By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 10, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) announced that they were scrapping a controversial proposal to outlaw common ammunition used in the popular AR-15 platform. The AR-15 is increasingly popular with American sportsmen and hunters as generations of veterans since the Vietnam War have gained experience with it’s militarized versions. Majorities of both Houses of Congresses joined thousands of regular Americans in writing to the ATF to voice their displeasure with the controversial policy that many second amendment activists viewed as a backhanded attempt at gun control by a Obama administration which has long been hostile towards Americans’ gun rights.
US Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said in a written statement, “I’m pleased to learn that the ATF has decided to withdraw its plan to limit access to sporting (AR-15) ammo. I recently joined 52 of my colleagues in sending a letter stating our opposition to this proposal that would threaten our Second Amendment rights.”
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) also signed the letter.
US Representative Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) wrote on Facebook, “I’m glad to see the ATF has backed away from its plan. I had recently signed a letter in opposition to this proposal.”
US Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led 52 colleagues in expressing concern for a new proposal that would severely limit access to rifle ammunition primarily used for sporting purposes. The pro-gun rights Senators wrote that this class of ammunition is protected from prohibition under a 1986 Law Enforcement Officer Protection Act exemption.
The National Rifleman’s Association (NRA) wrote that, “The framework, proposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), would set arbitrary guidelines for determining whether certain ammunition meets the 1986 law’s “sporting purposes” exemption. As a result, access to rifle ammunition long considered to be primarily used for activities such as target shooting and hunting could be limited.”
The Senators wrote that the “Framework” should not be adopted and ATF should not propose in the future ATF should not propose to ban any ammunition widely used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” Congress did not and did not intend to ban this form of ammunition,” referring to the popular M855 5.56 x 45 MM ammunition.
In 1986 a number of bullet types were outlawed by the Congress because they were viewed as armor piercing. President Obama’s ATF proposed using that legislation to ban the 5.56 x 45 MM ammo on the grounds that it could penetrate the soft body armor commonly used by police.
The decision to back down in the face of pressure from an infuriated gun owning public is seen by many as a victory for the NRA.
The ATF had argued for the ban of the popular bullets.
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.