A new U.S. Prosperity Index shows that Alabama is the fifth-lowest ranked state in the Union based on 11 “pillars of prosperity.”
Those pillars — defined by the Legatum Institute, which published the index — are used to quantify the overall prosperity of each state, the results of which are used to rank the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Examples of pillars of prosperity include economic quality, safety and security, governance and education.
Alabama has seen an increase in its prosperity score since 2009, when the Legatum Institute released a similar prosperity index. Alabama’s score increase edged out the national average increase.
Alabama earned its highest ranking, 19th, in market access and infrastructure, which measures the quality of the infrastructure that enables trade and the barriers that inhibit trade. Southeastern states performed particularly well in this area, with much of the improvement over the past decade chalked up to the region’s transport infrastructure.
Alabama’s next highest ranking was 36th for social capital.
In all nine other pillars, the index ranked Alabama at 41st or below.
As a whole, the nation has seen an increase in prosperity over the past decade, with only four states earning a lower prosperity score in 2019 than they did in 2009. However, prosperity is unevenly dispersed geographically across the nation, with the Northeast remaining far ahead of the Southeast and Southwest, the two least prosperous regions in the country.
Social capital is on the decline nationwide, with only 11 states seeing an increase over the past 10 years. A declining trust in the media and less interaction with neighbors are the main contributing factors, according to the Prosperity Index.
Despite improved physical health in the U.S., growing self-reported mental illness, increasing deaths due to drug overdoses and a rise in cases of serious mental illness, indicate the country is facing a mental-health crisis.
No state saw an increase in all 11 pillars, and nearly all states have a pillar ranked below 30th, indicating room for improvement across the nation.
Jones applaudes inclusion of his anti-money laundering legislation in defense bill
The bill aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and a bipartisan group of three other senators applauded the inclusion of their anti-money laundering legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act.
Jones and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, in September 2019 introduced their Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act which aims to combat illicit financial activity by terrorists, drug traffickers and other criminals.
“For too long, our anti-money laundering laws haven’t kept up with the rapidly evolving methods that criminals and terrorists use for illicit financial activities,” Jones said in a statement Thursday. “Our bipartisan bill is the largest comprehensive effort in decades to improve transparency and will give prosecutors, national security officials, law enforcement, and financial institutions the modern tools they need to crack down on money laundering and terrorist financing. Its inclusion in the annual defense bill is a great step forward for the rule of law and for the security of all Americans.”
If approved as part of the NDAA, the ILLICIT CASH Act will require shell companies, which are often used to launder money from criminal enterprises, to disclose their true owners to the U.S. Department of Treasury. It would also improve communication between law enforcement, financial institutions and regulators, according to a press release from Jones’s office.
According to research from the University of Texas and Brigham Young University, the U.S. remains one of the easiest places in the world to set up an anonymous shell company. A recent report by Global Financial Integrity found that in every state in the U.S. more information is currently required to obtain a library card than to register a company.
“To form a company in any state in the U.S., it is not necessary to identify or provide any information about the person(s) who will ultimately be controlling the company. In some cases it isn’t even necessary to provide information about who will be managing the company and, where some information about managers (i.e. officers or directors) is required, it is very limited,” the report states.
“Human traffickers, terrorist groups, arms dealers, transnational criminal organizations, kleptocrats, drug cartels, and rogue regimes have all used U.S.-registered shell companies to hide their identities and facilitate illicit activities,” the press release reads. “Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies find it increasingly difficult to investigate these illicit financial networks without access to information about the beneficial ownership of corporate entities involved.”
The ILLICIT CASH Act includes the following elements:
- Setting national exam and supervision priorities to improve AML-CFT outcomes and better target federal resources in the effort to identify evolving criminal and national security threats.
- Establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information that will be maintained in a comprehensive federal registry, with strict privacy protections, accessible by federal and local law enforcement.
- Improving the recruitment and retention of top talent to combat money laundering and terrorism by providing special hiring authority at the Department of Treasury and FinCEN.
- Prioritizing innovation and technology in AML-CFT monitoring and reporting through the establishment of a new Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology, updated guidance on financial technology risk assessments, and a Financial Crimes Tech Symposium.
- Facilitating communication and information sharing between FinCEN, national security agencies, law enforcement and financial institutions through the establishment of new programs and reporting mechanisms.
- Requiring law enforcement agencies and regulators to formally review regulations within the Bank Secrecy Act to ensure regulations, guidance, reports and records are highly useful in countering financial crime.
- Requiring streamlined data and real time reporting of suspicious activity reports, and requiring law enforcement to coordinate with financial regulators to provide periodic feedback to financial institutions on their suspicious activity reporting.
- Prioritizing the protection of personally identifying information while establishing a clear path for financial institutions to share AML-CFT information for the purposes of identifying suspicious activity.
- Preventing foreign banks from obstructing money laundering or terrorist financing investigations by requiring these banks to produce records in a manner that establishes their authenticity and reliability for evidentiary purposes, and compelling them to comply with subpoenas. This legislation also authorizes contempt sanctions for banks that fail to comply and increase penalties on repeat BSA violators.
- Ensuring the inclusion of current and future payment systems in the AML-CFT regime by updating the definition of “coins and currency” to include digital currency.
Mike Rogers will be most powerful Republican in the House on national defense
Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, has been elected the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee by the House GOP Steering Committee for the next Congress.
Rogers currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Homeland Security. Rogers defeated Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the ranking member of the House Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, in the race.
The full House GOP conference is expected to ratify the Steering Committee’s decision in the coming days.
Current ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is retiring.
The House Armed Services Committee is tasked with crafting the National Defense Authorization Act. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, recently named Rogers a conferee on the conference committee tasked with preparing the 2021 NDAA.
“I am honored to once again be named an NDAA Conferee,” Rogers said. “Being at the table to negotiate the NDAA is more important than ever. With more threats to our great nation every day, I will continue to advocate for a strong National Defense.”
Rogers was a strong proponent of creating the Space Force as a new military branch.
Democrats were able to narrowly maintain control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 elections. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, leads one of the smallest majorities anyone has had in the House since World War II. That, and if the Republicans can hold onto their majority in the Senate, means that Republicans will have a sizeable influence on defense policy during the Biden presidency.
If Republicans can pick up seats in the 2022 midterms, Rogers presumably would chair the House Armed Services Committee. Under House GOP rules, a member can be a ranking member or a chairman of a committee for just three terms until they are term-limited out of that role.
The popular Rogers easily defeated his Democratic challenger in the 2020 election to win his 10th term representing Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.
Alabama breaks daily COVID-19 case, hospitalization record again Thursday
Coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.
For a second straight day, Alabama’s daily COVID-19 case count was at a record high on Thursday, and coronavirus hospitalizations reached another record high for the fourth time in so many days.
The Alabama Department of Public Health reported 3,531 new cases Thursday, and the state has averaged 2,461 cases each day for the last two weeks, a 28 percent increase over the previous two weeks.
The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force state report for Alabama, released Sunday, shows that shows 90 percent of Alabama counties had moderate or high levels of community transmission last week, while 64 percent had high transmission levels. The state ranked 19th highest in the percentage of tests that were positive.
Coronavirus is surging across the country, with cases per day increasing more than seven times the levels seen in the U.S. before the summer surge, and hospitalizations are three times as high now as then, according to the report. The U.S. reported record high cases and deaths Wednesday.
“It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health,” the report states. “You should have groceries and medications delivered.”
The report warns that for those under 40 “you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period” if you gathered beyond your immediate household.
“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others, and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report continues.
The number of people in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday reached 1,827. That’s nearly 40 percent higher than two weeks ago. Huntsville Hospital had a record-high 338 COVID-19 patients on Thursday, after a string of record-setting daily hospitalizations. UAB Hospital was caring for a record 127 COVID-19 patients Wednesday and 125 on Thursday.
Testing statewide remains low. The average positivity rate over the last week was 34 percent. Public health experts say it should be below 5 percent to ensure adequate testing is being done to prevent cases from going undetected.
The state averaged 8,517 tests each day over the last two weeks, down from the two week average of 9,407 recorded on Nov. 26.
U.S. Chamber announces support for a coronavirus aid bill before Christmas
The Chamber is supporting a $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it strongly supports coronavirus relief legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday.
“For pandemic relief to become law, it must be bipartisan,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We are greatly encouraged that a bipartisan group of House and Senate members along with the Problem Solvers Caucus have released an outline that can potentially break the partisan gridlock that has prevented long-overdue pandemic relief. Between this effort and the recent revisions to the Senate Republican proposal — which maintains critical elements especially with respect to liability protection — we believe there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to negotiate a bill that can become law.”
While it is critical that lawmakers get the details right, time is of the essence. American families cannot wait until next year, Bradley said.
“The Chamber urges lawmakers to support bipartisan efforts to enact pandemic relief in the coming weeks,” he said. “We also urge lawmakers to work with the business community to ensure that relief reaches small businesses as soon as possible and that liability reforms provide meaningful protections like in the ‘Safe to Work Act’.”
Before the election, House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included stimulus checks for every family in America. That costly package was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate like their earlier $4.4 trillion HEROES Act proposal, which they passed in the early summer. Senate Republicans supported a $500 billion “skinny” package that failed because Senate Democrats filibustered. Senate Democrats also killed a $500 billion extension of the Payroll Protection Program.
The $908 billion bipartisan stimulus proposal does not mail out a second round of checks to every family like the CARES Act did. To get Democratic support, this bill — unlike the two Republican bills — does include $160 billion in support for state and local governments. Small businesses would receive $288 billion, at least partially through the Paycheck Protection Program. The PPP loans would keep people on payrolls through the holiday season and into next year. The unemployed would be paid an additional $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits for four months, totaling $180 billion. There is also $82 billion earmarked for education and $16 billion for vaccine development and distribution.
The latest bipartisan proposal was put together in the Senate by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah.
In the House of Representatives, it is supported by Democrats Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, and Republicans Fred Upton of Michigan, Tom Reed of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio and Dusty Johnson of South Dakota.
In a joint news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said that they could support the legislation but that they want some tweaks to it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, called the bill a “waste of time,” saying that he thought it was too big and is still supporting his $500 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say they are concerned that a large third stimulus bill would only add to the debt.
The incoming Biden administration’s transition team is also supporting the bill.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing companies of all sizes across every sector of the economy. Members range from the small businesses and local chambers of commerce that line the main streets of America to leading industry associations and large corporations.
(Original reporting by Newsweek, Fox News, and CBS News contributed to this report.)