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Josh Moon

Opinion | A noose was left in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall. A coward put it there

Josh Moon

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There was a noose found hanging in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega on Sunday afternoon. 

A coward put it there. 

It doesn’t matter who NASCAR eventually finds as the culprit — and by late Sunday, stock car racing’s governing body, to its credit, had announced a full investigation and issued a promise to “eliminate” from the sport the individual responsible — we’ll all learn that the culprit is a coward. 

Because that’s who does ignorant things like this. 

Cowards. 

People who are scared that their way of life might be changing. That they might have to try a little harder. That their skin color won’t be an automatic ticket to the front of the line. 

That’s why a noose was in the garage stall of NASCAR’s only black driver. 

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Because they’re afraid of what Bubba Wallace — a black driver with enough clout and talent to force NASCAR to ban Confederate flags at all events — means to their lives and their livelihoods. 

Because the good ol’ boy network that runs racing — and I’m talking about the guys who really run it, at the local short tracks and dirt tracks and neighborhood garages — has no interest in inclusivity. Stock car racing is a sport for white people, and they’re just fine keeping it that way. 

That’s what the rebel flags and overt racism has been about all these years: Keeping a white sport for white people and discouraging black participation. 

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What, you thought black Americans don’t like building engines and racing cars? Have you been to a drag strip on a Friday or Saturday night? 

NASCAR was the last white stronghold in major American sports — the sport where a car does 95 percent of the work. And its fans and its leadership over the last several decades have, either consciously or by accident, gone out of their way to keep it that way. 

Back in the early 2000s, when I covered NASCAR on a fairly regular basis, the Confederate flag was growing into a touchy subject. The only driver who would ever speak out about it was Dale Earnhardt Jr., and he got little support from the NASCAR governing body or his fellow drivers. 

As the sport expanded in those years, the criticism of its redneck atmosphere dogged it, and various racial incidents finally prompted the sport to devote resources to a diversity program. 

That’s the program that eventually produced Wallace. NASCAR will also tell you that it has introduced dozens of other minority kids to the sport, and several still work at some level of NASCAR. 

But it hasn’t been a raging success, by any measure. And a lot of that has to do with the sport’s image and the attitudes of its fans. As we all saw on Sunday at Talladega. 

Because it wasn’t just the noose in Wallace’s garage stall. 

Heading into the track on Sunday, cars lined Speedway Boulevard — even though the event was mostly closed to fans because of COVID-19 fears — to fly rebel flags. During the event, a plane flew over the track hauling a giant banner with a rebel flag and the phrase “Defund NASCAR.” 

This is why we can’t have nice things in Alabama. Because the redneck jokes write themselves when a bunch of hillbillies get all riled up over not being able to fly their traitor flag at their car racing/beer drinking event. 

However, before you get all uppity, let’s not pretend that NASCAR is the only sport in which such racism exists, or the only sport in which racism has prevented more talented black athletes from excelling. 

Take America’s most popular sport — football. 

Colin Kaepernick took a knee and people lost their minds. The all-white owners in the league blackballed the man. 

But even before that, the mere accomplishment of Kaepernick playing quarterback in the league was a feat of racial success. For decades, black athletes were considered “too dumb” to play a thinking-man’s position like quarterback. A position held down by scholars like Terry Bradshaw. 

Only in the last few years have black quarterbacks been provided more opportunities, and still the criticisms and unfair judgments hold them back. The 2019 NFL MVP, Lamar Jackson, was told he should play receiver. Another MVP, former Auburn QB Cam Newton, was critiqued on his smile and body language. 

That sort of racism is built into America. And sports often shines a spotlight on it. 

It’s funny how quickly things change once that first hurdle is overcome, though. Should there be an NFL season in 2020, at least 10 of the league’s teams will have black starting QBs. And that number will likely grow in the coming years. 

That’s why there was a noose hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall on Sunday. 

Whoever hung it there wasn’t trying to scare him. 

That person was scared of Wallace, and the change he represents.

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 | Science is hard for Alabama, Del Marsh

Josh Moon

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Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh at a press conference with Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday April 28, 2020 in Montgomery, Ala. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

On a good day in Alabama, science is not our friend. On bad days, during complicated, scary times, when science and medicine are confusing and offering hard solutions to tough problems, watching our people try to science is like watching a monkey fold a fitted sheet. 

Such has been the case in the days of COVID-19, when this state’s conservative leadership has been bamboozled by the great invisible enemy and left choosing between letting thousands die or potentially losing money and jobs.

Which is really no choice at all for them, even though they did pretend for a week. 

In reality, the actual choice for Alabama leadership has been what it always is: A choice between Option 1, which is supported by facts and science and experts and data, and Option 2: What they really want to believe, regardless of facts and data and science and experts. 

You can probably guess which way the majority has gone. 

We were one of the first states to “reopen” our economy, and despite skyrocketing new cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Kay Ivey has refused to reassert any restrictions that were lifted. Bars are still open. Restaurants are serving dine-in customers. 

It’s like life is going on just fine. Even though more than 1,000 people have died in less than five months, and hundreds more are packed into Alabama hospitals with a life-threatening virus. 

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Still, our politicians are clinging to the dumbest of beliefs and are actively pushing debunked theories that they really want to believe despite no evidence or even evidence to the contrary. 

Like Senate President Del Marsh, who, when asked Thursday about Alabama’s trend of record-breaking numbers of new cases, said he hopes more people get coronavirus because “we start reaching an immunity the more people who have it and get through it.” 

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Now, as much as it warms my heart to hear an Alabama conservative embrace evolution, Marsh is, in fact, wrong. Not only is there little evidence pointing to effective “herd immunity,” but there is evidence indicating that the theory is completely incorrect. 

Sweden, which was the most often cited example by your idiot friends on Facebook, tried the whole “herd immunity” approach. It shut down nothing. Let people have their freedoms. Didn’t impose any requirements for masks. It was hailed as a beacon of light by the far-right nuts. 

Fox News isn’t airing those puff pieces anymore. 

Sweden has turned into the world’s cautionary tale. Deaths in the country are 40 percent higher than in the US. They’re significantly higher than in neighboring countries. And Sweden’s economy has been hammered, just like everyone else’s economy. 

So, if you’re scoring at home, Sweden got all the economic catastrophe plus an off-the-charts death rate. 

Which is what Del Marsh apparently wants for Alabama. Or maybe he doesn’t know what he wants, because shortly after saying that he hopes a bunch more people get coronavirus, he also said that he doesn’t want anymore deaths. Which is a lot like saying you want a bunch more ice cream but no more calories. 

Of course, the real problem in all of this is that we’ve handled this crisis — both here in Alabama and at the federal level — in the same manner in which Republicans handle everything: As if there are only two, stark options and no middle ground. 

Because there’s simply no way we could both open businesses and impose meaningful limitations that scientists and doctors tell us help stop the spread of the virus. There’s no way we could allow some businesses to open while keeping other shuttered (and providing those closed businesses with needed money for survival). There’s no way we could have opened up things like beaches and parks — things that science and doctors tell us are unlikely to contribute to spread — while simultaneously preventing dine-in eating at beach restaurants or shutting down entertainment businesses, like nightclubs and bars. 

No, much easier to tell everyone to get the virus and hope for the best. 

What Marsh said Thursday is dangerous and dumb. He should be condemned for it. And when this is all over, and we’re counting our dead, his words, and the failed GOP leadership through this crisis should be remembered. 

Because they contributed to this catastrophe.

 

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Featured Columnists

Opinion | The clumsier, dumber George Wallace: Donald Trump

Josh Moon

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George Wallace acknowledges the cheers of supporters at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Oct. 24, 1968. (CSU Archives/Everett Collection)

Be afraid, white people. The Blacks and Hispanics are coming for you. Coming for your children. Coming for your wives. And now, the police are being prevented from protecting you.  They’re going to take your statues. They’re going to take your jobs. They’re going to take your rights.

This is the message that the Trump re-election campaign will push. 

It is the only message they have left, as their candidate has so royally screwed up everything else he has touched. 

His precious economy is in shambles — a result of his botching the response to the coronavirus pandemic so spectacularly. There is unprecedented civil unrest — a result, in part, of his overbearing and callous attempts at “law and order” while ignoring the pleas of Black Americans seeking equal treatment. And there is a seemingly endless barrage of embarrassing news, mostly stemming from Trump’s Twitter feed and the bumbling group of imbeciles and racists that make up his cabinet and closest advisors. 

So, a culture war is all they have left. And dammit, they plan to play it like a fiddle at a bluegrass festival. 

Trump began his march down this pathway in earnest on Saturday, delivering a disgusting and divisive speech aimed at stoking fear and playing up the Black-v-white culture war. 

On Monday, after a day of golf on Sunday — because even racists rest on the sabbath — he was back at it, attacking, of all people, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. Reviving an old story for no apparent reason, Trump called the noose left in Wallace’s garage stall a “hoax” — an outright lie, since there was, in fact, a noose in the garage stall — and asked if Wallace had apologized. Of course, Wallace has nothing to apologize for, since he didn’t report the noose, didn’t investigate it, didn’t ask the FBI to look into it and generally handled himself with grace and dignity throughout the ordeal. 

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Unlike the president. On any given day. 

But we weren’t finished. By late Monday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was on the channel your grandparents claim tells them the truth about stuff, and was sending the scared whites into full-on panic. Meadows, without an ounce of shame or the intelligence to know he should have some, exclaimed that Trump is “the only thing that stands between a mob and the American people.” 

(And by “American people,” he means white people.) 

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“First, it’s the statues. Then, it’s the businesses. Then, it’s their homes,” Meadows said. 

It’s like a dumber, clumsier, less articulate George Wallace campaign. 

But then, the entirety of Trump’s presidential run and presidency has essentially been a slightly updated, less polished George Wallace campaign. Leaning on thinly-veiled racism, stoking racial anger, massaging the fear that so many white people have of anyone who looks slightly different. 

Now, they’re going full-Wallace. Because it’s all they have. 

Trump has proven that he doesn’t care about anything or anyone, and will put his interests above the American people and the security of the country. Hell, he sold out American soldiers without batting an eye. 

So, he will burn this place to the ground, if he must. And 30 percent of the country, at least, will follow along. Happily holding tiki torches and chanting that the Jews won’t replace them, like the very fine people they are. 

That hateful rhetoric and the regression it represents — after all this country has gone through, after all the growth and all the progress — is what we should all fear the most.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Has Alabama lost its independent streak?

Josh Moon

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What if I told you that Sen. Richard Shelby, outraged by the stories of laid off Alabama workers forced to camp out overnight to get unemployment compensation, was pushing his fellow senators to pump more money into states to rectify the situation? 

What if I told you that Shelby had fought to get more funding for Alabama to expand Medicaid and provide 300,000-plus Alabamians with medical coverage during the ongoing pandemic? 

What if I told you that Shelby recently condemned the Tennessee Valley Authority for shipping jobs overseas, as Americans, including many Alabamians, suffer through a recession? 

What if I told you that Shelby pushed a bipartisan bill through the Senate that would strengthen and enhance telemedicine programs? 

What if I told you that at least once a week, Shelby hosts a livestreamed press conference, in which he and guests — usually medical professionals or local leaders — discuss the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and provide the public with critical updates and behind-the-scenes details on upcoming plans to address the most pressing matters?

What if I told you that Shelby had been honored in the Senate as one of the most bipartisan lawmakers, co-sponsoring dozens of bills with senators across the aisle? 

Would all of that impress you? Make you think more highly of Sen. Shelby? 

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Well, what if I told you that I was actually talking about Doug Jones? 

Because it’s Jones who did all the above over the last month. 

That’s right — month!

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But it doesn’t matter to a good number of people in this state. Jones’ record while in the Senate, and his work ethic and his good bills that have done good things for the working people of this state, just don’t matter at all unless there’s an “R” beside his name. 

It’s a real shame that a man who has done all that in a month is running neck-and-neck, according to polling, with both of his potential opponents — Tommy Tuberville and Jeff Sessions. 

Quick: Name one bill Sessions passed in 20 years in the Senate. 

Take your time. 

Yeah, that’s what I thought. His biggest accomplishments were fighting against the Violence Against Women Act and not saying anything racist out loud. 

Tuberville, in the meantime, is quite possibly the most policy-ignorant candidate in recent history. The man knows nothing about anything, and he hasn’t even pretended to have a plan for anything. He just keeps showing up at barbecue joints, muttering stuff about football and Trump, and pretending that not knowing anything is the same as being “an outsider.” 

That — along with the little R — is apparently enough for half the state. 

And it’s a shame. 

Because if Alabamians were even a sliver as independent or stubborn as they like to pretend, this thing wouldn’t even be a contest. 

On one side, there’s a guy who’s actually working, who cares about good public policy, bipartisanship and right and wrong — a guy who locked up the clowns who killed four little black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. 

On the other side, two guys hoping to skate by on party affiliation. 

But Jones doesn’t whine about it, even when I gave him an opportunity to do so on Thursday. He refused to take shots at anyone, and instead said it was time to get to work. His only pointed frustration was directed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has repeatedly blocked efforts by Democrats to get more relief funds out to the American people. 

McConnell has sat on a bill sent over by the Democratic-led House, and now, Jones said, McConnell plans to draft his own relief bill. 

“That’s crazy to me,” Jones said. “We’ve had that bill for weeks now. It’s not a perfect bill by any means, but it sets up the framework. We could have worked within that and got something out to the people who need it most before the Fourth of July holiday. Now, it’s going to be after this two-week break. That’s too long.”

Jones said a big concern for him was getting money to state and local governments, which employ about 20 percent of the American workforce and have been devastated by the coronavirus shutdowns. Those issues often manifest in terrible ways, such as forcing people to sit in a parking lot to receive basic help because your state department of labor is overworked and understaffed. 

“It’s not a matter of someone being lazy or not doing their job,” Jones said, speaking specifically of the situation that has left thousands of Alabamians waiting in long lines to get routine unemployment questions answered. “It’s a matter of giving these folks the resources they need to get the job done. That’s what we’re hoping to do.”

Jones is trying. And really, I’m not sure what else you can ask for at this point.

Well, except for one petty, and utterly meaningless, thing: An R beside his name.

 

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Education

Analysis | There’s a better plan for reopening schools — if Alabama leaders will use it

Josh Moon

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Maybe there will be a plan for reopening schools after all. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is set to meet with Gov. Kay Ivey’s staff on Tuesday morning to discuss an ambitious and comprehensive plan to reopen Alabama’s public schools that would see every school in the state get a new, stand-alone nurses station, a testing machine, a full-time nurse and tools to test and check students’ temperatures. 

The plan, known as the Safely Opening Schools Program, or SOS, was put together by the Alabama School Nurses Association and has the backing of several doctors and the Alabama Education Association. It was presented to some lawmakers earlier this month. 

State Sens. Jabo Waggoner, Jim McClendon and Bobby Singleton — two top Republicans and the highest-ranking Democrat — have since submitted requests for funding out of Alabama’s portion of CARES Act money to pay for the various components of the plan. 

In a letter sent last week to Ivey, Singleton said he was “excited by the plan,” and believes it will “address, to some degree, the inequity (in his local school districts) and allow my constituents to feel that they are receiving the same support to reopen their schools as the more affluent districts of our state.”

The SOS program contains, essentially, three pieces: Building 500-square-feet nurses stations/isolation rooms at every school, purchasing testing machines and supplies and hiring approximately 300 nurses for the schools around the state that are currently lacking one. (Every school is technically required to have a school nurse, but the systems have circumvented that requirement by allowing a district nurse to cover multiple schools.)

In total, the plan is projected to cost roughly $150 million — almost all of it (around 90 percent) coming from the nearly $2 billion in CARES Act funds provided to Alabama by the federal government. (The remaining portion is projected to be covered by other grants.) Included in those costs are the nurses’ salaries for two years and the construction of more than 1,300 stand-alone nurses stations/isolation rooms — each costing a little less than $50,000. 

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In addition, each school would receive its own testing device, which nurses would be trained to use, and testing supplies. If used as the program projects, Alabama schools would turn in more than 500,000 tests in nine months, with blind results being sent to the Centers for Disease Control for data collection purposes. The testing machines can also be modified to test for other ailments, such as the different types of flu.  

To put the total cost in perspective, the state has already spent at least $150 million — it received $115 million in grants from the CDC and received part of the more than $450 million the federal government sent to Alabama earlier this year — to test less than 10 percent of the state’s population over the last six months. 

The SOS program could potentially test between 12-15 percent in far less time, and in a setting where early detection could prevent massive hotspots. 

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It’s a good program, and it would likely be worth the costs if only for the things mentioned. 

But those things are only half of the benefits of this program. Maybe not even half. 

Consider this: Included in the costs, every school in every city in Alabama, regardless of income level or parental involvement or poverty rates, will get a state-of-the-art nurses station and a fulltime school nurse. 

To care for children who rarely see any sort of healthcare professional. To diagnose the early signs of disease or mental health issues. To spot the early warning signs of physical abuse or drug addiction. 

In every school in Alabama. For two full school years. 

“This is extremely important to my communities, as they lack school nurses and other critical health access,” Singleton wrote to Ivey. “The opportunity to have testing/screening on-site and nurses to address students’ health needs would be of tremendous assistance to the residents in my district.”

The same could be said for school districts, and for school children, all over the state. 

The simple fact is there is no better plan offered for reopening Alabama’s schools. The others, including the “roadmap” presented by state superintendent Eric Mackey last week, mostly fail to account for known shortages in teachers, staff and nurses, and they offer no assurances for worried parents. 

The SOS plan would take the burden of monitoring and quarantining sick students off the staff and faculty, would establish a clear protocol for dealing with the virus in our schools and would assist the state and federal government with accurate, real-time data. In addition, it could be a health lifeline for kids in rural and impoverished areas. 

There is no better plan.

 

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