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Stop and think before reposting

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Conspiracies both great and small have staked the political landscape since the dawn of human reason. Conspiracy implies a secret agreement between two or more people usually involving some dark intentions.

Reason, in plain speech, is a cause, explanation or justification for an action. As the Oxford Dictionary explains, “The power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments logically.” However, to assume that individuals exercise good judgement in all situations is as silly as subscribing a grand scheme to every collaborative effort.

And today, social media is the unsupervised playground where scandalmongers and conspiracy kooks gather like so many malevolent teenagers spoiling for a fight.

With the political world focused on Russia’s use of social media in the 2016 presidential election, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, says that foreign influence is a small percentage of the problems people have created on these power technology platforms.

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“I don’t believe that the big issue are ads from foreign government. I believe that’s like .1 percent of the issue,” Cook told NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. “The bigger issue is that some of these tools are used to divide people, to manipulate people, to get fake news to people in broad numbers, and so, to influence their thinking.” Which Cook concludes is a much greater worry.

Twitter and Facebook are now the front-line of political battle, whether its an election, a policy debate or to simply spread spurious lies about an individual. A war is waging for the hearts and minds of those tuned into social networks for news, especially anything that affirms what they already believe.

As Republican strategist Angi Horn Stalnaker recently shared with the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, “Fake news is not a story you do not like. It is not an op-ed you don’t like…Fake news is simply something that is not true.”

She likens “fake news,” to gossip, which is a staple of Alabama politics.

Montgomery’s chattering class is constantly engaged in a high stakes parlor game of connecting the dots based on rumors, whispers and other fragments of information. And more frequently these days, politicos are relying on social media platforms to spread personal theories of what’s happening and why.

Like in so much of life, information is a potent tool, and if used wisely, will give the user a marked advantage. However, small bits of knowledge fitted together in bizarre or deceptive fashions can be destructive. As the old saying goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

Perhaps derived from Alexander Pope’s poem in An Essay on Criticism, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” Caution is a watchword for those who drink daily from technology’s fountain, particularly when consuming news.

For years the Alabama Political Reporter was accused of publishing false reports by former speaker and convicted felon Mike Hubbard and his ilk. Even today, any story that doesn’t fit someone’s preconceived narrative is often labeled “fake news” or is discounted as “paid content.” APR doesn’t deal in dishonest or pay-to-publish journalism.

Generally in The Gump, a pursuit of money or power is thought to be the underlying cause of any given action. This desperately flawed thinking casts every deed under a dubious cloud of suspicion. And while personal gain or enrichment is not unusual, or even a reason not to do a thing, it is also foolish to think individuals act with only those two goals in mind. Most often, those who accuse others of only pursuing riches or influence are themselves guilty of that very motivation.

As Cook points out, we live in an era when a politics of division is being gamed-out on social media. The proliferation of so-called news sites backed by both Democrats, Republicans and even Russians is spurring further hateful and stilted discourse with an underlying message of “us against them.”

The internet is a boomtown of disinformation, fostering the most outrageous conspiracy theories with a goal of fermenting strife and division.

In the late 1990s, I was asked by a world-class businessman in New York City what I thought the internet would become. I replied it could be the greatest repository of knowledge since the fabled ancient Library of Alexandria or a place for porn and silly kittens to explode. I shared with him that it could become a place where learning would lead to service in the pursuit of democracy. But my bet was on porn and kittens.

In his 2000 fiction, “Killing Time,” Caleb Carr envisioned an internet that propagated magnificent hoaxes, audacious lies and mind-numbing conspiracies that led to an unstable world where sacred beliefs and long-held understanding would give way to deceptions that devastated the world financially, ecologically and morally. Under a banner “Mundus vult decipi,” a latin phase meaning “The world wants to be deceived,” Carr paints a planet in crisis in which, “It is the greatest truth of our age: Information is not knowledge.” While not a great novel, its message is proven prophetic by today’s social media scams.

What are we to make of what we are seeing and hearing on these social media outlets or the easy with which some are quickly deceived?

We, as a sociality, should pursue both knowledge and understanding, but perhaps even more so, we should seek wisdom to know truth from error.

Or perhaps, just stop and think before reposting.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Bill Britt

Analysis | Republican brand still strong despite corruption, convictions and copying their Democrat predecessors

Bill Britt

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According to Real Clear Politics, Democrats in Alabama have little chance of making progress in November’s general election because the Republican brand is so strong.

RCP polling shows Gov. Kay Ivey is a hands-down favorite to win against Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox in November’s general election even though she has only been governor for just over a year.

The GOP brand is king in the Heart of Dixie despite nearly a dozen Republican politicos being indicted, convicted or tied to sordid affairs over the last eight years. But it’s not really the state’s elected officials that define the GOP image, rather it’s the National Party and Fox News that keeps the shine from being tarnished by the likes of convicts like Mike Hubbard and friends.

To say that the state’s Republicans are less corrupt than the Democrats they replaced is a debatable argument but not a rigorous one. When it comes to dishonest, unscrupulous and unprincipled behavior, some Republicans are outpacing the Dems by miles.

In his book, “Storming the State House,” then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard wrote, “Democrats have held the majority in Montgomery for 136 years, and during that time, they created an atmosphere that breeds corruption and encourages graft. The recent criminal convictions of numerous Democratic legislators and other Democratic officials provide ample evidence of that fact.”

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Replace the number 136 years with eight, substitute Republican for Democrat in the line, “recent criminal convictions,” and Hubbard’s words are as real today as they were when he wrote them, the only difference is who’s in charge.

It is painful to admit, but many of those who championed strong ethics law, transparency in elections and accountability from all office holders have utterly abandoned those principles.

Currently, the ethics laws are being rewritten in secret by lobbyists because Republican lawmakers want to break the rules they voted for in 2010.

The Republican nominee for Attorney General accepted nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in illegal campaign contributions, but he says there’s a loophole, and not one Republican office holder has challenged him.

The FCPA is being treated as if it a mere suggestion when it applies to certain Republicans who can’t file their paperwork on time.

So, how does a party that promised all these reforms go from champion to cheaters?

It would be easy to say they were crooked to begin with, and like their leader, convicted felon Hubbard, they were always corrupt.

But that simple answer is wrong.

Any honest outside observer has seen the gradual change that has taken place over the last seven-plus years.

When most women and men enter public service they want to do good, and for the most part, they do.

In political office as in all of life, laws are made to constrain the worst impulses on human nature – only in public office, elected lawmakers can change the rules. Generally, they do not hastily change laws to favor themselves for fear of alienating voters. However, once a party realizes they have an iron lock on the electorate, that fear subsides and they are encouraged to do as they please.

This is the inherent danger of a one-party state.

Also in his book, Hubbard wrote, “Republicans understand that we must limit the influence of special interests and other lobbyists who control much of what happens in Montgomery.”

He was right that special interests and lobbyists control much of what happens in Montgomery, but he was wrong because many Republicans didn’t understand, including Hubbard, that the influence of special interests and lobbyists needed to be sharply limited. Instead, many of the same lawmakers who came to do good found it easier to do what most have always done, enjoy the spoils of power.

So, Republicans seem to have a hold on the November elections according to Pollsters, but of course, if all votes were based on polls, President Hillary Clinton would be in the White House, Senator Roy Moore would be making new headlines every day from Washington D.C. and appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall would be packing for Buck’s Pocket.

If politics were based on polling numbers, then Gov. Robert Bentley would soon retire as the state’s most popular governor. (Hint: He thinks he still is.) and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would be saying farewell to a storied career as a public servant.

But like life, politics is often subject to the fickle fates who from time-to-time don’t read the polls, rather choosing to lay waste to the best plans of we mere mortals.

And sometimes the partisan scales fall from peoples’ eyes and honesty, integrity and principle, not party, matters.

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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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Bill Britt

Opinion | DC’s political pornography keeps voters distracted

Bill Britt

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While Alabama’s voters breathlessly bask in the bodice-ripper soft porn that is the daily press coverage of the President Donald J. Trump administration here at home, some elected officials are disregarding and dismantling the very laws that Republicans rode to victory in 2010.

Ethics reform and the Fair Campaign Practice Act are under attack, not from Democrats, but by Republicans who control every branch of state government.

Voters, in general, are blinded by the R after a politician’s name because Alabama is considered a Republican state. The jersey seems to matter more than the character of the player who’s wearing it.

Billionaire industrialist and Republican megadonor Charles Koch recently said, “I don’t care what initials are in front or after somebody’s name — I’d like there to be many more politicians who would embrace and have the courage to run on a platform.”

When Republicans ran in 2010, they had a platform. It was pro-business, fiscally conservative with a heavy emphasis on a stringent code of ethics and transparent campaign laws.

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Since the indictment of then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard in 2014, Republicans have tried to weaken the Ethics Act they championed in 2010. They did it first to help Hubbard, but now in 2018, they want to rewrite the ethics laws to help themselves to the perks of office once enjoyed by Democrats.

Many Republicans don’t want to go back to the Wild West days of lawlessness before 2010, but they remain silent.

Recently, Alabama’s appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted $735,000.00 from a dark money PAC controlled by the Republican Attorney Generals Association in violation of the state’s FCPA ban on PAC-to PAC transfers, but Republicans lawmakers haven’t uttered a word.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s campaign says she has cleaned up corruption in Montgomery, but within sight of her office, a so-called Ethics Review and Clarification Committee is rewriting the ethics laws to include allowing a public official to solicit things from a lobbyist.

A template for strengthening and clarifying the ethics laws was written under the watchful eye of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Unit. But the committee that is rewriting the ethics laws didn’t even use that plan as a starting point. Instead, they decided to arbitrarily let associations and the Alabama Legislative Services Agency undertake a wholesale rewrite.

Why?

The reality is – far too many public officials don’t want to be policed or held accountable.

As for the money Marshall received in violation of FCPA, he says there’s a loophole.

However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2016, found the 2010 Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) made it “unlawful for any political action committee … to make a contribution, expenditure, or any other transfer of funds to any other political action committee.” The only exception to the rule is that a PAC can donate to a PAC set up by a candidate, but full disclosure is required by both parties.

Also in 2016, a Lee County Jury found that Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation ethics laws worked when it convicted Hubbard.

What has changed since 2010? The Republican supermajority has found that running on ethics reform and campaign transparency sounds good, but trying to live by the law isn’t as easy as talking about it.

Frankly, the citizens should care more about integrity than initials, but for the most part, they don’t even know what is happening in their own backyard. The seduction of 24-hour cable news has left most voters knowing everything about the hookers in D.C. and nothing about the pimps in Montgomery.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Only one candidate skipped debates; he had something to hide

Bill Britt

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Only once in the last two decades has an Alabama candidate for governor refused to debate their opponent, and he had something to hide.

Gov. Ivey plans to be the second Republican gubernatorial candidate in a generation to dodge debating her Democrat opponent. Why?

Every four years, since at least 1998, a Republican and a Democrat have stood on a public stage to debate the merits of being the next governor of Alabama. Disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley is the only exception, dissing Democrat rival Parker Griffith in 2014, saying there was no need to debate. But the real reason Bentley refused to stand on a stage with Griffith was because his campaign staff was worried about what Griffith knew and how he might use it.

Ivey, is doing the same to her Democrat rival Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox that Bentley did to his. Do her campaign operatives have a reason to worry?

When the sordid details of Bentley’s lifestyle and leadership were exposed, voters would learn why he wouldn’t debate Griffith. What if Griffith had raised those questions during a debate? Could the state have been spared the embarrassment of another foolish, inept and cruel governor being chased from office?

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Gov. Ivey is not a weakling like Bentley; she is experienced, battle-tested and by all accounts ready to lead. So why all the silly excuses for not facing Maddox one-on-one?

Recently, Gov. Ivey said that only the media and her opponent care about debates. She also said she saw no need to debate Maddox until he stopped debating himself.

This notion that Maddox is somehow wishy-washy merely is not right, and no matter what her campaign staff tells her, repeating this nonsense makes the governor look foolish and weak, not clever or strong.

Gov. Ivey is right that the vast majority of eligible voters do not care about debates, they also don’t care enough to vote. Even a majority of registered voters aren’t concerned about her positions versus Maddox because come November they won’t vote either. Also among the small minority that will go to the polls on Election Day, a majority of those voters may not care about what they might see or hear in a side-by-side appearance. But there are a few who care a lot, care deeply because they are the ones who must be the eyes and ears of those too busy or too lazy to bother. And yes, that’s the media.

Many in the media thought there were severe problems in the Bentley administration during his 2014 reelection bid. But solid proof about Bentley’s antics was challenging to check out because his staff was doing an excellent job of keeping a blanket over the mischief that was going on behind Wanda’s desk.

No such suspicions surround Gov. Ivey. Oh, there are questions about her health, which she said is fine. There are worries about the number of former Gov. Bob Riley’s cronies on her staff and in her cabinet, but there are no grave concerns about personal corruption as with Bentley.

If things hold, Gov. Ivey will be elected in the coming general election by a wide margin.

Most likely, her campaign is worried that a debate may produce a gaffe that might raise questions, that is always a risk in any live performance.

But for the good of the state and to assure the voters, and yes, the media, that she is still ready to serve, Ivey should stand shoulder to shoulder with her Democrat opponent and answer a few questions.

Enough already with the ribbon cuttings and seven-minute press outings, the voters deserve better, and Gov. Ivey is better. Over the last 20 years, only Bentley ducked debates, and thank goodness Gov. Ivey is not Robert Bentley.

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Stop and think before reposting

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