1 year ago

Let’s celebrate the Magna Carta!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 mins ago

Dr. Daniel Sutter: The homeschooling surge

After schools throughout the country closed in spring 2020 due to COVID-19, homeschooling increased significantly in the 2020-21 school year. The surge has been accompanied by some calls to ban homeschooling.

According to the Census Bureau, 11% of households with school aged children homeschooled this year, double the level in April 2020. Alaska had the highest percentage of homeschooling families, at 28%, followed by Oklahoma at 20%; Alabama was middle of the pack at 12%.

Homeschooling has long been associated with red state conservatives. Yet blue states have seen large increases. For instance, homeschooling increased from 1% to 9% in Boston and by 12 percentage points in Detroit. 16% and 12% of black and Hispanic households were homeschooling, demonstrating the breadth of the surge.

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These figures are from the Census’ Household Pulse Survey. The questions tried to distinguish virtual schooling from homeschooling, but mistakes may inflate the homeschool percentage some. Still, many school systems suffered enrollment declines, so homeschooling has definitely surged.

Whether the surge outlives the pandemic remains to be seen. That homeschooling could go mainstream so quickly is not surprising. Homeschooling is now legal in every state, with more resources available for interested parents than ever. Co-ops help organize extracurricular activities and advanced lessons.

From an economic perspective, however, homeschooling offers a puzzle. The division of labor and knowledge drives our economy. Specialization increases productivity enormously, enabling our high standard of living. Homeschooling reverses the division of labor.

Economists’ interest in aggregate statistics impairs our understanding the attraction of homeschooling. Every good and service has numerous quality dimensions, which we ignore in tabulating aggregate production of cars, watches or sunglasses. Grouping and counting to produce economic statistics makes us ignore differences in products.

Education also has many dimensions of quality. An hour of instruction is not the same in different settings. A school classroom may not suit some kids’ learning style. Some folks favor “unschooling,” or allowing children to learn as they become interested in things. Education tailored to personal preferences is valuable enough to make parents turn down “free” public schools.

And yet Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet argued in the Arizona Law Journal that homeschooling’s “real dangers to children and society” justify a nationwide ban. Professor Bartholet’s concerns include academic quality and the potential for child abuse. While teachers frequently observe and report abuse to authorities, Professor Bartholet’s paper offers only anecdotes here; absent systematic evidence, it is insulting to disparage homeschoolers as child abusers.

On educational attainment, a review of the evidence by the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke suggests that homeschoolers outperform schooled children. Such comparative analysis faces some significant statistical challenges. We further know that parental involvement improves learning; controlling for the extreme parental involvement of homeschooling may be difficult. Still there is no evidence of a problem.

Any attempt to compare performance must take seriously a criticism raised by homeschooling advocate Kerry McDonald, namely, whose standards get applied? Standardized tests reflect the values of the education establishment. Many parents would not homeschool if they wanted their children to learn exactly what they would be taught in a school.

Yet Professor Bartholet’s argument is not ultimately about learning the three R’s. She objects to parents “isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture.” The professor continues, “Many don’t believe in the scientific method, looking to the Bible instead as their source for understanding the world.”

The case against homeschooling comes down to the same argument used to start public schools, values education (or indoctrination). In 1800s America the concern was teaching Protestant as opposed to Catholic values. Government schools allow those setting education policy (e.g., Harvard professors) to shape the values other peoples’ children learn.

Parents love their children and want them to succeed. Homeschooling parents believe they are improving their children’s lives. To preserve a free society, people must tolerate differences in values, not force their values on others.

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

1 hour ago

Milestone: AIDT celebrates 50 years of shaping Alabama’s workforce

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – AIDT, Alabama’s primary workforce development agency, marked 50 years as a central player in the state’s economic growth through its mission of connecting and training Alabama workers with companies across the state.

The milestone was marked with a ceremony at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, attended by Governor Kay Ivey and representatives of companies assisted by AIDT.

“Fifty years is an incredible milestone,” said Ed Castile, director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “A group of people had a vison to modernize the workforce development model.

“Fifty years later and we must be doing something right,” he added.

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The event featured a fly-over by an Airbus A321 aircraft, made at the company’s factory in Mobile, and an Alabama debut for the Toyota Corolla Cross, an all-new sport utility that is being produced at the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing facility in Huntsville. AIDT has assisted both companies with workforce development support.

“Simply said, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing would not be able to recruit, assess, hire and train up to 4,000 team members without the partnership with AIDT,” Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration for Mazda Toyota, told Business Alabama.

“It is a partnership built on mutual respect and mutual trust,” he added. “It is a great partnership and we are so lucky to have AIDT in the state of Alabama.”

FAR-RANGING IMPACT

Since 1971, AIDT has trained approximately 1 million job-seekers for 5,200 companies across the state. In addition to the main office in Montgomery, AIDT operates seven training centers plus several additional satellite locations throughout Alabama. The organization maintains a fleet of mobile training units that can bring training classes to remote locations in the state.

AIDT, whose economic impact on Alabama is calculated at $7 billion annually, provides training in a wide variety of fields, from aviation to robotics.

“One of Alabama’s key advantages in economic development is our workforce training programs, which provides a foundation for the support system we have in place to help companies in many different industries find and develop the skilled workers they need to achieve success,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“AIDT is at the core of our workforce development efforts, and its contribution to the state’s economic growth over the decades has been immense,” he added. “Fortunately for us, AIDT’s culture of innovation will carry that impact forward far into the future.”

MEETING TOMORROW’S NEEDS

Consistently ranked as one of the top workforce development programs in the nation by industry and workforce publications, AIDT continues to stay at the forefront of workforce development through a willingness to evolve.

“Part of the key to our success is that we are constantly looking for ways to improve upon our processes,” Castile said. “AIDT not only delivers what companies need to meet their demands today but continues to innovate and develop ways to deliver what companies will need in the future.”

AIDT merged with the Alabama Department of Commerce in 2012.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 hours ago

Lakepoint Community Archery Park opens June 24

Alabama’s newest community archery park will hold its grand opening at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at Lakepoint State Park, 104 Old Highway 165, in Eufaula, Alabama. The Lakepoint Community Archery Park is located near the park’s campground and day use area. The public and media are invited to attend the grand opening ceremony.

The archery park will be open year-round during normal park hours for recreational shooting, competitive tournaments and outdoor educational programming. The facility features an eight-target adult range from 15 to 50 yards and a four-target youth range of 5 to 20 yards.

Use of the archery park is free for those under 16 years of age or over 65. Lakepoint entry fees still apply. Alabamians ages 16 to 64 must have a hunting license, Wildlife Management Area (WMA) license, or Wildlife Heritage license to use the range. For non-residents, an annual WMA license or non-resident hunting license is required. Licenses are available from various local retailers or online at outdooralabama.com.

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Lakepoint joins several other community archery parks currently in operation throughout the state. These facilities are one component of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) effort to increase awareness and participation in the life skill of archery. To find a community archery park nearest you, visit www.outdooralabama.com/activities/archery-parks.

The new archery park was made possible by the following agencies and organizations: Alabama State Parks, the Archery Trade Association, and ADCNR’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries with funding through license sales and federally matched Pittman-Robertson Act funding.

Additional recreational opportunities available at Lakepoint State Park include fishing, boating, swimming, wildlife and bird watching, camping, dining, picnic areas and playgrounds. The Park also features a Resort Lodge and Convention Center. In addition to the lodge, Lakepoint offers 29 cabins and 10 lakeside cottages. Handicap-accessible and dog-friendly units are available.

For more information about the Lakepoint Community Archery Park, call the park office at (334) 687-8011. For more information about Lakepoint State Park, visit www.alapark.com/parks/lakepoint-state-park.

18 hours ago

Live HealthSmart Alabama celebrates phase one improvements in Kingston

Live HealthSmart Alabama, a University of Alabama at Birmingham initiative, celebrated phase one improvements in the Kingston community at Stockham Park. These improvements are the culmination of a yearlong implementation project to improve the community’s infrastructure, including new and improved sidewalks, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant street ramps, trees and flowers in Stockham Park, painted murals, new bus shelters, improved lighting in hard-to-see areas, and more.

“Live HealthSmart Alabama aims to advance healthy eating, physical activity and prevention and wellness in underserved neighborhoods throughout Birmingham and the state,” said Dr. Mona Fouad, principal investigator of Live HealthSmart Alabama and director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center. “To help achieve these aims, we started by making community improvements. This was especially evident in the built environment. We’re excited to show everyone what has been accomplished.”

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To reenergize the community and encourage walkability, Live HealthSmart Alabama – in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie and subcontracted through AG Gaston – knew sidewalks in Kingston needed to be either repaved or built from scratch. To contribute toward this initiative, Kirkpatrick Concrete donated all the concrete used to make these improvements.

Other partners that contributed to the accomplishments in Kingston include O’Neal SteelCoca-Cola United, the city of BirminghamAlabama PowerSteward MachineBirmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority MAXGoodwyn Mills CawoodBlank Space BhamNAFCOBirmingham Parks and Recreation, and Watkins Trucking Company.

“It has been a great and rewarding experience working with the city of Birmingham and Alabama corporations to accomplish the built environment improvements in Kingston,” said Fouad Fouad, Ph.D., director of the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center. “I believe these strong partnerships between academia and industry are built to last forever.”

Food deserts: A mobile solution

While each community’s needs are unique, a consistent issue Live HealthSmart Alabama has found in underserved areas is that these neighborhoods fall within areas that either have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables or are food deserts.

According to the USDA, a food desert is a place where one-third of residents live more than one mile from the nearest grocery store. Using this definition and census tracts, the USDA estimates that roughly 19 million people (or 6.2 percent of the U.S. population) live in a food desert.

To bring healthy and affordable food to Birmingham residents, Live HealthSmart Alabama introduced its new Mobile Market at the Kingston ribbon-cutting – which will run in partnership with Promoting Empowerment and Enrichment Resources (P.E.E.R.) and East Lake Market. Each week, the Mobile Market will visit communities in Birmingham, starting with their demonstration areas (Kingston, East Lake, Bush Hills and Titusville). Shoppers can purchase proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains and a variety of other healthy food options using cash, card, EBT or Double-Up Bucks.

“Currently, Alabama has some of the worst health outcomes in the nation,” said Mona Fouad. “The goal of Live HealthSmart Alabama is to move our state out of the bottom 10 in national health rankings. To do this, community members have to have access to healthy food options and the tools to be successful. The Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market helps to provide that.”

In addition to its weekly route, the Live HealthSmart Alabama Mobile Market will also host monthly evening events in June and July where community members can shop and watch chef Chris Hastings of Hot & Hot Fish Club conduct a demonstration using food pulled directly from the market.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, UAB President Ray L. Watts, Myla Calhoun of Alabama Power and other UAB and community leaders also attended the event.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

22 hours ago

Birmingham Black Barons among Negro League teams getting more play in online stats

Barbershop banter about the greatest baseball players ever has more ammunition after Baseball-Reference.com, a Sports Reference website, dramatically expanded its coverage of the Negro Leagues and historical Black major league players.

Following the website’s launch on June 15, Major Negro Leagues from 1920-1948 – including the Birmingham Black Barons – are listed with the National League and American League as major leagues.

“Our view is that these players always were major league players, and it was an oversight on our part that we did not list them as major league players,” said Sean Forman, president of Sports Reference. “Such was the quality of play in the Negro Leagues. Just saying the term major league, we’re implying that they’re at the top league, in the top echelon of baseball being played. Certainly counting Willie Mays and Satchel Paige among your alumni for (the Birmingham Black Barons) lends it a certain level of quality.”

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Paige is No. 2 on the website’s list of all-time Birmingham Black Barons, behind Sam Streeter. Following Paige are Harry Salmon, Ray Parnell, Poindexter Williams, Artie Wilson, Piper Davis, Robert Poindexter, Ed Steele, Tommy Sampson, Sandy Thompson and Bill Powell.

A release on the website said Baseball Reference is “not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.”

The website acknowledges the work of Gary Ashwill, Scott Simkus, Mike Lynch, Kevin Johnson and Larry Lester on the Seamheads Negro League Database, where the data was acquired. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and its members were credited with being instrumental in researching and publishing the history of the Negro Leagues.

Lester, chairman of SABR’s Negro League Committee, said adding Negro Leaguers to the lists of statistics isn’t going to change the leaderboard of baseball greats because Negro Leaguers played fewer career games.

“But we can still quantify their greatness by showing that Satchel Paige struck out almost one batter every inning, which is very close to what Nolan Ryan and other ballplayers have done,” Lester said. “We can show that Josh Gibson hit a home run every 13 or 14 times at bat, which is right in line with Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth. Across the board, we can take statistics and show how great these Black players were.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)