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Josh Moon

The most under-reported stories of 2019

Josh Moon

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With an abundance of news source and a never-ending stream of daily political news, there are inevitably a handful of stories — important, meaningful stories — that slip through the cracks and go under-reported and under-read. 

For whatever reason, these stories in 2019 didn’t go viral and weren’t a hot topic among your friends and family members. But they should have been. 

These are the top 5 most under-reported stories of the year. 

Astounding Pollution: From one end of Alabama to the other, pollution has crippled communities and brought about monumental lawsuits. From unfit drinking water to massive fish kills to human feces in the Gulf, the state has become an almost literal cess pool. 

Yet, even in a state where the majority of the population claims to participate in some sort of outdoors activity — and where hunting and fishing are more popular than in most other states — there has been very little widespread outrage over the pollution issues. 

That indifference, it seems, has driven a surprising lack of coverage of pollution statewide, leaving most stories to be reported by local news outlets and left unaddressed by state lawmakers. 

That local reporting should, of course, be commended. But Alabama is teetering on the verge of a statewide catastrophe — one that could drive business and tourists away — and a bit more statewide outrage would be nice.  

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The Failing Charter School Commission: We have rules and regulations in place for a reason, and there are usually dire consequences when you fail to follow them. Just ask the folks dealing with charter schools in Washington County and Montgomery. 

In both instances, the Alabama Charter School Commission skirted the rules set for it by the Alabama Legislature and approved unqualified charter schools. The results have been a mess. 

In Washington County, the school needed an extension to even begin the building process — which is still woefully behind — and there is growing evidence that it still hasn’t met its minimum enrollment projections. 

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In Montgomery, more than half the staff has quit from LEAD Academy, where disorganization has reigned since it opened less than five months ago. 

The problems being experienced by both schools were essentially predicted by the national authorizing agency that rejected those schools’ applications and pointed out clear deficiencies in their plans. The Commission approved both anyway, skirting their rules and making exceptions to satisfy political motives. 

Such ineptitude and corruption should draw more attention. Particularly when the education of children is at stake.   

John Merrill vs. The Alabama Ethics Commission: It’s the political fight you didn’t know existed. 

For months, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill attempted to fine entities that violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by failing to timely file a campaign finance report with the state. And for months, the Ethics Commission would knock down not only the fines but the number of offenses as well, claiming that it had the authority to do so. 

Except, well, the law and the Alabama Legislature said otherwise. As did the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. 

Under the law, Merrill has the responsibility to fine anyone who fails to file a campaign report. Because filing those reports allows citizens in this state to know — in a timely manner — just who is bankrolling the campaigns of their elected officials. 

The Legislature made it clear when it passed the reporting law that the deadlines were real and they are serious. In fact, the more you missed, the worse the penalty. 

The Ethics Commission, though, decided that, pfft, who needs the law. They kicked out several fines and washed away instances of failing to report based solely on several entities claiming that they “forgot.” 

Merrill spent weeks banging his head against this bureaucratic wall. It got little attention and fewer results.

Greg Albritton’s Awful Year: There was no lawmaker worse than Sen. Greg Albritton in 2019. 

That’s quite the mountain to climb in this state, when you’re stepping over the soulless body of Larry Stutts and out-awfuling the guys who kept all daycares from being licensed. But Albritton’s 2019 was a near perfect exercise in selling out the working class citizens of this state and his district. 

He started out by introducing a bill that would roll back the ethics laws, making it legal for anyone to give lawmakers pretty much anything at any time and in any amount. It was such an awful bill that even some of his pro-business, Republican colleagues were outraged, and they ultimately played a role in killing the majority of the awful thing. 

But Albritton was far from finished. The “Senator from Poarch Creek,” as his GOP brethren have started calling him behind his back, was also responsible for killing a statewide lottery, as he carried the water for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who were opposed to a bigger lottery that might carve into their profits. 

Albritton’s actions cost the state billions in profits as he pushed an alternative bill that would have ensured the tribe’s profits were never threatened or properly taxed. 

While the overall fights over ethics and gambling were hot topics in 2019, Albritton’s role in both didn’t draw near the scrutiny — and outrage — that it should have.

The Unfair Incarceration of an Immigrant: When I first heard the story of Jorge Ruiz, I was skeptical. I thought that the person telling me about it must be leaving out some details, must be skipping over some important information. 

After all, 99 years in prison for falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident that kills another driver? Obviously, it’s a terrible tragedy, and there should be some punishment. 

But 99 years? 

Unfortunately, it was all true. And was uniquely Alabama. 

In a case filled with racism and absolute rot, Ruiz was wronged time and again by the Alabama justice system and the community where his family lived. And also by the local media, which mis-reported the facts of his case, mis-identified him as being in the country illegally and failed to correct its errors despite being informed numerous times that their stories, headlines and newscasts contained incorrect information. 

Instead, everyone ran away from the case as fast as possible following several APR stories. The judge who wrongly sentenced Ruiz is apparently quietly trying to undo that decision now. But you wouldn’t know it from the complete lack of reporting on the case in the local media.

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Josh Moon

How Alabama’s government stays broken

Josh Moon

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or even any kind of scientist — to figure out that Alabama’s state government is broken. 

I mean, really, just look around. At the poverty, the poor education, the racism, the arrested public officials, the in-your-face public corruption and the complete disregard for the welfare of the majority of the people in the state. 

But, while the overall awfulness of Alabama’s governance might be easy to diagnose, the underlying causes — the daily examples that explain just how it stays so broken — are far harder to put your finger on. Because they are mostly wrapped up in mundane occurrences that take place within the walls of the State House or the capitol or the Supreme Court chambers or some other government building. 

Things like SB117/HB140. 

Those are the official names for a bill in both the senate and house that will “clarify existing law relating to disposal of solid waste.” 

Sounds innocent enough, right? Just gonna get this minor landfill situation straightened out. No biggie. 

Ah, but see, SB117/HB140 is the prime example of Alabama’s broken government. 

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It is the prime example of how your lawmakers aren’t working for you. It is the perfect encapsulation of everything that is wrong in this state.

Basically this landfill bill would make it OK to cover existing landfills with artificial covers, instead of the six inches of earth that is currently required. 

Now, this still doesn’t sound like a big deal. And it won’t be one if you don’t mind third-world diseases, the smell of rotting meat, frequent fires, coyotes and feral dogs roaming your streets and rats. Lots and lots of rats. 

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Applying six inches of earth each day to cover the garbage dumped at landfills prevents those things, the EPA figured out long ago. And it set those parameters in the rules it recommends to states. Alabama agreed, and the state adopted that rule, along with others, into law several years ago. 

Regular landfills have to cover with six inches of earth every day. Construction landfills have to do so once per week. 

This is a simple law. 

But if you operate a landfill, it’s an expensive one. And a time consuming one. 

Ah, but luckily, those laws are environmental laws. And in Alabama, we figured out long ago that environmental laws can be cumbersome and expensive, so we set up a bit of a … let’s just call it a workaround. 

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management. 

You’ll find we do this a lot — set up an entity that lies somewhere between the laws and the enforcement of the laws whose only job it seems is to give free passes to the bigwigs and corporations who violate those specific laws. 

We do it with the Ethics Commission. With the Public Service Commission. And with ADEM. 

It’s genius, really. The laws are still on the books and no one has to overtly roll back protections that would lead to rotting garbage attracting disease carrying rodents by the thousands. 

Instead, just get ADEM to quietly stop enforcing the law. 

Which is exactly what ADEM has done in this case. It was allowing landfills all over the state to cover garbage with tarps and various other materials. The tarps and other covers inevitably got holes in them, and a Noah’s Ark-level of animals descended upon the landfills to dine and spread the garbage all over adjoining neighborhoods. 

The neighbors, tired of the smell and the disease and the roaming animals, sued, citing in their legal filing horror stories of living near these maggot farms that smelled like death. 

They sued ADEM for failing to do its job, and for essentially rewriting the law to allow businesses to do whatever they wanted to do. 

And lo and behold, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals agreed with them. In a lengthy, detailed decision entered last October, the five-judge panel noted that ADEM didn’t have the authority to rewrite the law. 

The case is now before the Alabama Supreme Court, but everyone knows that the Appeals Court judges are correct. 

But why bother with trying to win over judges when you can instead just change the laws through the crooks in the Alabama Legislature? 

And so, here we are, with a handful of lawmakers in both chambers of the legislature willing to attach their names to legislation that will allow businesses to ignore the standards imposed by the EPA, ignore the standards that are commonplace in most other states and change Alabama law to benefit a handful of landfill owners at the expense of thousands of Alabama citizens. 

And this, kids, is how Alabama’s government stays broken.

 

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Elections

Opinion | It’s time for Alabama Democrats to learn from Alabama Republicans

Josh Moon

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Democrats never seem to learn from Republicans. 

All around the country, and all around the state of Alabama, Democrats are still playing by the rules. Still listening to the cries and outrage from the other side. Still entertaining the idea that compromise and diplomacy are important to Republicans on some level. 

Still watching Lucy jerk that football away at the last moment. 

It’s time that stopped. 

It is time — actually, well past time — for Democrats to adopt the attitudes of their GOP colleagues, and just do whatever the hell you want to do. 

Whatever goal you set, go achieve it. Whatever policy is important, implement it. Whatever action you believe is right, take it. 

This is how Republicans have governed now for years. It is how they have wrestled control of the U.S. Supreme Court — just don’t hold a hearing for a duly appointed candidate — and how they have stolen elections — keep blocking attempts to secure elections. It is how they control half of Congress — thanks, gerrymandering! — despite representing nearly 20 million fewer people and how they have managed to offset a growing minority vote — put up every roadblock short of a poll tax. 

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In Alabama, it has how they adopted the AAA act to funnel tax money to private schools — just completely rewrite the bill in the dead of night — and how they passed the most restrictive abortion ban — just ignore promises and public opinion. It is how they have stopped attempts to pass gambling legislation — by straight up lying about the law — and how they have steadily cut into ethics laws — pretend that no one can understand the laws they wrote themselves — and how a House Speaker convicted on 12 felonies still isn’t in prison three years later — just don’t send him. 

They don’t care. 

About rules. About the law. About public perception. About basic decency. 

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And it’s time for Democrats, especially in Alabama, to adopt the same attitudes. 

Because if Republicans can behave this way to implement racist bills and roll back ethics laws and protect the income of the elites, then Democrats shouldn’t think twice about doing it to protect rural hospitals or new mothers’ health or workers’ rights or decent public schools. 

Now, this will be a big change for Democrats, so let me explain how this would look in practice, using the ongoing saga of Confederate monuments. 

Republicans shoved through an absurd bill last year that protects the state’s monuments to those who fought to enslave other human beings, and they’re shocked — shocked and outraged — that African Americans in Alabama might find it offensive to honor the men who enslaved their ancestors. 

The bill they passed last year was a dumb bill, right down to the portion which levied a fine on cities if those cities removed or damaged a monument. The bill completely screwed up the fines portion, failing to penalize cities for moving or damaging monuments over 40 years old and failing to place a per-day fine on those cities. Instead, the Alabama Supreme Court said the cities would be subject to one $25,000 fine. 

Birmingham has a monument that it desperately wants to move. It has already boarded up the monument in Linn Park, and the ALSC, in the same ruling, ordered the boards to come down. 

And this is the first opportunity for Mayor Randall Woodfin to approach this with a new attitude. 

Tear it down. 

Write out one of those big “Price is Right” checks for $25,000, hold a press conference and award that money to Steve Marshall like he just won at Plinko. 

At the same time, workers should be taking that monument apart piece by piece and moving it to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where it can be viewed for its historical significance instead of serving to honor traitors and racists. 

No apologies. No shame. Don’t even entertain their complaints. 

A similar approach should be taken by the city of Montgomery in regards to its occupational tax, which Republicans are attempting to stop through legislative action. 

Montgomery is going broke, and it can’t put enough cops on the streets. Part of that is because every day about 70,000 people flood into the city to go to work, and then they leave each afternoon and spend their money in — and give their tax dollars to — surrounding cities and counties. 

Montgomery has to do something to offset the costs, so an occupational tax has been proposed. But just as quickly as it was, the ALGOP — the kings of handouts to people who don’t need them — passed a bill to block it. 

So, some creativity is required.

Instead of an occupational tax, pass a public safety tax. 

If you work within the city limits of Montgomery, but live outside of those city limits, your paycheck will now be taxed an extra 1 percent to offset the cost of the police and fire services that you might use while in the city every day. 

No apologies. No shame. Don’t listen to GOP complaints. 

It’s a shame that things have to be like this, but they do. Democrats have tried for decades to force rational debate and to promote the value of compromise. Those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, which have been attached to toddler-like brains that have justified atrociously selfish behaviors and awful governance. 

At this point, it has gone on so long and been so successful for Republicans, the only thing that might break through is a taste of their own medicine. 

Give it to them.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Voter suppression is still a deciding factor in Alabama elections

Josh Moon

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John Merrill is going to write me a snarky letter, and that’s OK. 

I’m going to write a snarky column about Alabama’s voter suppression — and Merrill’s role in it — and I don’t write these things expecting everyone to agree. I write them so at least a few people will at least consider that the way things are in this state aren’t the way they have to be. 

And nowhere is that more true than with Alabama’s access to the ballot box. 

Now, before Merrill and the other rightwing hacks start banging out replies, let’s get a few things straight. Because while all of them will be entitled to their own opinions, they won’t be entitled to their own facts. 

A standard response from the right whenever these matters of ballot access pop up is to demand to know the identity of a single person who lacks the ability or necessary access to be able to vote. Name someone, Merrill loves to say, and I’ll go to their house and make sure … blah, blah, blah. 

But this is not the point, and they know it. 

As the Southern Poverty Law Center points out in a new report, what Alabama lawmakers have done is to place speed bumps between voters and the ballot in the hopes that with enough speed bumps they can discourage certain targeted groups from voting. 

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That’s the point of Alabama’s voter ID law. And it’s not hard to prove. 

Correspondence between lawmakers in North Carolina — which has ID laws that Alabama lawmakers essentially copied — laid bare just how targeted and intentionally suppressive the ID law was in that state. A federal judge wrote that it targeted black voters with “surgical precision.” 

The same thing is happening here. Because the same laws are being used here. 

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ID laws largely target poor, minority communities and young people, and they establish a barrier between those would-be voters and the polls. They also do absolutely zero to prevent fraud in this state. 

It doesn’t matter how many roving caravans Merrill and his staff set up to get IDs to people. The fact remains that thousands of people are being forced to take an extra step, and/or pay extra money, to cast a legal vote. 

Under our old system, which allowed dozens of different forms to establish a voter’s ID, we had zero issues. In fact, in the last 30 years, there has been one instance in which a voter’s identity was stolen and an illegal ballot cast. And that one instance was caught and prosecuted. 

Whenever a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist is implemented into law, you can bet that the goal wasn’t to actually solve a problem. It was to create one for someone else. 

Alabama doesn’t stop there. 

In addition to a worthless ID law, we also don’t offer same-day — or even same-week — voter registration. Instead, the deadline to register is 14 days prior to an election, which, in this cyber world where everything is handled by computers, is an eternity. 

It used to be just seven days. But after the Voting Rights Act was gutted a few years ago, Alabama lawmakers took the opportunity to target a handful of different groups. They got minority voters with the ID laws, and they took aim at young voters by toying with the registration laws. 

Young voters tend to procrastinate and tend to be driven by their peers. As the hype around an election grows, the more interested they become.

And since young people tend to vote for Democrats, well, I think you see how we got here. 

That’s not all. 

There is also no automatic voter registration in Alabama, which makes no sense with the voter ID law in place. If you have the proper ID, why in the world couldn’t you register online and go vote the same day? Why couldn’t you fill out the registration form at the polling place? 

None of it makes any sense, unless, of course, your goal isn’t to make the process of registering to vote as easy as possible, but is instead to deter certain groups of people from casting a ballot. 

To be clear, I don’t necessarily blame Merrill for any of this, and you shouldn’t either. As far as Republican secretaries of state go, he hasn’t been that bad, and has on many occasions gone out of his way to offset the negative effects of these suppressive laws. 

That said, voting and ballot access is within the purview of the SOS’s office, and as such, Merrill has a duty to speak up when unfair laws are passed and implemented. He has a duty to correct injustices in the state’s voting processes, and he has a duty to inform the Legislature when laws they pass are having a negative effect. 

It doesn’t matter the percentage of people that Merrill’s office has registered to vote, or how many registrations he’s managed from his caravan. 

The goal is fair elections. And Alabama’s are far from it.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Tuberville, Byrne and Sessions: Selling fear because they have no good ideas

Josh Moon

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Tommy Tuberville wants to scare white people. Bradley Byrne wants to scare white people. Jeff Sessions wants to scare white people. 

The Muslims are going to kill us all. The black people are committing scary crimes and kneeling a lot. The Hispanics are hauling deadly drugs over the border to kill your grandkids. The terrorists — not the white ones — are coming for you where you sleep. Everyone hates the police.

Be afraid, Alabama. 

Be so afraid that you elect one of these mind-less, plan-less, fear-mongering buffoons to represent you in the U.S. Senate. 

This is what passes for a political strategy in this state, apparently. Three guys doing their dead level best to convince you — in a time of record low crime rates, mind you — that the non-white scary people are coming to injure or kill you and your loved ones. 

Unless you elect God-fearing, gun-toting Tuberville/Sessions/Byrne to … hell, who even knows? They never get around to telling you how they’re going to save you from black/Hispanic Antifa, just that black/Hispanic Antifa is definitely going to kill you/change the America you love if you don’t elect someone who loves America/the Anthem/Trump/filming selfie videos while driving. 

They also never get around — and pay attention here, please — to telling you how they’re going to do anything. 

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Like, at all. 

They have no plan for anything. Not for bettering education. Not for solving our rural health care issues. Not for correcting the low-wage issues that kill this state. Not for getting more than 300,000 Alabamians into a doctor’s office for regular checkups. 

Not even for these scary terrorists and non-whites.

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Seriously, go to their websites. Look at the “issues” portion. It’s the dumbest, most generic bunch of garbage you’ll read today. (Well, except for Sessions’ website, which doesn’t even bother with an “issues” section.)

I’m not going to waste time with their pandering BS on phony issues like guns, “the economy,” and abortion. No one is coming for your guns, the courts will decide the abortion issue, not the legislative branch, and the idea that you can reduce the complexities of “the economy” into a single topic covered by a single paragraph from a candidate tells you how seriously they’re taking this. 

Let’s instead focus on the two biggest issues for most Alabamians: Health care and education. 

We’re dead last or pretty close to dead last in both large categories and in most of the sub-categories related to both. Basically, we’re sick and dumb. 

Here are the candidates’ plans for addressing these issues. 

On health care, both Byrne and Tuberville want to abolish Obamacare (because polling told them that that’s a popular thing to say) and they want to replace it with … “a free-market plan” that magically covers everyone for less money and with pre-existing conditions covered. 

Those are not plans. Those are dreams. 

Actually, I take that back. They’re not even dreams. They’re lies. 

Neither has a single, solitary idea on the specifics of how to solve Alabama’s complicated issues related to health care. Not a single idea.

And, again, Sessions didn’t even pretend that he had an idea, either. 

On education, where Alabama is lagging both in churning out well-rounded students and in producing a job-ready workforce, Byrne and Tuberville are similarly plan-less. 

Tuberville believes that our education woes can be solved by “school choice,” and “improving existing public schools.” Which is like saying you’re going to overcome your diabetes by not having diabetes anymore. 

Byrne, on the other hand, wants to improve education by opposing “the federal government telling teachers and parents how to educate our children in Alabama.” In other words, nothing. He wants to literally do nothing. 

(And just as an aside for Mr. Byrne: historically, the only really good things that have ever happened in this state have come because the federal government told us to do some things). 

Also, again, Jeff Sessions didn’t even attempt the education question. But we know from his past work in the state that his answer is always to give less money and resources to the black kids. 

Are Republicans really this stupid? 

And I ask that not as an insult but as a challenge.

Because, honestly, I don’t believe you’re that stupid. That’s why I keep writing these columns, consistently shocked by the decisions of my friends and neighbors to elect obvious morons to office simply because those morons chose to pay their registration fee to the Republican Party. 

When are you going to stop this madness? When are you going to realize that government isn’t a team sport? 

Our system of government was meant to be representative of the people. That’s why we divvy up districts like we do — to assure that all communities and all people have representation that looks out for their best interests.  

But that doesn’t work if a whole bunch of people are just voting for a party and ignoring their own interests and problems. 

That’s what Byrne, Sessions and Tuberville are hoping for — that you’ll continue to be part of the team, sacrificing your well-being, and the well-being of your family and friends, to elect unprepared, ignorant mooches to office. That you’ll continue to fall for the scare tactics and generic fear-mongering. That you’ll ignore the candidate that best serves you and instead vote for the team that best scares you.  

The idea that you might is what scares me.

 

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