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Josh Moon

Opinion | The Alabama Charter School Commission does not care

Josh Moon

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Last year, the Alabama Charter School Commission gave approval to a Washington County charter school known as Woodland Prep.

It gave that approval despite the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which was contracted by the Alabama State Department of Education to review charter school applications, writing in its review of Woodland that the school’s operational plan and building plans were suspect and raising concerns about the number of students it might draw. The NACSA had specific concerns about the lack of a building, lack of community support and about a for-profit management company from out of state that was charging high rates.

The Commission gave the NACSA report a collective “pfft,” and green lit the school.

Well, on Friday, just two months before that school was scheduled to open, Woodland Prep was back in front of the Commission, this time asking for a year-long extension.

And you’ll never guess why.

Because the building still isn’t built. The community still hates the charter school, which has just 50 students enrolled. And the management company, Soner Tarim’s Unity School Services, still hasn’t managed to hire any staff for the school. (It had a principal but she quit.)

During the lengthy Commission meeting, chairman Mac Buttram took great care to walk Tarim and other Woodland reps through the many delays, problems and general screw-ups that have delayed the opening of Woodland to such a degree that there currently is not one brick of a school building in place.

It was bullying, they said.

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That simple.

Certain people in Washington County were so against the charter school that they had bullied the other people in Washington County. Contractors wouldn’t build. Teachers wouldn’t apply. Students wouldn’t register.

Out of fear.

It was … ridiculous.

Yes, people hate the Woodland charter school in Washington County. And yes, they have been very vocal about their disdain for a school that will suck millions of dollars from a good local school system that is already massively underfunded.

But, um, that’s not “bullying.” That’s called the majority of teachers, parents and interested parties in that county standing up for the school system they believe in.

And it’s also a clear indication that the community does NOT support this charter school — a requirement under the charter school law.

The fact is every warning that the NACSA gave about Woodland and its sketchy application has proven accurate.

But, of course, that didn’t matter to the Charter School Commission. It again approved Woodland Prep, giving it a one-year extension to open its doors.

The Commission gave that extension despite Woodland’s team, led by Soner Tarim, admitting that fewer than 50 students were enrolled, there is no building, there is no staff and there is no commitment from locals to fund the school.

In the meeting, with Buttram lobbing softball questions at Tarim, the Woodland reps claimed that students wanted to enroll, but that the “bullying” was preventing many people from registering. Same with donations. Same with contractors. Same with every problem.

There was also racism, they said, because Tarim’s very real and well documents connections to the Gulen Movement have been documented in state media, and some people were making anti-Muslim comments. That racism appeared to be contained solely within one newspaper letter to the editor and social media posts, mostly from anonymous users.

But while a little racism is still way too much racism, there’s zero evidence that Tarim’s religion played any role in any of the organized groups who are protesting this charter.

Instead, they seem to be motivated by reason and common sense: Their schools are good, and they don’t want money sucked out of them to pay for a needless charter that seems wholly unprepared to build, open or operate a school.

If only the Charter Commission cared.

 

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Opinion | Alabama Republicans can’t manage the crisis they helped create

Josh Moon

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On Tuesday, Alabama’s governor called together the state’s media, in the midst of a global pandemic, so they could broadcast pictures of her tying a ribbon around a post to remind people to pray for healthcare workers. 

Surrounding Gov. Kay Ivey at the event were various pastors from churches in and around Montgomery. And they each were given time to speak about the importance of prayer and remembering those who are risking their lives. 

It was a nice gesture. And possibly the clearest indication yet that Ivey and the Republicans that are in charge of Alabama haven’t the faintest idea of how to lead this state through a crisis. 

They have no real plan. They have no ideas for how to address the mounting problems. They have been completely and thoroughly overwhelmed by the COVID-19 outbreak since the start. 

And so, they have turned to what they know best: Pointless pandering. 

Except, you can’t folksy your way out of this mess. You can’t blame the black folks and throw money at a few jobs and hope no one notices that you don’t know what you’re doing. 

And that’s a problem in this state. 

Because the ALGOP leadership of this state has built its brand on division and distraction. It has used petty nonsense, like the protection of racist monuments, and emotional ploys, mostly built around religion and false claims about abortions, to seize and maintain control of Alabama’s government, even as they totally wreck the place. 

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They’ve gotten away with it because up until now no singular event has simultaneously exposed how their incompetence has negatively affected the lives of so many Alabamians in almost every racial and economic demographic. 

And then along came coronavirus. 

It has laid bare all of it. And the devastating reality of this void of leadership continues to grow day after day as the bodies pile up. 

Now, just so we’re clear and so no half-wit starts clamoring on that I’m blaming the ALGOP leadership for the coronavirus, I’m most certainly not doing that. I’m blaming ALGOP’s lack of leadership for the excessive number of deaths that will occur in this state, and for the many thousands of lives that will be forever ruined by the hospital bills that result from this. 

And make no mistake, there is blood on their hands. 

The refusal to expand Medicaid alone has effects that will eventually negatively impact every single person in this state. That purely political decision that makes no practical sense if politics is removed has already cost thousands of lives around Alabama over the last six years. The devastation from the current crisis is going to be staggering. 

Not only are uninsured people who contract coronavirus less likely to go for testing or to seek treatment until the latter stages of the disease (meaning they’ll spread it far and wide), a good portion of people are responding more negatively to the virus because they have underlying conditions that have gone undetected and untreated for years. Because people without insurance don’t go to the doctor.  

Even if the virus doesn’t kill them, many of those uninsured citizens in Alabama will face unmanageable medical bills. A study from the independent nonprofit FAIR Health found that the average cost to treat coronavirus for an uninsured person was around $75,000. If a ventilator is required, the bill jumps to more than $200,000. 

And with a fresh crop of unemployed Alabamians — more than 200,000 claims filed as of Monday — that’s a whole mess of people who are suddenly missing insurance and the ability to pay their hospital bills. 

Which, of course, means that more Alabama hospitals will close. There have already been 14 closures over the past eight years, and there are at least three more small hospitals teetering on the brink of bankruptcy right now. By the time this is said and done, the only cities that will have hospitals will be Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile. And a few of those aren’t looking so great. 

And not having a hospital within 30 miles is an issue that affects everyone — not just poor people. 

The news is even worse for black Alabamians — a phrase that black Alabamians know too well. More than half the state’s deaths from coronavirus have been black people. A staggering figure when you consider that only 27 percent of Alabama’s population is black. 

The reason for this, Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of the UAB School of Medicine, suggested is that the African American population in Alabama — high in poverty and low in insurance coverage — is possibly more susceptible to the virus due to underlying medical conditions that have gone untreated due to a lack of routine and preventative visits to a doctor. 

After all, you don’t go to the doctor very much if you don’t have insurance. 

And you don’t have insurance in Alabama if you don’t receive it from a job. 

And you don’t have a job with great benefits, including health insurance, if you live in a predominantly black county in Alabama. 

And you don’t have a job with those benefits in those counties because the state of Alabama has done a suspiciously poor job of using incentive dollars to steer relocating companies to those counties. 

So, you see, the mismanagement goes well beyond simply not expanding Medicaid. And that is true even when focusing only on this current crisis. 

From the mixed messages of “folks, we’re not California or New York or even Louisiana” to the insistence on protecting businesses over people to the absurd stay-at-home-unless-you-need-to-go-out-for-something order, Ivey’s responses — when she’s popped out every 3-4 days — have been a disaster. 

But to her credit, I guess, at least she’s doing something. The state legislature, where ALGOP enjoys a super-majority, literally did nothing but adjourn as this virus started to spread. 

As the crisis grows, we have also realized that the ALGOP mission to underfund every government agency so they can issue a press release touting the tax “savings” isn’t really paying off so swell. Thanks to those funding cuts, pretty much every department needed in this crisis is understaffed, poorly trained and poorly equipped. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health has been a national laughing stock, despite the best efforts of its employees. They’ve lacked the tools and personnel to adequately do the job for years. And it shows. 

How bad is it? 

Louisiana is lapping us. And we lost sight of Mississippi a long time ago. 

But they’re not the only ones. The Department of Labor can’t keep up with unemployment claims, and its online operation has been down more than it’s been functional over the past several days. And the Revenue Department is again going to delay issuing tax refunds. 

But perhaps the best example of just where we are came on Wednesday, in a story reported by al.com. In 2009, Alabama had a pandemic plan, and it had used federal dollars — in the midst of a national recession, mind you — to stockpile ventilators and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses. We were ready for COVID-19. 

In 2009. 

But in 2010, ALGOP stormed the state house. And, well, here we are.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Amid the coronavirus crisis, don’t forget the good people

Josh Moon

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Late last month, firefighters from Reece City — a small town on the outskirts of Gadsden — started knocking on every door in town, and handing those who answered a free meal. 

Every house got a good meal, purchased from one of Reece City’s restaurants, and the firefighters got a chance to ask everyone how they were doing and see if anyone needed help. Then, a few days later, everyone in town found out that they were getting a $28.20 break on their water bill — that’s the base rate for water service, which meant several town residents received a bill for zero dollars. 

The man behind the ideas for the food giveaway and water breaks, according to the Gadsden Times, which first reported the story, was Mayor Phil Colegrove. He was frustrated with the bickering in Congress over legislation to aid people dealing with COVID-19, and he was worried about his constituents, many of which were recently laid off from the Goodyear plant in nearby Gadsden. 

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Colegrove told the Times. 

That seems to be the prevailing thought behind a whole bunch of recent actions. 

In neighborhoods all around Alabama, there are teddy bears in windows and chalk drawings on driveways offering messages of hope. 

Those with a little spare time and some know-how are sewing face masks for nurses and healthcare workers, and for their friends and family members. My wife’s friend made three for us. Mine has Spiderman on it. My daughter’s has the “Toy Story” characters. 

Various groups have delivered more than 10,000 masks to healthcare workers around Alabama. 

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People are calling local restaurants and paying to have meals delivered to hospitals for the workers. Anonymously. 

In Muscle Shoals, “Operation Drumstick” is providing meals to out-of-work musicians. 

All across Alabama, locally-owned restaurants are partnering with local farmers to offer fresh produce, and in some cases, are even letting the farmers set up and sell their products in the restaurants’ parking lots. The same thing is happening in north Florida. 

In several towns across the state, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies are delivering meals to elderly shut-ins. 

In some towns, people have set up impromptu delivery services for the elderly and those more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

All across the state, anonymous food deliveries are showing up at hospitals and fire stations and police departments and sheriff’s offices. 

Several nurses from Alabama have dropped everything and traveled to New York to help with the country’s most severe — and most heartbreaking — outbreak of coronavirus. Others have traveled to the hardest hit areas of Alabama to lend a hand. 

Local news stations in the state have reported on at least five drive-by birthday parties for kids whose normal parties were cancelled because of the outbreak. And there was a 50-car parade in Foley for the 100th birthday of Charlene Anderson. 

I say all of this because it seems like maybe we all could use a reminder of just how good most people really are. Despite our differences and our preferences, at the end of the day, given the opportunity, most folks in this state — and around the country — will help each other. 

Doesn’t matter about your race. Doesn’t matter where you live. Doesn’t matter which god you worship. Doesn’t matter how you vote. 

And it hasn’t been just individuals, either. 

We can be cynics and look for the self-serving reasons behind them, but there are a whole bunch of major companies out there that have voluntarily gone above and beyond to help their customers. From cell phone carriers to car manufacturers to banks, it seems every company out there has a payment forgiveness program and a variety of other options to make life a tad less stressful during this time. 

I don’t know of a single public service company — gas, water, electricity — in this state that isn’t guaranteeing they won’t turn off service for late payments, and then work with customers in the future on payment plans that are manageable.

The state’s car manufacturers, including Hyundai, Toyota/Mazda and Honda, all guaranteed the pay for workers during recent work-stoppages.  

The Poarch Creek Indians and other casino owners in the state have guaranteed the pay of all salaried workers, even as the casinos sit empty and idle. 

Ashley Home Stores have pledged to provide 10,000 meals, purchased from local restaurants, and given to local community organizations. 

Even the politicians got something done, and a lot of it was directed at people who rarely get noticed in legislation — the working poor. 

The acts of selflessness and sacrifice — and I’m certain I have failed to mention many, many more — have been, if you actually stop and seek them out, overwhelming and reassuring. They bring hope and smiles in a time when both are in short supply. And they run counter to the notion that Americans are either selfish or indifferent to the suffering of their fellow man. 

Maybe no example better illustrates that than GianMarco’s Restaurant in Birmingham. Long considered one of the best restaurants in the state, GianMarco’s popularity hasn’t made it immune to the struggles of coronavirus. 

It has bills like all the other restaurants. It has staff to pay. And a couple of weeks ago, like with every other restaurant out there, the flow of cash basically stopped. 

And yet, earlier this week, GianMarco’s still managed to serve 150 of Birmingham’s homeless community. 

Just for a moment, sit and think about that — the kindness, the compassion, the sacrifice. Just to give another struggling human a few minutes of peace and a decent meal. 

It is very easy right now to get down, to allow the awfulness of this pandemic to overtake you, and to feel trapped by one terrible story after another. 

But it’s worth remembering two things: 1. This will end and life will return to normal at some point, and 2. There are a whole lot of good people out there who make life a little brighter and a little better, even in the worst of times. 

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Opinion | Groupthink voting is now literally killing us

Josh Moon

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I have many friends who can tell you the names of the offensive linemen who started last year for their favorite college football team. And most of them can also tell you who their backups are. 

Very few of these people can name off their state senator, their state representative, the city councilmen or their county commissioners. I’d bet an embarrassing percentage couldn’t tell you who their U.S. senators and congressmen are. 

And today, that disparity in knowledge is killing us. 

As the coronavirus rips through this country, and as it rips through this mostly hospital-less state, it is exposing the absolute buffoons who have been elected to public office. Folks who few of us would allow to walk our dogs are being forced to confront an unprecedented national crisis, and they are failing miserably. 

Nowhere is that more true than in the state of Alabama. 

Where our governor hasn’t taken a live question from media or scared-to-death voters in going on a month now. Where our House leader and Senate president have apparently been sheltering in place in a bunker in the hills. Where the only people with plans and ideas and straight talk are the powerless lieutenant governor and the super-minority party. 

And where we still — STILL! — are left without a shelter-in-place order. 

From one end of this state to the other, the people on the frontlines of this crisis are screaming for help. They’ve been sounding alarms for weeks now, and they’ve caught the attention of no one in state leadership, it seems. 

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If not for this state’s proactive mayors, God only knows what shape we’d be in right now. Behind the scenes, those mayors — Randall Woodfin in Birmingham, Walt Maddox in Tuscaloosa, Steven Reed in Montgomery, Tommy Battle in Huntsville and Sandy Stimpson in Mobile, along with others — have been communicating with each other, bouncing ideas of one another and sharing plans. 

We will never know how many lives they’ve saved by taking proactive measures before their state government did — and in a couple of cases, in defiance of state leaders — but it will be many. 

As for our state leaders, hopefully this catastrophic failure will be a wake-up call for Alabama voters. But I have my doubts. 

And the reason I have my doubts is what I mentioned above — too many people simply don’t place a value on educated voting. 

Don’t get me wrong. These are not dumb people. It’s not that they’re too stupid to understand the issues that affect their lives and select a person who would best represent their interests. They’re absolutely smart enough to do that. 

But they don’t want to. 

They go to work. They take care of their kids and their house. They try to get some exercise in. And then they’d like to watch a ballgame and have a decent time. 

And so, voting — if they vote at all — becomes a group-think exercise in which most of these people just vote like their friends. They follow their lead and vote for the popular candidate, who is only popular for superficial reasons. 

They’re swayed by cheesy pandering using religious issues or guns or racism or some phony patriotism. Simple pitches work best, because they’re not really paying attention anyway. 

That’s why the guy who offers up a detailed explanation for how taking slightly more from you in tax dollars will actually put considerably more money in your pocket on the back side always loses out to the “conservative” who just says, “No new taxes; I’mma let you keep yo money.” 

This dumb pitch works on even people who aren’t dumb simply because they’re not interested enough to appropriately weigh the two arguments. 

The growth of social media has made things worse. Now, in a matter of 15 minutes, the average person in Alabama can scroll through 100 political memes about libtards and MAGA from their friends, and they’re not going to be on the outside of the circle looking in. They want to laugh too. They want to be part of the group. 

But very few are laughing now. 

Because inevitably, what that group-think voting does is remove the requirement that a candidate actually try. That a candidate present an understanding of the complicated issues and then present solutions to solve them. That a candidate demonstrate an ability to think on his/her feet. That a candidate demonstrate any aptitude for problem solving. 

You’ll do things like elect a woman governor who refused to debate any challenger.

When you know you’ve got the election in the bag simply because you’re running for the right party, who needs to try? 

And when you’re voting without demanding that effort — and Alabamians have been doing so for decades now — you’re assuring that incompetent, unprepared, useless politicians are going to be put into positions of power. 

On a good day, those sorts of politicians are a burden on all of us. On really bad days, like we’re experiencing now, they’re basically grim reapers. 

It would be nice if on the other side of this crisis we placed a higher premium on educated voting that produces better, more qualified public officials. 

But given our history, I have my doubts.

 

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Opinion | The “mainstream media” has been right all along

Josh Moon

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The mainstream media is just blowing this whole coronavirus thing out of proportion!

Have you heard that one? Possibly from a guy standing behind a podium that has the presidential seal attached to it? Or from one of your friends or family members? Or maybe you believe it yourself. 

It’s all “the mainstream media,” the story goes. 

They’re the ones sensationalizing this virus that kills less people than car wrecks and seasonal flu. “The mainstream media” is whipping everyone into a frenzy, causing people to go buy up all the toilet paper and bottled water — all over a virus that has a 99-percent recovery rate. It’s the mainstream media’s fault that businesses are being closed and shelter-in-place orders are being needlessly issued by knee-jerk politicians. 

Pfft. Stupid mainstream media. 

Except, one small thing: “The mainstream media” — whatever faceless, unidentifiable group of journalists to which you have assigned that designation — have been right. 

The mainstream folks who work for your local newspapers and TV stations and online news outlets, and for the major national outlets, such as the New York Times, Washington Post and others, have provided the public with incredibly accurate information about this virus. 

I don’t want to spend too much time singing our praises here, but APR is a perfect example of this. The collection of information compiled by our reporters has been better, more informative and far more accurate than even the information supplied by the Alabama Department of Public Health. I’ve heard personally from several lawmakers who check what they’re being told by the governor’s office and ADPH against what we’re reporting. 

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Other outlets in this state are doing similar work and providing their local communities with relevant, specific information and tells the story of this crisis in the places they live. 

The reason mainstream outlets have been so successful and accurate in telling this story is mostly because we’ve done nothing but quote and cite the comments and work of reputable, respected doctors and scientists. We have presented you with their projections, their analyses, their breakdowns and their advice. 

Back in early February, when President Pompous was telling everyone not to worry, that all is well and that soon we’d be “down to zero cases,” the mainstream media, citing doctors and health experts, told you that was crazy talk and that a real crisis was approaching this country. That soon we should expect a new normal. 

I think we know who was right about that one.  

As President My Uncle Was A Super-Genius was telling you that one day this will just disappear, the mainstream media was telling you to wash your hands, stay inside and avoid crowds. Because doing so could prevent a scenario in which American hospitals were overrun with patients, depleting our limited supply of ventilators. (The first ventilator story I can find came way back in January.)

And it was the mainstream media that first told you to expect a death toll that reaches into the six figures, and possibly beyond. 

Of course, like all things, the reality of the crisis — and the facts and verifiable information — was lost in the political fight, and in the disinformation campaign required to prop up the dumbest presidential administration in history. 

Because the president took, per usual, such an anti-science, anti-facts position from the outset, any confirmation of the facts that were long ago predicted by the doctors and scientists, and adopted by the mainstream media and most progressive politicians, had to be debunked or reframed in a manner that undercut the severity of the virus or the potential for death. 

And so, on everyone’s favorite phony news network, there came an endless stream of false equivalencies and partial information — all of which were adopted by most Republicans and spread throughout their social media worlds — to the point that those who live within the conservative news bubble have been left believing that the entire country has been shut down by a simple, flu-like virus that is less deadly than seasonal flu and could probably be treated with aquarium cleaner. 

And that the shutdown is being carried out, of course, to tear down the economy (that Obama built and Trump takes credit for) in the hopes of defeating an incumbent president (that had the worst approval ratings in history and trailed by double digits in the polls — including in swing states — to the presumptive Democratic nominee). 

It’s so stupid it hurts. And that’s actually true this time. 

The love that half of America has for being told what they want to hear instead of the actual news is now literally causing death and illness. And it’s going to get worse. 

Even ol’ President Open By Easter is now conceding that this virus will likely kill upwards of 100,000 Americans in the short term, and maybe many more. Somehow, in his mind, that is a victory for him. 

In reality, there are no victories. Not for the people of this country. Not for the mainstream media. And certainly not for the buffoons who have again discounted science and doctors to adopt and espouse a viewpoint built around political advantage and personal ignorance.  

In the coming months, as the reality of this unprecedented disaster unfolds, it should not be lost that so much of it could have been avoided if the American president had relied on facts and science and if many in the American public hadn’t been so quick to choose political preference over hard news.

 

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