Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Oct. 5, 2013.
That was then . when politics required thought
It was so long ago that a new young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama might have been mistaken for an idealist.
It was so long ago that the usual naifs thought the little potboiler of a book he wrote, a thinly disguised campaign biography covered in political clichés, was an eloquent appeal to principle. It was so long ago that its title, The Audacity of Hope, hadn't yet made audacity and hope sound ironic in his mouth.
This was how long ago it was: Barack Obama was still defending bipartisanship instead of just lambasting the opposition whenever he was asked to compromise. "Genuine bipartisanship," he told us back then, "assumes an honest process of give-and-take, and that the quality of compromise is measured by how well it serves some agreed-upon goal, whether better schools or lower deficits."
That's right: It was so long ago that Barack Obama was talking about better schools, not just more and more teachers, and lower deficits, not just raising the ceiling on the national debt.
It was so long ago that a younger and still appealing Barack Obama could add that real bipartisanship "assumes the majority will be constrained-by an exacting press corps and ultimately an informed electorate-to negotiate in good faith."
But that was before the well-trained cadre that is the Washington press corps could be trusted to use a phrase like "a clean spending bill" without any compunction or even awareness of its bias. A modern day George Orwell would have spotted that bit of newspeak immediately as a prime example of the corruption of language by politics, and probably included it any new edition of his classic essay, "Politics and the English Language."
It was so long ago that a young Senator Obama's "informed electorate" would never have let an older President Obama get away with summoning the leaders of the opposition to the White House for negotiations so they-and the country-could be informed that he wasn't about to negotiate.
It was so long ago that the country might have expected that the president who had written those idealistic words about the need for genuine bipartisanship would govern in the moderate mode of an Eisenhower, or maybe that of the two Bushes, or even adopt the now paradigmatic example of Ronald Reagan's negotiating technique. The Gipper would meet regularly with Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the House at the time, for a libation and negotiation at the end of the day. Both the Hollywood actor, a master of B-movie American myth, and the old-fashioned Boston pol knew how the game was played-and how the country was governed. Both knew when to orate and when to shut up and deal.
But that was all so long ago. Now that once-convivial political air has been replaced by a great cloud of nothing but talking points churned out by both sides and swarming like gnats on a late-summer eve over our nation's miasmal capital, blocking out any sight of the setting sun.
Now innocents all around, those multitudes of wanna-be insiders, a low ambition indeed for citizens of a republic, solemnly repeat their side's talking points as if they meant something. Something besides "I'm just another groupthinker parroting the party line." Which party and which line scarcely matters if there is no exacting press or informed electorate to check our political reflexes in a political climate dominated for the dim moment by what Orwell called "the smelly little orthodoxies that are contending for our souls."
Meanwhile, the American people-oh, yes, them-still deserve a government that actually governs.
But this, too, will soon be long ago. And this impasse, too, will be gone, like any other passing plague of insects. Never give up on this country. It may have been Winston Churchill who said Americans can be counted on to do the right thing-but only after we've tried everything else.
Southwest Times Record, Oct. 2, 2013
Drug Drop Boxes Important In Fighting Illegal Use
The Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas National Guard are joining forces with local law enforcement agencies from around the state to combat one of the most pernicious threats to the state: the illegal use of prescription drugs.
On Tuesday, representatives with the Health Department, the National Guard's Counterdrug Program and 60 law enforcement agencies from across Arkansas met at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock to distribute 60 new, permanent prescription drop boxes, ready to install and use.
These boxes as well as those already in use at places like the Fort Smith Police Department, offer state residents a chance to dispose safely of unused prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers. Too often, pills that go unused are stored in people's homes, where they can be misused, many times by juveniles.
Once, people were urged to flush their left-over medications, but studies on drinking water sources nationwide have shown measurable amounts of prescription medications and other impurities in the water. Disposing of medications in landfills as well as through the household toilet may contribute to this situation.
Abuse of prescription drugs, a trending problem, can lead to addiction, overdose and death. The situation is especially critical for young people, who no longer need to depend on older friends to buy them alcohol or deal with those selling illicit substances. They can get hooked on drugs without looking farther than the bathroom medicine chest.
State partners in the prescription drug-abuse prevention program Monitor, Secure and Dispose seek to interrupt this pattern by making it easy for people to dispose of unwanted drugs safely. The collection boxes are placed in local law enforcement offices and are available to residents with no questions asked.
Drugs returned to the Fort Smith Police Department are stored in the evidence vault until they are taken to Pine Bluff for destruction, according to an April Times Record special report on the misuse of prescription drugs.
Arkansas Drug Director Fran Flener in a news release Tuesday described the boxes as a very important part of the state's overall effort to remove more than 32 tons of medicine from Arkansas homes.
The Arkansas Take Back website offers a list of drop-box locations that can be searched by ZIP code. The next statewide take-back event will be Oct. 26 and will involve many temporary sites in addition to the permanent collection sites.
Viewers at the website also can see a 13 minute video, "We Have a Problem in Arkansas," which looks at the statistics of prescription drug abuse by Arkansas teens and the devastating, sometimes fatal, results of this problem.
The website puts the problem this way. "Our teenagers are dying from recreational prescription drug abuse. . Surprisingly, 70 percent of the prescription drugs kids experiment with come from our own homes. Juvenile judges say it is not uncommon to see 12-year-olds stealing drugs from their parents and selling them at school. Teenagers who take drugs prescribed for someone else and mix with other drugs or alcohol often end up in hospital ERs or on autopsy tables."
We urge you to take advantage of the opportunities to get these dangerous substances out of your home.
Texarkana Gazette, Oct. 5, 2013
Federal workers shouldn't be targets of frustration over shutdown
When you make the rules, don't come down on those whose job it is to enforce them.
That's the lesson a Texas congressman learned Wednesday in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, was down by the National World War II Memorial that day. Since the partial government shutdown went into effect, national parks, monuments and memorials have been closed to visitors.
Of course, that hasn't stood in the way of several veterans groups who traveled distances great and small to visit various war memorials in the nation's capital.
After the first group simply moved the barricades and walked in, veterans groups have had pretty much free run of the sites. But other tourists are still kept out.
Neugebauer didn't like that one bit. He thought the memorial should be open to all. And he wasted no time in berating a park ranger about it.
The incident was caught on camera as the congressman asked the ranger how she could deny visitors access to the memorial.
The ranger replied it was difficult for her and apologized.
Neugebauer said it should be, and added that the "Park Service should be ashamed of themselves."
At this point another person entered the discussion, a furloughed federal worker of 20 years' service, who chastised the congressman for blaming the ranger.
"This woman is doing her job just like me. I'm a 30-year federal veteran. I'm out of work," he said.
Neugebauer tried to argue it was all Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's fault.
The furloughed worker was having none of it.
"No. It's because the government won't do its job and pass a budget," he said.
It doesn't much matter which side of the funding battle you fall. The workers affected by the shutdown are not to blame. They are just doing their jobs, following their supervisors' orders. We understand the frustration, but the blame lies way up the chain of command.
It lies with Neugebauer and his colleagues, in both chambers, in both parties.
Maybe the gentleman from Texas would be better advised to spend more time on the job and less time wandering around the Capitol Mall.