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.

Rogers’ report from Washington: President Trump is right — The ‘America First’ agenda works

(M. Rogers/Facebook)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With so many accomplishments, it is difficult to believe President Trump has been in office less than three years.

Like many of you across East Alabama, I strongly support the “America First” agenda. Despite what you may see on the mainstream media, the facts demonstrate President Trump’s achievements.

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Take the economy first. There have been over four million new jobs created since the 2016 election. More Americans are employed now than any other point in history. Women, African-American and Hispanic unemployment rates are at near all-time lows. Manufacturing jobs are coming back and the stock market (our retirement savings) is roaring.

As President Trump untangles the unfair trade policies of the past, our economy will just continue to grow.

The ongoing trade negotiations with China will take time and there will be short-term pain. America cannot continue to allow China to rob us blind, manipulate its currency and dump its cheap products on our markets.

The trade negotiations with China are a prime example of the America First agenda.

President Trump continues to have conservative judges confirmed at a historic rate.

As of writing, 150 federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices, have been confirmed so far. For too long liberal judges have been legislating from the bench. This needs to end. Appointing more conservative judges that respect our Constitution is vital. It’s especially important to folks like me who are pro-life and believe in our Second Amendment rights.

As always, I want to hear from you on this or any issue.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers is a Republican from Saks. 

3 days ago

The marginally qualified elites

(TODAY/YouTube, YHN)

One of the current high profile stories in our culture involves how celebrities and power elite families have manipulated the system to give some of their marginally qualified children preferences in college admissions to elite universities.

Our anger is modified when we can put faces on the villains. Television stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among those in the current focus of public outrage.

While I understand the rage of regular folks who play by the rules and do not have inside connections or mega bucks to help their kids gain admission to coveted institutions, I argue that the focus on celebrity misdeeds is diverting our attention from the real culprit, the dependence of colleges and universities on test scores by the standardized testing industry.

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The companies that administer such tests have no public oversight and are able to limit our children’s career options and paths to success simply by placing numbers next to their names. Institutions will claim such scores are not the determining factor in admissions, but, in reality, that is their prime purpose.

If celebrity and power elite children do not make the cut on standardized tests and are admitted because of improper influence, then one would assume they would not succeed. But if they are successful and ultimately graduate, one would have to assume the scores mean little.

As a high school teacher for 17 years, I saw too many cases in which good students did not test well on standardized exams, and it often altered their confidence and opportunities in life.

In one case, a young man wanted to be an engineer but was denied entrance into a major public university because of a low score on standardized exams. His teachers, including myself, wrote letters for him, and the university gave him a chance. He graduated as an engineer and continues to be a highly respected professional in this community. In other cases, our pleas on behalf of worthy students were not successful.

As for Felicity Huffman, she will be fine. She will spend her 14 days in prison and use the experience to become an advocate for prison reform and perhaps enhance her career as she gains more public sympathy for taking responsibility. After all, God – and the gossip-hungry public – love sinners, especially the redeemed sinner.

But when we talk about sentencing some of these folks up to 40 years in prison, I say give me a break. We do not give that time to child predators and others who commit heinous crimes. Perhaps these celebrities should hire Alex Acosta, the former labor secretary and U.S. Attorney who gave Jeffrey Epstein a big break all those years ago. I understand he needs a job.

In truth, career-aspiring prosecutors are playing to the mob, and these are show trials. Perhaps prosecutors should give some overdue attention to universities that give preferences to qualified and, obviously, sometimes questionably or marginally qualified children of families who are willing to purchase admission.

There are countless examples in which power elite families have managed to get their marginally qualified children admitted to certain institutions by giving huge financial gifts or supporting vanity building projects. The practice involves individuals from both the well-known and the obscure, and it includes both private and publicly-funded universities supported by tax dollars.

A series of emails and related documents recently released by a major west coast university gives validity to this issue. Adding insult to injury are the tax deductions the affluent receive for such donations.

The bottom line is that it should not matter if it is celebrities or other power elites with plenty of cash who are gaming the system because, at the end of the day, it is all just bribery.

Waymon E. Burke, Ph.D. is a history and political science instructor at Calhoun Community College who has taught at the high school, community college and university levels for 47 years. He is also the co-host with Dale Jackson of Yellowhammer’s “Guerrilla Politics,” a weekly political discussion broadcast on WAAY-TV in Huntsville.

4 days ago

High-speed internet access: A necessity for rural Alabama

(Pixabay, YHN)

Over the past two years, Alabama’s elected leaders passed legislation expanding rural access to high-speed internet — also known as “broadband.” Increasing access in rural areas of our state to this essential element of infrastructure means improving quality of life and expanding opportunities for our people and communities.

AARP has an active interest in this issue. The reason is simple: expanding access to high-speed internet throughout our state would have a direct, positive impact on the lives of adults over age 50 and their families. High-speed internet access has become vital in helping our communities and their residents thrive and be successful.

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High-speed internet access offers local businesses and our agriculture industry the means to serve customers near and far, providing income and jobs. Schools and colleges require high-speed internet access to ensure students get the education and training they need for quality job opportunities.

Additionally, for the existing workforce, it provides access to telework jobs, distance learning and online job search sites that enable them to change or advance their careers.

Telehealth services available through high-speed internet make connecting to specialists and other health care providers easier for both caregivers and their loved ones. New technologies help improve health and safety by providing access to state-of-the-art support services.

Family caregivers can find tools to monitor the home and activity of a loved one, improve communication, combat isolation and prevent/detect falls. This need has become even more critical as hospitals and other providers have been leaving rural communities in Alabama.

AARP will continue to work with Alabama’s leaders in the public and private sectors to end the “digital divide” in order to bring the benefits of high-speed internet access to all parts of our state.

Anna Pritchett is the associate state director of AARP Alabama

4 days ago

Celebrating Constitution Day

(J. Mitchell/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

What a privilege it is to celebrate Constitution Day! On this day 232 years ago, our Founders gathered in Philadelphia to sign the Constitution – setting in motion a system of government that would safeguard liberty, create conditions for prosperity and promote the cultivation of virtue.

The role that state courts play in protecting our constitutional rights is often overlooked. When Americans go to court, the vast majority go to a state court. In fact, state courts handle approximately 95% of the nation’s judicial workload. Most people seeking legal relief never have their case reviewed by a federal court, even in weighty matters like criminal cases or the termination of parental rights. As a result, the state courts – which are required to apply federal law as well as state law – are where federal constitutional rights are often enforced.

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Our Founders understood the importance of the state courts and incorporated them into the constitutional design. At the Constitutional Convention, our Founders debated whether the Constitution should require the creation of federal courts below the U.S. Supreme Court. They ultimately reached the “Madisonian Compromise,” agreeing that Article III of the Constitution would empower, but not require, Congress to create lower federal courts. Our Founders were able to reach that agreement because they understood that, regardless of what Congress chose to do, the state courts would continue to be a strong force in our nation for the preservation of liberty.

At some points in American history, the state courts have been better defenders of liberty than the federal courts. For example, early state court decisions turned back the eugenics movement by upholding federal constitutional guarantees. That threat continued to be held at bay until the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to forced sterilization in Buck v. Bell – an infamous decision that now stands in disrepute. In the 19th century, state courts provided strong resistance to enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law that required escaped slaves to be returned as property. Of course, state courts have also failed at times to protect constitutional rights, but those shortcomings do not diminish the duty that state courts have to uphold and protect those rights.

The state courts have a central role in protecting our values – and I take that role seriously as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama. I hope you will join me today in giving thanks for the Constitution and the wisdom of our Founders in adopting that magnificent document.

Jay Mitchell is an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama.

5 days ago

A note from the author of ‘Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist’

(W.Miller/YHN)

As a conservative agreeing with President Trump on many issues, I am not automatically a racist. I don’t have to be defensive. My life speaks for itself, and those casting racist aspersions toward folks like me do not know me and my life or yours. It is blind condemnation similar to the type that forms the heart of racism itself.

Below you will find my latest effort to help us improve race relations. I invite fellow conservatives to resist defensiveness and find more motivation to do something to improve race relations in our great country!

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Ten questions (and subs) to ponder and answer — or not:

1. Has “racist” become a political term? If so, how did that happen?
2. Is there a blurring of the line between “racism” and “prejudice”? Does it matter? How?
3. Do you live in an “integrated” neighborhood? What tells you that?
4. If you are white, do you know one or more black person you can talk with about racially charged issues? If not, should you?
5. If you are black, do you know a white person you can talk with about such issues? If not, should you?
6. If the person in front of you in a checkout line is of a race other than yours, is your patience level with their delay any different than it would be with a similar delay caused by someone of your own race? If so, how is it different and why?
7. Do you think you are carrying any racial luggage from your childhood? Is there any reason why you have not unloaded that luggage?
8. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest score, how colorblind are you when it comes to attitudes about race? Is the score you gave yourself something you feel good about?
9. Per your results from #8, is there something you think you need to do that might help you change your score for the good?
10. If there is something you need to change, who would the change help? Name those people, and pray for them to get the help!

By the way, if you don’t need any constructive change, you can make the next list of questions.

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

Byrne: Rural Alabama worth fighting for

(Pixabay, B. Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

Our rural communities truly are the backbone of our nation. They clothe us and feed us, and they manufacture many of the goods we use every day.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 60 million Americans live in rural communities.

For too long, these 60 million Americans have been fighting global forces alone. Thankfully, we now have a fighter in the White House for rural America.

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Not only has Washington neglected to fight for rural Americans. It has often been part of the problem.

During the Obama administration, officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) conspired to propose a new Waters of the US (WOTUS) rule. This rule would redefine the term “navigable waterways” to include everything from family fishing ponds to small backyard ditches.

I pride myself on championing commonsense policies to protect our natural resources. But to call a ditch that only holds water after a heavy rain a “navigable water” does not pass the smell test. Some of these bureaucrats hidden away in Washington should take a ride up the Alabama River to see a real navigable waterway.

This vast expansion of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction to areas never intended by Congress was, at best, misguided. It may have violated the law.

It would have subjected farmers, foresters, municipalities and small businesses to additional federal regulation and added compliance costs. It was a job killer that did little to protect our environment.

Let’s call it what it was – a power grab by an overzealous federal government.

Last week, the Trump EPA and Corps finalized a rule repealing the Obama-era WOTUS rule.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of this victory. It was a promise made by President Trump in his campaign to overturn the harmful WOTUS rule, and he truly delivered here.

The Trump administration has done much more for our rural communities, including in health care.

If you live in a rural community, you know how vital a hospital can be. In addition to treating us when we are sick and caring for us in an emergency, rural hospitals are a critical selling point to prospective employers and job seekers.

You also are aware of the struggles so many of our rural hospitals have faced. A significant driver of these hardships has been an outdated wage index formula that gave millions of dollars in Medicare reimbursements that should have gone to Alabama to large urban centers.

This issue has been a priority of mine. Thankfully, the Trump administration was willing to listen to me and other colleagues on the severity of the wage index problem. Earlier this year, after over two years of working with the administration, the decision was made to implement a much more equitable formula.

This means millions of dollars will be sent to Alabama hospitals. These dollars will mean so much to our rural hospitals and the communities they serve.

Another area our rural communities have lagged is broadband access. Broadband is almost as important today as electricity was a century ago.

Not only is it essential for most modern jobs, but our schools increasingly rely on high-speed internet to teach our children. Without access to broadband, our rural communities lack access to much of the modern technology of today.

I’ve been proud to support President Trump’s actions to aid rural broadband expansion by expediting federal permitting and making it easier for wireless operators to put cell towers on federal lands.

With government out of the way, our rural broadband infrastructure will continue to grow.

Our rural communities are worth fighting for. I promise to continue advocating for our people and our values in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

7 days ago

Omission of citizenship question on 2020 Census all but assures loss of Alabama congressional seat

(U.S. Census Bureu/Facebook, YHN)

The upcoming 2020 census is extremely critical in Alabama and the rest of the states in the nation, as well. The census affects the number of seats a state has in the U.S. Congress and ultimately the number of Electoral College Votes you have for president. Also, very importantly, the amount of federal funds the state receives.

Alabama is growing incrementally, but not as fast as other states. Especially our neighboring states of Georgia and Florida and certainly not as much as California and Texas. Therefore, the bottom line is we are projected to lose a Congressional District to one of the aforementioned states.

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We currently have seven seats in Congress. We will more than likely go to six. The census will be in 2020. We will lose our seat in the 2022 elections.

Our U.S. Constitution outlines that the Census be taken every 10 years. The language calling for the census states, “People are to be counted.” Therefore, the question becomes are just U.S. citizens counted or are citizens and illegal aliens both counted.

Obviously, for political reasons, Republicans and more importantly the Republican Trump administration are vehemently in favor of counting only U.S. Citizens. Liberals in California want illegals counted.

The Trump administration through his Commerce Department Secretary, William Ross, asked the Census Bureau to include the citizenship question on the census form. This question of inclusion has been on the table since 2018. It has been pending in the Supreme Court. In June the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 decision ruled that the question should not be asked.

This SCOTUS decision is bad for Alabama and other Republican states. The ruling to not include the citizenship question pretty much assures that Alabama will lose a congressional seat. We may have anyway, however, this hammers the final nail in the coffin. Illegal immigrants in California will be counted and our seat will be ceded to them.

Even though the official U.S. Census is taken every decade, the U.S. Census Bureau operates daily and gives preliminary updates on census trends. That is how, as early as four years ago, they were projecting the loss of a seat in Alabama. The loss of the citizenship question is just the coup de gras.

The Census Bureau has recently also released new city population estimates that cover the period of July 2017 through July 2018. In Alabama, the city estimates show that Huntsville continues on a fast track towards becoming Alabama’s largest city, while Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile continue to drift lower. The two major college towns, Tuscaloosa and Auburn, are growing rapidly as are several cities in Baldwin County.

The once Magic City of Birmingham is losing population. However, the metropolitan Jefferson-Shelby County areas are steady. The migration of Jefferson Countians to the suburbs of Shelby is a trend that is not new, and will likely continue.

The same trend is prevalent in the Mobile-Baldwin metro area. The population of Mobile is simply transferring to Baldwin County.

Montgomery continues to steadily lose people. In the last few decades the population has moved to Autauga and Elmore counties. Indications are that some of Montgomery’s flight may be to Auburn.

Tuscaloosa’s growth is significant, primarily due to the growth of the University of Alabama. Tuscaloosa has added 11,000 people since 2010 and Auburn has added 13,900.

When you include the entire Madison-Huntsville-Limestone metropolitan area in the equation, the growth of the Huntsville metropolitan area is amazing. When you add the entire Tennessee Valley and Marshall-Guntersville Lake area into the parameters, the growth is tremendous. The growth in the Huntsville area is real. Whereas the metro areas of Birmingham and Mobile are simply shifting their populations to Shelby and Baldwin counties.

If you think the Huntsville-Limestone-Tennessee Valley has grown in the past 10 years, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It will grow exponentially over the next decade. Given the myriad of major economic development and manufacturing announcements already announced, it will be one of the hottest and most prosperous areas in the nation in the next decade.

In addition, Senator Richard Shelby will probably continue to be chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee for three more years, which will allow the Redstone Arsenal and high technology federal advancements to prosper. He has recently announced that the largest FBI headquarters in America will be placed in Huntsville.

Folks, it is obvious that the future growth and prosperity in Alabama will be in Huntsville and North Alabama.

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

Roby: Never forget what they fight for

(M. Roby/Facebook, PIxabay)

On the fateful morning of September 11, 2001, our nation stood still as news came in of horrific attacks on American soil. Most all of us will never forget where we were that day when the world changed right before our eyes. Now, 18 years later, we mark this spot in history each year by remembering the more than 3,000 Americans who lost their lives that day in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. We also prayerfully honor the families who lost loved ones and give thanks for the many heroes who emerged that day and, in the months, and years that followed.

September 11, 2001, changed our country forever, but in the nearly two decades since that day, Americans have understandably pressed on. We have gone about our daily lives, working hard to provide for our families. Certainly, doing anything less would be a victory for those who committed these atrocious acts against our freedom. But, as we continue to move forward, may we never take for granted the heroic acts of the thousands of Americans that sacrifice to keep us safe and ensure this type of attack never happens again.

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Every day and every night, 365 days a year, there are men and women working to defend our country and everything it stands for. And, while each year, September 11 provides an important occasion for us to give thanks for our service members, we should be mindful of their sacrifices every single day. Perhaps the best way for us to honor the men and women who wear the uniform is to simply never forget what they fight for.

Our service members fight for the American ideals of freedom, liberty and justice. Let us all use this occasion each year to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to these ideals and remember how truly blessed we are to live in the greatest country in the world. May we feel overwhelming gratitude for the members of our Armed Forces every day, keeping September 11 a solemn day to reflect upon how much has been sacrificed by so many.

Around this anniversary each year, it is important for us all to remember the heinous acts of hatred committed against us by those who oppose our liberty and freedom, the unspeakable suffering of those who lost people they love, the personal effect it has had on so many of us, and the brave men and women who continue to stand guard each day to keep us safe. May God bless each and every family that suffered loss during this time 18 years ago. My prayers are with you, and your sacrifice has not been forgotten.

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

7 days ago

Before you blame the coach

(Pixabay, YHN)

If you are a football fan, you’ll know this frustration. Your team faces third and one. Instead of handing off, the quarterback throws a pass that falls incomplete and the punt team comes on. You scream, “Just run the ball and get the first down!” Game theory suggests that your anger may be misplaced.

Often in life, our decision will depend on actions by others. Most games we play for fun fit this bill, like chess, checkers, and monopoly. Business also offers these interactions. For example, automakers consider rivals’ plans when deciding which new models of cars to develop. Decisions like which side of the road to drive on also exhibit this strategic element.

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Economists, mathematicians, and other scientists use game theory to analyze strategic social situations. While interactions between firms, members of a group, or nations are not games per se, we borrow the term from of games of strategy. Game theorists typically analyze pretty simple games to allow us to think through all the complications.

One question economists have studied is how calculating persons will play games. Pondering strategic considerations can appear overwhelming, as Vizzini and Westley’s discussion of which chalice contains the poison in The Princess Bride illustrates. We impose structure to avoid a muddle.

Game theorists have won numerous Nobel prizes in economics. John Nash, profiled in the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind, shared the 1994 prize for helping deduce how people will play games against rational players. Nash’s idea was that players will adjust until one would want to change their action even if they knew the actions other players were taking.

Football illustrates a challenge for this adjustment. Let’s simplify the offense to a run and a pass and let the defense defend either the run or the pass. If the two teams are comparable in talent, the defense should be able to stop the play they are trying to defend but be vulnerable to the other play. Seemingly the teams here won’t be able to adjust their actions to each other: if the offense runs, the defense will defend the run, making the offense pass, and the defense then defend the pass, and so on.

Professor Nash surmounted this problem by viewing each player’s choice in probability terms. We could describe an offensive strategy as a 60 to 40 percent balance in favor of passing. And the defense might blitz on a given percentage of plays. Thinking of strategies in probabilistic terms, or what are called mixed strategies, allows mutual adjustment. If the offense passes say 20 percent of the time on third and short, the defense can’t sell out to stop the run.

Thinking about strategic choices as probabilities reinforces and challenges our intuition. One the one hand, we readily recognize the danger of being too predictable. Yet running on every third and short makes a team too predictable. So don’t criticize that pass on third and short.

Even when varying our choices, we can still be predictable. If a team alternates run then pass on third and one, opponents can guess what is coming. Flipping a coin on the sideline to decide run or pass could make sense.

Most of us will never coach a football team, but mixed strategies can help in business. For example, a branch manager did not necessarily make a mistake by choosing a weak option. It may be part of a mixed strategy yielding better performance over the long run.

Game theory is also applied to international relations. Still, I find it troubling to think of the President, with access to nuclear weapons, acting unpredictably just for strategic advantage. If unpredictability is truly valuable, President Trump should be ready to accomplish some strokes of diplomatic genius.

It is difficult for fans to validly criticize a coach’s play calls. After all, a brilliant play call can blow up due to poor execution. And that third and one pass could constitute an optimal mixing of plays. My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the season!

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

1 week ago

Real-world solutions to expand coverage, lower costs in health care

(C. Cannon/Contributed)

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not perfect, it has helped create a system in which more Americans have access to comprehensive health care coverage than ever before. The next steps from a policy standpoint should be to continue improving upon the ACA in order to expand coverage while bringing down costs, particularly for patients who already face higher hurdles to getting the care they need —including working families that are uninsured or underinsured.

That is what makes recent discussions regarding an array of policy proposals — including single-payer, the public option, Medicare for All, or Medicare “buy-in” — so disconcerting. As someone who works with local, rural physicians to connect these patients with the health care services and treatments they need, I fear any one of these proposals would take us down a road to government-controlled health care that could undermine all the progress we are making to provide quality care for those who need it most.

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In my current role, I am specifically focused on supporting initiatives that provide affordable, high-quality health care to working families and local businesses. Securing, protecting, and improving employer-sponsored health insurance coverage is a critical part of that mission. Supporting a move toward a more government-centric model of health care insurance runs counter to that effort and would have a tremendous, negative impact not only on employee-sponsored plans, but on patients and health care facilities, particularly in rural parts of Alabama and the rest of the country.

The fact is, a government-run health care insurance system would eventually eliminate any private or employer-base plans currently on the market. Even just introducing a public option would make it nearly impossible for private and employer-sponsored plans to compete. How could they when their “competitor” has the full financial backing of the federal government without any of the traditional overhead costs of private insurance companies? Eventually, only the government option would remain, and fewer options have never yielded lower costs or increased quality for consumers in any sector.

Moreover, a government-run health care insurance system could potentially be detrimental for patient access to care, quality, and affordability—especially for Alabamans and all Americans living in rural communities. A recent study found that offering a government insurance program like the public option, which would reimburse hospitals and other providers at Medicare levels, could put up to 55% of America’s rural hospitals “at high risk of closure.”

That represents more than 1,000 rural hospitals in 46 states that provide upwards of 420,000 much-needed, highly skilled jobs. Even for those facilities that are not placed at such high risks of closure, a public option could “negatively impact access to and quality of care” by forcing hospitals to potentially eliminate services or reduce staff, the study found.

Moreover, the economic toll that threatening America’s rural hospitals would have on rural Alabama is reason enough to avoid any government-run health care scheme. For many rural communities, here in Alabama and across the country, local hospitals are often the largest source of jobs and economic stimulus around. Undermining those contributions would threaten the strength of local economies nationwide.

When it comes to government-controlled health care, the risks are simply not worth the rewards. Rather than chasing unrealistic fantasies of uprooting and eliminating the ACA in favor of Medicare for All, a public option, or single-payer, policymakers and candidates running for president should focus on ways we can make practical improvements to our health care system. Ultimately, that is how we will be able to bring costs down while ensuring all Americans have access to quality, affordable and comprehensive health care coverage.

Curtis Cannon is a board member and speaker for Employee Benefit Advisors and managing partner of Axis Recovery, a healthcare consulting firm in Alabama.

1 week ago

Legislation boosts investment, job creation in rural Alabama

Jimmy Parnell

With unemployment at an all-time low and companies relocating to Alabama’s business-friendly environment, our state’s economy is strong. Unfortunately, rural counties have lagged behind their urban neighbors in infrastructure development, job creation and revenue growth.

This year, Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama legislature took strides toward closing the prosperity gap through investment in roads, bridges and Port of Mobile; expansion of rural broadband; and passage of the Alabama Incentives Modernization (AIM) Act.

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As a fifth-generation farmer and president of the Alabama Farmers Federation, I have seen firsthand the role rural Alabama plays in our state’s economic success. I’m more encouraged than ever about the opportunity for our rural communities to thrive.

According to recent census estimates, 45 of Alabama’s 67 counties have declining populations. For these rural counties to grow and fully participate in America’s economic rebound, we must improve infrastructure and attract good-paying jobs.

The Alabama Incentives Modernization (AIM) Act, passed this year by the legislature, is a step in the right direction. It provides incentives for businesses creating as few as 10 jobs in rural areas. It also expands the number of rural counties eligible for incentives under the 2015 Alabama Jobs Act and enhances incentives within federal Opportunity Zones.

We are especially excited about one project the AIM Act will advance — the Alabama Farm Center. As the Farmers Federation celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2021, we want to give back to Alabama by investing in the future of agriculture and forestry. The Alabama Farm Center at Alfa Centennial Park will provide a venue to cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders while educating the public about the importance of farming and forestry.

Located on 500 acres along I-65 in Chilton County, the Center will welcome visitors from across the country for fairs, livestock shows, trade exhibitions, concerts and more. The preliminary master plan includes a 5,000+ seat air-conditioned arena, 150,000 square foot exhibition building with meeting rooms, 400-stall horse barn, 1,125-stall cattle barn, 400 recreational vehicle (RV) hookups, as well as other arenas and buildings.

The AIM Act will help make this plan a reality by driving additional investment in the Alabama Farm Center through economic development organizations, corporations, utilities and others. The result will be an estimated 300-400 new jobs and annual economic impact of $40-$55 million.

We appreciate Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) for sponsoring the AIM Act, and Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) for carrying it in the Senate. Thanks to their leadership, with support from small and large businesses alike, the AIM Act will open doors for success in rural counties that need it most.

For decades, agriculture and forestry have been the lifeblood of small communities across Alabama. The AIM Act — along with infrastructure and broadband improvements —will strengthen these industries while attracting technology companies to invest in Alabama’s future.

Jimmy Parnell is the President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance.

1 week ago

How to remember 9/11 every day: We must never forget

(U.S. AF/Contributed)

What would America look like if we were to remember this day every day?

What would America look like if we were to recognize that, despite all our differences, we will all, one day, suffer and die, or experience both at the same time?

What would America look like if we were to live life every day like it’s a memorial of, for, and by people — embracing, loving and remembering each other as if we were already gone from this earth?

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If we were to remember that tears fall from my eyes just like yours;

If we were to remember that tragedy hits my family just like yours;

If we were to remember that life is but a moment and at any moment someone or something could take it away.

Oh, what a day it will be when we gather together and embrace humanity for all its pain and suffering, all its wounds and scars, all its humanity.

Oh, what a day it will be when we gather together as a nation beyond days of death, lament, tragedy, strife and infamy.

Oh, what a day it will be when we have a collective remembrance of humanity that doesn’t come and go once a year but endures until the rising of the sun and going down of the same.

Surely we are not a nation that only comes together to suffer.

Surely we are not a nation that only embraces humanity after it’s too late.
Or are we?

Oh, what a day it will be when we recognize that we are all still on those planes…

Christian G. Crawford is from Birmingham, Alabama. He received his B.S. in Political Science from Auburn University at Montgomery and is currently a candidate for a Master of Theological Studies at Vanderbilt University. He wrote, “Where is your theology? An internal political assessment,” published by Yellowhammer in 2018. In 2015, Crawford conducted an impromptu prayer at his high school graduation that went viral across the country, and the world. That prayer led him to be featured in numerous news and media articles, and it also allowed him to appear on local and regional news outlets such as “Good Day Alabama” on Fox 6, “Good Morning America” on Fox and Friends, and more.

Byrne: August recess roundup

(B. Bryne/Facebook)

It is a very old tradition for Congress to recess during the hot and humid month of August. Years ago, Congress had completed its work by this time and took the rest of the year off. However, we now reconvene after what has become known as the August District Work Period.

This time has always been valuable for me to spend listening to my constituents. This year, with Speaker Pelosi setting aside six whole weeks for my colleagues and me to spend in our respective districts, I took advantage. I was glad to be able to see so many old and new friends and speak directly with people I represent throughout the district.

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During the first week of the District Work Period, Alabama got some good news. That week, I received a call from Seema Verna, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Administrator Verma informed me that the Trump administration had finalized a new rule containing reforms to the Medicare Wage Index I have fought for since coming to Congress.

These reforms mean millions of dollars that should have been coming to Alabama hospitals will now come our way. In the past, these dollars were going to hospitals in more populated areas like New York and Los Angeles. This important news will especially aid our rural hospitals who have struggled for too long.

Our district has a diversity of interests including our Gulf fisheries, manufacturing and industry, diversity small businesses, and agriculture. I held an Economic Development Roundtable in my Mobile office with community leaders from the district to discuss all the issues and challenges they face. I also attended a franchise roundtable at CertaPro Painters in Daphne.

Fortunately, the Trump economy is benefitting small businesses and local economies, and tax cuts and reduced regulations have freed business owners to do what they do best.

Of course, the water resources in our district are second to none. It was a pleasure to speak at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Conference about our port and waterways and the need to responsibly manage these valuable resources.

In Spanish Fort, I was able to speak to the Society of Military Engineers about all the work they do for our national security. And I was able to make the drive to Ozark to speak with members of the Association of the United States Army.

As you probably know, I enjoy hosting town hall meetings so I can hear directly from constituents. Since taking office in 2014, I have held over 100 district town halls. In August, I held lively town halls in Grand Bay and Atmore.

Even when I am not in the district, my staff is working for you. They hold monthly community office hours in each of the six counties I represent. Here members of my staff can personally help you with any problems you may be experiencing with federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Medicare and Social Security. We can help you with your passport too.

Of course, you can always call or email my office as well if you need our assistance. I am proud that we have helped hundreds of constituents navigate the federal bureaucracy. Little is more satisfying to me or my staff then helping a veteran get the assistance he or she deserves.

Speaking with Alabama nurses, farmers, mechanics, veterans, teachers and retirees over the past six weeks was a great pleasure. Getting the chance over Labor Day to spend time with my grandkids was a wonderful treat too.

With Congress reconvening this week, I look forward to continuing my service to you and bringing Alabama values to Washington.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

2 weeks ago

History comes to Troy

(Troy University/Contributed)

Troy University will host an exhibition from The Remnant Trust from September through the end of November. The artifacts and books included afford an opportunity for Alabamians to see some history.

Founded in 1999, The Remnant Trust is a foundation dedicated to preserving items important to the history of individual freedom and human dignity. Partnered with Texas Tech University since 2014, the Trust has a collection of over 1,400 documents for research and exhibitions like the one coming to Troy University. The Troy exhibit will include items from ancient Greece and the Middle East, early editions of Shakespeare, Newton and Tocqueville, and documents like the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and Emancipation Proclamation.

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The exhibition also features some classic economics books. To help understand their significance and contemporary relevance, the Johnson Center is pleased to bring two nationally-renowned scholars to Troy.

Our first scholar, visiting on September 24, is Dr. James Otteson of Wake Forest University. Dr. Otteson is an expert on Adam Smith and author of What Adam Smith Knew. Adam Smith, the founder of economics, wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, expounding on (among other topics) the source of prosperity and the nature of the market economy.

When Smith wrote, the Mercantilists dominated policy in England and France. The Mercantilists viewed gold as wealth and colonial empires as the way to build national gold stocks. By exporting more than importing (running a trade surplus), a nation could accumulate gold. Europeans would pay for English goods with gold, increasing England’s gold holdings. Colonies allowed the mother country to avoid importing raw materials.

As Smith explained, a nation is prosperous because its citizens enjoy a high standard of living, not because it has the most gold. Ultimately production and consumption matter. President Trump seemingly holds Mercantilist ideas regarding a trade surplus.

Furthermore, Smith showed how market institutions are the products of human action but not human design, or spontaneous orders. Smith’s metaphor of an invisible hand guiding people’s actions describes this beautifully. People act in their self-interest in impossibly complicated ways.

Spontaneous order explains why economists or government officials cannot plan or control our economy. Politicians who think, mistakenly, that someone designed our entire financial system will think that they can restructure it with no adverse consequences.

On November 12, we will host Dr. Daniel Jacobson of the University of Michigan, a scholar of 19th Century British political economist John Stuart Mill. Mill’s On Liberty provides a classic case for freedom of speech and inquiry. The souring of so many political and intellectual figures on free speech makes Mill’s arguments important today.

Mill offered two arguments for free speech. The first was the importance of free inquiry as a means of learning the truth, or the idea of a marketplace of ideas. The second was the potential for abuse of restrictions on speech. Free inquiry will always upset government leaders, who never like being told they are wrong. Furthermore, criticism can spark defiance of political authority.

Some commentators might dismiss The Remnant Trust project as Western cultural hegemony. I do not find the Trust’s mission to preserve our heritage of “individual liberty and human dignity” ethnocentric. The Troy University exhibit includes the Torah, the Quran, and the Morals of Confucius.

More significantly, I have met persons from across the globe in my years as a student and faculty member. People generally want better lives for themselves and their families; the dignity and value of individuals are human, not Western, values. Unfortunately, human history also abounds with oppression by rulers. Today’s freedom and prosperity did start in Western Europe with the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Yet I see this as more of an accident than a consequence of culture. Diffusion of these values shows the universal appeal of freedom and dignity.

The Remnant Trust exhibit will be on display at the Troy University library. Hopefully, many of you will come out and see these items.

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.

Byrne: Let’s dump Doug in 2020

(B. Byrne, D. Jones/FB)

The people of Alabama deserve to know what’s at stake in this 2020 Senate election. Our state will face a choice: will we stand with President Trump and replace Doug Jones with a conservative who will fight for our Alabama values? Or will we send Doug back to Washington where he will fight against the president every chance he gets?

This question will be answered at the ballot box in November 2020 when Alabama voters elect their next U.S. senator. As Doug Jones kicks off his reelection campaign, now is an important time to make sure Alabama knows we have to Dump Doug. Because one thing is certain: he does not represent our Alabama values.

Doug and his Democrat colleagues want our free and strong America weakened, they want more government, and they want to tax and regulate our economy to death. They want to take our guns, kill babies right out of the womb, and open the borders for illegal immigrants. With people like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leading their party, Democrats have become increasingly radical and extreme.

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The so-called “Squad” and socialism are a rapidly growing threat to our American values. These are Doug’s Democrat colleagues, and they want to turn the America that you and I love into a place where government infringes on every one of our God-given rights.

Doug is so out of touch with Alabama that he joined his Democrat colleagues in blocking a bill that would have ensured hard-earned American tax dollars could not be used to fund abortions.

Since I have been in Congress, I have consistently stood up for the unborn, and I will continue to stand up for life. Time and time again, I’ve gone to bat against the evils of Planned Parenthood and voted to ensure not a single penny of taxpayer money is used to fund abortions.

Doug is in lockstep with the “Socialist Squad” in opposing President Trump every chance they get. Doug betrayed the people of Alabama when he voted against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. On a critical Supreme Court appointment, Doug Jones voted against the will of Alabama because he said he was smarter than us.

I’m one of President Trump’s strongest allies, voting with him 97% percent of the time. Alabama deserves a senator who will fight alongside, not against, President Trump to defend the Constitution, build the wall, stand up for the unborn, push for lower taxes, make health care more affordable, and protect the Second Amendment. While Doug is focused on attacking President Trump, I promise to work with President Trump to make his pro-life, pro-wall, pro-worker agenda a reality.

We have a decision to make, Alabama. Let’s Dump Doug and elect a Christian, conservative reformer who will always fight for Alabama. That’s exactly what I promise to do.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Roby: We’re tackling the opioid crisis head-on

(M. Roby/Contributed)

There are countless important issues currently facing our state and country. From ongoing conversations about border security to the pressing need to come to an agreement on government funding, there is no shortage of topics that warrant serious discussion. Perhaps one of our most critical ongoing issues is the horrific opioid epidemic that continues to grip Alabama and communities throughout our country.

To understand the scale and the seriousness of this crisis, we must first have a clear grasp on its history and the numbers. In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to opioid pain relievers, and healthcare providers began to prescribe these drugs at increasing rates. This increased prescription led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications can, indeed, be highly addictive.

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In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency and announced their strategy to combat the crisis. In 2017, there were more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., and the sharpest increase occurred among deaths involving fentanyl and other synthetic narcotics. It is estimated that more than 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in 2017 alone.

In 2017, Alabama health care providers wrote 107.2 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons. This was the highest prescribing rate in the country and nearly double the national average. These numbers clearly show that we have a serious problem on our hands, and I am glad to report that the Administration has recently taken further action to continue to combat this crisis that takes American lives daily.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced more than $1.8 billion in funding to states to continue efforts to crack down on the opioid epidemic, and Alabama will receive $13 million. These funds will expand access to treatment and support the collection of real-time data related to drug overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced more than $900 million in new funding for a three-year cooperative agreement with states, territories, and localities to advance the understanding of this epidemic and strengthen prevention and response efforts. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded approximately $932 million to all 50 states as part of its State Opioid Response grant program.

By the end of this year, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services will have awarded more than $9 billion in grant dollars to states and local communities to increase access to opioid addiction treatment and prevention services. For the first time in more than two decades, we are seeing a decrease in overdose deaths, more Americans are accessing treatment, and lives are being saved. Much work remains as we tackle this crisis head-on, but we are finally headed in the right direction, and I will continue this fight with my colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration.

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

Alabama Epstein? It happens here all the time

(API/Facebook)

As the nation learns more about the salacious life and mysterious death of billionaire and serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, it’s important to remember his crimes are far from uncommon.

In fact, they happen all the time.

Even in Alabama.

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It’s a problem that experts agree is growing, though exact numbers are difficult to quantify, according to researchers at the University of Alabama who conducted a study estimating there were more than 900 potential survivors of human trafficking across the state in 2017 alone, and that more than half the victims were minors.

Awareness is also growing as alliances of lawmakers, advocates, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors grapple with stopping the problem and educating community members.

It’s going to take a concerted effort, from everyone, to combat human trafficking. Here are just a few tips:

No. 1: Learn the paths into human trafficking

“Every single victim we’ve encountered has some type of [economic, social, or emotional] vulnerability that has been exploited by the trafficker,” said Doug Gilmer, resident agent in charge for the Department of Homeland Security Investigations team in Birmingham during a recent deep-dive discussion of human trafficking on 1819 podcast.

Traffickers are very good at grooming their victims and “luring girls into this world,” often by developing an online relationship and developing a strong “father figure” bond before slowly coercing them into sex trafficking, according to Gilmer.

“These are young ladies who have had their childhoods stolen from them,” said Carolyn Potter, executive director of The Wellhouse, a residential treatment facility near Birmingham for sexually exploited trafficking victims.

Potter said in an 1819 interview that every case is different; however, there are commonalities among victims’ stories. Victims tend to be runaways, neglected or abused children, and at-risk youth aging out of foster care who become easy prey for traffickers.

“A typical scenario would be a young lady who was first [sexually] victimized as a child,” has experienced “complex trauma,” which means traumatic events have repeatedly happened, often daily, throughout much of her life, and that substance use is either forced upon her or is used as a coping mechanism, Potter said.

“I ended up doing so much drugs because he was requiring me to do so much,” said Dixie Shannon in a new Alabama Public Radio series about human trafficking in Alabama.

Shannon was a runaway whose coercion into a life of commercial sex began at 17-years-old and included dependence upon her trafficker and punishment for not performing.

“I couldn’t take a shower without making a certain amount of money,” Shannon told APR’s Pat Duggins. “I couldn’t eat … I couldn’t rest. …And, I ended up getting to a point where I was either going to kill myself because I’m going to overdose on these drugs, or he’s going to kill me.”

No. 2: Learn where the real risk is

Parents misplace their fear by not allowing kids to play alone or outside for fear of kidnapping, according to Gilmer, who said statistics show kidnapping is exceedingly rare.

“The biggest mistakes we make in society today is the boogey-man syndrome,” Gilmer said. “That there’s a creep out there on every block, around every corner, on every aisle in Walmart or Target that’s getting ready to snatch our kids.”

The real threat, he said, is on cell phones and the Internet – where predators know how to get in touch with our kids within 20-30 keystrokes.

The risks aren’t just of becoming preyed upon. There are risks of becoming the predator.

Gilmer said there is no typical profile and that the “Johns” come from every walk of life and socioeconomic level, although DHS is collecting data in partnership with advocacy group Trafficking Hope to understand any trends.

“We do know that all of the Johns, I think statistically probably 100 percent, all had or have a problem with pornography,” said Gilmer. “That’s how it starts for them and then it progresses over time. They need something more and then they get to the point they start purchasing sex.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall said in an 1819 podcast interview that the 2014 arrest of a well-respected former Guntersville High School soccer coach for child sexual abuse and human trafficking was “the moment” that he first realized the scope and significance of the problem in Alabama and the importance of the human trafficking statutes being developed at the time.

“That was [the case] for me that… not only broadened my awareness of the traditional view of the pimp and the prostitute and the Johns, but also showed that children themselves are victims of human trafficking,” Marshall said.

No. 3: Recognize the signs of human trafficking and help at-risk youth

“It’s very hard to encounter a person who is being trafficked and not realize that something is going on, even if you can’t identify what it is right away,” Potter said.

Here are some of the warning signs that someone may be a human trafficking victim that are listed on The Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force website:

– Inability or fear to make eye contact.

– Presence of an older male or “boyfriend” who seems controlling.

– Shows signs of physical, mental, or sexual abuse.

– Inappropriately dressed for the age of the child (sexy, low cut, too short).

– Is not in school or has significant gaps in schooling.

– Demeanor is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous.

Also, Potter said she has never seen a victim who did not have some kind of branding or tattoo, such as a young woman who came to The Wellhouse with the street address of her trafficker tattooed on her forehead.

“If you see something, say something,” Potter said. “It’s not going to hurt to make a report. If you’re wrong, that’s okay, but if you’re not, you may have saved a life.”

And if you are in a position to help at-risk youth by becoming a foster parent, there are thousands of Alabama children in need of safe and stable care.

“If we could make this group not the most ‘preyed upon,’ but the most ‘prayed upon,’ what a different outcome we’d have,” said Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries President and CEO Rod Marshall in an 1819 interview.

“If we were prayer warriors for this vulnerable population,” Marshall said, “if we were the safety net, if we refused to allow children to go through life with no margin for safety, if we could be there for these families to keep them from disintegrating and needing to put their children in foster care … the predators might find themselves having far fewer victim pools to draw from.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888–373–7888.

To report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement, please call 866-347-2423.

And if you need help here in Alabama, please call the Wellhouse’s rescue and recovery helpline at 800–991–0948.

Together, we can put a stop to human trafficking in Alabama.

Watch:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

2 weeks ago

Electric vehicles take spotlight across nation at September showcase at The Market at Pepper Place

(M. Bentley/Contributed, YHN)

This week, gasoline taxes in Alabama went up six cents a gallon. The costs of maintaining cars and trucks, well, they certainly aren’t going down.

How can drivers save money – aside from staying off the highway? One great way is to join the move toward economical, clean electric vehicles.

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More than 1.2 million plug-in electric vehicles (EV) – not including medium- and heavy-duty vehicles – have been purchased in the United States as of June 2019. Major automakers are cranking out thousands of electric vehicles every day, including manufacturers associated with Alabama – Mercedes Benz, Honda and Hyundai. The Mercedes manufacturing plant in Vance has been building plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for years and will begin turning out all-electric vehicles soon.

There are currently 58 EV models on the market, with many more on the way, although not all are available in Alabama yet.

Plug-in electric vehicles, unlike hybrids (which are also better for the environment), do not use any petroleum products. That means there are no emissions, which means the air is not polluted by driving an EV. Driving an electric vehicle costs about 25 percent less than operating a gasoline-powered car or truck. Those costs are even less if drivers are able to charge for free or at discounted rates during off-peak hours – which is the case at homes served by Alabama Power Co. – at their workplaces or at public chargers.

EVs have fewer moving parts than a vehicle fueled by gasoline or diesel. Fewer moving parts means relatively little servicing is necessary and no engine to worry about. There is no starter motor, fuel injection system, spark plugs, transmission, valves, fuel tank, catalytic converter or radiator – just to name a few – parts that potentially break down in petroleum-powered vehicles.

Most manufacturers provide batteries for electric vehicles that have at least an eight-year warranty. Battery life technology is improving every year, too, so we can only imagine what is on the horizon.

The technology for fueling an EV has been around for a couple of centuries. The “fill ’er up” request for an electric vehicle means you merely plug it into an electrical outlet at your home – or one of the thousands of charging stations across the nation. With a home charger, EV owners can save on their electric bill with a rider available in Alabama Power’s service area based on overnight charging.

Non-EV owners often point to a concern over the number of public charging stations available – commonly known as “range anxiety.” Not to worry. Technology in many electric vehicles allows you to plot your trip based on charging stations along your route. Remember, too, the median range for EVs is approaching 250 miles. Plus, the vast majority of your charging (more than 80 percent, nationally) will be done at home.

Electric vehicles are clean and quiet. The transportation sector in the U.S. accounts for almost one-third of our nation’s carbon pollution. Each year in the United States, we burn roughly 133 billion gallons of petroleum products in our passenger cars and trucks. Cars and light trucks on the road account for about 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the nation.

All-electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions and, even taking into account the emissions from the electricity produced to charge EVs, these vehicles on average emit significantly less carbon dioxide than conventional vehicles. As we clean up the electric grid, electric vehicles will even get cleaner over time.

Electric vehicles do produce American jobs, including many in Alabama. Advanced technology vehicles and components are being built in at least 20 states, creating thousands of new domestic and well-paying jobs.

These smooth and quiet vehicles are fun to drive, too. EVs have high torque, even at low speeds, providing instant accelerator response.

You can get a hands-on look at new and used electric vehicles from Nissan, Chevrolet, Tesla, BMW, Toyota and Honda on Sept. 14 at The Market at Pepper Place (in the parking lot in front of Betolla’s restaurant on Third Avenue South) at Birmingham’s celebration of National Drive Electric Week. Talk with EV owners about the fun, excitement and cost savings they get from their choice in vehicles. The NDEW Showcase runs from 8 a.m. until noon.

This event is being facilitated by the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, UAB Sustainability, Alabama Power Co., the City of Birmingham and ZEOG (Zero Emissions Owners Group).

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

2 weeks ago

Will Anderson: Ivey right to stand firm against NAACP call to resign

(NAACP/Facebook, K. Ivey/Contributed)

The head of the Alabama NAACP and two state legislators want Kay Ivey to resign for dressing up in blackface in a college skit 50 or so years ago.

For some, the argument goes something like this: If you think Virginia Governor Ralph Northam should’ve resigned for his blackface infractions while in med school, you must think Governor Ivey should resign now as well or you’re being a hypocrite.

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Remember, though, that Northam is Virginia’s governor and, by extension, Virginia’s problem. Alabamians shouldn’t waste time assessing his character and fitness for office (For the record, I think he should’ve resigned when he calmly, coldly and confidently explained and defended infanticide.).

Here at home, Benard Simelton, the president of the Alabama NAACP, said in a press release that “During Governor Ivey’s administration, she refused to Expand Medicaid, did not support Birmingham increase in minimum wage…”

Mike Cason at Alabama Media Group added, “Democratic lawmakers have called for Medicaid expansion since it became available under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Ivey has not supported expansion, nor has the Republican-controlled Legislature.”

That may be true. And it may be a good or a bad thing. The glaring question, though, is what does it have to do with wearing blackface?

The answer is a mix of identity politics, cultural appropriation and other left-wing blather, to wit: If you are against expanding Medicaid or raising the minimum wage, you’re a likely sicko who finds amusement in blackface.

Democrats from Montgomery to The New York Times have picked up on the Kay Ivey story as another chance to tie conservatism to racism. The governor and the president get along quite well, after all; Ivey is quick at times to tout Trump‘s policies which must – because he’s a Republican and, well, he’s Donald Trump – be a sign of racism.

It’s straight out of the liberal playbook and applied to the current moment: Kay Ivey, as far as the press is concerned, is Alabama’s Donald Trump, at least until election day.

So the question lingers, should the governor resign?

Absolutely not. This is the moment, however unlikely, where she could draw a line in the sand, stand resolutely on one side, and say, “Political correctness stops here.” The nation would love her for it.

And so would we. At some point, our politics must return to governance and away from ridiculously excessive character assaults.

Will Anderson hosts “The Will Anderson Show” weekdays 5:00-7:00 a.m. on north Alabama’s WVNN.

2 weeks ago

Two open congressional seats in the Heart of Dixie in 2020

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

Governor Kay Ivey has had a very successful first year as governor. One of the coups she pulled off was getting the legislature to pass legislation granting the governor the power to appoint the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The new law will give her all the new appointments to the Parole Board. Previously, the three-member Board picked the director.

The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019 and Gov. Ivey wasted no time selecting the new director. She appointed longtime political figure, former Attorney General and former Mobile County Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick.

Ivey also supported a measure that would make the state school board appointed rather than elected. This proposal will have to be approved by Alabama voters in next year’s election. This one may have tougher sledding. Alabamians are reluctant to give up their rights to vote for their public officials.

Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate is continuing a great summer political tradition in Montgomery. Pate, who is Alabama’s 27th Commissioner of Agriculture, hosted the 9th Annual Tomato Sandwich luncheon. The menu included homegrown Wiregrass tomatoes and corn on the cob. It also includes lots of politics. Some of those in attendance were former Agriculture Commissioner and now State Treasurer John McMillan, Secretary of State John Merrill, State Auditor Jim Ziegler and State Senators Will Barfoot and Tom Whatley.

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Second District Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) made a surprise announcement in late July that she was not going to seek reelection to a sixth two-year term next year. Roby was considered safe in the seat after withstanding a challenging election year in 2018. She drew significant opposition in the GOP Primary after her 2016 announcement that she was not supporting Donald Trump. Even though she received less votes than most of the other Republican members of the Alabama House delegation, she did survive and would have had smooth sailing and a long tenure in the House. She was on good committees and was one of only 13 female Republican congresswomen in the U.S. House. Therefore, she was a darling in the eyes of the House leadership and had a bright future in Congress.

My guess is that she simply burned out on the demanding life of Congress where you are constantly campaigning and raising money, flying back and forth to Washington and actually doing the job of voting your district’s wishes and handling constituents’ work. She also has two young children and a husband who has a successful law career.

She made the right decision for herself. She will have a much more enjoyable and rewarding life, and if, she practices law or lobbies, a much more lucrative lifestyle.

This leaves two open Republican seats. This second district seat, which encompasses all of the Wiregrass, parts of Montgomery and the burgeoning counties of Elmore and Autauga, will be a wide-open and very contested and interesting race. It is a Republican district.

The early favorite to win the seat is Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman. He has been very involved civic wise in the Wiregrass and statewide for years. He will also have unlimited personal funds and will spend them.

Whoever wins the second district seat will be subject to an alteration in the district. We are expected to lose a seat after the 2020 census. Most observers expect this second district to merge into a portion of the third congressional district. It will more than likely pick up the Auburn-Opelika-Lee County area.

In addition to the second district open seat, the first congressional district is a battle royale. Bradley Byrne has vacated this congressional seat to make a race for the U.S. Senate. A trio of stellar candidates are vying to be the congressman from the Mobile-Baldwin area. It will definitely remain a Republican seat. Vying for the GOP nomination are State Representative Chris Pringle, former State Senator Bill Hightower, and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl. This one will probably be more interesting than the second district.

2020 is shaping up to be a good political year in the Heart of Dixie. The primaries are early on March 3, 2020.

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

Byrne: Celebrating Alabama’s workers

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Labor Day is a wonderful time to celebrate Alabama’s exceptional working men and women. From Tennessee River Valley engineers to Black Belt farmers and Gulf Coast shipbuilders, our workers are powering an economic boom that has reduced unemployment and raised wages.

President Trump and his commitment to prioritizing and empowering American workers continue to pay dividends in our state.

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Commonsense pro-growth strategies like slashing unnecessary regulations and reducing taxes are keeping more money in the wallets of employee and employer alike. That’s more money to fill up your car with gas or buy school supplies for your children.

But we cannot be satisfied. As we deal with an evolving global economy, it is important we do what is necessary now to have the workforce we need tomorrow. Education and job training are more critical than ever.

I’m working to keep us prepared. This summer, I introduced the Modern Worker Empowerment Act with my colleagues Representatives Elise Stefanik and Phil Roe. This bill recognizes that the modern workplace has changed dramatically, and it updates or removes outdated laws and regulations that could hold back economic progress or limit job opportunities.

We must continue looking for opportunities to empower American workers instead of holding them back.

If you’re like me, your first experience earning a paycheck was as a teenager in a low wage job. The lessons provided by such opportunities are invaluable in teaching the dignity of work as well as the soft skills necessary to excel in the workplace, whether it’s a factory, a classroom, or an office.

Unfortunately, some in Washington are pushing to increase the current minimum wage by over 100%. While we all want our workers to earn more for a hard day’s work, such a drastic shock to the system would eliminate countless entry-level jobs. Employers would increase automation, outsource labor, or simply not hire additional workers. That is not the solution we need to help workers.

Instead, we must continue supporting pro-worker policies that reduce barriers to opportunity, help small businesses grow, and raise wages organically.

In 2017, I introduced the Save Local Businesses Act to eliminate the confusing and burdensome joint employer rule that hits our franchise businesses particularly hard. My bill, which passed in the House of Representatives, would provide important clarity regarding labor laws for both employer and employee.

I am preparing to introduce this bill again and hope it can pass the House again and go to the Senate.

President Trump’s efforts to help American workers extend globally. When he took office, he promised a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada that would repair some of the flaws of NAFTA. His goal to help our workers and create new markets for American goods is one I wholeheartedly support.

Many critics scoffed at him for trying to achieve the impossible, but nonetheless President Trump was successful in negotiating a new deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

This was a huge victory for American workers. USMCA would help many industrial sectors in Alabama, particularly our automobile manufacturing.

I am hopeful Speaker Pelosi will take steps this month to move this important deal through the House so it can be enacted. This agreement is too important for America’s workers for us to let politics get in the way.

With the parades and barbecues of Labor Day behind us, a transition to cooler weather, a new school year, and football season begins. But first, I hope you were able to enjoy time this Labor Day with your family and loved ones – the reason most of us labor so hard the rest of the year!

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

3 weeks ago

Labor Day is a tribute to American labor

(Manufacture Alabama/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

When many of us were growing up, Labor Day was the traditional end of summer, and we started back to school the next day. Since then, many things have changed, including a much earlier start-to-school date.

What has not changed – although it may be forgotten – is that we observe Labor Day in honor of those who labor.

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Labor Day is a tribute to American labor, to those who make and build things. It is a tribute to the American factory worker, skilled craftsman, carpenter and farmer. It is a tribute to those who create wealth through their labor and to those who made the United States an economic, industrial and military powerhouse through their labor and skill.

Wealth and value are created by manufacturing products, harvesting agriculture and extracting minerals. Without this original wealth creation, there would be no service industry or multi-faceted economy.

Personally, I take great pride in working for a manufacturing company. Especially one that makes products contributing to public health through clean water, to public safety through fire protection, to economic strength through energy production, and to agriculture and mining through machinery. I am proud to be part of the American iron and steel industry and to be a part of manufacturing products that built and continue to build America and the world. Our roads, bridges, buildings, automobile and aerospace industries, agriculture, military and so much more depend on manufacturing and the labor behind it.

Indeed, the American iron and steelworkers who melt, cast and process iron and steel are the backbone of local, domestic and global economies. These workers make possible everything we enjoy.

There are nearly 10,000 iron and steelworkers in Alabama stretching manufacturing facilities across our entire state, and another 63,000 Alabama workers are indirectly supported by the industry. Alabama iron and steel employment is highly skilled, utilizing the latest manufacturing technology and innovation, and average annual earnings are more $95,700.

Labor Day dates to 1887 and became a Federal holiday in 1894. It grew from the American labor movement, which is alive and well today. It is driven by those who do the work, and it has led to improvements in productivity, safety and innovation that contributes to the advancement of mankind.

While happily joining in the traditional celebrations of Labor Day, I salute the virtue of American labor and Alabama workers. Within Alabama’s iron and steel industry, every day is Labor Day.

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

3 weeks ago

Celebrating labor

(PIxabay, YHN)

Labor Day was established as a national holiday 125 years ago, championed by labor unions. Despite unions’ recent decline, we should still celebrate work. The market for labor is an important element of the liberal society, and peoples’ willingness to work for a living makes our economy function.

The decline of unions in America has been remarkable. Over 30% of workers were unionized in the 1950s, versus 10% in 2018. The private sector unionization rate is only 6.4% – about one out of 16 workers. A number of factors explain this change, like the decline in manufacturing employment; America still manufactures as much as ever, just with fewer workers due to automation. The shift of jobs to Southern right-to-work states has also contributed.

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Less remarked is a more conciliatory approach to labor relations by management. The U.S. labor movement was always more about job conditions than politics. Americans formed unions over specific grievances; when management stopped offending workers, the demand for unionization declined.

The existence of a market for labor is significant, regardless of whether unions represent workers. Liberalism, in both its classical and modern forms, views individuals as possessing moral value, not means to other peoples’ ends. Liberalism transformed politics, from people serving the emperor, king, or dictator, to government for the people.

Throughout most of human history, some people have forced others to work for them as slaves, serfs, or conscripts. Forced labor implies unequal moral worth; Egypt’s pharaohs could make thousands of people build pyramids. Slavery persisted in the United States (and other nations) until the 19th Century. Twentieth Century authoritarian governments forced citizens to do their bidding.

The labor market assumes that everyone is free. The rich and powerful cannot force others to work for them; instead they must offer enough compensation to secure willing assistance. An unpleasant or dangerous task will require greater compensation. And people can leave one job for a better one.

Markets ensure that commercial interactions are based on mutual agreement. We need food, clothing and shelter to survive, and want more than the necessities of life. In the market, the suppliers of goods and services cannot be forced to produce for us. We must trade for the things we want, and for most of us, what we have to trade is money earned from a job.

The functioning of a market economy requires that people accept working for a living. We face a lifetime of working to afford the things we need. Accepting the need to work is a moral choice, to live through production and exchange as opposed to begging, borrowing, or stealing. One beneficial trend over the past fifty years has been the emergence of jobs resembling play more than work, like freelance writers, college football recruiting gurus, and YouTubers. But for millions of Americans, work is hard, exhausting, stressful, boring, and dangerous.

Widespread acceptance of the work imperative may be eroding. One sign of erosion is the decline in labor force participation for men aged 25 to 54. Anecdotes of college graduates living with their parents and not working are also troubling. And interest in a Universal Basic Income for all Americans reflects, I think, a hope that work may soon be optional.

Working for a living entails many costs: being away from family during the day, commuting to and from work, and being tired after work. It means relegating many enjoyable activities to weekends and vacations. Of course, work can also be a source of challenge and accomplishment as well as where we meet new friends. But it is called work for a reason.

Erosion of the work imperative makes our economy less productive and may undermine the freedom underlying the labor market. Our nation has relied on an all-volunteer military, the appropriate way to defend a free nation, since 1973. The willingness of enough volunteers is crucial here; failing to meet recruiting targets would likely produce pressure to reinstate a draft. The same dynamic could be in play in the larger economy. This is another reason to celebrate work this Labor Day.

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.

The Alabama Fusion Center is working to protect our students and schools

(Martha Roby/Facebook)

It’s hard to believe that the summer months are behind us and we will soon be welcoming Fall and cooler temperatures. Students across our state are working hard to make this new school year successful, and college football season is officially underway.

Since the school year is in full swing, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some important information about school and student safety I recently received during my visit to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Fusion Center a few weeks ago. For those who might not be aware, the Alabama Fusion Center exists to improve our state’s preparedness against terrorist attacks and to deter criminal activity in general. It is an information-sharing organization designed to combine – or “fuse” – information between federal, state and local governments, private sector entities, and the intelligence community.

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The Fusion Center has very dedicated personnel who cover several specific areas, including the issuing of AMBER Alerts, rural crime, cybercrime, terrorism, narcotics, gangs, and human trafficking. The center is also responsible for the Alabama Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Importantly for school children, teachers, and families, the Fusion Center has a system in place to help schools know whether threats made against them are real or not.

During the 2018-2019 school year, there were more than 1,600 threats across the United States, ranging from guns brought on campus to bomb threats to actual school shootings. During my recent visit to the Fusion Center, Director Jay Moseley explained to me that once notified of threats, the center can determine where threats are coming from and whether they pose immediate danger. The Fusion Center relies on law enforcement entities across the country as well as members of the public to alert them to suspicious activity on the Internet and social media. Director Moseley has asked the public to report anything suspicious. You can contact the Fusion Center by calling (334) 517-2660.

In addition to monitoring outside threats to schools, the Fusion Center helps train school resource officers to recognize the signs of a student who is being bullied, experiencing suicidal thoughts, and more. It is critically important for those who work with children daily to have the tools they need to identify at-risk students before the situation becomes life-threatening, and I really appreciate our Fusion Center’s work in this matter.

I always enjoy spending time with the hardworking, dedicated professionals at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Fusion Center. I appreciated their time and the informative update about the critically important work they are doing each day to combat crimes, especially those against children. These men and women are on the front lines fighting some of the most serious problems that plague our state, and I am grateful for their work. In Congress, I will do all I can to support their efforts.

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