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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

February 26, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. Feb. 26, 2019.

Plenty of Texarkana residents remember the days — or should we say nights — on the “Wamba Flats.”

A popular place down Richmond Road where generations of local car enthusiasts tested their skills and engines against other drivers and their vehicles. The races were illegal but that was just a technicality. Sure, there was a chance you could be arrested, but that was part of the fun. Hardly ever happened, though.

There was another risk as well. Illegal night racing could lead to an accident. Sometimes serious.

We ran a story on Sunday’s front page that drives the point home. Last year in May two men were arrested after such an accident. This time it was as bad as it could get.

Reportedly racing on Richmond Road, one of the two cars struck another vehicle. The crash claimed the life of the young woman in that car.

Now the two men face charges of racing on a highway causing serious bodily injury or death. And one woman is dead.

We know street racing can be fun. But it’s illegal for a reason and this tragedy shows just why.

Is it worth it? Worth risking jail? Worth risking your life or the life of another? For bragging rights, a thrill, maybe some cash?

For most of our readers — the ones who were part of the Wamba Flats — the idea of street racing is long behind them. Many probably wonder how they could have been so foolish.

But others might still be tempted. All we can say is think about it. Think hard.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Feb. 26, 2019.

This seems a topic tailor-made for talk radio. It involves the courts. (The federal courts at that!) A long-standing tradition. Men and women. War. The long arm of government. Throw in sports and you might have the perfect radio topic.

But there are no sports. Not if you don’t include politics.

It seems a federal judge down in Texas (in Texas!) ruled that the Selective Service law is unconstitutional. Because it requires men to sign up, but not women.

As far back as 1981, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that women could be exempt from registering for the draft because they were excluded from combat jobs. But all that changed in 2015 when those jobs were opened to women. So last week a judge decided that excluding women from the draft made no constitutional sense: “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’” the judge wrote, “that time has passed.”

So, besides the gasping in some quarters, what does this mean? Answer: Probably not much. Mostly because there hasn’t been a draft in the United States in 45-some-odd years. In the last decade, Americans have been fighting several wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, not to mention smaller combat operations in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan . . . . And the war on terror might spread elsewhere tomorrow. This country has been able to do all that--while holding the fort in Germany, Japan, South Korea and Kuwait--without using inductees. The all-volunteer force has worked well, has worked wonders, for four-plus decades. It’s doubtful a draft is coming.

Doubtful, but not impossible. Which is the whole reason for this list of names in the first place: in case the nation needs an instant army to fight an unthinkable fight.

As a friend in the military put it this week, getting picked in the draft never meant an automatic ticket to a war anyway. It meant a trip to the draft board to see if there were any reasons why you could not go. Any woman, er, female, who couldn’t deploy could make her case there. And there are still physical standards that must be met for combat jobs.

There has been some talk that this ruling might be the final straw for the Selective Service. And that if America’s daughters are forced to sign up, the politics will be easier to kill the thing outright. On this, we should listen to the experts. Including one writing in The Hill earlier this month. Dennis Laich, a retired major general, wrote a sharp column before last week’s ruling, saying in part:

“From a national security perspective, the idea of eliminating the system is a slippery slope. The most recent National Defense Strategy identifies China and Russia as primary threats. War with either one might require mass mobilization, and the United States never has been able to achieve a mass mobilization without conscription. Abandoning the Selective Service System would take us one step further away from a timely response to a major threat and might embolden a potential adversary.”

The Selective Service, we should keep. Just so’s the rest of the world knows we have it. It’s doubtful the United States will ever use it again. Besides, if it becomes necessary, we might all be shooting at the bad guys over the fence anyway.

It’s not going to harm much if some of the names on the list are feminine.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Feb. 26, 2019.

Sprinkled across Northwest Arkansas and the rest of the state — some would suggest a better description might be “littered” — are living quarters that would never rise to being called suitable for human habitation.

And yet they are rented out to people in need, tenants who pay good money for less-than-tolerable conditions. Except people do, in fact, tolerate them. Why? Because it’s what they can afford, or perhaps there’s no insurmountably large security deposit required, or maybe the tenants have a reason they don’t want a landlord who expects too many questions to be answered. So, living in lousy conditions is, in some cases, a choice encouraged or forced by other circumstances.

Should that be good enough for Arkansas?

Second-term state Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, a Republican from Paragould in the northeast corner of the state, apparently recognizes Arkansas’ weakness in standing up for people who rent and its history of giving landlords a pass when it comes to some pretty minimum expectations. If a landowner is going to market a property for rent, it seems just and reasonable that the property ought to create a decently livable situation.

Gazaway’s solution is to amend the Arkansas Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 2007. The amendment would create an expectation within state law that a landlord must maintain premises he rents to others, a notion that includes meeting basic building, housing, fire and health codes. It goes on with a basic list of items that should be kept in good working order, such as:

— Waterproof roofs, walls, doors and windows.

— Locks for all exterior doors and windows that can be opened and closed.

— Access to a water supply, with hot and cold water available.

— Legal plumbing and heating systems.

— Safe access to electricity.

— A functioning carbon monoxide detector.

The bill would not hold a landlord liable for a repair to the premises that was caused by a negligent or wrongful act of the tenant or someone on the premises with the tenant’s consent.

Gazaway’s legislation spells out procedures tenants can use to advise landlords of problems and the time period in which compliance must follow. It also provides a way for a tenant to get out of a lease agreement if the landlord is not living up to his very basic end of the bargain.

“At the end of the day, this is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” Gazaway said of his proposal. “This is a basic human rights issue.”

Arkansas is used to having a shoddy reputation in some of its protection of the vulnerable, but it’s the only state without a simple “implied warranty of habitability” law.

This makes such basic sense, which probably explains why several other efforts through the years have met with resistance. Landlords — at least the ones willing to take advantage of their customers — prefer a world in which they get to determine what’s needed and what’s not.

Tired of those cold drafts coming through cracked windows? Here’s a blanket, space heater and an extension cord. Good luck!

Arkansas ought to be a much more decent place than the absence of this protection would indicate. We’re never going to suggest a bill is perfect and maybe landlords can raise some technical concerns, but the fundamental need for this bill is strong across the state, but especially in rural areas where counties provide none of their own protections and in some cities where building codes are not enforced or don’t really exist.

Come on, Arkansans. Nobody suggests rental units should be mini-Taj Mahals, but they should be more than shacks. It’s only right that someone paying a monthly rental fee should be able to have a minimum level of expectations for what they get in return.