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.

50 mins ago

Watch: Bicentennial video tells the stories of Alabama’s great people

The finale of the ALABAMA 200 bicentennial celebration is on Saturday, with the public celebrating with elected officials, celebrities and dignitaries in the state’s capital.

However, even if you cannot make the festivities in person, you can still take time remotely to honor Alabama becoming a state 200 years ago to the day.

A video put together by WBRC and posted by Governor Kay Ivey is a great way to relive the state’s vibrant history.

Entitled, “Alabama Bicentennial: The Stories of Our People,” the approximately 50-minute special looks back on the state’s past 200 years, hearing from some of its most memorable voices in the process.

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In an introduction to that video, Ivey says, “As we celebrate our state’s bicentennial, I want to recognize my fellow Alabamians. As governor, I’m proud to be from a state that has remained steadfast through good times and bad.”

“Our resiliency and southern spirit have allowed us to grow and become the great state we are today,” she continues. “To put it simply, Alabama is defined by its people, and we have some of the best. I look forward to the future generations of Alabamians who will help take us to even greater heights. Happy birthday, Alabama!”

Watch:

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

3 hours ago

Alabama’s ‘white gold’ draws worldwide interest

Ruth Beaumont Cook’s latest book started 10 years ago as a brochure request from Sylacauga‘s B.B. Comer Memorial Library in advance of the city’s first marble festival.

“They asked me to put together a brochure about the history of the marble,” Cook said. “It was overwhelmingly successful, so the next year they asked to me write a book.”

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New book celebrates Sylacauga’s marble legacy from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Nearly nine years and dozens of interviews later, Cook celebrates the natural resource that nurtures both the economy and the cultural heritage of Alabama’s “Marble City” in her new book, “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story.”

“Whenever you start working on a book, you have all of this information but you look for a story thread through it,” Cook said. “I had no clue when I started what that was going to be.”

Cook said the clues starting coming together as she started talking to people who grew up mining marble.

“There are so many people who grew up in Gantts Quarry,” Cook said. “Most people have good memories of growing up there and work they are proud of. Telling those stories was the most interesting part of it.”

Commercial marble quarries began in Sylacauga in the late 1800s. Cook said the marble was initially used by sculptors such as Giuseppe Moretti, the Italian who created the Vulcan statue on Red Mountain in Birmingham.

“His Vulcan won gold prize at the 1904 World’s Fair, but what most people don’t know is he also took another piece with him, ‘The Head of Christ,’ which he had carved from Sylacauga marble,” Cook said. “It won a silver medal.”

The notoriety caught the attention of construction managers around the world who were seeking dimension marble for their projects. By the 1930s, Sylacauga’s creamy white marble had been used in hundreds of buildings, including the U.S. Supreme Court building and the ceiling of the Lincoln Memorial.

“It was chosen for the Lincoln Memorial because it can be cut very thin and still be strong,” Cook said. “They cut it thin enough to be translucent and then rubbed it with beeswax and put it in the ceiling.”

Despite the marble’s beauty and strength, Cook said the demand for dimension marble in construction dropped dramatically by the 1950s.

“It became obvious that granite was much easier to withstand pollution than marble,” Cook said. “Marble is still great if it’s thick enough, but if you make a facade of it on a building, it’s probably not going to last because it deteriorates from the pollution.”

Instead of closing the mines and laying off employees, Cook said the Sylacauga marble companies survived and thrived thanks to a growing need for calcium extracted from marble deposits and used in hundreds of products, such as cosmetics, paints and glue.

“They turned to industry and began to grind up the marble into fine powder – called GCC, ground calcium carbonate – which industry had a strong demand for,” Cook said.

Cook said Sylacauga continues to be a rich marble resource more than 70 years later.

“I’ve been told there’s enough marble there for sculpture and industry for at least another 200 years,” Cook said. “The vein of marble is 35 miles long, a mile and a half wide and goes down quite a ways — 300 or 400 feet I believe. It’s a very valuable resource.”

Sylacauga Marble Festival

Since 2009, the city has celebrated its heritage through the Sylacauga Marble Festival, a 10-day event drawing sculptors from around the world to work alongside an Italian master sculptor. Visitors can watch, tour local quarries and purchase sculptures. Cook said the festival brings Sylacauga’s rich heritage full circle.

“It came from art, up through all of these others, and now you have this wonderful balance,” Cook said. “You still have major industry but you also have major art appreciation. It’s a great story.”

The 12th annual Marble Festival will be March 31 to April 11, 2020.

The 2019 Marble Festival, which was one of several events highlighted by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission as part of the state’s 200th birthday celebration, was sponsored by the Alabama Power FoundationAlabama State Council on the ArtsAlabama Tourism DepartmentAmerican Legion Post 45 SylacaugaArchitectural Stone ImportsB.B. Comer Memorial LibraryBlue Bell CreameriesBlue Horizon TravelCity of Sylacauga, Conn Equipment, Coosa Valley Medical CenterCurtis and Son Funeral HomeImerysIsabel Anderson Comer Museum and Arts CenterJ. Craig Smith Community CenterMiller Lumber CompanyMorris Custom Marble & GraniteNemakOmya, Inc.Pizza & Pint, Representative Ron Johnson, SouthFirst BankSylacauga Arts CouncilSylacauga Chamber of CommerceSylacauga Housing Authority, Sylacauga Marble Quarry, Towne Inn, 21st Century Signs and Utilities Board of Sylacauga.

To learn more about “Magic in Stone: The Sylacauga Marble Story,” visit newsouthbooks.com/magicinstone.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 hours ago

Birmingham Business Alliance reveals new mission, economic development approach

The Birmingham Business Alliance revealed a new mission and a new approach to economic development as it heads into 2020.

The BBA’s 2019 Chairwoman’s Annual Meeting was at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham Dec. 11. Chairwoman Nancy Goedecke passed the gavel to Jim Gorrie, president and CEO of Brasfield & Gorrie.

Gone is Blueprint Birmingham, which guided the BBA through its first 10 years. In its place is a strategy that keys in life sciences, advanced manufacturing and technology. Those are some of the main industries the Alabama Department of Commerce is expected to emphasize in its revision of Accelerate Alabama, the state’s economic development plan.

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“Those are the three areas that we’re going to focus on,” said Fred McCallum, interim CEO of the BBA. “I will tell you that when you look at our state plan, there are a lot of similarities.”

Birmingham Business Alliance announces new direction from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

A main component to Blueprint Birmingham was a set of metrics that measured Birmingham’s success against a cluster of peer cities. Doing so often looked too broadly, McCallum said.

“Blueprint was a good plan at the time,” he said. “It was very wide and in some ways it was successful and in other ways it wasn’t so successful. I think what we’ve come to now is a point in time where we’ve got to focus in on jobs and economic growth.”

There will be a new set of metrics created and benchmarked in a new BBA strategic plan, McCallum said.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin did highlight one comparison between Birmingham and other cities.

“Since the great recession around 2008, 60% of all jobs have only gone to 25 cities in America,” Woodfin said. “You need to know that Birmingham is not on that list.”

Woodfin feels Birmingham should measure itself against its own potential instead of comparing itself to others.

“We don’t have to be like Nashville or Chattanooga or Atlanta or Austin,” he said. “We need to be the best version of ourselves. But that is going to require us to shake off the way we’ve always done things.”

Woodfin said the companies and organizations that make up the BBA should be prepared to take greater risks and push boundaries.

“Being risk-averse at this time as we move into 2020 … will not work for us – as an organization or for our city,” he said. “So the question becomes when you walk out of this room, are we prepared to invest in our competitiveness? Do we want to compete? Do we want to set ourselves apart, not be like any other city in America?”

A primary goal for the BBA is to find a new CEO. McCallum has led the organization on an interim basis after former CEO Brian Hilson stepped down at the end of March. Hilson now works on rural economic development initiatives in the state.

Other changes will include aligning the BBA’s internal strategy to execute the new strategic plan, updating its governance structure to be more effective and efficient and aligning the funding model to support the BBA’s new strategic plan.

“I think the organization will be more focused on specific strategies and focused on doing what we do well,” McCallum said.

McCallum believes Birmingham leaders and economic developers can tell the region’s story more forcefully and proactively.

“We’re on a good trajectory. I feel good about where we are as a community,” McCallum said. “Our leadership is strong. Our public leadership is strong. Our private leadership is strong. I feel good about where the BBA is focused.”

This year’s annual meeting was more a call to action than the rah-rah sessions of the past.

“Usually I would get up here and give you all some stats about what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished,” Woodfin said. “I think it is fair to say that 2019 has been a good year for many of your organizations individually and collectively for our Birmingham Business Alliance.”

It was a good 2019 in the Birmingham metro area. Halfway through the year, the region reached and surpassed its pre-recession height of employment. There were 32 projects with 1,180 jobs and $492.2 million in capital investment announced in the region in 2019.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

The biggest birthday party in Alabama history is TODAY!

The biggest birthday party in Alabama’s history is taking place today, December 14, and you are invited! Join us in Montgomery for the grand finale celebration of our state’s 200th birthday.

Watch the parade, listen to concerts and performances, visit open houses and much more.

This is sure to be a day you don’t want to miss. The event is free to the public and lasts all day starting with an elaborate parade at 10:00 a.m. The parade will travel from Court Square Fountain in downtown Montgomery up Dexter Avenue to the State Capitol. There will be marching bands, city floats and unique displays of Alabama history on wheels, such as the USS Alabama and U.S. Space and Rocket Center.

The parade is a great opportunity for families to enjoy the celebration together – and it’s only the beginning of a packed day. Following the parade, Governor Kay Ivey will dedicate Bicentennial Park. The afternoon will offer performances, exhibitions and open houses throughout downtown Montgomery. The day will conclude with a concert featuring popular musicians from Alabama and the history of Alabama presented in a never-before-seen way.

Visit Alabama 200 Finale for a complete rundown of the day’s events.

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7 hours ago

ADCNR officers help spread Christmas cheer at Academy Sports

Imagine elves filling baskets with goodies to load on Santa’s sleigh and you get a snapshot of what it looked like last week when Academy Sports + Outdoors provided Christmas cheer for numerous youngsters who needed that encouragement the most.

At Academy stores across Alabama, youngsters were chosen to go on shopping sprees with a budget of $150 each, assisted by first responders from the local area. In two locations, Huntsville and Foley, Alabama Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) enforcement officers assisted the kids in choosing the items that were loaded into the shopping carts.

Into the baskets went bows and arrows, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, clothing, athletic shoes, candy canes and more. The youngsters proved more than adept at keeping track of just how far that gift card would go, counting down until the funding was exhausted.

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“Academy Sports + Outdoors is excited to partner with first responders across the state of Alabama to help 150 children enjoy more sports and outdoor fun this holiday season,” said Rick Burleson, Academy’s Regional Marketing Specialist. “As the shopping destination with the most fun gifts and gear, we look forward to making the holidays merry for our local communities across Alabama.”

Chris Blankenship, ADCNR’s Commissioner, said the shopping events presented a special opportunity for outreach to the younger generation.

“I appreciate Academy Sports + Outdoors for sponsoring this program,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Opportunities like this where enforcement officers can interact positively with citizens, especially youth, are so valuable for building trust on both sides. Our Conservation Enforcement Officers participate in many programs to promote hunting and fishing for youth. This is just another example of the good people we have in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“In the photos, you can really see the joy in the faces of the kids, the officers and the employees of Academy Sports + Outdoors. The giving spirit of Academy, our officers and the community is evident in the outpouring of support for this program. With this scene replicated at hundreds of Academy stores all over the country, good relations with law enforcement are being built nationwide and will pay dividends for many years to come. My desire to work in conservation came from encounters such as this with Marine Resources conservation officers when I was a kid. You cannot underestimate what effects the little things like this will have on a person and a community.”

At the Foley event, Conservation Enforcement Officers from the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division and the Marine Resources Division aided 10 youngsters from the afterschool program at the John McClure Snook Family YMCA in Foley.

Melissa McGhee, associate branch director of the Foley YMCA, said the youngsters ranged in age from 5 to 13.

“All the kids we chose are highly scholarshipped kids,” McGhee said. “They just don’t have a lot. For three of them, this is their Christmas. This was such an honor to be picked for this. When I talked to some of the parents, they just started crying because this is what their kids are doing for Christmas.”

Jason Ford, Academy Store Director in Foley, said providing a venue for officers and youngsters to interact in a positive way during the holiday season was well worth the effort from Academy and the associates who also assisted during the shopping sprees.

“We love that we can reach out to people in our community who are less fortunate,” Ford said. “But it also strengthens the bonds between our first responders and our community. Right now, we can use that unity more than ever. To be able to impact the community in such a positive way really goes a long way in warming my heart, and hopefully seeing the kids gets some good Christmas presents and develop some goodwill with our law enforcement.”

WFF Conservation Officer Steve Schrader wore a perpetual smile while he helped a young lady fill her basket with gifts from shoes to candy cane-shaped containers filled with M&Ms.

“This has been great,” Schrader said. “My shopper has been very generous and has bought more for her family than herself. I hope she now sees us (enforcement officers) more friendly than the other side of the fence. They can see us as real people, too. I think it went really well.”

At the event in Huntsville, Beth Morring with the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama echoed the need for the sponsored kids to find out more about the ADCNR enforcement officers and what those officers actually do.

“Before they started shopping, we asked the Conservation guys to explain what they do every day,” Morring said. “The officers told them how they protected the wildlife and help those who fish and hunt and enjoy the outdoors. It was neat because our kids probably never knew these men and women existed. It was a learning experience just to meet these officers, which was great.”

Morring said 10 kids from the Seminole Boys and Girls Clubs in Huntsville were chosen for the event.

“These were the kids who needed it the most,” she said. “With $150 to shop, we did kind of steer them during their shopping, as did the officers. We started with shoes first and then went to get some essential clothing. They were able to get a goodie or two as well. It was a great time, and everybody wanted new shoes. These kids were predominantly from the public housing area where the club is located, and they were thrilled to get some new, shiny tennis shoes. In fact, some of them wore them out of the store that day, which was fabulous.”

Morring said the event was much more than just a shopping spree for the kids.

“To watch them interact with the officers and for our children to see men and women who serve and protect us, that they are good people,” she said. “Many of our children don’t have as positive an exposure with first responders sometimes. For them to be able to meet these first responders who can talk to them and realize these are dads and moms and husbands and wives – just regular people even though they might be in a uniform. So that positive interaction was so important. That was really impactful for our children.”

Morring said it was great to see the officers meet the kids on the same level.

“I loved watching these big grown-ups with these little children and them kneeling down on the floor to help them try on shoes,” she said. “Not to mention for our children, it was the first time they were able to walk into a store and have a budget for gifts where they got to make the decisions and choices. To watch these kids whose families struggle financially, for them to have $150 and then think about family members before themselves is admirable and amazing in light of their circumstances.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.