Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Straight Talk From Former Senator Alan Simpson on "The Last Word"

Lawrence O'Donnell's nightly show on MSNBC "The Last Word" opened Wednesday evening with his first guest the former senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson.

Simpson gives us a good dose of straight talk on the debt ceiling, taxes, political posturing and the nonsense of Grover Norquist--the would be republican kingmaker and far too powerful GOP enforcer. His idea of dealing with the debt is to cut spending while maintaining huge federal subsidies and unfair corporate loopholes to the wealthiest of special interests--an agenda we've seen play out in almost every state in the union that went red in 2010:
Norquist has long been critical of Republicans who have focused attention on the deficit, arguing instead that the target should be spending. Norquist knows there are only two ways to close the deficit -- hiking taxes and cutting spending -- and worries that the American people will gravitate toward higher taxes once they are confronted with the reality of spending reductions.
The former Wyoming senator disagrees with Norquist on "no tax increases ever" and accuses Norquist of "smoking more than I ever dreamed they produced in the trees and weeds" in reference to his so-called "pledges" he demands republicans sign if they want to be 2012 contenders. Simpson nails Norquist for what he is: an ideologue backed by special interests who have everything but the good of the people and the country in mind.

If you want the real deal on taxes and the debt this segment makes it elementary.

Bravo Mr. Simpson and Mr. O'Donnell for a brilliant exchange!

How "Voodoo Economics" wrecks the economy.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CASE STUDY: Dr. Willie Soon, a Career Fueled by Big Oil and Coal (and the Southern Company)

Story excerpt by Kert Davies for GreenPeace USA June 28, 2011
Of all the climate deniers, one scientist has been particularly closely involved in the campaign against the climate science consensus for the majority of his career: Dr. Willie Soon. 

Since 2001, Willie Soon has received direct funding for his research of $1.033 million from Big Coal and Big Oil interests. In contrast, he received $842,079 from conventional government or university funders in the same period. The last grant he received from a funder with no ties to dirty energy interests was in 2002 (a grant that carried through to 2006). Since then, he has been entirely funded by the fossil fuel industry.

The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation gave two grants to Dr. Soon totaling $175,000. The 2005-6 grant for $110,000 from the “Koch Foundation” is titled  "Koch/Mobile [sic] Charitable foundation." This two year grant came from the Charles G. Koch Foundation according to Media Matters Transperancy.
Beginning in 2002, Soon's funding mostly came from oil companies, including Southern Co., one of the largest coal burners in the United States, and the American Petroleum Institute, according to documents uncovered in a Freedom of Information Act request by Greenpeace and seen by Reuters.
"A campaign of climate change denial has been waged for over twenty years by Big Oil and Big Coal," said Kert Davies, a research director at Greenpeace US.
"Scientists like Dr. Soon who take fossil fuel money and pretend to be independent scientists are pawns."
FOIA requests revealed a "previously unknown" money source and the presence of a 'Southern player' in the investigation: The Southern Company (SOCO). This should come as no surprise to informed watchers of the company, and it's something to keep in mind whenever you hear SOCO's and Alabama Power hired guns propagandizing climate change to suit their end of the equation.

Sometimes they rely on elected 'pawns' like Ms. Cavanaugh for assistance.

In an editorial from the Anniston Star earlier this year, Alabama Public Service Commissioner, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh railed against increased environmental regulations on APCO and other heavy polluters with a gusto. She referred to global warming as "medicine show tonic" and carried the water for Alabama Power Company (APCO) by claiming "more stringent regulations would increase power bills by 30-40%."

BamaFactCheck.com dismantled her claims one by one and revealed that Ms. Cavanaugh made these claims based on information from APCO:
Public Service Commissioner Twinkle Cavanaugh says she attended a December presentation by Alabama Power at the PSC’s Montgomery offices. The power company outlined its costs for compliance with EPA regulations.
Cavanaugh, whose job is to regulate Alabama Power and other electrical suppliers, was upset by what she heard.
“I literally got so incensed by what was going on, I wrote something that was maybe 10 or 12 pages handwritten,” she said. Cavanaugh said she later whittled the piece down to the op-ed that ran in The Star and other papers. 
Clearly, Ms. Cavanaugh is a malleable sort who blindly accepts one-sided propaganda as fact to rant about publicly, and we no longer wonder why she became a member of the Alabama PSC. She's a perfect fit in this industry apologist agency. Maybe the next time she decides to attend presentations by industries her agency is charged with regulating, she will think first and become "incensed" second instead of the other way around.

In the meantime, it might be helpful for the PSC to be aware of what the Southern Company has been paying for. This might assist them in making more thoughtful decisions about serious issues under their authority, and hopefully dissuade any other members from taking to the editorial pages and coming off like industry shills rather than informed, non-biased and responsible regulators.

Big polluters know that if they buy 'experts' to prop up their claims of 'no harm from our industry' who give false credence to their scare tactics of 'jobs will be lost, costs will rise' they'll gain ground with the uninformed. It's one of their oldest and most frequently used tricks because it works. So does the money that pours into the expert's pockets.

Dr. Soon does not deny that he received the money from these industry groups, but he claims it had "no influence on his research and findings"-- the standard defense when the dirty tricks get exposed. Soon can claim his results are unbiased, but it's difficult to escape the traceable money trail of a career fueled by big coal and oil.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CBS 42 "Deadly Deception" Series Continues

CBS 42 continues to be the leader in following and reporting on the North Birmingham Walter Energy toxic contamination story

Monthly meetings are being held with the affected residents in conjunction with the EPA, Jefferson County Dept. of Health (JCDH) and Walter Energy in an attempt to better inform the community. Indicators are that attempt is failing miserably on all levels--mistrust is now running higher than ever and frustration seems to be increasing among the residents with each successive meeting.

It's a notable and ominous statistic that 7-8 additional funerals have occurred since the last monthly meeting. 

Walter Energy continues to maintain its innocence and claim they have no part in the contamination, despite being ordered by the EPA to remediate the contaminated areas in these neighborhoods. Walter's version of it is that they are cleaning up out of the goodness of their big business hearts.

What's happening to this area of North Birmingham is an environmental crime of serious proportions that appears to have no good end in sight. Adding fuel to the fire is a spokesman with the JCDH who speaks to these frightened and worried residents in technical and departmental jargon that they cannot understand. Our opinion is that this is not a miscommunication as much as it is a by design attempt to buffalo these people with technical verbal confusion.
Part of the problem is that some of the answers are not simple, as when the Jefferson County Department of Health tried to explain the process by which it measures contamination. The residents say the explanations are too complex.
“As far as I’m concerned, you have just wasted 30 minutes of my time. I have no earthly idea what you're talking about," says Jimmie Smith, who lives in Collegeville.
The confusion has led to mistrust.
Some feel the company is just putting them off, while contamination continues and they fear the resulting disease is killing them.
“It's where, well, we'll tell these black people we'll do it next month and the next month and by then they'll probably be dead," says a resident of North Birmingham.
That kind of talking over your audience sleight of tongue should end with this last meeting and not be repeated again. It's disingenuous and insulting at best and a blatant attempt to distract and deflect at worst. These are real human beings with real lives who are dying in alarming numbers from elevated cancer incidents in this area. They deserve a lot more respect than they are getting from the authority and corporate figures involved in this preventable tragedy.

CBS 42, Sherri Jackson and Ken Lass should be roundly applauded for staying on this story.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Show Us The Money Boys--Lawmakers and Their Side Deals Hidden From the Public

How much do our legislators and top republicans really earn from their elected offices and where is the line of ridiculous in the sand?

It raises the question of why we are paying lawmakers a taxpayer based salary, with all the extra income and benefits they receive on the side from lobbyists, business interests, PR firms and state and national political party’s handing out credit cards to top republicans. 

How much extra is enough?

Being elected to office is no longer public service on a modest, civic pay scale. Holding office leads to all types of enormous monetary benefits, and our politicians have become very adept at gaming the system. Their desire to affect change for the public good lands dead last behind their own financial interests. 

Is this what we vote for? Is this the type of party representation we envision?

Former RNC head Michael Steele came under a barrage of fire when it was revealed that donor money was being spent on lavish dinners, strip clubs and a whole host of personal enrichment monetary favors. The firestorm ended in his stepping aside as RNC head after public outcry became too loud for the RNC to ignore.

Why don’t we get this angry when it goes on at state levels?

Both sides of the aisle play the blame game over money—republicans point the finger at democrats on federal spending, and the democrats turn around and blame republicans for being far too lenient with big business in tax breaks and loopholes. But there is a big difference in our opinions—federally spent money is much more open and traceable than hidden money doled out by political party organizations.

How many voters are aware of the credit cards being handed out to select lawmakers?

The GOP has been doing this in all 50 states and until they get caught by a media source that is savvy enough to catch on to the game, they’ll keep doing it. No lessons were learned from the fairly recent scandal to the national GOP party that brought down Steele and others in shame.

It’s incumbent on our media sources to unearth these schemes and expose them to the public at large. We have a right to know the financial behavior of our elected politicians that we entrust with the power to handle our state affairs. If politicians will waste donor money on lavish dinners and expensive haircuts, then that tells us a lot, which we should know, about their fiscal attitudes in general.

The way we learn of these back room deals is through our media informing us and keeping an eye out for these types of charades. That will not happen unless they are willing to set aside their political leanings and act as a public watchdog rather than a political lapdog. Who do they really serve, us or their advertisers?

The media was paying attention in Florida

In 2010, controversy swirled around the use of state GOP issued credit cards to high ranking lawmakers who used them for anything but party related expenses—the intent behind handing out the cards. When demands from the media for access to the statements from the FLGOP on the credit card activity grew louder, the party responded in predictable fashion and circled the wagons around the transgressors. Lawmakers refused to grant access to the statements. What were they trying to hide from their voters?

The fountains of free flowing money aren’t confined to GOP issued credit cards

Last week’s testimony in the bingo gambling trial opened up a can of worms when it was revealed that Representative Barry Mask-R Elmore County has been receiving $10-50K per year for a single client referral to lobbyist Steve Windom. Windom, a former Alabama legislator and party switcher from democrat to republican, gained notoriety for using the senate floor as his personal men’s room in 1999 when he urinated in a jug behind his desk while presiding over the senate fearing if he left the floor he would be stripped of his powers by the democratic majority. 

Windom is one of those politically bendable characters that wouldn’t necessarily be a boost to any lawmaker’s good association list, but Mask, a self-professed upright Christian and would be good steward of the people’s money, sees nothing wrong with his arrangement with Windom. He admitted in testimony this past week that what he is doing is “perfectly legal” even though does basically nothing of consequence for the tens of thousands in yearly ‘thank you’ money from Windom.

The Alabama Ethics Commission seems to be in agreement with this cozy deal. 

How many other Alabama lawmakers have a Representative Mask style deal or party issued credit cards? Why isn’t the state press asking the questions and demanding that the state party admit this is going on in Alabama?  

It's time to put an end to these on the side deals and name the names of who is doing it. If what they are doing is legal as written in Alabama Code, but it's considered very distasteful to the public, then maybe it's time to end the legality of it.

Our ‘new day republicans’ refer to themselves as ‘morally upright and fiscally responsible’ so let’s take them at their word and ask them to release the statements and records to the public view. 

Representative Mask can go first by naming what high value client he referred to Steve Windom that is netting him tens of thousands of dollars per year in addition to his taxpayer based legislative pay. Perhaps he also has a handy explanation for the amounts increasing by ten fold once he took elected office. And maybe Mr. Windom can tell us, during his tenure of public service, if he was approached by a big money bag source who promised a Beason style PR position once he left office for a favorable vote during his career. 

At the very least Windom is a prime example of the reprehensible revolving door practice, so what else did legislative office afford him? We don't send representatives to Montgomery to get rich on the side, we send them to represent us, the people. They all seem to have forgotten what their real purpose is and made political office-holding a career move that pays off better and faster than any private sector job ever would.

If you are going to talk the talk, then walk the walk.

The Alabama republicans stated more than once during their campaigns that “Alabama’s government should have more transparency and accountability.” We think there’s no better place for them to begin than with themselves.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reanimating a "Zombie Nuclear Reactor" in Hollywood, Alabama--TVA's Bellefonte 1

The TVA recently announced plans to revive it's half century old reactor the Bellefonte 1 to the tune of almost $9 billion dollars--$4 billion has already been invested and another $4-5 billion is required to get it up and running. Skeptics say the reactor is "too expensive and too antiquated, and it lies in an earthquake zone." 

They're right about all three. 

But it's moving forward anyway despite known problems with all of the TVA'S nuclear facilities.

Excerpt from a June 15, 2011 NY Times story on Bellefonte:
Thomas Kilgore, the authority’s president and chief executive, said finishing it now would make more sense later. “Why nuclear?” he said. “Once you get the unit built, you’ve got inflation locked out.”Mr. Beaumont, the industry analyst, said that “based on cost, I absolutely think you can say it’s crazy.” But that assessment might change over time, he allowed.
The Environmental Protection Agency could force additional coal-generated power plants to close as it polices greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the demand for cleaner sources of energy, he said. The price of natural gas will eventually rise, making nuclear energy more competitive, he added, and at some point, existing nuclear plants will wear out.
T.V.A. executives have another troublesome variable to deal with, unpredictable changes in demand, which is what they say caused them to shut down construction in 1988.
“I can’t forecast out 8 or 10 years,” Mr. Kilgore said, but “we just know when we get there, Bellefonte 1 is a good economic proposition."
The TVA has a long track record of problems with its nuclear facilities. Brown's Ferry is notorious for safety issues, and the Watts Bar 1 facility was shut down in 1985 after employees came forward with safety and operating concerns that kept the plant closed for eleven years. That eleven year down time has been described as a "lax period" where "proper construction procedures were not followed, and documentation was poorly maintained." During this same time of troubling ineffectiveness, construction of the Bellefonte site was completed.

In the years between then and now, it was scavenged for parts to other facilities to within a shadow of its former self. Tearing it down and starting over would make more prudent sense, but TVA has firmly demonstrated by their own actions they are not known for sense and prudence. Or safety.

Another one of TVA's facilities in Tennessee, Watts Bar, is scheduled to have a second reactor online by October 2012 and it too is swirled in controversy and questions.

In a meeting on June 20, 2011 in Athens, Tennessee between the NRC and TVA Watts Bar representatives, questions were raised "about the TVA's nuclear track record and the NRC's oversight" in addition to the safety of nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The NRC is still reviewing a backlog of 500 whistle-blowing complaints about the TVA's Watts Bar facility. Robert Haag, NRC construction chief reported that "the agency has reviewed and closed 79 of those allegations."

James Moorman, director of the NRC's Southeast division construction projects, is markedly more optimistic about allowing the TVA to expand Watts Bar than some in the audience:
From the mid-1970s when construction began at Watts Bar to Unit 1’s startup in 1996, whistle-blower allegations raised concerns about everything from quality control to fire protection. When work stopped on Unit 2, the whistle-blower allegations pertaining to that reactor were shelved by NRC.
“We think we’re on schedule with what we have [in that new look],” Moorman said after the meeting.
But several listeners at the meeting were full of questions and concerns.
Ann Harris, one of the whistle-blowers and former Watts Bar employees, took TVA and NRC officials to task for not checking what she said were far more than 500 allegations long ago.
“This is snake oil you’re spinning,” she told the officials.
Brian Paddock, an attorney working with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, asked NRC how the recent evaluations of failures at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant might affect the scheduled October 2012 Watts Bar startup.
“I haven’t heard anything about that,” he said.
He also questioned whether NRC’s recent re-evaluations of seismic risks to the plant are being applied at Watts Bar.
NRC officials told him they would get back to him with answers.
Sometimes dead is better when it comes the TVA's archaic nuclear facilities--they continually exhibit a morbid pattern of pouring millions of federal dollars into antiquated ideas that one day we may all pay for in deadly consequences.

Stephen Smith writing for the Institute of Southern Studies made a convincing argument against "zombie reactor" resurrection in a 2009 article:
If TVA decides to go forward with Bellefonte despite serious questions about financial and safety issues, the plant would likely not be completed until 2020 or beyond. Given that initial construction began back in 1974 and a standard operating life is 40 years, the reactor at Bellefonte could be operating at a ripe old age of nearly 90. A potential NRC-granted 20-year license extension down the road could make for an almost 110-year-old operating reactor. If in 2080 someone asks whether anyone still uses nuclear reactor technology from the Nixon era, hopefully that will be a laughable question. Yet it is deadly serious.
Mr Smith concluded his article with the hope that the TVA would "make a better and safer decision" regarding the Bellafonte reactor. Sadly, his words and hope have fallen on the usual deaf ears of most quasi-governmental agencies like the TVA.

In our opinions, all that stands between us and disaster is the NRC, and so far they have signaled a frightening unwillingness to act in the best interests of the public with nuclear energy oversight. It's almost as if Fukushima was a fluke, an anomaly that gets obligatory lip service of 'we have learned from that disaster' but we are not really going to make any big changes.

That's flirting with disaster on epic levels.

Just how safe are the US nuclear plants anyway? 

According to a recent investigative report from the Associated Press "radioactive tritium has leaked from 3/4 of all US commercial nuclear plants into groundwater from corroded buried piping." The NRC continues to "extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation" despite the occurrence and severity of the leaks increasing.

Tritium leaks have also been documented at The Southern Company's (SOCO) nuclear plants in Georgia and Alabama: Vogtle (Ga.) & Farley (Ala.) SOCO's Farley plant requires massive amounts of water to keep their reactors cooled and they aren't going to allow a decrease in available water supplies without putting up some huge resistance. The long-standing water wars between Georgia and Alabama figures into nuclear and the utility plants of Alabama Power. This link sheds some light on what's driving the issue and it's not all about over-development-- it's mainly about "Power and Water Colliding

Governor Bentley, inheriting the water wars battle from the previous administration of Bob Riley, signaled his readiness earlier this year to put an end to the twenty-year fight.

Lastly, it is worth considering the role extreme changes in weather will have on our nuclear facilities. What's happening in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska right now might give us a big clue and another cautionary warning we would be wise to heed:

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Threat or A Promise? Southern Company May Announce Coal Retirements

Josh Galeprin, Esq. writing for cleanenergy.org dismantles the Southern Company's arguments against following the rules of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) under a new proposal by the EPA requiring stricter limits on utility emissions.

In typical Southern Company fashion, they would rather fight than switch.

Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power in April bemoaning the loss of revenue, jobs and increased rates to customers as his reasons to delay the EPA's looming deadline of implementation for the stricter rules.

Mr. Fanning had a lot to say to the subcommittee, but what was conspicuously absent from his testimony were the huge health costs and consequences to the public at large if Congress agreed to the delay he was asking them for.

Not one word about those, but plenty about the money and 'inconvenience' to his company.

Southern's website has this motto: "Think Bold, Act Sure"
John Walke director of the Clean Air Program for the National Resources Defense Councilof the National Resources Defense Council has something to say about that motto and Southern's decades-old bad attitude towards responsibility, compliance and accountabilty:
The public deserves to know why Southern’s “boldness” does not include taking responsibility for its air pollution and the consequences, while it “acts sure” that we won’t notice how much our public health is suffering. 
We couldn't agree more with Mr Walke and Mr. Galeprin.

This is all coming to head with a ruling from the SCOTUS on June 20th rebuking lawsuits "brought by states against power plants to reduce their emissions as a public nuisance." The SCOTUS ruled that the ultimate authority lies with the EPA following a Bush era ruling in Massachusetts vs EPA case from 2007.

In that case, the high court ruled against the Bush administration's position and confirmed that the EPA does have a duty to protect the public from dangerous smokestack emissions and carbon pollution under authority granted to the agency through the CAA & CWA.

Big business has been fighting the ruling ever since and no utility has resisted as stubbornly as the Southern Company (John Walke):
Forty years after the Clean Air Act was enacted, half of Southern’s power plant units still lack basic pollution control equipment called scrubbers that reduce the most deadly forms of air pollution.

Other utility companies, from Duke Energy serving the Carolinas and Midwestern states to Constellation Energy serving Mid-Atlantic, New England and other states, have said they stand ready to comply with the standards on time.

Not Southern.

It’s not as if the company hasn’t known these standards were coming, since they are more than a decade overdue.

But Southern has chosen to continually put off cleaning up all of their dirtiest power plants, and now wants to continue the delay even longer.

In the meantime, people continue to die, get sick and miss work and school because of the pollutants that Southern and other power companies spew into our air. 
Monday's ruling by the SCOTUS "puts the spotlight" squarely on the EPA to act in the best interest of the public. We're hoping they will continue their forward march to finally reign in the big polluters, but we're not going to hold our breath that will happen.

The EPA has dropped the ball in the last year on stricter coal ash regulations and boiler emissions rules implementation after signaling itself ready to crack down hard on both known sources of highly risky toxins. Despite the winds of heavy public sentiment in favor of increased oversight to push forward, the EPA caved to industry pressure and refused to act.

The EPA's reluctance might have something to do with the methods behind Southern's motto: big corporate money "thinks bold" in buying lawmakers sympathies through generous donations and it's agenda "acts sure" of its ability to persuade governmental agencies to back off.
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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Gap Between State Legislator Education and the Populace

The Chronicle of Higher Education releases its report revealing nationwide statistics comparing college education among the fifty states lawmakers and their constituents. Which is more important--an formally educated legislative body or learned voters? 

"How important is it for state lawmakers to hold college degrees?"

Arguments exist to support both sides of this argument, but one thing is for certain-- a huge disparity between the education level of state lawmakers and the populace in general is not a true representative government according to John Adams' side of it. James Madison held the opposing view and the debate continues 215 years later:
It's a tension that dates to the founding of the country: In our representative democracy, should those who make the laws reflect the entire citizenry, or should they be chosen from an educated elite?
Or to put it in terms that matter in the pages of The Chronicle: Should lawmakers be people who have seen the inside of a college classroom?
In Federalist No. 10, James Madison debated the merits of republics and democracies, arguing that delegating government to elected representatives should "refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country." That sounds like a point for the ivory tower.
On the other hand, back in 1776, as the colonies were faced with creating new governments, John Adams wrote that the representative assembly "should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them."
An educated populace should make a difference at the polls. Higher learning generally fosters a thirst for knowledge outside one's geographical area and imparts an ability to possess critical thinking skills. In the current atmosphere of propaganda overdrive, dizzying to follow PAC mazes and frequent political sleight of hand, possessing the ability to see beyond the convenient promises of a candidates is crucial to electing good government representatives.

Education is only as good as the teacher and the institution

State colleges and universities in Alabama have some areas they can brag about--degree programs in business and the medical fields rank respectably. We've produced some sharp minds from both over the years. What about other areas of higher learning like communications, legal and political science? Most of these programs are co-opted by a segment of donors and influences possessing a mindset that follows a narrow agenda--one that is somewhat antiquated and non-responsive to a new way of doing things.

Even if the universities did make real efforts to break the ingrained model, the usual suspects would still be waiting for the 'best and brightest' as graduation day approached:
In another popular Big Mule tactic, a corporation such as the Alabama Power Company would buy the loyalties of recent law school graduates by placing them on a monthly retainer. They rarely did any work for the corporation, but its status as a client would prevent them from taking any cases against it. If any of these men had political ambitions, they would be beholden to the corporation. These retainers represented a major source of income for lawyers just establishing their practices in Alabama's small towns and cities.
Higher education in Alabama is difficult to obtain for the average person--we're not a personal wealth state with a high earning populace in general. The state attitude compounds the problem by not placing higher value in educating the 'smart enough' but less fortunate. This could be changed by providing more programs for our citizens who want and demonstrate the academic prowess to excel above a high school diploma. Productive teachers should be empowered and rewarded with all available tools to foster excellence, but Alabama doesn't ensure that even the teaching system has the 'best and brightest' in place to instruct the minds of our future.

What's happening instead is a push towards technical and trade instruction in lieu of a four year degree. It's comparing apples to oranges and serves to keep the population dumbed down to a certain degree. 

The argument for and against: aspiration vs perspiration

In a 2010 ad campaign for Go Build Alabama (GBA) this absurdity soared to new heights when spokesman Mike Rowe (of "Dirty Jobs" fame) was scripted to phftttt on camera against the benefit of a college degree. Rolled out in a state sponsored PR push through the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), the slick campaign was designed to reach "displaced workers, career changers and even eighth graders who have yet to decide their futures." GBA was reportedly conceived because fewer and fewer people were choosing to enter into the professions of carpentry, welding, and other technical fields.

The ACRI through GBA went so far as to advertise that these technical jobs "out-paid jobs available to four year degree earners" and "have better benefits" and "we need to get word out" according to ACRI executive director Tim Alford.

Trade and technical schools might be the only option for a percentage of the population and we'll admit they have their value, but by instituting a state sponsored push for trade work education, over programs designed to benefit Alabama's less fortunate citizens chances in reaching higher formal education status, seems wrong-headed and one-sided. 

We suspect this has more to do with the economic benefit of the road building and development gang's profits than it does the citizens of Alabama's own economic futures. Economic strategists have dispelled the myth that road building is the path to economic revival as a "short term fix with long term consequences to a sporadic and temporary work force." A large segment of technically skilled workers are without the safety of union representation (Alabama is a right-to-work state) and without the security of a four year degree.

A dumbed-down population is a politically malleable population

Recent legislation from the 2011 session signaled a renewed vigor in the all out war on an already troubled education system. Once again, the Education Trust Fund went into proration, further reducing monies available to our already-underfunded-at-best learning framework. Higher education in Alabama seems to be an attainable goal reserved mainly for the elite, the "best and the brightest."

Is this what the Alabama republicans meant when they justified not repealing their 62% pay raise and defending the heist hike by claiming repeal would not attract "the best and the brightest?" If it was, it calls into question the standard of determining who the 'best and brightest' is, and who and what that ultimately benefits and represents. From all indicators it isn't the people's interests.

The absence of vox populi representation

Alabama voters have a long history of being easily manipulated by wily politicians and special interests. The gubernatorial election preceding the writing of the 1901 Constitution is historically recorded as the 'stolen in broad daylight election.' It's one of the darkest stains on Alabama's political history steeped in manipulation, bribery and corruption on a grand scale. Similar shenanigans still go on in our elections from state to local races, but the operatives have gotten better at concealing their methods, and in some cases they've even legitimized them through legislation.

If more Alabamians had access to a formal degree, encompassing the study of history and our political process both of which are required in most degree programs, they would be able to critically think about numerous issues and subjects on a wider scale. This enlightenment would work against the less-than-honest 'educated' politicians and they wouldn't be able to fool their way into office so handily. 

In the simplest terms, If we knew better we would vote better.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of our legislators attended school on the public dime. Those figures are probably fairly high and assuming that is the case, why don't they give back and make it easier for others to attend college?

What if they had been told to not worry about that law or business degree because it isn't as important as repairing septic tanks or working in weltering and unforgiving 100 plus degree blazing summer heat laying down asphalt? If that had happened, we would have a statehouse full of plumber's cracks and cement jockeys crafting our laws.

As bad as that might sound at first blush, it would be 'closer to even' with the people, according the Chronicle of Higher Education's statistics comparing lawmakers education stats to the populace stats, than what we have right now: a statehouse full of know-alls, flash harry's and show mules that do not in any way, shape, form or fashion represent a "portrait of the people at large." 

And how great would it be if the stats swung in the other direction? If the education of the people caught up to the education of the lawmakers? That would be a giant step forward for this state mired too long in mediocrity, and it would be a life and liberty changer for everyone in Alabama.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Senator Harri Anne Smith Calls for GOP Caucus to Ask for Senator Beason's Resignation

Alabama state Senator Harri Anne Smith thinks Senator Beason should resign in the wake of troubling revelations in his recorded conversations where the ghost of Jim Crow drifted in on racially tinged comments.

We agree with Senator Smith. 

What was revealed in his testimony is unforgivable and it's a blight on the state of Alabama, a state that still struggles to escape her painful past.

Senator Beason managed in a weeks time to go from GOP star to radioactive nuke when it was revealed in court that he referred to the primarily minority customers of the Greentrack Casino as "aborigines." 

In some of his FBI wire recordings with fellow republicans, where they are meeting and complaining about the casino operators, it's feared the casino owners would put their black customers on "HUD financed buses" and bus them to polls if a statewide vote was allowed on gambling. Beason and the republicans worried a large black voter turnout would keep the republicans from taking over the Alabama legislature.

"Just keep in mind" that if there's a referendum on ballot "every black in the state will be bussed to the polls and that ain't gonna help."---unnamed Alabama senator quote from trial testimony 6/16/2011

These republicans had a keen interest in defeating a March 2010 senatorial committee passage that would allow gambling to be put to a vote by the people of Alabama. Clearly, they were willing to pull out all the stops to kill the initiative. Testimony from Senator Beason and the wire recordings makes that an obvious conclusion.

But they weren't finished. Yet.

Not wanting to deal with the issue again, they plotted the best way to ensure that no other legislation came up was to get the feds involved and shut down the gambling faction and their enablers for good. Through Beason's wire wearing, Representative Lewis' cooperation with the feds and some other elected 'helpers' not yet revealed, they accomplished their goal.

An unexpected consequence of plotting sometimes results in backfiring on the schemers. This plot, and the republicans involved in it, is turning out to be dirtier than the alleged charges that brought on the indictments and the trial.

How much does the complexion of the new legislature influence it?

The state house this year is not only almost exclusively republican, it's overwhelmingly male Caucasian. And deeply southern. There are ghosts of Alabama's troubling past still alive and well in Montgomery. Beason's recordings prove that beyond question and he's handed these 'new day' republicans a huge image problem that won't fade away anytime soon.

Senator Smith says she is "disgusted and disappointed" by Beason's comments and she has "always been for letting the people vote" on gambling. In her own words after Wednesday's testimony:

Video by WELDBirmingham

Senator Beason claims that Smith was involved in a $500K promised future contribution to Beason for a future run as Lt. Governor. All Beason had to do, according to him, was vote for a favorable bill on statewide gambling, but there's no proof that ever occurred. In fact, when Senator Beason first approached the FBI he made no mention of the money or the offer according to testimony, but he is now claiming that was one of the main reasons he went to the feds.

Senator Smith had hired Beason as a political consultant in a previous campaign paying him $10K for 30 days work and a percentage of the media markup fees, which Beason says amounted to "around $6K." Beason approached Smith about a $70K loan to pay off some debt saying she was the only "one I knew who owns a bank." The bank turned him down and he went to Smith for 'intervention.' Smith suggested to Beason that he use a local bank as another option.  Did he expect to get the money without an officially recorded loan? Why was he turned down by Smith's bank and what did he expect her to do if he could not be approved through the regular application process?

In 2008 Smith, a republican state senator at the time, supported a democrat, Bobby Bright over Montgomery businessman Jay Love-R in a runoff election. It cost her a place in the Alabama GOP who quickly disqualified her from running for office as a republican. She was forced to gather signatures to run as an independent to hold onto political office. 

Congressman Spencer Bachus along with many other big wig 'boys club' republicans (Shelby, Sessions among them) did something in 2010 very similar to what Smith was ostracized for and none of them suffered any measurable political blow-back for it. They supported Parker Griffith, a *controversial, long time north Alabama democrat, who switched to the GOP in 2009. Parker's voting record was intensely liberal, but as soon as he changed parties he received praise from some of Alabama's most powerful conservatives. He was as welcome as rain in August to the fold.
*By Alabama's standards and before he switched parties, AL GOP frequently criticized Griffith.

Double standard maybe? Mildly misogynistic sort of?

What's the real motive behind Senator Beason's ax grinding with Senator Smith?
Smith's lawyers probably have a bit more light to shed on that in future testimony.

One of McGregor's Espy's (he has three of them) hinted there is more inflammatory language to come as the trial progresses. We tend to believe he's right and not talking off the cuff. In a new development, the federal judge presiding over the trial ruled the racist remarks are relevant despite vigorous attempts by the prosecution to discredit their importance.

Will the republicans and their core voters persist in defending Beason and his tolerance challenged cohorts maintaining the ends justified the means? The means are showing themselves to be frighteningly ugly.

If McGregor and Co. are guilty then justice must be served, but what about the underlying problem that is overshadowing the charges against them? 

It might be too much to hope for, but maybe we'll get a double shot of justice out of this trial--those that have committed acts of corruption will be justly punished and the 'new day' channelers of Jim Crow will be ousted from the statehouse.

*Update--ADP joins the chorus calling for resignation.
ALGOP leader Bill Armistead defends Beason as "honorable."
Senator Ben Brooks-R tries to unring the bell after being exposed.
Photo credit: MSU

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day Two of Alabama Bingo Trial Testimony--Senator Beason Gets His Close Up

I'm ready for my close up Mr. DeMille...
*Updated Weds. pm see below
In Tuesday’s testimony of the gambling trial McGregor lawyer Bobby Segall zooms in on the taped and electronic conversations from the wire wearing narcissistic snitch who's throwing every perceived political threat under the bus. Beason claims over and over he was only "role-playing for the FBI." He isn’t really the indiscriminate political turncoat the recorded communications, with a little help from the wily Segall’s masterful questioning, clearly reveal him to be.

The legend in his own mind Senator Beason seems obsessed with creating reality and casting aside as many political opponents as he can, by whatever means necessary, on his way to bigger and better things. He's signaled his readiness for fame and there's an uncanny parallel to the overbearing, wildly narcissistic and delusional character of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Here’s some back and forth from today’s proceedings to illustrate our point:

Beason: I was playing a role for the FBI.
Segall: Just like you're playing a role here today?
Beason: I am not playing a role, why would you even say that?
Segall: If we want to know the true Senator Beason, we need to hear the conversations you did not record, right?
Beason in conversation: "I hate the feds, but I know you've got to have a backstop against corruption."
Segall: Did you say “I don't like building a system where evil people can abuse their power and send you to jail?”
Segall: Didn't you tell Rep. Lewis that you don't think the FBI even cares, they just want to send people to prison?
Beason: I don't recall
Segall: You wanted anybody that threatened you politically to go to prison whether they deserved it or not.
Segall: You could have gone to state police?
Beason: Yes.
Segall: But instead you go to the people you describe as evil?
Segall: Instead of going to the Feds - who you've described in such colorful terms - you could have gone to the local police?
Segall: Did FBI Agent Baker tell you who he wanted you to talk to?
Beason: Some of the time.
Segall: And sometimes you chose yourself some to speak to?
Beason: Sometimes if people were talking to me about gambling I would record them, though FBI didn't ask me to record them. The FBI didn't write script. What they said was talk to so-and-so, and I was trying to find out what was going on and to what extent. I thought the FBI were the good guys wanting to do the right thing.
Segall: Is it true that you support a black woman, Yvonne Kennedy, being speaker of the House?
Beason: At one time. Not because she was black.
Segall: Did you support GOP caucus supporting black woman being speaker of house?
 Feb 10, 2010: conversation-- “There's an election coming and if the blacks take over, Yvonne Kennedy will be completely disorganized, she can't raise money from business, republicans can win.”
Beason in conversations says he supported Yvonne not because he liked her, but because she'd be bad and hurt her party. Segall asks him if this is true. Beason says that's part of it.
Segall: Did you want to get Arthur Orr out of office?
Beason: I've never been involved in a campaign against Senator Arthur Orr.
Evidence is a conversation between Beason and Monica Cooper, Jabo Waggoner’s assistant. Cooper said "And they need to take out Arthur." Beason said "Yes, I wish" Beason says he was playing a role for FBI. Cooper supported Beason's rise in AL GOP.
Segall: You wanted to get rid of Steve French, if he was out of Senate?
Beason: That would not have bothered me.
Segall: Were you actively encouraging others to dig up dirt on opponents?
Beason: That was fact finding, a normal part of campaigns.
Segall: Feb 17, 2010 conversations--Segall: Were you talking about running candidates against people who supported Steve French & Jabo Waggoner?
Conversations with Beason and Randy Brinson, head of Alabama Christian Coalition asked is it okay if we go after various Republicans.
Beason to jury: Yes, I would not have minded Brinson working against candidates that were not mine. Including get dirty.
Brinson asks if he can get dirty in conversation, Beason says yes, it’s revealed Beason is trying to ensnare Brinson because he thinks Brinson is associating with McGregor and explains it away, for the umpteenth time as “I‘m playing a role for the FBI.”
Beason: Getting dirty doesn't mean doing something unethical.

In a previous proceeding, Beason, from a recording with "full of crap" lobbyist Jarrod Massey, says he “wasn’t going to settle for so little (i.e. money) like *Jeremy Oden” and then later admitted he had no proof Rep. Oden was involved in gambling brouhaha. That didn't stop the God fearing Beason from casting his own production in the direction of his fellow Christian brother Oden. 
*In the next day's testimony Senator Beason claims he "just pulled Rep. Oden's name out of the air."

What’s emerging in the trial is the hideous picture of a man who's so self-absorbed with his perceived importance that he’s willing to climb over everybody on the political ladder on his way up.

And none of them are safe from his wire wearing got it on tape.

Senator Beason has been described in the press as “Alabama’s newest rising political star” and he wields formidable power over his captive audience on Goat Hill. No bills go anywhere without his approval. And what's he done with that power? He's given Alabama some of the worst bills in modern history and caused another black eye to the state with the harshest anti-immigration bill in the country.

The national audience is not enjoying the show and we're once again the subject of the big media journalists acting as harsh critics. Senator Beason does not care. Instead he's overtly arrogant and haughty about the criticism blaming it all on "liberal media outlets." It's all about him and his judgment and he'll quickly tell you he knows best about such matters.

In contrast, Norma Desmond’s narcissism and delusional fantasies affected only her immediate circle in life and were a part of the illusion of Hollywood.

Senator Beason’s delusional narcissism erodes and corrupts our basic constitutional virtues and has an adverse affect on all Alabamians--not just a movie audience.

The classic movie Sunset Boulevard was once described as a “film about the narcissistic hell hole that is Hollywood.” What we are seeing in the testimony of this trial is the narcissistic hell hole of Alabama politics starring Senator Beason.

So Say We The Opinion Board Of The Vincent Alabama Confidential

*Update--Day three of the trial today went nuclear--Stamford Advocate
Senator Harri Anne Smith-I "Disgusted and disappointed with Beason's remarks" calls for resignation
Senator Ben Brooks-R tries to back away from participation in racist remarks

Photo credit: WKRG
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