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Opinion | Lies and half-truths won’t save Montgomery’s schools, only planning can

Josh Moon

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Last week, new state superintendent Eric Mackey brought the lumber when talking about the Montgomery Public School system and its recent accreditation review from AdvancEd.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Mackey told business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce that unless changes on the board were made, accreditation would surely be lost. And with that lost accreditation would come serious repercussions, such as MPS graduates being unable to attend colleges outside of the state and — here’s the biggie — being unable to qualify for federal student aid.

“LAMP, BTW, Jeff Davis, Lee. All them together,” Mackey said, according to the Advertiser. “None of the students — and this is a piece of information I picked up just this morning — but none of the students, whether they went to an Alabama public school or not, would be eligible to apply for federal financial aid. … I don’t think I need to say anymore to tell you what devastating effect this would have on our high schools and our community.”

It would be devastating.

If any of that were true.

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Fortunately, none of it is. Because most colleges long ago recognized the fickle and often politically-driven process of accreditation. And they decided not to punish students for circumstances outside of their control.

As the president of Harvard University explained to U.S. News and World Report a few years ago, college acceptance mainly hinges on criteria that doesn’t consider the accreditation of a student’s high school. (And in a time of growing home schooling, that seems reasonable.)

Also, according to a worker at the Federal Student Aid office, disbursement of federal aid has nothing to do with the accreditation status of your high school. In fact, the Federal Student Aid Department doesn’t even determine eligibility. That responsibility falls to the colleges themselves.

So, if you qualify for a college, you also qualify for federal aid..

If you’re scoring at home, that means Mackey was right about exactly zero things. Or he was being intentionally dishonest to mislead the business leaders gathered before him.

I’m honestly not sure which is worse. Or how a state superintendent could be so wrong.

I tried to ask Mackey where he got his information but state offices were closed on Monday to honor the birthday of traitor to the country Jefferson Davis. Life in Alabama ….

This is the latest detestable attempt to drum up a panic among voters and convince them that the only way to save Montgomery’s public school system is to vote out all of the existing board members. There have also been nasty flyers sent out about some candidates, and over the weekend, there was a new website devoted to bashing a candidate.

All of this is being pushed by the Montgomery mayor, the BCA and other business leaders who are hellbent on installing charter schools in Montgomery as a means to convince rich people to move back into the city and send their kids to school there.

This is the extent of their plan.

If you doubt this, ask anyone, including the candidates who have been endorsed by the #boottheboard backed PAC, for specifics on how they plan to fix Montgomery’s public education system. What you will most likely hear is an answer so pollyannish it would make a grade schooler roll their eyes.

And that’s why this is a movement that should be squashed on Tuesday at the polls.

Look, I’m not telling you to vote for the incumbents. All I’m saying is don’t believe that simply voting out people will solve anything. It’s lazy. And lazy won’t fix MPS’ deep rooted issues.

If you doubt that, consider the last 18 months or so of state intervention into MPS. The state was going to roll in and clean this joint up. Heads were gonna roll. Student achievement was going to skyrocket. All of MPS would be efficient and bluebirds would land on kids’ shoulders as they walked to school.

Except, small problem: Once the state intervention teams got started in MPS, they discovered that the schools weren’t failing and the system struggling because there wasn’t enough try in the teachers and principals. Hell, the state gave the principals a raise, and to date, not one has been fired.

Instead, the state’s biggest accomplishments have been: selling off a historic landmark school and returning $1.4 million of MPS’ money that it accidentally sent to Pike Road.

Through two different state superintendents (and now a third), the takeover has been an unmitigated disaster that, to date, has failed to improve the classroom experience of a single MPS student.

And there’s a reason why: MPS’ problems are hard to solve without a bunch of money and a clear and concise plan.

If there is ever any hope of MPS serving all students, there must be a clear plan that incorporates specialized charter schools and funding increases and technical programs and capital improvements and better overall resources. Because Montgomery has unique problems — problems that have grown over decades because of indifference, racism and poor parental guidance — that have to be considered and addressed.

If you don’t, there’s no point. You’ll simply be placing new board members in front of the same problems, and they’ll be just as incapable of solving them.

And if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up worse off.

 

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Opinion | RIP, ethics

Josh Moon

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The hope for ethics in Alabama’s state government died on Monday.

To be fair, it had been on life support for quite some time, having taken on several near-fatal blows over the last few years. But on Monday, after months of trying, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall finally took ethics out back, like Ol’ Yeller, and shot it dead.

Marshall’s firing of prosecutor Matt Hart, head of the AG’s special prosecution unit, was the death knell. The final straw. The five-finger death punch that snuffed out any small, lingering flame of hope.

That’s basically all Matt Hart was at this point — one small ray of hope in an otherwise hopelessly corrupt state.

Hart was one guy hellbent on making Democrats and Republicans alike respect the rule of law and stop profiting from their public positions.

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That’s all he wanted. And if he believed you had skirted the laws or accepted shady cash in order to benefit yourself, God bless you.

Larry Langford tried him. Robert Bentley tried him. Mike Hubbard threw everything and the prison sink at him.

Matt Hart beat ‘em all. And laughed at ‘em later.

God, they hated him, these people who want to use government as their own little tools for personal financial growth. Because Hart knew their games. He knew how they set up innocent-looking schemes that enriched only a handful of their friends or their friends’ businesses. He knew how they masked their sins with words like “business friendly” and “economic development.”

Matt Hart just kept beating them at their own games. So, they had to get rid of him.

Enter: Steve Marshall.

For more than a year now, APR has written story after story, column after column detailing the many, many ways in which Marshall has proven to be completely devoid of basic ethics and willing to do anything to get and keep the job of AG.

Consider this: In a state filled with crooked, spit-on-their-own-mothers-to-get-ahead politicians, Marshall was the only person willing to accept a quid pro quo deal to get the AG gig. Bentley, as APR reported, shopped the deal around, offering the AG’s job to anyone who would agree to investigate Hart and his team.

Marshall was the only one to take it.

And that was just Marshall’s start. Once the campaign for AG heated up, and real challengers entered the race, the panic in Marshall knew no bounds.

The guy took campaign contributions from Hubbard’s lawyers and a guy who bribed Hubbard. While a grand jury in Lee County was still considering charges against the briber. And while a state appeals court was considering Hubbard’s appeal.

Take a moment and think about that.

But Marshall wasn’t nearly done.

When the going got tough in the Republican primary, Marshall accepted more than $700,000 in campaign donations from the Republican Attorneys General Association. He knew the money was illegal, because RAGA allowed its funds to be transferred PAC-to-PAC — a method used to obscure the original source of the funds.

Such transfers are illegal in Alabama, as Marshall knew well. Just before accepting the donations, he had submitted a brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that challenged Alabama’s PAC-to-PAC ban. Marshall argued that the ban was a protection for the people and the only thing preventing a quid pro quo government.

He was right.

But it didn’t matter. Giving back the contributions, as Luther Strange had done a few years earlier, wasn’t an option. Marshall had to win. And he was willing to do anything.

And so, here we are.

This is what it looks like when your AG has been compromised. When he owes his political life to specialized interests of top donors.

Sometimes, those donors want you to turn a blind eye to corruption. Sometimes, they want you to lay back as another entity usurps your power. Sometimes, they want you to change the ethics laws so the dadgum things aren’t so tough. Sometimes, they want you to intervene in a major public corruption investigation. 

And sometimes, they want you to fire that pesky prosecutor who keeps treating the written law like the damn words have meanings.

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Opinion | Sellouts are running Alabama’s environmental agencies. Why don’t you care?

Josh Moon

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There is contaminated tap water in north Alabama.

There are no oysters in the Gulf.

There is poison soil in Birmingham.

There are polluted lakes and rivers throughout the state.

There have been coal ash spills and a stalled poop train and imported toxic waste too dangerous for other states to allow.

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There’s a poison plume running under all of downtown Montgomery.

This is Alabama Outdoors.

In a state where at least 90 percent of the males hunt or fish with some regularity, and state law requires at least every third car have a “Salt Life” back window sticker, we don’t seem to give two good damns about the actual environment that make those things possible.

And we sure don’t seem to care much about the people who are supposed to be in charge of protecting those things.

If you did, you would know that two of those people were indicted this week on ethics charges. There are serious — and widely known and widely believed and widely supported with a mountain of evidence — allegations that Trey Glenn, the current head of the EPA’s southeastern region, and Scott Phillips, a former commissioner with the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, accepted bribes from polluters to actively work against cleaning up pollution and holding those polluters responsible.

Or to put that more simply: They sold out.

They sold out you.

They sold out the environment.

They sold out their oaths.

(Allegedly, of course.)

And these two aren’t the first ones. If you paid the least bit of attention to the recent trial involving a former Balch & Bingham attorney and a former Drummond Co. executive, you heard of all sorts of shady dealings flowing back and forth between companies highly suspected of polluting our soil, air and water and the agencies — Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), EPA and AEMC — that are supposed to stand in the gap between us regular folk and big business.

Instead, it seems, these guys have spent most of their time standing in big businesses’ pockets.

In addition to Phillips to Glenn, ADEM head Lance LeFleur was accused of having a cozy relationship with Drummond, and once wrote a letter opposing the EPA’s listing of a pollution area in north Birmingham as a superfund site. In court testimony, attorneys openly questioned if that letter was written at the encouragement of Drummond and its attorney.

A few weeks after the trial, 12 environmental groups sent a letter to AEMC demanding that LeFleur be removed and cited examples of his department’s failures and compromises. LeFleur denied the allegations, calling them “mean-spirited” and “untrue.”

But the problems don’t even end there.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley was actively writing — or signing his name to letters pre-written by Drummond’s attorneys — to stop the superfund site and cleanup.

Former attorney general Luther Strange signed off on pre-written letters from his office to the EPA demanding that the site not be listed on the superfund registry and proclaiming that the state would provide no funds for cleanup.

Think about that.

That’s the guy whose main job is consumer protection.

You’re the consumer. We’re all the consumers.

So, why, why, why do you not care?

I’m begging someone to explain this to me. Why do you not care that you can’t eat fish out of the Tennessee River? That you can’t swim in Wheeler Lake? That you can’t drink the tap water in Courtland? That there will literally be NO oysters harvested from the Gulf this year? That poor people in one of the poorest areas of this state have dealt with constant illnesses? That your “salt life” and your “lake life” and your hunting and your fishing and your kids swimming and your just everyday existing is being jeopardized by sellouts?

Why don’t you care?

And I know you don’t care, because you just voted 60-40 to put the same people back in charge who put all of these people in charge of protecting our environment and natural resources.

And those same people you put back in office are taking your indifference seriously. When I sent a question to the governor’s office today asking for a comment on the sad state of Alabama environmental management programs, they didn’t even bother to respond.

Because Kay Ivey knows you don’t care.

There wasn’t a peep from any state lawmakers, because they also know you don’t care.

You know, I hear people ask all the time how Alabama — in the middle of the Bible Belt and with a church on every corner — could have a government that’s so corrupt, so filled with people willing to take bribes and sell out their constituents.

This is how: You stop paying attention.

 

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Elections

Opinion | The Alabama Democratic Party has no plan, no hope for the future

Josh Moon

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The Alabama Democratic Party is a dumpster fire.

This cannot be news to you by now.

Not after last Tuesday. Not after the last eight years.

Actually, that description might not be harsh enough. Try this: The Alabama Democratic Party is a flaming bag of poop way down at the bottom of a dumpster fire.

And before you go away thinking that to be too harsh, consider this: In the midst of a legit blue wave nationally — Democrats will gain around 40 House seats and receive around 8 million more votes when all of the counting is finished — Democrats in Alabama lost five House seats to an existing GOP supermajority.

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Alabama Dems’ best crop of candidates in YEARS received roughly the same percentage of the vote as its worst candidates ever.

Gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox traveled more than 30,000 miles around this state, spent years attending county commission meetings and getting to know citizens on both sides of the aisle. His likability numbers among likely voters, regardless of party, were fantastic.

He got roughly the same number of votes as Lt. Governor candidate Will Boyd, who you couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles.

Party chairwoman Nancy Worley and Democratic Conference head Joe Reed had quite the answer for this disaster of an election, saying, and I’m paraphrasing here: “eh, whatchagonnado?”

That was basically Worley and Reed’s response after they were heavily criticized by their own candidates last week. The criticisms, which came most loudly from Congressional candidate Mallory Hagan, centered on the Alabama Democratic Party’s lack of assistance with campaigns, lack of messaging, lack of financial support, lack of planning, lack of Get Out the Vote efforts, lack of organization and lack of visibility. To name a few.

Worley and Reed attempted to explain it all away by noting that Hagan and other candidates faced insurmountable odds, that the deck was stacked against them, that they would have been wasting resources to have even tried.

Don’t you dare buy it.

Because while it’s true that dropping a half-million the last month of the campaign wouldn’t have saved any candidate (except maybe Johnny Mack Morrow), that’s not when the money should have been spent. That’s not when the party office is most useful.

Winning elections takes effort. It takes planning. It takes information. It takes a long-term strategy.

Republicans didn’t take over the State House after 100-plus years of Democratic control because they prayed about it harder, even if that’s what they’d like you to believe.

They had a plan. They executed that plan.

They started down the ballot, winning races where a handful of votes swayed by the top of the ticket or a county initiative could land a few judgeships, maybe put a new House rep in place. Then they built on that.

They also did it through messaging.

I loathe Mike Hubbard, but that dude knew how to win elections. And he knew how to drive a point home. From the mid-2000s on, Democrats couldn’t go to the bathroom without Hubbard holding a press conference or issuing a press release claiming the Dems were in the bathroom plotting to take your guns or steal your money.

He went to major businesses around the state and started making deals for campaign contributions. And then he used those funds to push the party message even harder. Year after year, Hubbard and the rest of the ALGOP highlighted every bad thing Alabama Democrats did, and told people how Republicans would fix it and make their lives better.

Hubbard could do that, because as party chairman, he spoke for the ALGOP. And because he controlled the purse strings of the party, he could ensure that his message was the message resonating throughout the ALGOP.

ALGOP candidates were prepared with the best polling, the best opposition research, the best ads and the best volunteers. And they were all pushing just the right messages to voters.

They got to be so good at it that it didn’t matter if the candidate was essentially a door stopper. The ALGOP brass, led by Hubbard and a few others, had established a system so good and so efficient that they could get Shadrack McGill elected to the Alabama Senate.  

It didn’t even matter that the messages were mostly BS, and all Hubbard really wanted to do was take all of the money he could get his hands on.

The plan, the message and the execution were so good that it didn’t matter.

Alabama Democrats don’t have any of that.

Not the plan. Not the voice. Not the leadership.

And for some reason, the people in charge of the party seem to be OK with that. Because they just continue to not do anything at all to fix it.

The state deserves better.

 

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Opinion | It’s time to end Veteran’s Day

Josh Moon

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Forget Veteran’s Day.

We need a Veteran’s Month.

Every year, as November 11 rolls around, and the parades start slowly marching and the wreaths get laid on graves and everyone seeks out a veteran to thank for their service, I can’t help but think how completely disingenuous it all is.

Seriously, it’s noise.

Tomorrow, the day after Veteran’s Day, most of this country will go back to not giving a damn about veterans or their many, many problems.

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One day we’re tying ribbons on trees. The next we’re stepping over homeless vets on the sidewalk.

Maybe if we had a little more time each year — breast cancer, alcoholism and diabetes all get a month — maybe we could actually address a few problems, raise a little money, have enough time to get really, really ticked off about the way we — along with our federal government — consistently fail these men and women.

Because we do fail them.

And nowhere more so than with their health care.

We’ve got billions upon billions to waste on jets that the Air Force doesn’t even want, but we consistently cut and trim the health care services provided to the men and women who fought to protect us.

(And for just a moment, I want you to consider what “fought to protect us” actually means. Because it gets tossed around easily. But the reality is that many, many of these folks flew into a sandy/mountainous/jungle/Nazi-infested hellhole, tiptoed around roadside bombs, ducked enemy gunfire, and generally lived scared out of their ever-lovin’ minds every minute of every day for YEARS on end.)

And failing on veterans’ health care is not a partisan thing. Every recent administration and every recent Congress have done it.

President Obama included cuts to some benefits in Obamacare. Trump proposed cuts in his budget. George W. Bush made cuts, while two wars were still being fought. Clinton made cuts.

This functional indifference is a relatively new thing in this country. Following WWII, a country that had been scared to death gladly gave returning soldiers the rewards they deserved, primarily through the G.I. Bill.

Housing. Cheap loans. College tuition. Entire neighborhoods (unless you were black, of course). And no expenses were spared when it came to treating the returning wounded.

Much of that healthcare was provided by the newly consolidated Veterans Administration, or VA. And some of those hospitals would become world-class centers for care.

Today, many of them are world-class centers of embarrassment.

I know. I’ve written the stories. I’ve followed veterans and their family members around as they tried desperately to get the care promised. Or to simply get a doctor to show up for an appointment inside of a year.

I could tell you stories that would blow your mind.

Like the time a VA doctor and nurse left an 85-year-old Korean War vet lying on the floor, gasping for air, for more than 15 minutes. They saw him, left the room, and didn’t return.

Or the time a VA administrator took a patient to a crack house.

Or the many times VA workers spoke up about patients having to wait YEARS for an appointment, only to have top brass retaliate against them. As former soldiers died waiting.

That’s what we’ve done. Democrats, Republicans, Alabamians, liberals, conservatives, independents — all of us.

And for God’s sakes, don’t even get me started on mental health care, or the lack thereof. It’s a national crisis all by itself. And as last week’s shooting in California indicates, it’s not getting any better.

But you know what makes it all even worse?

The promise on the front end.

That slap-on-the-back promise made to the volunteer heroes heading off to war that if they’d go fight so we don’t have to, we would pick up the tabs, no matter the cost. You go fight our wars, keep us free and safe, and we’ll pay for your health care.

That was the deal we made.

They upheld their end. But like a bunch of used car salesmen, we’ve tried every shady trick in the book to weasel out of ours.

Instead, we give them one day each year, when we close up the banks and government offices, let kids out of school and walk around thanking vets for their service. And while that’s nice and all, it’s just not enough.

Maybe if we had a month, we could actually make good on a few of these promises.

 

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Opinion | Lies and half-truths won’t save Montgomery’s schools, only planning can

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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