Something is very wrong in the Land of Cotton



Dr. Robert Bullard
Environmental Justice Movement Founder

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School children don’t care about economic development.

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

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

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

But that doesn't stop them from trying.

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

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

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

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

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

Leave the kids alone.

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

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  1. That letter is BOGUS!

    Where are the scores of other letters written to the legislators? Why this particular one?

    Yellow Hammer should be called Yellow Snow. It's nothing but an arm of the Alabama Republican Party and Speaker Hubbard's press office.

    So much for Mr. Sims Christian roots. He's on the dark side now.

  2. I am appalled that a non-legislative private citizen has unfettered access to letters from private citizens to their lawmakers. That is not at all ethical any way you look at it.
    For this child to be raked over the coals in such a distasteful manner sends a chilling message to all of Alabama's school children.
    Senator Waggoner's website invites discussion and letter writing from constituents and concerned citizens.
    If this is the kind of treatment a child gets, what's next?
    This makes me very angry and I intend to let Mr. Waggoner and Mr. Williams know how I feel about it.
    How dare they!

    1. Well folks, I am sorry to report that neither Senator Waggoner's office or Representative Williams will offer any comment to this incident. I believe they should be accountable for allowing Mr. Sims access to their mail.
      The media isn't bothering to ask and I find that odd and inexcusable given the nature of this and the fact that a young child is involved.

  3. If this was my daughter or son somebody would be having a come to Jesus moment right quick.
    You're damn straight - lay off of the kids!!!!

  4. Oh for Pete's sake, since when is it a crime to think like your parents??? I don't understand the impetus behind the whole thing and why it had to be publicly mined for political gain.
    It's a kid for crying out loud! Who cares if he/she has an opinion that doesn't fall in lock step with the majority group thing?
    That's their right.
    It's not anyone's right to put attack dogs on the issue, or the kid, to conflate their own egotistical value and political worth to those they serve.
    Senator Waggoner and Representative Williams should have never let this happen.
    I blame them because that's who the letter was sent to.

  5. No gentleman or Christian would have resorted to these kinds of tactics.

    That speaks volumes about the men involved.

  6. Yellow Hammer plucked.

    Good for you Max!

  7. I see some issues here that border on law breaking.

    Publishing this letter does nothing to "further the business of the state" and therefore may fall under FOIA and/or be subject to exceptions of public records. A FOIA process alone takes weeks to process.

    And there is a paper trail of the request. Has anyone looked?

    Legislators do not routinely release public correspondence from citizens on issues of concern as a matter of routine business. Releasing and/or allowing private citizens access to the identity of a minor child without specific "in the public good" purpose is highly unethical and possibly criminal.

    Mr. Sims and the two legislators involved may have gotten themselves into a predicament with their actions a smart lawyer and/or the minor child's parents may decide to pursue further.

    It's somewhat fantastical to believe that Senator Waggoner with his law degree would think that his actions are kosher legally.

    The more plausible explanation is that Mr. Sims acted in concert with other political operatives and the letter is a fabrication. If that's the case, then those individuals should be publicly outed and be made to pay the consequences for their foolhardy and actionable behavior.

    Smarmy political tricks are commonplace but when they involve a child and privacy issues lines have been crossed that we have laws against.

    That's my two cents in the spittoon.

  8. This guy is political poison after this.
    Pal around with him at your own risk state politicians.

  9. NoQuarryInVincentApril 11, 2012 at 4:35 PM

    There is something very suspicious about this purported letter from a 9 year-old. First of all, the letter was written not on school notebook paper (the kind with holes) but on legal pad paper. If the letter was written as school, this kind of paper would most likely not have been used. Possibly, the letter could have been written at home and legal-pad paper might have been available. But there are problems with that also (see next paragraph).

    Second, I could not find one grammatical error in the letter. Senator Waggoner's name (which I doubt a 9 year-old would know how to spell) was not even misspelled. The word "government" was not misspelled. And words with contractions (don't, etc.) were all correctly punctuated. It would be almost inconceivable for a 9 year-old to independently use such correct grammar and spelling. A parent or other adult would have to have been heavily involved. If so, then that begs the question: "Where is the return address?". The little girl says "write me back" at the end of the letter. If an adult were heavily involved (and there had to have been, given the precise grammar of the letter), wouldn't an adult have reminded the 9 year-old girl that her return address would need to be on the letter?

    Finally, Vestavia is one of the most conservative areas in the state. Even if a rare student would have written such a "liberal" letter (as Mr. Sims describes it), the student would have been out of step with her peers. Mr. Sims' attempt to portray Vestavia Hills as full of liberal parents and educators is utterly laughable.

    1. children are not as dumb as you think they are. they know how to use google too. wouldn't be that hard to find out to spell a senators or anyone's name for that matter.

    2. In Alabama they are!

    3. PizitzMiddleSchoolParentApril 16, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      Pardon me, Anonymous #1. As a gentle reminder,since you used the word "senators" in the possessive case, an apostrophe is needed, and the word should be written as "senator's".

  10. Gawd, that picture of him is like a caricature of what Foghorn Leghorn might look like in human form.

    1. What is this place called Alabama?

  11. Representative Issa was led to the AEA.
    As for Sims, even the legislator friendly forum Alabama Political Reporter threw his behind under the bus.
    Same old tired playbook they've been using for years that works because the voters are too blind and or party loyal to understand who's making a fool of who.

  12. When man pups think they're big dogs this is how they act.

    Karma is a bitch. A big one.

  13. Republicans hate women even if they are little ones.
    This is so crass words escape me.
    I wonder how this boy, he's no man, would feel if it was his little sister?

  14. I don't think I've read of any other elected officials anywhere allowing a private citizen access to their legislative mail in an effort to promote a blogger's traffic stats.
    That stinks and reeks of ethical immorality.

  15. Something tells me that the antics of Mr. Sims has a connection to the Robo calls people in Vestavia received at the end of March. I got one, and I am highly suspicious of the call. All this reminded me of a similar incident that happened years ago in the fall of 2004.

    Back in 2004, Jack Williams and Charles Brush were running against each other for the house seat of district 47. Residents in House Dist. 47 received a recorded phone call from what appeared to be a black man. The racial choice was a calculated choice because district 47 is mostly white. The black man stated that he was calling on behalf of the Political Alliance (a bogus group) encouraging residents to vote for Jack Williams. The black caller went on to say that "Jack Williams understands the needs of single mothers and those of alternative lifestyles. So please go to the polls and help elect OUR candidate, Jack Williams."

    The phone call was suspected to be made on behalf of Charles Brush's campaign and represented an underhanded tactic to pit conservative white voters against Jack Williams. Rick Spina was Brush's campaign manager.

    It seems to me that the tactics used in the charter school campaign bear a strong similarity. First, a robo-call made by some bogus group is sent out by some mysterious source. It seems that the goal was to falsely pin the blame on the Alabama AEA. I don't think the Alabama AEA had anything to do with it. Then, Mr. Sims posts some letter, supposedly written to either Jabo Waggoner or Jack Williams, and it appears that the letter was obtained in some sordid manner. This all makes me wonder, did either legislator "accidentally-on-purpose" leak the letter? Is their outrage that a child's letter was used in such a baseless manner feigned?

  16. If the Senator from Vestavia Hills is "most unhappy" I suspect it's because his ruse backfired on him in a big way.
    Nothing happens in the hallowed halls of the Montgomery nut house without his knowledge and frequently, his blessing.
    Face it boys you spun out this time.

  17. NoQuarryInVincentApril 17, 2012 at 4:56 AM

    There had to have been at least two people involved in taking the picture of the letter. Someone is using both hands to hold the letter, as the right hand is holding the top right corner of the page and the left hand is holding the bottom right corner. That means there are no hands left to take the picture. Another person had to have taken the picture. Which means at least two people were involved. Okay, this screams for an explanation. How did TWO, I repeat TWO, people get access to Senator Waggoner's mail and take a photo of it.


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