- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 4, 2014

1936, the sequel

What an Oscar-winning production: No sooner had the Olympic torch been doused at Sochi than Russian troops, in uniform and out, began landing in Crimea. The script was as familiar as Casablanca as key points are seized, highways blocked, airports occupied, parliament buildings taken over, and the flag of the once and future Occupying Power raised everywhere.

Not since the 1936 Olympics in Berlin has aggression been so glamorously presaged, the mailed fist wrapped in such a velveteen glove. Even the excuse for this barely concealed act of aggression is borrowed from the Nazi Anschluss with Austria: An oppressed people had appealed to the fatherland for protection. And it has responded in righteous reaction. The statements out of the Kremlin these days sound like poor translations from the German. What next-a plebiscite in Crimea rigged to ratify this takeover? That would be another page out of Hitler’s playbook in Austria.

The courses at this poisonous banquet have been served in the by now customary order: First the Olympian appetizers, then the barely concealed aggression. The whole show lacks only a filmmaker of genius like Leni Riefenstahl to record this Triumph of the Will for posterity, or a poet like Ezra Pound to sing a song of surrender. The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past. It keeps being revived, like a show that flopped the first time. Call it Springtime for Hitler, and it’s proven a surprising box office success. At least till now. War-weary Americans so long for peace we’ve been willing to settle for appeasement, at least till now. The truth becomes harder and harder to ignore, but there will always be those who try.

The more things don’t change, the less the “leaders” of the Western democracies seem to have learned as they fumble and fume at these late developments, nonplussed as their dream of a post-Cold War world dissolves before their unbelieving eyes. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Didn’t they assure us it wouldn’t be like this? They must have forgotten to tell the Russians.

The unforgiving past is back, and those who don’t remember it are still condemned to repeat it, again and again, like a recurring nightmare from which we seem to have learned nothing. And so the John Kerrys of the world skitter to and fro, from Geneva to Kiev and back, offering futile words that cannot hope to match forceful deeds. He has a great gift, our secretary of state, that of compressing the greatest amount of words into the smallest of ideas. Like appeasement, now showing under the title Reset. And we’re all supposed to pretend that what he’s saying matters as we go down the same old road, passing old ruins and now new ones in the making as the remake of this costume drama continues. All our current president needs is a wing collar, a black umbrella, and a microphone into which he can proclaim Peace In Our Time, and an Oscar would be assured.

Once again the West marks time as aggressors march on, and one outpost of freedom after another crumbles before the Tide of the Future, which looks suspiciously like the tide of the past. The forces of freedom await a leader-if not another Churchill, then at least a Reagan, but none is in sight. And the vise, which once seemed so distant we thought we were only imagining it, tightens year by year, as one red line after another is crossed without any real response, or even real shame on the part of those who drew it in disappearing ink.

The latest national “defense” budget our president proposes shrinks American land forces down to pre-World War II levels, but it isn’t supposed to matter. Chuck Hagel, our esteemed secretary of defense, said so. Not since a forgettable like Louis Johnson was in charge of stripping away American defenses preparatory to the Korean War has incompetence been so obvious. Some still don’t see any connection between an increasingly disarmed America and an increasingly disorderly world. And the rest of us are supposed to be shocked, shocked to learn that old aggressors are moving into the vacuum left by another Grand American Retreat from the world.

Let there be no mistaking what is happening. “This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”

The words were spoken in the House of Commons in 1938 by a long-ignored parliamentarian whose foresight would not be recognized till he was called on to take the helm years later in what would prove his and Britain’s finest hour. But, sad to say, those words are just as relevant now. Others will now rise to echo them, but it will not matter if the spirit behind them is not rekindled.

___

Texarkana Gazette, March 2, 2014

Where to go from here?

An investigative report from the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit found numerous violations of state law regarding the city’s role in funding the privately-owned Texarkana, Ark., Convention Center and adjacent water park.

Taken at face value the report is a vindication of sorts for those who have been persistently critical of city Manager Harold Boldt’s stewardship of city funds. The city’s Board of Directors and A&P; Commission also did not escape criticism.

The report found the city’s financial involvement in the convention center/water park project was inadequately documented and did not comply “with various state laws, as well as city codes, ordinances, policies, and agreements.”

The report also found “other unusual transactions authorized by the City Manager.”

“These included the City paying significantly more per square foot than the investor paid for real estate, the City committing to make annual contributions and refund all A&P; taxes to the hotel and water park for several years, the City waiving building permit fees, and the City reducing water rates for the water park and committing to negotiate for reduced rates in the future,” the report said.

The report also noted there was no indication that Boldt personally profited from any of these transactions and that they were “approved by the Board and/or (the) A&P; Commission.”

Of course, not everyone is taking the report at face value. After the report was released, Boldt held a press conference and disputed the findings.

He may have another chance to do so. A copy of the report has been forwarded to the local prosecutor’s office. What action, if any, it will take is unknown.

In our view, this report demands a full investigation by that office. Additionally, there are many practices the city needs to overhaul, based on the findings.

Boldt maintains he acted in good faith, that he was trying to help the city grow, that there was existing precedence for how some of the money was moved or deals structured.

An investigation would provide some perspective on this and other questions of propriety.

The broader fear is that, because the report’s focus was narrow by design, there might be other deals out there made by the city that are just as flawed. Or, some creative citizen might view some of these expenditures as the inappropriate use of tax dollars, and pursue legal action.

While some would like to pin this all on Boldt, it’s not just the city manager who should answer for these findings.

The city’s Board of Directors is not elected to be the city manager’s rubber stamp. Members are supposed to provide proper oversight. If the report is correct, then the directors who went along with Boldt are either complicit in violating the law, were misled by the city manager, or just didn’t do their jobs very well. The Advertising and Promotion Commission also acted outside its authority in some instances.

What happens next is largely up to the Prosecuting Attorney and whatever self-policing the Board of Directors decides to undertake. Directors could very well be divided on what actions are appropriate; they’ve been divided on about everything else in recent months. But this is not the time to hesitate.

The investigative report that was released Thursday did not represent an end to anything, only the beginning.

The time for making excuses is over. The city has been given a laundry list of things that require attention and action.

None of these findings should be summarily dismissed or swept under the rug.

It’s time to clean up this act.

___

Southwest Times Record, March 2, 2014

Demanding tests await women headed to combat

The Army is looking to the International Association of Fire Fighters as it seeks to develop fitness tests to ensure women are ready for combat positions that will become available to them in 2016, according to a report by The Associated Press.

Just one job in five in the Army is considered a combat position and only about 8 percent of women soldiers are interested in them, but last year’s decision to open those spots to women has not been met with universal approval.

Concerns range a wide gamut. Some worry that standards will be raised to unrealistic levels to prevent women’s success; others worry that standards will be lowered to force women into roles for which they aren’t fit.

The Army’s standard physical fitness test includes pushups, situps and a 2-mile run and grades women on a different scale than men. Pushups and pullups emphasize upper body strength and are seen to favor men over women.

But the International Association of Fire Fighters, which was sued by women denied jobs in 2002, worked to develop tests that reflect the actual tasks firefighters must do instead of repetitive exercises largely unrelated to their work.

Instead of pushups and pullups, candidates now demonstrate their fitness by climbing stairs wearing a 100-pound vest and dragging a 150-pound dummy after crawling through a maze.

It’s still a tough test, but one administered on a level field.

Concentrating on real-world tasks is one way the Army is testing new fitness standards.

A two-month study is underway at Fort Stewart, Ga. Last month, men and women alike trained and then drilled on physically demanding tasks like toting 65-pound missiles while wearing 70 pounds of body armor, scaling a wall and dragging a comrade to safety. This month, they will perform the same operations wearing heart-rate monitors, masks that record oxygen intake and other equipment to measure physical exertions.

Staff Sgt. Terry Kemp, who’s helping train the volunteers, told the AP that at the beginning of training women took about 12 minutes for the missile toting drill and men took about seven minutes. But by week three, men and women alike trimmed their times to about four minutes.

David Brinkley, deputy chief of staff for operations for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Va., said officials realize that women do tasks differently than men, using core strength and legs to accomplish what men do with upper body strength.

Tests focusing on tasks emphasize outcome over method.

The Army has not decided what kinds of fitness tests it ultimately will employ to measure combat readiness. But is should be commended for its willingness to look for a new solution that offers women a fair chance without degrading a unit’s readiness.

That should be something we can all applaud. The leaner military forces of the future cannot afford to bar soldiers with much to contribute, including the ability to wrangle a missile into a launcher, just because they can’t do pullups.

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