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Judges and $$$$$

by: Old Prosecutor

Tue Mar 31, 2015 at 19:07:24 PM CDT

Interesting view by former Chief Justice Cobb on Judges raising campaign funds.



 What do you say? Is this a problem and if so what is the solution?

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Obama In Birmingham Photo Diary & Memories Of Presidential Events

by: countrycat

Mon Mar 30, 2015 at 15:15:18 PM CDT

There’s one constant at every presidential event: waiting. People hoping to snag a prime spot get there early and wait for entrances to open. Then you move toward the security lines and wait some more. Finally you’re through and in the event venue!  And you wait, wait, wait some more.President Obama Birmingham AL

But it’s worth it. Nothing compares to the excitement of a presidential visit. If the event is to be held outdoors (as President Clinton’s 1996 visit was), the assembly gets the thrill of an Air Force One flyover. That’s an event in itself: this huge jet gliding overhead, low enough to read “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” written on the side. Everyone in the crowd waves, cheers, and you feel just a few inches taller for having seen the plane.

At an indoor event however, there’s less to look at; you mainly spend your time wondering “when will he finally get here?”

That’s not to say it’s boring. It has always entranced me to watch the careful demographic balancing of the platform behind the President. They form the backdrop that appears on the news, so there’s often careful consideration given to who stands where. All this plays out in front of the crowd - if they’re paying attention.

President Obama Birmingham

My favorite event for that was at a Vice-Presidential campaign event: Al Gore’s victory party in New Hampshire in 2000. Al Gore had miraculously overcome a 30-point, come-from-behind victory over Senator Bill Bradley, and the joint was hopping. The media was calling it “the hottest ticket in New Hampshire” and I was there on the front row only because I happened to find a ticket laying in the parking lot of the hotel. This caused quite a bit of conscience-wrestling: the owner was not going to the party if I kept it, but I didn’t know who the owner WAS! Having arrived 3 hours before the doors were to open (I was an old hand at events even 15 years ago, LOL), I decided that I’d wait there and if some frantic person came up and reported that he/she had lost a ticket, I’d hand it over. But nobody did and I was IN the party!

We all waited hours more for the VP to show up, so I had nothing to do but watch the “platform positioning.” It was much less organized than that of a presidential speech; those people are usually vetted and know in advance.  But in New Hampshire, there were some party officials who knew they’d be there and campaign workers did the rest, pulling people from the crowd to take a spot on the risers. Now, New Hampshire isn’t a state noted for its ethnic diversity, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the platform behind Gore that night! Virtually every person of color in the crowd got invited up. I envied them until I realized that all those people were standing there with nothing to do staring into TV lights for almost 2 hours.

But back to Birmingham on Thursday. Our LIA reporter wisely drove out to the college on Wednesday night to scope out parking and the building layout. That’s how we were able to post those early photos on Thursday.

On Thursday, the press was allowed in beginning at noon - even though the President wasn’t going to speak until sometime after 3pm. Anne was a trooper! She was there before 10am and it was a good thing: the parking lot was already full of excited Obama supporters, some of whom had snagged a coveted ticket and others who were just hoping for a glimpse of the motorcade or even Obama himself.

Anne was barely out of her car when she felt the excitement; it’s like an electricity in the air.  Everyone is smiling, happy, and it’s one of the rare times when you can start a fun conversation with any stranger you run across. Everybody has a story to tell and, for a few hours at least, all these strangers are just “friends you haven’t met yet.”

The press is often allowed in first, so they get to see the transformation of the hall from empty to packed.

Since I’ve been writing for LIA, it’s been a surprise how friendly the other press people are. I’ve had people help me unstick a rickety tripod, offer to help carry my equipment, and everyone takes care to stay out each other’s camera angle. They’re just nice people overall. I may not like their coverage, but they aren’t jerks in person. At the 2012 convention in Charlotte, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer even apologized for stomping my foot.

Once the crowd is in place, the energy level gets higher and higher. At the best rallies, there’s a DJ spinning tunes that are both peppy and singable. When John Kerry had an airport campaign stop in Nashville in 2004, he was (not surprisingly) 2 hours late. But the music kept the crowd going. We sang along to classic Motown tunes and had such a good time that most forgot we’d already been there for 6 hours waiting to hear a 20 minute speech.

It reaches a fever pitch when the Secret Service walks up to the speaker podium and hangs the Presidential Seal on it. At that point, you think “this is really happening! I’m about to see the President of the United States!”

A word about the Secret Service and security in general. I first encountered SS agents in 1992 when Al Gore came to Huntsville for a campaign event.  Yes! That’s how much the landscape has changed: in 1992, Alabama was in play. Al Gore came to speak and President Clinton campaigned here in 1996. We can get back to that. We have to.


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SB-289 Bringing "Drive Through Deliveries" Back To Alabama

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 29, 2015 at 09:09:36 AM CDT

A newly-elected OB/GYN may just have introduced the "worst bill of the year," according to Josh Moon of the Montgomery Advertiser. Senator Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) wants to repeal an Alabama law that requires insurance companies to cover a minimum 48-hour hospital stay for uncomplicated births and 96 hours for those with complications.  Many states passed laws like these in the 1990s in response to insurer requirements that mothers be turned out of the hospital just 24 hours (or less!) after giving birth.

Critics termed them "drive through deliveries." Here's how bad it was:

Now, said the AMA, typical hospital stays have dwindled to 24 hours or less for uncomplicated vaginal deliveries and two to three days for Caesarean births. Some HMOs, insurers and hospitals are aiming at a limit of six to eight hours.

For example, Kaiser Permanente, the California-based HMO with 6 million members, has started a pilot program to discharge in about eight hours new mothers who have had uncomplicated vaginal births.

Senator Stutts & his co-sponsors must think that's a dandy idea.  Not surpisingly, none of them have given birth:

The bill is sponsored by seven wome … nope, wait, sorry. It's sponsored by seven old dudes: Sens. Larry Stutts, Paul Bussman, Bill Hightower, Tim Melson, Jim McClendon, Rusty Glover and Jabo Waggoner. (Because who doesn't want a guy named "Jabo" making your medical decisions for you?)

Two of those men are medical doctors.

Stutts, in particular, should know about the dangers of early discharge, as Bill Britt at the Alabama Political Reporter, noted:

Stutts took to Facebook to defend this measure saying, “I am proud to say that I am hard at work removing one-size-fits-all Obamacare-style laws from the books in Alabama.”

However, the State law that guarantees a mother and child’s right to at least a 48 hour hospital stay was not born from Obamacare, but from the death of a mother and the concerns of a heartbroken father of a motherless child left behind according to a May 1999 report in the Tuscaloosa News.

Rose Church, a 36-year-old registered nurse from Haleyville, gave birth to a healthy baby girl on December 1, 1998. After 36 hours she was released from the hospital only to return around 36 hours later due to sessile bleeding that required four units of blood. She was again discharged only to die approximately 36 hours later of a heart attack, according to the report. Her autopsy revealed that Church had placental tissue still inside her womb, 11 days after she delivered her daughter Logan Rose.

Stutts was her OB/GYN and was named in the wrongful death suit filed by her husband Gene Church. The suit states, among other things, that Rose Church was released from the hospital despite the fact that she “was suffering from placenta accreta and continued to display persistent tachycardia.”


“Rose’s law”  was passed unanimously by the House and Senate in 1999. 

Note there is also a federal law that mandates minimum stays, but Alabama's new state motto seems to be "hey, we don't need no stinking federal law!"

Another aspect of Stutts' bill removes the requirement that women be notified if their mammograms indicate they have "dense breast tissue."  This can make it harder to detect cancer early.

According to breastcancer.org “Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren't dense.” Women with dense breasts are 6 times more likely to develop cancer. Dense tissue also makes it harder detect breast cancer with mammogram screening.

The bill that ensures doctors inform their patients about dense tissue after a mammogram was introduced by the man that Stutts defeated for his bid for Senate, Roger Bedford.
Stutts recently told the Times Daily, “The Legislature has no business legislating how patients are notified about their mammograms...We deal with this all the time in the office, when in fact the mammogram is normal."

Stutts patients - assuming he has any left - might want to reconsider their choice of doctors and the people in his district might want to reconsider their choice of legislators.


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SB-71 - Amendments Show Alabama Accountability Act's Real Purpose

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 28, 2015 at 10:04:01 AM CDT

It is said that "confession is good for the soul."  With this being the case, the legislators who wrote the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 are now sleeping better. When this bill was written the people of Alabama were told over and over that the purpose was to "help kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes."  In fact the codified version of this bill says on page 2 that it is intended to, "Provide financial assistance through an income tax credit to a parent who transfers a student from a failing public school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent's choice."

However, anyone knowledgeable about Alabama education quickly realized that this was unlikely at best because the bill was not supported by either research or common sense and was built on false assumptions.

Now proposed amendments to the accountability act (SB-71)have been introduced in the current legislative session that remove any doubt the intent  was always about tax breaks--not helping kids in failing schools.

Records from 19 school systems with 34 failing schools show that only 40 students in these schools got a scholarship.  Yet, one scholarship granting organization (SGO) says they have awarded 969 scholarships in the counties where this 19 systems are located.
The only way this is possible is by giving scholarships to students who are not attending failing schools or who are already enrolled in a private school.  In fact this same SGO says they have given out scholarships in 23 counties where they are no failing schools.

The synopsis of the new bill now states "confirm that the intent of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 is educational choice." 
So two years later we want to unring the bell and publicly acknowledge what many have known all along--that this legislation was never about "helping kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code."

In its original form, the accountability act amendments propose that the state:

  • Raise the cap on individual contributions.
  • Increase the cap on SGO contributions from $25 million to $35 million.
  • Make tax credits retroactive.
  • Move the cutoff date from Sept. 15 to May 15 so that it will be easier for more students from non-failing schools to get scholarships.

In the first year (2013) all SGOs in the state raised $24,787,079 of the $25 million maximum.  In 2014 all SGOs only raised 53 percent ($13,414,758) of the $25 cap.  Yet, the sponsor of the bill now wants to increase the cap by $10 million.

The reason this is important is that every dollar donated to an SGO is a dollar that does not go to the Education Trust Fund, the same fund that has not bought a new library book for any school in Alabama since 2009.  The same fund that has cut funding for new textbooks by 50 percent since 2008.

Amy Hiller is the principal at Meek Elementary in Arley in Winston County.  This is a great school of about 225 children.  Nearly 70 percent of them are on free and reduced lunches.   Amy recently bought new math textbooks.  But to do so, she had to raise $30,000 to pay for them.  Raising this much money in a rural town of a few hundred  people is not easy.

I know Amy well.  Have been to her school many times.  Given the fact that resources are not presently adequate to support her school as it should be, why are we even talking about diverting even more money from the education trust fund?  How do you rationalize this?

There are 733,000 students in Alabama public schools.  Each of them is just as special as any who may get a scholarship.  Why do you try to help a handful of them at the expense of all the others?  

If one end of the boat is leaking, it does no good to move to the other end.  Let's remember all the public school children in this state.  Let's patch the hole instead of going to the other end, which is all the accountability act does.

Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education.  larrylee133@gmail.com

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AL Legislators' "Religious Freedom" Bills Could End State's "Business Friendly" Reputation

by: countrycat

Fri Mar 27, 2015 at 10:38:33 AM CDT

Four years ago, Alabama legislators declared that "Alabama is open for business!" And yet, during this 2015 session, they seem determined to roll up the welcome mat. Judge Granade's marriage equality ruling has so unhinged many legislators that they're rushing to pass bills that legalize discrimination. 

You see, apparently Alabama Christian business owners are such tender flowers that they simply cannot associate with - much less accept money from - any person or family engaged in any activity that the Christian doesn't "believe in."  They're so easily upset and befuddled that our friendly old "Big Government" has to step in and protect them from the menace of gay families and single women looking to get their birth control prescriptions refilled.


What's wrong with these people? From marriage to adoption to child care and more, the legislature this session seems hell bent of making life so miserable for GLBT families in the state that they (to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney) "self-deport." For example:

  • HB-56 (which conveniently shares the same bill number as the 2011 anti-immigration bill) allows Alabama Probate Judges & public officials to refuse to officiate at any wedding they find religiously objectionable. It's aimed at "the gays," but could snare interfaith couples, inter-racial couples, and others.
  • HB-296 protects child care providers from having to keep children of same-sex couples or for any other reason that "violates their religious beliefs." It covers all providers - even those who contract with the state to provide services.
  • SB-261 will allow all adoption agencies in the state (even those with state contracts) to discriminate on the base of their agency's religious mission. Again, this is targeted at "the gays," but can also be used against couples of the "wrong" faith, no faith, "wrong" race, etc.
  • And forget about those "public accommodation" rights that were won during the Civil Rights movement.  "Johnston said legislation will probably be introduced this session to provide civil protections to florists, bakers and others who refuse to provide services at same-sex weddings."

The worst part? In most cases, it puts the state in the position of not only supporting discrimination, but using state money to pay for it.

Tech companies offering good-paying jobs for skilled labor simply aren't going to put up with this kind of nonsense.  In February, we warned that the anti-gay hysteria was going to hurt the state's industrial recruitment efforts, but that voice was lost in the catcalls directed at federal courts. 

Let's turn away from this States' Rights trainwreck and take a minute to remember how Alabama's most recent foray onto the world stage as a bad actor went. The entire world watched Alabama's mean-spiritedness on full display with the HB-56 anti-immigration bill. That battle was an $11 billion hit to the state's economy (PDF) for nothing: much of the law has been struck down by federal courts and the state spent $230k to pay plaintiff's legal fees.

What happened? We ran off part of the work force and, not surprisingly, there wasn't a long line of Alabama citizens hoping for exciting new careers in tomato harvesting. Local farmers suffered as did local businesses dependent on farm worker spending.

But now, perhaps our legislators will pay attention to the situation in a fellow "red state" to the north: Indiana.

Indiana is the first state this year to enact a measure that's being pushed in a dozen others, and Emmert's comments were just the latest in a series of stinging criticisms issued after Pence signed the bill in a private ceremony with Republican state legislators and socially conservative lobbyists Thursday morning.

Already, the gamer convention Gen Con and the Disciples of Christ church group had threatened to pull their conventions out of Indianapolis. Tech giant Salesforce said it would halt its plans to expand in the state, too.

The NCAA had hinted for days that the bill -- which has the effect of allowing businesses to challenge local laws that forbid discriminating against customers based on sexual orientation in court -- could damage the city's reputation as a host of major sporting events.

Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff is now doing more than making threats:

The chief executive of tech giant Salesforce told Pence that his company -- which had bought Indianapolis-based Exact Target for $2.5 billion in 2013 -- would abandon the state and its expansion plans there if he signed the measure into law."

Dear Alabama Legislators: you don't pass laws in a vacuum. What you do has consequences for the people who live in this state and for people/businesses who might consider relocating here.  Could you please, please do your real job of passing budgets, building roads, and supporting public education?  This fascination with individual people's private lives is more than a little creepy.  Not to mention an embarrassment for the entire state.


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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 Obama'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.


Discuss :: (0 Comments)

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. 


There's More... :: (1 Comments, 584 words in story)

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!

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 438 words in story)

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.

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 2420 words in story)

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.

There's More... :: (7 Comments, 429 words in story)

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.


Discuss :: (3 Comments)
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