Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Texarkana Gazette, Nov. 25, 2013
Motorists should follow tips to avoid becoming a statistic
An Ashdown, Ark., woman_just 41 years old_was killed Saturday when her car collided with a train as she was trying to cross the railroad tracks at an Ashdown intersection.
At least three other people have been killed at the same intersection since 2009. And there have been at least 15 crashes there in the past 16 years. The crossing has been called the most dangerous in the state.
There have been attempts to close the crossing, but residents find it convenient, and it remains open.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were 1,967 collisions at railroad crossings in 2012. Across the nation, 233 people died in the collisions.
And almost every accent could have been easily avoided.
According to the Texas Department of Insurance, an average train weighs about 12 million pounds and can take up to one mile to come to a stop. Most collisions between a vehicle and a train happen when the train is traveling at less than 35 mph. And, incredibly, about one-fourth of accidents occur when the train is already in the crossing.
It's easy to see why the Department of Insurance compares a train rolling over a car to a car rolling over an aluminum can.
The TDI issued a set of guidelines for motorists to follow if they want to avoid becoming a statistic. Among them:
— Any time is train time. You never know when a train might be approaching.
— Slow down when approaching a rail crossing and look both ways_twice.
— Never race a train to cross the tracks.
— Always yield to flashing lights, whistles, closing gates, crossbucks or stop signs
— If your car stalls on the tracks, get out immediately. Move away from the crossing and call for help. If you see a train approaching move a safe distance from the tracks in the direction of the coming train to avoid flying debris.
— Keep a distance of at least 15 to 20 feet from the racks when stopping.
— Don't be fooled by optical illusions_the train is always closer and moving faster than you think.
Trains travel along set tracks, they are big and heavy and they take a long time to stop. Get in a train's way and there is little the train's crew can do to prevent tragedy.
Only you can do that.
Southwest Times Record, Nov. 23, 2013
Museums on Fort Smith's east side also important
As we watch the public developments in the creation of the U.S. Marshals Museum on the Fort Smith riverfront, a proposed museum on the east side of town continues to offer programs and gather support as well.
The Hardwood Tree Museum at Chaffee Crossing today and tomorrow will present programs exploring the historical impact of hardwood trees on the development of the greater Fort Smith region.
Arguably the biggest draw for the event, to be held at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, will be the exquisite artifacts made from hardwoods. Among the items on display will be specimens from the 19th century Jesup Wood Collection, examples of wood turning by Hayes Copeland, a basket created from nuts from the black walnut tree by a third-generation timberman and a home desk, made in Fort Smith, like one given to California Gov. Ronald Reagan by Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, according to Bob Worley, chairman of the museum's board of trustees.
Woodworking by Cherokee and Choctaw artisans also will be on display.
The event features demonstrations and hands-on activities for adults and children.
The film "From Forest to Fine Furniture," produced by Riverside Furniture, will be shown, as will a documentary film by students from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith showing how a Native American long bow is made.
Admission is free to "Hardwood Trees and Our Heritage" from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today and from 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
Check out the museum's website, HardwoodTreeMuseum.org, and its Facebook page.
While you are at Chaffee Crossing, don't forget to check out the new Museum of Chaffee History, which includes an artifact-filled timeline from Camp Chaffee to the present.
The museum so impressed Sgt. Maj. Adna Ramanza Chaffee IV, who called it one of the best examples of military history he's seen, that he has agreed to share many photos and artifacts related to his grandfather with the museum, Ivy Owen, executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, stated in a memo to staff recently.
Check out all of the Chaffee Historic District while you're there. Don't forget the riches on the east side of Fort Smith while we're celebrating the riverfront.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Nov. 24, 2013
The end of the filibuster
It was a sad day — Thursday, November 21, 2013 — when another tradition died in the U.S. Senate, which was once known as the world's greatest deliberative body. Thursday it didn't so much deliberate as obliterate. The result was the end of an American institution, the filibuster.
The filibuster has long protected both the minority's right to extend debate in the Senate and the country's considerable interest in not rushing to judgment. But not anymore. Not after Thursday.
Let's not confuse the filibuster with some great principle. It was only a great tactic, and, like any tactic, could be used for good or ill. But it was an accepted part of the Senate's vast thicket of technical rules and accepted practices in which freedom itself might take refuge. Especially when those determined to hunt it down come after it. This time they killed the filibuster, reducing what little is left of it to a vestigial appendage.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before those bent on getting their own way would hack their way through the once thick cover of rights and privileges in the Senate, and destroy another vestige of deliberation in what was once a deliberative body. A body in which giants like Webster, Clay and Calhoun held forth. Year after year, speech after speech, they averted one crisis after another, and the Union was saved again. Till the fanatics finally got their way. And a terrible civil war replaced civil debate.
This time not even John McCain, a hero in both war and peace, could forge a great compromise. And another wall of the grand old temple that houses our republican institutions has fallen. Listen and you can hear the barbarians celebrate their victory. They don't realize it may soon enough become their defeat. For this same rush to judgment will surely be employed against them one day.
The filibuster was not an end in itself, but the means to an end. That end could be a just one or the opposite of justice. Overturning old precedents only establishes new ones, and now power has replaced deliberation as the governing principle of the body where once debate was unlimited-and so was the hope of its leading to reason.
Now only a simple majority, simple in more ways than one, has replaced a complex, time-woven rule in a single day by a single action, wiping out a whole body of parliamentary procedure and its long history of uses and abuses. For the filibuster has been employed for causes both noble and not noble at all in its long and tortuous history. Now it is gone in a blinding flash. No wonder they called ending the filibuster The Nuclear Option, for it destroys everything in its indiscriminate range. And rage.
It seems a Republican minority in the current Senate wouldn't go along with a slate of nominees to high office that the president insisted on, and so a small but willful majority just did away with the right to extended debate. The once customary 60-vote majority required to limit debate was replaced by a simple majority. Hesto Presto, it was gone.
The stage has now been set for other storied institutions of American politics to follow the filibuster into oblivion. Why not? A president who can change the law after it has passed (see the ever fluid terms of Obamacare) should have no problem changing the nature of the Senate of the United States, too.
Yes, the storied tradition of the filibuster had its dark-even evil-side, as when it was routinely used by the Fulbrights and Eastlands of the Senate to block civil-rights legislation. But the filibuster also had its great moments. As when Huey Long used it against FDR's attempt to resurrect his National Recovery Act after the Supreme Court had unanimously-and courageously-overthrown it. (What a pity today's court missed its chance to spare the country Obamacare, another attempt to regiment a huge part of the country's economy and life.)
Many a scholarly defense of the filibuster has been delivered over the years, including this one by a long-time aide to various Democratic senators. Richard Arenberg covered just about all the bases when he summed up the once indispensable place of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and in the whole American legislative scheme:
"The right in the Senate to debate and amend serves as a protection to the minority, fosters deliberation and compromise, discourages unchecked majority control, moderates extreme outcomes, avoids precipitous decision making, discourages domination by the more populous states, ensures the role of the legislative branch in oversight of the executive and assures the role of the Senate as a counterbalance to the majoritarian House of Representatives in our system of checks and balances." ONE OF the most prescient defenses of the filibuster over the years came from an eloquent young senator from Illinois back in 2005, when it was his party that was the one in the minority. It might be worth reviewing what he said on the occasion of this latest and signal defeat for free and unconstrained debate:
"While I have not been here too long," the freshman senator began, "I have noticed that partisan debate is sharp, and dissent is not always well received. Honest differences of opinion and principled compromise often seem to be the victim of a determination to score points against one's opponents. But the American people sent us here to be their voice. They understand that those voices can at times become loud and argumentative, but they also hope we can disagree without being disagreeable. At the end of the day, they expect both parties to work together to get the people's business done. What they do not expect is for one party, be it Republican or Democrat, to change the rules in the middle of the game so they can make all the decisions while the other party is told to sit down and keep quiet.
"The American people want less partisanship in this town, but everyone in this chamber knows that if the majority chooses to end the filibuster, if they choose to change the rules and put an end to democratic debate, then the fighting, the bitterness, and the gridlock will only get worse."
That was the view of a promising new member of the U.S. Senate back then named Barack Obama, but now that he's president, he no longer sounds as convincing on this topic. Or perhaps on any other. His words about the danger of gagging the minority may prove prophetic if this country ever has another Republican president and Congress. You can be sure they'll be as ruthless in discarding the rights of the minority as today's majority in the Senate has been.
That was a two-edged sword Democrats employed Thursday. And they may find out soon enough just how sharp it is.