Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We'll Be Back Soon After a Much Deserved December Break

Alabama's state house is known as "Goat Hill," a term it has earned for its uncanny ability to be stubborn as a farm animal, and its uncanny ability to consistently pass some of the most odiferous legislation this side of a barnyard. The new year in the Montgomery legislature is shaping up to be the same old predictable, treacherous rocky terrain we've come to expect from our lawmakers, if we use the intent of the pre-filed bills as our guide to coming 2012 attractions. 

Here are just some of the of the issues on tap from the republican majority in Alabama:
  • Charter Schools
  • Corporate Welfare
  • Voter ID Laws (as if we didn't have enough already!)
  • Changing Ballot Access Requirements for Potential Candidates
  • Medicaid/Medicare
  • Private Prison Industrialization
  • Personhood Amendments
  • Constitutional Reform and Amendments
  • Drug testing for public assistance recipients

With 2012 being an election year, all elections count no matter how small they have been in the past. The Public Service Commission election, usually a low voter turnout election, will be one of the most expensive and contentious on record this year as republicans continue their "paint the state red" agenda. It's an important election because whatever the next PSC board is made of, it will stand as the only defender between the utility giants and fair rates for all citizens.

Local elections, school board vacancies and community elections will all serve to further the republican agenda in Montgomery, if the citizens blink, and don't use the only power they have left in the state--their votes.

With so many citizen's rights to trample and only three months to do it in, expect the legislators to pass many bills without reading them. (like they did last year, i.e. #HB56) They'll bend to the will of the hundreds of lobbyists swarming around the state house like flies on goat droppings.

It won't be pretty and it won't smell nice whatever gets planted on the books as law with the current herd of horn heads in charge.

The republican majority promised the citizens of this state "transparency and accountabilty" and we've experienced very little satisfaction from their empty, 'elect me' promises. In fact, their actions have often gone completely in the other direction of truth and light and straight into the mud ditch of business as usual.

But they won't hide from us, or you, our valued readers.

Thanks to all you for your support in our ongoing efforts, and here's to the next year of watchhdog journalism in Dixie from all of us at The Confidential.
*illustration by JD Crowe
Bookmark and Share
 Subscribe in a reader

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A River of Influence Runs Through It

"Coal Ash in the Coosa Valley"
Coosa Riverkeeeper's Frank Chitwood, takes us on an eye-opening ride through a section of Alabama's Coosa River and the effects of "dirty, dirty coal" from Alabama Power's two coal fired power plants on the historic waterway

Ironically, the capture of the Coosa by Alabama Power translated into another form of pollution affecting Alabamaians--a usurping of our political process by one of the most generous political donors and strongest lobbying forces in the history of Alabama.

When Alabama Power says “It’s always on,” they’re talking about more than energy; they’re describing their tireless and unending efforts to control the Alabama legislature and our regulatory agencies, and to continue their pollution of the once-beautiful Coosa River.

Every year, when Alabama’s legislature meets, APCO’s there, a de facto “shadow government” that serves their corporate interests first, the legislature second, and the citizens last.

How do they do it? By lobbying, political influence, horse-trading, and lots of cash and favors for the people whose votes and decisions affect the people of Alabama in ways many eyes-wide-open but unseeing people don't fully grasp.

Alabama Power's 'absolute power' began over a century ago, back when the mighty Coosa meandered freely through Alabama for centuries until the early 1900's, when three men changed the course of the river, and Alabama's history forever. The vision of William P. Lay, James Mitchell and Thomas Martin, and what was to become Alabama Power, wrestled the Coosa away from the citizens of the state and imprisoned the river to the utility giant's command.

They've not been good stewards of the river despite the bounty of monetary richness the Coosa has provided to Alabama Power for decades. What we've gotten in return is the erecting of an iron curtain around Alabama, effectively shutting out any 'consumer benefits' competition in electric service providers. We've gotten pollution that ranks Alabama at eight out of fifteen for the dirtiest air in the nation according to a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project 

And we've gotten a form of government that owes their political careers to the demands of the power company. Few politicians have shown the fortitude to stand up to the smokestack bullies and put the interests (and health) of Alabamians before the wants of Alabama Power.

During a fight over rate increases in the late 1970's, The Times, a newspaper that served the black community, ran an account of the experience of one low-income father and his run-in with the power company:
The Times, a Black Montgomery newspaper, quoted a local man, "I have four children. It was about the coldest day of the year when they (power company workmen) came out and cut off my electricity.

"I had not received a light bill. I went down to the office and wanted to pay half of my bill, and they refused me.

"I told them that I had not received my bill, and they said it was my mistake-not theirs.

"I didn't have anywhere to take my family that night, and one of my daughters caught the flu. She almost died," he said.

After that night, he said, his family began using kerosene lamps for light.
The annals of Alabama's history are overflowing with stories of that nature, stories that continue unabated in the modern day. If you're unlucky enough to fall on hard times, and have your electric service cut off, the average cost to have it restored runs upwards of $500, a huge, and often unreachable sum for most economically disadvantaged groups.

The Coosa River has a diligent watchdog in the efforts of Frank Chitwood. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the watchdog agency that serves as the only barrier between the citizens of Alabama and APCO.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is charged with regulating APCO and they've done very little over the years to reign in the company's harsh business practices. In fact, the PSC has long been viewed as being in league with the company first, contrary to their mission statement of 'fairness' to the rate payers of Alabama.

PSC member Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh serves as a prime example of APCO's ability to influence the commission. Cavanuagh took to the editorial pages earlier this year publicly blasting the proposed EPA regulations on coal fired power plants. She called climate change a "medicine-show tonic of global warming" and made a lot of outlandish and less-than-factual statements designed to garner public support for APCO.

Her claims were based solely on a power point presentation given by APCO. Bama Fact Check researched her rhetoric and found little evidence to support any of them. Of course she's not the only PSC member to act more like an APCO lobbyist than public servant, candidates now vying for a seat on the commission are spouting off the same old tired spiel that the power company has been peddling for years.

If you were to gather up all of the 'unofficial lobbyists' for APCO in one place and then asked to pick the ones that carry 'the water' for the power company, you'd be looking at the entire membership of the Alabama legislature.

But that's the nature of coal, utility companies, politics and undue influence in Alabama--it's always on.
Bookmark and Share
 Subscribe in a reader

Monday, December 5, 2011

Corrections Corporation of America Lobbyists in Alabama

Tobin "Toby" Bernard Roth & John W. Hagood of Capital Resources, LLC

*Updated 6/12/2012  -  Alabama Judge Says Enough With the Debtor's Prison  Roth & Hagood may not have managed to create a CCA prison in Alabama, but as the linked article illustrates, they've been doing a lot of damage in a short span of time. A record check of Judicial Correction Services in the Alabama SOS database shows the entity address as the Capital Resources, LLC Alabama office of Roth & Hagood.

"Correctional officials see danger in prison overcrowding. Others see opportunity. The nearly two million Americans behind bars—the majority of them nonviolent offenders—mean jobs for depressed regions and windfalls for profiteers." --Eric Schlosser The Atlantic

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has been slithering in and out of Alabama to  some degree since *the late 1990's when Hal W. Bloom, Jr. (The Bloom Group) lobbied briefly for the corporation. Fine & Geddie were next in 2006. In 2011, new players Roth & Hagood are entering the 'incarcerate for profit' game-- CCA is back, and possibly positioning themselves to profit from the "meanest immigration law in the country."

Who else in state political power will benefit if CCA becomes Alabama's next nightmare reality? Someone always does. Alabama didn't become one of the most politically corrupt states in the nation by chance-- it's an honor among elected thieves that they strive to excel at dishonor, every chance they get.

Will Alabama eventually go the way of Arizona and allow CCA to reap windfall profits from HB 56?

What happened in Arizona, in the run up to their anti-immigration law, SB 1070, gives us a glimpse into the intertwining of the Prison-Industrial Complex, the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the undue influence both held over Arizona's elected officials in adopting the stern immigration legislation. The same law that cost long-time AZ Senator Russell Pearce his seat in a recent recall election largely fueled by citizen outrage over SB 1070. NPR reports:
It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.
It was there that Pearce's idea took shape.
Pearce and the Corrections Corporation of America have been coming to these meetings for years. Both have seats on one of several of ALEC's boards.

And this bill was an important one for the company. According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in "a significant portion of our revenues" from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.
Once Pearce's bill landed on the AZ House floor sponsors jumped on and the money started to flow from CCA:
Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.
Elected officials rattle on incessantly about the dangers of prison overcrowding and how "we must deal with this pressing issue" in our states, but their true motives are simpler and more devious: it's all about the money and what CCA is willing to pay to gain access to a steady flow of prisoners.

In 2003, CCA paid the State of Alabama $25,000 benefiting a PAC for former Governor Riley's 2003 Alabama Excellence Initiative Fund aka "The Riley Plan" which voters defeated by a wide margin. What was going on in Alabama in 2003, coupled with Bob Riley approving a flurry of prisoner transfers to CCA facilities in other states, gives us a hint of the power of CCA's monetary persuasion. Via AP 6/26/03:
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama will transfer about 1,400 male inmates to a private prison in Mississippi to help address the state's overcrowded prison system.
Gov. Bob Riley and the Alabama Department of Corrections have authorized an emergency contract with Corrections Corporation of America to send the inmates to CCA's Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Miss., CCA said in a statement issued Thursday.
The contract with the medium-security facility will be on a short-term basis while the state develops a plan for the future, the statement said.
The state is trying to comply with two court orders to end overcrowding -- one calling for removal of state prisoners from county jails and another ordering the state to reduce the number of inmates at Tutwiler Prison for women in Wetumpka.
The state has already sent 300 women prisoners to a private lockup in Louisiana to alleviate overcrowding at Tutwiler. 
Alabama has always had issues with prison overcrowding. Those long-standing problems will only worsen with the recent state budget cuts directly impacting the state's woefully inadequate judicial system. Admittedly, there is a real dilemma with outdated facilities that are overloaded, understaffed and not serving anyone any good--staff, inmate or taxpayers.

The same taxpayers that always carry the load of Alabama's poor political decisions, have also paid dearly for Alabama's attitude of 'incarcerate, not rehabilitate' for decades, and it appears the Alabama legislature is content to lumber down that same ineffective path for some time to come.

Or is it?

With the presence of notorious GOP operative Toby Roth, and the former head of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) John Hagood, now on the CCA payroll, there may be a change coming. There's an oddity in Hagood that reminds us of the strange circumstance of former Alabama Department of Corrections (ALDOC) Deputy Commissioner Vernon Barnett. Mr. Barnett was a Riley appointee in the ALDOC.

Barnett moved quickly from an all-but-done-deal position as the successor to outgoing ALDOC Commissioner Richard Allen, into another position as an ADEM lawyer. He figured prominently in former state legislator Greg Canfield's coal ash bill that moved at lightning speed into law. A majority of Alabama Power Company's 26 state lobbyists were hard pushers for the wrong-headed legislation. (Canfield is now enjoying a plum role as the head of Alabama's quasi-governmental economic development agency.)

It seems ridiculous that a background in corrections translates to a job in environmental management, and vice versa.The two careers seem as far removed from each other as ethics in Alabama politicians, but here once again, is a connecting path between the two departments with Hagood in the employ of CCA.

Roth, on the other hand, is a very savvy political animal with on-high powerful connections. He's not going to waste his time on anything that doesn't have big money and bigger power attached to it for him to glorify himself. His mere presence with CCA is very unsettling and indicates a high probability that something big is in the works behind the curtain, out of public view.

Hagood, Roth and Barnett all have one thing in common: deep connections to Bob Riley. Mr. Riley stunned everyone by suddenly announcing his 'new job' and beating a rapid departure to DC to become a lobbyist earlier this year. He's well-positioned to aid Roth & Hagood on the federal level in their CCA endeavors with Alabama's representatives in Congress, especially the two powerful federal purse-string pullers, Spencer Bachus and Richard Shelby. (No relation to the author.)

Alabama tried this private prison idea before in Perry County with bad results. Less than a year into the contract, Alabama had to buy the facility back from the LCS Corporation and wasted $60 million dollars in the process. The state seems poised to take another bite at the private prison poison apple, and this time they couldn't have picked a more unsavory corporate character than CCA. 

If Alabama's anti-immigration law stands the test of an expected SCOTUS challenge, violators of the law will have to be housed somewhere. We don't believe it's a series of chance coincidences that so many moving parts, with connections to other states actions, don't have the same kinds of connections in Alabama.

Here's what we do know about Alabama that gives us pause:
  • HB 56 is a bill rooted in ALEC agenda--the state legislature imposed their own draconian ideas into the final legislation creating the "meanest" immigration law in the country
  • ALEC has made strong inroads into Alabama in the last decade
  • The (Koch funded think tank) Alabama Policy Institute is firmly on-board with prison privatization
  • Senator Jabo Waggoner, an ALEC member, is in place as the chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee in the legislature 
Proponents of prison privatization always make the same case based on false positives: "saving thinly-stretched state budgets money," "removing a burden from the state," etc. As with other states that have bought what CCA peddles, reality eventually settles in, and the numbers game just doesn't add up for anyone involved except CCA's bottom line and a few well-lined political pockets.

*Update: Osborne Ink upload Senator Arthur Orr's SB63 bill for 2012 Alabama session
              (Rep Jim McClendon has two bills HB30 & HB36 that mirror ALEC's)
Bookmark and Share