Alabama editorial roundup

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Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

May 5

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on Condoleezza Rice:

In the face of growing protests on the Rutgers University campus, Condoleezza Rice backed out of a scheduled commencement address this month at the New Jersey school.

That's a shame on many fronts.

Rice is an expert on Russian history. We could learn much from her views on the current Russian aggression in the Ukraine, the ultimate aims of Vladimir Putin and the best way for the West to contain this emerging threat.

During much of the 1990s, Rice was provost at Stanford University, overseeing a $1.5 billion annual budget. Her views on higher education and its challenges would be highly relevant, especially for new graduates, many of whom are leaving campus with massive student-loan debt.

As the daughter of a prominent African-American educator who spent part of her childhood in the segregated Alabama of the 1950s and 1960s, Rice could add nuance and depth to our understanding of the nation's current state of race relations.

Yet, none of these items were on the radar at Rutgers. Complaints from students and faculty centered on another part of her resume — her time as national security adviser to President George W. Bush and then as his secretary of the State Department.

Specifically, protesters objected to Rice's role in the Bush administration's war in Iraq and the deceptions employed to bring the nation to war.

Over the weekend, Rice announced she was backing out of the speaking engagement, which would have paid her $35,000. "Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families," according to her statement. "Rutgers' invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time."

It's difficult to object to that gracious response. However, we're left with some regret of what Rice could have said. Some of it might not be pleasant for her to share, but as an academic she surely knows the way to progress is through honest self-reflection.

Rice does indeed have much to say about Iraq and how she was a key player — though hardly the most influential within the administration — in taking the nation to war. She has lessons to offer Rutgers (and the rest of us) on the true costs of pre-emptive invasion, of thoughtlessly wielding U.S. power and of the bitter fruit when deceptive marketing of war and the failure to plan sufficiently backfires.

Rice has never fully accounted for her role in this deadly disaster. It's a shame she won't get the opportunity to do so this month at Rutgers University.

Online:

http://www.annistonstar.com

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May 1

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News on people in West Alabama finding courage:

Those who have spent enough years here know the feeling. They might not know how to describe it, but they know it when they feel it. And when those people stepped out of their houses Monday morning, three years and one day after the deadliest storm in Tuscaloosa's history, they knew it felt like severe weather.

Of course, many had already learned from the news media that a troubling line of storms was on its way from Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. The fact that it wasn't likely to be that once-every-40-years event didn't make them feel a lot better.

Post-traumatic stress disorder isn't limited to soldiers who have experienced too many of war's horrors. Storms have a way of scarring survivors, and it all becomes very real when severe weather takes aim at West Alabama.

When the time came to head to cellars and safe rooms or just to the strongest place in the house this week, how many people found their thoughts drifting back to April 27, 2011? Some neighborhoods had celebrated, only the day before, their comeback from the storm. How many wondered if it was happening all over again?

Tornadoes are a fact of life in West Alabama. Just ask the people in the Taylorville community, on Bear Creek Road and in Skyland Park who have been hit more than once. If you live here, you're going to deal with tornadoes, just as coastal residents live with hurricanes and Californians coexist with earthquakes.

People who live here learn to accept that. They take the necessary precautions and make the necessary preparations. But that still doesn't make living through storm season here easy.

We usually equate courage with heroism or being willing to stand up for what is right and just. But it takes a different kind of courage to come back out of that basement after the storms have passed and go on with life. It's the kind of courage that many ordinary West Alabama residents found late Monday night. It is the resolve that brought West Alabama back from the devastation of April 27, 2011, and why it endures.

Online:

http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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May 4

The Gadsden (Ala.) Times on tougher smoking ordinance:

It seems certain the city of Gadsden will have a new, tougher smoking ordinance. The only question is how tight it will be.

Currently, the only public places within the city limits where smoking is permitted are restaurants that have chosen to be "smoking-only," bars, and designated smoking rooms in hotels or private clubs.

Those exceptions would vanish under the "City of Gadsden Smoke Free Air Ordinance," which would replace the smoking ordinance adopted seven years ago.

Most establishments in the city chose to be smoke-free when that happened. We're sure smokers won't be happy to see their final refuges taken away.

However, it's hard to fault the intention behind the new ordinance — to protect public health and welfare, to reduce air pollution and to afford non-smokers the right to breathe clean air while out in public or at work.

One anticipated change to the original draft would be in the setback, the distance from entrances, exits, doors, windows or ventilation systems in public places where smoking isn't permitted. It's 7 feet in the ordinance being worked on, and that's not sufficient. We think the city got it right in 2007 with a 20-foot setback.

There's also one especially sticky issue — the status of Old Havana, a cigar bar that opened last year on Chestnut Street. Banning smoking inside a business whose existence depends on smoking is akin to padlocking the door and posting a "get out of town before sundown" sign on it.

The City Council appears willing to reach an accommodation with Old Havana, and we don't have a problem with that. We doubt any non-smokers are going to set foot in that establishment as patrons. We also doubt anyone unwilling to be around tobacco smoke is going to apply for a job at a cigar bar, even out of desperation.

We're sure more extreme anti-smoking advocates would have no trouble shutting such businesses down, or making tobacco as illegal to possess as heroin or crystal meth. Realistically, that's not going to happen, although in its own way tobacco is as dangerous and addictive as those substances.

We don't have to review the diseases smoking causes and the number of people it kills each year. We've never been afraid to call it a dirty, disgusting habit that people should quit, immediately.

Non-smokers are winning the fight for a clean airspace, and government is on their side. We don't think one tailored refuge is a retreat in that fight.

Online:

http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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