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Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

Joey Kennedy

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The second best news for me this week is that the Alabama Legislature isn’t going to do the knee-jerk thing of passing a law that’ll allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom, as a deterrent to some lunatic who might attack a school to massacre students.

The protection of our students from a mad gunman isn’t a teacher’s responsibility; it’s law enforcement’s – those trained to do that. I don’t want a school resource officer teaching the writing process or Robert Frost; the parents of my students don’t want me packing heat on the chance some nut is going to barge into my classroom shooting.

Besides, I have wasp spray.

The news that, at least for this year, the Legislature has some sanity on the arming-teachers-issue couldn’t come at a better time for the outstanding young people organizing and planning Saturday’s March for Our Lives events across the nation.

That’s the best news this week.

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This movement started fewer than six weeks ago, after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed and others injured.

The impressive students at Douglas High said: “Enough! Never Again!”

Sadly, since that tragic day Feb. 14, there have been other school shootings, including one right here in Birmingham, at Huffman High School, where a young woman who wanted to be a nurse died when a gun went off at the school.

Just this week, a Maryland high school was the scene of another shooting, where two students were injured and the shooter killed.

Will it ever be “Never Again”?

Probably not. But that doesn’t mean something can’t be done to lower the risk of this all-too-common devastation on our nation.

Saturday in Birmingham, we’ll have a March for Our Lives event that is expected to attract between 3,000 to 5,000 people. There will be a rally starting at 2 p.m. at Railroad Park, followed by the march. This is in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and more than 725 marches across the nation and another 80-plus marches around the world in solidarity with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who ignited this movement.

#NeverAgain. #MSDStrong. #BanAssaultRifles

Those hashtags have been trending. They remain popular. And these young people are not going away. They’re scaring the National Rifle Association-owned politicians who want to be re-elected. Many of these “kids” will be voting this year, and that doesn’t bode well for the NRA politicians’ careers.

Still, those politicians are so afraid of the NRA they have done very little to ban all-access to military style weapons or bump stocks or huge ammunition magazines or even to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence as the serious health issue it is.

These politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. The blood of our children. The blood of our teachers.

Blood.

So Saturday, in Washington, D.C., and in Birmingham, Alabama, and in other cities in Alabama and in cities and towns across the nation and world, the children will march.

Ashley Causey, a senior at Helena High School, has been instrumental in organizing Birmingham’s march. No doubt, these teens will be happy they won’t have to worry about their teachers being armed, at least for the next year.

Teachers with dry-erase markers and a Glock .45? Please.

“No, definitely not,” said Causey this week. “We’re strongly against teachers having guns.”

This teacher is against teachers having guns, too. C’mon, we have papers to grade.

Causey and her peers, in less than six weeks, have organized a march, gathered people to offer voter registration and other services, raised nearly $10,000, and can’t wait for Saturday’s event.

Get there early; it’s going to be crowded.

But it’s not just the size of a crowd. Causey said there are events that have 30 or fewer people involved.

“Even the smallest group of people, if you are impassioned enough and determined, can make a difference,” Causey said. She and her peers certainly have.

Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Birmingham will start with a rally. Speakers include both students and adults – law enforcement, involved teens, teachers, kids with gun-violence experience, involved teens, and, of course, involved teens. This is mainly a student-led movement.

The primary purpose is to advocate for responsible gun restrictions, but Causey is clear:

“We’re open to anybody who wants any type of reform,” she said. Security will be tight at the event, but it’s open to all who want to see the gun culture in this state and country change, those who want to help ensure kids can go to school, and anybody can go to the movies, or to a nightclub, or to church, or to a music festival, without a serious threat of being killed by a shooter.

And here’s what matters most:

“You would have thought with Newtown (Conn., Sandy Hook), that would have been the breaking point,” Causey said. But, “I think this (Parkland, Fla.) has affected a group of people who are not going to stand down. We’re not going to let this get lost in the news. I don’t think that’s going to happen any more.

“We want to be sure we have a lasting effect,” Causey said.

Spring Break might have just ended; Saturday’s marches are just the beginning.

The NRA, many conservative politicians, conspiracy theorists, gun nuts, and others, have already underestimated these amazing Millennials.

Well, they do so at their own risk.

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

 

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Opinion | Men are pigs; yes, they are

Joey Kennedy

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So it’s happening again.

A woman accuses a man of sexually assaulting her many years ago, this time while she and the man were in high school, and the voices, mostly those of men (but a few women, too) declare openly that she should have come forward earlier.

Why wait years, even decades, before making such damaging accusations? If it’s true, she should have come forward right after the assault took place. Right?

Federal judge Brett Kavanaugh, nominated to fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is being accused by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of sexually assaulting her while they were at a party in high school. As usual when a woman comes forward with such accounts, the men – in this case, Kavanaugh and those supporting him – lash out at the accuser and deny anything ever occurred.

We’ve seen this many times before: Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, CBS boss Les Moonves, former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore, Fox News chief Roger Ailes, television journalist Charlie Rose, comedian Louis C.K., even our notorious president Donald Trump and many others, including Anniston Star publisher H. Brandt Ayers.

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The Ayers case is especially close to me, because Ayers assaulted my wife, Veronica, by striking her 18 times on her butt with a metal ruler in the Star newsroom more than four decades ago, even as she fought and yelled at him to stop. In Veronica’s case, another Star reporter witnessed the assault.

Veronica only went public earlier this year, but I knew about the assault before we were engaged to be married more than 40 years ago. Throughout our marriage, I’ve seen first-hand how that abuse altered her outlook and left scars on her confidence. After Veronica went public, other women who had been assaulted by Ayers came forward.

Veronica had many good reasons not to go public at the time, not the least of which was that Ayers controlled her newly burgeoning journalism career.

At first — like just about every other man accused of similar disgusting behavior — Ayers denied anything happened. “I have no memory of the alleged incidents,” Ayers said when first contacted by journalist Eddie Burkhalter, who resigned from the Star because the newspaper would not pursue the story.  Ayers then said he regretted some things that occurred when he was younger (he was in his 40s). Finally, Ayers admitted to spanking one woman and, about Veronica’s assault, said: “Let the accusation stand.” Ayers then resigned as chairman of the company that publishes the Star.

The #MeToo movement gave Veronica the final bit of courage she needed to go public, and let me tell you, Veronica already was a brave, strong, independent woman.

Amazing Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporting by The Washington Post exposed Roy Moore for the stalker and assaulter he is. Other stories in many different publications, from The New York Times to New Yorker magazine, exposed so many other cads.

So I understand why Christine Blasey Ford kept quiet for so long. She told her husband and her therapist a number of years ago, but only went public after the allegation was revealed as the Senate considers Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Dr. Ford has nothing to gain by making a false allegation, and from my reading of news sources, her allegation comes off as credible, like so many others we’ve heard.

The Senate, controlled by Republicans, has tried to ram Kavanaugh’s nomination through without proper vetting. The vast majority of documents the Senate needs to understand what kind of candidate Kavanaugh truly is was withheld from the Senate. Even this latest allegation was deemed confidential by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But it’s out now, and it’s possible, if Republicans go forward with a vote on Kavanaugh, we could have two known sexual assaulters on the Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas, remember, was credibly accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill after he was nominated to the court in 1991.

A lot of men, mostly old white men, just don’t see anything wrong with such misbehavior. These are the same men who want to tell women what they can do with their bodies. But because Dr. Ford went public, she and her family have been forced to leave their home, her email has been hacked, and she has received death threats.

When Burkhalter and I wrote about Veronica’s assault by Ayers, comments from some readers were typically misogynous. The women stalked and assaulted by Roy Moore have experienced threats of violence and worse. Men don’t like to be called out for their sexual misdeeds. And when they are, their accusers, no matter how credible, have to pay a high price.

Just the fact that Dr. Ford stepped forward publicly and stands by her account shows there’s more here than Kavanaugh cares to “remember.”

To go forward with Kavanaugh’s nomination would be a travesty. But, sadly, we live in a time of travesties.

Folks, this is not just “boys being boys,” but rather, men being pigs – and a whole lot worse.

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

 

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Opinion | “Once in a lifetime” is happening far too often in our lives

Joey Kennedy

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Earlier this week, I listened to Dr. James B. McClintock speak to students in the University Honors Program at UAB.

McClintock, the renowned Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology at the university, once again showed, with ample evidence, what climate change is doing to polar ice in both the Arctic (Northern Hemisphere) and in Antarctica, where he does most of his research. The ice is melting, invasive species are encroaching in areas they’ve never been found before, and ocean acidification is causing untold damage.

Ocean levels are rising, and that’s not because big rocks are falling into the water, as Alabama U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks absurdly claims.

Climate change and warming are real. They’re happening as we speak. Yet, the Trump administration and Alabama leaders are gladly turning back environmental regulations that would at least slow this alarming trend. We have cast aside international climate treaties.

We can see the result of too little action too late this week, as Hurricane Florence closes in on the East Coast around Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. This massive storm looks like none the Carolinas have ever seen.

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Alabama is sending emergency management officials to the area to help out, and that’s great. Our friends on the middle- to lower-Atlantic coasts will need it. Alabama Power, too, is sending teams to help in the coming recovery. They do a wonderful job post-disaster. No doubt, other first-responders from Alabama will follow or are on their way.

These are the appropriate reactions to a certain tragedy. It’s sad, though, that we don’t learn an important lesson: Being proactive before these deadly storms form and strike is smarter and cheaper. The low-information climate change deniers, however, are in control, and there is just no consistency on battling the greenhouse emissions that are causing the problems.

The United States was making progress under previous administrations, but President Donald Trump, who once called warming a “Chinese hoax,” has reversed many of the regulations that mattered.

Add to that the administration’s feeble response to previous hurricane disasters, especially in Puerto Rico last year, and Florence’s landfall and aftermath are likely to be much worse than they have to be.

This “Crazytown” administration, which has the full support of most Alabama Republicans on the state level and all of them in Congress, even shifted nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hurricane response fund to Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this summer. That money was moved by the Trump administration so that ICE could afford to keep immigrant children in cages at ICE detention camps.

That’s a humane disaster on two levels. We’re warehousing children and families who only want to escape danger and death in their own countries, while making sure FEMA lacks the resources to adequately respond to a hurricane emergency like Florence.

Trump just called his administration’s efforts after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria last year “an unappreciated great job.” Trump was seen tossing paper towels to Puerto Ricans (U.S. citizens, by the way) in the wake of that storm, and much of the island was without power for more than 11 months. At least 3,000 people died. FEMA’s response in Puerto Rico was even worse than that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

About Hurricane Florence, the vocabulary-challenged Trump said the storm is “tremendously big and tremendously wet.”

So now our friends on the East Coast have much more to worry about than just a deadly storm. FEMA on Wednesday said, “This is going to be a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.” The National Weather Service weighed in: “This will likely be the storm of a lifetime for the Carolina coast.”

Another storm of a “lifetime.” Another wildfire of a “lifetime.” Another flood of a “lifetime.”

How many times in our “lifetimes” are we going to see these once-in-a-lifetime catastrophes before we get smart?

Listen to McClintock and the overwhelming number of women and men of science on climate change and warming. They have the facts, and they’re not hiding them. They know of what they speak, and they’re speaking out.

We ignore these warnings at our peril, time and time again, but that’s exactly what Trump and most Republicans are doing.

We can’t stop hurricanes once they’ve formed, no matter how hard televangelist Pat Robertson prays. But with smart, science-based policies, we can begin to help the Earth heal from this onslaught we’ve created. Then maybe our children and their children won’t be faced with so many terrible, “once-in-a-lifetime” calamities.

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

 

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Opinion | The duty of the voter

Joey Kennedy

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Now that Labor Day is behind us, the political campaigns for November’s General Election are in full swing. Or should be.

While polls indicate Democrats likely will take back the U.S. House of Representatives, nothing is certain. It depends on which side can get out their voters.

In Alabama, these “midterm” elections are always a big deal. We elect a new Legislature and all of the statewide constitutional offices, from governor to the courts to the Public Service Commission. There are also local races in some areas.

So it’s a big election year for Alabama.

The problem with this year’s election is voters aren’t getting a chance to really see how the candidates react during debates, a traditional mainstay of elections.

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The main culprits appear to be Republicans, who believe (and perhaps, rightly so) that they don’t have to debate their Democratic Party opponents to win because Alabama is such a safe state for them; they believe voters will go red no matter what.

They could be right. An awful lot of Republicans voted for a child molester in the December special election for U.S. Senate.

Some Republican candidates for Congress aren’t even holding townhall meetings because they’ll have to answer tough questions about how they continue to cover for Republican President Donald Trump, now an unindicted co-conspirator who, according to all credible sources, is running a White House in constant turmoil.

That Republicans are forcing an early vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh only underscores how desperate they are to get their white man on the High Court before the midterm elections, after which the Congress could be radically changed.

There is little turmoil in Alabama, though. Republican candidates simply are running quiet races and doing all they can to avoid debate.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who has never been elected to that position, only appears at very controlled events – ribbon cuttings, industry announcements, fund-raising tea parties – and there appears to be a good reason why. As we’ve seen in videos and as reported by my APR colleague Josh Moon, Ivey has real difficulty answering off-the-cuff questions at the rare event a reporter gets to ask one.

Ivey might be great in a debate, but we’ll never know because her handlers won’t let her debate Democratic nominee and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. While Maddox fields questions from all quarters and is itching for a debate, Ivey stays mostly out of sight, letting her TV commercials do her talking and her controllers issue fictional press releases.

Alabama voters should expect more. They should, but too many don’t.

As we go forward, which races will feature debates? None of the Republicans nominated for statewide office appear willing to debate their Democratic Party opponents. I have yet to see a Democrat refusing to debate a Republican.

That’s simply wrong, and voters are wrong to reward candidates who dodge such debates.

Republicans should have to explain why they are working so hard to undermine the state’s ethics laws. From Ivey’s office, to the courts, to the Legislature, Republicans are trying to undo the strong ethics reform they passed when they took control of the Legislature in 2010.

They do it with the pretense they’re trying to “preserve” strong ethics, but any voter who buys that horse hockey will buy anything. And does. The ethics laws Republicans are working to destroy led to the conviction of the corrupt former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (who has yet to serve a day in prison). Other Republicans have also been caught in that net.

Their viewpoint seems to be if the ethics law is going to actually work, we need to get rid of it.

That’s likely one reason Ivey and other Republicans don’t want to debate their Democratic opponents. The questions about ethics alone would be difficult for them to answer without outright lies.

As in most areas of the country, what happens in the November election in Alabama is going to depend a whole lot on turnout. Democrats have a tough road, because, for whatever reason, most Alabamians love voting against their best interests. Find a hot-button issue – race or immigration or gays or abortion – and the majority of voters don’t seem to care if the people they elect refuse to improve education or increase their wages or protect the environment or improve Alabama’s generally dismal quality of life as compared to many other states.

Voters from both parties should be demanding their candidates debate each other. They should demand their candidates answer the tough questions. They should withhold their votes from any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who dodges accountability to the voter.

They should. Yes, indeed, they should. But with just two months until the General Election, the big question is: Will they?

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

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Opinion | Go big, Sen. Jones, or go down trying

Joey Kennedy

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The perception, if not the reality, is that there is nobody to take the late Sen. John McCain’s place in the U.S. Senate as a “maverick,” or whatever one wishes to call McCain.

There is no doubt that McCain leaves a void. He had a reputation for “independence,” if nothing else, even if that’s an exaggeration, which it is.

Let’s get real for a few minutes:

The John McCain since the 2008 Republican National Convention was not the John McCain who built his reputation for being independent and for crossing the aisle to work with Democrats on big ideas.

McCain did cast a vital vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act after he was diagnosed with brain cancer last year. He struggled to get himself to the Senate that day and, with a thumb’s down, dealt President Donald Trump and his Trump Party colleagues a resounding defeat.

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But the vote is one that McCain should never have had to cast if his party had even a scintilla of compassion at all for those middle class and hard-working Americans who can’t get health insurance and whose lives and personal finances have been destroyed by astronomical hospital and prescription bills.

Remember this: The United States is the only First World nation that doesn’t ensure decent health care for all its citizens. Why? Because Republicans would rather pass tax cuts for the rich and big corporations than make sure the middle class and working poor have affordable health care. They’d rather attack Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid because Republicans today are cold and cruel and selfish.

McCain deserves credit for that pivotal vote on health care, but only because his party is Trump’s party, and the members of his party are, for some reason, cowards before a seventh-grade bully.

McCain deserves credit, too, for showing just how petty Trump truly is.

McCain managed to get under Trump’s skin over and over again, unlike other frightened Republicans.

Even after his death, McCain was able to force Trump into a public display of pettiness: At first, Trump was only allowing the U.S. flag over the White House to fly at half-staff the day McCain died. A day after, the flag was at full staff again. Yes, the classless Trump holds a grudge, even after somebody dies.

In the end, Trump was forced into a rare backtrack. The flag went down again, and will stay half-staff until McCain’s interment Sunday, much to Trump’s dismay.

But let’s not forget that it was McCain who decided, incomprehensively, to make Sarah Palin his running mate in 2008. This emboldened the far-right wing of the Republican Party, and they haven’t stepped back since.

Yes, McCain was a war hero. Yes, for a long time he was the kind of Republican America needed. The kind America needs now. But McCain gave us Sara Palin, which led to Trump. It’s hard to forgive that.

So the Senate needs another “maverick.” It needs somebody, either a Democrat or Republican, who can at least try to do big things, regardless of what the party might want or the party leadership demands.

Why can’t Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama be that person?

Jones really has nothing to lose. He’s finishing the term of Jeff Sessions, so he has to run again in 2020.

Jones won, barely, in a special election against the most disastrous Republican in the state, disgraced former Chief Justice Roy Moore. And if the Washington Post had not exposed Moore as a child predator and molester a month before the election, Jones likely wouldn’t have won that election, regardless of Moore’s other extensive baggage outside his perverted penchant for preying on teenaged girls.

If African-American voters, and especially African-American women voters, hadn’t turned out in strong numbers for Jones, he still would have lost. To a Republican sexual predator.

Jones was given a gift. Maybe he can give us one in return.

While I believe Jones has done an OK job representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate, he’s pretty much staying between the lines. Jones needs to step out and go big.

Many of the programs that McCain pushed never came to fruition, including comprehensive immigration reform and extensive campaign finance reform. But McCain bolstered his reputation for trying.

There’s nothing at all wrong with Jones reaching across the aisle to work with Republicans, as long as he’s reaching for programs that will help Alabama and the nation, regardless of what Alabama and the nation think about it.

What Jones should do, though, is get out front on some really big-ticket items: Yes, immigration reform and proposals like Medicare for All (universal health insurance). He should make himself a vocal and visual champion of bills to protect women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and civil rights.

Be the maverick, Sen. Jones. The maverick from Alabama.

Jones is no flaming liberal. Not at all. But he’s going to be tagged one anyway. That label will stick, regardless of what Jones does, or doesn’t do, in the next 24 months.

Labels be damned.

Go big, Sen. Jones, and the bigger the better.

Because no matter what you do in the next two years, you’re going to be what you surely are not now – that flaming liberal – and that’s whether you want to be or not. So become a dependable, aggressive progressive. Take the moral high road on the important social issues, not the road traveled by most politicians. You know, that road where the ultimate goal is just to arrive at Re-Elected.

Make some noise, Sen. Jones. Get under Trump’s skin and stay there. Be the target of regular presidential tweet-tantrums. (If Attorney General Jeff Sessions can do it, so can you!)

You’re not going to be a loser by opposing everything a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, unindicted co-conspirator proposes. Even if you lose.

Force Republicans, including Alabama’s senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, and the other six in Alabama’s congressional delegation, to look themselves in the mirror and deny the cold, cruel, selfish reflection they see.

More important, Sen. Jones: Get. Something. Done. Something important. Something that makes proud legacies.

Who knows? Two years is a long time. You may get re-elected on merit alone; you certainly won’t just be playing it safe.

Go big, Sen. Jones. Really, really big. Or at least go down trying.

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

 

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Opinion | Let’s march: The #Neveragain reckoning on guns

by Joey Kennedy Read Time: 5 min
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