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Opinion | Bravo moment for Birmingham, UAB

Joey Kennedy

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I love living in Birmingham. It’s the progressive city in Alabama, a blue island in a very red state.

A friend in northeastern Virginia once told me I should move to a blue state, that it would add 10 years to my life. I don’t know about that. But, really, if I can’t live in a blue state, I can at least live in a blue city. Birmingham is certainly that.

I must emphasize that I am not a member of the Democratic Party. But I am progressive, and generally vote for the issues most Democrats embrace.

It is Birmingham where the City Council voted to raise the city’s minimum wage, only to be slapped down by jealous lawmakers from other cities. That case is in court. Birmingham also wanted to remove confederate war memorials, but, again, the Legislature said no. Keep in mind, Birmingham didn’t even exist during the 1861-1865 Civil War.

Now, Birmingham is doing something no other city in Alabama has done. It’s ensuring that city school students can go to college tuition free.

I’d like to see the Legislature vote against that. Who knows? It might. After all, giving underprivileged kids a free college education goes against the grain for many Republicans, if not most. They don’t even like feeding hungry children, complaining all the while about free lunches at public schools.They’re all in for huge tax cuts for the rich; not so much Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid for the state’s poor and disadvantaged.

That’s fine. This won’t be the first time Birmingham goes out on its own initiative. Last week at UAB, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and UAB President Ray Watts announced they would partner to provide the opportunity for every graduate of Birmingham City Schools to get as many as five years tuition to attend UAB.

Think about that. Birmingham City Schools graduates who qualify will get tuition-free scholarships to attend one of the nation’s most diverse universities. UAB’s hospitals, medical school, and nursing school are among the nation’s best.

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Some areas in the state have dual enrollment programs. A few years ago, I taught writing to a Hoover High School senior at UAB. She was a great student.

But looking forward to a tuition-free college education is a game changer.

“Birmingham is UAB, and I think it is fair, UAB is Birmingham,” said Woodfin at the announcement last week. “As we begin a new decade, it’s hard to imagine Birmingham’s future without UAB.”

It is, indeed. UAB is the state’s largest employer. Enrollment at the university that ate Southside is setting records, more than 22,000 students this year. So each of the 23,000 students in a Birmingham city high school won’t have to worry about paying tuition if they make decent grades and do OK on the ACT.

UAB is not lowering entrance requirements for these students, either. According to the announcement,in order to qualify for the Birmingham Promise scholarship at UAB, Birmingham City School students must (b)e eligible for UAB admission, which for fall 2020 is a minimum 20 ACT score and a minimum of 2.75 GPA. Be admitted to UAB as a first-time, full-time freshman in the fall semester of the academic year immediately following their high school graduation. Complete the FAFSA form and UAB application by Feb. 1, 2020. After this year, the deadline will be Dec. 1.

The FAFSA program qualifies students for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs.

“This promise completely changes the trajectory of their lives,” said Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring.

I’m proud to live in a city with leaders who are actually looking out for their younger citizens, who understand the high cost of a college education even at a public university prohibits many good kids from getting a degree, and who do something about it. I’m also proud to teach at a university that sees the value of partnering with a city to help provide that scholarship money to deserving teens.

Yes, it will be costly. Clearly, Woodfin, Watts, and Herring understand that it is worth it for promising students who simply need a helping hand. 

This is a bravo moment for Birmingham, UAB, and Birmingham City Schools.

Bravo!

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

 

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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 kneejerk 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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Opinion | For the love of money, people will die

Joey Kennedy

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Just as Donald Trump is leaving it to individual states to set policies on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is refusing to issue a shelter-in-place order to try to curb the virus’ reach.

So local mayors and governors in other states are proactively making decisions to protect citizens and to try to slow the infection down.

Jefferson and Shelby counties are the epicenter for the virus in Alabama, which makes sense because a quarter of the state’s population lives here. As of this writing, there were at least 135 cases in Jefferson and Shelby counties. That’s a meaningless number, though, because as you’re reading this a few hours later, the number could have doubled.

To his credit, Mayor Randall Woodfin proposed an ordinance, passed by the City Council, that orders city residents to shelter in place. There are big exceptions – people can leave their homes to go to work and to the grocery store (although companies like Shipt and Instacart will deliver to your home). They can visit their doctors, and walk outside as long as they keep the 6-foot social distancing standard in place. And Woodfin said the police aren’t going to arrest anybody for leaving their house. This isn’t martial law, Woodfin said.

But it is leverage to keep people at home, and to prevent them from mixing in groups and spreading the virus. This highly contagious disease is moving quickly.

In Tuscaloosa, Mayor Walt Maddox has set a curfew from Friday night until April 3. People are not allowed out of their homes from 10 p.m. to five a.m. The goal, Maddox said, is to reduce social gatherings, especially among the city’s young people.

Again, that makes sense. And Maddox didn’t rule out other steps, either. As of this writing, Tuscaloosa had just 10 cases, but that number is sure to rise. Still, Maddox is making these important decisions before the cases get out of hand.

Yet, Trump says he wants the nation back open by Easter Sunday (April 12). Ivey says she has no intention of issuing a statewide shelter-in-place order.

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The motivation for both Trump’s and Ivey’s reluctance to act, comes down to one thing: The love of money.

The economy is taking a pounding, that is true. People are dying, too. But Trump would rather people, sick or well, return to their jobs to give a boost to the failing economy. Then, here’s what Ivey said, as reported by Alabama Political Reporter: “We have seen other states in the country doing that (shelter in place, lockdowns), as well as other countries … (but) (w)e are not California. We are not New York. We aren’t even Louisiana. My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible, while we take extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe.” 

You can’t do both. That’s already been proven. So to Trump and Ivey, money matters more  than saving lives, even those of ourmost vulnerable people.

Trump was so late taking any action that the virus got out of hand in parts of the country, and deaths spiraled. Testing lagged, emergency personal protection equipment wasn’t ordered. Some senators had enough warning to sell off millions of dollars in stock before the market crashed, but they didn’t send out the alarm because with Trump, if the problem is ignored it doesn’t exist.

But see, Trump can’t lie his way out of this one, even though he’s giving it all he’s got.

Testing is just getting up and running in Alabama, but we still have more than 300 cases in less than two weeks – and the number of cases in Alabama now is rising by double digits each day.

The virus is especially dangerous for people who have compromised immune systems or lung, heart, and liver problems. Like my wife, Veronica. Like one of my great students at UAB who has cystic fibrosis. Like many grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles out there. Like our good friend Jo Ellen O’Hara, the longtime food editor at The Birmingham News back when it was a newspaper. Jo Ellen is 82 and now living at Fair Haven retirement center. We saw what the novel coronavirus did to nursing homes in Seattle, Washington.

Young people are getting sicker, too, with a good percentage of hospital admissions, nearly half in some places, being people up to age 49. Anybody can get sick, and anybody can die.

That’s why the health experts and scientists urge the lockdowns and sheltering in place. Because as long as it’s business as usual,the virus will keep spreading, and making people sick, and killing.

People take a chance when they fill up their vehicles at the gas station; who knows who filled up at that pump before you and left the virus behind. Wear plastic gloves when you pump gas. Opening a door can transfer the virus to your hand, and it’ll get inside you if you touch your face. That’s what all the hand-washing and don’t-touch-your-face warnings are about.

But for Trump and Ivey, a “few” deaths are just the price we have to pay to keep the money rolling in.

These are some screwed-up priorities.

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

 

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Opinion | U.S. Senate runoff moved to July

Steve Flowers

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The GOP contest for who sits in our number two U.S. Senate seat has been delayed until July 14, 2020 due to the coronavirus. The winner of the battle between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville will more than likely be our junior US. Senator for six years.  

Neither are spring chickens. Sessions will be 74 and Tuberville will be 66, when the winner takes office.  This is not the optimum age to be a freshman U.S. Senator because seniority equates to superiority in the U.S. Senate.  Given their age of arrival neither will be given much deference or have much influence. Sessions’ 20 years goes for naught. He does not get his seniority back. Instead, he goes to the back of the line as would Tuberville.

Sessions really does not want to be influential. During his tenure he wanted to be the choir boy and Eagle Scout of the Senate.  He was the most honest and conservative member of the Senate. He wore that badge proudly and would again.  

Tuberville is planning to be Trumps bodyguard and valet.  He will not know where the bathroom is, what committees he has been placed on, or where to sit, much less how to pass a bill or get anything accomplished for Alabama.  After about six years he will realize he is a Senator from Alabama, not Arkansas or Florida.  His only mission as a campaigner appears to be that he can shoot a gun and wants to be Donald Trump’s pawn

The irony with this Trump love affair is legitimate polling that points to a Tuberville victory also reveals a Trump loss. Trumpprobably is not going to be president when either Tuberville or Sessions takes office.  Anybody with a cursory knowledge of how our president is elected under the Electoral College System realizes that if Trump loses any of the key pivotal battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Pennsylvania, he loses the Whitehouse.  If Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, current polling clearly has him favored to carry all of those states.  He is pretty much a lock to win his home state of Pennsylvania.

The winner of the Tuberville-Sessions contest will be our junior senator.  Either one will beat our anomaly, Democratic interloper Doug Jones, probably 60 to 40.  Being the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate Seat in the Heart of Dixie is tantamount to election, especially in a presidential election year with Donald Trump atop the ticket.

It really does not matter which one is elected, they both will vote conservatively and look at their roles as being a reactionary ideologue.  Neither will garner much power.  However, that does not matter when you have Senator Richard Shelby as your senior Senator.  He has enough power that we really do not need a second senator.

Most pundits were saying Tuberville had momentum and washeading towards a victory, especially with Trump’s endorsement.  However, with 15 weeks to prepare rather than 10 days it is a new ballgame.

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Allow me to share two cardinal caveats I have shared with you over the years, and which I have recently shared with national media people who have asked for my insight on this race. First, Alabamians have shown a unique but overwhelming aversion to one politician endorsing another for another office.  I was taught this rule of Alabama politics when I was a young legislator.  

It is a cardinal rule in Alabama politics that you do not get involved in other races.  Alabamians have a very dim view of this practice.  They seem to inherently say, “We elected you to your office.   You ought to be thankful for that and not show an arrogance that you are so good and anointed that you want to tell us who to vote to place in another office.

George Wallace, in his hey-day, when he was at the height of his popularity, would endorse someone and invariably they would lose. Less y’all forget, Trump endorsed Luther Strange for this same seat.  He then lost to Roy Moore.  Then Trump endorsed Roy Moore and he immediately lost to Doug Jones.  Alabamians do not think much of endorsements, in fact they resent them.

The second caveat is Alabamians will universally, overwhelmingly vote for someone from their neck of the woods.  It is called Friends and Neighbors politics. Jeff Sessions lives in and is from Mobile.  The voter turnout in Mobile-Baldwin is going to be the highest in the State because there is a tossup runoff race between Jerry Carl and Bill Hightower to fill Bradley Byrnes 1st Congressional District seat.

We will see in mid-July week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at: www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | The tumbleweed effect

Joey Kennedy

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It’s a Wednesday in March, and I’m standing on a sidewalk between the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center and Spencer Honors House at UAB. Nobody is in sight. Not one person. I almost expect a tumbleweed to bounce past my feet and head across the empty green toward the decrepit Humanities Building.

Yes, it’s Spring Break, but during most every Spring Break, some students stay on campus. Not this year. The COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) has seen to that.

Sadly, next week when Spring Break ends, the UAB campus will be just as deserted.

This lack of people at UAB is reflective of Birmingham itself in these early days of a pandemic that could last 18 months.

Coming into work during rush hour, there were hardly any vehicles out. I pulled up to Chick-fil-A on Five Points South, and there were more open parking spots at curbside pickup than there were cars waiting for food. This is one of the busiest Chick-fil-As in Alabama, but unlike most mornings, the restaurant isn’t slammed today. The dining room is closed. The most telling indicator, though, is I had no trouble parking on campus.

There is a silver lining, right? We’re all going to get checks from the government, says the government. I’ll believe it when I cash it. Unemployment nationwide, at record lows a few days ago, is expected to soar in the coming weeks. Unemployment Insurance claims have jumped as the coronavirus shocks and awes the U.S. economy.

Just a week ago, Birmingham was the bustling city we love. Now, tens of thousands of people are practicing social distancing, mainly by sheltering in place at home. Those who can, work from there. Those who can’t maybe soon missing paychecks.

“Life feels completely different,” a news announcer says.

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That’s because life is completely different.

Only seven days ago, Alabama confirmed its first coronavirus case, a patient in Montgomery who is already out of the hospital. Now, Alabama is approaching 100 cases, nearly half of them in Jefferson County, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Alabama. Nationwide, there are close to 10,000 cases.

Everything is canceled or delayed. The Republican Primary runoff between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville is pushed back to July 14 instead of March 31.

Weddings are postponed and family reunions canceled. There is an invisible danger surrounding us, pressing into our personal space, so we don’t go to church to pray or to funerals to grieve or to movies to forget. Or to school to learn. College students are subjected to online classes from wherever they live, and that’s not the most efficient teaching.

I have a student who is back home in the Czech Republic. Many of my students are scattered throughout the nation, and since we won’t be back on campus for the remainder of the semester, they’re likely to stay right where they are, at their family home. Besides, home is where the heart is. And now the school. And now the dorm. And now Mom’s cooking. And Dad’s drinking.

It’s a Shipt economy we live in now. We get our groceries delivered so we don’t have to risk the trip into Publix.

Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill is shut at least until the end of the month. If you know of any restaurant dining room open, drop me a line. My birthday is next week, and my wife wants to take me out.

Isolation and loneliness aren’t the only coronavirus side-effects. Hospitals are postponing elective surgeries and procedures. My wife is scheduled for a cardioversion (shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm) on April 1, but it looks like that’ll be put off until who knows when.

But you know what? It could be worse, and it will be, but not like it could be. This, too, shall pass. Probably not as quickly as we want or hope, but we’ll make it to the other side.

The Black Plague, which struck Medieval Europe in 1347, killed approximately one-third of Europe’s population (25 million – 30 million) before it played itself out in 1350. We don’t have the black plague, but mainly because in this modern society; we have great medical technologies and doctors who aren’t going to bleed you to cure you.

Donald Trump spent weeks downplaying the virus and mishandling the government response, at one point calling the disease a “hoax,” We’ll be paying the price for that for months if not for more than a year. Some Republicans even now remain skeptical that the disease is as virulent as it is, though itcontinues to spread and has killed more than 100 people in the United States.

To stay ahead, one must plan ahead. Not Trump. He flies by the seat of his ample pants, and that has come back to bite him – and us – right on the rump. Still, Trump continues to brag about how well he’s managing the crisis, though at least 60 percent of Americans disagree.

If you think about it too much, it gets discouraging. I think I’ll go outside and look for a tumbleweed.


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

 

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