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.
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.
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.
Opinion | Groupthink voting is now literally killing us
I have many friends who can tell you the names of the offensive linemen who started last year for their favorite college football team. And most of them can also tell you who their backups are.
Very few of these people can name off their state senator, their state representative, the city councilmen or their county commissioners. I’d bet an embarrassing percentage couldn’t tell you who their U.S. senators and congressmen are.
And today, that disparity in knowledge is killing us.
As the coronavirus rips through this country, and as it rips through this mostly hospital-less state, it is exposing the absolute buffoons who have been elected to public office. Folks who few of us would allow to walk our dogs are being forced to confront an unprecedented national crisis, and they are failing miserably.
Nowhere is that more true than in the state of Alabama.
Where our governor hasn’t taken a live question from media or scared-to-death voters in going on a month now. Where our House leader and Senate president have apparently been sheltering in place in a bunker in the hills. Where the only people with plans and ideas and straight talk are the powerless lieutenant governor and the super-minority party.
And where we still — STILL! — are left without a shelter-in-place order.
From one end of this state to the other, the people on the frontlines of this crisis are screaming for help. They’ve been sounding alarms for weeks now, and they’ve caught the attention of no one in state leadership, it seems.
If not for this state’s proactive mayors, God only knows what shape we’d be in right now. Behind the scenes, those mayors — Randall Woodfin in Birmingham, Walt Maddox in Tuscaloosa, Steven Reed in Montgomery, Tommy Battle in Huntsville and Sandy Stimpson in Mobile, along with others — have been communicating with each other, bouncing ideas of one another and sharing plans.
We will never know how many lives they’ve saved by taking proactive measures before their state government did — and in a couple of cases, in defiance of state leaders — but it will be many.
As for our state leaders, hopefully this catastrophic failure will be a wake-up call for Alabama voters. But I have my doubts.
And the reason I have my doubts is what I mentioned above — too many people simply don’t place a value on educated voting.
Don’t get me wrong. These are not dumb people. It’s not that they’re too stupid to understand the issues that affect their lives and select a person who would best represent their interests. They’re absolutely smart enough to do that.
But they don’t want to.
They go to work. They take care of their kids and their house. They try to get some exercise in. And then they’d like to watch a ballgame and have a decent time.
And so, voting — if they vote at all — becomes a group-think exercise in which most of these people just vote like their friends. They follow their lead and vote for the popular candidate, who is only popular for superficial reasons.
They’re swayed by cheesy pandering using religious issues or guns or racism or some phony patriotism. Simple pitches work best, because they’re not really paying attention anyway.
That’s why the guy who offers up a detailed explanation for how taking slightly more from you in tax dollars will actually put considerably more money in your pocket on the back side always loses out to the “conservative” who just says, “No new taxes; I’mma let you keep yo money.”
This dumb pitch works on even people who aren’t dumb simply because they’re not interested enough to appropriately weigh the two arguments.
The growth of social media has made things worse. Now, in a matter of 15 minutes, the average person in Alabama can scroll through 100 political memes about libtards and MAGA from their friends, and they’re not going to be on the outside of the circle looking in. They want to laugh too. They want to be part of the group.
But very few are laughing now.
Because inevitably, what that group-think voting does is remove the requirement that a candidate actually try. That a candidate present an understanding of the complicated issues and then present solutions to solve them. That a candidate demonstrate an ability to think on his/her feet. That a candidate demonstrate any aptitude for problem solving.
You’ll do things like elect a woman governor who refused to debate any challenger.
When you know you’ve got the election in the bag simply because you’re running for the right party, who needs to try?
And when you’re voting without demanding that effort — and Alabamians have been doing so for decades now — you’re assuring that incompetent, unprepared, useless politicians are going to be put into positions of power.
On a good day, those sorts of politicians are a burden on all of us. On really bad days, like we’re experiencing now, they’re basically grim reapers.
It would be nice if on the other side of this crisis we placed a higher premium on educated voting that produces better, more qualified public officials.
But given our history, I have my doubts.
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.
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