A roundup of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers:
The Anniston Star – From Flint, a message to heed
Government matters, from the smallest of city halls to’ the wings of the White House. If you scoff at that notion, then consider what’s going on in Flint, Mich.
Since 2014, Flint residents have suffered because government has failed them. The water that flows into their homes and businesses is brown and contaminated with lead. City Hall, which switched Flint’s water supplier as a cost-saving measure, virtually ignored their initial complaints. What actions government did take — telling residents to boil water before using it, for instance — didn’t solve the problem, it only prolonged it.
Now this majority-minority city with a large population of low-income residents is in full-on disaster mode. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican heavily criticized for his slow response, has apologized and issued a state of emergency for Flint’s county. President Barack Obama has sent $5 million in federal aid and the National Guard to help distribute bottled water. Lawsuits have been filed.
Residents, meanwhile, want answers and accountability as much as the clean water they used to have.
The Birmingham News – A modest proposal to fix health care: Use fake medicine
Before I go about solving the financial problems of America’s health care system, it’s only fair to give a shout-out to Dr. Elisha Perkins, who should probably get the real credit.
Dr. Perkins invented the famous “Perkins Tractors,” which he patented after years of research in 1796.
Retailing for $25 per pair (equivalent to about $700 today), his original tractors were a pair of 3-inch pointed metal rods, which when passed over painful body parts relieved pain and inflammation by drawing off “noxious electrical fluid,” whatever that is.
Dr. Perkins attributed their effectiveness to the combination of exotic metal alloys he used. Personal testimonies of the Tractors’ ability to relieve the pain of arthritis, gout, and headaches poured in.
The Tractors attracted some high profile clients, including President George Washington, and their popularity soon spread to England.
However, before long, some humorless British doctors started doing their own experiments, finding that wooden rods painted to look like Tractors or iron nails coated with sealing wax were just as effective at relieving pain, so long as the patients thought they were the real thing.
Presto! The placebo effect was discovered.
The placebo effect, of course, is the ability of fake therapies, sugar pills or colored water, for instance, to have a medical benefit if the patient thinks they are real medicine.
The Decatur Daily – Reading is still fundamental
No one disputes reading is important; one might even say fundamental. So when test scores show students lagging in reading, educators and parents worry. Everyone should worry; students who can’t read at their grade level are likely to graduate — if they do graduate — at a significant disadvantage.
There is no shortage of ideas for how to improve reading, but there is a shortage of funding, and not all ideas are created equal, anyway. When the state Legislature cut funding to local school systems, many of those systems cut reading specialists upon whom they relied to help boost reading scores.
Cedar Ridge Middle School, however, has instituted a program that costs nothing, at least in terms of money.
Each morning at 9:30, students — as well as teachers, counselors and administrators — drop everything else and spend the next 20 minutes reading.
It’s largely self-directed. Students can read pretty much whatever they like, be it a book, magazine or newspaper. All the school does is provide the dedicated time.
It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Students have lots of things competing for their time: homework, sports and extracurricular activities. That’s just what school demands of them. It doesn’t take into account video games, movies, TV, spending time with friends and family, household chores and all the other demands on a busy student’s life. Heaven help the student who also takes piano lessons or dance classes.
With so many things vying for kids’ time and so much of that time structured, a block of time where the only requirement is to read must seem like a calm in the storm for many students.
Dothan Eagle – Cat videos and criminal investigation
The Internet – social media in particular – is certainly a fount of cute animal videos and aggravating political vitriol, but it’s clear that the depth of its potential hasn’t been reached. For instance, we imagine Mark Zuckerberg hadn’t considered the myriad uses of his software when he developed a program to connect fellow students at Harvard any more than the creator of the wheel imagined how it would alter the trajectory of mankind.
But in Dothan in recent weeks, Facebook has become a crime-fighting tool that has led to arrests and, possibly, prevented some crimes.
Facebook users who live in neighborhoods in the loosely defined northwest Dothan area called the Garden District established a Facebook group some time ago, and for a while, it was primarily used as a bulletin board for lost pets. However, parts of the area have been plagued with vehicle and home burglaries in recent weeks, and the online group has become a real-time message board for the neighborhood watch. Police officers monitor the group, which gives them a good picture of what sort of criminal activity is going on and where, and the forum can suggest patterns that may be useful in investigation. Several arrests have been made.
This week, one local business owner posted a short video taken from their store’s surveillance system showing a customer putting on a shirt and jacket in the store and sauntering off. The owner said Eagle Eye Outfitters had been victimized by shoplifters and asked for help identifying the person in the video. Within a week, the clip had been viewed 135,000 times and shared by almost 2,000 Facebook users, leading to the identification and arrest of two Blountstown, Florida, women on felony shoplifting charges. Ironically, the clip had been “liked” by some 500 users – including one of the suspects.
Although most of the world has embraced the digital age, making the Internet a seemingly indispensable part of everyday life, it’s clear that its full potential remains to be seen. Its role in reining in crime, however, is a welcome advance.
The Enterprise Ledger – Don’t force a reaction in a way that you will regret
I’m sure there are occupations out there — working on oil rigs in the Gulf of Wherever, fishing for crab in near-frozen seas, logging, haz-mat workers – that, at face-value, may seem more dangerous. There are times when even opinion writers must be quick to dodge ill-intended insults, but we learn to use such as fuel for more column fodder at some point.
However, when the aforementioned workers head to the “office” each day, they have some idea of what to expect and therefore for what to prepare.
A member of the law enforcement, on the other hand, has no idea when they pull over someone for speeding, or perhaps walk up to a door for a welfare check, if a particular person hasn’t finally snapped. Perhaps that person would rather do anything he or she deems necessary to avoid prison time. They may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but they’re smart enough to know that the officer is probably not going to fall for the “I don’t know how this kilo of cocaine wound up in my trunk” speech.
What has taken place over the last couple of years has only made their job more dangerous thanks to moronic comments by Hillary Clinton (if she becomes president, will police really want to support her?). Oh, there have been others, including President Obama, who tossed fuel on the fire. If only they would think of the damage it does to the true infrastructure to this country. Without police, wouldn’t we just be right there in the land of Mad Max where criminals rule the day and run amok like roaches in a Raid-free world?
Yes, there has been a case here and there where perhaps an officer did not use the best judgment. However, in practically every case, it was extremely poor judgment of the victim that acted improperly in the first place. The poor actions by officers are a small decimal point in comparison to the criminals that forced the reaction and came out on the losing end.
Shoals residents could get their first serious taste of dangerous winter weather tonight and early Saturday as forecasters are predicting up to two inches of snow for the area.
The snowflakes should be falling by the time residents begin their commutes home from work. That means the roadways will be full of drivers who must battle the dual threats of darkness and roadways covered with snow and possibly ice. Both offer their own unique challenges to safe driving.
Driving is serious business, especially so during the bleak days of winter. That’s why the skills of even the best drivers will be taxed the next few months.
Confident in our driving abilities, we sometimes forget just how dangerous roads can be during this time of year. And when you don’t treat wet, icy road conditions with respect and caution, it can increase the risks to yourself, your passengers and other motorists.
Fortunately, we don’t have too many hazardous driving days in the Shoals, and that helps keep the number of fatal accidents down. In the past five years, there have been on average about three fatalities during the months of January and February. But a lot of fender benders are reported when the roads get slippery.
When the weather’s real bad, the best thing you can do is just stay at home. But if you must get behind the wheel, stay alert, drive slowly and carefully.
When you drive in bad weather, here’s some precautions experts say you should take that will help ensure you safely reach your destination:
The Gadsden Times – A good compromise on school lunches
Remember Etowah County’s “Great Biscuit Revolt of 2015,” when the masses rose up against the tyrannical, oppressive government?
OK, that may be a bit of hyperbole. What really happened was that Etowah County Schools officials petitioned for a waiver to the requirement that biscuits be whole-grain ones. The waiver was denied but the system was allowed to serve both whole-grain and Southern-style biscuits, on an occasional basis.
As it turns out, Southerners aren’t the only ones who don’t care for the whole-grain options. Wednesday, on a voice vote, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved dialing back the whole-grain requirements a bit. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required all grains to be whole grain rich (more than half whole grain).
The bill’s approval signals a compromise between Senate Republicans and the Obama administration. It doesn’t spell out all the details about the changes, but parties on both sides say the grain rich requirement will be reduced, likely to 80 percent. It also is expected to delay a deadline on reducing sodium levels. The House has not considered a similar measure, but officials are hopeful that the bill can be passed in time to take effect with the start of the new school year. The Agriculture Department will be directed to revise the rules within 90 days of the bill’s passage.
The Huntsville Times – To win in Alabama, Democrats must reject abortion
Beginning in the 1960’s, the Southern Strategy brought about a war between the Republican and Democratic parties in Alabama. That war dragged on for decades. Then, in the early part of the 21stst century, the GOP took down Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and clinched a Republican-controlled state house and senate for the first time in over a century.
The effects of that victory are still very prevalent today. The chances of an Alabama Democrat unseating a Republican in any election is highly unlikely. And while certain events—such as the recent turnout to Bernie Sander’s rally in Birmingham—offer some hope for the future, Alabama is, for now, as red as the day is long.
Being a Democrat in Alabama is rough. I should know. As both a proud Alabamian and staunch Democrat, I’ve dealt firsthand with the frustration of living in such a divided house. Thanks to the burning rhetoric and idealism of the right, Democrats in the Heart of Dixie might as well be card-carrying communists.
The GOP has so successfully predicated us as big government, freedom-haters that we can’t even have a constructive conversation without the dark cloud of presumption hanging over our heads. And worst of all, we’ve been forced to sit and watch as two decades of total Republican leadership have pushed Alabama even deeper into economic turmoil.
Alabama is consistently ranked at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to healthcare, education, poverty, and unemployment. Our prisons are overcrowded. Our jobless rate is higher than the national average. And our economy is circling the drain.
All this under the watch of the GOP.
Press-Register –Time to help the poor by shedding light on lawsuit lending
For decades, Alabama was known as “tort hell.” The legal environment was tilted toward plaintiffs and businesses were taking it hard on the chin. This made some trial lawyers very wealthy, but it cost Alabama untold thousands of jobs as businesses and doctors went elsewhere.
During the 1990s, voters flipped the appellate and Supreme Court to Republican justices. In 2010, the people of Alabama elected a conservative, Republican majority to the Legislature. Common sense reforms since then have brought Alabama’s legal environment back to healthy balance.
Now over the past few years, a new form of predatory lending – known as lawsuit-lending or litigation finance – has to come to the surface. Lawsuit-lending companies, often backed with hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street financial firms, speculate on the outcome of legal cases by placing bets on the final decision of a case in the form of loans to a plaintiff. These loans usually have excessively high interest rates, sometimes exceeding 150 percent, which often drain away payments awarded to a plaintiff.
For example, Binyamin Applebaum of the New York Times has reported that in 1995, a woman in Philadelphia borrowed money to finance a lawsuit concerning a car accident. But Applebaum writes that by “the time she won $169,125 in 2003, [her] lenders were owed $221,000.”
The aggressive lawsuit lending industry poses two challenges to Alabama’s legal system. First, the exorbitant interest rates on lawsuit loans distort how plaintiffs negotiate in the legal process. Inevitably, plaintiffs refuse reasonable offers of damages from the defendant and push for more and more money to cover the excessive loans they will owe, like the woman from Philadelphia.
But the main problem now is that lawsuit lenders operate largely in the dark, outside the normal regulations governing other types of lenders. Lawsuit loans are not subject to overview from the state Banking Department and lenders can operate without a license in Alabama.
Montgomery Advertiser – Somebody say something
In this season of motion picture accolades, Alabama’s “best actor” award goes to Chief Justice Roy Moore, starring in a continuing saga of abuse of power. However, Moore’s “performance” is facilitated by the neglect manifest in the failure of other entities to address his professional lunacy.
The Cast. The cast includes present and former justices of the Alabama Supreme Court. As Chief Justice, Moore is the administrative head of Alabama’s court system, but he, like each of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, has but one vote in the cases they decide. His individual, personal view of the law is not binding on any other Alabama judge or lawyer. Since the justices are independently elected to office, Moore is not their “supervisor.”
Associate Justices have an affirmative professional duty to reject (1) Moore’s extrajudicial positions on a legal issue pending before the Court, (2) his continued affiliation with a Foundation (chaired by his wife, Kayla) that is a litigant in the Supreme Court on an issue upon which Moore has publicly expressed an opinion, and (3) his directive to probate judges to repudiate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
How? By exercising their power under Section 12-5-20 of the Code of Alabama, which grants them “the power and authority to review, countermand, overrule, modify or amend any administrative decision by either the Chief Justice or the Administrative Director of Court.” Thus, the justices may lawfully rescind Moore’s administrative directive to probate judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Surely they must understand the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. Surely they must place the integrity and reputation of the court above political fealty to a colleague. And yet, the justices are silent.
Opelika-Auburn News –It’s time for Alabama to take another exam on lottery fever
That’s more than $1.5 billion, and in the land of freedom and dreams, everyone seemed to exercise both.
Everyone, that is, except residents in six states that do not participate in the national Powerball lottery. Alabama is one of those states.
Is it time we recognize our hypocrisy and treat the social ills we fear with the financial backing of lottery dollars that Alabama residents are crossing state lines to spend elsewhere?
For a Bible Belt state that says gambling is a moral wrong, there have been American Indian casinos with slot machines and VictoryLand-style dog-racing tracks that thrive on dollars derived from games of chance. If spenders don’t drop their money there, worn roads exist up and down Alabama’s state lines into border states welcoming long lines of Alabama lottery players.
If we have many more weeks like this past one, states like Georgia, Florida and Tennessee may actually offer to maintain highways in Alabama along the borders just to polish the grinning “Y’all come!” invitation to Alabamians having to visit them to buy a lottery ticket.
The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but the road to Montgomery is paved with hypocrites.
Don’t misread this opinion piece as an endorsement of gambling. It is not.
Gambling is not just a moral question, but one of social ills when those who least can afford it are among those who do the most to throw away their dollars, often leading to financial ruin, family disruption and personal destruction.
This editorial is, however, a call for better management of gambling in Alabama.
If Alabamians are determined to wager, and if they seek to do so through legal means, then why does our state continue to insist that they go across state lines and take their money with them?
The Tuscaloosa News –A gloomy message from the GOP
In 1984, it was “Morning in America” as President Ronald Reagan ran for reelection against Walter Mondale, his Democratic rival.
In those famous television commercials — idyllic scenes of everyday life filmed in soft focus and with inspiring theme music — Reagan projected an upbeat vision of America.
Despite some evidence to belie the vision — a raging Cold War, an unstable economy, a looming Iran-Contra scandal — the optimistic campaign carried the day. Reagan would win nearly 59 percent of the vote, carry 49 states and the District of Columbia and sweep the Electoral College vote, 525-13.
Could such a sunny approach work in this year’s presidential election? Well, if it could, it certainly will not come from whoever emerges as the Republican nominee.
Now, it is all doom and gloom on the GOP side. To hear the leading Republican candidates tell it, the economy is on the brink of depression, debt is about to swallow the nation and ISIS terrorists are on the verge of infiltrating the county and killing us all.
President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union message Tuesday served, then, as a badly needed reality check and reminder that things aren’t nearly as bad as the Republicans say they are.
“We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private job creation in history,” he said to applause from Democrats gathered in the House chamber of the Capitol. “More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the 90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.