Alabama celebrated its 200th birthday on Saturday.
In a few weeks, researchers from UAB will begin testing children for a disease — hookworms — that was last widespread around that same time.
Three steps forward, two steps back should be our state motto.
Since this state’s birth, its people have struggled with issues of class and race. And we have mostly done a fairly poor job of handling both.
Which is why, in 2019 America, there are some 60 percent of homes in one Alabama county, Wilcox, which lack proper sewer or septic plumbing. Instead, those homes straight pipe their waste into local waterways.
Thus, hookworms. A disease most common these days in third-world nations, where plumbing and vaccinations are less common.
Testing last year by researchers from Baylor University turned up a number of positive tests. Now, UAB and University of Alabama researchers want to know more.
And isn’t that all just wonderful — as we’re celebrating 200 years and talking up innovation and record-low unemployment and technological advances and cutting edge car manufacturing in the state, here is an 1800s disease making a comeback.
Because 60 percent of the people in at least one county (and in several others, if we’re honest) are too poor, too impoverished and too forgotten to have something as basic as working sewers.
This week on “The Voice of Alabama Politics,” the topic was raised on the panel of a recent study of child poverty in this state. There are more than 250,000 kids living in poverty in Alabama.
The state also ranks near the bottom in children food insecurity and infant mortality.
We’re 44th in poverty overall. We rank somewhere between 45 and 52 in education. And we’re 49th in social justice.
Most of these issues we’ve had since our birth. Even when the state was one of the most prosperous because it built its fortunes on the free labor of slaves, the overwhelming majority of Alabama was impoverished men, women and children who were hungry and sickly.
You know why?
Because the majority of Alabamians, for the entire 200 years, have been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.
Our people will go to their graves believing that the rich guy deserves it and they don’t. That the tax structure shouldn’t benefit them, and so what if it benefits the wealthy. That the education system shouldn’t be fair for everyone (especially if “everyone” includes the blacks).
In this representative democracy, where the will of the majority is supposed to dictate the goals of the government, the majority in this state has, without fail, voted to give the other guy the breaks.
I have literally listened to blue collar workers in this state argue against a tax break for themselves, because they “don’t want no handout from the gub’ment,” and then dismiss the fact that a rich person or a wealthy company is getting a bigger break.
Our people spend months bemoaning the microscopic fraud and loss that occurs in this state’s social programs and not 10 minutes on the billions — BILLIONS! — wasted on corporate welfare through failed economic incentives.
If you doubt that, let me ask you question: The last major economic incentive deal this state handed out … was it successful? How do you know? What happened to the money?
Before you go looking, let me stop you. You can’t find that information. It’s secret. Our lawmakers made it secret, and you gave so little of a damn that you didn’t even know that.
Because it wasn’t a poor guy getting a free meal. So this state’s majority didn’t care.
It’s pathetic what we’ve voted ourselves into. What we’ve allowed the wealthy to fool people into voting for, using race and selfishness and plain ol’ ignorance.
If this state’s majority, regardless of race, voted together, we could have decent health care, an equitably funded education system, decent trade schools and training programs and a better environment. We could have judges who follow the law and better trained and paid police officers and corrections officers.
And it’s so simple. Just vote for your actual interests — for the things that make your life, and the lives of those closest to you, better.
Don’t worry about if the black guy gets it too. Or if that makes you a “socialist,” as if you getting a break on your student loans is somehow more socialist than a bank getting bailed out.
Stop listening to the noise. And vote for yourself.
The alternative is hookworms.
Opinion | The “mainstream media” has been right all along
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.
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.
Opinion | Ivey gets serious about coronavirus. Finally
For the first time since the COVID-19 crisis began in Alabama a couple of weeks ago, Gov. Kay Ivey finally, on Friday, seemed to grasp both the gravity of the situation and her role in it.
Up until Friday, Ivey had resisted calls for more restrictive guidelines barring Alabamians from moving about the state to shop and carry on as usual. While she had taken a handful of steps, she had been hesitant to do more.
Famously, or infamously maybe, she excused away not doing more by telling people that Alabama isn’t New York, California or “even Louisiana.”
I have never understood what that meant, exactly, and no one I’ve asked has been able to explain it to me. Was she saying the virus, which has infected nearly 600 people in Alabama and almost 100,000 across America, was less likely to infect the human bodies positioned within the state borders?
Did she mean that Alabama air was different? Or maybe all of those chemicals we’ve been consuming from our polluted waters made us uniquely resistant to coronavirus?
But on Friday, it seemed, a contrite and pleading Ivey told the state that more had to be done. Her tone, her words and her actions conveyed a much different message than her previous press events.
While she still refused to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, she issued one without calling it that. It’s being called a “safer at home” policy.
Ivey ordered closed a long list of non-essential businesses and facilities around the state, including department stores, clothing stores, most parks and athletic venues and pretty much all forms of entertainment venues. They will all be closed by 3 p.m. on Saturday. And they will remain closed until April 17.
As she made this announcement, Ivey talked of the difficulty of the decision, and how you can’t bring a dead business back to life — of how people who work at these temporarily closed businesses are losing vitally important pay and are suddenly at risk of losing everything they’ve worked for.
And that’s all true. But don’t think that hasn’t also weighed on the people who have called for such closures long ago.
In fact, in many cases, we had these businesses and employees and their futures in mind when we called for everyone to take things more seriously sooner. Because doing so would have lessened the impact of the virus and allowed life to return to normal — or some form that resembled the old normal — a lot sooner.
My family operated a small business for years. We operate one now. I make a living working for several small businesses. I know the work and worry that goes into them. I know the risk and sacrifice it takes to make a successful one. And I know the unique, caring relationships that are developed in a small business between owners and employees.
The last thing I want is to see them fold, or be forced to lay off employees who are like family.
But I also know that while reviving a dead business is almost impossible, reviving a dead person is actually impossible.
And the health and safety of people have to be the first priority — not the businesses.
Friday’s press conference — or, actually, it wasn’t a press conference, but more of a speech followed by responses to submitted questions — was the first real indication that Ivey understood that businesses might have to temporarily suffer in order to save hundreds of lives in this state.
Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall a single mention of Trump or his insane plan to open things up next month and get the economy rolling again or Ivey’s insistence that the economy was just as important as people.
It was an important pivot for her. And one that could save lives and lessen the impact of COVID-19 in this state.
However, as my APR coworker Chip Brownlee has pointed out in stories and graphs, Alabama’s current trajectory in terms of how fast the virus is spreading looks more like Louisiana than Georgia or Florida. That’s a problem, because Louisiana is widely regarded as one of the states with the worst outbreaks.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and basically America’s most trusted doctor right now, discussed new, very restrictive measures being taken by Louisiana officials to slow the spread of the virus. Fauci said it’s likely that Louisiana officials will look back and realize that those measures should have “come a little bit sooner.”
Let’s hope Ivey and Alabama officials don’t find themselves in a similar situation.
Opinion | In a party without a plan, Ainsworth stands alone
I am a practical person.
I place a lot of value on a practical, sensible approach to problem solving. Which is why I tend to vote for people who also think like me — who have a plan, who can identify problems and offer reasonable, fact-based solutions.
Those people make the world go around.
During the 2018 midterm elections, when Alabama was voting for a new governor and replacing dozens of legislative seats, I begged this state’s voters to take such an approach. To identify things that matter to them, to pick out specific issues within their communities and within the state that make the most difference to them, and then to vote for only the candidates who offer reasonable, fact-based, specific plans to address those issues.
Instead, Alabamians, in overwhelming numbers, gave me the middle finger, donned their “R” jerseys and checked the box for straight-ticket Republican. And they ushered in a governor, and expanded a Legislature, that is filled with men and women who have no plan for anything.
Not even common, everyday problems.
They’re still stumped by what to do about pollution and grappling with whether public corruption is truly that bad.
And when I say that Alabama voters selected these people despite them not offering a single real solution to any problem, well, check this: Gov. Kay Ivey, who defeated Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, refused to debate anyone, including her Republican challengers in the primary. She never offered a realistic plan for doing anything but showing up to ribbon cuttings.
The other GOP sheep ushered in by voters were similarly void of ideas for pretty much anything. At one point leading up to the election, I visited the websites of all GOP candidates running for office and pulled their ideas for improving Alabama’s public education system — one of the top issues listed by all voters.
Not one had a single specific idea, much less a comprehensive plan.
And if you’re that unable to provide leadership and planning when you’ve got all the time in the world to address common problems known to all, well, it’s hard to imagine how bad you’ll be in a crisis.
Or, it was until the past couple of weeks.
Until Wednesday afternoon, the state of Alabama has been without leadership throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
It has been an embarrassment on a grand scale, as we struggle to do even basic things, such as provide testing for those with symptoms. By late Wednesday, Alabama had tested fewer than 3,000 people. New York tested more than that in a single hour on Wednesday.
As coronavirus patients start to stack up at our hospitals, there remains no viable plan to accommodate them. No workable plan to get ventilators. No workable plan to test or treat our most rural areas. No workable plan to address the shortage of doctors and nurses.
And then Will Ainsworth dropped in.
Alabama’s lieutenant governor has been unusually outspoken in the last few days — cutting a PSA telling people to stay inside and take warnings seriously and offering his views on social media.
But by Wednesday, Ainsworth had seen enough. He fired off a lengthy letter to Ivey’s COVID-19 Response Team that basically said: What are we even doing out here, man?
Ainsworth set fire to everything — calling the state’s response to this point unprepared and unrealistic. He talked about his conversations with healthcare providers and how they’re scared to death of the “tsunami of patients” that are about to overtake the state’s hospitals, sucking up every available resource and then some. And he did the math on how awful this virus outbreak could be — or maybe even likely will be — for this state.
And he offered suggestions for addressing the problems.
But if I know Republicans like I think I do, Ainsworth’s letter and plans and warnings will be treated not as a wake-up call, but as a traitorous act. He has dared to question the other GOP leaders publicly, and that is what they will take from this.
Because anything else is outside of their skill set.
This is a party built on opposing things, not on fixing things. It is a party that has only ever sold two things — Jesus and anti-abortion legislation. Never mind that their bills involving those things have ever once made the state even slightly better.
Ainsworth made himself a unicorn on Wednesday. He became a planner in a party that has never had one.
He should be commended for his stand. But he won’t be.
ALGOP hunts unicorns.
Opinion | Want to slow the spread of coronavirus? Tell people the truth
Alabama hospitals are running out of ICU beds. And ventilators.
Frontline staff is overworked. Nurses and doctors are running low on personal protective equipment (PPEs) and there is none to be had.
And we are only in the early stages of COVID-19’s spread through America. We’ve only recently moved up to third in the world in terms of most confirmed cases of the virus, and we’re certain we’ve only counted a small fraction of our actual cases.
By the end of this, we will almost certainly be No. 1 in total cases, and we could very well be near that rank in terms of deaths.
Those deaths from coronavirus are starting to mount in the country, moving past 700 on Tuesday night after reaching 600 only around lunchtime on Tuesday.
Doctors who have spoken out about their experiences working in ERs and clinics around the country, and in Alabama specifically, are scared and angry and exhausted. They see the coming storm, and the almost certain catastrophe — the excruciating decisions that they will be forced to make when those in need outnumber the ability to provide care — and they want to run. But running isn’t in them.
This is the reality of this moment in American history.
It’s ugly. It’s frightening. It’s infuriating.
But this is what it is.
And it would help a whole lot if people in positions of power would stop sugarcoating things, stop muzzling doctors and nurses who have firsthand experiences to share and start telling people the cold, hard truth.
From the president to governors and all the way down to hospital administrators. You’re not helping this by relaying fairytales and treating everyone as if the real truth would be too much for them.
Let me give you an example.
Over the weekend, APR published a story about the dire situation facing Jackson Hospital in Montgomery. The story quoted a number of unnamed sources who worked within the hospital and who had firsthand knowledge of its dealings with coronavirus patients.
Those staffers expressed legitimate concerns about PPE shortages, worker safety, the availability of ICU beds and the coming shortage of ventilators. Not a word of what was said was untrue. And all of it was common concerns at hospitals all over the state.
But instead of simply confirming the truth and speaking about the hard times that are ahead for Jackson and all hospitals, the Jackson PR team went with a “nothing to see here, all is well” press release that randomly called the allegations false without addressing a single specific.
At the same time the Jackson PR team was denying APR‘s story, the staff was turning a waiting area into a makeshift ICU unit to accommodate the expected influx.
To highlight the absurdity of this, on Tuesday, Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, in a scripted teleconference with Gov. Kay Ivey that managed to set telecommunications back at least a decade, told reporters that pretty much every major hospital in every major city in Alabama was facing all the issues that were raised in the APR story.
Of course they are.
Alabama had one of the worst healthcare systems in the free world on a good day. It has become painfully obvious that no one had a plan to deal with a large-scale medical disaster such as this.
How unprepared were we?
We are three weeks into this mess and not one single test has been administered in most of the Black Belt counties.
Wrap your head around that.
Let’s also not forget that while Govs. Andrew Cuomo, Mike DeWine and many others are providing their states with daily updates and setting aside time to speak with media and answer questions, Tuesday’s teleconference was Ivey’s first media availability in a week. And I use the term “availability” very loosely.
It was actually a 35-minute, scripted performance that allowed Ivey and Harris to dance around important questions and never have to take a follow-up, because all of the questions had to be submitted four hours earlier.
The overriding message from Ivey was: Alabama is going to get back to business soon.
That’s a nice thought. It’s a nice thing to tell a child, so they won’t needlessly worry.
It is not a good message at this time for the state, because it fails to convey the gravity of the situation. It sends a message that this thing is nearly over, wasn’t all that bad and we’re doing OK. Ivey even said at one point that Alabama isn’t California, New York or even Louisiana — implying that we’re somehow different here and less likely to get the virus.
We’re not less likely. We likely have the same percentage of cases as New York — and we’d know this if we actually decided to test like New York. That state is running more than 16,000 tests per day. Alabama has tested 2,300 people — total, in three weeks.
But make no mistake: Our numbers here will be just as awful as the numbers from other states. Our hospitals are just starting to experience the coming onslaught of issues. There will be many deaths.
We will get through it and there will be life on the other side. But right now, the only way to limit these numbers is for people to take this seriously.
And the only way they’re ever going to take it seriously is if they’re told the truth.
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