- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, March 29, 2014

Phone tracking

The Obama Administration has decided the government should get out of the business of collecting data on Americans’ telephone calls.

That’s the good news.

For several years now, the National Security Agency has been collecting what is called “metadata” on every call made or received in this country. They do not collect the contents of the calls_well, at least as far as we know_but they do collect details such as the phone numbers involved, the date and time of the call and the length of the call.

The data is kept for five years and is supposed to be used to connect terror suspect with allies in the U.S.

Now the administration is proposing that phone companies collect and keep metadata for 18 months_as they are already required to do under federal law_and that they be required to make it accessible to government investigations after a warrant is obtained.

Unless, of course, it is an emergency. Then the warrant would have to wait. No word of exactly what constitutes an “emergency.”

The White House will send the plan to Congress for approval.

And lawmakers should give the go ahead.

The fact is that in the years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the collecting of telephone metadata has played a small role in our national security.

At least two studies have shown telephone metadata, while a useful tool in some cases, has not been a significant factor in detecting or preventing terrorist activity.

But our government is spending a ton of money on the collection program_money that could be used for more effective tactics.

The phone companies are already collecting the metadata. The government can access it when needed. It’s a win-win situation.

Well, almost.

The bad news is that, despite what the White House might say, this plan does nothing for Americans’ personal privacy. The data will still be collected. And the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) almost never refuse to grant warrants on national security concerns.

But how best to balance national security and privacy rights is another debate.

At least the administration’s plan is better than what we are doing now. It should be implemented.

___

Southwest Times Record, March 26, 2014

Trail of Tears anniversary celebrated

Although it might seem more the occasion for grief than celebration, we admire the take on the forced relocation of his ancestors that Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker offered Monday.

Speaking to The Associated Press on the 175th anniversary of the arrival of a final group of Cherokees from their homes in the southeast United States to the Indian Territory, today’s Oklahoma, Chief Baker explained the reason for noting the date.

“It is really a day of celebration,” Chief Baker told the AP. “We’re not doing it (marking the anniversary) to feel sorry for ourselves, but it truly is a day of celebration that our ancestors - even though they went through all the trials and tribulations . on this day 175 years ago the last detachment showed up and their spirit was not broken and they were ready to rebuild the Cherokee nation.”

It would be difficult to overstate the suffering of the mass of Cherokee, Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw tribal members forced to relocate from ancestral land to the Indian Territory. Thousands died along the way of starvation, exposure and disease.

Nor do we believe the suffering of native peoples ended when they reached the Indian Territory, that unfamiliar land where the climate was so different from the temperate zones they left behind.

Even today, we know poverty and its detested offspring violence and substance abuse plague many parts of the country designated as Indian reservations.

But as Chief Baker said, the descendants of those who arrived here in 1839 worked to rebuild their nations.

Cherokee Nation tribal council member Jack Baker, who is not related to the chief, also emphasized the adaptation and commitment to rebuilding that marked those who were transplanted. The evidence? “That we still survive as a sovereign nation today and as a prosperous nation.”

And so, though the day may mark a shameful moment in our national history, we must join the Cherokees in their commemoration and in their celebration. Our culture in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas is rich and full because of what those who traveled endured and what those who came after built. We are grateful to them.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 1, 2014

Symbols do matter

There have been football coaches who have staged “funerals” to help motivate their teams. Today we bury last year’s success, last year’s MVP award, last year’s championship banner, last year’s bowl win, so that we can better focus on the season to come. Sometimes said coaches actually dig holes and bury items like award plaques. Okay, it’s a little over-the-top, but that’s what football coaches are. They look for any way to motivate the players. (Have you ever known a low-key football coach?)

Now comes news out of Harrison, Arkansas-once again. The county seat of beautiful Boone County has been in the news a lot of late. And not always for the best of reasons. The place has a history, an awful history, where race relations are concerned. That sad history started with the race riots there more than a century ago. But the good people of Harrison, and not just Harrison, have been trying to put that ugly past where it belongs - behind them, in the history books. So coming generations can learn from it, not repeat it.

This month folks have planned a couple of marches and vigils in Harrison to recognize, and even try to atone for, the past. Not to mention a grassroots campaign to plaster a biblical message - Love Your Neighbor - on T-shirts and bumper stickers all over town. When you’re looking for a way to improve your town, or anything else, it helps to start with The Book.

The latest news is that the state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Commission plans to hold a symbolic funeral in Harrison this evening. And it’s no April Fools joke. The guests of honor and not-so-dearly beloved are identified as Racism and Hatred. A coffin bearing their names is to be interred downtown, near Fire Station No. 1. (The burial is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m.) Local businesses donated the coffin and headstone. And then, after the coffin is lowered, let the good times roll. A jazz procession is supposed to take to the street. Oh, boy. It sounds like an old-fashioned New Orleans-style funeral parade, which is always worth seeing. And hearing. Here’s hoping the whole town forms the second line of mourners-turned-celebrants. It should be somethin’.

Oh, if only it were really this easy to bury those two evil twins, Messrs. Racism and Hatred, followed closely by festive obsequies for their cousins Deceit and Fear, Bitterness and Violence, and, well, the whole outlaw band of bad actors who belong six feet under, if not deeper. Imagine if they were all gone: To borrow a phrase from the Great Satchmo, what a wonderful world!

But as long as mankind is imperfect-the technical name for that condition, we believe, is Original Sin-then it won’t be easy to rid our hearts of such things. But let’s try. That’s why city councils name streets and boulevards for Martin Luther King Jr. and schools bear names like Booker T. Washington. It’s why the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are enshrined in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. If only their spirit could be engraved on our hearts! Not having achieved that happy state yet, we honor the tangible symbols of our ideals.

And symbols do matter. This symbolic burial in Harrison tonight is as worthy as any other. Maybe, just maybe, the heartless types who’ve been known to pull Harrison into the muck even today will be moved. Miracles do happen. For the hope of redemption is eternal. And we’re not about to give up on even the most hardened haters. Surely someday, they, too, will hear the sound of those trumpets and join in the grand parade When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.

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