A collection of recent editorials by Arkansas newspapers:
Harrison Daily Times, May 19, 2015
Fatal crash renews Amtrak debate
This week's fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia raised troubling questions about safety.
The cause hasn't been determined officially, but the train was traveling dangerously at twice the speed limit on that stretch of track.
The crash clearly hurt the struggling passenger service's reputation. What the crash that killed at least eight people did not do is justify attempts by Amtrak-hating lawmakers to abolish the nationwide government subsidized passenger system.
Recovery crews still were hunting for missing passengers in the wreckage when two disturbing things happened on the political level.
By coincidence, in Washington a House panel was trying to cut $250 million, or roughly 20 percent, from Amtrak's federal budget in the fiscal year that begins in October. That would leave Amtrak $1.13 billion to use for operating costs but not one cent for infrastructure. President Barack Obama had requested a not unreasonable $2.5 billion for Amtrak next year.
The Republican-orchestrated budget cut is unacceptable, even unconscionable given Amtrak's role —after cars and airplanes — as the third wheel in the nation's commuter and long-distance transportation system.
The Philadelphia accident also became a convenient opportunity for Amtrak supporters to revive debate about improving railroad infrastructure. Most experts say America's rail lines require tens of billions of dollars in safety upgrades.
Also by coincidence, a bipartisan group of state and big city officials were due to arrive in Washington Thursday to lobby Congress to spend more on Amtrak, not less.
They will meet heavy opposition from Republicans who control Congress and have been trying to kill Amtrak for years under the false assumption private railroads companies will assume the service.
All but a handful of railroad companies dumped passenger service 50 years ago because moving freight was more profitable — with none of the baggage or responsibilities that go with accommodating people instead of inanimate objects.
Amtrak trains run mainly on private railroad tracks that weren't designed for high speed trains. That must change.
This week's tragic crash aside, Amtrak routes are in trouble everywhere. In western Illinois, the popular daily commuter train from Quincy to Chicago that stops in Galesburg and Macomb may fold because Gov. Rauner wants to cut the state's share of the route's subsidy.
That is just one of many reasons for Americans to demand Congress and their state legislators stop killing Amtrak by a thousand cuts.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 19, 2015.
Eyesores or treasures
The Arkansas Historic Preservation Alliance makes an annual attempt to pick a list of places from this state's rich past worth saving, even if all too often the attempt proves unsuccessful. Talk about Here Today and Gone Tomorrow--in these cases, it's Here Yesterday, About to Be Gone Tomorrow.
One poignant site on this year's list of eight worth saving is the Brittnum Rooming House in Little Rock, which has been due for demolition since the city's board of directors voted to tear it down earlier this year. It was the kind of decision all too familiar in a throw-away society used to neglecting the architectural treasures it has tucked away among its back streets and weedy lots. Till they fall apart.
Through the 1940s and into the '60s, this long deserted boarding house catered to black blue-collar workers drawn to the city by opportunity, and may even have counted some black ballplayers among its roomers when they played with the Arkansas Travelers baseball club. The building's glory days are well behind it, but a city and state with a sense of history and a sporting instinct wouldn't have given up on it. But would have saved it--as the Preservation Alliance has saved other old buildings, even putting them to new uses. Like community centers. It can be done if we but will it.
But without that will, an important part of Little Rock's past will be lost. Surely it is part of the universal human tradition to be moved by traces of our past even as they're disappearing before our eyes. To quote an ancient Chinese poet in his soliloquy on Passing a Ruined Palace:
"Heavy dew. Thick mist. Dense grass.
Trees grow on the broken balconies.
Willows choke the empty moat.
Fallen flowers litter the courts. . . .
The road has vanished. The landscape is the same.
The works of men are being obliterated.
When I pass by the broken gate
My horse whinnies again and again."
Today the look of an old abandoned rooming house in an historic Southern city inspires much the same feeling as it slips irretrievably into the past--but this past is not only retrievable but re-usable.
Why just shed the past when we can not only save it but make it part of the future, too?
Texarkana Gazette, May 19, 2015
Was It Worth It?
We have to wonder . could he possibly think it was it worth it? Last week, following a trial that found him guilty of 30 charges in connection to the deadly Boston Marathon bombing that that killed three and injured more than 260 two years ago, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to die by lethal injection.
The 21-year-old will be held in federal prison until his date with the gurney. Most likely he will be sent to the federal pen in Terre Haute, Indiana. That's the same place Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh paid the ultimate price for his crime.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev_Dzhokhar's older brother_missed his day in court, his rendezvous with Death Row. That's because he was killed a few days after the Boston bombing after a shootout with police. It didn't help that his brother ran over him with an SUV during a panicky flight from the authorities.
So the younger Tsarnaev had to face the music all by himself. Was it worth it?
That's question we would most like him to answer. The brothers, both Muslims, wanted to "defend" Islam in the wake of what they saw as U.S. aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bombing was "retribution" and the dead and wounded were "collateral damage."
Some have speculated on other motives. Whatever the main reason for the terrorist act, Dzhokhar said it was his older brother's idea_he just went along with it.
So, was it worth it?
Taking the younger man at his word, it wasn't even something he was all that passionate about. He joined the plot to please his brother. He joined a plot to kill and maim other human beings to please his arbiter.
Was it worth it?
Only Dzhokar Tsarnaev can answer that. But will he ever? Who knows.
But he will answer for the destruction he and his brother caused. He will answer for the lives lost.
And maybe, just maybe, when he is strapped down and the chemicals begin to flow, he will realize his actions not only stole the lives of three people that day in 2013, but destroyed his own as well.
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