Holier than Ya’ll: Alabama Legislature’s Ten Commandments debate

25 things I learned during the Ten Commandments Debate

By Kyle Whitmire, February 23, 2014 on al.com Kyle Whitmire | kwhitmire@al.com

Should Alabamians be able to hang the Ten Commandments in public buildings, including schools and courthouses?

Rep. DuWayne Bridges, R-Valley, wants to give Alabamians an opportunity to decide at the ballot box, and this week he again introduced a bill to send an amendment of the Alabama Constitution to voters.

The debate over the bill was, to say the least, as interesting as it was meandering. 

Here are a few things I learned about morality and Biblical history while listening to the debate.

- School shootings, patricide and matricide are due to the Ten Commandments not being displayed in schools and other government buildings. – Rep. Bridges.

- “Jesus himself said feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are nekkid.” – Rep. Darrio Melton, D-Selma.

- People who believe in Mohammed practice “Muslimism.” – Rep. James Buskey, D-Mobile.

“Jesus himself said feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are nekkid.” – Rep. Darrio Melton.
Alabama Ten Commandments display.JPG

- If you proposed an amendment to the Alabama Constitution about the Ten Commandments, Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, will give you a quiz in which he repeatedly refers to them as the “10th Amendment.”

- The 10th Amendment was adopted before the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea because Moses didn’t get to cross the Red Sea. – Rep. Bridges responding to a question from Rep. Holmes.

- “Love thy neighbor” is one of the Ten Commandments. – Rep. Bridges, responding to a question from Rep. Holmes.

- “Love thy neighbor” is not one of the Ten Commandments but has something to do with coveting. – Rep. Bridges correcting himself a few minutes later.

- Adultery “means having sex with someone you hadn’t got any business having sex with.” – Rep. Holmes.

- Rep. Alvin Holmes is the only member of the Alabama House who has abided by all the Ten Commandments. – Rep. Holmes

- “Two thousand fourteen years ago, and he was 33 before that.” – Rep. Bridges on when Jesus was born.

- The annotation “AD” stands for “after death,” (not “Anno Domini”). – Rep. Bridges.

- Before they bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church, “Bull Connor and them” had a prayer. – Rep. Holmes.

- Bull Connor and the others who bombed the church were never arrested and now they’re in hell. – Rep. Holmes.

- Alabama State University’s baseball team beat Auburn’s baseball team in a practice game last night. – Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery.

- A lot of the Auburn baseball players must have had the flu. – House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

- This country was founded on godly principles and other people who come here from other places aren’t going to change that. – Rep. Bridges.

- “Fifty two of the 55 founders of the Constitution were active members in orthodox churches in the colonies.” – Rep. Bridges.

- “Moses and the law, they had their day, but this is a new day and it is brought on by the Lord Jesus Christ. – Rep. George Bandy, D-Opelika.

- Rep. John Rogers would rather adjourn for lunch than finish this debate now. – Rep. John Rogers

- Rep. Bridges has a bad memory and that’s why God put the Ten Commandments in the Bible twice. – Rep. Bridges.

- Rep. Bridges didn’t include John 3:16 in the amendment because not everybody believes in Jesus Christ. – Rep. Bridges, opposing an amendment from Rep. Bandy to add John 3:16 to the bill.

- If pressed, the Alabama Legislature will table John 3:16 by a vote of 54-32.

- Voting for the Ten Commandments puts souls in peril because “we are voting against what can save the soul of a believer.” – Rep. Bandy.

- The Ten Commandments were presented by Moses, an African who was born and lived in Africa and wasn’t allowed in the Promised Land. – Rep. Bandy.

- This issue has been tested by the courts numerous times and it has always ended the same way. – Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.

- Rep. England is way too knowledgeable, intelligent and well-spoken to serve in the Alabama Legislature. – Me.

- The Alabama House will debate the same bill it has passed before for two hours before approving it by a 77-19 vote.


Gabby’s Tortillas: Local teen starts successful handmade tortilla business

Gabby Griffin, 15, supplies community with delicious, authentic tortillas while using her business to help abused women and children.

By Jill Clair Gentry, January 3, 2014, Fairhope Courier

It takes strong hands to roll out hundreds of fresh tortillas every day. Fifteen-year-old Gabby Griffin definitely has strong hands, but she also has a strong spirit.

Gabby's Tortillas

After going through something no child should have to endure — being physically and verbally abused by her father — Gabby, her mother and her two brothers moved to Foley from Arizona two years ago to start a new life. Now, Gabby is using her talents and her story to bring her family together and to help others.

Rolling out a business plan

Gabby has blossomed in Foley, and last November, she started her own business as part of the Young Entrepreneur’s Academy (YEA!) at Foley High School. YEA! students learn to write a business plan, pitch their idea to potential investors, obtain funding and launch their new companies.

“There were only seven of us in the class, and we were coming up with all these weird ideas,” Gabby says. “My instructor Rick Miller said to think of something bizarre that no one has here, and I thought about how one Christmas, I made 100 tortillas and they were all gone. I threw it out there in class as a joke, and it took off from there.”

Gabby has been making tortillas since she could walk. These handmade tortillas aren’t like the ones you’ll find in a store or even at any local Mexican restaurant. They’re tasty enough to enjoy by themselves — unlike store bought flour tortillas, Gabby’s tortillas are not too doughy, perfectly salted and are downright heavenly when served fresh and warm. Instead of being a bland vehicle for tasty fillings, these tortillas enhance the flavor of whatever fills them.

“My tortillas obviously are way different,” Gabby says. “Mine are a lot thinner, and they aren’t made with lard. I’m having a lot of fun introducing them here.”

Gabby's Tortillas

YEA! instructor Rick Miller, who is the founder of Pro356 Consulting, a local business consulting company, says Gabby is a natural entrepreneur. Not only did she come up with a business plan, but she fearlessly tackled complex challenges that cripple some business owners, Miller says.

“Gabby is one of the youngest entrepreneurs I have ever met,” he says. “Entrepreneurship is all about taking calculated risks and stepping out and doing the hard work necessary to turn it into a business. Gabby is mature way beyond her years. A few years from now, when people are comparing her to Sister Schubert, we’ll know why.”

A little bit of home

Currently, Gabby makes all of the tortillas by hand in a small kitchen at the Summerdale Flea Market. She mixes the dough, lets it rise for 15 minutes, picks out perfectly sized balls of dough and rolls each one into a thin sheet. Then, she uses a cardboard template to cut the dough into a round disc and places it onto a custom-made cast iron pan that fits on all four burners of the stove.

“But I only put it on the two on the right because I like the way it cooks like that,” Gabby says. “When I have someone helping me, I can cook three tortillas at a time.”

Gabby is in her kitchen nearly every day, usually with her entire family. Weekends are spent rolling tortillas into the wee hours of the morning. During a normal week, Gabby and her family make hundreds of tortillas, and during busy weeks, they get into the thousands. The company’s tagline is “A little bit of home,” and Gabby says the love her family puts into each tortilla makes that ring true.

“My family is really supportive,” Gabby says. “Even my brothers pile in here Friday night and Saturday morning, and my older brother is the only one of the kids with a license, so he drives me everywhere.”

Gabby's Tortillas

A “for purpose” business model

Gabby’s mother Loraine Ostema says rallying around Gabby’s business has been the perfect way for the family to heal and grow even closer after escaping the abusive situation in Arizona.

“We came from a real difficult time and the business just solidified what our family meant,” Loraine says. “This is our bonding time. It means a lot more than just starting a business. It was a very emotional thing for her to come to me and say, ‘I want to take this to the next level. Let’s use our recipe and make this happen.’ Watching her now is like a mom’s dream come true.”

Gabby says she shares her family’s story as much as possible, with the goal of giving hope to mothers and children who are experiencing similar situations. And as part of her original business model, Gabby describes her business as “for purpose” and is hoping to use her tortillas and her voice to help abused women and children. At the beginning, she pledged to donate two out of every 10 tortillas sold to a nonprofit organization, and she also wants to share her story with others.

Gabby's Tortillas

“Looking back, we’re able to thank the Lord for even all the bad stuff because it’s led us here,” Loraine says. “Now we’re looking for agencies we can help. Somewhere out there, there’s a kid, a little girl or a mom who went through what we did, and we want to tell them it’s going to be OK.”

Business profile

NAME: Gabby’s Tortillas

OWNER: Gabby Griffin

FIND HER TORTILLAS: Gabby’s Tortillas Café in the Summerdale Flea Market (Thursday–Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.); Coastal Alabama Farmers and Fishermen Market (Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

WEBSITE: GabbysTortillas.com

CONTACT: 251-597-4161, info@gabbystortillas.com

Slow-cooker shredded beef tacos. 


Bentley is right: Dependency is rampant in Alabama

by John Archibald, January 17, 2014 on al.com  John Archibald | jarchibald@al.com

Hear! Hear!

Governor Dr. Robert Bentley laid the dependency problem bare in his State of the State address this week:

“We will never see an end to the plague of poverty by offering a deeper dependence on a flawed government system.”

Heck no.

“We will never help our poorest citizens, or our future generations by casting over them the net of government giveaway programs.”

Course not.

“We can break the cycle of poverty, but not with programs that drag our communities and our people into the downward spiral of dependence.”

Can I get an Amen?

“There is never freedom for the breadwinner who is dependent on the government.”


Say it, governor. We in Alabama are simply trying to help those who would belittle themselves, who would come to the government with their hands out and their pride stuffed down deep in their jeans.

Gov Robert Bentley arrives for State of State.JPG

We want to do them a favor, as the governor said, by breaking the cycle of dependency. We’ll cut those folks off so they can start again to feel good about themselves.

They’ll thank us one day.

Yeah, the good governor zinged the gimme-gimme crowd for sure. He just stopped a tad short.

For if coming to the government for your very survival is a shameful sign of reliance, Bentley missed a whole boatload of dependency.

After offering Alabama’s poor people a hard dose of tough love, the governor boasted that …

“One thousand Alabamians are finding… opportunity in Mobile where Airbus has invested $600 million.”

But didn’t point out that, because of government handouts, subsidies, incentives and rampant corporate dependency, that economic development coup will cost Alabamians $159,000 per Airbus job.

Bentley bragged that “900 more people are working this year assembling Montgomery-made Hyundai vehicles.” He said more jobs are coming to Tuscaloosa’s Mercedes plant, and beamed about how Honda “launched mass production of its 2014 Acura MDX sport utility vehicle, the first time the automaker has assembled a vehicle from its luxury line.”

“Word is spreading far and wide that Alabama is a great place for companies to do business,” the governor said.

And that’s true. It’s just not the whole truth.

Word has spread that Alabama is a great place to come if you have your hand out.

Alabama doled out a quarter of a billion dollars in incentives to lure Hyundai to the state, matching the quarter of a billion dollars in incentives it came up with to lure Mercedes and the $158 million it found for Honda.

Alabama governments gladly open their coffers for truck builders that never come and for McDonald’s restaurants in poor, unhealthy communities. Local governments roll out the red carpet for Walmarts that pay employees so little they still qualify for food stamps.

Word has spread that Alabama will spread the government cheese far and wide to lure anybody that claims it will produce jobs.

Of course it’s not just Alabama. The corporate hand is out everywhere across the nation. Federal corporate welfare to AIG, Chrysler, GM and the nation’s largest banks in recent years came to $27 billion. States trampled all over one another offering scratch to Boeing, an exercise that succeeded only in giving the company leverage to cut worker pensions.

It is time to end the dependency.

As Bentley said:

“Freedom is only found in the land that offers opportunity. That comes from hard work and sacrifice.”

And since Alabama played a big role in helping to inflate these incentive packages and subsidies in the first place, Alabama should be the first to say … enough.

It’s for their own good. These companies, you know, will thank us one day.


The sad state of the state’s health care

Opinion by historian Wayne Flynt, January 29, 2014, al.com

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley described the State of the State. President Obama will discuss the State of the Nation. As a political independent who voted for both of them (is it possible to rescind both votes?), I have earned the right to an ordinary folk’s version of both subjects. Since Americans trust used car salesmen more than politicians, I figure I can’t lose.


The three pivotal components which will determine Alabama’s future are the health of its people, the education of its children, and the creation of decent jobs. Alabama does a miserable job of all three.

To some degree, the topics are related. Children who suffer from chronic health problems have more trouble in school. Unhealthy employees reduce productivity, raise insurance rates, and reduce their own employment options.

Part of this first installment on health care is intensely personal. As I recorded interviews with my parents while writing “Keeping the Faith,” I noticed how often their wrenching childhood poverty involved health care. As a young girl, Mom walked a mile with her mother down Highway 79 from Pinson where they boarded a bus for HillmanCharity Hospital to have her diseased tonsils removed.

Dad told about chopping firewood in the early 1930s on his family’s Calhoun County sharecrop farm when the ax blade glanced and gashed his foot. Usually his mother’s turpentine and home remedies cured a cut. Not that time. Osteomyelitis, a bone infection, cost him two years of school. But for the kindly ministrations of a doctor who drove muddy dirt roads to care for him (in return for eggs,  smoked hams, sausage, firewood, and other payments in kind) it would have cost him both legs.

After he recovered, married Mom, and I was born, they saved $3,000 on his salesman’s salary. But before they could purchase a home, reoccurrence of osteomyelitis  in 1943 sent him to famous Birmingham surgeon, John Sherrell, whose skill saved Dad’s legs from amputation. Dad, uninsured and with a three year-old toddler, added a $500 dollar loan to his $3,000 savings to pay Dr. Sherrell, and paid a monthly installment for years on his hospital bill.

Physicians like these make their profession the one I most respect. They enforce high standards on themselves. They work long hours. They pay homage to a sacred creed of conduct and caring. The Alabama foolishness that such physicians will desert their patients if their average incomes drop to only three to five times median American incomes besmirch an entire profession. But if conservative politicians and economists are correct and they do retire in mass, a rapidly expanding market will quickly attract a new labor source. In the future, more physicians will be black, Asian-American, Hispanic, female, foreign born and educated (or reeducated) in the U.S. But if a short term medical vacuum occurs (and if conservative economics proves true), market forces will solve the long term problem.

In Alabama this new generation will have a challenge.  While researching health data for my book, Alabama in the Twentieth Century,  I discovered our state’s  rankings: obesity, 49th; diabetes, 49th; high blood pressure, 49th; child poverty, 49th; infant mortality, 48th; heart disease, 46th; strokes, 43rd; smoking, 42nd; cancer, 42nd.  If you think this is the description of a labor force prepared for a global economy, you may be part of another problem health group: people who can’t pass a drug test.

Some of these rates have improved slightly.  Others have worsened.  But Alabamaremains one of the poorest and sickest states. Of the 28,000 bankruptcies filed during 2013, most resulted from unpaid medical bills by uninsured citizens.

Here is one such story recorded by a new group called “Bama Covered.” A 62-year-old roofer employed by a Birmingham construction company works 40 hours a week for $10.50 an hour. His total annual income amounts to slightly more than the poverty rate for a family of two, himself and his wife. They are also raising two grandchildren which drops them below the federal poverty line. Company administrators have health insurance. Roofers do not. Had Governor Bentley expanded Medicaid, this family would have been covered.  As is, any illness or injury in 2014 will be catastrophic.

I will let God and Governor Bentley sort this out some day, but the good news is “Bama Covered” and its founder, Josh Carpenter. Josh is one of us. He hails from Florence, Ala.  His Dad was a bi-vocational Baptist minister. He graduated from UAB with a degree in Business. He taught English and coached football in Perry County with Teach for America. He won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University.

This winter he left his graduate studies, returned home, and established Bama Covered.  He contacted state opinion-makers, enlightened business people, and organized a network of our best, brightest, and most caring community college and university students. They trained for eight hours on how to access the Affordable Care Act website. In January, they spread out across Alabama to walk people as technologically illiterate as I am through every option for health care available to them.

Alabama, which suffers from a stunning lack of vision, leadership, and courage among its elites, may yet be saved by its youth.  They remind me of another generation of young idealists a half century ago who wrote their names in history and forced Alabama to jettison a world of mythology in order to enter a world of flesh-and-blood reality.

Alabama historian and author Wayne Flynt is a distinguished university professor emeritus at Auburn University. 


Pam Jones is director of Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education

By Taylor Peyton Strunk, January 21, 2014 on al.com

FAIRHOPE, Alabama — Just a few months ago, Pam Jones began her tenure as director of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope – a new post, but a familiar environment to this veteran in the field of education.


Jones, who recently retired from Baldwin County Public Schools, where she served most recently as assistant principal of Foley Elementary, grew up in Daphne and attended the Organic School herself for seventh through 12th grades. It is also where she met her husband and local potter, Tom Jones.

“Tom graduated in 1970 and returned in 1972 to teach pottery and folk dancing,” said Jones, who was still a student at the time. “I graduated in 1975, attended Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss., and then married Tom in 1976.”

Jones settled into married life and soon started a family, but after her children started school she began volunteering at the local nursing home where she worked with three special needs students who attended the Point Clear School.

“Volunteering with these children, I found out about an opportunity to work as a special education aide and I also became a bus driver,” Jones said, adding that she was ultimately inspired to return to school at Faulkner State Community College. “I then went to the University of South Alabama and earned my teaching degree in special education.”

In 1994, Jones got a job as a special education teacher at Daphne Elementary School, working with students with physical and mental learning disabilities.

“I eventually received my master’s degree and then went back to South Alabama and got my administration certification. There was an opening available for an assistant principal at Daphne Elementary and I was asked to fill that position.” When her position in Daphne was eliminated in 2009 because of student numbers, Jones transferred to Foley Elementary until she retired.

Now at the Organic School, which currently has approximately 30 enrolled students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grades, Jones said the biggest difference she’s noticed is the lack of of testing in the classroom.

“Public schools are constantly testing. We assess children, but we do not test them,” she said, adding that the school’s philosophy is that some of the fear and trepidation of learning is removed from students in the absence of testing. “At the Organic School, we’re always learning, whether it be book learning in the classroom or going outside to learn about the environment.”

Jones said she loves her new position and what she does on a daily basis.

“I have always loved working with children and watching them learn new things and experience life. The Eastern Shore offers so many different things to teach our students at Organic. We can walk to the beach and learn about sea life and water activities, or we can go to the gulley and into the woods and learn about the plants and animals that are indigenous to our area. The school is an integral part of Fairhope, it’s what the people of Fairhope are all about.”


BP is a bully and we don’t have to take it

 Opinion By Rhon Jones, November 29, 2013 at 8:05 AM, updated November 29, 2013 at 8:22 AM

I am convinced that BP thinks they are smarter than everyone in our state, especially those who love our coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The definition of “bully” is a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people; or who is loudly arrogant and overbearing. The definition of a hypocrite is one who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude. These describe BP perfectly.

BP has spent millions of dollars on ads across the Gulf Coast and beyond telling us how great their company is and how committed they are to safety. I am sick and tired of their slick ad campaign taking the focus off of the facts and who they really are. Let’s take just a brief look at recent history.

BP was responsible for the Texas City Refinery Explosion in 2005 that killed 15 hard-working employees and injured 170 more. BP was cited for hundreds of safety violations and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said the explosion was “caused by organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of BP.”

In 2006 BP was involved in the worst oil spill ever on the North Slope of Alaska resulting in 267,000 gallons of oil released and pled guilty to negligent discharge of oil.

In 2010, BP was squarely in the middle of the largest blowout and oil spill in U.S. history, which led to some 100 to 200 million gallons of oil flowing into our Gulf. More importantly, 11 hard-working men were killed. Those men did not have to die. They left behind widows and children who live with the impact of BP’s conduct every single day.

BP pled guilty to 11 felonies as a result of those deaths, as well as pleading guilty to obstruction of justice. Let that sink in – a guilty plea to 11 felonies and obstruction of justice.

I noticed in one of BP’s recent ads they tout their creation of a state-of-the-art monitoring center to watch over all their drilling activity. Guess what, BP’s felony guilty plea required them to maintain this monitoring center! So BP pleads guilty and part of the plea is doing something they should have been doing all along, and on top of that they want to take credit for it in an advertisement!

The hypocrisy does not stop there. As a result of the 2010 disaster in the Gulf, BP agreed to a historic settlement that was not capped and they themselves said was fair and transparent. Once it became clear their estimates for the cost of the settlement would exceed their projections, BP became the very definition of a bully listed above using every resource available to them to try and attack the very settlement they wrote and agreed to.

I may not know much, but I know a giant corporate bully and a hypocrite when I see one. BP fits the bill on both counts. The lawyers at Beasley Allen, along with lawyers from other firms involved in the BP litigation in New Orleans, are fighting hard to make sure the oil giant is held accountable for their wrongdoing.

Rhon Jones is head of the Toxic Torts Section at Beasley Allen. He is one of the lead lawyers in the BP litigation, serving on the PSC, having been appointed by Judge Carl Barbier.



For those who say government can’t get anything right, try visiting another country

Opinion from Bob Nicholson on November 22, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Greetings from rural Udumalpet, India. Business gives me the opportunity to get to know people and cultures all over the world. It reinforces the importance of international cooperation and trade. What happens in other countries really does affect us in Alabama; we have an economic stake in their success. Travel also helps to remind me of how blessed I am to have been born in the USA. We take for granted things that many other people can only dream of. Sitting here, I fully understand the truth of the cliché “first world problems.”

It also helps me to appreciate the government that we have. Warts and all, our local, state and federal government somehow manages to be less wasteful, less corrupt and more effective than most. No one can deny our problems, but to the many who now think that government can’t get anything right, you are wrong. Continuing a theme from a previous column, you have bought the myth.

How many times did your power go out in the last hour? Here in India, we’ve had power drop at least a dozen times. TVA, an entity created by the federal government, provides most of the Tennessee Valley with reliable electricity. Alabama Power, regulated by state government (loosely) provides reliable power to most of the rest of the state. You drive on roads built and maintained by all levels of government working together. Did you drink any clean water from your tap or flush your toilet today? Most of our water and sewer services are provided by municipal utilities. These are things that are easy to take for granted until you don’t have them.

My father attended college thanks to GI bill, a program still helping veterans today. I’d be willing to bet that quite a few of NASA’s alumni here in Huntsville were World War II and Korean War veterans educated that way as well. Did you hear the news this week that the number of homeless veterans has dropped 24 percent over the last six years? That’s despite the recession and thanks to Rapid-Rehousing, a program managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perhaps those of you who lean Libertarian would rather these veterans remain on the street waiting for a private-sector solution. I’d rather have veterans not be homeless.

Sent any emails lately or surfed the Internet? No private company would have taken the risk of creating the Internet, but our government saw value where there was none. Although it was originally a Defense Department project, the US government had the wisdom to allow the public to have access. The Centers for Disease Control, NASA, and the National Weather Service are all federal agencies. On the whole, they do a good job. If you expect perfection in government, go find some agency that humans are not involved in.

When someone says they can’t fix health care, what they really mean is that they choose not to.

Which brings us, of course, to the terrible rollout of Healtcare.gov. Let’s back up a bit and remember why the bill was passed. Millions of your fellow citizens live one illness away from bankruptcy, and medical bills, not lavish lifestyles, are the biggest cause of individual bankruptcies in the country. Insurance companies abused pre-existing condition rules, gorged on excess profits and sold many policies in the individual market that had so many exclusions they were essentially worthless. When Democrats wrote the Affordable Care Act, they based it on a plan created by the conservative Heritage Foundation (published in 1989) to try to attract Republican votes. They were naïve to believe that Republicans would continue to support this plan if the president embraced it; the plan passed with no Republican support.

The plan contains several provisions that Republicans should embrace. The Independent Patient Advisory Board exists to find cost-savings and to determine which treatments are effective and which are not. Cutting waste like this used to be a bipartisan objective, but that was before Obama became president. The individual mandate exists to prevent people from delaying coverage until they are already sick, thus freeloading off of the system. This requirement to accept individual responsibility for your own care was also a Republican rally cry – but now these same people call it government tyranny.

Yes, the rollout was botched. But I have a response to those who say it can’t be fixed, who say that the bill is unworkable. I grew up in Huntsville. I grew up in a town where the impossible became reality when a man landed on the moon. The space program experienced failure and setbacks, but no one ever seriously talked about quitting. They assessed the situation, planned and tested solutions and made it right. When someone says they can’t fix health care, what they really mean is that they choose not to. When they say we can’t afford it, what they mean is that they are not motivated to try; their priorities do not lie in making people’s lives better. We are smart enough to figure this out, and this was a common goal before politics intervened.

If you still complain about government tyranny, please, take a vacation in Somalia or Haiti. There, you’ll find out what it means to live without big brother; you’ll find what it is to be truly free. Once you get home, perhaps we can start to work together to find common ground. We can make things better together, but you have to want to try.

Bob Nicholson is a certified public accountant who lives in Huntsville and works in corporate finance.


BP safety commercials betray the oil company’s arrogance

Opinion from Bobo Cunningham on November 13, 2013 at 5:43 AM, updated November 13, 2013 at 5:55 AM


Have you ever witnessed the incredible spectacle of a convicted felon bragging about the fact that he is complying with the terms of his probation?

And doing it on television in a series of multi-million dollar ads?

You may think you have never witnessed such unmitigated arrogance. But, if you have seen the never ending onslaught of BP television ads, then you have seen just that.

BP has saturated the airways for months with ads bragging that it has now created “a state of the art monitoring center where experts watch over all our drilling activity…”

Well, guess what. On January 29, 2013, BP pled guilty to eleven felonies as a result of the deaths of the eleven men who died in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. BP also pled guilty to obstruction of justice. The terms of its guilty plea mandated, among other things, that “the defendant shall maintain a real-time drilling operations monitoring center at its Houston office or other appropriate location.”

If BP’s ads told the complete truth, they would inform the public that as a result of their felony guilty plea they have been forced to do what they should have been doing long before the Deepwater Horizon explosion and environmental disaster ever occurred.

Instead, we are continually inundated with these self-laudatory ads while on other fronts BP attacks the settlement it agreed to, the claimants who are participating, the claims administrator appointed with BP’s agreement, and the judicial system working nonstop to deal with the gigantic legal mess created by BP.

Some felons express genuine remorse for their crimes. Some felons quietly serve their time, pay their debt to society and move on. Not BP.

So, the next time a BP ad pops up on the screen, just enjoy it for its comedic value while at the same time wishing you could watch video of BP reporting to its probation officer as it is required to do for the next 5 years.

(Robert “Bobo” Cunningham is a senior partner with the Mobile lawfirm Cunningham Bounds, LLC, and was one of the lead plaintiff’s attorneys in the litigation that resulted in the BP settlement.)



How much money does Alabama Power spend to get its way? More than most

By John Archibald  on October 16, 2013 at 1:00 PM, updated October 16, 2013 at 1:50 PM

Why does Alabama Power always seem to get what it wants?

Because you get what you pay for.

In the last 2 ½ years, Alabama Power Co. has spent a staggering $50.4 million to influence politics and public opinion, according to documents the company filed with theFederal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That figure is so out of whack with industry standards it pops off the page. Alabama Power’s spending for the FERC category “Certain Civic, Political & Related Activities” far surpassed that spent by much larger utilities. (You can see the chart below).

Average spending by the five largest electric utilities in the U.S. — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Commonwealth Edison, Consolidated Edison and Florida Power — was less than half Alabama Power’s spending for influence since the end of 2010.

And let’s face it. These are companies that know a thing or two about getting what they want.

The difference is more striking on a per customer basis. Alabama Power, with about 1.4 million customers, spent about $36 per customer on influence in that 2 ½ years. That is about seven times higher than Pacific Gas, the nation’s largest electric utility.

It is six times higher than Southern Cal and Commonwealth Edison, more than four times the amount spent by Southern Company sisters Georgia Power and Florida Power, and three times that of sister Mississippi Power.

I’d love to tell you it was all a mad scramble by Alabama Power, that the spending came as the company geared up to grease the skids and shape public opinion before this year’s rate review before the Alabama Public Service Commission. But I can’t.

First, I don’t know for sure who Alabama Power paid. The power company no longer has to disclose where those payments go, and the company has declined to discuss it.

Second, it’s not much of an increase anyway. Alabama Power has always greased the skids, and always – always – prepares for whatever bumps lie in the company’s oh-so-profitable road.

Truth is, Alabama Power spending for influence has been remarkably steady since 2003, averaging about $19.8 million a year. In that time the company has spent $208 million in the category FERC defines as spending to influence public opinion, public officials or public actions.

The feds are clear that this money “Shall not include such expenditures which are directly related to appearances before regulatory or other governmental bodies in connection with the reporting utility’s existing or proposed operations.”

But we don’t know where it does go. Yet.

In the past, way back when the feds demanded specifics, it was possible to follow the money to government affairs strategists and political leg breakers in Washington and Montgomery. Back then, more than a decade ago, large sums went to the Hawthorne Group, and to Perkins and Associates.

Perkins and Associates is predecessor to the shadowy Matrix group, which has been linked to at least one of the non-profits that sang Alabama Power’s praises – and bashed its opponents – during the recent rate hearings.

But we’ll have to come back to that.

Until then, Alabama Power Company wants you to know that all this money comes out of shareholder pockets and not customer pockets, however that distinction is to be made.

And the company has argued all along that some of it is used for “civic good.” We just aren’t allowed to see how good.

Much is for influence. It is a massive sum, spent by a monopoly that, as industry analyst Stephen Hill put it during the hearings, continues to have the highest allowed profit in the whole U.S. of A.

Do you get what you pay for? Alabama Power does.

John Archibald’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Birmingham News, and on AL.com. Email him at jarchibald@al.com

The chart below indicates money spent for Certain Civic, Political & Related Activities in 2011, 2012 and first half of 2013 

Company Customers 2013_Q2 2012 2011 Total
Alabama Power 1400000 10,249,024 20,084,055 20,074,234 $ 50,407,313.00
Pacific Gas and Electric 5200000 4,220,160 11,323,957 9,364,411 $ 24,908,528.00
Southern California Edison 5200000 6,873,981 12,671,781 11,688,229 $ 31,233,991.00
Commonwealth Edison 3700000 2,786,265 5,578,505 16,231,863 $ 24,596,633.00
Consolidated Edison 2700000 737,412 1,404,087 1,137,466 $   3,278,965.00
Florida Power 4500000 7,404,951 16,974,313 12,237,275 $ 36,616,539.00

Source: FERC


Citizens Denied Audience Before Alabama Environmental Management Commission

Glynn Wilson / Southwings, August 20, 2013

Citizens from Uniontown Alabama were denied permission by the Alabama Environmental Management Commission to address environmental injustice and threats to their health and welfare last week resulting from operations of the Arrowhead Landfill just outside of Uniontown, according to a joint press release from Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Reform Coalition.


                     A close view of the growing coal ash mountain in Perry County, Alabama 

The commission, which oversees the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the state agency responsible for enforcing the permit for the landfill, refused to hear from environmental attorney David Ludder on the failure to properly consider civil rights issues in its permitting process that could put all federal funds it receives in jeopardy.

The Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, a nonprofit organization from Uniontown, was to present on August 16 the results from testing water samples taken by Samford University faculty from Arrowhead Landfill run-off and from a private well located on property adjacent to the landfill. The tests revealed elevated levels of arsenic and conductivity. Arsenic leaching from coal ash and coal ash dust is a known risk agent for cancer.

The landfill has been a site of controversy since toxic coal ash residue from the holding pond failure at TVA’s power plant in Kingston Tennessee was transported to Uniontown in 2009 and 2010 for disposal, a story we covered more in depth than any news organization in the country.

“A dozen citizens made the trip to support the planned request that the EMC instruct ADEM to take enforcement action against the Arrowhead Landfill to prevent more toxic contaminants from migrating from the residue,” the release says. “They want ADEM to exercise supervision and oversight of the landfill’s plan for remediation of the toxic discharge.”

While the EMC did not technically disapprove the Black Belt Citizens group’s request to speak, the board voted to postpone the subject until after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes its investigation into charges that ADEM violated EPA requirements to protect the civil rights of citizens.

“It could be months or years before the civil rights claims are resolved by EPA,” the groups say. “The EMC’s decision effectively denied the Uniontown group the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding immediate health threats.”

The Black Belt Citizens also wanted to ask that ADEM support finding an alternative site for a spray field for the Uniontown Wastewater Treatment Plant which is currently proposed for a site off Perry County Road 53.

“This site is considered unsuitable because of its high water table and proximity to residences and streams,” they say. “Also, the soil types on the property have severe limitations for land application of wastewater because they will not percolate properly.”

The EMC also disapproved the request of environmental attorney David A. Ludder, who proposed to make a presentation on EPA’s civil rights requirements and ADEM’s failure to implement those requirements. Ludder’s planned presentation can be seen online here.

“EMC Chairman H. Lanier Brown, II, a Birmingham attorney, claimed that the planned presentation concerned a matter that is the subject of a complaint being reviewed by EPA,” Ludder said. “Anyone can look at the presentation and see that it was not about any specific site or complaint.”

The Perry County group expected to be heard because the EMC Chairman Brown had previously indicated his approval and in the past the full commission has followed the recommendation of the chair. In neither instance did the commission have a valid reason under its own rules for disapproving the presentations.

“This is a major step backward in one of the few areas where the ADEM Reform Coalition has seen progress by ADEM,” said Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper and co-chair of the coalition, a statewide environmental group that has filed a petition with the EPA to remove ADEM’s permitting authority.

“ARC has worked for 12 years to establish better communication between ADEM and citizens,” Callaway said. “For the EMC to disapprove the request after citizens traveled at their own expense to make the presentation, only to be denied their voice before a public entity, is not only shocking but unacceptable.”

In response, the coalition boycotted a meeting with ADEM’s director and staff scheduled to follow the commission meeting.

© 2013, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.