- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 29, 2015

Hail to the chief (justice)

Talk about Order in the Court, the newly appointed chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court - Howard Brill - sounds like just what the court, the state, the governor, and all of us were looking for. And could only hope for at our most optimistic moments.

Howard Brill would succeed a good chief justice who’s presided over much too long a time of delay and disarray on the state’s highest court. And Howard Brill shows every sign of being not just a good chief justice but a great one. For he’s a scholar and a gentleman and a student of the law - in just that ascending and undeviating order.

Professor Brill, a member of the faculty at the University of Arkansas, has a background in judicial ethics (he wrote the book) but his three great strengths are the law, the law, and the law. And nothing but the law. Not any extracurricular activities or pet projects that serve only to distract the court from its singular purpose, and what ought to be its single one: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly in the light of the law—and of nothing else. Like personal brilliance, eccentricities, and the little clevernesses that only get in the way of that light.

Howard Brill’s appointment as chief justice reflects well not only on the professor but on the governor who found and appointed him. Once again Asa Hutchinson’s sober, meticulous judgment as a politician, lawyer and just person has shone.

Calvin Coolidge once said that the business of America is business. Just as the essence of the law in America should be the law.

To quote Eddie Walker, head of the Arkansas Bar Association, “a lot of people think in order to be effective in the legal community, you have to be abrasive, and that’s simply not correct.”

To hew to the law without giving or taking offense is simple civility. The notion that upholding the law requires a judge to be less than courteous—that’s more than incorrect, it’s just plain wrong—is the opposite of what a good judge should be. Let alone the great one Howard Brill now stands to be.


The Daily Citizen, Aug. 29, 2015

Jail not guilty of inmate charges

To show how seriously The Daily Citizen takes news tips, we went to jail recently because of some.

No, no one here was arrested, but we did pay the White County Detention Center a visit to investigate complaints made by a few inmates.

That visit was made within an hour after we called to ask for a tour, so jail personnel had little time to make everything better before we dropped by. (Full disclosure: The jail was being inspected that day, so everything might have been at its best.)

Still, all of our questions were addressed, and what we found was that some of those complaints were the result of the ongoing construction of two pods being added to the jail, while others seemed to have no merit.

“Yard time” was one of the things affected by the construction. Some inmates had written emails complaining about not being able to use the exercise yard, but they couldn’t be allowed outside because of the work being done on the additions, which will add 48 beds. Instead, they had to exercise in their pods, which is in compliance with state standards. We saw one group of inmates walking around their pod for exercise, while inmates in pods with locked cells were allowed out into the pod one at a time for their exercise time.

“We don’t restrict them from exercising,” Lt. Brandon Grimes says.

Another complaint caused by the construction was pods having more inmates than beds. At times, we were told by White County Detention Center Administrator Maj. Clayton Edwards, the inmates had to be moved out of one pod temporarily and into another. Even then, the jail didn’t exceed the square-footage requirements for inmates we were told.

Inmates had to sleep on the floor on mattresses on those occasions, as well as when the detention center has more inmates than beds, but we did not see any inmates having to sleep on the concrete floors without mats, as was listed in a complaint. In fact, what we saw were inmates choosing to sleep on mats on the floor even when top bunks were available. Apparently, some do not like sleeping on the top bunk (and they also tear up the mattresses they are issued).

Bugs in the shower were addressed by Edwards telling us that the jail is sprayed twice a month, with stronger measures taken if there is a sudden infestation. It would be understandable if there were a bug problem, though, because the inmates are given plastic bags for their trash (as well as certain cleaning supplies), but several weren’t picking up after themselves. Grimes says, “We have to compel them to clean,” with staff stepping in if conditions get unsanitary.

They don’t have to compel the inmates to eat from what we could see, but some of the complaints we received were over the amount of food they receive. A full plate of food seen in front of one inmate didn’t make it seem like quantity was an issue, and the meal plan indicated that the detention center actually exceeds the number of calories required. (Plus, they can purchase commissary items to supplement what they are served.)

For every complaint we ticked off, there was a documentable reply, and no visual evidence to indicate those answers were false. Instead, a lot of the answers - like the jail’s new postcard policy - helped us understand there is a reason behind the measures taken by the jail staff. (For example, attempts are made to smuggle in drugs on postage stamps and envelope seals, so eliminating envelopes cuts down on the time and personnel that have to be devoted to removing both the stamps and upper portion of the envelopes.)

Now, we can’t say there is never any mistreatment at the White County Detention Center because we don’t know that from just one visit. However, it does appear as if some inmates were hoping they’d be staying in a four-star hotel with their covers turned down each morning instead of a place fitting for the crimes they are accused of committing.

We went to jail for them, and while it appears perfectly fine for a jail, it’s not a place that makes you want to stay. And that’s how it should be.


El Dorado News-Times, Sept. 1, 2015

Capture resource, invest in future

We don’t often look to North Dakota for answers to our questions, but the city of Grand Junction is providing one heck of an example that the rest of us should emulate wherever possible.

Remember the last time you drove past an industrial area. Chances are you saw an open flame burning some sort of gas. The image in our mind is from the southwest side of Memphis. Driving along Interstate 55 toward Mississippi, you pass a number of plants, and every now and then there would be this bright flame burning for all its worth. We never knew what the point of the fire was. Now, at least in some cases, we do.

Around oil-producing facilities, a by-product is natural gas. Turning oil into gasoline creates lots of it, but instead of capturing that gas, it usually gets burned or “flared.” Landfills and large swine operations create lots and lots of methane gas, which is also a potential fuel, and most of the time that gas doesn’t get captured. It simply wafts into the atmosphere. Other operations create usable gases as by-products, too, but companies generally don’t invest in the infrastructure to use those gases.

But in Grand Junction, officials took a longer view.

They already had a municipal fleet of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, and when they realized that about a third of the natural gas in the state was simply going up in, well, smoke, they decided to do something about it.

Officials worked with a company known for wresting every bit of use out of fuel resources, ultimately building a pipeline from oilfields to the city’s natural gas refueling station. What they achieved was a gas savings equal to the entire use of the municipal fleet.

If Americans would take that situation and turn it macro, we would accomplish two important things at one time.

First, our nation has lots and lots of natural gas. We have a lot of oil, too, but we don’t have enough oil to run our economy totally. The more natural gas - and nuclear power - we use, the less oil we use, which means we have less of a need to import oil from anywhere else in the world (read that: the Middle East).

Many of the problems our nation faces today have their origin in the oil-rich sands of the Middle East. The less involvement we have there, the better off the United States will be. Therefore, anything we can do to lessen our use of oil is one step away from that region.

Second, constructing, operating and maintaining the infrastructure to capture and use more natural gas would create good-paying jobs here in the United States.

There is a race going on right now, and it is a race to perfect the next generation of power. It might be electric. It might be solar. It might be natural gas. It might be something we’ve not considered. Whatever it is, whoever gets it figured out and invests in it, will have an economic leg up on the rest of the world.

It might as well be us.

Of course, a side benefit to this type of technological advance is that we would be helping out the world by reducing carbon emissions and protecting our environment. But we’re not coming at this from that angle, because that angle is a political one.

We’re simply talking economics.

We can invest a little now and reap long-term benefits later.

It’s the right thing to do, but we must acknowledge a bit of angst about what the future could look like if we don’t get our energy priorities right. Remember the movie “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”? It’s a futuristic tale where methane from pigs fuel Bartertown. Problem is, a whole lotta pigs create a whole lotta waste.

We’d just as soon our fuel travel through a pipeline to a refueling station, rather than through the air around a bunch of hogs.

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