Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Decatur Daily on President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet picks:
For the most part, President-elect Joe Biden’s initial picks for his Cabinet and other executive positions live up to his promise to return the country to some semblance of normality. They come from the center of the Democratic Party and are people with whom Biden has worked in the past, both as a senator and as vice president.
One pick, however, follows President Donald Trump’s example of disregarding institutional norms and raises serious concerns.
Biden on Tuesday said he will nominate retired four-star Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin to be secretary of defense.
Austin, 67, has an impressive resume, as well as strong ties to Alabama. He is a native of Mobile, earned a master’s degree in education from Auburn University and has served on Auburn’s board of trustees since 2017, a position to which he was appointed by former Republican Gov. Robert Bentley and confirmed by an overwhelmingly Republican state Senate. So, Austin has a record of earning Republican support, which he will likely need to win U.S. Senate confirmation should the Senate remain in Republican hands come January.
The problem with Austin is not the man himself or his record, but the fact he is only recently retired from the Army, which conflicts with the nation’s long tradition of maintaining civilian control of the military.
Like President Trump’s first secretary of defense, James Mattis, Austin would require a waiver from Congress to get around a law barring active and recent military officers from serving in the post. Apart from Mattis, such a waiver has been granted only once before, under President Harry Truman, for George C. Marshall.
“The Mattis period at the Pentagon is now viewed by some as evidence of why a recently retired military officer should serve as defense secretary only in rare exceptions,” The Associated Press reported. “Although Mattis remains widely respected for his military prowess and intellect, critics say he tended to surround himself with military officers at the expense of a broader civilian perspective. He resigned in December 2018 in protest of Trump’s policies.”
Indeed, Trump encountered the most opposition to his proposals to withdraw U.S. forces from the quagmires of Afghanistan and Syria from active military — which is one reason Trump’s promise to end America’s “forever wars” have thus far come to naught.
It is vital for a president to have input from military commanders and to have knowledgeable advisers from the nation’s armed services. But that is what the Joint Chiefs of Staff are there for — to have the president’s ear.
The secretary of defense, however, is supposed to represent civilian control of the military. Having retired from the armed services just four years ago, Austin is still too close, which is why he is ineligible under the law and would require a waiver to serve.
Austin is not Biden’s only suspect Cabinet pick so far. His choice to head up the Department of Health and Human Services is Xavier Becerra, currently California’s attorney general.
As the U.S. still struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, picking a career lawyer to head up Health and Human Services is simply baffling. Suing to defend the Affordable Care Act in court, which Becerra did, still counts as legal experience, not health experience.
It’s not a good record for someone who will be tasked with convincing many Americans who have lost faith in government to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Austin and Becerra are two picks whom the president-elect should reconsider and, failing that, whom the Senate should reject.
The Decatur Daily and The TimesDaily on winter weather in Alabama:
Winter is still officially two weeks away, but it’s already making its presence in north Alabama known, with low temperatures dropping into the 20s and even snow flurries in some areas leaving a few traces on rooftops and windshields.
This comes after an unseasonably warm November and an average October that was chilly at times.
According to figures compiled by the National Weather Service office in Huntsville, average highs in November were about 3.4 degrees above normal, while average lows were about 0.5 degrees above normal.
But December could turn out differently — or not.
“The monthly outlook … indicates equal chances of seeing above normal or below normal temperatures for this part of the country,” said NWS meteorologist Dan Dixon. “It could go either way.”
If ever there were a succinct description of weather in the Tennessee Valley, “it could go either way” is it, which is why it’s good to be prepared for a winter that can go from spring-like to an icebox within hours.
Many people rely on space heaters for warmth during the winter, but space heaters and other heating equipment are one of the major causes of winter fires, according to the National Fire Protection Council.
“Local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 52,050 fires involving heating equipment each year in 2012-16, accounting for 15% of all reported home fires during this time,” according to the NFPC. “These fires resulted in annual losses of 490 civilian deaths, 1,400 civilian injuries, and $1 billion in direct property damage.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention offers the following tips for using space heaters safely:
• Keep heat sources, like space heaters, at least 3 feet away from drapes, furniture, or bedding. Never cover your space heater.
• Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
• Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
• Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard, but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
• Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
• If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
Additionally, the CDC recommends having central heating systems serviced once a year.
Travel can be equally hazardous, and Alabama is not immune. A fast-moving snow or ice event can and has left hundreds of drivers stalled or stranded on area highways and interstates.
For situations like that, the CDC recommends stocking your vehicle with winter weather supplies: a mobile phone, portable charger and extra batteries; extra hats, coats, mittens and blankets, a windshield scraper and shovel; battery-powered radio with extra batteries; and a flashlight with extra batteries.
More information can be found at the CDC’s website: www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/beforestorm/preparehome.html.
It’s possible winter could go the other way with warmer than normal temperatures. Even tornadoes are a possibility here in December.
According to the NWS, 21% of all Alabama tornadoes happen in November and December, as well as 8% of the deaths related to severe storms.
So, the best advice is, be prepared for anything.