Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Press-Register Claims Alabama Ethics Laws "Among Strongest in the Country"

Illustration: Thomas Nast
Saying it is doesn't always make it so.

The Mobile Press-Register ran an editorial on May 30th entitled "Ethics reform marches on" that was more symbolism than fact about our 'new' get tough (but not too tough) ethics laws. A lot of good opinion pieces have come out of their editorial board--this isn't one that goes in the 'good' pile.

But it might belong in some kind of pile.

For years Alabama has had the weakest ethics laws in the country, so any movement on strengthening them is a modicum of improvement. The Ethics Commission was granted the power to subpoena. Good. There was some tightening on the amount of money lobbyists were allowed to spend on wining and dining our legislators that should have gone farther, but at least something was done to end the steak and lobster lunches.

Well, sort of.

They left some huge loopholes in these new laws that the ever-crafty money boys in suits could drive their Hummers through, and it didn't take them long to figure out how to step on the gas. Some of them were so impatient they started making loops around the senate floor as the bills were being written.

"No, that's not going to pass legal muster, here replace it with this...oh sorry, got a little butter on it didn't I? I can't eat my lobster without butter Jimmy boy." Reference to Representative Jim McClendon-R who was having his ear bent by one of these Slick Willies on the House floor during the crafting of these slightly better than nothing reforms.

The Press-Register has to answer to Ricky Matthews the publisher of the paper. Matthews is a big fan of republican everything and we wouldn't expect him to present too much to the public that isn't republican friendly. If he can help it. Ethics reform passage was a big deal  to the "new day" republicans that swept the statehouse in 2010--- they campaigned on it and included it in their "Handshake with Alabama" propaganda.

But this editorial is really stretching the tarp a little tight.

What these ethics laws don't do is hold lobbyists accountable to provide records of what they spend on the legislators. No effort was made to put an end to the corporate sponsored fabulous coastal resort getaways or good ol' boy runs through the woods at private hunting retreats.

"Now don't y'all talk about any b'ness to do with legislation y' hear? Okay you promise? That's good enough then, we don't need any law on this thing here do we boys? 'Course not."

These corporate retreats are frequently used for anything but 'down time' and it's a well-known wide open secret that bills are at the ready for these legislators to take back to Goat Hill and set in motion. Most of the trips arranged for Alabama lawmakers come from a few select corporate law firms and Alabama Power. APCOs hunting trips have become the stuff of legend in Alabama and an invitation to 'come play' is highly prized. And rarely refused. APCO expects a good return on the sizable campaign donations they generously hand out and they make sure they get it--one way or the other.

For any legislator to overlook adding a lobbyist/corporate reporting requirement to the ethics laws lets us all know that our lawmakers did not go far enough and the definition of strength is clearly in the eye of the beholder.

Or in this case, the publisher.

Alabama cannot count herself as "having the strongest ethics laws in the nation" until she actually does.

And saying it's so doesn't make it any more true than it actually is.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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Monday, May 30, 2011

Deconstructing 'Road Man' Hubbard

Representative Mike Hubbard-R receives praise from USS Steel's Paul Vercher for his voice of support in the $90 million a mile Northern Beltline project. Hubbard has been a harsh critic of federal handouts, so why is he talking out of both sides of his pothole now?  
"The people of this great country – and especially here in Alabama - know that the greatest success is when you accomplish it on your own – not with a handout. If that is not enough for the American people to stomach, there are rumblings in Washington of a possible additional round of economic stimulus. The spending is reeling out of control. It’s like eating potato chips – "you can’t have just one." How in their right (or left) minds do these Democrats in Washington think we are going to pay for all of this?" Representative Mike Hubbard-R April 18, 2009
A letter to the editor in the May 29th edition of the Birmingham News "applauds state representative Mike Hubbard's support" of the boondoggle of an idea known as the Northern Beltline. With the financial cost nearing $5 billion for a 52 mile road as America faces a record deficit, wouldn't it make more sense to just say no to that pricey bag of chips?

Senator Shelby, Representative Bachus and Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mike Hubbard seem unable to resist dipping their salty hands into the federal bag while saying "We must rein in out of control federal spending!"
Why are our state republicans so quick to attack federal handouts when it yields political points, but sorely lacking in the same convictions when it involves one of their own federally funded pet projects? Look no further than the large campaign contributors such as Drummond and USS Steel. Both of these private corporations are large landholders with thousands of acres in the Northern Beltline route.

They'll make millions from the deal and they'll be generous around election time. 
The history of the NB has been controversial from the start. It falls under the "cost to complete system" that ensures the federal stream of money keeps flowing for years, and states keep it moving by "building these roads as expensively as possible."

But here's another aspect to federal transportation dollars allotment--earmarks for pet projects often have a reduction effect on the calculated amounts states receive. Lawmakers cannot resist loading up transportation bills with all kinds of pork and when they do, less money is handed out by the government. USA Today wrote about this in a special report from January 2011 entitled 'Earmarks' to Nowhere: States losing billions:

The federal government treats an unspent earmark like an undated check that could be cashed at any time. It affects the federal budget only if it's cashed. Nevertheless, because lawmakers inserted some of the earmarks into particular sections of transportation bills, many of the orphan earmarks also count against a state's share of federal highway funds and have taken billions of dollars away from state transportation departments across the nation
During the past 20 years, orphan earmarks reduced the amount of money that states would have received in federal highway funding by about $7.5 billion, USA TODAY found. That's $7.5 billion that states could have used to replace obsolete bridges, repair aging roads and bring jobs to rural areas.
Another point that’s important to note in the story is that some states think a better use of the federal money would be to take care of what they already have such as "crumbling bridges and roads to make highways safer." They ‘get it’ and realize maintaining their existing infrastructure system is just as important, if not more so, than adding new roads to an aged system in disrepair.
In typical Alabama fashion, good sense always veers off the road and straight into the tree of political rotten apples every time--throw the stink of blame at federal government and not at our own politicians culpability in this mess who load up transportation bills with their own goodies.

In an article from March 2011, Billy Norrell, the executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association (ARBA), blames the federal government  for "kicking the can down the road" in the lack of federal highway dollars, selectively leaving out the fact that earmarks in transportation bills might be the bigger culprit.
Mr. Norrell seems to be reading from the same playbook of altered facts to support my side of it that Mr. Hubbard is so fond of--never question a republican when the government or a democrat is nearby to hurl under the bus.
Alabama, by its own admission, does not have a reputation of good infrastructure-- its roads and highways have been described as "in a desperate state of disrepair that is stunting economic growth." In 2010, Alabama's interstates proved to be deadly for a South Carolina woman, who was killed by a chunk of flying concrete from a pothole in a badly deteriorated section of I-20 near the Georgia line.

The state quickly settled with the family because of a "serious risk" of losing the case, and then turned right around and caved into the road lobbyists demands and limited the time of liability if the same thing ever happens again. Alabama HB 9 was written to allow near total immunity from accountability in court for companies entrusted with public tax dollars to build our highways in Alabama. 

The bill was introduced and quickly signed into law in one day according to records from OpenBama.org. 
That's moving at lightning fast speed no matter who you ask. Rarely does any bill move through the mire in Montgomery that quickly without the strength of huge political muscle behind it (ARBA) and we find it interesting that not one citizen, who might be hurt or killed on Alabama's highways, was allowed a voice in the process.

All of this seems to point to an inability by the "new day" republicans to adhere to truth in their campaigning, and the catch phrase of "We will work for you citizens of Alabama" wasn't worth the hot air it took to speak it. These political mules are not really motivated to rein in out of control federal spending if it costs them potential hefty campaign donors. 

This kind of behavior gives additional credence to the increasing criticism of who they are really handshaking with--their corporate campaign contributors.
No wonder Mr. Hubbard came up with the inane suggestion of locking down the statehouse to the public earlier this year, citing security concerns in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting--if he keeps going like this he can expect to answer some questions from angry constituents. 

Restricting access of the people's house quickly blew up in Hubbard's face, and he was forced to abandon the idea and fall back on the "new day" chant of "greater accountability." That didn’t go so well either. Alabama Democratic Chairman Mark Kennedy summed it up brilliantly:

“After 136 years of open door policies under Democratic leadership, a new day of Republican control has dawned in the Alabama Legislature, but the sun isn't shining," he said.
That "new day" mantra is more of a dictatorial agreement than handshake: 'You elected me so I have a mandate to do whatever the hell I want to.' Overstepping has become the latest line dance on Goat Hill and everybody hoofs it to the republicans call.

Representative Hubbard makes a good partial point in his opening statement of the ability to pay for federal projects, but he has it purposefully upside down because his argument is designed to deride the federal government in a specific area and throw red meat to the faithful. Federal spending is bad when it's for social programs and the average Joe, but encouraged and justified when it benefits corporate interests. And certain politicians.
We'd like to know how Mr. Hubbard justifies burdening this state, flailing in the throes of a serious economic crunch itself, to pay for its share of the Northern Beltline with possibly 32 long years worth of appropriations? That's not just fuzzy math, that's a hulking wooly beast of financial foolishness.

We would also like to ask him why the state chose to hurry up a bill designed to shield private road builders from future liability resulting from shoddy work, rather than do what would be in the best interest of Alabama as a whole: use the federal highway dollars to make our existing roads better and safer before we embark on building new ones.

This party of the people and government accountability is looking pretty shoddy from our catbird seat and the sign we see in the distance on the road to truth in Montgomery reads "Caution: Potholes Ahead-- Four Year Deconstruction Zone."

*Note--HB9 changed to a different form with HB132 including more detail and specificity for absolving road-builder liability and did pass the legislature during the 2011 session.
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Friday, May 27, 2011

Get Your Motor Running Mr. Riley

Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley subpoenaed to testify in bingo gambling trial.

Attorneys for VictoryLand owner and bingo trial defendant Milton McGregor have slapped Riley with a subpoena to testify in the case and Riley is having none of it, instructing his state lawyers (AG Luther Strange's office) to "move quickly" to quash the subpoena.

Despite the gestapo actions of the former 'Teflon Don of Alabama' who rallied hundreds of state troopers on more than one occasion to raid McGregor's former gambling joint, claiming the bingo machines violated state law, Riley claims he has nothing to add to the ongoing legal proceedings:
"Riley does not believe that he has any personal knowledge concerning the alleged acts made the basis of the Indictment, nor any other personal knowledge of facts that are admissible or relevant to the trial of this case," a lawyer for the former governor wrote in a motion seeking to quash the subpoena.
Mr. Riley has lot to hide in that over-sized closet of his and it would suit him just fine to get on his motorcycle, with his former anti-gambling task force head John Tyson riding sidebar, and get the hell out Dodge sooner rather than later.

Crafty attorneys can ask many a damning question when they have a victim on the stand. Riley is keenly aware of this. McGregor has a Paul Bunyan sized axe to grind with Riley and he's out for his head any way he can get it.

'Uncle Miltie' as he is called in certain circles, seeks to keep Riley on the short chain by requesting a 'short notice to testify' in the subpoena. Predictably, the former governator is resisting that requirement and responded with one of his own if the subpoena stands:
"Instead, Riley requests that he be placed on call and allowed a reasonable time (e.g., 5 days) to return from wherever he may be en route to or from Alaska should his testimony be needed," the motion states.
Five days is time a plenty to wander into any number of scenarios that would delay Mr. Riley from testifying. 

Like maybe getting lost in the wilderness, meeting up with some fast flowing rapids or a chance encounter with a bear or two during his 'Alaska or bust' motorcycle adventure.

Any of those possibles might be kinder to Riley than what McGregor and his attorneys have in mind. Rarely do we see a situation that has a possible win win on both sides.

This one just might.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

Governor Riley Motion to Quash
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HBO Films: Too Big to Fail

A film that depicts the corporatist tsunami of propaganda that has made America the most messaged country in the world while revealing the incessantly immoral and corrupt underbelly of our entire financial system.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hard Lessons for Alabamians

Photo credit: A Photg Blog And More..
A citizenry without the power to recall is a citizenry without power.

We elect our leaders to office in the hopes that they will be responsive to our community voice and they will faithfully represent the hopes and wishes of their constituents above all else, despite outside influences, and their usually deeper than ours, money pockets. We want our leaders to resist the temptation to forget our voices once they get the brass ring of elected office.

When politicians become unresponsive to our voices, in Alabama, with the exception of one city, we have no remedy to remove our politicians from office. Our only recourse is to wait four to six years and elect better leaders. It does not serve any of us to have to wait until a term expires and allow a corrupted, tin ear politician to remain in office and wreak unchecked havoc on our communities.

But for now, that's all we have. That's what we have settled for--nothing.

We could have better and we should, but the citizens of this state are unable, for whatever myriad of reasons, to organize a strong movement for a recall provision to be added to our state constitution. Several attempts have been made over the years. The last one was by Senator Treadaway in 2009.

It died in committee along with our chance to join eighteen other states who realize the great value of having accountable government made possible by the power of recall.

Having a recall provision allows citizens to maintain control over their elected representatives in the instances of malfeasance, dereliction of duty, and sometimes criminal conduct while in office.

Some communities even have provisions that allow for a full vote by the people before any zoning ordinances or changes to existing ordinances can become law. Can you imagine how different some of our communities would be with this kind of citizen based power?

There are three communities in Alabama that would be in much better condition today, monetarily and in livability, if they had recall power:
  • Birmingham, Alabama--Millions would have been saved in the sewer debacle.
  • Cordova, Alabama--Though their Comprehensive Planning, a new Cordova could become a reality, and years of decline would give way to hope and opportunity for a better future. (And they would have FEMA trailers!)
  • Vincent, Alabama--Instead of facing certain industrialization and destruction from a 1000 acre quarry, the original Comprehensive Plan "A Path to the Future" could actually bring Vincent into the future, and keep it from becoming a statistic.
All three of these communities are in turmoil for one main reason--their elected officials are completely and utterly unresponsive to the voices of their constituents. They stepped into their offices, locked the doors of accountability behind them, and turned their backs on the voters.

We as citizens have been unresponsive ourselves. We have failed to strongly organize into one mighty wave of 'we demand change!' Whether it is a lack of interest, political differences or an inability to put egos aside and work as one, we have not done ourselves any favors by remaining so complacent and unwilling to set our minds to a common goal with the potential for such great rewards.

Another session in the legislature is now drawing to a close, and for the second year in a row no recall bill came up. You can't put all the blame on the legislators because of course they aren't going to volunteer to give up any of their power. We, as a people, have to demand it, with persistence and conviction, or we'll never have any power of our own. It's just that simple, but it won't be that easy to make it a reality--It will take very hard work.

It's been said that "the best lessons are the ones that are the hardest ones learned."

Have we got it yet Alabama?

If not now, when?

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Self Imposed Embarassment for Alabama--Cordova Lands at the top of the Drudge Report for Refusing FEMA Trailers

Update #1--CNN linked to ABC 33/40 news coverage "Town Won't Allow FEMA Trailers"
Update #2--Mayor Scott's pastor called into WAPI's Leland Whaley show to defend his 'brother' and claimed the Mayor worked for revitalizing Cordova. Big lie, link here
Update #3--CNN posts video story from WBMA
Update #4--The mighty Archibald weighs in
Update #5--Smoking Gun on stereotypes and Cordova in Buster 
Update #6--Finally AP and MSNBC do a mainstream media story, heavy circulation follows 
Update #7--YouTube fun with Jack from NMA TV 
Update #8--Widely read Huffington Post runs the story & Daily Mail United Kingdom

Snapshot of Drudge Report website as it appeared on May 24th 11:43 EST

The mayor of Cordova, Alabama, Jack Scott, a former coal miner, thrusts Alabama back into the national spotlight of 'oh no not again' with his refusal to allow FEMA trailers inside the city limits of the town.

Mayor Scott acknowledges that victims of the April 27th tornado outbreak are without their homes and in need of shelter until they can rebuild, but he *refuses to allow single-wide FEMA trailers to be an acceptable solution. His solution is to house storm survivors in  'Scott approved' FEMA trailer camps outside the city limits, and off of their own property.
*(YouTube link)

Scott claims he is only following a decades-old city ordinance, and admits it's been rarely enforced over the years, but he claims Cordova needs to "keep it's options open to young professionals who might want to build in Cordova," outraging his constituents who are suffering from the devastation of losing their own homes.

They're out of luck in his view and he isn't being kind about it. In a May 24th City Council meeting "tempers flared" and residents had the added misfortune to experience the full breadth ofJack Scott's black as the coal the used to mine heart.

Here's a link to the latest news story on that City Council meeting and a video below from ABC 33/40. Listen for the Mayor to bellow at least twice: "Chief Bobo put her out!"

This is the same Mayor who vacated a Comprehensive Planning agreement that would have revitalized and opened Cordova up to connections with main highway thoroughfares by constructing the proposed I-22 exchange, in favor of a strip mine operation. 
On Cordova's Main Street, the city's vision for rebirth is weighed down by the depression of vacancy and dilapidation. 
Earlier this decade, residents of Cordova, with the help of the Regional Planning Commission and the Auburn Center for Architecture and Urban Studies, drew up a comprehensive revitalization plan anticipating the impact being connected to Birmingham by the new Interstate 22.

The plan pictures a revitalized historic downtown and new neighborhoods connecting the city to the river -- a bedroom community offering riverfront greenways and a marina. 
The community viewed the plan as a chance to reverse a 40-year decline. In 1962, the town lost its dominant large employer, the Arrowhead Textile Mill. About the same time, the once plentiful jobs in underground mining began giving way to more sporadic, smaller-scale employment in strip mining.

"We built our plan on our two interstate interchanges," Randy Palmer said. "This kind of opportunity comes along once every 100 years. Now, it's at our two interchanges they are fixing to strip mine."
"We didn't put a strip pit in our long-range plan," he said.
That operation is the notorious Sheperd's Bend coal mine.

Last time we checked, living next to a coal mine wasn't necessarily a big property owner draw, but we know of stranger things that have happened.

And in Walker County, where Cordova is located, strange doesn't begin to describe the *dark history of the county that coal built and ruined. Nothing happens there without the influencer's blessings, or curse, depending on how you look at it and who you are.
*(beginning on pg 53 & NY Times story 1991)

Jack Scott is an insider and he knows how to play the familiar game of I'll get mine and yours too if I get half a chance.

Word in the community is the Mayor has his eye on some tornado damaged property for cheap.

Scott is your typical small town Alabama politician: a stubborn cuss with my way or the highway thinking plotting his bumbling course through local good ol' boy politics. These types aren't interested in making sense of forward thinking ideas that rise above their high-school-at-best level of education. Ask them and they'll tell you they are the smartest man they know without so much as a flinch of humility. They're prone to cronyism of the worst order, and crave the attention and ego stroking that they believe elected office entitles them to.

We sincerely hope that landing at the top of the widely popular Drudge Report brings 'King' Scott all the attention he doesn't want, but so richly deserves.

Maybe you'd like to get in on it too?
Cordova Mayor's Office
74 Main St, Cordova, AL 35550
(205) 483-9266 or 483-7025   Residence: (205) 483-9235 
*We'll keep this story update with any new developments. Please check back.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CBS 42 "Deadly Deception" Continuing Reports on Walter Energy Contamination in North Birmingham Communities

Residents say Riggins School should have been closed--EPA agrees.

CBS 42 reporters Sherri Jackson and  Ken Lass reveal new chapters in the journey for justice of Collegeville and Harriman Park residents where residential properties and nearby schools have tested positive for high levels toxic contamination.

Community meetings were held recently in conjunction with Region 4 EPA that are giving rise to more troubling questions than good answers about why the Birmingham School Board, and Dr. Craig Witherspoon, did not inform the community of what they knew--these children and residents were (and still are) living with a silent killer.

In our last article on the "Deadly Deception" we included the initial report by CBS 42 that clearly showed Dr. Witherspoon being less than honest with these residents about what he knew and when he knew it. His words:
"We have met with the EPA and the levels are good....."
He knew that wasn't true, but it didn't stop him from evading accountability. He could have warned the residents a year before now, when he was provided copies of the EPA's test results that were anything but "good," and showed levels of contamination exceeding EPA levels by "300-600 times accepted levels" for cancer causing toxins, but he chose not to tell these residents what he knew.

Other school board officials described the tests as "indeterminate and inconclusive." There appears to be a united front of disinformation and denial by the school board. What was their motivation to keep quiet?

In the follow-up community meeting shown above, EPA Spokesperson Brian Holtzclaw has this to say about Riggins School, which he assumed was going to be closed on the basis of the results revealing dangerously high levels of toxins:
"Before the time it was going to be closed, I actually created a fact sheet just for Riggins School, you need to put fences up, you need to put signs all around, you need to educate all the students and faculty. I presumed they did circulate that (holding up the sheet he created with an ADEM logo on it) and send it to all the parents."
That never happened. Any of it. The school remained open and children continued to be exposed.

Adding insult to injury, the Carver School was closed, but not because of known contamination, it was closed to make way for a new school on the site for even younger children and renamed to Hudson K-8. Holtzclaw said he was "alarmed by this" and so are we.

Some of the residents stories are heartbreaking to listen to, and far too many of them of them have the same undercurrent--family members they have had to watch loved ones suffer and die from various cancers over the years. In the clip *"Contaminated Soil and Sickness" we hear from a few of them.
*(appears in the playlist section of the entire "Deadly Deception" series linked below)

CBS 42 goes on to say that "the only Birmingham school representative at the community meeting this month and last says he works in project management with Birmingham schools and he was unable to answer any of the questions."

Why didn't the Birmingham School Board send their representative spokesperson or Dr. Witherspoon to these follow-up meetings? Was it because of the initial report that was less than flattering to either of them? CBS 42 wasn't intentionally trying to show them in a bad light, they were reporting the facts of the story. Those facts, combined with Dr. Witherspoon and spokesperson Michaelle Chapman's own words, revealed the depth of deception both were engaging in to keep this whole affair quiet.

Making the call to send a "project management" employee who "was unable to answer any of the questions" did not occur in a vacuum and without, in our opinions, a deliberate intent to shield Dr. Witherspoon from any further scrutiny.

We're appalled at his behavior and applaud CBS 42 for continuing to follow this story in the interest of public service and not caving to the intense pressure they must be under from the Birmingham School Board, and possibly Birmingham Mayor William Bell, to just be quiet about the whole ordeal.

In this case, a parallel silent killer would be silence. CBS 42 understands that.

It's reprehensible that the Birmingham School Board and Dr. Witherspoon do not.

*Link to CBS 42 series "Deadly Deception"
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Monday, May 23, 2011

Governor Bentley Upset With FEMA Rejection Letters

Governor Bentley pens his "Epistle to the Afflicted" version of a  FEMA rejection letter

Alabama republican and ever-stalwart man of God, Governor Dr. Dr. Bentley, thinks FEMA is being "insensitive to elderly couples in rural Alabama who have had their homes blown away” by starting out the FEMA claim response letters with the line “You have been denied.”

The good Dr. (and self-professed superior Christian) has volunteered his services for a more appropriate letter and managed to get the federal coordinator Michael Byrne to acquiesce to this nonsense:
"The agency's federal coordinating officer, Michael Byrne, has agreed to *revise the letter," Bentley said.
"The first sentence should not say you have been turned down, especially when you are hurting and you've lost everything," the governor said Friday. "That is my disagreement, but let me tell you Mike Byrne has been nothing but gracious."
Mike Byrne, FEMA's state coordinator in Alabama, said the agency would *address the governor's concerns. (Which is it? “Revise” or “address” the wording?)
Bentley, a retired doctor, advised that FEMA should adopt a better bedside manner, with a little understanding of Southern manners.
"You cannot write a letter in Washington and make that letter fit an elderly couple in rural Alabama who has had their home blown away," Bentley said. "They (the letters) can say the same thing, but you need to say it the right way."
Gov. Robert Bentley said he was worried that the letters FEMA is sending people are “too full of government jargon” and “would discourage many people from pursuing assistance.”
In other words, Bentley seems to be implying in a roundabout way, ‘You all aren’t smart enough to understand the letters. You need me to help you with this and you can cry on my shoulder, because I know you will cry from that unchristian-like government language.' 

He has asked to “personally review a rewritten version of the letters before more go out in the state.” 

Wouldn't it be a better use of his office to mobilize 'solution centers' set up with hotlines and staff that can assist residents through the process after they have received denial letters? That's what other communities have done after disasters and denials. Let him put his own FEMA money where his mouth is, Alabama has gotten a sizable amount so far.

$33 million in federal aid has poured into the state since the April 27th tornadoes, where has this money gone? If it is not reaching the people, then who is it reaching and how are they using the tens of millions? Maybe they can consider floating the folks a loan.

We don’t deny that it’s tough to go through a disaster, lose everything you have and then receive a claim rejection letter from the federal government. But it’s not a unique situation, and numerous communities in America have gone through this process and managed to deal with letters from FEMA without their governors needing to call in the psychologist (or priest depending on geographic location) at large.

Or take over the federal government's written response to claimants and inject veiled religious dogma into the matter. There's hardly a speech or public commentary that goes by where Bentley does not do this in one form or another and it's wearing thin.

This is quite the unique circumstance that our governor thinks this state deserves special kid-glove treatment and word specific government letters that are “more sensitive” to his constituents sans the perceived “complicated governmental jargon.” Is he suggesting that no one in Alabama can deal with "No" or is it simply they shouldn't have to unless it comes in a satin lined box, complete with complimentary crucifix and state republican party donation envelope, of greater sensitivity?

Here’s a link to a denial letter from FEMA to the state of Virginia that we are struggling to find "complicated and insensitive governmental jargon in." There’s the obvious disappointment in "No," but the logic behind Governor Bentley’s claims are not apparent to us. Maybe we are just too insensitive ourselves, but no other governor has ever made this kind of surreal request of FEMA before. And they shouldn't again.

It’s embarrassing and nonsensical beyond belief. And ineffectual. 
Who really gives two whits about the choice of word placement when action is what is needed more than anything right now? And yes, that action includes federal intervention! If southern governors and politicians continue to stick their thumbs in the eye of the federal government, a la Rick Perry of Texas, then who is really to blame when those same states desperately need federal assistance and the feds say "No?"

It is not FEMA’s job to replace everything you have. FEMA is designed, even with all of it's inherent flaws, to act as a stop gap in helping with specifically defined immediate needs, like temporary housing, food and water, etc.--the basic necessities of existence. They are not capable of making you whole, and they shouldn't be in the business of bowing to behind-the-times religious zealots disguised as governors.

Governor Bentley knows that individual claims do not have the strength to turn on the spigot of federal dollars like state agencies do. The $33 million that has already been paid to Alabama is weighted much more towards the state's requests for assistance than for individual payouts--clearly they have figured out how to deal with "No" and get their fair share and much more to follow. 

We think the state can best help these denied claimants by using the weight of the state to cut through governmental red tape and resubmit claims, with organized centers staffed with knowledgeable people, that can help guide citizens through the process. 

Anything else is grandstanding.

If Governor Bentley is seeking a leveling of the payout playing field, citizen claims catch up to state payouts, on that point alone, we stand behind him without all the other nonsense included. If however, he is seeking to score political points off the disaster, and we suspect he is, then his actions are even more troubling.

Alabama has been doing some bragging about the fact that they are "doing a better job taking care of their own" and "really don’t need the federal government to intervene." Certain radio talk show hosts and Tea Party types have been saying just that very thing, and the mantra is echoed in a recent Letter to the Editor from the Birmingham News May 19th.

You can’t have it both ways.

Alabama has suffered some real embarrassment in the national media and we think the governor's latest public meddling with FEMA verbiage continues us straight down that path and into the wide-open spaces of more public embarrassment.

So, rather than reaching for the well worn Kleenex box, we decided to make lemonade from the increasingly abundant lemons and have a little fun with Dr. Dr. Bentley. Laughing is easier than crying after all and it's going to be a looooong four years.

Here’s how we imagine a letter from the Governor, based on his public missteps, religion first governing, and his incredibly amateur way of speaking (complete with his favorite, overused folksy sayings), might go:

“Bentley’s Epistle to the Afflicted”

The Brothers and Sisters Who Are Hurting
555 Blown-Away Street
Deprived County, Alabama 00000

Dear Elderly Christians in Rural Alabama:

We feel your pain, but we can‘t give you any of that government money right now, and why do you want anything from the evil federal government anyway? They are nothing but a bunch of socialist liberals and we don’t need that in Alabama.  The fact that you have been denied by FEMA is really a blessing. You should be rejoicing!

The Lord God our savior said: (insert uplifting and zealous bible verse of your choice here)

Brothers and Sisters, we want to make you whole again, but you have been tried and found wanting and suffered God’s wrath! (Like you didn’t know that).  Suffering and sacrifice is not enough; God also thinks you shouldn’t get a federal handout at this time. He works in mysterious ways, don’t he?

But don’t you fret none now, because “you have a Doctor in charge of Alabama now” and he will make everything as right as rain. Well, maybe that wasn’t the best choice of words.  I’m not known for my oratorical skills, but I do love the Lord Jesus and I think you should too. And not just any Jesus, I’m talking about the righteous Christian blue-eyed Savior, because if you’re worshiping the son of the wrong God, you are not my brother and sister in Christ, maybe just a half-wit 2nd cousin or something.

And are you right with my God? Because if you aren’t than maybe that’s why your house blew away.  In Revelation, 11:19, “… there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.”  Sound familiar?

 "But you know what?" We really don’t need the federal government all in our business here in the great state of Alabama. If you’ll just pray with more conviction, your house and property and everything that the bad ol’ socialist liberal tornado took away (it had to be liberal because it hurt so may of you good conservative Christians) will miraculously rebuild itself. God can do anything. And so shall I despite Mike Hubbard and Bob Riley's meddling.

“Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages.” (Revelation 15:3)

I so personally approve this letter that I asked Mr. Craig Fugate to let me write it myself. That devil FEMA has been insensitive to you, offering money and then sending those straightforward rejection letters with no mention of Divine Intervention. I told Mr. Fugate that he should just send all those demon rejection letters to the pastors of your churches so he could pray with you, as you read the words “you have been denied,” words written by the Devil himself, denying you both the Kingdom of Heaven and a few dollars to rebuild your little Kingdom on Earth.

You will never be denied the Kingdom of Heaven if you just follow me and my Daddy, the Lord.  We may torment and test you for a thousand years, but just as Noah survived the Flood and Job endured his boils, you can get past a few more years of me as governor. Wait, did that come out right? Never mind, I'm low on White-out and just remember, the Rapture will come. Just not right now, and certainly not in the form of a check or any kind of compensation from Alabama or the Federal Government.  

Say “Hallelujah!”

The Self-Anointed, Righteous, Governor of some all Alabamians
Dr. Dr. Robert Bentley

*Disclaimer--it was not our intent to harm the feelings of Christians or deride religion with this parody of a letter. We simply don't believe governing should be weighted too heavily on religious beliefs first and foremost.
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Birmingham Mayor and City Council Fiddle While Pratt City Languishes in Storm Debris

*Updated May 24th--Council approves kickbacks contracts

Mayor William Bell, the man who won't, without a personally enriching "incentive" first

Birmingham's mayor and city council seem content to thrill to tune of their own sniping and neglect what should be important priorities in the aftermath of the April 27 tornadoes.

Mayor William Bell and the Birmingham City Council have wasted close to a month arguing over debris removal for Pratt City and other areas in Jefferson County. Meanwhile, the federal clock on FEMA funds continues to tick away with a June 12 deadline coming up fast. After the deadline, federal assistance drops from 90% to 75%, increasing the costs to the county and state.

But there's another cost that cannot be measure so easily--the price of frustration and squalor in the Pratt City area because of this lunacy masquerading as leadership. 

Governor Bentley has told the county in not so many words to 'get their rears in gear' and commenters to Birmingham News stories about the 'council of none but themselves' have echoed the sentiment.

In a city that wrote the sheet music for the familiar tune of 'corruption, cronyism and pay-offs' we think that debris removal should begin at City Hall before moving onto Pratt City. There is simply no excuse for the inept inaction by the city leaders, unless there is something else going on that is delaying the city from reaching a consensus. 

John Archibald has a pretty good idea what it is, and it centers on Birmingham Mayor William Bell's past business connections to one of the three private firms being pushed on the council by Bell. The main sticking point for the council has to do with a little pocket change, $10 million dollars worth, that has to be paid upfront first.

In contrast, the ACOE (corps) does not require money upfront, and is more than capable of doing the job, yet still, Mayor Bell insists on his costly scheme plan being voted on and approved by a majority of the council before anything happens.

We say--Fiddlers, meet Mr. Archibald's pen:

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange Indicts the Entire Bullock County Commission on No-Bid Contract Violations

Alabama AG 'Big' Luther and the 'Mighty Whitey' Haley Barbour
Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all.
Edmund Burke

An press release from the Alabama AG's office announced today that the entire Bullock County Commission was indicted for violating the Alabama no-bid contract law. It resulted in indictments and felony arrests of each and every commission member. The move, by Attorney General Luther Strange, in effect, vacates the entire commission. It was a drastic move that has never, before now, occurred in the state of Alabama:
The matter was referred to the Attorney General's Office by the Alabama Examiners of Public Accounts. An audit covering the time period of October 2008 to September 2009 included a finding by the Examiners that “The Code of Alabama 1975, Section 41-16-50, states that all expenditure of funds of whatever nature for labor, services, work, or for the purchase of materials, equipment, supplies, or other personal property involving $15,000.00 or more should be subject to the Alabama Competitive Bid Law. The Commission paid at least $61,000.00 for supplies and $24,000.00 for food for the Jail without letting bids as required by the Alabama Competitive Bid Law.”
The Examiners had previously issued reports of audits for the years October 2006 to September 2007 and October 2007 to September 2008, the two years prior to the audit under investigation, which also reported that the Commission had paid in excess of $15,000 for food for the jail without letting bids as required by Section 41-16-50.
Bullock County is not the only county in Alabama that's been found to be in violation of Alabama's no-bid contract law, and we have to wonder why they are being held accountable while another "favored' county seemingly escapes the long arm of the law from Luther Strange's office.

A state audit released in October of 2010 revealed that the republican stronghold of Shelby County, Alabama had been found to have an "expired no-bid contract for chemical supplies." Their expenditures dwarfed the amount that got the entire Bullock County Commission arrested and thrown in the clink. An additional alarming finding of employee theft was also revealed in the Shelby County audit:
The State of Alabama Auditor’s Office released the results of the Shelby County audit for 2008/2009 on October 8, 2010. The report reveals theft of county funds by an “unidentified” county employee on 19 separate occasions totaling $15,403.61. Fictitious adjustments to a bank reconciliation were done to help to hide the evidence. A separate finding of the audit  showed that the county jail spent $187,950.00 on “chemical supplies” in a no-bid contact that had expired.
♦ 2009-01 relates to a former employee of the Commission making fictitious adjustments to bank reconciliations and making unauthorized withdrawals from bank accounts.
♦ 2009-02 relates to the Commission’s failure to properly bid purchases in accordance with the Code of Alabama 1975, Section 41-16-50.
The Bullock County story includes this disclaimer of sorts:
"No further information about the investigation or about the defendants' alleged crimes other than that stated in the indictments may be released at this time."
There may be more to the Bullock County action than what we know at this time, but from the basis of the indictments, it certainly appears that selective justice is being applied in a horribly uneven manner in determining when a violation of Alabama's no-bid law becomes actionable and felonious.

Shelby County violated the exact same law that Bullock County is accused of, and in a more egregious manner to boot, and nothing happened to that commission. Not even a whisper of an investigation or impropriety was ever raised.


From where we sit, this abets some serious questions about the ability of the Alabama Attorney General's office to render fair and even applications of Alabama's laws without prejudice. 

A 2010 sample ballot for Bullock County reveals that it is a democratic stronghold that's been on the radar of the AG's office and the Shelby County native Secretary of State Beth Chapman-R before in 2008 for voting irregularities.

It's no secret that the steamroller of conservatism is in full throttle after the recent elections, and we're seeing some serious overreaching and gloating of power by the republicans who appear to be hell-bent on the extinction of all things liberal. We have to wonder what part politics plays in this because in Alabama it's always about politics and power.

Four out of five of the Bullock County Commissioners are black, 75% of the county is black. In Shelby County, all of the commissioners are white, staunchly republican, and the commission head is a cousin of Governor Bentley. Make of that what you will, if anything. We're really hoping the days of Jim Crow are behind us, but not holding our collective breaths that much has changed in the land of chains and cotton.

If what's just happened in Bullock County is based in any part in the frenzied crusade of the right, and they are willing to apply the laws of Alabama selectively and with deliberate unfairness for partisan purposes, then we're all in a hell of a lot more trouble than we can even begin to realize.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brute Force Unchecked--84 Year-Old Man Beaten by Fairhope, Alabama Police Officer

*Updated--Thursday pm--We're hearing from more than a few sources that Officer Scott and Kevin Stokes "were calling each other by their first names" during the incident.
* Second update May 25th--Fairhope PD claims "no abuse, interference by Henderson"
Thug on the loose Officer Trent Scott (center) flanked by FPD Chief Dr. Bill Press (R) and Gary Glover (L) Chairman of the Citizen Advisory Committee, who dressed up for the occasion.

The Courthouse News Service reports on the incredible story of an elderly citizen who called the Fairhope Police after an accident occurred near his home in May of 2009. The driver of the car was "severely intoxicated," and the local citizen caller, Mr. Dorsey Henderson, who's now the epitome of no good deed goes unpunished, made the 911 call in an attempt to do what he believed was his civic duty.

What happened next is shocking and unbelievable to imagine, but it's what happens regularly in one form or another in this state that's rapidly become the poster child of bad behavior in every faction of its public and governmental agencies.
When Officer Trent Scott arrived on the scene, Henderson attempted to inform him of the driver's belligerent behavior and that the driver had been placed under citizens arrest. The officer allegedly told Henderson there was "no such thing as citizen's arrest in Alabama," and to "get out of the way, old man."

After Henderson tried to explain that he was only trying to help, Officer Scott placed him in an arm bar and slammed him face first into the ground, breaking his nose and eyeglasses. Henderson's wife, Dorris, watched from a wheelchair at the front window of her house, telling a 911 dispatcher that the officer was "beating the hell out of my husband."
We've not seen any prominent state media coverage of the story, but now that the Courthouse News Service and Raw Story have run with it, after the filing of a lawsuit in the case, this will be added as another piece of garbage to the ever growing pile of stench that Alabama seems to be hell-bent on becoming.

It's interesting to note that the rogue officer received an award for Officer of the Month in December 2010 from the FPD after this incident occurred. Alabama has this dysfunctional reward system for bad behavior that is unparalleled and unrivaled in any other state. One might say it's "world-class."

Additionally, a commenter to the Raw Story coverage states that they made a call to the FPD and were met with an acerbic and "nasty militant yell over you type" FPD employee who continued the denial line of Officer Scott that the victim "wasn't really hurt."

A "broken nose, torn rotator cuff and multiple contusions and lacerations" apparently don't fit the FPD's definition of injuries, and furthermore, if you beat up an elderly man, who committed NO CRIME, in front of his wife, not only are you not held accountable, you might even get official recognition for your 'outstanding service and devotion' to your job.

That 2010 award was based on his "determination and persistence in a drug investigation" because rooting out illegal drugs, democrats and gambling will elevate your position and pay faster than a rocket ship strapped to your behind bound for the moon in Alabama's way of promotion.

Nice to know we have our 19th century priorities all straight and continue to "move forward to being a world-class state" isn't it?

If you would like to have a go at the FPD here's your number: (251) 928-2385

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