On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states have no constitutional obligation to honor public records requests from non-residents. Journalists, who frequently rely on freedom of information laws to expose corruption and break open stories, fear that the decision may make it harder for them to access public records.
MuckRock, a website that files public records requests on behalf of activists, journalists, and private citizens for a small fee and posts the resulting records online, has a solution. The website has been helping out-of-staters seeking public records in Virginia and seven other states with similar laws—Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee—by pairing them with locals willing to co-file the requests. After Monday’s decision, MuckRock began offering free website subscriptions to citizens of those states to help keep that information flowing.
MuckRock cofounder Michael Morisy, who also works for the Boston Globe, says he “fully expect[s] more states to at least look into adding these laws as they look for ways to cut down on costs for complying with public records requests and generally decrease the amount of people accessing this tool.”
Starting March 1, federal programs and their state and local beneficiaries began grappling with $85.4 billion in cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Some programs have been spared—Congress voted to restore tuition assistance for members of the armed services and, just last week, restored funding to the Federal Aviation Administration to forestall flight-delaying furloughs. But for the most part, the cuts have remained intact. Six weeks in, we took a look at how sequestration is has impacted 50 states, from canceled festivals to shuttered Head Start programs to massive layoffs.
Birmingham: North Albama public defenders office furloughing 11 of 15 employees.
Huntsville: Huntsville Housing Authority, which provides heating, plumbing, and financial assistance, to serve 300 fewer people.
Jefferson County: Head Start program closing for 10 weeks, affecting 276 kids. Fifteen staffers will be furloughed.
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Sitka: Bill Brady Healing Center, which treats Native Alaskans for drug and alcohol addiction, closed as part of $3.5 million in cuts to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corporation.
Fairbanks: Alaska Volcano Observatory is cutting back on volcano and earthquake monitoring.
Eielson Air Force Base: 18th Aggressor Squadron will be grounded until the end of the fiscal year.
GOP voucher schemes have one aim in mind: tearing down public education institutions to fund private religious schools.
Bad news from Alabama: Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has signed a neo-voucher bill designed to divert tens of millions in public funds to religious and other private schools.
The so-called Alabama Accountability Act began as a relatively non-controversial measure that allowed local school districts to opt out of state regulations. But during a House-Senate conference committee dominated by Republicans, HB 84 was altered to set up a tax-credit scheme that lets students in “failing” public schools transfer to private schools.
The legislative shenanigans that led to this bill’s passage were outrageous - featuring duplicity, back-stabbing and closed-door intrigues. Montgomery Advertiser reporter Sebastian Kitchen said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and other Republicans pretended to be working with Democrats and education groups on the legislation.
“Meanwhile,” Kitchen said, “Republicans were secretly working on a vastly different bill — knowing their discussions about the actual legislation that people could read were a sham. At best, some key Republicans were intentionally misleading in their previous conversations. At worst, they lied.”
When the altered bill came before the state Senate, that body erupted into chaos. Senators yelled at each other and called names for over 20 minutes as Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey tried vainly to regain control.
A circuit court judge later barred the measure from going to governor’s office for his signature, finding the process a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The order, however, was predictably overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, an all-Republican body led by notorious “Ten Commandments” Judge Roy Moore, a scofflaw who bases his opinions as much on his fundamentalist reading of the Bible as he does the Constitution.
Gov. Bentley then quickly added his name to the measure.
Supporters of the measure say it will cost taxpayers from $60 to $70 million annually. Analysts at the Alabama Education Association (AEA) say it’s more likely to be $250 million. Some critics think it might run as high as $367 million.
Regardless of the amount, it’s too much. The Alabama Constitution is pretty darn clear on this topic. Article I, Sec. 3 bars the government to force anyone to pay taxes “for maintaining any minister or ministry,” and Article XIV, Sec. 263 states flatly, “No money raised for the support of the public schools shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian or denominational school.”
When Amercia was Free:
The murder of Viola Liuzzo was one of the most shocking moments in the civil rights movement. On a winding, isolated road outside Selma, Liuzzo was ambushed and shot to death by a car full of Ku Klux Klansmen.
She was murdered while giving a ride to a 19-year-old black man, Leroy Moton, one of many civil rights marchers she had driven around Selma. Liuzzo had joined the movement’s carpool system soon after arriving in the small Alabama town. Liuzzo’s murder became international news. Her photo became a fixture in history books. Her name has been inscribed on civil rights memorials throughout the United States.
But people had far less sympathy for Liuzzo when she was murdered. Hate mail flooded her family’s Detroit home, accusing her of being a deranged communist. Crosses were burned in front of the home. Her husband, Anthony Liuzzo Sr., had to hire armed guards to protect his family.
A Ladies’ Home Journal magazine survey taken right after Liuzzo’s death asked its readers what kind of woman would leave her family for a civil rights demonstration. The magazine suggested that she had brought death on herself by leaving home — and 55% of its readers agreed.
“It was horrible,” Penny says. “People sent [copies of] this magazine that showed her body in the car with the blood and bullet holes. They called her a white whore and a nigger lover, and said that she was having relations with black men.”
Even Sally did not escape the public’s wrath. Students threw rocks at her and taunted her on the way to school, Penny says.
The family says they were even more devastated when they learned years later who had initiated the public backlash — J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. To absolve itself of culpability in her death — an FBI informant was in the car with the men who killed Liuzzo — the FBI released her psychiatric records and directed a smear campaign to suggest that Liuzzo was promiscuous.
Christian Nation America responded to the death of a Voting Rights Activist in 1965 with anger and derision…directed at members of the surviving family. I’d write more here if I could but I can’t find the words.
Isn’t it crazy that we even have to ask that question?
In Arkansas this week, the State Senate passed a bill that would ban almost all abortions. Within a month, women in Arkansas could be prevented from receiving abortion care, no matter what their circumstances.
In North Dakota, the legislature is poised to vote on set of bills that aim to ban abortion, close down women’s health centers, and could prevent couples from using in-vitro fertilization to build their family. The Senate is expected to vote on those bills next week.
In Mississippi and Alabama and several other states, legislators are playing at the same game - introducing legislation that takes away a woman’s ability to have all options open to her.
These bills are shocking at any time, but especially now when lawmakers have heard men and women across the nation say we don’t want politicians interfering in personal private decisions. From the voting booth to the capitol steps, the message from the last year was clear: hands off women’s health care. But now — less than a month into state legislative sessions, and about a week after the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, politicians are working overtime to block a woman’s access to abortion care.
We can’t let them get away with it. Share this blog. Email your friends. Call or email your state legislators and let them know - enough is enough.
A boy was being held hostage in a bunker in Alabama early Wednesday by a man who seized him from a school bus after fatally shooting the driver, witnesses and police said.
Authorities were negotiating with the man overnight at the scene near Midland City.
The driver of the bus died from gunshot wounds on Tuesday afternoon and the suspect was not in custody, according to the Dale County Sheriff’s Department.
Witnesses told NBC station WSFA that the suspect boarded the bus and ordered some children off before grabbing a boy aged 5 or 6, shooting the driver and fleeing towards his nearby home.
Michael Senn, who is minister of a nearby church, told the station that he spoke to several children on the bus, including a girl who said the driver was shot four times. He described one 13-year-old as “really traumatized.”
Mike Creel, who said he was the suspect’s neighbor, told the station the suspect had hidden ‘in his homemade bomb shelter.’ However, officials described it as a storm shelter.
Creel said the suspect has lived on the property for around two years and that the underground shelter was ‘one of the first things he started building.”
The station said police believed the child was “OK” and that police were conducting negotiations with the suspect using a plastic pipe.
Other neighbors identified the suspect to the local newspaper, the Dothan Eagle, as a 67-year-old man. NBC News was unable to confirm this early Wednesday.
Lisa Harden, of the Dale County School District Office, said the bus was on a route that served all local schools, and had children of all ages on board.
More: Little Green Footballs
After 3 major tornadoes tore through the community that I have lived in since 1967, I feel compelled to write this article on how my Faith was increased after surviving 3 major tornadoes. Pratt City is the oldest community in Birmingham, and Birmingham is one of the largest cities in Alabama. The April 27th 2011 tornadoes nearly wiped my community off the map this time!
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I would love to hear similiar stories from other tornado survivors or your comments after you read my article. Feel free to share my link.
This is the story of Travis Jr. and Travis Sr. and how their religious bigotry nearly destroyed a lovely, vibrant young woman. By now most of you are probably aware of the #JusticeforMallory hashtag and the story behind it, but here’s a quick link and quote for the stragglers.
Mallory Owens, 23, was invited to the home of her girlfriend’s family to celebrate Thanksgiving on Nov. 22. Details of what happened were not immediately available, but various activists websites allege that Owens was severely beaten by her girlfriend’s brother, Travis Hawkins Jr.
Travis Sr. the father, lists an MA in Theology from University of Mobile. Also the victim wasn’t just the sister’s girlfriend, it appears she was her fiancé, the victim announced an engagement on Facebook September 9th.
A little over a year ago the father posted this note to facebook:
Minutes ago, my oldest son asked a very pointed question. He asked, “Dad, I’ve escaped death three times in my life, what does God want from me?” I was floored and fully ill equipped to answer such a question. I was silent for a second, and then, I remembered my own personal struggle with God and his purpose for me. Eleven years ago, during the summer, I was very ill and incapable of working. The children in the neighborhood came over almost daily to help me build a mosaic patio. They thoroughly enjoyed playing in the mortar and designing bricks in assorted shapes. But, as much as their company lifted my spirits, I was aching inside. My life was a wreck. The business I spent the last ten years building was gone. My family and I struggled for continuity, love and peace. Most of all, I needed to know, what is God’s purpose for me. I prayed night and day. I assured God, “I will do whatever you want me to do!” I felt and saw no reply.
One day, while I was alone, I asked God again, “Please show me what you want from me.” In my arrogance, I believed myself to have great potential and worth to the world…all of which was unfulfilled. I had drawn string lines to level my bricks surrounding my patio. Sweat dripping down my face, hands full of dirt and working with as much precision as I was capable, God nudged me deep within. My purpose was as simple as the proper placement of the next brick. In disbelief, I cried out, “What do you mean?” Again in a silent nudge, God replied, “Your purpose is right in front of you. Your purpose is simply to do the next right thing!”
Dear God, I will do my level best! Funny, God has used bricks as examples twice in my life, but that’s another story. Our mutual purpose, my friend, is always right in front of us.
Travis M. Hawkins Jr. likes this.
Wait, before you think I’m coming down too harshly on the father, the story of these God bothering weirdos gets even stranger. The article below comes from January 2011, which is nine months before the date on the note written above by the father:
“The 17-year-old juvenile and his father were arguing. It started inside in the house,” Officer Christopher Levy said.
Police said the father, Travis Hawkins, then got a 9mm gun and started shooting.
“He fired one shot at the floor of the inside of the house. The argument then went outside. He discharged the second time in the air and then actually after a third shot, then shot his son in the chest. When they were outside, the son appears to have tried to take the gun away from the dad when he shot him in the chest,” Levy added.
“It doesn’t take much for him to snap and go off,” the neighbor added.
Police said the argument should have never escalated to gunfire, and what happened there wasn’t the first crime Hawkins was accused of.
“What we know about him is he actually has a history of domestic violence involving his children,” Levy said.
That’s right, when the son came to his father asking about about escaping death three times, the deaths escaped were at his father’s hands. Here’s the followup to the shooting story which details another, separate attempted murder charge.
“The judge issued a bond of $50,000 with no contact to the family member that had been shot,” Rich said.
Neighbors felt like that was a good thing because of Hawkins’ history.
“He does have an extensive history of substance abuse charges as well as alcohol related charges. He also has one prior offense which was an attempted murder. However that was in 2000 and the state could not go forward because the only witness was his wife and she refused to testify against him, so we were not able to go forward with the charges in that case,” added Rich.
FOX10 News asked Rich who the attempted murder was on?
“Another family member. I’m not sure what family member it was, I think it was his own child but I’m not sure,” Rich said.
So, a year after being given the sermon on God, bricklaying, and doing the next right thing in front of you, which Travis Jr. apparently “liked,” he beats his sister’s girlfriend half to death, smashing her face so badly that she required reconstructive surgery. It appears that for neither of these men was the “next right thing” ever framed or limited by the Golden Rule. Commandments and The Scripture were to be taken literally, Sr. raised Jr. to live in a world defined by the extremes of obedience and abomination.
The Word made flesh. Mallory Owens was a stunningly gorgeous young woman. Now she has metal plates in her face because her cheekbones have been thoroughly crushed by a bigot’s fists. Remember the ugliness of what was done to her, and realize that it was in no small part made possible by everyday people simply accepting bigotry against gays and lesbians without protest. Every single time such bigotry gets a pass, when people vote for bigots, support or condone official bigotry under the law, or attend bigoted religious services they are choosing to perpetuate an environment that incubates and nurtures such hatred.
Segregation ended decades ago in Alabama, swept away by the civil rights marchers who faced down police dogs and fire hoses in the early ’60s. But segregation is still mandated by the state’s constitution, and voters on Nov. 6 will get only their second chance in years to eliminate an anachronism that still exists on paper.
Election Day in this Deep South state could be the day Alabama amends history.
Amendment 4 — the proposal to delete the constitution’s archaic language affirming segregation — is tucked amid routine issues of sewers, bonds and city boundaries on a crowded Election Day ballot. It’s a striking call to see if Alabama will repeat what it did in 2004, when the state narrowly voted to keep the outdated and racially controversial language, bringing national ridicule upon the state.
The second time won’t be any easier than the first because Alabama’s two largest black political groups are urging a “no” vote. They say the proposed changes would wipe out some racially charged language, but would retain segregation-era language saying there is no constitutional right to a public education in Alabama. And they’ve been joined by the state’s main teachers’ group in refusing to go along.
Never mind the supporters who say it’s time to shed the last reminders of an era of discrimination and project a more welcoming image of a modern state eager to draw companies and jobs to Alabama.
Alabamians haven’t been reluctant to amend the 111-year-old constitution in the past. In fact, they’ve approved more than 800 amendments in their history, making theirs the nation’s longest state constitution. It is now four times longer than the average constitution and, come Nov. 6, could get 30 more amendments added to its heft.
James Timothy Turner, the self-styled “president” of the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), was indicted today on charges of conspiracy to defraud the federal government and several other tax charges, including attempting to pay taxes with a fictitious financial instrument and attempting to obstruct an Internal Revenue Service investigation.
Based in the southeast Alabama town of Ozark, Turner heads what is likely the largest and most organized group of antigovernment “sovereign citizens” in the country.
According to the federal indictment announced Tuesday, Turner is alleged to have attempted to pay his own taxes with a fictitious $300 million bond and to have assisted others who wanted to get out of paying taxes with similar bonds ranging from $10 million to $300 million, the FBI said in a joint statement with the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department.
Turner burst onto the sovereign citizens scene in 2007 with a series of seminars claiming he could help his clients get out of paying mortgages, credit card debt and income tax bills. But with RuSA, which he formed in 2010, Turner went a step further, setting out to form a shadow government that he claimed would lie in waiting for the day the federal government crumbled.