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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

June 5, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. June 3, 2018.

The Texarkana region got some potentially good news last week.

It was announced that TexAmericas Center has been designated an Opportunity Zone by the federal government.

That’s something that could draw investors, new businesses and jobs to the area.

TexAmericas Center is located on land that was once part of Red River Army Depot. The center was chartered by the Texas Legislature in 1998 as a Special Purpose District with the mission to bring new business and industry on the surplus property.

The new designation is intended to help that mission succeed.

Included in President Donald Trump’s tax reform bill and approved by Congress, an Opportunity Zone gives investors an incentive to put their money to work. They can commit to putting money into a business for at least 10 years, and when the business is sold, the profits are free of capital gains taxes.

And it’s not just TexAmericas Center that will benefit as an Opportunity Zone. All of RRAD, the city of Hooks, Texas, and some other properties in Bowie County have also been granted the federal designation.

There are no guarantees, of course. But the combination of available property and facilities, a good transportation network and a pro-business climate, coupled with the capital gains tax break, might just draw some new industry to the area. At least there is now more to offer potential investors.

And that’s a win all around.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 4, 2018.

The broadcast news outlet interviewed an expert who said the financial panic of 2008 is officially over. Which might come as a surprise to those of us who thought it was over years ago. But once the top-of-the-hour radio guy says something, it’s mainstream. And official.

But if radio guy hadn’t told us, it’s probable we’d all know by now anyway. For the economic news has been not just good lately, but exciting:

Last month, the unemployment rate fell to an 18-year low of 3.8 percent nationally. Which means the nation might be doing as well as Arkansas has been doing lately. In April, the unemployment rate for black folks broke all records — until the next month. In May, that rate was 5.9 percent. The unemployment rate for Hispanic folks broke records in the spring, too.

Those who study these things say that an unemployment rate below 5 percent is actually “full employment” since a number that low can be explained by folks moving, switching jobs or just getting out of college. So 3.8 percent means if you want a job, you can find one.

All this good news on the jobs front means that employees can demand more, and they are. The papers said last week that the average hourly rate increased 2.7 percent this year. On Friday, when all this good news was announced, Treasury yields went up and the Fed started talking about rate hikes, so this full-speed economy doesn’t become a runaway freight. And the long-term economic trend is even better. Steady job growth and low taxes should boost spending by We the People, helping to move this country from rebound to slam-dunk in the coming years.

So why ruin it all?

Many presidents take too much of the blame when the economy goes sour (Carter, Bush the First), and many presidents take too much of the credit when the economy is humming right along (Clinton). But the current occupant of the Oval Office actually deserves much of the credit this time. His (and his party’s) tax cuts are doing what tax cuts do.

On the very day all this great economic news was making headlines, another headline appeared in Arkansas’ Newspaper:

U.S. goes ahead with tariffs

Why?

The administration says it’s going to impose tariffs on metals imported by some of this nation’s closest allies. The announcement said this country will impose a 25-percent tariff on steel and a 10-percent tariff on aluminum. Which will be applied against imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

Officials in those countries responded immediately, warning of retaliation--not only on metals, but other things that will hit the heartland where it hurts. That is, in our wallets. Our allies say they’re now looking at tariffs on clothing, cheese and meats. Meats, such as the kind Arkansas produces.

All this on top of a possible trade war with a nation that’s not an ally but an important trading partner: Red China. Which has threatened to retaliate in its own way--by marking up soybeans it imports from Arkansas, to name just one of its own tariffs.

The Trump administration tells the press that it’s working via a 1960s law that allows the United States to impose tariffs to protect national security. And argues that imports are weakening the nation’s industrial base.

Which doesn’t explain full employment, wages rising, economic records falling each month . . . .

According to a memo from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s top official, these American tariffs could threaten nearly 2.6 million jobs. Bottom line: A trade war doesn’t make sense. Not now. Not ever.

The president’s people should take President Trump aside and explain the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, a protectionist piece of bad legislation that raised tariffs on all sorts of American goods. After America’s trading partners retaliated, the Great Depression got greater. And longer.

And if they don’t want to question the president directly, they could at least show him some comments from a conservative member of his own party, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who said this on Friday: “Europe, Canada and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents. We’ve been down this road before--blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. Make America Great Again shouldn’t mean Make America 1929 Again.”

We’re reminded of a populist politician, back in 2016, campaigning for president by defending tariffs, pooh-poohing free trade agreements and promising to turn back time to an era when the nation’s economy was based on blue-collar workers in highly paid union jobs of the industrial past. But his name was Bernie Sanders.

We didn’t need a Bernie Sanders economy in 2016. And we don’t need one in 2018.

When it comes to tariffs, Mr. President, let’s not.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. June 5, 2018.

As the talking heads scream at each other on the cable shows, it may do Gentle Reader some good to hear a few of the facts involving Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling about that baker in Colorado and the gay couple he didn’t bake for. Because if you listen to just one 15-second sound bite from Side A, you might think that the Supreme Court has set back civil rights two decades. And if you listen to Side B, you might think this ruling closes the matter completely. Neither seems right.

From the top:

Back in 2012, a same-sex couple, Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins, visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a cake for their wedding reception. The owner of the shop, Jack Phillips, said he couldn’t make a cake for them, because a same-sex wedding violated his religious beliefs. (And, at the time, state law.)

The couple sued.

One would understand that much listening to the broadcast news. But there are more details. And reasons why the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the baker, with several of the top court’s more liberal members joining conservatives.

The couple took their fight to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. That commission didn’t just rule in favor of the couple, but it pretty much treated the baker, and his religious beliefs, in a disparaging manner. According to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion:

The Commission ordered Phillips to “cease and desist from discriminating against . . . same-sex couples by refusing to sell them wedding cakes or any product (they) would sell to heterosexual couples.” It also ordered additional remedial measures, including “comprehensive staff training on the Public Accommodations section” of (the law) “and changes to any and all company policies to comply with . . . this Order.” The Commission additionally required Phillips to prepare “quarterly compliance reports” for a period of two years documenting “the number of patrons denied service” and why, along with “a statement describing the remedial actions taken.”

Quarterly compliance reports? That sounds like something out of Dilbert. Or a big media company. Comprehensive staff training? Could we put them in camps and call it re-education?

Mr. Phillips told the couple he’d make them birthday cakes, shower cakes, brownies and cookies. They could buy anything in the store. He just wouldn’t actively participate in creating a cake, a masterpiece as it were, for something that violated his religious beliefs. Any more than a preacher could be required to officiate the wedding. And the Colorado Civil Rights Commission not only took offense, but became offensive.

At one meeting, a commissioner said this, for the record: “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.”

To which the Supreme Court answered:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical — something insubstantial and even insincere. The commissioner even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law — a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

The court’s ruling comes back to this, again and again, at least in our reading: The gay couple wasn’t at fault. The baker wasn’t at fault. But the commission in charge of protecting everybody’s rights was at fault--for openly insulting the baker and his religion time and again. And not granting him the basic right of neutrality that it should use in deciding any legal case.

Let us now turn to Justice Elena Kagan’s concurring opinion. One of the more liberal leaning members of the court, her views may have more weight for our friends on the left than certain others of her colleagues.

As a rule, a general rule, business owners shouldn’t be able to deny services to people under the public accommodations law. But, Justice Kagan writes, “in upholding that principle, state actors cannot show hostility to religious views; rather, they must give those views ‘neutral and respectful consideration.’ . . . I join the Court’s opinion in full because I believe the Colorado Civil Rights Commission did not satisfy that obligation.”

This nation’s top court likes to punt. It does so often. Not always, but often enough. These aren’t the days of miracles, as a president named Lincoln once noted, and in modern times the court has tended to decide cases narrowly when that escape presents itself. It has done so again.

Whether a baker can tell a same-sex couple no is still anybody’s guess. Especially since homosexual marriage is now on the books. But one thing is clear from this ruling:

The state, through its representatives on civil rights commissions, can’t go around comparing Christian businessmen to Nazis and slave owners. If the state can’t grant certain favors for believers, it certainly shouldn’t insult and defame them, or assume their faith is only talk.

At least this nation’s Supreme Court sees that much. And for that much We the People can give thanks.

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