By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Saturday, February 14, US Senator Richard Shelby (R) spoke to the Pell City Chamber of Commerce about a number of topics including the need for balanced budget amendment.
Sen. Shelby said that the debt is the biggest challenge that this country faces:
“This is a great nation if we don’t destroy it….Debt can destroy it….I always thought that it was a flaw in our Constitution that it is not required that Congress not spend more than it takes in.”
If we had a balanced budget the economy would be booming. We created entitlements and keep on spending, keep on borrowing. The US debt in 1980 was just $900 billion. 1980 Seems like yesterday to me, but I know a lot of you were not even born yet in 1980. That was $900 billion after World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Great Society.
Alabama’s senior US Senator said, now in 2015, the U.S. debt is $18 trillion. “I worry about it every night.” The Federal Reserve is printing money. Nobody wants to talk about because it is not pleasant. We are slated to go to $26 trillion. That is scary.
Sen. Shelby said, “We have lived a pretty good life.” I hope that our children are able to.
How are we going to pay off that debt? By printing money? That is what Germany did in the 1920s.
Sen. Shelby has recently introduced a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution.
Sen. Shelby said that Pell City was a great place and that he would like to live here when he is done in Washington, but he is not ready to finish yet. It is a great place to live. Pell City has had a lot of growth and is continuing to grow.
Sen. Shelby said that he has done a lot more in Washington but that he would like to do a lot more. Shelby joked, “I need to be the czar, the king. I wouldn’t like for anybody else to have that much power.” “At times, President Obama seems like he doesn’t want Congress up there or anybody to hold him accountable.”
Senator Shelby said that he has to be a Senator for the whole nation, but “It is the people of Alabama who send you there…A lot of people forget that. I don’t.”
Shelby says that he travels all over Alabama. “This is my first county this year.” Shelby said that travel keeps his feet on the ground. “I never moved up there (Washington). My home is here in Alabama and when my time is over I will be coming home to Alabama.”
Shelby said that he and US Senator Jeff Sessions (R) serve together we are good friends. “I am on the Senate Appropriations, Banking and Rules committees. He is on the Armed Forces, Judiciary, and Budget committees.” It is a good mix for Alabama.
Shelby said that we try to work with our congressional delegation. There are six Republicans and one Democrat, Terri Sewell. We have a pretty good relationship with each other when it comes to issues pertaining to this state.
Shelby thanked Alabama Republicans for the new Senate Majority. “We raised a lot of money” for Republican Senate candidates in other states. “We have a majority, but don’t have 60 which is enough to shut down debate.” Shelby said that while the Republicans have control of both Houses of Congress, “We don’t have the presidency. That is what we need next.”
“I knew the President when he was in the Senate. He wasn’t here long. This is the most left wing ideological driven administration I have seen in my time in Washington. Their view is not my view.” “I don’t understand how people could vote for this kind of regime,” Shelby said.
Sen. Shelby said that another major challenge the country faces is the radicalization of the Muslim world. Sen. Shelby said that when he was the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee he visited every country in the Middle East. “I don’t see any resolution,” to conflict there. “In the Middle East we have got the Muslims fighting each other. They have been doing this for 1500 years.”
Shelby said that the Sunnis and the Shias hate each other. The Alawite minority in Syria is akin to the Shias and are fighting the Sunnis. “There is not going to be any peace over there. I have been to all of these places. I have been to Syria.” The Sunnis have fought back in Iraq and have taken over half the country. The Hassad regime was oppressing the Sunnis, but we are kind of helping them because the people they are fighting (ISIS) are worse than he is.
Shelby said that Obama wants Congress to give him this power to fight ISIS (the Islamic Society of Iraq and Syria); but Shelby expressed reservations.
Sen. Shelby said, “I don’t know about putting our ground troops in there.” What is the end game? I don’t think we should give the President this much power. Some of my Republican friends do. If it was a President I had a lot of respect for and I knew he had a lot of Resolve that would be one thing. Is this good for America?
Shelby said that China is on the rise and now their economy is equal to ours. They are already an economic challenge and could become a military challenge as well.
Shelby said that Putin’s territorial ambitions in Europe are another challenge.
Sen. Shelby said that the U.S. still produces more products and services than any other country in the world. We are still the wealthiest country in the world. Shelby said that the discovery of vast new sources of gas and oil will help us balance our economy.
Shelby said, “Energy is very important.” He favors building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the gulf for refining. It would lower the price of oil. Canada has heavy oil tar sands. “They are going to develop those tar sands. They are going to sell that oil, whether they sell it to use or sell it to China. A pipeline is a lot safer than hauling it by truck or by rail.”
Sen. Shelby said that Obama is going to veto it. “I wish he would sign it would create thousands of jobs.” Shelby called the President’s decision, “Mind boggling.”
Alabama State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) asked why the Republicans don’t use the nuclear option and change the rules where everything is done by a simple majority vote. “Are we just being fair?”
Sen. Shelby answered that the Democrats used the nuclear option to stack the courts last year. “Each Senate makes its own rules. We have precedents, but it is not the law…it is rules. The rule is it takes 60 votes to cut off debate. It used to be 67 but hey changed the rule because they thought southerners had too much power. Then last year Democrat changed the rules because we were blocking Obama’s appointments.
Sen. Shelby said that the GOP Senate Caucus kept that. “A lot of Republicans are naïve.” They wanted to go back to the 60 rule. I think we ought to go to the 51 rule. We would pass right now our immigration bill. A lot of the people in the caucus disagree.
Sen. Shelby said, “They (Senate Democrats) broke the eggs. Lets break some more. They will surely do that if they get back in power.”
Sen. Shelby said that he found revelations that NBC anchor Brian Williams was dishonest very funny. Pretty soon Brian Williams will be with Napoleon in France. “When they (dishonest journalists) lie they tell another lie.”
Shelby said, “This administration is going crazy not just environmental but everything else including banking regulations.” “We need to win the presidency.” “The power of the presidency is real.”
Sen. Shelby said that if we develop our gas and oil resources especially in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio we will be the number one producer of oil and gas in the world. The lower cost of energy is already reigniting manufacturing in America because energy costs are important.
On interest rates, Sen. Shelby said, “We have all benefited from lower interest rates.” The Federal Reserve has bought $4.5 billion in securities. Now what are they going to do with them? Shelby said that he supports an audit of the Federal Reserve System.
Shelby said that the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates in the late summer or fall, but warned that “Europe is not doing as well as we are. Germany is doing better than everybody else but their economy is not booming. If Europe goes into a tailspin that affects us. China is not growing as fast as they were.” International economic problems could lead to the Fed not raising rates.
Shelby said, “I voted against that (Obamcare).” We have had the best healthcare system in the world. Obama and the Democrats sold this because it lowered costs. “That was all a lie.” “The Supreme Court of the US has a case before them dealing with the Obamacrare bill.” If they follow the law in their ruling, Obama’s health care law will be in jeopardy. “I hope we don’t rush to the rescue. This is a monster. I am against it.
Sen. Shelby warned that if Iran gets nuclear weapons it will lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the money and resources to go nuclear in response and Egypt will follow. “It changes the whole dynamic in the world” and “Puts little Israel in a quandary.” “Can you imagine if the fanatics in the Middle East get a hold of nuclear weapons?” “We haven’t had a nuclear exchange and we don’t want one.”
Pell City City Clerk Penny Isbell introduced Sen. Shelby. She said that he has introduced a flat tax and a balanced budget amendment every year that he has been in the Senate. Shelby is a fifth Generation Alabamian and a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law.
Alabama sees record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Monday
“What we can still control is Christmas,” Dr. Don Williamson said. “We can still control what hospital beds are going to look like in January.”
Alabama on Monday saw a new record with more people in hospitals with COVID-19 than ever before and a new record number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units as public health experts worry about what is to come after Thanksgiving gatherings.
The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday reported 1,717 hospitalizations statewide, breaking the previous record of 1,613 set on Aug. 6. The state’s seven-day average of hospitalizations has increased each day for the last 41.
UAB Hospital on Monday had a record high 125 COVID-19 patients, breaking the previous record of 124 on Aug. 3. Huntsville Hospital had a record 264 COVID-19 patients Monday. Hospitals in Montgomery and Mobile are also seeing similar rising numbers but didn’t break records Monday.
Approximately one in five adults in general medicine beds in Alabama hospitals Monday were COVID-19 patients, said Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and former Alabama state health officer.
The state had a record high 491 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units Monday, and 244 coronavirus patients were admitted to hospitals Sunday, which was the highest number in several months, he said.
Williamson said that 11 percent of the state’s intensive care beds were available. It was the first time since Aug. 16 that fewer than 200 ICU beds were free, he said.
“It’s not the ICU beds I’m worried about,” Williamson said. “The overall trend is worse than I imagined it would be, with no impact [yet] from Thanksgiving.”
Williamson noted that Alabama’s seven-day average of hospitalizations increased by 217 from a week ago.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Williamson said, adding that hospitals across the state Monday were either at their record highs in hospitalizations or very close to them. He also expressed concern over Alabama’s continued rise in new cases, a sign of unabated community spread and a harbinger of even more hospitalizations and deaths to come.
The state added 2,295 new cases Monday and has averaged 2,206 new cases each day for the last week, which is a 67 percent increase from a month ago.
The increasing case counts aren’t attributed to more testing. Alabama reported an increase of just 4,634 tests Monday, and the seven-day average of tests reported per day is up only 4 percent over the last month. This comes as the positivity rate over the last week was a record-high of 30 percent. Public health experts say that rate needs to be at or below 5 percent or there isn’t enough testing and cases are going undetected.
Williamson said staffing problems continue to be a major concern at hospitals statewide. Medical staff are contracting COVID-19 largely from their own communities and not while at work, Williamson has said recently, which is reducing the number of available workers. Fatigue is also impacting staffing levels.
“We are beginning that conversation about what do things have to look like going forward on staffing with an increase of say another 20 percent in hospitalization. What is it you’re doing now that you don’t do? How do you free up additional staff?” Williamson said.
There will also be conversations about looking for help from the federal government, Williamson said, noting that the U.S. Department of Defense sent medical personnel to El Paso, Texas, to help with overburdened hospitals there.
But Alabama’s growing COVID-19 crisis isn’t just an Alabama problem, Williamson said. The problem is nationwide, and Alabama will have to wait in line along with other states in requesting federal resources.
There has been discussion of opening up medical facilities outside of hospitals, such as the tent hospitals that have popped up in places hard-hit by coronavirus, but the staffing problem is paramount, Williamson said. Without people to work them, more beds are useless, and hospitals can and have found ways to increase bed space for coronavirus patients, he said.
There’s nothing that can be done to reverse whatever bad outcomes may result from Thanksgiving gatherings, Williamson said, and he expects that by the end of this week, the state’s case count will begin increasing even more, and by mid-December, the state should begin to see the impact of Thanksgiving on hospitalizations.
“What we can still control is Christmas,” Williamson said. “We can still control what hospital beds are going to look like in January.”
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.