- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. Jan. 21, 2018.

When the news turns to politics, headlines are usually dominated by big issues, the ones everybody knows at least something about.

But often it’s the little things that make a real difference in our everyday lives. The kind of things that pass mostly without notice.

For example, what does a church or other nonprofit religious organization do when a natural disaster devastates its property?

In the past there was just insurance and the kindness of the congregation. Now, like most other secular charities, religious groups can appeal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help.

President Donald Trump’s administration recently announced religious nonprofits will have the same access to federal help as other nonprofits affected by disasters. Previously, churches and the like were excluded to avoid using government funds to promote religion. Now, thanks to court challenges and administration action, religious groups will have equal access to FEMA funds. Which is only right, since churches, synagogues and the like are often first on the scene to help with disasters and FEMA often uses church facilities as shelters and staging areas.

Most churches will never need the money. But for those that do, it would be a great help. Certainly we in the Twin Cities can feel a bit more secure knowing our houses of worship have one more source to turn to in case something unexpected happens.

No, this isn’t something that makes big headlines. But when needed it’s something that will make a big impact on the lives of the faithful.

___

Southwest Times Record. Jan. 21, 2018.

When the Fort Smith Police Department recently rolled out its new Motorcycle Unit, it was symbolic of the progress the department has made since facing huge budget cuts this time a year ago. Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark arrived in town last year just as the department was hit with the reality that equipment couldn’t be replaced and officers couldn’t be hired because there was no room in the budget to do so.

A year later, things are looking up, and we are pleased that the department has been able to persevere despite the budget restrictions it faced for so long. Now that the city’s general fund is expected to grow (thanks to recently approved business license and franchise fees), Fort Smith police should benefit. We hope those funds are used wisely, and are encouraged when we hear Chief Clark’s plans for 2018 and beyond.

Things have been busy for police in our area in recent weeks. We seem to be experiencing things like shootings and robberies at a fast pace these days, events we depend on our local police to handle. With that in mind, it’s a relief to know that our local police should be getting more funding to handle their day-to-day operations. The business license fee is projected to bring in more than $470,000 a year to the city’s general fund, which means it can essentially go anywhere with board approval. However, about 70 percent of the general fund typically goes toward the police and fire departments.

We did not advocate for the business fee, at least not so soon after the city agreed to a franchise fee increase, which is expected to bring in about $550,000. With the franchise fee increase comes the possibility that consumers’ rates will increase.

But we do advocate for supporting our local police. The funds from the business fee will prove invaluable to the police, who this time a year ago were tasked with serving and protecting with a much smaller budget than in the previous year. Other funding possibilities include looking for private partnerships and obtaining grants. New equipment is badly needed, including vehicles to replace some with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. And more officers are needed to fill positions; Chief Clark hopes to have 13 unfrozen spots filled by the end of the year. Other equipment upgrade possibilities include body cameras for officers and new Tasers, in addition to the new motorcycle unit. A state-of-the-art training academy and a firing range is also on the wish list. As he pointed out during a panel discussion during the recent Municipal League Conference in Fort Smith, technology “… makes us step up and ensure that we’re providing you the type of services that you deserve.”

One key in Chief Clark’s plans is continuing the community engagement programs he started a year ago (including Coffee with the Chief) and encouraging his officers to be interactive with the community, whether it’s children playing basketball or elderly residents sitting on their front porches. (Making “a deposit in our community’s bank,” as Chief Clark puts it.) The chief also points out that community members should be considered “equal partners” with its police force, something we advocate for wholeheartedly. We see it as a proactive approach to keeping peace, when the community gets to know its local police officers and learns to trust them, and we believe it’s especially important among young people and their families who often are seeing incidents among teens and police get out of hand, and one did just almost two weeks ago in North Little Rock. It’s essential for a community to trust its police officers, and the chief’s encouragement should go a long way toward that.

“I came in with great aspirations and high hopes, and I still possess those great aspirations and high hopes,” Chief Clark said recently.

Indeed, the chief’s plans for local police seem to be on target with what this area needs. We appreciate what our officers do for the community and are eager to see more good things coming from the department. It’s not “business as usual” for local police, nor should it be, Chief Clark points out. Each new day brings the unexpected for police, and we are glad to see our local force getting the things it needs to continue to serve the area well.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Jan. 23, 2018.

At the end of a single week this flu season, the death toll stood at 13 more fatalities in Arkansas, including one child. And at last count, that raised the state’s total number of flu-related dead to 49 and surely still climbing. The outlook was not hopeful after the latest report from the state Health Department’s chief medical officer Gary Wheeler: “While we appear to have peaked,” he says, “we’ve not seen a consistent downturn in cases at this point. We’re still in the thick of flu season, basically.”

Much the same dreary reports were coming in from officials of hospitals in Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fayetteville. The chairman of Mercy Clinic Family Medicine in Fort Smith, Sean Baker, says this flu season is the worst he’s seen in two decades.

So what is a potential flu patient, a category that includes all of us in Arkansas, to do now? The list of precautions is simple enough to follow: Get flu shots if you and yours haven’t yet been vaccinated against this potential killer. And be sure to wash your hands often enough. Instead of shaking hands, try bumping fists or elbows, which should give your introductions a little jive.

It’s all pretty typical for a flu season in Arkansas these days, though that may be of little comfort if you’re stricken. Wayne Lyle, an emergency-room physician at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, says he sees 30 to 40 flu patients a day, and three to five of them are old folks who wind up coming down with pneumonia. And pneumonia can lead to death. Mr. Wheeler notes that it’s “devastating to see these deaths, but it’s an unfortunate, expected thing that we see almost every year.”

In the long and sad history of influenza epidemics in this country and the world, most people couldn’t afford to be as philosophical about them as Arkansas’ officialdom this year. The world-wide influenza pandemic of 1918 killed upward of 100 million people, and the flu viruses in the early 1900s, including the one that ravaged the world in 1918, might have eventually killed a significant part of the whole world’s population. At one point, a million people a week were dying somewhere on the planet.

One reason those astounding figures aren’t better remembered is that they tend to get lost when compared to the number of troops who died in camps or in battle as the man-made plague of a world war was ending on the Western Front. Even such slaughters, it turns out, may be diminished in memory when they are lost in the bloody rush of the political and military news.

Who today remembers the polio epidemics that were once regular features of American life - and death - every summer? Today we tend to debate the presidential policies of a leader like Franklin Roosevelt rather than remember how he was stricken by polio in his prime. It was called infantile paralysis then, but FDR made it seem only incidental to his life and career as he assured the rest of us that we had nothing to fear but fear itself.

The centennial of the great influenza pandemic of 1918-20 now is passing almost unobserved, which makes it no less important. Philip Terzian, writing in the Weekly Standard, recalls asking his father about a photograph he’d spotted of people in Washington massed along a sidewalk, all of them wearing face masks. His father, a physician, explained that there had been a flu epidemic back then, and the streets were silent as people died or came close to dying.

Terzian concluded his article (“Bring Out Your Dead” in the Jan. 15 issue of the Standard) with this observation: “That such a spectacle, such a scene drawn from Dante or Dickens, as death in a plague year and horse-drawn oblivion should have taken place within living memory would have surely struck (my father) as reason enough to remember one centennial this season.” And to give thanks for the strides medical science has made since. As we all should.

Oh yes … Don’t forget that flu shot.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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