Month: August 2013

Alabama doesn’t need the United Auto Workers union (Opinion from J. Pepper Bryars)

The United Auto Workers isn't the working class watchdog or political powerbroker that it was decades ago. Modern business practices, successful health and safety regulations and competition for skilled labor have rendered the legendary union nearly obsolete. Its home base of Detroit is bankrupt and literally crumbling, the Big 3 automakers have downsized or relocated to better business climates, and its membership has fallen 75-percent from its peak in the late 1970s. So it's not surprising to hear that the UAW has opened an office in Tuscaloosa County and has launched an aggressive campaign to unionize the employees of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance. It needs their dues; employees at the plant would be charged monthly membership fees equal to two-hours of their pay, according to the union's website. That means workers who earn $25 per-hour will see $50 of their paycheck flowing into UAW bank accounts every month. The only real question is why anyone would join an organization like the UAW, which has so spectacularly failed in its mission, so clearly worked against the long-term interests of its members and unwittingly brought ruin to the communities in which it operated. Is there anything in the UAW's homeland of Detroit that we want to imitate in Alabama? Surely not. So what are the UAW organizers promising in Vance? Are they telling workers that unionizing will put an end to their unsafe working conditions, low wages, and lack of access to healthcare and retirement benefits? Of course not, because those…

Matt Damon’s new film ‘Elysium’ accidentally criticizes Obamacare (Opinion from Pepper Bryars)

View full sizeMatt Damon in the new movie "Elysium." Conservatives are calling Matt Damon's new sci-fi film "Elysium" another liberal manifesto disguised as a summer popcorn movie – a perfect vehicle to push Hollywood's liberal agenda. The conservative website Newsmax labeled it "sci-fi socialism" and "a heavy handed political propaganda flick." The conservative Media Research Center's vice president Dan Gainor told FOX News that it's "just the latest of several Hollywood movies this year to try and co-opt Occupy Wall Street plotlines into their films." Those themes were noticed beyond political circles. The film industry newspaper Variety wrote that the film has one of the "more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory, beating the drum loudly not just for universal healthcare, but for open borders, unconditional amnesty and the abolition of class distinctions as well." I walked away from "Elysium" with a very different impression. Purposeful or not, its most profound statement was a vivid portrayal of life when universal healthcare leads to the inevitable: expensive medical treatments being rationed – the lynchpin and future of Obamacare. The film is set nearly 150-years in the future. The world's wealthiest live on Elysium, a massive space station orbiting Earth. It isn't the all-white and cold-steel habitat imagined in previous sci-fi blockbusters like "2001: A Space Odyssey." Rather, Elysium's interior resembles a high-tech French Riviera, and its inhabitants look like they just walked off South Beach. Its spiraling exterior dominates the sky as seen from Earth, which has…

State should abandon plans to charge and regulate church schools (Opinion from Pepper Bryars)

The Alabama Department of Education has begun taking small but meaningful steps toward encroaching on the right of church-based schools to operate free of government oversight, and it should stop dead in its tracks. At issue are long-standing exemptions for religious schools from some of the regulations and fees imposed on non-religious private schools. For instance, private schools are charged a $500 licensing fee that church-based schools aren't. However, a new rule would require the church schools to start paying the $500 fee, and other changes are afoot. State officials outlined the proposals during a July meeting with representatives of several nonpublic schools. Attendees were told that the state wanted to create a "partnership," and the changes and fees were part of the process. What the state misses is that parents like me who opt out of public schools have already decided against any sort of partnership with the state's public education system. Moreover, many of us choose church schools based on our faith. We see no distinction between the building we worship inside on Sunday and the classroom our children learn inside during the week – and neither should the state. "This is the first time I have ever been made aware of a state agency proposing to tax a church for carrying out a legitimate ministry," said J. Robin Mears, executive director of the Alabama Christian Education Association, which serves 72 church schools. He explained in an email that even though the $500 is called a fee rather…

Of course we want to close all abortion clinics (Opinion from J. Pepper Bryars)

Pro-choice advocates fear that the wave of abortion restrictions sweeping through state legislatures are part of a broader strategy to completely abolish a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy – and they're right. The restrictions vary from state to state. North Dakota's governor recently signed a law that could stop an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected. A federal judge temporarily blocked it, saying the measure was "clearly unconstitutional." Texas just finished a much publicized debate about its new law that includes banning abortions after 20-weeks. Its opponents are readying legal challenges now. In Alabama, we have a new law that requires abortion doctors to have agreements with nearby hospitals to admit their patients if something goes wrong during an abortion. It's called having admitting privileges, but it appears our state's hospitals don't want anything to do with abortions or the doctors performing them. "For a variety of reasons that differ depending on the hospital, they (the abortion doctors) cannot obtain local privileges," reads the complaint filed in federal court in July by Planned Parenthood Southeast, which runs abortions clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, and Reproductive Health Services, which runs an abortion clinic in Montgomery. "The purpose and effect of this requirement, which is wholly unnecessary and unreasonable, is to impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion prior to viability, in violation of their constitutional right to privacy." So, without nearby hospitals allowing admitting privileges, the abortion doctors couldn't perform the procedures, clinics would lose…

DRILL, ‘BAMA, DRILL: Our state is a player in the U.S. oil and gas boom (Opinion from J. Pepper Bryars)

The nationwide oil and natural gas boom you've been reading about may be coming – in a small yet profitable way – to the Deep South, and Alabama should ready itself for the potential opportunities that may bubble up. Alabama produced nearly 10,000 barrels of crude oil last year – an increase of more than a third since 2010 – sharply reversing a two decade decline in production, according to the Institute for Energy Research. The growth was made possible by oil companies applying new technology to old wells, many of which are located in the Black Warrior Basin in the northwestern quadrant of the state. Alabama was ranked 14th among the states in oil production last April by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Not too shabby – and there's room to grow. In 2011, the EIA also ranked Alabama 14th in natural gas production. Much of that comes from the offshore wells dotting the horizon off the coasts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties, but the state has many onshore wells, too, and our future may be in something else entirely: shale formations. The natural gas boom experienced in northern states comes from deposits trapped in rock formations known as shale. It wasn't cost effective to extract this gas a decade ago, but new technologies – and rising prices – have changed everything. Through a process called hydraulic fracking, water is pumped into the shale and the gas is released, collected and separated. Environmentalists oppose the practice, but it…