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Daily Arkansas news, politics and entertainment. Featuring the state's most trusted blog, dining guides and dining reviews, movie times and more.



Published: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:01 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 12:00:00 -0500

Copyright: Copyright 2018 Arkansas Times. All rights reserved. This RSS file is offered to individuals, Arkansas Times readers, and non-commercial organizations only. Any commercial websites wishing to use this RSS file, please contact Arkansas Times.
 



New "Rock the Culture" podcast: How you gonna fight that?

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 11:59:00 -0500

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Please check out the latest edition of "Rock the Culture," a new podcast in our burgeoning podcast network. It's the brainchild of Antwan Phillips, a lawyer at Wright Lindsey Jennings, community activist and frequent Arkansas Times guest columnist. State Rep. Charles Blake is a regular guest host.

In this week’s episode, they offer perspective and conversation on the “Freaky Friday” incident at UA Little Rock, ongoing campaign finance issues at city hall and diversity and de-escalation training for police officers. They also discuss the state teachers union and the looming battle for the preservation of state teachers’ retirement fund with guest Tracy Ann Nelson, the executive director of the Arkansas Education Association.

Subscribe via iTunes. You can also find it on Overcast and Pocket Casts. More soon!

Also, check out KARK's story on the show.





Text messages presented at Woods trial show alleged conspirators' successful efforts to grab GIF cash from multiple legislators

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 11:32:00 -0500

The prosecution yesterday presented text messages, emails, and bank records yesterday that provided more details about the alleged kickback scheme involving former state Sen. Jon Woods, consultant Randell Shelton Jr., Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III, and former Rep. Micah Neal. Neal and Paris have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the prosecution. The text messages demonstrate the efforts by the alleged co-conspirators to influence other lawmakers to throw public money toward Ecclesia, a tiny Christian college in Springdale, Doug Thompson reports for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. These efforts were successful, as multiple legislators other than Woods and Neal directed tens of thousands of dollars via the state's General Improvement Fund (GIF) grants toward questionable spending on Eccleisa. Most these legislators remain in the General Assembly. As Thompson takes some pains to point out, the other legislators have not been charged or implicated in the kickback scheme. But let me take pains to point something else out: These lawmakers, unnamed in Thompson's article when it first appeared yesterday, helped to direct more than $700,000 in public GIF funds based on the influence of an alleged criminal conspiracy. The recipient of that money is an institution that operates as a church for tax purposes, raising constitutional questions to begin with. It is an obscure school with 200 students (around half of whom are enrolled in distance learning) that requested the money to make land purchases of no obvious need for educational purchases. Though most of the money was supposed to be for construction of student housing, there's no evidence of construction or structural renovation and the land was purchased at well over its appraised value. The stench on this was rank, and at least eight other legislators were happy to grease the wheels. Put it this way: Woods and Neal were able to nearly double their own contributions in the alleged kickback scheme through the help of at least eight of their colleagues.  The text messages between the alleged co-conspirators discussed who would approach lawmakers and how much they would ask for. Thompson does not state which legislators were specifically named in these text messages, but presumably they include some or all of those who directed GIF money to Ecclesia. Thompson's previous investigative work under the Freedom of Information Act has uncovered which ten lawmakers, including Woods and Neal, did so. This information was included in a helpful sidebar from Thompson in the Northwest Arkansas edition of the D-G this morning but not, for some reason, in the central Arkansas edition of the paper (which also failed to immediately print those names when Thompson first reported them last year). Here are the legislators: Woods (R-Springdale) $350,000 Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) $60,000 State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe (R-Rogers) $60,000 Neal (R-Springdale) $50,000 Former state Rep. Randy Alexander (R-Rogers) $26,500 Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) $25,000 (for matching money for a federal student aid grant) Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) $14,000 Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville) $13,500 . Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville) $8,500 Rep. Debra Hobbs (R-Rogers) $10,000 Thompson did a great job contacting all of these lawmakers last year and rounded up their excuses. Meeks said he directed the money more than 100 miles away from his district because he had visited it and supported its mission. Hester said it was a "worthy project." He explained the public largess for the tiny school, gathered up from so many lawmaker buddies, by opining, "It's a very conservative school, and there's lots of conservative legislators." Ballinger said, "My feeling and sense is the college got wrapped up in something it had nothing to do with." Oops. In addition to the grants above, the college received $100,000 via the West Central Arkansas Planning and Dev[...]



Trump's popularity among Arkansas Republicans remains overwhelmingly high

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 10:27:00 -0500

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Surprise, surprise: The most recent polling from Talk Business and Hendrix College finds approval ratings for President Trump among Arkansas Republicans remains at sky-high levels.

In a recent survey of 676 likely GOP primary voters, the pollsters found 86 percent said they approved of Trump's job performance. Only 10 percent said they did not, and 4 percent said they didn't know.

Hendrix political science professor Jay Barth — who is a columnist for the Arkansas Times — noted the poll results did not show a gender gap. "Both men and women in our sample had nearly identical levels of support for the President, contrary to some national numbers showing more wariness about the President among women, including Republican women," he wrote. He also remains extraordinarily popular among churchgoing voters.

It's important to emphasize that this is a poll of likely Republican primary voters, not the general electorate. I have no doubt a poll of all likely voters in Arkansas (or of all Arkansans) would still show high approval ratings for Trump — but not so high as 86 percent. Only about a third of Arkansan voters are affiliated with the GOP.

The 2017 Arkansas Poll from the U of A's Janine Parry showed about 32 percent of likely voters identified as Republican, 25 percent as Democrat and 35 percent as Independent. In the press release accompanying the publication of those poll results, Parry noted that her numbers showed a "modest shift" in the proportion of Independents who said they lean closer to Democrats, and a similarly small drop among those who said they were "closer to Republicans." She said at the time:
“I’m unconvinced either party should get too worked up about this,” said Parry, “But it does mark a reversal from the dramatic move to the right we’ve seen among Arkansas independents since 2010, a move that has flipped election outcomes upside down. So, it’s something to watch as we approach the next big round of state elections in 2018.”
Worth noting, too, that the president's approval ratings nationally were lower in October (when the 2017 Arkansas Poll was performed) than they are today. If any of the "modest shift" described by Parry was driven by Trump fatigue, support for the GOP among Arkansas independents may have since rebounded.

In any case, I would expect Trump's support among Independents in Arkansas remains extremely high, but it'd be interesting to see some polling that targets that group specifically.



Lake View mandate on school funding 'probably' still stands despite sovereign immunity ruling, lawmakers told

Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:15:00 -0500

A January ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that broadly reinterpreted the sovereign immunity provision of the state Constitution continues to confound one legal issue after another. Can farmers sue the State Plant Board over a regulation banning dicamba? Can spurned marijuana cultivation applicants challenge the Medical Marijuana Commission's process for awarding licenses? Can anyone ever sue the state, for any reason? On Monday, the legislature's Joint Education Committee heard from staff attorneys about the potential effects of the new sovereign immunity ruling on a decades-old court case that has become the cornerstone of public school funding in Arkansas: The state Supreme Court's Lake View decision, which proceeded from a lawsuit by the Lake View School District over the state's failure to provide an "adequate and equitable" education for all students as demanded by the Arkansas Constitution. As a result of Lake View, in the early 2000s, the court required then-Governor Mike Huckabee and the General Assembly (then controlled by Democrats) to overhaul Arkansas's method of paying for schools. What resulted was the establishment of a biennial process — known at the Capitol as "adequacy" — in which legislators regularly increase the money appropriated to public schools by an amount prescribed by a funding formula. As the legislature has grown more conservative in recent years, it's started making the annual increases smaller and flirted with disobeying the strictures of adequacy outright. (The court itself has entirely turned over since the Lake View decision.) Yet Lake View still stands, which may be one reason Arkansas has avoided the punishing cuts to public education seen in places like Oklahoma and Kansas. In 2017, legislators Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) and Sens. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) and Blake Johnson (R-Corning) proposed two constitutional amendments that targeted Lake View. “We’re getting the courts out of our education system,” Clark said at the time. Neither proposal gained traction. But if the state can't be sued, does that mean the mandate that resulted from the Lake View district's suit against the state is still applicable? "Based on what we know, probably yes," attorney Matthew Miller told legislators on Monday. The recent sovereign immunity ruling came in a case called Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas v. Andrews, in which a bookstore manager at Rich Mountain Community College sought overtime compensation from the state. Arkansas's minimum wage statute — crafted by the legislature — says sovereign immunity is waived in such cases. The Supreme Court said in the Andrews case that the legislature did not have the ability to waive sovereign immunity, because its authority is superseded by the Constitution. Article 5, Section 20 of the Constitution says "The State of Arkansas shall never be made defendant in any of her courts." (Two justices dissented from the majority opinion to warn the court against this departure from recent precedent.) Still, it's unclear just how literally the justices want to construe their newly enhanced prohibition on lawsuits against the state. The court seems to have decided the legislature is never allowed to waive sovereign immunity by statute; it affirmed as much in a subsequent decision on the state's whistleblower act. Lake View, however, is a "fundamentally different" question, Miller said, because the plaintiffs in that case based their suit on the Constitution itself. "It alleged that the school funding system was unconstitutional based on provisions in Article 14 and Article 2 of the Arkansas Constitution," he said. "To argue [sovereign immunity] in this context, you’re arguing one piece of the Constitution against itself, basically. ... If someone files a challenge, we may get an interpretation that illustrates some implications, but as we sit here today it’s difficu[...]



Bob Dorough dies at 94

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 20:11:00 -0500

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Word comes late this afternoon that Arkansas native Bob Dorough died today, at age 94. The jazz pianist and arranger from Cherry Hill (Polk County) was responsible for some of the most beloved tunes on the cartoon series "Schoolhouse Rock!," as well as decades of original material, collaborations with Sugar Ray Robinson, Blossom Dearie and Nellie McKay.

I had the pleasure of talking with Bob Dorough ahead of an appearance at CALS Ron Robinson Theater last May. Here's that conversation, in which he explains his middle name (Lrod), sings an unreleased song about the square and admires Igor Stravinsky's work ethic.



Attorney General Rutledge rejects full marijuana legalization ballot initiative

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 19:04:00 -0500

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Speaking of weed, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today rejected a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. The measure would go well beyond the tightly controlled medical marijuana amendment passed by voters last year. It would simply legalize marijuana, full stop. 

The proposed Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment would allow "the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, sale, possession and use of the cannabis plant (genus cannabis) and all products derived from the cannabis plant (genus cannabis) is permitted in every geographic area of each and every county of this State." The legislature could regulate weed, but not prohibit its growth or sale.

The amendment, proposed by Robert Reed, who has been working on the issue for years, was largely similar to a proposal submitted in 2016 and rejected by Rutledge, who cited ambiguities in the text, as is her wont. This time around, Rutledge crankily noted the lack of significant revision: "I rejected your proposed ballot title, and I instructed you to redesign the proposed measure and ballot title. For whatever reason, you have now submitted for my approval a popular name and ballot title for essentially the same proposal." Rutledge also rejected five previous attempts by Reed to propose the amendment in 2015.

To proceed, the ballot measure first needs to be certified by the attorney general. At that point, the amendment would need to collect around 85,000 signatures of registered voters by July to make it on the ballot in November.

Reed did manage to get the the Arkansas Hemp and Cannabis Amendment, in relatively similar form, approved by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel in 2014. That approval came after years of back-and-forth (McDaniel had rejected half a dozen previous attempts) — but it came in June, giving the campaign just a month to collect the needed signatures and get them certified by the secretary of state's office. The group was unable to collect the needed signatures in time.



The marijuana business hits Manhattan

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 15:41:00 -0500

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Colorful profile in Vanity Fair of MedMen
, a California distributor of legal weed that is opening a dispensary at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue:

Founded in 2010, MedMen has quickly become a press darling of the quickly growing legal marijuana market. While the company likes to call itself the “Apple Store of cannabis,” there seems to be some confusion as to what its actual best retail analogue is. Fast Company called it the “Starbucks of weed.” Page Six called it the “Barneys of weed.” Chief Marketing Officer B.J. Carretta, an imposingly tall person who came to MedMen from the sports world, pushed back on the last designation. “If I were to actually compare it [to fashion retail], I would probably say from the volume we do, Nordstrom and Target. Target has amazing branding and amazing in-house brands that they sell, and the experience is great. It’s not super down here. It’s not super up here. It’s accessible.”
As happy as I am to see the pointless and self-defeating government war on weed finally winding down, state by state, I confess that reading about the commercialization of the industry starts to harsh my mellow. Sample sentence from the Vanity Fair article: "It’s more bro-y than the sort of androgynous luxury Barneys stores employ."

But I guess that's the end game for the normalization of marijuana sales: There will be fawning business-section articles overstuffed with branding and biz-whiz jargon and bubbly ad copy, just like any old American business. Puff, puff, gag.

Medmen operates 12 stores nationally with three more on the way. This is its first store in New York City. The state of New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014. Madmen has a weed factory in Reno designed to grow 10,000 pounds of weed per year. Vape pens at its stores run from $20 to $200.

If Arkansas can ever get past the obfuscation, red tape, and bureaucratic turf wars, perhaps the Barneys of weed, or whatever, will some day open in the River Market. 

Full disclosure: Based on the bulging papers in Colorado, the weed business provides a serious advertising boost to alternative weeklies. Here's a sample of what MedMen's mad men came up with:

The walls are decorated with life-size photos of MedMen’s latest ad campaign, featuring 16 “non-stereotypical” cannabis consumers from around the country overlaid with the word “stoner” crossed out. Each one was tidily labeled, Chelsea gallery style. A photo of an octogenarian in red art-lady glasses read: “Barbra Rubin - Grandmother, Doctor with a PhD, professional meditation teacher, and avid Hula-Hoop-er, Barbra enjoys swimming, reading, and connecting with close friends over a dish of edibles.”




State Supreme Court rejects casino group's petition challenging AG on ballot measure hurdles

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 15:34:00 -0500

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a terse ruling Monday that rejected an attempt from Driving Arkansas Forward to sue Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge over her repeated rejection of a ballot measure pushed by the group.

Driving Arkansas Forward seeks the creation of two casinos in the state — one in Jefferson County, one in Pope County — and the enhancement of gaming at the Oaklawn and Southland racetracks for the sake of funding state highways. The group is represented by law firm Steel, Wright, Gray & Hutchinson.

After Rutledge rejected the group's fourth draft of a proposed constitutional amendment to be placed before voters, Driving Arkansas Forward submitted a petition to the Supreme Court requesting an injunction compelling the AG's office to approve the proposed measure. The petition states the group "specifically addressed all concerns raised by the Attorney General" with each resubmission to the AG. The group also requested an expedited consideration of its petition and an accelerated briefing schedule.

In a response filed Friday, the attorney general's office said its rejection of the measure was warranted. The court appeared to fully agree. Its order today reads, in full:
PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR EXPEDITED CONSIDERATION OF PETITION AND FOR ACCELERATED BRIEFING SCHEDULE.

MOTION FOR EXPEDITED CONSIDERATION OF PETITION IS GRANTED. PETITION DENIED. MOTION FOR ACCELERATED BRIEFING SCHEDULE AND FOR EMERGENCY HEARING IS MOOT.
A second group, Arkansas Wins in 2018, is also seeking a ballot measure that would authorize casinos in Arkansas. So far, it's also been rejected by the AG's office.



Nashville Waffle House shooter in police custody

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 14:54:00 -0500

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Police in Nashville, Tenn. have announced the capture of Travis Reinking, the gunman accused of killing four people and wounding at least four others at a Waffle House in a neighborhood of southeast Nashville early Sunday morning.

Reinking allegedly shot up the restaurant with an AR-15 rifle, but the attack was halted by Waffle House patron James Shaw, Jr., who seized the weapon from the shooter when he evidently paused to reload. Shaw sustained a gunshot wound and burns to his hands in the process. He's being hailed as a national hero.

Some gun control advocates will see in the incident a rebuttal to the NRA's line that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." In this case, a good guy without a gun disarmed the bad guy — a contrast with other recent shootings in which an armed guard or officer was unable to effectively intervene. Meanwhile, NRA supporters will see Shaw's rapid intervention as evidence that quick action from a bystander is the only way to curtail mass shootings. If only more people like Shaw were armed, they'll say, those like Reinking would be deterred from committing mayhem.



Monday's headlines and your open line

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 14:49:00 -0500

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Your headlines for April 23, 2018: New poll finds Asa Hutchinson with sizable lead over Jan Morgan; Anonymous Harding University students relaunch LGBTQ publication, campus security removes copies; a memorial to the 21 boys who were burned to death at Wrightsville in '59.



Chelsea Clinton to come to Little Rock for Clinton School talk

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 14:28:00 -0500

(image) Chelsea Clinton will come to Little Rock Sunday, May 20, to talk about her new children's book, "She Persisted Around the World." It's a companion to her bestselling "She Persisted." The location is still to be determined. She'll be interviewed onstage and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre will do a reading of the book.

From the Clinton School of Public Service announcement:

Perfect for tiny activists, mini feminists, and little kids who are ready to take on the world, “She Persisted Around the World” celebrates 13 women from across the globe who have used their voices and determination to create change and shape history through science, the arts, sports, education and activism. Women in the book include Marie Curie, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Viola Desmond, Sissi Lima do Amor, Leymah Gbowee, Caroline Herschel, Wangari Maathai, Aisha Rateb, J.K. Rowling, Kate Sheppard, Yuan Yuan Tan, Mary Verghese, and Malala Yousafzai.
Here's a full schedule of who else is coming to the Clinton School soon.



Hepatitis A outbreak in NE Arkansas's Clay County

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 10:45:00 -0500

Traveled to St. Louis lately via Highway 67? You may want to ask yourself where you ate along the way. The Arkansas Department of Health is warning that an employee of a Subway in Corning has tested positive for the hepatitis A virus. It's the 12th reported case of the disease in Clay County since February, ADH said in a news release on Friday. (The Subway appears to be located in a gas station called Flash Market, which is located on the main thoroughfare in Corning.) "Anyone who ate at this facility between March 30 and April 17 should seek care immediately if they have never been vaccinated against Hep A or are unsure of their vaccine status," the ADH release said. The department is also recommending that all food service workers in Clay County be vaccinated. Those who have been exposed can prevent illness by getting the vaccine promptly, the ADH release says. Children under one year of age can receive a separate medicine regimen, it says. (Though ... should you be feeding your 10-month-old Subway sandwiches?) Here's the CDC's page on the virus. There are an estimated 4,000 cases of the disease annually in the U.S. Note that Hep A is a very different infection than hepatitis B or hepatitis C. All are inflammations of the liver caused by viruses, but Hep A is typically an acute disease caused by food contamination. The CDC website warns that Hep A can be fatal if untreated but says "most people who get hepatitis A feel sick for several weeks, but they usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. In contrast, Hep C is typically a long-term, chronic infection and is usually transmitted by blood. The full press release: Health Department Warns of Possible Hepatitis A Exposure to Customers of Corning, Ark., Flash Market/Subway Little Rock, Ark. – The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) is warning of a possible Hepatitis A (Hep A) exposure after an employee of the Flash Market/Subway, located at 105 North Missouri Avenue, Corning, tested positive for the virus. Hep A is a contagious liver disease. Anyone who ate at this facility between March 30 and April 17 should seek care immediately if they have never been vaccinated against Hep A or are unsure of their vaccine status. There are no specific treatments once a person gets Hep A; however, illness can be prevented even after exposure by getting the vaccine or with a medicine called immune globulin. This medicine contains antibodies from other people who are immune to Hep A and works best if given within two weeks of exposure to the virus. The Clay County Local Health Unit (LHU) in Corning will hold a walk-in clinic to provide vaccinations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21. The Corning LHU, located at 301 N. Missouri Suite 18, is also open from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday, April 23. Those people who cannot attend the clinic will need a vaccine or medicine in the next week in order to prevent illness. Anyone who ate at this location and does not live in the area should contact their LHU or their healthcare provider. People without symptoms who have eaten at this Flash Market/Subway between March 30 and April 17, 2018 and are:    *Under one year of age are too young to be vaccinated so should call their health care provider for medicine.    *One year of age and older and have never been vaccinated for Hep A should get the vaccine. They can come to the Corning LHU during the hours posted above, or contact their local LHU or healthcare provider to get the vaccine. Those who are pregnant, have chronic illness or liver disease are especially e[...]



Anonymous Harding University students relaunch LGBTQ publication, campus security removes copies

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 10:09:00 -0500

A group of anonymous Harding University students on Friday published an "HU Queer Press 2.0" zine, covering issues of gay rights at the private, Church of Christ-affiliated campus in Searcy. A similar publication, "The State of the Gay at Harding University," set off a firestorm of controversy at Harding seven years ago. The new group launched a website, HU Queer Press 2.0, on Friday, and distributed copies of the 16-page zine. According to the group's website, "We aim to be a safe space to broadcast queer voices and encourage our fellow students. We seek to educate those who are confused by what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community, while fostering relationships between the University's queer and straight members." You might find a student publication like that on any number of campuses across the country, but at Harding its release counts as a radical act. The school holds to Church of Christ teachings strongly disapproving of homosexuality. From the student handbook: Harding University holds to the biblical principle that God instituted marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman and that gender identity is given by God and revealed in one’s birth sex. Students are prohibited from being married to or dating a person of the same sex. Neither may students engage in behavior suggesting a romantic relationship with a person of the same sex. The University further holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage and immoral. Sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the University. (Sex is a major focus in the handbook; the word "sex" or "sexual" comes up 29 times.) Shortly after the publication was distributed onto car windshields and elsewhere on campus, HU Queer Press 2.0's Twitter account began reporting that campus security officers were gathering the copies of the zine and throwing them in the trash. The Bison, the school's campus newspaper, reported that "pamphlets were removed from campus because the distributors disregarded the university policy of approval before release." The student handbook requires that literature or other materials distributed on campus must secure university approval through the Office of Student Life. Director of Public Safety Craig Russell told the Bison: This morning, when I became aware of printed materials being left on the windshields of vehicles around campus, I instructed Public Safety officers to remove whatever materials they found, and, if they could locate the individuals distributing those materials, to politely inform them of the university policy and direct them to the Office of Student Life. Our officers were unable to locate any of the individuals distributing the printed materials. The HU Queer Press 2.0 Twitter account offered this cheeky response to campus security trashing their publication: "I love how we politely asked everyone to recycle our zine but instead they threw them in the trash. Even public safety did that. If Harding isn’t going to listen to the LGBTQ+ community then they could at least be environmentally friendly." And another tweet: "It would be very wise for the university to read our zine before they throw it away. We are not asking them to agree with it. We just want you to see that we mean no harm. We come in peace. Please. Listen." The new publication aims to continue a movement and discussion started by a group of anonymous Harding students seven years ago, and features an interview with the original group (the social [...]



The yawning teacher pay gap between Arkansas school districts

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 09:26:00 -0500

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Dave Perozek reports today on the benefit provided to some Arkansas school districts by the notoriously low salaries paid to teachers in Oklahoma, which provides a stream of qualified new recruits to Arkansas districts across the state line. Perozek interviews one teacher who recently left Tulsa's Union Public Schools to come to Bentonville. The reason? The schools pay a living wage: Alexander landed a job as a teacher and coach at the Bentonville School District’s West High School in Centerton to start the 2016-17 school year. He’s making about $18,000 more than he did in Oklahoma, he said. A teacher with no experience and a bachelor’s degree in the Union School District starts at $32,697 and can earn up to $49,142 after 35 years. In Bentonville, the same teacher earns $45,714 in year one and $57,734 in year 25, according to both districts’ salary schedules. Watching from afar what’s happening in Oklahoma has been “heartbreaking,” Alexander said. Oklahoma's self-inflicted wounds regarding school funding have worked to the benefit of nearby states that pay their teachers better salaries, as I discussed recently. Teacher pay in Oklahoma should soon rise — somewhat — thanks to a partial victory won by striking educators. But before Arkansas congratulates itself for outpacing its neighbor to the west, we should take a look at the huge disparity in salaries within our state. New teachers in Bentonville may make almost $46,000 a year, but new teachers in many other Arkansas districts will start the 2018-19 school year earning $31,800 — the state's legislatively designated minimum figure for first-year pay. That's less than what new teachers in Tulsa are making. The four big Northwest Arkansas districts — Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale — have the highest starting pay in the state, the most recent salary schedule analysis from the state Education Department shows. All start new recruits above $44,000. (Bentonville's starting salary appears to have increased slightly since this schedule was created.) Meanwhile, about 30 districts statewide paid teachers a starting salary of $31,400 in 2017-18, the schedule shows. Most of these appear to be in North Central Arkansas (including counties such as Baxter, Boone and Newton) or in South or East Arkansas (counties including Prarie, Pike and Desha). In 2017, the legislature bumped up the floor for new teacher pay to $31,800 beginning in the upcoming school year. Note here that minimum pay isn't the same as average pay. Some districts may pay new teachers a middling salary but give generous raises to classroom veterans or those with advanced degrees. In Little Rock, for example, a new teacher with a B.A. is scheduled to earn just $34,865, but the maximum salary for a teacher with an M.A. and many years of experience is $69,919. (That's still less than in the four NWA districts mentioned above, however, where maximum pay is from $71,000 to $76,000.) But it should come as no surprise that many of the same districts with the lowest starting salaries also have among the lowest maximum salaries. It should also come as no surprise that these districts struggle to recruit teachers. Teachers, being human, will tend to gravitate toward those jobs where they can make a decent wage. In other words, poor schools in Arkansas face much the same situation as schools in Oklahoma. It's difficult to recruit qualified staff, and those who stay are often demoralized by their inability to make a living wage. Wealthier districts pull teachers from disadvantaged ones. In one sense, the legislature is only pa[...]



UA Little Rock response to "racially insensitive incident" prompts discussion on campus

Mon, 23 Apr 2018 07:00:00 -0500

An update to the imbroglio at UA Little Rock over a brief video of fraternity and sorority students singing along to a racial slur in rap song: THV11 reports on the discussion held by the school on Friday morning, when staff and administrators were available to listen to student concerns. There was a large crowd of students flowing out the door at the Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity on the second floor of the Ottenheimer Library on campus.  Some highlights from student and administration reactions and comments to THV11: "This incident has woken up a lot of people,” said Nicholas Moore, a UA-Little Rock student. "This isn’t really about punishment, this is about gaining knowledge, this is about a learning experience. ... We need diverse programs, diverse classes, diversity needs to be pushed at the campus." ... "It’s bigger than the video. It’s more so about getting students educated about the issue," said Miracle Chase, a UA Little Rock student. ... "Our students called for more education. They really expressed they want more discussions about diversity and to work with each other,” said Amber Smith, UA Little Rock Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. ... "Tasteless could be argued, but is it justified in punishing the organizations? I don’t think so," said Zachary Cochran, student at UA-Little Rock. The controversy began last week when a video was posted on Facebook last week of members of the Chi Omega sorority and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity singing along to the song "Freaky Friday." The students, partying on a bus and singing along, repeatedly shout out the n-word. The bit in the song they were singing along to is in fact about the notion of white people wishing for permission to say the word (if you're interested in the convoluted context, I tried to explain this postmodern hellscape in my previous post). The Virginia Tech women's lacrosse team made headlines last month doing the precisely the same thing, posting a video of themselves on a bus giddily shouting along to the same bit in the song. After the video was posted on Facebook last week, UA Little Rock administration responded with a statement that it was investigating what it deemed a "racially insensitive incident" and that the national chapters of the fraternity and sorority had been contacted to to initiate their own investigations. While the school's investigation is ongoing, the Greek organizations have been restricted in their participation in campus programs and activities, university officials said. [...]



Earth Day open line

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 16:53:00 -0500

If you're going to celebrate Earth Day, you might as well read Annie Dillard. Just pick a sentence at random: "Freedom is the world's water and weather, the world's nourishment freely given, its soil and sap: and the creator loves pizzazz."

Set up a blanket and read outdoors, of course, under a good tree. It's a good way to spend the day.

What you got?



Climate change and the leadership vacuum

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 16:43:00 -0500

Arkansas Times columnist Billy Fleming has an op-ed with co-writer Katie Randall for Earth Day in the Houston Chronicle today.

Fleming  and Randall argue that climate change is the nation's single biggest threat to economic growth and national security and that President Trump has failed to act:

Post-Hurricane Maria, much of Puerto Rico still lacks basic services, to say nothing of new investments in protective, coastal infrastructure.

Post-Hurricane Harvey, Houston continues to suffer from a lack of coordination — and a surfeit of tension — between the city and state recovery efforts.

Even post-Hurricane Sandy New York remains without a single major built project in response to that storm. The national system for responding to disaster is broken. The national system for anticipating disaster and adapting our communities to a changing climate is non-existent.
"As climate change quietly became the most pressing societal concern in the United States," write Fleming and Randall, "the vacuum of leadership amongst elected officials is placing tens of millions of people and trillions in economic value at risk."

Read the whole thing.



Jan Morgan and Rep. Dan Sullivan slapped with ethics complaint

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 16:34:00 -0500

Speaking of Jan Morgan, I meant to mention on Friday that she and Rep. Dan Sullivan were slapped with an ethics complaint for talk of collecting off-the-books campaign money at a recent rally. From a report in the D-G: Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Jan Morgan and state Rep. Dan Sullivan were accused this week in an ethics complaint of trying to "skirt" campaign finance laws at an event in Jonesboro earlier this month. Morgan and Sullivan, both Republicans, denied any wrongdoing on Thursday, saying the complaint was an attempt to stifle free speech and grassroots support. Sullivan of Jonesboro told a group gathered April 7 to hear Morgan speak at a northeast Arkansas motorcycle dealership that he'd collect money and contact information from anyone interested in helping fund a billboard promoting Morgan's candidacy, according to a video of the event posted to NEA Report's Facebook group. Sullivan jokes in the video that Morgan should cover her ears, so the fundraising efforts would be "independent" of the campaign. Sullivan said he never actually collected money for a billboard. Perhaps he was kidding. The report notes that an ASU student and some buddies had bought a pro-Morgan billboard prior to the rally but doesn't indicate whether this was disclosed as campaign spending or hidden under the various convenient fictions available for keeping campaign finance in the dark. If Morgan's patron saint, Donald Trump, is any guide, sometimes the outsiders promising to battle the swamp have a bit of the swampy stench themselves. While anti-establishment outsiders might be more likely to be clumsy or amateurish enough to actually get caught, it's worth noting that mainstream candidates have a fully legal version of the scam that Sullivan and Morgan are accused of running. There is nothing stopping a candidate from raising funds for an outside group, which then turns around and make an expenditure in favor of the candidate. Furthermore, if that outside group avoids certain magic words (like "vote for"), it can pass off its electioneering as "education" and is under no obligation to disclose where the money came from. Consider the cozy relationship between Tom Cotton and Americans for Prosperity. In 2014, Cotton, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, and the advocacy group Americans for Prosperity both appeared at a donor gathering in 2014 sponsored by Charles and David Koch. Cotton told the donors: “Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state …building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities." Meanwhile, then AFP president Tim Phillips told the donors that Tom Cotton “is a champion.” AFP then spent millions in “issue speech” (advertisements and mailers that would appear to the average voter to be campaign ads) targeting the Arkansas Senate race, benefitting Cotton. Neat trick! Because the Cotton campaign was careful to color within the law's lines, there was no ethics complaint filed, but such shenanigans have a stench worse than Sullivan's dopey remarks. [...]



New poll finds Asa Hutchinson with sizeable lead over Jan Morgan, plus support for continuing Medicaid expansion among Republican primary voters

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 14:28:00 -0500

A new poll from Talk Business finds that Governor Hutchinson has a substantial lead over Jan Morgan, the hog-riding, Muslim-banning, gun-toting, airbrushing, RINO-busting gadfly from Hot Springs. In the survey of likely Republican party primary voters in the state, 57.5 percent are backing Hutchinson, with 30.5 percent favoring Morgan. Another 12 percent are undecided (the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points). That's a commanding lead, if a significant irritant for a popular incumbent governor in a primary. Enough of an irritant for Hutchinson to try to toss some red meat to the right-wing base? We'll see. The most interesting finding in the poll, however, is a substantial shift in the views of GOP voters on Medicaid expansion. A substantial plurality of likely voters in the Republican primary now support the program, continuing a trend toward increasing support for the policy among GOP voters that has been shown in previous Talk Business polls. That's a doozy of a finding, a major turnaround from four years ago when the program was first enacted (and led to wave of primary challenges, with mixed results, on that very issue). The Talk Business poll found that 41.5 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state support "Arkansas Works," the Medicaid expansion program that uses Medicaid dollars made available by the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans (this is the same program once known as the "private option" until Hutchinson re-branded it, concluding that the old name had become "politically toxic"). That's compared to 25.5 percent who oppose it and 33 percent who don't know. Here's the precise wording of the Talk Business poll question (worth noting that responses tend to shift depending on whether the word "Obamacare" is in the question): As you may know, Arkansas instituted a program using federal Medicaid dollars to provide private insurance to low-income Arkansans through health care exchanges. The program is now called “Arkansas Works.” Do you support or oppose the Arkansas Works program?  The healthy plurality now supporting the Medicaid expansion is a sharp shift from 2014, when a similar question was asked by a Talk Business poll about the program, then known as the "private option" under the Beebe administration. Back then, a 45-percent plurality of Republican voters opposed the program. That has turned upside down in the four years since. It probably helps that a Republican governor is now in office and supporting the program (an interesting counterfactual is whether the legislature would have re-upped Medicaid expansion under a hypothetical Gov. Mike Ross; arguably Hutchinson helped save Medicaid expansion in Arkansas by giving it the stamp of approval of a Republican governor). Joe Maynard, the Fayetteville businessman who has poured money into the Conduit for Action network — a dizzying array of PACs and other entities in opposition to Medicaid expansion which allow Maynard to skirt campaign finance limits — had some early success in 2014 funding primary challenges, helping to stop then Rep. John Burris from gaining a senate seat and helping then Rep. Terry Rice to topple Sen. Bruce Holland (while a number of other GOP private option backers survived). However, lately Maynard-backed candidates have been trounced in GOP primaries again and again. Conduit has promised to keep fighting, but these poll results suggest that the anti-Obamacare attack may finally have grown stal[...]



Finally, a memorial to the 21 boys who were burned to death at Wrightsville in '59

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 12:44:00 -0500

It has been 59 years since 21 teen-aged boys incarcerated at the so-called Negro Boys Industrial School were burned to death in their locked dormitory. The Times wrote about the event in 2008, after the brother and mother of one of the boys approached the Times looking for someone to remember the event, and headlined the story "Stirring the Ashes." But on Saturday, a monument to the boys was placed at Haven of Rest Cemetery, where 14 of the boys were buried. The boys were sent to Wrightsville for petty theft, pranks, homelessness. One boy had been caught soaping windows during Halloween. Another was incarcerated for riding a white boy's bicycle, even though the white boy's mother told authorities it was all right. It was early in the morning of March 5, 1959, when a fire in a stove spread to the "Big Boys" dorm, which had only two exits, both padlocked. Some boys escaped by prying loose metal metal screens from two dorm windows. No one came to their aid. Many bodies were found piled in a heap in one corner of the room. The building burned to the ground. The Arkansas Democrat, then an afternoon paper, ran a picture of the fire on its front page. The Arkansas Gazette ran a photo of Gov. Orval Faubus, standing amid the rubble the following morning. The bodies of the 14 buried at Haven of Rest were so badly burned that they could not be individually identified. The other seven boys were buried privately. Helping stir the ashes and ignite the effort to create a monument to the fire was the 2017 book by Grif Stockley, "Black  Boys Burning." Stockley told the crowd that Arkansas's "racial history is still hidden and glossed over, but by your commitment to honor and remember the boys who died in the fire at Wrightsville,  you’ve taken a giant step toward coming to terms with that past." Former Sen. Irma Hunter Brown, who leads the Friends of the Haven of Rest and who was part of a group that raised funds for the monument, told the gathered group gathered graveside, "We don’t want this to be a forgotten part of the history of Little Rock, of the state of Arkansas, of this country, because the entire world looked at what happened here. This part of our history, as painful as it is, will always be remembered." UA Little Rock history professor Dr. Brian Mitchell spoke, saying, "If you look honestly at the situation the conclusion we come to is that these boys died of racism, the same racism we live with today. The "benign neglect" [as the state termed the incident] that allowed them to lock up these children is a consequence of that racism, the same consequence we have when legislators tell us we need to close SNAP programs for children, the same neglect we have when we're told that there’s not enough money for our schools, the same same when a grand jury says there will be no justice in black shootings. ... It isn't benign neglect that killed them. It is racism." Michael Young, who was himself incarcerated at Wrightsville, laid the wreath. Ardecy Gyce, sister of victim Amos Gyce, who was 16 when he died, spoke briefly. She recalled Amos as a "loving brother who was always protective of me." The location of the unmarked graves at Haven of Rest was turned up in the 1959 records of the cemetery by the brother who approached the Times, Frank Lawrence. Thanks to a grant from the Curtis Sykes Memorial Fund distributed by the Black History Commission and other donations, a bronze plaque embedded in a stone now memorializes the names of al[...]



More documentation of the Razorback Foundation's fiction of independence

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 10:03:00 -0500

Another big report from the D-G's Eric Besson this morning with more evidence of the Razorback Foundation's fingerprints being all over the activities of the University of Arkansas. That's no surprise to readers of this blog, but Besson unearthed new supporting details, including documentation that Razorback Foundation officials directly participated in university athletic department job interviews. The Foundation, which supports UA athletics, is ostensibly an independent nonprofit — a status that is has used to declare itself exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act. It's a flimsy and risible fiction that the Foundation has used to shield its activities from public scrutiny. The D-G has reviewed 22,000 pages of emails exchanged between the Foundation and university staff, acquired by FOIA request to the university itself. In addition to the Foundation's participation during candidate interviews, which included offering feedback to the university, Besson's reports that those public records reveal that Foundation officials attended exclusive, high-level athletic department strategy sessions; the involvement of Foundation leadership in a discussion over the structure of staff positions in the athletic department; and close coordination between university and Foundation staff over ticket sales and donations to the Foundation.  Scott Varady, the executive director of the Foundation who keeps a tight grip on the foundation's records by claiming its independent status, told the D-G that Foundation staff were allowed to meet with job candidates as a "matter of courtesy." There can be little doubt that the Foundation has a significant say in the school's choice for football coach and athletic director, since it's footing the bill for the process: The deals are struck in consultation with Foundation officials who promise to keep the money flowing to meet those obligations; the Foundation is paying the massive severance packages to fired coach Bret Bielema and fired athletic director Jeff Long; it funded the outside search firms hired to find replacements; and it doled out the $2 million required to get new coach Chad Morris out of his previous contract. The records reviewed by Besson reveal that the Foundation also got involved during the search process for candidates for lower staff positions related to ticket sales, including account executive for premium seats and associate director of ticket operations. Candidates for these positions had interviews scheduled with the Foundation as part of the interview process, records show. Foundation officials also communicated and coordinated directly with account executives at the university regarding fans interested in tickets or purchasing upgrades, including Foundation members who had complaints about their seating arrangements. In one case, a Foundation staffer helped a fan sign up for basketball seats; in response a university account executive wrote asking whether he should fill out the fan's paperwork for a donation to the Foundation. Athletic department spokesman Kevin Trainor told the D-G, "For the convenience and benefit of donors and ticket holders, the [university-funded] Razorback Ticket Office and the Razorback Foundation work together to make the donation and ticket purchasing process as convenient as possible." Heh. There's much more in Besson's report, including Varady's involvement in high-level discussions over staffing structure and the attendance of Founda[...]



Don't eat romaine lettuce open line

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 16:46:00 -0500

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The CDC has expanded its warning. Don't eat romaine lettuce, y'all, unless you get it from Lindsey's backyard.

Here's the latest from the CDC:
* Based on new information, CDC is expanding its warning to consumers to cover all types of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region. This warning now includes whole heads and hearts of romaine lettuce, in addition to chopped romaine and salads and salad mixes containing romaine.

* Do not buy or eat romaine lettuce at a grocery store or restaurant unless you can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

* Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick. Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown. This includes whole heads and hearts of romaine, chopped romaine, and salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce. If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine, do not eat it and throw it away.

* Restaurants and retailers should not serve or sell any romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.

* The expanded warning is based on information from newly reported illnesses in Alaska. Ill people in Alaska reported eating lettuce from whole heads of romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.
Over to you, what's cooking?



Second March for Science held in Little Rock

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 15:07:00 -0500

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Demonstrators gathered in downtown Little Rock this afternoon to march to the steps of the Capitol as part of the second annual "Arkansas March for Science."

The event was organized by the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club. There were hundreds of other similar events around the world this year, with many of them taking place last week, including a large event in the nation's capitol. It was held today in Little Rock to coordinate with Earth Day tomorrow.

A press release from the Sierra Club described the march's goals: "to demonstrate that science matters to all Arkansans, and to demand that Arkansas elected officials rely upon sound science in their public policy decisions."

Glen Hooks, Director of the Arkansas Sierra Club, stated the following in the release:

Today, we are calling on our elected officials to both support science and to rely upon science when making important decisions,. When it comes to air and water quality, or protecting hunting and fishing spots, or farming, or health care, decisions should be made based upon science—and not upon the platform of one's political party. Arkansans need leaders who respect science and govern with science in mind—not leaders who ignore science.
This year's march was focused on teachers and students in the state, the organizers said. The speakers included Katina White, a teacher at Sylvan Hills Middle School; Rachel Hendrix, Ph.D neurobiologist; Jazz Johnston, a teacher at Russellville High School; Derya Bracy, an emergency room nurse; Izzy Jones, a student at Jonesboro High School; and Derek Brooks, a chemist.








My life long love affair with West Side Story - and no, I really don’t care if Natalie Wood didn’t do her own singing

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 11:31:00 -0500

Just imagine, if you dare, a roomful of seventh-grade boys, singing “Maria” from mimeographed sheets of paper. Such was my first introduction to West Side Story, inspiring a love which has lasted a lifetime.

A lot of kids didn’t like music class, or any class in which honoring and exploring various forms of creativity was the raison d'être, I suppose.

Their loss.

But back to the Sharks and the Jets. West Side Story is the perfect movie musical for a young man who is, as they say, coming of age. It’s about love, hate, bigotry, peer pressure and how the heavy hand of blind authority can sometimes make a situation worse than it needs to be.

As I say, I discovered West Side Story through those mimeographed sheets of the lyrics, which I took home and sang to our long-suffering dogs - something I have continued to do with several generations of dogs throughout the years.

A few years later, in high school, I read the screenplay in a paperback, and then, not long after, I was able to see the movie when it was released to theaters again in the early 1970s.

I was held fast in my seat from the very start. This movie spoke to me in a way that nothing else ever had before, and possibly since.

It has long been my belief, even though I can’t dance worth a damn - a fact which has frustrated more than one woman in my life - that life should be a musical, and that if life were fair and just, we’d be able to break into song and dance at a moment’s notice.

Obviously, we young tadpoles in junior high school were only given the love songs to learn; “Gee, Officer Krupke” was not offered to us. Well, we were probably too young to appreciate it, and, going to school on a military base in the 60s, well, authority was not a thing to be mocked.

If you haven’t seen West Side Story for a while, why not pop a copy into your old Betamax and let it wash over you. And if you haven’t seen it, well, I hope you might be inspired to check it out.

And yeah, it’s the perfect musical for young people, no matter what age they may be.

******

Today’s Soundtrack

Really? You have to ask?

*****

Now on YouTube: Dotty Oliver

Some yeas ago it was my great privilege to write for the late Dotty Oliver of the Little Rock Free Press. Finally we had a chance to sit down in front of some cameras and talk about the FREEP and Arkansas politics in general, including the time that she was sued by Mike Huckabee.

Dotty Oliver: Little Rock Free Press Memories

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peRNSF69u1E

****

Quote of the Day

Human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. - Howard Zinn

rsdrake@cox.net



Arkansas Advocates poll finds strong support for pre-k and earned income tax credit

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 09:12:00 -0500

A new poll this released this week by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families found strong public support in the state for public investments in education and health care and targeted tax relief for low-income Arkansans:

* More than three out of four (79%) Arkansans – including 79% of independents and 72% of Republicans – support enacting a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax cut targeted to low- and moderate-income working people.

* Three out of four (76%) want Arkansas to invest in afterschool and summer programs across the state.

* About two out of three (67%) Arkansans support increasing state funding for pre-kindergarten.

* About two out of three (65%) Arkansans oppose cuts to Medicaid funding.

* When asked which is better for the state, Arkansans strongly prefer investing in programs that benefit many (51%) over cutting taxes for wealthier families (33%).
Here's the breakdown of the statewide poll of registered voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

I suspect you would wind up with different results if you polled the Arkansas General Assembly.