Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Alabama Legislators to Attend Southern Legislative Conference in Mobile "Closed to the Public"

At an upcoming event scheduled for July 27 through July 31st, legislators from fifteen southern states will be meeting in Mobile, Alabama behind closed doors. Many who are attending this exclusive event have the option of doing so on the taxpayer's dime.

"While the conference is closed to the general public, it is open to the media and usually attended by lobbyists," according to Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris, of Collierville Tennessee.
*(SLC 2012)

*Last year's SLC annual conference, in Memphis, enjoyed accolades as a "$3 million dollar financial boost" for the city. Considering that this "boost" entails placing state politician's registration fees on the public dole - in addition to a generous daily per diem and mileage credits for the drive to Mobile - we can't help suspecting that someone is working hard from a new definition of "economic boom." Taxpayer dollars function as true economic engines when they're spent on roads and bridges and job creation, but not when they're tossed to a gaggle of legislators so that these elected officials can cozy up to lobbyists at ritzy hotels.
(The registration fees range from $300-$350.00 per legislator. Up from $200.00 in 2012)

One lobbying group who's hawking this Mobile soiree is Stateside Associates.  Founded by a former Executive Director for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Constance Campanella, the Stateside Associates firm functions as a "stealth lobbyists" organization:

"Taxpayer subsidized stealth lobbyists: Lobbyists who circumvent normal lobbying regulations and procedures to advance the corporate agenda in statehouses nationwide on the taxpayer dime."

"A lobbying behemoth - the self-proclaimed largest firm of its kind - Stateside has enough tricks up its sleeve to tackle even the most difficult, and often delicate, lobbying cases."

In the context of who else potentially funds this event, only one Alabama media outlet noticed any red flags. The Birmingham News' Charles Dean penned a good article on March 17th, questioning the hypocrisy of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who, like Alabama AG Luther Strange, takes a strictly public stance against gambling. Dean chose not to link to the quid pro quo letter addressed to the Treasurer for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI) that we posted exclusively to Scribd; instead he chose pertinent passages to construct his story with no credit to the original source of the letter entered into the public domain.

Along with not linking to the letter, Dean did not examine more closely those behind-the-scenes forces attending the SLC, nor did he include other facts that the taxpayers of Alabama, and the fourteen other states, have a right to know.

Charles Dean is a seasoned journalist from whom we expected better. In Alabama, however, with most of the media asleep, overworked, still shell-shocked from the Newhouse/Advance Publications evisceration of Al.com, and/or cowering to forces in the Speaker's offices, something is better than nothing at all.

But it isn't nearly enough.

Gambling is almost as bad of a curse word in the "Heart of Dixie" as democrat, unless we define gambling as various wagering done under the aegis of the federally protected PBCI. If one Alabama state senator has his way with the PBCI, (a futile endeavor against a federally protected group, but a politically expedient one in pleasing the Alabama tea party base), even the PBCI may face Alabama Attorney General Strange's hell-bent, hardliner stance on Bingo and all things slot machine, i.e. Democrats.  

In the political poker games of corporate deal-making, ALEC-style cronyism, and unembarrassed double standards, no one plays a better hand than the Alabama Republican Party does. With a marked deck at their disposal, they've built a house of cards on "transparency and honor in office" since sweeping all three legislative branches of government in 2010.

In what amounts to an autobiography of his awesomeness, Speaker Hubbard detailed that process in Storming the State House. He appears to have used taxpayer funds for that literary endeavor too, in addition to hiring an egotistical, middle-aged fool of a man to write the book.

If Alabama's legislators return from these high-dollar conferences and events with potential legislative templates in hand that all Alabamians have to live under, then can we at least demand that it's not done on any taxpayer's dime? Might we also demand that any "conferencing" is not done behind closed doors?

The people should demand no less from their elected officials. Beyond that members of the state media need to wake up and thoroughly explore and/or expose serious issues like these - not only in the interest of good journalism, but because the public has a right to know.

Doing any less enables the cloak of secrecy for Alabama legislators.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Montgomery Grand Jury Report Reveals the Fallacy of "Handshake" Ethics Reform

2010 -"This special session will make history," Governor Riley said Tuesday. "It will be the first real debate of reforms to change a corrupt political system and give Alabama the toughest ethics laws in the nation.”
Talk is cheap, especially when it comes from a politician.

On April 13, 2012, a Montgomery Grand Jury released its findings on accountability in select state departments and loopholes in the Fair Campaign Reporting Act (FCRA): Governor Riley’s special session was a colossal failure at reining in the undue influence of political action committees (PACS) and PAC-to-PAC transfers. 

Despite the chest-thumping that Mr. Riley and the legislature publicly exhibited while exalting their “new day in Alabama” reform package, the grand jury’s report reveals the truth – they did not empower the Alabama Ethics Commission with the muscle they claimed they did. 

Adding insult to injury, the FCRA law weaknesses that were left in place aren’t illegal even though the grand jury seemed to indicate a willingness to issue multiple indictments if the laws had been solid enough.

The report listed specific instances of FCRA violations that would “prohibit successful prosecution…due to a number of problems with the law as written.” 
One of the biggest planks in the ALGOP's platform “Handshake with Alabama” was a promise to "end corruption in Montgomery." It's an empty accomplishment judging from their ethics failure and 'business friendly first' legislation, that also scores dismally low on the accountability scale. Still, they get out and crow their ‘promise to the people of Alabama’ frequently in news stories aggrandizing their latest schemes accomplishments, and repeat the propaganda when press microphones are hot and available for broadcasting to the masses. 
If you’re going to brag about your party’s political moral high-ground it’s wise not to stand on shifting sands.

Rebuttal to the grand jury report has already begun from legislative mouthpieces who claim it’s much ado about nothing because “we never intended to keep the money and it was returned.” Another excuse being floated is the old standby of “things are going to get by us we just didn’t realize at the time.”

One of Riley’s own policy directors, who's now a state senator, made these remarks to the Birmingham News in December 2010:

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, who used to be Riley's policy director, said bills similar to the ones now up for review have been proposed and sometimes debated in the Legislature for years.
"These reforms have been studied thoroughly. They've been presented before legislative committees," Taylor said. "There is no rush here at all." 
Which is it? Did some things "get by" the legislators in their zeal to prove their moral superiority or had the reforms, as Senator Taylor said, been "studied thoroughly...for years?" 

If the voters are foolish enough to accept weak excuses from these republicans after-the-fact and don't believe that getting caught was the only reason the money was ‘returned,’ then they deserve what they voted for – scoundrels.
The 2010 special session was specifically aimed, according to Riley, at “world-class” ethics reform: PAC-to-PAC transfers were a key element of the republican’s efforts. That endeavor cost cash-strapped Alabama hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many criticized the session as unwarranted and premature. Robert Bentley was due to be sworn as the next governor in January. The start of a new legislative session was only three months away. Riley’s purely political maneuver was a last grasp at legacy building from an administration frequently mired in controversy and corruption from its inception.

"Special sessions are designed for emergencies. This is not an emergency," Rep. Richard Lindsey-D said in the run-up to the event.

(One of the most egregious acts Riley was involved in (and owes his gubernatorial election to) was the the Choctaw Indian money scandal that helped bring down the infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Exactly how (and why) Bob Riley escaped investigation and consequences in the scandal, with his direct ties to Michael Scanlon, remains one of the many baffling mysteries in Alabama politics. “I don’t know anything about how the money was used,” was all Riley offered as a defense - it was accepted as Dixie gospel by Bush’s DOJ, former State AG Troy King and Leura Canary, the former US Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama.)

Who comes out of the current ethics brouhaha practically unscathed is Governor Bentley. There’s plenty to criticize regarding his decisions and policy-making since he’s been in office, but ethics reform isn’t on his doorstep - yet. If, however, he ignores the recommendation of the grand jury and does not remedy the FCRA issues before the November 2012 elections it will be his visitor to entertain.

With the 2012 legislative session ending shortly the chances are slim to none anything will be done about it this year. The governor does have the option of calling a special session before November. If he does, Alabama will have to come up with another few hundred thousand to fix a problem that could have been repaired for nothing had Bob Riley’s ego not entered the mix. 

The blame for Alabama’s inability to effectively police itself has many sources – politicians, lobbyists, special interests and the sheer weight of money as the enforcer to maintain the status quo. It’s ingrained in the state’s political history to do the wrong thing just because they can.

A handshake is a timeless symbol of a promise to hold up your end of the deal.

The republicans broke that deal when they lied to the citizens of Alabama and failed to deliver comprehensive ethics reform.

Excuses after-the-fact are nothing but cheap talk.

ALDEMS PR & docs #1
ALDEMS PR & docs #2
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Right-Wing Blogger Humiliates A Nine-Year-Old Alabama School Child

Cliff Sims of "Yellow Hammer Politics" photo credit: POLITICO The Arena
*Updated 4/16
Kids are off limits in political discourse. Leave them alone.

That’s a universally accepted rule of our society, usually followed by Democrats and Republicans alike. Both sides can point to instances where it hasn’t been respected, but there are almost no circumstances where children of a tender age are criticized – particularly for an act as seemingly benign as writing to their legislative representative.
Cliff Sims, the 28-year-old ‘GOP boy wonder’ who maintains what he describes as a ‘lofty perch’ over Alabama through his site “Yellow Hammer Politics,” does not adhere to the old adage of ‘kids are off limits.’ That self-serving description is puzzling considering the fact that he’s, chronologically speaking, barely beyond the angst of teenage silliness.
Perhaps he hasn’t transitioned properly into maturity, and maybe we’d be willing to cut him a little slack if he wasn’t as cocksure of his self-anointed status as a “Renaissance man in the making” and considers himself damned important and “in the know” on the Alabama political scene.
He isn’t. So we won’t.
Spitting out press releases and talking points isn’t journalism. If it was, Xerox machines and Mynah birds would be news writers.
Young Master Sims published a blog entry on April 9th entitled “Alabama Liberals Using Elementary Children to Fight Their Battles.” The brief article contained a copy of a letter allegedly written by a nine-year-old student from Vestavia Hills West Elementary school. The letter was addressed and sent to long-time Alabama State Senator Jabo Waggoner-R (not Cliff Sims).
“Of course, as with almost every other pro-economic development piece of legislation, the Alabama Education Association has fought it every step of the way.”  Sims writes, and then says:
However, this past week, the HB 159/160 opposition took their efforts to a pathetic new low by making elementary children fight their PR battle for them. Numerous legislators have received letters from children that include sentences like, “Please don’t let the government take money away from my school” (a frequently used mischaracterization of the bill) and my personal favorite, “I wish I could trust the government to take care of me.” His blog then offers a photo of hands holding a letter written on school note paper. Sims goes on:
“The following letter was sent to Sen. Jabo Waggoner and Rep. Jack Williams by a 9-year-old little girl this past week. I’ve blurred her name to protect her identity.”
A “received stamp” appears at the top left corner of the letter. We do not know if the stamp is the same one that the Alabama State House uses as a matter of course, or if it is some generic stamp one might find anywhere. The identity of the smallish fingers holding the letter can’t possibly belong to the child, so we assume they are the dirty little digits of a Yellow Hammer troublemaker, who has blurred the signer’s name, but failed to remove the letter writer's school and grade, which leaves some kid out there very close to being identified.

Vestavia Hills is not a bastion of liberal ideals by any stretch of the imagination. Finding anyone, let alone a school child, who would parrot the line "I hope the government takes care of me" in the tiny kingdom of the "Little Rebels" has about the same odds of winning a Mega Millions lottery prize.

Sims knows this, and so does Senator Waggoner. Right-wing catch phrases just aren't part of a young child's vocabulary, which casts doubt on the authenticity of the letter in our humble opinions, but if you're going to use the letter to make a public point then criticism of the action is more than fair game.
Additionally, we do have a few questions about the intentions involved and why Sims chose to toss a little moldy political hay at the child's expense:
  • Who gave him access this letter? 
  • Did he have the permission of the letter writer to publish the letter? 
  • Why is he reading legislators mail? 
  • Did he ever reflect for a nanosecond about his sources and their motives?

Or is he like a school-aged brat who shouts out naughty words in the schoolyard to get the grownups attention without comprehending what he is actually saying? Whatever his agenda was, it’s over the line noxious abuse to go into a child’s correspondence and attribute things that aren’t there. 

Unless he interviewed the child and her parents he has no way of knowing where the letter was penned. He alludes to the letter being written in class, probably the plot (in his mind at least) by one of those 'evil, socialist teachers' who belong to the ALGOP dubbed 'Spawn of Satan' Alabama Education Association (AEA).

(We acknowledge that the AEA has had its share of self-inflicted controversy over the years, and remain hopeful they've learned some lessons from their past actions. That said, the Republicans target them for obliteration solely on their democratic-leaning voting block. As Senator Waggoner himself once said about Alabama Democrats: "I'd like to drive them out of existence forever.")

That’s the same organization, not a union, that Rep Darrell Issa’s House Committee conveniently decided to lean on for their policies regarding teacher’s contributions and how those monies are used. Isn’t it amazing that all the way from Washington, Mr. Issa, unprompted and completely out of the blue, decided to send a letter to the AEA, based on a complaint the FEC investigated and dismissed in 2004?

Cliff Sims (or Mr. Issa) can’t be bothered with that important fact: the FEC dismissed the complaint

(Sims also had access to Mr. Issa's letter to the AEA and published it on his site.)

Instead, he turns his attention to a school child and the contents of their letter in an effort to bolster the state Republicans American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) inspired legislation for Charter Schools.

That is what the letter refers to. It has nothing to do with HB 159/160. Those equally bad bills have to do with ‘economic development,’ and in essence allow a business to keep their employees income tax credits, without their consent (the same basis the FEC complaint centered around) to apply for job expansion.

The Charter School legislation proposed by the state's Republican lawmakers will drain money from Alabama’s ailing public school systems, and that’s the main point the child made in the letter, along with “I love my school.”

School children don’t care about economic development.

What they (and their parents) care about is where they spend eight hours of their days, nine months of the year, and if that place is a flourishing forest of ideas that cultivate children to a better future or a barren wasteland of neglect that holds them back due to intentional (and sometimes corruptible) bad political decisions.

Proponents of education reform can find plenty of examples to buttress either side of the education debate, however, assigning real reform to a corporate-based profit model, as Charter Schools are, is wrong-headed on its face.

Alabama has consistently ranked at the bottom nationally in education not due to a pervasive liberal agenda - greed, corruption and apathy have inflicted more harm to our education system than any identifiable culprit Sims and his Republican minions can point to.

But that doesn't stop them from trying.

Whoever annotated the child's letter “Re: HB 159/160” didn’t bother to read it, because it’s impossible to connect the contents with those bills. Sims is equally remiss by blurting it out on his blog and proving himself to be no smarter than a 5th grader.

If the letter is authentic, what does it say about Alabama’s senior state senator, who’s a grandfather and great-grandfather to many offspring himself? We don’t imagine he would be pleased to see one of his own children’s or grandchildren's correspondence used in such an obviously partisan political purpose.

Shame on you Senator Waggoner, if you, and Rep. Jack Williams, had any hand in this disgusting ploy.

As for young Sims, clearly he’s been studying diligently at the school of nasty Alabama politics and stayed after hours for extra credit from the headmasters. This time, he went too far – miles out of the bounds of decency in fact.

It's political child abuse to expose and malign a private communication as Sims did. 

Leave the kids alone.

*Update - Cliff Sims has since removed the child's letter from his website with this explanation: 
[Editor's note: I removed the letter at the request of the child's mother who sent me this email: "This is a letter written by my child. You DO NOT have permission to post it on your web site. I want it removed from your web site immediately!"]
In place of the image of the letter (which was our source for the linked image we captured), Sims placed a stock picture of an adult female's hand over a young child's in a clear attempt to convey a 'forced' letter.
Senator Waggoner's office has finally 'responded' regarding the letter and Sims' assertions, but the response was defensive and odd given the generic question that was asked.  Our caller made no mention of the letter and asked this:
"I would like to ask a general question about the type of stamp used to mark correspondence received by you on behalf of Senator Waggoner - can you tell me what it is?
Response: "I don't know how that letter was leaked, and we are working on it. I can tell you that the Senator is most unhappy about that."
The caller, again, never mentioned the letter. 

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Friday, February 10, 2012

A Back of the Bus Idea

Why did the Shelby County Arts Council (SCAC) agree to accept funding for a Civil Rights play from White Rock Quarries (WRQ), an egregious violator of the rights of the minority residents in Vincent, Alabama's River Loop community? Answer: because in the campaign to deceive it's all about appearances. Whitewashing corporate dirt doesn't make it brighter - it only serves as a false cover for the darkness underneath.

story ran recently in the Shelby County Reporter touting the importance of a new Civil Rights play "Too Many Questions: An Evening With Virginia Durr" based on a commissioned work by the Vulcan Park and Museum in 2009. Virginia Durr was the wife of noted Alabama lawyer Clifford Durr, a staunch advocate for "those accused of disloyalty during the New Deal and McCarthy eras."

Clifford Durr was also Rosa Park's attorney during the tumultuous Montgomery Bus Boycott and a life-long friendship developed between the Durr's and Parks that endured for the rest of their lives.

The Durr's, like Parks, were tireless champions for right in an era of momentous wrongs.

We don't believe the characters of the play would approve of having their names and lives bastardized like the SCAC is doing by allowing a corporate villan like WRQ to be involved in the stage production about the struggle for human rights.

WRQ has their own brand of 'wrong' in mind that they intend to inflict on an entire area of black folks in small town Alabama with the development of a huge mining operation.

The SCAC is dead wrong to allow this charade of 'corporate good citizenry' by following the mindset of dirty money for a good cause washes away all sin and the fight for Civil Rights is over.

Not in certain areas of Shelby County it isn't. It never was.

The play is described as "very educational" an opportunity for area high school students to "learn about Civil Rights." We suggest that if the SCAC genuinely wants to educate high school students about the modern day experience of the plight of African Americans in Shelby County, they can start by talking to the residents of the River Loop.

The history of the Civil Rights movement in America is important. We do believe in continuing to educate young people about one of the darkest chapters in our American history after slavery. What we don't believe in is the usurping of a cause by those who would commit current sins against a segment of people they're posturing themselves as caring about.

Environmental racism is the new Civil Rights fight for African American communities and it's a fight they are losing more often than winning. When it comes to corporate and political greed, people of color, often living in lower income communities, are disproportionately and specifically targeted every day in the 21st century.

Landfills, mining operations and other invasive toxic industries are rarely found in white enclaves and suburbia. The worst toxic titans calculatingly and cunningly seek out the areas of perceived least resistance - areas where they think there are disposable segments of populations who are made even more vulnerable by corrupt politicians and officials eager to cash in on clandestine deals entered into out of the public eye.

Backroom deals don't begin to describe what happened in Vincent when the idea of a massive quarry was conceived.

Secret meetings between quarry representatives and local officials took place more than once, in another county, and they were restricted to groups just small enough to barely remain within the parameters the state's poorly written Sunshine law and Open Meetings Act.

County officials were also frequently meeting with those same representatives in their county offices. When records were requested by Vincent residents through FOIA from the county planning department, what came back appeared to be heavily edited.

WRQ even made the bold move of hiring the up-until-recently president of the powerful Shelby County Commission, Lindsey Allison, as their "additional counsel." Ms. Allison's law practice was exclusive to family law. To this day, she has never revealed how much she was compensated by WRQ, and despite more than one ethics violations complaint, the state Ethics Commission determined 'no wrongdoing had occurred.'

When multiple parcels of land were purchased in the area of the River Loop under well-cloaked shell companies, at highly inflated prices, not one inch of dirt belonged to a black resident. Every transaction was between white folks benefiting white folks. 

Otis McCrimmon
WRQ president, Jim Hurley, sent a letter to one of the more well-known residents from the area, Otis McCrimmon, only after millions had been spent by his company securing land. The intention of the letter was thinly veiled and was clearly an attempt to placate and pander to Mr. McCrimmon's justifiable ill feelings towards WRQ's actions. 

Mr. McCrimmon, like most of the folks on the River Loop, likes his life just the way it is. He moved on to family land from the city, and believed that was where he would live out his days, surrounded by kinfolk, and enjoying the peaceful picturesque area of Vincent they call 'home.' For Otis McCrimmon, some things are more valuable in life than money:
Otis McCrimmon, a 68-year-old lifelong Vincent resident, said he's worried about how a 45-acre plot owned by his family would be affected by the quarry.
McCrimmon said his land faces the proposed quarry in two directions.
His land and the land where the quarry plans to put a pair of retention ponds is only separated by a fence. McCrimmon said he was never approached about selling his land for the quarry, and if he had been, he would have likely said no.
Jim Hurley's feeble attempt at damage control was not at all well-received, particularly because it came through a local elected district representative, Vincent City Council member Bridgett Jordan Smith. Mrs. Smith, also a minority, infuriated her citizens by remaining persistently tone-deaf to their pleas for help against the quarry. Her behavior throughout the entire quarry process has been shocking in its arrogance against those she is supposed to 'work for' and 'represent' in local affairs.

Residents in the area consider her to be a sell-out to her 'own' people, and believe that she is acting for personal gain - either in a more powerful elected office and/or access to the monies the quarry will generate for the town. Adding insult to injury is the fact that she is related to some of the families in the area.

By enlisting Smith to deliver the letter, Hurley garnered even more animus from the River Loop residents, who perceived his choice of delivery as pandering to a low denominator - 'you're their black representative you carry the water for me.'

Bridgette Jordan Smith even had the audacity to channel the words of Martin Luther King as justification for a 'yes' vote on the quarry in public just last year. It had all the effect of a fire hose and dogs on her constituents, and brought gasps of shock from quarry opponents.

White Rock's representatives beamed with approval.

Mr. McCrimmon is on record as saying this about Jim Hurley: "In all this time that man has never set foot on my doorstep, never talked to me directly even though his property is right next to mine now."

What's next to Mr. McCrimmon is land that once belonged to the current Mayor Ray McAllister's daughter-in-law and former Vincent Zoning board member Robbie Greene. WRQ bought out the entire Greene family properties, including Robbie's parents parcel, for millions. All of them abruptly made a quick exit to another county.

Ray McAllister then moved from zoning board member to Mayor in the 2008 election.

Thanks to all of these unfortunate events, the entire community has been told to shut up and forced to the back of the bus. City leaders have refused all citizen's requests for one-on-one meetings and a community vote on the project. All of Vincent will have to pay the price of the county and city's 'police state' methods, but no one will suffer more from this forced action than the community of the River Loop.

If they were here today, Rosa Parks and the Durr's most assuredly would not approve of what is happening to Vincent's minority population. They would not believe that the process has been fair, just and non-discriminatory. In fact, we envision this is just the sort of instance all three would have worked to correct if they were called on for help.

What the SCAC is doing, by accepting WRQ's money and sponsorship, especially for a project of this nature, is a slap in the face to the memory of what the Durr's stood for. 

Throwing money behind the right cause from the wrong people is more than hypocritical - it undermines the purity of what is supposed to be good and just. There are numerous organizations in Alabama who could have helped sponsor the Durr endeavor, WRQ should not be one of them. Where is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and why didn't they get involved?

All of the organizations aligned with the production are giddy with excitement over their idea and probably do believe they are standing on the moral high ground. That said, it's not plausible anyone in Shelby County is unaware of the outcry from the citizens on the River Loop against the 1,000 acre behemoth set to open right in the heart of their community.

No one who can help is listening to them. They're too busy trying to look like they care to take the time to act as if they do.

And they're missing an important lesson in human rights.

If any of them were to ask the River Loop residents how they feel today about what the county, the city and WRQ has done to their lives, they would hear echoes of some familiar words once spoken by the great Rosa Parks: "Why do push us all around and treat us like we're second class citizens?"

There's an education about Civil Rights alive right now in Vincent down on the River Loop, that's different than a stage production of decades ago, but it speaks in similar ways with an impact no put on event ever can.

We challenge the SCAC and all the others involved with this production to go and listen to those voices and learn what it really feels like to be 'black right now' in Shelby County.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
Shelby County Arts Council (205) 669-0044
Vulcan Park and Museum (205) 933-1409

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Alabama Mantra? - "No Child Left Unharmed"

Update May 3, 2012 - Acker sentenced to 17 yrs in prison without parole.

An alarming trend is emerging in Alabama and revealing the disturbing patterns with some of the state's school boards. Despite the rudimentary obligation these boards are responsible for upholding, protect the children first, they're emerging as the biggest clear and present danger to Alabama’s schoolchildren.

The case of Daniel Acker, Jr. an admitted serial molester & teacher from the Shelby County area of Alabaster, bears an eerie Sandusky-esque parallel with every revelation that's emerging in the explosive case. Like Sandusky, red flags flew up about Acker years before the real story blew up and charges ensued. No one did anything to stop either of these predatory men even though they knew something was very wrong. Those that could have stopped it, chose instead to ignore the truth - that monsters were in the making with Sandusky and Acker.

The end result is the entirely preventable ruination of dozens of children’s lives.

Forty-nine-year-old Daniel Acker, Jr. started with the Shelby County school system in 1985. He taught 4th grade children for 24 years, retiring in 2009. What transpired in those two decades can accurately be described as the end of innocence for his young victims.

Acker has recently admitted molesting 20-25 children, but the full tally of his victims may climb higher as new developments and additional victims emerge in the case.

The facade of years of denial (and culpability) that surrounded Acker until last week, was like some perverted cloak of protection. It finally fell last week when a girl, now 12, accused Acker of molesting her around 2009. 

This child, and so many more, might not have been a victim if the same local school board had acted way back in 1992 when the first accuser against Acker came forward.

The local community and school board’s response to the testimony of Acker’s first known victim, an 11 year-old girl, described by people who knew her as “a beautiful child from a good family,” was to turn their backs on the child and rally around the predator.

School superintendent Norma Rogers, was the lone voice of ‘I believe you’ on that school board in the early 1990s. At the time, she recommended firing Acker from his position after “listening to the compelling testimony of the child and her mother.” Hiding behind the decision of a local grand jury, the Shelby County Board of Education (SCBOE), after a lengthy and heated behind closed doors meeting, refused to fire Acker citing a “lack of evidence."

After the accusation was made, an attorney currently representing one of Acker’s numerous victims, in addition to Ms. Rogers, claim that a test paper was sent home with the girl that had a note written on it “referencing the child’s underclothing.” Another source gives a slightly different account and states that Acker had placed actual test questions “about the color of the victim’s underwear" on the exam.

The school board and the grand jury both saw that paper and what Acker had written. 

Two of the school board members who “protected Acker” are still on the board today - Lee Doebler (Pres.) and Steve Martin (VP).  Martin’s statement on the 1992 accusation:
“We had no legal authority back then than to terminate or not terminate, and there wasn’t enough physical evidence to the best of my recollection.”
According to the most recent story in the case, published today in the Birmingham News, the child’s family was forced to “move out of the county” after being ostracized and derided by the Acker family, their church and most of the local community, who were staunch defenders of “the good name of the Acker family.”

Daniel Acker, Sr. is a powerful man who has been on the Shelby County Commission for years. The Alabaster Police Department claims that "Acker’s position did not help his son evade accountability," but anyone who lives in Shelby County is well aware of the overbearing power and nepotism that exists within the Shelby County Commission.

If there’s one county in Alabama that wields the biggest influence statewide it’s the power structure in Columbiana, Alabama.  ALEC’s state chairman even hails from the county – Representative Mary Sue McClurkin. The power brokers believe they are untouchable and they walk around with a self-assured strut of arrogance that's hard to miss. 

Has the county gone too far this time? We hope so.

The ‘monster of Alabaster’ and his evil deeds may prove to be the veil lifter of many wide-open, but hidden in plain sight secrets that define the county's modus operendi.

A source in the community, who lived in Alabaster when the first accusation came out, tells us that the local church put the following bible verse on their outside sign as a warning to the girl’s family:
“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.”
That church went on to hold a fundraiser for the Acker family anticipating legal costs if the grand jury voted to indict Acker, Jr. Our source also tells us that allegedly a full court press by Acker’s father shut down the investigation as soon as it started.

Acker, Sr. was serving as an Alabaster City Council member at the time of the first accusation, and he had his sights set on a future county commission seat in 1992. We imagine, in his mind, a child molesting son would have been a huge impediment to any future political plans, and the reality of what his son was had to remain hidden.

Not much of notoriety goes on in Shelby County that someone doesn’t know about on some level -children talk, colleagues talk. Parents have been whispering about Acker for years. Why wouldn’t the adults, who could have stopped Acker, ever admit to themselves ‘he’s spending a lot of time with those young girls and it’s not in a professional sense?’

Acker still stubbornly stands by his son today, refuses to resign and continues to claim he “didn’t know” about his son's decades-long twisted proclivities. Their local church is trying in vain to stem the rising tide of public rage by publicly expressing “regret for our actions back then.”

No one’s buying the litany of excuses pouring out of the enabler’s mouths today. What people see is a “Penn State south’ in the making, and just like in the Sandusky case, the groundswell of righteous anger is rapidly spreading outside of the county.

In our opinions, everyone involved with the cover up of these horrible crimes is equally complicit should be held harshly accountable. Some of those same individuals are adding insult to grievous injury by refusing questions and actively participating in a second cover up of trying to make the whole ordeal go away.

These ‘officials who wouldn’t’ continue to cling to their perceived entitlement to remain employed in profitable power positions on the county commission and school board. 

Shelby County Schools creed is "where the learning never ends." We suggest a quick re-write to go along with a couple of resignations on the school board.

The inability of Alabama school boards to act when they are aware of a predator in their midst isn't confined to Shelby County - there's similar scenario going on right now in Tuscaloosa, Alabama:
TUSCALOOSA COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) - In a civil suit filed in federal court, a West Alabama administrator has been accused of sexual misconduct with a former female student.  The student's attorney, Paul Patterson, says the woman was a sophomore at Tuscaloosa County High School when the inappropriate behavior began.  He says the behavior continued and intensified throughout the remainder of the girl's high school career.  The suit also names several Tuscaloosa County Schools employees, including the Board of Education, for failing to take action after the student allegedly approached the school's principals to complain.
Abuse of children can take other forms besides sexual. There are thousands of Alabama schoolchildren live with another known well-known threat every day – toxic exposure.

In a previous article, we detailed who knew what and when they knew it about the Walter Energy contamination in Jefferson County. Minority children in the north Birmingham area of Collegeville have been suffering for years from the inaction of their school board, the county, the state and Region 4 EPA to protect them from the dangerous by-products of big business in their classrooms and on their playgrounds.

The “Deadly Deception” in north Birmingham might not grab the salacious headlines that the Sandusky and Acker’s of the world get, but the parents of children who get sick with cancers are no less horrified by the suffering of their own children. Especially when they realize people knew and did nothing about it until years later.

The pervasive theme that runs through all of these stories is the glaring inability by local school boards, and authoritative officials to adequately protect the children under their purview from clear and present dangers. One incident of failure to act might be chalked up to a tragic oversight – two may show a blatant disregard for a basic duty to adequately protect children from any form of abuse.

More than that indicates there’s a deeper, more widespread systemic problem going on in the state. A sinister pattern of serial abuse indicating the wanton willingness of Alabama to leave its children behind, and go down the road of ‘no child left unharmed’ in pursuit of elected power, profit and public perceptions.

*Update - Doebler and Martin are facing challengers for their seats! Acker, Sr. will remain unopposed.
Photo credit child:: Daly
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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Politics of Mean & PSC Candidate Kathy Peterson - Part Deux

In a previous article, we laid out the venomous nature of Kathy Peterson's campaign against Lucy Baxley in her bid to become president of the Public Service Commission (PSC). Ms. Peterson confirms our premise of 'mean queen' in her latest Internet ad with her gun-toting, Tea Party nut job husband Dale playing the lead role of  'I'll shoot your ass' sidekick.

If you're looking for some of that fabled southern graciousness, or maybe just a little bit of plain old reasonable, clearly the Peterson's aren't it. 

Dale Peterson made big media waves with his own AG Commissioner Internet ad in 2010. It was an ad that put him in the national spotlight. Unfortunately for Dale, that media wave didn't translate into votes in his home state. Alabamians told him what they thought of his 'shoot 'em up style' by handing him his hat (and gun) at the voting booth. Peterson was soundly defeated by fellow republican John McMillan and he wasted no time flipping his gun of support for McMillan.

What does the Peterson approach say about Alabama republican/Tea Party voters? If this is the type of campaigning that works in Alabama, then we deserve the ridicule of the nation as being backwoods, bible-thumping, logic-at-the-end-of-a-gun loon label that's constantly aimed at us by the rest of the country.

Nowhere in Kathy Peterson's ad does calm and steady leadership blast through. In fact, she comes off as an overbearing, mean woman who won't be open to any ideas or suggestions to best serve the public if they're not accompanied by her approved brand of extremism.

Republicans have used the "job killing EPA" phrase over and over as cover for the benefit of their corporate campaign gifters ad nausea. Peterson's ally in this endeavor, PSC member Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, was taken to the factual woodshed over her own inflammatory industry backed rhetoric that mirrors Peterson's. Cavanaugh's 2011 public editorial talking points came directly from an Alabama Power (APCO) 'power point presentation.'  BamaFactCheck roundly exposed her for the Pinocchio-nosed truth stretcher that she is.

In typical GOP fashion, she didn't learn a thing from the take-down. She just doubled down instead and maintains her nonsensical version of facts to Alabama voters in her own current PSC campaign.

What's interesting to ponder is why these two utility shills don't just take a job in the army of lobbyists APCO employs. The pay is much better than a public service job on the Alabama PSC. The perks are quite profitable, and allow for a whole host of unchecked power brokering with political insiders and influencers. 

And it's cushy job when compared with the demands of elected office duties.

In our opinions, there may be a couple of reasons for public office over private lobbying:  elected officials frequently masquerade as public servants first and enter the revolving door after. The path to becoming a lucrative legal briber lobbyist is easier if  'elected official'  is a part of one's resume.

Of course, value to the corporation is measured by the officials political status while in office, the ability to be bought persuaded by the wants of industry, and one's effectiveness in ramming through favorable legislation into law. Some are better at it than others, and if you aren't 'politcally effective,' post elected office lobbying job prospects diminish in availability.

The real reason may be simpler - Peterson and Cavanaugh aren't the sharpest knives in the box and any value they have as potential lobbyists is commensurate with their lack of cerebral firepower. Their value is better utilized on the notoriously corrupt PSC, an agency that has enjoyed the dubious distinction of 'always on' for APCO wants.

Having these 'yes boss' types in office is cost effective from the utility companies standpoint for a more sinister reason that escapes most party-blind-to-a-fault voters - the taxpayer pays the officeholder's salary subsidizing the utility company's roster of defacto lobbyists.

With Lucy Baxley on the PSC, APCO has been denied four rate increases over the last few years. They're not happy about it, and the upcoming election is key to increasing their enormous profits with an official who holds a more favorable view of  "making the utility companies successful."

Kathy Peterson has promised to do just that, in fact, the above quote is directly from Ms. Peterson.

What you don't hear from Peterson is that she will help consumers be successful in staving off the predatory ways of the utility companies. Instead, she alludes to helping the ratepayers in a bastardized style of pointing the finger of blame at EPA regulations and it's those 'damn liberals' fault, not mine, if rates do increase:
"...the greatest threat to Alabama utility rates is the Obama administration with its agenda of Cap and Trade and what Peterson calls “a clever regulatory sleight of hand” known as Utility MACT, short for Maximum Achievable Control Technology."
“Every household in this state will face financial ruin with utility bills exceeding $1,000 a month,” Peterson said. “This is if Obama and the liberals succeed with their agenda of shutting down our coal-fired electric generation plants in Alabama and across America.”  
Peterson goes on to say she's the one who will organize a coalition of public service commissioners (hopefully not armed) to beat back the e-vil Obama administration:

She added that by organizing public utilities commissioners from other Southern and Southwestern states to oppose the Obama agenda would be the first important item on her agenda to protect Alabama consumers and small businesses. “Obama and the liberals have done enough damage to our economy,” she said. “It’s up to us in the states to lead the fight for affordable energy. Washington has four decades to do the job and it just gets worse.”

Pardon us Ms. Peterson but saving the world from liberals is no where to be found in the PSC's job description. What you're doing is pandering to the republican & Tea Party base, with shrill, factually dishonest rhetoric as your only chance at getting elected.

It's disgusting and we wish you would just stop. Politicians who resort to these kinds of tactics are desperate, not qualified, because if they were qualified there wouldn't be a need for all the fear mongering and saber-rattling every time you open your mouth.

The power company has big boys in their employ. They don't need a mean queen fighting their battles for them. Get a grip Ms. Peterson. And you too Ms. Cavanaugh.

We're still waiting for an explanation from Peterson of why those same job creators she's so enamored with have slashed hundreds of meter reader jobs through the implementation of so-called "Smart" meters. The answer is simple if you're aware. Unfortunately for transparency's sake, it's been pushed purposefully outside the ability of public understanding, and you'll never hear Peterson or APCO admit it.

The "inconvenient truth" is that power/gas/water companies make a bundle from "Smart" meters. These devices are not without controversy and some communities are fighting back against them. Not Alabama. Not Ms. Peterson. Or Ms. Cavanaugh or anyone else on the PSC.

They just don't "give a rip" about it. 

APCO, and other utility giants, have been trying to dissolve the meter reader jobs for years. Fewer employees equals more profit to the bottom line. So do "Smart" meters.  They're just another way the utilities use to manipulate state government funds to increase their profit margins. It's a sneaky shell game and a big wet kiss to the generous power brokers from the politicians and commissions they hold captive.

California is a prime example of the problems with so-called "Smart" meters. Alabamians shouldn't hold their breaths that any news outlet or watchdog agency will seriously delve into the true cost of these "Smart" meters in Alabama. If APCO does it in-house, it will result in a predictably favorable outcome to them.

Ms. Peterson also refuses to believe that pollution from power plants is costing the American people billions in increased health care costs. The utility companies she is cheer leading for, namely Alabama Power, have just been pegged the worst of the worst according to the 2010 EPA Toxics Release study.

Ms. Peterson should "give a rip" that Alabama is number one in toxic metal releases because of the 20th century minded coal ash cads running APCO.

We don't doubt she'll continue to run around with her bullet-headed husband, downplaying any danger of air pollution, because APCO tells her too. Industry shills like Andrew Breitbart's Big Government conservative writers will give those lies deflective (and deceptive) cover. The ALGOP will fund and enable Peterson's propaganda-based campaign in their frenzied zeal to "turn Alabama completely red."

And no one will be the wiser because of blind party loyalty. Or maybe just because they don't want to know the truth. We think that's exactly what Peterson is counting on to get her into the presidents chair at the PSC.

There's no doubt in anyone's mind that this year's PSC race is one of the "hottest races in Alabama" and it promises to be an all out war to remove Lucy Baxley, the last democrat elected to statewide office in Alabama. The amount of money that will pour into the race will dwarf the amount Baxley spent on her last election, and could run as high as $750K.

Maybe the nineteen year-old University of Alabama sophomore with "years of experience" Peterson's recently hired as her political director will be able to help her convince the public of her pious moral character. He claims he believes in "honest campaigns" and we'll soon see what he's made of.

And if that doesn't work out, well, she can always call the trigger happy jackwagon Dale. He can just round up the voters at the point of his rifle and force the vote.

Here's something we 'give a rip' about: get out and vote in this election if you live in Alabama. If the PSC goes all the way red, one thing you can count on is that the business friendly republicans will raise your rates. They will look the other way on strict regulation of the utilities under their purview.

Voters shouldn't forget that in 2004, the PSC gave Alabama Power the right to raise rates by one percent a year through 2013, to have ratepayers foot the entire bill for the environmental improvements to their coal-fired plants. One of the very things that Peterson, Cavanaugh and APCO use as a tool to scare voters, rate increases due to required improvements, has already been happening.

The annals of Alabama's history and the PSC prove that this commission almost always comes down on the side of the utility companies.The notorious Bull Connor once ran the PSC and since his reign, corruption and the agency have been closely aligned.  It won't be any different with Peterson, Cavanaugh and Dunn in charge of the commission. In fact, Dunn better hold onto to his stones, because the two APCO 'mean queens' will soon have them in a jar if he isn't careful.

Ms. Peterson's claims of protecting Alabamians from unfair increases in utility rates, along with most of what she says, is just a lot of hot air. From our point of view, her campaign is an endeavor that's loaded with dishonesty, deception and the politics of mean.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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Friday, January 6, 2012

BWRK Press Release "Alabama Coal Ash Ponds Receive Most Toxic Metals in the Nation in 2010"

For Immediate Release: January 6, 2012
Contact: Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper: 205-458-0095

New Report: Alabama Coal Ash Ponds Receive Most Toxic Metals in the Nation in 2010

According to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Alabama power plants lead the way in disposal of wastes containing toxic metals into coal ash ponds.

Ten states accounted for three quarters of total pond disposal in 2010, including (in rank order): Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan. Just 20 facilities account for more than half of the toxic metals (57 million pounds) contained in power plant waste and disposed of in surface impoundments in 2010. Four of these are in Alabama, with Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant (Jefferson County) ranked first in the nation in this category. Alabama Power’s Gaston, Gorgas and Barry Steam Plants round out the top twenty.

These figures are based upon information compiled in a national database called the Toxics Release Inventory. Power companies are required to report by volume the toxic chemicals that are contained in coal ash and other coal combustion wastes dumped into surface impoundments, or ponds, every year. 

In 2010, power plants reported disposal of wastes containing 112.8 million pounds of toxic metals or metal compounds, a category that includes arsenic, chromium, lead, and other pollutants that are hazardous in small concentrations and difficult to remove from the environment once released. According to EIP, that reflects a nine percent increase in toxics disposals since 2009, and is higher than the total reported in 2008.

Most of these surface impoundments are unlined, which means the toxins in the ash are likely to seep into groundwater or nearby creeks and rivers. Monitoring data developed in other areas of the country shows this is happening at many coal ash surface impoundments.

Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant (Jefferson County) and Gorgas Steam Plant (Walker County) are both in the Black Warrior River watershed, just northwest of Birmingham. Miller ranked first in the nation for disposing toxic metal wastes into coal ash ponds and Gorgas ranked fifteenth. 

Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke has concerns: “These coal ash ponds discharge wastewater directly to surface waters in large volumes on a daily basis. Miller discharges to the Locust Fork and Gorgas discharges to the Mulberry Fork, two tributaries of the Black Warrior that are heavily used for recreation and fishing. A major concern moving forward is the increase in the amount of toxics being discharged by the coal-fired power plants to these coal ash ponds and ultimately to surface waters due to the addition of scrubbers, which pull some pollutants out of their air emissions and transfer them to our water resources instead.”

Wastewater permits for these plants are up for review every five years, and the next cycle of re-permitting begins soon. Black Warrior Riverkeeper is encouraging residents in the greater Birmingham region and throughout Alabama to insist that ADEM to make Alabama Power's permits more protective of our rivers, lakes, and public health.

Environmental Integrity Project’s coal ash waste disposal analysis can be seen by clicking here.

For pictures of Miller Steam Plant and Gorgas Steam Plant and their ash ponds, click here.

To learn how you can insist that ADEM make Alabama Power's permits more protective of water and public health, contact info@blackwarriorriver.org for more information.


Black Warrior Riverkeeper (blackwarriorriver.org) is a citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. A member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper was the Alabama Environmental Council’s 2007 Conservation Organization of the Year and the American Canoe Association’s 2008 Green Paddle Award winner. Nelson Brooke, Riverkeeper, won the Alabama Rivers Alliance’s 2010 River Hero Award. In 2011 the Black Warrior became one of America's Most Endangered Rivers.

Additional reading & resources added by VAC:
2009 -  Dam Safety Inspection Report submitted to EPA RE: Gorgas Plant *(note heavy redaction of information)
2011 - Earthjustice report "State of Failure"
2011 - OIG Evaluation Report "EPA Promoted the Improper Use of Coal Ash Products With Incomplete Risk Evaluation"
2011 SEC documents on SOCO proxy filing submission & proper coal ash disposal
2011 Article: "There's Something About Vernon (and ADEM)" How APCO/SOCO lobbyists & state agency insiders convinced the Alabama Legislature to adopt dangerous coal ash legislation, and the epic problems with ADEM.
EPA Coal Combustion & Impoundment Reports (scroll down to Alabama for docs, all states listed)
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