Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Texarkana Gazette, Dec. 9, 2013
South African leader brought his country from apartheid to democracy
He was born African royalty and imprisoned for violence, but became a worldwide symbol of reconciliation and peace and the father of modern South Africa.
Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, saw many changes over his long life. And led the way for many of them.
Though his great-grandfather was a tribal king and practiced an indigenous religion, Mandela was raised as a Christian by his parents in his mother's village, educated in Methodist schools.
He went on to college via correspondence courses and later to law school. He had grown up in the colonial era and knew firsthand the subjugation of his people. He joined with other black South Africans to try to bring peaceful change.
Change soon came. But for the worst.
In 1948 the ruling National Party forged a stricter system of racial separation called apartheid. Mandela increased his political activism, often coming into conflict not only with the South African military and police, but with others opposed to apartheid. The movement struggled for lack of a unified approach.
The South African government took notice of Mandela's efforts and by the early 1950s he had been arrested and jailed numerous times.
By 1955, Mandela's views on peaceful resistance had changed and he see violence as a weapon in the war for a Democratic South Africa. That views was hardened by the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in which police fired upon protesters, resulting in 69 deaths. He had also become heavily influenced by communists and some sources say he even joined the communist party.
As his views radicalized, he found himself in and out of court, in and out of jail. Finally, in 1964, he and several political allies was found guilty of sabotage and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life.
Mandela would spend nearly 28 years in prison, often enduring inhumane conditions.
While in prison, Mandela became the focal point of what was to become a worldwide movement to end apartheid. Finally the South African government's staunch support of the system began to crack, and Mandela was released from prison in 1990. The last apartheid laws were abolished that same year, though black majority rule would not come until 1994, when Mandela was elected South Africa's president.
Despite his earlier turn to violence and Marxism, Mandela used his office to promote a inclusive South Africa and a new constitution with guaranteed rights and checks on governmental power. He preached and practiced forgiveness of those who had repressed the black majority and put him in prison.
He backed legislation to improve South Africa's infrastructure, bringing telephone service, clean water and electricity to thousands for the first time. He expanded medical services and education. He promoted foreign investment and tried to bring jobs to the country.
But it was not all rosy. His administration was plagued by corruption, and the country's crime rate was one of the world's highest. Mandela was thought of as soft on both.
He also angered many Western leaders by expressing admiration for Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi and other rogue leaders.
Mandela retired from public office in 1999, but remained active in public life and politics for half a decade. In ill health the past few years, he died last week.
What will be Mandela's legacy?
The word most used by the media to described Mandela is "beloved." And that's certainly true.
But society is too quick to nominate beloved figures for sainthood. It does them a disservice.
We tend to think of those judged as great_Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Churchill, Gandhi, for example_more as monuments than as men. They accomplished great things. They also had flaws. They made mistakes. They were human. The difference between them and most other people is that they overcame those flaws, got past those mistakes to serve a purpose bigger than themselves.
So it was with Mandela.
The most you can ask of anyone is that they leave the world a better place than they found it. Nelson Mandela did that.
And that's just about the finest legacy any of us can hope for.
Southwest Times Record, Dec. 8, 2013
Deaths of children lead us to ask why
The approaching one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has people trying once again to imagine the motive. What could drive a 20-year-old man to take an assault rifle and two semi-automatic pistols and start killing 5- and 6-year-olds he didn't even know?
The report issued late last month by the Danbury state's attorney on the shooting offers no insight.
"The obvious question that remains is: 'Why did the shooter murder 27 people, including 20 children?' Unfortunately, that question may never be answered conclusively, despite the collection of extensive background information on the shooter through a multitude of interviews and other sources."
We want there to be an answer. We want to know why as a way to protect ourselves and our children and our other loved ones. We appreciate knowing how it happened, but our human instinct is to want to know why. Why this day, why these children, why did it happen at all?
The terrible deaths of children at the hands of a shooter who took his own life in our own neighborhood last week also leads us to ask why. Why did Tim Adams shoot and kill two of his grandchildren and his daughter's boyfriend before shooting himself? What was he thinking? What could have happened that he thought could be fixed by shooting a 4-month-old child?
We are no more likely to answer these questions satisfactorily than the ones we ask about Sandy Hook or about any of the great tragedies of our lives.
We cannot understand that which is unfathomable. And, as much as we might like to, we cannot prevent it.
What we can do is take a look at our own behavior. Do we reach out to our families or do we push them away? Do we stop to help a neighbor who is struggling or do we walk by? Do our words heal or injure?
Evil exists. We cannot prevent it, but we can answer it. This time of year invites us to pause and consider how we lead our lives. Instead of expending energy asking the questions we cannot answer, perhaps we should ask this one: What can I do to answer evil?
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dec. 5, 2013
Bad news keeps coming
Remember that scene in Apollo 13 when the exasperated flight chief was given yet another piece of bad news about the broken spacecraft zig-zagging between Earth and the moon? The poor guy had had it at last. He decided to make things easier on himself-and told his colleagues to simplify the problem for him: "Let's look at this thing from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that's good?"
Another day, another news story about problems with Obamacare, duly followed by another excuse out of the White House. No longer are the stories a drip, drip, drip, or even a glug, glug, glug. Now the flood has begun, and you have to put your hands over your ears to shut out the roar, the way you might if you were standing before any other giant waterfall.
So instead of pointing out all the problems that keep showing up in the midst of this giant train wreck, how about noting anything that works as intended? It'd be a lot simpler list to put together. And the newspapers could save a bundle on newsprint. Ah, if only some good news could be found. But the other kind keeps arriving. Like those unending bulletins from Apollo 13.
The New York Times — not exactly Fox News, mind you — now reports that not everybody who signs up for insurance on the Obamacare exchanges actually gets a health-insurance plan. That's right. The problems are complex, to say the least. But they go something like this:
After the last month or so of "fixes," the website is said to be easier for regular folks to use (finally). But the problem seems to be with what's called the Back Side. The system still has problems getting correct information from the website to the insurance companies.
The Times says that some folks plug inaccurate or incomplete information into the government's website, then ask for their health-care plans, thank you. The insurance companies can't track down the correct info on everybody who leaves out an address or income bracket. Result: Sometimes folks who think they've signed up for Obamacare haven't.
In other cases, insurers have no idea how much the customer will pay in premiums. Also, how much the government will pay. So all the paperwork (or is it cyberwork now?) comes to a halt. Some insurance companies have fielded calls from folks requesting insurance cards, and the companies have no idea who they are.
To quote Karen Ignagni, president of the trade group America's Health Insurance Plans: "Until the enrollment process is working from end to end, many consumers will not be able to enroll in coverage." Surprise, surprise.
Consider what happened right here in Arkansas on Monday — in Harrison, to be specific. A day after the feds assured the country that their health insurance website would be working for "the vast majority of users," the state's own Insurance Department held a demonstration at Harrison to show folks how to sign up for Obamacare. By the end of the day, not a soul who showed up for the ballyhooed Enrollment Fair at the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center had succeeded in signing up through healthcare.gov. Not a one.
Maybe when the president himself signs up for his health insurance through the federal government's oh-so-efficient insurance exchange, as he's promised to do, and surely will as the fotogs snap his beaming picture and the press releases go out, Mr. Obama can come on down to Arkansas with his team of hot-shot techies and help a few folks at Harrison do the same. Till then, don't hold your breath.
All this comes after the administration's people told the country the website had been pretty much fixed. Somebody tell us this isn't a government operation.
What may be even more disturbing than the still unknown number of folks who think they've got insurance but don't is the Obama administration's idea of what should be considered a success.
After the much-reported debacle that was the rollout of healthcare.gov, the administration put the computer geeks on the job. (You'd think they would have started by lining up the computer geeks instead of using them as a last resort.) Now, lo and behold, with all the software fixes and hardware upgrades, the website is said to work . . . more than 90 percent of the time!
Ninety percent of the time? That sounds good. If you don't think about it too long. Because if you could make a successful stock trade 90 percent of the time, you'd be rich in no time. A major league pitcher who threw strikes 90 percent of the time would have the Cy Young Award renamed for him.
But you'd think the website responsible for getting people health-care coverage in this "advanced" country would work closer to 100 percent of the time. Somewhere in the vicinity of 99.999 percent of the time. Like websites that work — Google, say, or Amazon.com.
This administration brags on its "signature accomplishment" because the thing works more than 90 percent of the time? That would be unacceptable in a first-rate operation in the private sector. Or even a second-rate operation.
This is definitely a government operation. Run by government people. Backed up by excuses from those same people. And there are few things less assuring than their assurances.