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.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon: As Biden attempts to roll back Second Amendment freedoms, Alabama House Republicans stand in the breach to protect them

(President Joe Biden, Representative Mac McCutcheon/Facebook, Roman Poberezhnik/Unsplash, YHN)

As President Biden prepares this week to sign a number of sweeping and unconstitutional gun control executive orders and announces his appointment of a committed anti-gun activist to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, it is the proper time to reflect upon the past and ongoing efforts that Alabama House Republicans have taken to protect the Second Amendment freedoms of our state’s citizens.

Just this week, we passed legislation carried in the House by State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R-Mount Hope) that allows Alabamians to acquire lifetime conceal/carry firearm permits, which saves the trouble and inconvenience of having to travel to the local sheriff’s office and reapply each time a current permit expires.

The bill also allows law enforcement officers to better protect our families by providing tools to identify convicted felons and other individuals who have had to surrender their gun rights after judges ruled they pose a danger to the public.

Another bill currently being considered in the House is the “Alabama Firearms Protection Act,” which is sponsored by State Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Mobile) and seeks to shield Alabamians from state or local government enforcement of overreaching federal firearms laws.

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Under the provisions of Stringer’s proposed legislation, state and local government agencies would be prohibited from enforcing any presidential executive order or unconstitutional federal law that “regulates the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearms accessories.”

It further prohibits any state elected official or government employee from enforcing such orders, laws and also protects items such as magazines, scopes, laser sights, stocks, grips, suppressors and other assorted accessories.

But a glance back at the decade since Republicans gained control of the Alabama Legislature demonstrates that working to shield Alabama from the ominous gun control agenda on the federal level is nothing new.

Through the hard work of House Rules Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), the Legislature passed and Alabamians ratified a state constitutional amendment declaring the right to bear arms a “fundamental” freedom in Alabama, and any restriction on that liberty is subject to “strict judicial scrutiny.”

The level of “strict” scrutiny is the highest level available in the American judicial system, and overcoming that bar is difficult – if not impossible – which protects the gun rights of Alabamians more than ever before.

The state constitutional measure also mandates that the federal government cannot circumvent the Second Amendment by subjecting Alabamians to international treaties or laws that infringe upon their fundamental gun rights.

Bringing together a coalition of the National Rifle Association, the state’s law enforcement community, local district attorneys and business leaders, Alabama House Republicans in 2013 helped pass the nation’s strongest gun rights law that not only protected but expanded the ability to purchase, keep, carry, use and transport firearms.

The statute, for example, changed Alabama from a “may issue” state to a “shall issue” state in terms of gun permitting, which means that sheriffs are now required to provide documented reasoning for denying pistol permits, and individuals may appeal the issuing decision. Previous law allowed pistol permits to be denied at the whim and discretion of local law enforcement with no reasoning or accountability required.

Alabama became an “open carry” state under the omnibus gun bill, which allows an individual to openly carry a firearm for personal protection unless a private business displays signage explicitly prohibiting them on premises. A small number of other commonsense exceptions are included in the law, as well.

We also cemented the rights of employees who have not been convicted of a violent crime to have a firearm, rifle or shotgun in their vehicle while at work, and we provided civil immunity to employers if a gun-related incident occurs.

And while Alabama has long had the “castle doctrine” which allows citizens to use firearms to protect their lives, homes, and property from invasion and harm, we amended the statute a few years ago to expressly allow business owners to protect their employees and businesses whether they are open or closed.

Since 1923, our state motto has been “We Dare Defend Our Rights,” and when it comes to protecting the ability of Alabamians to buy, own and utilize firearms under the Second Amendment, Alabama House Republicans are working hard every day to do just that.

Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) serves as Alabama’s Speaker of the House and represents District 25

2 days ago

Guest: A threat to all Americans — the crucifixion of conscience

(Anthony Garand/Unsplash)

What is a conscience? It can be tough to use words to define something that we all know and in our hearts, understand. However, right now, here in the United States, it’s important that we talk about conscience.

Our conscience is the inner voice that tells us if something is right or wrong. It allows us to judge whether we should or should not do something or say something. It actually does more than allows us to decide right versus wrong, it compels us to do so for the good of ourselves and our community. For a person of faith, conscience is the product of their faith and religious practice.

Exercising our conscience and allowing it to guide our actions, both public and private, is an essential part of practicing and living our religion. As the compass that guides us it cannot, it must not, be subject to force and coercion. This is an absolute and is especially true if that force and coercion comes from the government. This absolute is so important that in 1993 by a unanimous vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and near-unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed and then signed into law by President Clinton.

The law “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected” and that “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion…” Men and women who are guided by a conscience formed by deeply held religious beliefs and who stand firm against violating these beliefs have been protected by RFRA. However, more and more an aggressive, leftist, secular agenda seeks to force men and women of faith to act and speak in ways that directly contradict their conscience. With the recent passing of the Equality Act by the House of Representatives and with a president who is committed to a radical agenda, the threat to religious conscience and the free practice of religion has increased dramatically. This growing threat is a threat to all Americans.

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Freedom of conscience has been most at risk in the medical field. Doctors and nurses, pharmacists and therapists, have been protected from violating their deeply held beliefs of conscience. For many health care providers, directly or even indirectly participating in the ending of human life prior to natural death is in direct violation of their conscience, and respect for these conflicts of conscience has been the norm. It is wrong to force one of these caregivers to participate in the termination of a pregnancy or assist in a suicide.

Similarly, for doctors or nurses whose faith teaches that a person’s gender is not something that can be changed, forcing them to participate in so-called gender reassignment surgery and hormone manipulation would sacrifice their conscience. The Equality Act adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes to the Civil Rights Act. It also expressly forbids use of RFRA as a protection against violating your conscience and compromising your religious beliefs. If Democrats succeed in passing the Equality Act into law freedom of conscience protections regarding gender reassignment would be destroyed. The Equality Act also includes a ban on “pregnancy discrimination”. That sounds like a good thing until you realize that when the Equality Act says you cannot refuse a pregnant woman “treatment,” it includes pregnancy termination. Men and women of faith would be forced to participate; that’s the end of medical conscience protection. Faith-based hospitals would be forced to allow assisted suicide, termination and sex-change surgery.

The attack on our conscience is not limited to doctors, nurses and hospitals. All Americans are in danger. You, the American taxpayer, will also be forced to participate in sex-change surgeries: “gender reassignment” surgery for inmates in federal prisons and for transgender persons who receive health insurance through the Affordable Care Act will be paid for by your taxes. Adoption agencies that are guided by deeply held beliefs that children should be raised by a married couple that consists of a man and woman would be forced to comply and cater to same-sex couples or close. These attacks on faith-based adoption and foster care agencies have already begun and will increase; make no mistake, children who need adoption and foster care will be harmed.

Christian elementary and high schools that teach that people are either male or female, and that marriage consists of one of each would feel the heavy hand of a secular, wrathful government. Christian universities that teach the divine law of Genesis 1:27 and protect women’s sports by not permitting biological males to compete on women’s teams would lose federal student aid. A pastor’s counseling to a member of his congregation who is struggling with same-sex attraction or gender confusion could be considered hate speech if that counseling affirms time-honored Judeo-Christian understanding of gender and male/female sexual compatibility.

If you are not convinced that threats to religious conscience protections are coming right at you, your family and your community, then consider that the Equality Act, in its own words, applies to any establishment that provides a service “… including a store, shopping center, online retailer or service provider, salon, bank, gas station, food bank, service or care center, shelter, travel agency, or funeral parlor, or establishment that provides health care, accounting, or legal services.” I suppose veterinary clinics are exempt, but who knows? Houses of worship are not specifically mentioned in the Equality Act. However, we should fully expect that it is only a matter of time before a suit is brought by a same-sex couple or a couple which includes a gender reassigned person who wants to be married in Mobile’s or Birmingham’s Catholic Cathedral, or on one of the Church of the Highlands’ campuses, or an Orthodox synagogue and is refused based on the beliefs, theology and precepts of that religious community. The gutting and destruction of religious conscience protection will give support to such legal action.

Discrimination based on race, gender or orientation is wrong. Our Republic fought a bloody civil war to end the ultimate form of discrimination, and we are better off for it. However, if discrimination is directed at religious practices and beliefs that have been held and adhered to for thousands of years it is just as wrong. The Equality Act is the single greatest threat to freedom of conscience and to the free practice of religion our nation has faced. It must be resisted. It must be defeated. It must be seen for what it is: a crucifixion of conscience.

Dr. Christine is a urologic surgeon practicing in Birmingham, AL

2 days ago

Guest: Internet access essential for adequately preparing our young students

(Ralston Smith/Unsplash)

As the principal of Cordova Elementary School, I know how access to high-speed internet is critical for educating our students. I’ve seen first-hand how inadequate internet service hinders our children as we work to prepare them to thrive in the 21st-century world that we live in and, to be totally honest, I am worried about my students.

We’re located in a rural part of Walker County and the unfortunate truth for many of our students, and thousands of others across the state, is that they don’t have access to reliable internet at home.

This problem was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, when our classes had to be held virtually and many of our students struggled to keep up with their online learning because of poor connection to broadband at their homes. That’s frustrating for students, parents, teachers and administrators alike. No student deserves to fall behind because of where they live.

That’s why I support Senate Bill 215, which will help to significantly expand high-speed broadband internet to rural, unserved, and underserved areas across our state.

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Senate Bill 215 gives us hope for a permanent solution to this digital divide we are seeing in our state. The legislation aims to expand high-speed broadband internet across Alabama by creating the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority, which will control the use of future broadband funds and, importantly, implement a plan for expanding high-speed broadband networks and services throughout the state (including the rural, unserved and underserved areas that need it most). Currently, Alabama is the only state in the southeast without an official plan in place to expand broadband solutions.

Using the internet easily and without worry is something that many Alabamians probably take for granted. However, those of us living in rural towns understand our state’s digital divide all too well; Alabama is ranked 47th in broadband connectivity, 73% of our population doesn’t have access to an affordable internet plan, and 20% don’t have access to high-speed internet at all. In our 21st-century education system, education depends upon the internet. We’re not setting our students up for success if we can’t provide this vital tool for learning.

SB 215 will be a huge step toward investing in education and in our students as well as enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians. We can’t wait another minute to extend this crucial piece of infrastructure to the areas of the state in need. By making high-speed broadband available to all our students, we can help set them up for success in and out of the classroom.

Dianne Williams serves as the principal of Cordova Elementary

4 days ago

Challenges, opportunities ahead as North Alabama strives to remain an epicenter of America’s national security industry

(Team Redstone/Facebook, Wikicommons, YHN)

It is no secret that Alabama contributes heavily to the U.S. national defense. From rocket manufacturing facilities and Redstone Arsenal in North Alabama to the shipbuilders and Coast Guard base on the Gulf Coast, Alabama is key to the military, intelligence community, law enforcement and space sectors.

What many may not know is how reliant these industries are on politics and policy at the federal and state levels. For decades, the Alabama congressional delegation, led by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), has consistently secured authorization and funding for major defense and space projects to be completed in the Yellowhammer State. These efforts require countless hours of appropriations and policy negotiations in Washington, enabled by Shelby’s seniority on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

With Shelby set to retire in 2022 and several new faces in the congressional delegation, the Alabama defense industry and state leaders are concerned about the flow of federal dollars running dry in the coming years. However, it is not all doom and gloom. U.S. Representatives Mike Rogers (AL-03), Robert Aderholt (AL-04) and Mo Brooks (AL-05) continue to hold key positions which will help continue Alabama’s dominance in the defense industry. In addition to these veteran lawmakers, newly elected U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01) secured key committee and subcommittee assignments which will further aid in these efforts.

This article is the first of three covering the major challenges and opportunities the Alabama congressional delegation and state leaders will face to maintain Alabama’s preeminence in national security. Covering all of Alabama’s defense interests would take a more in-depth and lengthy study, so this is by no means intended to serve as an encyclopedic record of all the incredible work being performed in the state.

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The natural geographical starting point for this topic is North Alabama, home to some of the state’s — and the nation’s — most treasured defense manufacturers, headquarters and program offices. Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville houses NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the Missile Defense Agency, the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Center, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Missile and Space Intelligence Center and the FBI’s future “HQ 2” among many other government offices. The Rocket City also hosts countless defense contractors including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Dynetics and Raytheon Technologies who perform most of the work to support the government presence in North Alabama.

While there are many pressing priorities in North Alabama for its leaders in Washington, there is one that requires the most effort, as its success could drive further growth — while its demise could be devastating.

This issue is protecting the Air Force’s decision to base U.S. Space Command in Huntsville. The Space Command decision, made in the final weeks of the Trump administration, is being contested by states who claim the decision was political in nature and represents a final effort by the former president to punish states he failed to secure in the 2020 election. Senators from California, Colorado, Nebraska and New Mexico have been vocal supporters of reopening the basing decisions, leading the Defense Department’s inspector general to open an inquiry into their accusations.

The good news is that the facts are on the side of Alabama, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin — an Alabama native — and the Air Force have defended the original decision to base Space Command in Huntsville. The area’s relatively low cost of living, deep talent pool of highly qualified personnel, its growing federal footprint and the availability of the necessary facilities at Redstone Arsenal are what drove the Air Force’s decision, not politics.

That said, Huntsville is not out of the woods yet. The efforts to reopen the basing decision process will continue given the economic impacts at stake. The Alabama congressional delegation must continually combat the effort, which they are well equipped to do.

To start, Shelby still has about two years left in his term, during which he will continue his role as the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense Subcommittee which oversees all military and intelligence community funding.

Additionally, Shelby’s new colleague,  Tuberville, secured a coveted spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee and its Strategic Forces Subcommittee that oversees military space programs. With these assignments, he will be at the table for all major policy and legislative negotiations on the military issues, including any legislation covering Space Command basing. Shelby and Tuberville will need to team up and coordinate their efforts on their respective committees to combat any legislative efforts to deprive Huntsville of Space Command.

Another major tool for Alabama is the key positions its representatives hold in the lower chamber. Rogers recently became the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, where he will be the decisive voice on military issues for House Republicans. Rogers is a long-time supporter of Space Command, having previously chaired the Armed Services subcommittee covering military space issues and helped lead the effort to create Space Command and the Space Force. Space Force is the newest military branch and is responsible for organizing, training and equipping space personnel for the joint force, including to Space Command which is charged with fighting and winning future wars that extend into space.

Also on the House Armed Services Committee are Brooks — who has now been endorsed by Trump to replace Shelby in the Senate — and newly elected U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01); they will also be able to lend a voice and vote to the effort to retain Space Command.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Aderholt is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and, like Shelby, is also a member of the Defense Subcommittee. Aderholt, who serves as the ranking Republican on the subcommittee governing NASA’s budget, will be able to multiply the efforts of Rogers, Brooks and Carl through advocacy and language in appropriations bills and negotiations for the next fiscal year.

In all, Alabama’s strong representation on the House and Senate committees governing military spending and policy will be key to safeguarding Space Command’s presence in North Alabama. With a combined effort, it will be difficult for states to scuttle the economic impact Space Command will supply not only to Huntsville, but the entire state and Tennessee Valley region.

Beyond Space Command, there are many other important issues to be minded in Washington. The Huntsville-based ICBM-defense program, continued investments in hypersonic weapons being built by Dynetics and Lockheed, and support for United Launch Alliance’s world-class space launch vehicle manufacturing facility in Decatur are among the many challenges lying ahead. Each of these, and many more, will require concerted and coordinated efforts by Alabama’s federal and state elected leaders to maintain North Alabama’s role as an epicenter of America’s national security industry.

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 days ago

President Trump sent Alabama a message on school choice. Has the legislature gotten it?

(White House/Flickr, NeonBrand/Unsplash, YHN)

In February of 2020, Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader from Philadelphia, walked through the doors of the U.S. Capitol Building and into the House Gallery. Along with her mother, they sat down on the second row.

“No parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school,” President Trump argued from the speaker’s desk in his State of the Union address. He then told Janiyah’s story, who was zoned for a public school that did not meet her needs, and how the Pennsylvania governor had rejected a bill that would have expanded school choice. As a result, Janiyah was stuck on a waitlist.

That is, until President Trump got involved. In front of the entire world, Janiyah heard from the president that she was, in fact, off the waitlist and would be attending a school of her choice. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more genuine smile and reaction to the president’s words in that room than Janiyah’s.

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What was even more evident than Janiyah’s surprise and excitement that evening was that President Trump himself thought of school choice as incredibly important. Just a few months later, in June of 2020, the president said that he was “fighting for school choice, which really is the civil rights [issue] of all time in this country.”

It appears that many conservative states got President Trump’s message that school choice is, in short, a game-changer for both our students and our nation. West Virginia, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma have already expanded school choice this year. Many other states, over thirty in total, are considering school choice measures right now.

Even some less conservative states have taken the president’s message to heart: New York, California, Connecticut, Oregon and Rhode Island are all debating school choice bills.

But has Alabama gotten the message?

In Alabama, we have two main school choice programs. The Alabama Accountability Act, which allows tax-credit scholarships so some 4,000 low-income students can attend a school of their choice and charter schools, which are public schools with more autonomy to direct their curriculum and activities. Overall, Alabama has less than half a percent of its K-12 population in its school choice programs.

Meanwhile, states like Arizona see more than 20% of their students in school choice programs. To make matters worse, liberal bastions such as Washington, D.C., and Vermont boast larger school choice programs than Alabama. When compared to other states, including all of our neighboring states which have expanded choice during Trump’s term, it seems that Alabama has not gotten President Trump’s message. At least, not yet.

You would think that this would be the year, armed with the former president’s backing and parents looking for more options due to the coronavirus, that Alabama legislators would buck the Montgomery swamp and stand up for the state’s least privileged students. And it’s not as if public opinion wouldn’t back them up. An astounding 80% of Alabamians support expanding school choice.

Giving Alabama legislators even more reason to expand choice is the fact that it can be of special benefit to minority families. School choice by nature most benefits those with the lowest means, of whom in Alabama are disproportionately people of color. In a national poll, 84% of black parents had favorable responses to the idea of education savings accounts, which would allow parents to use their education tax dollars to go to the school of their choice, public or private. If legislators want to help these families, they’ll support school choice.

This session, the legislature is considering two important school choice bills. One SB365, by Senator Del Marsh, would allow open enrollment among public schools in the state. Honestly, we are years late in passing this policy. Forty-seven states, including all of our neighbors, have a state policy allowing students to go to public schools outside of their district. This should be a layup for the state legislature.

Another bill, HB559 by Representative Meadows, would allow taxpayers donating to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) to allocate more of their tax liability to the Alabama Accountability Act. This bill is really quite limited and is yet another layup.

As Senator Marsh argued when his bill came before committee Tuesday, neither of these bills go far enough to ensure school choice for all who need it. A policy like the universal school choice policy just passed in West Virginia, which gives every student who leaves the public system $4,600 for education expenses, is more in line with the former president’s vision. That said, we’ve got to start somewhere.

We’ll soon see if Alabama legislators have received President Trump’s message from his last State of the Union. If they did, we should expect these two bills to pass easily and more expansive school choice legislation to be brought up and debated even this year.

As the former president so often said, “Stay tuned!”

Parker Snider is Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Insitute.

6 days ago

Lynda Blanchard: A man in a skirt is not a woman – It is an abomination (GUEST OPINION)

(Wikicommons/YHN)

Since taking the reins of power in the D.C. swamp earlier this year, socialist Democrats have eagerly taken to the tasks of destroying our economy, erasing our borders and wielding the threat of cancel culture correctness like a blunt force bludgeon.

But perhaps the policy initiative that carries the most potential for lasting and long-term damage to our nation is the radical “transgender” agenda.

Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Sanders and other far-left extremists, including members of the complicit fake-news media, are seeking to mainstream the notion that a man can suddenly become a woman, and vice versa, by simply clicking their heels together and wishing it so, much like Dorothy Gale returning home from the Land of Oz.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats chant “trust the science” like it is a hypnotic mantra, but their position on so-called “transgender” issues indicates they do not even trust basic biology.

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Nobody gets to choose whether we are men or women because God already made that choice for us long before birth.

And it has been often noted that dressing like an astronaut does not make you an astronaut, dressing like a pirate does not make you a pirate, and dressing like the opposite sex does not magically transform you into the opposite sex.

It was bad enough when companies like Target famously announced that men could enter the women’s restroom as long as they dressed like a woman and sashayed inside, but now the extremists are seeking to extend those same insane intrusions to public school locker rooms and facilities across the country.

Likewise, skirt-wearing young men are filing lawsuits, and in many cases across the country simply being allowed, to compete against girls in high school athletics. Young women who practiced, sacrificed and played sports for years in hopes of winning a college scholarship are suddenly losing them to much stronger boys who falsely claim the female gender.

As the parent of three young girls who attend public school in Alabama, these dangerous trends cause me great concern, but, luckily, conservatives like us are embracing our state motto of “We Dare Defend Our Rights” and are leading the fight to restore more than a measure of decency.

The Alabama Legislature is currently considering, and will likely pass, two important and much-needed pieces of legislation – one that would prohibit physicians and other medical professionals from administering hormones and puberty blockers or performing sex-change procedures on “transgender” minors under the age of 19 and another that requires students to compete in athletic events based upon the sex listed on their original birth certificate.

But while Alabama may be a lonely oasis of common sense in the transgender desert, the Biden administration is pushing the nation farther and farther in the opposite direction.

Among the liberal president’s first acts in office was signing an executive order, which, luckily, has the same legal authority as throwing a coin in a wishing well, that provides those claiming the opposite gender with full access to “the restroom, the locker room, or school sports” and states that a business owner cannot fire or demote, for example, a male employee who suddenly decides to show up for work bedecked and bedazzled in an evening gown.

In addition, Biden repealed President Trump’s order that banned “transgenders” from military service, which will soon transform our armed forces into a leftist social experiment that more closely resembles an episode of MTV’s “The Real World” rather than the most powerful fighting force the world has ever known.

He also appointed Dr. Richard Levine, a pediatrician who now goes by Rachel and claims to live as a woman, as an Assistant Secretary for Health, a post which required Senate confirmation. Only a liberal would allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be led by someone who does not understand the simple difference between a man and a woman.

Make no mistake that our nation is currently engaged in a massive culture war that will determine the direction of our society for generations to come. While the culture war is being fought on multiple fronts – which includes issues like immigration, multiculturalism, religious freedoms, and gun rights – I believe that the transgender agenda is the battlefield upon which it will ultimately be won or lost.

We must not leave the fighting to what Thomas Paine termed as the “summer soldier and sunshine patriot,” and, instead, allow only determined conservative warriors to lead the charge.

As a Christian, conservative, Trump Republican who is one hundred percent committed to the MAGA agenda and America First initiative, I will fight hard in the U.S. Senate to give Washington a strong dose of our commonsense Alabama values.

Lynda Blanchard is a Republican candidate for Alabama’s U.S. Senate and was selected by President Donald Trump to serve as ambassador to Slovenia, the home country of First Lady Melania Trump.

1 week ago

The hero treatment?

(Kroger/Facebook, YHN)

West Coast cities have passed “Hero Pay” ordinances increasing grocery store workers’ pay by up to $5 per hour. Numerous stores have closed in response, putting the heroes out of a job. Such poor economic policies produce avoidable harm.

Cities passing “Hero Pay” ordinances include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle. The laws apply (in most cases) to large chain-owned stores and have mandated $4 or $5 per hour temporary pay increases (frequently for 120 days) due to workers’ exposure to COVID-19. Proponents point to grocery chains’ profits during the pandemic as evidence that they can afford the extra pay.

Kroger is one chain which has closed stores after Hero Pay ordinances. The California Grocers’ Association, which is challenging the laws in court, claims that the pay hikes will increase labor costs by 20% and overall costs by 5%.

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While many Americans have worked from home during the pandemic, millions in retail, agriculture, transportation, and health care have had to work in person. Their willingness to work in the face of uncertain risk is courageous and has kept us fed and the lights on. We did not initially know exactly lethality of COVID-19, its risk profile, or whether precautions like distancing and plexiglass would work.

Do grocery workers deserve extra pay for their exposure to COVID-19? Quite likely. And the labor market has already addressed this.

Employment is entirely voluntary. No business can make anyone work for them. Businesses must pay enough to recruit and retain workers willing to
stock shelves and operate cash registers. When comparing jobs, people will consider job characteristics in addition to pay. Inherently interesting jobs require less pay, while physically demanding, boring, or dangerous jobs require more pay.

The pandemic made on-site jobs less attractive. Grocery workers must interact with both coworkers and customers, increasing their risk. Many workers would demand extra compensation to risk exposure. Businesses will not want to lose experienced and reliable workers, so companies like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Safeway increased pay last spring.

What is wrong with the ordinances if companies were already offering some Hero Pay? Workers earn their pay by helping businesses produce goods and services and competition for workers results in pay based on productivity. Grocery stores have very thin profit margins, and an extra $5 per hour could turn profit into loss, leading to store closures or reduce hours.

How many city council members have managed grocery stores? Should we take then their assurances that stores can afford the extra pay seriously? Will these generous politicians reach into their own pockets to pay grocery workers who might lose their jobs? We do not honor heroes by possibly pushing them into unemployment.

Leaving aside job losses, Hero Pay will hurt many of these politicians’ other constituents. When Kroger and Safeway close stores, Californians unable to afford delivery must drive farther to shop and likely pay higher prices for groceries.

Political observers contend that city councils are courting favor with grocery unions here. Perhaps, but there may be more involved. Government policies during COVID-19 have had sharply divergent class impacts. Many high-income earners shifted to remote working and locked themselves safely in their homes to await a vaccine, relying on others to deliver groceries and keep the internet working.

Government policy has arguably imposed the “Zoom Privilege” class’s response on everyone. I suspect Hero Pay laws reflect guilt over the burden of lockdown policies on those who must work in person. San Francisco’s Hero Pay ordinance specifically mentions a need extra pay for childcare with schools closed for in-person instruction.

The workers who showed up for work during the pandemic exhibited bravery and deserve our recognition. But Californians might prefer if their politicians had merely designated a week to honor grocery workers.

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.

1 week ago

Justice Will Sellers: What’s in a name?

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

There has been much debate lately about how we name public buildings and whether we should remove some names because of long ago actions that no longer conform to contemporary societal practices.

Public buildings are always tricky to name as evidenced by the fact that just a couple of years ago, the University of Alabama Law School was named after Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. in acknowledgment of a very generous donation. However, Culverhouse’s donation was later returned and his name was chiseled from the law school’s facade.

At Alabama State University many years ago, in-fighting and disputes among the trustees resulted in the Joe L. Reed Acadome being renamed.

Scandals and criminal convictions have caused other public facilities to suffer the same fate. A variety of buildings once named after Healthsouth founder Richard Scrushy no longer sport his name.

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Similarly, there is no longer an Enron Field; ditto the MCI Worldcom Center.

So, before we take further action to name or rename any public buildings, I would like to suggest a new criterion that should be used in the future.

It is always complicated to name something after a person who is still alive because the curriculum vitae is not complete. As long as someone is alive, there is more than adequate opportunity for them to act inappropriately, commit wrongdoing or be revealed to possess feet made of clay rather than marble.

I order to ensure that a facility named in someone’s honor avoids becoming an embarrassment to the institution – a retreat as opposed to advancement – perhaps a good rule would be to wait until they have been dead for at least five years. That way their entire record is complete, most statutes of limitations have expired, and their legacy should be secure.

Of course, one problem with this proposal is that living people tend to contribute more when they are alive and are attempting to establish a lasting legacy that, along with a satiated ego, only their name on a building will suffice. Heirs tend to prefer to experience a legacy more in selfish monetary terms; naming opportunities thus abound for the living.

So, while donations might decrease, naming a building or whatever after someone who is deceased seems like a safe bet … or at least it used to.

I say “seems” because now we are in a local and nationwide frenzy to fully explore the lives of people for whom structures have long ago been named. And in doing this, any improper conduct is scrutinized based on our current understanding of what should have been acceptable, polite behavior during the life of the honoree.

Perhaps we are finally embracing Shakespeare’s observation that “the evil men do lives after them, but the good is oft interred in their bones.” No one can argue that commemorating someone who supported a criminal enterprise is acceptable. Not many cities have an Al Capone Avenue or a Benito Mussolini Drive. Open, obvious, and socially unacceptable behavior no matter how sizable the donation or political influence at the time can never reach the level of deserving commemoration.

But we must be very careful because the finer the tooth on the comb and the higher the magnification of the glass provides details and information that might be better left undiscovered.

In fact, few people look saintly when every nook and cranny of their life is fully examined.

Several times a year a new book comes out revealing that a well-known figure was a member of a socially unacceptable movement. Families under the yoke of an authoritarian government are shocked to discover an informer in their midst, a closeted Nazi or mafia hitman.

Years ago, France was so stunned that a documentary revealed more collaborators than resistance fighters that it was banned from television because it “destroys myths that the people of France still need.” And who can forget when decades after World War II ended, United Nations General Secretary Kurt Waldheim was exposed as a Nazi intelligence officer? Others have discovered past family connections to organized crime. DNA testing often confirms embarrassing assignations.

But in discovering a not so auspicious past, few communities completely jettison a native son and families still embrace wayward kin. Most simply use the exposure to show the failed humanity that affects all of us.

I once heard a businessman on a panel about ethics comment that “there is a little larceny in all of us.” In saying so, he was not refusing to condemn bad behavior, but was pointing out the permanence of original sin. Thornton Wilder penned the famous quote: “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it behooves all of us not to talk about the rest of us,” which is probably a good thing to remember when we critique others.

I don’t know anyone who likes seeing their face in a mirror with magnification!

The lives of humans are complicated, complex and contradictory. Many seemingly mainstream people can have odd ideas about the world. In hindsight, old fads look sinister; the basis of past popular culture rarely survives contemporary scrutiny.

Political correctness changes with the wind and whims. A thorough background check unearths activities that are at the same time sublime, ridiculous and embarrassing. So, if we are going to name public buildings after people, we should be very careful not only in who we choose to honor, but how we choose to judge them.

We must also make certain that judging ourselves by the same standards does not reveal more than a measure of hypocrisy, sanctimony, and pretense.

Rather than naming buildings after people, whether they are dead or alive, I have a much better idea. Perhaps we could name our edifices, parks and public squares after non-violent animals, flowers and friendly fruits and vegetables.

The Alabama State Capitol already sits on Goat Hill, and the University of Alabama has Rose Administration building; both of which provide precedent for my proposal.

Why not continue this trend for other buildings?

Who could be offended by Hippo Dining Hall, Squash Hall of Justice or Daffodil Dormitory? If we start moving away from recognizing humans and honor non-flawed animals and plants, instead, we will have one less issue to divide us and give sign manufacturers a real boon to their business.

Happy April Fools’ Day to you all!

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

Guest: Legislation allowing optometrists to perform eye surgery is a bad idea

(Pixabay, YHN)

Would you allow someone who is not a medical doctor or trained surgeon to operate on your heart, kidneys or lungs? Of course you wouldn’t. Yet some Alabama legislators are trying to change the law to allow people who are not medical doctors or trained surgeons to operate on your eyes.

It sounds like a bad – and unsafe – idea because it is. Unfortunately, these legislators might succeed because many are confused about the differences and distinctions between ophthalmologists and optometrists.

There are big differences between the two. First, ophthalmologists are medical doctors and optometrists are not. Optometrists do not go to medical school, nor are they required to complete a surgical residency.

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Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, must complete medical school and then four-years of additional training in a residency program, three of which must be spent in ophthalmology. Many ophthalmologists go on to do an additional one or two years of further advanced training. Only after this intensive education and training can ophthalmologists enter independent practice and perform surgery on your eyes.

While optometrists are highly valued members of the eye care team, they simply do not have the medical education or training required to become an eye surgeon. Only ophthalmologists spend at least 12 years learning and training to perform eye surgery.

Despite this difference, there are two bills in the Alabama Legislature – Senate Bill 174 and House Bill 402 – that would allow optometrists to perform a multitude of eye surgeries, even though they have no training to do so and are not medical doctors. Both bills would change existing law so optometrists could operate with scalpels, needles and lasers on your eyes, as well as by burning and freezing sensitive tissue near and around your eyes.

There are potentially blinding or even fatal complications that could arise from these surgeries. That’s precisely why these delicate procedures should only be performed by a medical doctor – an ophthalmologist – whose clinical training and surgical expertise allows them to manage such situations.

Alabama isn’t the first state to consider allowing optometrists to perform eye surgeries. A similar proposal in Vermont led to a state study that determined it “cannot conclude that optometrists are properly trained in and can safely perform the proposed advanced procedures.” Not surprisingly, Vermont decided against the proposal.

Despite the differences in their training and education, optometrists and ophthalmologists often work together to treat patients, sometimes as a team in the same office. Bills like Senate Bill 174 and House Bill 402 that pit optometrists against ophthalmologists in a tug-of-war over who can perform eye surgeries are no way to serve the best interests of Alabamians.

Instead, legislators should ensure that only medical doctors who are trained to perform eye surgeries can perform eye surgeries in Alabama. It’s really that simple and will help protect the only eyes you’ll ever have.

Dr. Read is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology and has been selected as one of the “Best Doctors in America” beginning in 2005. He is the current President of the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology.

2 weeks ago

Expanded broadband is essential to our small business community

(John Adams/Unsplash, YHN)

When the pandemic reached Alabama a year ago last month, a lot of businesses and schools and office workers simply moved online. It wasn’t always perfect – “You’re on mute” – but having a good internet connection let a lot of businesses avoid closing. It allowed our children to keep learning and a lot of people to keep working.

If they lived in the right ZIP code.

Here in the third decade of the 21st century, when the phones in exour pockets are smarter than the computers that guided the astronauts to the surface of the moon, there are pockets of Alabama without broadband internet, and that’s unacceptable.

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“Broadband” is fast, always-on internet. Washington says it’s a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speed of 3 Mbps. According to the FCC, you need 1 Mbps to check email, 6 Mbps to join a video conference and 10 Mbps to download files without it taking all afternoon. Broadband lets everyone in the workplace do all that at once.

According to Broadband Now, a consumer research site, 88.6% of Alabamians have access to wired broadband, but that means the rest – about 475,000 people, mostly in rural communities – don’t, and there’s at least one county where the fastest average internet speed is just 0.16 Mbps. To put that in perspective, Birmingham’s average download speed is 103.2 Mbps.

Without broadband, without fast, reliable and affordable internet, a small business can’t compete, and a community can’t hope to attract new jobs.

That’s why my association, the National Federation of Independent Business, supports Senate Bill 215, legislation that would create an Alabama Digital Expansion Authority. Under the bill, the authority would come up with a statewide connectivity plan and promote the expansion of broadband networks throughout the state – particularly in rural and underserved areas.

The bill passed the Alabama Senate in March on a vote of 32-0 and is awaiting action in the House.

Companies looking to expand need broadband the same way businesses in the past needed rivers, rail and roads; they’re not going to locate someplace if they can’t connect with their customers. And as far as local businesses are concerned, broadband is just as important as having a telephone. Broadband allows them to reach customers in other towns and across the country and even across the world.

SB 215 is essential to ensuring the economic vibrancy of our small business community. That’s why we’re urging the Alabama House to pass SB 215 and make it easier for broadband to reach every corner of the state.

Rosemary Elebash is the Alabama director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization.

2 weeks ago

Carl: Keep AOC and Bernie Sanders out of Alabama

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr, Congressman Jerry Carl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez/Facebook, YHN)

Alabama is the best place to live, work and raise a family. This is why I am proud to be born and raised in Alabama, and it’s why I chose to raise my family here. Unfortunately, out of state liberals, including AOC, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have recently been hard at work trying to fundamentally change Alabama to be more like California and New York.

Most recently, AOC, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been at the forefront of the effort to change Alabama’s right-to-work laws. Since 1943, Alabama has been a right-to-work state, which employees and employers have benefitted greatly from. Alabama’s right-to-work laws provide employees with much flexibility, and they are a major reason why so many companies (and workers) are leaving states like California and New York to come to states like Alabama.

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Ballots are due this week at Amazon’s Bessemer, AL, plant to determine whether to become unionized, and liberals from all over the U.S. have decided to get involved in attempts to influence the outcome of the vote. Instead of minding the business of their own states, AOC and Bernie Sanders have decided to involve themselves in decisions that should be made by Alabamians alone.

Last Friday, Bernie Sanders traveled to Bessemer to rally workers, and AOC has been hard at work tweeting her opinions about Amazon and the Alabamians who work there. After torpedoing an Amazon project in New York that had the potential to bring thousands of jobs to her area, AOC has already proven she really does not have the best interest of workers in mind. However, I am confident Alabamians are smart enough to see through her campaign to obliterate worker’s rights.

Democrats are not stopping there, though. Earlier this month, House Democrats rammed through H.R. 842 – The PRO Union Bosses Act. I voted no because this act harms employers and American workers while lining the pockets of union bosses. I also offered an amendment to protect the flexibility enjoyed by independent contractors and workers in the emerging gig economy (i.e. Uber drivers), but Democrats immediately refused to consider it.

Federal labor laws should empower workers with the choices and opportunities they need to succeed. Legislation like H.R. 842, however, holds workers back and violates their rights by eliminating right-to-work laws across the country. Alabamians, and all Americans, should have the right to work without being union members or being forced to pay union dues against their wishes. The last thing we need is out-of-state liberals like AOC, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren telling us how to live our lives and raise our families here in Alabama.

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

3 weeks ago

Carl: Protecting critical GOMESA revenues

(Jerry Carl for Congress/Facebook)

For the past 15 years, Alabama has benefitted significantly from revenues received through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GOMESA). The GOMESA program sets aside 37.5% of federal royalties from new Gulf oil and natural gas drilling leases for the four Gulf oil-producing states – Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The funds can be used for coastal conservation projects, coastal preservation projects and for hurricane protection.

GOMESA funds are critical to South Alabama and are used for projects like boat ramps, shoreline restorations, bike trails and nature park enhancements. Last year alone, GOMESA funds supported more than $26 million worth of projects in South Alabama. Just a few of these projects include: $4 million to Gulf State Park, nearly $4 million to Dauphin Island Sea Lab, $3 million for nature parks expansion and enhancements in the City of Foley, and several million dollars for improvements to public boat ramps and parking all over south Alabama.

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Unfortunately, one of President Biden’s myriad of executive orders during his first days in office established an indefinite moratorium on new oil and gas leases in federal waters, “pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices.” This decision has already directly impacted South Alabama, with the cancellation of a previously-scheduled lease sale last week. Each year, local county commissioners and municipal governments plan projects based on forecasted GOMESA funds. However, if lease sales continue to be canceled indefinitely, our coastal communities and the four Gulf producing states will be denied a vital source of funding for years to come.

This week, I introduced the Gulf Conservation and Recreation Funding Act,” requiring the Department of Interior to pay the Gulf states what they are missing out on in additional GOMESA revenues due to canceled leases going forward. As long as President Biden’s moratorium remains in place, the Department of Interior would have to pay Gulf states each fiscal year any difference between what they collected in normal GOMESA revenues that fiscal year and the average revenues collected for the prior three fiscal years.

President Biden has declared war on the oil and gas industry, which is already destroying jobs and harming our local economy. Despite claiming to care about the environment, he is denying Alabama and the Gulf Coast of a primary source of funding for important environment restoration and conservation. This is wrong, and I am fighting to hold the Biden administration accountable for its destructive actions.

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

3 weeks ago

New perspectives on inequality

(Pixabay, YHN)

Inequality is one of America’s most contentious issues. According to a popular narrative, higher taxes on the rich are needed to control growing inequality. New research from the Johnson Center offers a different perspective.

My colleagues G.P. Manish and Steve Miller have edited a new book titled “Capitalism and Inequality: The Role of State and Market.” The volume features contributions from leading economists on thinking about and measuring inequality and government policies making inequality worse.

We can start with the provocative question of whether equality is the proper standard for our economy. Poverty, not wealth, is the norm in human history. Wealth must be created. Why do we think that wealth will be created equally across the economy?

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For a century, economists explained the value of goods based on the labor required to make them. The labor theory of value implies a relatively equal wealth distribution because most people worked long hours. The labor theory was the basis of Karl Marx’s critique that capitalists expropriated value created by the workers.

Yet the labor theory was wrong. The marginalist revolution identified that value depends on the last unit of a good available, not all value in total. Water is much more valuable than diamonds but is available in abundance while diamonds are rare. Engagement rings consequently cost far more than a case of Aquafina.

The theory also shows that labor and other factors used in production will be paid based on its marginal contribution. Although teachers make a more valuable contribution to society than professional athletes, athletes get paid far more. Many people can teach elementary school; few can throw a football like Patrick Mahomes.

Over the past 300 years, free markets have allowed humanity to prosper. But as philosopher James Otteson puts it, “the only way we have ever discovered to enable substantial numbers of people to rise out of poverty is a set of political-economic and cultural institutions that also engender inequality.” Market salaries also strike many as unfair. Mr. Mahomes is lucky to have been born with a talent that allows him to excel in a very popular sport but as a result now has a $500 million contract.

The authors contend that we should worry more about how inequality comes about than unequal outcomes per se. Did someone get rich by capturing a portion of value they create in the market? This does not harm anyone because the value created makes everyone better off.

“Capitalism and Inequality” also examines the measurement of inequality. Economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez have measured income inequality using tax returns. The research, popularized in Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” argues that the U.S. experienced modest inequality after World War II but worsening inequality since the 1980s. Furthermore, high Federal income tax rates (90% until the 1960s and 70% until the 1980s) contained inequality.

Taxable income proves unreliable with the Reagan tax cuts. The reform sought to lower the high tax rates which made avoiding taxes more remunerative than earning income. Lower tax rates would produce less income sheltering and faster growth.

Tax return measured inequality jumps significantly in 1987, after the Tax Reform Act of 1986 lowered the top tax rate to 28%. No fundamental economic change could have created such an immediate spike in inequality. This is the predicted reporting of previously sheltered income.

The top income tax rate, furthermore, does not necessarily reveal the burden on high earners, or its progressivity. Economists have constructed comprehensive measures of tax progressivity based on households’ shares of taxes paid and income earned. These measures show that the Federal income tax is more progressive now than during the 1950s and 1960s. So much for the income tax holding inequality in check.

In economics and other social sciences, our approach can affect how we interpret what we observe. “Capitalism and Inequality” seriously challenges the narrative of worsening that inequality requiring punitive taxes on our economy’s great wealth creators.

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

3 weeks ago

World Water Day: Alabama’s iron and steel manufacturing contributes to public and economic health

(Manufacture Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

MONTGOMERY, AL  – World Water Day is March 22. In the context of today’s news, speaking about clean water and public health is more topical than usual, and today’s example is encouraging.

At the turn of the previous century, the time of my grandfather’s birth only 124 years ago, most people got their water from a well and used an outhouse. These were often near one another, contributing to the spread of disease.

At about the same time, the industrial revolution was in full force and thousands were flocking to cities for manufacturing jobs. Birmingham is known as The Magic City because her early years were so robust the city grew “like magic.”

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The need for clean and sanitary public water and wastewater systems was the genesis of the cast iron pipe industry in Birmingham. The presence of necessary resources such as iron ore, coal, and limestone within our region made north central Alabama an ideal location. Cast iron pipe manufactured in Alabama the past 125 years has built public water systems and ensured public health all across America and even around the world. It’s not at all a stretch to say that clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of mankind. I’m grateful and proud to have spent my career in such a noble and beneficial industry.

Today, modern ductile iron pipe is made in Birmingham, and steel used for water pipe and construction of water facilities is manufactured across Alabama. Instead of ore, today we recycle scrap and thereby contribute to sustainability in a significant manner. Iron pipe was sustainable before sustainability was cool.

Alabama’s iron and steel industry directly employs 14,900 manufacturing jobs and 76,388 indirect jobs providing a multi-billion-dollar payroll and tax base.

So, as you wash your hands with soap and water each hour, think of ductile iron and steel water pipe and the iron and steel industry here across our great state that manufactures it.

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, OMI-Bisco Refractories, O’Neal Manufacturing Services, Reno Refractories, Spire Alabama, Inc,, and Southern Alloy Corporation. Gaston is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University and Manager of Marketing for American Cast Iron Pipe in Birmingham.

4 weeks ago

A year into a pandemic, truckers continue to deliver for Alabama

It’s difficult to believe that it has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit America, closing businesses, stalling commerce and keeping people home. For frontline workers, like truck drivers, the pandemic has only intensified their work, and one year may seem like two. Truck drivers are in harm’s way every day in the middle of a devastating viral disease.

Despite the dangers, the trucking industry remains resilient during this pandemic at every stage. During the early weeks of the outbreak, America’s 3.6 million truck drivers ensured stores were stocked, hospitals were supplied and first responders were equipped. While some Americans have taken steps to show their appreciation for truck drivers, most do not realize how essential the industry is to their daily lives until a crisis hits.

The trucking industry is the backbone of America – keeping our lives, businesses and economy moving forward every day by safely delivering everything we rely on. From the delivery of today’s most critical supplies, such as the coronavirus vaccine, to the delivery of daily essential goods, including the food on your table, clothes on your back and fuel in your car, all of these items were brought to our communities by a truck. As a matter of fact, nearly every good that is consumed in the U.S. was put on a truck at some point. The critical link between a stocked grocery store or pharmacy, and a consumer, is an American truck driver.

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From every product to every place, trucking delivers to every corner of America. In fact, 80% of American communities rely solely on trucking for their deliveries. And now, with online shopping more prevalent than ever as consumers limit their trips to the store, more Americans are relying on deliveries made directly to their doorstep.

From every place to every sector, trucking is vital to the U.S. and global supply chain serving as the last mile of deliveries from every industry: retail, agriculture, manufacturing and healthcare.
Trucking is the prime mover of our nation’s freight. In 2019 alone, the trucking industry hauled over 72% of all freight, which equates to over 11.8 billion tons.

At a time when jobs have been diminished, the trucking industry also contributes greatly to the American workforce and economy, creating millions of jobs and career opportunities in communities small and large. In Alabama, trucking provides 109,980 jobs. Today, the trucking industry is supported by nearly 8 million professionals nationwide, including drivers, technicians, vendors and partners. Overall, the industry contributes over $791 billion in revenue to our nation’s economy each year. Meanwhile, Alabama trucking businesses contribute $629 million in taxes to state coffers.

As we enter year two of the pandemic, truck drivers will continue to load up and transport the COVID-19 vaccines, PPE and hand sanitizer to America’s stores along with consumers’ favorite items such as smartphones, puzzles, personal grooming products, beverages and snacks, to their homes. It’s times like these I feel especially proud to be a part of the trucking industry and working alongside America’s professional truck drivers, our country’s unsung heroes.

One year ago, at the start of the pandemic in the U.S., trucking never stopped. With continual new factors emerging, such as new virus variants and the many vaccine distribution challenges, times will remain uncertain. But one thing’s for certain: The trucking industry will continue to be there for Americans like we always have. Be sure to thank a trucker today.

Tom McLeod is the founder and president of McLeod Software, a leading supplier of transportation management and trucking software for carriers, brokers and shippers. He is also the current Chairman of the Board for the Alabama Trucking Association, which supports and promotes Alabama’s trucking industry through advocacy, training, and the successful implementation of programs including the ATA Comp Fund, Safety & Maintenance Management Council, TRUK PAC, and the ATA Foundation.

4 weeks ago

Carl: Crisis on the border

(U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr, President Joe Biden/Facebook, YHN)

President Biden’s immigration policies have created a crisis on the border he can no longer afford to ignore. Despite his administration’s unwillingness to recognize the situation on the border as a serious humanitarian crisis, federal authorities have struggled to control this situation as a massive surge of migrants attempt to enter the U.S. illegally. Just last month, over 100,000 migrants attempted to cross the border, which is more than three times the number of attempts one year prior.

President Biden needs to realize his campaign promises and actions since taking office have created a crisis on the border which compromises the safety of law-abiding Americans. On the campaign trail, President Biden promised to ease immigration controls and put a moratorium on deportations, signaling to asylum-seekers the likelihood of gaining entry to the United States. He has further exacerbated the problem with his proposed immigration bill offering asylum and a pathway to citizenship to most of the illegal immigrants who are already in the United States.

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The crisis on our border will continue growing if President Biden does not get serious and change his course of action. During his first days in office, he chose to no longer enforce a Trump-era rule applying Title 42 of the Public Health Safety Act to minors, which allowed the temporary suspension of entry of a person “when doing so is required in the interest of public health.” He also ended the Remain in Mexico policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting trial. These two decisions have contributed greatly to the massive influx of asylum seekers and the inhumane overcrowding at detention facilities.

A recent CBS report shows Border Patrol is currently dealing with a backlog of more than 4,000 unaccompanied minors, with more than 3,200 already having been held longer than the legal limit. One Customs and Border Patrol facility in Texas is now at 729% capacity and continues growing. This is unacceptable. Just this past weekend, the White House was forced to dispatch the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with the ever-growing surge across the border.

President Biden’s reckless immigration policies and his failure to enforce our many immigration laws have created an unprecedented crisis at our border. We are a nation of law and order, and we must have a strong border to protect the health, safety and security of the American citizens. It’s more important now than ever to secure the border and fix the Biden Border Crisis before it gets even further out of hand.

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

4 weeks ago

Will life return to normal?

(Pixabay, YHN)

The University of Alabama System recently announced a return to normal activities for 2021-22, including full attendance at Crimson Tide football games this fall. I do not try predicting politicians’ decisions but contend that life should return to normal when we the people want it to.

Vaccinations have ramped up and the nationwide seven-day averages of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are down 49, 67 and 77 percent from their January highs. President Biden recently announced that enough vaccines should be available for all adults by the end of May. These developments are changing state policies. The governors of Texas and Mississippi have ended their state COVID-19 restrictions.

On the other hand, some public health officials want restrictions on life continued. Dr. Anthony Fauci foresees people still wearing masks in 2022. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) wants fully vaccinated persons to wear masks and not interact with persons not from their household.

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Reasonable people can disagree over when to ease COVID-19 policies and whether the policies were on the net beneficial. They were clearly unprecedented; Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito described them as “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty.”

We need to distinguish our personal protective behavior and government restrictions on freedom to slow transmission. The pandemic involves a fundamental life tradeoff: protecting oneself and one’s family versus living in the face of risk. We should respect peoples’ differing choices. No one is less worthy for wanting to avoid exposure or being willing to attend church (or football games). The freedom to make such choices is a core element of personal autonomy and dignity.

Government orders limiting autonomy consequently require, I believe, a strong rationale. Ultimately, we the people must decide if we will sacrifice our freedom to slow transmission of an illness.

The strongest argument for government action has been the potential overwhelming of our health care system. Avoidable deaths occur if the sick receive less than the best medical care. A lack of capacity could affect medical care for accidents or other illnesses, endangering those at low-risk from COVID-19.

The potential for overcrowded hospitals is rapidly vanishing. Based on the CDC’s estimate of the infection fatality rate, at least 80 million Americans have already had the virus. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are over 95 percent effective in reducing hospitalization and the highest risk Americans are getting vaccinated.

A duty to protect the high-risk COVID-19 population provides another argument for restricting freedom. Vaccination also weakens this argument. Getting vaccinated should, I think, fulfill low-risk persons’ obligation (if any) to avoid infecting others.

Another rationale was delaying infections to allow doctors and researchers to learn about the new virus. The likelihood of death for newly hospitalized patients fell by over half during the spring and summer, even absent a “cure.” And we now have three highly effective vaccines. We have learned about containing SARS-CoV-2.

Our nation has taken on the feel of a dictatorship during the pandemic, with public health bureaucrats controlling every aspect of our lives. State emergency powers laws have allowed governors to declare an emergency and rule by command and should be reform after the pandemic. And we must remember that doctors and public health experts only offer us advice. We should be free to reject a doctor’s advice or CDC recommendations.

Many politicians seemingly “never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” as President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel put it. Economic historian Robert Higgs has shown how powers initially assumed by Washington during emergencies have become permanent. Will business closures and stay-at-home orders become standard operating procedures going forward?

I see the research on crises as offering a warning about what may happen, not an inevitability. The phrase “Freedom Isn’t Free” normally reminds us of sacrifices made defending America. Many Americans have willingly sacrificed to try to contain COVID-19. We should soon demand a full and complete restoration of our freedom.

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.

1 month ago

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson: Now is the time to pass ‘Aniah’s Law’

(Mayor Sandy Stimpson's Office/Contributed)

Mobile, Ala. — Last month, the Alabama House of Representatives took an important step toward keeping some of our state’s most violent criminals off of the streets by passing House Bill 130, also known as “Aniah’s Law.” Now it’s time for our senators and the voters of Alabama to finish the job.

“Aniah’s Law” is an important reform bill that would give Alabama judges the option to deny pretrial bail to violent criminals who present a clear danger to our communities. This piece of legislation is named after Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old Homewood resident and college student who was kidnapped and killed in 2019 by a man who was out on bail for multiple violent felonies at the time.

The story of Aniah Blanchard’s disappearance and tragic death was featured on CBS News’ “48 Hours” this past weekend. The segment, “Fighting for Aniah,” also touched briefly on her family’s continued efforts to protect innocent Alabamians from repeat violent offenders. Currently, the Alabama Constitution does not allow judges to deny bail to repeat violent offenders in most circumstances — including those who, like the man accused of killing Aniah, have a documented history of violent criminal behavior.

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While Aniah’s tragic story has recently reignited interest in keeping dangerous criminal offenders from being released on bail, this is an issue that has challenged law enforcement for years. Across the state, there are countless examples of police investigating and arresting violent criminals, only to see them immediately released on bail to inflict more harm on law-abiding citizens.

Accused criminals committing violent acts while out on bail has been a particular issue in Mobile. In fact, the sponsor of “Aniah’s Law,” Rep. Chip Brown, introduced the first version of this bill in 2018 after discussions with my administration, local judges and law enforcement leaders across Mobile County.

It was around that same time that a defendant in Mobile with a previous violent criminal conviction was released on bail after shooting two teenagers near a local community center. He went on to shoot three other people at a parade a few months later while he was awaiting trial and was granted bail again. The goal of “Aniah’s Law” is to prevent situations like this from happening.

The Alabama Constitution reads that “all persons” shall be eligible for a pretrial bail except for those facing capital offenses. As proposed, “Aniah’s Law” would add certain Class A violent felonies to that exception for pretrial bail, including heinous offenses like murder, kidnapping and rape.

In order to protect the constitutional rights of the accused, defendants would not automatically be prohibited from receiving bail under “Aniah’s Law.” Prosecutors would have to request a hearing and show that the evidence in their case is sufficient enough to support a conviction.

They would also have to show that a defendant is likely to reoffend if released on bail and there are no conditions of release that could reasonably protect the public. As always, Judges would still be able to grant bail if they found the evidence produced by prosecutors to be insufficient.

Right now, law enforcement officers and prosecutors across Alabama are facing 21st century threats with a Constitution that was written in 1901. That’s why my administration strongly supports the changes proposed in “Aniah’s Law” — a bill named after a young woman whose life very well could have been saved by these kinds of common-sense reforms.

My hope is that this legislation receives the same bi-partisan support it saw in the House as it is considered by our State Senate. And if “Aniah’s Law” passes and goes before people of Alabama in a statewide referendum, I hope you’ll vote “yes” and help us keep violent criminals off of our streets.

Sandy Stimpson is the mayor of Mobile, Alabama

1 month ago

Aderholt: Biden’s first 50 days

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

Fifty days ago, President Joe Biden declared in his inaugural address, “Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together. Uniting our people. And uniting our nation.” Most Americans, myself included, listened to these first words of the new administration with hopeful ears. But as we have come to learn, unity stands in firm contrast to the actions of this White House. Unfortunately, too many of President Biden’s policies have led to a 50-day drive to divide.

Many consider the 100-day mark as a barometer for how quickly and effectively a president can govern. However, when it comes to President Biden, we don’t need 100 days to make that judgment. In just 50 days, it is clear that his administration is paving a path of executive overreach, disunity and partisanship.

On day one, the president implemented a slew of executive orders and actions within hours of his swearing-in ceremony. In the 15 acts he signed – a record he holds over his predecessors by a wide margin – Joe Biden paved the way for us to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, preserve DACA, halt border wall construction, revoke the Keystone XL Pipeline permits and reverse many of President Trump’s policies.

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Rather than extending an olive branch to conservatives, this administration has chosen to please the far left. This stands in stark contrast with what President Biden said on January 20, “And I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” While we can all appreciate the pledge President Biden took, the actions of his administration have not matched the words he spoke.

Take the strictly partisan $1.9 trillion COVID “relief” package for example. This spending bill was created behind closed doors without any Republican input, and it is full of liberal policies that have nothing to do with the coronavirus. And when conservatives offered common sense amendments to this bill, they were shot down on a party-line vote. There is nothing close to bipartisan about that legislation or the process in which it was written.

In order to fight for the 74 million Americans who did not vote for the president, Joe Biden must be willing to step into the middle ground. This will not be easy I realize. However, advocating for a $15 minimum wage, working to liberalize immigration and nominating pro-abortion cabinet and administration officials are antithetical to cooperation.

In fact, all of those items are inconsistent with President Biden’s pledge. But he can choose to change that, and the first step towards fulfilling that promise is walking away from his current path and trekking over to the road of bipartisanship. There are areas where we can work together. Take rural broadband, for instance, a critical need that has widespread bipartisan support. Or backing NASA in the push to return to the moon by 2024. Also, both sides agree that we need to end human trafficking once and for all, and we can work together to achieve it.

The next 50 days can be a time of bipartisanship and true unity, but that can only happen if President Biden chooses it. Again, I understand it won’t be easy. But the effort to unify takes more than just words, it takes action. And President Biden’s actions in his 50-day drive to divide must change, lest his words from January 20, 2021, come to define his presidency: “For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”

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

1 month ago

State Rep. Mike Ball: Corruption is a spiritual problem that must be defeated with spiritual weapons

(Global Ties Alabama/Facebook)

During my long-running personal war with corruption, setbacks seem to outnumber victories. Even so, setbacks can serve to humble our heart, open our mind and toughen our skin. When that happens, they become a delivery mechanism for wisdom and discernment, two valuable spiritual commodities that always seem to be in short supply.

This never-ending war of attrition is well worth fighting, even if total victory is unattainable in this mortal world. The most dangerous and difficult corruption to combat, by far, is always our own. By focusing on our own corruption first and foremost, we can be better prepared to properly confront it when we find it in other places. Or it finds us.

Corruption is a spiritual disease that has tormented mankind throughout history. There is a simple but painful cure: the truth. Not the truth that bends to suit our feelings, or the truth that can be manipulated to help us fit in with our friends and condemn our adversaries. Not even that sort of truth that polls provide to us to help win elections. They are all frauds that can seduce us into corruption.

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The antidote for corruption is the complete, unadulterated truth. Corruption cannot survive in the presence of truth. When the truth shines on it, corruption self-destructs.

Politics is a corrupting influence because of its adversarial nature. In the political arena, ideologies, opinions and personalities clash like gladiators in the Colosseum.

Their purpose is to accumulate power for themselves and their allies, while limiting the power of their adversaries. The causes and levels of passion may vary greatly, depending upon the intensity of the combatants’ devotion to their cause and fear of their adversaries’ cause.

In the political arena, winning trumps everything else, including the truth. The predominant weapon in the political arena is propaganda. Effective propaganda contains elements of the truth presented in a context that bends public opinion in a desired direction. A convenient scapegoat from the opposition greatly intensifies the power of propaganda to manipulate its victims.

All who become engaged in a political struggle are prone to become corrupted to some degree by its seductive influence. But the most corrupt are the self-righteous. They usually run with packs and gratify themselves by heaping scorn on their chosen scapegoat, like ravening wolves.

When the air of superiority that surrounds the self-righteous has suffocated any hope of self-examination for corruption, it becomes a terminal disease. Without humility and courage, they will not accept the cure.

Self-righteous blaming and shaming have become a sorry substitute for political discourse in our current media culture. Corruption has escalated into a spiritual pandemic that indiscriminately spreads its poison without regard to party, faction, or philosophy. A growing number of citizens have grown weary of this toxic self-righteous political gang warfare, but they seem far outnumbered. We are still a long way from herd immunity.

Maybe it has always been this way to some degree, and I was just too caught up in it to recognize it for what it is. Vanity, the precursor of self-righteousness, camouflages our own corruption and that of those we deem to be friends while it magnifies the corruption of our adversaries.

For those willing to take the cure but not sure what to look for, one of history’s greatest corruption fighters, John the Baptist, succinctly advised a small group of Roman soldiers, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14 KJV).

That simple admonition shines a bright light on the three major categories of corruption: the excessive and unnecessary use of force, false accusations, and greed. The underlying truth contained in those simple words delves much deeper into the human condition than just a bit of wisdom imparted to a few soldiers trying to do their duty during troubling times of deep political and spiritual division.

For those in the political arena, John the Baptist’s advice is difficult, but not impossible to follow. It calls for a change of heart and mind that is a distinct departure from the current prevailing mindset in which political power is sought by stoking fear and trampling the truth with propaganda.

Like it or not, the politicians in office reflect the collective attitude of the people they represent. Those people have been heavily propagandized by those who should be guardians of truth. The media culture has also been corrupted by politics, and they are super spreaders.

We tend to follow the beat of the drummer that we can hear best. Those who want to defend against the spread of corruption can begin by mustering the courage to ask themselves, “What matters most to me, truth or politics?” But only those who are also humble enough to accept the cure can drive corruption into full retreat.

Corruption is a spiritual problem that can only be defeated with spiritual weapons: truth and grace.

State Rep. Mike Ball is a retired major crimes investigator for the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2002. He chairs both the Ethics and Campaign Finance and Madison County Legislation committees and holds a seat on the Judiciary and State Government committees.

1 month ago

Carl: Fighting for election integrity

(Congressman Jerry Carl/Facebook)

Last week, House Democrats pushed through H.R. 1 – For the People Act, which should have been named For the Politicians Act, because it aims to radically transform our elections by taking election decisions away from the people and giving more power to bureaucrats. This act utilizes taxpayer money to fund campaigns, legalizes ballot harvesting, weaponizes the IRS for political gain, and mandates felons be allowed to vote. Election integrity is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation, and while many in Congress attempt to further undermine our elections process, I’m committed to fighting for common sense rules that reflect the principle of 1 person, 1 vote.

H.R. 1 further undermines America’s faith in our elections by expanding mail-in voting, mandating same-day registration, banning state voter ID laws, and banning multi-state cross-checks. It would entirely overhaul how our elections are run by imposing California-style elections on states like Alabama. The primary authority to regulate elections would be taken away from the states and given to Washington bureaucrats. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and the rest of Alabama’s election officials do an outstanding job managing Alabama’s elections, and the last thing we need is the federal government interfering with how we run our elections.

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Congress should be working to restore America’s faith in our elections, rather than imposing dangerous big-government mandates on states. I’m proud to be a cosponsor of the Save Democracy Act, which promotes free and fair elections, respects the primary authority of states over election administration, and does not allow taxpayer money to be used for federal campaigns. The Save Democracy Act would prohibit automatic and same-day voter registration, require an ID to vote via mail or in person, and would require states to audit ballot tabulation systems within 30 days of an election.

Over the course of the past few months, we have collectively witnessed a crisis of confidence in our nation’s election systems, and it’s time we get serious about addressing this issue. A recent Gallup poll found more than 59% of Americans are not confident in the honesty of U.S. elections, and voter confidence is measurably worse only in Chile and Mexico. It’s critical we implement common sense election reforms to restore the integrity of our elections and restore America’s confidence in our democratic process because every American has the right to vote in a free and fair election and to know their vote is counted accurately.

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

1 month ago

Alabama health organizations recommend Alabamians receive COVID-19 vaccines to help end pandemic

(Unsplash, YHN)

Alabama’s leading health organizations are joining together to strongly recommend Alabamians get the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccine can help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has affected the lives of almost every Alabamian.

“Protection from COVID-19 through vaccination of the majority of people is critically important in reducing COVID-19 disease,” said Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer. “COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective for men and women regardless of age or racial and ethnic group. We strongly recommend that adults protect themselves, their family, coworkers, friends, and community from severe illness and death by getting vaccinated when they are eligible. Vaccination will help advance the public health vision of healthy people, healthy communities, and a healthy Alabama.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the Alabama Pharmacy Association, the Alabama Medicaid Agency and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama are together confident in the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety.

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“Alabama physicians are no strangers to patient education and how it can ease hesitancy regarding vaccines. However, the public’s uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is unparalleled. Around 39% of Americans say they probably or definitely would not get a coronavirus vaccine,” said Dr. John Meigs, president, Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “It’s critical to help alleviate misunderstandings in order to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

“A top concern appears to be how quickly the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. The first vaccines were distributed to the public in less than one year,” added Dr. Meigs. “While there is an element of ‘wait and see’ to evaluate the full effectiveness of the vaccines, here is what we know so far: the available vaccines are up to 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, and the majority of side effects are very minor. We can start to renew the trust in our healthcare system now by shutting down divisive rhetoric and focusing on science. The road to recovery is long but will be possible thanks to the people of Alabama.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccine safety is a top priority. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines safely and with few side effects.

“As soon as individuals are eligible and the vaccine is available, we encourage every Alabamian to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Dr. Don Williamson, president, Alabama Hospital Association. “Through vaccination, we not only protect ourselves, but everyone around us. These vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history and represent our best chance for the state and nation to return to a sense of normalcy.”

Alabama pharmacies are a trusted source playing a crucial role in COVID vaccination administration and distribution across our state.

“We strongly recommend that every Alabamian who is eligible receive one of the safe, effective, and approved COVID-19 vaccines. Alabama’s pharmacists have had the privilege of administering thousands of vaccines to patients in every community over the past few months,” said Louise Jones, chief executive Officer, Alabama Pharmacy Association. “While we understand hesitancy with the unknown, we are confident in the vaccines we are administering to the patients who know and trust us. Pharmacists will continue to be available to answer questions and to vaccinate with confidence as more supply becomes available. Getting vaccinated is not only about protecting yourself, but protecting those around you.”

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama is providing 100% coverage for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines during the government’s phased-in vaccine distribution. Blue Cross members on individual, Medicare and almost all employer health plans will be able to receive a FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine without having to pay any out-of-pocket expenses.

“Alabama can overcome this healthcare crisis if we do our part by getting the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Tim Vines, president and CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “The health and wellness of our members and communities remains our top priority. We want to make sure our members have access to the COVID-19 vaccines without cost being an obstacle.”

“I encourage all Alabamians, including Medicaid recipients, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible,” said Stephanie Azar, commissioner of Alabama Medicaid Agency. “There is no cost to recipients for the vaccine, and it can save lives and help slow the spread of the virus.”

By taking preventive measures for protection, Alabamians can help end the pandemic in our state and nationwide. Along with getting the vaccine, continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing, and wash hands frequently.

For information on eligibility, vaccine safety, and to schedule a vaccination appointment, visit ALCovidVaccine.gov. For appointments, the public can also call 1-855-566-5333.

This article was written jointly by Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama and Alabama Medicaid Agency 

1 month ago

Has Washington’s stimulus measures saved our economy?

(Wikicommons, Unsplash, YHN)

Congress is expected to soon pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, the fourth major response to the pandemic. Did these measures save our economy from a protracted recession?

Our initial response might be yes because of last spring’s economic free-fall. The stock market declined 20%. Unemployment jumped from 3.5% in February to 14.8% in April, the highest level since the Great Depression. GDP fell 10% in the second quarter.

The economy stopped collapsing and began regaining ground. The stock market hit new record highs. Unemployment fell to 6.3% in January and inflation-adjusted GDP in the fourth quarter of 2020 was within 2% of the 2019 level. Post hoc ergo prompter hoc, however, is a logical fallacy.

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Macroeconomists disagree over whether government spending can lift an economy out of recession. Keynesians, following John Maynard Keynes’ analysis of the Great Depression, see a role for government stabilization. Austrians in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek argue that government often causes recessions. New classical analysis has blown many holes in Keynesian theories.

Regardless of the efficacy of a fiscal stimulus, our economy may not have faced a recession in 2020. The COVID-19 slump arguably resembled an off-season shutdown in a resort community more than a recession. Except that the pandemic shutdown was unexpected while seasonal closures are planned.

The economy could have been expected to bounce back on its own if the business closure and stay-at-home orders did not last too long. And this seemingly happened during the summer and fall.

How can we assess the stimulus spending? The Payroll Protection Plan and augmented unemployment likely kept some persons employed and softened the financial blow for idled workers. These programs could also be viewed as compensation owed by the government for business closure orders, not a stimulus. Personal saving has risen sharply, so many households’ stimulus checks produced little spending.

Unemployment programs have been beset by fraud. The Foundation for Government Accountability estimates that fraudulent schemes siphoned off $36 billion, more than the $26 billion in unemployment compensation paid out in all of 2019. Do Keynesians think fraud is a fiscal stimulus?

One trillion stimulus dollars were unspent as of January 2021. While some Republicans argued that we should spend this money before approving President Biden’s proposal, the unspent money was in the process of being spent. Still, money not yet spent did not stimulate the economy in 2020.

Proponents of fiscal stimulus warned that the economy would sputter without a fall stimulus. One forecast warned of a five percentage point increase in unemployment and 5% decline in GDP. The House and Senate did not agree on an encore to the CARES Act until December. And yet unemployment fell and GDP grew in the fourth quarter.

Even if some spending helped in 2020, the current stimulus package is almost certainly unnecessary. The Congressional Budget Office was already expecting growth to recover “rapidly,” with GDP surpassing the pre-pandemic level by mid-year and unemployment returning to its prior level by early 2022. For comparison, after the Great Recession unemployment did not reach its 2007 level until 2016.

President Biden’s package includes $500 billion to stabilize state budgets. States operate under balanced budget rules, so revenue declines due to the pandemic would trigger spending cuts potentially slowing the recovery. The $500 billion was based on an 8% decline in state revenues; the Wall Street Journal reports that revenues will be down only 1.6%.

Whatever the verdict on the stimulus spending, it worsened the national debt by about $3 trillion. The long-term debt impact may easily offset any short-term boost to the recovery.

The economic case that government spending can prevent or end a recession is weak. Fortunately, the COVID-19 shutdowns did not trigger a prolonged recession. While we might say, “Better safe than sorry,” the cost of the stimulus will be with us for years to come.

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.

1 month ago

Justice Will Sellers: Liberty of conscience didn’t come easy

(Pixabay)

We take freedom of conscience for granted, but, 500 years ago, accepting and practicing beliefs outside of the mainstream was deadly.

The 1521 Diet of Worms was a legislative gathering held in Worms (one of the oldest cities in Europe) to consider Martin Luther’s theology.

The stakes were extraordinarily high as Luther, a mere monk, parried with the leading Roman Catholic scholars of his day. The ramifications of this meeting, while couched in religious terms, had clear political underpinnings. So much so that Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presided over the “meeting”, which allowed the trappings of his office to validate the ultimate decision.

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Martin Luther’s heretical writings were to be publicly reviewed and examined; and while he was given safe conduct to attend the diet, that he was a heretic was a foregone conclusion. The issue before the diet was not the persuasiveness of Luther’s argument, but whether he would recant.

When Luther appealed to his conscience and argued that his conviction about his beliefs was firm and not subject to change, he set himself in the crosshairs of the 16th century religious and political establishment. Heresy and blasphemy were capital offenses. Keeping the doctrines of the Church pure and undefiled was taken quite seriously and anyone advocating a different belief system was considered an outlaw with no legal process available for protection.

Inappropriate beliefs about religion might lead others to perdition, so political power was enlisted to stop errant beliefs and prohibit any doctrine that was not officially sanctioned. But mandating beliefs or emotions fails to consider human advancement in rationally considering ideas, accepting some while rejecting others and developing a personal system of faith and knowledge.

The most critical idea inadvertently let loose by the Edict of Worms was that in matters of faith, people could think for themselves and choose a belief system appealing to the conviction of their conscience. While it would be easy to accuse the Holy Roman Empire of attempting to eliminate competing faiths, protestants held an equally monolithic view resulting in religious wars that seemed to miss the point of the faith each side advocated.

Protestants, while wanting to believe as they wished, were not willing to extend this liberality to others within their realm of influence. The puritan poet John Milton would see his writings banned by Cromwell’s Commonwealth, causing him to write one of the first essays against censorship and in favor of Christian liberty. Said Milton, “Let Truth and falsehood grapple; whoever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

But even in the new world, liberty of conscience was slow to catch on.

The Dutch Reformed Peter Stuyvesant attempted to limit the worship of Quakers within his jurisdiction. Refusing to submit, the residents of Flushing, New York published the Flushing Remonstrance, which advocated for freedom of conscience not only to Quakers, but also to “Jews, Turks and Egyptians.”

Controlling beliefs and limiting ideas was nothing new for religion, but once institutional religion was de-coupled from government, limiting dissension became applied more frequently in the realm of politics. Often when a new political regime became ascendant in countries without a history of personal freedoms, dissent was stifled, disagreements became illegal and hagiographic propaganda replaced information. One area which politicians around the world agree is how much they despise opposing viewpoints.

Even in seemingly democratic countries with a history of freedoms supported by the rule of law, politicians simply hate criticism and will attempt to restrain if not eliminate it. Usually, this takes the form of mild disgust, but at times it can prove to be both personally and financially costly to oppose the ruling elite. We expect this from authoritarian governments, but when we find democratically elected governments engaging in censorship and limiting dissent, we should be troubled.

Consider the Reuther Memorandum of the 1960s. Seemingly established to advocate for fairness and equality of the public airwaves, Bobby Kennedy used the Reuther brothers’ report to curtail political opposition with breathtaking success. But this is not a liberal vs. conservative issue as regulation and limitations of speech are subtly advocated by all sides.

Even founding father John Adams had Congress pass the Sedition Act making it a federal crime to speak, write, or print criticisms of the government that were arguably false, scandalous, or malicious. Numerous newspaper editors were arrested and some even imprisoned under this act.

In recent memory, both conservative and liberal groups have advocated using government regulations to limit their respective definition of offensive speech. A journalist of the Jacksonian era, William Leggett, warned: “if the government once begins to discriminate as to what is orthodox and what heterodox in opinion, what is safe and unsafe in tendency, farewell, a long farewell to our freedom.”

Ideas, whether in opposition or support of a politician or political ideology, should never be restricted. It is much better to have ideas aired and let people decide. Bad ideas typically die a quiet death, but good ideas live on and become part of the progress of democratic government.

Rather than restrict poorly thought ideas, it is better to let them be proclaimed loudly and see them disintegrate on impact. Many years ago, Jerry Rubin encouraged student protestors to burn down a historic academic building. The more he shouted, the more the crowd responded, but no one was willing to act because no one was willing to torch a building to support academic freedom.

Bad ideas are like that. Giving someone a megaphone and unlimited time can be their undoing. Public debate, like sunlight, is a great disinfectant. Debate and open discussion forces ideas to compete against practical reality, thus winnowing out the ill-conceived and fostering workable solutions.

So, 500 years ago western civilization moved toward allowing people to think and believe as they followed their convictions, but even Luther and his followers failed to see the broad implication of their success. Various events would slowly chip away at autocrats forcing their subjects to subscribe to approved beliefs.

Instead, in a triumph of experience and personal liberty, states moved toward greater freedom. While elites might try to restrict the thoughts of others and limit criticism, free societies realize that allowing open discussion and a variety of viewpoints lays the foundation for a community in which all rights are respected, and belief systems are not censored but allowed to sink or swim based on the truth of their results.

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