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President Obama In Alabama Today To Discuss Middle Class Economics

by: countrycat

Thu Mar 26, 2015 at 10:28:55 AM CDT

The President makes his second visit this month to Alabama, and today he's talking economics.  As part of his "Middle Class Economics" agenda, Obama is expected to highlight the abuses of the payday lending industry and call for reforms. Alabama's new payday lending regulations are currently in limbo.

From the background briefing provided by the White House Press Office yesterday:

At Lawson State Community College, the President will meet with stakeholders on consumer protection issues and continue to lay out the contrast between his vision for middle-class economics and efforts by Republicans in Congress to roll back the progress we have made in creating a safer financial system and a stronger economy that supports the middle class.     

Since the beginning of his Administration, President Obama has fought to protect consumers on a number of fronts. In the past three months alone, the President has taken steps to crack down on conflicts of interest in retirement investment advice that are costing middle class families billions of dollars every year, to put in place a bill of rights for students borrowing for college, and to provide mortgage payment relief for active duty servicemembers and their families.  These steps build a long track record of steps the President and his Administration have taken to protect consumers, including working with Congress to pass the Wall Street Reform bill in 2010, which has made our financial system dramatically safer and stronger. The bill created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a dedicated, independent cop on the beat with the single goal of protecting consumers from threats like abusive practices of unscrupulous lenders or the fraudulent practices of some debt collectors.

During his remarks, the President will discuss Congressional Republicans’ efforts to limit the ability of the CFPB to do its job and to undermine other crucial reforms – through the advancement of a budget proposal filled with the same, failed trickle-down policies of the past. These proposals risk returning us to the days of “too big to fail,” protecting Wall Street firms from important regulatory safeguards and putting ordinary citizens and the economy at risk. The House Republican budget calls for rolling back key aspects of Wall Street Reform, while underfunding the agencies working to implement it. It terminates mandatory funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), greatly limiting the independence of this watchdog for the rights of consumers.  In the process, the House budget gains ‘creative accounting’ savings by shifting CFPB funding to appropriations. 

Left In Alabama received press credentials to cover the event & we'll be sharing our report and photos.

Wondering why so many people turn to payday loans with high interest rates and penalties?  Learn more about the problems lower income people have with what most of us consider to be everyday financial transactions.


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South Forward Grassroots Training In Birmingham This Weekend

by: countrycat

Wed Mar 25, 2015 at 12:08:57 PM CDT

President Clinton's visit isn't the only big political event in Birmingham this week. The grassroots organizing group, South Foward, is bringing a stellar line-up of experts for a political activist training session Friday evening and Saturday.

South Forward Alabama Training 

South Forward hasn't written off the South; it's a group committed to building the Democratic brand and winning elections:

The South presents a larger opportunity for Democratic gains than any other region of the country.

South Forward was founded to win elections; build and strengthen institutional capacity; and recruit, train and mentor candidates and staff.

With the state Democratic Party flat on its back, the onus is on the grassroots to work together to build an effective, progressive movement in Alabama.  Yeah, it does look pretty hopeless right now, but it's not. We won't take back the legislature tomorrow and probably not in 2018, but change won't happen ever unless we get to work now.

This session will help you develop your political and organizing skills and take that knowledge back to your local county party or political group.  And with a registration fee of just $35, you can't afford to miss it.

Building a progressive infrastructure and winning elections in the South requires year round commitment.  The foundation for an effective campaign electoral or issue based advocacy is organizing on a local level.  Whether your goal is building a robust local party organization or developing your individual organizing skills in order to make a difference for an issue or electoral campaign, South Forward is pleased to offer this Grassroots Alabama Organizing Training as a way to enhance your talents and skills. This training is a great opportunity for party activists and leaders, potential and current candidates, and issue based groups and advocates.

Each attendee will be provided resource materials useful to your long-term organizing efforts.  Refreshments and lunch will be provided.  Registration begins on Friday, March 27 at 6:00 p.m. and again on Saturday, March 28 at 8:30 a.m.

Register today for $35 per person. If it is more convenient for you to pay by check the day of the training, please type Alabama Training in the subject line and register by emailing Training@SouthForward.com

Friday, March 27, 2015 - 6 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 28, 2015 - 8:30 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.
Memory Leake Robinson Hall
Samford University's Cumberland School of Law

Learn more about the training & the schedule here.

Register for the conference here.


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Ted Cruz Promises To Repeal Health Care Law He's Signing Up For

by: countrycat

Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 21:05:58 PM CDT

You can't make this stuff up.  Yesterday, Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president and promised that it will be based on "freedom." With no apparent sense of irony, he made this pledge in front of an audience of Liberty University students who were compelled to attend the rally - or else pay a fine.

Ted Cruz Obamacare 

Also during his announcement, Cruz promised to "repeal every word of Obamacare." That was yesterday.  Today, he's signing up for it.

Texas Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, as you may know, has been a vocal and active opponent of the Affordable Care Act. The Senator himself and his family had, until yesterday, gotten their health insurance through his wife, a managing director at Goldman Sachs.

Mrs. Cruz is now on unpaid leave during the campaign, which means, as the Senator told the Des Moines Registerthat he and the family will be signing up for Obamacare.

The basic health care plans offered through the ACA will be somewhat a shock for Teddy.  His wife, after all, had one of those gold-plated insurance plans through Goldman Sachs.  You know... one of those plans that costs the taxpayers a lot of money because Goldman deducts the cost from its income and the Cruz family pays no income tax on the benefit?

A spokeswoman for Cruz confirmed to the Times that the senator gets his coverage through Goldman. The Wall Street bank told the paper the coverage is worth at least $20,000 a year. "The senator is on his wife’s plan, which comes at no cost to the taxpayer and reflects a personal decision about what works best for their family," the spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said.

As a HuffPost reader noted, it's debatable whether such a plan comes at no cost to the taxpayer. Employer-sponsored health plans are generally tax-deductible for companies, so the Cruz family's expensive health plan presumably reduces Goldman's tax liability.

Even in Canada (cough, cough), the coverage isn't as cushy as Cruz's wife enjoyed.

It also was a non-taxable benefit for the Cruz family, so count it as a tax-avoidance twofer. For more information on how employer-sponsored insurance affects tax liability, read  this:  "The Real Story Behind That Obamacare Free Stuff: 160 Million Others Also Get Subsidies."

In any case, the timing couldn't be better.  Cruz is losing his employer-provided health insurance coverage.  Now, under the old system, can you imagine how much the COBRA policy would be each month if he wanted to use that?  Or if he decided to buy an individual policy, he and his familiy would be under the microscope whereby the company looked for (and usually found) any spurious excuse to deny coverage.

But he doesn't have to worry about that: Obamacare makes all those abuses illegal.  At least until "President" Cruz signs the repeal.  But hey, then he'll have employer-sponsored insurance, so it's not his problem. 

Except that the "employer" will be us.

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Was Indicted AL House Speaker Mike Hubbard Spying On AG Luther Strange?

by: countrycat

Tue Mar 24, 2015 at 10:56:36 AM CDT

Holy cow. We're going to have to change the name of the Alabama Statehouse to "Peyton Place." The more we learn about indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard's shenanigans in Montgomery, the more soap opera-like the tale becomes.

Mike Hubbard's reputation 

First, we learned that Hubbard was poormouthing to anyone who would listen that the couldn't make it on his $70k/year salary for his part-time legislative job. That dreadful financial conditions is no doubt what led him to accept a $7500 a month consulting contract from an online charter school company. Coincidentally perhaps, this session's charter school legislation was modified to allow virtual, online charter schools.  Surely, that company got better bang for its bucks than the sucker who paid Hubbard for this gig:

In 2012, Abrams hired Hubbard as a $10,000-a-month consultant to help his plastic cup company with sales, even though Hubbard admitted he knew nothing about cups.

And now the plot thickens. A series of recently-released emails from prosecutors suggests that Hubbard had a mole in the AG's office and didn't trust either the Attorney General or Alabama Republican Party chair Bill Armistead:

"Armistead is evil and I guess so is Luther," Hubbard wrote.

Hubbard, his lawyers and his mentor had a voice from inside. Hubbard wrote Riley in January 2013 about discussions Reagan had with Hubbard's then-Chief of Staff, Josh Blades.

"Confidentially, I received word just now from Josh that a mutual friend in the AG's office (he used to work for you) called to tell him that the prosecutor told him this afternoon that the accusations against me have been thoroughly investigated and totally dismissed by the Grand Jury," Hubbard wrote Riley.

These email dumps are in response to Hubbard and his lawyers' insistence that prosecutors violated grand jury rules by leaking information.  However, as AL.com's John Archibald points out:

"...most of the evidence of real grand jury leaks has flowed toward the Hubbard camp." 

You really have to wonder if Hubbard has been honest with his lawyers about what he was up to.  Surely, he hadn't shared his email paper trail with them before they demanded that prosecutors release the documents.

Likely, Hubbard really sees himself as above the law and so mighty that the rules don't apply to him.  Gotta love hubris, right?  It'll get you every time.


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The State Democratic Party Is Quiet, But House Democrats Come Out Swinging

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 22, 2015 at 19:04:25 PM CDT

House Minority Leader Craig Ford's recent post on Facebook brought a smile to my face. After waiting months in vain for the state party leadership to even issue a press release, at least our legislators are fighting the good fight.Craig Ford

Just look at how many of them stood up for equality during the HB-56 debate. (Review Mia's excellent liveblogging of the debate.) The House debate on the charter school bill was similarly hard fought.

We've said here for years - when our Democratic legislators didn't bother to show up for committee hearings or important votes - that "just because you'll probably lose, that's no reason not to take a stand."

Today, Ford offered this:

"Would You Rather Have A Democrat’s Lottery Or Republicans’ Taxes?"

This week is the legislature’s Spring Break, and we are now almost a third of the way through the legislative session. And as last week came to an end, legislative leaders were quick to congratulate themselves on passing their legislative agenda.

I’m sure the taxpayers will be relieved Republicans were able to pass their “Alabama First” agenda. I mean, sure, maternity wards across the state are closing and leaving thousands of mothers without nearby prenatal care and delivery services, but at least we brought back the electric chair.

And, sure, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting to be adopted by loving parents but can’t because of budget cuts to the Department of Human Resources. But at least judges won’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. Oh wait, nobody was making them do that anyway.

Well at least now we passed the “Truth in Salary Act” so all those educators and state employees will finally know how much they are getting paid! I mean, sure, there are counties in Alabama that don’t have a single state trooper to patrol them, and many of the state troopers we do have are driving vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them. But all that has to take a backseat to more bureaucracy and paperwork so that we can make sure our bureaucrats know how much they are getting paid (because apparently they are smart enough to teach our children, but not smart enough to read their own paystubs).

Yes, the Republican leadership has passed their legislative agenda. But what they have not done is offer any real solutions to the very real problems Alabama is facing.

Take, for example, the charter school bill. Let’s assume that every charter school is wildly successful. Even then, there would still be thousands of children still stuck in failing schools. Charter schools and the Accountability Act are not solutions to failing schools. They are escape options from failing schools.

And that is the problem with the leadership in Montgomery: they don’t try to solve problems; they try to run away or hide from problems. But now Alabama is facing some problems that we can’t run away from anymore.

The General Fund budget is facing a hole of at least $265 million. And if we try to pay back all the debt we owe, the budget hole is really closer to $700 million.

After the last four years of gutting our state government, we simply cannot fill the budget hole with more cuts to government. We have “right-sized” to the point of budgetary anorexia. The only way to allow our government to continue to function is with more revenue.

Before the legislative session began, Gov. Bentley proposed a tax package that would raise about $541 million. And to his credit, he included certain proposals, such as increasing the tobacco tax and closing certain corporate tax loopholes that benefit out-of-state corporations and the expense of Alabama business owners, which have been part of the Democratic Party’s agenda for years.

It’s no surprise the Republican leadership in the legislature hasn’t supported the governor’s proposals. They don’t want to be seen supporting anything Democrats have been calling for, and that’s fine. But if they don’t want to consider our ideas, they should at least offer some of their own!

The legislature cannot run away and hide any more. The Republicans wanted to be in leadership, and now it’s time for them to step up and offer solutions.

Of course, if they won’t consider Democratic proposals, then that only leaves one option: raising taxes. Now they won’t call it tax increases. They will call it “enforcement of existing tax laws” or “eliminating deductions”, but the bottom line is that you will be paying more of your hard-earned money in taxes.

Before we start raising taxes, we should at least consider voluntary revenue raising measures like a lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians and raising the tobacco tax.

The legislative fiscal office estimates that a lottery could raise up to $280 million in new revenue, while raising the tobacco tax by a dollar could generate another $225 million. A compact with the Poarch Creek Indians could generate another $30-50 million.

All of these options are voluntary. People can choose to quit smoking or not to gamble. So why not vote on these measures first? Then, if more money is needed, we can look at other proposals.

If the Republican leadership in the legislature doesn’t offer a solution soon, then you know what their solution will be. The question is: would you rather have a Democrat’s lottery or Republicans’ taxes?

Now, I'm a total lottery skeptic.  Refer to our five-part series on state education lotteries for some of the problems with that as a revenue source.  But Ford is correct that this is possibly the only new revenue opportunity that could get past the legislature and Alabama voters.

Politics is, as Bismark noted, "the art of the possible."  If this is what it takes to shore up our state's safety net, it might be the best of all the bad solutions we have on the table.


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State Employees: The GOP's Next Economic Target

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 21, 2015 at 14:27:00 PM CDT

Alabama's workers live on the edge, & at times it appears the state legislature is working hard to push them over the cliff. What's going on? The pieces fell neatly into place when I ran across this op/ed published on Al.com. 

Alabama state workers 

The money quote:

While benefits that are earned must be protected, the state's defined benefit plans are out of step with the retirement benefits offered to the majority of the state's workforce. Future employees should be moved to a cash balance plan or some type of hybrid plan that takes the burden of guaranteeing retirement income off the Alabama taxpayers who likely do not enjoy those type of plans themselves. 

Do you see how neatly the author offered the wrong solution to the problem of income and retirement insecurity? Let's translate that:

Hey, state residents.... even if you're lucky enough to have a job (no small feat in the Bentley economy), you probably don't make a decent wage or benefits, are afraid to even call in sick, just less speak up because our "employment at will" policy means that you can easily lose even that crummy job.  Oh, and forget about retiring with any sort of dignity. Pension? You don't need no stinking pension!

Hey... another group of workers doesn't have this problem: state employees. 

Don't ask why your life is worse than theirs; ask why theirs is better. Then take steps to fix that "problem."

That drumbeat started right after the Republicans gained supermajority status in the Legislature, when Decatur Rep. Micky Hammon complained about "lazy" state courthouse employees who were having to cope with the extra paperwork associated with his and Scott Beason's immigration law:

Baldwin County’s probate judge suggested his offices could see as many as 25,000 additional customers in person without the option to renew by mail, and Republican Mobile County license Commissioner Kim Hastie said her office could need as much as $580,000 to update their equipment and office to comply with the new requirements. 

Hammon had the perfect retort:

“When we were drafting this legislation, we found there were so many offices in the state — so many bureaucrats — that just didn’t want to do any work. They just don’t want to do anything,” Hammon said. 

You almost have to admire how perfectly executed the strategy has been. For decades, all US workers have been hit with a cavalcade of anti-worker policies, legislation, trade deals, and globalization. Big business has won big at the expense of American families:

Both major political parties are at fault - remember that NAFTA was President Clinton's baby - but the Republicans have been most enthusiastic about implementing some of the more egregious policies.

This is no exaggeration.  Just look at the 2015 Republican budget now in Congress. 


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NRA Publication: "They're coming to take your guns! Send money."

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 21, 2015 at 10:42:36 AM CDT

I used to wonder where the bizarre anti-Obama stuff came from. Stuff like the "black helicopters," "FEMA camps," & the "coming to take your guns" paranoia. Then I picked up a discarded copy of last month's issue of the "American Rifleman," which bills itself as "the official journal of the National Rifle Association."

The anti-Obama, "coming for your guns" drumbeat (or is that the patter of rifle fire?) starts on the cover and continues for seven solid pages of op/eds and a "news" story about the President's "character."

Wayne LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the NRA, is the leadoff hitter.  He excoriates both President Obama and former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg for supporting - get this - a universal background check system for gun purchases. It's just a hop, skip, and black helicopter ride away from gun registration and confiscation, he warns, noting that only the NRA realizes it:

"But gun owners who are not NRA members don't read our magazines, nor do they receive our legislative alerts and emails, leavig them vulnerable to falling for Bloomberg's and Obama's lies."

The fact that 92% of gun owners actually support universal background checks is an inconvenient fact that LaPierre  spares just one sentence on.  They're "uninformed gun owners."  Perhaps he could have expounded on this if the hadn't spent five paragraphs on an anti-Obamacare rant.

Next up is NRA President James Porter.  He's upset that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence noted correctly that having a gun in the home increases the risk of an unintentional shooting, suicide, and homicide. Porter calls this "a huge lie," but a University of Utah report disagrees:

Accidental shooting deaths are most commonly associated with one or more children playing with a gun they found in the home. (Choi, et al, 1994) The person pulling the trigger is a friend, family member, or the victim. (Harruff, 1992)

Another study showed that two-thirds of accidental firearms injuries occurred in the home, and one-third involved children under 15. 45% were self-inflicted, and 16% occurred when children were playing with guns. (Morrow and Hudson, 1986) A study from 1991-2000 showed that twice as many people died from unintentional firearm injuries in states in the U.S. where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded. (Miller, et al, 2005)

Porter ends with a flourish, lauding Ferguson, MO gun owners:

"But in Ferguson, America saw that a handful of individual citizens, some bearing AR-15s, we able to defend businesses from rampant lawlessness where government totally failed."

Because that's what you want, right? Armed citizens in the streets confronting protesters while local police try to get the situation under control. 

Not to be outdone, Chris Cox, the legislative director, warns that New York state is coming for the guns of dead people, and seems almost disappointed that:

"... in the weeks since the announcement was made, we haven't heard of any grieving survivors whose doors have been kicked down by police looking for their departed loved ones' handguns."

Whew! That's a relief!

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Charter School Bill Passes Legislature Without Needed Amendments

by: countrycat

Thu Mar 19, 2015 at 12:50:11 PM CDT

Got a question about politics in Alabama? "Follow the money" is the best answer you'll get, and it's surely the explanation of what happened yesterday in the Alabama House. With indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard presiding, and his checking account already fattened by a $7500/month consulting contract from a charter school company, our legislators passed the charter school bill and rejected an amendment that would have prevented legislators from having any financial relationship with charter school operators. 


Decatur Rep. Collins wouldn't even allow Rep. Mary Moore from Birmingham to finish describing the amendment before shutting her down.  Collins said she "hadn't seen the amendment," and so she wanted it tabled. Now, it's not hard to pass out a copy of an amendment that's essentially a couple of sentences long.  Still, the assembly voted to table Moore's motion without even discussing it.

Perhaps Hubbard & Marsh prefer the "Michigan model" for Alabama's charter schools:

Only two years after the state’s first charter schools opened, Michigan officials sounded an alarm that charter school laws were inadequate to prevent rogue operators from scamming the system for their benefit. But the Legislature failed to act until passing a law in 2011 that still leaves huge loopholes.

Follow the money.

It's interesting that Collins' sudden interest in the bill's content and the content of an amendment came after a dust up with Huntsville Rep. Laura Hall.  

Early in the debate, Hall pointed out that the copy of the bill's amendments she received in committee had different wording than the copy that Collins had on the floor.  What was up with that? The ensuing scramble led to a huddle on the House floor that lasted almost half a hour.

When Hall took the floor again, she announced that "a third party" outside the Legislature was making changes to the bill. Charter school supporters shrugged.  So what? That was no big deal, but Moore's amendment about legislators profiting from charters couldn't even be debated.

Follow the money.

Selma Rep. Darrio Melton said it best in response to assertions that the charter school bill was primarily designed to give parents and students "more choices" and educational options.

"This is about taking money from one bank account and moving it to another bank account."

Except the bank accounts in this case will no doubt be the for-profit charter school management companies that make big bucks on other states. This salary data is something that charter school companies like to keep secret. Some Philadelphia parents & public schools had to scramble at the beginning of this year to accommodate a number of students from a charter school that closed abruptly due to financial problems:

Over the years, Palmer has faced criticism that executives were too highly paid and that management employed nepotism in hiring.

According to the most recent two years of tax returns filed with the nonprofit database GuideStar.org, Palmer's daughter Dara worked as a pre-K instructor and earned roughly $50,000 a year. Palmer's son Amir Joshua worked in "student support" and earned $72,000 in one year.

And his related nonprofit Palmer Foundation earned $180,000 for "curriculum development" supplied to the Palmer schools.

Daira Hinson, the Palmer school's director of administration, invoked the Fifth Amendment 22 times in hearings last month regarding how the charter school's budget was overseen.

Hinson's son Trent also worked for the school and earned just over $48,800 and $58,000 in two consecutive years, according to Form 990 filings, which are public.

When faced with stories like this, our Legislature should be skeptical of charter school supporter's claims of greater parent input and school accountability. Just take a look at the swarms of blue-badged charter school lobbyists who have clogged the halls and wined and dined lawmaker at every opportunity. Does anyone really believe that these guys are here because they care about the future of Alabama students?

Follow the money, because that's why they're here.

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Hold on. An Alabama Jew has to weigh in on this marriage debate.

by: bamanewsguy

Wed Mar 18, 2015 at 01:21:30 AM CDT

(Now here's a new voice in the mix! - promoted by countrycat)

I’m sick of seeing the same argument reposted over and over again. Person A says: “God says gay marriage is wrong! Love the sinner hate the sin!” Person B replies: “Yeah, but you’re not supposed to eat pork or wear polyester!”

I’m sick of it. No one gets it. No one. On either side of the divide. It has to stop. I’m an Alabamian. I’m a liberal. Not just a Democrat. A liberal. I’m Jewish.

And I’m going to tell you all something, and this is why this stupid comment-reply-comment chain needs to stop. We’ve all seen it ad-nauseum on al.com and Facebook and Reddit (well, maybe not so much Reddit, except in ironic fashion) and anywhere else it crops up.

As a preface, I don’t refer to the Bible as the “Old and New Testaments.” By acknowledging that division, it negates the importance of my covenant with God. Therefore, there is the Hebrew Bible-- which consists of the Torah (the first five books), the Nevi’im (the Prophets) and the Ketuvim (the Writings)-- and the Christian Bible-- the Gospels, the Letters and the Prophecy.

If you’re a Christian, you believe in a "new" covenant, one that removes the restrictions of the law on the people in favor of an individual covenant with Jesus Christ. If you’re Jewish, you’re bound by law.

That law is split into three parts. The first part is what most Jews follow. You know, the food, the fabric, the gardening, the prayer requirements, etc. Then there’s a segment of the law that Jews in Israel are supposed to follow on top of the common laws. Then there’s a third segment of laws that no one is responsible for following because the Third Temple hasn’t been built (and God willing, never will). All total, there’s something like 430. Or some ridiculously high number like that.

The thing about the law is it’s impossible to follow. This isn’t even including the few dozen that outright contradict other laws. It’s purposely structured that way. You aren’t perfect, so you can’t even pretend you are.

But if you're a follower of the Christian covenant, you are exempt from following this law. Completely. Totally. Sure, you may think it’s cool to maybe not eat pork, but it’s not a requirement. In fact, you’re encouraged NOT to follow the law at all, specifically, by Paul of Tarsus.

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Wiregrass Rally For Marriage Equality: Sunday, March 22nd

by: countrycat

Mon Mar 16, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

Marriage equality supporters in the Wiregrass will gather in Dothan on Sunday, March 22 from 1-5pm for a peaceful demonstration to express their concerns about the issue.

The event coincides with an "I Stand for Biblical Marriage" rally (sponsored by the Memphis Baptist Church) taking place at the same time at the Dothan Civic Center. Does that mean we can expect people to be supporting polygamy, having children with your wife's maidservants, marrying battlefield captives, etc.? Sounds like a "fun" group. 

Two rallies: same time, same place: should be an interesting afternoon in Dothan!

Really, can you imagine going out of your way to support discrimination?  Obviously, a group in Dothan is enthusiastic about that. 

Kudos to "Equality for the Wiregrass."  In their words, the purpose of their rally is to make their voices heard.:

It's important that we let the opposition know that we support same-sex marriage and equality and that our voices count as much as theirs. 

Learn more about the event, RSVP, and invite your friends to participate at the Equality for the Wiregrass Facebook event page.


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SB-45 - Charter School Double Talk From The GOP

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 16:14:19 PM CDT

The Alabama House could vote on SB-45, the charter school bill, as early as next week. While proponents are justifying the move as step forward in the name of "choice" and "competition." As indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard puts it, poor schools should "go out of business." It's surprising that a party whose rank and file is so anti-evolution in biological terms should be so gung ho for "survival of the fittest" in education policy.

Alabama charter schools 

From education expert and commentator Larry Lee:

Some of us can recall when Art Linkletter did a segment on his radio show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  He would ask questions of children and in their wonderful innocence they would give answers that often made us laugh.

I read or hear comments from politicians that deserve to also be called “the darndest things.”  But there is no innocence involved.  Instead, my usual reaction is, “Do they really believe what they are saying?”

Recently Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, spoke to a Republican group in Huntsville.  Among his comments was, "In the real world, if you're doing a poor job of servicing your clients, you go out of business," Hubbard said. "Well, public schools never go out of business no matter how bad they are. So we're providing competition for those schools."

In the political world that was a great sound bite, which is why it was reported by al.com.  But it would have been better had it been true.

  • Number one: if a classroom full of 8-year olds isn’t the real world, what is?  The Speaker needs to spend some time in schools before he dismisses the work they do so flippantly.  
  • Number two: Schools “go out of business” all the time.  Records from the state department of education show that 125 schools have been closed since January 2010.  Five of the “failing” schools as designated by the Alabama Accountability Act a year ago are no longer around.  

As to the value of competition in improving schools, listen to Margaret Raymond, Director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes, one of the nation’s foremost education policy and research groups, as she recently discussed an extensive report about charter schools in Ohio.

“One of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl (is that) the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career.  Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.  It’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance.”

Other researchers have come to the same conclusion.

“School choice and competition simply have not helped, neither in the United States nor in countries like Chile that have wholeheartedly embraced them.  Rather than offering all students better opportunities, vouchers and charter schools have used tax dollars to help some students while leaving many others even more segregated and disadvantaged,” says David Berliner in his best-seller, 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools.

Not only do research and facts not back the Speaker’s statement, neither does logic.  By his logic we would close the fire station in the neighborhood that has the most fires.

This is not the approach we take to economic development.  Would we ever go to a struggling business in a community and tell them we’re recruiting one of their competitors to move to town?

Hardly, but we would probably contact one of the 10 small business development centers in the state to see what help they could provide the struggling company.  Or we might enlist the help of one of the 14 units of the Alabama Technology Network.

Contrast the Speaker’s comment about schools to this one from the same speech:

"When you have a good corporate citizen already providing jobs, we need to be able to help," Hubbard said. "Not to give a hand out, but to reward them and make the path clear for them to make new jobs."

He is exactly right.

So why not also help struggling schools and struggling communities?

According to the Alabama Accountability Act we have struggling schools in places like Louisville, Clayton, Union Springs, Abbeville, Lafayette, Eutaw, Greensboro, Fort Deposit, Notasulga, Marion, Reform and York.  So we should pull the rug out from under them?  To take away perhaps the most important thing they have, the one thing that rallies small communities together?

Real world?  These places are just as real as any others in Alabama.  Where real mamas and daddies long for success for their real children.  Where real people drive to real jobs and go to real churches on Sunday.

Why do we even think about turning our back on them?

Larry Lee led the study, "Lessons Learned from Rural Schools," and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues.  larrylee33@knology.net


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Week Two Of The Alabama Legislature: God, Gays, Charter Schools, & Electric Chairs

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 08:00:00 AM CDT

The GOP supermajority staggered into Montgomery earlier this week for the second week of the 2015 session.  And what a week it was.  Here's a recap of some of the major hearings and floor debates. Because the legislative Web site is still not functioning well, the direct links to bill information don't always work.  Go to this page, click "Find the Status of a Bill" and enter the bill number.

Alabama legislature 2015 session 

HB-56, which the sponsor named the "Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act" passed the House 69-25 on Thursday after 4 hours of debate. Read why that's a big surprise here.

HB-18 - The "Bring Back the Electric Chair" bill also passed the House (76-26) after a spirited debate on Wednesday. The reinstates the electric chair as a method of execution if the proper lethal injection drugs aren't available. There was also debate about ways to keep the source of lethal injection drugs secret.  Nothing like the GOP's commitment to transparent government, eh?

All Democrats voted NO except:

  • George Bandy (HD-83) - Present 
  • Craig Ford (HD-28) - Yes
  • Thomas Jackson (HD-68) - Present
  • Richard Lindsay (HD-39) - Yes
  • A.J. McCampbell (HD-71) - Yes
  • Johnny Mack Morrow (HD-18) - Present

Some highlights from Mia's liveblogging:

The House floor just erupted in boos and yells over the HB18 bill, bringing back the electric chair in Alabama.

They are debating whether compounding pharmacies that provide lethal injection drugs to the State should have to be kept secret or not.

Rep Bracy just tweeted that he will be voting against bringing back "Yellow Momma"

Rep. McCutcheon just asked Rep. Alvin Holmes which way he would prefer to die under the death penalty.

Rep. Alvin Holmes wants to submit an amendment to allow hanging, but Rep. McCutcheon is not favorable to hanging.

"Every year you are here you bring a death penalty bill. I've told you before, I think you have a death penalty fetish." - Rep. Givan

HB-1 - The "Alabama Student Religious Liberty Act."  Republicans promise that it will "re-establish the freedom of student-led prayer and religious expression in our schools" - in spite of the fact that everything that the bill makes legal is already legal.

It's one of the GOP supermajority's signature initiatives, which means this:

"...we're going to pass unnecessary laws to make stuff legal that's already legal, but we'll make it even more legal and distract the public from our real work of selling the state government to the highest bidder.

Democrats didn't acquit themselves well on this vote. About a third voted NO - and then we have these votes & non-votes:

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HB-56 Passed The Alabama House - With An Actual Floor Debate

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 14:04:46 PM CDT

If you think the title of this diary is no big deal, you haven't been paying much attention to the GOP supermajority's iron legislative fist. It's not unusual for bills to pass with almost no debate and discussion allowed. The super-majority has invoked cloture 121 times in the last 4 years.  Alabama Democrats used that power 26 times in the previous 11 years. (Cloture means shut down debate and force an up or down vote.


Yet this didn't happen with HB-56, which the sponsor named the "Freedom of Religion in Marriage Protection Act."

The GOP has a supermajority and could have invoked cloture before the first House member finished speaking.  That's not uncommon: one bill last session got less than a minute of discussion before the majority invoked cloture. 

Bobby Singleton, an African American senator whose district includes some of the poorest counties in the state, remembers the shortest amount of time it took him to get cut off. “Thirty-two seconds,” he says ruefully.

Sadly, it's not surprising that the bill passed, but it is a bit of a shock that a real debate took place. Read the details of the debate from Mia's incredible liveblogging from the House gallery.

As you can see from her report, only ONE Republican spoke in favor - Rep. Mike Ball - while the rest of the GOP caucus let the bill's sponsor, Rep. Hill, act as a pinata for the bill's opponents.  Among other things, Hill admitted that he "couldn't remember" who wrote the bill for him or gave him the idea to introduce it.

It passed the House 69-25 on Thursday when the majority invoked cloture after 4 hours of debate - not 4 minutes. There are several explanations I can come up with:

  • Hill's fellow GOP House members don't like him very much.
  • Somehow they think having Democrats stand up and oppose discriminatory Republican legislation  is a good thing - for Republicans.
  • Rep. Patricia Todd receives real respect from both sides of the aisle. They knew how important and personal this was for her and they were willing to at least give the issue a hearing.

Obviously, I hope it's the last one, but the first works for me too.... LOL.

There were a few other surprises as well.

Most Democrats opposed the bill. One Democrat voted in favor - Elaine Beech (HD-65) - while a number voted "Present" instead:

  • Barbara Boyd (HD-32)
  • Juandalynne Givan (HD-68)
  • Ralph Howard (HD-72)
  • Thomason Jackson (HD-68)
  • Richard Lindsay (HD-39) -Abstained
  • Johnny Mack Morrow (HD-18)
  • Roderick Scott (HD-55)

While it's in no way remarkable that a bill protecting the right to discriminate was overwhelmingly popular among Alabama Republican legislators, one Democrat was a pleasant surprise: House minority leader Craig Ford (who hasn't always been a friend to the GLBT community) voted NO. This bill was so preposterous that he even took to the floor to castigate the GOP for wasting the Legislature's time.

"We're down here again legislating morality and we have a $700 million budget shortfall." - Rep. Ford

In fact, Ford was outraged enough to write an op/ed for Al.com:

It is disturbing to see some politicians attempt to use the Bible to justify what they know is morally and legally wrong. Discrimination is evil, no matter how you try to justify it. Yet here we are, 50 years after Bloody Sunday, and we are still fighting a battle over allowing businesses to discriminate.

The New York Times recently reported that 14 states are either considering, have considered or have voted on bills that would allow people, citing their religious beliefs, to refuse service to gay customers. These laws would allow religious beliefs to be the legal justification for refusing to rent an apartment to a lesbian couple, or refusing to serve a pizza to a group of gay men.

Now that sounds an awful lot like Jim Crow to me. Except this time, instead of discriminating against a person because of the color of their skin, some politicians are looking at a person's sexual orientation and deciding they are not worthy; deciding that because of whom they choose to love, they aren't allowed the same basic freedoms as heterosexuals.

These laws would also reinstitute profiling. After all, how else can a business owner determine that a person is homosexual? The only way to know for sure is through profiling or if a customer volunteers that information about themselves.

The bill is now headed to a Senate committee & eventual floor vote - possibly as early as next week. After that, the state will no doubt have yet another expensive little sit-down with the federal court system.


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State Of Alabama For Sale On eBay - Saturday Morning Silliness

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 14, 2015 at 08:55:33 AM CDT

"We've tried to trade Alabama to other countries in the world, but even Saudi Arabia and Iran thought it was, frankly, too backwoods and messed up. We even tried to deal it to ISIS, but they were worried that Alabama is too fundamentalist." So begins the eBay notice that the State of Alabama is up for bid.

UPDATE: eBay has removed the listing, but at least we captured the text & a screen shot.  Hye!  as of 4:30 on Saturday, an alert FB fan noted that the link is back up.  See it here!Alabama for Sale

Here's the entire listing:

We loved this state for many years, but now that Alabama is subverting federal law by allowing officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, it's time to let her go.  Frankly, 49 states is enough.

We've tried to trade Alabama to other countries in the world, but even Saudi Arabia and Iran thought it was, frankly, too backwoods and messed up. We even tried to deal it to ISIS, but they were worried that Alabama is too fundamentalist.

Alabama became a state on December 14th, 1819.  They have made no recognizable progress since.  They did try to leave the United States at one point, it was a bit of a dust-up you may have heard of.  In hindsight we were probably better off just letting her go.  Our bad.  It's like that crazy girlfriend you just can't cut the ties with.  We are dumping her before she boils our pet possum. 

Alabama was the last state to legalize interracial marriage.  Guess what year?  Just guess..  Nope! It was 2000!  That's not a typo. (40 percent of Alabamans voted to keep the ban).  Two. Thousand.

Their state constitution still has a provisions requiring separate schools for "white and colored children" and for poll taxes once imposed to disenfranchise blacks.   It's 2015, in case you had forgot. Two. Thousand. Fifteen.

And just 2 days ago, the Alabama KKK  distributed about 6,000 fliers throughout Montgomery as well as Selma on the weekend of Bloody Sunday. Fun note, Alabama has a higher population of KKK members than any other state.  So if you like white sheets, this is the state for you!!

Education - 49th out of 50.  15% of the state is illiterate. So, upon purchase, you might want to invest a little money in dictionaries.

A whopping 60% of Alabama believes in Creationism.  60%!!!!  Bring a lot of bibles!

Health- Alabama ranks as the 47th most obese state. So, there's good food there! I hope you like fried food and diabetes!

Alabama does have a nice coastline.  Keep that in mind!

Note:  The winning bidder will receive a certificate of ownership, with a gold embossed star and misspellings all over it to honor the state in question. Who knows if they will believe you or not.

Please note, there will be no refunds. You break it, you bought it.  Well, it's already broken, but no refunds.

Free shipping! 

We will point out that Alabama also has beautiful mountains, natural resources, and a dedicated progressive community that is working hard to make things better.  Look at all the "Wedding Week" volunteers, Moral Monday participants, community volunteers, and ordinary citizens who show up in Montgomery and jockey with blue-badged lobbyists for a chance to talk with legislators.  Hey, maybe we all should pool our resources and buy the state ourselves! 

So... how much do you think Alabama will bring on the open market?  And can the new owners do better than Alabama Power, the Business Council of Alabama, and other assorted "Big Mules?"

There are currently 27 bids, so prospective buyers might want to act fast....


Discuss :: (4 Comments)

HB-56 Today's Legislative Debate: Liveblogging Recap

by: countrycat

Thu Mar 12, 2015 at 13:34:08 PM CDT

Let's call this the "Rep. Jim Hill Goes To Goat Hill" debate. Unlike the famous "Mr. Smith" who went to Washington and behaved like a statesman, our own Jim Hill went to Montgomery and made a fool of himself during the debate on HB-56, his bigotry bill

That's a harsh characterization, yes, but it's an accurate description when the sponsor of a bill says during the debate that he "can't remember" who wrote the bill for him or whose idea it was.

Seriously? In spite of the sponsor's inability to explain just why the House needed to spend 4 hours debating a bill to address something that is not a problem in the state... the bill passed easily anyway with a vote of 69-25.

Here's a recap of the incredible liveblogging that LIA's new legislative reporter, Mia Raven, did on our Facebook page. The threads were wildly popular, but with scores of comments on each post, navigation was a challenge for some.  We thought a recap of the live action would make a better permanent record of who said & did what.

This is in close-to-chronological order with Mia's commentary only.  You can go to the Facebook thread itself to read everyone's comments.

The debate began with discussion about the BIR (Budget Isolation Resolution). That's a procedural motion to allow the House to take up legislation other than the budgets - which are supposed to be their first priority.  This was a constitutional amendment passed by a 3-to-1 margin almost 30 years ago. The legislature routinely ignores the amendment whenever they want to waste time on stupid bills.  Like this one.

Now... let's go to the debate!

Rep. Hill refuses to give a yes or no answer to if this bill would have a direct effect.

Rep. Coleman Evans: "I talked to ministers at home about the net effect and they said it does nothing different than what they have today."

 "This bill is simply about that some people are getting phone calls hoping they don't have to marry same sex
couples. I will say it over and over until my minutes are up." - Rep. Coleman Evans

"This bill is the cloak behind what some legislators want to say, we did this to stop same sex marriage. Make sure
the citizens of AL truly understand what we are voting on. This gentleman has done nothing to prevent same sex couples from getting married." - Rep. Coleman Evans

Rep. Ball is now questioning Rep. Hill.

"There are a lot of people that are overreacting." - Rep. Ball

"The opponents are making a mountain out of a molehill." - Rep. Ball

I believe that Rep. Ball is just trying to prolong the debate. He keeps repeating himself.

Rep. Hill is continuing with his "this only clarifies things" in regards to the bill.

"I think a lot of the debate winds up being with what not's in the bill." - Rep. Ball

Rep. Hill is a complete newbie to the Alabama Legislature and it shows. He is easily agitated and you can clearly tell he does not like to be questioned.


 "There will be pending legislation that will cost the state money we do not have. I beg you to abstain or vote no on the BIR." - Rep. Todd

Rep. Todd: "Who wrote this bill?" Jim Hill is fumbling the answer. It was so mumbled that I could not make out what he said.

Rep. Hill is being condescending in tone to Rep. Todd.

 Todd: "Were you ever forced to marry someone you didn't want to?" Hill: "No."

Rep. Todd is getting personal and she is starting to tear up.

"We're here because we want to condemn a population we don't like." - Rep. Todd

 Rep. Todd: "Isn't this bill about same sex marriage?" Rep. Hill: "No." Laughter erupts from the gallery.

Rep. Hill just admitted that he did NOT write the bill. He does not remember who wrote it!!

"We don't need to lead the nation in discriminatory practices...again." - Rep. Todd

 "When history looks back at this time, we will be on the wrong side of history, as much as we were in the civil rights movement." - Rep. Todd

There's More... :: (6 Comments, 2032 words in story)
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