Alabama Legislature completes rancorous session with unfinished business

1200px-Alabama_State_Capitol,_Montgomery,_West_view_20160713_1.jpgSpecial to the Democrat by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

On Friday, May 19, 2017, the Alabama Legislature completed its annual regular session with continuing arguments on redistricting, a Monuments Bill to preserve Confederate sites, streets, schools and other public markers, childcare center licensing and prison construction.
Before the session began, two major leaders lost their positions. Speaker of the House Hubbard was convicted and jailed for corruption. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended and then removed for urging Alabama official to disregard and oppose the U. S. Supreme Court decision sanctioning same-sex marriage. During the session, Governor Robert Bentley resigned over an alleged affair with a female staffer rather than face impeachment. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey became Governor.
The Legislature approved an Education and General Fund budget without many changes from previous years. A proposal to finance four new prisons, to respond to serious overcrowding in current corrections facilities was left stranded at the end of the session. Governor Kay Ivey may call a special session to deal with building new prisons. A proposal to increase the gas tax by 6 cents to bring Alabama in line with other states passed out of a House Committee but never reached a floor vote. The revenues are needed to support construction and improvement of roads and bridges in all Alabama counties.

The bill for a state lottery for education and other gaming reforms died when Governor Bentley gave up his office. The lottery and other revenue raising measures like the gas tax will be coming up again in the next regular session or special sessions.
The Legislature passed a bill that no monuments on public property for more than 40 years could be moved. The bill sets up a Historical Landmarks Commission to decide on monuments built during the period from 40 to 20 years ago. This bill was passed in reaction to the actions of other places in the South, like New Orleans, that moved monuments and statutes of Confederate leaders and generals from public places to private museums.
This legislation would prevent cities and counties from re-naming schools, streets, bridges and other facilities named for Confederates who fought the nation to maintain slavery in the Civil War. This legislation was passed by Republican super-majorities in both houses and is now siting on Governor Kay Ivey’s desk. If she does not sign it in ten days it will quietly die. Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) and other civil rights and social justice organizations are urging the Governor not to sign this flawed and backwards moving bill. ANSC is urging its members to write or email Governor Ivey to urge her not to sign the Monuments Bill.
The Legislature failed to pass bills that would have regulated all day care centers and removed the waiver for centers connected to religious organizations. They did pass a law protecting faith based adoption agencies from placing children with same-sex couples, which Gov. Ivey signed. They did not pass a bill to allow carry of concealed weapons in all public places, which makes the state a little safer, although many in the Republican majority were pushing for this expansion of gun laws.
At the end of the session, the Legislature passed slightly modified redistricting plans for the Legislative Districts for the 2018 elections. The Federal courts found that the current plan was “stacking and pacing” Black voters in certain districts and some counties were divided in the process of formulating districts. The new plans drawn by the Republican majority, without input from Black and Democratic legislators, is not very different from the current plan. The Black Legislative Caucus leadership are planning to go back to court to fight these new plans.
During the legislative procedures and maneuvers to pass the redistricting plan, one House member, Lynn Greer, circulated an email with a story about “disciplining monkeys who were trying to eat bananas”. Many of the Black legislators felt this was a racist commentary about them and demanded an apology. Greer made a half-hearted apology before the session ended.

Farmers reap ‘bitter chocolate’as unrest rocks Ivory Coast in Africa


Cocao producerin Ivory Coast
Producer displays cocao harvested in Ivory Coast

May 15, 2017 (GIN) – Troubles in the Ivory Coast have pushed the price of cocoa to its highest level in five years.

Don’t blame the farmer. In the world’s largest producer of cocoa, farmers have been going hungry since government slashed the price it guarantees for farmers by 36 percent, then withheld payments due since October – even while the nation’s economy grew by close to 9 percent for each of the past four years.

Visitors to the capital, Abidjan, may see signs of new wealth and a surge in construction transforming the city. Investors have poured in from Mauritius to Morocco. But many ordinary Ivorians have yet to see the benefits of growth.

Daily broadcasts on state TV celebrate the nation’s so-called economic miracle, but an outburst of social unrest this year – the worst since 2011 – is a sign that people are running out of patience.

“There’s a colossal development gap between Abidjan and the interior,’’ Youssouf Carius, an economist with Pulsar Partners, a private investment fund, told Bloomberg News. “Even though some areas have a lot of potential, private investment won’t arrive as long as public services remain largely non-existent.’’

“People feel that inequality is growing, and it’s a feeling that’s fanned by symbols: in Abidjan, you won’t go a day without seeing a Porsche Cayenne,” Ranie Kone, an economist, told a reporter. “We’re in a culture where showing off is very important and people tend to live above their means.”

While farmers, rough diamond miners, and former rebel soldiers struggle to get a living wage, the number of dollar millionaires in Ivory Coast climbed 45 percent in the past decade to 2,500, more than the African growth average of 19 percent, AfrAsia Bank Ltd. said in a report. It’s likely to jump another 80 percent in the coming decade, according to the bank.

Meanwhile, over 8,000 former rebel soldiers who were promised bonuses for helping to bring President Alassane Ouattara to power in 2010 are taking up arms over the promise broken by the administration. Military violence has been reported in the nation’s two largest cities and witnesses on the ground describe empty streets, closed schools, banks and offices in the upscale Plateau district.

“The situation is dangerous in terms of what will happen if a full-blown confrontation erupts between loyal forces and mutineers, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reported. “The civilian population will be caught in the crossfire.”

Elsewhere on the continent, Madagascar, the world’s largest grower of vanilla beans is predicting steep price hikes after a tropical cyclone in March destroyed over 30% of the crop.

Bill to celebrate 400 years of Black History passes House of Representatives

By Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
In a rare display of bipartisanship in Congress, the United States House of Representatives voted to establish a commission to examine 400 years of African American history.
House bill H.R. 1242 is designed “to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) sponsored the bill in the House and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it’s waiting to be passed.
According to Washington insiders, the bill will most likely pass by unanimous consent in the Senate.
Once the bill known as the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act,” or H.R. 1242 in the House, passes Congress, it will land on President Donald Trump’s desk.
If H.R. 1242 becomes law, the resulting commission would consist of 15 members, who would serve without pay. The legislation would authorize the commission to create grants to communities, nonprofits and other groups to hold events that would commemorate the anniversary of slaves arriving in the U.S. The commission could hire staff and also accept volunteers to perform its mission. The commission would be required to submit a report to Congress and terminate in July of 2020.
In a statement about the bill last year, Kaine said that he’s been lucky to be a part of federal commissions that have been formed to study and celebrate English and Hispanic history. “Well, if English lives matter, if Latino lives matter, then African American lives matter and they’ve mattered every day since the landing of those ‘20 and odd’ African Americans at Point Comfort, Virginia,” said Kaine.
Kaine continued: “The story has a lot of pain to it, but it’s a story that has to be told to commemorate that we as a nation—had it not been for 400 years of African American history—would be absolutely unrecognizable. What we hope to do with this bill is engage in something we should do to tell the story in a different way than it may have been told 50 to 100 years ago.”
In late March, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, “that implementing the bill would cost about $2 million a year—a total of $6 million over the 2018-2021 period.”
In a floor statement about the bill last summer, Rep. Bobby Scott said that African Americans have contributed greatly to the United States and their achievements deserve to be celebrated.
“The history of Virginia and our nation cannot be fully understood without recognizing the role played by the slave trade,” said Scott. “Slavery was an abhorrent institution; but for hundreds of years, it was the foundation of the colonial and early American agricultural system and was essential to its economic sustainability.”
Scott continued: “The 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act will be instrumental in recognizing and highlighting the resilience and contributions of African Americans since 1619. From slavery, to fighting in the Civil War, to working against the oppression of Jim Crow segregation, to the civil rights movement, the rich history of African Americans and their contributions to our Nation began hundreds of years ago but obviously does not end there.”

Lauren Victoria Burke is a speaker, writer and political analyst. She appears on “NewsOne Now” with Roland Martin every Monday. Lauren is also a frequent contributor to the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Connect with Lauren by email at LBurke007@gmail.com and on Twitter at @LVBurke.

DeVos’ speech at Bethune-Cookman’s commencement sparks protests, outrage

by CHANDELIS R. DUSTER, NBCBLK

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 A group of students stand and turn their backs during a commencement exercise speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Bethune-Cookman University. John Raoux / AP

Bethune-Cookman University graduates booed, turned their backs and walked out during Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ 22 minute commencement speech on Wednesday — all in an effort to make it known they didn’t want her, as a representative of the Trump administration, to speak on their special day.
One person was physically removed by police from the Daytona Beach, Florida, auditorium.
“If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go,” the school’s president, Edison Jackson, told the graduates.
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For a little over a week, students and alumni have protested DeVos’ scheduled appearance as commencement speaker. Her remarks in February that historically black colleges and universities “are real pioneers when it comes to school choice” sparked outrage in the black community. The institutions were founded during the segregation-era when minorities weren’t allowed to attend the same schools as whites.
She walked back those comments, saying, “Providing an alternative option to students denied the right to attend a quality school is the legacy of HBCUs.”
DeVos faced backlash after her appointment of Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, someone who once said she was discriminated against for being white. And people expressed anger on social media on Monday after HBCU was spelled “HCBU” in a statement from DeVos on the Education Department’s website, an error that has since been corrected.
On Wednesday, DeVos pressed on with her speech, despite the boos. “I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you, and particularly with those who have disagreed with the invitation for me to be here,” DeVos said. “One of the hallmarks of higher education, and of democracy, is the ability to converse with and learn from those with whom we disagree.”
“And while we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully,” she said. “Let’s choose to hear each other out.”
Faculty stood in solidarity behind DeVos as she spoke, and Jackson stood with arms folded and eyebrows furrowed while audience members booed and graduates stood with their backs turned.
The jeers subsided as she spoke to graduates on the importance of following in the footsteps of founder Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator, civil rights activist, founder of the National Council of Negro Women and an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
Hadiya Bomani, a graduate and member of Delta Sigma Theta who turned her back to DeVos, said the issue is deeper than the commencement speech. “It’s more so the university that we have an issue with at the fact that they brought her to our celebration,” Bomani said. “It wasn’t time for them to make a political decision on our behalf, it was a time to celebrate us.”
However, the boos started up again when DeVos said she would visit Bethune’s grave and “pay her respects.”
Bethune is buried on campus. Her home is also located on campus, which has been designated a national landmark.
“This commencement speaker is an insult to this community,” he said. “This commencement speaker represents everything that is not Bethune-Cookman and has no place here.” Alumna Cris LaNiese said that DeVos doesn’t understand her school’s principles and that allowing her to speak at graduation is “a slap in the face.”
“When we refer to our institution as sacred ground, we really do mean it. Betsy DeVos knows nothing about that,” LaNiese said. “If anything, I’d be surprised if she could separate Dr. Bethune and Harriet Tubman in a picture lineup. She’s not familiar with us.”
On Tuesday, students hand-delivered boxes with more than 60,000 petitions to school administrators demanding that DeVos be removed as commencement speaker. The Florida chapter of the NAACP has called for the resignation of Jackson and university board Chairman Joe Petrock after rumors surfaced that the school would punish students who protested DeVos.
“If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves. We should, therefore, protest openly everything … that smacks of discrimination or slander,” alumni said, quoting the school’s founder.
“It is disheartening that our alma mater has chosen to invite a speaker who supports policies that serve to harm, not help, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU).”
Jackson defended Devos and said her visit was a good opportunity for the university. “It’s a wonderful experience for our graduates, because how many institutions have a national figure to be their commencement speaker? We’re always about the business of making new friends,” Jackson told reporters before the speech. “If you don’t have friends, it’s very difficult to raise money. Her department controls roughly 80 percent of Title IV money and grants, so why wouldn’t we want to make friends? Is it illogical to talk about making new friends?”
LaNiese sees the administration’s HBCU proposals and DeVos as a farce that Bethune-Cookman school officials are playing into.”We’re being a go-to and those token blacks for this administration. President Jackson keeps saying, ‘This is going to give us a seat at the table.’ From my perspective, it looks like they [the administration] are sitting at the table and we’re serving at the table,” she said.
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NC NAACP President Barber leaves in June to join National Poor People’s Campaign


 

By Cash Michaels, Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Wilmington Journal
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Rev. William J. Barber II

Though he insists that he’s “really not leaving,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the nationally renown president of the State Conference of the North Carolina NAACP, says he will be “transitioning” from the state presidency next month to join a national “poor people’s” campaign to address issues of poverty and social inequality.
“I’m not going to run for another term [as president] of the North Carolina NAACP, and I will step down in June,” the civil rights leader said Wednesday during a teleconference.
Maintaining that the NC NAACP is “…strong in our legal victories; strong in our organizational structure; strong financially and strong in the clarity of agenda…,” the civil rights leader expressed confidence that the next state president, coming from among the organization’s four vice presidents, will be up to the task.
Barber has been president of the North Carolina chapter, the largest in the South, since 2005. He led the once troubled conference into national prominence with weekly Moral Monday demonstrations at the North Carolina state legislature since 2013, and challenging the state on controversial cases of alleged racial injustice.
The key to Barber’s success was his ability to lead diverse racial and religious coalitions to demand change on issues ranging from equal education to affordable health care. Subsequently the Christian leader was invited to twenty-three states last year to do “moral revival” training, sparking Moral Monday demonstrations as far away as Chicago.
In recent years, Rev. Barber has been recognized as a key voice in the progressive movement nationally, garnering him numerous appearances on MSNBC and CNN, and stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; an address during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia; and the keynote sermon at Riverside Church in Harlem last month commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” address.
His numerous appearances across the country gradually fueled speculation that Rev. Barber was steadily ascending to national leadership. He has confirmed that he will be “following a deep calling” and “transitioning to an expansion of the work around the country.”
“We found that there is a deep hunger for a shift in our moral narrative in the nation, and I’ve been asked by a number of moral leaders and impacted persons and advocates to join with them in helping to bring some leadership, energy and unity to helping to build the Poor People’s campaign, and a national call for a moral revival. “
Rev. Barber said the campaign will focus on 25 states and the District of Columbia, with at least half of them in South, including North Carolina, culminating with the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.
“In the times in which we live, our country still needs to address the issues of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and militarism, and our national morality,” Rev. Barber said. “We need a moral narrative.”
Though Barber is leaving the North Carolina NAACP presidency, he is not leaving the civil rights organization. He says he’ll still be a member of the state conference, and still sit on the national NAACP board.
The Christian pastor will not be leaving his Goldsboro church either, Greenleaf Christian Church, saying that doing so keeps him in close touch with the needs of the people.
He will join the national effort under the banner of his own social justice group known as “Repairers of the Breach,” which, in partnership with the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and other social justice and theologian activists, will sponsor “The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 years after the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Militarism, Poverty and Our National Morality” leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign.
“In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others knew the nation needed a Poor People’s Campaign to challenge extremism,” said Rev. Barber. “Today, we recognize that in order to challenge the extremist policies that are being proposed at the highest levels of government, which hurt the most vulnerable, we need a Moral Revival Poor People’s Campaign. We must advance a moral movement in America, that can move beyond the limited language of left versus right politics.”

President Trump fires FBI Director James Comey Republicans and Democrats call for special investigation of Russia collusion

By Frederick H. Lowe

comeyandobama

 FBI Director James Comey and now former President Barack Obama who appointed him to head the agency in September 2013.
Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from NorthStarNewsToday.com

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday fired FBI Director James Comey, Jr., on the recommendations of U.S. Attorney General James Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the White House announced this afternoon.
“The FBI is one of the our nation’s most cherished and respected institutions and today will mark a new beginning for our crown jewel of law enforcement,” President Trump said in a statement.
President Trump fired Comey over the telephone while he was traveling on FBI business in Los Angeles, according to ABC World News.
The FBI has found itself in the middle of a number of high-profile investigations recently, including Russian interference in the presidential election and the circumstances surrounding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump has been critical of Comey’s actions and comments on both matters, ABC reported.
Earlier in the day, Comey came under fire as it was revealed that Comey made inaccurate statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the handling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails by an aide.
Comey, an attorney, served as the seventh Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation beginning in 2013. Former President Barack Obama appointed Comey FBI Director.
The following is the full text of Trump’s letter firing Comey:
Dear Director Comey,
I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.
I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors,
Donald J. Trump
The sudden firing of Comey, who Trump – as candidate – had praised for the resurrection of the Hillary Clinton investigation, has been met with deep questions and speculation. Many are alleging a cover up by the White House as Comey was leading an investigation concerning a possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia.
“The out-of-the-blue ouster of FBI Director James Comey is more proof that we need an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate any and all ties between the Trump Administration and Russia,” said Congressional Black Caucus chairman, Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), in a statement sent to the Trice Edney News Wire.
“When the Attorney General, who supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he lied under oath about conversations with Russians, recommends firing the only person at the Department of Justice leading that investigation, then there is no one at the Department who can be trusted to investigate. As Ranking Member Cummings has said, there is now a ‘crisis of confidence’ at the Department of Justice. This Administration can’t be trusted to investigate itself. The American people deserve to know the truth. I call on Republicans to put patriotism before party and join Democrats in creating an independent, bipartisan commission so we can get to the truth. If they don’t, then they’ll be aiding and abetting collusion and coverup.”
Alabama’s 7th District Congresswomen Terri Sewell expressed similar concerns in a press release to the Greene County Democrat. She stated, “The independence of our law enforcement agencies from the reach of the White House is a fundamental feature of the rule of law in our country. If true, James Comey’s reported allegations suggest that our President may have tried to obstruct the FBI’s investigation into a matter of national security.”
Republican Sen. John McCain expressed disappointment in the firing and said Trump’s action has underscored the need for a special prosecutor.
“While the President has the legal authority to remove the Director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the President’s decision to remove James Comey from office,” McCain said in a statement released by The Hill newspaper. “I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”

Eutaw City Council opens bids on surplus vehicles and property

Sheila Smith presenting a check for police car video systems to Police Chief Derick Coleman and Mayor Raymond Steele.

At its regular meeting on May 9, 2017, the Eutaw City Council opened bids on surplus vehicles and property that had been advertised for sale.
City Attorney Ken Aycock opened and read the bids at the meeting. The City Council approved a motion to sell the property to the highest bidder. All items save one, lot number 8 for a 2000 Ford Crown Victoria, were sold. The City realized approximately $6,000 from this sale, which can used toward the acquisition of new property.
The City Council meeting also included a motion by Council members LaTasha Johnson and LaJeffrey Carpenter to add four items to the agenda, which were discussed in a working session but were not included on the agenda distributed by Mayor Steele.

Most of these items dealt with financial matters.
Mayor Raymond Steele protested the addition of these items to the agenda.” You don’t respect me or my judgment. I have not had time to study these items before they are added ton the agenda,” said Steele. The Council members pointed out that Steele had not attended the working meeting and they wanted these items handled.
The items included, changing the check signers on the City Operating Accounts, making personnel policies and time sheets for employees available for review by Council members, placing funds from the bingo operations in a separate account from other funds for use for capital improvements required in the city, and fixing the roof and other aspects of the repair of the National Guard Armory in stages. These items were approved as a package.
In reviewing the bills and claims for the month of April, Council members asked many questions concerning the presentation of the accounting reports, the lack of a formal budget to measure expenditures against and spending of funds from the bingo account for general expenses instead of capital improvements. The Council agreed to have a working session on finances on May 16 to get a better handle on the city’s finances. Councilman Joe L. Powell moved that the Council pay the bills that were presented but not accept the financial report as presented until it is improved.
The Council approved the Municipal Water Participation and Procedures (MWPP) report for the past year and forwarded it on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Mayor Steele reported that the contractors were pouring the footings for the new water tower behind City Hall. “The tower should be complete in 9 to 12 months,“ said Steele.
Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith raised the question of whether all of the inoperable fire hydrants in Eutaw would be replaced by the USDA Rural Development Program Loan and Grant program. Mayor Steele said he was meeting with the project engineers and would bring up that question with them. He also said 1500 new self-reporting water meters would also be installed as part of the project.
Councilwomen Smith also asked about the procedure for using city land at the old swimming pool site on Highway 11 for vendors interested in participating in the Antique Alley program and sale. The Mayor said the vendors should make application with the City Clerk similar to use of the park and National Guard Armory.
LaJeffrey Carpenter raised issues on ditches and streets in his district that needed clearing as well as work needed at the entrance to the M&M Subdivision to make it more visible in relation to traffic on Highway 43.
At the end of the meeting Sheila Smith presented City Police Chief Derick Coleman a check for $1,871.75 from the Tommy Summerville Police Foundation for purchase of car video systems for each Eutaw police vehicle. These funds were generated for the Foundation from bingo operations at the new Palace facility.