Tuesday, October 3, 2023

As he steps into retirement, Gen. Mark Milley says the greatest threat to American democracy will "come from within," an apparent reference to Trump and 2024

Gen. Mark Milley's farewell address.

Recent events have taught this lesson: Directing threats and trash talk toward a general in the U.S. military is not a good idea -- especially when your target is THE general, Mark Milley, recently retired chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump might be on the verge of learning that attacking the nation's No. 1 military man -- and being generally disrespectful toward the men and women in uniform -- is a dumb move, one that might have painful repercussions.

In his farewell speech last Friday, Milley strongly hinted that he sees Trump as a threat to national security, to the American democracy. And Milley made it clear that he and other military folks consider such threats to be serious matters. In fact, they take an oath to treat such matters with the utmost seriousness.

Trump spewed his invective as the Operation Saving Democracy political action committee has formed to stop him. What is Operation Saving Democracy? This is from its mission statement:

We have a track record of moving the needle to impact important electoral races around the country using the combined efforts of National Security Leaders for America (NSL4A) and Democratic Majority Action PAC (DMA).

NSL4A evolved from a historic bipartisan effort when more than 1,000 retired admirals, generals, ambassadors, and other national security leaders came together to endorse and support President Joe Biden in 2020 against Donald Trump. Its unique membership encompasses senior leaders from the military and national security-related government agencies, as well as elected officials at the state and local levels. Having dedicated their professional lives to protecting and supporting the “great American experiment” of democracy, almost 600 retired Generals, Admirals, Ambassadors, cabinet and service secretaries, appointed leaders, elected officials, and Senior Executive Service leaders have come together at this time of significant threat to the essential tenets of our Democratic institutions and values. DMA and The American SOS Project PAC are led by Amy McGrath, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who feels a sense of responsibility to fight for our democracy and for the future of our country. 

These partners previously worked together to make critical investments, defeating “election denier” candidates in the 2022 cycle.

Is Mark Milley part of this effort? That is not clear at the moment. But his farewell speech, delivered near Arlington National Cemetery, indicated he and Operation Saving Democracy are on the same page. From a report at CNN under the headline "Milley says the military doesn’t swear oath to a ‘wannabe dictator’ in apparent swipe at Trump":

In an impassioned and at times furious speech, departing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley defiantly proclaimed that the US military does not swear an oath to a “wannabe dictator.”

It was a bitter and pointed swipe that appeared unmistakably targeted at former President Donald Trump, who has in recent days accused Milley of “treason” and suggested that he should be put to death for his conduct surrounding Trump’s bid in 2021 to remain in office despite losing the presidential election.

“We are unique among the world’s militaries,” Milley said. “We don’t take an oath to a country, we don’t take an oath to a tribe, we don’t take an oath to a religion. We don’t take an oath to a king, or a queen, or a tyrant or a dictator.”

“And we don’t take an oath to a wannabe dictator,” he spat. “We take an oath to the Constitution and we take an oath to the idea that is America – and we’re willing to die to protect it.” 

It’s a line Milley has delivered before, including last year at the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commissioning at Princeton, his alma mater. But he chose to use it Friday, standing alongside President Joe Biden during a national address – his last as the president’s top military adviser and the nation’s top general.

Trump largely has not  been held accountable for most of his life, but the conviction behind Milley's words suggests accountability might be heading in the direction of the Orange Menace -- at long last. From the CNN report:

Although he was appointed by Trump in 2018, Milley has in many ways been shadow-boxing with the former president since the summer of 2020, when Milley appeared briefly alongside Trump as he walked to a church outside of Lafayette Square for a photo op during the George Floyd protests. Milley, who was in uniform, later apologized publicly for “creat[ing] a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” The apology outraged Trump.

Their relationship became even more contentious in the wake of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Milley took a number of extraordinary actions to safeguard against what he feared were Trump’s more outlandish instincts, as well as the general chaos of the moment.

Since then, he has become a frequent target for Trump and his allies. And his tenure as chairman has provoked fierce debate among military experts: Was Milley too willing to wade into the realm of domestic politics, or did he stand in the breach to protect a democracy in peril?

On Friday, as he handed over the reins of the chairmanship to Gen. CQ Brown, Milley gave a fierce defense of his view of the military’s defining ethos: to defend, if necessary with the life’s blood of those in uniform, the Constitution of the United States. Throughout, Milley’s suggestion, both implicit and explicit, was that the Constitution’s greatest enemy came from within.

“It is that document that all of us in uniform swear to protect and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Milley said, emphasizing the words “all” in “all enemies” and the “and” between “foreign and domestic."

Milley drew strong parallels between military duty and Constitutional freedoms. One, he said, can be lost without the other:

He appeared to obliquely address criticism that he has drawn the military into domestic politics, expressly linking military service with the protection of bedrock American civil rights.

“The blood we spill pays for our freedom of speech,” Milley thundered. “Our blood pays for the right to assemble, our due process, our freedom of press, our right to vote, and all the other rights and privileges that come with being an American.”

Milley also appeared to take a subtle shot at the US Congress, which is riven by political division and was poised to trigger a government shutdown over the  weekend.

Milley praised “the tremendous service” of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein and then pointedly addressed “all of her colleagues on the Hill.”

“You collectively demonstrate the American will,” Milley said. “We are viewed as either unified or divided, that is your choice. But everybody watches.”

“To our allies and partners, your presence demonstrates our shared interest and common values – and our robust network of allies and partners is a key source of our collective strength,” he said.

Milley has expressed concern about Trump's mental health and fitness for office before, especially in the aftermath of January 6. It does not seem clear to Milley that Trump holds the Constitution and the rule of law in high regard. It is clear that Milley considers Trump and his MAGA followers to be personal threats. From the CNN report:

Milley’s handling of the January 6 crisis continues to be the topic of fierce debate.

Two days after the attack on the Capitol, Milley – concerned that Trump “had gone into a serious mental decline” and might “go rogue” – instructed senior operations officers from the National Military Command Center not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book, Peril.

He also made a now-controversial phone call in the days following the attack intended to reassure Beijing that the United States was stable and that it was not considering a military strike on China. Trump and his allies have since sought to portray that call, which was made in coordination with Trump administration officials at the Pentagon, as Milley conspiring to aid the Chinese in the event of conflict.

“This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social last week. “A war between China and the United States could have been the result of this treasonous act.”

Trump doubled down on his attacks Friday, calling Milley a “moron” and “STUPID & VERY DANGEROUS!” in a Truth Social post after the apparent swipe earlier in the day.

The general has defended his behavior during the last days of the Trump administration, saying his interactions were not only appropriate but that numerous senior Trump officials were aware it occurred. In an appearance on CBS’ 60 Minutes this week, he said he would take additional safety precautions to protect his family in the wake of Trump’s attacks.

“I’ve got adequate safety precautions,” he said. “I wish those comments had not been made, but they were. We will take appropriate measures to ensure my safety and the safety of my family.”

What tools could the military use to hold Trump in line? The answer to that question likely will not be revealed to the public. But our guess is that Milley would not use such powerful language if he did not have the means to back it up  Dealing with Trump, however, poses numerous challenges. From "The Patriot," a profile of Milley in the November 2023 issue of The Atlantic. Writes Jeffrey Goldberg:

In normal times, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the principal military adviser to the president, is supposed to focus his attention on America’s national-security challenges, and on the readiness and lethality of its armed forces. But the first 16 months of Milley’s term, a period that ended when Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as president, were not normal, because Trump was exceptionally unfit to serve. “For more than 200 years, the assumption in this country was that we would have a stable person as president,” one of Milley’s mentors, the retired three-star general James Dubik, told me. That this assumption did not hold true during the Trump administration presented a “unique challenge” for Milley, Dubik said.These views of Trump align with those of many officials who served in his administration. Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, considered Trump to be a “fucking moron.” John Kelly, the retired Marine general who served as Trump’s chief of staff in 2017 and 2018, has said that Trump is the “most flawed person” he’s ever met. James Mattis, who is also a retired Marine general and served as Trump’s first secretary of defense, has told friends and colleagues that the 45th president was “more dangerous than anyone could ever imagine.” It is widely known that Trump’s second secretary of defense, Mark Esper, believed that the president didn’t understand his own duties, much less the oath that officers swear to the Constitution, or military ethics, or the history of America.

Milley was careful to refrain from commenting publicly on Trump’s cognitive unfitness and moral derangement. In interviews, he would say that it is not the place of the nation’s flag officers to discuss the performance of the nation’s civilian leaders.

But his views emerged in a number of books published after Trump left office, written by authors who had spoken with Milley, and many other civilian and military officials, on background. In The Divider, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser write that Milley believed that Trump was “shameful,” and “complicit” in the January 6 attack. They also reported that Milley feared that Trump’s “ ‘Hitler-like’ embrace of the big lie about the election would prompt the president to seek out a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ”

If Trump accomplishes nothing else, he has at least proven that the assumption our country would always have a stable person as president does not necessarily hold up. Along the same lines, it probably was assumed the country would have stable individuals serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. Given the recent Republican-driven drama over a possible government shutdown, that assumption doesn't appear to hold up either."

A statement on the Operation Saving Democracy website appears to address this issue:

For decades, the Republican Party has been seen as the party of national defense and security. In the age of Trump, extremism within that party has become a huge national security risk.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Possible skimming of proceeds, plus evidence of "grifting" by public officials, appear to be driving financial scandal surrounding the Magic City Classic

Alabama State and Alabama A&M square off before a packed house at Legion Field.

Concerns about possible skimming of proceeds from the Magic City Classic prompted officials from Alabama A&M to meet late last year, after the 2022 game had been played, with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, according to an article today  from longtime attorney and sports enthusiast Donald Watkins. At the heart of the matter, Watkins writes, are the event's murky financial agreements, which seem to favor White-owned promoters and event managers over the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) -- Alabama A&M (AA & MU) and Alabama State (ASU) -- that generate the millions of dollars realized from what has become the No. 1 annual football classic involving HBCUs -- essentially making the Magic City Classic the Super Bowl for historically Black universities.

The financial agreements are not the only oddities surrounding the Magic City Classic, Watkins reports. He has uncovered evidence that public officials whose actions have benefited the game's White promoters and event managers -- the Alabama Sports Council and Bruno Event Team (now Eventive Sports) -- saw significant upturns in their personal financial ledgers from 2017 to 2022. We will examine that issue in a moment, but first, Watkins takes a closer look at financial data that left officials at the participating schools concerned that their institutions are being short-changed in favor of the promoters and managers. Under the headline "Did Magic City Classic Promoters Skim a 20% Commission on City Money for Annual Football Game?" Watkins writes:

Last year, a team of top officials from Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) met with Mayor Randall Woodfin and his staff to discuss several topics related to the 2022 Magic City Classic which had been recently concluded. They questioned whether Gene Hallman’s Bruno Event Team had been skimming a 20% commission on the support money the city of Birmingham provided directly to Alabama State University (ASU) and AA&MU to play the Magic City Classic in Birmingham. They also expressed the need for an audit of the revenues and expenditures associated with the Classic.

The meeting occurred because the 2018 Legion Field Stadium Agreement had expired. The Agreement provided direct payments to ASU and AA&MU as an incentive to play the Classic in Birmingham. It was time to begin the discussions on a new agreement.

The AA&MU team thought the money that the Bruno Event Team provided to both universities was inadequate, and said so to Woodfin. They also wanted an audit of the monies generated from the Classic and the expenses paid out by the promoters of the event.

Why were the school officials concerned? Financial documents prepared by the event promoters raised a number of red flags, Watkins reports:

In 2016, Hallman's company teamed with the Alabama Sports Council, Inc., to produce and promote the Magic City Classic from 2017 to 2022. Their job was to grow revenues for the Classic while minimizing the expenses associated with producing and promoting a high-quality event.

In 2017, the city paid ASU and AA&MU a total of $400,000 for the Classic, which was split on a 50/50 basis. In 2018, this amount increased to $425,000.

The 2018 Legion Field Stadium Agreement provided the following payments, which were also split on a 50/50 basis: (a) $650,000 in 2019, (b) $700,00 in 2020, (c) $750,000 in 2021, and (d) $800,000 in 2022.

In total, the city paid ASU and AA&MU $3,725,000 to play in the Magic City Classic during this six-year period. The Bruno Event Team's 20% commission on the city's support money, alone, would equal $748,725.

 How did this outcome come to pass? Watkins explains:

Reportedly, Gene Hallman considered the city's support payments as "sponsorship money" which, in his view, was subject to a 20% commission for his Bruno Event Team. To the consternation of Gene Hallman, AA&MU did not share this view. This matter was never resolved.

During this period, the Alabama Sports Council increased its "management fees"from $448,980 in 2017 to $770,469 in 2021, even though the number of major sports events under management by the Council remained the same.

What is more, the financial statements provided by the Bruno Event Team to AA&MU for 2021 showed total expenditures of $2,937,188 for the Fall and Spring Magic City Classic events that year. However, the Alabama Sports Council's tax return for 2021 reported total Magic Classic expenses of $3,269,979.

The $332,791 difference between the amount of expenses reported on the tax return and the amount reported in the financial statement provided to AA&MU is not explained or reconciled in the documents.

The participating schools never have audited the financial books related to the Magic City Classic, apparently trusting the promoters to handle matters appropriately. Was that trust well-placed? Maybe not, Watkins reports:

From 2017 to 2022, neither ASU nor AA&MU has ever audited the financial books and records of the Bruno Event Team or Alabama Sports Council with respect to Magic City Classic revenues and expenses. The universities simply trusted the two sports promoters to do the right thing during this period.

To this date, there has been no independent audit by a qualified and capable sports-accounting firm on what the actual revenues and expenses were for Magic City Classic events from 2017 to 2021. [Tax returns and financial reports for the 2022 Magic City Classic are not publicly available.]

The Bruno Event Team, together with the chairman of the Alabama Sports Council from 2016 to 2020 (Nick Sellers), ran up a $15-million deficit with their management of the World Games 2022. The city, together with Jefferson County, the state of Alabama, and other entities, had to bail out the World Games with a $15-million debt-relief package.

Yet, no official at the city of Birmingham, or ASU, or Jefferson County, has pushed to audit the books and records of the Alabama Sports Council or Bruno Event Team with respect to the revenues and expenses related to the Magic City Classic.

No public reason or justification has ever been provided for why the Magic City Classic's financial books and records have never been properly audited by certified public accountants who specialize in sports accounting.

Why is that? To shine light on that question, Watkins takes us to what he calls Magic City "Grifting" -- and it is not a pretty story. In fact, the following eight paragraphs might make you want to retch, so we encourage you to brace yourself:

Interestingly, some public officials whose actions, or lack thereof, financially benefited the Alabama Sports Council, the Bruno Event Team, and World Games 2022 saw a significant upturn in their personal financial well-being between 2017 to 2021.

In one case, a key public official experienced substantial debt relief in his personal finances, even though no new income or revenue was reported on his ethics forms as a source for reducing his personal-debt obligations.

These public officials also saw lucrative Magic City Classic event contracts awarded to their tight circle of friends, family members, surrogates, mistresses, and lovers, with little to no deliverables expected or provided.

Some of these officials enjoyed free access to luxurious beach homes, hotels, and resort accommodations for romantic getaways, private jet rides, fine dining, and other valuable perks that are not disclosed on their Alabama Ethics Commission annual disclosure forms.

The endless stream of tangible economic benefits that flowed to certain public officials involved in the Magic City Classic financial decisions, which benefited the event's producers and promoters, appears to follow the Clarence Thomas model of "gifting" and "grifting."

Finally, the Bruno Event Team is known to have provided certain public officials and “influencers” who were NOT part of Magic City Classic game-day operations with free admission tickets, parking passes, and VIP access beyond the number authorized in the Agreement between the city and the participating universities. The public officials in this category also worked to thwart public accountability and transparency with respect to the financial books and records of Magic City Classic events.

In an upcoming article in this series of investigative articles, we will tell you who got the the money from the 2021 Magic City Classic events, how they got it, and why they did not want their names revealed in the annual financial statements that were eventually provided to ASU, AA&MU, and the city of Birmingham.

Stay tuned!

Globe Life, a large insurer with a national presence and a big name in baseball, is the latest to part ways with Birmingham's scandal-plagued Balch & Bingham

Globe Life Field, home to baseball's Texas Rangers, is named for the insurer that recently dumped Balch & Bingham.

Birmingham's scandal-plagued Balch & Bingham law firm has seen another client bid them farewell, according to a report at banbalch.com. Globe Life, a large insurance firm that has been operating since 1900, is based in McKinney, Texas, a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. It is the latest company to dump Balch & Bingham like a bag of garbage along the Highway to Legal Purgatory. 

K.B. Forbes, publisher of the Ban Balch blog and CEO of its parent organization -- the CDLU public charity and advocacy group -- reports that Balch lost 18 clients in a recent three-year period. Of the most recent exit, Forbes writes:

On Friday, Politico.com reported that Globe Life has terminated the embattled law firm Balch & Bingham as their lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

Balch saw 18 of 18 major clients terminate the firm between 2017 and 2020 due in part to our educational and advocacy efforts.

According to Open Secrets, Balch appears to have garnered five newer, monthly paying lobbying clients: two utilities out of Texas, O’Neal Industries, Scatr LLC, and McWane, their highest paying client.

Currently, two former Balch attorneys are sitting in federal prison; one for bribery and money laundering, the other for possession of kiddie porn.

Have such circumstances caused some clients to distance themselves and put a strain on the Balch bottom line? The answer appears to be yes, Forbes writes:

The criminal convictions appear to have hindered the development of clients and provoked the exodus of top money-making partners and attorneys.

Balch’s Houston office was gutted this summer when four Balch lawyers jumped ship.

Balch was forced to bring a former partner out of retirement apparently because the brightest legal minds reportedly do not want to be associated with, or work for, Balch. 


Balch Behind Bars: Former partner Joel I. Gilbert is serving a five-year sentence for bribery, while former senior associate Chase T. Espy (right) is serving more than an eight-year sentence for possession of kiddie porn.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Trump goes blank for 40 seconds mid-speech during South Dakota event, raising more questions about HIS age and mental acuity as 2024 election approaches


Donald Trump went blank, abruptly stopping his speech and staring awkwardly at the audience for about 40 seconds, during a recent event in South Dakota. The incident adds to the mounting evidence that Trump, at age 77, is cognitively impaired, mentally unhinged, or both. That Trump would go silent for about 40 seconds is particularly alarming because this was the same speech where he claimed, as president, he would have the power to prosecute political opponents, even creating phony cases against them. This came about one week before Trump said he would have media organizations and their employees prosecuted for treason if they produced news reports that displeased him -- and he suggested Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, should be put to death for treason because he communicated with his Chinese counterparts (as other Trump staff members had requested) to reassure them that Trump would not invade their country following the events of January 6.

(Note: Video of Trump's 40-second pause can be viewed here.)

Polls continue to show Americans are concerned that President Joe Biden, at age 80, is too old to serve a full second term and might have eroding mental faculties. But Trump, Biden's likely opponent in the 2024 election, keeps providing evidence that his age and declining mental acuity should also be of concern. CNN's Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, analyzes these issues in an opinion piece under the headline "Trump's gaffes should raise questions about his fitness for office":  

A Fox News poll released last week found that 52% of Americans don’t believe 77-year-old Donald Trump has the “mental soundness to serve” as president. That same poll showed 61% of Americans have the same concern about President Joe Biden, who is 80. But while there is extensive media coverage about Biden’s age and gaffes, Trump, for the most part, gets a pass.

For example, at a September 8 rally in South Dakota, the 2024 GOP presidential front-runner abruptly stopped mid-speech for 40 seconds as he awkwardly looked at the audience, his eyes darting around. Some of his supporters online asserted that Trump — who had just said the United States was “the greatest nation in the history of the world” — was overcome with emotion. Have you ever seen Trump overcome with emotion? It’s hard for me to buy that explanation.

Regardless of the reason for the pause, imagine if Biden had abruptly stopped a speech midway through and began looking around the audience for more than half a minute? Much of the media — and I don’t mean just right-wing outlets — would likely ask if Biden had become confused or had fallen ill, or if the teleprompter stopped working and he wasn’t mentally able to fill the time? Such a clip of Biden would probably be played nonstop on cable news and dissected by pundits and even doctors specializing in cognitive issues.

But with Trump, there was no notice, although Frank Bruni took note of his lapses into incoherence in a recent New York Times column with the headline “Trump Is Really Old, Too.”

Trump also went off the rails in a speech, ironically, not far from the White House. Writes Obeidallah: 

Then there was Trump’s gaffe-filled speech Friday at the Washington, DC, Pray Vote Stand Summit that some observers dubbed a “word salad.” But that framing is not close to what happened. Trump — who faces 91 felony charges in four criminal cases — confusingly invoked former President Barack Obama’s name twice and apparently forgot World War II had already happened.

After calling Biden “cognitively impaired” (talk about irony!), Trump claimed the president was leading us into World War II. Of course, that global conflict ended in 1945, a year before Trump was born.

Trump then mistakenly referred to Obama in two instances. First Trump declared, “As you know, crooked Joe Biden and the radical left thugs have weaponized law enforcement to arrest their leading political opponent, and leading by a lot, including Obama — I’ll tell you what.” Obviously, Obama is not running for president in 2024.

Trump later stated, “With Obama, we won an election that everyone said couldn’t be won.” Apparently realizing his mistake, Trump then quickly said, “Hillary Clinton,” who was his opponent in 2016.

The media seems to have a double standard when it comes to coverage of any verbal missteps Biden makes and Trump's over-the-top ravings, And Obeidallah notes that Trump's tendency to lie relentlessly might be a sign of a delusional disorder:

Again, if Biden had made those types of mistakes, many in the media likely would have covered them as part of the narrative that the octogenarian president lacks the mental soundness to do the job for another four years.

Besides these mistakes, there’s another issue unique to Trump, which demands more attention. It’s his assertion that he won the 2020 election. Sure, he could just be claiming he won so his base will not view him as a loser, but there is a good-faith question that needs to be explored of whether such a claim is delusional.

Just last month, Trump again said he won Georgia in 2020 despite that being patently false. Trump continues to make the same claim for the overall 2020 results despite his own officials after the election — including then-Attorney General William Barr — informing him there was no evidence to support his bogus assertions. And the former president must know his 60-plus election challenges in court all failed, including in cases before Trump-appointed judges.

Further undermining Trump’s claims he won in 2020 is something he mentioned in his speech  in Washington, and that is polling. Trump is now touting polls that he’s leading Biden. (In reality, the two are locked in a tight race within the margin of error in a hypothetical match-up.) Well, the polls in the weeks before the 2020 election showed Biden winning by an average of 10 points. A Fox News poll released just days before the 2020 election had Biden up by 8 percentage points. If Trump had been up by that margin and then lost in 2020, perhaps it would have bolstered his claims of election wrongdoing. Instead, the polls predicted Biden would win — and he did.

Trump’s gaffes may simply be mistakes. But his continued false claims that he won the 2020 election warn us that he is either one of the most committed liars we’ve ever seen or his views are delusional. In either case, for the sake of our nation, Trump can never again be trusted to be the commander in chief.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Two historically Black universities had the foresight almost three decades ago to trademark the name "Magic City Classic"; so where are the licensing fees?

Empty seats are hard to find at the Magic City Classic.

Almost 30 years ago, participants in the nation's top college football game involving Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) made the wise decision to trademark the name "Magic City Classic," which is played annually before packed crowds at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Licensing fees from the trademark should have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for Alabama State (ASU) and Alabama A&M (AA&MU), the two schools that square off each year in the Classic. But longtime attorney and sports enthusiast Donald Watkins says that apparently has not happened, raising this question: Where did the licensing-fee money go? Under the headline "Magic City Classic: Where’s the License Fee Money?" Watkins writes:

On September 19, 1995, Alabama State University (ASU) and Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) had the foresight to trademark the name “Magic City Classic.” [Click here to read the trademark ownership record issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.]

ASU and AA&MU intended to commercialize and profit from the use of their trademarked “Magic City Classic” with respect to all “entertainment services, namely organizing collegiate football games and parades associated therewith, along with social and recreational events, including, concerts, dances, band and other competitions, live entertainment and performances and fund raisers such as golf tournaments.”

Generally, a trademark owner gives merchandisers permission to use his/her trademark if you pay him/her a licensing fee and sign a licensing agreement incorporating the specific terms of any commercial and noncommercial use.

The license-fee money from the Magic City Classic trademark was supposed to be split 50/50 between ASU and AA&MU.

From 2017 to 2021, the trademarked name “Magic City Classic” was used by hundreds of vendors and merchandisers each and every year that the Alabama Sports Council, Inc., and Bruno Event Team produced, promoted, and managed the Classic. This trademark should have yielded hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees each year, especially since the Classic has evolved into the "Super Bowl of HBCU football."

So. what's going on? Watkins says the answer to that question begins with Eventive Sports (formerly Bruno Event Team), a Birmingham-based company, specializing in event management and promotion,  headed by CEO Gene Hallman. Writes Watkins:

In May 2023, the Bruno Event Team (now known as Eventive Sports) provided ASU and AA&MU financial statements for the Magic City Classic for 2017 to 2021. All of them follow the format of the financial statement for 2021, which is hyperlinked here.

All of the financial statements begin with a section on “Revenue.” None of them lists money from “licensing fees” anywhere in the statements.

A casual observer to the annual Magic City Classic events described in ASU’s and AA&MU’s trademark-ownership record knows that hundreds of vendors locally and across America have used the trademarked name “Magic City Classic” to sell millions of dollars in merchandise and drive tens of thousands of paying patrons to their parties, bars, clubs, private receptions, concerts, and Classic-related events where the trademarked name was used to make money.

The Internet is littered with the commercial marketing of the “Magic City Classic“ name for private commercial purposes between 2017 to 2021. (An example of the commercial use of the Classic name is depicted in a 2021 image at the end of this post.)

Where is the license-fee money from all of the commercial vendors across America who used the trademarked name "Magic City Classic" to sell goods and services? It does not appear that ASU and AA&MU got this license-fee money between 2017 and 2021.

In an upcoming article in this series of investigative articles, we will tell you who got the  money from the 2021 Magic City Classic events, how they got it, and why they did not want their names revealed in the annual financial statements that were eventually provided to ASU, AA&MU, and the city of Birmingham.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Debt from Birmingham hosting the 2022 World Games is driving the financial scandal that now plagues the Magic City Classic, a top football draw

The Magic City Classic parade through downtown Birmingham.

A sizable debt left from Birmingham hosting the 2022 World Games is driving the financial irregularities now plaguing the Magic City Classic, which is held annually at Legion Field and has become one of the top draws in college football involving historically Black universities (Alabama A&M and Alabama State). That's from an article by longtime Alabama attorney and sports enthusiast Donald Watkins, who writes under the headline "Magic City Classic Promoters Ran Up Massive Debt With 2022 World Games":

The sports promoters at the center of the financial scandal involving the Magic City Classic are the same guys who ran up $15 million in debt with the World Games 2022. We are talking about World Games 2022 CEO Nick Sellers and Bruno Event Team CEO Gene Hallman.

According to the Regions Bank news site, Doing More Today, the Bruno Event Team was “The Secret Behind the World Games.” Of course, the World Games were a financial bust.

While World Games vendors struggled to get paid, the Bruno Event Team (now Eventive Sports) found a way to make millions of dollars from the debt-ridden World Games.

Watkins focuses on this fundamental question: Who Bailed out the World Games, and Why Does this Matter for the Magic City Classic?

World Games promoters Nick Sellers and Gene Hallman failed to meet their financial projections for this sports event, in a big way. So, who bailed them out?

The answer to this question begins with the city of Birmingham, Alabama. Remember, Nick Sellers and Gene Hallman also promoted and managed the Magic City Classic together from 2017 to 2020, via the Alabama Sports Council, Inc. After Sellers left the Council in 2020, Hallman continued to promote the Classic with the Council’s new chairman, Birmingham businessman Larry Thornton.

Since 2017, the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County have been the Alabama Sports Council's financial partners in producing and promoting the Magic City Classic.

Birmingham has developed a habit of bailing out various White entities, and that has put a strain on the Magic City Classic, which is one of the city's primary cash cows. Writes Watkins:

Apart from the Classic, the taxpayer “piggy bank” for bailing out struggling, cash-strapped, White organizations and institutions in Birmingham since 2017 has been the city of Birmingham. For example, in March 2018, the city committed $90 million in neighborhood improvement funds to help build a new football stadium for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

In July 2023, the city gave $5 million to the developers of a new downtown open-air amphitheater.

In August 2023, the city gave financially destitute Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) $5 million to keep this historically White, private college afloat. Additionally, city officials, together with Jefferson County legislators, served as the proud drum majors for $30 million in loans to BSC from the state of Alabama. In stark contrast, these same officials have not lifted one finger to help Alabama A&M University (AA&MU) collect the $527,280,064 debt the state owes this historically Black institution. They have been as quiet as a church mouse on this important subject in the Black community.

In August 2022, the city of Birmingham gave the World Games $5 million from its reserve-fund money for debt relief. In exchange for this much-needed cash, Nick Sellers promised to provide “data and professional consulting services … to better assist the city in hosting future large-scale international sports and entertainment events,” including a database of sponsors, volunteers and corporate donors and training on security protocols.

Whether the city has received $5 million worth of "data and professional consulting," a "database of sponsors, volunteers and corporate donors," and "training on security protocols" from World Games promoters, as promised, is an open question. If it has, no one at City Hall is talking about it. Instead, they are busy looking for the next failed project to bail out in a city that is reeling from decaying neighborhoods, failing schools, and a surge in violent street crime.

The bailout mentality goes beyond the City of Birmingham, but once again, the entities that benefit tend to be under White leadership, Watkins reports:

In September 2022, the Jefferson County Commission joined the city in the World Games bailout crusade by giving the debt-ridden Games a $4 million bailout In 2023, the state of Alabama and other entities picked up the tab for the remaining $6 million in World Games debt.

In 2021, Gene Hallman secured millions of dollars, via funding from UAB and the Jefferson County Department of Public Health, for the Bruno Event Team to work on COVID-related projects. Hallman's sports-management company: (a) oversaw a COVID program for college students that involved contact tracing; (b) managed an advertising campaign that encouraged Alabamians to get the controversial COVID-19 vaccines; and (c) distributed these vaccines on campuses for all college football programs in Alabama.

Reportedly, the Bruno Event Team's COVID contact tracing program was a “debacle,” while its software app for the program was considered a “joke.”

Against this backdrop, the city of Birmingham never conducted proper audits on the financial books and records of the World Games, or the Alabama Sports Council, or the Bruno Event Team, or the Magic City Classic, even though the city has poured millions of taxpayer dollars into the World Games and the Magic City Classic.

In the aftermath of the staggering and embarrassing World Games financial losses, Gene Hallman rebranded the Bruno Event Team to Eventive Sports. This rebranding was announced on March 14, 2023.

Who gets largely left out of the Magic City Classic cash flow? Watkins says it is Alabama A&M and Alabama State, the Black institutions that generate the funds in the first place:

The Magic City Classic is the largest historically Black college football Classic game in the country. It attracts more than 60,000 attendees each year, who purchase tickets to the game. The Classic is a "cash cow" for everybody affiliated with producing and promoting this event, except ASU and AA&MU.

Despite the demonstrated revenue generating power of the Magic City Classic, the money paid out to Alabama State University (ASU) and AA&MU after the game is little more than “pocket change” or “tip” money.

The entities that drove the Magic City Classic to become a mega-hit, have not been able to conduct a proper audit related to the event -- partly because documents they have received are largely useless for auditing purposes, Watkins reports:

Like the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County, neither ASU, nor AA&MU, has properly audited the financial books and records of the Alabama Sports Council or the Bruno Event Team. What is more, ASU and AA&MU have never known or certified all of the ways the Bruno Event Team derived tangible economic value for itself from the Magic City Classic platform.

In 2021, alone, the Alabama Sports Council and Bruno Event Team made between $1,289,378 and $1,487,258 in “management fees” for Magic City events that produced $3,897,417 in reported revenues that year. The $716,789 portion of the management fees that was paid to the Alabama Sports Council helped this non-profit entity end the 2021 tax year with a hefty $534,333 surplus of funds.

In an upcoming article in this series of investigative articles, we will tell you who got the rest of the money from the 2021 Magic City Classic events, how they got it, and why they did not want their names revealed in the annual financial statements that were eventually provided to ASU, AA&MU, and the city of Birmingham.