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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.

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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.

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 | The Pulitzer Prize: The Good Journalism Seal of Approval

Joey Kennedy

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Alabama Media Group columnist John Archibald’s life has changed forever.

I know, because I’ve been there. Still am.

Archibald won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary this week, a much-deserved honor and one that underscores the journalism talent that existed at The Birmingham News for decades. Still exists on a few islands.

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It says much about those who run the media company now that they have destroyed the best of journalism in Alabama over the past six years. It also says much about Archibald, who hung in there and did his thing – write superb columns – under no telling how much pressure.

When digital became the primary means for consumers to get their news, Advance Digital focused on trying to make profits instead of keeping the best journalists in the state. To do that, the company cut their most valuable resource.

My wife, Veronica, was among the 60 or so journalists laid off during the first wave of decimation back in 2012. From there, year after year, some of the state’s best journalists were cut loose or fled before that happened.

Profit over journalism.

Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have continued doing the best journalism in America, despite cutbacks. But they had better plans for digital. They didn’t give away their product, which is NEWS, by the way, not newspapers.

Instead, Alabama Media Group cut a great newspaper to three days a week, turning its back on its most loyal subscribers.

That Archibald won the Pulitzer for Commentary – one of the most prestigious of the prizes – says everything about him and not the company.

Archibald is an outstanding writer, a veteran of more than 30 years at the newspaper. He’s a good person, sharp, and works tirelessly. He has compassion and cares. Archibald has built a huge audience. It’s not unusual to see him on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, and he has weekly segments on WBHM, Birmingham’s National Public Radio affiliate.

Now, his life has changed.

Archibald will forever be known as a Pulitzer Prize winner. That’s journalism’s top honor. That’ll likely be in the lead of his obituary.

Mine, too. I was one of three editorial writers who won the first Pulitzer Prize at The News and, indeed, at any newspaper owned by the Newhouse company at the time. The late Ron Casey, Harold Jackson, and I won in 1991 for a series on tax reform in Alabama.

This week, as Alabama Media Group showered Archibald with praise, and deservedly so, it recapped the other two Pulitzer Prizes won by the “company.” In 2007, Brett Blackledge won for investigative journalism, and, of course, we won in 1991 for editorial writing.

You’ll see Blackledge’s award acknowledged, but the media group’s story just mentioned that The News also won for editorial writing in 1991. That’s misleading. Pulitzer Prizes are awarded to individuals, unless there is a team of four or more writers, and then it’s a staff award.

The late Ron Casey, Harold Jackson (now Philadelphia Enquirer Editorial Page Editor), and I were awarded Pulitzer Prizes, individually. Nowhere on our Pulitzer Prize awards is The Birmingham News mentioned. The News editorial board had a good team, too. We were cited as top-three finalists for Pulitzer Prizes in 1994 and 2006.

But, you see, I wasn’t “eased” out the door at Alabama Media Group, like so many were. I was fired outright, for “threatening” sources and for “being too personally involved with my stories.”

Any good journalist has threatened sources. Not with violence or something that stupid. But we “threaten” all the time if a source isn’t going to respond, or is going to respond with a known lie.

“If you don’t give your side of the story, I’m still writing that story.”

Or,

“If you are going to just tell that lie, I’m going to report the truth.”

“Threats.” Journalism, as Archibald and any good journalist will tell you, is a confrontational business.

And, yes, since I became an advocacy journalist in 1989, I’ve become personally involved in my topics. I write about subjects that I’m passionate about. Hard not to become personally involved when one actually cares, whether it be about undocumented immigrants, or abused children, or how badly this state treats its poor residents, or race, or equality, or education, or, yes, animals.

That’s the very characteristic that helps make us good advocacy journalists and keeps us human: We care, even if our bosses don’t.

Thank goodness I was fortunate enough to win a Pulitzer Prize. It did change my life, and it’ll change Archibald’s.

I found myself in an elite community. I began to really study writing. I wanted to deserve to be in the company of Ernest Hemingway, and Russell Baker, and Cynthia Tucker, and William Safire, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

So many great writers.

I returned to university for a master’s degree in English, with an emphasis in creative nonfiction. I have a rewarding second career, now in my 18th year, teaching English at UAB, my alma mater.

Archibald, too, will see new opportunities ahead of him. He has always been a star, for at least three decades, but now he’s got the official sanction of our profession, the ultimate seal of approval in journalism.

What opportunities will open before him: Who can say? But they’ll be there.

John Archibald knows a good column when he sees one. He’ll know the good opportunities, as well.

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

 

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Opinion | Hot buttons worth pressing

Joey Kennedy

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They don’t want you to vote.

Remember that.

And “they” are mostly the Republicans today. Voters scare Republicans just about to death.

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I stand corrected: “They” don’t want you to vote unless you vote for them.

But to be fair, when Democrats controlled all the branches of Alabama government, they weren’t too crazy about you voting, either, unless you were voting for them.

“They” usually could get you to vote for them, too. For years, Democrat George Wallace used the race card in vicious ways to scare black voters away and draw equality-challenged whites to the polls. There were no race-baiting tactics too vile for Wallace to use.

It wasn’t simply that Wallace was a racist, though he was. But he knew, after losing to John Patterson in 1958, that he’d been out-N’d by Patterson, and he vowed that would never happen again.

And it didn’t. Wallace won in 1962 on a strict segregationist platform, and he dominated Alabama politics through the mid-1980s using some form of the same themes.

Even after race was no longer such a hot-button issue, Democrats still won. The last Democrat elected governor, Don Siegelman, didn’t use race; he used the hot-button lottery.

That may have gotten him elected, but because Siegelman’s lottery proposal was so difficult to understand, and because Republicans and other conservatives used hot-button, non-sequitur religious arguments against it, the lottery was doomed.

“Go to church on Sunday, or the ‘lottery’ will get you!”

Well, something like that.

After Siegelman was defeated by Republican Bob Riley, Alabamians have elected nothing but Republicans to the state’s top office since, and most other statewide offices as well.

Democrats may have used hot-button racial and other issues to get elected, but Republicans perfected the hot-button campaign.

The evils of immigration and undocumented residents.

The traditional marriage “threats” posed by lesbian, gay, and transgender residents.

Democrats are corrupt. Democrats only want higher taxes and more spending. Democrats hate your mother, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

As it turns out, Republicans are the party of corruption in Alabama. Consider just the past few years, when the governor (Robert Bentley), speaker of the House (Mike Hubbard), and Chief Justice of the state (Roy Moore) were removed from their respective offices because of corruption (or, in Moore’s case, twice for not adhering to his oath of office, another form of corruption). Other Republican lawmakers and public officials have been caught up in corruption scandals. Some are in prison right now, though Hubbard, for some reason, remains free.

Too, Republicans figured out a way to keep the people who won’t vote for them from voting at all.

Alabama has some of the most restrictive ballot-access laws in the nation. Both Democrats and Republicans share the blame, but Republicans, with a supermajority in both the House and Senate, could have opened the ballot more.

They refused. The more candidates on the ballot, the more choices voters have. Can’t have voters having choices; can’t have different ideas floating around out there.

The more people out there who vote, the less chance Republicans have of winning. So they passed draconian voter ID laws. That locks out or scares away many voters who would likely vote for Democrats or a third party. Qualified voters who don’t have photo IDs are more likely to be poor and minority, generally voters who elect Democrats or who certainly don’t vote for Republicans.

Republicans gerrymandered the state to such an extent, their districts are usually considered safe. They even gerrymandered moderate, thinking Republicans out of their own districts so those reasonable officeholders couldn’t win against the far more conservative Republicans.

Republicans now have weakened the state’s ethics laws so much, their favorite kind of corruption – using their offices for public gain – is practically legal.

It’s a mess, to be sure.

That’s why this year is so important. With the December win of Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones over Republican Molester Roy Moore, Democrats and independents are charged up.

There actually are more Democrats running for office this year than Republicans. Many are women. Many are African-American women. The governor’s race this year not only features Republicans challenging the incumbent, but Democrats elbowing their way in.

True, many of the Republicans running for office are the incumbents. But Democrats and independents are fired up.

And with Millennials and post-Millennials becoming qualified to vote, and with a renewed interest in activism because of the #MeToo movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the #NeverAgain gun restriction movement, the #DACAnow immigration movement, and the radical shift in public opinion surrounding LGBTQ issues, it very well may be a new day.

Yes, even in Alabama.

Imagine our hot buttons turning out to be a real push for reasonable gun control. Or “Equality for All,” that would make the lives of immigrants and the gay community and women and, yes, sadly, still, African-Americans feel truly included.

Imagine hot buttons that truly matter.

Those are the hot buttons we can press with pride. If we will.

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

 

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Opinion | If they won’t debate, they don’t deserve your vote

Joey Kennedy

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If they won’t debate, take your vote elsewhere.

This summer’s and fall’s elections are important. We say this all the time, but this time it may be true: Maybe the most important elections in a long time.

If your elected officials dodge answering questions and won’t attend debates with their opponents, they clearly have something to hide. Maybe they’re just crappy debaters, but we need to know that, too.

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Often, politicians avoid debates because they believe themselves to be heavy favorites. They don’t see how a debate – explaining why they support or oppose specific issues – will help them when they’re already on top.

In other words, they’re cowards.

Already, debates are being set up all over the place, even for the state’s highest office. The Democrats running for governor are willingly prepared to face off against one another. The Republicans running for governor are willingly prepared to face off against one another, as well.

Well, the Republicans except for Gov. Kay Ivey. She’s got scheduling conflicts or some other crap excuse. She said earlier this year she was open for debates, but apparently has a hair appointment or a dinner date or a planned session at the firing range. I don’t know. What I do know, is she does not have a “previous engagement” for a debate for the state’s most important office. Ivey is dodging, and she’s dodging badly.

Remember: If a candidate won’t explain her positions in front of her opponents, hear other ideas, toss them back and forth, prove why she’s best, she does not deserve your vote.

Ivey’s campaign manager, instead of being honest as to why Ivey refuses to debate, chooses to pick on one of her opponents, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who challenged Ivey to the debates.

“While Tommy is wasting yet another week on media stunts, Kay Ivey is crisscrossing the state to share the success story of Alabama working again,” said Mike Lukach.

I call BS.

The economy is good, that’s true. But it’s good just about everywhere across the country. Ivey just happens to be governor right now. True, there will be a lot of new “economic development” jobs for lawmakers, no doubt. New industry is moving to the state. That’s nothing new. Jobs have been coming into Alabama for years – decades, now – because we’re an anti-union, Right-to-Work state that’ll give away tax incentives and anything else for a factory to come here for low-wage workers.

That doesn’t explain why she refuses to debate her opponents.

So voters have a choice here. Ivey is assuming voters don’t care one way or another. Maybe they don’t. Voters certainly haven’t done a great job over the years electing quality leadership for our state, and that’s across the board.

Still, times are changing. Voters may not be as gullible as they have been in the past. They may want to hear what other ideas other candidates other than incumbents have to offer. Many younger voters, fired up by the March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter and Me, Too movements will be heard this year. They want to know what Ivey’s GOP opponents have to offer. They may want to know even what Democrats can give Alabama that Republicans can’t.

Judging from the past few years, this new crop of candidates probably can at least offer less corruption, less meanness, less pedophilia.

Well, we can hope.

What we can’t do is give the sitting governor a pass when she refuses to debate her opponents. Ivey may be the best Republican. But we’ll never know unless she faces her rivals and proves it. Put up or shut up, Kay Ivey.

So far, all Ivey has proved is that she can take over for a despicable governor (Robert Bentley) and not appear as despicable.

That’s a pretty low bar.

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

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