- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Dec. 23

Anniston (Alabama) Star on cyber warfare:

In October 1854 in the middle of the Crimean War, more than 100 British soldiers were killed and 160 were wounded during an ill-fated confrontation with Russia.

The disaster that devastated the British cavalary’s Light Brigade was chalked up to miscommunications that sent the British directly into superior forces.

It’s a fair bet that none of this would be so widely known had it not been for an Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem written six weeks after the conflict.

Even American schoolchildren study “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and its dramatic final verse:

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wondered.

Honour the charge they made,

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred.

That was war 160 years ago.

Occupiers of the poetry world have a fresh opportunity to chronicle the great cyber war of late 2014.

Our story begins with Sony Pictures and its planned late-December release of The Interview, a film that pokes fun at North Korea and its totalitarian ruler, Kim Jong-un. At movies end, Kim Jong-un’s head explodes.

We’re not giving away much because only a limited number of U.S. theaters in a few select cities will show The Interview beginning on Christmas Day.

Hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace attacked Sony’s computer network, and in the process revealed tons of embarrassing details located with Sony email accounts.

Step 2 in this attack on Sony was to threaten acts of terrorism against movie theaters that screened The Interview. That’s about the time Sony pulled the plug on The Interview. It’s also about the time the FBI declared the hack of Sony was almost certainly the work of North Korea.

“North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior,” reads an FBI release on its probe.

Then came a response. For several hours Monday, North Korea’s connection to the Internet (as small as it is) went completely offline. No one or no government is taking credit for what appears to be a response to the Sony hacking. Speaking last week, President Barack Obama mentioned that North Korea would pay a price for what he called “cyber vandalism.”

We prefer to think of it as cyber warfare and to consider these incidents are volleys back in forth in a long conflict.

All that awaits is someone of Lord Tennyson’s eloquence to set it to verse.




Dec. 18

Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News on Islamic State’s economic turmoil:

What’s a terrorist state to do? Living was so easy in the early days when the Iraqi army cut and ran and the coffers were overflowing with illicit donations. Now people want the trains to run on time and there’s nothing but headaches.

Yes, the Islamic State’s leaders are finding that it’s a lot easier to blow things up and cut people’s heads off than it is to actually govern a conquered region. A country actually needs a functioning economy, and the Islamic State is discovering that the hard way.

When the extremists, flush with cash, first settled into their new digs, people loved them. It’s easy to buy adulation with subsidized prices that make fuel and staples cheaper. But American airstrikes are making supplies harder to come by. That naturally leads to a flourishing black market, and there are no subsidies or price controls on illicit trade.

“We are not able to pay for cooking gas, kerosene and food,” said a 56-year-old government retiree living in occupied Mosul. “The situation in Mosul is miserable.”

The reason is quite simple. The extremists have created an economy that is unsustainable, said Paul Sullivan, an expert on Middle East economies at the National Defense University in Washington. Smuggled oil sold at well below market value is a big part of that economy.

“Eventually, the costs of keeping the subsidies and price controls going will overpower their smuggling funds, which are also used for offensive and defensive operations,” Sullivan said.

The economic turmoil is a tangible sign that American attacks are having an impact. It’s one thing to field an army of insurgents and keep them fed and equipped. It’s another thing to support an entire society and all of its basic needs, like food, clean water, sanitation and electricity.

Keeping the pressure on the Islamic State will make life more difficult for civilians who aren’t involved in the fighting. That is unfortunate. But in the end, that may do more to undermine the Islamic State than an army in the field.




Dec. 23

Gadsden (Alabama) Times on Medicaid expansion:

Is Gov. Robert Bentley retreating on his promise not to expand Medicaid in Alabama under the Affordable Care Act?

He says no. Obamacare opponents say yes. Advocates for the poor don’t really care, they’re just happy to see a molecule of hope - which is what this is, because expansion in any form will remain a tough sell in Alabama.

Bentley last week told legislators during an orientation session that he would be open to discussing a block grant program, which would use federal money to offer private insurance coverage to people at or a bit above the federal poverty line.

That was the intention of Obamacare, which would fully subsidize Medicaid expansion in states through 2016 and cover at least 90 percent of the cost afterward.

A Supreme Court ruling in 2012 gave states the right to reject Medicaid expansion, however, and Bentley insisted he’d never agree to bringing more people into what he’s consistently called “a broken and buckling” Medicaid system in Alabama.

We’ve supported that stance, as attractive as a 90 percent federal subsidy is to some folks, because of the instability of the state’s General Fund budget, 35 percent of which went to Medicaid this year.

Bentley has backed Medicaid reforms, and last week unveiled six Regional Care Organizations that through managed care will try to keep the program’s recipients healthier, but his block grant comments overshadowed that particular offering.

The governor said he’s never opposed that kind of setup, where a state gets money from the federal government and then gets to do things its way. Such block grant programs are permitted under Obamacare, if states obtain a waiver.

Arkansas has one in place that has added 211,000 more people to the Medicaid rolls and, according to an Arkansas Hospital Association study cited by the New York Times, reduced uncompensated hospital bills in the state by 69 percent. Pennsylvania and Indiana also are trying to establish programs.

The roadblocks? Bentley says any Alabama plan must include a work requirement. Pennsylvania tried to include that in its waiver application, but was turned down. We see no way the feds will let that go through.

And despite the apparent success of Arkansas’ block grant program, which has attracted Republican support, there’s talk it might be abandoned by that state’s newly elected and much more conservative Legislature.

Opponents there aren’t interested in the results, or the fact that Arkansas got to set up its own program, its way. They say it’s still Obamacare, it’s bad and they don’t want anything to do with it.

Bentley will likely get the same response in Montgomery should this ever get past the talking stages (which is where it’s at; no actual plan exists).

Being open to something is one thing. Working political miracles is another.



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