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Faith leaders call for Puerto Rico pension protection, debt and disaster relief

Brandon Moseley

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Archbishop Roberto González, the Secretary General of the Puerto Rico Bible Society Reverend Heriberto Martínez and the island’s Catholic Charities head, Reverend Enrique Camacho, released a statement Friday calling for pension guarantees, debt relief and disaster assistance for the island on Friday.

“This week, as the oversight board met and workers voted on new pension proposals, we appreciate that the oversight board kept the promise to protect the pensions,” the three said in a statement. “We stand with labor leaders in urging the passage of pension plans that protect the vulnerable and protect the pensions of most of our people.”

González, Martínez and Camacho announced their position in a statement at a press conference in the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. This is one of the oldest cathedrals in the hemisphere.

The head of the religious development group Jubilee USA, Eric LeCompte, joined the San Juan press conference along with Catholic, United Church of Christ, Lutheran and Disciple religious leaders from the United States.

“For the first time in any debt restructuring for a U.S. city, territory or country, we are seeing pensions being protected,” noted Jubilee USA director and United Nations debt expert, Eric LeCompte. “While we are extremely pleased by the pension proposals, we also must see Puerto Rico’s debt cut by at least 80 percent.”

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. They have $72 billion in debt and are struggling to recover from the 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The major Puerto Rico religious leaders assert their ability to resolve disaster and debt crises are hampered by their relationship with the United States.

“Our ability for resiliency, recovery and resolving our own challenges is tied to our political and colonial status. We call on our people and our officials to begin a new and creative dialogue to resolve our political status,” asserted González, Martínez and Camacho in their statement.

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Since 2015, with the support and advice of the religious Jubilee USA Network, we called on decision makers, our people and the faithful to work toward a Jubilee for Puerto Rico.

“In the face of a debt crisis and a 60 percent child poverty rate, we called for debt relief, stopping austerity policies, protecting public pensions and reducing child poverty on our island,” Gonzalez, Martinez and Camacho wrote. “We’ve been concerned about corruption in our own government. Congress made a promise that in exchange for debt relief and a ‘super bankruptcy process,’ a fiscal oversight board would be imposed on Puerto Rico.”

“After Congress passed emergency debt relief legislation in 2016, we felt debt relief was in sight,” the three wrote. “Early plans created by Puerto Rico’s oversight board saw debt payments cut by 80 percent. Congress passed protections for the pensions and the official audit process. Congress began to move forward measures to reduce child poverty. We hoped that the promises made to our people would be kept.”

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“Sadly, in the fall of 2017 when Hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged our island, our hopes for debt relief and child poverty reduction became additional victims of the hurricanes,” González, Martínez and Camacho continued. “Because of rosy economic growth projections from potential federal aid and construction monies, the oversight board negotiated to pay more debt. While there were some innovations in PREPA and COFINA debt proposals, they fell short in delivering enough debt relief — they fell short in the promise of a Jubilee.”

They said if there is failure to provide the island with enough debt relief, “the cost is paid by our people — especially by our children.”

They stated that Congress has failed to pass all of their recommendations to reduce child poverty, but did acknowledge that President Donald Trump last week signed a bill to deliver more than $50 billion for recovery and called on congress and the White House to continue this effort and deliver the additional $70 billion that’s still needed to recover.

“Because of the work of noted economists and our partners at Jubilee USA, we know we cannot risk an overall debt cut of less than 80 percent,” González, Martínez and Camacho said.

The United States invaded and seized Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 during the Spanish American War. All Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth.

The current population of the island is 3,177,000, which is down considerably from 2010, when 3,722,000 still lived on the island. The high unemployment, poverty and crippling debt crisis had already begun an exodus from the island. The hurricanes have hastened that process.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Congress

Jones: Senate should not have left D.C. without deal on COVID relief bill

“The Senate never should have left D.C. without passing a deal to extend emergency unemployment and eviction moratoriums, to provide funding for schools to reopen safely, and to create a national testing and contact tracing plan,” Jones said.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones during a live streamed press briefing. (VIA OFFICE OF SEN. DOUG JONES)

Democratic Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said that the Senate should not have left Washington D.C. without a deal on a coronavirus aid bill. Instead, the Senate should have stayed and worked until a deal was reached.

Negotiations between the two sides broke down late Thursday night when the White House refused Democratic demands that the aid package be $3.4 trillion instead of $1 trillion.

“The Senate never should have left D.C. without passing a deal to extend emergency unemployment and eviction moratoriums, to provide funding for schools to reopen safely, and to create a national testing and contact tracing plan,” Jones said in a statement on social media. “We need to come together and negotiate a deal ASAP.”

The White House blames congressional Democrats and their insistence on such a massive package for the failure to pass a deal.

“Democrats in Congress wasted extensive negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about an expanded Coronavirus relief package,” the White House wrote in a statement. “Democrat leaders were not only willing but determined to withhold vital assistance for families to use it as a political bargaining chip for their radical agenda.”

Since Congress didn’t act, Trump did, the White House said.

“He issued four major executive actions over the weekend,” the White House statement reads. “The first provides out-of-work Americans with $400-per-week in supplemental aid on top of existing unemployment benefits. The second assists renters and homeowners who are struggling to pay their lease or make their mortgage payment. The third defers payroll taxes for employees making $100,000 or less per year through the end of the year. The fourth suspends federal student loan payments and sets interest rates to 0 percent through the end of the year.”

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Jones dismissed Trump’s orders as being more for show than for actual benefit of the American people.

“By signing these executive orders that are more for show than actual help for the American people, President Trump has confirmed that his administration has not acted in good faith and had no intention of reaching bipartisan agreement on legislation that would benefit all Americans,” Jones said. “The Senate, which absolutely should not have recessed without passing a relief package, needs to immediately return to Washington to pass legislation that provides adequate support for the Americans who are suffering as a result of this virus as well as our economy.”

Jones faces a difficult re-election battle against former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. Jones narrowly defeated former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election. Jones is the only Democrat to win a statewide election in Alabama since 2008.

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Congress

AFL-CIO endorses Adia Winfrey for Congress

Brandon Moseley

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Congressional candidate Adia Winfrey. (VIA WINFREY CAMPAIGN)

Democratic congressional candidate Adia Winfrey’s campaign announced Monday that she has received the endorsement of the Alabama AFL-CIO in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District.

At their annual convention last week, union leaders from across the state recognized Winfrey’s “passion, ability to lead and attentiveness to the issues affecting working men and women” as reasons to endorse the Democratic challenger against incumbent Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Alabama.

“Labor unions have long been a leading force in our nation’s economy,” Winfrey wrote. “Workplace safety standards, employee benefits, equal pay for women, non-discrimination policies and so much more can be attributed directly to union members who were willing to speak up for what is right. I look forward to being a voice for Alabama’s hard-working men and women in Congress.”

Winfrey is challenging Rogers, a nine-term incumbent, in the Nov. 3 general election. During his 18 years in Congress, Rogers has earned only a 16 percent lifetime rating by the AFL-CIO for his votes.

“For seven generations, my family has called Talladega, Alabama, home,” Winfrey said. “I am the mother of four amazing children, a doctor of psychology, author, founder of the H.Y.P.E. (Healing Young People thru Empowerment) Movement, and … I am running for Congress in Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District! I believe in the future of our beautiful state and nation. It is time for leadership with a new vision which is #FocusedOnAlabama.”

Winfrey has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilberforce University and a doctorate of clinical psychology degree from the Wright State University School of Professional Psychology.

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Saban tries to save the college football season

Brandon Moseley

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University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban.

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban said Monday that he wants to play the 2020 season for the players.

“I want to play, but I want to play for the players’ sake, the value they can create for themselves,” Saban told ESPN. “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

Saban’s comments came on a day when the very future of the 2020 season was on the brink.

The Mountain West Conference announced that it was suspending all sports indefinitely due to the coronavirus. Hundreds of college football players have taken to Twitter and social media begging the powers that be not to kill this season. They were joined by Saban and other prominent figures in the sport including Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and even President Donald Trump.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,” Trump said on Twitter supporting a statement by Lawrence.

Some conferences had already made up their minds to punt on the season.

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“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our students, student-athletes, coaches, faculty, staff and overall communities,” said Dr. Mary Papazian, chair of the MWC board of directors. “Through the hard work of many over the past several months, the conference made every effort to create an opportunity for our student-athletes to compete, and we empathize with the disappointment this creates for everyone associated with our programs. The best interests of our students and student-athletes remain our focus and we will persist in our efforts to forge a viable and responsible path forward.”

A decision to postpone or cancel the 2020 college football season could come as early as this week. A growing tide of voices are calling for the cancelation or postponement of the college football season.

ESPN’s Heather Dinich reports that this is based on what the athletic conferences are hearing from their medical advisory boards about the long term effects of COVID-19.

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College presidents are very concerned that COVID-19, while rarely fatal in college students, can leave survivors with heart issues that may well be long-lasting. The mother of one Indiana player reported that her football player son contracted coronavirus while on campus for pre-season for strength and conditioning training. Her son developed symptomatic COVID-19 that included breathing difficulties. Now he is over COVID-19 but has heart inflammation that jeopardizes his playing career and perhaps even his long-term health.

There is a similar situation with a Major League Baseball player who had COVID-19 and now has heart inflammation, which doctors say can be a side effect of contracting COVID-19. More than half of college football players are Black, a demographic that has seen the highest rate of severe outcomes from COVID-19 including death.

The University of Louisville recently had to cancel all football activities on campus when a group of football players, in violation of the coronavirus social distancing protocols, attended a party on campus and 30 players tested positive for the coronavirus.

A number of college football players have contracted the virus including at the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Clemson.

The presidents are concerned about the long-term health effects of COVID-19 on college athletes as well as the rest of the student body, faculty and staff. They are also concerned about the schools’ legal liability if they don’t do everything in their power to fight the spread of the virus — and canceling fall sports is arguably necessary to fight the spread of the virus.

Congress failed to pass legislation that would have given schools and employers liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits.

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) and South West Athletic Conferences (SWAC) — which includes Alabama A&M and Alabama State — have already voted to postpone fall sports to Spring. The MAC decision puts pressure on the other Division 1 Football Bowl Series schools to also postpone or cancel the season. The University of Connecticut has already canceled its 2020 football season, the first Division 1 school to make that decision. Others could follow.

On Tuesday, the Big 10 Conference presidents will meet on possibly postponing the 2020 season to December or later. The PAC 12 conference college Presidents will also meet to discuss the possibility of postponing or canceling all fall sports. A number of PAC 12 players have come out vocally expressing concerns about the safety of playing the sport during the global pandemic.

The Big 10 and PAC 12 are two of the “Power Five” conferences along with the SEC, the Big 12 and the ACC. If either the Big 10 or PAC 12 were to postpone or cancel the football season, it would be difficult for the other schools to continue without them, though most conferences have already adopted a 10-game, conference-only season.

Alabama and Auburn are members of the SEC.

The Power Five conference commissioners met on a conference call Sunday night to prepare a recommendation on how to proceed if the presidents decide that playing sports in the fall is an unnecessary risk. They were unable to reach a decision on whether that recommendation should be to play the 2020 fall sports in the spring or to cancel fall sports altogether as spring sports, including baseball and softball, were canceled last spring.

The commissioners of the SEC and ACC both released statements saying that they are moving forward to play. It is highly possible that some of the Power Five conferences will play this fall and some will play in the spring. How this would affect the college postseason is still unclear.

“The college football season should be canceled; it should be canceled today,” said ESPN sports commentator Stephen A Smith on Monday. Smith cited a lack of leadership looking out for the health of college athletes in college football.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit had already predicted that the sport could not be played this year due to athlete safety. There is a growing consensus in both the medical and academic community that this may be the case.

A decision by the PAC 12 on Tuesday could start a domino effect that will lead to the cancelation or postponement of all fall sports.

Some analysts have expressed skepticism that the 2020 and 2021 football seasons could both be played in the 2021 calendar year and even that the COVID risk will be less in the spring than it is now.

The SEC had already reduced the season from 12 games to 10 and postponed the start of the football season to Sept. 26. SEC football players were already supposed to be in camp preparing for the fall season, but the conference has postponed the start of football practices to August 17.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association at this point still plans to play high school fall sports including football.

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Plaintiffs ask for panel of judges to reconsider ruling on Alabama voter ID law

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Plaintiffs suing Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill alleging the state’s voter ID law discriminates against minorities on Monday asked a panel of judges to reconsider an appeals court decision that affirmed the law. 

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Monday filed a petition Monday asking that all of the judges on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider the July 21 decision by a panel of three judges that fell 2-1 in favor of the state’s voter ID law. 

The 2011 law requires voters in Alabama to show a valid, government-issued photo ID to vote. The NAACP, Greater Birmingham Ministries and several minority voters sued, arguing that lawmakers knowingly crafted the law to prevent Black people and other minorities, who are less likely to have such photo IDs, from voting. 

The three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in its July 21 opinion found that the burden of Alabama’s voter ID law is minimal, and does not“violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act.”

Merrill has argued that the state’s voter ID law is meant to deter in-person voting fraud and that the state makes available mobile photo ID units able to provide voters with the necessary IDs.

District Judge Darrin Gayles in his dissenting opinion wrote that voter fraud in Alabama is rare, and that “while there have been some limited cases of absentee voter fraud, in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent.”

Gayles wrote that Merrill presented evidence of just two instances of in-person voter fraud in Alabama’s history.

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“Despite the lack of in-person voter fraud, Secretary Merrill claims Alabama enacted the Photo ID Law to combat voter fraud and to restore confidence in elections — a dubious position in light of the facts,” Gayles wrote.

Gayles noted that former State Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, before his retirement in 2010, sponsored similar voter ID bills.

“During this time, Senator Dixon made repeated comments linking photo identification legislation to race, including ‘the fact you don’t have to show an ID is very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats’ and that voting without photo identification ‘benefits Black elected leaders, and that’s why they’re opposed to it,'” Gayles wrote in his dissenting opinion.

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“It is clear from the statements of the legislators who enacted Alabama’s photo ID law that they passed it for the unconstitutional purpose of discriminating against voters of color,” said LDF senior counsel Natasha Merle in a statement Monday. “As long as this law is intact, Black and Latinx Alabamians will continue to be disproportionately excluded from the state’s electoral process.”

Attorneys in the filing Monday told the court that “roughly 118,000 Alabamians lack qualifying photo ID, and Black and Latinx voters are twice as likely to lack qualifying ID as compared to white voters. Given this evidence, a trial was required to determine whether HB19 violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.”

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