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Opinion | Taylor Swift: GOP kryptonite

Josh Moon

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Taylor Swift doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

That line was tossed around a lot on Monday following an Instagram post from Swift in which she encouraged her followers to register to vote and to vote for the Democratic U.S. Senate and House candidates in Tennessee.

Within minutes, the chorus of rightwing water-toters was full throat, denouncing Swift’s music and her fans and her reach. But mostly, they proclaimed emphatically that Taylor Swift simply doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

You know, because she’s a ditzy girl who only puts together song lyrics and writes music that have sold over 130 million singles worldwide and organizes stadium shows that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars and revamp the way the music industry sells its live shows. But, yeah, politics is waaaayyyy too complicated for her tiny girl brain. Louie Gohmert and Steve King have managed to thrive, but not the self-made multi-billionaire.

That was the message from Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee on Monday. Huckabee, who once had a little jam session with Ted Nugent, who so totally knows about politics because he is a white male who hates Obama, managed to criticize both Swift’s intelligence and her reach. Huckabee claimed Swift could reach only 13-year-old girls.

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Swift’s two most recent singles have been streamed more than 600 million times on Spotify alone. Either there are way more 13-year-old girls than I thought, or maybe her reach is a tad broader.

The girls who were 13 when Swift wrote the song “Fifteen” are now 23. And some of them probably make up the 113 million who follow her on Instagram. Some might be part of the 85 million who follow her on Twitter. (That’s about 30 million more than Trump, by the way.)

But here’s what makes this whole thing more absurd: Swift seemed to know exactly what she was talking about.

In encouraging her fans to vote against Marsha Blackburn, Swift didn’t go generic. She didn’t do general. She cited Blackburn’s actual voting record in Congress, when Blackburn failed to support the Violence Against Women Act and voted against equal pay for women.

As Swift noted, Blackburn has stated frequently that she is opposed to same-sex marriage and has voted consistently to allow businesses the right to refuse gay customers.

So, what, exactly, is Swift wrong about?

The problem here is that Swift is too right. Too plain spoken. Too accurate.

Today’s GOP has spent a lot of time and effort shaping its embrace of hate. They’ve worked out the right buzzwords, come up with just the right circumstances to justify it and pushed all the appropriate Bible verses to back themselves up.

And in one brief Instagram post, Swift blew it up.

Don’t get me wrong, what she wrote wasn’t original, and it’s been said thousands of times by now.

But not by her. Not to her fans. Not in that way.

In an instant, the charade of “religious freedom” was recast as “the right to deny service to gay couples.”

And millions of young men and women now know that Blackburn, a woman, voted against legislation that would have protected women from date rape, domestic abuse and harassment.

Truth is a nightmare for Republicans.

And so, naturally, not long after Swift’s post went up, the hate began. And the outcry was a common one — at least to me: Get out!

Get out of Tennessee. Get out of the South. Go somewhere where your views are more acceptable.

I get similar suggestions frequently. In emails and comments after my columns, I inevitably get told I should move to California or New York, where my “liberal views” would be more welcome.

I’m assuming she would answer the same as me: No.

We’re not asking you bunch of backwoods Bible-thumping racists to give up college football or white gravy. We’re asking you to be decent humans to other humans, and to also vote for your own interests. Those aren’t terribly hard or uncomfortable things for you to do.

And if the way you’ve been voting makes you so terribly uncomfortable that you have to boycott the entire entertainment industry — including soft-spoken, doe-eyed Taylor Swift — maybe you should question a few things.

 

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Opinion | The fight against public corruption isn’t lost yet

Josh Moon

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This will likely not surprise you: I get a lot of correspondence.

Emails. Twitter direct messages. Facebook messages. Text messages.

Every day. All day long. They come rolling in, usually from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written or has taken issue with something I said on TV or who wants to say something bad about my mama.

At this point, there’s very little contained in a letter or message to me that would surprise me.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought until the last couple of weeks.

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When the Matt Hart letters started rolling in.

If you don’t know by now, Hart is the recently fired head of the Alabama Attorney General’s special prosecutions office — the team that prosecutes political corruption. If that seems like it should be a relatively obscure position, well, it should.

Except for a couple of things: 1. We have a ton of political corruption in Alabama, and 2. Hart went after all of the crooks, regardless of party or political influence.

For those reasons, I guess, people in this state paid attention to the guy who was doing the prosecuting. And right now, I feel safe in saying that no one topic has prompted more messages than Hart’s firing by AG Steve Marshall a couple of weeks ago.

Those messages generally fall into two categories: 1. “I’m mad as hell!,” or 2. “What are we gonna do now?”

If you’ve written me one of these letters and not received a reply, consider this your answer.

I get it, and I don’t know.

The fact is Hart’s ouster, which comes a year after his top deputy — AG candidate Alice Martin — also resigned, is a significant blow.

Hart and Martin are a sort of white-collar-crime-fighting duo, beginning with their days in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama. As al.com’s Kyle Whitmire pointed out recently, prosecutions of political corruption spiked in that office while Hart and Martin were on the job.

Then those prosecutions spiked at the AG’s office when Hart landed there.

At the federal level, Hart was chasing primarily Democrats. At the state level, after the GOP takeover, it was Republicans.

Because corruption doesn’t vote straight ticket, even if you do.

But now, we’re in trouble.

Taking Hart’s spot is a prosecutor who has never tried a public corruption case and who has spent her life in and around state politics and defense attorneys. Maybe Clark Morris will be a fantastic prosecutor and turn this state upside down rooting out public corruption — I truly hope that’s the case and I’ll be happy to write about it if so — but I have my doubts that she’ll be half as dogged as Hart has been.

And so, I guess that leaves the business of exposing and stopping public corruption to just one person: You.

That’s right, you. And me. And all of the good people who live in this state who are sick of crooks and political welfare and good ol’ boys and smoky back rooms and brother-in-law deals and pay-to-play scams.

You all care about this stuff. I have your letters to prove it.

So, it’s time to take some action. To pay attention to what’s going on. To show up at board meetings and council work sessions and county commission meetings and state legislature committee hearings. It’s time to start asking questions and making phone calls and writing letters.

If you need help, I guarantee you that we at APR will help all we can. And I’m certain other media outlets will help, too. Whether it be with making sure you know when and where to go for meetings or helping expose the corruption or illegal behavior you find.

Our system of government was set up from top to bottom to represent everyday people, and it is designed — in most cases by law — to give the people it represents a voice.

Look, I know you’re busy. I know you have lives and jobs and kids and the dog isn’t going to drive itself to the vet, but this is important too. In fact, it might be the most important thing, because it literally encompasses almost all of your life — from the taxes and fees and costs you pay every day to the quality of your kids’ schools to the success of the company you work for to the 401k you’re relying on.

It matters.

And it’s up to you to make sure the crooks don’t win.

 

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Opinion | The Hoover situation gets stranger every day

Josh Moon

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What’s happening in Hoover makes no sense.

Every day, there’s another report that’s stranger than the last report. Every day, someone says something that they have to almost immediately correct. Every day, there is some action taken by city leaders or Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials that makes it seem as though they actually want bigger and more frequent protests.

We’re now two full weeks past the shooting of E.J. Bradford in the Galleria.

For those who need a quick recap: Bradford was in the mall when a fight broke out and shots were fired, striking two people. There are conflicting reports saying he might/might not have been friends with one of the participants in the fight, but regardless, no one now believes that he was involved. When the shooting started, Bradford apparently headed for the door and was helping others, while at the same time carrying his firearm, which was legally purchased according to his family’s attorney. An on-duty Hoover police officer mistook him for the shooter and shot Bradford. According to a private autopsy paid for by his family’s attorneys, Bradford was shot three times in the back.

It’s a truly awful situation. That has been handled in the most awful way possible.

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Initial press releases from Hoover labeled Bradford, although not by name, as the shooter. When that was obviously wrong, the city decided to say he was involved in the altercation that led to the shooting. That, too, was wrong, so a third swing at it just made him out to be a crazy person waving a gun around — which also had to later be corrected.

As you might imagine, Bradford’s family and the local black community — sensing a city coverup of a white cop shooting an innocent black man — were pretty angry about all of that.

And things haven’t improved much.

City and police officials eventually went to the Bradford family to apologize. But promises to be more open with the investigation and share video from that night have fallen flat. Mostly because ALEA has stood in the way, claiming the release of any info would hurt the ongoing investigation.

And so, now Hoover has a roving band of protesters that shows up at random places, blocking traffic, stopping businesses from operating and generally causing havoc throughout the city. Because they want answers about what happened that night.

And you know what? That’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, we should have some answers. No, not a completed investigation, and nothing that would jeopardize the overall investigation, but something.

Like that video.

Why can’t the video be made public? Hoover city officials certainly wanted to show it, before ALEA stepped in. It didn’t jeopardize the investigation to allow literally dozens of people, including the attorneys for the Bradford family — al.com reported on Thursday evening — to watch that video.

So, why can’t everyone else watch the thing and see what happened?

It’s a video. Watching it won’t change it. Nor will it change the other facts and other evidence.

Because the silence here isn’t helping. The protests are growing larger and they’re getting more hostile. There’s a serious threat of protests at schools now, which will really elevate the anger.

And things are going to continue to trend ugly. Because the facts in front of the protesters are very ugly.

They know video exists. They know Bradford was shot in the back three times. They know Bradford was wrongly accused by the city and PD after he was dead. And they know there’s been enough time and enough evidence for police to ID the real shooter, find him in Georgia and bring him back.

That’s a lot of one-sided info.

There’s no reason for this to continue on without any answers for the family and community.

That it does is truly mind boggling.

 

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Opinion | A real outsider

Josh Moon

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Donald Trump got a lot of votes in Alabama.

Even today, after two years of implementing policies that have undeniably hurt this state, he still enjoys healthy support in Alabama.

While it would be easy to tie that support to Alabama’s history of racism and Trump’s tendency to say racist things and support racist people and push racist policies, there’s more to it than that. Oh, sure, a good portion of this state loves that Trump is rolling back civil rights investigations of police departments and coddling Nazi-sympathizers and terrorizing Hispanic babies, but there’s a larger percentage of people who like Trump because he was different.

He was an outsider. He was going to buck the system. He was going to change things, kick out the career politicians, get rid of the lobbyists and bankers and return control of America to the regular, working-class people.

Now, we can discuss the gullibility of a grown person believing a New York City millionaire, who was born with two silver spoons and no concept of an average American’s life, would ever be the one to restore power to the regular people, but that’s what they believed.

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And that’s where this whole thing went wrong.

As a matter of fact, the entire Trump phenomenon in rural, white America is a microcosm of a larger problem — one that has destroyed the middle class and stagnated workers’ wages and led to decreasing paychecks and increasing bills.

They keep picking the wrong outsiders.

Poor white people continue to believe that the next rich white guy they elect is going to be the one to finally share the secret of how they too can become rich.

Instead of voting for people who represent their interests, who understand their daily struggles, who feel their pains, the white, working-class and poor voters in rural America have voted in one wealthy conman after another. Falling time and again for ridiculous lies.

Here’s what that looks like in Alabama: A group of lawmakers who have found countless ways to trim from programs that help the poor, the disabled, the elderly, teachers and children have yet to broach the subject of Alabama’s lowest-in-the-nation income taxes or a property tax system undeniably created to disenfranchise black citizens.

Last year, on the heels of several rural hospitals closing and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, the state’s answer to health care funding woes was to implement a Medicaid work requirement that will undoubtedly prevent needy people from receiving health care they need.

At the same time, despite billions in economic incentives doled out to rich corporations and car manufacturers, Alabama remains a state with one of the highest poverty levels and lowest worker wage levels. And those wages, despite the alleged influx of “good paying jobs” brought by the incentive deals, aren’t growing.

Do you know why these things happen?

Because Alabama voters go to the polls and elect people who do not understand their daily struggles. Instead of doing what the people of the Bronx and Queens did: Boot out the rich incumbent who had lost touch with the people he served and replace him with someone who understood them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

That’s right, the 29-year-old who Fox News has convinced you is an evil socialist is actually the perfect example of the sort of an outsider that working-class people should be voting for.

Because she is a working-class person. She’s someone who understands the plight of working men and women. And she believes that if government is going to help anyone in this country, it should start at the bottom, where the aid is most needed and most impactful.

She hasn’t even officially started in Congress yet, and she’s already causing waves as she pushes back against a system that has been manipulated to favor the wealthy.

She has publicly criticized her colleagues on both sides of the aisle for not paying their staffers living wages — criticism that apparently pushed many to change their ways.

Do you know how that came about? Because AOC is broke until she starts receiving her Congressional pay, she’s dining in dive bars and cheap restaurants. While in one, she was speaking to the wait staff and discovered that many of them were also Congressional staffers working second jobs.

Funny the things that happen when people who actually represent the majority of America show up to govern.

Before the deal with the staffers, she publicly discussed the absurdity of her receiving the Congressional, super-cheap health insurance plan, but was forced to pay twice as much for basically the same plan when she worked as a waitress.

During the campaign, she refused all corporate campaign donations.

You see, that’s a person who represents regular people, who’s fighting to solve everyday problems.

That’s an outsider.

 

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Analysis | The 2019 gas tax, gambling fight is under way

Josh Moon

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The fight over a gas tax increase has begun.

Just out of public view, lawmakers and lobbyists and business interests are working together and against each other to draw up bills that will increase Alabama’s gas tax as much as 18 cents initially, depending on the type of fuel being purchased.

But there is broad disagreement between Republican lawmakers, reflected in soon-to-be-filed legislation, over the amount of the tax increase, the manner in which it can be increased and the way it can be spent.

APR viewed copies of multiple gas tax bills that are in various stages of completion, and while all shared the same general goal — increasing the tax on fuel in order to fund a variety of infrastructure projects throughout the state — the bills differed dramatically on basic features, setting up what is sure to be a contentious and problematic debate.

A debate that, insiders agree, is likely to open the door for gambling/lottery legislation.

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In fact, sources have told APR that at least four different gambling/lottery bills are floating among lawmakers, as lobbyists, lawmakers and business interests push their favorites. As you might imagine, those bills also differ dramatically in scope, focus and support.

At the center of this entire debate is a basic need: Infrastructure.

Alabama’s is terrible disrepair. And because the state routinely collects the lowest property and personal income taxes in the nation, the state is also broke and unable to repair its bridges and roads.

To make a dent in this problem, a study by one business-friendly group said an additional 32 cents would have to be added to current fuel prices.

Even the guys who sell road building equipment wouldn’t vote for that, so the bills currently being shopped around start with figures well below that number. The most aggressive of the bills reviewed by APR — one allegedly backed by Senate leadership — would add 18 cents and tie future raises to a yet-to-be-determined index.

That bill would also allow for the legislature to float a bond issue, giving lawmakers a pot of money up front to dole out.

That bill is similar to one that failed in the 2018 legislative session, and it retains several provisions that caused its death, including failing to require the state highway department to provide specifics on proposed jobs and allowing jobs to be bid a few miles at a time instead of as a whole job. Republicans who are already wary of putting a tax increase on their political resumes were concerned that a failure to adequately control where the money goes could lead to an embarrassing misuse of funds.

Countering that bill is one drafted by a more conservative group of GOP lawmakers. It would increase the fuel tax by only a few cents, but it would establish a commission that could increase the tax by as much as 10 cents each year to fund qualifying projects. Critics of that bill say it doesn’t provide enough guaranteed money to make a difference and places too much control in the hands of a commission.

For example, one longtime lawmaker said the way the bill is written it takes control of the Alabama Department of Transportation away from Gov. Kay Ivey and places it under the newly-formed commission — an astonishing power grab by legislators that would place them in control of millions of dollars. 

But while there is plenty of disagreement, oddly, the one area where lawmakers seem to agree is that there will be a need for additional revenue — both for infrastructure projects and for the usual expenses in the general fund budget. When the legislature last departed, the budget chairs in both houses warned of a huge shortfall in 2019 — as much as $350 million, they warned then. In recent months, that figure has eclipsed $500 million and is growing.

Adding necessary infrastructure projects will only increase the shortfall, which is where gambling/lottery bills come into play. And if you’ve been around for one of these fights, just sub in the problems for this one.

Except for one: conservative voter disapproval.

Internal polling conducted over the last few years by the GOP has shown that Republican voters in Alabama have gradually and steadily softened on lottery and gaming. In fact, one poll conducted in 2016 showed that nearly half of likely Republican voters in Alabama would approve full-fledged casinos. Lottery legislation, in that poll and one other in 2017, achieved better than 65 percent approval. And in two polls, a question that asked if Alabama voters should be given the chance to vote on gambling legislation received more than 90 percent agreement.

But approving of the sausage is one thing. Watching it actually be made is another matter completely. And that’s typically where gambling legislation in this state falters.

The gambling/lottery bills being floated currently are excellent examples of Alabama’s specific gaming issues. There is one that would provide for a lottery only, one that would allow for a lottery and slot machines at four specific locations, one that would allow for a lottery, full-fledged casinos with table games at a variety or locations and a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, and one that would simply remove the ban on gambling in the state and set up a commission to decide the rest.

And most insiders predict additional bills are yet to come, along with alterations to the ones currently being shopped around.

For the first time in a few years, gambling proponents are optimistic that some form of gaming will be approved by lawmakers and wind up on a ballot in the near future. The state is desperate for cash — for multiple projects and to simply pay its annual bills — and there are few options left to find it.

 

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Opinion | Taylor Swift: GOP kryptonite

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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