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Dark Days in Alabama

“… l’obligation est voide, eo que le condition est encountre common ley…” —Judge Hull, 1414.

9 August 2023.

Montgomery, Alabama.

Overnight, the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, were filled with beams from flashlights. They were not for a vigil, but to see by. The small electronic devices were passed out by a special mission from the United Nations as Alabama entered its second week with minimal electricity—in the words of the state supreme court’s judgment, only what’s “necessary for the protection of human life” if it’s generated by polluting methods.

While Alabama continues begging to its grid partners for as much clean energy as can be had—a tough ask as most of it is already dedicated to reducing other states’ carbon emissions—most of the state’s generation capacity remains mothballed. And to the extent the state can buy more clean juice, unless and until it can get enough to power essentials it simply displaces the fossil fuels. Dirty power is allowed only to power some traffic lights, the state’s water works, and fire stations. Hospitals get juice, but only to care for those on life support or needing stabilization.

The legislature is among the exceptions. Immediately following the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, Governor Ivey had called a special session to draft and propose a repeal or replacement for Alabama Amendment 930, the heart of the confusion and the chaos in this state of five million people. Given the dysfunction the state is experiencing, it took until this morning to gather a quorum in both chambers, following the arrival of several lawmakers who had been away on extended vacations. They landed at Dannelly Field on a special flight arranged and piloted by the Alabama Air National Guard.

The UN’s humanitarian mission has included setting up special solar-powered cooling tents, which have become a literal lifesaver in this southern state known for its hot summers. The lack of air conditioning has made many indoor structures unsafe during the hottest hours of the day, with some cities declaring don’t-stay-home orders requiring everyone to find their way to one of more than 2000 cooling sites throughout the state. Outside of the major enclosed stadiums and arenas, which have capacities from several thousand to ten thousands, the UN tents have a maximum capacity of 500 persons. Regular shade tents are erected in the vicinity so that citizens can rotate in and out of the cooled tents. School gymnasiums and megachurches are also part of the mix of cooled spaces available.

With refrigeration limited, food preparation sites have been put up in parking lots of many major grocers, allowing people to cook hot meals away from home. Despite this, there are massive food shortages and the relief efforts includes distributing no-cook or pre-cooked foods to accommodate the state’s residents. The one saving grace is that water service continues uninterrupted, meaning taps still work, though hot water is unavailable as most buildings use methane heaters.

Those with illnesses requiring medication to be refrigerated, including insulin for diabetics, have been forced to make trips to nearby pharmacies or hospitals to receive their doses, which is a major hardship given the lack of transportation options. As a result, as many infirm as possible have been evacuated to nearby states.

The ruling by District Judge Nima Shelley in Mobile had come two months ago in the next-friend class-action suit by expecting persons in the state, for the protection of their health and welfare. Judge Shelley had stayed her ruling pending appeals, but the state attorney general has repeatedly mocked the decision, and the state solicitor general gave only a perfunctory rebuttal at argument once the case reached the high court three weeks ago. Following a week of deliberations, the seven-member majority laid down the law: the district court ruling stands, and all contracts that threaten the unborn in Alabama are, “avoided, inoperable, and illegal.”

Contract is the basic means of commerce throughout the world, including ordinary exchanges of goods for money. It requires two or more persons to agree on an exchange that offers some cost and benefit to each party, and has been the cornerstone of society for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Under normal circumstances, they could rely on the state to enforce contracts. While commerce could continue on a voluntary basis, most corporations, including suppliers, are unwilling to proceed on that basis, that they might deliver either payment or goods and rely on good will to see the other party keep up their end.

The result has meant curtailing all nonessential activities and commerce within the state that cause pollution capable of causing harm, defect, or death of unborn life. The scientific term, toxic abortion, refers to the ability of pollutants to cross the placental barrier and damage fetal tissue, disrupting the delicate balance involved in growing the womb’s fruit, in addition weakening a pregnant person already under the strain of supporting an incipient life (or lives, in cases of multiple pregnancy). Responsible for both spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and stillbirths, estimates put the figures nationally between 40 000 and 200 000 per year, though the exact figures would be impossible to calculate. Now, the courts have said, the state constitution demands protection.

That’s because of the specific language used in the amendment, which passed by plebiscite in 2018, made it the explicit public policy of the State of Alabama to prioritize unborn life. “Although the Alabama Constitution has a provision barring the impairment of contracts, the language of Amendment 930 was clear, and its later adoption gives it priority,” the seven-member majority wrote. Had it been a mere statute, it would have been unable to reach to avoid contracts. But, “[U]nless amended, nobody in this state may enter into any contract for goods or services that threaten the unborn. Due to the widespread disruption this conclusion requires, we further hold that there are limited exceptions. Services and commerce that is essential for protection of life is excluded. And thankfully, beyond our law’s reach are all federal facilities and federal operations.”

That last exception refers to the long-standing conceit of law that federal activity is protected from violation of state laws under cases arising from the Neagle rule, established in 1890. Though not insulating federal employees from lawsuit, the state amendment establishes rights not affirmed by the US Supreme Court, and so while at work federal employees are blameless and, for now, federal activity is protected.

The state legislature expects its main duties to be finished by the end of the day, though some of the state’s pundits have speculated they will find good reason to remain in session all the same. Spouses, family members, and major donors have all been seen entering the legislative offices carrying changes of clothes and bottles of soap as they seek the creature comfort of a shower. The sounds of hair dryers and electric razors echo through the halls.

The legislature must also pass a law allowing the governor to issue a writ of election to call for the statewide special election specifically to ratify an amendment. The bill is expected to make allowances for the election to be conducted without much, if any, electricity. The exact date of that election remains up in the air, due to the unusual circumstances. Turnaround time would normally be a few weeks, minimum, and time would be allotted for campaigning, but there’s both no time to lose and the problems of pulling together the materials without normal transportation or electricity needs.

The case, Alabama v. the Unborn Child of Moggs, was only the latest trouble caused by Amendment 930. There have been more than one hundred cases of convicted persons freed on deferred sentences after lawyers sued for the false imprisonment of their unborn children. They will be required to serve their time only after giving birth.

That loophole had led to a criminal gang of pregnant persons, known as the “Mother’s Mafia,” forming. They robbed convenience stores and other small businesses, causing mayhem. They duct-taped pregnancy tests to their chests to warn off any law enforcement officer who might attempt to arrest them.

At their peak, they numbered in the dozens (more if one counts their fetuses as accomplices, something the district attorneys avoided and the attorney general advised against). They were eventually brought to something approaching justice by the “Preggers Posse,” a vigilante group of pregnant women. Following the high-profile apprehension, they imprisoned the Mother’s Mafia in a vacant strip mall in Hysteria, Alabama, where the Pregnant Posse acts as jailers, providing prenatal care until each has their delivery day, at which point the group says they will be handed over to law enforcement.

Asked what he thought about Amendment 930, Posse leader and transgender rights activist Marki Malone said, “It’s deranged. I’m glad to be having this child, but you can’t put unborn life ahead of those who are already here. I’m as against pollution as anyone, but we have to build clean energy. Shutting down the dirty stuff doesn’t make that happen any faster.”

Outside of the state, energy economists have questioned that logic. They say that if the ruling stands and Alabama can’t change the law, they estimate a nine-month effort could bring the state to 80 percent generation capacity, provided the federal funds come through. It would prove a remarkable turnaround for a state that as recently as 2022 was generating about 56% of its electricity using methane and coal.

Ground transportation would take longer to replace, and even electric vehicles cause some PM2.5 emissions through road wear and other mechanical emissions like brake dust. At what point is the air and other toxic risks to fetuses deemed safe enough to satisfy Amendment 930? It seems unlikely Alabama will find out, as the legislature and voters seek to replace it with something less burdensome and return to modern life.

At the latest press conference this morning, the Alabama House majority leader said he expected as many as six proposed amendments to pass. “We don’t want to leave this thing to chance. We need to make sure the voters pass at least one of these, so that our state is not held hostage by the courts.” The amendment language was being carefully considered, both to guard against further lawsuits and to work constructively if more than one were to pass.

The main option discussed was outright repeal, followed by a softened version of 930 that would make it non-policy. Another option would declare there to be no right in Alabama to avoid environmental toxins, even for the unborn. A few would require special steps by pregnant persons. Those included requiring them to wear HEPA filters, or even requiring them to spend their maternity outside the borders of the state. But legal critics say these lesser options, which would leave 930 in operation, would be like resetting the clock on a timebomb rather than disarming it. And environmental scientists point out that HEPA filters do not remove certain pollutants—mainly gasses.

Fetal health is impacted by air pollution in two ways. Air pollution may be directly passed to the fetus by the pregnant person, causing harm. But air pollution can also harm the pregnant person’s health, which makes them a weaker host for the fetus to grow inside of. Air pollutants include particulate matter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and Sulfur oxides (SOx). Fetal harms include low birth weight, birth defect, spontaneous (toxic) abortion (miscarriage), and stillbirth. Survivors may suffer persistent and chronic health problems throughout their lives.

Sources of manmade air pollution include carbon electricity generation, other industrial combustion, vehicles’ combustion engines (including trains, watercraft, and aircraft), and forest fires.


This article was originally written on ink and paper, without the use of artificial energy sources, and it was transmitted for publication via a solar-powered satellite phone, avoiding any use of polluting energy.

Alabama Politics in 2022

Alabama Republicans mock the institutions of man so heartily and with such fervor.

The Democrats are rebuilding in Alabama. Maybe? Ballotpedia says that they are running candidates in only 47 of 105 state house races, 14 of 35 state senate races, governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. Nobody running for lieutenant governor or auditor or treasurer. Simple math tells us that no Democrats are standing in 58 state house districts or for 21 state senate seats. There are candidates seeking the nomination for US Senate, while for the US House, Democrats will contest only five of the seven seats.

Republicans are running in all statewide races, all national races, in 83 of the 105 state house seats, and in 29 of the 35 state senate races.

Not great. The best case for state Democrats for the next four years is as a minority party that can sometimes influence legislation if the Republicans are fractured or perhaps fixing defects the Republicans overlooked in generally acceptable legislation. None of the statewide candidates are well-known or in a strong position.

Most of the Republican candidates run on made-up bullshit issues that have no relationship with reality (the FOX News ticket), much less with the offices they seek. They talk about CRT or disliking Spanish, none of which has anything to do with running the government or drafting meaningful legislation.

The big-ticket item from the governor, which she’s not even running on, was funding and plans to build new prisons using COVID funds so that the state can keep locking people up rather than educating them and building a better tomorrow. But like Biden’s infrastructure work, the prisons won’t be built for some time. So she’s making up some crap and yelling about it. She’s another George Wallace type, vying to be seen as loudest dipshit in the pack. Taking pleasure in pissing on and pissing off the libs. And most of her opponents are doing the same.

That’s also what the Republicans running to replace Senator Richard Shelby are doing. They bring up state issues that a federal legislator has no influence on, or they make up some grievances against the president or against the politicians from other states.

There’s a fairly weak offering of media in the state, and while what exists makes some efforts to push for a better way, it’s mostly ineffective. They have the power to break a scandal, but not to turn the ship.

Alabama Republican politics are works of fiction, any resemblances to reality are accidental, unintentional.


Doug Jones helped the Democrats adopt new charter rules which may help structurally at some point, but the state party is still not very animated. National politics and national political brands are too dominant to give much room for them to break out, apparently, and they don’t have the funds, manpower, or candidates to do it.

Maybe they’ll get there some day, but in 2022 it looks like a pretty weak party, in a weak state that doesn’t have many short-term prospects for reform or improvement.

There are Republicans in the state who would be Democrats in other states, but they can’t afford the association down here. That stifles the growth opportunities for the party, which keeps us on a trajectory of Republican primaries deciding statewide races on phantom issues and hate and bile. And the same Republicans block reform efforts, gerrymander the districts, and don’t set the state on a real growth trajectory.

That means a lack of state leaders tethered to truth and compassion. It means deprioritizing human welfare, education, and environment, all of which mean less liberty.

It’s so dumb and why it looks to stay that way, at least for four more years. I’ve voted in every government election I’ve ever been eligible to, and I want everyone to vote, believe it would make things better, but it’s always bothered me that my vote never really counts at any level of government, living in a backwards state with broken politics.

The 2020 Senatorial Race in Alabama.

As you may know, Senator Jones lost his reelection bid in Alabama to some football guy. Some thoughts about WTF? to a football guy?!

Alabama did not want a serious senator who would bring good things to the state and the nation. That’s the solid conclusion of the 2020 senatorial race in Alabama. But let’s talk about why.

Stature.

Donald John Trump would never have been nominated in 2016, much less elected, without finding a way to improve his stature, to make him seem like a real candidate. His first trick was to be a big asshole in announcing his run. That got enough attention to get his polls to a place he could get in the early debates. Then, standing next to prominent Republican senators, he bullied them, which further inflated his stature to the point he polled better and could start winning primaries. The media kept its eyes trained on him like he was a rabid unicorn, which kept him nice and plump all the way to the nomination, and once nominated his stature was fully established as a Republican-approved candidate to be the actual president.

Jones entered the special election with strong stature of his own, as did Roy Moore. But Moore got badly damaged, not by being the arrogant tool of the devil that he acts like, but because of national reporting on decades-old creepy behavior. Between that and the Black vote, Jones won that election (or, perhaps, Moore lost it).

Normally, incumbency is a strong part of stature. But Alabama loves college football in a way that could only be called a fetish. Tuberville was never a serious candidate, but he had the fetishized stature to get the nomination in a runoff, and too few Alabamians care about reasonable government, so that stature alone was enough to make him the senator.

The main takeaway here is that if you’re running for an office, you have to find some way to gain sufficient stature. Debates are a great way to do that, but Alabama Republicans are well-known for ducking debates, because they don’t want to lose or give a Democrat any profile.

Messaging matters, not so much the message.

Tuberville has no real agenda, just like Donald John Trump. The message doesn’t matter. Most voters aren’t listening anyway.

Up in Maine, Senator Collins ran an add against Sarah Gideon with the basic message that Gideon had all these priorities. It got a broadened run as Democrats made fun of it for highlighting Gideon’s positively-polling positions. I think the message had nothing to do with a tangle of number-one-priorities, but it was all about saying: “Sarah Gideon wants to make all these fucking changes, Maine. Are you ready for all these fucking changes?” In other words, the gut-level of the ad wasn’t anything about any of the issues. It was a how-dare-she for having ideas, for having a platform.

There’s a squint-test in graphics design. You squint your eyes so you can’t really see the content, just the contrast of white-space to text or graphics. You want to see a nice balance there. The folks doing ads for the Democrats need to do their own squint-tests with their ads. Fuck the message, make sure the sound and shape of the thing appeals to the gut of the people you’re trying to reach.

Even something as simple as Jones’ ads ending with him indoors saying he approved the ad—he should have been in some kind of outdoor shot, maybe standing in the middle of a rural highway—missed the signal. (Likely done that way to seem relatable re: COVID-19 stay-at-home, too few Alabamians care about protecting their state from a novel and potentially-deadly virus, so it didn’t really hit as maybe it should have.) Dumb shit plays with a lot of people (and not just in the south). If Jones had done one of those stunt-ads (blow up a tree stump, slap handcuffs on someone in a non-sexual context, or even cook a steak on a grill), it would have boosted him with the folks who went with Tuberville. Most liberals would have shrugged or maybe laughed without it affecting their vote.

Republicans don’t care about policy. They care about the emotion of the message. “Democrats are gonna try to stop robocalls from bugging you all the time” is an effective Republican message, because it says the Democrats will deprive you of something, even something you hate.

Liberals mostly don’t care about that hokey bullshit. As long as the policy is there and thoughtful, you’ll get their votes.

If Democrats ran a message “Republicans are blocking changing the borders of Florida to make it look like an AR-15” the voters would eat it up down there. Boom, six more Democratic senators, three new states, and a reconfigured Florida that looks like a gun, plus three states that look like the mud that rifle was dropped in. (In all probability, envy would then spark several other southern states to split up so they could shape themselves into firearms, cannons, trebuchets, whatever. And in a generation we’d have to teach kids why the map looks like a homicidal six-year-old drew it.)

Upton Sinclair was right: hit them in the gut.

The policy obviously doesn’t matter, because Tuberville doesn’t have policy. Donald John Trump hasn’t policy. For a large group of people, the policy is not even secondary to the tone and package. It just doesn’t factor in for them. They’ll buy a dump in a box marked guaranteed over a quality product.


(Wherein I was going to throw a few bones about the future, but the present is still not officially called, so skipping to the end.

I will say of the presidential race, it was either the-economy-stupid, or it was nearly the-economy-stupid. While other factors like racism and deal-with-devil-Republicans (no gun laws, anti-abortion, anti-taxes, etc.) were certainly factors, I don’t think it’s as close as it is (was) without a strong recovery. The flip-side is that most incumbents would have taken this race handily.)


Started working on a new book. Hum.