By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, 28, 2014, Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) President Twinkle A. Cavanaugh, PSC Commissioner Jeremy Oden, the Republican nominee for PSC Place 2, Chris “Chip” Beeker, and Republican National Committeeman Paul Reynolds held a joint news conference at the Alabama Coal Association headquarters in Mountain Brook.
The Alabama Political Reporter was present to report on the live event.
The foursome, along with Attorney General Luther Strange (R) and representatives from the Jobkeeper Alliance, will be participating in hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencies on new Carbon Dioxide emissions rules which threaten to close most of the remaining coal powered electricity plants in the nation. Where earlier rules applied to new power plants, these new, Draconian standards would apply retroactively to all of our earlier plants. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s hearings will be at Atlanta’s prestigious Omni Hotel.
President Twinkle Cavanaugh (R) said that she, “…will be testifying in Atlanta on behalf of all Alabamians to protect our way of life. You elected me to be your voice. I will not back down. We will not stand for what they are doing to our way of life in Alabama.” Twinkle promised, “I will fight for affordable electricity.” The impassioned PSC President warned that persons in Washington want to take our way of life and said that she believed that Washington should not put more burdens on families.
Cavanaugh said that Alabama Power has already spent $2.7 billion for mandates from Washington and now they are demanding that Alabama Power spend another $billion which will cost the average family in Alabama another $144 per year in electricity costs because of burdensome regulations put on us by people in Washington for benefits that of very debatable worth.
Cavanaugh said, that according to the Obama administration, Alabama’s electricity rates will rise and jobs will be lost. But we already have an anemic economy. President Cavanaugh asked that the Obama administration quit picking winners and losers in the economy. Our future depends on affordable energy and if that best option is coal, then let it be coal. Cavanaugh warned that the proposed new EPA rule will drive up costs of electricity in Alabama and will drive away jobs.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) said on Facebook, “Looking forward to testifying tomorrow in Atlanta against the Obama Administration’s proposed new carbon rules which will raise electrical rates and kill Alabama energy jobs.”
The Place One member of the PSC, Commissioner Jeremy Oden (R) said that he wanted to speak face to face with EPA regulators because he believed that they have understated the cost of this ruling. “We are concerned with their figures.” Oden said that he believes that there true costs of compliance will cost four times what the EPA has predicted and they have underestimated the job losses.
Oden said that, “the EPA has rushed this rule. Where normally something like this takes years this was put together in less than a year. We don’t understand what exactly 11b will mean. We have a lot of unclarity coming down. Our biggest concern is EPA overreach. Jeremy said that this is a states rights issue. What kind of energy we use in Alabama and what our energy mix is should not be dictated by one or two people in Washington. To me this is a State issue and should be left at the state level.”
Oden warned, “If this regulation goes through, your electricity rates will go up and it will effect families’ pocket books.” Oden vowed that he will go to Atlanta and fight for you as citizens and he is proud that we can work together as a team.
Chris “Chip” Beeker (R) is not a member of the PSC yet. He challenged and defeated incumbent PSC Place 2 Commissioner Terry Dunn (R) in the Republican Primary Runoff on July 15, but since no Democrat qualified to run for PSC in the increasingly Republican leaning state of Alabama, barring tragedy, the Greene County catfish farmer and rancher appears to be the next PSC Commissioner for Place 2.
Beeker, the former Greene County Commission Chairman said, “It is my pleasure to serve with two like minded people.,” on the PSC. Beeker said that when he ran he had three things he wanted to do: To protect the people and to protect our economy if it needed protecting; to create jobs and to create an improving economy; and to fight the overreach of the federal government. Chip Beeker said, “We all believe that this is an overreach.” The EPA is way out of line. It is not fair.
Beeker said that the administration was using war as a codeword to vilify coal. “Our natural resources are very special to me. They are god given. Who has the right to tell a state that they can not use what God has given?”
Beeker said that he believe that his large margin of victory over Dunn was a mandate from the people of Alabama. “I believe in the capitalistic system,” if natural gas is cheaper for electricity use gas, if coal is cheaper then use coal.
Alabama’s Republican National Committee man (each state GOP executive committee elects one man and one woman to represent them on the RNC) Paul Reynolds spoke next.
Reynolds said, that in his profession of radio, “I swim daily in a sea that is filled with bureaucrats. We have seen what is happening. This is not new to me. We have seen many burdensome regulations lately.”
Part of the Republican platform is to take a stand against any part of the Obama administration’s executive overreach and its stranglehold on the economy. Reynolds said that it is the goal of the ordinary working man to go to work so he can come home to an air conditioned house, have a nice TV to watch, and have a comfortable life. Reynolds warned that the proposed EPA regulations will make the costs of those things all go up. “I am talking about your standard of living if that goes into effect.” Reynolds called the regulation, “Absolutely crazy….Coal produces clean cost effective energy….What we are talking about is government run amok.”
Reynolds said there are16,000 coal related jobs in Alabama that are at stake here. Reynolds said that it in the Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals, the first thing you do is to vilify your opponent. “I am in radio we have been vilified. Television has been vilified now they are turning their guns on to the coal industry.” With the events in the Ukraine and the Middle East, the Obama administration should be concerned about the potential of a World War instead of something dumb like a war on coal.
President Cavanaugh said, “A war on coal makes no sense.” It drives up the cost of energy for a family and it keeps us from having good paying jobs in the state of Alabama. The first thing than an employer moving to Alabama asks is what are their fixed costs going to be and the biggest part of that is the electricity costs.
As she prepares to face the EPA and ask them to stop all of their, “Absurd mandates,” Cavanaugh said that is her, “Hope that all citizens of Alabama will be in prayer.”
One member of the media asked is there would be a lawsuit if the EPA moves forward with this new ruling.
President Cavanaugh said, “Our goal today is to make sure that this rule does not go into effect.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked President Cavanaugh if they were not overstating the Alabama coal jobs lost because almost all of the coal mined in Alabama is of metallurgical quality and thus is used in the steel mills and iron plants not for burning in power plants?
Twinkle acknowledged that much of the coal mined in Alabama is metallurgical, but it will have an impact. 25 percent of the coal is burned for electricity. “I don’t believe even one job should be lost because of what is a useless rule…Why are we are war against our most bountiful natural resource. We need to be proud of coal. We don’t need a war on our most abundant God given natural resource.”
A spokesmen for the Alabama Coal Association told the Alabama Political Reporter that the EPA is coming for the coal fired power plants first, then will write new rules which will be targeted at the steel mills and industrial plants. The coal producers are making their fight now, rather than waiting for that next fight.
Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear to retire Dec. 16
Under Beshear’s leadership, the Alabama Department of Mental Health launched Stepping Up Alabama, aimed at reducing the number of people in jails who have a mental illness.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that Lynn Beshear, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Mental Health, will retire effective Dec. 16. Ivey has appointed Beshear’s chief of staff, Kim Boswell, to lead the department upon Beshear’s retirement.
“When Lynn was appointed, I knew that she would approach her role always thinking of what is best for the people of Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “She has created a collaborative team approach within the Alabama Department of Mental Health to solve intricate problems regarding delivery of services for mental illness, substance abuse disorder and intellectual disability. I am truly grateful for her service to our state and wish her best in her next chapter.”
“It is been an honor to serve as the Commissioner of the department,” Beshear said in a statement. “I am stepping into the next chapter of my life proud of the accomplishments of the department and am incredibly honored to have worked with such dedicated individuals who are committed to improving the lives of others. I profoundly thank Governor Ivey for her trust in me these last three years and have no doubt the department will continue to change the lives of the people of Alabama for the better.”
Under Beshear’s leadership, the Alabama Department of Mental Health launched Stepping Up Alabama, aimed at reducing the number of people in jails who have a mental illness, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. Alabama is the only state to expand the goal to include ER’s and substance use disorders, according to the release.
Ivey in October announced an $18 million project to create three new mental health crisis centers to be located in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville, which will reduce the number of people suffering from mental health crises who are hospitalized or jailed, Ivey said during a press briefing last month.
“When these facilities are open and fully staffed, these centers will become a safe haven for people facing mental health challenges,” Ivey said.
Boswell has over 36 years of experience working with individuals with mental illnesses, substance abuse disorders and developmental disabilities, according to the release. She currently serves as chief of staff for Beshear and has been both associate commissioner for administration as well as director of human resources for ADMH.
“I’m pleased to announce Kim Boswell as Commissioner for the Alabama Department of Mental Health,” Ivey said. “She has spent the entirety of her professional career devoted to helping struggling individuals and I appreciate her willingness to serve in this new capacity. Her background as a mental health provider as well as administrator makes her uniquely qualified.”
Opinion | Thinking: I’ll know it when I see it
“Have we accumulated so much knowledge that we know nothing?”
Lately, I’ve been adhering to the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So, what have I been doing with all my free time? Thinking — or at least I think I’m thinking.
When I look over the political landscape here at home and across the nation, I see a great surge of self-interest, special-interest and “us versus them” loathing, but little in the way of what constitutes the common good.
Politics lately have more in common with the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles than a renaissance weekend in Charleston. All hot air and bluster and little fact or reasoning.
American politics have always been loud, factious, full of complexities and uncertainty, but these elements have generally led us to find consensus. Sometimes, it’s an uneasy truce but one that on the whole leaves us better and not irreconcilably divided.
However, today, tribal hatred in the form of political parties, a desire for one side to dominate the other and the widespread acceptance of “alternative facts” has reduced public policy to the equivalent of a high-stakes fight over which color M&M tastes best.
French-born philosopher, mathematician and scientist René Descartes wrote, “I think, therefore I am” as proof of his existence. Written originally in French and then Latin, it reads cogito ergo sum because I guess smart people in Descartes’ day wrote scholarly works in Latin.
Today we use memes, YouTube videos and trucker hats to convey our deeply held convictions.
I’ve been thinking about another Latin phrase I’d like to see added to the lexicon of debate: non cogito ergo non sum. Roughly translated: “I don’t think; therefore, I am not.”
Of course, we know that there are a lot of unthinking people — many we call voters.
A trip to a big box store or any retail outlet with the word “dollar” in its name proves that the average citizen shouldn’t be trusted with making big decisions, like who will run the country. But the alternative is worse, so we let everyone have a say on Election Day.
But because The People’s Republic of Walmart is a key voting block, the Constitution and individual states’ laws are there to check devotee’s lack of discernment. This is not to say that elites exercise greater intellect. Cable pundits and influential internet bloggers tell us that the nation faces multiple existential threats, not the least from people who use the word existential.
Merriam-Webster defines existential as “relating to, or affirming existence.” I defer back to big-box shoppers ergo ego emo: “I shop, therefore I am.”
Thinking is hard work and not for the faint of heart because reflection can reveal unpleasant truths or even cause us to realize that what we thought was true wasn’t.
In the early 1990s, a New York media mogul asked me what I thought the Internet might become in the future. I told him if we were lucky, every human-being would have access to a range of information to rival the Great Library of Alexandria. It could also, I said, be an enabling tool for global democracy. But then, I added, it would most likely be just a place for people to watch kittens and porn.
I used to think that moral wisdom and national interests depended on logical, coherent and precisely written words penned by studied minds. I believed this because The Ten Commandments carved in stone gave rise to a set of moral principles that shaped in part the ancient world and western civilization.
Our Nation’s Declaration of Independence, written with quill and ink, led to a new democratic republic in the United States and a model for the world over. Now the world’s most enduring democracy is often directed by tweets.
Have we accumulated so much knowledge that we know nothing?
Instead of inspired reason, will 220 characters do? Does writing in all caps make the thought better, or does the author think that readers are just too simple to understand their meaning without added emphasis?
Perhaps here, more Latin is needed. Cogito ergo non tweet. You guessed it: “I think, therefore, I don’t tweet.”
But nowhere is there less thinking than among those who know they are right because they are the chosen ones privy to all things conspiratorial.
In her book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, Anne Applebaum writes: “The emotional appeal of a conspiracy theory is in its simplicity. It explains away complex phenomena, accounts for chance and accidents, offers the believer the satisfying sense of having special, privileged access to the truth.”
Having spent most of my life around powerful women and men, I’ve learned that none are capable of grand schemes as imagined on the internet, and even fewer can keep their mouths shut. If there were a cabal of Catilines, they would not be found on FaceBook or the pages to the John Birch Society’s website.
Politicians will always rage, people will hate, but with a bit of good fortune, our state and nation will endure because a few souls will place the common good above self-interest and factions.
It’s not always easy to tell who is thinking and who is not, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said when referring to hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
While I still don’t have many nice things to say, and I’m not sure my thinking matters at all, I will admit I have hope, that enduring belief that there is a chance that we can do better, and that we will.
Opinion | Alabama’s public corruption problem might just be hopeless
“Mike Hubbard committed crimes with the solitary intention of illegally enriching himself.”
Mike Hubbard stole more than $2 million. Let’s start right there, so we don’t get things twisted, because there’s a tendency in this state, when the criminal is wearing a suit and tie, to believe that the crime wasn’t really a crime and that it was something more complicated and sophisticated than a guy stealing money from you for himself.
This wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a wrong place, wrong time deal. He didn’t forget to carry the one and, oops, $2 million landed in his account.
No. Mike Hubbard committed crimes with the solitary intention of illegally enriching himself.
Hubbard used his intelligence and charm and ruthlessness to rise to a position of power that allowed him to influence the budget process, and then he used that position and his intelligence to benefit himself at the expense of state businesses, taxpayers and the state itself.
If Hubbard had his way, one of his clients would have been granted an illegal monopoly, improperly squeezing out other deserving state businesses and possibly costing Alabama citizens their jobs and livelihoods.
In other instances, Hubbard concocted a means by which wealthy business owners in the state could “gift” their “friend” hundreds of thousands of dollars. Money that we all know would have been returned to the friends many times over in the form of friendly legislation and government contracts — which is the very reason such “gifts” were deemed illegal by a Legislature led by Hubbard.
These things were wrong. They were deplorable. And they were, quite blatantly, illegal.
And yet, for the past four-plus years, this state’s judges and lawmakers — actually, let me be accurate: this state’s Republican judges and Republican lawmakers — have bent over backward to bend, alter and change the laws that convicted Hubbard — the laws that Hubbard helped write — in order to reduce or eliminate the sentence handed down to their friend.
Finally, last week, the day before Thanksgiving — the day historically set aside for information dumps of embarrassing news you’re hoping will get lost in a four-day holiday weekend — Lee County Judge Jacob Walker, leaning on the suspect legal work of the Alabama Supreme Court — the most activist court in all of America — cut nearly half of Hubbard’s sentence.
Instead of four years, Hubbard will now serve just 28 months.
That is a travesty.
Not because 28 months instead of four years necessarily sends a message of leniency to future thieves. But because the sordid and embarrassing manner in which the sentence was reduced has been a case study in systemic public corruption and ruling class privilege.
It has made clear that there is one set of laws and rules for the working stiffs and poor and a whole other set for the wealthy and powerful.
When the ethics laws of this state were adopted several years ago, Republicans, including Hubbard, hailed them as true game-changers for Alabama politics. They talked loudly and often about how necessary these ethics laws were to remove the stench of corruption and pay-to-play favoritism from our state government. They promised that these laws would help level the playing field and restore the faith of Alabama citizens in their government.
All of that was BS.
Within months, the primary architect of those laws was secretly plotting to circumvent them in the interest of personal gain, his private emails showed us. Not only that, he and top ALGOP officials and donors were conspiring together to subvert those laws and enrich themselves.
What they were doing was not in the interest of “economic development” or business growth in the state or even innocent mistakes. It was willful, purposeful schemes meant to get around the laws and use their public offices to benefit themselves.
In one email Hubbard actually writes: “those ethics laws … what were we thinking?”
Despite this clear intent and despite a solid verdict from a thoughtful Lee County jury, for the last four years, Republican lawmakers have attempted time and again to change the ethics laws — to weaken them and insert loopholes into them. They have succeeded twice.
At the same time, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court — all elected Republicans — spent an unbelievable and unheard-of amount of time to pick apart the Hubbard verdict and cast doubt on the laws that convicted him.
In both courts, the opinions mentioned the “unintentional consequences” of the laws, implying that lawmakers in the state could unwittingly find themselves as accidental lawbreakers as they innocently conducted the business of the state.
Oddly, not one lawmaker from either party has committed such a violation or even almost committed one.
And no one believes that Hubbard committed such an unwitting violation of the laws.
Because he didn’t.
Hubbard knew full well what the law was. He knew full well that what he was doing was illegal — his closest associates testified as much in open court. He worked tirelessly to concoct ways to subvert those laws and enrich himself, and there is a mountain of evidence that proves it.
And yet, our criminal justice system and our state Legislature spent the last four years trying to get him out of it.
That’s a level of corruption that is so staggering and consuming that I honestly don’t know if there’s any hope to combat it.
Supreme Court rules that churches can meet despite COVID restrictions
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three “liberal” justices in opposing the ruling. New Justice Amy Coney Barret was the deciding vote siding with the four conservative justices.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision Wednesday that the state of New York’s COVID-19 restrictions violated the freedom of religion rights of New Yorkers.
The court’s decision in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo just pauses the enforcement of these rules against the litigants who’ve challenged them while the case proceeds, but it still sends a signal that the majority of the court thinks the restrictions are unconstitutional.
The lawsuits filed by the Diocese of Brooklyn and by Orthodox Jewish synagogues in New York will continue. However, the Supreme Court ruling will likely weigh heavily on the ultimate outcome of those cases.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had passed COVID restrictions that limited church attendance to just 25 people in areas of the state considered to be in the “orange zone” of COVID-19 cases and to just ten people in areas of the state that were in the “red zone.”
The same rules applied to churches that can seat a thousand people and those that seat just one hundred. The size of the building did not matter.
“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion.
“In a red zone, while a synagogue or church may not admit more than 10 persons, businesses categorized as ‘essential’ may admit as many people as they wish,” the court majority wrote. “And the list of ‘essential’ businesses includes things such as acupuncture facilities, campgrounds, garages, as well as many whose services are not limited to those that can be regarded as essential, such as all plants manufacturing chemicals and microelectronics and all transportation facilities.”
“These categorizations lead to troubling results,” the court added. “Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19 but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services. Among other things, the maximum attendance at a religious service could be tied to the size of the church or synagogue.”
The ruling would tend one to believe that the state may limit occupancy of churches and synagogues, but blanket restrictions like those in the New York law that do not take into account the size of the building are clearly unconstitutional, according to the court majority.
“The Court’s ruling is neither surprising nor alarming. Cuomo’s rules discriminate against religious services and thereby run afoul of the Constitution,” the editors of conservative National Review wrote. “And to fix the problem, Cuomo would not need to exempt houses of worship from the law everyone else follows, but merely ensure that churches aren’t relegated to second-class status. One approach may be to classify churches as essential and to assign all essential activities a capacity limit that takes establishment size into account. Another would be to simply let the hard capacity limits go, since houses of worship in orange and red areas are still required to keep to a low proportion of their total capacity (a third and a quarter respectively) — and because the areas at issue in the lawsuit aren’t classified as orange or red anymore anyway.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that whenever a policy creates a preferred, less regulated category — “essential” businesses, in this case — states must either include religion in that category or carry the burden of justifying churches’ exclusion.
“The question I always had was why was it okay for all the large box stores to be open, salons, dispensaries, casinos and tattoo parlors, but yet houses of worship were limited to much less capacity than all these places,” Rabi Yossi Mintz wrote in a statement. “I completely agree that we must have guidelines but it needs to be across the board and respect the freedom that our fathers granted us through the establishment of our great country.”
“There is no question that church is essential and maybe that is more true today than any other time,” Pastor Greg Laurie of the Harvest Christian Fellowship Church said in a statement. “Harvest is holding services outside because we want to keep people safe, yet give them an opportunity to worship together…. We practice social distancing and strongly encourage the wearing of masks.”
“I am proud to be leading the Diocese of Brooklyn and fighting for our sacred and constitutional right to worship,” said Diocese of Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. “Our churches have not been the cause of any outbreaks. We have taken our legal battle this far because we should be considered essential, for what could be more essential than safely gathering in prayer in a time of pandemic.”
Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the three liberal justices in opposing the ruling. New conservative Justice Amy Coney Barret, appointed by President Donald Trump after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September, was the deciding vote, siding with the four other conservative justices.
In an earlier 5-to-4 decision, the court found in favor of a California public health order that prevented churches from operating early in the pandemic. Then Justice Roberts sided with the liberals, but the liberal four has become the liberal three with the death of Ginsburg. Barret replacing Ginsburg appears to have reset the court’s previous position.