Roundup of Arkansas editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 26, 2014

The plague in Harrison

Ebola isn't the only plague in this troubled world. Another one is called hysteria, and it's just shown up in little Harrison, Arkansas — which is in the most picturesque part of the state, up in the Ozarks. It's got mountains, it's got streams, it's got forests — and the nicest, most welcoming people. Ordinarily.

But now the town has come down with a bad case of the jitters. And it sounds just about beside itself.

So a visiting group from a major country in West Africa invited to Arkansas through Sister Cities International has been told to stay away, at least for now. Until the fever abates. No, not Ebola but the fever known as ravening fear, which, as always, is fueled by rumor and agitation. And to think, they call Africa the dark continent.

Never mind that our visitors may already have had their flu shots and paid for their air tickets, and could be waiting to leave with visas in hand to see America for themselves — enlightened, hospitable, scientifically advanced America. Naturally they'd be fully screened, like any other guests entering the country legally and properly.

As it happens, Ebola can only be contracted from the blood or body fluids of people already showing signs of infection. Or from too close contact with the dead. But it turns out that Africa isn't the only place where superstition can overrule science.

Perhaps the saddest thing about this outbreak of sheer fear in Harrison is that it seems to have panicked the very people and institutions that should be a source of calm and reassurance when a community comes down with the galloping heebie-jeebies.

We're talking about reputable institutions like the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center, North Arkansas College and the Harrison School District, all of which have backed out of plans to welcome these visitors. As of Friday, none of these outfits were even returning the paper's phone messages.

Their actions spoke louder than the sensible words of Harrison's mayor, Jeff Crockett, who diagnosed the real disease threatening Harrison: "It's hysteria in my book. It's hysteria that's built up, and it's not based on fact." The mayor sounds very much alone, like anyone who keeps his head while others all about him are losing theirs.

Or as an American president facing a different kind of hysteria in a different time as a different kind of panic swept the country described this fast-spreading malady--"nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror ..."--Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933. Like the mayor of Harrison today, FDR had it right, and was trying to provide leadership instead of adding to the panic.

At such a time, look for the usual troublemakers to come crawling out of the woodwork — like Billy Roper of Stormfront.org, who was last heard from raging against "anti-white activists" in Harrison.

Now he wants to know why Harrison couldn't have chosen some nice lily-white Sister City in Europe instead of a place in Africa. (Maybe some nice town in Ukraine or Russia, those vales of peace in a troubled world?)

There is apparently no scare that Billy Roper can't try to exacerbate. And this time he seems to have respectable company, which is the real shame and threat in little Harrison, Ark., for when the nice, educated people in a town play along with the hysteria that agitators exploit, then the town's got real problems. (See Ferguson, Mo., or any other community when it loses all sense of proportion.) Ignorance, as it turns out, is not bliss but a recurrent danger that only knowledge and leadership can cure.

The moral of this story: Ebola isn't the only danger in this world. So are ignorance, panic and those who would play along with those destructive forces that tear a place apart. Anybody in Harrison who enjoys scaring himself would do better to pick up one of the many sci-fi books featuring a wild, world-threatening (and wholly fictive) pandemic. There's certainly enough pulp fiction around. Why add to it?

___

Texarkana Gazette, Aug. 26, 2014

Scrutiny blocked

On April 29, the state of Oklahoma made headlines with the execution of Clayton Lockett, convicted of shooting a teen-age girl and watching while two accomplices buried her alive in 1999.

His execution began just before 6:30 p.m. on April 29. The state was using a new, untested three-drug protocol.

At first, everything went as planned. Lockett became unconscious about 10 minutes after the drugs started flowing.

But then something went wrong.

He woke up. His body tensed. He spoke at least three times.

Prison officials halted the execution process and closed the blinds of the death chamber, blocking the view of witnesses. Lockett died anyway, about a half hour later of an apparent heart attack.

Among those gathered to witness the execution was a reporter representing both the Oklahoma Observer and U.S. operations for the Guardian, a U.K. newspaper.

And now those news organizations, along with the ACLU, are suing prison officials for blocking witnesses' view of the botched execution.

"At an execution, the press serves as the public's eyes and ears," Katie Fretland, the reporter, said in a statement. "The government shouldn't be allowed to effectively blindfold us when things go wrong. The public has a right to the whole story, not a version edited by government officials."

"The death penalty represents the most powerful exercise of government authority," added Lee Rowland, an ACLU attorney. The need for public oversight is as critical at the execution stage as it is during trial."

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections had no comment.

Prison officials made a call during the execution. Perhaps they were trying to be discreet, trying to protect the witnesses from what could have been a gruesome scene. Trying to give the condemned man some final dignity.

Or perhaps they were think a bit more clearly and covering their own backsides for an execution gone wrong.

Either way, it was a bad call.

Members of the public — including journalists — witness every execution in the U.S. And they are there for a reason. Even condemned prisoners have rights and the witnesses are there to ensure proper protocol is followed.

In many countries what passes for justice goes on behind closed doors. But in this country the justice system is set up to be as transparent as possible. Public scrutiny serves to help keep the system in check.

And that extends to executions.

The Oklahoma prison system should understand that, admit its mistake and settle this suit.

___

Southwest Times Record, Aug. 21, 2014

Supportive employers ease deployment stresses

A military deployment affects many more people than just the airman or private or seaman who is sent away from his home.

The absence of a loved one can impact a whole community — spouses, children, employers, church congregations, volunteer groups.

According to the National Military Family Association, Americans have experienced longer and more frequent deployments since 9/11. The Association says a deployment can be "intimidating and confusing," whether a family is experiencing its first or fifth deployment.

That was true in the case of Shirley Bearden of Fort Smith, who had a difficult time in 2012 when her husband, Master Sgt. Michael Bearden, was deployed with the 188th Wing.

"I had a wreck, I had a storm come through and take a tree and try to lay it on my house. . And I was in a new position here at Mercy (Fort Smith) as bariatric program coordinator, starting up a new program. Everything was really stressful," Mrs. Bearden said Tuesday.

Mrs. Bearden's boss, Jennifer Thomas, made the experience easier, with calls and texts to check on her daily, activities to keep her occupied and encouragement to take extra days off work when Master Sgt. Bearden returned.

Said Mrs. Bearden: "She always was available. If I needed anything, she was right there. . No one has ever taken that kind of stand with me and told me to take what I needed and readjust. It meant a lot."

During a surprise ceremony Tuesday, Mrs. Thomas was honored with the Patriot Award on behalf of the Department of Defense's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) committee.

Mrs. Thomas said she was humbled. "I feel my part has been so minimal compared to what our armed services contribute to our country and what the families contribute . . Anything I can do to support Shirley and support Mike in his service is my honor."

As the local saying goes, bosses like Mrs. Thomas, ones who are supportive and caring and place a high importance upon their employees, help make life worth living in Fort Smith. We are glad when we can share stories like these.

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