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.

2 days ago

Despite criticisms, Alabama’s environment is best it’s been since standards were first measured

(ADEM/Contributed, YHN)

As the director of the state agency charged with safeguarding Alabama’s environment, I have great respect for and deep appreciation of our state’s wonderful natural resources and rich biodiversity of species and habitats, including many that are unique to Alabama. Protecting human health and those environmental treasures is precisely the reason the Alabama Department of Environmental Management exists.

That’s why it concerns me when critics take unjustified cheap shots at ADEM and the work it does to protect, preserve and enhance the environment. Some blame “lax enforcement” of environmental regulations in part for the loss of rare species, or attempt to paint ADEM as an underfunded agency under threat of federal takeover by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Those characterizations are clearly and demonstrably wrong. Let’s look at the facts.

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By any environmental quality measure – fewer impaired waters, more waters classified or designated as high quality, exceptionally high-quality drinking water, air meeting all quality standards, extensive remediation of legacy soil contamination – the quality of the environment in Alabama is the best it’s been since environmental quality was first measured. And it’s getting even better.

For example, 82% of the rivers and streams that were listed in 1998 as impaired for any combination of pollutants have since been removed from the list. There are also well-documented significant reductions to pollution impairments of lakes, reservoirs, bays and estuaries in Alabama.

Since 1982, the state has had 805 miles of rivers and streams classified as Outstanding National Resource Waters, 343 miles classified as Outstanding Alabama Waters, and 40,065 acres (Lake Martin) designated as a Treasured Alabama Lake. ADEM had a direct hand in those achievements.

In 2019, less than 2% of the public drinking water systems in Alabama had any health-based water quality violations for the 89 contaminants monitored. Based on EPA data, only one state, Hawaii, had a lower number of violations than Alabama.

With air, Alabama has been in attainment with all National Ambient Air Quality Standards since 2015. Those standards cover particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead. Over the past 30 years, releases of those contaminants have dropped by an average of 83%. That is a collective breath of fresh air for Alabamians.

Since 1989, ADEM’s land division has overseen the closure of all 141 unlined municipal solid waste landfills, the elimination of 1,880 unauthorized dumps and the cleanup of 341 illegal tire dumps containing nearly 10 million scrap tires. Statewide waste reduction through recycling increased from 5% to 25%, more than 11,000 leaking underground storage tanks were cleaned up, and more than 400 of the 611 brownfields (polluted industrial sites) have been cleaned and returned to productive use. ADEM led each of these efforts.

While it’s true that some rare species in Alabama are under threat, it’s also true that in recent years many species have come under more protection and are less endangered than in the past. The bald eagle, osprey, beach mouse, gopher tortoise, salamanders, freshwater mussels, crayfish and darters are among them.

Unfortunately, a lot of what ADEM does to protect the state’s water, air and land goes unnoticed or is misunderstood by the public and the media. Several environmental organizations even sued to end ADEM’s authority to oversee federal Clean Water Act programs in Alabama, falsely claiming ADEM was not tough enough on polluters.

EPA data show a different picture. According to that data, Alabama is consistently among the states with the lowest levels of non-compliance by entities subject to environmental regulation. Yet, despite low non-compliance, total monetary penalties assessed by ADEM have been among the top five in the nation. That is clearly not lax enforcement.

Not surprising to us, the federal court soundly rejected the groups’ claims and maintained ADEM’s authority. We enforce Clean Water rules and other federal regulations – and do it more effectively, EPA data say, than most states.

Can more be done, such as improved local land-use practices and citizen action, to add to the protections we already have in place? Of course. Good environmental stewardship and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive.

But let us not ignore the fact that the state of the environment in Alabama is among the best in the nation and getting better. I can assure Alabamians this department will continue to work to protect human health, the environment and all of our state’s natural wonders.

Lance LeFleur is the director of Alabama Department of Environmental Management

3 days ago

Where have all the heroes gone?

(API/Contributed, YHN)

As I type these words, I am sitting in my study with three rifles hanging on the opposite wall. They will never fire again. Their role is to serve as a reminder of generations of sacrifice that made this great nation what it is. My grandfather, my father and I each brought home these reminders from WWII, Vietnam and Afghanistan, respectively. We each entered the service in Alabama and returned here when our tours were completed. They have both passed away now, but I know what they would say if they could see today’s news cycle.

They would wonder aloud who will stand up.

Like many conservatives across the nation, I feel as though I’ve gone through the looking glass lately. Conservatives are told now that what we have always believed is right is now wrong and that basic discourse is not allowed. Dissenting opinions are lumped together as fringe – groupthink is required, as long as it fits a certain narrative. Think me wrong? Spend five minutes on social media or most mainstream “news” outlets.

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Government leaders at all levels have browbeaten citizens and ruined their lives, crushing businesses by declaring the winners and losers of society in a pandemic. To be sure, the coronavirus is awful – it visited my household hard. But declaring businesses nonessential, shuttering society, keeping loved ones from visiting dying relatives in hospitals, and then using federal relief dollars to largely fund more government has created cynicism.

“Big Tech,” protected by sanctuary laws written to protect them, is in full survival mode now knowing that they must cancel opposition in order to maintain their status quo. There is diminished hope that a repeal of Section 230, or the continuation of an FTC Antitrust suit will have much impact under a Biden administration. In October of last year, I wrote that, without a true accounting by Congress and the Courts, the monopolistic giants that own much of the world’s information-sourcing would ensure that dissent would be crushed. This week proved that point.

To add to the Mad Hatter’s tea party, there is legitimate concern that liberals in D.C. will move to strike as fast as possible to water down our Supreme Court by increasing its number unnecessarily. Likewise, questions abound as to whether an effort will gain steam to add new states to the national fabric in order to increase the number of liberal members in the US Senate. Two years ago these concerns would seem far-fetched. But then, two years ago Georgia was a red state, elections were sacred, and riots were not commonplace.

It is not a question of accepting a differing viewpoint. Politics is always cyclical – what goes around comes around they say. I was disappointed when Clinton and Obama were each reelected, but I knew that they were true losses at the polls and learned to work within them, continue with life, and fuss at political differences. This is not that.

For conservatives, today feels like a crushing attempt to literally change our way of life. Forever.

And that will not happen. Not for a minute. Not. One. Damn. Minute.

There are heroes left. They are out there. Citizens with voices, and reason, and self-will have always been the mainstay of our society. To be clear, the riots in our nation’s Capitol were wrong and indefensible. Violence is not a resource for internal disagreement.

That said, individual citizens still have rights and a say in what happens in their homes and lives. Dark days do not deter resolved people and there are many who I believe will begin to work within new events to bring the compass back around. Ordinary people do extraordinary things when times call for them. But there is one group with the ability to make a massive difference – to stand on the wall against tyranny – those groups are the various state legislatures.

There is a 10th Amendment to our wonderful Constitution. It specifically reserves unto the various states those powers not otherwise enumerated to the federal government. It is there for a reason, and its purpose has never been more dramatically illuminated.

It is the state legislatures who establish the laws that govern individual freedoms at the homeplace. Everything from taxation, texting while driving, election laws, economic development, pandemic responses, education, business regulation, and on and on – all of them come from state legislatures.

State legislatures, Alabama included, need to work quickly to re-establish their own ability to come into session and govern. Laws should be enacted that protect rights to work regardless of opinion, and to preserve contracts where one side differs from the other politically. Election laws should be tightened and clarified to promote trust where trust has been lost. Budget processes should be sharpened to lessen the impact of a federal government that chooses to withhold funds. Businesses should be encouraged, even incentivized, to reopen and laws passed that ensure that no one’s paycheck should ever again be deemed non-essential.

Each state, by means of carefully crafted legislation, can become a bulwark for its citizens against the increasingly and overtly burdensome federal government and social justice oligarchs who run Washington. State senators and representatives are a true line of defense in this fight.

There is much at stake but there are heroes still among us. Ordinary folks, some elected and some unelected, who choose to take a stand for what they hold dear. And they are needed for such a time as this.

Phil Williams, Alabama Policy Institute’s Chief Policy Officer and General Counsel, is a former Alabama State Senator and is a practicing attorney. You can follow Sen. Williams at twitter.com/SenPhilWilliams and learn more about API at alabamapolicy.org.

4 days ago

Justice Will Sellers: The future of America is undiminished by circumstance

(Wikicommons, Joe Biden/Facebook, YHN)

It was President Harry Truman who said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know,” and King Solomon, perhaps the wisest man ever, stated pretty much the same thing a few millennia ago when he recorded in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Recent studies have shown the people look fondly upon the era that was one to two decades prior of their birth as the “good old days,” but few take time to really examine what made those days so seemingly good and why we regard times in which we never lived as better than the present.

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Viewing current events through the lens of times that are distant memory can yield many disappointments, but recognizing that the past was flawed and often filled with misery can offer comfort that the future might not be as dim as we imagine If, as Solomon intoned, there is nothing really new under the sun and the only new things require greater learning and studying on our part, perhaps a good rule of thumb would be to worry less and study history more.

Presidential elections are contentious and have been since the founding of our republic. Don’t believe me? Read Winston Groom’s last book’s discussion of the 1800 election! Some elections are more spirited than others, but each four years there is an opportunity for hope, disappointment, disgust and even advancement. While it is true that elections have consequences and can clearly change the trajectory of our country, history shows us that most changes are not nearly as bad as we fear or as good as we had hoped. Some changes that occurred years ago, while viewed as earth-shattering at the time, now look fairly benign as we come to accept certain changes and, in retrospect, view them as appropriate and insignificant.

In the almost 245 years of our country’s existence, there have been probably a dozen presidential elections that stand out as marking the end on an era — some might say “error” — and the beginning of a new phase in the American experiment. But because American is an open society with freedoms that many across the globe envy, the clash of divergent viewpoints is not only helpful, but good.

If you believe that the arc of the universe is long and bends toward truth, then the testing of ideas politically and otherwise is necessary for progress and keeping the country as dynamic and free as possible. If we believe that right eventually emerges from conflict, then there is little to worry about.

Starting almost 100 years ago totalitarian systems were the rage. Both communism and fascism — two sides of the same coin — were seen as eclipsing liberty and democracy, jettisoning the best of western liberating thought. But these false ideologies could not stand the test of time. and over the last 30 years, systems granting greater freedoms have emerged from former dictatorial regimes. Those authoritarian governments failed precisely because they were rooted in lies and deceptions rather than the firm foundation of truth and liberty.

Truth is not only the best defense, but it is also the most buoyant and will eventually float to the top of any tempest. Time, though, is the magic ingredient; things need time and truth needs space to resist bruising, bullying and battering. Lies, deceit and fakery carry with them the sharp razzle-dazzle that distracts use from seeing the truth, but there is a point, after time, when truth emerges as the victor.

So, too, are laws of nature, economics and physics unchanged by feelings or perceptions. People may like to think that the magic of government will suspend all these laws, but that never happens. Perhaps for a season there is an appearance of suspension but that is really a recalibration to equilibrium anticipating a collapse which validates the offended law.

The British discovered this long ago when sterling was the measure for global trade and commerce. But, as the Britain Empire and economy constricted and monetary policy expanded, the value of the pound collapsed until the International Monetary Fund had to save the currency. So, while you may spend more than you take in by increasing the monetary supply, after a time the economy is impacted, and spending policies must be reconciled to deficit spending.

This maxim proves true in other areas, too, as there is only so far anyone can go without incurring the restrictions of practical laws that explain the universe as much as they limit government.

The critical thing for any country is the flexibility to withstand change and adjust to violations of these practical laws. The expansion of liberty and freedom of expression is critical to maintain a vibrant political system that marks forward progress based on a consensus from representative government, but is restrained by the good ideas from minority opinion so that, on balance, we are never overextended.

The future of the United States is as bright as we allow and promote constructive debate and maintain an open dialog to argue a position, no matter how vociferously, against diametrically opposed ideas with respect, dignity and decorum. Allowing the clash of ideas is critical so that policies grounded in practical experience are expressed and implemented; but, when failure occurs, other views are constantly considered to keep the country intact and moving forward.

I remain confident that our brightest days are ahead of us, and the promise of America continues to burn in the hearts of freedom lovers around the world.

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

Jerry Carl: My first week in Congress

(Jerry Carl for Congress/Facebook)

Last week, the House of Representatives met for the opening session of the 117th Congress. Our first orders of business were establishing a quorum, being sworn in, voting on a rules package, and electing a new speaker for the 117th Congress. Although my Republican colleagues and I cast our votes for Republican Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi retained the speakership with a slim majority.

The next order of business was the process of certifying the Electoral College vote on Wednesday. What typically would be a routine event got sidetracked as violent rioters stormed the Capitol and breached the House chambers. However, the brave men and women in law enforcement kept us safe. As soon as the Capitol was secure, we got back to work doing the job we were elected to do.

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In the days preceding the Electoral College certification on January 6, I spent several days reading court documents, lawsuits and affidavits regarding voter fraud and election irregularities in several key states around the country. The evidence I saw was overwhelming in many cases, so I voted to challenge the fraudulent electors from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Although there were other states where significant fraud occurred, Arizona and Pennsylvania were the only two states that were challenged in the House and Senate, thus coming to a vote.

Looking forward, I am optimistic that we will be able to pass some meaningful legislation in the 117th Congress. With Democrats having such a slim majority, there will be opportunities to work across the aisle to pass legislation benefitting all Americans. Our economy needs rebuilding in the wake of the COVID crisis, we need to get folks safely back to work, and South Alabama needs a new bridge over the Mobile River.

An infrastructure package is in the works, and I intend to continue fighting to secure as much federal funding as possible for the I-10 Bridge and Bayway project so it can be completed without any tolls whatsoever. I’m also proud to co-sponsor and support at least eight pro-life bills that will make impactful steps to curbing the abortion industry in our country.

I am honored to represent you in Congress and be a voice for our south Alabama values. If I or my office can be of any help to you, please do not hesitate to contact us in Washington at 202-225-4391, in Mobile at 251-283-6280, or in Summerdale at 251-677-6630.

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

5 days ago

Voting on economic policy

(Pixabay, YHN)

Every general election, voters decide ballot initiatives on social and economic policy. These often produce inconsistent results. Last November, Californians voted in favor of economic freedom while Florida voters increased the state’s minimum wage.

California consistently sits near the bottom of the Fraser Institute’s state economic freedom rankings (47th in 2020). Its economic policies have been driving out-migration. Land use and zoning restrictions render housing construction very difficult in California’s most popular cities, resulting in sky-high rents and home prices. According to Business Insider, average monthly rent for one-bedroom apartments in 2019 was $2,400 per month in Los Angeles and $3,600 in San Francisco.

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Some California cities have responded with rent control. Yet, high rents are merely a symptom of the government-created shortage. In November, California voters approved Proposition 21, rolling back many communities’ rent control powers.

California voters also gave ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft a reprieve. A 2019 state law required reclassification of independent contractors as employees. Uber and Lyft consider their drivers as contractors, in part to avoid costly mandated benefits for employees. The companies threatened to leave California and launched Proposition 22 to overturn the law.

Florida ranks second in Fraser’s 2020 state index, trailing only New Hampshire. Its minimum wage is currently $8.56 per hour, slightly above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The initiative amended the state’s constitution to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2026.

Voters in these cases bucked state lawmaking. This illustrates the influence of interest groups in representative democracy. Liberal interests dominate California’s legislature, while Florida’s state government is regarded as business friendly. Dominant interest groups can control the legislative agenda, passing or blocking laws contrary to voter preferences.

Would greater reliance on ballot initiatives improve economic policy then? Not necessarily, due to voters’ incentives. Economic policy referenda provide examples, I think, of what Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky term “expressive voting.”

A fundamental challenge public choice economics identifies for democracy is the small impact one person has on political outcomes. An individual casts one vote or speaks with one voice to elected officials. In a community of thousands (or a nation of millions), one vote or voice must statistically be unlikely to determine policy outcomes. Seventy-four million Americans voted for President Trump in November, yet Joe Biden will be their president.

By contrast, our marketplace choices are almost always decisive. If you go to McDonald’s and not Subway and then order a Big Mac, this is what you get. We decide which job to take and where to live.

The disconnect between political actions and outcomes has consequences. One is reducing turnout – why take the time to vote if it will not change an election’s outcome? Another is reducing voters’ incentive to learn about candidates or issues, what is called rational ignorance. Professors Brennan and Lomasky contend that people frequently vote to express their feelings. People might demonstrate their environmental concern by voting for recycling. Whether recycling truly improves environmental quality is a complicated question. But since one vote will likely not decide the referendum, expressing oneself costs very little.

Florida’s minimum wage hike looks very much like expressive voting. The economic effects of a minimum wage follow from how markets determine wages. Employee compensation depends on the value of production, or what is called the value of the marginal product. A business cannot to afford to pay a worker generating $10 an hour more than that. Competition for employees then pushes wages and salaries up to this level: a clinic paying nurses half the prevailing salary will have difficulty hiring.

Living on $10 an hour (or less) is undoubtedly challenging. Yet the problem is a lack of marketable job skills. Education, training and work experience can build job skills; raising the minimum wage improves no one’s skills.

Voting works best when citizens face clear alternatives. Elections are not good for soliciting feedback on complex questions. Inconsistent referendum outcomes should not be a surprise, and we should never read too much into the results.

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.

5 days ago

Flowers: Reapportionment will be paramount issue with legislature

(Pixabay, YHN)

As we close the book on 2020, we will close the door on national politics and get back to the basics: good old Alabama politics. That’s my game. It is what I know and like to write and talk about. Some say my prognostications and observations on Alabama politics are sometimes accurate. However, not so much so on the national level.

About a decade ago, there was an open presidential race and a spirited Republican battle for the nomination had begun. One of the entrants stood out to me. U.S. Senator Fred Thompson from Tennessee looked like the real thing to me. He was tall, tough, articulate, a movie star and a major player in the Watergate hearings. He looked like a president. He had a deep authoritative voice and gravitas and he had done a good job as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee. He actually had been born in Alabama.

So, I wrote a glowing column about how he looked like presidential timber. I went out on a limb and boldly predicted that he was going to win the Republican nomination and would go on to win the presidency. My profuseness was so pronounced that soon after the column was printed it was picked up by his campaign and his wife called me from Nashville and thanked me for my comments. A week later, Thompson dropped out of the race. So much for my presidential prognostications.

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The governor and legislature have a myriad of issues to tackle as the new year begins. A good many issues have to be addressed in the upcoming regular session, which begins in less than a month. The most prevailing problem is the fact that the U.S. Justice Department has sued the state for our overcrowded prisons. They convene in Montgomery the first week of February.

Many of the leaders of the legislature were hoping and somewhat expecting the governor to call a special session or two prior to the regular session. There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed and are delinquent due to COVID cutting the 2020 regular session in half, and there is concern that COVID could kill part of this year’s session. It will indeed make a precarious environment inside the statehouse. There are economic development bills that need passing and a ton of local bills legislators need to pass for their districts and then there are big ticket items like the prison problems.

Regardless of how important all of the substantive state issues are, nothing will be as paramount to legislators as reapportionment or the redistricting of their own districts. Self-preservation will prevail. The United States Census is taken every 10 years for a reason. The U.S. Constitution, and concurrently all state constitutions, mandate the count for one reason – to make all congressional and legislative districts have the same number of people. Thus the saying, “one person, one vote.” The power of the pencil is granted to the state legislature to draw their own lines and the power rests with them to draw the congressional lines for the state. If indeed, we do lose a congressional seat, then that task becomes exponentially more difficult than if we had our current seven districts.

Drawing their own lines will be their primary interest. All 105 House members and all 35 State Senate districts will be drafted and designed by the legislature. Being on the Reapportionment Committee is a plum position at this time. Like most pieces of a legislative puzzle, the resolution to a large degree is accomplished by and within a committee. Every district will be reconfigured to some degree because people do move around and some locales change more than others. Therefore, there becomes a ripple effect all over the state. The Republicans have control of the majority and will use the legislative pencil to retain their supermajority. However, protecting their own incumbency will supersede party loyalty. Although, both can probably be achieved.

This 2021 reapportionment is much more pressing than 10 years ago in 2011. They had the luxury of casually passing congressional lines for the 2012 elections. However, legislators did not run until 2014. So, the legislature passed a congressional map in 2011, and a legislative map in 2012 at a leisurely pace.

They are under the gun to get both done this year, because the legislature and congress run in 2022. Indeed, they will have to get both done by June of this year, because fundraising for the June 2022 primaries begins this June.

Look for there to be two special sessions between now and June – one for congressional redistricting and one for legislative reapportionment.

Let the games begin.

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

1 week ago

DeMarco: Alabama vaccine allocation should reprioritize to protect all seniors and those most vulnerable

(Paul DeMarco/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Now that there have been two vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States to protect against the coronavirus by the Federal Drug Administration, all eyes will be on the states as to how they will distribute the drugs.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidelines, it is up to each state. The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued the order of priority of those who will receive the injections.

Frontline health care workers and those who live in nursing homes and long-term care care facilities have been the first phase of allocation. The next phase will include seniors above age 75 and those essential workers who are at the highest risk, but after that is when questions have arisen about who would go next.

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The allocation next in Alabama does include first responders, educators and critical workers, but also includes those in jail and prisons because they live in congregated facilities. Thus, this would put felons in line before students who live together in dorm rooms, and the general public, including many older adults between the ages of 65 and 75 who are at an increased risk because of their age of dying from the virus.

Prioritization of vaccines has been a source of controversy around the country where the governor of Colorado said in his state that he would not put prisoners above the public in priority for getting the vaccines, which raises the question what will happen in Alabama?

Other states are also putting more priority on their seniors and other vulnerable citizens. In Louisiana, seniors starting at age 70 as well as those patients that receive home health care or have “end-stage renal diseases” are eligible for the vaccine earlier. In Georgia and Florida, the states’ governors have expanded the earlier vaccine allocation to those age 65 and older, a full decade sooner than those in Alabama.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, 78.2% of the deaths in Alabama from COVID-19 are those the age of 65 and above. People in this age range are the most vulnerable to the virus, thus, they are the citizens of our state that should receive higher priority to get these vaccines.

Governor Kay Ivey and the state health department should prioritize the allocation of vaccines to those that are the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives

2 weeks ago

SALT name reflects expansion of conservation efforts

Habitat preservation and enhancement like this beautiful vista on Dog River are among SALT's goals. (SALT/contributed)

Heading into the new year, the foundation that has promoted the conservation of unique habitats in Baldwin County has broadened its scope with its vision and a name change. What once was the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, which has been in existence for 30 years, is now the South Alabama Land Trust (SALT).

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) Commissioner Chris Blankenship is thankful for the work of the group, past, present and future.

“The Weeks Bay Reserve is managed by the ADCNR State Lands Division,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “The Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, now SALT, has been a great partner to assist us with the acquisition and preservation of properties within the Weeks Bay Reserve boundary and in the watershed overall. I am glad to see them expand their scope to do good work in other areas of Coastal Alabama. I know they will continue to provide support services to protect and enhance the mission of not only the Weeks Bay Reserve but for coastal conservation overall.”

Ellis Allen, SALT’s Chairman of the Board, said the name change was appropriate for the group’s future.

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“Historically, the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation started just as a friends group,” said Allen, who has been with the foundation for 25 years. “About a decade ago, we expanded our mission to more than a friends group and became an accredited land trust. With that change, we started holding some conservation easements. We started doing land monitoring. We did more than just managing a few pitcher plant bogs and a little watershed.

“This new change is kind of an expansion of our scope but not necessarily a change in mission. We will still be concerned with pitcher plant bogs, estuaries, marine invertebrates and water quality. But we will now have properties that we own outright or manage through conservation easements that have been granted to us.”

Allen said SALT manages property in south Baldwin County and on Dauphin Island and will soon hold a conservation easement in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

“Our scope has expanded, and our footprint has expanded, so the South Alabama Land Trust is more inclusive of that, rather than saying the Weeks Bay Reserve Foundation, which would imply only the watershed of Weeks Bay,” he said.

In contrast, the property SALT will manage in the Elberta area is mostly upland habitat.

“The man who gave that to us wanted to set an example for his grandchildren,” Allen said. “We will manage it for the preservation of watershed to make sure it’s not getting eroded, polluted, stripped or allowing unsustainable agriculture. It will be like we manage our other properties.”

One of the properties on Dauphin Island that SALT is associated with is the Dauphin Island Audubon Bird Sanctuary, a popular attraction for birders from around the country who visit the property and take advantage of a 1,000-foot-long boardwalk that traverses the barrier island habitat.

SALT has recently been granted a conservation easement in the Gulf Shores area. The easement surrounds Oyster Bay and includes several hundred acres north of the Intracoastal Waterway. The property was acquired by the City of Gulf Shores with funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF).

The GEBF expenditures in Alabama are coordinated by ADCNR. “The Oyster Bay project will include installation of interpretive kiosks, walking paths and public access including kayak launches. It is a good project for Coastal Alabama. The conservation easement held by SALT will ensure this property will always be preserved,” said Commissioner Blankenship.

Allen noted that the Oyster Bay easement is SALT’s first collaboration with a municipality but that the organization is also working with the City of Mobile on a conservation easement on Perch Creek in the headwaters for Dog River.

“We’re working with municipalities; we’re working with individuals on purchases, donations and conservation easements,” Allen said.

SALT has also been involved in the acquisition of a large tract of land that belonged to the Holmes family on Magnolia River. This project was funded through the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program, where Commissioner Blankenship serves as the lead trustee for Alabama.

“I am thrilled we were able to work with our federal partners to get the money for this key acquisition,” said Blankenship. “Preserving land around Weeks Bay and its tributaries is critical to maintaining the ecological treasure that we have in that area.”

Allen said SALT’s origin started many years ago through the work of John Borom, Skipper Tonsmeire and Jack Edwards, who secured funding through the Tennessee-Tombigbee mitigation process to facilitate the creation of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

“I’m really proud of where we are,” Allen said. “We have our fingers in a whole lot of pies. We’re growing in our scope, in our board and our geography. We’ve come a long, long way.

“We love to work with Mobile. Plus, Foley is growing exponentially. With all the paving of streets and parking lots, it is channeling water into areas, increasing the risk of flooding downstream in the Magnolia and Bon Secour rivers. We would love to work with cities to talk about sustainable paving and permeable surfaces and be conscientious of where the water is going. If we’re going to maintain the quality of life we have, we’re going to have to be very careful about how and where we build.”

The growth in SALT’s board includes incorporating the younger generation to bring in new ideas and help with the outreach.

One of those new board members is Chesley Allegri, who moved back to Fairhope, her hometown, about five years ago.

“After I moved back, I was looking for a way to reconnect and get involved in the community but do it in way that I was passionate about,” Allegri said. “The outdoors and environment are important to me. I knew a little bit about Weeks Bay Foundation but not a lot. I got involved by volunteering at the Bald Eagle Bash. I reached out to people I knew on the board to see how I could get involved more. I was lucky that there were some very dedicated people on the board who had served a long time, and they wanted to add some new people.”

Allegri said one of her goals is to get more people involved in preserving the wonderful habitat and enjoying outdoors opportunities that are plentiful in south Alabama.

“What I want to focus on is making sure people who move to our communities are aware that just because you don’t have a kayak doesn’t mean you can’t go out and do a guided kayak tour,” she said. “If they don’t love the water, they are not going to support it and care to keep it clean. We want to teach people why the conservation of land on the water is important. We can’t just build on every square inch of water. Education is not just about lecturing somebody about a land trust or conservation. We want to get them out there to enjoy it so they will want to protect it. We want people to learn to love our natural resources.

“And even though we are a land trust, we want to make sure we have places open to the public to enjoy these resources.”

Allegri suggests anyone interested in preserving the outdoors way of life in south Alabama should consider attending a Bald Eagle Bash, taking a guided kayak tour or volunteering for restoration and cleanup projects.

“We did a restoration project last year on Fish River,” she said. “We planted many, many pine trees by hand. It was really fun. Especially now more than ever, people want to be outside doing things.”

Visit https://southalabamalandtrust.org/events/ to learn more about nature walks, guided paddles and other activities. Go to https://southalabamalandtrust.org/get-involved/ to learn about the volunteer opportunities and find a link to sign up as a volunteer.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

2 weeks ago

Steve Flowers: We lost some good ones this past year

(Cubie Rae Hayes, WBRC Fox6 News, John Lewis, WVTM 13, Alabama Supreme Court and State Law Library, AIDB Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind/Facebook, Alabama Farmers Federation/Contributed, @JohnHMerrill/Twitter, Ballotpedia/Contributed, YHN)

As is my annual ritual, my yearend column pays tribute to Alabama political legends who have passed away during the year.

Sonny Cauthen passed away in Montgomery at age 70. He was the ultimate inside man in Alabama politics.  Sonny was a lobbyist before lobbying was a business.  He kept his cards close to his vest and you never knew what he was doing. Sonny was the ultimate optimist who knew what needed to be achieved and found like-minded allies with whom to work.  When he had something to get done, he bulldozed ahead and achieved his mission. Sonny was a yellow dog Democrat who believed in equal treatment and rewarding hard work. He was an avid outdoorsman and hunter and mentored a good many young men in Montgomery.

Another Montgomerian who will never be forgotten was Representative Alvin Holmes, who passed away at 81.  Like Sonny, Alvin was born and raised and lived his entire life in his hometown of Montgomery.  He, too, was a real Democrat and an icon in Alabama politics.  Alvin represented the people of Montgomery for 44-years in the Alabama House of Representatives.  He was one of the most dynamic and outspoken legislators in Alabama history, as well as one of the longest serving members.

I had the opportunity to serve with Alvin for close to two decades in the legislature.  We shared a common interest in Alabama political history.  In fact, Alvin taught history at Alabama State University for a long time.  He was always mindful of the needs of his district, as well as black citizens throughout the state.  Alvin was one of the first Civil Rights leaders in Montgomery and Alabama.  He helped organize the Alabama Democratic Conference and was Joe Reed’s chief lieutenant for years.

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Ironically, we lost another Civil Rights icon this year. John Lewis was born in rural Pike County in the community of Banks. After graduating from college, John joined the Dr. Martin Luther King as a soldier in the army for Civil Rights.  John was beaten by Alabama State Troopers near the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the infamous Bloody Sunday Selma to Montgomery march.  He became a Civil Rights legend in America.  He was one of Dr. King’s closest allies.  John became almost as renowned worldwide as a Civil Rights leader as Dr. King.  John moved to Atlanta with Dr. King and was elected to the U.S. Congress from Atlanta and served 33 years with distinction. Even though John was a national celebrity, he would take time out of his busy schedule to drive from Atlanta to rural Pike County to go to church with his mother at her beloved Antioch Baptist Church. John died of pancreatic cancer in July at age 80.

Another Alabama political legend, John Dorrill, passed away in January at age 90.  Ironically, John Dorrill and John Lewis were both born and raised in rural Pike County near Troy. John Dorrill went to work for the powerful Alabama Farmers Federation shortly after graduating from Auburn.  He worked for the Federation for 43 years.  For the last 20 years of his career, he oversaw and was the mastermind of their political plans and operations as Executive Director of the Federation.  He retired and lived out his final years on his ancestral home place in Pike County. John Dorrill was one of my political mentors and friends.

Another Montgomery political icon, former Republican State Senator Larry Dixon, passed away only a few weeks ago from COVID-19 complications at age 78.  He served over 20 years in the state legislature. Larry epitomized the conservative Republican, and his voting record was right in line with his Montgomery constituency.  He was known as “Montgomery’s State Senator” but his ultimate legacy may be as a great family man.  Larry was a devoted husband to his wife, Gaynell, and father to his two daughters. Larry was a good man.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Hugh Maddox recently passed away at age 90. Judge Maddox served 31 years on the Alabama Supreme Court before his retirement in 2001.

One of my favorite fellow legislators and friends, Representative Richard Laird of Roanoke, passed away last week from COVID-19.  He was 81 and served 36 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Richard was a great man and very conservative legislator.

In addition to Richard Laird, Alvin Holmes, and Larry Dixon, several other veteran Alabama legislators passed away this year including Ron Johnson, Jack Page and James Thomas.

We lost some good ones this year, who will definitely be missed as we head into 2021.

Happy New Year.

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

Byrne: Thank you

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

This is my last weekly report as your congressman. Serving you in Washington these last seven years has been a great honor, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity you have given me. I never once walked out on the floor of the House of Representatives when I wasn’t in awe that I was there to speak and vote for you.

I leave Congress with hope and optimism about our country and our part of the country.

American elites, who control most of our news and entertainment outlets, would have you believe that America is a weakening, evil nation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d not traveled abroad much before coming to Congress but, particularly given my work on the Armed Services Committee, I’ve traveled a lot more these last seven years. No matter where I went American power was evident and I heard from allies and adversaries a clear expectation that we are the world’s leader in nearly every way that matters.

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What this has meant for the world is remarkable. The rules-based system we created after World War II, and the example of our democracy and economy, changed things on a truly global scale. Global per capita gross domestic product has more than tripled during the last 75 years and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 66% to less than 10%. Before World War II, there were more autocracies than democracies. Today, 96 nations are true democracies, and less than 80 are autocracies.

What we have achieved at home is equally impressive. We have more rights and freedoms equally enjoyed than any nation in the history of the world. No one can match our standard of living, our health care system, or our ability to face and address the issues which still challenge us.

I know this year has been hard on all of us. We’ve experienced a pandemic, an abruptly sharp recession, riots and down here two hurricanes. Some of us have lost loved ones or had the disease ourselves. But, our resilience as a nation and as a region has allowed us to enter 2021 looking forward to widespread distribution of the vaccine and return to a new normal.

America is a strong nation because of our morals and principles: freedom, equal opportunity, hard work, fair play, patriotism and faith in God. If we ever lose those, we will lose our strength, like Sampson without his hair.

I said earlier that I am hopeful and optimistic. That’s because these last seven years I’ve had the rare opportunity to see our nation as a whole and not just the part where I live. I’ve met and worked with genuinely good and smart people. And I have an appreciation for the important national institutions which have developed over the decades to provide the structures within which the American people work their will.

My ancestor, Gerald Byrne, came over from Ireland to what was then the colony of West Florida. He escaped poverty and a brutally repressive British occupation of his home country. Here he had freedom to be his own man, opportunity to make his own way, and the courage to take advantage of it all. Over 200 years later one of his descendants would end up in the House of Representatives. That’s amazing, but that’s America.

I want our country to continue to provide these opportunities to all of our people. I want us to maintain our morals and principles. And I want us all to be hopeful and optimistic because we have every reason to be so.

Thank you for allowing me to represent you. I will always cherish the fact you trusted me to speak and act for you. I hope I lived up to your expectations.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

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

3 weeks ago

Steve Flowers: Republican majority in the U.S. Senate is more important to Alabama than the presidency

(S. Flower/Twitter, ARMY/Contributed))

As this 2020 Presidential election year comes to a close, allow me to share some final thoughts on the results with you.

As you might expect, with this being the year of one of the worst pandemic viruses in human history, it would have an effect on politics. Surprisingly, given the fact that people were told to not go out and be around others, you had a massive turnout nationwide. In Alabama, the voter turnout was unprecedented and record breaking, especially among Republican voters. Donald Trump’s popularity in the state drove the turnout. He eclipsed his 62% landslide against Hillary Clinton. He garnered 63% of the amazing vote and provided coattails for Republican Tommy Tuberville and allowed the Coach to annihilate Democrat Doug Jones by a whopping 60 to 40 margin.

This year’s vote confirms the fact that a Democrat cannot win a statewide race in the Heart of Dixie. If Democrat Doug Jones can outspend Republican Tuberville $25 million to $7 million, a 4 to 1 advantage, but only manage to get 40% of the vote, that ought to tell you something. Forty percent appears to be the maximum threshold for a well-financed, articulate Democrat in the state.  Currently we have 38 elected statewide officeholders in Alabama and all 38 are Republicans. Therefore, winning the Republican nomination for a statewide office in Alabama is tantamount to election.

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The nation is divided politically in a deep chasm. Most of rural, middle America in the Heartland of the country is colored Republican red. The East and West coast metropolitan states, primarily New York and California are liberal blue states. If you take out the large runup of votes in California for Democrat Biden, then the race was close to being 50/50 between Trump and Biden.  However, the national popular vote is irrelevant as we elect our president under an electoral college system.

This election confirmed that there are 10 battleground states where the election is decided. In the other 40 states, the hay is in the barn. Alabama is reliably Republican, and California is solidly Democratic. Therefore, sophisticated, pinpoint campaigning is focused on Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and now the sunbelt states of Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia. Campaign strategists can even determine the zip codes, neighborhoods, and locales that will determine the outcome in these swing states.

It was obvious that Democrats knew all along that the race would boil down to Michigan, Wisconsin and especially Pennsylvania.  Democrats had lost these three states by a razor thin margin to Trump in 2016 and they were the reason Trump edged Hillary Clinton. The key to victory was turning out the Democratic African American vote in Philadelphia and Detroit. Early voting and especially mail in voting helped accomplish this mission.

Another proven political maxim applied, “Primarily, more people vote against someone than for someone.” More people voted against Donald Trump than voted for Joe Biden.

One final thought on presidential politics. The national television networks are unabashedly and unashamedly biased. All of them, and polling may be dead. Very few people, especially Republicans, will trust poll numbers again. One final day poll had Biden beating Trump by 18 points in Wisconsin. He carried the state by less than 1%.

More importantly for Alabama is that the Republican party will more than likely keep the majority in the United States Senate. In the Senate the majority party makes the rules and gets all the committee chairmanships. Our Senior Senator, Richard Shelby, will retain the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as Chairman of the subcommittee on Defense Appropriations.

If you do not think federal defense dollars are important to Alabama, you best think again. No state in the nation benefits more from federal defense dollars than Alabama. Shelby’s prowess at bringing home the bacon to Alabama is legendary. His chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee is probably Alabama’s number one economic engine. Therefore, Tuberville’s defeat of Jones was good for Alabama because it allowed for a Republican pickup over a Democrat and probably insured the Republican majority in the Senate.

The current Senate count is 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. There are two seats in Georgia that will be decided in Special Election runoffs on January 5. The Republicans will be favored to keep these two seats.

In closing, for Alabama’s sake economically, it is more important that the U.S. Senate is majority Republican because of Richard Shelby than who won the presidency.

See you next week.

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

3 weeks ago

Justice Will Sellers: History’s most significant event casts a long shadow

(Pixabay)

The late great U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia often told the story of his oral exam at Georgetown University. To graduate as a history major, he was required to answer questions from the faculty to demonstrate the sufficiency of his education and entitlement to a diploma.

Asked to cite the most significant event in history, he thought it was a softball question and picked an event he considered important. Wrong! His inquisitor corrected him and disapprovingly stated: “No, Mr. Scalia; it was the Incarnation,” which means the birth of Christ, the Son of God as both fully divine and fully human.

So it is that this time of year the seminal event on the Christian calendar is celebrated by the faithful and unfaithful alike. Some merely acknowledge it in their actions and time off, while others take the religious significance to heart and fully participate in the seasonal countdown of Advent.

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And while the secular celebration with all its associated trappings now largely undermines the religious significance, even the most secular cannot deny its importance and the overarching ideas it spawned.

The Incarnation was a religious hurricane so powerful that it spun off secular tornados that impacted the world in very subtle ways.

We see these secular manifestations most notably in buying, giving and receiving gifts; God purchased our redemption by giving the gift of his Son; we replicate His example in a small way by the sacrifice of buying and then giving to others. But the secular fallout occurs in other things, too, that while hardly religious in themselves, are directly connected to the Incarnation. In fact, it would not be a stretch to conclude that most high-minded ideals trace their roots here.

Think of self-sacrifice, scrupulousness, generosity, service to others and the unity of family. While these virtues are secularized, they are lauded as worthy, important and so critical to civilization that they form the basis for moral and character education. So even if the religious aspects of Christmas may not be acknowledged, the secular fallout, being so intertwined, cannot escape the cultural ramifications of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation as a historical event is so widely known that few movies recount the story, but never to miss a beat, Hollywood, and before that other mass media, capitalized on the themes of Christmas. Initially, the obvious religious metaphors were depicted in some books and magazines, but now films that open in December achieve commercial success by harking back to themes based on the Incarnation.

Be it nostalgia, sentimentality, or affairs of the heart, films during Christmas tend to bring people together and generally present a morality play focused on one or several virtues. And, while the religious overtones may be completely obscured, they are there nonetheless and easy to spot. People want optimism and hope that the future is brighter and that the new year will be better than the past — more so than ever before in this time of COVID. But films have helped us experience these things emotionally and provided us a means to feel happy at least for the duration of the show.

To feel good and confident even for a moment is the spark of commercial success for films. Frank Capra, the great film director of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” used this formula well and wisely throughout his long and storied career. But he didn’t direct films that told a good story and gave a momentary emotional rush merely for box office profits. Rather, he believed in fundamental values, permanent things and timeless ideals and considered it his duty to give hope, provide optimism, and exalt the individual human actor over the various manifestations of greed expressed in impersonal bigness, not only in government, but also in business, religious institutions and communities.

Capra’s films achieved both artistic and commercial success because they gave Depression-era audiences something with which to identify. Capra’s themes used the background drag of the Great Depression to give his hero an obstacle that was overcome not solely by individual effort, although that always played a critical part, but also by the collective efforts of friends who inspire, encourage and become part of a unified effort to defeat evil.

Whether it is George Bailey v. Mr. Potter, Mr. Smith v. Sen. Payne, Longfellow Deeds v. Lawyer Cedar or John Doe v. D. B. Norton, each conflict created a crisis of conscience and a crucial decision requiring action. But Capra’s films show that action is not unilateral, and is, instead, aided by the love, support and encouragement from friends.

Overcoming and achieving was not a singular endeavor, but a subtle spiritual effort where virtue ultimately triumphs. And the success of the hero gave audiences a renewed sense of purpose; that no mountain was too great or hurdle too high, but success in the defeat of adversity was possible by rightness of cause, individual commitment and assistance from others.

The hilarity of the film “You Can’t Take It With You” comes at the expense of stereotypes of corporatist drones, corrupt officials and unanchored peons. And, in showing the conflicts on every level, Capra in many ways uses the fruits of the Incarnation to not only entertain, but to give hope, encouragement and purpose.

So many who saw his films had little hope and diminished prospects. His films lifted people up, marginalized the mean spirited, and showed what true friendship meant and how happiness in and of itself is substantial and more important than material things, social status, or political influence.

If the Incarnation seems passé, look around you. This one event spawned a completely new era that permeates most of the things we do. And, if you look at successful entertainment, such as movies, commercial achievement is often directly related to expressing the secular aspects of the Incarnation to show the entirety of a challenged, but hopeful and confident humanity.

Frank Capra’s films do this, and other successful Christmas films follow suit.

Merry Christmas!

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

3 weeks ago

A Christmas plea against a misspent life

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

At the Birmingham Museum of Art, in the back and around a corner, is a painting that few care to look at for too long. It’s small, roughly the size of a piece of printer paper. The background is a golden sunset, rolling hills and tall lanky trees that, every time I look at it, make me think of Italy.

In the foreground of the painting is a church, and on the steps of that church is a man, alone and with his head in his hands. Weeping, presumably.

The title of the painting?  The End of a Misspent Life.

Every time I go to the museum, I look at this painting for a few minutes. I think about this man who, in my imagination, is mourning both the life of a loved one and his own ill-used life. A man who realized too late that how he had lived was, in the end, a waste.

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There is one thought that runs through my mind every time I look at that painting.

I do not want to be that guy. 

Sometimes becoming “that guy” seems inevitable. No matter who you are, it feels like there is always a lot to do just to stay above water ourselves. How are we supposed to make sure our lives aren’t “misspent?”

Christmas offers a way.

Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the God of the universe in human form. It’s the first chapter of the New Testament story (a true story!) in which God dwells among us (Emmanuel), performs signs and wonders testifying to Himself and, ultimately, dies in our place, taking the punishment for all that we have and would ever do wrong (Isaiah 53:5).

If you take a moment to think about it, to really sit in it, this story feels insane. A being that is omnipresent and omnipotent (all-powerful) emptied himself and became human (Philippians 2:7)? All to die for you and for me (John 3:16)?

It may seem insane. But it’s true. And for all those who hear and believe, there is a promise of eternal life and everlasting joy. No more pain. No more COVID-19.

The problem is that not all have heard. And many who have heard do not believe.

In fact, there are over 3 billion people living today who have little to no access to the Gospel and, if we are to believe Jesus in the Gospel accounts, are headed toward an eternity without God.

In this somber reality, it is Jesus’ command at the end of his earthly ministry that offers Christians a clear and obvious way to ensure that our lives are well spent.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This may not seem like an overwhelmingly fulfilling command or a way to make the most of every day. Talking to strangers and trying to convince them to arrive at your point of view indeed is often a frustrating experience.

What’s different about this command from Jesus is that, unlike when I am trying to convince an Alabama fan to cheer for the Vols, God’s got this thing rigged. We know that he is already working in the hearts of people across the world, making their ears receptive to the Christmas story (Romans 8:29-30). Our job is to simply be God’s mouthpiece.

Practically, we can do a few things to make sure our lives are not misspent. First, we can physically go to places where the truth is not known and be the ones to bring it. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel!” (Romans 10:15). There are places in the world where the news of Jesus has literally never been heard. Much like the release strategy of the COVID-19 vaccine, those places where there is no chance to hear the gospel must be our first priority.

Second, we can be enablers of the global spread of the Gospel and workers of the mission in our home towns. We can leverage our finances in seemingly-unsound ways to launch fellow believers into the mission field with the good news while loving and sharing the truth to our non-believing neighbors at the same time.

This Christmas, I hope Christians in Alabama see the holiday for what it is: A reminder of God’s gift to us and of our responsibility to share that gift with others. And with that responsibility, a purpose. A way to live a life well-spent.

At the end of my life, I know that if I spend my resources and time toward the spread of the Gospel, I won’t look back and weep over how I should’ve lived differently.

Instead, I have a chance for a legacy that lasts for eternity. So do you. If we will just listen and obey.

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

Hope in the midst of chaos: Christmas reminds the world there is still reason to believe

(Tracy Estes/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Writing this holiday column reminds me our nation is nearing the end of one of the most trying and unpredictable years in American history.

Divisions in the political realm and disagreements as to the most effective manner by which to deal with the coronavirus pandemic have served to breed animosity one toward another in ways I cannot recall. Toss in the inexcusable death of George Floyd earlier in the year and the social unrest which followed only adding fuel to an already roaring fire.

Our nation has witnessed the death of approximately 300,000 as a result of the pandemic with millions more facing near-death experiences in our hospitals as many others suffer with the virus at home. We have watched our healthcare workers toil through one step and patient at a time in possibly the worst healthcare crisis our country has experienced while dealing with anger and tears, as our law enforcement community has continued to come under attack.

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Our family has not escaped the coronavirus onslaught.  My son, daughter-in-law and I have each succumbed to the sickness. My daughter and daughter-in-law each work in healthcare, one as a nurse and the other as a surgical PA. Schedules have been difficult for them and the extensive hours have served to wear them down both physically and mentally as they see their patients’ suffering first hand. Our daughter has been tested for the virus more than two dozen times in the past nine months.

Several friends have passed this year with a number of senior adults in my own church moving from this life into eternity. But the funeral services which have managed to bring a tear to my eye have also served to bring peace and assurance. It is in those moments when I am reminded who is in control of this world, even in its most chaotic and depressing hours.

For those who have accepted Jesus Christ as personal savior, there comes an inner peace in knowing who wrote the final chapter in the book and thereby remains in control of this planet, even when it seems to be spinning out of control somewhere out in the universe. The same loving father who is there with us in those mountaintop experiences draws even closer when we wander through the valley. He is ever-present.

Am I concerned with the direction I see this nation taking as we enter a new year? Certainly, I am. I continue to see a shift toward liberal policies which favor each man or woman to deciding for himself what is right instead of holding true to the foundational principles which founded this nation. I see anger and violence being viewed as the answer in those times when two parties or groups are unable to agree upon a solution. Civil discourse has almost been relegated to the pages of history, as politicians, athletes, individuals and even a few churches no longer have the desire or ability to sit peacefully and come to an agreeable accord.

But in the midst of the chaos, uncertainty and hatred which have commandeered the headlines, I have still found reason for hope in 2020. I am learning that a single grain of good can still be discovered in what is often a pile of rubble, debris and shattered dreams.

Possibly the greatest news for our family this year was provided at Thanksgiving when our son and his wife shared the news we would become grandparents in July 2021. New life is still coming into this world, but with the celebration comes the responsibility to raise the child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Never has there been a time when children need Christian direction, love, patience and encouragement like they do now.

This adorable baby boy or girl will be welcomed by loving parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles. The child will be raised in church and reminded constantly how much he or she is loved. But at the same time, my son and daughter-in-law will be charged with an even greater responsibility than my wife and I were almost three decades ago when our firstborn entered the world and was laid in our arms.

Social media and broken homes may be near the top of the list of situations which will serve as a threat to my grandchild. But, so too, will be the biased national news media, rampant drug use, peer pressure and so many other issues. But again, I take assurance in the fact Almighty God remains on the throne and His loving hand of protection will encamp around the next generation in our family. And even when those hard times inevitably come, this child will be raised with the assurance a loving God knows his name, bears his burdens and loves him, in spite of his failures and insecurities.

Despite the political turmoil facing our nation, I was honored to lead a collective group of Democrats and Republicans earlier this year in Montgomery in a time of prayer, reflection and tough conversations.

I gained confidence that ground can be gained in race relations and other issues which serve to divide us. Kneeling beside a colleague from the other political party, holding hands and listening to what bears down upon his heart proved to be a time of encouragement. Are there still differences, certainly. But time set aside among colleagues to pray and hear one another has given me hope.

We will see where the planted seeds grow and mature in the coming months. I would like to think this time of prayer and companionship will serve us well in the upcoming legislative session. When those the public views as foes from opposing parties come together to pray, there is no limit to how God can use this moment to bless His people and the state served by those very same leaders.

So, as we continue to move forward in this time of uncertainty and fear, may we gain assurance and hope in the blessings still being provided by the Good Lord, including the hope which results from the same. If there is one thing our nation needs now beyond spiritual healing, it is hope. And my prayer is that hope and peace can be found in your homes this Christmas season.

State Representative Tracy Estes is a Republican representing House District 17, which includes Marion, Lamar and Winston Counties

Rep. Bradley Byrne: Christmas miracles

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

It’s Christmas week, so let’s talk about some Christmas miracles. No, I’m not talking about that monster hit John Metchie put on Florida’s Trey Dean in the SEC Championship game Saturday. We’ve come to expect plays like that from the Alabama football team this year.

I’m talking about some truly surprising big deal things.

First, look at the very good news on Alabama’s unemployment rate. At the end of November, it was 4.4%, down from 5.7% in October and from the COVID shutdown high of nearly 14% in April. We’re not fully recovered yet, but the quick turnaround we’ve already experienced is phenomenal. Chalk it up to the stimulus and PPP money Congress approved in the spring and summer, Governor Ivey’s prudent decision making in dealing with the pandemic and heroic acts by business owners large and small around the state to stay open.

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Next, Congress finally, finally, passed a next round COVID bill. It spends approximately $900 billion but only $325 billion is new money as we repurposed nearly $600 billion from earlier COVID bills. Each person (including children) will receive $600 in stimulus money so that a family of four would receive $2400. The unemployment insurance subsidy is maintained through March 14 at $300 a week. Small business owners who availed themselves of the first round of forgivable PPP loans will be able to get a second round and fully deduct all expenses. There’s funding for schools, public health departments and for producing and distributing the vaccines.

We could have had this same bill months ago but Speaker Nancy Pelosi held it up so she could help her candidate win the presidential election. That’s not my opinion – that’s what she admitted to recently. She started out wanting over $3 trillion, then it was $2 trillion then it was $1.2 trillion. She insisted throughout that we use taxpayer money to bail out poorly managed blue states and cities. The final bill, as I said, is $900 billion, which is half of what President Trump offered her in the fall and contains not a penny to bail out states or cities. This isn’t leadership on her part – this is incompetence compounded by raw self-seeking political power. You could have had your stimulus check for the holidays but for her. And she’s unapologetic about it. Even Scrooge faced up to and changed his erroneous way of doing business.

The third miracle is the distribution of the new vaccines. First Pfizer and now Moderna have been approved and the vaccines are shipped with much more on the way. Over 500,000 people have already been vaccinated and 8 million doses will be shipped by the end of the week. By the end of March 200 million doses from these two producers will be shipped. These vaccines require two doses given a few weeks apart so the number of people fully vaccinated is half these numbers, but humans have never, ever, produced and distributed a vaccine so fast and never on this scale. We still have a ways to go, but we are clearly on the path to escape this disease. In the meantime, wear your mask, socially distance when you can and use good hygiene.

Of course, the final miracle is the gift of the Christ child over 2,000 years ago. On a dark winter night in a cave with no warmth or comfort, He came into the world for us, the ultimate gift of love.

So, this pandemic Christmas, let’s love and take care of one another and remember what St. John wrote so long ago: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Merry Christmas!

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

4 weeks ago

Public health mandates are political

(Pixabay, YHN)

Governments across the country have imposed numerous public health policies to control COVID-19. A prominent one has been requiring the wearing of masks in public; Alabama has been under a mask order since July. Americans have largely embraced masks. A recent Harris poll found that 93% of respondents at least sometimes (always) wore masks.

Nonetheless, Dr. Don Williamson of the Alabama Hospital Association recently expressed frustration over some Alabamians’ unwillingness to wear masks. He observed, “The election’s over. It should no longer be political.” Mask mandates apply the coercive power of government and politics consists of peoples’ actions to control government. Consequently, public health mandates are political.

The pandemic could have been addressed non-politically through voluntary responses. Consideration of this alternative highlights some effects of government mandates.

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Social interactions outside the spheres of politics and crime involve voluntary participation. Everyone who works or dines at a restaurant chooses to do so. Families choose to gather for the holidays. (The pressure we might feel to attend is not truly coercive, appearances notwithstanding.)

Gatherings for commerce or entertainment must happen somewhere. Property rights provide the source of voluntary response to a communicable illness. Property owners get to make decisions about its use.

Owners of the gathering spaces can and will put conditions on entry. Sports fans can be expelled from an arena for intoxication, throwing debris, or verbally abusing players or officials. The arena owners can also require mask-wearing.

Business owners want customers to continue patronizing their establishments and employees to continue working. Customers who do not feel safe will stay away. Fewer customers mean less revenue and ultimately less profit or rent for the owners.

When allowed to stay open by politicians, businesses have worked to protect their customers. Retailers reduced hours of operation to allow for extensive cleaning. Grocery stores disinfected shopping carts. Restaurants offered outdoor dining, takeout, and delivery. Some businesses tested their employees and required temperature checks and masks for customers.

Ticketmaster recently unveiled plans for concerts in the COVID-19 world. Fans will need either a vaccination or a negative test 24 to 72 hours prior to the event. Fans will have vaccination or test result forwarded to a third-party medical information provider. This third-party will verify a fan’s health eligibility to Ticketmaster, activating a digital ticket.

Not all businesses’ plans will work effectively, but each has an incentive to continually evaluate each element of their plan. Overall, we can be confident that businesses will choose wisely, as Forbes columnist John Tamny has emphasized repeatedly: “In a free society, there’s no such thing as a ‘do nothing’ response to anything that has the potential to kill.”

Some commentators fear that without a government plan we will have chaos in the market. Yet as economist Ludwig von Mises noted, markets offer a multitude of plans. Business owners will tailor their plan to their unique circumstances.

Each protection measure is costly, like turning away potential customers to keep an empty table between tables of diners. And customers might regard some protection measures as overly burdensome. Businesses have the incentive to protect and assure customers in the least costly way possible.

This process is not political because no one can coerce others for not complying with their requests. Businesses are free to adopt any protective measures they want. When one business discovers a way to protect customers and employees more effectively or at a lower cost, others can emulate this.

We would likely see a wide range of voluntary responses. Given the enormous difference in risk posed by COVID-19 across individuals – fatality risk differs by a factor of one thousand – some businesses and their customers will likely accept a high risk of exposure. Those most fearful would need to take more personal protective action without government coercion.

Wearing a mask to protect from COVID-19 is not political. Requesting guest to wear a mask is not political. But government public health mandates are political, regardless of whether issued by a Democrat or Republican.

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

4 weeks ago

Bart Starr, Jr.: Celebrating the people of Alabama this Christmas season

(Bart Starr Jr./Contributed, YHN)

As 2020 comes to a close, we find ourselves reflecting on challenges that were unimaginable just twelve months ago. Yet during the Christmas season, we are filled with spiritual contemplation and profound gratitude. God has blessed Alabama with so many unselfish individuals, turning what could have been a year of regret into one of inspiration.

We saw it from those on the front line of every Alabama healthcare facility, individuals of courage who fought through fatigue to confront with nearly infinite energy an enemy previously unimaginable. This also includes paramedics, ambulance operators, and fire departments, who often are the first on the scene in an emergency.

We witnessed our heroic police officers turn divisive rhetoric into an opportunity for healing, going beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety of our communities. From Decatur to Eufaula to Pritchard, they also have helped organize food drives to help local residents who could not afford groceries.

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Birmingham Police Officer Lane Harper, who founded The Power of Life Foundation to provide basic human needs to individuals across the nation, drove throughout the Southeast passing out free masks.

Union Springs Officer Kacey Mays risked his life trying to save a baby who couldn’t breathe due to COVID-19. Though the baby tragically did not survive, Officer Mays and his wife helped raise money to cover the funeral costs for the grieving family.

Police officers teamed up with 94-year-old Fayette County resident Ed Higinbotham, who personally made 300 toy cars so local children would experience a much-needed level of joy on Christmas.

We observed teachers throughout our state draw deep from their well of love toward their students, ensuring that our youngest citizens will mature into individuals of knowledge, integrity and judgment.

The Apostle Paul, in the Book of Corinthians, says, “And now we abide faith, hope, charity; the greatest of these is charity.” Alabama is one of the most charitable states in America, a fact we’ve borne witness to in these trying times.

2020 could have been a year in which this state took a step back. Thanks to the goodness of our people — performing acts of generosity when we needed them most—we are instead transcending the perils of a pandemic and providing the light of optimism for all to see. Our best days lie ahead.

Bart Starr, Jr. grew up in Green Bay, WI, and has lived in the Birmingham area for decades. He is a small business owner who supports a boys ranch founded by his parents, as well as other charities. He and his wife Elaena cherish the values and unselfishness that make Alabama such a wonderful place to live.

4 weeks ago

Rural states counting on Census extension in end-of-year legislation

(Vote Ben Robbins for State House/Facebook, YHN)

With the end of the year right around the corner, Congress is working to address some of the most urgent issues facing hard-working families across America before they leave Washington for the holidays. While the bulk of their efforts so far have understandably been focused on providing COVID-19 relief for struggling Americans, there are a number of additional pressing matters they will need to address in order to ensure that their work on the pandemic is as effective as it needs to be.

Among these matters is the 2020 United States Census. While it may be easy to think that Census workers’ task ended once response collection concluded in October, there is a comprehensive verification process that must be carried out in order to guarantee that the Census findings are accurate.

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The major challenge with the verification process this year is that Census workers were only given between the end of the response collection period and December 31 – only about two and a half months – to make sure the results are accurate and report their findings. Unfortunately, this is barely half the time it takes to go through this process in an average Census year. Now, Census workers are warning that the end-of-year deadline may not be achievable, putting the reliability of the final Census results in question.

If the results are inaccurate, it could change how millions of dollars in federal assistance will be allocated to the states. With complications, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Census officials had a much more difficult time reaching out to and following up with rural communities to get the information they need for an accurate count. Instead, they had to turn to other potentially out-of-date sources for this information, like old government records. Unfortunately for Alabama and other rural states, that will almost certainly mean that we are undercounted and will miss out on the funding our state needs.

Some estimates indicate Alabama could lose almost $40 million in funding for health care, education, and jobs programs every year until the next Census if our state’s population is undercounted by even one percent. The ramifications of this would doubtlessly extend even further.

An undercounted population would mean that key government funding – which we’ve been paying through our hard-earned tax dollars – will be headed to other states. This includes COVID-19 aid, which will draw from the 2020 Census results in order to determine how relief dollars and vaccinations will be distributed.

An undercount in the Census could impair our ability to fight for funding through legislative means, as well. The Census is a constitutional process designed to make sure the federal government truly accounts for every state, and if rural communities are undercounted, states like ours with large rural populations could lose seats in the House of Representatives.

In order to prevent an undercount, Congress will need to provide Census officials with an extension to the end-of-year reporting deadline by including it in their omnibus package. This is an idea already backed by key conservatives from rural states like Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), David Perdue (R-GA) and Steve Daines (R-MT).

Effective governance is only possible when Congress fully understands the people it represents, and the Census is how we can make that happen. It’s an opportunity we only receive once every decade. We cannot afford to allow it to pass by at such a sensitive moment both in Alabama and across the United States.

Ben Robbins is the Republican nominee for Alabama House District 33

Help us stop COVID-19: A letter to the community from the Birmingham-area hospitals

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Editor’s note: The following is an open letter from the Birmingham-area hospitals to all citizens of Alabama. 

Birmingham area hospitals applaud Governor Ivey’s recent extension of the statewide mask order. We also encourage residents of Jefferson County and all across Alabama to continue their vigilance in taking every precaution possible to minimize the spread of COVID.

The initial COVID surge during the summer months stressed our health care system, but the drastic increase in confirmed COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last few weeks is significantly more concerning. Currently, more than 600 COVID patients are being cared for in area hospitals, which is a 50% increase over the maximum number of patients we saw over the summer. And the numbers continue to rise. We are just starting to see the effects of the Thanksgiving holiday and are concerned about the coming holidays, where people are more likely to gather indoors.

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Across the community, our ICU units are filling to capacity. We are having to convert hospital units to COVID units and divert resources to care for COVID patients who desperately need care. As more COVID patients fill our hospital beds, our ability to care for those with other healthcare needs is compromised.

Not only are we facing spacing challenges, but we are experiencing staffing challenges as well. Across the community, almost 500 of our own hospital staff members are unable to work due to COVID related-issues. The staff who are able to work are facing longer hours with an increased workload. Caregivers are tired and overstressed. Trying to balance staffing shortages alongside space constraints is becoming increasingly problematic and detrimental to our ability to care for all of the many additional medical needs and conditions in our community.

Given the high level of community spread, our hospitals need the public’s help in stopping the spread of COVID. Now more than ever, the community has truly become the front lines in the fight against this pandemic. We know a lot has been asked of you thus far, but we desperately need your help. We know that masking, social distancing and handwashing will help us ensure that we have the resources to care for the patients who are most in need. These things are easy to do and help curb the spread of illness while allowing us to keep vital businesses operating and our economy strong.

But even more is needed at this moment to reduce community spread.

We urge you to reconsider large family holiday gatherings during this time. Please consider avoiding travel and not mixing households. Even small gatherings of more than one household have proven deadly. Grab takeout to support a local business and eat at home with your immediate family. Set up virtual group gatherings to celebrate this holiday season so we can gather with all of our loved ones next year and not potentially lose them now to this virus. You can help us better care for our community. We implore you to help us in this fight.

Byrne: The Electoral College

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

When the members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 debated how to pick the executive, several options were considered. Some wanted the people to directly elect the president, while others distrusted the people to know enough about the candidates to make that important decision on their own. After all, the election would be held across the entire nation, and with the problems of communication in 18th century America, it would be difficult for individual citizens to know enough to make an informed decision about candidates who lived nowhere near them.

But the Framers wanted the voters to play a role, and they compromised by giving the decision to electors equaling the number of representatives and senators for each state and empowering the legislatures of the states, whose members were and are popularly elected, to select the manner of appointing those electors. So you and I don’t vote for the president directly. Our state’s electors do. While early on several state legislatures opted to pick the electors themselves, in modern times all state legislatures have voted to have their electors chosen by popular vote.

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This week, those electors met in their respective states and cast their votes. The press reports Vice President Joe Biden received 306 votes and President Trump, my candidate, received 232 votes. Press reports also indicate that in several states where the electors chose Biden, separate groups claimed to be the actual electors and voted for President Trump.

There has been a lot of discussion and dozens of audits, recounts, and lawsuits as to who were the legally chosen electors in those states. Despite the hype in the media that these efforts challenging the initial election calls in several states undermine our system, the Electoral Count Act of 1887 actually provides for a time period for such actions. Former Vice President Al Gore took advantage of this time period in 2000, challenging the election until mid-December. Democrats challenged the Ohio electors pledged to President Bush in 2004, and many Democrats fought through the counting of the vote before a joint session of Congress in 2017, when President Trump was elected. They even challenged the votes from Alabama. Democrats have normalized post general election fights over presidential results.

I supported the Trump team’s efforts to get a fair and accurate count of all legal votes. I joined in a “friend of the court” brief, along with 125 members of Congress, supporting the last-ditch effort by Texas and other states, including Alabama, to get the Supreme Court to look into the fact that in several states a person or group other than the state legislature modified election laws ostensibly to accommodate voters in the middle of a pandemic. Whatever the motivation for those modifications, they couldn’t be made by anyone other than the state legislatures; secretaries of state, state supreme courts, election commissions and even governors cannot do that under the Constitution. Rather than rule on the merits, the Court dismissed the case because, it said, the states didn’t have standing to bring the suit. None of President Trump’s Supreme Court appointees dissented.

The last step in the process, as spelled out by the Twelfth Amendment, is for the electors’ votes to be counted formally in a joint session of the new Congress on January 6, presided over by Vice President Pence. The Electoral Count Act allows one or more members of the House or Senate to object to a given state’s electors, but only if at least one member of the other house joins in the objection in writing. Then each house votes on the objection. Democrats tried that in 2000, 2004 and 2016 but failed.

My friend and colleague Mo Brooks from Huntsville has said he intends to object to the electoral votes of five states that voted for Biden, but he will have to convince a senator to join with him. So far, with only three weeks left, no senator or senator-elect has agreed to do so. The other hurdle he faces is a Democrat majority in the House that will not vote to take away Biden votes and at least ten Republican senators who have said Biden is the winner.

As I will no longer be a member of the House on January 6, I won’t be voting on any objection. But I will be a citizen and I believe it’s important for all of us to respect the system we follow in selecting a president, set in our Constitution and the Electoral Count Act. That system has served us well for over 200 years and will continue to do so. I will honor our system and our laws by accepting the election results as counted by Congress. I hope we all will.

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

1 month ago

Who gets vaccinated first?

(Pixabay, YHN)

Vaccines from Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer are nearing approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Politicians will now decide who will get vaccinated first. The Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has prioritized vaccination of medical personnel and nursing home residents. The rest of us will have to wait. Prices offer an alternative to political determination of access.

However distributed, ramping up vaccine production presents an enormous challenge. The BioNTech and Moderna vaccines both require two doses, so vaccinating all Americans would require over 600 million doses. Production must go from zero to tens of millions of doses per month while maintaining quality. The capacity constraint means that everyone cannot be vaccinated immediately.

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FDA approval represents a major element of political control. Congress has decided that Americans can only access medicines or vaccines deemed safe and effective by the FDA. Approval moves on bureaucratic time. Britain approved the BioNTech vaccine on December 1; the FDA’s review committee will not meet until December 10. Bureaucrats will not speed up even with over 1,500 Americans dying daily from COVID-19.

Markets would have no legal effectiveness requirement. We could seek out any vaccine or medicine for protection against COVID-19. Liability for unsafe medicines would make drug companies demonstrate safety. Drug companies would cover litigation costs using insurance and no insurer would cover sales without evidence of safety, something resembling the Phase I testing of two vaccines in April and May.

With a market, Americans could have gotten vaccinated back in June. Without evidence of effectiveness, initial purchases would likely have been paid out-of-pocket. Vaccinations would have cost “whatever the market will bear;” let’s say $10,000. Drug makers may have offered the first customers a money-back guarantee: test positive for COVID-19 within six months and get a refund.

The first persons vaccinated would then be tracked for evidence of effectiveness. Health insurers and employers (like hospitals) would require evidence, possibly including randomized control trials like those performed this fall, to pay for vaccinations. Insurers would likely require independent collection and examination of the evidence.

Once convinced of effectiveness, insurers would pay for vaccinations to save money, to avoid paying for policyholders’ COVID-19 care. Hospitals and nursing homes might vaccinate their employees to assure their customers.

Some might decry the wealthy getting vaccinated first, but they would provide a service to the rest of us. The price paid provides drug companies an incentive to ramp up production. They also serve as “volunteers” for testing effectiveness. And once we have evidence of effectiveness, insurers and employers will begin paying. Insurers and hospitals might pay a lot for vaccination — to keep high-risk policyholders healthy or protect high-risk nurses and doctors.

High market prices encourage production as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. A person willing to pay $2,000 in January might only pay $500 for vaccination next July. Vaccine doses delivered sooner will be worth more.

The federal government will purchase at least 100 million doses of each vaccine. These payments will motivate production, yet government projects are often late and over budget. The president and Congress will scream if drug makers fail to deliver on schedule, but will this ensure timely delivery?

The United States is not the only country seeking vaccines. Political control means that our politicians could make Americans wait until healthcare workers across the globe are vaccinated. With markets, we must outbid others for vaccination priority. As a wealthy nation, we might seem advantaged in bidding, but rich persons across the globe will pay a lot too.

Neither prices nor politics involve magic, so producing the needed doses will take time. Would politics or prices be more effective at producing vaccines as quickly and safely as possible? Politics ultimately involves government bureaucrats procuring vaccines for us. While businesses do not always receive orders on time, bureaucrats will likely keep their jobs even if vaccines are delivered months late.

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

Flowers: Donald Trump has a profound legacy in presidential history, especially if you are a conservative American

(White House/Flickr)

Presidential historians and most astute national political observers and chroniclers have concluded that the most profound legacy a president can achieve is the appointment of United States Supreme Court Justices. Presidents serve four-year terms. Justices serve for a lifetime.

The Supreme Court of the United States is the ultimate final word on law and public policy in the United States. After they are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, they are impregnable to political whims or influence. They are sovereign and omnipotent. They are treated royally and usually serve on the high tribunal for over two decades or more.

Therefore, whether you like Donald J. Trump or not, he has a legacy. Most presidents are fortunate if they are able to name one justice to the court. Trump, over his four-year term appointed and had confirmed three. If you are a conservative Republican, this feat by President Trump makes him one of the most bulwark conservative presidents in history. He has cemented his legacy forever and changed the judicial philosophy of the court for the next generation.

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Trump’s three appointments are not only well qualified, polished, distinguished, moderate conservatives, they are also young. Justice Neil Gorsuch is 53. He replaced Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired. Justice Brett Kavanaugh is 55. He replaced arch-conservative Justice Anton Scalia. The most consequential appointment by President Trump is the appointment and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett. She is only 48 and a solid conservative.

Trump’s appointment of Judge Amy Barrett is truly historical. This appointment changed the entire ideology of the court to a solidly six-to-three conservative majority. Barrett’s appointment is the most pivotal block in Trump’s rebuilding of the Court. In the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh appointments, you replaced conservatives with conservatives. In Barrett, you are replacing a woman with a woman, but more importantly you are replacing one of the most liberal justices in history with potentially one of the most conservative. In addition, at 48 Barrett will preside for the next three decades as will probably Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.

Along with these three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump has been able to appoint nearly 300 federal judges to the lower federal courts throughout America. Trump could not have accomplished this generational change of the court without the advice and consent of a Republican majority United States Senate.

The Republican conservative stamp is also indelibly planted on the federal courts in Alabama. Senator Richard Shelby, in congruence with the Trump administration, has completely reshaped Alabama’s federal judiciary with very young, extremely qualified, conservative judges.

Speaking of our United States Senators, our senior Senator Richard Shelby was granted the omnipotent power to select all of our new, young, conservative judges throughout all of our districts – southern, middle and northern – not only because of his power, prestige and seniority, but also because he was our only Republican senator.

Our junior U.S. Senate seat has been held by a national liberal Democrat Doug Jones for the past three years. During his tenure, he toed the Democratic Senate line and wore that hat as the pawn and clone of the Democratic leadership in the Senate. Chuck Schumer told Jones to vote against Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett only because they were conservative Republican appointees.

His refusal to even meet with Justice Amy Barrett showed a total lack of class and southern civility and gentlemanly manners. It was also revealed to me that he was angling to appease his liberal Democratic brethren in order to be Joe Biden’s Attorney General. Yes, folks, you heard me right. Do not be surprised if Doug Jones is not the next Attorney General of the United State in the Biden administration.

The bottom line is if you are a conservative American, Donald J. Trump has a profound legacy in presidential history with three conservative appointments to the United States Supreme Court.

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

Byrne: The good, the bad and the ugly in the new jobs report

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly jobs report covering November. It contained some good news, some bad news and some downright ugly news.

First, let’s look at the good news. The economy added 245,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7% from a high of 14.7% in April. We have gained back 12.3 million jobs since the shutdowns of last spring, and the unemployment rate is less than half what it had risen to at that time. Over half of all black people who lost their jobs have gone back to work as have two thirds of Hispanics. The greatest gains have come in the leisure and hospitality industry and in retail businesses, the hardest hit by the shutdowns.

To put this into perspective, the unemployment rate is now lower than at any point in President Obama’s first term and the gains made in the last seven months are greater than in the first four years of the recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-2009

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That’s pretty good news, no matter how you look at it. So, what am I referring to when I talk about there being some bad news too? The rate at which we are gaining jobs has fallen significantly. Job growth in September (711,000) and October (610,000) was more than twice as large as November’s. Our bounce back has really slowed.

What’s happened? To some extent we are witnessing the holes left in the American economy. Some places are doing better than others and some industries are still struggling to come back while others are doing well. For example, we know that Blue states have significantly higher unemployment rates than most red states, the result of the differences in state leaders’ responses to the pandemic. New York’s unemployment rate in October was 9.6%, while Alabama’s was 5.8%. Similarly, while the leisure and hospitality sector has made a comeback of sorts, it faces the strong headwinds of travel and dining restrictions ordered by many mayors and governors around the country. So, it lags the rest of the economy and will continue to do so until these restrictions are lifted. There are still 9.8 million fewer jobs than in February and every city, state and industry sector needs to return to normal for us to gain those jobs back.

That’s pretty bad news, but at least it has the prospects of improving next year. The really ugly news was the labor force participation rate. This is an example of statistics needing more in-depth explanation. The labor force is the total of all people who have jobs and all people looking for jobs. It doesn’t include adults 65 and under who aren’t working or looking for work. Now, some people aren’t working or looking for work because they’re in school or are substantially disabled, while others are caring for young children or an aging parent. Then there are the lucky ones who don’t need to work. So, we never expect the labor force participation rate to be 100%.

The peak labor force participation rate was 67% at the beginning of 2000. During the Great Recession, when jobs were scarce, people became discouraged and just quit looking for work. By 2015, the labor force participation rate had fallen to 62%. As a result of the robust recovery of the last four years it rose again to 64.4%. These may seem like small changes, but each percentage point represents millions of people. So, when I tell you the labor force participation rate in November was just 61.5% you can see why I call this ugly. While that is an improvement from April’s 60% rate, we still saw 400,000 people leave the job market in November alone. It’s very difficult to re-enter the job market once you have left so this is a very troubling development.

There are three things we need to do as a nation to turn this around.

First, mayors and governors around the nation need to be more discerning and judicious in their orders responding to the pandemic. Overly broad and heavy-handed orders are hurting people in their cities and states and are a major drag on the U.S. economy. Governor Ivey has been a good example of how to get it right and as a result our Alabama economy is faring better than most Blue states.

Second, we must speed the vaccine distribution and people should have the confidence in the FDA’s approval and get the vaccine when it’s available to them. The quicker we reach a high vaccination rate, the quicker our economy bounces back. In the meantime, we all need to wear masks inside buildings that aren’t our homes, practice good hygiene and socially distance.

And, third, Congress needs to pass another coronavirus stimulus bill. After playing games this summer and fall, Speaker Pelosi has finally come to the bargaining table with what appears to be a sincere willingness to compromise on a new bill. I anticipate passage of such a bill, perhaps as part of our yearly spending bill, by Christmas. She’s perfectly capable of pulling the ball back at the last minute so I can’t guarantee anything. But there’s some hope out there.

And hope is something we all need right now.

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

1 month ago

Phil Williams: The courts are a part of every election

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

My pastor recently quipped that it felt like we are in the fifth year of 2020. True that. But in the midst of that sentiment, the question on many minds right now is “how long will the 2020 elections go on?” Aren’t we supposed to have an “election day?” Like, just one day? The short answer is yes. But the reality is that there are laws on the books that firmly establish that the court systems of this country are as much a part of the election cycles as the polls.

It’s not always a question of fraud or deceit. Sometimes human nature, mistakes or oversight create a situation that any elected official or voter should have the right to speak into. I’ve seen it firsthand. Suck it up, bite your tongue, and wait it out for a bit.

And here’s a gob smacker for you: If you see an injustice, or you’ve been aggrieved or disenfranchised of your rights of any type, and you don’t address it through the means established for you to do so, then you are just as much a part of the problem.

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Several years ago, while serving in the Alabama Senate, an individual of a more liberal persuasion was challenging me on the notion that the state needed to update its voter laws. I pointed out that, in the 2012 municipal election cycle, one Alabama town had 110% of its population come to the polls. Let that sink in. The dismissive response I received about small scale and a perceived lack of widespread issues caused me to reply that one of the smallest towns in my senate district was Ridgeville with a population of 112. If memory serves correctly the mayor won by a margin of 19-12 in that same year. I would lay odds that she would care if the votes weren’t accurately tallied. And guess what? Small town notwithstanding, the mayor of Ridgeville has as much right under the law to challenge an election as the president of the whole United States.

The majority of the news cycle right now is considering the legal challenges posited by the Trump campaign. Those who don’t care for Trump often conveniently forget that the 2000 presidential election cycle was decided following a legal challenge by democratic candidate Al Gore. Even as I type these words a democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa is challenging her own election results. Likewise, a congressional race in New York will soon be decided by a judge well over a month after the election which still can’t be called due to a series of errors and mystery ballots. Election laws that establish rights to recounts and ballot contests are a bipartisan matter.

The fact is that the laws of every state, and the nation as a whole, contain provisions that are there to govern the rights (yes, rights) of citizens to address perceived inaccuracies in the election process. Like it or not, the legal system is in fact a part of the election process when any candidate feels aggrieved.

And it may even be that the legal outcome does not change the results of a challenged election, but a precedent may be set that ensures that mistakes are clarified, wrongs are righted, and constitutional liberties are upheld.

As a practicing attorney, I’ve had the honor of late to participate in that very process at the local level. A client-friend recently ran for a city council seat and at the close of the polls it was determined that she had lost the race by a single vote. Imagine the effort of any candidate and it coming down to one single vote. At the designated time, we attended the final canvassing of the polls at which time fifty provisional ballots were considered. Twenty-four of those ballots were deemed invalid for various reasons. Once the remaining 26 provisionals were opened and counted, my client was still down by one vote. But the story did not end there. A review of the discarded ballots led to the good-faith belief that at least nine more of those should have been counted. We did not know the votes they contained, but when you’re down by one it’s very possible that nine more can make a difference.

In accordance with applicable statutory law, my client posted a bond and an election contest was filed in State Circuit Court. At the end of a trial on the merits, the judge agreed with our position on several of those ballots. Once opened my client was still down by the closest of margins and now has the right of appeal on several claims.

But look at the other side of this story. Upon timely application, and a hearing on the merits, the court system determined that a number of citizens had in fact had their votes wrongfully discarded. The results of an election were not necessarily changed, but yet they were. Citizens have a right to their vote, a literal right – and the idea that the voting processes should be accepted as infallible is a fallacy in itself. In our case, votes that had been discarded were rightfully brought back to life.

If you’re tired of the 2020 elections, you are in a vast company. But if you think for a minute that any election is perfect, then take one minute and review your respective state code. You will find that elected officials long before 2020 set in place the necessary laws to afford every citizen, every candidate, the legal right to pursue clarity, finality, and a just determination of the elections of this land.

If you’re tired of hearing about the 2020 elections, that’s on you. But take care that you don’t turn around and want to avail yourself of justice in a future election after complaining about this one. Like it or not we are a nation of laws, and the legal process is in fact a part of the election process for very good reason.

Phil Williams, Alabama Policy Institute’s Chief Policy Officer and General Counsel, is a former Alabama State Senator and is a practicing attorney. You can follow Sen. Williams at twitter.com/SenPhilWilliams and learn more about API at alabamapolicy.org.