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.

Byrne: Our common defense

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

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee, which I’m proud to be a member of, passed and sent to the full House the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. This is the 60th year in a row that we have passed this act out of Committee, and since we passed it unanimously, we are optimistic it will pass the full House later this month. This year’s version is named after a longtime member of the Committee and former Chairman, Mac Thornberry of Texas. Mac led the charge to increase defense funding when President Trump took over. He is also a personal friend of mine and a true friend to the people of Southwest Alabama.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to “provide for the common defense … of the United States,” “declare war,” “raise and support armies,” and “provide and maintain a Navy.” It’s our most important power, and the hard work of exercising that power is carried out by our Committee. We pass only one bill each year, but in my judgment, it, along with the bills appropriating money for operating the government, comprise the biggest legislative job of Congress each year.

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The NDAA authorizes the defense of the country and the operations of the Department of Defense and the respective service branches. It’s one of the few bills that enjoys broad bipartisan support year after year because our Committee’s members are committed to bipartisan support for the men and women who wear the uniform and defend the nation. We hold numerous hearings, classified and unclassified, before the bill is written. Our subcommittees do the same for their respective parts of the bill. And we really legislate, that is we work through differences and address the nitty gritty details with the seriousness they deserve. The bill is hundreds of pages long and takes an enormous amount of work.

This is my seventh and last year to participate in the process and I am proud of the work the Committee has done even though there are some parts I personally would have done differently. For example, I don’t agree with the topline spending we authorized because I think we have shortchanged some important defense endeavors like shipbuilding. But, I understand that the number was negotiated last year by President Trump and Congressional leadership as part of a two-year spending plan. Our Committee had no choice but to honor that agreement, but I know it’s too low.

We also had a protracted debate on military bases named after former Confederate generals. We Republicans backed an amendment to require the service secretaries responsible for those bases to review the use of those names going forward but did not want to dictate to them what their decision should be. The Democrats on the Committee wanted to require them to change the names but didn’t dictate what the new names would be. I couldn’t support the Democrats on this point because I don’t like usurping the service secretaries’ authority on operational details and I also wanted stronger input from the local communities where the bases are located. As they form the majority on the Committee, the Democrats’ version prevailed.

We also had a long discussion regarding the Insurrection Act. Passed in 1807, and amended twice, in 1861 and 1871, the Insurrection Act empowers a president to use active and national guard personnel under very exceptional circumstances, such as an armed uprising. It was last used in 1992 to quell riots in Los Angeles. President Trump talked about using the Insurrection Act when the protests around the country turned violent in late May and June, and that set off the national news media and the Democrats who wanted to limit his authority to do so. As it turned out, President Trump did not invoke the law at all, but that didn’t stop the Democrats from offering an amendment that would have substantially limited a president’s authority. I took the lead for the Republicans on the Committee as we didn’t want to limit that authority any more than it is already limited by the Posse Comitatus Act. Fortunately, we won the debate, and the amendment to limit a president’s authority was defeated.

Most importantly for our area, the Committee added an Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship at my request and with the blessing of the Navy. The EPF is an aluminum-hulled catamaran capable of transporting 600 short tons of cargo 1200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots in Sea State 3. It has a roll on/roll off capability for things like the Abrams Main Battle Tank, and a helicopter flight deck. Its shallow draft dramatically expands the ports and waterways it can operate in. It’s made at Austal USA in Mobile, and I’m very proud of the work the great shipbuilders there do. I predict you will be hearing more about varied uses for the EPF in the future.

The American people deserve the peace of mind a strong national defense brings. The men and women who wear our uniform and provide that defense deserve the Congressional authority to carry out their important jobs. I have not hesitated to be critical of Congress when we have all too often failed to do our job in the past year and a half. But, this time we did our job and passed a bill out of Committee which, while not perfect, fulfills Congress’s responsibility to provide for the common defense of our country.

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

14 hours ago

Sharing our self-governance in emergencies

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Who rules us? For centuries, the dominant American answer has been that we rule ourselves. But there are alternative views. As long as there have been human beings, some have insisted that we should not have to rule ourselves, but should be free to do whatever feels right. Others have argued that we should be ruled by others, by the strongest or the wisest or the best educated.

Those old ideas are hot again. The response (or lack of response) of different government officials to the novel Coronavirus pandemic and to lawless riots in American cities challenge verities that Americans had come to take for granted. People suddenly find themselves engaged in vigorous debates about freedom, equality, and self-governance that have occupied Western political thought since the time of Socrates and Aristotle.

Unfortunately, we find that we do not share the same assumptions. Most of us have always assumed that we should govern ourselves, love our neighbors on our own initiative, take personal responsibility for the well-being of those in our communities, and obey the law, even or especially in an emergency. But some of our neighbors do not share those assumptions.

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Most of us also assume that executive officials must act lawfully, must obey the law rather than make law, and must respect the decisions of their fellow citizens about how to secure civil liberties in a time of crisis. But we find that some of our mayors and local officials disdain the rule of law. Instead, they prefer either rule by fiat or anarchy. (Some incoherently prefer both fiat and anarchy, and switch back and forth between them, depending on the case.)

Fortunately, Alabama’s governor is not so lawless. In particular, while addressing the dangers that coronavirus threatens, she has acted cautiously and has identified legal grounds for her actions. Nevertheless, she should not bear the burden of governing alone. The legislature must do its part. It must declare an emergency when one exists, state the objectives for the executive branch to attain in responding to the emergency, and articulate the legal and temporal limits on executive emergency powers.

Alabama’s Constitution, like the other 50 American constitutions (the other 49 state constitutions and the Constitution of the United States) declares and codifies the foundational principle of the separation of powers. All three branches of government are under the law, and the first job of officials is to declare what the law actually is, rather than simply what they would prefer the law to be. Then, it is the job of the legislature to clarify and change the law when necessary. The executive’s job is to execute the law as she finds it, within the clarifications and limitations that the legislature articulates. The judiciary is supposed to apply the law to particular cases and controversies.

The legislature, rather than the executive or judiciary, is responsible for clarifying and changing the law because it is in the legislature that we, the people of Alabama, gather through our representatives and senators to reason together about how the law should be used to solve our problems. The legislature is not our only, nor even our primary, institution of self-governance. Its role is subsidiary to the family, the church and synagogue, the family business, and the other institutions of civil society. In those institutions we take primary responsibility for our common good, including our health and safety and the well-being of our neighbors. But among the branches of government, the legislature is the institution where we listen to each other’s concerns and deliberate together about how to find agreeable solutions.

A modern executive, such as Alabama’s, is well-positioned to advise the legislature as it deliberates about whether to declare an emergency response, such as a quarantine. Our governor employs experts in science, health care, and emergency planning. She is able to marshal the relevant data, to draw inferences about where the threats lie, and to identify what measures are best calculated to mitigate those threats.

So ideally, the legislature and the executive should work together in a time such as this. The executive provides expert guidance. The legislature gives voice to the people and takes into account all of the various risks and civil liberties. The legislature specifies the goals for executive action and the limits on executive power. The executive then forms and executes a plan to achieve those goals within those limits.

Our government is designed to preserve the people’s rights and responsibilities to govern themselves. Most Alabamians are doing their part to exercise those rights and responsibilities. Families, businesses, churches, and schools are trying to mitigate the risks to our vulnerable neighbors. We will watch to see which of our officials understand that we rule ourselves, and which ones mistake our personal responsibility for abdication of our fundamental rights.

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

18 hours ago

With rural areas risking hospital closures, telemedicine is all the more critical

(Pixabay, YHN)

Hospital closures are occurring at an alarming pace all over the country, but disproportionate closures in rural areas leave already-vulnerable residents at an even higher risk. Telemedicine can help solve the problem, especially in rural Alabama’s Black Belt counties.

While 95% of American homes are wired for broadband, about 25% of rural communities aren’t. This is especially a problem in Alabama, where our rural landscape makes it hard for many companies to wire an internet infrastructure.

There are many federal programs designed to provide funds to broadband builders for communities like ours. In 2009, the last federal stimulus programs effort got tied up with waste and abuse. Still today, much of the needed funds for broadband in our communities are likely to get stuck in federal red tape.

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As the administrator of a rural hospital in Choctaw County, I’m aware of just how much is at stake with the limited availability of hospitals in rural areas like ours. Before the opening of our hospital in 2012, the county was without one for 17 years.

Choctaw County has one of the lowest health outcomes rankings in the state. The county has high levels of adult obesity, inactivity, smoking and limited exercise facilities. These are among the most critical risk factors for chronic illnesses, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease, the number one killer in the country. In most health metrics, our county lags behind Alabama as a whole.

Access to healthcare and healthcare education would help improve the ability of our people to maintain their health. But in areas like ours, the trends show access to hospitals getting worse, not better. According to the American Hospital Association, almost 30% of all hospitals in the U.S. are rural community hospitals, and since 2010, 130 of them have closed. Last year, the closure of the Pickens County hospital marked the 17th hospital closure in Alabama in 10 years, with six more rural hospitals in the state at the current risk of closure.

We’ve been seeing how this works throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with some studies suggesting that telemedicine visits have risen by as much as 600%. During the height of the pandemic, telemedicine has made it possible for people with COVID-19 symptoms to talk to healthcare providers without putting others at risk. It also has let patients needing routine care for chronic health conditions to get it promptly without putting themselves at risk.

But when people in rural areas lack access to broadband, they also lack access to telemedicine.

Unfortunately, Alabama lags not only in health outcomes but also in broadband access, ranking 38th in the country. In many rural areas in our state, broadband is accessible only in town and nonexistent outside a tight radius.

Across rural America, 37% of households lack access to highspeed internet, and incredibly, 60% of rural healthcare facilities also lack it. This poses an obvious problem, since telemedicine generally uses significant bandwidth, whether sending high-resolution MRI scans or having a routine video consultation.

The CARES Act included $185 million to expand telehealth services at rural critical access hospitals, and importantly, as part of the act, Medicare began to pay physicians for telehealth at the same rate as in-office visits—for all diagnoses, not just related to COVID-19. But that’s not enough.

Communities like ours also need broadband to make this work.

We already see signs that government bureaucracy may get the process stuck in the mud. Many state regulators and special interests want to impose endless and often unnecessary “eligibility” requirements on broadband builders, which only slow the process and often keep the best solutions out.

What’s needed is for the federal government to set in place a process – and to do it fast – to get these projects started in our state. There should be one set of federal rules that make sure we screen out the unqualified vendors, but then we should let a fully competitive process get our communities the best networks possible and as fast as possible.

We have to get it right this time.

J.W. Cowan is the administrator of Choctaw General Hospital

3 days ago

Herds and the policy response to COVID-19

(YHN)

Governments implemented strict policies to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The widespread response suggests that governors and presidents saw COVID-19 as an unprecedented public health threat. Or did it? The economics of herding suggests possibly not.

The “Wisdom of Crowds,” also the title of James Suroweicki’s excellent book on this subject, implies this interpretation. Experts in each state reviewed knowledge on the virus, its potential lethality, and vulnerabilities of their state. Each lockdown decision provides evidence of a perceived threat.

Independent, informed evaluations represent our best way to approach the truth. The argument is not that voting establishes truth; experts can be wrong even if they all agree. The consensus of experts is more likely to be correct.

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The policy response could reflect other factors. We should remember that safety is a luxury good; as people and nations become wealthier, we spend more on safety. The potential for say 100,000 deaths from a pandemic will be far less acceptable today than 50 years ago. Yet crowds are not always wise; the “Madness of Crowds” is another possibility. The independence of expert judgments affects whether we gain wisdom or create a herd.

Training in public health affects experts’ independence. Experts in any field receive years of specialized, intensive training, in law school, graduate school, or medical school. Academic disciplines have a dominant paradigm or way of making sense of the world. Different public health experts may share the same way of thinking and make the same mistake on COVID-19.

“Information cascades” pose another problem, often seen in business. A group of managers assembles to discuss opening a new retail store. After independently assessing the merits and demerits, most of the managers see the new store as a mistake. Yet the first manager argues that the new store will be wildly successful, and the others agree. After the store fails, the managers all recall their initial misgivings.

What happened? Each manager knows her personal assessment of the venture could be wrong and revises her assessment based on others’ opinions. Managers do not want to appear incompetent – the only one unable to see the new store’s great value.

The visibility of errors also matters. There’s (allegedly) a saying among investment advisors that “no one ever got fired for recommending IBM.” Suppose an advisor recommends a stock no one else likes. If correct, the advisor’s clients make lots of money. If wrong, the advisor will need to find a new job. By making the same common recommendation, no advisor signals below average investment acumen.

An economy or business needs to encourage occasional deviations from the herd. We need contrarian investors and thinkers. In markets, profit rewards correct contrarians. And some people are naturally contrarian. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the beat of a different drummer.”

Does the policy response to COVID-19 reveal herding? The policies involved – business and school closings, stay-at-home orders – are called nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPI). NPI have their critics; a 2019 World Health Organization review found the evidence for the effectiveness most “limited.”

A divergence of opinion suggests herding was unlikely. If proponents of NPI won out in debate, this suggests that governors and presidents found them more promising. Vigorous debate usually improves decisions.

Our elected executives, I think, face a bias to action, worsened by the 24-hour news cycle and running tallies of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Yet the nearly 50 million jobs lost since March are also highly visible. Our inability to observe deaths without a lockdown ironically makes the benefits appear larger; perhaps millions have been saved.

Eight states never issued stay-at-home orders and nations like Sweden eschewed lockdown policies, so we have not witnessed complete herding. More likely the bias to take action resulted in excessive policies, and lockdowns imposed too early in some states.

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

3 days ago

Alabama needs to limit uncertainty for healthcare providers in the pandemic

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

Uncertainty can be crippling. In many, it turns an energetic “can-do” spirit into a cautious “wait and see” mentality.

In 2011, more than half of small businesses surveyed by the US Chamber of Commerce said they were holding off on hiring new employees largely because of uncertainty about the economy.

That was in 2011. What about in 2020, with the coronavirus and the government’s response to it, at least for a time, laying waste to the stock market and much of the economy? How much does certainty matter now?

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Take Tuscaloosa, for example. Just last week Mayor Walt Maddox said that a lack of a football season, or even a mitigated season with less fans, would be “catastrophic” for the city. How catastrophic? A $131.5 million-in-lost-revenue kind of catastrophic.

So what do the restaurants, bars, and other businesses that rely on football-related revenue do while they wonder if this economic doom is heading their way? Do they hire and train employees? Do they stock up on inventory? How exactly do they plan for two extremely different potential realities?

Those answers are not clear. What is known, however, is that Tuscaloosa is not used to this uncertainty. And neither is our state.

Much of the unpredictability that the coronavirus has brought with it is not easily controlled or minimized. We can’t exactly make college football come back. And even the government cannot regulate the virus away.

We are not, however, entirely powerless in the COVID-19 era. Some uncertainty can be reigned in with action by the state legislature.

On April 2nd, Governor Ivey suspended the licensure and certificate of need requirements for medical practitioners and first responders, which enabled them to more readily come to Alabama’s assistance during the pandemic.

This action made it significantly easier for healthcare professionals from other states to come to Alabama and treat our sick. It’s also made quick and necessary expansions of healthcare facilities possible, since providers no longer have to jump through regulatory hoops governing whether or not the government thinks a new healthcare facility, or even an expansion of an existing facility, is needed.

The certificate of need process does just this. It forces healthcare providers to seek government approval before they can build a new facility or even increase the amount of beds in an existing facility. For many, this is a lengthy and costly process.

For this reason, the suspension of these regulations is good and necessary. It encourages healthcare providers to increase the availability of medical care in our state by offering a break from weighty government restrictions.

The problem, however, is that the April 2nd suspension is not permanent. In fact, Governor Ivey can only suspend these regulations for sixty days at a time.

Insert uncertainty.

Is it worth it for a nurse to pack up and move to Alabama to work with coronavirus patients if the order allowing her easy transfer ends in September (when the state of emergency is set to expire as of this writing)?

Is it worth it for healthcare facilities, likewise, to plan for new capacity if they don’t know for sure whether they’ll find themselves ensnared in government regulations once again in a couple months?

Again, it is a good thing that Governor Ivey suspended these regulations. In fact, the very absence of these regulations provides more certainty for our medical practitioners as they are less dependent on the decisions of bureaucrats in Montgomery. The uncertainty which comes with the temporary nature of the suspension, however, can inhibit the very healthcare providers we need most from proactively planning for the state’s health in the near future.

In short, healthcare providers need to know that if they come to Alabama or begin plans to expand medical facilities within our borders, the state won’t spring costly and time-prohibitive regulations on them. They need the certainty that only legislative action, in the form of a 12-month suspension of these requirements as suggested by API in the RESTORE Alabama Plan, can provide.

This, of course, depends on the Governor calling a special session of the state legislature to address the coronavirus and its effects. And if she does, this issue will not likely be a controversial one. In fact, over 70% of Alabamians support this idea, according to a recent Cygnal poll.

Even so, it is an important move. The state government has the ability to inject some stability into a healthcare field riddled with questions. Doing so is in the best interest, not only of our healthcare system, but of our state as a whole.

Parker Snider is the Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Institute (API).

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

Roby: Happy Independence Day

(M. Roby/Facebook, PIxabay)

The Fourth of July is one of America’s most celebrated holidays each year, honoring the birth of American independence dating back to 1776. Americans gather from state to state to participate in beloved traditions such as fireworks, parades, barbecues, and many more. With all that is happening across the country right now, I hope that we each stop and reflect on the meaning of this special day.

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Our Founders had the incredible courage to risk their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defy a king and conceive a new nation based on freedom, equality, and government empowered by the consent of the governed. As they declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Now more than ever, our nation craves unity during these unprecedented times throughout all our communities. As we navigate a global pandemic that continues to sweep across the United States, already tragically claiming more than 130,000 precious lives, my greatest hope is that we stand together as one united people.

May we be ever vigilant in making sure the United States always embodies the ideals in that bold declaration by our Founders. May God bless each of you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. From the Roby family to yours, we wish you a wonderful Fourth of July!

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

6 days ago

Ivey: This is our time, Alabama

(Office of Governor Kay Ivey/Contributed)

My fellow Alabamians:

In a few days, America will celebrate her 244th birthday.

Traditionally, many towns and cities around the country light up the night with fireworks and music festivals. In 1776, John Adams predicted that Independence Day would be “celebrated by succeeding generations” with “pomp and circumstance … bonfires and illuminations.”

However, largely because of COVID-19, this year’s observance of our country’s birth will likely be a bit more subdued than previous years. While unfortunate, this is certainly understandable.

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Today – and very likely in the days that will follow – instead of talking about what unites us as one nation – other conversations will occur that are, quite frankly, a bit more difficult and challenging.

My personal hope – and prayer – for this year’s 4th of July is that the marvel of our great country – how we started, what we’ve had to overcome, what we’ve accomplished and where we are going – isn’t lost on any of us.

We are all searching for “a more perfect union” during these trying and demanding days.

Over the past several weeks, our nation has been having one of those painful, yet overdue, discussions about the subject of race.

The mere mention of race often makes some people uncomfortable, even though it is a topic that has been around since the beginning of time.

Nationally, a conversation about race brings with it the opportunity where even friends can disagree on solutions; it also can be a catalyst to help total strangers find common ground and see things eye-to-eye with someone they previously did not even know.

Here in Alabama, conversations about race are often set against a backdrop of our state’s long – and at times – ugly history on the subject.

No one can say that America’s history hasn’t had its own share of darkness, pain and suffering.

But with challenge always comes opportunity.

For instance, Montgomery is both the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the cradle of the Confederacy. What a contrast for our Capital City.

The fact is our entire state has, in many ways, played a central role in the ever-evolving story of America and how our wonderful country has, itself, changed and progressed through the years.

Ever since the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of Alabamians – of all races, young and old – have taken to the streets of our largest cities and smallest towns in protest to demand change and to seek justice.

These frustrations are understandable.

Change often comes too slowly for some and too quickly for others. As only the second female to be elected governor of our state in more than 200 years, I can attest to this.

Most of us recognize that our views on issues such as race relations tend to grow out of our own background and experiences. But, fortunately, our views can change and broaden as we talk and learn from each other.

As a nation, we believe that all people are created equal in their own rights as citizens, but we also know that making this ideal a reality is still a challenge for us.

Even with the election of America’s first African-American president 12 years ago, racial, economic and social barriers continue to exist throughout our country. This just happens to be our time in history to ensure we are building on the progress of the past, as we take steps forward on what has proven to be a long, difficult journey.

Folks, the fact is we need to have real discussions – as an Alabama family. No one should be under the false illusion that simply renaming a building or pulling a monument down, in and of itself, will completely fix systemic discrimination.

Back in January, I invited a group of 65 prominent African-American leaders – from all throughout Alabama – to meet with me in Montgomery to begin having a dialogue on issues that truly matter to our African-American community in this state. This dedicated group – known as Alabama United – is helping to bring some very legitimate concerns and issues to the table for both conversation and action.

As an example, Alabama will continue to support law enforcement that is sensitive to the communities in which they serve. We have thousands of dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our state every single day. But we can – and must – make certain that our state’s policies and procedures reflect the legitimate concerns that many citizens have about these important issues.

I am confident all these conversations – and hopefully many more – will lead to a host of inspirational ideas that will lead to a more informed debate and enactment of sound public policy.

We must develop ways to advance all communities that lack access to good schools, jobs, and other opportunities. As governor, I will continue to make education and achieving a good job a priority – it distresses me that some of our rural areas and inner cities face some of the greatest challenges in education.

There are other critical issues that must be addressed, and I will continue to look for solutions along with you.

Everyone knows government cannot solve these problems alone. Some of the greatest solutions will come from private citizens as well as businesses, higher education, churches and foundations. Together, we can all be a part of supporting and building more inclusive communities.

In other words, solving these problems comes from leaning on the principles that make us who we are – our faith – which is embodied in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

My beliefs on how to treat people were shaped in Wilcox County and my faith was developed at the Camden Baptist Church.

The bible tells us over and over that our number one goal is to love God with all of one’s heart and then to love our neighbor as we love our self. That is what I strive to do every day.

When anyone feels forgotten and marginalized, compassion compels us to embrace, assist and share in their suffering. We must not let race divide us. We must grow and advance together.

Being informed by our past, let us now carefully examine our future and work towards positive change. Together, we can envision an Alabama where all her people truly live up to the greatness within our grasp. We cannot change the past or erase our history… But we can build a future that values the worth of each and every citizen.

So, in closing, my hope and prayer for our country as we pause to celebrate America’s 244th birthday, is that we make the most of this moment.

As for our state, let’s make this a time to heal, to commit ourselves to finding consensus, not conflict, and to show the rest of the nation how far we have come, even as we have further to go.

These first steps – just as we are beginning our third century as a state – may be our most important steps yet.

This is our time, Alabama. May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama.

1 week ago

Rural broadband: It’s past time

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

As it turns out, we just thought we understood how much we needed better broadband accessibility in Alabama. Rural farmers, hospitals, and schools have been telling us for years that the inequality of our broadband infrastructure created two classes of Alabamians: internet haves and have-nots. State leaders mostly agreed and promised to address it … eventually.

But in a state with many pressing needs, rural broadband initiatives never pushed their way to the front of the line until a global pandemic upset our entire economy and educational system overnight.

Suddenly countless Alabamians found themselves working and trying to achieve an education from home. The lack of reliable, high-speed internet made it almost impossible for many.

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School systems and municipalities tried to compensate with WiFi-enabled buses parked in strategic locations, and hard-copy learning packets available to students with no access. But these were band-aids on a gaping infrastructure wound.

Professionals suddenly found themselves parking near a McDonald’s to participate in Zoom video calls with employers and clients. Nothing says “peak productivity” like working from your sweaty car outside a fast-food joint.

College students dismissed from campuses and sent back to rural homes to complete the semester may have had it worst of all. Higher education is even more digitally-driven than K-12 these days, and these students were suddenly asked to participate in 2020 learning using 2005 internet speeds.

Now that we have run head-first into the depth of our need, what can we do to make up for lost time and give all Alabamians full access to economic and educational opportunities?

A recent poll commissioned by the Alabama Policy Institute found that a whopping 75.2% of respondents favored using federal CARES Act funding to blanket the state with sufficient broadband access. Additionally, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh has indicated that the legislature is now fully awake on the issue, calling out our “stunning lack of rural broadband investment” just this week.

The $1.8 billion in CARES Act monies Alabama has received represent an opportunity to hit this problem in the mouth. However, we can’t waste the money on solutions held together with duct tape and optimism. Current expectations for business and educational work online include the capacity to stream video, utilize video-driven communication platforms, handle large files and more. We need future-proof infrastructure that can keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth.

Rural cooperatives can play an important role in helping the state meet this challenge. They’ve been delivering utilities to rural Alabamians for decades. Our co-ops possess a great deal of the infrastructure and know-how to help us achieve full coverage with high-speed internet — a utility now as essential to Alabamians as the electricity and telephone service they made accessible in decades past.

What’s more, the “new normal” forced upon us by quarantine showed us ways that full internet connectivity for all can improve our quality of life across the board. It introduced many families to a different kind of education, causing greater interest in remote learning and homeschooling. True educational choice is dependent on access to alternative instruction and resources.

The reduction in regulation around telemedicine during the shutdown allowed us to see how it can better connect aging and rural populations to quality healthcare. Diversifying how we deliver care will be a factor in reducing runaway healthcare costs in the future.

For all the old reasons — and for reasons we’re just beginning to understand — now is the time to get all of Alabama online. We will never be able to capitalize on opportunities for rural economic development or attract educated professionals back to the communities that raised them without giving them the tools to thrive there.

COVID-19 caught Alabama’s broadband infrastructure standing flat-footed this time around. Let’s make sure the next challenge doesn’t find us in the same posture.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is a Visiting Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

Byrne: Our sacred honor

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

This weekend, America will celebrate its 244th birthday. Unfortunately, we do so in a time of a pandemic, a struggling economy and violent protests. But, it’s still our birthday and we should both commemorate and celebrate it.

We usually do a good job in our celebration, although this year will be different since social distancing means we’ll be in smaller groups and public fireworks displays have been canceled. I suspect most of us will find a way to gather with family and close friends to cook out and show the red, white and blue.

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But, a commemoration is more than that. Merriam-Webster defines “commemorate” as “to call to remembrance” or “to serve as a memorial of.” How many of us will stop and remember what it meant for the Second Continental Congress to not only declare our independence from Britain but also to state our reasons for doing so in majestic language positing the highest ideals?

Let me make a suggestion. This Fourth, get a copy of the Declaration and read it. My extended family and friends usually get together and have several of us read the various portions of the Declaration out loud and talk about its meaning. It doesn’t take much time and we always experience a renewed appreciation for the gift that is our country. This year we will do it virtually, in smaller groups.

The Declaration was meant to be read out loud. Indeed, on July 4, Congress not only voted to accept it but also provided for its distribution to the states and the Continental Army. On July 6, John Hancock, as president of Congress, sent letters to the states and to General Washington enclosing broadsides of the Declaration requesting that they have it “proclaimed.” It was read out loud to celebrations in dozens of cities and towns in July and August, and to the Continental Army on July 9 as it prepared for the British Invasion of New York.

To some extent, these events were meant to inform and inspire the people of a newly independent nation. But then, and now, the Declaration is a defining document. It not only said we were an independent nation but also who we aspired to be. Freedom and equality were to be at the heart of the nation’s character. And the rights stated in the Declaration — life liberty and the pursuit of happiness — are clearly labeled gifts from God himself to all of us.

The story of our country is really the unfolding of the efforts to live up to these aspirations. President Lincoln used it as a primary basis for arguing against slavery, as in the Gettysburg Address where he famously said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” As a result of the Civil War, these ideals were enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Martin Luther King used it in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, referring to the Declaration and the Constitution as a promissory note to all Americans which he and others in the Civil Rights Movement called upon the nation to honor. As a result of the Movement, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.

I know it is fashionable now among our nation’s elites to view America as evil from our birth, evil in our institutions and evil in our character. That view is a myth, untethered to the reality of our history. This myth is just a false preamble to lay the groundwork for their efforts to radically reorganize our society and have government run every detail of our lives, all the while piling tax upon tax on us. Isn’t this type of government what caused the founders to declare independence in the first place? These elites call themselves “progressive,” but their plan is actually a regression to a tyrannical central government taxing us against our will.

Despite our faults, some of which have been grievous, we are a nation established upon the highest ideals and which has the strength of its character and institutions to self-correct as we strive toward those ideals. Our history repeatedly demonstrates that is who we are.

David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, several years ago told a gathering of those of us in Congress that Americans would be more hopeful if we only knew our history. How true. Complicated and contradictory, yes, but it is also a history of spectacular success and of a major force for good, here and abroad.

So this week, let’s celebrate and commemorate who we are. Let’s pause in the middle of our present troubles to renew our pride as Americans and draw lessons from our founding and history for the resolution of the issues of the day. And let us, like our founders, “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

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

1 week ago

Defund the CDC

(YHN)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have made numerous mistakes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mission creep at the CDC has left America vulnerable to a communicable disease. We need a new agency solely dedicated to battling infectious diseases.

Let’s start with the mistakes. A lack of early testing let the outbreak spiral out of control. Some have criticized the CDC for not using a German test approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). I will give the CDC a pass here because the CDC is required to develop a test for the U.S. during pandemics. Contamination of the test kits, however, falls squarely on the CDC, a mistake resulting from a breach of basic protocols.

Another miscalculation was preparing only 200 test kits. Although each kit could test 700 specimens, this was still extremely limited capacity to contain an easily transmissible virus.

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The CDC equivocated and eventually flipped its position on masks. Throughout March, the agency claimed that only the sick or persons caring for the sick should wear masks. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently confirmed that this deliberate misinformation was intended to reserve masks for health care workers but was still misinformation.

Recently, The Atlantic reported that the CDC has been combining blood and nasal test results. Blood serum antibody tests only show that a person has had COVID-19 at some point. As a result, the case reports being watched so carefully as states reopen may include older cases.

Some commentators blame the CDC’s failures on Trump administration budget cuts. Yet as the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards demonstrated, proposed cuts were never enacted; the CDC budget has remained steady (adjusting for inflation) since 2010 with a 12% increase in employees.

The CDC has spent money and time on efforts unrelated to infectious diseases. This is the essence of “mission creep,” or an expansion of tasks beyond an agency’s core competency. Bureaucrats seek out new tasks for additional funding, and sometimes Congress orders an agency to study something. As Cato’s Mr. Edwards writes, “How is CDC Director [Dr. Robert] Redfield supposed to remain alert to emerging epidemics when he is also supposed to manage programs on tiny teeth, colon cancer, opioids, child abuse, diabetes, workers’ compensation, lead-based paints, mold in buildings, and lifting heavy objects on construction sites?”

States imposed draconian “nonpharmaceutical interventions” (NPI) to slow COVID-19. Evidence demonstrating these policies’ effectiveness was very limited. A 2019 WHO review observed, “The evidence base on the effectiveness of NPIs in community settings is limited, and the overall quality of evidence was very low for most interventions.” Furthermore, “much of the evidence base is from observational studies and computer simulations.”

The role of computer models deserves further discussion. Computer models produced the “worst-case” scenarios predicting 1.7 million to 2.2 million deaths in an unconstrained pandemic and claiming that measures like closing schools and shutting down business could avoid most of these deaths. The projections were based on assumptions, not evidence, that NPIs would reduce interactions between people.

Lockdown policies might not reduce interactions due to offsetting personal actions. For example, children not interacting at school may interact instead at parks, day care centers, or malls. Grandparents’ taking on babysitting duties could potentially increase transmissions to the elderly. Evidence from actual school closings would be required to validate assumed reductions in interactions.

Instead of researching vaping and gun violence, the CDC could have extensively examined NPIs. We did not need to take a shot in the dark with polices that cost 40 million American jobs.

Limited government not only keeps government within its proper scope, it avoids mission creep and ensures that critical tasks get done well. Governments generally underprepare for rare events like disasters and pandemics. This makes an agency focusing exclusively on communicable diseases invaluable.

After the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, we should seriously consider replacing the CDC with an agency focused exclusively on infectious diseases. Other CDC functions (like collecting vital statistics) can be moved elsewhere within the Department of Health and Human Services. We need an approach to ensure preparedness for the next pandemic.

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.

Responsible recreation: How sportsmen and women continue to set an example in the age of social distancing

(Danny Crawford, Outdoor Alabama/Contributed, YHN)

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in many changes that require us all to adjust. Phrases like “self-quarantine” and “social distancing,” which were rarely used or completely unheard of several months ago, are now a part of our daily vocabulary. As we adjust to this “new normal,” America’s sportsmen and women, a group that I am proud to represent as a member of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, have found a way to pursue their outdoor passions while much of the world seemingly stood still. By participating in outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting, sportsmen and women are setting an example for those looking for safe and responsible recreational opportunities.

While millions of Americans have been forced to limit their travels due to mandatory stay-at-home orders, activities like hunting, fishing, recreational shooting and many other outdoor activities have provided an outlet for Americans to safely recreate as they can be enjoyed while practicing social distancing and adhering to other COVID-19 safety guidelines. As restrictions start to ease, Americans are flocking to the woods, waters, fields and trails to take advantage of our outdoor resources, with many discovering nature’s wonders for the first time.

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This newfound interest in outdoor recreation represents an invaluable opportunity to introduce American’s to activities like hunting and fishing and the vital role sportsmen and women play in conservation. In addition to the numerous documented mental and physical health benefits gained through these activities, maintaining access to hunting and fishing opportunities gives Americans a chance to procure their own locally-sourced meat. Due to many of the impacts of COVID-19, this ability to be self-reliant is at a premium. With all of this in mind, these unprecedented times represent a chance for a new generation of sportsmen and women to discover the passion that many of us already share. Be it through scouting for upcoming fall hunting seasons, or landing that first largemouth bass, now is the time to lead by example and plant the seeds for the next generation of sportsmen and women.

Increased participation in hunting, fishing and recreational shooting has enormous conservation benefits as well through the American System of Conservation Funding. This “user pays-public benefits” approach relies on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses and self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel to fund many state fish and wildlife management agencies. In addition, these activities support local economies which, during these unprecedented times, has become incredibly important. In fact, recent surveys report that Alabama’s 948,000 hunters and anglers spent $1.9 billion while pursuing their outdoor passions.

Unfortunately, the ability of America’s sportsmen and women to participate in their outdoor endeavors were not uniformly protected as statewide orders were announced. In fact, several states saw actions that hindered or even eliminated the ability to participate in our treasured outdoor traditions. While largely enacted in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, these actions severely limited our outdoor opportunities without any measurable increase in public safety. To ensure that such restrictive actions are not used again, it is up to sportsmen and women to practice responsible recreation, showing by example that our outdoor pursuits can be performed safely. This can be accomplished by following a few simple guidelines.

  • Plan ahead; purchase licenses and park passes online, if available.
  • Recreate close to home
  • Adhere to best practices for avoiding COVID-19
  • Follow state and federal guidelines
  • Pack out your trash as a courtesy to others and to avoid the appearance of overuse
  • Share your adventures in a respectful way on social media outlets

To learn more about how others are using these challenging times as an opportunity to spend more time outdoors, search for #ResponsibleRecreation on social media. Likewise, for more information on recreating responsibly, or to take the Responsible Recreation pledge and help lead by example, visit www.responsible-recreation.org.

State Rep. Danny Crawford of Athens represents Distict 5, which includes portions of Limestone County, in the Alabama House and serves as the chair of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus

Roby: Protecting our Alabama communities

(Martha Roby/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Several states across the country have seen a surge in reported coronavirus (COVID-19) cases over the past few weeks. On Thursday, June 25, the United States set a new single-day record for new coronavirus cases, with state health departments reporting 39,327 cases. Over the past week, Alabama has seen the most troubling numbers to date. The Alabama Department of Health (ADPH) reported 1,129 new cases that same day, setting a record for the highest number of new cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began.

Infections and hospitalizations are rising across the state and continue to remain a threat to the health of all Alabamians. State public health officials have recently spoken out regarding the importance of wearing facial coverings or masks. State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said, “We simply aren’t headed the right way in Alabama … the bottom line is masks do prevent infections and masks do save lives.” Dr. Scott Harris along with ADPH highly encourage all individuals to wear some type of facial covering when necessary.

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Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, pleaded for Alabamians to wear masks and demonstrate proper social distancing practices if they must be out in public. “What I would plead for is a change in people’s behavior with a realization that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something,” Williamson said.

The current Safer at Home public health order is set to expire on July 3. As Alabama has already eased restrictions allowing the reopening of several businesses and venues, each Alabamian should practice personal responsibility in order to slow the spread of coronavirus across the state. It is up to each of us to protect those in our communities. I urge Alabamians to abide by official guidelines and direction, including those suggested by ADPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Let’s put forth our best effort to protect this beloved state and all of us who call it home.

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

Byrne: America needs building up, not tearing down

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Our brilliant founders built our democracy upon two different but complimentary pillars.

The first and more obvious pillar is our constitutional system itself, what the writers of the Federalist Papers called the “new science of politics.” Our representative democracy would not be possible without our revolutionary constitution and the laws that uphold it, separation and enumeration of powers, and effective checks and balances.

The second pillar is more difficult to define but just as essential – nationally shared values and a common morality. Our founders believed the natural expression of these shared values would be a patriotism and respect for our fellow citizens. In a functioning democracy where the government is a reflection of the people whose popular will directs it, civic virtue is a necessity. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer of early America, saw the source of our strength when writing “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Without the second pillar, our democracy would be broken.

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Let’s go back to the first principles that united the people of our young Republic and guided our founders as they began the great American experiment.

In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God made humans in His own image. We are all His children and that makes all of us of equal and inestimable worth. St. Peter in Acts 10, and St. Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 2, make perfectly clear that we are not to show “partiality,” to ascribe more moral worth to one ethnic or class group over another. And the second of the Great Commandments is that we should love one another as we love ourselves.

The Declaration of Independence echoed these great Biblical principles when it said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But, the truth of America is that we excluded black people from these principles at the very moment we appealed to the world to recognize our existence as a new and independent nation based on noble ideals. We didn’t live up to those ideals.

The drafters of the Constitution didn’t fix this failure. It took a civil war 75 years later, and the loss of 600,000 lives, to end slavery. And the end of slavery did not bring equality and justice to black Americans, who endured segregation and violence for decades until the civil rights movement brought an end to legal segregation as well as passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. While we have made much progress since the 1960s, clearly we have more work to do.

Each of the pillars of democracy needs reinforcement, and our response to our current challenge will determine our nation’s course for decades. New laws are needed to strengthen the first pillar by taking steps to restore faith between the overwhelming majority of good and decent law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Fortunately, there are areas of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. But we cannot forget the second pillar. As a civic-minded people, we have a duty to soberly reexamine and evaluate our values. By doing so, we can restore important foundational values while recognizing where they fell short and course correcting.

The only way to make America better is by building our nation up, not tearing it down. Perhaps we should remember these words of Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

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

2 weeks ago

Guest: I support ‘black lives matter,’ not Black Lives Matter

(S. McEachin Otts/Facebook, YHN)

I am not a Black Lives Matter guy, but I am a black lives matter guy. Here’s what I mean: Regardless of any merits, the formal organization Black Lives Matter is clearly in favor of defunding the police as stated in this quote from their website: “We call for a national defunding of police.” That is not meritorious in any way!

I fully support the principle that black lives matter, and I’m for many of the reforms I know about, but I am totally against defunding the police — so I cannot support any organization supporting such an extreme, dangerous proposal as defunding the police. Give me a break!

I am for localization of most reforms because all local departments have distinct needs. It’s good for the feds to incentivize certain common priorities as laid out recently by the Trump administration. That includes incentives for local police departments that seek “independent credentialing” to certify that law enforcement is meeting higher standards for the use of force and de-escalation training. Those standards would include banning the use of chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk.”

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Also included in fed. changes is incentivizing local departments to bring on experts in mental health, addiction and homelessness as “co-responders” to “help officers manage these complex encounters.”

Further, the incentives would encourage better information sharing to track officers with “credible abuses” to prevent them from moving from one department to the next. These are big changes, and incentivizing allows for individualized approaches at the local level. Every location does not have the same needs or challenges. If we believe any of these incentivized reforms need national “teeth,” that’s the job of our elected representatives in Congress.

All of this is good, and if some bipartisan action is taken by Congress, it will likely be reasonable and fitting. However, defunding the police is one of the most unreasonable and just plain worst ideas I have ever seen pushed nationally. Therefore, I repeat: I am not a Black Lives Matter guy, but I am a black lives matter guy.

One more thing must be said. As interracial groups on the local level gather to discuss these matters, please do not allow elephants to remain in the room. Drop the political correctness and fear-mongering for once! Black people should share openly and respectfully, and white people should do the same.

The word is transparency, and it’s the stuff on which we build good relationships. Black lives matter, but to improve race relations, so do relationships. Better relationships between black people and white people means black lives matter more.

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

2 weeks ago

Philosopher kings on the Supreme Court usurp Congress and the people. Again.

(Wikicommons, YHN)

According to ancient Greek philosopher Plato, it is the great thinkers, or philosophers, who are best suited to govern society. Dubbed “philosopher kings” they use wisdom, Plato says, to determine how society should operate.

Ours is not a country governed by philosopher kings. The Founding Fathers, instead, predicated our government as one of the people. And it is Congress, the gathering of popularly elected representatives, which is given that weighty law-writing authority.

Six justices in Washington seem to have missed that memo.

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On Monday, the Supreme Court, through Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, decided that the term “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 now includes “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Discriminating against potential or current employees on the basis of sexual orientation or transgendered status, therefore, is now illegal in all fifty states.

The Court decreed the new definition by a vote of 6-3, with two GOP-appointed judges, including Trump-appointee Neil Gorsuch, joining the liberal wing. Justice Gorsuch, in fact, authored the majority’s opinion.

According to Dr. Russell Moore, a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, the ruling “will have seismic implications for religious liberty, setting off potentially years of lawsuits and court struggles, about what this means, for example, for religious organizations with religious convictions about the meaning of sex and sexuality.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, although it includes provisions against discrimination on the basis of sex, was written to address the racial injustice in voting, employment, and other basic civil rights that black Americans faced on a regular basis.

It was not written to protect those who identify as transgender or as homosexual.

So how did the Court determine that, after almost sixty years, the hard-earned legislative victory won by black Americans for their freedoms also applied to the LGBT community?

Enter the philosopher kings.

Through a series of truly innovative and creative arguments, the Court attempts to make the point that discriminating on the basis of homosexual or transgender status is, in fact, discriminating on the basis of sex.

Here is one such argument by Justice Gorsuch:

“Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other is a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague.”

And thus, we have discrimination based, at least partially, on sex. And Title VII does not allow such discrimination.

There are multiple problems with the Court’s logic.

First is that the example does not stand up. As Justice Alito mentions in his dissent, the employees are not “materially identical” except for sex. Sexual orientation, it is clear, is the material difference–a material difference that is not mentioned in Title VII. This difference, Alito argues, makes it so that “we cannot infer…that the employer was motivated in part by sex.”

Second is the problem of ordinary public meaning, a historical question that typically governs how the Court rules on issues of language. What did the term “sex” mean in the context of the bill’s writing? Did it include sexual orientation and gender identity? We know, of course, that “sex”, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions,” did not mean these things.

And it still doesn’t.

The philosopher kings on the bench, however, easily push these concerns aside.

“[L]egislative history has no bearing here,” they say.

As Justice Kavanaugh points out in his dissent, the Court disregards the fact that, since Congress enacted Title VII in 1964, they have “never treated sexual orientation discrimination the same as, or as a form of, sex discrimination” but as “legally distinct categories of discrimination.”

Disregarded is the reality that the Supreme Court itself, when dealing with applicable cases, has never once in its history suggested that sexual orientation discrimination was a form of sex discrimination. Nineteen justices on the court could have hinted at this. They didn’t.

Disregarded, and this is especially important, is that fact that Congress could act on the issue if and when it wanted to.

Disregarded as well are the consequences of the Court’s actions to cases concerning housing, employment by religious organizations, healthcare, the freedom of speech, and confusion regarding race and age dysphoria.

The philosopher kings will figure that out, too, when they get the chance. Don’t worry.

Regardless, these back-end consequences about religious liberty and American freedom are just part of the problem. Also important is the disregard demonstrated by the Court for the legislative process, for Congress, and for the Constitution that allocates the law-writing authority to elected representatives, not appointed lawyers who want to exercise their mental jiu-jitsu skills.

Even so, the blame is not the Court’s alone. Congress has largely given up its authority to create laws and delegated both to the executive in the form of regulatory power (agencies writing regulations which have the effect of law) and to the courts by not holding the judiciary accountable, up to impeachment, for violating the Constitution.

We, everyday Americans, are not absolved of blame here either.

The truth is that, if Congress was full of representatives who wanted to uphold their duty to the Constitution, they would do just that. So who elects Congress?

Oh right. We do.

So until Americans decide that our representatives need to regain the duties deemed to them by our Founding Fathers through the Constitution, we’ll continue to see law handed down to us by justices, presidents, and bureaucrats. Philosopher kings.

Anyone but the people.

Parker Snider is the Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Institute (API).

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

2 weeks ago

Complete your 2020 Census today

(Representative Martha Roby/Facebook)

As Americans have dealt with the hardships and consequences surrounding the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, visualizing a “back-to-normal” routine remains challenging for many. Although these times are unprecedented and the future is uncertain, life continues to carry on. In the midst of the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau is conducting the 2020 Census, marking the twenty-fourth time the country has counted the population since 1790.

As you know, the Census Bureau conducts a count of every resident in the United States every ten years, as mandated by Article I, Section 2 of our Constitution. This action is critically important to understanding current facts and figures about our country’s people, places, and economy. The accuracy of this year’s Census is vital to the future of our state’s representation in Congress and the Electoral College System. Alabama currently has nine Electoral College votes, and if everyone throughout the state does not fully participate, that number could drop down. This is something we, as Alabamians, do not want to see happen. The Census also dictates the amount of federal dollars that come into Alabama, specifically to hospitals, job training centers, schools, infrastructure, and other emergency services. Inaccurate or miscounted numbers mean we as a state are having to do more with less.

Despite COVID-19, it is crucial you do your part by completing the 2020 Census questionnaire. Several methods are available:

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  • Respond Online – You can respond online using your computer, smartphone, or tablet at my2020census.gov. If you are responding online, please note that you cannot save your progress and that you must complete the census in one sitting.
  • Respond by Phone – Call 844-330-2020.
  • Respond by Mail – You can mail back the paper questionnaire sent to your home. Most households received their invitation to respond to the 2020 Census in March.

Even if you did not receive an invitation to respond from the Census Bureau, you can respond online or visit the Census Bureau’s “Contact Us” page to call the phone line at 2020census.gov/en/contact-us.

As of June 17, the national self-response rate was 61.5 percent, Alabama’s rate was 59.3 percent, and the Second Congressional District’s rate was 57.8 percent. If you live in the Second District and have not yet filled out your 2020 Census accounting for yourself and your family, I challenge you to respond today, and I encourage all Alabamians to participate. These results will shape the future of our state for years to come, and you will be proud to have been a part of it. For more information, visit the official 2020 Census webpage at 2020census.gov.

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

2 weeks ago

Flowers: Why George Wallace said ‘no’ to U.S. Senate

(Wikicommons, YHN)

My next book on Alabama politics will expound on who I believe have been the top 60 political leaders in Alabama over the past 60 years.

More than likely in any political historian’s book George Wallace and Senator Richard Shelby would rank as the top two. The question is, “Who gets the number one spot?”

In my book, Senator Shelby trumps Governor Wallace. Maybe not six years ago, but after Shelby’s current reign as chairman of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee and what he has brought home to Alabama is simply unparalleled.

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Shelby’s remarkable 33 years in the U.S. Senate has been heralded by chairmanships of the Banking, Intelligence, Rules and now Appropriations committees. This will never be matched again in Alabama history. Indeed, it would be difficult to find any U.S. Senator in history with that resume.

In short, Shelby’s 33 years in the U.S. Senate capped with his pinnacle of power in the nation’s august body, trumps George Wallace’s 18 years as governor.

However, it is reasonable to bet that nobody will ever be governor of Alabama for 18 years again. That is quite a feat.

I am often asked the question, “Why did George Wallace not proceed to the U.S. Senate?” Other southern political legends like Huey Long in Louisiana and the Talmadges in Georgia wound up their political lives in the U.S. Senate after being governor of their state.

In most states, the ultimate political prize has been to go to the U.S. Senate and die there. There is an old saying that longtime southern senators will say, “The only way that I’m going to leave the United States Senate is by way of the ballot box or in a pine box.”

Being governor of a state is generally considered a prelude or stepping-stone to a U.S. Senate seat. Not so in Alabama, the governor’s office has always seemed to be the ultimate brass ring.

George Wallace could have gone to the U.S. Senate early in his career. In 1966 he had the golden opportunity. He had fought valiantly in 1965 to get the state senate to change the law that precluded a governor from succeeding himself. With that door closed, the obvious route for any politician would be to go to the Senate.

In 1966 Wallace was at the top of his game. He was at the height of his popularity. Race was the paramount and only issue. He owned the issue. He owned the state of Alabama politically. He was the king of Alabama politics, and there was a senate seat up for election.

The venerable John Sparkman was up for election. He was powerful and he was popular but he was no match for George Wallace and he was considered soft on the race issue. Wallace would have easily beaten Sparkman and gone to the Senate. He chose instead to run his wife for governor. Lurleen Wallace trounced the illustrious field of candidates.

After Wallace was shot in his presidential bid in 1972, he survived but he was mortally wounded and left a paraplegic for the rest of his life. His health was ruined and he was relegated to constant pain and confined to a wheelchair.

In 1978, Alabama had not only one, but also both senate seats vacant. Wallace was ending his third term as governor and had nowhere to go politically. It was obvious that Wallace should take one of the open seats. It was his for the asking. His close personal aide and friend, Elvin Stanton, related the scenario to me. Stanton said that Wallace was going to run, but at the last minute, he told Elvin, “Let’s go to Washington and look around.” They went together to the Capitol and surveyed the terrain.

It occurred to Wallace that his life would be difficult at best maneuvering the steps and corridors of the Capitol. He just did not want to leave Alabama. He wanted to be near his doctors. He wanted to die in Alabama, not Washington. I suspect in the back of Wallace’s mind he thought that he might run one more time for governor in 1982. He did and he won.

Wallace would have won a Senate seat in 1978 and he would have won one earlier in 1966. The bottom line is George Wallace just did not want to be a United States Senator. He liked being governor of Alabama.

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

3 weeks ago

Sports and COVID risk

(Pixabay, YHN)

Sports across the world are beginning restarts. Germany’s top soccer league resumed in May, while NASCAR, the UFC and the PGA tour are back underway. Yet are sports truly worth risking a deadly illness?

The assumption of risk provides a guiding principle. Adults should be free to engage in risky activities. Voluntary, informed consent makes many activities acceptable; boxers and UFC fighters would be committing felonies against unwilling participants. Sports participation involves numerous risks, of which COVID-19 could be one.

Pro athletes are well compensated, so a stronger case exists for resuming pro than college sports. In 2019, baseball’s minimum and average salaries exceeded $500,000 and $4 million respectively. Yet because we allow 18-year olds to join the military, I think college athletes should be able to accept COVID-19 risk if they choose.

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Sports are group activities, raising a thorny issue. A league will either return to action or not. Dealing with risks of death is a fundamental and personal part of life. In America. we believe that people should get to make fundamental life decisions for themselves. For instance, as restaurants reopen, people can choose whether to accept the risk.

All players must live with a league’s decision. For some, the league decision will differ from what they would choose based on their personal values. The league’s decision may appear coercive; for example, NBA players may feel “forced” to report for the league’s restart. Yet this is not truly coercion. No player will face jail time for refusing to play; they can give up their contract and roster spot.

As leagues grapple with resuming play, remember that safety is a luxury good. People generally choose more safety as they become richer. Star players worth millions of dollars may be unwilling to accept much risk. We should expect leagues to exercise abundant caution and some stars to step away.

Events with few or no fans seem likely for the near term. Consequently, leagues relying more on gate receipts than television broadcast rights should be less likely to restart. College football depends more on ticket revenues (including donations tied to tickets) than the NFL, and the NCAA seems unenthusiastic about playing games with empty stadiums.

Televised sports will recover one of the pandemic’s significant economic losses. Economists call the difference between the value of a good or experience to people and the price they must pay consumer surplus. Millions of Americans watch and follow sports while paying very little to do so; sports generate a lot of consumer surplus. The cost of the sports shutdown far exceeded its contribution to GDP.

One factor receiving surprisingly little attention is athletes’ benefits from competition. For example, athletes train for years to compete in the Olympics. Missing out on the experience of a lifetime seems like a significant loss. The Summer Olympics have not been canceled, just postponed to 2021.

The potential availability of a vaccine or cure matters significantly for restarting sports. President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed promises a vaccine by December. As a Troy Trojans football season ticket holder, I would favor starting the season in January if we will have a vaccine.

States’ business closure orders this spring exempted “essential” businesses. Perhaps sports should be essential. Workers in health care, meatpacking, grocery stores, and package delivery have been expected to work despite COVID-19. Meatpacking plants have proven particularly vulnerable yet were ordered by President Trump to remain open. Many essential workers probably never realized they were working such potentially dangerous jobs.

Other Americans, myself included, have been working safely from home. Yet we rely on essential workers putting themselves at risk; college classes can only go online if someone keeps the power grid and internet functioning. Sports comprise an important part of the lives of many Americans. A resumption of sports could be viewed as essential for the well-being of essential workers.

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

3 weeks ago

Is there really ever ‘A Time to Kill?’

(Walt Merrell/Contributed)

Many years ago, as a younger lawyer, I was crossing the street to the courthouse when I met a familiar black woman. We exchanged pleasantries, and she flattered me. “You sure do look like that lawyer on that movie, ‘A Time to Kill.’”

I appreciated the compliment, though I’m not sure how Matthew McConaughey, who played the lawyer in the movie, would feel about the comparison.

And contrary to the movie’s title, I’m also not sure there’s ever a time to kill.

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That encounter years ago came to mind recently as I spent most of the day in the courtroom. We had a sentencing hearing on a murder case. I sat in our office hallway – it empties into the courtroom – weighing the importance of what was about to unfold.

Sitting next to me was a precious seven-year-old girl. Children are not allowed in the courtroom because of COVID-19, so she perched there, with a view through the open door. She is a beautiful child – a smile as bright as the North Star, eyes as vivid as any van Gogh canvas, and the sweet disposition of a Disney princess. She reminds me of my youngest daughter – loving, cheerful and compassionate. She melts me.

We talked for a minute about school and how much she loves math. Her bow and barrette swashing atop her head, she sheepishly looked up at me, and then back down to the floor, grinning. We laughed for a few minutes. She was a refreshing distraction from the heaviness of the room.

My thoughts drifted back to the murder case. During the trial, the defendant claimed the killing was justified. He admitted he shot the victim, who was unarmed, but insisted the victim was a threat to him. That it was – a time to kill.

In the movie “A Time to Kill,” Carl Lee Hailey, a black Mississippian, killed two white men in cold blood. Hailey killed them because they beat, raped and hanged his daughter. On the witness stand, Hailey exclaimed, “Yes, I killed ‘em! And I hope they burn in hell!” He thought it was a time to kill.

As I drifted deeper into my thoughts, I felt a gentle, small hand take mine. I turned as she grasped my hand tighter, and tears rolled down her face. Leaning over, I put my arm around her, “Baby, what’s wrong?”

“I miss him. Why did he have to die? I miss him so much and I’m just …” Her voice broke. She turned her eyes to the floor and wiped her tears with her sleeve.

I didn’t have an answer. I struggled for words to tell a seven-year-old how to ease her pain, but I surely wanted to take it all from her. She melted me.

She didn’t think it was a time to kill.

The bailiff gave me a familiar head nod: The judge was coming. I gave my little friend a big hug, and told her I had to go to work, but that I’d be back. She looked up at me, as if she saw hope in what I was about to do. Little did she know, I saw hope in her.

During the hearing, the defendant’s lawyer tried to mitigate the circumstances, suggesting that the victim had faults which contributed to killing and, but for those faults, no death would have occurred. He suggested there was a time to kill.

I responded by reminding the court that Phillip Parker, the defendant, could have called the police; that he could have stayed inside instead of advancing on the victim; that he secreted himself and ambushed the victim. And then, I reminded the judge that my victim’s life mattered.

And it did. And it still does.

He was a father. He was a son. He was a brother. He was a human being. His life had value. His life mattered to that little girl; her flushed cheeks and tears evidenced that.

In the movie, in his closing arguments of the case, Matthew McConaughey asked the jury members to close their eyes. He methodically recounted the gruesome experience that Carl Lee Hailey’s daughter suffered. Finishing with a description of her being tossed off a bridge, McConaughey asked the jurors, “Can you see her? Can you see her laying there, blood-soaked, semen-soaked, urine-soaked … battered and beaten? Can you see her?” Jurors began to cry.

“Now imagine she was white,” he said. Several jurors were visibly shaken by the notion.

My little friend – can you see her? With her beautiful smile and eyes so full of life, her long hair and pretty bows. Can you see her? Her name is Amani – and she is a little black girl.

Did you imagine she was white?

Tekevious Best’s life mattered to his sister Klarissa, a social worker from North Carolina. His life mattered to his other sister, Dacia, a college student. His life mattered to his two children, Hope and Trey. His life mattered to Florala Police Chief Sonny Bedsole and ALEA Agent Chris Inabinett, and Sheriff’s Investigator Mike Irwin.

His life mattered to his little cousin, Amani. His life mattered to me.

It was not a time to kill.

Unlike in the movie, our jury found Parker guilty of murdering Tekevious Best. Our jury agreed: This was not a time to kill. I don’t know what I would do if someone raped my daughter. Perhaps the same thing Carl Lee Hailey did, but it wouldn’t be right. Vengeance is not meant to be ours, says the Lord.

It’s never a time to rape or kill, regardless of skin color.

It’s never a time to kill a man simply because he is black.

It’s never a time to kill a police officer simply because of her job.

It’s never a time to kill someone because he busted out a window.

It was not a time to kill Tekevious Best.

I don’t know if there is ever a time to kill.

I am heartbroken. I work every day to combat the evil of this world, and I don’t care about someone’s skin color. Evil doesn’t have a color. Neither does a victim’s grief.

Recently, I feared evil was winning. It seemed that because of the chaos in the world, no one was willing to listen or to talk. I was reminded of an old expression: “I’m sorry, I can’t hear what you are saying because your actions are too loud.”

But then, Amani took my hand. As tears rolled down her face, she sought comfort from me. She didn’t care what color my skin was. And I didn’t care what color hers was, either. In fact, I couldn’t see the color of her skin. I was too fixated on the hope I saw in her eyes.

Can you see it? Can you see the hope of the next generation? I pray you can, because we all need to pursue it – together.

There is never a time to kill the hope of a child.

Walt Merrell is district attorney for Covington County. You can follow him on Facebook at Walt Merrell, District Attorney (https://www.facebook.com/waltmerrellda/).

Byrne: Keeping our heads

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne, Benjamin L. Crump, Esq./Facebook, YHN)

These last few weeks have riveted the country’s attention on police brutality. The murder of George Floyd was an atrocity, and unfortunately it’s not the first one. As we have so often in our history, it’s time for America to respond with appropriate and reasonable reform. It’s not time to lose our heads, however.

The “defund the police” movement is not the answer. My colleagues Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke out against it last week. Ms. Norton said that the poorest of the people she represents live in the parts of town that experience the most homicides and crime. “I’m not sure I would hear them saying we ought to reduce the number of police, I may hear them saying just the opposite,” she said.

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Neither does it make sense to paint all of law enforcement with a broad and negative brush. We all need law enforcement and we are blessed that the vast majority of our officers are good professionals, often doing their jobs under dangerous circumstances. Last year, 89 officers died in the line of duty in the U.S. Many more were injured. Most of us don’t work in a job where it is unclear whether we will return home at the end of the day safe and sound. But they do.

It is undeniable, however, that there are rogue officers treating black people unprofessionally, injuring and, yes, even killing them. That’s not acceptable. We need to make reforms to our law enforcement system, and some of those reforms will indeed cost more, not less, money.

This issue is primarily a local one as that is where most law enforcement officers work. Better and stricter standards, better training on those standards, and better discipline of officers who act outside those standards, all must occur locally.

There are some things we can do at the federal level, however, and there are a number of recent proposals. I believe there is a significant level of concern across both parties and enough consensus around some of the proposals that we should be able to pass a bill which is broadly bipartisan. The fact that the Democrats filed their bill with no effort to consult and work with Republicans, indeed against direct appeals to include us, is very disappointing, but we can’t let that stop us from finding common ground, without which there will be no change in the law.

We are presently scheduled to vote on a police reform bill next week, and while the Democrats have filed this purely partisan bill, I hope there will be a real opportunity for dialogue.

I support a federal ban on lynching, and we should condition federal grants to local law enforcement on adherence to higher standards, particularly on the use of force. More federal money should go for training to these higher standards. We need to collect and report more and timely information on the use of force and more Federal money should go to pay for body cameras. We should ban racial profiling but do it in such a manner that the ban wouldn’t preclude the appropriate use of information about specific suspects or specific crimes.

I’m open to discussing some reform to the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” which shields law enforcement officers from legal action when they are acting in the line of duty. The doctrine needs more clarity which a well-drawn statute could bring. But I oppose outright repeal because that would leave officers who have acted appropriately the subjects of endless lawsuits which would likely result in these officers pulling back from doing their jobs.

For this same reason I am concerned about lowering the standard for criminal actions against law enforcement under the Civil Rights statutes. Presently, prosecutions against law enforcement officers require proof that the officer acted “willfully,” but some of the new proposals would lower that to proof of “reckless disregard.” Go look at the legal definition of the latter and it will leave you scratching your head as to what the courts mean. You don’t want a law enforcement officer in the middle of a violent situation, where he is present to protect innocent lives, to be scratching his head. If we are going to change that standard at all it needs to be very clear and precise.

Go back to what Ms. Norton said. Who is going to be harmed the most if law enforcement pulls back, if they retreat from their duty? It’s the poor, who are all too often the victims of crime and are also likely to be from a racial minority.

Let’s say it plainly. Black people are of equal moral value as white people. It’s Biblical, it’s American. And to treat people differently based on their race is morally and legally repugnant. To injure or kill them for the same reason goes against everything we stand for.

We are Americans, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. We are liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and everything in between. All of us are the beneficiaries of the American system of justice, however imperfect it may seem, because it’s the ultimate expression of civilization. Due process, the equal application of the law, limits on the power of the state (that includes law enforcement), and the basic principles and of our common humanity underly this system.

We stand with one another. With black people wronged by rogue law enforcement officers. With the vast majority of law enforcement who throw themselves at danger to protect us and conduct themselves with professionalism and with little pay.

And we should do all this using, not losing, our heads.

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

3 weeks ago

Now is the time to stay smart, do better, be better and for Alabama to lead locally

(Jim Byard Jr./Contributed)

Stay safe and stay smart. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is how I’ve ended most of my email correspondence. However, it now strikes me that “stay smart” might also be good advice for my beloved Alabama.

It is unwise and unproductive to expend our energy wishing for a return to normal. Rather, we must work progressively, stay smart and make something new. As a former mayor and former Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) director, I know firsthand that top-down approaches to governing are rarely successful. While our State House galleries are often occupied by lobbyists, most city council chambers are filled with ordinary citizens, looking to participate at the most basic level of government. Local leaders must focus on the business of governing. Ensuring that potholes are filled, garbage is collected, parks are clean and accessible, and police and fire departments are fully funded and well-staffed are just a small portion of the many day-to-day local government operations necessary for achieving community quality of life.

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As Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” Local government depends on active citizens and local governments are better positioned to tackle particular issues with local solutions. Broad across-the-board laws don’t account for a messy world; and that is precisely where we find ourselves today: in a messy world. Which is why we must stay smart.

I believe we can do better. Ray Mabus, former governor of our neighboring state of Mississippi, and past secretary of the Navy, once said that people become victims of the “tyranny of low expectations” meaning oftentimes people settle for the status quo and accept that we are already at our best. Folks, our challenge today is to make tough decisions, raise expectations and take on the messy world – all while staying smart.

Right now, in Alabama, cities large and small are grappling with their citizens demanding conversation and, in most cases, action on the fate of Confederate monuments. In 2017, the Alabama legislature passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act requiring local governments to obtain state permission before moving historically significant buildings or monuments that are 40 years old or older. The law created the 11-member Committee on Alabama Monument Protection. Crucial conversations and oftentimes difficult discussions regarding these monuments must be had; and the place for these conversations are in local city halls across our state — between the citizens most affected and those chosen locally to lead. As with most issues, one size, top-down solutions are not the answer.

Local leaders have a mandate to be fair. They also live with those they represent. Their constituents interact with them at church, through service organizations, at local stores, community events and sporting activities. Local leaders are not like the appointed 11-member committee that doesn’t live next door and isn’t directly affected by decisions they make. Local citizens expect, and should demand, that their local leaders have these conversations, weigh the merits of the debate and then make thoughtful decisions as they decide on the proper display of controversial monuments.

Now is the time to stay smart, to do better, to be better and for Alabama to lead. In 1955, then Alabama League of Municipalities’ Executive Director Ed Reid wrote: “Municipal Government is a training ground in democracy and statesmanship. Municipal government is also the level at which the citizen can most directly participate in the democratic process.” Sixty-five years later, this sentence still rings true. The proper setting for public discourse and discussion is in city halls and county courthouses across Alabama. Local debate, local leadership, and local decision making will result in solutions that make sense for the citizens most affected.

Stay safe and stay smart, Alabama.

Jim Byard, Jr. spent almost 20 years at Prattville City Hall – first as a City Councilor, then as City Council President followed by 12 years as Mayor along with a term as President of the Alabama League of Municipalities. He served as Director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), a cabinet level position, from 2011 until 2017. He is now an economic and community development consultant working with municipalities, counties, chambers of commerce and industry throughout Alabama and the Southeast region.

3 weeks ago

While Alabama mourns another police officer killed in the line of duty, citizens must support law enforcement

(WVTM, Paul DeMarco/Facebook

With all that the nation and state have been through recently, what we cannot forget is another tragic murder of an Alabama police officer.

Moody Police Sergeant Stephen Williams was shot and killed in the line of duty two weeks ago after responding to a 911 call. Williams was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant.

Over the past 16 months, there have been nine members of state law enforcement that have been killed in the line of duty, an unprecedented and tragic number for Alabama.

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Violent attacks against public safety have not only increased across the nation these past few weeks, but years. Look at the attacks across our country that have left police officers injured and families suffering.

In addition, the violent rhetoric against police officers has gotten worse with some elected officials tacitly broad brushing the actions of some for all of law enforcement. Many cities around the country are now looking at defunding police office departments and reducing the number of officers. This misguided approach will harm those communities more vulnerable to the criminal element as police have less officers and tools to devote to the hardest-hit areas. We have seen what happens when police are not allowed to patrol, the void is filled with those that want to victimize innocent residents of those neighborhoods. Crime rates around the country have shot up and will continue to increase with efforts to limit the ability of police to protect the public.

Alabama citizens must work with state leaders to partner with public safety to protect against further violence that threaten those on the thin blue line. While other cities and states work against police, Alabama must ensure officers are given the resources to protect themselves and our communities.

Officers in Alabama have been vigilant and professional in the face of unprecedented pressure and they deserve our support now more than ever.

Other states may do differently, but Alabama must work harder to support law enforcement.

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

3 weeks ago

Let’s celebrate the Magna Carta!

(Wikicommons)

In just a few weeks, fireworks will illuminate the night sky, parades will proceed down Main Streets, and the American people, even while social distancing, will pause to celebrate the Fourth of July, or Independence Day. And what event are we commemorating? Not a military victory, not a birth or death, but a mere vote! That vote, once and for all, declared the American colonies free and independent from British domination.

The many grounds justifying this vote are famously spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. John Adams wrote to Abagail in July 1776 predicting that the vote for independence would be “celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival,” and “commemorated … by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty,” accompanied by “bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” How prescient of John Adams, and how appropriate that we Americans continue to celebrate our independence even 245 years after the vote for independence was announced.

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The Declaration of Independence rightly holds a preeminent place in American history; yet, there is another, much older document from history worth celebrating too. That document is Magna Carta, “the Great Charter,” signed this day [June 15] in the year 1215 A.D. by English barons and King John. It is not an exaggeration to say Magna Carta changed the concept of government forever. In fact, never before had a ruler, in what was almost a bloodless coup, agreed to limitations on royal power. Magna Carta changed the dialog about the divine rights of kings and absolute power. We would do well to remember 805 years hence and reflect on what civilization has achieved by limiting the power of government and giving liberty to the governed.

Besides chartering a peace between some rebellious barons and the King of England, what did Magna Carta do? To be clear, it did not establish the concept of government by democracy; the Greeks had managed their affairs by majority vote well over a millennium earlier. Rather, Magna Carta planted the first seeds of constitutional government. A constitutional government recognizes the truth that all citizens, including those in the government, are under the law. No one, not even the king, is above the law. In medieval times, this innovative concept challenged the regime that ceded absolute power in the monarchy, which was so prevalent in Europe and the rest of the world. Magna Carta placed the ruler under the law, forbidding him from dictating to his subjects above the limitations of the law.

Magna Carta calls this supreme law the “law of the land.” This law is not necessarily written down. Rather, it reflects the rights and customs of the people populating the land. From this novel concept came what we call “the common law.” The common law is built not at once, but as any structure is built – brick by brick, case by case. Each judgment handed down by the court sets a precedent which will inform the next judgment of the same kind. In societies embracing the common law, judges do not create the law of the land. Rather, they declare what it already is and apply it to each situation. And how do they know what the law is? They look to prior judgments, to immemorial custom, and to the fundamental rights of the people. In short, they look to practical experience, the tried and true, over the philosophical and speculative.

Magna Carta itself and the common law jurists and statesmen who followed conceived of rights in negative terms. Property rights, for example, are the natural corollaries of other peoples’ duties not to steal and destroy. Everyone besides the property owner has a duty not to trespass on the property owned by another, which means that owners have a right to the exclusive use and possession of their property. Fundamentally, rights are not invented by the government; they are inherent in what it means to be human. If the government has the power to create rights, then it can just as easily take them away. Magna Carta reflected fundamental rights and reduced them to writing, thus acting as a fence to clearly mark the boundaries between the government and the governed.

Magna Carta was viewed as so foundational to constitutional government, that it featured prominently in the early American colonies. For example, the first Massachusetts code of law explicitly cites Magna Carta as the source of the laws comprising that code. Additionally, South Carolina, when separating from North Carolina in the early 18th century, enacted a statute that incorporated the English common law, as established by Magna Carta, into its own set of laws. Alabama, like many other states, followed this trend. Furthermore, William Penn, of Pennsylvania fame, arranged for the first printing in America of Magna Carta, and the seal used by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress contained the image of a patriot with a sword in his right hand and a copy of Magna Carta in his left.

These historical tidbits evidence the importance Magna Carta held for our American ancestors, but the best evidence is our own written constitution. That document, like Magna Carta, places the law of the land above the government and recognizes certain individual rights, which the government must never infringe upon, much less violate. If the government ever acts “above the law” by exceeding its enumerated powers granted by the Constitution, it ceases to be a proper government. Under constitutional government, laws have parameters in which to operate, but they cannot curtail rights clearly expressed in both our federal and state constitutions.

For today, its 805th anniversary, let us never forget the grandfather of our Constitution, Magna Carta. We should celebrate the concept of constitutional government it ushered into the world and the growing impact of its civilizing influence. Under Magna Carta and its offspring, the United States Constitution and the Alabama Constitution, we should always hold our own elected officials accountable to govern according to and under the “law of the land.” And, we must always remember that government exists not to create our rights, but to protect the rights we inherently possess. When King John exceeded these rights, he set in motion a movement to constrain government by recognizing pre-existing rights and enumerating them lest future rulers forget their limitations. That is something well worth celebrating!

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

3 weeks ago

Roby: The road to recovery

(M. Roby/Contributed)

The American economic landscape has changed considerably over the past few months as coronavirus (COVID-19) has extremely halted activity across the country. Several weeks have passed since Alabama’s economy slowly began to reopen following a phased approach with the amended Safer at Home public health order.

The bold action taken by government and public health officials instructing all Alabamians to follow various stay-at-home orders during this time has certainly contributed to the mitigation of the virus and has helped to slow the spread. Although these practices prevented many from falling sick, coronavirus remains a threat to the health and well-being of Alabamians and the American people.

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Through both health and economic suffering, individuals, families, business leaders and employees have been dramatically impacted by this novel pandemic. Parents must manage family responsibilities while navigating new challenges, many are still out of work, and numerous businesses have closed nationwide. Particularly, small businesses have been severely impacted by the pandemic, and some continue to be at great risk of closing permanently. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment, unsure of when their next paycheck or job will return.

Congress has come together to assist these businesses and their employees in many ways. In March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed, which established several programs and funding resources to assist the American people, including the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). This program provides loans to small businesses to keep their doors open. In April, Congress passed legislation to replenish the PPP, bringing more support for businesses in need. Just last week, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Flexibility Act, which made regulatory changes to the PPP. These changes include extending the loan life from eight weeks to 24 weeks, reducing payroll expenditure requirement from 75% to 60%, extending the repayment period from two years to five years, and allowing businesses to delay their payroll taxes. Alabama small businesses have received a great amount of support through the PPP. As of June 6, there have been 61,576 approved loans totaling approximately $6,122,930,463 for businesses throughout the state.

The road to recovery for Alabama and America will not be simple. It will be a process that takes much time, dedication, and determination. As time goes by, we will see the resilient people and communities of Alabama begin to heal, much like we have these past few weeks. I encourage you to continue to adhere to the guidelines issued by Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and practice social distancing as the nation continues to combat COVID-19.

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