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.

Violent crime in Alabama: Enough is enough

(Attorney General Steve Marshall/Facebook)

Kamille McKinney. Aniah Blanchard. Sloan Harmon.

Over the last six weeks, the people of Alabama have been confronted with a frightening reality that very few of our politicians have been willing to acknowledge: Our state has a violent crime problem.

Don’t believe me?

Violent crime in Alabama is up 20% over the last 10 years, despite some improvement over the past year. We have the seventh-highest murder rate in the nation and FBI data indicates that we are the fifth most violent state in the nation. Let that sink in. The kidnapping and murder of a three-year-old, the abduction of a bright college student, and the cold-blooded killing of a 20-year-old National Guardsman — in light of these statistics, these incidents don’t seem quite as unforeseen, do they?

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But who is talking about it?

In Alabama, and across the country, “enlightened” reformists only want to talk (or get paid to talk) about the plight of the criminal. They tell stories about what life is like for those behind bars, but conspicuously fail to mention the crimes that landed the prisoners there in the first place — the havoc they wreaked on a community, the sense of security they took away from the innocent, the parents and siblings they left heartbroken.

The activists would also have you believe that our prisons are full of peaceful pot smokers and inadvertent thieves. But, of course, that is false. Alabama’s prisons are full of violent offenders — 4,200 murderers, 2,500 violent robbers, 1,000 rapists, over 1,200 would-be murderers and the list goes on. The imprisoned “nonviolent” offenders are mostly those that simply refuse to stop stealing or dealing drugs or will not follow the terms of their probation. Only 21% of those in our prisons have committed “low-level” felonies and those offenders aren’t staying long — there’s just always a new offender waiting to fill the spot.

Traditionally, incarceration serves four purposes: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten the common denominator of all four purposes, and that is public safety. If a disproportionate fixation on any one of these four (like rehabilitation, for instance) leads to decreased public safety, then we are doing it wrong. I fear that that is precisely where Alabama is headed.

For those who think that “criminal justice reform” has a nice political ring to it, let’s examine the most recent reform package to become law — the FIRST Step Act, passed by the U.S. Congress. At the time of passage, the Republican-led Congress was so smitten with the tepid media acclaim surrounding its “progressive” efforts that it refused to heed the warnings of law enforcement and prosecutors from around the country. Now, only one year after passage, we are left wondering what exactly Congress took a “first step” towards? Gang members and other violent offenders have been set free and lives have already been lost as a direct result of the new federal law. [A note of thanks is due to Senator Shelby and all of Alabama’s congressional Republicans who wisely voted against the final bill.] We must ardently oppose similar efforts in Alabama and, believe me, they are coming.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan recognized that “for too long, the victims of crime have been the forgotten persons of our criminal justice system.” It was true then, and sadly, it has become true again. The pendulum in Alabama has swung too far. We have a very real violent crime problem and it won’t be solved by incessantly watering down sentences, expanding extracurricular activities in our prisons, doing away with the death penalty, or, most shamefully, ignoring victims of crime. If we believe that our citizens deserve better than the dangerous lawlessness of today, we must reevaluate our logic and our priorities when it comes to criminal justice. Enough is enough.

Steve Marshall is Alabama’s 48th attorney general

Rep. Martha Roby: Encouraging the Second District’s creative youth

(Representative Martha Roby/Facebook)

Each year, the U.S. House of Representatives sponsors an art competition that is open to high school students across the nation. The Congressional Art Competition is a unique opportunity to recognize the artistic talents of students from all over the country, including those in Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

The winning artwork is displayed in the U.S. Capitol building for one year, and the exhibit includes the winning artwork from all participating congressional districts. High school students have been participating in this annual creative competition since 1982.

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My office partners with a local Alabama museum each year in order to professionally judge and select a winner to represent the Second District. This year, our partnering museum is the Wiregrass Museum of Art (WMA).

The WMA holds the 2020 Youth Art Month every year to celebrate student artists throughout the Wiregrass area. Students of all ages are given the opportunity to have their artwork displayed at this local museum in order to highlight the value of art and art education. Although the 2020 Youth Art Month is a separate contest, artwork submitted will automatically be considered for the Congressional Art Competition if it meets the established criteria.

On November 7, I was proud to introduce the Artistic Recognition for Talented Students (ARTS) Act alongside Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).

The ARTS Act directs the Register of Copyrights to waive the copyright registration fee for winners of the Congressional Art Competition. This piece of legislation encourages young artists to participate in the copyright system and helps them to learn the benefits of copyrighting their works.

We have an abundance of brilliant, young creators across the country who are the rising generation of America’s creative industry, and the ARTS Act is a great way to incentivize copyright registration within our youth.

Although the deadline for the Congressional Art Competition is in January 2020, I want to provide students with ample time to create and submit their artwork. I recently sent out a letter to all 117 high schools in the Second Congressional District, drawing attention to the competition for those who might be interested in participating. The letter outlines the concept and rules of the competition in order to ensure students and teachers fully understand the guidelines.

I highly encourage any student who wants to express their creativity to participate in this encouraging competition. It is a wonderful opportunity for students to showcase their talents and take part in an exciting nationwide contest.

For students or teachers who would like more information on the competition, please visit my website. My office will also continue to release updates on the competition as the deadline for entry approaches.

I am proud of the artistic abilities and talents of our students in Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

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

Rogers’ report from Washington: The witch hunt continues as work in Washington stops

(Congressman Mike D. Rogers/Facebook)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — What a waste of time. Any and all work on behalf of the American people has come to a screeching halt as House Democrats continue their push their impeachment hoax.

After holding secret meetings behind closed doors, that all Americans and most members of Congress were denied entry, Democrats are set to hold public hearings.

Chairman Adam Schiff, who is running the show for Nancy Pelosi, has demonstrated time and again that he has a hard time with truth, fairness and openness when it comes to a transparent hearing.

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So far, the only information leaked from House Democrats to the Fake News media outlets is partial versions of hearsay that help them control the narrative.

We all know what this impeachment hoax is all about. It is about overturning the 2016 election. As soon as Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, Democrats started calls for impeachment over nothing more than they were unwilling to accept that Hillary Clinton lost.

Even as our country has dealt with the most recent impeachment sham, Nancy Pelosi called for the impeachment inquiry a day before the transcript between Trump and Zelensky was released. How did she even know what they said?

Now, here we are, after the Russian hoax, the Mueller report and now the impeachment hoax, House Democrats have accomplished nothing for the American people. In fact, they’ve issued more subpoenas than passed laws.

Congress has yet to pass the USMCA which would be great for Alabama, Congress has yet to lower prescription drug costs which would also be great for folks across our state and Congress has yet to fund our military and take care of those who protect our freedoms.

As this dog and pony show goes on without merit, I hope the American people can see that another dead-end witch hunt won’t change the outcome of the election and won’t help our country. Shame on House Democrats. I will continue to proudly stand with President Trump.

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

6 days ago

Aerospace industry a big economic driver in Alabama

(D. Strong/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

This past month, business leaders from around the state gathered in Birmingham at the Alabama Economic Growth Summit to discuss how our state can continue to grow jobs and build our economy to be competitive across the country. The aerospace industry was among the leading topics of discussion at this summit because it is a key job creator and economic engine in our state.

The aerospace and defense industries support over 60,000 jobs in Alabama. Alabama ranks in the top five states in the U.S. with the highest number of aerospace engineers. But this didn’t happen overnight. Our state has a long and rich history in this industry. NASA’s Saturn V rocket and the technological advances that helped put Americans on the Moon were created in Huntsville-Madison County. Here in the Rocket City, we are proud to continue our efforts to be a leader in the development of new aerospace technologies. And once again, it’s going to be Alabama’s workforce that helps secure America’s dominance in space.

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This is especially true today as we usher in a new age of aerospace technology. In part due to the substantial investment by private aerospace companies, including many that call Alabama home. Take a company like Blue Origin for example. Earlier this year, they broke ground on an engine production facility in Huntsville to manufacture their American-made BE-4 rocket engine.

This is great news for our job market and economy. In meetings with Blue Origin, the company told me this new engine facility will add more than 300 jobs in our region and another 50 jobs at its test stand facility at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center. In addition to these jobs, we will see even more benefits to our state’s economy because of private investment by Blue Origin. To date, Blue Origin has worked with more than twenty in-state companies.

It’s also great news for the national security of our country. While we continue to make great strides in American aerospace development, including the work done right here in Huntsville-Madison County, other countries are also making great strides in the industry and threatening America’s dominance in space. Earlier this year, China became the first country to land on the far side of the moon and we continue to rely on Russia to send American astronauts to space because we no longer have the capability. Thankfully, Alabama company Blue Origin is investing heavily in the development of an American-made engine to replace the Russian RD-180 and working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Air Force to ensure America remains competitive – all while creating jobs and economic growth right here in Alabama.

Alabama is also fortunate to have the great aerospace and missile defense champion Senator Richard Shelby in Congress. Senator Shelby has long supported the United States’ space industry and advocated for the development of new, American-made technology to compete against our adversaries – and he fights to bring those jobs to Alabama.

Through this industry, we’ve created thousands of jobs and stimulated economic growth across other industries as well. If we want to continue this pattern for another 100 years, we must do everything possible to strengthen this valuable industry and support U.S. space exploration and national security. I’m proud to be from a state that’s been a leader in space exploration for over 100 years during which time Madison County has advanced to become known as the propulsion capital of the world.

The finest hours for Alabama are still ahead. The time is now. Together, we must seize the moment.

Dale W. Strong is the Chairman of the Madison County Commission in Madison County, AL 

Byrne: Serious about corruption? Investigate the Bidens

(Wikicommons, Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

Speaker Pelosi, Adam Schiff and their Democratic colleagues have spent countless hours and taxpayer dollars to find evidence that President Trump was involved in corruption. At the same time, Democrats refuse to even consider the fundamental issue at hand – was President Trump right to question the activities of Hunter Biden in Ukraine?

Months ago, media reported Hunter Biden’s shady business dealings. But, once impeachment began, the mainstream media moved to kill the story. We’re told nothing to see there. Yet each week, new information continues to emerge demanding a full investigation of the facts.

We know that Hunter Biden essentially made his living as a high-powered lobbyist benefiting from his father’s career as a senator and vice president.

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When Joe was elected vice president, Hunter claimed to leave lobbying, but really he just shifted his game. He formed a series of companies with Christopher Heinz, the stepson of Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and later Secretary of State John Kerry. These kids, trading on their fathers’ names and political ties, made a pretty powerful combo.

As the New York Times reported, Biden and Heinz pursued multiple foreign business investments “where connections implied political influence and protection.”

These guys closed lucrative deals with China right after Hunter visited China on Air Force II with his father. Importantly, they were working in Ukraine while Joe was leading Ukrainian policy for the U.S to fight corruption.

Ukraine is known for its corruption. A small group of oligarchs holds most political power. Hunter and his company went to work for one of these guys and his notoriously corrupt energy company, Burisma Holdings. Hunter was paid up to $50,000 a month to sit on its board.

We know Hunter knew nothing about energy or Ukraine. But, when you’re dealing with a corrupt country like Ukraine, and the son of the vice president of the United States is involved in a corrupt company, that sends a signal to government officials when considering pursuing investigations.

At the same time, Vice President Biden was threatening to withhold aid to Ukraine unless they fired the prosecutor allegedly looking into Burisma. Senior State Department officials raised concerns about Hunter to the vice president. Yet, the arrangement continued until recently.

The bottom line is that there are serious allegations here, they directly relate to impeachment, and Congress needs to find out what happened. In fact, I introduced H.Res. 631 directing the relevant committees to investigate alleged Biden corruption. Despite having a substantial number of cosponsors, my resolution has been bottled up by Speaker Pelosi.

Last week, Republicans on the Intelligence Committee echoed my resolution, requesting that if Hunter Biden is going to be the basis for impeachment, Congress should get his testimony in the impeachment inquiry. But, Democrats have signaled they won’t allow it. My question is, why?

We know the answer – this is a partisan witch hunt against President Trump. President Trump never once demanded a quid pro quo from President Zelenksy. You can read the transcript yourself. While the Democrats and their allies in the press have trashed President Trump for raising Burisma and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 elections, those are serious issues worthy of investigation.

I am proud to be a leader in the pressure campaign to expose the hypocrisy of the Democrats’ sham process. And I will continue leading the fight to investigate the Bidens and expose real corruption that may exist. If Democrats are serious about exposing corruption, investigating Hunter Biden cannot be ignored.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t win a fight you don’t join. When you fight, good things can happen. That is why I am going to keep fighting, to make sure the truth is out there.

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

1 week ago

The good and bad economics of plea bargains

(YHN)

Plea bargains let persons accused of crimes plead guilty and receive reduced charges or a reduced sentence. Although some people find the reduced criminal incentives offensive, this bargaining makes economic sense. But our mass incarceration illustrates a limit of the economic argument.

Our criminal justice system extensively employs pleas; 97% of criminal convictions result from such bargains. Although TV dramas focus on jury trials (and particularly defense lawyers like Matlock or Perry Mason), trials are rare.

Plea bargains make economic sense because trials are costly. Trials require courtrooms, lawyers, judges, court reporters, bailiffs and juries. Witnesses must come to court to testify. A guilty plea saves these costs.

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Why should defendants ever plead guilty and willingly agree to go to prison and waive their right to an appeal? A plea deal must offer defendants a better deal than conviction at trial. In a murder case, for example, prosecutors might agree not to seek the death penalty. A plea-bargained conviction ensures at least some punishment for a crime and helps deter crime overall.

This bargaining situation parallels labor strikes. Strikes are costly: workers miss paychecks, factories lie idle and businesses might permanently lose customers. Both labor and management are worse off than if they agreed to the same contract with no strike. Strikes represent bargaining failures.

The economic model of bargaining predicts that plea deals should reflect the strength of the evidence. The prosecution will not give much with an open-and-shut case, but the defense attorney should recognize this and counsel shaving a few years off the sentence. If important evidence gets suppressed or a witness recants their testimony, the shaky case makes prosecutors agree to a reduced charge.

Actual guilt or innocence is secondary in the bargaining model to the likelihood of conviction at trial. While we might hope that innocent defendants always get acquitted, wrongful convictions happen, especially with overworked and underfunded public defenders. An innocent person should consider a deal if they look guilty enough. Emotions, not logic, might explain an innocent person’s refusal to plead guilty. We must move past the fantasy that only a guilty person would ever plead guilty.

Building criminal justice almost exclusively around plea bargaining has negative consequences. These highlight the limits of the economic focus on trial costs. Plea bargains enable incarceration on the American scale, with over 2.3 million persons behind bars as of 2016. Whether you think our current incarceration rate is repressive or responsible for the significant drop in crime over the past three decades, mass incarceration could not happen without low-cost plea bargains. The constitutional right to a speedy trial would be violated without guilty pleas. Conversely, speedy adjudication would require many more judges, trial lawyers, and courtrooms.

Another negative of plea bargaining is adding charges to encourage a deal. This is largely necessary. Suppose that the fair sentence for a crime is ten years. If this is the max sentence at trial, a defendant will only accept a plea for a shorter sentence. Prosecutors need to threaten twenty years to induce a plea to ten years. This practice has received attention in the ongoing college admissions bribery case. Actress Lori Loughlin and the other parents refusing plea deals were recently hit with additional bribery and conspiracy charges.

Finally, pervasive plea bargaining might undermine the quality of criminal evidence generally. Cross-examination uncovers mistakes, lies, and bogus theories, but only at trial. If over 90% of convictions come from pleas, the evidence need only be strong enough to induce a deal, not to withstand cross-examination. Sloppy and faked drug tests in two different Massachusetts crime labs recently led to 47,000 convictions being thrown out. Weak evidence also increases the likelihood of innocent people being accused and forced to plead guilty.

We may wish to blame “the system” for plea bargaining’s problems, but ultimately we fail to provide sufficient resources for more trials. This makes prosecutors coerce pleas, inevitably producing miscarriages of justice. Economists contribute too, by overemphasizing the immediate cost savings from plea bargaining.

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.

Roby: We will always stand by our American heroes

(M. Roby/Facebook)

Each year on Veterans Day, Americans pause to recognize those who have served our country in uniform. Originally known as Armistice Day, Congress later passed a resolution signed by President Dwight Eisenhower that officially designated November 11 as Veterans Day. It is important that we honor these heroic men and women not only on this holiday but every day. We are indebted to the selflessness of those who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. This special day of remembrance is not simply just a day off work. It is a day set aside to acknowledge the servicemembers who sacrificed for the freedoms we may sometimes take for granted.

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One way to show tribute to our heroes is by attending a local Veterans Day event. It is always an honor to be in the presence of those who fight to defend our nation, but it is especially humbling on this significant holiday. I highly encourage you and your family to attend a Veterans Day ceremony in your hometown. Many cities and towns throughout Central and South Alabama will hold special observances in which you and your family can attend. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity to express your gratitude, but it is also a great way for your children to meet servicemembers and better understand the endless sacrifices made on our behalf. If you cannot attend an event in person, please make sure you take time to thank the people you may know who have served our country in uniform.

It is my highest honor to represent the people of Alabama’s Second Congressional District and to fight for the men and women who serve us all. One of my top priorities since my first day in Congress is working on behalf of America’s service members and veterans, particularly because the Second District is home to a notable population of veterans and thousands of active duty and reserve personnel. My offices do the best we can to represent our veterans and provide them with adequate assistance every day because they deserve proper care and attention. If I can ever be helpful to you or someone you know, please do not hesitate to call my office or visit my website for more information on the assistance my office can supply.

It is imperative that we remain committed to honoring and caring for our veterans and military families more than just one day each year. We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to all members who have served in our Armed Forces. Thank you to every service member, young and old, across our nation. Your gracious devotion to our country and its people has never gone unnoticed, and it never will. America is great because of your willingness to make sacrifices on our behalf.

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

2 weeks ago

Children with gender dysphoria need love and compassion, not gender reassignment

(Pixabay, YHN)

A recent case in the Texas courts became a catalyst for loud debate regarding the intersection of parental rights and appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria in children. A 7-year-old child of divorced parents, born male, is believed by his mother to be transgender and that his desire to be female should be affirmed. The father denies the claim that the child consistently asserts a female identity and says that the types of treatment the mother would approve for him are not in the child’s best interest.

An initial ruling granted sole conservatorship to the mother, giving her full control of the type of medical and mental health treatment the child would receive. A later court ruling turned that on its head by granting joint custody to the parents, creating a situation wherein they must agree about the best care for the child.

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Transgender activism is the newest and most aggressively pursued cause of cultural progressives.

A term we rarely heard a decade ago is now in the headlines every day, whether it relates to public restrooms, women’s sports or child custody cases like the one in Texas. But multiple things have been conflated in the debate in a way that clouds careful examination of the moral, ethical and public health questions at hand.

The first hurdle is understanding the nature of gender dysphoria. This type of inner conflict regarding personal gender identity has long been recognized by mental health experts as a mental disorder and was listed in the DSM (the diagnostic manual which defines all mental health conditions) as “Gender Identity Disorder.” However, with the release of DSM-5 in 2013, it was renamed “Gender Dysphoria” to destigmatize the condition.

Why is this significant? Because the cultural progressives of the American Psychiatric Association decided that a total disconnect between one’s obvious biologically-determined sex and one’s psychological recognition and acceptance of that same gender is not an anomaly in need of correction. They wanted to move the mental health and medical communities away from seeing this as a tragic mental health disorder, and toward seeing it as an alternative way of being, that can and should simply be affirmed in many cases. The American Academy of Pediatrics has lurched quickly forward with its views and recommendations on the issue, as well.

But reason and science are stubborn things, and as yet, they refuse to get on the bus with the APA and the AAP for this journey.

Let me pause here to say this: my heart breaks for individuals who suffer, and for parents whose children suffer with gender dysphoria.

It is often accompanied by other mental health struggles like depression and anxiety, and I can only imagine the desperate desire a parent would feel to alleviate that psychological pain for their child. So those of us who observe and comment on this issue must do so with compassion. To approach it with the harshness or dismissiveness that often characterizes our culture wars is wrong.

But just as we would never look a person whose mental health condition predisposed him or her to some other sort of delusion — divorced from observable reality — and affirm that delusion, we must not cave to the cultural pressure to similarly harm those who suffer from gender dysphoria.

This is especially true where vulnerable children are concerned. We do not serve them or love them well to simply affirm that which is not true, encouraged by a desire to create a new cultural reality.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics has pushed its membership toward more affirming treatment, individual pediatricians are all over the board in how they approach gender identity issues in their young patients. But most agree on this much: there is little to no research that meets the normal threshold for establishing what appropriate treatment should be. And because the vast majority (some studies suggest more than 80%) of children who present with gender dysphoria see their symptoms resolve by adolescence, it casts tremendous doubt on whether medical intervention with inherent risks — like puberty suppressing hormones — would ever be appropriate.

So whether or not you have a moral objection to affirming transgenderism, it should give everyone on all sides of this debate great concern that children who are experiencing a mental health crisis might have their burden compounded by agenda-driven medical intervention which may have lasting negative effects on their bone density, their reproductive health, and even their mental health.

Even those who see no moral conflict in transgenderism should care enough about children to refuse to make them guinea pigs or pawns in a cultural battle where the data doesn’t support the treatment.

The scarce research that we do have tells us that the psycho-social problems of transgenderism do not disappear with affirmation, even when that affirmation goes all the way to sex-reassignment surgery. Can’t we at least give children the time they need to see where their symptoms do or do not lead, and give medical and mental health research the time it needs to formulate treatment recommendations based on good science, rather than cultural agenda?

For these reasons, I think the most recent ruling in the Texas case is wise. Empowering both parents reduces the chance of the child being subjected to treatment that is not fully supported by adequate research.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

2 weeks ago

Off with their heads!

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

This past week, “IT” finally happened. Mississippi surpassed Alabama in overall rankings for K-12 education.

What absolute fresh hell is this? In truth, it is not that fresh.

Alabama has been limping behind the pack for decades and this year’s “Nation’s Report Card” by the National Center for Education Statistics represented a final bottoming out.

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Give us more money they said! Well, they got it. Ten years of steadily increasing budgets with zero proration culminating in a record $7.1 billion education budget this year. And we went down anyway.

School choice is evil they said! Well, Mississippi has put in new choice measures and other reforms in leadership and approach in education with, obviously, strong effect.

We don’t want superintendents with fancy new ideas they said! Well, we’re on our fourth state superintendent in an eight-year span, not counting two interims who held the post collectively for nearly two of those eight years.

Alabama parents should be asking for their heads right now. In fact, Alabama parents should be shouting from the rooftops: “Off with their heads!”

You may be asking: Who is “they?” Glad you asked. Let’s name names.

First of all, the much-vaunted Alabama Education Association has been at the helm resisting change for decades. Ever stalwart in their ability to put children last they have insisted that dollars are less for educating Alabama’s children and more for feeding the beast of a system that now ranks last in the nation. They say nothing when the best teachers are let go to ensure entrenched seniority stays in the classroom. Creative choices such as charter schools and the equitable solution of simply allowing kids to leave a failing school are decried as enemy actions and are challenged by the AEA on a regular basis. We are now last in the nation; thank you AEA.

Names number two: the current, elected, State School Board, which has been a dysfunctional mess with no ability to project policy. Fractious at best, blindingly arrogant at worst, the Board preserves itself while getting nothing done that promotes a 21st-century education? None. What incentives are offered to retain the best among our teachers? None. Would you run a company like this? Honest readers are thinking “no.” Then why do we continue to support a feckless body of individuals who fail us constantly? We are now last in the nation; thank you elected State School Board.

Lastly, those in higher education who train those teachers who enter our classrooms have to bear some measure of responsibility. What are they teaching our teachers? Who are they sending out to teach our kids? Is there any measure of innovation, choice, or passion being taught? Higher education must take some stock of itself and look to its own curriculum and instruction to determine how best to put more meaning into their diplomas. We are now last in the nation; thank you higher ed.

Solutions are not easy, but they are mandatory.

In fixing Alabama education there should not be a single call for more money. Not. One. Call. The money is there, and it is there for the child not for the system.

Alabama’s per capita spending on each child is greater than that of Mississippi and has been for many years and now we in Alabama are last in the nation, not Mississippi.

In fact, Governing Magazine reports that 22% of the 50 states spend less than Alabama per student; yet, all of those low-spending states rank higher than Alabama in results. This year’s NAEP results show four low-spending states finished multiple times in the top 10 of the categories and grade levels ranked in the recent NAEP findings.

The solution isn’t more cash. The real solution lies in setting policies that break the status quo.

Yes, break it!

Innovations in the school choice arena have to be put into effect and given the ability to operate fully. The State School Board needs to be appointed as opposed to elected so that the likelihood of dysfunction is mitigated and a team approach to setting policy can be emplaced. Incentives should be implemented such as scholarships for teachers to achieve National Board Certification and rewards for classroom innovation.

And yes, even the third rail of education politics, we must reimagine tenure as we know it and create retention standards for educators based on meritorious service and achievement so that the best among our educators stay in the classroom.

These really aren’t overly hard things to do. But they are different and require a political will that is too often lacking in Montgomery. “New and better” should be the mantra for education policy in 2020 because “old and last” is nothing to be proud of.

Until we are no longer last in the nation, off with their heads!

Phil Williams is a former Alabama State Senator and is the Director of Policy Strategy for the Alabama Policy Institute, www.AlabamaPolicy.org.

2 weeks ago

Saving taxpayer dollars and creating a path to redemption

(C. Ward/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

As multiple recent state and national news stories have illustrated, overcrowded state prisons is one of the key challenges facing Alabama. While the state legislature has made significant strides over the past few years in the area of criminal justice reform, Alabama’s prisons are still at about 166% of capacity. This creates a dangerous environment for prison guards, healthcare providers and the inmates themselves.

There are multiple solutions we need to pursue. We need to build newer, more efficient prisons that require fewer correctional officers, and we must continue to identify ways of punishing non-violent, first-time offenders that don’t involve extended prison stays.

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Crucially, we must also find a way to reduce recidivism, or the percentage of prisoners who commit additional crimes after being released from prison for their first offense.

This is a challenge that President Donald Trump has started to address at the federal level: The First Step Act of 2018 is designed to reduce recidivism via education programs, fair sentencing, and smart confinement.

There are obvious fiscal and moral costs for society when someone re-offends and goes back to prison. Taxpayers have to foot the bill for the inmate’s prison stay, and a family somewhere loses a father, a brother, a mother or a sister, to the gray twilight of our correctional system and potentially, a life of crime. Swift and full punishment must be meted out to the guilty; but once a prison sentence is served and justice has been done, the ex-inmate needs to become a contributing member of society.

Currently, Alabama’s recidivism rate is at 31%, which compares favorably to the national average of 34%. But Alabama can do better — and the central figure to keep in mind is that only 7% of inmates with a marketable job skill commit a second crime.

Writing in The American Interest, Emily Mooney reports that a 2018 RAND study showed that educational programs offered in prisons were associated with reducing re-offending rates by as much as 32%. Mooney also points to a 2013 RAND study which showed that every dollar spent on education programs behind bars saved taxpayers up to five dollars in lower recidivism rates.

The research supports what is an intuitive conclusion: a young man who leaves prison with a welding certificate is more likely to find a job, and stay out of trouble, than the one who leaves prison without much more than a contacts list filled with the thieves and drug dealers he met behind bars.

Ingram State Technical College in Elmore County runs six job-training sites across Alabama for state prisoners, who have the opportunity to earn certificates in barbering, HVAC, welding and plumbing, among other skills. I have had the privilege of touring several of these facilities, and the work done is impressive. Alabama should expand these job-training programs, and give more inmates an opportunity to build a new life centered around honest work.

Ultimately, however, giving these men and women in state prison the opportunity learn a skill is about math and budgeting as much as it is about redemption. Overcrowding in our state prisons has led to multiple lawsuits in federal court, and the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into Alabama’s prisons. Expanding Alabama’s existing education programs in state prisons will save taxpayer dollars over the long run, and help get us out of the cross-hairs of the DOJ and the federal courts.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

High school football playoffs: A community happening

(ASHAA/Contributed)

Many people would agree that their years in high school were some of the best years of their lives – particularly those individuals who were members of a sports team or participated in other activities such as the marching band or debate team.

In many cases, team members become lifelong friends. Team reunions are held from time to time as teammates return to remember the relationships, which ultimately mean much, much more than the outcome of games or events they had participating in high school activities. Quite often, reunions for sports teams are staged during the highlight of each sports season during the state playoffs.

And as the calendar turns to November, there is nothing like the excitement of high school football playoffs in cities and communities across Alabama and throughout the nation every Friday night.

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While each team will be trying to advance to the state championship, the outcome of the games is only a part of the experience for those individuals in attendance.

Why? Because the people in the stands at high school football playoffs are moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers, neighbors down the street, fellow students, and longtime residents of the community. People in the bleachers know the players on the field. Win or lose, their support and love is always there.

There is no tradition in sports with the history of high school football. There are 30 rivalry games (60 high schools) that started before 1900 and continue today, the longest of which is Connecticut’s New London High School vs. Norwich Free Academy, which have been playing annually since 1875.

In Alabama, the first game confirmed was in 1892 – when the Alabama School for the Deaf played the Anniston Military Institute and tied 0-0. By the time the AHSAA formed in 1921, more than 100 high schools in Alabama were playing football. Guntersville and Albertville recently completed their 105th meeting, dating back to 1914. Albertville’s Aggies won 24-21 in a series that now stands at 52-47-6 in Guntersville’s favor. Clarke County also has two ongoing series that have reached 104 games – county rivals Jackson and Thomasville.

In Michigan, Battle Creek Central and Kalamazoo Central have been playing since 1896. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley-Needham Heights rivalry dates to 1882. And in Colorado, Pueblo Central and Pueblo Centennial have been matched since 1892.

Although there are more options for entertainment on a Friday night than ever before, there is still nothing to match high school football playoffs in the fall. With all the people attending games of the 14,247 high schools that play football, expect more than 10 million fans each Friday night – easily the No. 1 fan base in the country.

As you attend high school football playoff games this year in Alabama, remember that the players, coaches and game officials deserve your utmost support, encouragement and respect. While advancing in the playoffs is the desire of each team, the ultimate objective of high school sports and activities is to have fun and enjoy these special years.

We urge you to continue to support the high school teams in your community!

Karissa Niehoff is the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations

Steve Savarese is the executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association

The Alabama High School Athletic Association, founded in 1921, is a private agency organized by its member schools to control and promote their athletic programs. The purpose of the AHSAA is to regulate, coordinate and promote the interscholastic athletic programs among its member schools, which include public, private and parochial institutions.

2 weeks ago

A hero’s welcome: What you deserve, Mr. President

(T. Tuberville for Senate/Contributed, WH/Flickr, YHN)

Welcome back to Alabama, Mr. President.

You are in the home state of college football’s greatest rivalry, which I was honored to be a part of for so many years. Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers fans are opponents during the season, especially on Iron Bowl Saturday, and our allegiances lie with either Coach Saban or Coach Malzahn. But there’s one head coach for whom our state’s fans set aside their bipartisan differences and root for in solidarity: the president of the United States of America.

In Alabama, you will not be heckled or booed, but embraced as our commander in chief. We support you, and we are rooting for your continued success.

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Here in Alabama, we show respect for the elected leaders governing our great nation. Mr. President, you have proven throughout your administration that you are working tirelessly to make our country a better place. As I said, when I was a head coach, the numbers do not lie. This is the best economy in history. Households across the nation have benefited from great income growth, which has been at a much higher rate than any of your predecessors achieved. Over 6.5 million people are off food stamps. Disabled employment for Asian Americans and African Americans is at the lowest rate our country has ever seen. The unemployment rate has been at 4% or less for 16 consecutive months, the longest streak in 50 years. And under your leadership, the United States has become energy independent.

You have scored touchdown after touchdown for our country and have earned the right to serve four more years. And we football fans understand the value of hard-fought victories.

It is an honor to have you in Alabama, Mr. President. Alabama has your back, and all our fans are cheering for you.

Tommy Tuberville is the former head football coach of Auburn University and a 2020 Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama

Byrne: Star Chamber impeachment driven by Trump hatred — not American values

(WH/Flickr)

An abusive, unlawful practice of the English courts from the 15th to 17th centuries was so rampant and unfair that protections against it were written into our U.S. Constitution.

This hated and feared practice took place in the Star Chamber.

The creators of the Star Chamber described it as a tool to stamp out corruption and seek justice for those in English society who were so powerful that no ordinary court would ever find them guilty.

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In practice, it was used to punish political enemies without the constraints of the law or the prying eyes of the public.

Sound familiar?

Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the abuses of the English government. They valued the rights of the individual so highly that they included a Bill of Rights – our first 10 amendments – to protect them.

One of the most important, the 5th Amendment, states that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The principles of due process and fairness towards the accused are not only enshrined into our Constitution but the very nature of our Republic. These are values held deeply by all Americans.

Unfortunately, in today’s House of Representatives, the Star Chamber is alive and well.

For weeks, secret impeachment proceedings held by Democrats in the basement of the Capitol have deprived President Trump of his due process rights.

Adam Schiff and his cabal of Democrats have monopolized the Intelligence Committee’s power, withholding facts, denying the President the right to participate, and extending the Republican Minority party little more than token rights.

The few Republicans allowed to participate are prohibited by Schiff’s arbitrary rules from detailing to their fellow Republican members – or the Americans they represent – what is going on behind closed doors.

Of course, Schiff and his Democrat staffers have shown no restraint breaking their own rules by leaking cherry-picked, misleading bits of testimony or outright lies.

I’ve had enough of this Star Chamber, and I chose to fight back.

Recently, my colleagues and I walked into the basement room of the Capitol where Schiff is holding his secret hearings. We demanded to watch the proceedings.

Schiff immediately shut them down, even though we only wanted to observe — a right required by House rules and normally extended to all members of Congress.

We may not have gotten to see the hearings, but the American people are beginning to see what’s going on. They are making clear they do not approve. And Democrats have been feeling the heat back home.

Last week, Democrats introduced a resolution supposedly to move forward with formal impeachment proceedings in the public eye. In reality, this resolution validates the Star Chamber proceedings we’ve seen so far and even instructs them to continue!

This resolution was nothing but political cover for Democrats. All Republicans in the House saw through Nancy Pelosi’s resolution and voted against it.

Importantly, two Democrats rejected this deeply flawed process by voting with Republicans.

Yet, Democrats continue taking a phony moral high ground. They insist Republicans only support the President because of a “personality cult for Donald Trump.”

Anyone looking at the facts, including the Democrats who voted against the joke impeachment resolution, know this is absurd.

Just watch five minutes of national mainstream news to see the “anti-Trump personality cult.” Trump Derangement Syndrome is an epidemic. For those who suffer from it, no step is too far, no rule too sacred, to eliminate President Trump. For them, the ends justify the means.

This Star Chamber fundamentally violates the principles of fairness and due process Americans value so dearly. It should never be used against Democrats or Republicans.

This scheme is flat-out un-American, and I won’t stop fighting against it and defending our values.

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

2 weeks ago

Did we win the trade war?

(Pixabay, YHN)

President Trump recently announced a partial trade settlement with China. Does this mean we have won the trade war?

Details remain sparse, and the present deal may merely forestall further tariff hikes. It may be a truce rather than a peace treaty. Nonetheless, avoiding escalation of the trade war is good news.

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To think about trade with China or other nations, we should not view nations as trading. Individuals and businesses trade through buying. As consumers, we face a range of options for cars, clothes, phones and so forth. Sometimes a “foreign” product better serves us or offers comparable value at a better price. Businesses similarly consider who can best supply the inputs they use. Today’s global supply chains make the difference between foreign and domestic manufacturers a matter of degree.

Viewing trade as individual action helps us recognize that trade makes consumers better off. Overseas sales boost American firms’ revenues and make their customers across the globe better off too. Voluntary trade in markets benefits all involved, even when they live in different countries.

All nations’ governments limit their citizens’ freedom to trade internationally. This is unfortunate; a world economy with everyone participating would be more prosperous. And governments use their tax dollars to help their companies sell in foreign markets. These export subsidies hurt the world economy by making products artificially attractive to consumers.

What can we do if other nations keep their citizens from buying American products? As a rule, I think we should engage in trade to the extent possible. Limited trade still produces benefits.

The charitable interpretation sees President Trump’s trade war as trying to make China open their markets. Tariffs on Chinese imports threaten the profits Chinese companies earn selling here. A trade war tries leveraging this pressure for a better deal. If successful, the costly trade war would yield future benefits.

Yet pressuring governments on trade is problematic. A government that restricts imports demonstrates relatively little concern for their citizens’ well-being. For many years Japan limited rice imports, an important staple of their national diet. If Japanese rice growers were so important that politicians were willing to make households (who could vote against the politicians in elections) pay more for rice, could we possibly have enough leverage to force a policy change?

The dispute with China also involves allegations of unfair trade. One element of unfairness is government assistance to companies exporting to the U.S. Another component is currency manipulation, or keeping the value of China’s currency, the yuan, low to make exports artificially cheap. (Intellectual property and technology transfer are also concerns but these issues are sufficiently involved to warrant separate treatment.)

Government export assistance raises fairness concerns and harms the world economy. We might accept it when American companies lose out in fair competition against companies from Canada, Europe or Asia. Export subsidies inflict pain on Americans with no gains for the world economy. Why should we let American companies go out of business and American workers lose their jobs due to government-assisted exporters?

Yet establishing the unfairness and even existence of specific forms of assistance when governments are extensively involved in the economy is exceedingly difficult. Are the tax breaks and worker training provided by Alabama and other states unfair assistance in international trade? International finance economists do not agree whether China is currently manipulating the yuan to aid exports. Absent some way to clearly identify unfair assistance, every American company facing international competition will seek protection.

The details on this agreement and any follow up agreements will tell us if President Trump’s trade war has increased the freedom of Americans and Chinese to trade. Wars sometimes result in bloody stalemates, with leaders then peddling a deal restoring the status quo ante as victory. The cost of trade wars and shooting wars makes peace with honor, if possible, an attractive alternative.

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

2 weeks ago

Rep. Martha Roby: Continuing the fight against the opioid epidemic

(Rep. Roby/Twitter)

The opioid epidemic is one of our country’s most dire ongoing issues. The term is one that has become too familiar in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, this epidemic is tragically taking the precious lives of Americans across the country, including those of Alabamians in the Second Congressional District.

As an elected official, I believe that we must do all we can to help bring attention and awareness to this serious problem. I also believe it is our duty as leaders to educate the public on the proper resources that are available to help fight this battle, both on state and national levels.

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Governor Ivey recently announced that the Alabama Drug Enforcement Task Force (ADETF) under the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) has been awarded over $1.4 million by the U.S. Department of Justice to combat illegal drug use. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs will administer these grants to ADETF’s seven regional offices across the state. Each regional office accounts for eight to 12 counties, which allows them the opportunity to focus their efforts closely on a designated area of the state. Federal grants are an important resource in which state and local governments, law enforcement agencies and related organizations can apply for funds that aid in the fight against the opioid crisis.

Additionally this week, the White House released an update to the website FindTreatment.gov to improve the resources it can provide to those battling drug abuse. The website outlines services to drug abusers who are interested in seeking help through treatment programs. The site can also set up search filters to make navigation more easily accessible for specific users such as veterans. Resources like this website are crucial tools for those who want help overcoming drug addiction.

It is imperative that leaders on all levels are dedicated to ending this crisis that is tearing apart homes and families across our nation. We cannot continue to let this devastating epidemic steal hundreds of thousands of American lives. My hope for all those suffering is to reach out and use the various resources put in place. However, we all must be knowledgeable about the care available, and not just those who are suffering from addiction and abuse, but also those who are willing to act against this epidemic. I remain committed to fighting against this plague to ensure it comes to an end.

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

3 weeks ago

Rogers’ report from Washington: The price Americans are paying for sham impeachment

(Congressman Mike Rogers/Facebook, YHN)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As most folks have seen on the news lately, House Democrats are continuing their behind closed doors drive toward impeachment.

As they try to tear down and remove our president from the highest office in the world, every day Americans are left in the dark, only to hear bits and pieces that the Democrats leak to the media. Democrats refuse to share any of their findings or testimony with other members of Congress. This sham witch hunt is making a mockery of fairness and the rule of law.

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I recently wrote Chairman Adam Schiff, who’s running the secret meetings, to obtain a copy of one of the witnesses’ testimony, but I have yet to receive an answer.

House Democrats’ lack of transparency to their colleagues and the American people, leaves around 234 million Americans – including everyone across East Alabama – represented by a member of Congress who doesn’t have access to what’s going on. It’s ridiculous.

On top of the partisan and unfair investigation, House Democrats are so focused on trying to keep President Trump from being reelected that they’ve forgotten why they are here.

The price America is paying for this witch hunt will ultimately damage our country.

For example, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) could pass the House of Representatives with bipartisan support and be a huge win for our economy. In our great State, over 23,000 jobs depend on this, but it’s now at a standstill.

Or, lowering the cost of prescription drugs is another issue Congress should be working on, but it’s not impeachment, so it’s not prioritized.

And one especially important to me is the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The past few days, our brave men and women in uniform have taken down two of the top leaders in ISIS. They put their lives on the line every day to keep our nation safe and secure, but House Democrats cannot focus long enough to fund our troops? Instead, Congress’s real work has come pretty much to a halt as House Democrats spend every waking minute obsessed with this sham impeachment.

I will continue to stand with President Trump, and I am hopeful that Democrat Leadership will realize instead of trying to hurt President Trump, what they are really doing by wasting time on this witch hunt is hurting the American people.

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

3 weeks ago

Tuberville: Our mental health plan is broken — Let’s fix it

(T. Tuberville/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Mental health in America is broken.

The federal government controls the funding for mental health care, but currently, there’s not a plan in place to fix the crisis tormenting our nation.

I believe it’s time for us to create a strategy. It’s time to offer an effective solution for our veterans, our first responders, our neighbors who desperately need the resources that the federal government has failed to provide for them. Transferring funding for mental health care back to the states will give us the power and means to help our fellow Alabamians in need.

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The federal government attempted to take charge of America’s mental health by passing the Community Mental Health Act in 1963. Its intentions were optimistic: The federal government created and funded community mental health centers (CMHCs) to provide appropriate care for the mentally ill. But the legislation didn’t solve the problem, and no other solution has been offered. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2 million people with mental illnesses are booked into jails each year. More are living homeless on the streets. None have access to the medical care they need.

The federal government’s blanket solution of CMHCs is ineffective. There are millions of cases that need specific, individualized attention—cases that can’t be solved by one-size-fits-all methods. The federal government doesn’t have the bandwidth to provide appropriate care for those in need. But individual states do. It’s time for us to step up and solve the problem raging in our own backyard.

We can look to telemedicine companies such as Teladoc to provide easy-access mental health care. Teladoc connects its patients with doctors, therapists and medical experts by phone and video. It appeals to individuals who may be too intimidated to visit a doctor’s office in person because of the stigma surrounding mental health. This way, patients are quickly connected to a professional while maintaining their privacy.

Our veterans are one of the many groups that need mental health attention. These men and women bravely fought to protect our country — to protect us — and they are suffering post-traumatic stress as they return home after their service and attempt to assimilate into mainstream society. Now it’s time for us to protect and provide care for our veterans. We can all help end the stigma surrounding mental health, so those who need it most will not be afraid to ask for it or receive it.

It’s time for the federal government to turn funding for mental health care over to the states. It’s time for us to take control of the crisis and help our veterans, our first responders and our neighbors who are struggling. The federal government has proven that it won’t solve the problem, so it’s time for us to reach out a helping hand.

Tommy Tuberville is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama

3 weeks ago

If faith practices are ‘discriminatory,’ do we really still have free speech?

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Modern political candidates spend a lot of time presenting themselves as culturally acceptable to voters. That means a lot of talk about God, faith, and family, and often the winning candidate is the one who looks best driving a well-worn pickup truck. This is nothing new in American politics, but it’s a practice that is not without its shortcomings.

For those voters who care very much about policy and legislation, and the deeper philosophies of governance that uphold those things, all of this cultural signifying can grow old in a hurry.

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Yet there are a few cultural considerations that populist candidates are right to protect. It’s easy to dismiss the bluster about how we Alabamians “dare protect our rights,” but it’s worth remembering that rights must be defended or else they risk becoming something more like a privilege dispensed by those in power, and less like a freedom granted by and preserved in nature.

Political observers have watched a number of court cases in recent years over the matter of religious freedom, particularly as it pertains to same-sex marriage.

A number of plaintiffs have alleged discrimination when a wedding vendor refused to provide service on the grounds that to do so would violate their conscience. Plaintiffs have responded that conscience protections do not allow for discrimination, while defendants have in turn argued that the state cannot compel the creative work (i.e., speech) of the defendant in question. Court rulings thus far have varied in their application, though the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case that the state did in fact violate the rights to free exercise of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, though the court demurred on some deeper questions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Those questions are sure to be asked again in future court cases.

Alas, there is another element to religious freedom that is worth considering. While much of this fight will concern the application of specific laws in the various states and municipalities, the preconditions for such arguments are often established in the rhetoric commonly employed in the public square.

A recent decision in one of Alabama’s federal courts sheds some light on this problem.

Just a few weeks ago, United States District Judge Myron Thompson dismissed a lawsuit brought against the Southern Poverty Law Center by D. James Kennedy Ministries, a Christian ministry based out of Florida. The SPLC has, for many years, labeled DJKM a hate group due to its stance on LGBTQ issues. Judge Thompson dismissed the case, noting that while the court was not offering comment on the specifics of the SPLC’s charge, the organization was well within its protected First Amendment rights to make such a claim.

In a broad sense, it’s hard to disagree with the ruling. No one should be comfortable with a federal judge stepping out and saying “you can’t say that” to any person or organization.

Yet the SPLC, an organization that has long outlived its usefulness as a neutral arbiter of justice, is playing a dangerous game with its Manichean practice of labeling hate groups.

Of course, there are clear instances of hate groups; the noxious alt-right, neo-Nazis, racists and bigots of various stripes, and anti-Semites, though the latter finds increasing oxygen on both the far right and the far left these days. Indeed, thoughtful Christians must admit that however unfair the charge may be against D. James Kennedy Ministries, there are certainly some within the church who wield Christian orthodoxy as a cudgel against others in a way that is unsound on the merits of Scripture as well as public perception. To that point, religious organizations concerned about the changing outlook on human sexuality should recognize that their own rhetoric often affects real people with real struggles; they should exercise their First Amendment freedoms with great prudence and caution.

Still, it must be recognized that laws are upheld beyond the mere text on a page. There is a rhetorical function to our laws; if they are not upheld in custom then they are not likely to be upheld in practice.

Put another way, our cultural practices are often the precondition for the structure of our laws.

The writers of the Bill of Rights had no qualms about enshrining those freedoms in the Constitution because they already believed those things in the deepest fiber of their beings. While Judge Thompson’s ruling may be technically correct, the practice of labeling the orthodox Christian stance of human sexuality as hateful poses a real risk not just to religious freedom, but freedom of speech, as well.

Speech that is slowly but surely regarded as socially unacceptable may in time become legally unacceptable as well, and at that point, the First Amendment will have been stripped of all of its cultural and legal power.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and professor of the classics, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

Byrne: To fight impeachment, Republicans must get off the sidelines

(CBS Evening News/YouTube)

For weeks, Democrats have been holding secretive impeachment proceedings behind closed doors, out of sight of the American people.

Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Select Committee on Intelligence has been interviewing witnesses in a restricted area deep beneath the Capitol in a small room called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF.

The SCIF is specifically designed for classified briefings and other extremely sensitive committee business, not for non-classified witness interviews.

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It shouldn’t be this way.

In the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings, the House held a formal vote to begin. In addition to giving the inquiry legitimacy, the vote outlined the rights not only of the minority but of the accused.

In the Nixon and Clinton impeachment hearings, the respective minority parties were allowed to call witnesses, issue subpoenas, and access hearing information. Additionally, each president and their teams were allowed to participate to ensure fairness and due process.

How can someone defend themselves – in this proceeding or in the mind of the public – if they do not know what those accusing them are even saying?

Nancy Pelosi and Schiff’s reasoning for enacting this scheme is obvious. By locking down impeachment proceedings, Democrats control what information the public receives.

Open hearings have been disastrous for Democrats. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony was an embarrassment. Sometimes the truth hurts!

But by choosing to interview witnesses in a classified room – even though they admit the information is not secret in nature – Democrats hold all the cards.

The public receives only whatever Democrats leak to their media allies. Lies, misinformation, and cherry-picked snippets are all the public – even most members of Congress like myself – can access.

Efforts to impeach a duly-elected president behind closed doors require all Americans to get off the sidelines to end this scheme.

Republicans want to get the truth out. Americans deserve it.

I’ve had enough, and I took action.

Last week, a group of Republicans led by my colleague Matt Gaetz held a press conference outside the entrance to the SCIF to bring attention to the Democrats’ scheme to hide the truth.

After the press conference, leaving the media behind, Republicans entered the restricted area outside the hearing.

Once inside, a staff member informed me I was unable to enter the hearing but would not say why or what rule prohibited me and the Members of Congress with me from entering.

So I led my colleagues in.

Once inside, we quietly and orderly prepared to observe the proceedings. Nonetheless, Democrats were dumbfounded.

Instead of continuing, Schiff shut down the proceeding. Despite me asking him to stay, he walked out of the room!

It is noteworthy how the mainstream media reported our actions.

Without being inside, the media was given free rein to report whatever they wanted with no accountability.

CNN falsely reported I yelled in the face of Adam Schiff. Other fake news outlets mistakenly claimed we refused to turn over our phones, which is not true. I turned over my phone to staff of the Intelligence Committee.

Could there be a better example of why we need to have open impeachment hearings in the public?

Our actions are working. Within hours, after public outcry, Democrats announced a tentative plan to open hearings in several weeks.

However, a vague promise for future transparency isn’t good enough. The public narrative is continuing to be misshaped through leaks and lies.

We must end secret proceedings now. Democrats cannot continue withholding non-classified information from members of Congress and the public.

The American people should be demanding open hearings. You can bet I’ll keep fighting in Washington for an open, fair process so the American people can have the truth. This is too important to sit on the sidelines.

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

3 weeks ago

Alabama follows the law, history in forgoing marriage licenses

(CBS 42/YouTube)

For just over a month now, Alabama officials have not issued marriage licenses. They instead record certificates memorializing marital contracts, signed by married couples and notarized.

The law authorizing this change is a sensible and principled compromise. Indeed, it might be a model for other states. It accommodates both the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, expressed in its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, that natural marriage can no longer be privileged in law and the rights of state officials who cannot in good conscience affirm a conception of marriage that they understand to be false.

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Alabama probate judges have long had different legal obligations than Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who stopped issuing marriage licenses after Obergefell.

In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Davis infringed the rights of same-sex couples. Kentucky law requires a clerk to issue licenses. And the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell requires that, if states license natural marriages then they must also issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Davis argued that she was not flouting Obergefell. She did not discriminate; she did not issue licenses to anyone. In the words of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, she did not deny anyone “equal protection” of the laws of Kentucky. But the Court of Appeals ruled that her refusal to issue licenses violated a right that was “clearly established” in Obergefell and grounded in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The idea that the Due Process Clause requires states to issue marriage licenses is implausible.

So, the sensible interpretation of the Davis ruling is that, because Kentucky law requires clerks to issue marriage licenses, Davis shirked her duty by refusing.

That reasoning has no bearing on Alabama law. Even before Alabama abolished marriage licenses, its laws authorized but did not require county officials to issue a license.

The alternative — that the Due Process Clause requires marriage licenses — would be ludicrous.

The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868. States did not begin issuing marriage licenses until the early 1900s. Union soldiers did not fight and die in the Civil War to obtain permission from the state to get married. Nor would it have occurred to anyone who voted to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment that “liberty” means seeking government permission to do what God and nature commend.

When states did begin licensing marriages, they did so in part for reasons that violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Some states created marriage license schemes and other vital records in order to improve public health data. But many did so to prevent intermarriage between the races (known as “miscegenation”) and to facilitate forced sterilization and other eugenics programs.

Proponents of marriage licensing laws were candid about these goals. The influential eugenicist Harry Hamilton Laughlin explained in a 1922 report to the Chicago Municipal Court: “[A]mong the most eugenical of [limitations on marriage] are those relating to certain types of miscegenation and those denying marriage to the insane, feebleminded and other constitutional degenerates or defectives.”
Marriage licenses empower states to control marriage.

Laughlin explained that marriage records are also important to enable eugenicists to identify “individuals personally defective,” who suffer “hereditary degeneracy,” so that they can be denied admission to marriage. “The location of such degeneracy is a difficult task,” he conceded, “but is necessary as a foundation for the intelligent purging of the race.”

Laughlin’s frank disclosure of the racist, social-Darwinian motivations behind marriage licensing laws might startle those who have never studied the history of legal concepts (a group that today includes most lawyers, unfortunately). But some judges and elite lawyers today seem to share his assumption that judges and other government officials have power to define what marriage is and to grant permission to marry.

Laughlin was candid about the implications of this assumption. The power to define marriage and to grant permission to marry is the power to prohibit real marriages between man and woman, which are capable of producing children whom the government deems undesirable.

Laughlin looked forward to the day when governments would not only prevent marriages between different races and by “defectives” but would also “limit marriage to persons who can demonstrate the possession in their family trees of socially valuable mental, physical and temperamental qualities.” Advances in scientific knowledge would, he hoped, eventually bring about “the limitation of marriage to persons of demonstrated natural worth.”

This is not to suggest that those who today advocate a statist conception of marriage do so because they are closet eugenicists. It is to expose the folly of the idea that marriage exists because of state law or the opinions of federal judges.

Marriage pre-existed the first state statutes and the creation of federal courts by several thousand years.

And the Constitution does not require states to attempt to re-engineer marriage for the purposes of dogmatic elites.

Adam J. MacLeod is Professorial Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute and Professor of Law at Faulkner University, Jones School of Law.

3 weeks ago

Roby: Staying alert against fraudulent scams

(Representative Martha Roby/Facebook, YHN)

Every day, we consume information in a variety of ways from our cell phone screens to our computers. With having several types of options available, the amount of content can be overwhelming and easily inundate even the most avid consumer. The ability to understand if information is fraudulent or real is becoming ever more difficult to immediately recognize. This month is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and there are so many fraudulent scams that we all must stay alert against.

Have you ever clicked on a suggested ad on Instagram, liked a normal looking product for sale on Facebook or clicked on a link from an unsolicited email? If so, you most likely have been viewing deceitful companies at least a few times. According to a recent Better Business Bureau’s report on those who documented a scam, 91% directly engaged with the fake company and 53% of those ended up losing money. These types of companies do all they can to appear legitimate from a professional website to consumer reviews and proper looking forms to enter in your credit card information. When scrolling down your own social media page or that of a friend’s you feel safe and secure, but it is the sense of regularity that can invite normal-looking fake products and websites to appear welcoming.

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I invite everyone to utilize the tools from the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org to review questionable product advertisements and websites. Additionally, if you do unfortunately fall victim to an online scam, you can easily report that information here as well. Everyone should practice the same amount, if not more, awareness online for products and companies as you would if you walked into a store to buy a product.

While scams and fraudulent activity online remain the most likely avenue of interaction with consumers, bad actors continue to use unsolicited calls to cell phones as well. In fact, just this past week, I received numerous calls to my cell phone from people who identified themselves as being from the Social Security Administration. These calls claimed criminal activity was pending against me, and I must call them back immediately with my Social Security number to rectify the situation. Most of these type of calls can easily be determined to be fake on the onset, however, every situation for each person is different. Think of the person who had recently interacted with the actual Social Security Administration or had indeed just participated in some sort of court case. With online fraudulent activity receiving the most oversight and awareness, I want to remind everyone that those claiming to be actual government agencies continue to exist over the phone.

While it can be alarming to get a call like this, it is important to protect yourself and your identity. First, it is very important to know that you should never give out any personal information on these types of calls. It is best to hang up and immediately report the phone call directly to the actual government agency. In the case of the Social Security Administration there are two ways you can report the call, by phone at 1-800-269-0271 or online at oig.ssa.gov.

There have been safeguards implemented on social media platforms and unsolicited phone calls have decreased over the years, but the ability to protect your identity and defend yourself from getting scammed continues to get more difficult as corrupt individuals adapt to the consumer. At the end of the day, you ultimately are in control by what ads you click on, websites to visit, or phone calls to call-back. Asking questions and always double-checking the legitimacy of any new online interaction or entity is the best practice to follow.

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

3 weeks ago

A look at the good work of Rick Pate, Will Ainsworth, Jack Hawkins

(R. Pate/Facebook, Alabama Forestry Association/Twitter, Troy University/Contributed)

We have two men who were elected to statewide constitutional offices last year who seem to be doing a good job. They are both working quietly and diligently in their new posts.

Rick Pate was sworn in as the state’s Agriculture Commissioner in January. He followed John McMillan, who served eight years as Agriculture Commissioner. McMillan took a nonpolitical, hardworking, business-like approach. Pate seems to have taken a page from his friend McMillan and appears to have the same non-flamboyant, business-like approach to the job.

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Rick Pate is a lifetime farmer who seems to have been perfectly scripted for the role of agriculture commissioner of Alabama. My observation of Alabama politics is that Alabamians have a way of ascertaining who the real farmer is in the Ag Commission race. Even urban voters tend to select the man who is an agri-business man.

Rick Pate fits that bill as an agri-business man. He wants to do a good job as commissioner of agriculture and not appear to have his eye on a higher office or in other words, use the job as a stepping stone. He will more than likely serve two four-year terms managing this large and important department and retire to the farm.

Rick Pate was born 62 years ago, and grew up working on his family’s cattle and poultry operations in Lowndes County. With his roots in agriculture, it was a natural choice for him to attend Auburn University. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Ag and Horticulture from Auburn in 1978.

Pate started and ran a successful landscape company in Montgomery for 36 years. However, he never left his beloved home in Lowndes County. In addition to landscaping, he has a purebred Charolais cattle operation. Rick was mayor of Lowndesboro for 14 years before being elected Agriculture Commissioner. He was on the Town Council for eight years prior to becoming mayor. He has been active in the state Republican Party for decades.

Having grown up on a farm, running a business and serving as mayor of a small town, has given Pate a unique perspective to the office of Agriculture Commissioner. He has a genuine concern for the future of agriculture and the people of Alabama.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is a man with a different mission. Unlike Pate, he wants to and will seek higher office. In fact, if Kay Ivey does not run for reelection in 2022, young Will Ainsworth will be a candidate for governor of Alabama, and my suggestion would be do not bet against him being elected governor.

Ainsworth is young. At 38 years old, he is one of the youngest lieutenant governors in state history. He was born and raised in Albertville in picturesque Marshall County, to parents who were self-made financially successful folks. He attended Marshall County public schools and then went on to Auburn University. He graduated from Auburn with a degree in marketing. He owns and operates the Tennessee Valley Hunting and Fishing Expo which draws more than 20,000 attendees each year.

Prior to entering public service, he worked as a youth pastor at Albertville’s Grace Baptist Church and was a co-founder of Dream Ranch, one of the premier hunting and fishing lodges in the United States. At age 33, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives where he served for one term from 2014 to 2018, prior to his election as lieutenant governor in November 2018.

After a close Republican primary victory, he won overwhelmingly in the general election. He actually received the most votes of any candidate for constitutional office on the general election ballot.

Ainsworth has won the respect and admiration of many of the veteran state senators for his quick grasp of the intricate senate rules. He presides effectively and fairly. State Senator Jabo Waggoner, (R-Vestavia), who has been observing lieutenant governors for over three decades, recently said, “Will Ainsworth has learned the rules and presided better than any lieutenant governor I can remember.” These same sentiments were echoed by other veteran state senators.

Will Ainsworth has a bright future in Alabama politics. It also does not hurt that he hails from the vote-rich and growth centered Tennessee Valley Huntsville metro area of the state.

Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr. has recently celebrated 30 years as presiding officer of the Troy University System. He has done a yeoman’s job over those three decades. He has left an indelible legacy in Alabama higher education history. He is the longest-serving chancellor of a major university in not only Alabama but the entire nation.

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.

4 weeks ago

Christians should protect freedom of expression for all people

(W.Miller/YHN)

It’s an idea that we Evangelicals like because we usually hear it discussed in the vein of protecting our particular right to express and live out a Christian worldview. But do we really know what our constitutional right to religious liberty is rooted in, and what protecting it for the long haul will require of us?

This tension was clear in the substance of a recent debate between fellow conservatives David French and Sohrab Ahmari. Both men are Christians but have markedly different views on how people of faith should counter pressures from the secular left to protect religious freedom and foster human flourishing.

The issue they used to hash out the different approaches was Drag Queen Story Hour.

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Some public libraries nationally have been hosting events for children in which drag queens read stories to children. Obviously, the idea of cross-dressing and fluid gender identity conflicts with a biblical view of human sexuality and is objectionable to orthodox Christians. As a result, some conservatives have launched efforts to ban these events from their local libraries. They argue that as taxpayers, they don’t want a facility they subsidize to be used in this way. Ahmari believes that this is the right approach and that Christians are obligated to suppress the promotion of ideas that we deem spiritually or culturally damaging, especially where children are concerned.

French, on the other hand, sees it differently. As one of the foremost legal advocates for Christians in the public square, French has been very effective in arguing on behalf of faith-based organizations to ensure equal access to public facilities. The argument that he and others have used—with great success—to protect Christian access to public spaces (think these same libraries or public college campuses) has been that the government must maintain viewpoint neutrality in such matters, in deference to the First Amendment.

French’s solution for Drag Queen Story Hour? Don’t attend it. Better yet, use your equal access to the same space to offer an alternate event that you think is more in line with Christian values.

Win the culture over with the power of the gospel, which we do and should have the freedom to share.

Expressing disapproval of such events or ideas is one thing. Applying cultural pressure to entities (like the American Library Association, which actively promotes Drag Queen Story Hour) by voicing dissent is our right.

But we cross a constitutional line when we use the power of the government to restrain free speech we don’t agree with. And the other side of that line is dangerous ground for the church.

The government should never be in the business of picking religious winners and losers, and the founders knew that.

In the Constitution, they provided us with what French calls “18th-century solutions to this 21st-century division.” If we get nervous and jettison that, we will not survive as a united nation. Evangelical leader Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention puts it this way: “Once you give Caesar the power of the sword to coerce the conscience in terms of religious matters, that sword is going to be turned on you.”

Both French and Moore understand that we are a missionary people in a land that is not our home. It is impossible to build and sustain a political power structure that ensures that Christians (or any other religious group) maintain power forever. If we fail to advocate for religious liberty for all—even for those whose belief systems we disagree with—freedom of religion or expression may one day be a luxury limited to those in political power at a given time.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

So what does that mean on Main Street?

It means that the future of Christianity in America depends on the preservation of the constitutional rights of all Americans, and the evangelistic efforts of the church. The Constitution doesn’t promise us government endorsement of the Christian faith, even if you hold to the view that most of the founders were themselves Christians.

Instead, the promise of the Constitution is a level playing field upon which to compete for the hearts and minds of the individuals that make up our nation and our cultural fabric.

What that also means, of course, is that we will have to do life alongside some people whose values and worldview make us very uncomfortable. There will be things that we choose to shield our children’s eyes from, and environments that we avoid. But this uncomfortable religious pluralism is the only way America can work.

Advocating for a person’s constitutional right to worship or speak as they choose is not an endorsement of what they say or do. Historians can’t agree on who to attribute this maxim to (Was it Voltaire or Evelyn Beatrice Hall? Or kind of both?) but it represents the heart and wisdom of free speech rights: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Our efforts to preserve religious liberty for the Christian faith must be grounded in the defense of government neutrality toward free speech and free expression.

It is hard work, to be sure.

But wouldn’t we rather the culture look Christian because it is truly Christian, rather than looking Christian because it’s illegal to look otherwise?

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

4 weeks ago

Protecting Alabama rivers and protecting your pocketbook

(Energy Institute of Alabama/Contributed)

More than once in my life I’ve been reminded there is no such thing as a free lunch. I first learned that lesson from my parents and you probably did, too. Everything has a cost to someone. Whether you’re handing money to a cashier directly or paying a higher utility rate because of government regulations, you will pay. That’s never been truer than in the current push to force the removal of coal ash from one location to another in Alabama.

Coal ash is an energy byproduct produced by burning coal to generate electricity. In Alabama, the use of coal-fired electricity generation is decreasing, but for many years it was the primary source of fuel for our power plants. Over the years, coal ash has either been reused or disposed of according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and individual state permits, which comply with EPA regulations. In Alabama, coal ash is reused to produce the concrete used to build our roads, bridges, sidewalks and in building materials such as wallboard and concrete blocks. One type of coal ash benefits agriculture as a soil additive used in growing turf grass, peanuts, cotton and vegetables.

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Unusable coal ash is stored in specific landfills and waste storage ponds that are permitted under state rules and subject to monitoring and inspection by both electricity producers and the state. All coal ash storage ponds in Alabama have monitoring wells that allow regular sampling of water quality in nearby rivers and streams.

Since 2008, the EPA has been assessing coal ash deposits. In Alabama, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), following the lead of the EPA, recently enacted rules leading the producers of coal ash to discontinue disposal in storage ponds and to remediate and cap the existing ponds to prevent any potential groundwater contamination. PowerSouth has submitted to ADEM its plan for closing its Lowman Plant coal ash storage pond in accordance with the rules that have been established.

Capping storage ponds, following extensive remediation of the water contained in them, is both environmentally and economically sound. Remember the same people who are responsible for treating and closing coal ash ponds are your neighbors. They drink the same water and enjoy boating, fishing and wildlife just like you. Your interest in a clean environment is also their interest.

Now, some environmental extremists are lobbying lawmakers and ADEM to require a more costly plan that would force the excavation of our coal ash ponds and removal of the material to a lined landfill. There are a couple of serious issues with going that route.

For one, this option is more dangerous. The number of trucks and time it will take to transport coal ash to a lined landfill is astronomical. I question if the few people advocating for removal have asked residents in local communities how they feel about the dangers associated with thousands of 18-wheelers passing through their community for years. Also, undoubtedly that kind of heavy traffic will have a significant negative impact on the road infrastructure in these areas as well.

This movement of coal ash from Point A to Point B is substantially more expensive – with numbers ending in the billions. That’s the difference between a country club lunch and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Both accomplish the goal of nourishment but at significantly different costs – and for this lunch, our members’ customers would have to pay the tab.

Seth Hammett is a native of Covington County, Ala., and serves as Chairman of the Energy Institute of Alabama. He is also Vice President of Business Development for PowerSouth Energy and was a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for 32 years, including 12 years as Speaker of the House. Upon his retirement from the Alabama Legislature in 2010, Hammett was named Speaker Emeritus. A graduate of Auburn University, Hammett earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration. He holds honorary doctorates from Troy University and the University of West Alabama.