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Opinion | Beware the Ides of March

Joey Kennedy

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Beware the Ides of March, warned the seer to Julius Caesar, but Caesar didn’t, and the Roman emperor was reportedly assassinated on March 15, 44 BC.

On this Ides of March, there are other warnings going out, not for a literal assassination but, perhaps, massive political consequences. Politicians on all levels – federal, state, and local – need to be paying close attention, because voters, and especially young voters, look to be mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.

They’ll let their voices be heard this fall in the midterm elections, so the seer might warn the Caesar-like politicians to beware the 6th of November as well.

At some point, more Americans are bound to wonder exactly what President Donald Trump owes the Russians. Or what the Russians have on him.

There must be something.

The president refuses to slap sanctions on Russia, despite near-unanimous approval of those sanctions in a bipartisan vote by Congress. The president is quick to criticize specific Democrats and even members of his own administration (AG Jeff Sessions is “beleaguered”), but has yet to call out Russian President Vladmir Putin on anything, whether it’s cyberattacking the United States, running a simulation that has Russian nuclear weapons targeting Florida, or assassinating his critics with a deadly nerve agent in the United Kingdom.

And most Republicans appear to be standing behind their “beleaguered” president. Together they stand, united they fall?

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Perhaps the most serious warning politicos would be astute to observe, or at least understand, is the hornet’s nest stirred up after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Wednesday marked one month since the shootings, a month, generally of little or no activity on the part of Congress or state legislatures to do something about the violent gun culture we live in today.

The United States is an anomaly on this issue. The politicians try to limit the causes to mental health or violent video games and movies.

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There are mentally ill people across the world. Kids across the globe play violent video games and watch violent movies.

We live in the only nation that has such a high rate of violent gun deaths, either one-on-one on a daily basis or the much too often mass killings like the one a month ago in Parkland, Fla.

It’s not even close, and the major difference between us and them: We have more than 300 million guns, many of them easily converted to fully automatic, out there, and practically unregulated.

Young people across the country aren’t being quiet this time. They’ve taken up the challenge to either change the current politicians’ mind-set toward sensible gun restrictions, or to warn them (Beware the Ides of March) that they won’t be around for long if they don’t do something more than simply bowing to the thugs who lead the National Rifle Association.

On Wednesday, students across the United States, commemorating the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shootings, walked out of their classes for 17 minutes – a minute for each of the victims killed in the spree.

Many students in Alabama walked out, too, with the blessings of their school officials. Other administrators didn’t allow students to leave their classrooms. Some students walked out, anyway, risking discipline for doing so.

Gov. Kay Ivey, in her typical proclivity to double-speak, said the students were “noble,” but shouldn’t walk out of their classrooms.

“We need our children in school to learn so they can advance their own careers,” Ivey said.

They’re learning, Governor. And they’re teaching, too. The adults better be listening to this lesson, because many of these students are going to be voting in November and certainly after. Don’t take them for granted.

It was Ivey, remember, who said she had no reason to doubt the sexual abuse accusers of former Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, then declared she’d vote for Moore because he is a Republican.

Do not ignore these young activists. Hear them, and respond to their pleas to be allowed to live in peace in their schools.

And that doesn’t mean arming teachers, either.

So the Ides of March is upon us. It’s a good time to heed warnings. Or, like Caesar, be ready to pay the consequences.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Facts are stubborn things

Joey Kennedy

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I’m in my 20th year of teaching in the English Department at UAB. I’ve never taught my primary discipline, journalism, and I really don’t have much of a desire to, either.

Yet, in 2017, the leadership of UAB’s University Honors Program asked me to be a part of their interdisciplinary faculty for the fall. UHP’s fall semesters are themed, and that year, the first year of Donald Trump’s term as president, the theme was appropriate: “Evidence and Belief in a Post-Truth Society.” For UHP, I was a “communications” (journalism) professor. I taught with a scientist and public health professor, a religion professor, a philosophy professor, a literature professor and a psychology professor.

The students in this program – all 100-plus of them – are among the smartest students on campus. Needless to say, I was intimidated. For my first lecture before the students, I took a Xanax (it’s prescribed because I do have anxiety sometimes). The Xanax didn’t make me lecture better, but it made me not really care if I screwed up.

I’m sort of a one-trick pony – I teach and write in the only language I know: English. Here, you had neuroscience and biology and chemistry majors galore. And, yes, there were a few English and history and business and engineering students, too. Pretty much every discipline taught at UAB is represented in UHP, and certainly in its umbrella school, the UAB Honors College.

That fall went by quickly. I only took the Xanax for the first lecture. I settled into my groove pretty quickly. But when it was over, I ached for the continued intellectual stimulation I received as a teacher. I’m a lifetime learner, and that program taught me a lot. And I got to teach others a lot, too.

I thought it was a one-shot deal. Until, that is, the program’s director, Dr. Michael Sloane, asked me to return in the fall of 2018 to direct the first-year students’ literary analyses. And that fall, I was also asked to propose a UHP seminar class for the spring of 2020. I returned last fall to once again direct the first-year literary analysis. And I’ve been asked to return for first-year LAs again this coming fall.

This semester, I’m teaching the class I proposed, “Media and Social Justice.” And I’ve already got another self-created UHP seminar class scheduled for next spring, “Media and War: Men and Women Making a Difference on the Front Lines.”

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Unlike my composition and literature classes in the English Department, these seminars have no template. I have to create the teaching as I go. Some days, I’m very confident; others not so much.

I divided the “Media and Social Justice” class into six two-week units: Nellie Bly (mental illness and investigative journalism), The Jungle (food safety and immigration), Jim Crow Lives (the civil rights era and voter suppression), #MeToo (sexual assault and harassment), Black Lives Matters (police and other shootings of people of color), and March for Our Lives (gun violence and sensible gun regulation).

These classes are limited to 16 honors students, but 19 students wanted in my “Media and Social Justice” class, so I have 19 students.

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I teach these classes as a communications professor, not an English professor. I direct the literary analyses as a literature professor, not a communications professor.

We’re covering historical topics, for sure, but also contemporary topics. It doesn’t get any more current than Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, voter suppression, or March for Our Lives.

We don’t just talk about the journalism around these topics, but also about other media. For example, I find protest songs for each topic. While it’s not on our plate, did you know Trump has inspired a whole catalog of protest songs? Most every president inspires protest songs, though Trump has inspired an awful lot of them.

Maybe at some point, I’ll create a “Media and Donald J. Trump” class. There is plenty of material.

The point, though, is that we all should be lifelong learners. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from by English students and my honors students, how much the English faculty has taught me, and how much the faculty and directors of the University Honors Program have taught me.

That I get to return the favor by teaching these unique classes says a lot about UAB, and how it values critical thinking and learning.

I hope I never lose my enthusiasm for learning, or become too stubborn to change when the facts point toward another direction. That is our responsibility to the truth. I guess I am stubborn in one way: There are no alternative facts. Facts are truth, reality. The alternative is false, untruth, lies.

Readers, that’s a fact, and like me sometimes, facts are stubborn.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected].

 

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Opinion | Doug Jones: On the right side of history

Joey Kennedy

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As expected, most Republicans in the U.S. Senate found Donald Trump not guilty of two articles of impeachment. On the first charge, abuse of power, the vote was 52-48 not guilty. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney broke with his party on that one.

The second charge, obstruction of Congress, Romney went back home so it was a straight party-line vote, 53-47.

If anything, the evidence was strongest on the obstruction of Congress count. Trump blocked witnesses and refused to turn over documents despite legal subpoenas from the U.S. House of Representatives. So Trump is absolutely guilty, in fact, if not in process, for obstruction.

He’s guilty, too, of the abusing his power, though the mess with Ukraine isn’t the first time. Trump began abusing the power of the president’s office practically on his first day.

This was no surprise, though. The Republican Party has forever been co-opted. It’s been the party of Trump for awhile, the Republicans generally scared to death to face Trump’s vengeful wrath. As Trump showed in the State of the Union Tuesday night, he’s a petty, petty, small-minded person. And, no, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi should not have ripped his speech in half at the end of the night for all to see. That was as petty as Trump refusing to shake Pelosi’s hand as he took the podium.

From here, it’s a great mistake for Democrats and other Trump opponents to mimic the contemptible president.

But this fact stands: Trump is forever impeached. And the cowardly Republicans in the House and Senate who let him off the hook will be forever on the wrong side of history.

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To his credit, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Birmingham, did his duty and followed his oath. The former U.S. attorney, who successfully prosecuted a bomber of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church where four little girls were murdered, knows the law and followed through as he vowed to do: weigh the evidence and decide based on the facts. Jones found Trump guilty on both impeachment resolutions.

Our other senator, Richard Shelby, R-Birmingham, followed the Stepford Republicans and voted not guilty.

More than a few Republicans who voted not guilty Wednesday for Trump had voted guilty during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, including the two-faced Shelby.

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Everybody’s calling the forever impeachment of Trump simply a partisan exercise. And it was. But it was the right thing to do, too.

Even though there were a few Republican senators who voted to acquit Clinton, that was a highly partisan affair, too. And the U.S. Senate in 1999 was much different than the U.S. Senate of today.

During those days, there were actually progressive and moderate Republicans in the Senate. Today, there are only Trump Republicans, with the exception of a few pretenders who, even so, are always scared to death to defy him.

No doubt Alabama Republicans are pleased with the result. There are fewer states with more enthusiasm for the narcissistic Trump than Alabama. Yet Doug Jones, who is facing a tough re-election bid this year, voted to convict the president, as he should have and regardless of his re-election..

It was absolutely the right call if Jones was going to fulfill his oath. Then, Jones always fulfills his oath.

“On the day I was sworn in as a United States Senator, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. Just last month, at the beginning of the impeachment trial, I took a second oath to do ‘impartial justice’ according to the same Constitution I swore to protect,” Jones explained in a prepared statement announcing his decision before the Senate vote on the unstable president’s fate Wednesday afternoon. “These solemn oaths have been my guides during what has been a difficult time for our country. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”

And then, said Jones: “I have concluded that the evidence is more than sufficient to convict the President for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.”

Complete and unmitigated integrity, unlike Trump himself, the Trump party, and the Trump toadies that make up our government now.

My hope is that the House continues to investigate the many Trump crimes. And now that he’s been given a free pass by the Senate Republicans, he’ll surely keep it up.

My hope is that Democrats, independents, and others not sucked in by Trump’s twisted populism keep his awful record in front of voters. The demographics of our nation and, yes, even Alabama, are changing, and the swing is toward more intelligent voters who embrace progressive ideas. The change is slower here, but it’s happening, and there’s nothing the Angry White Men can do about it.

The Trump Republicans have irrevocably damaged their causes, but that’s OK because their causes are rotten to the core.

Trump, meanwhile, will continue to find himself in trouble. At least until he’s out of office next January.

Whatever happens in Alabama with Sen. Jones’ re-election effort, he will be forever on the right side of history, and his demonstrated integrity will long outlive however many years he serves in the U.S. Senate.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | More help on the way for Doug Jones

Joey Kennedy

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O.K. So, many of the voters I talk with believe that U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, stands little chance of being re-elected this year to his seat.

Former Sen. Jeff Sessions or U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne or the former Auburn football coach or the twice-ousted chief justice who at one time stalked teenaged girls or one of the others will win.

Why? Simply because they are the Republicans.

But Jones has already shown that thinking to be mistaken. He did, after all, win the seat a couple years ago, against a popular Republican, the man who at one time stalked teenaged girls. That one.

Nobody is saying Jones will win big, or that it’ll be an easy campaign.

Yet, he can win. And as APR’s Jessa Reid Bolling reported Thursday, Jones may get some important help.

The Progressive Turnout Project (PTP) is focusing on Democratic Party voters in 16 states with a six-month canvassing programs intended to increase voter turnout among Democrats.

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Don’t underestimate such efforts on behalf of Jones. Bolling reports the group is spending $45 million in get-out-the-vote efforts in states where certain races are predicted to be close.

The canvassing program begins in May, and will focus on “low propensity, low information Democratic voters who the party has struggled to reach in key swing states ahead of the 2020 election.”

Jones won before with a big push from African-American voters and, specifically, African-American women voters. Combine those voters with an all-out effort to turn out even more Democrats for this fall, and Jones’ chances are certainly better.

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A majority of the uninvolved Democrats PTP is targeting are African-Americans, but there is also a push for younger voters and women.

PTP is using science to help decide which voters’ doors to target, and with PTP’s in-depth, canvass-focused approach, including a field office in Birmingham, they will employ eight staff to knock on 85,800 doors and engage with those low propensity and low information voters in Alabama from May until Election Day, Bolling reports.

And why not vote for Jones over one of the Republicans? The state Republican Party is bending over backward defending Donald Trump over charges of corruption. Clearly Trump has crossed just about every line of honesty and decency of any president in, perhaps, the history of the country. He’s told more than 16,000 lies or misinformation, as tracked by the mainstream media, during his three years in office.

Windmills cause cancer? Millions of voters cast illegal votes in the 2016 election? Puerto Rico is “an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water”? OK, that’s true, but what an odd, low-information way to say it.

Too, Sessions has a lot of baggage. He was fired by Trump as U.S. Attorney General, though he refuses to say anything critical of the president even now, as Trump is being impeached. Instead, like every other Alabama Republican running for office, Sessions prefers to suck up to him. Byrne is seen by many voters as little more than a Trump toady. Indeed, the entire Republican field is toadying up to Trump.

Sessions was in the Senate for 20 very long years; Jones, in two years, has more accomplishments as an Alabama U.S. Senator than Sessions had in two decades.

Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn coach, was moderately successful on the football field, but the political field is completely different. Jones needs no learning curve.

And Roy Moore, the teen-stalking former chief justice, has become basically a parody of himself.

So with a concerted effort, and we’re going to see that from Jones this year, the incumbent does have a real chance. The Progressive Turnout Project’s efforts give Jones a fighting chance.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Opinion | An optimist, or just naïve?

Joey Kennedy

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Give U.S. Sen. Doug Jones credit. He isn’t pandering for Alabama votes, and that’s just another reason to respect this public servant.

I was stunned, but then not stunned, to see that Jones, a Democrat from Birmingham, is only polling at 41 percent approval. Alabama is, after all, solidly for Donald Trump, a now-impeached president.

So the political move for Jones would have been to vote for the majority Republican Senate rules on Trump’s impeachment.

Instead, Jones did the right thing and voted against the rules, mainly because they simply are sanctioning a coverup and a sham trial in the Senate.

No question that Trump should be removed from office. He’s an awful human being. He cares about one person: himself. He’s using his office to enrich himself, and pressuring other countries to interfere in this year’s election. Trump is trying to set himself up as some sort of powerful oligarch because, after all, his idols are Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al Saud, and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un. They are all despots who rule their countries harshly, and none is above murdering opponents, journalists, and others.

Despite Trump not being fit for office, the great majority of Alabama voters love him. Trump identifies with many of Alabama’s legacy disorders: Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia. Trump tacitly gives permission to display such behavior in public.

So the political move for Jones was to vote with Republicans on the terrible impeachment rules. Instead, Jones voted against the rules, which don’t require evidence being withheld by Trump to be produced or even calling witnesses like happens in a real trial.

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What too many Alabama voters see in Jones, however, is the D his first name starts with. Jones is a Democrat who defeated disgraced former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a special election in 2017.

Republicans, in large part, vote straight tickets because they’re too lazy to learn about all the candidates on the ballot. They just dismiss Jones out of hand because he is a Democrat.

They want to paint Jones as some leftist legislator even further in the margins than Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

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That simply is not true. Jones is a true, moderate Democrat. He has represented Alabama well and with dignity. Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions can’t say that. Sessions, who Trump fired as U.S. attorney general, is now running in the Republican primary March 3 to take his old seat back. He may very well get it because Republicans like nothing better than voting against their interests. And practically every Republican running for the Senate nomination will vote against Alabama citizens’ interests.

They’ll vote to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Jones won’t.

They’ll try to finish what’s left of Obamacare. Jones won’t.

They’ll tell women what they can do with their bodies. Jones won’t.

They’ll pay little heed to education or infrastructure or child welfare. Jones supports all that.

They’ll support Trump’s god-awful and useless border wall. Jones won’t.

The United States already spends more on its military than China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany combined. They’ll keep raising military spending, while starving other important programs. Jones won’t.

But Jones is a Democrat, so that makes him a “socialist,” “communist,” “libtard,” and “baby killer.”

It doesn’t have to be that way in Alabama, but for a decent percent of voters, it is exactly that way. They do not learn from their mistakes, or the state’s mistakes.

Someday the pendulum will swing back, and I hope it happens in 2020. I really do.

Does that make me an optimist, or just naïve?

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter.

 

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