The country is barely into a new year and already we have a lot of problems.
• The newspaper USA Today found out that a columnist whose work is syndicated to several daily conservative newspapers was paid $240,000 to write favorable columns about President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and other things that the administration sold to Congress and the American people. The writer, Armstrong Williams, apologized after the story broke, saying that he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong.
Williams, who has no real journalism background, was fired by the syndicate, and people and organizations that dislike newspapers are having great fun saying that it proves that what you read in newspapers is rarely true. Of course, what they should be doing is criticizing the Bush administration for giving our tax money to Williams and other hacks to enable newspapers and TV talk shows to make our leaders look good.
• A few days ago an Air Force major general told Jacksonville’s Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council that the Defense Department has decided to save money by buying fewer of the new, $83 million, C-130J cargo and personnel transport airplanes. The base now owns only one, and, unless something changes, it will now get only six of the new planes instead of the 16 that were ordered for Jacksonville.
The reason? The cost of the war in Iraq, of course. “More money is going to the Army,” the general said. An $11.6 million hangar for the C-139J, an $8.5 million flight simulator, a maintenance facility and a fuselage training building are already under construction on the base. Members of the Community Council left the meeting and called their members of Congress. The main function of the Little Rock Air Force Base is to train crews from all military services how to fly the C-130 and its new bigger model. The base pours $512 million into the economy of Pulaski County every year. About 5,500 airmen and 1,400 civilians work at the base, which in October will be 50 years old, and we want to keep it for 50 more.
• The Pentagon has been saying it was constructing a system of interceptor missiles that would be ready in 2004 to shoot down any enemy warhead that might be aimed at the United States. Well, the tests haven’t been successful. The most recent one was Dec. 15, and the missiles couldn’t even get off the ground. Last week Lieut. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering III said, “It turned out we had overly constrained the system,” whatever that means.
Eight of these interceptors have been installed in Alaska and California, with 10 more supposedly to be installed this year. But Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has not said when the system would be in operation. “Whether or not that occurs — and when that occurs — is not my decision,” the general told the Washington Post.
• On Jan. 14, Charles Graner from Pennsylvania, the first soldier tried in the Abu Ghraib scandal, was convicted for torturing prisoners captured in Iraq. It was exactly a year ago when the world saw pictures of the horrors in American military jails. An Iraqi jailed for stealing a car testified against Graner, saying he jumped on him, forced him to strip, masturbate, simulate oral sex and then sleep naked in a cell the guards had soaked with water. “The Americans came to free the Iraqi from Saddam,” he said. “When they first came, it appeared that they were good, but this incident changed the entire picture of what Americans look like.”
Graner is an enlisted man, a reservist, just as four out of every 10 soldiers in Iraq are members of the National Guard or a reserve unit in their state. The handful of others who are waiting for trial are also not professional soldiers and no higher in rank than sergeant. So what about the colonels and generals who had the responsibility of overseeing the American jails in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? The only one questioned by the Pentagon is a woman, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, but so far she has only been ordered to testify at these trials. Gen. Karpinski fears she’s the fall gal for the higher-ups and has fingered a couple of major generals she says knew and went along with the torture. Why even Secretary Rumsfeld approved some get-tough ideas for inmates in the Guantanamo jail, so maybe some commanders of other jails thought they too could proceed or at least look away.
It’s hard to remember anything that has maligned Americans worse than those photographs and trials.
• After almost two years of searching, the Iraq Survey Group announced last week that.Iraq had no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons — our president’s reason for invading the country. One of his other reasons — that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9-11 attack on the United States — was disproved years ago. The man responsible for it was Osama bin Laden, who has been pursued by every device and branch of our military force for years.
Saturday when Washington Post reporters asked why we haven’t been able to catch him, President Bush said, “Because he’s hiding.” How does that make you feel?
Newspaper photographers never get much money or attention. I know because I got my first job as one in the 1940s. In 1957, a guy named Will Counts learned it when he made the best pictures of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School.
Hog fans just can't quit blaming the refs for the NCAA men's basketball tournament loss to North Carolina. Now the Arkansas Senate has gotten in on the act, with this resolution introduced by Democratic Sen. Keith Ingram and getting bipartisan co-sponsorship from that brutish and short sandlot roundball player, Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson.
IndieWire breaks news long whispered downtown — a more ambitious successor to the Little Rock Film Festival is in the works, with backing from writer/director Jeff Nichols, a Little Rock native. His "Loving" has won wide acclaim recently.