Splitting a Hair 

The entire Mid-South community continues to grieve over the tragic shooting deaths last Friday of two West Memphis policemen during what was described as a "traffic stop," followed an hour or so later by a Wild West-style shootout

at a Walmart parking lot in which the Crittenden County sheriff and his chief deputy were seriously wounded and the alleged original assailants, a father and his 16-year-old son, were slain.

We say "alleged" because, until all the facts are in and there has been an ultimate legal disposition of the case, we can only conjecture as to the whole truth and to matters of guilt or innocence.

We are taken, however, by one of the background circumstances involving the slain father, one Jerry Kane, an itinerant conductor of seminars on how to avoid home mortgage foreclosures. Kane's intellectual portfolio included an arsenal of grievances against a variety of governmental procedures.

When he was jailed for 72 hours in New Mexico earlier this year for non-possession of a license for himself and his motor vehicle, Kane took to a radio blog to complain of having been stopped at a "Nazi checkpoint." Given the fact that anti-government zealots have risen to the defense of Kane's memory, we have a clarifying question to ask of them: When is such a roadblock a legitimate method for screening out illegal aliens or, worse, potential terrorists? And when does it become the kind of totalitarian tyranny that Kane claimed it was?

We would hate to think that, for right-wing vigilantes, Kane's redeeming WASP heritage was the definitive factor.

A Busted Union?

After a grueling seven-year negotiation, members of the Memphis Newspaper Guild finally have voted to ratify a "final" contract offer from The Commercial Appeal.

Guild-covered employees who qualify will receive their first raises since the process began. In exchange for the extra money, the right to arbitration, and an "evergreen clause" that won't allow terms of the current agreement to expire until a new contract is in place, the guild has given management the right to an unlimited outsourcing of jobs.

In an open letter to the public at the guild's website, the union's president, Daniel Connolly, says his company could have imposed the outsourcing even if the contract had been rejected. And, he says, "the very existence" of the union would have been at risk. That's what you call being caught between a rock and a hard place.

In a separate flag-waving note to guild membership, Connolly took courage from the union's mere survival. "As long as there are any guild-covered workers left at The Commercial Appeal, their lives will be better because the union exists," he wrote. But doesn't a diminished, demoralized union that can't protect jobs or oppose an unfavorable agreement without imploding sound like a busted union?

The guild is protected from decertification for the three-year term of the contract, but with unlimited outsourcing, who knows what the union, the newsroom, or even the newspaper will look like when contract negotiations resume in 2013.

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