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Bill Britt

Are we rubes who cannot read nor count?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

National opinion writers, network talking heads and even random strangers are slamming Alabama as a clannish bunch of backwoods, inbred rubes simply too dumb to determine who to elect as U.S. Senator on December 12. And even here at home, much of the same criticism is amplified in print, online and even in these pages.

At the Alabama Political Reporter, we allow all voices with few exceptions, but our primary focus is on accuracy in reporting.

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In a time when our nation is experiencing a much-needed outing of misogynistic behavior, it is difficult to look at any charge of sexual exploitation with cool-eyed dispassion. The benefit of the doubt is given to the accuser, not the accused, as hopefully, a widespread cleansing will result from earnest and honest conversation about our past and the way forward.

As individuals, we can argue about the wisdom of voters. We can even disagree on the outcome of an election. But for better or worse, all political contests are winner take all in Alabama.

As editor-in-chief of APR, my job is to ensure that our publication presents accurate reporting.

APR also has a policy of publishing opinion/commentary from the right, left and center.

During the latest scandal to rock state politics, my goal is that our overall coverage of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is accurate and fair.

As I’ve told our reporters, Moore is a complicated man to cover even in the best of times. His propensity for what many feel is hateful speech can chill even some conservatives. Moore’s coarse, inflammatory rhetoric is meant to cut through a veneer of modernity like a rusty blade. Like a fire and brimstone preacher, Moore condemns a world he sees as increasingly secular and godless. His view of a wicked and sinful world is shared by many Alabamians.

There are those who believe Moore is a target of the Republican establishment and left-leaning journalists. And there are those who think that he is a sexual aggressor who must be stopped at all costs.

Reporters should not be judge and jury, rather, they should present evidence without fear or favor. However, in the real world, it is difficult to disengage emotions fully when covering someone like Moore. Perhaps this is why we see media reports stating imperially that nine women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct and hear the words pedophile or child molester used to describe Moore.

Perhaps the national media and even our homegrown reports and opinion writers believe Alabamians can’t count or don’t know the meaning of words. Factual errors and incorrect usage of clearly defined words is the very thing that gives credence to the phrase “fake news.”

Are two acts of alleged sexual aggression against teenage girls not enough to cause concern about a Senate candidate’s character? Is not a single accusation of grabbing a 28-year-old woman’s butt not enough to give us pause to reconsider our vote?

Of the nine women being reported as “Moore accusers,” only three have alleged him with sexual assault. Is that not enough?

Two of the other women said they dated Moore. One of those two said Moore brought her drinks when she was 18, and the legal age for drinking was 19. The others only claim that Moore pursued them when they were of the age of consent.

Reasonable people can agree that a man in his 30s chasing teenaged girls is inappropriate, but to lump these women in with Leigh Corfman and Beverly Young Nelson is to diminish the severity of their accounts. It further gives support to claims of unfair and manufactured news reporting.

Do we as a society not believe that even one claim of sexual assault on a minor is enough? This inflation in the number of accusers again undermines the seriousness of the accusations because not everyone in Alabama lacks basic reading comprehension skills. And most of us can count to eleven without removing our shoes.

Is Alabama a conservative state? Yes. Does it have a troubled past? Yes. Is the state’s collective conscience void of judgment? No. But to read or listen to commentators around the country and here at home, we are not only ignorant but mean and uncaring.

Also, when reporting or giving opinions, words matter; and as best as possible, journalists and commentators should use words as properly defined.

Here again, national press, state press and many on social media, are suspect because they have mislabeled or not understood the nature of what Moore’s victims accused him of doing. This mischaracterization is dismissive and perhaps harmful to real victims of other heinous crimes.

Since The Post‘s first report on December 9, the hashtags #RoyMoorePedophile and #RoyMooreChildMolester have been trending on social media. News shows have also used the word pedophile to describe Moore on numerous occasions.

Writing in The Post, Rachel Hope Cleves, a professor of history at the University of Victoria, and Nicholas L. Syrett, a professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas, explain why assigning the word pedophile to Moore undercuts the real crisis engulfing young women and men who have been preyed on by others.

“[A]ccounting for sexual abuse with a diagnosis of pedophilia obscures the way that abusive behavior fits into our everyday sexual system that privileges powerful men to take advantage of the younger, the female and the less powerful,” according to Cleves and Syrett. Pedophilia is a particular legal and medical term and a much different offense than what Moore’s accusers have cited.

From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Roy Moore, the problem as Cleves and Syrett describe it is one of powerful men taking advantage of females and males who are younger and have less power. If we as a society are to address serious problems, we should call these actions by their proper names, and the press should as well.

The media has a responsibility to state facts without inflating the story for shock-effect. Any act of sexual violence or assault should be disturbing enough to not need embellishment by a click-hungry media.

Recently, I received an email from a woman saying she is an Ohio businesswoman who has built an international business. She says, “If Alabama citizens vote for Roy Moore, yes you are ignorant rubes!  Do you support young Alabama women and their potential?  Do you even tbelieve (sic) in evolution??? As a strong Ohio woman from middle class family who built a large international company, I ask:  Could an Alabama young woman do this! I’m scared for them. Of course the women speak truth. Please believe them! Otherwise you confirm my view of Alabama as scarily, hopelessly backward, i.e. dumb. Please support your women citizens. MS.”

It is my view that Alabamians do care genuinely about our young women, children and families. I also believe we as a whole take these allegations leveled at Moore seriously.

Advice from emailers, national pundits and even the opinion pages of al.com or alreporter.com, do not trump the wisdom of Alabama’s voters. They are not ignorant, mean or stupid, and that is my opinion. But it could be that I, too, am a southern rube.

 

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Bill Britt

Ethics Review Committee is a long con

Bill Britt

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After last week’s initial meeting of the Ethics Review Committee, it’s now apparent that the body, as far as its leaders are concerned, is not assembled to strengthen and clarify the state’s ethics laws but weaken it through a wholesale rewrite. In other words, the Ethics Review Committee is a prop in a confidence scheme.

It seems the real purpose of the committee is to provide cover for lawmakers when, during the 2019 Legislative Session, the current “toughest in the nation’s” ethics laws are gutted like a prize pig.

Doing away with the present statutes should come as no surprise since Republican lawmakers and some businessmen have worked to overturn the ethics laws since Republican Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony violations of the existing laws.

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As in high stakes, poker lawmakers have “tells” which, when read, reveal their true intentions.

The resolution that created the Ethics Review Committee reads in part, “[T]he multiple piecemeal amendments over the last 40-plus years and the evolving interpretation of the Code of Ethics have created an environment where reasonable individuals can sometimes disagree on what is permitted and what is not with the result that qualified individuals are discouraged from seeking public office.”

Citing a law as old implies it antiquated and in need of replacement to fit the times. Piecemeal here is used as a pejorative to indicate the law is flawed because of so many additions. It also states that reasonable individuals disagree on what is permitted and what is not. Finding a reasonable person is a stretch, but what this means is when someone wants a way around the laws or breaks the law, they hire an attorney to argue about what the law means. Lastly, the authors of the resolution establishing the committee want the public to believe the laws discourage qualified individuals from seeking public office.

These are all talking points that only mean they are going to scrap existing laws.

It’s almost like the committee itself is an unwitting partner in a confidence trick. This move against the state’s ethics act feels like a “long con” in which, “a scam unfolds over a period of time and involves a team of swindlers, as well as props, sets, extras, costumes, and scripted lines,” according to Amy Reading’s The Mark.

The set-up began in earnest during the 2018 Legislative Session when Republican House and Senate leaders promised the public that the committee would use SB343 as the starting point for the review committee’s suggested changes.

But using SB343 as the underlying law on which to build is now being trashed.

At the end of the first meeting, Jefferson County Presiding Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boohaker asked, “Are we going to work in the existing Ethics law? Are we working on SB343? Or are we just starting from scratch?”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, who co-chairs the committee, answered, “I think all three are possibilities. That’s what this committee should decide. If there are things you like about the existing law, then you can propose we keep those. If you like the Attorney General’s bill, then you can suggest those. If you want to start from scratch, then I would encourage you to present something to the committee that you do like.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced SB343 during the 2018 Legislative Session. The bill was painstakingly constructed primarily by the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division led by Matt Hart, a team assembled under former Attorney General Luther Strange that worked since August 2016, to deliver a comprehensive re-write of the Alabama Ethics Act. During the process, Hart’s team met with all the significant stakeholders which amounted to more than two dozen different groups consisting of attorneys, lobbyists, associations, prosecutors and university officials, as well as direct discussions with the Legislature, including Othni Lathram, the director of the Legislative Services Agency.

According to sources within many of those discussions, there was universal agreement that SB343 satisfied the concerns of the various interests.

The committee may be comprised of exceptional individuals, but the fix is in, and the grifter’s prize is a return to a lawless Legislature led by those who serve themselves, not the people.

The game is on, and mischief is afoot. It’s a con.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Cobb’s pledge sets a trap for rivals; Very Trumpian

Bill Britt

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Democrat gubernatorial candidate Sue Bell Cobb, last week, put forward a campaign pledge as cover for her failure to vet a field director who is a registered sex offender.

Rather than admitting her mistake and firing the sex offender and the staff member who hired him, she tried to change the subject by blaming the media, pointing her finger at Republicans and asking her opponents to sign a pledge to play nice.

The pledge itself is little more than a cleverly disguised Faustian bargain, in which she attempts to trick her rivals into agreeing to a promise that serves her end but not theirs.

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Second from the bottom, the pledge reads: “REFUSE FUNDING any group requiring financial support in exchange for an ‘endorsement.'”

This coming Saturday, the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) will meet to choose which candidates it will support in the June 5 Democrat primary. With the ADC’s endorsement comes an explicit understanding of financial support. It appears Cobb is conceding she will not receive ADC’s endorsement and doesn’t want one of her opponents to benefit from the group’s support.

Cobb learned something from her 30 years on the bench, which seems to be how to hide a trap inside a seemingly innocuous document.

Every Democratic candidate wants ADC’s endorsement, and everyone needs it.

Four of the five candidates running for governor under the Democrat banner signed the pledge. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox called it a “stunt,” and didn’t sign.

Now if one of the other four office seekers should win ADC’s endorsement, they would have to refuse it to comply with Cobb’s pledge.

Of course, Cobb’s presser last week was an unmitigated disaster. From its premise to its ending, Cobb showed her inability to understand the fundamentals of decency, much less the vital role of the press. Has Cobb basked so long in the warmth of an adoring liberal press that she couldn’t realize that not everyone swoons when she takes the stage? Or has she fooled herself for so long that facts no longer matter?

Since resigning her position as Alabama’s chief justice, Cobb has given at least six different reasons why she stepped down, so either she doesn’t know why she surrendered her office to Judge Roy Moore or has yet to decide which version of the facts plays best with her audience.

As if to take a page from President Donald Trump’s playbook, Cobb, last week, strolled in front of the cameras, denounced the dishonest press, defended paying a sex offender $40,000 —over the course of two months—and then duped her opponents into signing away their legal rights and the ability to receive a coveted endorsement.

Cobb’s pledge also states, “MAKE PUBLIC all expenditures placed on behalf of my campaign whether paid directly or through consultants.”

Alabama’s FCPA law doesn’t require candidates to disclose such expenditures. Here, Cobb once again is not looking to make the race fairer but to take away a lawful advantage she believes her rivals are using.

Furthermore, Cobb made a fool of herself at her most recent presser by saying the arrest of her campaign field director, sex offender Paul Littlejohn III, was politically motivated.

Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian called her out  saying, “How sad that a candidate for governor supports a convicted sex offender over sexual assault victims.”

Chief Deputy Christian points out what is perhaps the worst part of this whole sorry affair – Cobb, rather than remembering the victim, put the entire focus on herself.

Cobb’s pledge was meant to deflect and distract from her failure to identify and fire a sex offender. Instead, she deceived her opponents by persuading them to sign a phony pledge.

Very Trumpian.

Full pledge:

The Republican leaders of all three branches of our government have faced scandals and been removed from office. We must do better. Legitimate journalism is under attack while paid, partisan websites flourish unchecked. We must demand better. As a candidate for the highest elected office in Alabama, I will hold myself to the highest standards of ethics, pledging to:

ABIDE BY all campaign laws and procedures;

REFUSE TO defame the character of my opponent, his religious beliefs, his family or his lifestyle, or to condone the actions of those who do;

CONDEMN the use of campaign materials of any sort that falsify the facts regarding my opponent, his professional accomplishments, or his personal background;

CONDEMN any appeal to prejudice or bigotry;

DISAVOW PUBLICLY any material or advertisements that are not factually accurate or that fail to disclose the identity behind such campaign activities or the source of funding;

MAKE PUBLIC all expenditures placed on behalf of my campaign whether paid directly or through consultants;

REFUSE FUNDING any group requiring financial support in exchange for an “endorsement.”

SHARE copies of this pledge to my campaign workers, volunteers, and key supporters.

This 10th day of May, 2018.

 

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Bill Britt

BCA, ALFA and PCI support candidates with a history of misogyny

Bill Britt

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BCA's Billy Canary, left; ALFA's Jimmy Parnell, top-right; and PCI's Robbie McGee, bottom right, are backing two candidates for elected offices with a history of physical abuses or covering for sexual assault.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, it should be shocking that the Business Council of Alabama, the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are supporting men for statewide office who have either protected sexual predators or are themselves accused spouse abusers.

The popular novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” was originally titled “Men Who Hate Women.” Written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, it chronicles how powerful men use the levers of government, establishment-institutions and cronyism to rob women of their humanity in the most degrading acts of defilement imaginable.

It would seem here in Alabama that some at BCA, ALFA and PCI are taking a page out of  Larsson’s book by offering misogynistic candidates covered under a veneer of their company’s respected logos.

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Court records show BCA’s Billy Canary, ALFA’s Jimmy Parnell and PCI’s Robbie McGee are backing two candidates for elected offices with a history of physical abuses or covering for sexual assault.

Hand-picked by ALFA’s President Parnell, with financial support from Canary and McGee, Agriculture and Industry candidate Rick Pate, according to court records, abused his wife so severely that the court ordered that he not enter the marital home because his wife feared for her life.

“The Wife avers that the Husband has committed actual violence to her person and from his manner and conduct toward her, she is reasonably convinced that he will commit further violence upon her person, intended with danger to her life and health,” the record said.

In a handwritten note provided to the Alabama Political Reporter, the former Mrs. Pate recanted her sworn testimony saying she and her first husband now have an excellent relationship.

However, at the time of their divorce, the court granted her request of, “a restraining order strictly enjoining and restraining,” her Husband from “entering the resident premises…assaulting, threatening, or intimidating,” her.

BCA-backed candidate Attorney General Steve Marshall used the power of his office to protect a man who, according to court records, sexually assaulted a co-worker in an act that a U.S. district judge described as “horrific.”

After woman’s “horrific” sexual assault, what did Steve Marshall do?

Instead of firing the accused sexual assailant, Marshall sought to isolate and punish the victim before defending the perpetrator in court.

In the victim’s own words, she recounted the attack in court saying, “He had me pinned with my back against the wall … I kept saying stop, stop, get off me, stop. Stop it. He was trying to put his mouth on me. I could still feel his hot breath on my neck. I felt like I absolutely was going to die. I couldn’t move him because he was so heavy. He kept pushing his hands — he had one hand on my breast underneath the top part of my bra. I could feel his fingers on my nipples. The other hand, again, I could feel he was at the top of my pubic area. And I knew I had to stop him.”

Marshall did nothing to protect his female employee. In fact, he moved her to a basement office where she feared another attack.

Pate wants to represent the state’s largest industry here at home and abroad. Marshall is to be the state’s top lawyer defending the state and prosecuting its worst criminals, yet when women were involved, neither Pate or Marshall could be counted on to protect them, according to court documents.

That ALFA, BCA, and PCI would support such candidates with personal endorsements, and large sums of money are not lost on some members of the Republican Party. In a letter given to APR by a member of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, it pleas with other women to, “Let’s prevent another black eye on our state and our party.” It further states,”In order for us to prove that we do care about our members and share their conservative family values; we must reconsider our support of Rick Pate or be forced to defend our support of him. If not, our lack of action once we became aware of his history of violence towards women will be our downfall.”

Did Canary, Parnell and McGee not vet Marshall or Pate? Did they simply not care that both men have a history of neglecting or abusing women?

What does it say about the female members of BCA, ALFA and PCI when their organization supports men who protect molesters and abusers?

The #MeToo movement is sweeping our nation, but in Alabama, Canary, Parnell and McGee using the force of BCA, ALFA and PCI are sweeping  misogyny under the rug.

 

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Are we rubes who cannot read nor count?

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
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