Alabama editorial roundup
Posted 4:26 p.m. Wednesday
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Gadsden Times on the death of Fidel Castro:
It's not praising Fidel Castro, who died Friday at age 90, to call him a significant figure of the 20th century.
Significance can be positive or negative, and we can think of lots of bad people — Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, etc. — to whom that label could be attached.
Castro during his nearly half-century as Cuba's Communist dictator certainly earned his place as at least a junior-grade member of that rogues gallery. He repressed his people, imprisoned (or eliminated) scores of dissidents and "enemies," and gave financial and material support to various "revolutionary" and terrorist causes around the planet.
He always claimed he was forced into such behavior by the long-standing economic sanctions against his country by its mammoth neighbor less than 100 miles away, the United States. His supporters, both inside and outside Cuba, echoed that noise. More likely, it was the behavior of a dictator doing what dictators normally do to subjugate their populace and maintain absolute power.
Still, Castro always was a romantic figure to those who decry U.S. imperialism, who think the end justifies the means (those who view Cuba as a showpiece of egalitarianism and social justice often tout its universal health care system) and who enjoy seeing the "little guy" flash an upraised middle finger or act as a nagging and painful pebble in a shoe to the powerful.
The U.S. tried for decades to undermine Castro and force him out of power (to the point of sponsoring an actual military attack, the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961 that taught Americans the definition of the word "fiasco"). The old Soviet Union tried for decades to prop him up (to the point of stashing missiles there in 1962, bringing the world as close as it's ever been to nuclear war).
Many folks watching the coverage of Castro's death probably wonder why so much fuss is being made over a guy with a funny beard who made long speeches, who gave up power to his brother nearly a decade ago and hasn't been seen in public in a while. Those who lived through the aforementioned history understand.
The Dothan Eagle on natural disasters:
Here in southeast Alabama, we envision tornadoes and hurricanes when we think of natural disasters. While we've seen our share of tornadoes over the years, we've been fortunate to view the awesome destructive power of hurricanes from a relatively safe distance.
Perhaps that's what makes the wildfires that have consumed a popular Tennessee vacation spot so unnerving. It seems as though most of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were gone in short order, and the fires that destroyed them consumed virtually everything in their path, forcing the evacuation of more than 14,000 residents and visitors. As of Tuesday, at least three people have died in the wildfires.
The crisis in Tennessee should be viewed as a cautionary tale for those of us in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and other southern states. Tennessee isn't the only tinderbox; much of the Deep South is in the same critical drought and despite recent rains in some parts of the region, the wildfire that has ripped across parts of Tennessee could just as easily crop up in our own communities.
It's important to take heed of official bans on burning, and to take extreme caution to mitigate the possibility of an accidental fire. Don't burn leaves or other debris. Don't leave grills unattended. Don't park your vehicle in dry vegetation. Don't throw cigarette butts away carelessly.
These are good rules of thumb in the best of circumstances. In times such as these, they can prevent millions of dollars in property losses, and perhaps even injury or death.
The Decatur Daily on battling wildfires:
There's nothing like an emergency to reveal weaknesses in the ability to respond. The Alabama Forestry Commission is battling wildfires as a drought blankets the state, stretching the agency's resources to the breaking point.
In the first two months of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, the Forestry Commission has reported more than 1,900 fires covering 22,750 acres. In all of the last fiscal year, they reported 1,734 fires covering 22,212 acres. Most of the fires have been started by carelessness, but with parched forests and fields, the danger is magnified.
Gov. Robert Bentley has released an additional $690,000 from the Departmental Emergency Fund, a General Fund budget line, but the total in the fund was only $1.8 million. In 2015, the emergency fund contained $13.8 million. The governor's office said more than $1.1 million has been spent fighting fires since Oct. 1.
About one-third of the Forestry Commission's budget comes from the General Fund. The amount has been cut by about 55 percent since 2011, to about $6.7 million this year. Another one-third comes from taxes and fees generated from the forestry industry, and the final third from federal grants. Forestry officials say the federal grants are dwindling, as well.
Bills that would have altered the severance tax on pines and hardwoods, and altered millage rates assessed by counties, failed in the Legislature earlier this year. The bills' sponsor, Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, said both bills were opposed by the commission and the forestry industry.
Lawmakers in the Republican supermajority say there is no interest in new taxes. They also refused to rewrite the tax code or even close tax loopholes that cost the state millions of dollars.
The reluctance to face the reality of revenue problems by hiding behind the perceived lack of enthusiasm for taxes no longer works. The state's tax code is one of the least equitable in the country, favoring wealthy landowners. Too much burden is on the working poor and middle class, and state services continue to erode because of a lack of revenue.
Since taking control of Alabama's government in 2010, the Republican supermajority has not produced the reforms it touted, and it has presided over a state government that cannot sustain itself.
Other states have recovered from the 2008 recession. Alabama has not. The wildfires fueled by the drought are shining a dangerous light on the precarious state of Alabama's financial health.