Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALDEMS PR & docs #1
ALDEMS PR & docs #2
Bookmark and Share
 Subscribe in a reader

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School children don’t care about economic development.

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

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

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

But that doesn't stop them from trying.

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

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

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

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

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

Leave the kids alone.

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

Bookmark and Share
 Subscribe in a reader