A round-up of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers

Newspaper editorials

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers:

The Anniston StarTrump swings and misses

As America has seen, anything goes in Donald Trump’s world. There is no civility or politeness. Think it, say it, move on. Insults are OK. Factual misrepresentations are allowed. It’s a show as much as a competition for political points.

The New York City-bred billionaire and reality TV star wants the Republican presidential nomination, and his supporters have pushed him to the front of most of the GOP’s early polls. As such, his unpredictable campaign speeches, unlike those of his competitors, have become must-cover affairs for cable news. Now those supporters are also making headlines.

On Thursday, Trump was hand-delivered a softball scenario in which a town hall attendee in Rochester, N.H., said this about President Obama: “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.”

Trump, listening, said, “Right.”

The attendee continued. “You know (Obama’s) not even an American.”

C’mon, Donald. That’s easy. Only the lunatic fringe continues to wallow in the long-disproven claim that the president is Muslim (which he isn’t) and not an American citizen (which he is). The birther crowd, an irritant during Obama’s 2008 election campaign, is now relegated to the waste bin of ludicrous assertions. Some believe the earth is flat. Or that man never walked on the moon. Or that the president’s U.S. birth certificate is a forgery.

The Birmingham News – Evolution is just a theory, right?

Earlier this week the national news media was aflutter about the Alabama State Board of Education apparently changing its stripes and striding into the 20th century by mandating in its new science standards that public school students should be taught the principles of biological evolution.  

Climate change is included in the newly approved standards as well.

Board of Education members responded that teaching “the theory of evolution” had been in the state science standards since 1964.  In other words, they actually strode into the 20th century only 64 years after it began. 

I hate to sound cynical about this, but you can generally tell someone’s attitude about evolution by how often they use the phrase “theory of evolution” rather than just the word “evolution” as scientists typically do.

I think of it as one word – theoryofevolution – that word designed to make it sound like just another speculative idea such as whether the moon landing was faked or who really shot John Kennedy. There is even a disclaimer to that effect in biology textbooks used in Alabama public schools, which is why I feel compelled to point it out.

It’s true that evolution is a scientific theory when “theory” is used as scientists use it – meaning a broad explanation of events or processes that is supported by a mountain of evidence.  Thus, in the scientific world we have gravitation theory, for instance, and electromagnetic theory, the germ theory of disease, and so on.  Evolution is every bit as scientifically well-established as gravity, electricity, and the knowledge that germs cause diseases.

The real question is not what state science standards say but how seriously educators in the classroom actually take the teaching of evolution.  The evidence I see is not reassuring, given that few of the students I teach arrive at UAB with any real knowledge about evolutionary processes.

When I question them, I hear that evolution is certainly not emphasized, often not even mentioned, in high school biology classes in Alabama.  

The Decatur Daily – Around the state

Selma Times-Journal on making the governor’s divorce records public:

The divorce records of Gov. Robert Bentley and his wife, Dianne, should be open to the public. Such is precedent in this state, and there is no reason to do differently in this case.

The governor’s personal life affects his ability to do his job and could undermine his integrity, credibility and moral authority to govern.

Many were surprised to learn last month the governor’s wife of 50 years filed divorce citing “an irretrievable breakdown” of their marriage.

The case was filed on a Friday and the next Monday a Tuscaloosa County judge issued an order sealing all records pertaining to the case. Judge Elizabeth Hamner, who was appointed by Gov. Bentley in 2011 and elected to a full term in 2012, issued the order.

Dianne Bentley’s attorney L. Stephen Wright and the governor’s attorney Lisa Woods made the request jointly saying, “(The governor) holds a prominent office in the state of Alabama, and it would be in the parties’ best interest that the public not be able to access the record.”

By granting the request, Judge Hamner makes the records only available to the Bentleys, their attorneys and court employees. All documents related to the case, including Dianne Bentley’s original filing, have been removed from the state’s online court records system.

Sealing the records is decidedly not in the best interest of the general public. Gov. Bentley is the highest elected official in the state and has a much greater obligation of transparency than ordinary citizens.

From the day he was elected and moved into the Governor’s Mansion with around-the-clock security detail, Bentley was no longer a private citizen and doesn’t enjoy the same right to privacy.

In fact, the standard for keeping the records open in this case should be higher than in a typical divorce given his position, authority over state personnel and use of resources.

We support the efforts of media outlets across the state working to have the governor’s divorce records unsealed.

Dothan Eagle – Probate judges, perform your duties or step down

What’s the difference between the infamous Rowan County, Kentucky, court clerk, Kim Davis, and a handful of Alabama probate judges who refuse to issue marriage licenses because they oppose same-sex marriage?

Other than the glare of the international spotlight, there is no difference. The phalanx of media could just as easily be camped out in Geneva looking for Probate Judge Fred Hamic, or in Troy, hunting down Probate Judge Wes Allen, both of whom maintain that state law doesn’t require them to issue marriage licenses if they don’t want to. They could easily be sued and find themselves facing the prospect of being jailed for contempt.

Alabama lawmakers, in a second special session to try to pass the budget they couldn’t pass in the regular session earlier this year, managed to find time to gin up a knee-jerk reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages. They attempted to pass a measure that would completely dismantle the marriage license procedure in the state – not because it’s cumbersome or ineffective, but because same-sex marriage offends a handful of probate judges.

The measure failed, but not until after taking up time and resources that otherwise could have been spent looking for ways to close a gaping budget hole.

Now one probate judge, Nick Williams of Washington County, has petitioned the state Supreme Court for a declaratory judgment or a protection order to keep him from being forced to issue licenses to gay couples.

The high court should dismiss the matter with prejudice. However, under the guidance of Chief Justice Roy Moore, anything is possible.

The same chorus being sung to the Kentucky clerk should be directed toward Alabama’s probate judges, who are bound to uphold the laws of the land – even the ones they don’t like.

If their conscience or beliefs prevent them from performing the duties of their office, they should step down.

The Enterprise Ledger – When Gunsmoke ruled your television set

Watched Encore Westerns’ 12-hour “Gunsmoke” marathon that began at high noon (when else in a western?) last Sunday and enjoyed every episode in several ways.

First, naturally, because of the fine story lines in the series’ early years.

Second, because each of the black and white, half-hour western adventures lasted about 22 minutes.

Third, guest stars, many young thespians on the rise, and those of us in the TV audience, saw Matt Dillon, Doc Adams, Miss Kitty Russell and even Chester Goode before they had their rough ages smoothed.

Dodge City, in those rip-roaring, yeehaw 1870s, was a knock-down, drag-out Kansas prairie town whose lawman, U.S. Marshal Dillon, over the years, was shot 59 times, according to some sources, despite adhering to one favored-version “Code of the West,” “Shoot first, and bury your mistakes.”

Fourth, the show’s music, the theme from which lucky ones of us members of the Enterprise High School Wildcat Band got to play during halftime shows mostly on Friday nights.

Fifth, noting the series lasted from Sept. 5, 1955-March 31, 1975, brought to life all kind of memories far beyond the scope of any TV program that ran through a certain group’s kindergarten year until three years after they’d graduated from college.

Let’s see, now, “Gunsmoke” came on Saturdays at 9 p.m. in our part of the world for its first 12 seasons, then moved to Monday where the rest of its 635 episodes aired until CBS canceled the series.

TimesDaily – The other problem with school choice

School choice in Alabama, pushed forward with the Alabama Accountability Act and charter schools, has an obvious problem. Every dime that goes to private schools and charter schools comes from the Education Trust Fund. Consequently, private and charter schools improve at the expense of public schools.

Less obvious and possibly more damaging to Alabama are the political ramifications of school choice.

The last time school choice was a significant factor in Alabama K-12 education was after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation of schools. Outside that disturbing time of “white flight,” Alabama voters have been on the same page when it came to improving public schools. Except for a tiny percentage of families who had access to, and could afford, private or parochial schools, every parent, prospective parent and grandparent wanted the best public schools possible.

This universal desire for improved public education especially was important in Alabama, where wealth and political clout go hand in hand. Partly because of reasons having to do with the role of money in politics, partly because low-income families are less likely to vote, and partly because families mired in poverty have little tangible evidence of the value of a good education, middle- and upper-income families have been an important part of Alabama’s drive to increase the quality of public education.

Listen to complaints from the current Legislature about General Fund revenue and the importance of this push becomes obvious. The state constitution still was more generous in earmarking tax revenues for education than for other governmental operations. Even the power brokers who created a 1901 Constitution protective of wealthy landowners recognized the importance of public schools.

The main reason for this consensus — that public schools were a high priority, and maybe the highest priority, for the state — had much to do with their universality. The politically active and the wealthy had a vested interest in public school excellence. They either had children in public schools, or had family and friends who depended on public schools for their children’s success.

On the micro level, school choice is a positive. Some public schools are not so good. Some are not so safe. The ability to escape such schools is a positive for individual families and their children.

The Gadsden Times – Trump still dominates election coverage

Some weeks ago I stated Donald Trump and his verbose presentations would resonate with the American people. I added he is a “Ronald Reagan on steroids.” Trump is an intemperate giant among other Lilliputian candidates and everyone is getting his message wrong. He emits confidence and manliness and that is what people now want to see in a candidate. Voters are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In deference to the political correctness crowd, I think Carly Fiorina also emits manliness.

Trump has blasted the many treaties, especially the Iran nuclear treaty, because the United States negotiated from a position of weakness rather than obvious strength. We approached the Iranian negotiations with hat in hand willing to accept any kind of treaty — good, bad, or indifferent. What we achieved is a bad treaty negotiated by weak individuals. I believe Trump when he says he would never have approved of a treaty negotiated from weakness rather than strength.

Another example of Trump’s connection with the American people is Trump’s stand on illegal immigration. He has said, in no uncertain terms, he will correct the tremendous problem we have with illegal immigration. President Barack Obama’s administration has no program that addresses unfettered violation of the U.S. borders. Problems with Obamacare can be fixed and the Iranian nuclear treaty can be nullified, but amnesty is forever.

I think Obama’s almost non-existent immigration policy is by design. He is refusing to enforce existing U.S. immigration laws. Not enforcing the law of the land is an impeachable offense. Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, where Republicans have a substantial majority, don’t have the intestinal fortitude to challenge him.

The Huntsville Times – Gene Autry had a thing or two to tell Alabama politicians

A Legislative special session done. Over. Kaput. They passed a budget that, although pleasing to a very precious few, will at least let this humble state hobble through another year.

Which is about the best we can hope for.

Lawmakers even stopped short of passing a few bad bills that would have led their ilk even closer to the Dark Side. So all in all it’s a good day in Alabama.

They did not make anyone overly happy, but they did what had to be done. And no more.

Which is what we call victory. So give the cheer:

It could have been worse!

Sad, I suppose, that “the best we can hope for” is the best we can hope for.

They are politicians after all. As A-Number-One reader Punky Burwinkle wrote last week as the Legislature seemed poised to disembowel the ethics law, we have come to expect the worst of them.

“Well, son, it’s no surprise that the Goat Hill Gang wants to hang the Ethics Law up by its heels, cut out its guts, pare off its reaching limbs, and skin it,” the Birmingham woman wrote. “All in preparation for throwing it on the fire to cook it to death.  And probably eat it, too.

“They don’t like having a code.  It makes them talk funny.  And their noses run.”

It was great that they didn’t actually follow through on gutting the ethics law. Not yet. But Punky offered a solution that still applies, now and when the inevitable comes. What if Alabama lawmakers – and all us Alabama people for that matter – were to promise to adhere to Gene Autry’s old Cowboy Code?

Press-Register – It’s time to thin the herd on prime time GOP debate stage

It’s time to flip the number of seats available under the current GOP primary debate format.

Each debate has featured a “second-tier” event prior to the prime time contestants. That’s a useful format. If the debate had 15 or 16 candidates on stage, the whole ordeal would devolve into a sound bite showdown with candidates stepping all over each other. 

In case you missed it, the prime time debate’s still that way with 10 or 11 candidates.

The second prime-time debate was longer than the 2009 epic film “Avatar” with decidedly less action. It might be a better television spot, but most normal people don’t have three hours to watch political debates, especially on a weeknight. 

The early debate hosted by CNN lasted less than two hours and featured four candidates. That’s right…four.

The magic of basic division demonstrates the glaring problem. With almost three times as many candidates, the second-tier candidates actually received more airtime.

Who had the most airtime on national TV during the second debates? Lindsay Graham.

Montgomery Advertiser – Pushing profane ‘ideas’ worst sort of profanity

Spencer Kimball, the 12th president of the Mormon Church, once said, “Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.” Evidence of this “truthful opinion” abounds. Usually, expressions by people who rely on profanity as a vehicle of communication are substantially lacking in substance.

Verbal obscenities are so common that, for some, they have become universal nouns and adjectives of choice. Indeed, they often function as conversational fillers to facilitate deft avoidance of such “minor” things as facts and knowledge.

While profane “words” offend our auditory sense and engage our emotion, profane “ideas” — or intellectual obscenities — offend our intelligence and engage our common sense. Three intellectual obscenities re-emerged in the Republican debates on CNN earlier this week.

First, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal insisted that Kim Davis, an elected Kentucky county clerk, acted correctly when she denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage constitutional. By arguing that an elected government official can lawfully defy Supreme Court decisions in the performance of her official duty, Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar, suppressed presumptive intelligence to pander to fundamentalists.

His stance was not spontaneous. Three months ago, Jindal proposed that we “just get rid of the court,” as though the abolition of the United States Supreme Court is an outcome achievable by a petition or a poll.

Opelika-Auburn News – Increase respect, decrease bloodshed

When he was shot and killed in Fox Lake, Ill., on Tuesday, Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz became the eighth law enforcement officer shot and killed in the U.S. in the last month, the fourth in 10 days, and the 26th in 2015, according to the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

That number is alarming, but it’s a 13 percent decrease from the same period last year, and a considerable improvement over the worst half-year period over the past five decades. In 1973, 84 officers were shot and killed in the first six months alone. Through the early 2000s, the six-month average fell to 29.

Meanwhile, at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year, more than two a day, according to a Washington Post analysis. At the rate of 2.6 deaths per day, the Post analysis said, police will have shot and killed nearly 1,000 people by the end of the year.

No one set of circumstances fits each of these situations, and no one portion of society is completely to blame for the bloodshed. Police have been ambushed by deranged people; unarmed civilians have been shot while posing no apparent threat; police have been forced into situations where they have to shoot an armed person threatening police or other civilians.

The Second Amendment gives American citizens the right to keep and bear arms, but certainly this much bloodshed between civilians and police was not what the Framers had in mind.

We long for a day that never really existed, when the townspeople of Mayberry respected Barney Fife’s authority even though they knew his bullet was in his pocket and not his gun, when Barney and Sheriff Taylor showed respect for the townspeople and solved all of Mayberry’s problems in time for a plate of Aunt Bea’s fried chicken.

Some new gun laws took effect in Alabama this week. One will prohibit gun possession by those convicted of committing or attempting to commit a crime of violence; those convicted on a misdemeanor domestic violence offense; anyone with an order of protection against them; or anyone of unsound mind. Another requires judges to report those involuntarily committed for mental illness and those found not guilty due to mental disease or defect.

Perhaps these laws will make Alabama safer for civilians and police alike. We certainly hope so.

The Tuscaloosa News – Schools must begin to rebuild reserves

For four years, the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education has been dipping into its reserves to balance its budget. Chief Financial Officer Ed LaVigne said that will come to an end next year and revenue will again meet or exceed the system’s expenditures. School officials have said that is the plan all along and we hope that is the case.

The City Schools’ $119 million budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year is about $10 million less than last year’s budget and $24 million less than the year before that. But even at that, the schools’ operating budget calls for spending of about $4 million more than the revenue it will take in.

That will drop the General Fund reserve from $11.5 million to $7.4 million. And that is getting close to the minimum one month’s operating cost the state Department of Education requires school systems to have on hand.

School officials have said that they are spending the system’s reserves in order to make necessary improvements.

“This is the last year that we can do this,” LaVigne said. “We have to do better. … We’re already spending a portion of that budget expanding the curriculum, expanding services we’re offering the children. That’s where these deficits come from.”

LaVigne claims the budget will come back to an even keel next year and that the system will even begin to build its reserves again. Reserve funds are usually spent on one-time expenses, such as facilities improvements or to get the system through a temporary shortfall. It appears that the system has been spending its reserves on recurring expenses that include programs and personnel.

We hope the system’s calculations have been correct. We seriously doubt the public would be forgiving enough to increase taxes in order to bail out a system that has spent its reserves and needs more money.


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