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Opinion | Beware the Ides of March

Joey Kennedy

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Beware the Ides of March, warned the seer to Julius Caesar, but Caesar didn’t, and the Roman emperor was reportedly assassinated on March 15, 44 BC.

On this Ides of March, there are other warnings going out, not for a literal assassination but, perhaps, massive political consequences. Politicians on all levels – federal, state, and local – need to be paying close attention, because voters, and especially young voters, look to be mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.

They’ll let their voices be heard this fall in the midterm elections, so the seer might warn the Caesar-like politicians to beware the 6th of November as well.

At some point, more Americans are bound to wonder exactly what President Donald Trump owes the Russians. Or what the Russians have on him.

There must be something.

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The president refuses to slap sanctions on Russia, despite near-unanimous approval of those sanctions in a bipartisan vote by Congress. The president is quick to criticize specific Democrats and even members of his own administration (AG Jeff Sessions is “beleaguered”), but has yet to call out Russian President Vladmir Putin on anything, whether it’s cyberattacking the United States, running a simulation that has Russian nuclear weapons targeting Florida, or assassinating his critics with a deadly nerve agent in the United Kingdom.

And most Republicans appear to be standing behind their “beleaguered” president. Together they stand, united they fall?

Perhaps the most serious warning politicos would be astute to observe, or at least understand, is the hornet’s nest stirred up after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Wednesday marked one month since the shootings, a month, generally of little or no activity on the part of Congress or state legislatures to do something about the violent gun culture we live in today.

The United States is an anomaly on this issue. The politicians try to limit the causes to mental health or violent video games and movies.

There are mentally ill people across the world. Kids across the globe play violent video games and watch violent movies.

We live in the only nation that has such a high rate of violent gun deaths, either one-on-one on a daily basis or the much too often mass killings like the one a month ago in Parkland, Fla.

It’s not even close, and the major difference between us and them: We have more than 300 million guns, many of them easily converted to fully automatic, out there, and practically unregulated.

Young people across the country aren’t being quiet this time. They’ve taken up the challenge to either change the current politicians’ mind-set toward sensible gun restrictions, or to warn them (Beware the Ides of March) that they won’t be around for long if they don’t do something more than simply bowing to the thugs who lead the National Rifle Association.

On Wednesday, students across the United States, commemorating the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shootings, walked out of their classes for 17 minutes – a minute for each of the victims killed in the spree.

Many students in Alabama walked out, too, with the blessings of their school officials. Other administrators didn’t allow students to leave their classrooms. Some students walked out, anyway, risking discipline for doing so.

Gov. Kay Ivey, in her typical proclivity to double-speak, said the students were “noble,” but shouldn’t walk out of their classrooms.

“We need our children in school to learn so they can advance their own careers,” Ivey said.

They’re learning, Governor. And they’re teaching, too. The adults better be listening to this lesson, because many of these students are going to be voting in November and certainly after. Don’t take them for granted.

It was Ivey, remember, who said she had no reason to doubt the sexual abuse accusers of former Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, then declared she’d vote for Moore because he is a Republican.

Do not ignore these young activists. Hear them, and respond to their pleas to be allowed to live in peace in their schools.

And that doesn’t mean arming teachers, either.

So the Ides of March is upon us. It’s a good time to heed warnings. Or, like Caesar, be ready to pay the consequences.

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

 

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Opinion | Do what’ll really help: Expand Medicaid

Joey Kennedy

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We’ll certainly see whether state Sen. Greg Reed’s support of the new Medicaid Integrated Care Network is worthy and that the program does what is promised. Let’s hope it does, but pardon my cynicism, because any health care program these days that promises to do more for millions of dollars less falls under my “too-good-to-be-true” doctrine.

That just doesn’t happen.

Reed wrote about the ICN for Alabama Political Reporter Wednesday, and here’s how he describes it: “In October of this year, the state Medicaid agency partnered with an Alabama health care provider that will now serve the medical needs of the 23,000 senior citizens who are receiving Medicaid’s long-term care services, 70 percent of whom are in nursing homes. By partnering with an expert health care provider based in Alabama, Medicaid can offer its long-term patients better care – and thus allow more Medicare recipients to stay longer in the comfort of their own home.”

This program, Reed writes, “is projected to save, over the long run, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Too bad that Reed, the Jasper Republican who is Majority Leader, isn’t pushing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. That would do far more to help poor Alabamians, especially the working poor. Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians can’t get health insurance because they don’t qualify for subsidies, yet make too much to qualify for Medicaid.

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While helping Alabama seniors live at home longer is a great goal, it’s doubtful they’ll get better care for millions of dollars less.

Expanding Medicaid under the ACA isn’t going to save the state money, either. It’ll cost millions of dollars more, though a fraction of what it would cost without the federal dollars that’ll come into the state with expansion.

And with that expansion comes more jobs and economic development, and many hospitals, particularly in rural areas on the verge of bankruptcy, can keep their doors open, saving good-paying jobs there and at businesses that benefit from development around hospitals.

Expanding Medicaid is about the best economic development decision the Legislature and governor could make. Alabama should have expanded Medicaid from the outset, but the politics of hating President Barack Obama kept that from happening. It was more important to stick it to the first black president than to make sure more Alabama residents had access to health care.

Frankly, that still seems to be the goal.

We just had an election, and Alabama voters decided they’d rather keep the same crew in charge – the one that continues to make life-and-death decisions against their best interests.

For too many, an unconstitutional amendment to our state constitution that practically bans a woman’s choice was more important than making sure that women have decent health care. An unconstitutional amendment glorifying the Ten Commandments is more important than making sure those commandments are kept in the way we deliver services to the least of these.

So really, I’m rooting for Reed on doing something to provide more Medicaid services to Alabama senior citizens. But I’m rooting even more that Reed and his Republican colleagues change their can’t-do mind-set and expand Medicaid under the ACA.

Even if they still, for no good reason, hate the man who made the ACA possible.

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

 

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Opinion | Protest is an American right, deserves respect

Joey Kennedy

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Overkill is probably a bad word to use in this context, but it’s accurate. Law enforcement is out in huge numbers to quell protests that continue in Hoover in the wake of the literal overkilling of Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving night.

The resources being used to divert or “contain” the generally small and loud-but-peaceful demonstrations appear to far outweigh any danger posed by them.

That’s exactly what’s expected, though. I grew up during the Vietnam War protest era, and law enforcement often overreacted to legitimate demonstrations then. They always have, it seems: Labor strikes in the early 20th century, during the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights movement, among others.

As more information is learned about the shooting, the worse it looks for the Hoover Police Department. At first, Hoover PD said Bradford was the man who shot and wounded an 18-year-old at the Riverchase Galleria that night. (A 12-year-old girl was also wounded, but for some reason, gets very little attention now.) Hoover PD quickly backed off its original story, admitting Bradford was unlikely to be the man who fired the shots that night. Various reports claim Bradford had a gun, but his family says he had a carry permit, though one isn’t required to tote a weapon in Alabama, an open-carry state.

Another man was arrested in Georgia for the Galleria shooting.

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Little else has come from Hoover officials about the tragedy, despite a vow to be transparent during the inquiry. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is conducting the investigation, and requested Hoover not release any evidence because it might jeopardize the work.

The only thing being jeopardized by the silence is the truth.

From an autopsy commissioned by Bradford’s family and released this week, it appears the 21-year-old was shot three times from behind by a Hoover police officer while Bradford was moving away from the scene — as were many people in the Riverchase Galleria that evening after the initial shots were fired.

Again, various reports claim Hoover PD denied Bradford treatment after he was mortally wounded. Some witnesses claim Bradford was helping other people escape the scene. Others say they didn’t see Bradford with a gun, while yet others say he was holding a gun. Police originally said Bradford was “brandishing” a gun, but they’ve backed off of that claim, too.

Witness accounts of crime scenes are often contradictory and confused. But with Hoover PD, ALEA, and other officials deciding not to be open with facts, that’s all we’re left with.

And sadly, that increases racial and other tensions in Jefferson County’s second-largest city.

Some social media comments have been outright racist and ugly, which is not unexpected, either. This is Alabama, after all, and Hoover, a white-flight city, is overwhelmingly majority white. Bradford was a black man, and the protests, while racially mixed, are led by African-Americans.

Underscore, though, that the protests have been peaceful. Yes, there’s hollering and chants, but no threats of violence. Meanwhile, police, including Alabama State Troopers, at one point blocked all the exits to the Interstate in Hoover to keep protesters contained.

We are allowed to peacefully protest in this country. That’s a constitutional right. Police and Hoover city officials – and Hoover residents and business owners — must respect that. They may not like the spotlight blinding them right now, but that spotlight is in large part of Hoover PD’s own making by rushing to judgment on the killing of a young black man, then shutting down information as they continued to change their story.

We’ve seen police overreact in violent incidents against young black men all over the nation for years. When they do, police departments often respond by refusing to release information that could clear up disturbing but valid questions.

As has been shown multiple times, that creates doubt and confusion, and does real damage to a police department’s reputation in the community it is supposed to protect.

E.J. Bradford certainly was not protected by Hoover police Thanksgiving night.

All anybody wants to know is the truth, but don’t blame Bradford’s family and others for wondering whether the truth is being manipulated when officials refuse to release information now, but were so certain Bradford was the man doing the shooting in the beginning.

The other sad fact this highlights is this nation’s dangerous gun culture. There are very real and lethal consequences with laws that allow open carry. When an event does occur, who are the police supposed to be looking for? The shooter may be there, but so maybe are many others with guns strapped to their waists or held in their hands.

Even so, that’s no excuse for a police officer, supposedly trained for high-stress, treacherous situations, to shoot a suspect three times from behind without being certain he is a threat to police or others. Merely having a gun in an open-carry, gun-loving state shouldn’t qualify.

The questions will continue, and the longer it takes to answer them, the less credibility an investigation will have.

Yes, we need to see what the overall inquiry reveals and what can be done to prevent a future repeat, but showing key video and evidence about Bradford’s role now, if he had any role at all, won’t jeopardize anything if the investigation is legitimate.

After all, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago. It took Hoover PD hardly any time to publicly brand E.J. Bradford the Galleria shooter or that it was a “hero” cop who took him down.

We may not have a lot of the facts, but we know today, for a fact, that story is not true.

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

 

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Opinion | Three things. Three ugly things

Joey Kennedy

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Three events that should worry us this week:

HOOVER SHOOTING

Transparent. That’s a pretty clear term for most of us. A dictionary definition is equally transparent: “Open, frank, candid.” But to many (most?) governments, “transparent” is just a word.

Hoover officials have been vowing transparency since they learned that 21-year-old Emantic Bradford Jr. was not the shooter who injured an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old Thanksgiving night at the Riverchase Galleria. Bradford was gunned down by a Hoover police officer at the scene. He was permitted to have a gun and was, according to witnesses, trying to help others escape the real gunman, who is still at large.

If Hoover police thought there was an active shooter situation at the mall, they should have gone in guns-blazing against white males. They overwhelmingly are the demographic that commits mass shootings in this gun-nut nation.

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But Bradford, a black male, is said to have had a gun, so he was shot to death by a police officer.

While Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said the city would be transparent during the investigation and after, the city has been anything but.

The Hoover City Council met for two minutes before going behind doors to reportedly discuss the shooting. The Police Department has turned over video evidence to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which is conducting the investigation, and we know how transparent (not) ALEA is.

So a black man who was holding a gun near a shooting, legal as legal can be in Alabama, was gunned down, and here we are, a week later, with witnesses and Bradford’s family and friends telling one story, and the Hoover city officials not telling anything.

Definitely an ugly national story today, anything but transparent.


MISSISSIPPI ELECTION

Voters in Mississippi had a chance be progressive, but instead did the expected: Elected a clearly racist Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith to the U.S. Senate.

Hyde-Smith, the politician who would like to be on the front seat of a public hanging (that’s lynching in the South), who wears Confederate hats and believes Mississippi in the Civil War must have been a great place to live, easily beat former Secretary of Agriculture and Congressman Mike Espy in a U.S. Senate runoff.

Like Alabama, Mississippi voters could have followed its better angels in this election, but preferred the same, old, white-supremacist politicians the state has been electing just about forever. Why not? Racist President Donald Trump came and campaigned for Hyde-Smith, and Trump is as popular in Mississippi as Alabama.

These, of course, are the same Republicans who are trying to cut Medicare and Social Security, no doubt benefits that many of Hyde-Smith’s voters enjoy. They are the party clearly against public education, a social safety net, immigration, the LGBTQ community, choice for women, and health insurance for those who can’t afford it.

Hell, Alabama and Mississippi should just merge. It wouldn’t be a bad deal. Mississippi gets a decent football team; Alabama gets gambling casinos. The rest will pretty much stay the same.

Bamassippi: We don’t have many modern idears, but when we do, we reject ‘em really fast! Thank God for, errr, us?


ON THE U.S. BORDER WITH MEXICO

We don’t have a wall. Fortunately, we probably never will. But there’s a well-armed human shield acting as one to turn back the immigrant “invasion” on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thousands of U.S. military troops, national guard troops, and border control agents are standing in the way of immigrants trying to escape to a better place from violence and, for some, certain death in their own countries. It’s completely within the law for any immigrant, with or without documentation, to seek asylum in the United States.

The United States has a long, proud history of helping people escape persecution in their broken countries. Not today, though.

President Trump, who hates any immigrant who’s not a family member or white, prefers to fire tear gas at women and children across the border to keep them at bay. And if they do happen to enter the country, his policies separate the parents from their kids, caging them both, perhaps never to be reunited.

Trump redirects millions of dollars from other federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has disaster after disaster to deal with, just to be cruel to people who simply want a chance at a peaceful life.

Instead, these desperate men, women, and children are brutally met with tear gas and horror before they ever set foot on U.S. soil — not unlike what they are fleeing.

This should hurt the hearts and souls of every American who cares about the grand ideals of our founding. But it doesn’t.

We are a mean place these days. And we’re getting meaner.

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

 

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Opinion | Giving thanks, but not so much, too

Joey Kennedy

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So here we are, on the eve of another Thanksgiving, my 63rd. This is the time of year we’re called on to express what we’re thankful for, and I’m thankful for so much. I’m thankful for a whole lot more than I can express in one column.

Here’s the dilemma, though. As we inventory our memories for all the stuff we’re thankful for, we can’t help but dredge up some of the things we’re not so thankful for. As a believer in full disclosure, I can’t help but note both sides of this beautiful Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m thankful for my family, which doesn’t simply include blood relatives — blood relatives who I have no choice in claiming. But I’m thankful for my even larger circle of family that I chose – and who chose me. They know who they are.

I’m thankful for Veronica, my wife of nearly 39 years, who has stood by me through everything life tosses around, as she vowed she would do on that cold, Groundhog’s Day in 1980 at a Baptist church in Anniston.

I am not thankful for blood family who reject their kin because he’s a “libtard,” a “socialist,” a “communist,” a “fascist,” an “enemy of the people,” a teller of truth they cannot — or will not — accept, an essayist of memoir who writes about a life they claim to have never lived. I’m not thankful for that.

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I’m thankful for our dogs, most of them pugs, most of them infirm, who would all be dead today if people had not stepped in to save them. They share their hearts and souls, and comfort us in ways no human can. Next Thanksgiving, a few or more will no longer be with us, and we know that, but I’m so grateful they are with us today, and show us what unconditional love truly is. I am not thankful that so many humans fail to understand the power of love to conquer our many differences.

I am thankful for so many people, some of whom even disagree with these columns, who tell me their own stories and viewpoints. I am not thankful for the trolls who only write to attack me or my family personally because they can’t argue against the ideas they reject out of hand.

I am thankful we live in a country that allows us a real voice in our government, but not thankful that so many who have that voice exercise it without thought. I’m not thankful, either, that those thoughtless voters elect individuals like our state attorney general who tolerates public corruption or our secretary of state who wants to suppress their vote. I am not thankful for them, or the people who ignorantly put them in office.

I am thankful I am a teacher and that I meet so many smart young people who are just starting their lives. I am not thankful that I’m witness to some of them take the opportunities they have for granted while others struggle mightily to make their dream of a good education a reality.

I am thankful we have the have some of the best health care in the world, miracles that can be the cure for a brain tumor in a child. I am not thankful that kind of care is not available to every one of us who live in the richest of all nations.

I am thankful for the diversity of people I cross paths with every day. I’m thankful for how much I learn from them. I’m thankful for their energy and dedication and, yes, love. I am not thankful for so many of those in our lives who hate them because they’re black or brown or wear a hijab or are Jewish or gay or different. I am not thankful that some of those who hate have access to weapons that kill on a whim, and destroy families in a split-second of hateful spite.

I am certainly not thankful that the current president of the United States and so many in his hateful party enjoy fueling that venom and division, making our better angels cry tears of frustration. Jesus wept, too, you know.

I am thankful for the awareness life gives me, for the deep feelings, for the pain — for being able to shed tears at a good movie or start bawling at the end of the right book. I am thankful for the sadness at watching a homeless person struggle and for the joy when I hear she succeeds.

I am thankful for so much in my life that I have never asked for, or earned, or deserved, but, for some reason, have.

True, I’m not thankful for many things. But I am thankful for so much.

God is good, not vengeful, and I’m thankful for that, too.

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

 

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Opinion | Beware the Ides of March

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 4 min
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