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Bill Britt

Will the Ethic Commission’s political parlor tricks doom Bentley?

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

What the public learned from the Ethic Commission hearing surrounding accusations against Gov. Robert Bentley, is that he may have violated the Ethics Code and the Fair Campaign Practice Act (FCPA). What observant politicos witnessed was an Ethics Commission that is political, ineffectual, and has long outlived its sell-by-date.

Let’s take the cute little nod and wink between Commissioner Stewart Tankersley and Tom Albritton.

Tankersley asked the commission to determine if sex was a thing of value. His motion for a vote failed, not even garnering a second from any of the other commissioners. Their silence leads us to believe that under this Ethics panel, a lobbyist or a paid surrogate can perform any sexual act desired in exchange for a lawmaker’s vote, or whatever the lobbyist wants in return without fear of running afoul of the law. Sell that in court. Sex is a thing of value in this context.

But, this was only the warm-up act for a nine-hour Burlesque show posing as a serious inquiry.

The Commission went into Executive Session to hear testimony and make its determination. They tried in vain to sneak in witnesses without the press discovering their identities. Why hide that Governor Robert Bentley, Secretary of State John Merrill, Seth Hammett, Spencer Collier, Ray Lewis and other were providing testimony? These are not delicate orchids, that wither at controversy.

The Commission’s efforts to hide these individuals included harassing APR’s Josh Moon and others who joined him in solidarity on the sidewalk at 100 South Union Street. Since when is a reporter told and threatened to be moved off a public sidewalk for covering a story?

Why did the Ethics Commission feel compelled to use Law Enforcement in such a way that almost ended in a reporters arrest for doing his job?

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The Commission claims its hearing falls under the State’s Grand Jury Secrecy Act. Does it? Should it? Someone needs to ask Attorney General Steve Marshall for an opinion.

Commissioner Butch Ellis, a Bentley appointee, abstained from every vote, yet sat through the entire nine-hour Kabuki dance, aggressively questioning witnesses while steering the hearing with lawyerly slyness. Did Ellis only discover his conflict of interest after grilling all the witnesses or did he walk in the door knowing he was conflicted?

Judge Charles Price (another Bentley appointee) voted no on the issue of Bentley using his position for personal gain. Why?

And why did he and Ellis push for the alleged violation to be handed over to Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey, when they knew that former Montgomery District Attorney Ellen Brooks is leading an Attorney General’s probe?

Bailey is understaffed for such an investigation. Montgomery County is so plagued with murder, gun violence, and crime that he’s even having trouble bringing a Capitol Murder case to a grand jury.

Then there’s the press release about the hearing. A preposterous piece of PR, which is beneath the office of a commission that is entrusted with the enforcement of law.

What was the need to state that they questioned forty-five witnesses or that they analyzed over 33,000 documents in the course of their investigation? This next sentence alone should get someone fired. It reads, “The staff of the Commission has worked tirelessly and thoroughly to investigate every Complaint that we received.”

Isn’t that their job?

And if that’s not enough to make you question the press release, it goes on to say, “I want to recognize my entire staff for their dedication to their public duty, especially [blah, blah, blah] as well as the Commissioners for faithfully executing a difficult and often thankless task they have undertaken, voluntarily in service to the State of Alabama.”

Gratuitousness and self-congratulatory PR is quite unbecoming.

But these hearing were never about Bentley; they were about the Ethics Commission ridding themselves of a hot potato while appearing to be doing their job.

These hearings were about politics, not justice or law. They were a sham in the worst way. Whether you like Governor Robert Bentley or not, or whether you think he is a dirty crook or an adulterer, he shouldn’t be removed from office because of this ridiculous show trial.

Of course the House report that comes later today will be scandalous enough that it will horrify even the most lascivious lawmaker. But in this instance the real porn will be the politics of it all.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Have hope

Bill Britt

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Healthcare professionals and scientists seem to indicate that we are closer to the beginning of the COVID-19 calamity than at the middle or the end.

But even in times of real human crisis, hope isn’t dead but remains a vital thread in the fabric of what we know as the human spirit.

In his eighth State of the Union address in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

This is part of the message Roosevelt relayed to the American people as he prepared the nation to enter World War II.

Across the nation and here in Alabama, everyone is experiencing disruption to daily life.

Worry, doubt and fear is everywhere as minute-by-minute bad news rolls in like a spring deluge.

“Hope Springs Eternal,” is a phrase from the Alexander Pope poem An Essay on Man in which he wrote:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

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Man never Is, but always To be blest.

The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

“Hope is, of course, the belief one holds during difficult circumstances that things will get better,” writes Saul Levine M.D., Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego in Psychology Today. “It is unique to our species because it requires words and thoughts to contemplate possible future events.”

Dr. Levine concludes that hope is the very nature of the optimism that drives us to work toward overcoming.

“It has religious meaning for believers in God, who through prayer trust that their future will be protected by their Deity,” said Levine. “But the presence of hope is secular and universal, and serves as a personal beacon, much like a lighthouse beckoning us during periods of darkness and stormy seas.”

There is a reason for alarm as the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been uneven, ineffectual and at times bordering on dereliction of its duty.

For years, there has been a movement to shrink government to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. The response by the federal government to the COVID-19 outbreak is a manifestation of that thinking.

Except for Gov. Kay Ivey, most state officials have remained near mute or totally silent during the crisis. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth has offered encouragement. Still, others seem to be in hiding except for a few Republicans who have sought to politicize the moment by criticizing U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

These times call for decisive leadership, frank words about the realities facing our State but not political pandering.

Diseases like COVID-19 are not partisan, seeing neither Democrat or Republican. The State’s political leaders—the real ones—need to offer solutions, not partisan finger pointing.

Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff are doing their best, Press Secretary Gina Maiola is keeping the press informed almost hourly, likewise Communications Director Leah Garner is guiding the governor’s message so that the public is informed. Health officer, Dr. Scott Harris’, briefings are realistic, sobering and needed. Ivey’s chief of staff, Jo Bonner, is a steady hand quietly and methodically aiding the governor and the various agencies who need support.

There have been missteps and blunders, but the governor’s office is meeting a Herculean challenge with calm and efficiency.

If good intentions and best efforts are worth anything, if giving it one’s all is the best any of us can do, then Gov. Ivey and her staff deserve appreciation.

The situations in the State will worsen before it is better.

No one knows how long COVID-19 will plague our State, but be assured that hope and faith beat worry and fear every time.

In what has become known as the “Four Freedoms Speech,” FDR also had a message for the world. “Men of every creed and every race, wherever they lived in the world” are entitled to “Four Freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Our present danger will pass and we will once again need to work to preserve the four freedoms that FDR spoke about so many years ago.

Hope is one of our greatest assets in times like these. Please remain safe, have courage and believe that better days are ahead.

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Bill Britt

Analysis | Alabama Power is keeping the lights on for everyone, that’s not enough for some

Bill Britt

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Alabama Power Company last week announced that it had not and would not disconnect any of its utility customers during the COVID-19 crisis. That commitment was not enough for the environmental group GASP or Energy Alabama.

That was the simple story I was writing when the absurdity of the situation dawned on me.

This is no time to politicize a crisis.

The hardworking women and men at Alabama Power are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battlefield making sure the citizens and businesses of the state have reliable energy despite the dangers posed by the coronavirus virus.

Since the Governor’s emergency declaration Alabama Power has determined that there would be no disconnects and no late fees.

“We have not terminated service for any customer since the declaration of emergency by the state,” wrote APCO spokesperson Michael Sznajderman to APR. “It has been our policy since that declaration that no customer financially affected by this health crisis will experience a service interruption.”

But GASP and Energy Alabama want Alabama Power to do more for customers impacted by COVID-19. Alabama Power has said it will work with each customer who has been affected by the crisis with no disruption of service and no late fees.

But again, that is not enough for GASP and Energy Alabama.

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Electrical power is an essential resource, so is food and gasoline, but no one is demanding that Publix or Exxon-Mobile provide groceries and fuel without payment. And neither has a food chain or filling station offered a free supply of gas or groceries until the end of this critical period.

For any individual or group to demand free gas and food would be seen as absurd, but somehow utilities should shoulder the burden, and they do.

For those who cannot pay their utility bills, Alabama Power is giving what amounts to an interest-free loan.

Credit card companies are still charging interests and late fees and no customers are being able to spend without limits, but that is what Alabama Power is doing for its customers.

However well-meaning these demands being made by GASP and Energy Alabama are, they seem to be more political than practical.

But Alabama Power has been a target of political grandstanding since Gov. George C. Wallace determined that racist rhetoric wasn’t enough to win every election and he needed a “cause” to fight for the common man. Wallace vilified Alabama Power for political gain, nearly bankrupting the company along the way.

All good populist crusades need a villain to rail against, synthesizing the fight to a David versus Goliath trial with the populist as the champion.

Of course, most times when a journalist slams Alabama Power, the left cheers, but if anyone dares to point out facts that might agree with the utilities company’s position, they must be on the take.

How silly and cynical is the world of politics where everything is conspiratorial and everyone is getting paid?

At APR, we present arguments left, right and center and when we see injustice or absurdities, we are not afraid to speak.

Alabama Power is a big company that employs thousands of Alabamians and for decades, it has been the foil of politicians, environmentalists and others.

Right now, Alabama Power’s employees are working tirelessly to keep the lights on for every citizen and business in the state.

Now is not a time for political grandstanding or seeking a fight where none truly exists.

Alabama Power has said it will not disconnect any customer or charge late fees and will work with those who need help once the crisis passes.

For now, “Always on” is a reassurance to every citizen who is out of work or struggling to make ends meet in this challenging time.

GASP and Energy Alabama may have a role to play, but during these trying times, we are better if we work together for our community and not our political causes.

Since publishing this article Alabama Power issued a more definitive statement view here. 

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Stay calm, stop hoarding

Bill Britt

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Grocery shelves are empty, no milk, toilet paper or eggs, and even grass-fed beef that sells for nine-dollars a pound is gone.

But that’s not because there’s a lack of food, it’s because people are making panic-purchases and hoarding.

We are better than that.

“There’s plenty of food and plenty of things in the supply chain,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “And as long as customers just buy what they need and don’t hoard, there will be no problems at all – there’s plenty of food in the supply chain.”

Earlier this week, State Health Officer Scott Harris also urged Alabamians not to panic buy.

“First of all, just remember to be prepared, but there’s no advantage to being over-prepared,” he said. “There is no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of things other than temporarily for paper products, as we all know about, but we have no concerns or issues that people won’t be able to access food if they need it. I would say in any type of closure activity throughout the world grocery stores have been exempted from that. And it would be no different, in this state as well. Grocery stores have to remain open because people have to be able to access that food.”

While self-preservation is a basic human instinct, this is not a time to return to our baser nature.

But now is a time for those who profess faith to remember the words of the psalmist who said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

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There is food, but those who choose to purchase mass quantities of unneeded food and supplies are making it difficult for everyone who is on a tight budget or practicing restraint. There is no reason for anyone to buy more than they need, to do so is to ignore the idea of shared responsibility and community.

Grocery store workers are putting themselves on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle by assisting customers, stocking shelves and cleaning the facilities, a thankless job for the wages they earn. Over-buying places a heavier burden on those workers and also threatens their well-being while taxing the entire food pipeline.

Hoarding may help one family, but it will hurt many others. This is not the way Americans and Alabamians should behave.

Even in a time of social distancing, every citizen should remember they are apart of a broader community and not an island unto themselves.

Total stocks of chicken were up 12 percent from last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Frozen pork supplies are 11 percent higher than last year and shares of pork bellies were up 32 percent from last January. There is plenty of American and Swiss cheese, but its caught in a supply chain that didn’t anticipate people losing their minds.

For example, total red meat supplies in freezers were up 5 percent from the previous month and up 3 percent from last year according to the USDA, but still, the meat aisles are empty because some people are buying more than they need.

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., has hired more than 2,000 workers in the last week to keep up with increased demand from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is hiring 100,000 new workers to keep up with demand, especially for basics, like food and household supplies.

Kroger and Amazon are just two examples of companies stepping up, so that essential needs are being met.

Not hoarding is a way of respecting our neighbors and those who work in warehouses and grocery stores.

Indeed, it can feel like a gripping moment of uncertainty. Doing things that makes us feel safe is reasonable enough, but when it causes us to forget that we are all in this together, it leaves us all more vulnerable.

Self-sacrifice, a sense of shared burden, is the hallmark of a great society.

Anxiety, panic and fear are soul killers diminishing our ability to function much less contribute our talents and labor for the greater good.

We are better than our fears, so we can ride out this present storm with hope for tomorrow because tomorrow will surely come. In the meantime, stay calm and stop hoarding.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Cautious vigilance is the order of the day, this too will pass

Bill Britt

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Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a worldwide pandemic. It is now in Alabama.

There is no reason to panic, but fear and anxiety are driving many to horde everything from toilet paper to Ibuprofen, leaving bare shelves from Walmart to the local pharmacy.

Cautious vigilance is more the order of the day than panic.

 

Worldwide, there are a reported 173,029 coronavirus cases, with 6,663 deaths and 77,783 recoveries, according to Worldometer.info, which track data from around the globe.

Of the 88,583 active cases, 82,646 (93 percent) of patients are listed as having a mild condition, 5,937, or 7 percent, are serious or critical.

Disruption to daily life is already here with school closings, event cancellations and self-quarantine among the measures being employed to stop the spread of COVID-19. But these actions are preventative measures, not a sign of horrors to come.

“Fear of the unknown may be a, or possibly the, fundamental fear,” said R.N. Carleton as noted in Into the Unknown: a review and synthesis of contemporary models involving uncertainty.

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Humans don’t respond well to unknowns, and we want to do something to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

But what to do when faced with such looming uncertainty?

Hand washing, social distancing and other precautions don’t seem nearly adequate to the potential hazards, but they are the best health professionals have to offer at this time.

While the media to some may be seen as over-hyping events, it is the media’s job to inform, educate and yes, alert the public in a time of crisis. In uncertain times, clear and accurate information is vital to public safety.

One of the reasons Alabama is seeing a panic-surge is because, for weeks, the state appeared on maps showing no cases of COVID-19. It took more than a week for the state’s health officials to say the virus was here, just undetected.

Understandably, these health officials were waiting for confirmation, but even the most basic scientific reasoning would have assumed that the virus was already present in Alabama, despite maps.

A kind of magical thinking prevailed at the national level of the government, leaving some skeptical that the emergency was real. A positive outlook is good for the soul, but hard facts allow a sober mind to make rational decisions.

Last week, the federal government and Alabama made the right choice in declaring a state of emergency freeing up much need funds and resources while finally admitting the seriousness of the situation.

“Alabamians should not be fearful, but instead, use commonsense to watch out for themselves and others,” said Gov. Kay Ivey when announcing the state of emergency. “We will remain engaged on the matter and continue prioritizing the health and wellbeing of all Alabamians.”

For many, fear has taken control, but over time, perhaps commonsense will prevail.

Currently, a herd mentality is ruling many people’s behavior as store shelves are stripped bare of essentials. There is no reason to stockpile goods in vast quantities but it is a natural response when there is a fear of the unknown. Is it irrational? Yes. Is it unusual? No. The desire to protect one’s self is hardwired while deliberate and proportional actions take discipline.

The number of infected Alabamians is likely to grow exponentially over the next few weeks, so it is essential to stay informed but not to succumb to hysteria.

On social media and other outlets, there is a promulgation of misinformation, disinformation and propaganda. The best places for accurate information is the CDC or ADPH websites.

For a time, there will be rampant uncertainty. Look at facts and stay informed.

While self-preservation is a primal emotion, it is also important to remember we are all in this together. Even in a time of social distancing, we are stronger together than alone.

We are the offspring of those who have survived much worse and lived to build upon the crises that challenged them to offer a better world to future generations.

This present dilemma will pass also.

Here at APR, we will continue our expansive coverage of COVID-19 as well as the state government’s actions. We are also providing an interactive map tracking the confirmed cases located in Alabama.

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