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A disquisition on greed in politics, an introduction with Mr. Blue Suit

Samuel McLure

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By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter

“I have no doubt from what I daily see that our whole system is rapidly becoming a mere money-making concern to those who have the control of it.”

US Senator Calhoun, (Circa 1848)

The Big 4 meet Mr. Blue Suit

The State of YullaMama is located in the southern region of North America. YullaMama’s average temperature is well above 90 degrees. It’s warm weather has proven to be a fertile environment for the ice-production business. Currently there are four ice production companies that retain 95 percent of the market share – the Big 4.

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The CEOs of the Big 4 met in the Capitol one day for lunch.  One CEO lamented that, “it sure would be nice if there were some way to keep upstarts out of the ice making business.”

Another CEO chimed in, “Hey, what if the State required ice makers to be licensed? The State could set the requirements high enough to make gaining entry into the ice making business almost impossible.”  The other CEOs applauded the idea, but couldn’t fathom how this would be possible.

As fortune would have it, eating at the table right next to the Big 4 was a man in a nice blue suit who couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.  “Excuse me, Gentlemen. I hate to interrupt,” said Mr. Blue Suit, politely. “My name is Mr. Blue Suit. I work for the Bureau for Community Advancement and I may have a solution for you.”

Blue Suit explained to the Big 4 that the Bureau was a “non-profit”, member based organization, that specialized in helping like-minded business owners change State laws to further “community advancement.” For a small fee, the Bureau could lobby the Legislature of YullaMama, and with Blue Suit’s extensive connections, could get a law passed that would require licensure for any ice makers in YullaMama.

The Big 4 were naturally skeptical. One CEO asked, “If we make this small contribution to the Bureau, can you ensure we get Legislation passed that would make it virtually impossible for new competitors to start ice-making business?”

Blue Suit dropped his head and laughed with a chuckle that made the CEO feel naive.  Blue Shirt explained that the Bureau controls one of the most powerful Political Action Committees in the sate. The Bureau’s PAC contributes to the political campaigns of almost every elected official in YullaMama. “That means,” Mr. Blue Suit explained while emphatically thumping his pointed finger on the table,  “that these elected officials do what the Bureau tells them to do – otherwise, the Bureau will make sure these politicians don’t stay in office for long.”

“But, won’t there be a public outcry about this?”, asked one of the CEOs. Blue Suit assured them that the standard protocol in these situations was fail safe.  The Bureau would enlist scientist do perform focused research and retain marketing firms to disseminate their “evidence-based” research.

“I’m just spitballing here,” said Blue Suit, “but, we could do some research on the health hazards of contaminated ice. If we could find a couple of cases where people have used ice from some no-name dispensary and gotten sick, well then, there you have it. A bill like this would be all about ensuring the public safety … and ensuring “community advancement”

The Big 4 were in.  They made the requisite contributions and Blue Suit used the influence of the Bureau for Community Advancement to pass the legislations.

Five Years Later

Five years later, the Big 4 found themselves eating lunch again at the Capitol; this time Blue Suit was comfortably seated at their table. One CEO commented, “Blue Suit, we couldn’t be happier with the legislation you passed. The demand for ice in YullaMama has doubled and our market share has remained the same. No new competitors have entered the market, and a few of the smaller fish even had to close shop because of the licensing regulations.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming here,” Blue Suit observed with a smile.

“Well, your right,” said the CEO. “I wonder if we could do something more. Is there some other strategy that that Bureau could help us with?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” said Blue Suit with a grin like a cheshire cat. “You’ve only just scratched the surface of possibilities. You’ve accomplished market share protection, but that’s just Phase 1. The real money comes from getting your hands into tax revenue. If you can find a way to reach into the public coffers, then … anything is possible.”

“YullaMama’s state tax revenue is one thing, and we can reach into that for sure,” explained Blue Suit, “but, But, BUT … the Federal Government, has an unlimited power to tax and print money. Figure out how to get a piece of that and …,” Blue Suit leaned back and raised his eyebrows with an anything-is-possible look.

The Big 4 sat at the table in silence. They mostly looked down at their plate or coffee cup … occasionally glancing at each other. The look each CEO gave to the other made it clear, “We’ve got to do this.” The boldest of the Big 4 broke the silence, “Okay, Blue Suit, lay it out for us. How do we get this done?”

“First, we need to privatize the ice making needs of the schools and prisons,” Mr. Blue Suit was clearly in his element. “We can cite some studies that there has been an outbreak of contagious diseases from in-house ice making. So, it’s essential for ‘community advancement’ that we outsource ice-making to someone to ‘experts’ who are licensed by the State.  And, of course, that would be you guys.”  The CEOs of the Big 4 nodded in agreement with a slight smile.

“Can we can get all that done legislatively – like we did with the licensing bill?”, asked the bold CEO.

“Absolutely. Remember, nobody gets elected or stays elected in YullaMama without our blessing.” Mr. Blue Suit went on, “Next, we have to get you guys tied into Pres. Tupaloo’s infrastructure money. Pres. Tupaloo has promised 4 billion to the State for ‘infrastructure’ if YullaMama will pass 4 or 5 pieces of legislation.  You guys could get a big chunk of that 4 billion as the sole distributors of ice for all the workers out in the field putting up bridges and such.”

“Imagine this,” said Mr. Blue Suit, “we can find a medical doctor who can show that it is essential for workers in YullaMama to have ice on hand at all times for their health – due to the heat, of course. Then we have an analyst do some research to show that it saves a ton of money to have that ice delivered to the workers on the construction site.”

Blue Suit leaned back from the table as before, with the same eyebrow lifting anything-is-possible look, “We are talking millions of dollars of contracts from federal money … and hey, it’s gonna go to somebody. Might as well be you, boys.”

The CEOs of the Big 4 once again sat in silence as the possibilities of Blue Suit’s proposal sank in. After seconds that seems like minutes, the mildest and quietest CEO spoke up, “Something has been bothering me from the beginning of our work with the Bureau. Now, don’t get me wrong … we’ve all gotten filthy rich from the licensure requirement and what you’ve just proposed could triple our net worth.”

“But, here’s my predicament,” said the mild CEO. “I don’t know that what we’ve done and what we are proposing to do is good for the State of YullaMama. People are paying higher prices for ice because there’s less competition.  And, we stomped out all the little guys. And, if we get the contracts to make ice for the schools and the prisons, it’s going to costs taxpayers way more money than just making it in-house.”

Brows began to furrow on the faces of the other CEOs, but the mild CEO continued, “And, I’m not really sure the Federal Government has the right to tax folks the way they do and spend money like we’re talking about. The 10th Amendment gave them very limited powers. Each time the Federal Government taxes and spends money outside those parameters, it sort of feels like stealing. I’m not sure I want to reap the benefits of stolen money.”

Blue Suit leaned forward with a nervous laugh and quickly chimed in, “I get where you’re coming from. Look, lots of folks have that concern, but you can’t turn the clock back.  Our whole two-party system is geared to people, like you boys, reaping the benefits of the tax revenue. Let me break it down to you this way: Republicans scream ‘Pro-Life’ and Democrats scream ‘Criminal Justice Reform.’ The reality is, if either party really cared about those things, they would be resolved yesterday.  But the truth is, if they were resolved, then the respective parties wouldn’t have a platform to stay in power. We just ‘make up’ these social justice issues to keep the right people in power so the Bureau can continue to serve your business interests – the interests of ‘community advancement.’”

“And this is just Capitalism, Boys.” Mr. Blue Suit was starting to sweat, “Greed is good. Greed gives us cars and air conditioning and medicine … and ICE! What we are talking about is just the invisible hand of Capitalism. I’m not proposing anything illegal.” Blue Suit looked at the group for affirmation, but all he saw was blank stares. “Look, my perspective is you get as much as you can from on the public’s dime without going to jail. If you don’t get it, someone else will … someone who is probably a flaming liberal. If that makes me a terrible person, then … I guess I’m a terrible person.”

What Would You Do?

What would you do if you were a CEO of the Big 4.  If you agree with Mr. Blue Suit and would move forward with his proposal, then I don’t know if there is much I can do for you. But if, like the mild CEO, something doesn’t sit right with you about the Bureau’s arrangement, then travel with me on this three part series to explore greed in politics. Part I will focus on diagnosing greed. Part II will explore some of the most sinister examples of greed in Alabama politics. And, Part III will propose solutions to curbing the effects of greed in Alabama politics.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | What is possible…

Bill Britt

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From the Capitol to the State House, from the business community to the halls of education, there is an urgent need for Alabama leaders who will work together to turn back the prevailing tide of self-dealing and mediocracy. Alabama is far too often the home of status quo where leaders don’t dare aim for the far horizon because that requires facing unpleasant facts that demand hard choices. Over the last several months, Alabama Power Company’s CEO, Mark Crosswhite, and  leaders from Regions Bank, Blue Cross Blue Shield, PowerSouth, Protective Life Corp., and others marquee businesses displayed extraordinary courage to salvage the burning ship that was the Business Council of Alabama.

As Crosswhite said in announcing BCA’s restructuring plan, “The wholesale governance and leadership changes made today show what is possible when businesses come together with a common goal.”

The fight to save BCA was not merely about what was best for business but how BCA, as an institution, could serve the higher interests of the state. Again, Crosswhite makes the point, “While the hard work of moving this organization forward remains, I am pleased with this progress and look forward to working with businesses across our state for a stronger BCA and a better Alabama.”

There is indeed hard work ahead because over the last several years, BCA’s culture has been shaped by the self-interests of a few unprincipled individuals.

What is BCA’s core mission?

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Its website says, “Making a sweet home for business.” That’s a slogan, not a purpose.

A mission statement in business is like an individual’s core beliefs; it is the guiding principle for every action and the place to run back to when things go wrong.

Going forward, the new executive committee will need to define what BCA is and what its character is.

Over the years, BCA has become synonymous with the Republican Party, but businesses, also like individuals, are more than a label. As billionaire industrialist Charles Koch said recently, “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name.”

Perhaps Heather Brothers New, chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, said it best, “We are fortunate in Alabama to have a business community that understands the importance of providing strong leadership on matters that affect our state’s economic success,” New said. “Individuals, families, and communities can’t thrive if our state doesn’t provide an environment where businesses can thrive. Everyone in Alabama benefits from this effort to ensure a unified and effective BCA.”

With governance and leadership changes at BCA, there is an opportunity to start anew to create a better BCA to serve its members and the state. As Bobby Vaughan, a representative from the Alabama Self-Insured Worker’s Compensation Fund said, “At the end of the day, our members are our customers. Our job is to serve the interests of our members, and the new structure will enable us to do that more effectively.”

Crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. Crosswhite and his fellow corporate leaders have shown what is possible. Now, the hard work begins.

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Opinion | Police are not above public scrutiny

Josh Moon

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Why are police above public scrutiny?

That seems to be a relatively new thing in this country, and it is a particular problem in Alabama — this notion that the general public has no right to even question a police officer’s actions.

We’re hiding body cam footage. There are very few regular citizens on cities’ police review boards. Some cities are hiding cops’ personnel files, despite that being one thing that Alabama Open Records Act laws specifically covers.

And if ever a cop is questioned … whoooo, boy! There will be shame and ridicule, and the full weight of city government will be brought down to protect the Brother in Blue.

It’s nonsense.

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And it’s happening every day in this state. There are, specifically, two egregious cases active now — one in Huntsville, one in Montgomery. In both instances, city cops have been indicted on murder charges.

In Montgomery, the victim was black and walking through his neighborhood late at night. In Huntsville, the victim was white and police were responding to a mental health call.

In both instance, the county district attorneys — who each have to work with the police departments in those cities — reviewed the evidence and determined that enough existed to seek indictments. And in both cases, a grand jury issued those indictments.

That would seem like enough reason for the mayors of the respective cities — Todd Strange in Montgomery and Tommy Battle in Huntsville — to back away and allow the justice system to work.

They have not.

Battle last week asked his city council to cover the legal expenses for William Darby, the cop accused of murder. The council agreed unanimously, although it did put a $75,000 cap on expenses — a cap Battle said he disagreed with.

In Montgomery last year, following officer A.C. Smith’s shooting of Greg Gunn, Strange implemented an unprecedented city-led review, and he promised to allow Smith to remain on the MPD payroll, receiving his full salary and benefits, as he awaits trial.

Seriously consider the facts of these two situations.

In Huntsville, the taxpayers are footing the bill for private attorneys, when they are already paying for court-appointed attorneys for anyone who can’t afford legal representation. Apparently, public defenders are good enough for poor, mostly minority regular folks — even when they are accused of murder — but not good enough for cops.

In Montgomery, even as other city employees have been immediately terminated after their arrests for various offenses — all of which fall well short on the moral scale of murder — Smith remains fully paid.

When questioned about this early in the case, Strange said he wanted to wait on more facts to come out at hearings before making a decision on terminating Smith. A couple of weeks later, at a hearing, a State Bureau of Investigations officer testified that Smith admitted in interviews that he had no probable cause to stop, pat down, chase, strike, Taser or shoot Gunn.

That was not enough for Strange.

Nor was it enough when a second Montgomery judge proclaimed after an immunity hearing last month that he didn’t find Smith to be credible during his testimony.

In Huntsville, Battle cited a clearance by the HPD Incident Review Board as his primary cause for supporting Darby so vigorously.

He should be careful, because I can’t find a single incident in which the HPD review board didn’t clear an officer in a shooting. That includes a number of shootings in which the suspect was unarmed, and several in which other law enforcement officers also engaged the suspect and didn’t fire a shot.

In 2015, for example, Orlondon “Dre” Driscoll was shot by HPD officers after he exited, unarmed, from a car he was accused of stealing. The review board cleared the officers, saying that while Driscoll was unarmed, his hand made a motion as though he was pulling a gun.

It’s absurd.

And here’s the thing: In most cases, there is body cam footage of the incident. There’s certainly footage of the Darby shooting. But these same mayors and city governments and police departments have fought like hell to hide those videos from the public — the same public that pays the salaries of the officers.

In Montgomery, while there is no video — because Smith “forgot” to turn on his body cam — Strange has refused to release the findings of the city-led investigation into the Gunn alleged murder.

His reasoning: he doesn’t want to taint the jury pool. Which is not, as far as the law goes, an accepted exception under the  

Look, cops have a tough job. Yes, they are mostly heroic individuals who deserve our praise and admiration.

But you know what, it’s not like the job’s a mystery at this point.

We’ve all seen “Cops” on Fox and watched a thousand cop shows and reality cop shows on TV. If you sign up to be a cop in 2018, you know what you’re getting into, and you know the pay.

So, let’s stop pretending that the cops who have committed horrible acts of aggression and assault — and even murder — against the citizens they’re supposed to protect are somehow overwhelmed by the toughness of the job. Because that’s insulting to the 99 percent of cops who manage to not do anything illegal or dumb every day.

 

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Opinion | A blue few days away, and a same-sex wedding

Joey Kennedy

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After another disappointing Alabama election where voters decided against their better interests, I was characteristically frustrated.

One of my friends, this one living in northern Virginia, wrote to me: “Joey, you and Veronica should move to a blue state just for a little while. It’ll add 10 years to your life.”

I chuckled. I can’t say how many times a reader, equally frustrated, no doubt, at what I’d just written, said to me: “If you hate Alabama so much, move somewhere else.”

I don’t write what I write about Alabama out of hate. I write out of love. I love Alabama.

My other career is as an educator. I try to educate. I welcome people to fact check my work. If I make a factual mistake, I’ll correct it. If you disagree with my informed opinions, then let’s disagree. But you need to be informed as well. Show me your evidence, and I’ll show you mine. Indeed, I most often include my evidence in my columns.

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Don’t tell me that Hillary Clinton is running a pedophile ring out of a pizza parlor’s basement or that Sandy Hook is a hoax or that the Parkland survivors are “crisis” actors. None of that is true.

And don’t cite Breitbart or InfoWars or Judicial Watch as your sources. Keep Drudge and Rush Limbaugh and Dana Loesch out of it. If you cite Fox News, do it honestly, understanding that Fox has some credible news coverage, but then it has its idiots – the Hannitys and Ingrahams and Lahrens — who don’t give a whit about facts, only about slant, and who will twist their stories to “support” their latest right-wing conspiracy or left-wing outrage.

As a favor, I won’t cite MSNBC or the other “left” sources. I don’t watch MSNBC. CNN does generally good journalism, as does the three major networks. Mostly, I’m going to reference the Washington Post or The New York Times. But even more mostly, I’m going to do my own research and reporting. And thinking.

It’s not that difficult, as long as you don’t approach an issue with a preconceived idea. Keep your minds open, and do a little homework.

Thanks to the Internet, we have more information available to us today than ever before. Yet, we really seem a whole lot dumber. That’s because we only look for crap that validates our preconceived ideas, not the truth.

Find the truth, or at least get as close to the truth as you can get. Among my most difficult challenges as a writing teacher is to show students how important it is to approach issues with an open mind. If you can’t be persuaded by indisputable evidence, you’re not going to learn.

I’m going to California this week. I’m not moving there, so don’t get your hopes up. I’m going for a few days to participate in my “daughter’s” wedding. Nicole Bowland graduated from UAB, and adopted Veronica and me as her “parents” shortly after coming her from her home in California. She came on a volleyball scholarship, and her parents couldn’t attend volleyball events, so she adopted us. We’ve become very close over the past 15 years.

Nicole’s fiancé, Sara Kate Denton, has the full support of her family for the wedding. Nicole’s parents are not as supportive and won’t attend the wedding, so I’m filling in the “daddy” role at Nicole and Sara Kate’s ceremony.

I hope this brief trip to one of the bluest states may add at least a few days or hours to my life, but that’s not a real consideration. Dancing with my daughter at her wedding and toasting her marriage to Sara Kate are.

My friends in the blue states know they, too, have citizens who believe the conspiracy theories, who oppose same-sex marriage, who hate people different from them. They just don’t have them in as great of numbers (proportionately) as we do in Alabama.

We’re a herd state. We follow those deceitful politicians (and they’re a dime-a-dozen in Alabama, both Democrats and Republicans) who won’t tell us how to make education better or how to lower our prison population or what we need to do about gun violence, but would rather tell us why immigrants are evil, gay people are going to hell, black people are less than white, and women’s bodies should be controlled by men.

Right now, 63 percent of them support President Donald Trump, which makes us one of the Trumpiest states in the country.

Think for yourself. Question authority. If a politician or journalist tells you something, make him or her show you the evidence. Maybe it’s simply a good argument, based in fact, and it will get you thinking. Thinking critically. Thinking skeptically.

Don’t be in the herd.

I’ll be back soon.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS would assure Trump legacy

Steve Flowers

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The appointment of a United States Supreme Court Justice is one of the most profound legacies that a U. S. President can achieve. The opportunity that President Donald Trump was given to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the High Tribunal last year will be a monumental achievement of the Trump administration.

The chance to name a second Supreme Court appointment will be a colossal legacy for the Trump presidency. The appointment of two seats on the Supreme Court has given Trump an indelible place in U.S. presidential history.

The leftist detractors of the Trump presidency are moaning. However, the conservative base of American politics has got to be rejoicing with hallelujahs. The quiet, conservative Americans who voted for Trump probably never realized how impactful their vote for Trump was in November of 2016. For within less than two years after casting that vote they will have placed America on a more stable conservative path for not only the rest of their lives, but possibly for the next generation.

President Trump’s appointment and subsequent confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia was a profound choice. However, his selection of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring jurist Anthony Kennedy is equally brilliant. If Trump does nothing else during his tenure in the White House, if you are a conservative American, Trump’s presidency has been a rousing overwhelming success.

When the last votes were counted in November of 2016, and it became obvious that Donald Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton, conservative Americans were exuberant. Many had turned out to vote for one reason. The possibility of naming a conservative to the Supreme Court was their primary reason for voting for Trump. The naming of two within two years was beyond their wildest dreams.

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With the conclusion of the eight-year reign of the liberal Obama era and Trump’s defeat of Clinton, President Obama made one last simple, profound statement, “Elections have consequences.” That epitaph has become prophetic.

The court had been drifting leftward out to sea with the two extremely liberal Obama appointees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor coming on board. However, the Supreme Court Ship of State has taken a turn to the right under the helm of Captain Trump.

Brett Kavanaugh is an excellent selection. He has impeccable credentials. He is only 53 years old, which means that he will be a sensible mainstream conservative voice of the court for probably three decades.

Brett Kavanaugh’s resume reads like a profile of someone born to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Like most Supreme Court members, he graduated from a prestigious Ivy League Law school. He is a product of Yale undergraduate and Yale Law School.

Kavanaugh was the favorite for the appointment from the beginning. He was always on the top of Trump’s short list and the choice of the Republican legal establishment in Washington. He is a former law clerk of the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Although Kennedy had been appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan, he was considered the one moderate on the court. There are four bona fide liberal justices and four stalwart conservatives. Kennedy was the swing vote in the middle. Trump’s appointment of Kavanaugh will replace a swing vote on the nine-member court with a staunch conservative.

Kavanaugh served in George W. Bush’s administration and has been a distinguished jurist in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit for over a decade and has written over 300 opinions. Therefore, his record as a jurist has been thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized. He is looked upon as a top legal scholar and strict constitutional adherent with a record of following judicial precedence.

Kavanaugh will be confirmed along pretty much the same partisan lines as Gorsuch. Trump is blessed with a Republican majority Senate. Leader Mitch McConnell will put the confirmation hearings on a fast track and have Kavanaugh approved by the end of October, prior to the mid-term elections. The Republicans have a thin 51 to 49 majority. All 51 Republican Senators appear to be on board for confirmation. Our Senator Richard Shelby has given a big thumbs up to Kavanaugh.

In addition to the 51 Republicans, Kavanaugh is expected to pick up four Democratic Senate votes of moderate Democrats from red states.

The big question is how does our new accidental anomaly, Democratic Senator Doug Jones vote. He is considered a longshot to win in 2020. However, a yes vote on confirmation could give him a glimmer of hope. A no vote would guarantee his not being elected to a full term. 

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us

 

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A disquisition on greed in politics, an introduction with Mr. Blue Suit

by Samuel McLure Read Time: 9 min
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