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


Listen to the 10 min audio

Read the transcript:

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.

24 mins ago

A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club breaks ground on $7.2 million clubhouse at Birmingham CrossPlex

A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club is building a $7.2 million Walter Howlett Jr. Clubhouse at Birmingham CrossPlex, but if history is any indication, it’s also building future leaders.
Leaders like Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who is a self-proclaimed “club kid” having grown up in Boys & Girls Clubs.

“I can personally speak to the power of the Boys & Girls Club,” Woodfin said. “I spent some formative years here as a club kid.”

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Woodfin said it was on the sports practice fields in downtown Birmingham where he learned the value of teamwork.

“The greatest lesson I learned from the club … is the importance of teamwork in this city,” he said. “I learned that no matter how great the individual players were as part of the club or on the team, it’s the unity that ensures victory.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Birmingham native Condoleezza Rice has made mentoring and youth programs like Boys & Girls Club a pet project nationally. She praised the possibilities the new clubhouse in Birmingham holds.

“This great, new clubhouse for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club is just going to be full of possibilities,” she said. “It’s not just programs that they deliver on. They deliver on caring and compassion for our young people.”

Rice co-chaired the campaign to build a new clubhouse for the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club along with Altec CEO Lee Styslinger III and Regions Financial Corp.Chairman Grayson Hall.

She said those who contributed to the new clubhouse initiative have demonstrated they make children a priority.

“This is about the possibilities when a community comes together,” Rice said. “It’s absolutely the case that when the corporate community and private citizens like the McWanes and people from across the city come together and say, ‘We’re going to do something special for our kids,’ something magnificent happens.”

Frank Adams, CEO of A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club, said the new facility will include a new gym, a music room, a game room, a new café able to serve hot meals and STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art and math) labs. The two-story facility will have a floor dedicated to teens and will be able to serve twice as many children as the Kirkwood R. Balton facility it is replacing.

Adams said the clubhouse will be a great addition to the CrossPlex campus.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help revitalize this area while serving our kids at a higher level,” he said.

Walter Howlett Jr. was a prominent member of the business community in Birmingham and served as the chairman of the board at A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club for more than 20 years. Adams said it’s a worthy tribute to name the new facility after him.

The CrossPlex campus and the new facility are in Birmingham City Councilman Steven Hoyt’s district. He said the new clubhouse will be a welcomed addition.

“Today is very much about an orchestrated optimism and the future of our young people,” he said. “This new club is a symbol of hope.”

Rice said that hope has been realized again and again through Boys & Girls Clubs.

“The Boys & Girls Clubs talk about building great futures,” she said. “Well, you can only get a great future if you have a great start and that is what this is really all about.

“The best in us believes that every life is worthy, and every life is worthy of greatness,” she added.

Who knows, maybe the next mayor or the next secretary of state will come from there.

“I believe in the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club because I know it’s power,” Woodfin said. “It’s a training ground to guide our young people in the right direction. It’s where they will make lasting friendships, make community connections and acquire life lessons that will serve them well when they become the next leaders of our city.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 hours ago

Exceptional Foundation carolers bring holiday spirit to Alabama businesses

What the Exceptional Foundation carolers may lack in perfect pitch and rhythm they more than make up for with enthusiasm and sheer joy.

The result is exactly what is intended: delivering the Christmas spirit to businesses around Birmingham.

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That delivery is clear by the smiles produced among the audiences.

This is the fifth year the Exceptional Foundation carolers have visited corporations to thank them for their support. CEO Tricia Kirk said the number of performances has grown from less than a handful of businesses in the first season to five or six a day this year.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Alabama Power works to save threatened snails on Coosa River

While many property owners used this fall’s Coosa River drawdown to make repairs to boathouses, piers and other structures along the water’s edge, Alabama Power biologists were on another mission.

APC Environmental Affairs employees worked with members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to protect rare snails on Lay and Mitchell lakes.

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The first step involved surveying threatened species — literally by counting the number of snails in a given area.

Two species of freshwater aquatic snails listed under the Endangered Species Act, the rough hornsnail and Tulotoma snail, call the Coosa River home. Both are native to Alabama and are found nowhere else in the world.

“We do a manual count, which gives you an estimate of the number of that species within a certain area,” said Jason Carlee, APC Environmental Affairs supervisor. “You can then multiply that number by the area of the lake bottom affected by the drawdown to estimate how much of the population is affected.”

The work wasn’t limited to surveying. The biologists were also charged with saving snails affected by the drawdown. Snails that might have had trouble navigating to the lower lake levels were picked up along the riverbank and returned to the water.

“The primary objectives at Lay Lake and Lake Mitchell were surveying known populations of Tulotoma and rough hornsnail, searching for new populations of the species and relocating species to suitable habitat in deeper water,” said Chad Fitch, a biologist with Alabama Power.

The snails live anywhere from one to 30 feet below the shoreline but prefer to live just below the water’s edge, according to Carlee.

“The lowering of the water forces the snails to follow the water and, as they move, they can get trapped by vegetation or stuck behind a log or rock,” Carlee said. “Our priority is to identify new populations and to salvage as many snails as we can.”

The teams focused on areas with known populations and salvaged snails when the water was at its lowest level to make the most significant positive impact. A previous survey and salvage effort was conducted during the 2013 drawdown, and additional snail surveys were done in 2009 and 2012.

“Part of our week was spent searching for new populations of rough hornsnails, and we found them,” said Fitch. “Before this week, the species was only known to occur in four different locations on Mitchell Reservoir, but we found them in three other creeks this week as well as along the shorelines in the main channel.”

Several other steps have been taken to protect the snails. For example, the timing and frequency of the fall drawdowns have been adjusted to benefit the species.

“Historically for Lay and Mitchell, there were drawdowns every year. Then they went to every other year. Since the discovery of rough hornsnails at Lake Mitchell and at Yellowleaf Creek on Lay Reservoir, drawdowns are conducted every five years to decrease impacts to the snails,” Fitch said.

Tracks left by the snails leading from the riverbank to the water indicate that the species can adjust to water level fluctuations. Lake levels are now lowered very slowly over a three-day period, to give snails more time to follow the dropping water.

Alabama Power works with USFWS and ADCNR to find ways to protect and improve habitat conditions for snails and other aquatic species as part of its license to operate dams issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All the hard work is paying off. The Tulotoma snail was downlisted from endangered to threatened in 2011 as populations below Coosa River dams increased. It was the first time a freshwater species of mollusks, which includes clams, mussels and slugs, was downlisted. New populations of rough hornsnail provide hope for its recovery.

Results from this year’s snail survey will help regulators determine the impact of water level fluctuations on species like these snails and help provide guidance concerning future drawdowns.

This story originally appeared in Shorelines magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Alexander Shunnarah gives back to the community with the first annual ‘Shunnarah Seasons of Giving’ initiative

Most people know Alexander Shunnarah for his infamous “Call me Alabama” slogan and the massive trail of billboards commonly spotted by travelers along I-65. However, what many aren’t aware of is Shunnarrah’s heart for giving back to the city he calls home.

To show his love and appreciation for Birmingham, the Alabama lawyer just launched the first ever “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” initiative and is surprising locals in the community with various acts of service throughout the month of December.

Shunnurah described this initiative as a, “…small part in giving back to the community and paying it forward.”

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To begin the month-long program, Shunnarrah stopped by Etheridge Brother and Sister Barber and Beauty Shop in downtown Birmingham last week where he gave locals an opportunity to receive a complimentary haircut.

“It’s been a great initial kickoff in the seasons of giving,” Shunarrah said.

In addition to these pop-up visits, Shunnarah’s law firm is partnering with The Shoe Clinic LLC for the clinic’s third annual ‘Saving One Sole at a Time” Sneaker, Sock and Coat Drive. The drive will take place at The Shoe Clinic LLC on Saturday, December 15th from 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Donations are accepted now through December 15th. Both organizations hope to collect 500 sneakers and coats, and 1000 pairs of socks by December 15th.

To donate to the sneaker, sock and coat drive, visit one of the two drop-off locations listed here:

The Shoe Clinic
1801 11th Ave S. Birmingham, AL,

Alexander Shunnarah Law Firm
2900 1st Ave. S. Birmingham, AL.

To see where Alexander Shunurrah visits for the next “Shunnarah’s Seasons of Giving” pop-up, visit his Instagram page at @alexander_shunnarah.

6 hours ago

Artur Davis: What the next Montgomery mayor needs

The coming mayoral race in Montgomery matters whether you live in city limits, or whether it is simply important to you or your business that Alabama’s capital thrives. The conversation on the ground is that the outcome could be the next historic milestone for the city that launched civil rights.

Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Vanzetta McPherson caused a stir with a recent Montgomery Advertiser column that argues “it is time for the occupant of the mayor’s office to reflect the predominant (African-American) citizenry.” She further suggests that there is a burden on black voters and leader to “filter black candidates early,” so that the ranks be purged of those who by some test fail, in her words, to “serve the best interests of the African-American community.”

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I know the judge’s sentiments are well-intentioned but as one of the seven or eight folks who will be running for Mayor, as the only contender who has officially registered a campaign committee, I view this election through a different lens. Montgomery has challenges at every turn. The test is not the mayor’s color or gender but whether the city’s next leader is visionary and substantial enough to unlock those opportunities disguised as challenges.

Mayor is not an entry-level job, as the judge correctly observed. The mayor-to-be will have to learn and master the details of making urban policy work for ordinary people. The job demands persistence and a clear eye about the questions that threaten Montgomery’s future.

Can our schools be rescued? For a while now, the leadership of our school system has resembled its population demographically: that by itself has meant nothing to the children in our eleven failing schools, or the 37 percent of children who graduate high school without core reading and math skills. The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent. The next mayor will have to sell the neighborhoods whose children are in magnets or private schools on the imperative of financing traditional schools adequately. He or she will also need to overcome forces who resist innovative reforms or stricter accountability.

Can we make a real dent in Montgomery’s poverty problem? West and North Montgomery are statistically identical to the chronically poor Black Belt. The southern boulevard is one long patch of neglect and collapsed businesses. Too many of our working people are still poor and trapped in dead-end jobs. For decades, the struggling parts of our city have had representation that “looks like them.” That fact has not yet stopped the decline.

Can we roll back crime and the root causes of crime? An overwhelming majority of criminal defendants are drop-outs. Our city has yet to fashion a comprehensive plan to identify and engage students who have encounters with the law or are chronic disciplinary problems. At the same time, if a city as complex as New York can reduce its rates of gun violence and murder, the next mayor of Montgomery should be expected to devise an anti-crime plan more robust than empathy and short-term anger management courses.

I could go on. We have reached new heights in corporate investment in the city but more of that newly infused wealth must be targeted toward creating jobs that pay high wages. Promoting minority investment is an urgent, consistently unmet need that takes more than conferences at the Renaissance to solve. Our municipal government structure has not been reorganized since the time when smartphones had not been invented and the internet in this city was limited to government offices.

The record of the mayor who is leaving, Todd Strange, will loom over this election. I ran against him but will grant him this: in an era when national politics has degenerated into all or nothing partisanship and what the experts call tribalism, Mayor Strange has kept the volume temperate and moderate in Montgomery. The next mayor should emulate that decency. He or she must match it with a boldness and a capacity to challenge old assumptions and challenge 21st Century problems.

I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history. But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.

If you live in Montgomery, vote for the guy or lady you think just might know how to get us there.

Artur Davis is a former four-term congressman from Montgomery running for mayor.