2 months ago

Pro-freedom economists, legal minds gather in Alabama to discuss reopening America

HOMEWOOD — The “Reopening the Economy in the Age of COVID” conference occurred Thursday in suburban Birmingham, drawing leading academics and economists from across the nation to discuss not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also how lessons learned from the past year should help inform public policy and future decision-making to avoid repeated mistakes.

The event was organized by Troy University’s Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy, which is housed within the Sorrell College of Business. Cosponsors included in-state groups such as the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Policy Institute; national co-sponsors included the American Institute for Economic Research and the Heartland Institute.

The conference was held at the new Valley Hotel, with enhanced social distancing and sanitation protocols in place.

The program opened with a luncheon put on by the Federalist Society’s Birmingham chapter. Matthew Denhart — president of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation’s Coolidge Fund, was the featured speaker at the luncheon, filling in for the foundation’s chair, Amity Shlaes.

This was followed by the first panel of the day, entitled “Costs and Consequences of Lockdowns.”

The discussion consisted of economists who supplied and interpreted data regarding the harmful economic impacts of COVID and COVID-related restrictions on business. Panelists were Dr. Stephen Miller, Ph.D., from Troy’s Sorrell College of Business; Dr. Daniel Sutter, Ph.D, from Troy’s Sorrell College of Business; Dr. Phil Magness, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research; and John Tamny, editor of RealClearMarkets and vice president of FreedomWorks.

“Both the virus and the policies that state and local governments have enacted to control the virus have economic impacts,” summarized Sutter. “And one of the important tasks economists are going to have going forward is to attempt to try to figure out how much of what’s happened over the last year was the virus itself versus how much was the impacts of the policy beyond the virus. That’s going to be a challenging task. … It’s one that we’ll know a lot more about in the next couple of years. But we do know that the extreme lockdown policies that were in effect as of like last April were projected to have an enormous cost.”

Sutter explained that several topline, aggregate statistics — such as GDP — are poor measurements of how pandemic-related policies such as lockdowns have negatively affected the economy through limiting consumer options.

Explaining this reasoning, he said, “People didn’t stop eating; they stopped eating at restaurants that were closed by government order. People didn’t stop spending money; but they couldn’t spend money at small retail stores that were closed.” Read a column he penned on this topic here.

“If we want to really try to quantify the economic losses that we’ve suffered, we’ve got to look beyond the traditional economic losses,” Sutter later added. “Businesses have suffered financial losses, that’s certainly true. Small businesses and restaurants that have failed during the pandemic and the lockdowns, have experienced financial losses. But these businesses were the life dreams of their owners and their entrepreneurs. Those dreams have been crushed.”

He also outlined that increased unemployment has caused negative effects that are not reflected by aggregate statistics, especially due to relief measures covering some of the financial losses normally associated with unemployment. Some of these unaccounted-for effects include increased depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse and even suicide, he said. Sutter made similar points regarding the substantial but hard-to-account-for negative effects of school closures. He further underlined the loss of autonomy across the populace as a factor that needs to be included in calculating the true impact of the pandemic and lockdowns.

“We do have to think about the distribution of these costs of the pandemic and the policies that we’ve undertaken,” Sutter concluded. “Because they’ve been tremendously uneven and very regressive… There’s an old saying that … it’s a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight. I think the war against SARS-CoV-2 can also be described similarly. It’s been a rich man’s war, but the poor have been doing a lot of fighting for us.”

Tamny delivered perhaps the most fiery speech of the day; his remarks were largely based on a book he is releasing entitled, “When Politicians Panicked.”

As the title suggests, Tamny believes that in response to COVID-19, “politicians panicked in disastrous fashion.” He argues that individuals would have been better suited to obtain and utilize information how they saw fit to deal with COVID rather than the liberty-curtailing government response we have witnessed over the past 12 months.

“Freedom is the first, middle and last answer every single time in response to anything,” he began. “My major concern with numeric arguments is it sets us up for more of this in the future.”

“The answer should always, always be freedom regardless of what people presume are the implications,” Tamny stressed.

He repeatedly emphasized what he views as low rate of lethality associated with COVID-19.

“But let’s again presume that it was extraordinarily lethal. The last thing you’d want to do in response to something that’s a killer is to force a contraction of the economy,” Tamny advised. “And the reason for that is very basic. Economic growth, prosperity is easily the biggest enemy of death and disease. Nothing else comes close. Poverty is the biggest killer mankind has ever known. When you’re fighting a virus, you don’t destroy the economy.”

“You can’t begin to describe how mind-numbingly, matchlessly stupid the response was,” he decried. “You don’t fight death and disease with economic contraction, yet that’s what they did.”

He highlighted that free people, in addition to creating wealth and resources to elongate human lives, produce vital information.

“Historians will marvel at the shocking stupidity that got us to where we are, because they literally chose to make us less capable of fighting the virus, as opposed to more capable of doing so,” Tamny lamented.

The day’s program later included remarks by Alex Epstein, founder of the Center for Industrial Progress and author of “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.”

The second panel of the day was entitled, “Liberty, Lockdowns, and Law.” It focused on addressing the legal aspects of responses to COVID. Panelists included Michael DeGrandis, senior litigation counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance; S.T. Karnick, director of publications for the Heartland Institute; Andrew Graham, senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute; and former State Sen. Phil Williams, now chief policy officer and general counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers: ‘Shameful’ Pelosi blocking Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act — ‘Simply supporting infanticide’

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-03) on Wednesday released a scathing statement regarding House Democrats blocking consideration of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.

Rogers announced that he has signed onto a discharge petition that would force Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to bring this legislation — H.R. 619 — up for a vote in the House.

“As a father of three children and a Christian, this legislation is so important to me,” stated Rogers, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

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All six Alabama Republicans in the U.S. House are cosponsors of H.R. 619, which was was introduced by Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Steve Scalise (R-LA) in January. The bill would ensure any baby born that survives an abortion would receive the same standard of medical care as a baby born under normal circumstances.

“I will never understand how any human would not support caring for a tiny, living baby that survives an attempted abortion,” he continued. “Anyone who is okay with not helping these babies is simply supporting infanticide. I will always stand up for the rights of the most innocent among us, and it’s shameful that Nancy Pelosi will not even bring this critical legislation up for a vote.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes bill banning biological males from competing in female sports

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed HB 391, which would would prohibit biological males from competing in public school female sports — and vice versa.

The legislation, which only applies to public K-12 schools, would prohibit competition by one gender against another, unless the event specifically is intended to include both genders.

HB 391 was carried in the Senate by Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen (R-Hartselle).

“A public K-12 school may not allow a biological female to participate on a male team if there is a female team in a sport. A public K-12 school may never allow a biological male to participate on a female team,” says the amended version of the bill passed by the Senate.

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In sports where there are not separate competitions for females and males, such as football, both genders would still be able to participate together.

“This bill is significantly important to protecting the integrity of women’s sports,” stated Gudger. “Our sisters, daughters and granddaughters deserve to compete in fairly organized sports without being put at a disadvantage. I appreciate Representative Stadthagen for having me carry this bill in the Senate, and I commend him for his diligent work on this critical issue.”

More than a dozen states are considering similar restrictions on high school athletes to prevent what they view as an unfair advantage in competition.

The Senate’s vote on HB 391 was on party lines, 25-5. This comes after two Democrats supported and one Democrat abstained in a committee vote on the bill just two weeks ago. View a tweet thread from Thursday’s Senate debate here.

HB 391 now heads back to the House for concurrence or nonconcurrence. It originally passed the lower chamber in a bipartisan 74-19 vote.

“It is unreasonable for biological males to compete against females in high school sports,” Stadthagen commented. “Allowing this to happen does not put female athletes on a fair and level playing field with their biological male counterparts, and that is what this bill aims to resolve. I was pleased to hear that my colleagues in the upper chamber value the integrity and justness of female sports, and I thank Senator Gudger for handling this bill in the Senate.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Senate passes Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed SB 358, which would create the Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the bill would outlaw state and local governments — including law enforcement agencies thereof — from enforcing any federal firearms act, law, order, rule or regulation that becomes effective after January 1, 2021.

The party-line vote by the Senate was 22-5.

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“I took an oath of office when sworn into this body to defend the Constitution of this country and this state,” stated Allen. “As an elected official, I will do everything in my power to preserve the rights of Alabamians, especially those granted by the Second Amendment, and I will always push back on any proposals that seek to limit the freedoms bestowed upon us.”

“The Alabama Second Amendment Preservation Act ensures the people of Alabama are protected from any unnecessary overreach by the federal government and is meant to be a check on proposals that infringe on our right to self-defense coming from the Biden Administration or the Democratic controlled Congress,” he continued. “SB358 is about safeguarding our God-given rights to protect our families and homes. The Second Amendment says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed upon, and with this piece of legislation, Alabamians can feel confident that their rights are being protected.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) argued that SB 358 would violate the Supremacy Clause. The Democrats said the act, as a result, would ultimately be ruled unconstitutional by the judicial system after costing the State of Alabama significant money to defend it in court.

“We don’t need a ‘Second Amendment Preservation Act’ in the state of Alabama,” said Singleton. “The constitution does that already.”

He noted “the bill really does no harm,” before adding that he does not like the message it sends.

You can view a tweet thread on Senate debate regarding SB 358 here.

The Alabama Senate’s vote came after President Joe Biden last week began rolling out executive orders on gun control.

RELATED: Speaker Mac McCutcheon: As Biden attempts to roll back Second Amendment freedoms, Alabama House Republicans stand in the breach to protect them

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Tim Vines confirmed as newest Auburn University trustee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama CEO Tim Vines as an at-large member of the Auburn University board of trustees.

He will complete the final three years of the unexpired term of Gen. Lloyd Austin, who resigned from Auburn’s board in January after he was confirmed as the nation’s secretary of defense.

Vines has worked at BCBS of Alabama since 1994. He rose through the management ranks at Blue Cross until he was elected to his present position in 2018. The LaFayette native graduated from Auburn’s Harbert College of Business in 1988 with a degree in finance. He was also a member of the Auburn baseball team.

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“In addition to his business and management credentials, the Trustee Selection Committee nominated Tim Vines for the position because of his dedication to Auburn University and its students,” stated Wayne Smith, who serves as board president pro tem.

This dedication includes Vines giving an annual scholarship to the Harbert College of Business. He is an Auburn Alumni Association lifetime member, a member of the James E. Foy Loyalty Society and a member of the 1856 Society. The Birmingham Auburn Club awarded Vines its 2019 Distinguished Auburn Alumnus Award.

He also served as the 2018 Auburn University summer commencement speaker, where he encouraged graduates, “Serve well by serving others. In life or in your chosen profession, ask what you can do to help others. … Whatever you do, make sure you do it with excellence.”

Vines’ term will expire on February 8, 2024.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Alabama State Parks launching historic corporate giving, improvement campaign

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday joined the Alabama State Parks Foundation, local corporate leaders and other stakeholders at Oak Mountain State Park to announce unprecedented efforts aimed at investing millions of dollars into park improvements.

The governor spoke about an $80 million bond issue for park improvements that must be approved by voters through a constitutional amendment in the 2022 general election if the state legislature approves it this session. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Rep. Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) are sponsoring this legislation, which passed the House on Tuesday and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“Alabamians love and cherish the State Parks, and we must make sure they are maintained and available for generations to come,” Ivey remarked. “I support the use of state bonds to make the needed enhancements throughout the state parks system.”

Additionally, the non-profit Alabama State Parks Foundation (ASPF) on Thursday announced the launch of its corporate giving campaign with a goal of raising an additional $14 million in the next five years for needed park improvements.

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ASPF kicked off this campaign with pledges of $250,000 by Buffalo Rock Company and $100,000 from the Alabama Power Foundation.

“Since the creation of the Alabama State Parks Foundation in 2018, we have worked to improve and enhance our State Parks, and our corporate giving campaign is another significant and important step for our organization,” ASPF president Dr. Dan Hendricks stated. “I also applaud and thank Governor Ivey for her visionary leadership and support of the State Parks system.

“We believe this innovative public-private partnership will maximize our efforts to help the Alabama State Parks system maintain its place as one of the state’s true treasures,” he added.

The prospective bond issue and ASPF’s fundraising would fast-track projects to expand campgrounds, add cabins and improve internet connectivity, among other priorities.

A majority of funding for Alabama State Parks – 80-90% annually – is generated through user fees for rental, lodging, golf and other amenities in the parks. The system’s finances can also be impacted unexpectedly, such as the tornado that damaged Oak Mountain last month, Hurricane Sally damaging Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores last fall, and another tornado wreaking havoc on the campground and day-use areas at Joe Wheeler State Park in December 2019.

State parks attracted a record 6.27 million visitors in fiscal year 2020, and enhancing facilities or building additional ones should help that number continue to grow.

“Our state parks system is run as efficiently as ever, but there are plenty of needs in every one of the 21 parks — both the small and larger parks,” said Chris Blankenship, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation. “What Governor Ivey and the Alabama State Parks Foundation have done is create a funding framework for how we can modernize and enhance an already dynamic State Parks system and make it better than ever.

“We plan to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, as well as funds so generously donated by the corporate community,” he concluded. “Our state parks offer so many amazing outdoors adventures for all Alabamians, and we appreciate so many people working so hard to help us continue that legacy.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn