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Opinion | Enough with the altruistic falsities, let markets decide

Susan Britt

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The last three years of legislative sessions have taught us that there is almost always more to the story when it comes to legislation, especially when the Southern Poverty Law Center is involved. Year after year, the SPLC and their allies they have come to the Alabama Legislature with bills that they claim to be well-meaning when it comes to lending in Alabama and, year after year, less than pure motives come to light which have resulted in the defeat of these bills and with the embarrassment of some well-meaning legislators.

This year, it seems, that the SPLC and liberal activist Neal Berte have found a new partner when it comes to deceiving the Legislature to get their own way and line their own pockets – some of the state’s credit unions.

Now, some of Alabama’s credit unions have joined forces with the legally embattled SPLC and Berte to attempt to pass legislation they are calling “30 days to pay.” While attempting to persuade a new crop of freshman lawmakers to cosponsor this legislation, they paint a picture that is less than complete in order to gain their support. It is the information that is not being disclosed to legislators that make many lawmakers run from this bill.

Credit Unions are currently charging millions of dollars of fees to Alabama consumers – fees for insufficient funds or insufficient balances. The reality is that these fees are far more injurious to consumers that the fees charged on a payday loan.

Despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the root of this effort is not altruistic. According to MyCreditUnion.Gov, credit unions have a clear strategy to corner the marketplace in Alabama by providing a new line of products called Payday Alternative Loans which are identical to Payday Loans, in that they offer small-dollar loans to consumers FOR A FEE.

These Credit Unions don’t believe that they can compete with existing payday lenders in a fair, free market economy and so they have joined the SPLC to try to convince legislators to drive existing payday lenders out of business.

This will put thousands of Alabamians out of work so that they can take over the payday marketplace with little to no competition. If consumers can’t qualify for these credit union products — many won’t — and they will turn to an unregulated internet market where overseas lenders are ready to pounce.

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It seems that they have borrowed their business philosophy from an old adage, “If you can’t compete, legislate.” For nearly 250 years in this country, the free market works better.

Recently the Trump Administration made it clear that they oppose Obama style policies like those in this legislation because they hurt lower income individuals by limiting their access to funds in an emergency. This effort by the credit unions takes those Obama era polices and mixes them with the sleezy tactics made popular by Obama’s Rahm Emmanuel. It is unclear how many freshman legislators will get caught in this web of deceit and accidentally support liberal, anti-capitalist policies because they didn’t know the real motivation behind the “30 days to pay bill.”

 

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Opinion | A fiscal reckoning

Bradley Byrne

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When the House returns to business next Monday, we will take up the National Defense Authorization Act I wrote about last week.  Then we will take up appropriations bills for next fiscal year, which begins October 1, and likely another Coronavirus bill.

 This spring I voted for both of the CARES Acts, which together spent $3 trillion.  That was on top of this year’s projected total federal spending of $4.8 trillion, which was already going to add $1 trillion to our national debt.  With the CARES Act spending, however, the total deficit for this fiscal year will be $3.7 trillion.  The deficit for the month of June alone was $864 billion.

Following the work of the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week, I became very concerned about the bills they will pass out of their committee this week and that the House will vote on later this month.  They are exceeding the spending cap deal reached by their leadership, Senate leadership, and President Trump last year.  Just as bad, they are loading up their spending bills with controversial policy riders they know Republicans won’t vote for.  Unless they make a big change, I’m going to vote against the House version of appropriations for next year.  I hope the Senate brings some sanity to the process.

I also have big concerns over another Coronavirus bill.  We’ve spent so much money already, money we don’t have and are borrowing.  And I don’t agree with the Modern Monetary Theory which says deficits don’t matter.  I won’t bore you with the very solid arguments against it by eminent economists because common sense is all you need to understand individuals and nations can’t borrow unlimited amounts of money over the long term.  That’s even true for the richest nation the world has ever known.

Investors buy U.S. government debt in the form of treasury bills (which are government securities due to be paid in a year), treasury notes and bonds (which mature over a longer time frame), and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (bonds indexed to inflation).  They don’t do that out of patriotism or the good of their hearts.  This isn’t World Wars I or II where bonds are purchased in a great national effort.  No, the investors who buy our debt do it for their own self-interested reasons, and they expect to be paid back in full and on time.  If they believe that they may not get paid back because the U.S. won’t be able to make the ever-growing payments, they will stop buying our debt.

And that’s when reality kicks in.  It recently happened to Greece and Italy, both of which experienced severe economic turmoil and downturns.  It could happen here too because even the U.S. is not immune from the laws of economics.  It would be catastrophic for us, but it would be catastrophic for the world as well.  If the U.S. falls economically, who gains the most?  The answer is China, which already has concrete plans to replace us as the most powerful country in the world.  We owe them $1 trillion and counting.

So, we need to start thinking longer term which hasn’t been a U.S. strong point for some time.  Yes, we must deal with COVID-19 both as a health crisis and a danger to our economy.  But, it’s time to be more focused and avoid the panicky temptation to just shovel out money.  The money we have already approved hasn’t even been all spent.

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What should be our priorities in the next Coronavirus bill?  First, it’s the cost of developing and making readily available a vaccine, just as the U.S. did with the polio vaccine during my childhood.  Second, it’s the care for those who contract COVID-19, which includes effective therapeutics, and protecting the caregivers themselves.  Third, it’s making sure we have the tests and PPE we need.  These three all deal directly with the disease because our society and economy cannot return to “normal” until we address the disease more effectively.  All of us have an individual duty in this regard, to avoid large gatherings and those most at risk of the disease, to social distance and wear face masks inside buildings.

But, when we turn to the economy, I have great concerns.  I know the PPP loans/grants worked to save millions of U.S. jobs and bring many of those laid off back to work.  So, maybe we start there.  But, as I drive around, I see many “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs, and I hear from many business owners that they can’t get employees back to work.  So, we must ask the question, do we need to keep paying the extra $600 a week to those drawing unemployment?  Have we created a disincentive to work? Everyone has their hand out: colleges, schools, hospitals, this industry and that industry, the states, and local governments.  Where will all this money come from?

So, as we approach these two big spending projects, I am very skeptical.  I’m not saying I won’t vote for either, but it looks like the FY 21 appropriations bills will just be too much for me to support.  On a new Coronavirus bill, I’m taking a wait and see position.  My mind is open but not empty.  It’s time we start reckoning with our fiscal deficits – before we’re painfully forced to by our creditors.

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Opinion | State senators should remove Del Marsh from leadership

“Del Marsh has left the governor and the members of the Alabama Senate with no choice but to remove him from his positions on the COVID-19 task force and as leader of the Alabama Senate,” former State Rep. Craig Ford writes.

Craig Ford

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh during a 2018 Senate committee hearing. (SAMUEL MATTISON/APR)

I couldn’t believe it when I saw State Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the leader of the Alabama Senate, say he wants to see more people get the coronavirus!

During an interview with CBS42 News, Sen. Marsh was asked if he was concerned about the growing number of confirmed cases of people infected with COVID-19 in Alabama. His response was, and these are his exact words, “I’m not as concerned so much as the number of cases, in fact, quite honestly, I want to see more people because we start reaching an immunity as more people have it and get through it.”

The next day Sen. Marsh made a weak attempt to walk back his comments by saying he “chose his words poorly.” But he didn’t apologize, and he stood by his claim that he wants to see us get to herd immunity.

First, we don’t know if herd immunity is even possible with COVID-19. Doctors, medical researchers and public health experts have all contested the idea of herd immunity and say that even if it is possible it will be a long way off (medical professionals at Johns Hopkins University say it’s not possible for it to happen in 2020).

To reach herd immunity, somewhere between 60 percent and 90 percent of the population will have to be infected with the disease. Right now in Alabama, we are only around 1 percent.

For us to reach a 60 percent infection rate and potentially get to herd immunity, a minimum of 2,941,911 people in Alabama will have to contract COVID-19. Assuming the death rate stays the same as it is now (roughly 2 percent), it would mean that 58, 838 people would have to die for us to get to herd immunity, and that’s assuming it’s even possible.

But even if herd immunity is possible, our elected leaders should never wish for people to get sick with any disease, let alone one that is killing people!

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And for Sen. Marsh to attempt to justify his cruel and ignorant comments as merely choosing his words poorly is almost as offensive and disrespectful as the comments themselves!

Any decent human being with a conscience or sense of moral values would apologize and offer their resignation immediately. But Del Marsh’s pride won’t allow him to admit he is wrong or apologize for anything, even for wishing illness and death on the people of Alabama.

Sen. Marsh’s words show what is in his heart and in his head. And what is in his heart and in his head is clearly not in line with the thinking of medical professionals or the values and best interests of the people of Alabama.

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For ten years, Sen. Marsh has run the Alabama Senate as the Senate pro tempore. And because he holds that position he also sits on the governor’s COVID-19 task force. Clearly he has no business being in either position, and I encourage Gov. Ivey to remove him from the COVID-19 task force immediately.

It is also time for the members of the Alabama Senate to demand Sen. Marsh’s resignation. If he refuses then senators must call for a vote of no confidence and remove him by force.

Senators cannot stay silent on this. Staying silent is the same as condoning what he said.

As a resident of Etowah County, I specifically call on our state senator, Andrew Jones, R-Centre, to step up and demand Del Marsh’s resignation. He is the only voice we have in the State Senate, and it is his responsibility now to use that voice. I would also encourage him to sponsor a resolution in the State Senate censoring Sen. Marsh for his thoughtless and heartless comments.

I never thought I would live to see the day when an elected official would openly express his or her desire to see the people of our state and our country get sick with a virus, especially one that could kill them! Worse is that Sen. Marsh won’t admit he is wrong or apologize for what he said.

Del Marsh’s words are a disgrace and a potential death wish for every single person in Alabama, not to mention a slap in the face of those who already have died from COVID-19 and their families.

Del Marsh has left the governor and the members of the Alabama Senate with no choice but to remove him from his positions on the COVID-19 task force and as leader of the Alabama Senate.

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Opinion | Sessions’ anti-animal protection record

Marty Irby

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Former Sen. Jeff Sessions during a hearing on Capitol Hill. (VIA CSPAN)

Jeff Sessions has had a long career in politics and countless opportunities to demonstrate opposition to cruelty to animals. Yet, in 20 years in the Senate, it’s hard to put your arms around a single positive thing he did. Sure, Alabama is an agricultural state, with a rich tradition of hunting, but we’re not talking about those things.  We’re talking basic decency when it comes to treating the least among us and showing mercy for God’s creation.

The first political campaign I ever volunteered to work on was Sessions’ first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1996. I liked so much about him and his pledges, but boy, did I learn that caring for animals was not part of his worldview.  I grew up in the horse industry, showing horses and competing, and I understood from a very young age that most Alabamians are connected to animals, especially those of us who grew up in rural areas.

One type of cruelty that Republicans and Democrats took on during the two decades that Sessions served in the Senate was dogfighting and cockfighting.  But, surprisingly, they didn’t find an ally in Sessions. During the 107th Congress, Republican Senator and large-animal veterinarian Wayne Allard attracted nearly two thirds of the Senate on his bill (S. 345) to close the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that allowed interstate shipment of fighting birds, but Sessions was an opponent. And in the 108th Congress, he failed to cosponsor the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (S. 736) to establish felony-level penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. In the 109th and 110th Congresses, Sessions failed to support animal fighting legislation (S. 382 and S. 261) to establish federal level penalties for dog and cockfighting. And in the 112thCongress, Sessions was among a handful of Senators who voted against efforts to make it a crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight or to bring a child to such a spectacle (Roll Call Vote # 154).

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby supported the prohibition on attending animal fights, and later, Sessions’ successor, Doug Jones, co-sponsored legislation to ban animal fighting everywhere in the U.S. – the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act – a provision included in the 2018 Farm bill, with six of seven of Alabama’s U.S. Representatives favoring the anti-animal fighting language.  President Trump signed that provision into law, and it took effect in December 2019.

Sessions has been hostile to other reforms, opposing an amendment to the 2005 Farm Bill to stop horse slaughter by prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses.

Sessions voted to table an amendment to the 2000 Interior Appropriations bill to prohibit the use of funds  to authorize, permit, administer, or promote the use of any jawed leghold trap or neck snare in any unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Animals trapped by these devices, which sometimes ensnare family pets or endangered species, suffer crushed bones, gangrene, and starvation.

Sessions failed to support reforms to stop the abuse of cows too sick or injured to walk and then dragged into slaughterhouses, putting consumers at risk of consuming diseased animals. Just months after Congress failed to address the matter, the USDA determined a cow slaughtered in Washington state had Mad Cow Disease. That cow was a “downer,” and if the ban on slaughtering “downers” had been in place, it would have never been dragged into the slaughterhouse and created a global food safety panic. This was the first finding of a cow with this disease in the U.S., and in response, more than 80 nations closed their markets to U.S. beef imports, causing a loss to the cattle industry in excess of $10 billion.

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And in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses, Sessions failed to support the Republican-led Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, an amendment to the Horse Protection Act of 1970 that would ensure the protection of the Alabama’s official state Racking Horse whose world grand champion is crowned in Priceville each year.

As a native Alabamian, and a life-long Republican who cares about animals, I got turned off to my political hero when he showed such a hard heart toward animals. Whether hunters or non-hunters, farmers or just consumers, most every Alabamian I know cares about animals.  It’s a shame that Jeff Sessions didn’t figure that out about Alabamians in his long tenure in Washington. Alabamians should step up against animal abuse and send an electoral verdict that cruelty is never acceptable.

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Opinion | Solving Alabama’s unemployment crisis is a matter of patriotism

Craig Ford

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Patriotism is at the top of my mind these days as we prepare for this weekend’s Fourth of July celebrations. I feel a great sense of pride in our nation, even though I often disagree with political leaders at various levels of government.

You can love your country and love many things about your country but still see problems and areas where we can do better as a city, state or nation. And one of the areas where we seem to be struggling here in Alabama is with our unemployment situation.

No one in leadership could have predicted that the coronavirus would hit us the way that it has, and our leaders have struggled to balance the need to keep our people healthy with the need to keep our economy running.

It’s a difficult balance, and while the numbers of new infections of the coronavirus keep going up and keep getting media attention, we are also seeing our unemployment benefits being stretched to the max.

The Alabama Department of Labor is understaffed and overwhelmed by the flood of people filing for unemployment benefits. The Department’s employees are making a heroic effort to make sure that those with legitimate needs are getting the help they need to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. But even so, the unemployed have to wait for hours just to get a ticket that would allow them to speak with an employee and file a claim for their benefits.

But what’s even more concerning is the fact that the state’s unemployment fund is on track to become financially insolvent by the end of the summer. If that happens, then the state will have no choice but to borrow more money from the federal government.

Of course, everyone’s hope is that this coronavirus will begin to slow down, a vaccine will be invented, and business will be able to return to normal. Most people don’t want to rely on government checks to survive and would much rather get back to work as soon as possible.

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But for now, at least, the economy is recovering slowly and our unemployment rate, while improving, is still over 6 percent. And that means that, even with borrowed federal money and the recently announced federal extended benefits program, Alabama is still in trouble and our unemployment funds are still in a dangerous situation.

As bad as the situation is, there is a possible solution that our state leaders can and should be considering, if they can get past their current bickering.

The federal government has already sent funding through the CARES Act to help the state battle the coronavirus. Most of that money should be going to providing healthcare services, such as testing for COVID-19, and personal protection equipment like masks and gloves for healthcare workers and employees in essential industries.

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However, there’s no reason why some of that money can’t also go towards our unemployment program to help those who are out of work because of the coronavirus.

If some state leaders think they can use up to $200 million of that money to build a new State House, then why can’t they use that money to keep Alabama families fed and housed for a few more weeks?

As the legislative session came to an end a few weeks ago, lawmakers and the governor went to war with each other over how to spend that money. Instead of fighting over pet projects, they should be putting that money into Alabama’s families to help them survive this crisis.

The Fourth of July is all about patriotism, and there’s nothing more patriotic that solving our unemployment crisis and helping Alabama families get back on their feet.

Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance Agency and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

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