- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


Sept. 10

The Gadsden Times on preliminary data showing historic drop in percentage of adults who smoke:

Americans, give yourselves a hand.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released the preliminary data from its 2017 National Health Interview Survey. It shows that fewer U.S. adults are smoking cigarettes than at any time in the country’s history - 13.9 percent, down from 15.5 percent in 2016.

By comparison, about 42 percent of American adults smoked in 1968, a bygone era of cigarette commercials on television and radio, when you likely would’ve gotten puzzled looks from restaurant hosts or hostesses if you requested a table in the “no smoking” section.

The anti-smoking message was in its infancy at that point, only four years after the surgeon general’s report that linked the habit to cancer and cardiovascular disease. The words “second-hand smoke” really had yet to be paired.

What’s followed has been a 50-year war on tobacco usage - a deliberate effort, as one anti-smoking activist observed, to “de-normalize it.”

Much of it has been legal and compulsory. Those cigarette commercials are gone except in video compilations of old-school TV ads. You won’t find a smoking section in local restaurants or bars; you will find signs on most public buildings telling people how far away they need to be to light up.

Much of it has been an effort to frighten people into quitting. You’ve seen the gruesome photos of what the habit has wrought on smokers’ bodies - in ads paid for by taxes on tobacco products.

All of it probably has been taken in some quarters as nagging, something we’ve often observed can be counterproductive when trying to get stubborn people to change their behavior. Frank Sinatra - often pictured with a cigarette in his hand or mouth, and famously resistant to having his arm twisted, used to say, “Suggest. Don’t tell me. Suggest.”

We’re not particularly interested in why the suggestion is finally taking. CDC officials and anti-smoking activists say it’s a combination of things, including the spiraling price of cigarettes, the fact that fewer young people in particular are taking up the habit and the fact that health insurance companies now are required to pay for stop smoking programs, lessening the burden for people finally inclined to quit.

The important thing is that fewer people are smoking, although we share some of the CDC’s concerns amid the good news. About 34 million American’s haven’t taken the suggestion. Also, too many kids - 11.7 percent of high schoolers in 2016 - are lighting up or using e-cigarettes (which researchers concede are safer than regular cigarettes, but their long-term effects remain a mystery).

So let the applause, while deserved, be temporary. There’s more work to be done.

Online: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/


Sept. 8

Cullman Times on Twitter’s decision to permanently ban conspiracy-slinger Alex Jones:

One of the nation’s top propagators of conspiracies and fake news was permanently banished from Twitter.

While Alex Jones had built a following of about 900,000 on Twitter and was founder of InfoWars, with 10 million visits, little, if any, value can be found in his views.

Jones is currently active on Facebook; his personal suspension there recently expired. Apple, YouTube and Spotify also permanently removed material Jones had published.

Two problems arise in considering Jones, whose tactics exemplify fake news.

In using media platforms, he was exercising free speech with his endless rants about conspiracies. He made claims the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018 were false flag operations engineered by gun control advocates.

Those claims have been proven false and six families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as well as an FBI agent who responded to the attack have filed a defamation lawsuit against Jones for his role in spreading conspiracy theories about the shooting.

Those claims and others were unfounded and hurtful to many who suffered as a result of the murderous rampages, and Jones never presented evidence to substantiate what unfolded in the schools.

Reporters have an obligation to ask questions and examine facts to provide the public with legitimate information. While anyone has the right to question any situation, Jones used various platforms to spread fake news to hundreds of thousands.

Some people will be upset that Jones has been banned from sites such as Twitter, which is a private company that offers a platform reaching around the world. David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noted that while high-profile cases of highly-offensive content being taken down gets a lot of attention, content moderation silences voices worldwide struggling to be heard.

Greene certainly offers a thought worth pondering. In the United States, the freedom to question and discuss views is a foundation of American life. Nevertheless, internet-based platforms - for all the good they provide - contain a lot of questionable and downright false spins that blur fact and fiction.

Established news organizations are committed to reporting on communities and the nation through a series of checks and balances verifying information prior to placing it in print and online.

Jones in many respects was simply an entertainer, but he delved into an area where truth took a backseat to baseless conspiracies at the cost of misleading others.

News and opinion have an important place in leading discussions on topics that matter in our lives. The free-flowing digital platforms are generally a healthy part of reaching audiences. Irresponsible behavior, however, is a reason to pull the plug on the purveyors of fake news like Jones.

Online: http://www.cullmantimes.com/


Sept. 12

The Decatur Daily on the federal government’s mixed signals when it comes to cybersecurity:

Just as when it tries to discourage smoking while at the same time subsidizing tobacco growers, the federal government is working at cross-purposes when it comes to cybersecurity.

Election officials, the intelligence community and some in Congress are worried about the security of the country’s election infrastructure. They’re in particular concerned that it could come under attack by Russian hackers.

The concerns about Russian hacking interfering in America’s midterm elections are valid, if perhaps overwrought. There is evidence Russia-based hackers tried to penetrate some states’ election infrastructure in the past, but no evidence they successfully did so, much less altered voter rolls or election totals. Indeed, we know so much about failed Russian hacks - and successful but unsophisticated Russian hacks - that it seems to indicate not that the Russians are good at cyberattacks, but rather that they are bad at it.

The real worry is that someone better at hacking computer infrastructure will decide to target U.S. elections, and that’s where cybersecurity comes in.

American cybersecurity in general, not just that involving computers used in elections, is not up to the task of keeping out sophisticated or determined attacks, whether foreign or domestic. The main reason for that is the same intelligence officials - and some of the same politicians - who worry about cybersecurity also demand that computers be accessible to American and allied intelligence agencies. However, there’s no such thing as software or hardware that’s vulnerable only to the “good guys.” Any weakness can potentially be found and exploited by all.

The U.S. and its partners in the so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network are demanding that technology firms include “backdoors” in their encryption that will allow them to snoop on all encrypted emails, text messages and voice communications, The New York Times reported last week. The other Five Eyes nations are Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Such intentional vulnerabilities put all data potentially at risk, not just to state-sponsored hackers but to cybercriminals looking to steal identities, financial records and other personal information.

The Five Eyes countries issued a joint statement last week that said, in part, “Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.”

Fortunately, not all in Congress have fallen prey to the intelligence community’s bullying tactics.

“By demanding backdoors to encrypted data, the Trump administration is putting everyone’s security and privacy at risk,” tweeted Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash in reference to the New York Times story. “The government should be encouraging the use of strong encryption instead of fighting to weaken it.”

And a Facebook official cited by the Times said “the memo from Australia had no teeth, and was part of an escalating war between government officials and Silicon Valley over access to people’s private data.”

Private citizens increasingly need strong encryption to protect their vital personal and financial data, and any attempt by states to secure their election infrastructure will require strong encryption to protect voter data and election results.

The intelligence community and its enablers in Congress and the administration have to decide what they fear most: outside interference robbing the American electoral process of its integrity or the American people.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/

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