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Editorial Roundup - Feb. 14, 2014

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The (Freeport) Journal-Standard on investing in education early and seeing the rewards (Feb. 10):
Early education is an investment in the future, an investment that has been shown to reap dividends by study after study.
It’s an investment that has been lacking in recent years in the state of Illinois. Preschools are an important piece of the early education puzzle, and yet the state cut preschool funding by $80 million between 2009 and 2013. It appears Gov. Pat Quinn wants to reverse that trend. The governor announced a “birth to 5” initiative during his State of the State address last week. His plan would invest in quality preschool, prenatal care and support services for parents. This is an important state, local and national issue. President Barack Obama has called for an increased emphasis on early childhood education in his last two State of the Union addresses. Studies have shown that the achievement gap between low-income or low-socioeconomic-status children and their peers begins as early as 9 months.
Gaps in school readiness widen because children are less likely to be read to by their parents. Those children hear 30 million fewer words by age 3 than more well-off children. It’s difficult for disadvantaged children to identify, read and understand words they’ve never heard.
It’s not that their parents don’t want to help their kids — they can’t. They don’t have the education and literacy skills to improve their own lives, let alone their children’s.
Many children start off behind and fail to catch up.
A good education can level the playing field for a disadvantaged child and help that child escape poverty. Students who attend preschool are less likely to fall behind as they continue in school and are more likely to complete their education, graduate from high school and become productive members of society.
The average dropout earns about $10,000 less a year than a high school graduate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Dropouts are more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty, according to the Department of Education. Dropouts are 63 times more likely to wind up in jail or prison, according to a study by researchers at Northeastern University.
The same study showed that a dropout costs taxpayers an average of $292,000 over a lifetime because of the costs of incarceration and other factors.
Early childhood education programs can help shape the future of the community if those programs get the resources they need.

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The Denver Post on sober attitudes toward pot (Feb. 10):
What is most striking about a new poll on public attitudes toward marijuana legalization is the extent to which most Coloradans seem to be taking the changes in stride.
That’s not to say they’re complacent about legalization. Indeed, a slight majority believes it has been bad for the state’s image.
Nor are Coloradans, by and large, eager to use marijuana themselves.
And yet they continue to support the amendment that legalized pot and recreational sales.
In fact, the percentage of respondents in a Quinnipiac survey who say they now support the law, 58 percent, is greater than the 55 percent of voters who approved Amendment 64 in 2012. That’s fairly remarkable considering that the amount of news about marijuana — on everything from sales to users to pot tourists — has been as intense during the past few weeks as it is likely to ever be again.
If there was a moment when second thoughts about the wisdom of passing Amendment 64 were likely to take root in the electorate, this was probably it.
That’s not to say future developments related, say, to crime or juvenile use couldn’t sour Coloradans on legal pot, but for the time being its status appears secure.
Still, if a majority of Coloradans remain committed to legalization, they are hardly beguiled by the drug itself. In fact, impressively large majorities seem to want nothing to do with it. Only 10 percent said they’ve used marijuana since recreational sales began on Jan. 1, and just 6 percent said they were “very likely” to try a marijuana brownie if offered one at a gathering (with 11 percent saying they were “somewhat likely”).

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The Journal Record on E-cigs (Feb. 10):
At first whiff, electronic cigarettes don’t seem like such a bad idea. They can look like cigarettes and produce a vapor that can be inhaled like a cigarette, but there’s no burning tobacco involved. They deliver a dose of nicotine so, like patches and gum, it sounds like a reasonable product to help smokers quit.
Look more closely, though, and the argument for vaping, as it’s known, goes up in flames.
The manufacturers, cigarette companies among them, market e-cigarettes as a nicotine delivery system that uses harmless water vapor. Surely, that’s better than smoking, right? But e-cigarettes, which were first made in China in 2003, are not delivering nicotine with harmless water vapor. In California, a 1986 law requires annual publication of compounds known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. At least two studies have found that the e-cigarette vapor studied carried up to 10 of the compounds on that list, namely: acetaldehyde, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, isoprene, lead, nickel, nicotine, N-nitrosonornicotine and toluene. Most were found in directly inhaled vapor and secondhand vapor.
The cigarette lobbyists now flooding the Oklahoma Capitol will argue that no one has proven e-cigarettes are dangerous. The problem is that no one has proven them safe, either, and that should be reason enough to restrict their sale and marketing in the same way we restrict tobacco products.
As it stands, however, there are no regulations on who may purchase or use electronic cigarettes. And let’s not put our heads in the sand when it comes to the target audience. There are more than 100 flavors available, including root beer, marshmallow, Moutain Du, Skit-Ls, sugar cookie, watermelon and White Gummi Bear. That and the lack of age restrictions on sales gives the product as much chance of getting children addicted on nicotine as it does getting adults off the stuff.
Someday, electronic cigarettes might prove to be a reasonably safe, effective smoking cessation tool. But for now, with no regulation, there is no way to know what’s in that vapor or how dangerous it might be. We do know electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine, and that nicotine is highly addictive. We should not risk Oklahomans’ health by keeping candy-flavored nicotine readily available, much less on the say-so of tobacco companies.

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Galveston County Daily News on confusion about the First Amendment (Feb. 6):
News that authorities are looking at comments that a La Marque Fire Department captain made on his personal social media account has led to some confusion about the First Amendment.
Capt. Alfred Decker is on paid leave while authorities investigate posts on his Facebook page. One post is an illustration showing President Barack Obama with a noose around his neck. It’s titled “The making of a National Holiday.”
Another post uses derogatory language directed at women, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
There were no privacy restrictions on the posts. They were published for the world to see. Decker identified himself as a longtime employee of the fire department.
The review will determine whether all that activity violated city policy.
Decker is entitled to due process. But the decision to put him on paid leave angered his supporters. That’s led to a confused discussion about the First Amendment and what’s meant by constitutionally protected speech.
The First Amendment protects citizens from prior restraint, meaning that the government cannot prevent citizens from saying what they want to say.
However, the amendment does not protect a citizen from the consequences of his action.
If a citizen yells “fire” in a crowded theater and people are hurt as a consequence, he is responsible for the consequences.
Similarly, if a person gets up in front of a civic club and accuses his boss of stealing money from the company, the First Amendment doesn’t protect the speaker from getting fired.
The city of La Marque cannot prevent an employee from speaking.
But it can and should hold employees — especially those in higher level positions of trust — accountable for what they say in public.