comprehensive system of audits and compliance checks at all levels is key to holding your school accountable.

At ALVA, systems are reviewed at several levels before reaching the state. At a school- and district-level, as well as with our third-party curriculum management provider, we are verifying and validating all of our information.

Once the state receives our data, they have confidence that everything is in line. We also know that our records are up to date. Checks and balances across the board ensure that we are best serving our students and communities with the proper data.

3. Treating Students as More than Names on a Roster

Students need to be treated with more respect than just names on a roster. Teachers and school leaders need to develop personal connections and relationships with students and families.

Not only does this support student success, but it also fuels students to be active and engaged participants in the classroom and school community. At my school, we employ a series of daily checkpoints to ensure students are participating in their class sessions.

If a change is noticed in a student’s attendance or online interaction, intervention policies are put in place to resolve the situation before it escalates. Through wraparound support services, we work with students and families to understand their challenges and help them to overcome and thrive in the learning environment.

We must hold all schools accountable. But we must also realize that not every school is the same.

ALVA is an online school, not just a school going online due to the pandemic. This different experience provides a teacher-centric, integrated, and engaging learning experience with research-based training and a standards-aligned curriculum.

It is my hope that all school operators embrace the items mentioned here and then some. Accountability is possible. We must uphold the trust that Alabamians place in us to educate students.

Melissa Stokke Larson is the Head of School for Alabama Virtual Academy, a school in the Eufaula City School District.

3 weeks ago

Guest: Why drive electric? Let’s count the ways

(Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition/Contributed, YHN)

Gasoline prices are on the rise again and this comes as no surprise to American motorists who, until recently, have only been able to select from several electric vehicle models to reduces their gasoline dependence and forget about wildly fluctuating prices at the pump.

As you being to think about the next vehicle you may purchase, give some consideration to one of the more than 50 battery electric (BEV) or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) models currently available. This number is expected to double by the end of 2022 and options will include full-sized pick-up trucks and SUVs.

Concerns about electric vehicle cost, range and long-term maintenance – including the long-term life of the battery – are diminishing. Manufacturers are addressing these concerns head-on by offering generous warranties. Prices for many models start in the $20,000 range, especially for a buyer who takes advantage of the federal tax credit, which can be up to $7,500.

282

Electric vehicles require no oil changes and owners don’t have to worry about a transmission, valves, starter, clutch or catalytic converter needing replacement down the road because these parts don’t exist on an electric vehicle.

Public electric vehicle charging capacity is also on the rise. Currently, there are approximately 426 EV charging outlets at 169 different public charging stations in Alabama. Last summer, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the Alabama Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan, which the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs developed to set short- and long-range strategies to guide expansion of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.

All-electric vehicles also feature the most environmentally-friendly feature of all – no tailpipe emissions – and they emit significantly less CO2, even when taking into account emissions from electricity needed to charge EVs.

EV drivers also rave about the newest electric models’ high torque, even at low speeds, which translates into instant accelerator response. They’re simply fun to drive.

Anyone wanting to learn more about EVs can visit The Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham on Saturday, April 24, for a Drive Electric Earth Day event. Electric car owners will be on hand from 8 a.m. until noon, to discuss EVs’ affordability while also promoting electric vehicle awareness. The event includes several health and safety guidelines, including masks required for all participants, to guard against COVID-19.

Here’s the bottom line: Electric vehicles are cheaper to drive and maintain than their gas-powered competitors, provide high-paying jobs for Alabamians and help the environment by giving off zero emissions.

Come see for yourself at the Drive Electric Earth Day on Saturday.

Michael Staley has served as president of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition since 2020.

3 weeks ago

Workforce development is giving Alabama a competitive edge

(AlabamaWorks!/Contributed, YHN)

Recruiting, training and empowering a highly skilled workforce driven by business and industry needs is giving Alabama a competitive edge for economic growth.

We see the results of this sound strategy throughout the state. As Governor Kay Ivey recently announced, Alabama’s economic development activity in 2020 generated approximately $5 billion in new investments and nearly 10,000 job commitments. This level of job recruitment is astounding, especially considering the challenges the coronavirus posed to economic developers in 2020. These new jobs will help to lower or keep low our unemployment rate, which is already the lowest in the Southeast.

In economic development, some analysts focus on incentive packages that states offer to attract new businesses. But good business leaders know the most important resource a state can offer is a pool of talented, well-trained and ready workers.

581

There is no doubt that Alabamians are hard workers. This is no secret among America’s leading industries, who have seen for themselves that Alabama brings to the table dedicated workers and a workforce development strategy that are second to none.

Under Governor Ivey’s leadership, workforce development in Alabama is a collaborative effort. Shortly after assuming office, Governor Ivey launched Strong Start, Strong Finish to integrate Alabama’s early childhood education, K-12, and workforce development programs. Through the Success Plus initiative, a component of Strong Start, Strong Finish, Governor Ivey established a structured path for our state to add an additional 500,000 credentialed workers to the workforce by 2025. In addition, it equips our citizens to work the jobs that are in greatest demand. As Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said, Success Plus gives prospective employers “yet another reason” to locate in Alabama.

These efforts to improve and coordinate our education and workforce training programs have received national acclaim from organizations like the National Governors Association, Credential Engine, the Lumina Foundation, Site Selection magazine and more.

But to keep moving forward, we cannot rest on our laurels. While all Alabamians can be pleased our economy is growing and unemployment is low, our labor force participation rate must improve. Defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population age between 16 and 64 who are either working or actively looking for work. Alabama’s most recent labor force participation rate is 57.8 percent, compared to the national rate of about 62 percent.

We know a significant number of Alabamians do not work or actively look for work because they fear they will lose benefits or services quicker than they can make up for them through paid employment. A recent survey of unemployed and underemployed Alabamians revealed that more than 37 percent declined or delayed taking a new job or promotion because they were afraid they would lose a government benefit and end up being worse off financially.

Known as benefit cliffs, these situations have long been recognized to create financial disincentives for some individuals to earn more income or train for higher paying occupations. Because many do not know whether a benefit cliff actually exists for their particular situation, low-income workers may decline to take on more hours at work or accept promotions simply out of fear they will lose benefits. This lack of transparency can drive poor decision making and hold these workers back.

To provide this needed transparency, Alabama offers DAVID, the Dashboard for Alabamians to Visualize Income Determinations. Created through a unique partnership between the state and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, DAVID helps individuals understand how much money they will gain through paid employment in various careers. Alabama is the first state in the nation to create such an innovative tool – a benefits cliff calculator combined with a career planner.

Raphael Bostic, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Fed, said this will help ensure the economy “works for everyone.”

Connecting education and workforce development has proven to be not only a sound strategy for helping unemployed and underemployed Alabamians, it also strengthens our ability to recruit new jobs and economic opportunities. By continuing to provide innovative tools, educational opportunities and world-class workforce training, we can ensure our economy does indeed work for everyone and that Alabama’s best days are yet to come.

Tim McCartney, formerly of McCartney Construction in Gadsden, is the Chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council. To learn more about the Council, visit www.alabamaworks.com.

3 weeks ago

Justice Will Sellers: Remembering the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath

(Wikicommons)

When great powers stump their toe on foreign policy, the initial pain, though slight, often causes loss of focus, a stumble and sometimes a more serious accident.

Sixty years ago, the United States sponsored an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba, and the colossal failure ultimately damaged our nation’s reputation, emboldened our enemies, worried our allies, and clouded our vision of proper objectives for foreign relations.

President John Kennedy’s inauguration was a cause for much optimism as a young, vibrant breath of fresh air would lead America in a new direction. His inaugural address was an inspiring call to a new nationalism of service to the world at large, and he promised that the United States would do all in its power to protect freedom around the globe.

912

The naivety of his rhetoric was not apparent, however, until he was challenged by an energized Russian bear ready to test the mettle of the young president.

At the beginning of the new administration, America had every reason to be hopeful that the world was moving towards greater freedom. The Eisenhower administration had successfully used covert action to change the governments of Iran and Guatemala, some hotspots of communist insurgency had been stopped, and there was stability in the Philippines and Vietnam.

When the torch was passed to the Kennedy administration, the world appeared stable and controllable.

During his transition from electoral success to governing, Kennedy reached out to some of the smartest and most capable individuals in business and academia. These whiz kids promoted a theory that the machinery of government was a science, and if the formulas were correct, the results would be both predictable and successful.

But, while genius in government is great, practical simplicity is always better. Understanding and assessing people and personalities often primes academic articulation. Within a matter of months, President Kennedy was to learn this the hard way.

By failing to understand the difference between ideology and interests in diplomacy, the Kennedy administration embarked on a path that reflected an impractical view of the world as they wanted it to be and failed to appreciate that an effective foreign policy must reflect a national self-interest to deal with the world as it is.

Even before the Bay of Pigs, members of Kennedy’s foreign policy team decided on a covert coup to oust Portugal’s dictator.

This plan made little sense.

There was no overarching U.S. interest at stake, any local opposition to the regime was minimal, and, to make matters worse, Portugal was a NATO ally. Thankfully, the coup never got off the ground, the covert action was scrapped, and the instigators departed before any real damage was done.

But the thought process, or lack thereof, was troubling. And any further ideas about forced regime change should have been put on hold until a comprehensive foreign policy was developed and measured objectives approved.

But rather than seriously considering American interests, the excitement of covert action and the thrill of cloak and dagger operations distracted the young administration and set in motion one of the biggest disasters that was as open to ridicule as it was notorious for ineptness.

When U.S.-sponsored Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs, nothing went according to plan. There was no expected popular uprising, and, more importantly, Kennedy had canceled any air support. With limited engagement from the Navy, the landing party hardly got off the beach.

The conflict was a total rout with almost the entire invasion force killed, wounded, or captured. In retrospect, any casual observer would question the need to invade Cuba, our national interest there, and any thoughtful steps to take to achieve our goals short of force. The after-action report was devastating and served as a proof text for Murphy’s law.

The Bay of Pigs served as a shakedown cruise for the new administration, and the evaluations of its first four months was resoundingly negative. Allowing a small country like Cuba to thwart an American-sponsored coup fueled our enemies to take full advantage of the geniuses who attempted to advance the national policy of a new administration.

After the Bay of Pigs, the stature of the United States was substantially reduced in the eyes of the world; perhaps for the first time, we were vulnerable, and our enemies probed and tested our resolve.

Indeed, for the rest of his presidency, Kennedy’s foreign policy exploits would be an attempt to overcome this defeat in Cuba. Sensing distraction, our enemies took full advantage of us.

In Europe, the Soviets approved building a barrier between East and West Berlin, and when Kennedy signaled that he would take no actions to stop construction, the barrier became the solid, fortress-like wall, which was improved and secured to provocatively divide the people of Berlin.

In Southeast Asia, Russia amped up its support of the Pathet Lao in a proxy war for control of Laos. Khrushchev rhetorically decimated Kennedy at the Vienna Summit some months later.

Atoning for the loss of prestige at the Bay of Pigs, Bobby Kennedy became obsessed with Cuba, diverting resources in any number of attempts to topple the Castro regime. In fact, some of the most preposterous assassination plans cooked up by the CIA were aimed at Castro.

Rather than destabilizing Cuba, Kennedy’s singular focus forced Castro into a strong alliance with Russia, resulting in a Soviet base 90 miles from Florida. The obsession with Cuba led to the Cuban Missile crisis which was the closest the world has yet come to a nuclear war.

But perhaps the most significant legacy from Kennedy’s bruised ego was his desire to reveal his machismo and show he could draw a line in the sand against communism.

The place he chose to show resolve was Vietnam.

The Bay of Pigs represented not only a defeat of U.S. interests, but a disaster in creating a foreign policy that was rooted in a personal quest to show a powerful America and decisive administration. By focusing on goals and objectives that had little relation to the permanent interests of the United States, Kennedy ultimately followed a path leading to humiliation and defeat.

Engaging on the world stage requires critical thinking about America’s goals and the strategies to achieve them. Foreign policy must be practical and focused on long-term interests and not the distractions of ideological whims.

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

3 weeks ago

Carl: Democrats’ court-packing plan is bad for Americans

(Jerry Carl for Congress/Facebook, Nancy Pelosi/Flickr, YHN)

Democrats have been struggling to force their radical agenda through Congress, so now they are trying to pack the Supreme Court by adding 4 additional justices. House Democrats, led by Jerry Nadler, unveiled the Judiciary act of 2021 last week, which would ultimately expand the Supreme Court from 9 to 13 justices.

After the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett last year, President Trump had effectively managed to reshape the Supreme Court for the next several decades (which is arguably one of his most tangible accomplishments). Thanks to President Trump, the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 majority, creating a huge problem for Democrats. Unable to ram through their radical agenda without interference from the courts, many Democrats are now seeking to change any rule they find a nuisance or a hinderance. That’s nothing new for them, though.

338

Until recently, there have not been any serious attempts to pack the courts. The most recent attempt was by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. When the Supreme Court repeatedly struck down various pieces of New Deal legislation, FDR decided he would simply change the rules. He made a proposal to add more members to the court, but the proposal was ultimately struck down by Congress and the number of seats remained at 9 – the same number of seats since 1869.

President Biden did not take a clear stance on court-packing during the 2020 presidential campaign, but in 1983, then-Senator Joe Biden said court-packing was a “bonehead idea.” He also went so far as to say during a 2019 primary debate that packing the Supreme Court would destroy “any credibility the court has at all.” However, since taking office, Biden has been laying the groundwork for a commission to study expanding the Supreme Court.

Despite efforts by many Democrats in the House to pack the court, Nancy Pelosi has realized how strong the opposition to court-packing is among House Republicans and even some House Democrats. Soon after the Judiciary Act of 2021 was introduced last week, Pelosi was forced to go on the record and admit she does not have the votes to bring this court-packing legislation to the floor for a vote. Even though the Democrats have a majority in the House, the margins are extremely thin, so Pelosi can no longer completely ignore Republican opposition to her radical agenda.

Packing the Supreme Court would further politicize the institution and would be a horrible deal for all Americans. Several of my Republican colleagues and I have sponsored a resolution that, if enacted, would add an amendment to the Constitution permanently limiting the Supreme Court to 9 justices. I am optimistic that our efforts to stop this dangerous court-packing plan will be successful so we can stop this partisan power grab and protect our nation’s institutions.

Jerry Carl represents Alabama’s First Congressional District. He lives in Mobile with his wife Tina.

3 weeks ago

Congress versus contractors

(Wikicommons, Thought Catalog/Unsplash, YHN)

A 2019 California law reclassified drivers for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft as employees instead of contractors. California voters overturned this law via referendum in November 2020. Congress is now considering imposing similar definitions on the entire country.

At issue is the classification of workers as either employees or as independent contractors. Economists focus on decision rights, or who gets to make decisions, when analyzing how we organize economic activity. While employment is generally longer-term (an employee knows to continue showing up), decision-making is also involved. Bosses make decisions about the use of an employee’s skills and time; contractors do a specified task for a price.

The legal distinction between employee and contractor reflects this. According to IRS rules, a business decides what, when, and how an employee does. Contractors decide how and when they do tasks.

564

The federal and state governments heavily regulate the employer-employee relationship. Employees must be paid the minimum wage and overtime pay and receive unemployment and worker’s compensation; large employers must offer health insurance.

Political mandates give businesses an incentive to classify workers as contractors. Mandates are particularly burdensome for low paying jobs; health insurance is a significant add-on benefit for workers making $12/hour.

California legislators claimed that Uber and Lyft classified drivers as contractors to profit from paying them less. This is wrong on the facts and the theory. On the facts, it ignores Uber’s notorious losses.

On the theory side, work done by employees or contractors is voluntary. Businesses can pay up to the value created by workers; competition for workers then drives pay up to this level. Competition applies regardless of legal classification. Uber cannot make anyone drive for them or keep someone from driving for Lyft instead. Contractors simply receive more compensation in cash rather than politically mandated benefits.

Contracting gives workers more freedom than employment. By writing for numerous magazines or websites, freelancers can choose topics better than as an employee of one publication. And contractors do not have to follow a boss’s orders.

Contractor-drivers for Uber and Lyft choose when and how many hours to work. Drivers get paid by the ride, or gig, not for waiting for a trip. Yes, some people drive 40 or more hours per week for Uber and resemble employees. But driving full time is still their choice.

Employment arguably was the 20th Century way to organize work. Factories, mines, hotels and newspapers operated from fixed locations for decades. Businesses valued long-term commitments with workers. Future jobs will arguably be more fleeting, in part because artificial intelligence and robotics will automate tasks done repeatedly by thousands of workers.

The tasks needed by businesses will more frequently be short term gigs, which explains references to a “gig economy.” Adopting to change requires flexibility, which employees saddled with mandates do not offer.

The pandemic further demonstrates the value of flexibility. Many retailers and restaurants pivoted to delivery, relying on businesses like Instacart and DoorDash. The flexibility offered by contractors benefits us all.

Why do politicians want to preserve employment? Public choice theory offers an explanation. Politicians gain support by giving things to people and lose support by making others pay for these goodies. Contracts spanning several dimensions, like employment, help politicians maximize support. Employment involves many items, including salary, fringe benefits and shift flexibility. Businesses care about the total cost, not the components. When politicians mandate a new benefit, businesses can cut back on other margins.

Politicians then claim credit for “giving” workers the mandated benefit. Businesses save on other margins and do not vehemently oppose the mandate. Workers who end up with less flexible hours or go without a raise may not connect this to the new benefit.

I find it telling that politicians in California or Congress do not respond to the hiring of contractors by reducing their mandates for employees. Regardless of whether employment is still the best way to structure work, politicians do not want to lose the opportunity to give workers “gifts” at no cost to themselves.

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

4 weeks ago

Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame salutes Alabama health care workers

(Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame/Contributed, YHN)

The Alabama Department of Public Health reports that over 18,000 health care workers have contracted COVID 19 serving the people of our state. We do not know how many of these individuals have died from the disease as a result of their service. The aftermath of the COVID 19 epidemic on Alabama’s health care workers will probably impact an entire generation of Alabama’s medical professionals.

The Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame is the only independent Alabama organization that exists to recognize and salute all of our state’s health care workers who demonstrate outstanding devotion, leadership, expertise, and courage in the health care service of Alabama’s citizens. This year, we were overwhelmed by worthy candidates. The recipients should include workers from doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists who have saved lives on a daily basis, to environmental services staff who cleaned the contaminated ICU rooms and kept everyone safe. Health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, doctor’s offices, and emergency services have risked their lives for us. Their families have borne the same uncertainty as service members’ families whose loved ones are deployed in combat zones. These workers have carried the pain and suffering associated with COVID deaths for the rest of Alabama’s society. Like our military, these fellow Alabamians have answered the call without hesitation. While focused on saving lives and protecting coworkers, they have also worried about bringing this deadly disease home to family or neighbors.

219

This double burden has placed extraordinary mental and physical health strains on these skilled professionals. Every Alabama health care worker is a precious, scarce resource for our state. Alabamians cannot afford to lose any of these workers, and we cannot thank them enough for their service.

As taught in America’s military, these dedicated individuals have “held the line” when confronted by overwhelming adversity, suffering, and risk of death caused by the pandemic. Our state should acknowledge this sacrifice and extend all possible support to these individuals, from the ICU teams to the custodial staff. Alabama’s public and medical leadership should embrace the same central concept of our nation’s armed forces: “No man left behind.” We should honor and support these medical veterans of the war on this pandemic as we have shown devotion to our military veterans both on and off the battlefield.

The Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame recognizes all of our devoted health care workers who sacrificed and kept us safe, especially those individuals who, as President Lincoln described, “have given their last full measure of devotion” to fulfill their duty to their patients and our communities. We grieve for their loss and express our thanks to their families for their service to our state.

Richard E. Powers, MD, is on the board of the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame

4 weeks ago

Guest: Examining the keys to a long, robust future for Alabama’s Austal USA

(Austal USA/Flickr)

Most people know that Alabama’s defense industry is a key driver of the state’s economy and major employer of Alabamians across the state. What can be less apparent is the impact that federal and state politics and polices have on the defense sector. With U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the top Republican on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, set to retire at the end of this term, many federal, state and industry leaders are concerned that the flow of federal dollars could dry up.

The first two articles in this three-part series focused on the major challenges the Alabama congressional delegation and state leaders face to maintain North and Central Alabama’s defense sectors. This article will dive into the issues confronting Southwest Alabama, particularly the Gulf Coast’s shipbuilding industry.

The key programs that have driven the shipbuilding industry in Alabama are the Littoral Combat Ship, known as LCS, and the Expeditionary Fast Transport ship. The LCS program has been the more prominent of the two, sustaining thousands of jobs and $1.8 billion in economic impact in the Mobile area. While work continues on previously contracted ships, its builder, Austal USA, fell short in a bid to secure a contract to build the next generation of small surface combatants for the U.S. Navy. Austal will need to secure future contracts to remain afloat (pun intended).

655

While the LCS did face challenges, it is now a significant asset of the Navy, particularly in combatting the flow of narcotics into the United States from South America and for projecting U.S. naval power in the South China Sea. Without the advocacy and support of Shelby, former Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), former Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) and former Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-01), LCS contracts would have been reduced or the program canceled altogether. This strong coordination and advocacy is a prime example of the benefits of the Alabama delegation working together, and it will be necessary for Mobile to remain a preeminent shipbuilder for the Navy.

Following Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and Representative Jerry Carl’s (AL-01) elections in 2020, both freshman officials secured vital position on the Senate and House Armed Serviced Committees, respectively. Carl also secured a position on the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, which will further position him to influence legislation governing the Navy’s shipbuilding programs. Also of note, Representative Mike Rogers (AL-03) recently assumed the top Republican role on the House Armed Services Committee, where he will command GOP policy efforts on all military issues, including shipbuilding.

To secure the future of the shipbuilding industry in South Alabama, Austal will need to remain flexible and expand its ability to meet a wider range of future Navy requirements. The company took its first step in this direction in March when it announced it would open a production line for steel ships. Previously, Austal only produced aluminum-hulled ships which limited the programs it could compete for. This new capability will help Austal compete for the Navy’s light amphibious warship program and the Coast Guard’s offshore patrol cutter programs.

Next, it will need to prepare for future Navy needs such as autonomous ships and ships survivable against powerful adversary militaries like Russia and China, in line with the Navy’s most recent shipbuilding plan and the National Defense Strategy. These documents prioritize great power competition with Russia and China over the 20-plus years of low-intensity conflict the U.S. has waged in the Middle East. According to the Navy’s shipbuilding plan, the Navy will need to dramatically increase the size and sophistication of its fleet, culminating in a 355-ship fleet by the early-to-mid 2030s. Reaching that size will require all U.S. shipyards, especially Austal, to ramp up operations.

Austal’s efforts to grow its shipbuilding capability should be complemented by Alabama congressional engagement with Navy leadership and legislative efforts. Senators and representative need to be reinforcing the vitality the Alabama shipbuilding industry provides the Navy at a time when active U.S. shipyards are at an all-time low. These policy proposals should include support for a 355-ship navy, continued support for the Jones Act which supports U.S. ship manufacturing and emphasizing continued operational need for fast and agile small surface combatant ships, which are the specialty of the shipbuilders at Austal USA.

These efforts, in tandem with those laid out in the first two articles of this series, will ensure Alabama remains a preeminent provider of capabilities to the military, intelligence community and space sectors at a time of relative uncertainly in Alabama federal politics. To be sure, there will be pains following Shelby’s retirement. Very few members of the Senate grow to be as influential as he has, and even fewer can sustain that influence for decades.

However, all is not lost. Through coordinated efforts by the veteran and rookie members of the Alabama delegation and through concerted efforts during Shelby’s final two years in office, Alabama’s defense industry can continue to thrive to the benefit of the state’s economy and America’s national security.

Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.

4 weeks ago

Guest: Electric vehicles important for Alabama’s automotive industry

(Brendan Steeves/Unsplash, YHN)

Electric Vehicles (EVs) have emerged as one of the fastest-growing technology solutions in the field of transportation.

While that statement may be surprising, more than 40 different EV models can currently be purchased in the U.S., and that number is expected to more than double by 2022. Through July 2020, more than 1.5 million plug-in vehicles have been sold in the U.S., and that rate is forecast to accelerate as the federal government prioritizes EVs, more electric cars hit the market, prices continue to decrease and EV infrastructure grows.

Conservative estimates suggest there could be 3 million electric vehicles on American roads by 2025, with more optimistic forecasts indicating that number could be as high as 6.9 million. Volvo recently announced that they plan to sell only electric vehicles by 2030. Similarly, General Motors plans to phase out gas powered vehicles as well and go fully electric by 2035. Ford and other automotive manufacturers have also announced plans for the expansion of electric vehicle production.

463

EVs can no longer be categorized as a novelty. They are here to stay.

Automobile plants in at least 20 states are now building electric vehicles, creating thousands of new jobs. Mercedes-Benz is leading the charge in Alabama with a $1 billion, 600-job expansion that includes all-electric vehicle production and a state-of-the-art battery factory in Bibb County. In addition, DURA Automotive Systems announced an investment of $59 million in August 2020  to open a manufacturing facility in Muscle Shoals designed to produce battery trays for electric vehicles.

Thanks to Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda Toyota, as well as the numerous suppliers, Alabama is well-known as one of the nation’s leaders in the automotive industry. As the No. 4 auto-exporter in the country, our state produced more than 1.6 million engines and featured more than 40,000 good-paying jobs in the sector in 2018.

With the growing shift toward EVs across the auto industry, it is critical that we continue to make significant investments in the expansion and adoption of electric vehicles in Alabama. To that end, last summer Gov. Kay Ivey announced the Alabama Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan, which the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition and the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs developed to establish short and long-term strategies to guide the expansion of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.

Importantly for the consumers in our state, driving an electric vehicle is significantly cheaper than fueling with gasoline, and it’s more convenient to plug in at home than stopping at a gas station on the way to the office. On average, it costs about half as much to drive an electric vehicle as a gasoline-powered vehicle. The electric equivalent of a gallon of gas in Alabama costs just $1.04.

Aside from fuel costs, EV maintenance costs much less than conventional gasoline vehicles, because EVs require no oil changes and have about 10 times fewer moving parts than a gas-powered car. There’s also no transmission, valves, starter, clutch or catalytic converter, all of which can break and need replacing. And don’t forget, all-electric vehicles have no tail pipe emissions. Even taking into account the emissions from the electricity produced to charge EVs, the vehicles on average emit significantly less CO2 than conventional vehicles. Lastly, increasingly efficient technology and widespread adoption of EVs has significantly reduced the overall entry cost of electric cars. An impressive array of affordable EVs is now readily available to consumers.

Electric vehicles are an innovative and growing transportation option and mobility solution. Expanding Alabama’s EV infrastructure and overall investment in EVs will continue to spur growth in our automotive industry, promote clean energy and provide a cheaper fuel alternative for a society on the go.

Dr. Allen Parrish is the Executive Director of the Alabama Transportation Institute and also serves as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Energy Institute of Alabama.