And it has nothing to do with the state’s illegal-immigration law.
Oh, but it’s not pleasant news.
If you believe a collection of think tanks, environmental groups and health organizations, Alabama is a filthy state; Alabama promotes smoking and rubberstamps an evil approval of lung cancer; and Alabama has robbed elementary school children of the holiday joy that comes with giving a wrapped present to their teacher.
The upside is Alabama hasn’t canceled Christmas.
None of this has knocked the illegal-immigration law off the front page. (As if it could.) But to outsiders — those who enjoy mocking states that habitually rest at the basement of national rankings — they’re more bricks for Alabama’s own wall of imperfections.
The Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that advocates against environmental pollution, released a list of the “Filthy 15.” We’re on it. Alabama is ranked eighth among the worst states for air pollution, the project says, because of the emissions from the state’s coal-powered power plants.
The American Lung Association — A reputable group, wouldn’t you say? — has issued a new report, “Helping Smokers Quit: Tobacco Cessation Coverage 2011.” We’re on it, too, though not in a good way. Alabama is ranked as the 42nd-worst state for its efforts to help people kick the habit.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, when asked about the state Ethics Commission’s new gift guidelines for teachers, hasn’t gone ballistic with criticism. But more than a few teachers have done just that, saying, in effect, that it’s asinine that a teacher could be fined, arrested and jailed if they accept a gift from a student such as a $20 Wal-Mart gift card.
Or, as the Ethics Commission explained, hams or turkeys.
Got that, kids? Don’t give your teachers a ham or a turkey.
They could go to jail.
This week, at least, Alabama is fortunate that no one has brought up its other recurrent evils: its high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes; its chronically low affordability of a four-year college degree; rates of adult illiteracy and high-school dropouts that are embarrassingly high; and its regrettable tax structure that takes more percentage-wise from the poor than it does from those who light their cigarettes with $100 bills.
How’s that Christmas spirit going now?
In days like these, it’s comforting to recall a passage written by Wayne Flynt, the Auburn University historian who, better than most, can boil down a topic with eloquence and depth.
“Alabama’s citizens are in the process of becoming the people of a new century,” Flynt wrote in Alabama, The History of a Deep South State. “They have the honesty, the insight and the compassion to examine their past. They have the ability to purge the bad and retain the good. They have the imagination to ask for more and the judgment to know if it has been granted.”
In other words, don’t get so discouraged by Alabama’s missteps that you lose sight of what’s possible. And don’t discount the immeasurable good that exists, much of which we either ignore or undervalue. When we stop believing in ourselves, when we stop believing the state’s best days are ahead, not behind, then we might as well call the moving van.
Of course, the noted historian wrote that passage before Alabama’s Legislature was ripped apart by the bingo-related corruption charges last year, and before the state’s new Republican majority pushed through its much-criticized illegal-immigration law.
Yet, as Flynt has written, “The past is a lesson. The present is a time of action. A better future beckons.”
This week, that’s a hard admonition to adopt; the news has been harsh. But we must. The present is a time of action. That beckoning future is too appealing, too valuable, to give up.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor.