Last updateWed, 20 Aug 2014 6am


Legislating Morality, Yes, We do That

By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Our country was founded primarily by two groups of people, those desiring religious freedom and those wanting to make a fortune.

The Declaration of Independence lays out our cause of freedom with lofty ideals for mere mortals, encapsulating the American soul with, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Like all great writers, Thomas Jefferson stole the idea and phrasing from John Locke.

Locke’s then radical view that government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty, and property became the bedrock of our nation's founding principles.

However, our nation has never fully lived up to this noble goal but we try in-spite of ourselves.

The questions never said very loudly is whose life, how much liberty and what property?

Thus, capitalism and religion have always had an uneasy relationship. One works on the bases of self-interest, materialism and even greed and covetousness.

The other is best practiced with love, self-sacrifice, charity and humility among other more noble principles.

While, in conflict on occasions, it is something our country as worked out over time but still does divide us on some very thorny issue. 

Over the last few weeks the State of Alabama has received some very good news on the economic development front. In Mobile, Airbus will be building a huge facility to employ around 1,000 people and in Wetumpka the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) broke ground on a new hotel and casino that will employ another 1,000 Alabamians.

The Airbus became the jewel in the crown of every politician that could get a headline or face time on TV. And it is something the state should crow about.

But for the PCI and the great opportunity for economic development they are providing, not many cheerleaders.

It is obvious that the PCI project is not politically popular because it involves gambling. That is understandable given the feeling of most of our citizens about games of chance.

However, there is polling data that points out that most Alabamians support or do not oppose gaming. These are private opinions not often vocalized too loudly.

I am certainly no fan of gaming but I also know that I live in the United States of America and that according to our founding principles, Americans should be free to throw away their money anyway they choose.

Is there a special place in hell for someone who spends the baby’s milk money on gambling? Probably not but maybe there should be.

Of course, the government can legislate morality, and does—-more so than anyone wants to admit.

As a matter of fact most of the big disagreements among our citizens is about what is moral and how to legislate it.

Drugs, drinking, gambling, who you can sleep with, these are all things we try to control with laws. The war on drugs is a policy born of legislation to regulate behavior, ergo, morality.

Many counties in our state do not let you buy alcohol on Sunday, ostensibly not because of someone like me who is going to be in church on Sunday but for those who are not. But maybe it is also to make sure the deacon shows up on time.

It is again legislation aimed at a desired moral effect.

During the past legislative session almost an entire legislative day was spent discussing what size of beer bottle should be legal in Alabama. Is this a thing we should spend so much time worrying about? Even the worst alcoholics I’ve known knew what amount of booze it took for them to reach the desire state of oblivion.

I worry that politics so greatly out weighs common sense that we can’t see the flaws in our logic.

Like most Alabamians I have witnessed first hand the devastation that comes from alcoholism, drug addiction and all manner of sins.

My older bother was murdered in a drug deal gone bad. I closed the lid on my brothers coffin, gave his eulogy as I looked into the tearless, vacant eyes of our mother.

Yes, I too know what harvest sin bares.

I am not advocating we do not try to legislate some morality but we should try to be intellectually honest.

Heaven forbid a politician with statewide ambitions should be seen as supportive of gambling or that those who run for office saying they would like to see and up or down vote on gaming keep to their campaign rhetoric.

For me what the PCI is doing is capitalism at work, they sell entertainment, in the form of gaming, people who want it buy it those who don’t will not. Is it all good, no, is it all bad, probably not.

But that pesky “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” does get in the way sometimes, and our constitution, it has so many instances that limit government that for almost the first one hundred years of our nation, we couldn’t figure out how to legislate much in the way of moral behavior. But then came the startling revelation that the Commerce Clause gave the Congress almost complete control over every aspect of American life.

But Chief Justice John Roberts in his recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act may have put a nail in the coffin of the dread Commerce Clause.

Like many of the nation’s founders I am in favor of religious freedom and getting out of the way of people who want to make a fortune. But I am also in favor of freedom from religion and prosecuting those who make their fortune dishonestly.

In 1656, John Locke wrote a letter expressing his approval of restrictions the government had placed on Quakers-—whom he called “mad folks.” Locke welcomed the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and wrote eloquently defending the prerogative of government to enforce religious conformity.

So much for the hero of life, liberty and all that jazz.

Unfortunately, It always comes down to whose life, what liberties and who gets the money.

Lies, damn lies and unemployment numbers

By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Reporter

Most people who study statistics understand that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

This is also true when looking at unemployment numbers released by the government. 

It is first important to understand the government does not know who is working and who is not. Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of unemployed based on a random sampling of the population. The feds conduct surveys of households and employers, which form the basis of the main employment statistics. The definitions of the survey date back to the Great Depression.

According to these parameters people count as employed if they are doing any work for pay. The unemployed are people who are not working but are trying to find a job. People who aren’t working but also are not trying to find work are not considered part of the labor force period. 

The official unemployment rate is based on a survey of about 60,000 households, not on unemployment benefits, which are administered by the states. 

Using a sampling model is not really a problem, to do it differently would be very expensive and labor intensive.

The problem occurs when a politician pretends that the estimate is an exact measurement. It is not, so, the gage is flawed and therefore misleading. 

Next it is important to understand that each month, more people join the working age population than retire or die. As a result of these added individuals, the economy needs to add about 180,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.

Once again when politician pretends that adding more jobs means there are fewer people out of work it is not accurate. 

So, when someone says the economy added X amount of jobs, there must be 180,000 subtracted to have an accurate number. 

The "labor force" is the number of employed and unemployed people.

The people who are capable of working but are no longer looking are called, non employed, the non employed are not counted in the official numbers released by the government. 

Once again when politician claim that a lower unemployment rate means that more people are working, that is not really the case. 

The numbers can’t be fully trusted to mean what politicians say they mean or put another way politicians who quote job numbers can't aways be trusted. 

Anti-immigrations folks spin loss into a win, believe it or not, Ripley

In response to the SCOTUS striking down 3 out of 4 provisions in the Arizona Immigration Law Alabama GOP lawmaker’s are spinning faster than a pole dancer at Uncle Bubba's Kitty Kat Lounge. 

Here are the facts as I see them, Alabama’s Immigration Law is history, toast, keput, out-a-here, finished, and to quote our friends from across the border adios HB56 and its bambino.

Naturally, politician being, what else, politicians, are portraying this as some kind of win.

How so, giving police the right to ask for someone papers when they pull them over or are questioned about a certain matter, this is the big win? Big whoop, the police can’t do much more than say, “Oh, I see you are here from Mexico, hope you enjoy your stay, drive safely and have a nice day.”

Sorry my friends that is not a win. 

If the Supremes had not upheld that portion of the law then the next thing you know the police would have no right to check your driver's license, hey, it may even be unconstitutional to make us buy driver's licenses in the first place. (I hate the Commerce Clause).

If in the Iron Bowl your team scores one touchdown and the other team gets three they win. No bragging rights for you. It would seem our friends in politics don’t understand, so they spin. 

If you want a believable spin how about this, “We got our butts kick, dang activist judges, that is why we need a conservative president in November, because these darn activist judges, kicked our butts.” Keep saying that until you believe it, because that’s going to sound better and more plausible than the first try. 

And please let’s not try the “Alabama Law is different than the Arizona law,” because it is not that different. It was written by the same guy and while he had learned a few things since writing the Arizona one, he still got it wrong according to the SCOTUS. While a trip to a big box store is enough to convince even a modest elitist that the voting population is not paying attention, I am not so sure that all this “we won, zero to three, is going to sell even with them."

Scott Beason, the Dems, Luther Strange and others included we here at the Alabama Political Reporter said wait and see what the SCOTUS rules before passing the son of HB56. Why did we say that? Because we believed to pass a new law was a waste of taxpayers money and time. Restraint is a quality of good leadership, so is admitting mistakes but that is not the politician's nature. While few believe that the federal government is doing a good job enforcing immigration law and I am one, in this decision the SCOUS has once again affirmed that states can only go so far.

And of course I am not finding anything unusual in the political response of spin to win.

Hey, here's an idea, the feds are allowing tons of illegal drugs to enter our country through Mexico, what about sending the Texas Rangers and a Alabama Sheriff's posse down to Mexico to enforce the law. Good idea? Well, maybe not, but it could be great spin. 

Roberts' Rule: Conservative Double Cross or Constitutional Brilliance

By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Much has been made of the ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts since last Thursday when he sided with the liberal wing of the court to uphold the key provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

For most conservatives Roberts’ ruling has been seen as a betrayal of principle, a death blow to the republic and everything in between.

Historically, such knee-jerk hyperbole is usually wrong and sighting something as a work of an activist judge generally means that the jurist didn’t rule the way a certain group wanted them too.

But what if in Chief Justice Roberts 59-page opinion there is a means by which future courts will be able to rule more narrowly on laws using the Commence Clause as their basis and what if his “Gun to the Head” opinion can be the opening needed to not only stop the federal government from forcing unconstitutional mandates on states but even allow states to overturn longstanding laws?

What if all the anger against Roberts is misplaced political posturing and not a rational assessment of his opinion at all?

What if the Roberts' ruling is the most brilliant Supreme Court ruling in 80 years--not only limiting the Commerce Clause but also a coups de grâce to unwarranted federal powers?

Soon after the court’s ruling Neal Katyal, the Justice Department lawyer who argued for the Obama administration in the circuit courts, wrote in "The New York Times," saying the Medicaid ruling “contains the seeds for a potential restructuring of federal-state relations.”

“This was the first significant loss for the federal government’s spending power in decades,” wrote Katyal. “The fancy footwork that the court employed to view the act as coercive could come back in later cases to haunt the federal government. Many programs are built on the government’s spending power, and the existence of an extraconstitutional limit on that power is a worrisome development.”

A portion of the Roberts opinion which was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan said that the federal government had gone too far when imposing requirements on states as a condition of accepting federal dollars.

This type of finding by the justices' writing for the majority has not been present since FDR and the “New Deal.”

In his opinion Roberts said the federal government “in this case the financial ‘inducement’ Congress has chosen … is a gun to the head.”

While the opinion dosen't categorizes a clear test for when new federal requirements cross that line it did say that one does exist.

By saying that the government had gone too far with its decades old carrot-and-stick approach to forcing states to enact federally mandated programs or forfeit millions in federal dollars, Roberts may have set up a way that forever changes how much if any pressure Washington, DC, can place on the states.

The right to opt out of the Medicaid expansion could set up a scenario where by states could offer legal challenges to other such programs.

While not certain, would not the Clean Air Act fall into this category? The law mandates that states implement programs that meet national pollution limits or they can lose federal highway dollars. Does this not fall under the Roberts' finding?

What about No Child Left Behind, or the Americans' with Disabilities Act or even Title IX?

Perhaps this is expanding the scope of the court’s opinion too far, but is that not how these things begin, by case precedent?

I am not a lawyer, but I have pretty good reading comprehension skills and I see an opening for states like Alabama to begin to challenge the powers of the feds to impose their will using a carrot and a stick.

So, perhaps my conservative friends should look at Roberts not as a traitor but as the man who took a lemon and gave the states the tools to build a lemonade stand. One that can’t be controlled from Washington.


How Foolish Can We Be?

By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—While pundits and politicians debate the wisdom of funding Medicaid with money from the Alabama Trust Fund a looming health and financial catastrophe is knocking at the door.

However flawed the decision to raid the ATF to fund Medicaid, however broken and wrong the welfare system is, there comes a time to put aside our quarrels, ideology, posturing and pretense and look reality in the eye.

The calamity that confronts us is greater than that which divides us. If we choose to flirt with disaster rather than deal with the single issue at hand, shame and remorse may be the legacy of our decision.

Or as Mike Warren the CEO of Children’s Hospital has said, “How foolish can we be to cut our nose off to spite our face.”

There is not anyone with an smattering of common sense that does not realize that Medicaid and the accompanying welfare state is unsustainable. But it has taken years to bring us to this level of crisis and it will take years to dismantle and reconfigure the system. There are those who wish for a firm, blunt knife to cut clean the legacy of the welfare state. But we should be careful that the same blunt instrument is not laid to the whole healthcare system and the state itself.

Like most American I believe everyone should work hard and make their own way but there is no denying that there are those who will always need a helping hand. Is it the government job to do so? I have never thought that the government was responsible to provide for citizens needs but I do understand that at times like these we cannot walk away from such problems. Sure, we can work on reform, yes, we can work to live within our means but there are greater issues and greater consequences immediately at hand.

Governor Bentley's words point to the factual place we find ourselves, “The health of Medicaid effects every person in Alabama, if you have ever been to a doctor, if you have ever been to a hospital or ever had a loved one in a nursing home then you have been impacted by Medicaid. The reason is simple, the health services that depend on Medicaid for funding services to all patients.”

The hard fact is that if Medicaid fails all health services in Alabama will began to fail. I am not a man that deals in Chicken Little politics or is prone to hyperbole but enough smart people are pointing to a coming tsunami of pain that I am paying attention.  Medicaid may be the problem but the repercussions will be felt by all.

Yes, past and present leadership has not dealt with the problem wisely. But asking for Solomaic wisdom now is folly, the die is cast.

Governor Bentley, Dr. Williamson and others have made the case clear--act now. However there is still a choir that wants to relive the mistakes of the past or bemoan the horrors of the welfare class.

According to Warren, last year Children's Hospital saw 55 thousand children in the ER alone. Over half the kids in Alabama receive their medical care through Medicaid, do the math.

On April 27, 2011 a series of tornadoes devastated many part of our state. That night Children’s treated 60 children from over 14 counties in Alabama, eighteen lifesaving neurosurgeries were performed. Warren warns that if Medicaid is not fully funded the next time their is a catastrophe of that magnitude there may not be physicians to perform the lifesaving measures that were administered on that fateful night.

There are over a 150 thousand jobs directly and indirectly supported by Medicaid in our state. Our current unemployment is still at a terrible level, is this a wise time to add more to the jobless rolls?

At a time when we are energetically working to recruit new business to Alabama is this a time to see hospitals closing across the state?

Our economy is so inextricably entangled with Medicaid that there is no one that can undo the Gordian Knot swiftly.

So, the choices before us are a gun and a bitter pill, the question is are people knowledgeable enough to take their medicine?

Of course I worry more about our political class than the voters, if politicos use this as an occasion for grandstanding rather than bowing to their noble noblesse we will see catastrophic failure. If the political class will take courage and work toward funding and future fixes we can be successful.

I am no fan of the welfare state, I know that we must fix Medicaid, while demanding personal responsibility from thousands of Alabamians. But I also don’t want to be so foolish as to think that we can remedy these ills before Medicaid runs out of money.

To this end, over the next 13 weeks we will offer a series of articles that will lay out the current state of Medicaid, what happens if it is not funded and what may be possible fixes going forward. Join us on this quest.


Happy Independence Day, from a curmudgeon

By Bill Britt

The 4th of July is always a great day to reflect, rejoice and reconsider anew the United States of America. It is the day we commemorate the founding of our great nation. A great, wonderful and crazy place that is home. 

Our nation is many things, the world's longest enduring republic, the most diverse country on the earth, the most prosperous, the most free and perhaps even more fatalistic than Denmark. 

We have much to be proud of and very little to be ashamed of. We are a good and generous people who still by in large live by the golden rule. 

Of course I am thinking of the one that says, “do unto others...” and not “he who has the gold rules,” but both are true. 

The people who settled this country came here for two basic reasons, freedom of religion and economic opportunity. In other words people wanted to be free to worship as they wanted and to make as much money as they could. Not always two harmonious ideas but we have mostly worked that out. 

We are at times seen as an over-religious people and sometimes we are perceived as overly-greedy, again both are true. 

We can be people who are extremist, but reality generally tempers our collective excesses. 

We have a good-—but not perfect—-form of government that we brag about or complain about too often and too much. 

We usually suffer from a universal amnesia once we have seen the error of our ways, we forget it ever happened and that it is natural and also healthy. 

We seem to only find a balance in public life by going from extremes, until we pass the middle so many times, that we realize that it is a good place to rest. 

We believe our myths and hoist them high as if they are true and undeniable. 

We are the greatest nation on earth and I believe that but we have never been as good as we remember or as bad as others have portrayed us. 

Every generation at least since I have been alive has believed this was the end of times, we are narcissistic that way.

We generally think that this is the worst president, worst congress, worst economy ever, we over exaggerate like that. 

Most of our beloved patriotic songs are about the land not the people, except that awful song by Lee Greenwood, which is worse than water boarding and should be outlawed. 

Our national anthem is about a big battle, sung to the tune of an old English drinking song and no one on earth can sing it properly. I like that a lot. 

We are a peculiar people, who are in fact not a people in the sense that Swedes or Germans have for the most part a common bloodline.

When people ask me about my heritage I sometimes answer, “mutt.” I am an American which for the most part means I am part junkyard dog, part pit bull and part lap dog, in a word a mutt. Worth having around as a good companion but I will bite you if provoked. I will work hard, protect you if you are in trouble and sometimes I just don’t want to be bothered.

I like that too. 

I love my country and sometimes I think it may even love me, but that is not its responsibility. Would I die for my country, if necessary, yes.  But to quote old George Patton, I would rather make some poor bastard die for his.

God bless America and God bless you my fellow American 











Solving the unsolvable problem of Medicaid and Prisons

MONTGOMERY--The State of Alabama is faced with a growing storm of crisis. It mounts on two fronts and culminates momentarily in September with a vote on a constitutional amendment to allow the government to take $540 million over three years from the principle of the ATF.

In the balance is the future of Alabama’s Medicaid and prison system both which are not very popular programs with the public at large. 

Finding a real solution to our Medicaid and prison problem is much like “What the Tortoise say to Achilles,” written by Lewis Carroll. In Carroll's work, the tortoise challenges Achilles to use the force of logic to make him accept the conclusion of a simple deductive argument. Ultimately, Achilles fails, because the clever tortoise leads him into an infinite regression.

When trying to solved the problems of Medicaid it would seem that we will have to address the fundamental problem called the poor and to deal with prisons we need to try to piece together the problem of the criminal. Since there is a tendency especially among conservatives to look backward to find answers, we will become engrossed in a discussion that, like Carroll’s tortoise, which will lead us into a infinite regression. To Genesis? 

Fact is that humans are ill equipped to fix the problems of the poor or the criminal, so we put various programs in place to minimize the harm that happens to them or society. 

In Alabama as in the much of the country, Medicaid and prisons consume mammoth amounts of taxpayer’s dollars. 

Legislators, many being politicians first and public servants a distant second, find ways to maximize political gain while minimizing political impact on their next election.

As a result the state government is asking the citizens of Alabama to approve raiding its saving account to fund friendless programs. People don’t like to give money to people they don’t like. But if you don’t want to have criminals back on the street and grandma ejected from the nursing home then you must fund something you don’t like, is the rhetoric applied to the argument. 

No doubt that the state is strapped for cash, so, when faced with cutting popular programs to fund ones that are not so popular the government did what governments do, they punted. Sometimes the only thing that makes sense is to kick the ball away and hope for a break later in the game.

Over the next several months a battle will be waged over this issue and the impending vote on the constitutional amendment.

Rather than stand aside and watch the sideshow, the Alabama Political Reporter will write a series of articles to offer analysis of the current state of these programs, what would be the outcome if they are unfunded and what could be possible solutions for the future.

We will be interview a host of people and organizations to find the answers to these questions. While this is a very ambitious undertaking for so small an organization we feel it is our job to take on this task. 
There is an old story of a King who called all his wisest councilors together and ask them to begin a seemingly impossible task. After a few months the King call his councilors back into his chambers and ask about their progress. Each councilors gave reasons as to why the task could not completed. After they spoke the KIng sentence them all to death. They cried out to know the offense which was to cost them their lives. The King answered, "I did not ask you to complete the task only to begin."

So, it is we start knowing that we can never complete the task only start.

Lastly, I am reminded of something my old friend  George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said, and here I paraphrase, “We learn from history what we do not learn from history.”

What do you get from a pair of phrases? Two sentences.


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