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Josh Moon

Opinion | Want to slow the spread of coronavirus? Tell people the truth

Josh Moon

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Josh Moon

The world will miss Bus Boycott minister Robert Graetz

Josh Moon

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Rev. Robert Graetz died on Sunday at the age of 92. (VIA HISTORY CHANNEL)

The bomb was meant to kill Rev. Robert Graetz and his family of five. The carload of KKK boys from Selma who tossed it into the Graetz’s front yard that night in 1958, and then sped away, had every intention of killing all inside.

So intent were they that when that first bomb didn’t explode — because the fuse had been knocked loose when it was hurled from the car — they came back and tossed a second bomb in hopes of detonating the first. 

The second, smaller bomb went off. The first never did. And Rev. Graetz and his family suffered only a horrific scare and several shattered windows. 

That was the penalty in Montgomery at the time for a white man and his wife lending aid to Black folks and their Bus Boycott. 

It didn’t deter Rev. Graetz or shake his faith. 

Some 50 years later, he would seek out one of the KKK members in the car that night (they were caught by local police with a list of bombing targets in the car, but were acquitted by an all-white jury). Graetz wanted to meet the man, to talk about their past and to tell him that he forgave him. 

Because that’s the kind of man Bob Graetz was. The absolute best. 

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Rev. Robert Graetz passed away on Sunday. He was 92. 

I met Rev. Graetz and his wife, Jeannie, about 10 years ago. They were running the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African American Studies at Alabama State University. They might appear to be an odd choice for such a role — an older white couple in charge of a Civil Rights and African American studies center. 

But the Graetzes were never your typical white people. 

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From the moment they stepped foot in Montgomery in 1955, they decided that they would be on the right side of history. Rev. Graetz was assigned — his first assignment out of seminary school — to the predominantly-black Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church in Montgomery. One of the first people they met: Rosa Parks, who was Trinity’s NAACP youth director. 

A few weeks after arriving, they were committed to the cause and were helping shuttle boycotters around the city, to and from work every day. Rev. Graetz was eventually named secretary in the then-controversial Montgomery Improvement Association, the group headed by Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., E.D. Nixon and attorney Fred Gray that planned and executed the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

As a white man participating in the Boycott, Graetz drew more hatred from the white supremacists, and his family seemed to be in constant danger. Their home was bombed twice. They received constant death threats, including threats directed at their young children. Their car was tampered with on numerous occasions. 

The Graetzes never wavered. In fact, following the second bombing of their home, a bishop came to visit and “strongly suggested” that they accept an assignment being offered. 

During an interview for a 2015 profile for the Montgomery Advertiser, Rev. Graetz told me that, “We were fully aware of the risks and dangers. Just a short time before we came here in 1955, Emmett Till had been murdered. So, we knew what the climate was. There was an awareness that (the Boycott) was a very important activity that we were engaged in. As early as that very first mass meeting, there was a real sense that what was happening here was something that could change the world.”

When they finally did leave, the Graetzes never stopped helping others and attacking injustices with kindness and decency. 

They worked with the impoverished in Appalachia. They have advocated for gay and transgender rights. Rev. Graetz even entered a true den of thieves and served more than a decade as a lobbyist in D.C. 

Throughout his life, though, no matter where he ministered, Rev. Graetz’s mission was always the same: To instill an environment of acceptance and love. 

The Graetzes knew the importance of both, having bounced around the country, living in some of the poorest, most dangerous areas, often receiving wages that weren’t much higher than the impoverished in the congregation. Raising seven kids in those circumstances required help from the village, and that sort of help only comes with love and acceptance. 

In Montgomery, and especially around the ASU campus, where the Graetzes have an apartment, Rev. Bob was beloved. Confined to a wheelchair for the last several years, you would often see Jeannie pushing Bob, both around their neighborhood and at events. Every trip went in stops and starts, as people, young and old, stopped them to chat and share a smile. 

Because that’s who Robert Graetz was throughout his life — a man who brought a smile. When you spoke with him, you knew you were in the presence of one of those rare people who seem to radiate with kindness and decency. The sort of person who made you want to be nicer, to look for the goodness in others, to forgive, to help. He was the kind of man who would call up the racist who bombed his house to make amends. 

That’s who Rev. Robert Graetz was. 

And the world will miss him. 

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Josh Moon

Mike Hubbard finally going to prison should mean something. It doesn’t.

Josh Moon

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Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Jail on Friday. (VIA LEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE)

Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Friday to begin serving his four-year prison sentence. 

Hubbard’s new mugshot was plastered all over news sites on Friday evening, and those stories and screenshots made their way around social media all weekend. Those pics and stories, and the thoughts of the state’s former most powerful lawmaker beginning a prison stint that will put him behind bars for more than 1,400 days, should send chills up the spines of current lawmakers. 

Those images of Hubbard should be the turning point in one of the nation’s most politically corrupt states. The former House speaker and leader of the Republican Party being just another inmate should be a clear deterrent to the future lawbreakers among Alabama’s lawmakers. 

But it won’t be. 

I hate to be a downer, because this should be an occasion that we celebrate. No, not Hubbard going to prison — that’s nothing to celebrate. We should celebrate the hard justice of what we did in this state — took a powerful, rich, white man who was misusing his public office for personal gain and we prosecuted that guy just like we would prosecute any other lawbreaker. 

The judge didn’t give him any breaks. The prosecutors from the AG’s office, which was led by another Republican, went after him hard. The jury held him accountable with a well-reasoned verdict.

That’s meaningful. 

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That sends a message. 

That cleans things up and makes your government honest. 

Unfortunately, everything that has happened since that jury verdict in Lee County over four years ago has undone everything that led to that verdict. 

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And this is not just me saying this, it was someone from the team who helped prosecute Hubbard — one of the guys who took unending BS from ALGOP leadership, various moles all around the AG’s office and shameless hacks within the Legislature. In fact, it’s so bad that the person didn’t want to be quoted directly, because it would only lead to more problems now. 

That’s where we are. 

The prosecution of Mike Hubbard wasn’t a lesson not to steal. It was a lesson in what the thieves needed to fix so they wouldn’t get caught like Hubbard did.

“I wish it weren’t true,” the person said. “The people who would violate the laws, they know if someone is really watching. And now, who’s watching?”

The answer, of course, is that no one is watching. 

The first act of the ALGOP in the post-Hubbard conviction world was to destroy the two things that led to his arrest: the Alabama Ethics Laws and the Special Prosecutions Division of the AG’s office. 

They have been successful in both. 

The ethics laws have been gutted to the point that it is now legal to do half of what Hubbard did exactly the way he did it, and it’s legal to do the other half if you can claim it was done in the interest of economic development. 

These changes were made for two reasons. The first was that lawmakers claimed innocent businessmen and lawmakers could be trapped by unclear ethics laws that could criminalize personal friendships. This is ludicrous and was easily avoided, as evidenced by the 95 percent of Alabama lawmakers who didn’t violate the laws. 

The second was that economic development could be hampered by these special laws. Except other states also have these laws and not one economic development deal in the history of this state was hampered by the laws in any way. 

But Alabama voters were going to vote Republican regardless of what the crooks pushed through, so here we are with gutted ethics laws. 

The other step was to gut the SPD, which investigated and prosecuted Hubbard and his pals. 

Within a few weeks of current AG Steve Marshall being elected, the former head of that department, Matt Hart, was shown the door. Responsibilities have been shifted and new directives handed down. 

There will be no more major ethics investigations. And especially not of Republicans. 

Hell, a litany of charges against former Democratic state Sen. David Burkette was handed over to the AG’s office. The Ethics Commission passed along at least three felony counts. 

Burkette resigned after being charged with a single misdemeanor. 

So, no, sorry, the end of Hubbard’s long, slow walk to prison is nothing to celebrate. It won’t be remembered for what it changed or the crime it stopped. 

Instead, it’ll be another sad marker of yet another point at which we could have made a change, could have chosen the more righteous path, could have altered the way this state handles its business. 

But we just kept doing what we’ve always done.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | The president lied. Thousands of people died

Above all else, we should know one thing: Lies won’t fix anything.

Josh Moon

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President Donald Trump speaking in 2017 just outside Harrisburg. (Staff Sgt. Tony Harp/U.S. Air National Guard)

The president of the United States lied to you. Knowingly. With the intent to deceive. With the knowledge that the lie would place your life and the lives of your loved ones in peril. He lied. 

And not some little white lie, either. He didn’t just deny knowing about the break-in, or tell you that he didn’t have sex with that woman. Things that really don’t matter to you. 

No, Donald Trump told a lie so big, so horrifying that it is, quite honestly, hard to fathom. Hard to adequately place in the proper context. Hard to assign the proper weight. 

Because Trump’s lie cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives. 

That is not hyperbole. 

When the president of the United States speaks on a matter as important as a pandemic, and the president knowingly and repeatedly diminishes the risks of that pandemic, the American public listens. Especially those who support him. 

That’s millions of people. 

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And now we know that as early as Feb. 7, Trump was not only aware of the dangers of COVID-19, he was familiar with specific issues that this virus posed. He was telling legendary reporter Bob Woodward, on tape, that it was “more deadly” than the flu, that it spread by air, that it was “very tricky.” 

In the meantime, he was telling all of us that it was no biggie. He repeatedly, in the early days of this virus, with cases and deaths at relatively small numbers, equated it to the flu and pointed out that the flu was MORE deadly. Hell, he held six — SIX! — indoor rallies with no social distancing protocols after his comments to Woodward. 

In an absurd trip to the CDC over a month after his recorded conversation with Woodward, Trump pointed out that only 11 people had died from COVID and that 36,000 people died a few years earlier from the flu. You know what such a statement says to people. 

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All the while knowing full well that what he was saying was complete and utter BS. And that what he was saying — and his repeated provocation of his supporters — would place tremendous pressure on governors all over the country, and especially in red and purple states, to resist life-saving shutdown actions. 

Alabama was one of those. Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff resisted strict shutdown measures for weeks, even as cases grew and hospitals filled. Sources familiar with that process have said repeatedly that the governor’s office received nearly constant pressure from conservatives — that group included elected lawmakers, top donors and voters — who were convinced by Trump that the virus wasn’t that bad.  

And, boy, was he ever pushing that nonsense. A few days before Ivey implemented a statewide shutdown in late March, Trump had started telling everyone that we would have the virus under control by Easter, anaThe president of the United States lied to you. Knowingly. With the intent to deceive. With the knowledge that the lie would place your life and the lives of your loved ones in peril. He lied.

And not some little white lie, either. He didn’t just deny knowing about the break-in, or tell you that he didn’t have sex with that woman. Things that really don’t matter to you.

No, Donald Trump told a lie so big, so horrifying that it is, quite honestly, hard to fathom. Hard to adequately place in the proper context. Hard to assign the proper weight.

Because Trump’s lie cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives.

That is not hyperbole.

When the president of the United States speaks on a matter as important as a pandemic, and the president knowingly and repeatedly diminishes the risks of that pandemic, the American public listens. Especially those who support him.

That’s millions of people.

And now we know that as early as Feb. 7, Trump was not only aware of the dangers of COVID-19, he was familiar with specific issues that this virus posed. He was telling legendary reporter Bob Woodward, on tape, that it was “more deadly” than the flu, that it spread by air, that it was “very tricky.”

In the meantime, he was telling all of us that it was no biggie. He repeatedly, in the early days of this virus, with cases and deaths at relatively small numbers, equated it to the flu and pointed out that the flu was MORE deadly. Hell, he held six — SIX! — indoor rallies with no social distancing protocols after his comments to Woodward.

In an absurd trip to the CDC over a month after his recorded conversation with Woodward, Trump pointed out that only 11 people had died from COVID and that 36,000 people died a few years earlier from the flu. You know what such a statement says to people.

All the while knowing full well that what he was saying was complete and utter BS. And that what he was saying — and his repeated provocation of his supporters — would place tremendous pressure on governors all over the country, and especially in red and purple states, to resist life-saving shutdown actions.

Alabama was one of those. Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff resisted strict shutdown measures for weeks, even as cases grew and hospitals filled. Sources familiar with that process have said repeatedly that the governor’s office received nearly constant pressure from conservatives — that group included elected lawmakers, top donors and voters — who were convinced by Trump that the virus wasn’t that bad.

And, boy, was he ever pushing that nonsense. A few days before Ivey implemented a statewide shutdown in late March, Trump had started telling everyone that we would have the virus under control by Easter, and that governors should start pushing people back to work by that time.

And all the while, the bodies were piling up.

We’re going to hit 200,000 dead Americans in a few days, probably before this month is up. More than 2,300 of those are from Alabama. And thousands more have been hospitalized, placed in ICU units for days on end, and many of those are still suffering the effects of the virus.

Those people matter. They were grandparents and parents. They were husbands and wives and sisters and brothers. They made a difference in the world, and they made a difference to the people who loved them.

This president, in the interest of saving the stock market, tossed them aside like garbage.

Even as the deaths started to mount, he never backed away from his message, he never stopped downplaying the seriousness of it. Because he didn’t want to create a panic.

Because if there’s one thing that Trump is known for — if it’s not telling people that caravans of immigrants are coming to murder their families and steal their jobs or that Black people are coming to kill whitey in the suburbs or that a plane of Antifa thugs was headed to the nearest city — it’s definitely that he doesn’t like to cause a panic.

The fact is Trump has failed miserably at managing the COVID-19 crisis — there is no arguing that point. And at the core of it all is this horrific lie that encouraged a pandemic to spin out of control in the wealthiest, most advanced country in the world. Currently, for all of his blabbering about “deaths are way down,” the U.S. ranks 10th worst in coronavirus deaths per capita, and we’re climbing rapidly. We’ll be top 5 very soon. We lead the world in active cases.

It’s one more failure in a long line of them that have left us facing a pandemic, a depression and a social justice uprising at the same time. Navigating the country out of this quagmire won’t be easy, and it’ll take an honest, decent human to do it.

But above all else, we should know one thing: Lies won’t fix anything.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Alabama voters have surrendered their power to stop government ineptitude

There is a way to put a stop to this nonsense. A way to make sure that we’re not getting screwed over as badly. A way to make certain our tax dollars are being properly doled out. You have to hold politicians accountable. 

Josh Moon

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Do you think it’s right for a public board to hold a meeting — a meeting that’s open to the public and at which public business is discussed — that can’t be recorded?

No? Of course not? That’s just silly?

Try this one: Do you think it’s right for a court — maybe even the highest state court — to determine that a meeting of a public board wasn’t actually meeting if the board members listened and didn’t actually speak?

No again? That’s stupid? The craziest thing you’ve ever heard?

Well, I have bad news for you. And then even worse news.

Here’s just the bad news: Both of those things happened. The Public Service Commission had people removed from a very public meeting, at which a rate hearing was being conducted to determine whether or not customers of a regulated utility in this state should be forced to pay a fee for having solar panels.

Some folks were streaming that meeting so other citizens around the state might watch their government in action. Because, oddly, not everyone in the entire state of Alabama can take a day off work and drive to Montgomery to sit in a room and watch these meetings, but quite a few of those citizens would watch if provided the opportunity.

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But there’s nothing in the law that says hearings have to be recorded — although, there’s certainly nothing in Alabama’s Open Meetings Act that prevents it — and the members of Alabama’s PSC — a group that was founded for the express intent of protecting the public’s interest and preventing utility companies that operate as monopolies from gouging Alabama citizens — wanted no part of this new-fangled technology known as video recording and internet broadcasting.

And they wanted no part of it because if the people of this state actually got a good solid look at what went on in Montgomery on a regular basis, they’d be mighty pissed.

So, the administrative law judge tossed the folks out who were recording that meeting, and then the PSC hired a bunch of lawyers and paid them with your tax dollars to defend their right to not show you what happens at the — and pay attention to this name here — PUBLIC SERVICE commission.

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Now, such a spectacularly stupid argument — that it’s legal to block the public streaming of a public meeting called by a public board — could only be considered a legal conundrum in a one-party state. A state where you don’t need ethics or morals or basic common sense to win an election, just the backing of the right political party.

Because in such a state, where the judges are elected and their campaigns are funded by the deep pockets of corporations and big law firms, you end up with judges who do some of the most curious things. Things like attempting to redefine the word “deliberation.”

Because, you see, a meeting is defined as a “deliberation” between board members. And “deliberation” is defined in the Open Meetings Act as an exchange of ideas among board members meant to influence their vote.

Now, clearly, to every person with walking-around sense, such a definition means that a hearing at which experts testify on the validity and necessity of fees and rates should be deemed an open meeting under the Open Meetings Act, because the PSC members present were provided with information that directly affected their votes on a matter of public interest.

But not to the great legal minds who sit on Alabama’s Supreme Court. In an opinion written by a former employee at one of the big law firms, and using dueling dictionary definitions of the word “among” and leaning heavily on the absurd idea that simply being presented with information does not constitute an exchange of ideas, the ALSC ruled that the open meeting of the PSC wasn’t an open meeting at all because the PSC members never spoke.

The silliness of this should infuriate you.

The repercussions should make you even madder. Because the ALSC has just blown a hole in the Open Meetings Act, making it that much easier for public boards all across Alabama to keep secret how they’re spending — or misspending — your tax dollars.

Of course, there is something you can do about it, but that brings us to the worse news that I promised you earlier.

There is a way to put a stop to this nonsense. A way to make sure that we’re not getting screwed over as badly. A way to make certain our tax dollars are being properly doled out.

You have to hold politicians accountable.

You have to vote out people like Twinkle Cavanaugh and Chip Beeker and Jeremy Oden — the PSC commissioners who have failed you time and again on all sorts of issues. You have to actually pay attention to judicial races, and vote for the most qualified and fair judges.

But you won’t.

You’ll take the ballot and you’ll vote for the Republican. You’ll vote for the goobers who make insane promises on national issues that have no bearing at all on their office. You’ll vote for the people currently serving on the PSC and ALSC and in the Alabama Legislature.

And you’ll do it over and over again, never once holding them accountable for anything.

And then you’ll wonder why all of these silly, nonsensical things keep happening.

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