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Joey Kennedy

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?

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.

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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.

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 | With reckless abandon

Joey Kennedy

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This is Thursday. Since Sunday, we’ve had more than 1,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in Alabama. Let that number sink in. Some of those 1,000-plus new cases will end in death or permanent damage. Our caseloads are going up. They’re not on a plateau. They are increasing, by more than 1,000 in four days.

Open up!

As I travel to the undisclosed location on UAB’s campus where I work on my upcoming classes, write recommendation letters, and prepare for school in the fall, I’m seeing more and more people on the streets. I don’t think I have ever seen as many people out walking their dogs or just walking, period. When I visit my corner convenience store to buy a bottle of wine or an emergency bag of dog food, I don my mask and disposable gloves. Yet, even though the store’s owners are responsible, requiring social distancing and masks, about half the people I see in the store don’t wear masks. I get in and out quickly, throw my gloves in the garbage can outside and sanitize my hands and car surfaces.

As I was driving around working on this story, fewer than half the people I see on the street or entering big-box stores like Wal-Mart or grocery stores, are bothering to wear masks.

Is it simply cabin fever leading desperate people out onto the streets without protective gear during a world pandemic? Have we just decided that more deaths are worth it to restart the economy? We’re getting close to 100,000 people killed since February across the country.

The feeble response to the pandemic in Washington, D.C., has caused many unnecessary deaths. This is the legacy of the Trump administration: A wrecked economy, and, before it’s over, hundreds of thousands of wrecked families.

I remember Ronald Reagan speaking to the nation after the Challenger explosion, Bill Clinton’s response after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, George W. Bush’s empathy after 9/11, Barack Obama’s grief after mass shootings at Sandy Hook in Connecticut and at a church in Charleston, S.C.

Donald Trump lacks any empathy whatsoever. Mostly, he tries to redirect blame to anybody but his administration. Truman’s “the buck stops here” has no place in the Trump White House. Maybe “nothing stops here” would be more suited. Trump is so petty that even during a deadly pandemic, he refuses to schedule the long tradition of unveiling his predecessor’s White House portrait. (Nothing gets under Trump’s orange skin more than a black-skinned man who is far more popular with people in this country than Trump will ever be.)

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Parts of all 50 states are reopening; at one point, it seemed Gov. Kay Ivey was taking it slow, but apparently no longer. People are gathering right here in Birmingham and in Alabama, violating social distancing and mask requirements because apparently they don’t care.

In too many ways, it appears Trump’s pathological narcissism is a novel coronavirus, too, infecting many Americans with anger, hate, and reckless abandon. They swallowed the bleach, so to speak.

That, too, will be this awful man’s legacy.

Make America great again? What a joke. It’ll take a Democrat to do that. Again.


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

 

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Opinion | Hey y’all! Watch this!

Joey Kennedy

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My friend who is a server in one of our favorite Birmingham restaurants is afraid. She worries that as restaurants begin allowing customers back inside, she’ll come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. That’s not only possible, but likely, she said.

“My customers come for curbside service,” she said. “I know the kind of people who are going to eat inside. The kind who don’t care.”

And in this pandemic, not caring means possible death. Nobody comes back from that.

It’s too early to open this much, this fast. I recently read that Alabama is already one of the most open states in the country. There are rules, but there have been rules requiring masks outside of the home or vehicle for weeks, and I see people walking around and socializing without masks all the time.

Alabama’s novel coronavirus caseload continues to rise. As of this writing (May 13, 12:30 p.m.), Alabama is reporting nearly 10,500 cases and 402 deaths. Our first reported case was just 62 days ago.

Because “elective” procedures in hospitals were suspended as hospitals prepared for the COVID-19 crush, an important heart procedure for my wife was postponed from early April to last week. But to have the procedure, she needed to be tested for the virus.

My wife has a number of health conditions that would put her at high risk if she contracted the disease. Her irregular heartbeat is one of them. But to keep her and those giving her the procedure as safe as possible, a test was mandatory.

The test was a drive-by, and the entire ordeal felt dystopian. We drove to the testing site in Birmingham, near Southern Research, all the while listening to a kind-of-creepy, repeated, recorded message on our radio. We were told not to lower our windows. Not to talk to the workers. At one station in the testing field, we called a phone number a health care worker held up on a sign so that my wife could be screened. She put her ID between the passenger window glass and door seal so the worker could see it. A plastic bag to contain her sterile swab was placed under the right-side wiper. The radio voice continued to tell us not to talk to the workers or open our windows. The workers know you thankful, the voice said. In English and in Spanish. A big “S”, some kind of code, was written on the windshield (we assumed it signaled Veronica was there because she was going to have a “surgery,” but we don’t know; we were told not to talk to the workers!). As we entered the right side of a two-lane testing line, I noticed a big white truck up ahead with two Trump bumper stickers. “Make America Great Again.” Is this America being great? I am really tired of “winning.” We pulled up to the tester, where we were told to turn off the air-conditioning and finally roll down the passenger window. You’re going to experience about five seconds of discomfort, the tester said. My wife pulled her mask down, the swab entered her nose, clearly making her uncomfortable. The sample was taken, placed in our windshield baggie, sealed, and tossed into a cooler. The worker – doctor, nurse, somebody – was fully shielded and dressed in lots of PPE. Everybody at the site was. As unsettling as the process could be, it was very efficient, and the workers we weren’t supposed to talk with, were kind, as gentle as possible, and mostly smiling. We thanked them anyway.

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As we exited the parking lot, a gentleman placed a rolled-up flyer in the car door’s handle. “Don’t get it until you’re completely out of the lot. That was a sheet telling us we were presumed to have COVID-19, so stay home until we get the test results.

Those came the next day; Veronica is negative.

Her procedure went forward last Wednesday. It included a shock to the heart – what’s known as electrical cardioversion – to bring her heart back into rhythm. It has been a complete success, thus far; Veronica’s heart is in regular rhythm, her blood pressure is down, and she’s at about 55 to 60 beats per minute. She says she feels better, and she acts like she does.

But she won’t if some fool who doesn’t believe in social distancing or in wearing a mask infects her. It could very well kill her.

So for now, in these early days, we’ll let the courageously foolish dine in, go to the salon, have their nails done, and get in that workout. We’ll continue using Shipt for groceries and DoorDash for dinner, and the no-contact curbside pickup at Target. And we’ll wear our masks. I’ll run the errands; Veronica can stay inside.

Be careful out there. Don’t be foolish. It’s one thing to put yourself in danger; it’s criminal to willingly do it to somebody else because you are simply impatient or needy or greedy. Or, more likely, stupid. “Hey y’all! Watch this!”

The economy will come back. It will. But no telling how many hundreds (or, eventually, thousands) of Alabamians won’t. That’s how death works.

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

 

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Opinion | A senate full of morons

Joey Kennedy

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The Alabama Senate should just go home. The Legislature was supposed to gather again simply to pass the budgets. But, as my colleague Josh Moon notably pointed out, senators are up to no good.

And no good is SOP for the Alabama Legislature, but senators are hoping to kick that up a few notches.

Alabama generally has a weak executive, as laid out in the state Constitution. Our governor has as much power as her personality can generate. Gov. Kay Ivey has pretty good clout, based on that; she’s one of the most popular governors in the nation. But when it comes to emergency powers, the governor indeed has some real clout, and we’re in an emergency.

Ivey is apparently wielding her emergency powers too strongly to the chagrin of a couple of dozen senators, so they want to countermand her authority. Ivey, see, listens to the scientists and health experts. Imagine that!

That’s why her reopening Alabama’s economy is moving slowly. The underlying statistics during the COVID-19 pandemic don’t support a wide reopening, and in fact what little has opened is already reflecting in higher cases of the sickness in Alabama. We’re all the way back to early April statistics again. That’s not good. But that’s the fact.

Certain senators are trying to remind Ivey that they are Republicans. Republicans don’t listen to health experts and scientists, they’re saying. Just look at Washington, D.C., or next door at Georgia, where Republicans rule and where business openings are being encouraged even as caseloads and deaths rise.

When it comes to reopening the economy, Alabama senators are just fine risking your life for their dollars. Hell, they’ll even make it so that a business won’t be legally liable for their own mistakes if they get a few people sick and killed here and there. These senators, men like Tom Whatley of Auburn, and Will Barfoot of Montgomery, and Jim McClendon of Springville, along with others, don’t care a whit about the worker-bees’ health and welfare.

Yet, so far Ivey is hanging tough, and good for her.

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The reality is that the Senate may have a hard time changing the rules during the pandemic. The House wants to pass the budgets and get out of town. That’s all that’s on the House agenda, and let’s hope it stays that way. The Senate can’t change the law by itself. The House has to go along, and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, a Republican from Monrovia, is determined only to pass the budgets and a few local bills.

The House Rules Committee sets the special order calendars, and Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said the Rules Committee would be unlikely to meet again. The only statewide matters on the calendars are the education and general fund budgets, with no proration.

Ivey needs to stay focused and stand her ground. She should go against party policy and actually keep listening to the experts here. We cannot allow hundreds of unnecessary deaths to become Alabama’s new normal.

Meanwhile, those senators who are unafraid for themselves and are willing to sacrifice you and me should go on a little fact-finding mission. I suggest they tour that poultry processing plant in Albertville. You know, the one where a lot of people got sick with COVID-19 because the plant didn’t provide the right protection for its employees.

I’m sure with all of their clout, the senators will be able to set up a visit there in no time. Take a bus. And, Senators, no need to demean yourselves by wearing face masks or gloves, either. You don’t want to look like wusses! Have fun. Albertville is a nice city.


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

 

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Opinion | Conversations with my brain

Joey Kennedy

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I’ve been spending many hours a day grading college papers. Final grades are due Monday, and I’ve still got a pile to plow through.

All of my “tests” are essays. So I’ve got to read them closely. It can take 15 minutes to a half-hour on one paper. The manual labor of teaching. If I don’t take a break every five papers or so, my brain turns into mush. I’ll be three-quarters of the way through a paper, and not remember what I’ve read. Or maybe it’s just a bad paper.

When I take a break, though, my brain says thanks, and then talks to me. Grading is a lonely endeavor, and I’m grading at an undisclosed location on the UAB campus that’s practically abandoned. I’ve been listening to my brain, though, and it’s coming up with some compelling stuff.

My brain told me that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey was taking it slow reopening Alabama’s economy. She’s doing it through a reasoned, step-by-step plan. Not like Florida or Georgia or Tennessee or Mississippi, which have basically thrown the doors open. My brain whispers: People will die, and more than should have to. In Alabama, even as the governor takes measured steps, people will die, too, and more than should have to. But Ivey wants to watch what happens up there and over there and back there before going forward. She is listening to the experts — still. And to my brain, it feels right, if completely unexpected. Go, Guv!

My brain thought it heard that Vice President Mike Pence visited Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, but he didn’t wear a face mask. Everybody else in the room was wearing a mask, and visitors, patients, doctors, nurses, support staff – everybody who entersthe Mayo Clinic – are required to wear face masks. Not Pence, in a show of such arrogance that underscores his role as Donald Trump’s second. Trump doesn’t wear a mask, either. My brain signaled that Pence is an idiot, because Pence said he wasn’t wearing a mask because he liked to look people in the eyes when he spoke to them. My brain told me that if Pence is covering his eyes with a mask, he’s wearing it wrong. The nose and mouth should be covered, and to my brain’s best ability, there are no eyes in there.

My brain said it learned that Donald Trump suggested maybe household cleaners – Lysol, Clorox, Mr. Clean – could be injected in COVID-19 patients because bleaches and cleaners kill the virus in less than a minute. But there’s a bad side effect: It can kill the patient, too. At least the person won’t die from the coronavirus. Death will be by bleach poisoning. My brain thinks something is wrong with Trump’s brain and insists on social distancing, even when Trump is on TV.

During a break on Wednesday, my brain wanted to know why my wife got her $1,200 stimulus deposit, but I didn’t get mine? We file joint tax returns. Our taxes get there at the same time. I had to convince my brain that my wife and I did not get a divorce, but I’m checking the paperwork when I get home just the same.

It’s only April 30, 2020, and my brain is kind of scrambled. Already Trump has been “cleared” in an impeachment “trial” in the U.S. “Senate”; Kobe Bryant, his daughter and others died in a helicopter crash in California; the novel coronavirus spread across the world; that same virus in three months killed more Americans than were killed in nearly two decades of the Vietnam War; the United States has fully one-third of the world’s reported COVID-19 cases; basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, horse racing, soccer, and the Summer Olympics – all sports– are gone; and we may not have a college football season in the fall.

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My brain tells me it might explode.


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

 

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