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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

January 8, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Jan. 6, 2019.

Suffering a traumatic brain or spinal injury is one thing, but when you are forced to then be sent in an ambulance or air-lifted out of town, it compounds the stress for everyone.

Unfortunately, for the past couple years, this has been the case for people and their families in the Fort Smith area because of a lack of neurosurgeons.

That’s about to change.

Mercy Fort Smith has hired two neurosurgeons set to arrive in August. They are Drs. Ken and Kate Foxx, a husband-and-wife duo soon to complete their residencies at a hospital in Rochester, New York.

As Kyle Parker, president of Arkansas Colleges for Health Education, said: “For Mercy to get not just one, but two, neurosurgeons is a big home run.”

Parker is one of many in the area who knows all too well the seriousness of Fort Smith’s situation in being underserved by physicians. West Arkansas and east Oklahoma is dead center in the most underserved region in the nation. To top it off, Arkansas is ranked 18th in the nation in spending because of issues with opioids, obesity and heart disease.

Between 1962 and 2016, there had been 24-hour coverage for neurosurgery in Fort Smith’s two hospitals. Not having 24-hour care for neurosurgery is nothing short of a calamity for Fort Smith.

In the past two years, without 24-hour coverage, nearly 4,500 people have been sent out of town to hospitals in Tulsa, Fayetteville or Little Rock to either undergo surgery there, or just have their family’s worst fears confirmed that there was nothing they could do.

At one time there were seven neurosurgeons in Fort Smith, according to Dr. Cole Goodman, president of Mercy Clinic Fort Smith. Currently, there are two: Drs. Arthur Johnson and Kenneth Tonymon. Baptist Health also has hired a neurologist, someone who can diagnose and test medical problems, and an advanced practice nurse. To illustrate the importance of this move with Mercy’s neurosurgeons, Parker noted there are not enough neurosurgeons graduating in the nation to keep up with demand.

“They can go wherever they want in the country. Even the heavily served areas, like Massachusetts, are begging for them,” Parker said.

Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Fort Smith, put it bluntly: We have been a burden on other communities. But the addition of a 16,000-square-foot neurosciences center at Mercy will have a “ripple effect” on the rest of the Fort Smith system to support the care that’s delivered. The return to 24-hour neurological care is pushing Mercy to prepare additional support services in areas like the trauma and the emergency departments.

While Mercy will forge on and do what needs to be done, they also need some help and are undergoing a $10 million fundraising campaign to create an up-to-date Neurosciences Center at Mercy Fort Smith. So far, they’ve raised a little over $1 million of that, with all proceeds from the recent Mercy Charity Ball going toward creation of the center. The Mercy Health Foundation Fort Smith is in charge of the campaign to raise a significant portion of the cost of the center. Hopefully, the region will rally behind Mercy and help them reach this goal.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Jan. 8, 2019.

Early on in this presidential administration, Donald Trump’s advisers told the public to take his statements seriously, not literally. That may explain the latest walk-back. At least let’s hope so.

There’s an old Kurdish saying: Our only friends are the mountains. And over the years, that’s been proven true over and again. Abandonment, they’re used to. It goes back to at least the Nixon administration, when the U.S. encouraged an uprising of Kurds in Iraq as a favor to the Shah of Iran. Fat lot of good it did the Kurds.

Then, after the First Gulf War, the U.S. encouraged the Kurds to rise up against the government of Iraq, only to abandon them to Saddam Hussein’s tender mercies. The situation with the Kurds in Turkey/Iraq/Syria seems to prove the old line: It’s dangerous to be America’s enemy in this world, but it can be fatal to be her friend. What’s amazing is that the Kurds still consider America their great ally.

Just before Christmas, the current president seemed to follow several of his predecessors by turning his back on the Kurds, this time in Syria. He announced, quite casually and quite unexpectedly that the United States was pulling out of Syria, pronto, because ISIS was defeated. (It’s not.) The decision was a reversal of on-the-record United States policy and not only surprised the Kurds, but the president’s own advisers, the president’s party, and American allies elsewhere. Soon after the announcement — on Twitter — the Turks began massing tanks near Kurdish positions all along its border with Syria.

(The Turks consider the Kurdish fighters terrorists. Like most things in the Middle East, it’s complicated.)

But after American allies gasped, American enemies applauded, and at least one American Cabinet member resigned over the decision, the administration is walking back President Trump’s tweets. The latest came last week when a senior administration official told The Washington Post: “The United States is not leaving the Middle East. Despite reports to the contrary and false narratives surrounding the Syria decision, we are not going anywhere.”

Well.

The always blunt John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, told the papers that any withdrawal from Syria is conditional. First, ISIS will have to be defeated in something other than the president’s Twitter account, and Turkey would have to assure the safety of the Kurds in Syria.

John Bolton, who has always told it with the bark off, said there is no timetable to the pullout, but that the fight in Syria won’t be unending for his country. Which sounds completely reasonable. So much so that even the president seems to have new talking points: “We’re pulling out of Syria,” he told the press at the White House this weekend. “But we’re doing it and we won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”

Again, completely reasonable. Finally.

John Bolton is said to be on his way to the Middle East, specifically Turkey, to talk turkey. Reports say the United States will insist that Kurdish allies in Syria won’t be swept away by Turkish tanks once the Americans do leave. What reassurances Recep Tayyip Erdogan can give Mr. Bolton is anybody’s guess. But it would seem to be in the American interest to protect the Kurds — and all the Kurdish fighters who acted as American infantry in this fight against ISIS.

Not only to protect Kurds today, but Americans tomorrow. One day, the United States will need allies on the ground again. Maybe this time the United States’ treatment of her Kurdish allies will provide an example to emulate, not beware.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Jan. 8, 2019.

Early January in Arkansas’ odd-numbered years is almost certain to feature political observers and journalists attempting to predict the road ahead as the state’s 135 legislators count the days to the next regular session of the General Assembly.

We’re less than a week away from the session, in which lawmakers new and old will sling 2,500 to 3,000 new laws against the legislative wall to see what might stick. Get ready, Arkansans: We’re going to see important pieces of law-making. And, if history is any indication, right alongside the important stuff will be the inane, the unnecessary and the downright bad bills.

Readers saw in Sunday’s paper a prime example of why Arkansas’ statutory sausage-making isn’t always a process one wants to see. A state representative from the city of Trumann (northeast Arkansas) filed two bills at the behest of two gentlemen who don’t live in Arkansas and whose backgrounds provide little reason that their recommendations should be listened to. And yet the local lawmaker took in their dubious ideas hook, line and sinker, filing the necessary paperwork to have the bills put before his colleagues.

Is that what passes for sincere legislative discernment these days? It showed up in my email box, so it must be legit, right?

Well, we suppose that’s why there’s a process in place to weed such measures out. Let’s hope the lawmakers who will descend on the state Capitol in Little Rock next week take a skeptical view of legislation and vote yes only when they know it will make a positive difference for Arkansas.

If in doubt, in other words, don’t just jump on the bandwagon. No law is most often preferable to bad law.

We’re told the session will feature a robust discussion on some gun legislation. What else is new? But this time it won’t be Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville pushing to expand concealed carry. He was shown the exit doors by Fayetteville area voters, replaced by Democrat Denise Garner.

What will the gun legislation look like? If we tried to hit that target, we’re sure we’d miss.

But here’s what we’d appreciate: Let’s not have everyone retreat into their respective corners right out of the starting blocks.

Oh, we get it. There’s a Second Amendment. And there are those who want to see a dramatic reduction in the number of guns in people’s hands. As long as that’s parameters of debate, nobody will accomplish anything.

In between, we hope state lawmakers can zone in on more fundamental questions: How can public school students be protected from anyone who would want to do them harm? And what can lawmakers do to address criminal behaviors involving guns rather than blanket changes that place burdens on law-abiding gun owners?

How about addressing legislation that has a chance to prevent carnage?

Even the most impassioned advocate for the Second Amendment and unencumbered ownership of guns can, we hope, embrace limitations specifically targeted to people at high risk of hurting themselves and others. Don’t view efforts to address that as a fight to save the Second Amendment. As long as every reaction is viewed as an absolute defense of the Second Amendment, little can be done to protect people from the wrongdoers everyone would like to stop. Protect the fundamental right to bear arms, but look for ways that legislation can deal with those who have or would do harm.

We’d like to believe there’s common ground on saving people from harm. Whether that can be found depends a lot on the skills and intellectual honesty of lawmakers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Arkansas found innovative ways to protect its young people even while respecting people who are gun owners? “Arkansas leads on protecting its young,” would be a nice headline.

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