- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


Dec. 2

The Decatur Daily on Gov. Robert Bentley’s effort to end Planned Parenthood funding:

When an Alabama politician makes a very public mistake that costs taxpayers money, what does he do?

That’s easy. He declares it a win for the state.

Or in the case of Gov. Robert Bentley in defending his knee-jerk decision in August to terminate funding of Planned Parenthood, he utters the word “win” with such frequency that he apparently hopes it will hypnotize the public.

“I am pleased,” Bentley told reporters Monday. “It was a win. Headlines might not show that it was a win, but it was a win.”

It was not a win. It was an embarrassing failure.

Between the repeated declarations of a “win,” Bentley managed to communicate that the state of Alabama will pay $51,000 in legal fees to Planned Parenthood Southeast.

It’s not a lot of money as a percentage of the state budget, but it represents more than two decades’ worth of the type of funding that Bentley withheld from the organization. He prompted Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit when he announced he would terminate state Medicaid payments to the organization.

In the two years before his announcement, the state had paid a grand total of $4,351.37 to Planned Parenthood. All of that amount was for contraceptives.

State and federal laws already prevent tax dollars from funding abortions. And, as Planned Parenthood has been explaining since a video was released in July, fetal tissue for medical research comes exclusively from two of its 700 centers - one in California and one in Washington state. It also explained that it does not sell fetal tissue, which would be prohibited by federal law.

Bentley may not have known this, however, because he sent the letter terminating funding - and, of course, the news release bragging about it - without first contacting Planned Parenthood.

Abortion is an impossibly complex issue of biology, religion and law. Intelligent, moral people hold sincere and contradictory beliefs as to the extent to which the state should intervene in a mother’s decision on whether to have an abortion.

But Bentley’s failure was not about abortion, it was about homework. He latched onto a viral video on social media and used it as his rationale to start a legal battle he could not win. He wasted $51,000 in taxpayer money - and dragged the state into yet another humiliating legal defeat - to avoid paying a couple thousand dollars to help low-income women receive contraceptives.

“It was a win for us. Did it cost some money? Yes,” Bentley said. “But it was a win for us.”

No, governor. Repeat “win” all you want, but it was a well-deserved defeat.




Nov. 29

The Montgomery Advertiser on sex trafficking laws:

The October arrests of dozens of men in the Southeast for sex trafficking again show Alabama is a nexus for the trade.

The regional crackdown involved nine men arrested after indictments in Florida, 38 following Georgia indictments, and spread across eight states and 27 cities. Two were arrested in Montgomery and three others have been indicted out of the middle district of Alabama.

As the Montgomery Advertiser’s Kelsey Davis reported, charges against the men in the highly organized pipeline include transporting persons across state lines to engage in prostitution, controlling a location to prostitute illegal aliens and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor.

Details of the Montgomery connection to the ring are horrendous.

Jose Juan Ruiz Prudencio, 40, allegedly picked up women from the Greyhound Bus Station downtown and was involved, along with Emerson Corvera, in transporting them for the sex trafficking ring,

Bernabe “El Chaparro” Carbajal, arrested in Georgia, ran brothels in Montgomery, Birmingham and Albertville, according to court records.

The victims were referred to and marketed like meat, advertised by attributes such as age and country of origin and shuffled from one brothel to the next.

The large scope of the sting is unprecedented and a much needed salvo to combat an evil that simmers, mostly invisibly, beneath the surface of civilized life.

Sex trafficking entraps as many as 200,000 victims nationwide at any time. Atlanta’s interstate corridors make the Southeast, including Alabama, prime real estate for traffickers.

Alabama’s Human Trafficking Task Force was established by the Legislature in 2014 to bring together the numerous federal, state and local agencies on the front lines of the battle.

In a significant step forward, the panel reached an agreement with the University of Alabama’s School of Social Work to perform an assessment of how the state handles sex-trafficking cases.

The assessment should help organizations coordinate efforts to catch sex traffickers and aid victims.

Obvious gaps that must be addressed include tougher laws to attack sex-trafficking crimes from the “demand” side - meaning harsher penalties for johns who solicit sex.

For starters, solicitation of a prostitute should be a felony charge, not just a misdemeanor.

Requiring that convicted johns register as sex offenders would also discourage demand.

When it comes to minors, the system is shockingly flawed.

Soliciting sex from a minor is a felony, but felony charges aren’t always levied against those who rape young girls or boys who are being trafficked.

That must change.

Meanwhile, Alabama has an urgent need for more shelters and services for trafficking victims.

Police, court system and school employees need training in how to handle sex-trafficking cases, including confidentiality concerns for exploited children.

State Rep. Jack Williams’ Safe Harbor bill to prohibit minor sex-trafficking victims from being prosecuted for prostitution also deserves support from Alabama lawmakers.

It should come with funding to provide shelter space and other aid, so young victims can escape the trafficking hellhole and return to a normal life.




Nov. 30

The Gadsden Times on Black Friday shopping:

“RIP: Black Friday … born (purportedly) in the early 1960s in Philadelphia, as the city’s police department sought a name for the troublesome pedestrian and vehicle traffic congestion on the day after Thanksgiving … died in 2015 from oversaturation and changing times, or is this a Mark Twain death rumor moment?”

That tongue-in-cheek obituary definitely is exaggerated and certainly may be premature, but the results of this year’s Black Friday prove the landscape has changed.

Reports from across the country say it was, more often than not, a typical shopping day. There were no crowds lined up and watching the second hands or digital numbers on their timepieces, waiting for stores’ doors to open so they could surge toward the bargains inside. There were few reports of things getting out of hand in pursuit of those bargains - no body slams, figure-four leglocks or sleeper holds for laptops, toasters or TVs - and shoppers didn’t have to park a county away from their destinations.

That must have been disappointing for the true believers - the loyalists whose dedication to the hunt helped make Black Friday a big deal.

It probably was confusing and frustrating for merchants, who are so conditioned to the day being circled on their calendars as the most significant indicator of what the shopping season will bring.

Those feelings might be misplaced, however. The National Retail Federation still predicts holiday sales will total about $630.5 billion this year, for a 3.7 percent increase over 2014. That’s a bit less than the 4.1 percent growth from 2013 to 2014, but black numbers always are preferable to red ones in business ledgers.

So people still are buying stuff, just not so much on the day after Thanksgiving.

Some retailers already have picked up on those changing habits, starting sales as early as October (the NRF estimates that 60 percent of shoppers started buying a couple of weeks ahead of Thanksgiving). They’re opening on Thanksgiving itself, which has prompted complaints about forcing employees to miss the holiday with their families, but seems to attract shoppers wanting to work off the goodies they’ve ingested.

Most significantly, more folks are staying home, avoiding all crowds (large and small) and shopping online.

The NSF has changed its methodology for analyzing shopping trends and habits during the Thanksgiving weekend, moving away from total spending to get a broader picture of what shoppers are doing and what they prefer. Retailers like making money, so they’ll pick up on that data and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Will that send Black Friday to the history books? Probably not entirely, but its significance may be waning. There are 54 shopping days from Nov. 1 to Christmas Eve. Folks today are using ‘em all.



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