2 years ago

Joann Bashinsky given Yellowhammer’s Lifetime Service Award for ‘selfless generosity and dedication to improving the lives of Alabamians’

HOOVER — At the 2018 “Women of Impact” event held at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort and Spa on Thursday, Yellowhammer News honored Joann Bashinsky, the vice president of 1996 SYB Inc., and also the vice president of the Bashinsky Foundation Inc., with a Lifetime Service Award.

Bashinsky was given the award for “a lifetime of selfless generosity and dedication to improving the lives of Alabamians.”

(J. Poor/YHN)

Following the event, she expressed her gratitude in an interview with Yellowhammer News and explained how her work with the Big Oak Ranch and providing scholarships for college students was a passion of hers.

“I love the children at the ranch,” Bashinsky said. “I love to do for them, and I love to send children to school that can’t afford it, and I can, and I want them to have an education.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

14 mins 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

3 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

Byrne: Help is on the way after Hurricane Sally

The aftermath of Hurricane Sally has left much of Southwest Alabama in bad shape. From the coasts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to the northern parts of our district, winds and flooding have let many without essentials like power, water and shelter. Fortunately, help is on the way.

As the forecast showed the storm approaching, I began coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, Coast Guard and our state and local elected officials and emergency management agencies. As the storm approached, it was clear there would be major damage. After the storm, by my request, Administrator Pete Gaynor of FEMA flew from Washington to Alabama. On Sunday, we drove all over Baldwin County surveying damage, and the Administrator was able to see with his own eyes the scope of the problem. I appreciated that Administrator Gaynor wanted to see it firsthand and talk directly to those impacted so he could understand the severity of what we are dealing with. In driving all over Baldwin County, we made constant stops to get out, walk through the devastation, and talk with people.

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During the administrator’s visit, President Trump granted Governor Ivey’s request for additional disaster relief, only 36 hours after an application was submitted. This speaks not only to the quality work done by the governor and her team but also to the commitment of FEMA, President Trump, and his entire team to get to work helping those in need, for which I am grateful.

The storm has been greatly underreported by the national media. It does not help that the unfortunate death of Justice Ginsberg occurred late last week. However, if this storm would have hit California or New York and had the same kind of impact, we would be seeing wall to wall coverage. Local first responders performed over 300 water rescues. Yet we only suffered two deaths. Certainly, even one death is a tragedy, and we mourn for the families who lost loved ones. But it is astonishing that a storm that defied forecasts to strengthen at the last minute and bring such flooding and devastation only caused two deaths. This speaks volumes to the work our emergency responders and volunteers did in preparing for the storm and carrying out their mission during and after landfall.

The media may not be paying attention, but President Trump and his administration have remained engaged in getting us what we need to hit the ground running with the rebuilding process. As a result of the disaster declaration, it is important to know what assistance FEMA will be providing to our counties and individuals. The two major areas covered by the FEMA disaster declaration are Individual Assistance and Public Assistance. Public Assistance is made available to counties and municipalities for debris removal, rebuilding public infrastructure, and working to restore utility services. Currently, FEMA can cover 75 percent of these costs.

Individual assistance is available for things like emergency housing repair and hotel costs. But before you know what assistance you may be eligible to receive, you must register with FEMA. This can be done online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. I cannot overstress the importance of documenting everything you do. Take pictures before, during, and after, and keep all receipts. FEMA will help our city and county government with debris removal, but you must haul your debris to the side of the road and follow guidance from your local officials. FEMA is also providing items like tarps and bottled water at stations throughout Southwest Alabama. The disaster declaration also triggers help to those who may have lost their jobs because of the disaster, like unemployment insurance benefits. I encourage you to contact the state unemployment office if you have lost your job due to Hurricane Sally.

In addition to FEMA’s response efforts, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is now accepting loan applications to assist with both physical and economic damages. These low-interest loans are available to businesses who have experienced substantial damage and may not be able to reopen their doors for some time. I encourage those businesses who need additional financial assistance to register with FEMA and apply for the loan that best fits their needs. Loan application details can be found at www.sba.gov.

As always, my office is a phone call away and can provide assistance or direct you to where you can find help. Alabama will get through this disaster as we have others in the past.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

6 hours ago

New commission tasked with deciding what to do with the state’s soon-to-be-replaced prison facilities

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday created a new commission that will examine how to best utilize the state’s prison facilities, several of which will be emptied in upcoming years as the state constructs three new prisons.

The current plan to build three new men’s prisons was covered by Yellowhammer News in an in-depth report earlier in September.

Officially titled the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission, the governor’s new group will be chaired by Neal Wade, an economic development official who has worked for the State of Alabama in the past.

“As our Alabama Prison Program moves forward in building three new prisons… we will simultaneously need to smartly and safely repurpose or decommission these outdated, aging prisons,” Ivey said in a statement on Tuesday.

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The governor further explained that the new commission “will provide recommendations based on in-depth facility analysis considering both the impact on the state and local community as well the financial ramifications to potentially repurpose or decommission some of our current prison infrastructures.”

A release from the governor’s office says that some facilities may find another use within the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), while others may be best suited for a different public entity or the private sector.

Citizens will not see a report from the commission anytime soon. The governor has mandated a report be sent to state leaders by September 1, 2023, or 90 days after the Commissioner certifies to the Commission that construction on the final prison is complete.

The report is to include “recommendations for the future of each existing male prison facility.”

Members of the commission, per the governor’s office, are as follows:

Neal Wade (Chair) is the former director of the Alabama Development Office, the precursor to the Alabama Department of Commerce, and currently serves as the managing partner of Advanced Economic Development Leadership for the National Economic Development Education Program.

Sen. Greg Albritton is chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee and was elected to represent District 22 in the Alabama Senate, which includes Baldwin, Clarke, Escambia, Monroe and Washington Counties.

Ben Baxley currently serves as chief of the Opinions Division in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. He previously served as the deputy chief of the Criminal Division in the office of the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Ted Clem is the director of Business Development for the Alabama Department of Commerce. Clem joined Commerce in February 2014 as a senior project manager and played a key role in two projects in Opelika that involved $340 million in capital investment and nearly 400 new jobs.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison was elected to represent District 20 of the Alabama Senate, which includes Jefferson County. She previously served one term in the Alabama House of Representatives and three terms on the Birmingham City Council. She serves as the ranking minority member of both the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund and Governmental Affairs Committees.

Harold Crouch is currently the mayor of Chatom where he has served for 24 years. He was previously on the city council for two terms. He has also taught government, history and economics.

Darius Foster is the CEO and co-founder of H2T Digital. He received a BS in Business Administration from Miles College and a GC in Business Strategies for Social Impact from The Wharton School. He is a current member of the Board of Directors for the Business Council of Alabama as well as a former commissioner of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education.

Annette Funderburk is the President of Ingram State Technical College which serves a 100 percent incarcerated adult population that delivers career technical, GED and job skills training at six locations across Alabama. She previously served nearly 10 years within the Alabama Community College System where her most recent role was director of External Affairs.

Rep. Kelvin Lawrence was elected to represent District 69 of the Alabama House of Representatives which includes Autauga, Lowndes, Montgomery and Wilcox Counties. He serves on the Ways and Means General Fund and State Government Committees in the House of Representatives.

Merceria Ludgood currently serves as a Mobile County commissioner, District One, attorney and civic leader. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama, followed by a Master of Arts degree. She earned her law degree from the Antioch School of Law An avid supporter of higher education, Ludgood is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including being selected for Leadership Mobile, Leadership Alabama and the prestigious Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship.

Walter Givhan, Maj. Gen., USAF (Retired) currently serves as senior vice chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development at Troy University. He is also the commander of the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education and vice commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base. General Givhan, a native of Safford, Ala., graduated from Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala., and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was a National Merit Scholar.

Allen G. Peck, Lt Gen., USAF (Retired) is an assistant professor in the Department of Airpower and General George Kenney Chair at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). He also serves as co-facilitator for the joint Air War College/ Air Command and Staff College Airpower Vistas Research Task Force joint elective. Peck served for 36 years on active duty in the USAF, flying the air-to-air and air-to-surface variants of the F-15.

Rep. Connie Rowe is the vice chair of the Majority Caucus in the House of Representatives. She also serves as vice chair of both the Rules Committee and Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Representative Rowe was elected to represent District 13 of the Alabama House of Representatives, which includes Blount and Walker Counties.

Kyes Stevens is the founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project at Auburn University.  Starting in 2001, she has worked to design and build an innovative and sustainable outreach program that works with the underserved adult prison population in Alabama.

Willie Williams, Lt. Gen., USMC (Retired) is a senior consultant and owner/president of Williams Consulting, LLC based in Huntsville assisting the Department of Defense-supporting contractors and industries in strategic business development. Williams previously served as the chief of the Marine Corps Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.

“This process will allow both public officials as well as members of the general public to have a meaningful voice in the future of our existing prison infrastructure,” concluded Ivey.

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

6 hours ago

This seven-year-old singing sensation from Birmingham is already performing in Nashville

Birmingham’s Evan Riley does not know cursive yet, but people are already lining up to get her autograph.

Riley, 7, is a second grade student at Shelby County’s Mt. Laurel Elementary School.

As reported by the Shelby County Reporter, Riley first found her love for — and natural talent in — music when she saw “The Greatest Showman” at age five. She liked the movie so much that she asked to see it over and over again. During one of these replays, she stopped watching — and began singing. That is when her mom knew Riley possessed a special gift.

“She didn’t really sound like a child,” her mother, Heather Lofthus, told the Shelby County Reporter. “She was standing on the coffee table singing, and I got chills.”

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Riley subsequently began taking weekly voice lessons at her kindergarten. She would then perform “Never Enough,” the first song she ever sang from “The Greatest Showman,” at her school Christmas recital.

The audience was reportedly blown away, but Riley soon topped that feat with her school-wide performance of LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue” in front of approximately 1,000 people. A video of that cover found its way to local voice coach Steve Pennington, who has now been working with Riley the past six months.

It was Pennington who set up Riley with three separate performances at prominent Nashville venues last weekend: Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk and Steakhouse.

The rising star was a big hit in what was her first times performing with a band. However, while greater successes seem on the horizon, Riley and her family are focused on remaining grounded.

Keep up with Riley and watch videos of her performances here.

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