You probably don’t know K.B. Forbes, but you know who he is. Unless you’re a journalist in the state of Alabama — or maybe Florida or California or Colorado — you’ve likely never dealt with Forbes, who serves as the executive director of Consejo de Latinos Unidos and as the publisher of the “BanBalch” blog.
If you do happen to be a journalist — or just someone with a camera and a website that attracts a few eyeballs — you probably do know Forbes, or at least have read through one of his many emails, maybe even ventured over to the blog to read through the various allegations of corruption and horrors against the Balch & Bingham law firm.
I like that blog. Mainly because I’ve never been a big Balch & Bingham fan, and generally believe that firm is a blight upon the state. So, that blog, on which Forbes writes and writes about the nefarious practices of Balch attorneys in a supposed effort to defend his attorney friend, is a fun read for me.
But the other day, following a lengthy story written by my boss and APR publisher Bill Britt that questioned the funding behind Forbes and his website, I started to wonder: Just who is this guy? Well, that wasn’t hard to figure out. There’s plenty of information on him out there, readily available through a simple Google search of his name.
And as it turns out, I knew exactly who Forbes was. And you do too.
Forbes appears to be that guy who hangs around the periphery of politics and business. That guy who makes his money in mysterious ways. Who is aligned with this person or group one day, their sworn enemy the next.
A piece of political putty, apparently completely devoid of deeply held beliefs, and willing to be molded into whatever form best fits his next clients.
He’s a guy who one year is working on the anti-immigration campaign of rightwinger Pat Buchanan and a few years later is running a nonprofit allegedly devoted to protecting the rights of Latino immigrants.
He’s the guy fighting for minorities and tackling racial injustices in Alabama, while at the same time publishing arguably racist, doctored images of a black lawmaker and his wife.
He’s the guy who is allegedly running a nonprofit that goes after hospitals for overcharging uninsured immigrants, but who, numerous publications and critics have alleged publicly, is possibly using that nonprofit to aid himself and the insurance company owner he used to work for.
Forbes, of course, likely denies this. I don’t know that for certain. I sent him a lengthy email explaining exactly what I found through the Internet searches and quite bluntly telling him what those findings led me to believe — that his “BanBalch” website looked like a shakedown attempt. He didn’t respond.
But being accused of shakedowns isn’t new for Forbes — primarily for the benefit of his former boss, J. Patrick Rooney, an insurance company owner.
According to numerous stories over the years in a variety of publications, it is generally believed that Forbes started CDLU as a front operation. With Rooney’s initial financial backing — which Forbes has admitted in the past — CDLU started in 2001 targeting hospitals for their overcharging of uninsured patients and demanding that patients be charged equally.
Noble work, right? Well, certainly, except that work also just happened to benefit the insurance company operated by Rooney, driving down costs and raking in millions for the multi-millionaire.
For example, Rooney’s relatively small insurance company allegedly owed Tenet Health millions of dollars in unpaid bills for clients. According to Business Week, CDLU went after Tenet in 2003 over the hospital’s collections practices, filing 10 lawsuits. However, according to the Business Week story, when Tenet agreed to forgive Rooney’s debt, CDLU dropped every lawsuit.
Forbes, of course, has denied the connection between CDLU and Rooney, saying that Rooney provided him the startup money for CDLU — some $100,000 — and nothing more. But an investigation by Roll Call in 2005 found that Rooney had registered the domains for numerous websites that CDLU set up to attack hospitals, including two that were attempting to obtain back payments from Rooney’s insurance company.
Forbes said that was all just a simple mistake. A “programmer” entered the wrong registrant when creating the websites, he told Roll Call.
But there’s more.
In 2005, when a U.S. House committee began looking into the practice of hospitals overcharging the uninsured, a list of questions was sent by the committee chair to the CEO of Tenet. Among the questions, the committee wanted to know about Tenet’s specific settlement with CDLU and Forbes. In a response, Tenet CEO Trevor Fetter acknowledged that it essentially paid Forbes, setting up a system in which it paid him for speaking engagements and funded his travel.
That setup is suspiciously similar to what Forbes seems to be doing now with his Ban Balch website, as he pushes embarrassing stories and attacks the law firm’s clients. He has bragged about driving business away and has openly asked if it wouldn’t be better for Balch to pay him to go away.
In a response to several questions I sent him, Forbes denied that he could be paid to shut down his website and said he refused alleged attempts by Balch attorneys to include CDLU and the website in negotiations with attorney Burt Newsome.
Newsome’s grievance with Balch, which appears to be a legit complaint that highlights Balch’s notoriously awful tactics, is Forbes’ stated reason for starting his blog and going so heavily after Balch. He claims he met Newsome when their wives started participating in the same online moms’ group and became friends. He heard Newsome’s tale of how he was wronged by Balch and decided to devote CDLU’s resources to exposing the law firm.
Which sounds nice, except, CDLU’s stated purpose is to advocate for the uninsured and Latinos facing wrongs. All of its previous work has been in those areas.
The sudden shift to taking on a law firm over one man’s grievance seems … a convenient pivot that has allowed Forbes to use the media connections and resources of CDLU to apply pressure on Balch and its clients.
And in the process, Forbes has seemingly abandoned the organization’s goal of protecting minorities. In a series of posts about an alleged “star chamber” hearing set up for Balch by Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Carole Smitherman, Forbes attacked Smitherman, wife of state Sen. Rodger Smitherman, calling her “corrupt,” “worthless” and “stupid.”
Accompanying one post on the blog was a doctored photo of Carole and Rodger Smitherman that can only be described as racist. It depicts the Smithermans wearing striped jail uniforms.
But then, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Forbes would have such a blindspot, given his work prior to starting CDLU.
Serving as a spokesman for the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes (no relation), one of Forbes’ pet projects and his area of emphasis in dozens of interviews was on the dangers of illegal immigration and the threats that immigrants pose.
Less than five years before starting an organization allegedly focused on ensuring the health care of immigrants, Forbes was actively fighting against those same immigrants receiving benefits. A clip of Forbes’ appearance on a TV show shows him criticizing then-presidential candidate Bob Dole for not hitting illegal immigration harder or making it a bigger issue in the campaign.
Prior to that, Forbes’ rhetoric on immigration was even stronger. As a young advocate in the late 1980s in his hometown of San Marino, California, Forbes attempted to get the city council to pass an ordinance making English the city’s official language — an ordinance he openly acknowledged was aimed at the city’s growing Asian immigrant population.
At the meeting, according to a Los Angeles Times story, Forbes exclaimed that the city was being “overrun by foreigners.” He was shouted down by attendees.
But Forbes would be back. And later, he would be pushing anti-immigrant rhetoric focused on Hispanics, because that’s what he was paid to do. And then pushing for immigrant welfare, because that’s what he was paid to do. And then pushing for hospital pricing reform that just so happened to benefit his former boss, because that’s what he was paid to do.
And really, after all the questions about Forbes, there’s probably only one that matters. Because, as I said at the start, we all have a pretty good idea who Forbes is.
The only question is who’s paying him.
Opinion | Someone should be fired for Decatur’s racist housing practices
Did you know that all Black people hate living in high-rise towers? Or that all Black people like to sit on their porches, and come and go easily?
I was unaware of these common traits shared by all Black people until this morning, when I read a news story in the Decatur Daily and then read a lengthy report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that detailed the insanely racist practices of the Decatur Housing Authority.
Now, before we go much further here, I should warn some of you that this is going to shatter your beliefs that racism is mostly dead and that widespread, government-sponsored racism doesn’t exist, or is over-hyped by media attempting to shame all white people. Those views were ignorant, offensive and easily disproved anyway, but this story is going to cause you some sleepless nights.
Here are the basic details: In Decatur, there are three options for low-income, elderly housing. There are two high-rise apartment buildings that sit beside the Tennessee River and offer tenants various activities and beautiful views of the river. There is also another group of garden-style apartments several miles away, located in a less desirable and impoverished area of Decatur, where crime rates are high and property values low, and there are no activities and no gorgeous views.
In the beautiful high-rise buildings, the tenants are 94 percent white.
In the very-much-not-beautiful apartments, the tenants are 100 percent Black.
If you think this to be a mere accident, it was not. Decatur Housing Authority employees admitted to the segregation practices, in which they routinely bypassed Black applicants on the waiting lists at the high-rise buildings and placed white tenants in the rooms instead.
The HUD review noted numerous instances of this occurring during the compliance review period. In other words, the people at the Decatur Housing Authority continued this racist nonsense even when they knew HUD was watching.
And it’s actually worse than that. Because DHA was warned back in 2017 that its segregation practices were illegal, and that serious changes and improvements needed to be made to its housing and placement practices.
DHA did nothing.
HUD officials found that one Black applicant remained on the waiting list for a room at the high-rise buildings for nearly 2,000 days.
That’s more than five years.
And when the HUD investigators asked about these practices and about the obviously segregated housing situation, DHA employees told them: “Black elderly tenants do not like to live in high-rise buildings. They prefer to live in garden-style units so they can sit on their porch and come and go as they please.”
All Black tenants … Lordy.
The HUD report sums this up nicely: “It is unclear how the (DHA) staff reached this conclusion.”
If you’re wondering, absolutely no one in Decatur has taken responsibility for this monumental embarrassment. And as of late Tuesday evening, no one has been held accountable.
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling ducked questions about the issue, despite the fact he is responsible for appointing some members of the DHA board.
One of those board members, chairman James Ridgeway, ran from the problem too, telling the Daily that he “doesn’t oversee the thing,” meaning DHA, and that he’s just a board member.
Ridgeway went on to say that even though the board does have authority to hire and fire the people in charge of DHA — executive director Andy Holloway and housing director Jeff Snead — there are no plans to do so.
“We don’t have nothing against them. They’ve done a good job,” Ridgeway said.
They actually didn’t. According to a spokesperson for HUD, the Decatur Housing Authority operated the absolute worst, most racist housing agency in the entire country.
To rectify the situation, Decatur will pay out $200,000 in fines and will be forced to make improvements to bring the apartments up to decent standards and provide the additional services that are available in the highrises.
All told, it will cost the city, and its taxpayers, millions of dollars. And it will have left hundreds of Black residents living in substandard housing, and suffering the indignity of being shuffled off to less desirable homes because of the color of their skin.
Someone should answer for that.
Opinion | The nothingness of Tommy Tuberville
There is no reason to vote for Tuberville for anything, much less for one of Alabama’s two Senate seats. There never has been, and through two years of campaigning, he’s never given you a reason. Because Tommy Tuberville has never truly said anything at all.
There is no reason to vote for Tommy Tuberville. This is not partisan rhetoric. This is not even an opinion. It’s a fact. Through more than a year of campaigning and barbecue lunches and meet-and-greets and Sunrise Club breakfasts and ALFA dinners, Tommy Tuberville has never — not one single time — provided you with his solution to anything.
I know this because I’ve listened to the recordings, read the stories, talked to the people who were there. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. On any issue facing Alabama currently. There’s a reason for that: Because Tommy Tuberville has nothing to say. He has no deeply held beliefs. He has no ironclad positions. He has no previous knowledge or experience that would make him a candidate for this job.
So, everything that comes out of his mouth is regurgitated garbage that he thinks you want to hear. And if a bunch of you tell him that you don’t like what he said, then he happily and without an ounce of shame starts saying the opposite.
Because at the end of the day, Tommy Tuberville doesn’t give a damn about you or this state — hell, he just moved here 10 minutes ago. He has no idea what problems are facing Alabama, much less how to solve them, and he hasn’t spent an hour trying to figure them out.
He just wants this job as a senator — just for the prestige and the power.
That’s how you wind up with a U.S. Senate candidate whose plan to solve the education woes of a state with one of the worst-rated education outcomes is this steaming pile of nothing: “The best and most viable solutions come from the local level where parents, students, and local administrators can collaborate and work towards success together. And I believe that school choice, charter schools, and improving our existing public schools are all things that need to be a part of the education mix for Alabama children.”
Read that again. The man could write anything he wants on his website with unlimited space and no editing. And his stated education plan is improving public education by “improving public education.” Inspiring!
But wait, you haven’t heard his ideas for fixing health care — the single biggest issue weighing on Alabamians, according to several voter polls. Our health care system in this state stinks, and we routinely rank at the bottom in the country for health and wellness. Alabama had more than 300,000 people without health insurance prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have thousands more now.
Here is Tuberville’s plan for these issues: “Obamacare must go. This failed experiment has led to higher costs, less quality care, and a system that hurts patients and doctors more than it helps. I believe that we need a return to the free-market where companies compete for your business while ensuring that pre-existing conditions are not a deterrent to obtaining quality insurance and care.”
Now, I could write a series of columns on the stupidity contained within these three sentences, but let’s just hit the most obvious. There is NO plan here from Tuberville. There’s no anything. Just buzzwords and the obligatory shot at Obamacare. And the weird promise to take away people’s health care in the middle of a pandemic while offering zero alternatives.
Yeah, sure, tens of thousands of people would die, but all of those words were popular with the consultants who wrote them.
Look, there are real-life consequences for placing unprepared, unqualified people in positions of power and importance. No people should know and understand this better than the people of Alabama. Yet, somehow, we don’t. Somehow, election after election, we get suckered into voting for fools because those fools paid their qualifying money to the most popular political party at the time.
Which is exactly the way we have, as a finalist for U.S. Senate from Alabama, a man who has admitted on air that he “wouldn’t have a clue” how to address the current pandemic, called the stimulus bill that likely saved America from a deep depression “just absolutely criminal” and recently told people that $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits was just “too much.”
And he said all of those dumb things because he thought that’s what you wanted to hear. Heck, he even said them with an aw-shucks, gal-darnit routine and complained about them rascals up yonder in Wash-uh-tun.
Because after all, he’s just like “y’all” — if “y’all” own a house, a lake house, a beach house, several cars and a few boats.
There is no reason to vote for Tuberville for anything, much less for one of Alabama’s two Senate seats. There never has been, and through two years of campaigning, he’s never given you a reason. Because Tommy Tuberville has never truly said anything at all.
Opinion | Humane Alabama prisons would be a real surprise
Just some Christlike compassion and decent management. Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.
Nearly every day, there is a notification on my phone announcing that APR reporter Eddie Burkhalter has submitted yet another story on some new horror that has occurred within Alabama’s God-awful prison system.
A beating. A death. A suicide. Guards arrested. Guards accused of essentially murder. The Alabama Department of Corrections offering a lame-ass excuse for this death or that “suicide” or this drug overdose or that outright murder.
Every single day.
How he deals with it — listening to the pain and anguish of the prisoners and their family members — is simply unimaginable to me.
But because of his stories, and the work done by the ACLU’s Beth Shelburne, I know — and the readers of APR know — all too well of the violence and all around horrors that exist daily within Alabama’s prison system.
So, it was quite absurd to hear a few days ago that both the Alabama Department of Corrections and Attorney General Steve Marshall were “surprised” by a Department of Justice report that found the state’s prisons to be an absolute horror show, where beatings, suicides, murders and drug use are rampant.
The only people in those positions who would be “surprised” by such a report are idiots and liars. Marshall and Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn can decide where they fall.
The report from the Donald Trump DOJ, which is led by Bill Barr, was produced following a near-four year investigation into the prison system in the state, and it came on the heels of other federal reports that found similar issues.
The state is currently tied up in federal litigation over ADOC’s lack of health care and mental health care for prisoners. Testimony in that trial, highlighted by media, has brought damning details of the state’s prisons and the cruel and unusual punishment doled out within their walls.
At this point, the only people who don’t know that Alabama’s prisons are dark holes where violence, death and disease run rampant are those who don’t want to know.
You would think that such despicable stories of death and misery, in a state where Christian values reign and we profess a deep and unbreakable respect for the sanctity of life, would prompt public outrage. You would think our prisons would be governed by the Christian ideals of forgiveness and salvation.
You would be wrong.
Now, we could get into the many reasons — or, really, the one reason — why that is, but let’s not get bogged down in race or in why Christian repentance seems far less available the darker your skin.
Just know the prisons are awful and that their awfulness has never been a secret to anyone with a working brain and the ability to read.
That didn’t stop Marshall from grandstanding, however.
In a ridiculous press release, he declared that the state would not “be bullied” by the federal government into entering into a consent decree.
(I’d like to take a moment here to give proper respect to the federal bullying of Alabama over the years. Without it, we’d still have slavery, Jim Crow and Roy Moore-approved same-sex marriage laws.)
Marshall also, for some weird reason, tied the release of the report to the 2020 election, saying the state won’t be pressured into an agreement “conspicuously, 53 days before a presidential election.”
Yes, how dare the feds force us to treat humans like humans just 53 days before … other humans … go vote?
Hard to believe these guys aren’t getting the job done, isn’t it?
And they’re not. It doesn’t matter what happens — bad press, lawsuits, DOJ reports, threats from federal agencies — Alabama officials are NOT going to clean up our prisons. They’re not going to reduce overcrowding or provide proper care or hire and properly train enough corrections officers.
Not unless Alabama citizens hold them accountable.
And you should. Because the environment of any prison or detention center is set by the people who run it, not the inmates within it.
Instead of cesspools of violence and death, the prisons could be models of reform and humanity — where men and women are rehabilitated and provided life skills that reduce recidivism rates.
Isn’t it weird how such goals are not part of a $2 billion plan to build new prisons?
Over the weekend, a group of activists rallied in front of the governor’s mansion in Montgomery to protest that new prison plan. The Alabamians Who Care group wants massive reforms and a plan for better prisons that treat people more humanely.
That’s not impossible. Other countries and other states have done it. And it didn’t cost them $2 billion and federal intervention.
Just some Christlike compassion and decent management.
Getting either in Alabama’s prisons would be a huge surprise.
Opinion | Parents are being asked to gamble their family’s safety over reopening schools. Don’t.
The only reason we’re in this boat is because weak politicians, bowing to the ignorance of selfish people over the expertise and knowledge of doctors and scientists, refused to take hard, necessary steps for the proper lengths of time.
Alabama parents, do what you think is best. Do not apologize for it. Over the last several weeks, there has been an ongoing pressure campaign around the country, and particularly in Alabama, to get kids back into school buildings. The president has pushed it. Republicans in Congress have pushed it. Even local politicians are pushing it.
On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told parents that missing school would potentially put Alabama school kids further behind. She encouraged them to get their kids back in school as soon as possible, because “it’s really important.”
Um, yeah. Do you think there are parents out there who don’t know that?
Furthermore, do people think there are parents who are gleeful about keeping their kids home from school? Who are keeping them out simply to be arbitrarily defiant? Who are being flippant about this decision in any way?
If you do, allow me to set you straight: We’re not.
Keeping children out of school, or even out of daycare in my case, is an incredibly hard decision and an even harder life adjustment. Because it disrupts EVERYTHING.
My wife and I are extremely fortunate to work for companies that are understanding and willing to work around our childcare situations. And even so, it has been a major adjustment.
We try to alternate and coordinate the best we can. We’ve hired people to help at times. And we’ve made the call to grandparents for assistance.
And still, there are days when we cannot get things done, when we’re both frazzled and frustrated.
We’re not doing any of that because it’s fun. Or because we’re giving Trump the middle finger.
We’re doing it because there is no good, safe — or even just saf-ER — option.
And I’m not necessarily talking about the danger for only our daughter, because she’s healthy and strong and would likely be just fine even if she happened to contract COVID-19.
But when could I safely let our child see her grandparents again? Her aunts and uncles and extended family members? What about the family members and friends who have underlying conditions?
And then there are larger questions. Like, are we helping to extend a pandemic by participating in what will inevitably lead to more virus spread?
Because that’s going to happen. There’s no way around it. If you put millions of children and adults in enclosed buildings all over the country, you’re going to spread this virus. Just like those schools spread the flu, colds and everything else.
Kids are going to take that virus home, just like they take home all those Fall colds and flu. And they’re going to infect others.
And the spread will come at the height of flu season, and at a time when ICU beds are already full.
That seems like a recipe for death and disaster.
And it shouldn’t be on parents. This decision shouldn’t be laid at our feet. In fact, there shouldn’t even be a decision for us to make.
The only reason we’re in this boat is because weak politicians, bowing to the ignorance of selfish people over the expertise and knowledge of doctors and scientists, refused to take hard, necessary steps for the proper lengths of time, and then compounded the problems by refusing to offer the necessary financial support to overcome those mistakes.
We could have implemented mask orders earlier, kept bars and nightclubs closed, restricted large gatherings more stringently and been serious about fines for dangerous behaviors — all the things that have worked so well in other countries.
At the same time, instead of forking over billions to companies that don’t need the money, we could have instead paid for a system that protected working parents’ jobs and their salaries.
But we didn’t. It was more important to “reopen” the economy for the big Memorial Day boom and to make sure the corporate pals got fatter.
And so now, here they are, asking parents to place the safety and health of their children, and, really, their entire families, on the line because they need to pretend that there’s some normalcy out there.
Don’t listen to them.
Get good, reliable facts from good, reliable sources. Do your research. Talk to your kids’ teachers and principals and superintendent. Weigh the options and the risks for yourself. And then you do what’s right for your family.
And don’t apologize for it.