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Roundup of Arkansas editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sept. 23, 2014

What should it be called?

It's final: The state Highway Department has chosen to spend $98.4 million on a new bridge across the Arkansas River at Little Rock — even though a new bridge there isn't clearly necessary. For the storied old Broadway Bridge is still structurally sound, and just needs some maintenance work, as it's needed in the past. All bridges do. Here we have another example of Your Tax Money at Work — needlessly.

The biggest question about this new bridge is a simple one: Why? There doesn't seem to be clear reason to build a new bridge instead of maintaining the old one. Except maybe the bureaucratic inertia that seems to beset some planners, mainly bad ones. They seem captive of the first rule of government: When there's public money available, spend it. Preferably lots of it. If the state's Highway Department had an appropriate motto on its seal, it might be: Keep Busy.

This $98.4 million bill includes $20 million that would come from Pulaski County's taxpayers to pay for an elaborate basket-like structure that would be added to the bridge — so it'll look like something a giant could lift.

If the first casualty of government planning is economy, the second may be public convenience. Note that this $98.4 million doesn't cover the costs in disruption, delay, and general inconvenience to the public — especially to local commuters, businesses, drivers just passing through Central Arkansas, and all who'll find their schedules altered by this unnecessary interruption.

At last estimate this new bridge to be thrown across the Arkansas will have to be closed to traffic (including the 24,000 drivers or so who use the old one every day) for a still undetermined time.

The whole project could take more than two years to complete. Just when the old bridge will have to be shut down to make room for its replacement hasn't been announced. Nor did the Highway Department, at last report, ever get around to making any estimate of how much it would have cost to just maintain the old bridge instead of tearing it down and replacing it for $98.4 million.

But there's a far greater cost involved here. The aesthetic cost. Think of how much money might have been saved by just fixing up the old bridge and saving the considerable cost of a new one, plus interest, to fulfill a great vision: a grand new bridge across the Arkansas. The current fashionable term for it is Signature Bridge. This one could have been the talk of the continent, or at least the mid-continent. Or it might have been a gem on the order of the elegant new bridge across the mighty Mississippi at Lake Village--a thing of use and of beauty, too. Instead of just another of the Highway Department's ordinary designs.

Why not erect a landmark that would attract the kind of rave reviews the old Broadway Bridge got when it was built circa 1923?

What we have here is a sad example of what the economists call opportunity cost, in this case the cost of building a mediocre new bridge, and so losing an opportunity. In this case, an opportunity to achieve something great. The saddest words of tongue or pen remain: What Might Have Been.

Why must we in Arkansas build only for the present and not the future, or even in the best tradition of the the past, like the Broadway Bridge in all its original, Roaring Twenties glory? What we have here isn't just a deficit in dollars, but in imagination and innovation. That deficit may be the more serious one.

As a great city planner named Daniel Burnham once advised, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work." And bridges.

Congratulations to Massman Construction, the nationally respected bridge-builders out of Kansas City (a city with any number of wide boulevards, sweeping vistas and graceful bridges) on its winning this contract, its latest of many. Massman will doubtless will do a fine job of building this new bridge and staying within budget. What a pity such fine folks couldn't be building a great bridge, one worthy of their talent and experience, instead of ... just another forgettable bridge.

What'll the new bridge be called — the same as the old, the Broadway Bridge? A more fitting name might be the Bridge of Lost Opportunity.


Log Cabin Democrat, Sept. 20, 2014

Have you made up your mind?

With about six weeks remaining before the mid-term elections smack us in the face, it is time for that final push for each of the candidates, time for those barrage of commercials, email blasts and signs, signs, signs. But how much good will these last six weeks do?

The majority of people have usually made up their minds for who they are going to vote for — many decided when the candidate in question placed an R or a D next to their name. It is a bit sad, but it is the nature of politics nowadays.

During the 2004 general election, a exit poll showed that 78 percent of those questioned had made their mind on who to vote for among George W. Bush, John Kerry and Ralph Nader more than a month before the election, and 10 percent were certain in the final month. Only five percent responded that they had decided that day, and six more percent had decided in the week before the election.

What seems to be at play is not the true believers — those whose ideologies line up closely with the candidate they choose — but the "undecideds," the ones who for better or worse tend to be more pragmatic in their choice, especially looking for what a certain vote would do for the people in their community or in their state.

Tying a candidate to an unpopular president is obviously the strategy for those on the other side, and you'll most likely see that in these last few weeks, particularly in the race for U.S. Senator between incumbent Mark Pryor (D) and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R). Cotton has done everything he can to use President Barack Obama's name and Pryor's name in the same sentence. Pryor knowing that the president is extremely unpopular in Arkansas, has distanced himself from Obama's agenda.

One could also see that in 2006, when George W. Bush was heading into the last two years of a very tenuous second term, and it brought Democratic control of the U.S. House and Senate, simply because many people disliked Bush.

The same shift could make a change this time around as well, and that's why you'll most likely see Cotton's and Pryor's faces plastered all over your television and computer screens in the days and weeks to come.

But history shows that most of you already know which way you'll be casting your vote.


Southwest Times Record, Sept. 21, 2014

International Peace Day something to imagine

It is unclear at this writing if anyone will notice today marks the international Right of Peoples to Peace. Although observed annually by the United Nations since 1982 as a day to note the basic tenet that peace is necessary for all people to experience full human rights, since 2001, the day has been designated even more specifically as a day of non-violence and cease-fire.

If it were to be observed by combatants everywhere, the sudden cessation of violence would be deafening.

How many conflicts are underway on the planet today? The number will be determined by one's definition. The Wars in the World website identifies 64 countries at war and 571 conflicts between or among guerrillas, separatists and anarchic groups, a pretty staggering count by any definition.

GlobalSecurity.org presents a similarly long list of countries not at peace, but notes that the United Nations defines a major military conflict as 1,000 battlefield deaths a year. That reduces the number considerably, to just 10 major military actions and a score or so lesser conflicts by mid-2005.

But that definition may not reflect the reality of most of today's conflicts, which often are not between countries with clearly identifiable battlefields, but within countries where terms like battlefield and combatants are terrifyingly fluid.

Just 5 percent of the casualties in World War I were civilians, according to Global Security. Today, as many as 75 percent of casualties may be civilians.

Africa has been disproportionately affected by war, and its countries suffer disproportionately from its affects, according to Global Security, which notes: "War has caused untold economic and social damage to the countries of Africa. Food production is impossible in conflict areas, and famine often results. Widespread conflict has condemned many of Africa's children to lives of misery and, in certain cases, has threatened the existence of traditional African cultures."

That doesn't even begin to address the issues inherent in having large refugee numbers in areas that are unstable politically and inhospitable climatically. Or the problems that arise when the populations of wide swaths of a continent are deprived education and basic medical care and and infectious diseases break out. Or the devastating impact on every aspect of civilization when women and girls as systematically raped, beaten or otherwise abused and sold into slavery as "acceptable" acts of warfare.

The International Day of Peace, a day of non-violence and cease-fire: We must be grateful to live in a corner of the world where it is possible even to consider such a thing. It is beyond imagining in too much of our world.

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