Government branches must hold each other accountable, not circumvent each other


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FBI AND JUDICIAL SECRETS UNEARTHED – WHAT NOW?

TOM LAMPRECHT:  Harry, last week, a report was released by The New York Times which revealed that, under the FBI director James Comey’s leadership, they used a secret program that does not require the approval of a judge to gather phone records and other documents on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The FBI ordered phone records and other documents using national security letters, a secret type of subpoena, officials said, and at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page — Carter Page — and Mr. Papadopoulos.

That has become a politically contentious point with Mr. Trump’s allies who are questioning whether the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign and trying to entrap campaign officials.

The national security letters are controversial, in part, because they carry the force of the law but are created entirely outside of the judicial system. To issue one, an FBI official needs to attest that the information sought is relevant to a national security investigation. The letters have also been criticized because they are shrouded in secrecy.

Harry, we have three distinct branches of government — judicial, congressional and executive. Is this a breaching of those three separate branches of government?

DR. REEDER: Not so much breach, I would say, as to circumvent. Tom, when I was in the ninth grade, I have to confess I was not all that interested as I should have been in my studies, but there was one little bright star in all of this and that was Robert Woodburn — I still remember him today — who was my Civics teacher in the ninth grade. I just got drawn into it.

FOUNDING FATHERS’ “AMERICAN EXPERIMENT” 

I was amazed at our founding fathers who had just made it very clear that they were carrying out this American experiment by, first, we’re not going to have a monarchy where one man rules and, therefore, his tyranny in the accumulation of power, and we’re not going to have an oligarchy were the elite rule in their accumulation of power and money and wealth and we’re not going to have a democracy where a mob can rule. What we’re going to have is a republic where it is a people who are agreed that, in their local government, their state government and their federal government, we will be ruled by law and, therefore, it is the law that is king.

And then, to carry out that law or to make that law or to amend that law, there would be three branches of government. There would be the executive branch of government, which executes the law as it exists; there would be the judicial branches of government that would govern and would make rulings based upon the law and rulings concerning the lawfulness of any other proposed law in terms of the existing law; and then, finally, there would be the legislative which upholds the law, makes amendments to the law or bring forth any new law. And all of these would be accountable to their vows to the Constitution of the United States.

The executive branch of government would be elected, the legislative branch of government would be elected and then the executive and the legislative would bring forth the nominees for those who would be judges and, in some states, those judge positions where also elected — others, they would be appointed by those who had been elected in the executive and legislative branch.

Now, having put all that together in those brief moments, you have to realize that was to be implemented, to some degree, on all three levels: the local level where you would have mayors and you would have councils and you would have local judges; and then you would have it on a state level where you’d have a governor and state legislatures and state judges as well as state supreme courts; and then you would have it on the national level. Tom, part of the genius, also, was that these were not hierarchical but interdependent and accountable to each other.

Tom, there are two things that we see breached in this article that you’ve pointed out and first is how the executive branch, or runaway branches of the executive branch, attempt to circumvent the role of the judicial and then how the legislative abandons their responsibility to hold all of them accountable.

CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS ARE IMPORTANT, BUT ARE BEING ABUSED

Today, when we hear that the Congress is going to have a congressional hearing, what we basically think about is a sideshow in which various congressmen will use the opportunity to declare their talking points and lay out their next campaign and be able to make a name for themselves in what they question and how they question.

In reality, it was not there for a platform to promote our congressional members, but it was there for them to exercise oversight. They might have to have congressional hearings concerning the judicial branch or they might have to have congressional hearings concerning local and state governments on movements in the nation that need to be investigated in terms of any legislative impact. And there were congressional hearings for the executive branch, as well.

DO SPECIAL COUNSELS HELP OR HURT?

These are not moments for a showtime; these are moments to really hold people accountable: are you acting within your constitutional boundaries? I think you have said it before, most insightfully, these special prosecutors, I believe as you do, is not a good thing to do for various reasons.

Once you cut these special counsels loose and their investigative teams, with the powers of subpoena, the things that they have, they’re going to find something to validate what they’re doing and they can always argue, “I need to go down this trail because this may help me find what is happening over here that I was actually commissioned to do and investigate, but I need to investigate this because it may open up doors over here.”

Well, now they’re uncovering other things in the lives of people and in the past of people and they’re making it public and that becomes a political football to toss around. The special prosecutor is simply a statement of the cowardice or the ineptness of Congress to do their job in congressional hearings.

LET’S HOLD THESE EGREGIOUS BRANCH ACTIONS ACCOUNTABLE

Now, if there’s ever any place for clarity — moral clarity and legal clarity — it’s in the investigations that have and are and need to take place from Congress concerning how the FBI has been conducting itself and they also need to investigate how the IRS has been conducting itself.

Both have engaged in behavior that is punitive, oppressive and beyond the scope of their responsibilities but you need a Congress that will do its job, and then you need a judicial branch that will do its job and the executive branch needs to be accountable to the legislative body. And, once again, these congressional hearings have been the mechanism whereby that was supposed to be accomplished.

TOMORROW: REX TILLERSON GIVES WISE COMMENCEMENT ADVICE

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, on tomorrow’s edition of Today in Perspective, I want to take you to a little town in Virginia — Lexington, Virginia — where a lot of American history has taken place. Former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was asked to talk to the graduates of VMI last week.

DR. REEDER: He made a comment that I think is extremely important to understand and, I believe, affirm what he said. Tom, can I also just finish up today’s program by mentioning this: the accountability that’s built into our government is an accountability we all need.

NOT JUST GOVERNMENT THAT NEEDS ACCOUNTABILITY 

There are three guys I’ve been with now for 34 years in an accountability relationship. I’ve got accountability to my wife, I’ve got accountability to my family, I’ve got accountability to those whom I work with and my elders and I believe this is very important, as you and I attempt to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

Accountability in life as well as accountability in government, that is a great principle but, most of all, I need to know that I am accountable to the Lord. My dear friends, I want you to know — and the other day they came out with a statement — that, once you put something in the digital world, it never goes away. You can find it and you can be held accountable.

Here’s what the Lord has said: “We give an account for every word and every action. How can I stand before a holy God Who will, by no means, leave the guilty unpunished and I’m accountable and will stand before Him because it is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment?”

Well, let me tell you the way — the way is to come to Jesus Christ, Who will remove all of the guilt and shame by having taken our judgement for us at the cross and can set you on a new life where you come before the Lord, not as a criminal at the judgment seat, but as a son and a daughter able to affirm the stewardship of new life in Jesus Christ. Come to the One who sits at the judgment seat. He’s already come and He went to the cross for you.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.

1 hour ago

Jerry Carl visits White House, gets endorsed by President Trump in AL-01

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, on Wednesday visited the White House and met in the Oval Office with President Donald J. Trump.

“It was an incredible honor to spend over half an hour in the Oval Office with President Trump and Vice President Pence today,” Carl said in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

After the visit, Trump in a tweet endorsed Carl for the Southwest Alabama congressional seat.

“He Loves our Veterans, Stands for Law & Order, and is Strong on Jobs and the Second Amendment. Jerry has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” Trump wrote.

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“The President is focused not only on his own race, but also on down ballot races nationwide,” Carl told Yellowhammer News. “He cares about the people of Alabama, and we had a good conversation about issues that are affecting Alabama’s 1st District.”

“I’m looking forward to working with President Trump to address some of these critical issues – stopping the spread of socialism, supporting our law enforcement, and getting our economy back on track,” he concluded. “Thank you, President Trump!”

Carl will face Democrat James Averhart on November 3.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Sara Evans is a 2020 Woman of Impact

One of country music’s most popular artists of the 21st century, Sara Evans, has adopted Alabama as her own, and she is not slowing down.

Earlier in 2020, Evans released a new album, “Copy That,” where she covers 13 classic songs, and published a new memoir, Born to Fly.

She came to the Yellowhammer State after marrying former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker in 2008. They now make their home in the Birmingham area along with their seven children.

The singer performs and releases music under the name Sara Evans, which is how Yellowhammer News is referring to her for the purposes of this article. Evans does not shy away from her married name; just in 2019, she released a six-track EP titled “The Barker Family Band” which featured herself, her son Avery and daughter Olivia.

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Evans was born and raised outside of a small town in Missouri and began her lifelong connection with music at age four. She had recorded her first CD and was attending country music events by the age of 9 or 10, according to a 2011 interview.

Aspiring to a career in music, she moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked as a waitress while trying to find her big break.

“Three Chords and The Truth” and “No Place That Far,” Evans’ first two albums, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. They earned the artist solid reviews from critics but did not make a big impact on the charts.

“If I’m going to have the career I came to Nashville to find,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I’ve got to get on the radio and give today’s fans what they want.”

“Born to Fly,” the album that resulted from this change in sound, achieved everything Evans aimed to accomplish. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it as double platinum; meaning it has sold over 2 million copies. Singles “Born to Fly” and “I Could Not Ask for More” placed first and second on the U.S. Country charts.

After the breakthrough success, Evans never left the country charts for very long over the next decade; buoyed by singles like “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Evans’ albums “Restless,” “Real Fine Place,” and “A Little Bit Stronger” are certified platinum and five more albums by Evans are certified gold.

She won Top Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2006.

Her five most popular songs available on the music streaming service Spotify have been played a combined 101,997,937 times.

Jerry Sharpe, a music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described Evans as having a “a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well.”

Evans met her now-husband when they were both in their 30s with kids. They were introduced by Joe Beam, a Christian speaker that focuses on love and marriage who knew them both previously.

“One defining moment was, I made the decision to walk into my office and email Jay Barker and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so told me that I should reach out to you. I want you to know that I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through,” Evans recounted to music website The Boot.

Barker was the starting quarterback on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 championship-winning team, and at the time when he and Evans connected they had both recently gone through painful divorces.

“He emailed me back within five minutes, and that was definitely a defining moment,” she added.

Evans brought three children to the new family, while Barker brought four.

“Our house is full of children and activities and chaos, but Jay is such a great support to me,” Evans told The Boot about her husband, who hosts a sports talk show in Birmingham.

Radio play by country music stations is dominated by male artists and programmed by male deejays, something that has frustrated Evans in recent years.

She has become an outspoken advocate for more women in country music and voices her opinions on the subject with regularity.

Evans has appeared at events and spoken up for the organization Change the Conversation that aims to gain more representation for women in country music.

“The lack of voices heard on country radio affect not only those who are making music, but those listening as well. Music plays a powerful role in shaping our popular culture. Today’s music does not reflect who we are as a country and sends the wrong message to our girls and women. Too often, country songs portray women as a pretty ornament on the passenger side. It is time to reclaim a woman’s place in the driver’s seat,” the organization says on its website.

Evans has remarked that for her most recent original studio work, the album “Words” released in 2017, she placed a greater emphasis on including female producers and songwriters to give their careers a boost.

At a Change the Conversation event in 2017, Evans said, “When I first got my record deal, women were dominating country radio. We had Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and on and on. I was fortunate enough to join that group of amazing women.”

“[W]e need to change the conversation and figure out why it is not that way anymore. Why are there not enough women on country radio? Women artists are amazing and they have so much great music that we want to hear and we need to hear, so let’s change the conversation,” she urged.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Evans a 2020 Woman of Impact.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

4 hours ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

Southwest Alabama residents are celebrating the heroic linemen and support personnel who have traveled from across the country to restore utility services following Hurricane Sally last week.

WKRG reported that Fairhope residents on Tuesday night held a short parade downtown to express their appreciation for the power crews.

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The parade reportedly featured bucket trucks honking, with linemen inside waving, to those residents who took their time to line Section Street.

Alabama Power Company has restored power to its service area as of Sunday night, and Energy Institute of Alabama members continue to lead the charge restoring service to Baldwin County electric cooperative members, which was hardest hit by the slow-moving category 2 hurricane.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Shadowy web of 20 ‘news’ sites operating in Alabama, tied to national network that invented quotes, bylines

A shadowy group of websites masquerading as local news agencies has been launched ahead of November’s high-stakes general election.

An investigation by Yellowhammer News uncovered the existence of “Yellowhammer Times,” which purports to be a statewide news organization intended “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” The site’s “people” section, where one would expect its employees to be listed, is blank.

“We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources,” the site claims. “We also provide a platform for all citizens whose views on issues are rarely heard. If you want a voice in your community, we want to hear from you.”

The website is admittedly owned and operated by Metric Media LLC and its parent Metric Media Foundation, a Missouri-based entity just granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last year. Publicly available data shows that Metric Media has not yet revealed having any assets, income or revenue through mandatory IRS filings. This means that at this point in time, the organization is effectively operating as a dark money group.

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Metric Media has a glitzy website that asserts, “Metric Media is funded by donations and grants from contributors who care about restoring local news in their communities.”

The website does list a three-person board of directors, which is reportedly chaired by San Francisco-based Rakesh Donthineni. The other named directors are Victor Chen of Los Angeles and Brent Southwell of Houston. Chen formerly worked for then-Beijing TV China, an entity of Beijing Media Network — which is owned and operated by the Chinese government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party.

Metric Media’s explicit presence in Alabama does not stop at the statewide Yellowhammer Times. The bottom of this website links to 18 more sites, all appearing to be local or regional news agencies across the state. These publications are identical in format to Yellowhammer Times and are as follows: Auburn Times, Baldwin Times, Decatur Times, East Central Alabama News, Gadsden Today, Huntsville Leader, Jefferson Reporter, Mobile Courant, NE Alabama News, NW Alabama News, North Birmingham Times, River Region Times, Shoals Today, South Alabama Times, South Birmingham Times, Tuscaloosa Leader, West Central Alabama News and Wiregrass Times.

Publicly available domain information shows that these sites were all registered in May of this year.

That same month, Yellowhammer Times published its first “original story,” which was about COVID-19 related liability issues. The author is listed as a “T.H. Lawrence.”

Almost every story posted since then has been a completely automated story, mainly using RSS feeds to populate the stories on the site. This includes republishing press releases from Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama. The automated stories also include a lot of identical templates that simply display federal government-released data.

In all, Yellowhammer Times as of Wednesday at noon hosted more than 2,300 stories on the site — with only two listing a human author. The automated stories name “Metric Media News Service” or other entities such as “Locality Labs News Service” as the author.

One short story about lost Alabama tax revenue related to the pandemic simply does not list an author.

The second story to actually list an author, Juliette Fairley, advocated in July to fully reopen the economy and return students to school in the fall. This story was based on exclusive quotes from Alabama-based John Chamberlain, board chairman for Citizen Health. Citizen Health advocates for subscription-based medical services and disrupting the healthcare industry.

Yellowhammer News dug into the two authors listed on the site. Fairley is a national freelance author specializing in finance, while T.H. Lawrence’s name popped up across several sites in Metric Media’s network of more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

Yellowhammer News’ investigation also uncovered that T.H. Lawrence is indeed Tom Lawrence, a career journalist from South Dakota who was once executive editor of the state’s Black Hills Pioneer. He is now a freelance writer and blogger, appearing in local publications (under his real name) such as the Dakota Free Press, American News and South Dakota Standard. He also has his own blog, the Prairie Perspective. It should be noted that American News is owned by national conglomerate Gannett.

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) in December 2019 published an in-depth investigative report that revealed some disturbing findings about Metric Media and its related entities, including Locality Labs. The investigation concluded that the network can be traced back to Illinois-based businessman and conservative activist Brian Timpone.

CJR was able to find at least 450 sites, all linked, operating under the banners of Metric Media, Locality Labs, Franklin Archer, the Record Inc. and Local Government Information Services. The entities at times — while being aimed at different states — shared IP addresses, Google Analytics IDs and other technical identifiers. Since December, the network has more than doubled in size, according to Metric Media’s own website.

CJR further traced Locality Lab’s origin story. The entity was once known as Timpone’s company “Journatic.” Journatic had to rebrand in 2013 following a national scandal over “faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” per CJR.

The CJR report followed a story published in October 2019 by a Michigan paper about Metric Media’s network that had popped up in that state. More local and national reporting followed, including by the New York Times and Guardian.

Yellowhammer Times republishes stories from other named entities in this Metric Media web, as well. For example, the publication ran a story from Empire State Today of New York.

This also includes another Alabama-focused site not directly linked at the bottom of Yellowhammer Times. Alabama Business Daily stories are republished on the site, and CJR previously reported there is an identical entity curated by Metric Media in each state. Yellowhammer News found that Alabama Business Daily’s domain was registered in February 2018.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, the existence of this network of sites in Alabama should raise alarm bells across the state.

Alabama was already besieged in the 2017 special election cycle by “Project Birmingham,” which utilized “Russian tactics” by Democratic operatives to aid the campaign of then-Democratic nominee Doug Jones.

Alabamians will hope that this type of disinformation campaign is not repeated this time around through Metric Media or its sister entities.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill has previously warned residents to arm themselves with the truth and to be wary of unknown sources spread on social media, especially.

“It is of paramount importance that the 4.8 million people who make up our state are informed with up-to-date, complete, and accurate information,” Merill has said in a statement. “All election-related information should come directly from our website or from your local election official. We are your trusted source for information related to the elections process.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Ivey, Orr and Battle team up for virtual groundbreaking for School of Cyber Technology and Engineering campus

Ground was broken on the new campus for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) on Wednesday, and prominent officials in Alabama delivered virtual addresses about the importance of the new institution.

The ASCTE is a magnet high school open to students from any of Alabama’s 137 public school districts. Located in Alabama’s cyber capital of Huntsville, attendees live on campus in a boarding environment.

Governor Kay Ivey, State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, the three public officials most involved in making ASCTE happen, spoke at the groundbreaking for the new campus.

ASCTE’s first crop of students enrolled this fall. They are currently taking classes in facilities on the campus of Oakwood University. The cyber school will move to the permanent campus that began construction on Wednesday upon its completion.

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(Huntsville Chamber of Commerce/Contributed)

According to materials provided by the school, ASCTE is the first cyber-focused school of its type in the country.

Orr sponsored the legislation to create ASCTE and now chairs its board of trustees.

The lawmaker from Decatur recounted that soon after he embraced the idea of a cyber-focused magnet school, he approached the governor and “she immediately saw the value.” Orr also praised the “support we got from the mayor’s office” as he and a team were putting together the project.

Ivey, who has made education a priority of her administration and in the last week created a STEM council, joined the virtual groundbreaking from her office in Montgomery.

“We must provide our state’s children with meaningful opportunities to pursue careers in STEM fields to ensure a prosperous Alabama of tomorrow,” Ivey remarked during her speech.

Battle was thanked in his introduction by Alicia Ryan, ASCTE Board of Trustees vice-chair, for creating the Cyber Huntsville initiative in 2010 and for his general support of the atmosphere that made the Rocket City fitting for a technology-focused school.

“Today begins a new chapter for Huntsville,” began Battle, who praised the “collaborative effort” that brought ASCTE into being and thanked Orr and Ivey by name.

“Welcome to Huntsville,” he told the assembled students who were watching via telecast.

Raytheon Technologies, a defense contractor with a strong presence in the Rocket City, is ASCTE’s most supportive corporate partner. The company donated $4 million to help get the school off the ground and was a partner in Wednesday’s groundbreaking. All public officials who spoke thanked the business multiple times.

“Our nation has a significant cyber talent gap,” remarked Wes Kramer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, in talking about why investing in ASCTE was good for his company and the nation.

Matt Massey, a former superintendent of the Madison County School System, is the president of ASCTE and tasked with both leading the current iteration of the school and preparing it for the future.

ASCTE plans to go from the 72 students currently enrolled to over 350 by 2024.

Phillip Thomas (left) speaks on ASCTE groundbreaking (ASCTE/Screenshot)

One of those students currently enrolled, Phillip Thomas, spoke at the groundbreaking on Wednesday.

“Coming to this school was the best decision I have ever made,” he began.

Thomas assured those listening that the residential staff was top-notch and the boarding environment was welcoming and comfortable.

“I came here to further advance my path to engineering and cyber career opportunities, and this school is one of a kind in that regard,” he continued.

The freshman said his plan was to eventually earn advanced degrees in the fields in which ASCTE is giving him a robust primary education.

“The future of this world relies on technological advances, and I am excited to play a role in that innovation. Thanks to ASCTE, I will achieve these goals,” Thomas concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95