- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Oct. 6, 2017.

In Arkansas, there’s a long-held tradition of handing down knowledge from one generation to the next.

Youngsters - girls and boys alike - learn the techniques of deer hunting alongside parents or other relatives. They know how to tie a knot in a fishing line when the crappie are biting. Many of them are driving down gravel roads between fields long before the state of Arkansas recognizes their legal status behind the wheel. Some youngsters can identify snakes, trees and fish with a glance, thanks to their careful family tutelage in the Natural State.

But across the state, there’s a natural part of living that a lot of adults would rather avoid talking with their young’uns about: sex.

A couple of weeks ago, this newspaper published a story exploring how the state’s school districts approach education on that issue. Perhaps as one would expect, it’s a sensitive subject. Even among educators who lead classes on health, including sex education, one can sense a level of discomfort.

It’s no wonder. Even if an educator feels a responsibility to fully inform students about sex, the issue is undoubtedly one that can put teachers in precarious situations. Every parent has certain ideas about what should and shouldn’t be discussed, some to the point that they say the schools ought to leave those important discussions to the parents alone.

Oh, if it were only that easy. But too many parents are failing their kids by avoiding the topic altogether. Then, their hang-ups about what schools can teach further the ignorance that contributes to pregnancies and diseases that could mostly be prevented. According to 2015 statistics, nearly 38 out of every 1,000 teen girls in Arkansas became mothers. That compared to about 22 per 1,000 nationwide. Reports of sexually transmitted diseases among Arkansas teens are also higher than national averages.

Maybe ignorance about sex is just another Arkansas tradition we’re handing down to our kids. When it comes to sex education, it seems some adults think, “I grew up literally groping my way around in the dark when it came to sex, and if it was good enough for me back when I walked to and from school uphill in the snow every day, it’s good enough for my kids.”

The recent story in these pages attempted to analyze how the state’s school districts teach about sex. It seems the most significant message stressed throughout the state is simple: Don’t do it.

That’s an important message, one we hope Arkansas’ teens hear and embrace. No curriculum and no advice from adults should actively encourage teens to engage in sexual activity. But the statistics don’t lie. A lot of young people are sexually active even with the “don’t do it” mantra ringing in their ears. And sadly, a good deal of their “knowledge” came from friends who prove to be equally ignorant.

Teaching abstinence is a strong and desirable message, but it’s far from a complete message for young people. Too many times, young people whom adults have tried to frighten out of sexual activity are unprepared for the circumstances they get into and, presto, a lack of knowledge in the teen years leads to an outcome that is lifelong in its impact.

Sex between a male and female - and that’s the kind of sex school districts are largely concerned with in terms of unwanted outcomes - is physiologically designed to result in pregnancy. That’s a simple message that, believe it or not, is not getting through. Would it not be preferable for schools to arm students with real knowledge so they’re not believing some of the incredibly stupid pieces of advice their friends are giving them?

Arkansas’ children, in many instances, are having children. Or they’re contracting diseases. And it’s a sad state of affairs that can be effectively combated with knowledge.

Arkansas families cannot afford to continue practices that keep our state’s kids ignorant. We’ve given up barefoot. Isn’t it about time to also give up “pregnant” when it comes to our teens?


Southwest Times Record. Oct. 8, 2017.

Looking back during National Manufacturing Month at Whirlpool’s 2012 shutdown in Fort Smith has proven to be insightful and inspiring. More than five years after losing a major employer in the city, we are still hearing success stories from those who persevered after a job loss.

When the plant closed in June 2012, it was a somber moment for many. The closing ended a more than 50-year history at the plant, which opened in 1962 under the ownership of the Norge Co. The Norge plant manufactured freezers, refrigerators and air conditioners. Whirlpool bought the facility in 1966 and expanded operation.

By 2012, the workforce at the plant had fallen from 4,600 in the mid-1990s to about 825, the result of several years of reductions. A major production line - side-by-side refrigerators - already had been transferred to a new plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, when the company announced the closing.

When it closed June 29, 2012, some workers who left that day for the last time left their work boots behind, including one that contained a note that read, “Never more shall I return.” Certainly, that sentiment was understandable. Whirlpool’s exit from Fort Smith occurred during a difficult period for the economy, not just regionally but nationally.

The impact of the closing was felt beyond just the employees it affected. The closing took a toll on local businesses throughout the region that supplied Whirlpool with services and materials. Companies were without one of their largest customers. Then-Gov. Mike Beebe even weighed in, calling the closing of the Fort Smith facility “just heartbreaking” and criticizing the company’s strategy of shifting production and jobs to Mexico as “very shortsighted.”

Meanwhile, the city got busy. The closing had been expected for some time, so it did not catch anyone off guard. Instead, plans were in place to help get workers back in the job market or back in school. The Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce organized a job fair, pairing local employers and prospective employees. Programs to train and re-educate laborers were developed at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Arkansas Tech University-Ozark and Carl Albert State University. Worker-training programs were initiated. And other companies have joined the area in that time, bringing with them jobs and new opportunities.

Former employee Gary Sebo of Spiro recently called his time at Whirlpool very positive. “Whirlpool supported my family, my mom and dad’s family, my brothers,” Sebo said. “Two of my siblings worked there. … It was a great opportunity for me.” Wanting to remain in the Fort Smith area, Sebo went on to a new career at Baldor.

Tamara Tateosian, now of Fulton, Missouri, went back to school at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith after taking a buyout from Whirlpool, graduating in May 2012. She also took a position with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce before becoming the executive director of the Callaway Chamber of Commerce in Fulton. She recently touted the expansion of area businesses like ArcBest and Mars Petcare in helping the area recover from losing a company like Whirlpool.

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders reflected on what it meant to lose a company like Whirlpool and how the area has bounced back.

“… We still have a large manufacturing community that has great impact on our community, has great impact on employment levels and on the income levels of employees, so that’s been very positive,” Sanders, who worked at Whirlpool for 32 years, said recently. “But other portions of the economy have grown, not just manufacturing, so we’re seeing more technical jobs, more entrepreneurial type jobs. Of course, they don’t have the huge number of employees, but when you have a company that expands and they add 150, that’s outstanding because you don’t have to go recruit somebody else. You’ve got these existing companies that are hiring. …”

We like to think of the loss of Whirlpool as just a bump in the road along the path that Fort Smith and its residents are on and will be on for years to come. The city has proven that it can be attractive to new employers looking to locate here. The chamber, the city, local businesses and residents alike have a part in demonstrating that.


Texarkana Gazette. Oct. 9, 2017.

It wasn’t all that long ago that nobody knew what a payday loan was.

Sure, there were finance companies and small lenders around. But they made installment loans to be paid back over several months, maybe a couple of years. Your payment included interest and principle. The interest rate was high - as much as 30 or 40 or even 60 percent. But if you needed money they were there.

Then payday loans popped up. You wrote a postdated check and got cash for two weeks at outrageous interest_in the hundreds of points a year. More than you would pay a mobbed-up loan shark.

But these companies prospered. The need was out there. A lot of folks needed cash to keep the lights on, buy food, pay rent, buy essential medication. The rate didn’t matter. They were just trying to survive, and the banks and other major lenders offered nothing for them.

Over the years states have cracked down on payday lending. The stores disappeared from the Arkansas side of Texarkana more than five years ago after then-Attorney General Dustin McDaniel took them on. Now the federal government is forcing the issue.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued new rules for the industry scheduled to take effect in 2019. The rules do not require Congressional approval.

The CFPB determined the biggest issue was borrowers taking out more loans than they can repay and then rolling the loans over and over again by just paying interest fees and not the principle. That means borrowers could pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars and still owe the entire amount of the original loan.

So the new regulations will limit the amount and number of loans a person can take out within a specific time frame. Larger loans will be subject to lenders acting more like banks and undertaking appropriate checks to see if the borrower can repay - something that isn’t currently done because the interest and fees are so high they cover risk of default.

The industry says this will put them out of business and they plan to pursue legal action. We will see how that works out.

In our view the Wild West days of payday lending should be over. But there must be a venue for the working poor to get short-term money when they need it. Often they don’t make enough or can’t pass credit checks for a conventional loan. Many don’t have bank accounts and banks don’t want to lend just a few hundred at a time anyway. And while we may look askance at the rates charged by payday lenders, the fact is it’s often cheaper to get money from one of their storefronts than it is to pay overdraft penalties and “overdraft protection” fees that those who do have bank accounts must pay. For many Americans payday lending is literally the only thing that makes sense.

There is still time for the industry and the feds to work together on this. Things are not going to stay the same but there is room for compromise. Both sides should be willing to do so both for the good of consumers and because it just makes business sense.

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