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Alabama editorial roundup

February 27, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Feb. 23

Dothan Eagle on an Alabama woman who joined Islamic State and wants to return to the United States:

It’s difficult to gin up much sympathy for Hoda Muthana, who, as a college student in Hoover, lied to her parents to fly off to Turkey in 2014 and join ISIS in Syria. Now she wants to return to the safety of the U.S. with her son, who was fathered by one of two now-dead ISIS fighters she married.

Through her family’s attorney, Muthana said she’d made a big mistake, dodged sniper fire and roadside bombs to escape, and that her life is at risk for speaking out against ISIS.

The U.S. Department of State is not impressed. “Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

Her remorse doesn’t mitigate her treasonous acts, and the danger to her life is no greater than that faced by our military personnel whose deaths she advocated.

The request does create a legal quagmire, first with regard to her own standing - she was born in New Jersey in 1994, but because the U.S. government recognized her father as a diplomat, she isn’t American by birth. Then there’s the question of her child’s citizenship; if she isn’t a citizen, neither is he. And even if she were, would her acts of war against the United States effectively renounce her citizenship?

These are questions for the courts, and have far broader application than just Muthana’s case. She’s not the only person to leave the US to join terrorist forces against our nation.

Ashfaq Taufique, a family friend and president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, advocated for Muthana’s return to the U.S., saying she could be a valuable resource for teaching young people about the dangers of online radicalization were she allowed to return to the United States.

If she is allowed to return, it should be in handcuffs, leg irons, and chains to stand trial on charges of terrorism, sedition and treason.

The full weight of U.S. law upon her would be the best lesson on the dangers of online radicalization.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Feb. 24

The Decatur Daily on a gas tax:

The Alabama Legislature begins its 2019 regular session March 5, and in the warm-ups to this year’s round of legislative sausage-making, one issue has dominated: raising the gasoline tax.

There is no disagreement about one underlying fact: Alabama’s roads need work. Some of them need a lot of work. And time is of the essence, because new businesses and industries are coming to Alabama, and the current transportation infrastructure is struggling to handle what’s already here, as anyone who travels Interstate 565, Alabama 67 or U.S. 72 during rush hour well knows.

Also, there is no debating the fact that the state gas tax doesn’t go as far as it once did. The Legislature last increased the state gas tax in 1992. It has remained at 18 cents per gallon ever since. Little else has remained so unchanged. Vehicles get much better fuel economy now, which means they cost less per mile to operate, even as those miles take the same toll on the roads. Meanwhile, the cost of building and roads has only increased. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in math to see the effective purchasing power of the gas tax is dwindling, even as the state’s transportation requirements increase.

If you want roads, you have to pay for them, and the only thing less popular than gasoline taxes are toll roads, so gas taxes it is.

Just about the only person in state government who doesn’t see a need to raise the gasoline tax is State Auditor Jim Ziegler, who has come up with his own plan, which starts with selling a 20-year bond. We regret to inform the state auditor that selling bonds or otherwise going into debt is simply raising future taxes, and kicking the can down the road is one of the ways Alabama got into this mess in the first place.

“Keep your eye on one thing and one thing only: how much government is spending, because that’s the true tax,” the late Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman said. “If you’re not paying for it in the form of explicit taxes, you’re paying for it indirectly in the form of inflation or in the form of borrowing.”

The state of Alabama, unlike the federal government, can’t inflate the money supply, but it can borrow.

A proposal from the conservative Alabama Policy Institute, based in Birmingham, indulges in similar wishful thinking and sleight of hand. It suggests, for example, ending gas tax rebates paid to school systems. That simply shifts the cost from one state budget to another. API also suggests extending the state’s offshore boundaries by five to 10 miles to get more revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling. But that would require the Trump administration’s OK, and President Donald Trump’s record gives no indication he would do anything that amounts to raising taxes on the fossil fuel industry.

Raising gas taxes seems the most direct and efficient way to meet the state’s immediate infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, raising the money is just half the equation. Next comes the distribution, which, as always, pits cities against counties and north against south. The current distribution formula is full of misplaced priorities, short-changing fast-growing urban areas, such as in north Alabama, that are driving the state’s growth even as they struggle to keep up with it.

If lawmakers can’t agree to direct more of the new gas revenue toward north Alabama and the areas impacted by growth fueled by the coming Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Limestone County, then perhaps the issue of gas taxes should be left to counties instead of the Legislature.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, will again sponsor a bill giving counties the authority to raise gas taxes on their own. It’s not a perfect solution, and we can imagine some counties keeping their gas tax low to attract fill-ups from their higher-tax neighbors.

In any event, however, an increase in the gas tax, in some fashion, is unavoidable if Alabamians want to drive on safe, well-maintained roads.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/

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Feb. 20

TimesDaily (Florence) on the measles vaccine:

Alabama, along with every other state in the union, requires the measles vaccine as a prerequisite to a child enrolling in public or private schools. Also like every other state, it includes a necessary exemption for those children who are medically unable to tolerate the vaccine. ...

Alabama and 46 other states offer a religious exemption from immunizations. The exemptions have puzzled those who have studied their justification. Certainly no major religions or denominations ban vaccines, any more than they ban their adherents from catching measles, which (for survivors) also confers immunity.

Yet many in Alabama claim a religious exemption blocking their children from receiving the vaccine. Last year, 4,543 students enrolled in public or private schools were unprotected from the measles virus because their parents claimed a religious exemption. ...

Significantly, county health departments in Alabama require no documentation of the validity of the religious exemption. A parent signs a form, and a child with ready access to the vaccine is sent to class as both a potential victim and a potential carrier.

How to explain the large number of people claiming a religious exemption as compared to the dearth of religions raising a concern about vaccines?

A likely explanation is that the exemptions are less a function of religious beliefs than a reaction to conspiracy theories that are gaining renewed traction in the social media age. A single article in 1998 claimed the measles vaccine caused autism. The British doctor who wrote it, it turned out, was getting funding from lawyers who were suing vaccine companies. Hundreds of studies since have utterly debunked his claims, and he eventually lost his medical license.

But facts have never been central to the best conspiracy theories. Most such theories are comparatively benign, destroying political careers but not risking life. This theory, however, can be fatal if it is prompting Alabama parents to claim an unchallenged religious exemption in order to avoid the measles vaccine.

Three states — Mississippi, West Virginia and most recently California — do not offer a religious exemption, and courts in all three have upheld their policy. That’s a position that Alabama lawmakers should study, preferably before the latest national outbreaks make it to this state. Options like homeschooling and internet studies make such a position more tenable.

The best solution, however, is for parents who are tempted to claim a religious exemption to look at the facts. If your fear of vaccines is based on information repeated in social media or by an anti-vaccine group, you need to try again. Look at medical studies or talk to your doctor.

The measles vaccine can save your child’s life, and it can save the lives of those who are medically unable to take the vaccine.

Online: http://www.timesdaily.com/