Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Decatur Daily on a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Alabama residents who had their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay traffic tickets:
Debtors prisons are supposed to be a thing of the past, something relegated to dusty Charles Dickens novels about Victorian England. But 21st century America’s legal system has its own ways of punishing people simply for being poor.
Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in Montgomery federal court on behalf of three Alabama residents who had their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay traffic tickets, the Associated Press reported. According to the suit, nearly 23,000 Alabamians have suspended licenses because of the nonpayment of tickets.
“A suspended driver’s license has disastrous implications for individuals living in poverty,” said Micah West, a senior staff attorney with the SPLC. “The U.S. Constitution prohibits the state from suspending a person’s driver’s license without first determining their ability to pay. Through this lawsuit, we hope to end this illegal practice in Alabama.”
Similar cases are pending in North Carolina and other states, and Mississippi agreed last year to stop suspending people’s driver’s licenses just because they hadn’t paid court fines and fees, AP reported. Mississippi may still suspend the licenses of people held in contempt by a judge for failing to pay fines or who don’t respond to citations.
The argument is if a person has a traffic citation, cannot afford the fine and ends up with a suspended license as a result, that person will probably end up driving with a suspended license. A person who obeys the law and refrains from driving risks losing what income they do have. Alabama is not, after all, a state with robust public transportation, and most people have to drive themselves to work.
No one is saying let people get away with breaking the law because they’re poor. What they are saying is there should be ways of dealing with traffic citations besides fines that are a far greater burden on the poor. The practical severity of a punishment should not be dependent upon one’s income, making it more harsh the less money one has.
The SPLC’s lawsuit “asks the federal court to declare Alabama’s law for suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment unconstitutional and issue an order blocking the state law enforcement agency from suspending driver’s licenses for nonpayment under the law. It also asks the court to require the agency to reinstate any driver’s license previously suspended solely for nonpayment,” AP reported.
Traffic citations aren’t the only way the legal system penalizes the poor disproportionately. Another way is cash bail, which keeps the poor in jail while they await trial, even as those with money go free on bail on the same charge.
Efforts to reform the bail system find opposition not only from those who claim all criminal justice reform is just being “soft on crime,” but also from the bail bond industry and its underwriters in the insurance industry, who profit handsomely off the current system.
According to a poll conducted by the Pretrial Justice Initiative, “Fifty-seven percent of Americans favor ending the practice of jailing people who cannot afford money bail before trial in all but extreme cases,” and, “When asked about eliminating money bail entirely and replacing it with pretrial assessment and supervision, a plurality (45 percent) favors the idea.”
There are many ways to reform America’s dysfunctional criminal justice system, which has resulted in the world’s largest prison population. Balancing the scales to avoid punishing poverty would be a good start.
Cullman Times on distracted driving:
A safe, courteous driver used to be defined as a motorist who obeyed speed limits, watched for pedestrians and avoided drinking alcohol behind the wheel.
Times have changed. Those definitions still apply for good driving, but putting away cell phones carries the same value of the other sensible courtesies.
Too many drivers are clicking, clacking and yacking their way down the highways and byways from what seems to be digital addiction. The problem is particularly acute among younger drivers who grow up with cell phones and other digital devices in their hands ... However, to be clear, there are plenty of adults who are also using their cell phones while driving, and this should stop, too ... According to Drive Safe Alabama, distracted driving is defined as any of the following: Texting, using a cell phone or smartphone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, including maps, using a navigation system, watching a video, adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player. And anyone texting and driving is 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
A quarter of all teen drivers are also likely to respond to a text while operating a vehicle. The results are often tragic.
Law enforcement officials suspect that more accidents than can be documented are related to cell phone use.
Many motorists who still maintain safe habits have witnessed countless vehicles darting through traffic signals and stop signs as well as parking lots while the drivers are staring down or holding a phone in front of their face talking.
The need to teach drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention has long been a problem, but the added distraction of texting is frustrating and dangerous ...
The Times Daily on Alabama’s involvement in NASA’s InSight spacecraft :
There is an old saying: The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.
NASA’s InSight spacecraft traveled 300 million miles to get from Earth to Mars, where it touched down successfully after six months in space. And some of the first steps in InSight’s journey went through north Alabama.
InSight blasted off May 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V-401 rocket, leaving an arc of fire in its wake in the predawn sky.
But before the Atlas V could arrive in California, it had to be assembled, and much of that process took place at ULA’s assembly plant in north Alabama, specifically booster fabrication and final assembly, and Centaur (upper stage) tank fabrication and Centaur final assembly, according to ULA.
The launch from Vandenberg was a first, according to NASA.
“InSight is the first mission to another planet to leave Earth from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Missions to other planets normally launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and fly east, over water,” according to the space agency. “That’s because launching towards the east adds the momentum of Earth’s eastward rotation to the launch vehicle’s own thrust. But the Atlas V-401 is powerful enough to fly south towards the sea from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Besides, Vandenberg Air Force Base was more available at this time to accommodate InSight’s five-week launch period.”
The two riskiest and, for the scientists and engineers involved, nerve-wracking parts of any space mission are the launch and the arrival, especially when the arrival involves parachuting through the thin Martian atmosphere at 12,000 mph and slowing to just 5 mph for touchdown. If anything had gone wrong, InSight could have smashed into the Martian surface, burned up in the atmosphere, or bounced off it.
Before InSight landed safely, the success rate for missions to Mars by all countries was just 40 percent. Turns out, rocket science is rocket science, and the launches aren’t much easier than the landings.
That makes ULA’s record of success particularly remarkable, given how difficult space launches can be, and the countless opportunities for something to go wrong.
ULA has much to be proud of, as do its workers at its north Alabama plant. Even as they face fierce competition from start-ups like SpaceX and Blue Origin, which can’t boast of ULA’s success rate but have been tightening the screws in terms of driving down costs.
Meeting that competition head-on while maintaining quality will be a challenge for ULA, and its Decatur plant seems poised to take on an enlarged role in the company’s future, consolidating processes currently at other facilities for the construction of ULA’s next-generation rocket, the Vulcan.
For now, however, ULA can celebrate. It has helped deliver a probe on a two-year mission to explore deep into the Martian surface, measuring seismic activity and internal heat, and trying to determine the makeup of the planet’s core.
This is important information for any future manned missions to Mars, but, more importantly, in the short term it gives us on Earth a glimpse into the nature of our most similar neighbor in the solar system.
“In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’ s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California.
In humanity’s continuing mission to explore strange, new worlds, north Alabama retains a crucial role.