- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 21, 2016

The VA is still the VA

Today’s editorial is expressly addressed to anyone who’s swallowed Bernie Sanders’ line of hooey about why the country needs a neat, centralized, single-payer (non)system of health insurance. Which is supposed to be a general panacea for whatever ails us.

But such gullibles need look no further than the latest inspector general’s report on the Veterans (mal)Administration to see how such a (non)system works, or rather doesn’t, in actual operation. If you can bear the sight. Because pretty it ain’t. Only the vultures, now in full flight in these blessed latitudes, would be pleased by such easy pickin’s.

The latest inspector general’s report on the chronic dysfunction at the VA concludes that staffers in Little Rock have been monkeying with the records to make them show shorter wait-times for veterans. Just as Soviet statisticians used to report that the latest Five Year Plan was producing record crops - even while the population starved.

The last time this recurrent scandal at the VA all too predictably recurred, not just in Little Rock but across the country, it cost the secretary of Veterans Affairs his job, and very well should have. The Hon. Eric Shinseki may have been well intentioned, but, as we all know, the road to the Other Place is paved with good intentions, which never go unpunished. General Shinseki had to go, and indeed he went, along with the VA’s director in Phoenix, where this recurrent scandal, yes, recurred.

Naturally enough, corrective legislation was passed—the kind that doesn’t correct for long - and the whole cycle and counter-cycle of scandal-corrective legislation-and scandal again—continued unabated.

“There is a simple solution to this problem,” to quote French Hill, the congressman from Arkansas’ Second District - as if anything in government were ever simple. As anyone who’s ever been in the service and filed one of those after-action reports in triplicate before sending it off to some dead-letter office with a sigh of resignation knows all too well. “Good enough for government work,” as a grizzled old sergeant informed a green young second lieutenant after his battery had come close to blowing Lawton, Okla., off the map.

Naturally enough, this inspector general’s report left the higher-ups unscathed, for the brass is never to blame, not officially, while blistering the lower-downs. So it ever is, was, and doubtless will remain. Rank still has its privileges, and they are still not being challenged.

The more things change, as the French say, the more they remain the same. Even if our current excuse-maker-in-chief has declared that the backlog at the VA has been cut by precisely 90 percent, demonstrating once more that there are lies, damned lies and statistics.


Camden News, March 8, 2016

Citizen policing on a comeback

We were glad to learn last week that the Camden Police Department plans to revitalize the Neighborhood Watch organizations in the city.

Frankly, we wonder why, after all the work that went into re-establishing the groups a few years ago, they were allowed to become inactive. But that’s water under the bridge, and the police department is to be commended for its plans to get the groups up and running again.

The first official Neighborhood Watch meeting of the year was held March 1 for the Berg Addition group.

The theory of Neighborhood Watch groups is that organizations of neighborhood members, with the assistance of local law enforcement, are effective crime deterrents. Volunteers donate their time and resources to strengthen and protect their neighborhoods.

According to the National Neighborhood Watch website, as reported in the Camden News on Friday, a study found that all Neighborhood Watch groups share one fundamental idea: That bringing community members together to re-establish control of their neighborhoods promotes and increases quality of life and reduces the crime rate in that area.

We add to that thought a theory of our own: While the program does indeed accomplish more than deterring crime, although that is its biggest and most important aim, it also strengthens the core of cities by bringing together families in neighborhoods in a common endeavor. The better the people of a community know each other, the more they are invested in the area where they live.

We salute the police department for again implementing this important tool in community policing and pose this question for areas outside the city: Wouldn’t Neighborhood Watch organizations be of benefit to communities that are in the county, but are unincorporated without police departments? How about areas such as Frenchport or Harmony Grove?

We do not know of any sheriffs’ departments in other counties or states that assist rural Neighborhood Watch organizations, but isn’t this a worthwhile idea to consider? With the Ouachita County Sheriff’s Office logistically unable to have regular protective patrols in all areas of the county, wouldn’t extra sets of eyes and ears as crime deterrents be helpful, particularly in really remote areas such as Standard Umstead?


Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 20, 2016

Check this out

Officials say the Fayetteville Public Library is strapped for cash, so they will later this year ask voters to authorize higher taxes to pay the facility’s operational costs.

So naturally the thing to do is buy a $2 million piece of property next door for the library’s expansion.

Such is the public relations challenge the Fayetteville Public Library Board faces as it moves forward after the Arkansas Court of Appeals recently cleared the way for its purchase of about 4 acres from the Washington Regional Medical Center.

In all likelihood, Fayetteville voters will be asked later this year to approve new funding for the library. For those who love the library and relish its resources, that could mean new revenue to support the staff, operate the building, stock those shelves and put on programs for kids and adults.

From another perspective, it could mean something more basic and potentially disconcerting: higher taxes.

Historically, Fayetteville residents have shown strong support for their library, a fact no doubt influenced by the presence of the University of Arkansas. The appreciation for the pursuit of knowledge at a university tends to spread throughout its home community. In 2000, 75 percent of the voting residents approved an 18-month, 1 cent sales tax to help pay for the new 88,000-square-foot, $23.3 million Blair Library. In 2002, 85 percent of voting residents backed a 1-mill city library tax to give the library an independent source of funding.

Since it opened in 2005, the new Fayetteville Public Library has exceeded all expectations as far as demands for service. But libraries, while they make some money, are not money-makers. A library is a public service a community gives itself, if it’s willing to pay for it.

But, according to library officials, times are hard. The library operates on an annual budget of about $4 million, ratcheted down several hundred thousand dollars from recent years as cost-cutting measures took effect. David Johnson, executive director of the library, said the community built a grand library without providing the kind of ongoing operational funding it needs.

So isn’t it crazy to be talking about buying property and expansion?

Not really, on at least two counts. First, the $2 million available to the library to purchase the former site of Fayetteville City Hospital was raised specifically for capital projects, such as buildings or land. It cannot be spent on day-to-day operational costs. Second, does anyone expect the demand for services at the library to get smaller in the years ahead? The region continues to expand its population. With national headlines about Fayetteville and the region being named the third best place to live in the country, we can continue to expect new arrivals every day.

Johnson refers to Fayetteville’s heavy use of its library as “loving it to death.” It’s crowded. Sometimes there’s not a seat to be found.

It is natural those charged with nurturing Fayetteville’s investment in the library would look to expand, to shore up current finances and to develop revenue to pay for operating the expanded space once it’s built. Their challenge is in helping voters understand what’s happening and why.

For the people who love the library - and what’s not to love if you’re a consumer of knowledge - buying the land and pursuing new taxation for operations will be a no-brainer. The current facility was born of city residents’ strong support for expanding knowledge and having a place dedicated to that at the heart of a city deeply rooted in academic study. To the extent those folks can make the decision, pursuing both measures undoubtedly makes sense.

The question is whether the more casual users of the library, or those who almost never darken its door (egad!) will feel generous enough to commit to a higher level of taxation. For many, that will be a hard sell. If any community is likely to buy into the library’s future, though, it’s Fayetteville.

Library leaders have been tightening the budgetary belt for a couple of years. Grandiose visions for expansion (perhaps as much as doubling the current library’s size) have been scaled back to about 55,000 square feet. The two years spent waiting for a court ruling involving the City Hospital land has given library leaders a chance to evaluate more closely not just what city residents want, but what they can afford.

“I want to present something to the community we can all feel good about and get behind,” Johnson said last week.

The library in early May will give residents a look at architectural visions for an expansion, then voters may get a chance in late summer to consider the funding proposals. In between will be plenty of opportunity for the community to understand what it has, what’s possible and how much it all will cost.

We’ll have to see what the voters say to determine whether it’s a project they consider overdue.

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