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Josh Moon

Opinion | Alabama’s long-overdue prison bill

Josh Moon

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Although scientists haven’t yet confirmed it, there is a cure for COVID-19: Incarceration in an Alabama prison. 

It’s amazing, really. 

If you work in the prisons or visit an Alabama prison, you get the coronavirus. If you’re an inmate who leaves an Alabama prison for a short period of time, you also get the virus. 

But inside those walls … you’re as safe as a baby. 

According to APR’s Eddie Burkhalter, who has covered Alabama’s atrocious prisons better than anyone in the state over the last several months, Alabama Department of Corrections officials contend that there is just one — ONE! — prisoner in the entire ADOC prison population who currently has COVID-19. 

Out of more than 22,000 prisoners. 

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There have been nine prisoners to test positive for the virus over the last few months. All of them tested positive at medical facilities outside of the prisons while they were undergoing other treatments. 

There are 36 confirmed cases of prison workers testing positive. 

But still just the one inmate. 

A major medical miracle. We should alert Fauci and Birx.

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On the other hand, maybe it’s simply one more case of Alabama treating its prison population as though the men and women inside those walls are something less than human. Hell, something less than mammals. 

Actually, there’s no maybe about it. That’s definitely what’s happening. 

We’re not testing inmates, so, tah-dah, no inmates are sick. Even when we know from inmates and guards and prison staff that inmates are most definitely sick. And that many of our prisons have now established quarantine areas where dozens of prisoners are being housed, away from the general populations. 

But we’re not testing them. Or providing them much treatment. 

A few days ago, a woman at a Birmingham-area prison work facility was essentially left to die in a stairwell, according to another prisoner, because guards and staff were too afraid to help her get to the medical clinic upstairs. The reason they were afraid was because the prisoner, Colony Wilson, had exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. 

She died gasping for air. As several people stood over her and around her, doing nothing. 

It is the latest in an ongoing string of horrible, terrifying, unconscionable incidents within Alabama’s prisons, most of which have resulted in the deaths of dozens of inmates over the last few years. 

Because Alabama prisons are hell on earth. 

And that is not an opinion. It is a fact confirmed by anyone who has ever spent time in, worked in, toured or investigated incidents that have occurred in those prisons. Justice Department investigators agree. A federal judge agrees. 

Our prisons are poorly staffed, poorly funded and poorly maintained, and our inmates are poorly guarded, poorly fed and poorly treated for ailments. And no one cares. 

But you will. 

Mark my words, we will pay for our treatment of Alabama prisoners — all of us will. I know this because it is one of the few guarantees of life: You cannot dismiss and mistreat groups of human beings for decades on end and not pay a price for your sins. 

We have a big bill coming due. 

And I guarantee you one other thing: That bill would have been much smaller, much more easily managed had we simply done the right things from the start. 

Had we properly staffed the prisons with guards who weren’t paid so little that smuggling contraband was the only way to pay their bills. Had we provided inmates with actual tools to rehabilitate themselves. Had we treated their medical ailments properly. Had we shown a genuine interest in their contributions to society. 

We had an opportunity to show a group of mostly young men that the love and direction most of their early lives did exist. We could have proven to them that there are people who care about them, who understand that every life — even the ones outside of the womb and encased in non-white skin — are precious. 

But we didn’t. And those people found refuge with other wayward men and women — in violent gangs and prison cliques. They found an income selling drugs and selling humans and doing all the bad things that people buy all those guns to stop. 

And we pretended like it didn’t exist. Like they didn’t exist. 

So, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that we’re just not testing inmates for a deadly virus. It would fit the pattern of ADOC and this state in dealing with our prisoners. 

But know this: the manner in which a state houses and cares for its worst people is the truest measure of the heart of the people leading that state.

Alabama’s heart stopped beating long ago.

 

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

Opinion | Alvin Holmes pulled no punches

“A tireless advocate for the Black community and the most purposefully underestimated man in the history of Alabama politics.”

Josh Moon

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State Rep. Alvin Holmes

By the time State Rep. Alvin Holmes reached someone in the office of Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., it was far too late. Or, at least, that’s what they thought in Folsom’s office. 

Mercedes Benz was on the way to Tuscaloosa County. The deal had closed, the site work was underway, and to sweeten the pot from the state’s end, Folsom had sent the Alabama National Guard to Vance to help with site prep. 

That was a serious misuse of the Guard, in the eyes of Holmes (and of many others). The Guardsmen aren’t pawns for business deals. So, Holmes, who already had raised hell about the behavior of state lawmakers and Mercedes officials, called Folsom’s office to tell them it wasn’t right and to put a stop to it. 

They laughed at him and hung up. 

Bad move. 

“The next thing Alvin does is call up Ron Brown, who was the Secretary of Commerce at the time,” said former state Sen. Dick Brewbaker, who also served with Holmes in the House. “He tells Ron he wants to speak to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.”

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Holmes didn’t get quite that far to the top, but he got high enough. Before the night was over, a phone call was placed from a 3-star general to the head of Guard in Alabama. 

“Word came down that there shouldn’t be a single man or a single piece of equipment at that site at daybreak,” Brewbaker said, chuckling. 

Holmes called the governor’s back. 

“They weren’t laughing then,” Holmes told Brewbaker. 

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That, in a nutshell, was Alvin Holmes: a master of the rules, a pain in the backside to anyone he thought had strayed, a relentless debater, a tireless advocate for the Black community and the most purposefully underestimated man in the history of Alabama politics. 

Holmes passed away Saturday, at the age of 82. But during his 44 years in the Alabama House, he provided endless stories of his epic rants on the State House floor, bemoaning the treatment of Black citizens or the working poor or even that dastardly foreign beer from Germany. 

He often said outlandish things and made biting, personal attacks on his fellow members — most of it aimed at drawing attention to the larger point he wanted to make. But those moments at the mic also had another effect, serving to paint Holmes, especially in the minds of white people, as a blustering, ranting imbecile. 

And that’s exactly what Holmes wanted.   

“I’ve never met another politician in this state who wanted to be underestimated — who worked to make people think he wasn’t as smart as he was,” Brewbaker said. “Alvin loved it. He wanted people, especially those in the Legislature, to underestimate him. And then he’d tie them in knots.”

Holmes underplayed his intelligence better than anyone I’ve ever known, baiting his foes and luring them into the trap over and over again. To watch him work his marks on the House floor was like watching Greg Maddux pitch.

“Help me understand,” Holmes would start, as he questioned a bill’s sponsor about some specific language buried deep in a lengthy piece of legislation, and in a matter of seconds, the backtracking and stammering would begin. 

When he sensed fear or uncertainty, Holmes was merciless.     

“It’s not my job to be nice,” Holmes told me once. “It’s my job to make sure the people know the racism and disenfranchisement many of my white colleagues want to codify into law.”

And Holmes was very, very good at his job. 

Over the course of his 44 years in office, it’s fairly safe to say that Holmes called out more racists and challenged more discriminatory laws than anyone. And the way he did it — so boldly, so unapologetically — was, especially in the 1970s, a shock to an Alabama system that had only recently emerged from Jim Crow. 

In 1975, his second year in office, Holmes tricked lawmakers into approving a bill on a voice vote that required the state to hire more Black people. When the white lawmakers complained, Holmes brushed them off and said, “I think they’ll pay more attention next time. If they want to sleep, let them sleep.”

 In the early 1990s, during a fight over the Confederate flag flying above the state capitol — a fight that would make Holmes one of the most hated men in the state — Holmes pulled no punches. He called then-Gov. Guy Hunt “one of the most notorious racists who ever served the state.” And then he added: “Not only a racist but a stupid racist.”

In his later years, Holmes could still bewilder his Republican counterparts and his rants — while fewer and often more humorous than biting — were still newsmakers, but Holmes had clearly grown tired.

By the time he was defeated by Kirk Hatcher in 2018, Holmes barely put up a fight and agreed it was time to move on. 

Who could blame him if he was a bit tired? For more than four decades, Alvin Holmes withstood a barrage of hatred and anger that most can’t imagine. For years, he was the solitary focus of many white supremacists and the mascot that conservatives in the Alabama Legislature used to push through hateful, racist bills.  

While Holmes always seemed to court such hostility — to invite it and embrace it, at times — such a life was undoubtedly lonely and exhausting. 

Here’s hoping that wherever Alvin Holmes is today, the beer drinks plenty good, the injustices are solved and there’s finally time to rest.

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Opinion | The emperor has no votes

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest example of just how far they’ll go.

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two-and-32. That’s the record of the super-fantastic “strike team” of “elite” attorneys representing the Donald Trump campaign in various lawsuits around the country that contest the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

For a refresher: Joe Biden won that free and fair election in a landslide and will be the next president of the United States. The end.

In case after case after case, despite what the president has tweeted and despite what enablers and spineless politicians have helped him push, the Trump elite attorney strike team has failed to offer even the slightest bit of proof of the grand fraud that Trump has repeatedly claimed on Twitter or that his “dye hard” personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has screeched about during insane, “Veep”-like press conferences. (Have you ever witnessed a stranger, more disturbing image than that of “America’s mayor,” wild eyed and ranting, with his cheap hair dye running down his face as if his ears were bleeding?)

In fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases filed by strike team Trump, the team has been forced to admit to judges that they have no evidence of fraud or that they’re not able to claim fraud.

It’s pathetic that we’re still doing this — that the transition to a new administration is being held up by this band of grifters looking to squeeze one last drop of donations from the marks who have already forked over so much to this long-running American con.

That’s all this is.

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The entire Trump presidency has been exactly this — a con game to enrich him and his closest business partners. To that end, it has been highly successful.

It has also been successful in turning seemingly rational people into googly-eyed yes men willing to sully themselves for a taste of the political fortune or fame that comes with being near the presidency.

It is, to be honest, shocking the ease with which so many in the highest offices of our federal and state government have been convinced to denounce reality and make fools of themselves to ensure they either benefit from being in the cult’s favor or at least not being a target of the cult.

The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest and most horrific example of just how far they’re willing to go and how little of America they truly hold sacred.

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Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill, for example, has given media interviews in which he willingly passed along wild, long debunked conspiracy theories of Biden getting thousands of votes at once, and how there’s no explanation for it. And yet, there was an explanation — one that had been given over and over and over.

Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, a man who so frequently buys into rightwing conspiracies that he almost certainly has purchased an extended warranty for all of his cars, sent a bat-guano insane letter to a constituent this week in which he laid out how “socialist Democrats” were able to “steal” the election through massive fraud and how Republicans in Congress can steal it back.

One of the means by which this election was stolen, according to Brooks, was by excluding Republican poll watchers. None were excluded. And the strike team has now dropped that line of attack altogether.

Brooks and Merrill aren’t alone, however. Up and down the line, Alabama GOP officials and the media mouthpieces they pay to amplify their idiotic ideas have gone full in on this idea of fraud, even when other Republicans — like that poor secretary of state in Georgia — were trying desperately to tell them it wasn’t real.

Honestly, it’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being played out in real life, right in front of us. Only, the swindlers became the emperor.

Trump and his minions continue to walk around stark naked while insisting that he has on the most beautiful, perfect clothing in the whole world. And there’s this one group of people who are buying it. And then there’s this whole other group who know full well that this guy is buck naked but they’re too afraid of alienating the first group, even if it means undermining the cornerstone of American democracy.

In the meantime, the swindlers just keep sending out fundraiser emails. Because, again, that’s all this is.

Look at the frivolous lawsuits and how thoroughly Trump’s strike team has been embarrassed in every courtroom so far. This isn’t about winning or about massive fraud or about correcting problems in the election system. It’s about money. Pure and simple.

Finally, late Thursday, two influential Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, said what we all know.

Sasse said the lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud.” He was also critical of the strike team’s tactics.

Romney said Trump was trying to “subvert the will of the people.” And he said he couldn’t imagine “a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”

Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for a river of sanity and basic common sense. Because the longer this goes on, the more likely it is something catastrophic takes place.

It’s not too late yet for the president to put some clothes on.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | There aren’t many Cam Wards left in Alabama politics

“Politically, Ward and I agree on probably a handful of things and disagree on a truckload more. But his beliefs are grounded in principles.”

Josh Moon

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State Sen. Cam Ward has been tapped to head Alabama's Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

A strange thing happened Tuesday: Gov. Kay Ivey appointed a new director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles and no one complained. 

Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, independents. No one had a bad word to say about Cam Ward. 

The state senator from Alabaster is generally considered one of the most level-headed, respected members of Alabama’s Legislature, which is sort of famous for being anything but level-headed and respected. Unfortunately — or, I suspect, fortunately, in his opinion — he’ll be forced to give up that Senate seat to take on this new role. 

There’s little chance that someone as thoughtful and well-meaning as Ward will get his seat. 

And that’s a problem that I’ve never understood. A problem that is growing by the hour, it seems in today’s hyper-partisan, confrontational, social media-driven, image-only landscape of 2020 politics. 

Truth, decency, common sense and working for the greater good have taken a backseat to raw ambition and personal favorability polls. 

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Why be a decent servant of the people and work to make meaningful changes that positively affect thousands of your fellow citizens when you can instead send out press releases and letters saying off-the-wall insane things that drive up your name ID? 

We’re to the point now that good politicians are actively hiding the good deeds they’re doing or their true thoughts about important, helpful legislation because they fear they’ll be demonized by more partisan primary challengers and punished by a voting bloc that increasingly sees elections as a means of confirming their commitment to their favorite R or D team. 

Ward is a perfect example of this. 

Several years ago, not long into his mission to overhaul Alabama’s criminal justice system through complicated legislation that was lost on the average voter and that essentially tricked other lawmakers into voting for good bills, I sat on a couch in the capitol building with Ward and talked about the reform he was pursuing. He asked me, point blank, to tone down anything I would write about it. I assume that was because he was fearful that a story explaining his criminal justice work, combined with my byline, would be attacked by the more conservative lobbyist groups and special interests. 

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He was right. And I toned it way down. 

In fact, over the years, much of what Ward has accomplished in reforms has remained unreported. Partly because it’s complicated and boring and involves endless details of legislative committee hearings and backroom negotiations, but also because so many people were fearful of just what it would mean if certain people and groups learned that Alabama had over the last several years participated in one of the largest mass releases of incarcerated individuals in the entire world. 

That’s not hyperbole. 

Thousands upon thousands of young men have been legally processed out of Alabama prisons through the criminal justice reforms pursued by Ward and others. 

It was accomplished by eliminating petty mandatory sentence mandates and streamlining probation protocols and dozens of other necessary and worthy changes. Changing things that were supposed to keep Alabamians safe but were actually just useless, punitive add-ons that sounded good on campaign websites while unfairly punishing people for petty crimes.

Despite all of those releases, Alabama’s violent crime rate is at its lowest point in decades, and pretty much all crime is at all-time lows. And the state’s recidivism rate is below the national average. 

One day in the future — hopefully, when Alabama’s prison issues have been addressed — the full story of what Ward and others accomplished can be told. 

But in 2020, that is impossible. 

Hell, it’s almost impossible that a guy like Ward exists, especially in the Alabama Republican Party. 

And that’s not a partisan shot. It’s reality. 

When you have a one-party state, as Alabama so firmly is, you squeeze out the middle. The only way to get elected in that party is to keep pushing further and further to the extremes and vilifying anyone who dares to compromise or play nice with “the enemy” on the other side of the aisle. 

Even while representing one of the reddest districts in this state, Ward has resisted such a push. And on more than one occasion, he’s pushed himself and his party back towards the middle on important issues. He’s even gone to war with his party and powerful conservative special interest groups over causes that were important to him and his constituents.

All of that is exceedingly rare these days.

Politically, Ward and I agree on probably a handful of things and disagree on a truckload more. But his beliefs are grounded in principles that he can identify and verbalize, and they come from a place of honesty.

You can reason and compromise with a person like that.  

But most importantly, for the job he’s about to take, Ward actually seems to care about his fellow man. You simply can’t take on the tasks and criticisms that he has over the last several years — all with so little political upside for him in this state — without there being high levels of compassion and empathy in him somewhere. 

And it’s nice to see such a guy finally get this job.

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Josh Moon

Opinion | An apology to the guy trying to save the idiots

“The pure, unfiltered idiocy that has accompanied this pandemic in America is an embarrassment.”

Josh Moon

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(APR GRAPHIC)

Alabama’s state health officer has to wear a bulletproof vest. 

Let me put that another way: The guy who has recommended a simple, effective measure for slowing the spread of a deadly virus that has already killed a quarter-million Americans in less than a year is forced to wear a bulletproof vest because the people who he is trying to save are irrationally angry at him for trying to save them. 

This is who we are now. 

Idiots. 

Self-centered, self-involved, maddeningly-indignant, gleefully-ignorant children in the midst of a never-ending temper tantrum because someone somewhere told you something that you didn’t want to hear. 

The pure, unfiltered idiocy that has accompanied this pandemic in America is an embarrassment. And the death threats received by Dr. Scott Harris are just some of the sadder examples of it. 

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Every single day there is another conspiracy theory from another trailer park epidemiologist who’s been “crunching numbers” and can prove that this is all just another plot to control us by the gub’ment. That nonsense — usually from some guy whose only dealings with virology or statistics was the time in high school when he correctly calculated the number of condoms he needed on spring break — will fly around social media for a week or so, with a “something to think about” tag, and a bunch of people who really want a reason not to wear a mask or not to avoid a large gathering will latch onto it as if it didn’t come from someone they wouldn’t trust with a pocketknife. 

But over here in reality, while you whine about your rights and bemoan the overbearing government that’s keeping you from packing the tables at Cracker Barrel, people are dying and barely surviving in hospitals all over the country, including here in Alabama. 

Currently, this state has lost over 3,000 people to this virus — more than died on 9/11. While we don’t currently have a crisis within our hospitals, we’re inching that way. 

And if you’d like to know what that’s like, we can talk to our neighbors in Mississippi or the poor folks of North or South Dakota. 

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Currently, Mississippi has just 12 percent of its hospital beds remaining and there are ZERO intensive care unit beds in its capital city, Jackson. 

North Dakota is completely out of hospital beds. All of them. They’re at 100 percent capacity. Three state health officers have quit because the insane governor refuses to follow even their most basic advice. And COVID-positive nurses are now being allowed to work in the hospitals because they don’t have enough staff without them. 

South Dakota is almost as bad, and now governors of neighboring states are now blaming South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem of creating a superspreader state.

And still, the governors there won’t issue statewide mask ordinances. 

You people should be on your hands and knees thanking Scott Harris for having the courage to stand up to you dopes and try his best to protect all of us. And we should also be thankful for Gov. Kay Ivey and her willingness to take heat from her dopey Republican counterparts who folded at the first sign of the Trump base turning on them. 

And, yeah, that’s where it’s coming from and we all know it — the cult of Trump. Which is, essentially, a group of privileged white children who want to be told only that what they believe is right, no matter how idiotic or plainly wrong it might be. 

Trump knowingly started us down this path of insanity way back in March, when he first started downplaying this virus in public. Even as he was telling Bob Woodward — on tape — that this virus is deadly and much worse than the regular flu. 

Trump chose the stock market over saving human lives, and he ended up losing on both. But to save face, his only option was to continue downplaying the virus, ridicule the people who took it seriously (Dr. Fauci, President-elect Joe Biden, etc.) and pretend that this was all just some big scam to run him out of office. He even told you, repeatedly, that this virus would vanish the day after the election, it “will be a miracle,” he said. 

Well, guess what? It’s more than a week after election day and we just had one of the worst weeks yet for COVID spread and deaths. In El Paso, they’re rolling out mobile morgues. The Midwest is one big COVID hotspot. And schools all across the state and country are starting to shut back down. 

But it doesn’t matter at all. 

These people have managed to ignore nearly 250,000 dead Americans and millions more in hospitals. They’ll write this off too. And they’ll kill hundreds of thousands more on their mission to never have their lives altered in any way. 

For the rest of us, I’d just like to tell Scott Harris and all the other doctors, scientists and nurses who have risked their lives and their Facebook friendships to try and save us that some of us out here do appreciate it. We see what you’ve done. We know what you’ve put up with. 

And we’re sorry. Sorry that so many people chose the advice of a reality TV host over you. Sorry that so many found it so hard to wear a mask and stand six feet apart. Sorry that so many have chosen personal convenience over community safety. 

And really, really sorry that so many people care so little about their fellow man.

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