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How did we get here?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt

Alabama Political Reporter

 

 

MONTGOMERY—To say life is full of the unexpected is perhaps a gross understatement. Anyone who has lived into middle age understands that life most often doesn’t turn out the way we plan. Human events bend, twist and turn in the most unpredictable ways.

So, it is after a year of publishing “Alabama Political Reporter” things have not gone as I had imagined.

When Susan and I came to Montgomery to report on the political news of the state we thought that the Republicans were the good guys and many are good. But the leadership abounds with hypocrisy and greed. 

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Naively, we thought it would be members of the GOP who would help us attract advertisers, that for the most part has not been the case and in some cases the leadership has actively worked against us.

With a few exceptions, all of our ad dollars have come from Democrats. I mentioned this to a democrat once and he laughed and said, “We actually believe in small business.”

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I have never given the Democrats more than a far shake. The same can be said of anyone who does business with us. As a capitalist, I will take money from pretty much anyone.

The AEA and the Poarch Creek Indians have advertised with us. I hope they do more in the future. I doubt FOX News worries much about who advertises on its shows.

We have a new advertiser starting with us this week, it is Milton McGregor’s VictoryLand.

For the record, I am not a fan of gambling, it is an ethical issue with me as I have a problem with zero sum games played for money. I also worry about the vice that comes along with such activity. But, as a citizen of the United States and a believer in the Constitution as originally intended, I must respect the rights of free individuals to spend their money anyway they choose as long as it is legal.

We do not have the expertise to speak to the legality of gaming in Alabama. However we have looked extensively into the machines used at VictoryLand. After speaking with the technical people who design them, it is my opinion, based on the technical evidence that the eBingo machines played at Windcreek or VictoryLand are no more slot machines than the game of checkers is the game of chess. Yes, they look similar but they are not the same.

I am not a lawyer, so I don’t have to argue the point but as a thinking human and can tell the difference. My wife and I understand technology having worked in the world of computers and the Internet for over twenty years. I also think they are eBingo in the same way that my iPad reads eBooks and my iPhone reads Email. To say that an eBook or Email is somehow not a book or mail is to be living in a cave of willful ignorance. 

Having also looked at the Macon County Constitutional Amendment granting the right to play bingo in any form I am left with the conclusion that they have a right to play these machines. Again, I am not a legal expert, but I do have pretty good reading comprehension skills. Alabama has lots of amendments from one county that do not apply to others and it appears that in such cases state law does not trump a local constitutional amendment. 

Of course this situation looks as if it will be played out on the political stage by way of the courts. With Republicans in control and their need to win elections first and foremost in their minds, I worry that there is little chance McGregor or the eBingo machines will get a fair hearing. 

Much like Del Marsh and Mike Hubbard who take Indian gaming money and lie about it so will some judges render an opinion based on politics and not the rule of law. 

What is mystifying to me is the actions of the state’s Attorney General Luther Strange, a man I like and admire. 

I don’t understand his actions toward McGregor’s operation and his inaction toward GreeneTrack. 

I fear there is the odor of politics and not the sweet smell of law in the air.

We will keep reporting on the ongoing tensions and will keep both eyes open to discern the facts from the sideshow.

For now, I am happy to have Mr. McGregor’s business as I am any company that wants to advertise on our site.

As for us, we hope to have more advertisers so we can grow and continue to report unbiased news.

It seems there are any number of people who would like to see us go away, but let me assure them we will work harder, dig deeper and report the truth on anyone and everything political. A state without a vigorous investigative news organization is a state likely to be run by crooks and phonies.

Threats and bullying do not move us, neither does money buy us. My wife and I are of a breed that doesn’t fear and isn’t bribed. We have known poverty and we have known prosperity, but mostly we know Him who is the giver of all good things and so we are happy to say we will be around for a long, long time.

Want to buy an ad? 

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.

Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”

The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.

Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.

“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”

Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.

“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.

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Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”

Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.

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The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”

Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.

“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”

District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.

“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”

District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” 
Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”

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Elections

Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

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“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Economy

New unemployment claims decreased last week

Fewer people joined the unemployment rolls last week compared to the week before.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 7,964 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 8,581 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17, there were 4,032 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 51 percent, compared to 36 percent the previous week.

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Elections

Trump to visit Pensacola tonight

Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump speaks at the Republican National Convention

Neither presidential candidate is likely to visit Alabama before the general election, as both campaigns accept that Alabama will be certainly in President Donald Trump’s camp on election day no matter what else happens. While Alabama is not a swing state, Georgia and Florida are both in play, and both campaigns are devoting enormous resources there.

Trump is making a push in Florida in the final weeks of the election, and Northwest Florida is part of his strategy. Trump will be just across the Florida-Alabama state line visiting Pensacola and is scheduled to address supporters at the ST Engineering hangar beginning at 7 p.m. CT.

The doors open at 4 p.m. and the event begins at 7:00 p.m.

The president’s rally tonight comes right after a visit to Pensacola last week by Second Lady Karen Pence and is one of many Florida campaign events planned for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump arrived in Florida after Thursday’s final presidential debate with Joe Biden. He is scheduled to hold a campaign event in The Villages before traveling to Pensacola. The president will spend the night at his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago and will vote early Saturday.

The vice president will hold rallies in Lakeland and Tallahassee on Saturday. Florida has 27 electoral college votes. It would be very difficult for Trump to get the 270 electoral college votes necessary to win without winning Florida.

Democrats warn that attending a Trump rally could be dangerous due to the coronavirus threat.

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“The last thing Floridians need is for Donald Trump to host more potential superspreader rallies across our state,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a statement on the rally in Pensacola. “What we do need, however, is a president capable of putting Floridians ahead of his own self-interest and get this pandemic under control.”

Most recent polls have Trump trailing Biden in Florida. Tickets are required to attend the rally.

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