Tuesday thoughts? Fire away. Close-outs:
1) LR TAXES: Clayton J reports that the city board punted to the city manager tonight to come up with a sales tax increase of up to 1.5 to 2 cents on the dollar (against the current half-cent). City needs money. I'll be surprised if the ballot issue doesn't turn out a permanent half-cent for operations and a halef-cent, sunsetted, for capital needs. Not one penny for corporate welfare, I hope. Any plan should include a promise to end subsidizing the LR Chamber of Commercec.
2) DEBT CEILING: It turned out to be a meaningless show vote, but all Arkies in the U.S. House including DINO Mike Ross voted against the "clean" vote to raise the debt ceiling. Joplin needs money? Screw 'em.
* HUCKSTERING: Florida tax fugitive Mike Huckabee will shill his book at noon tomorrow at the Clinton School. He's also meeting, privately, in the morning with Republican constitutional officers. I'm sure he'd be happy to sell them a few copies, too. Wonder if they have to pay for the audience? The charge shouldn't be too high. Looks like the crowd for Huckabee hasn't required move of his talk to a bigger hall — as Rachel Maddow's did.
* FRACKED: You want to see shameless, check out the new Facebook page for the Legislative Shale Caucus. It urges readers to join "all our friendly shale gas producer friends" at a Fort Smith convention. Does a poll question on whether readers believe "tree huggers are destroying America." It almost reads like a put-on. And a tree-hugger currently has infiltrated the page with a substance dangerous to the Shale Caucus — the truth about environmental issues and fracking. On further reflection, maybe it is a put-on. But the ugly truth is no comedy.
* SOUND FAMILIAR?: I'm hearing whispers that some of the fiction resembles facts of life at a local accounting firm in this $2.99 Kindle-only novel, "Accountable to None," being sold on Amazon. Or maybe accounting firms all over have novel-worthy material and the resemblance to real-life local characters is strictly coincidental. I don't think you'll find author Ashley Fontainne in the Little Rock phone book. But she is on Facebook.
* SUPPORT VETERANS: A group of Arkansas veterans called a news conference today to highlight the work of a group that opposes Republican-backed cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
“Some people in Congress think that the way to balance the budget is through cuts to veterans benefits, Social Security and Medicare. We strongly disagree,” said Jim Lynch, Vietnam veteran. “Current talk about cutting Social Security benefits and destabilizing the economic security of our veterans is a disservice that veterans don’t deserve.”
* WHAT ME WORRY? Sen. John Boozman says he fears no backlash from voting to end Medicare as we know it. We shall see. That budget plan is just a starting place, he said. Yes, and an ending place. See Ernie Dumas' column this week on how little coverage will be afforded by the voucher system with which Republicans would end Medicare as we know it.
* EXAGGERATING STORMS: John Robinson of the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock has some interesting comments about the tendency to exaggerate the size of tornadoes, storm damage and flood damage. Even in Joplin. Read on the jump:
Nobody organizing the enterprise is responding to my calls or e-mails, but work continues apace on a reality TV show, "Last Shot With Judge Gunn" in which Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn of Fayetteville plans to play a fictional judge doing something along the lines of the TV drug court she once presided over in Fayetteville. Jones TV, a nonprofit, pulled the plug on the broadcasts after a judicial ethics panel condemned the practice of pushing defendants into the TV sessions. Gunn is leaving the bench in June and a TV production company has advertised a syndicated show starring her beginning in the fall.
How would she stock the show? Documents provided me under an FOI request to the Department of Community Correction now show that she plans to draw defendants from the justice system, by direct referrals from another judge (seemingly a problem given the earlier ethics ruling). They will include people under the supervision of the Department of Community Correction, which has previously disclaimed knowledge of the plans.
The scheme now appears to be that Gunn, after she leaves her judgeship, will use her old space in the courthouse to film a TV show on the weekend. She apparently expects to get referrals from other judges. E-mails I received from DCC show she'll hire existing personnel — such as four state probation officers — on a part-time basis to play like they are real court officers. Note that Ricky Hogg, an area deputy director for DCC, informed probation officers May 11 that they'd been "cleared" to participate and would be paid $25 an hour for a minimum of four hours. This was two days before DCC told me they knew nothing about the program. Note that TV producers were "intrigued" that the officers "were armed." Note that supervisor Hogg expresses concern that the officers know drug court, but are not involved in other types of probation and parole. Note that Hogg urged people to be hired to keep quiet about it. Note some conflicts in the notes about whether or not "Little Rock" has signed off on DCC participation.
The documents indicate that DCC employees believe people will be referred by other judges. A note mentions that Circuit Judge William Storey and Judge Michael Fitzhugh of Fort Smith have said defendants could participate in the program. I couldn't reach either to see if that was correct. Of particular interest is a department e-mail explaining how private information not normally open to the general public is expected to be included in the televised proceedings because participants will sign a waiver. Producers apparently hope to capture some film from past Jones TV productions, an aim that might be controversial given the decision to stop the broadcasts and never air a final episode for which special lighting and makeup consultants were employed, apparently to produce a pilot for the syndicated show.
I'd been hearing that people with official roles, such as Gunn's current bailiff, would participate in the TV show. The note seems to bear that out. In addition to mentioning the bailiff, a note from Hogg says that Kim Webber rather than Leslie Borgognoni would be playing a public defender on the show. "I do not know if you know Webber, but she will look much better on the screen," wrote Hogg. "LOL."
All of this seems to me to go to the question of whether defendants might expect special treatment by trading off privacy and other considerations to advance the fake judge's commercial enterprise.
Though denying that DCC is partnering in any way with a commercial venture and putting all responsibility for placement of defendants in the hands of a judge, Department spokeswoman Rhonda Sharp said:
Judge Jay Moody today invalidated a permit granted by the Capitol Zoning District for a five-story office building at Sixth and Woodlane Streets across the street from the Capitol. We wrote about this earlier.
Dan Cook, who's been active in downtown historic preservation, had sued over the permit. The judge agreed with Cook's argument that the commission couldn't waive a three-story height limit in the neighborhood without amending the zoning plan. This process requires public hearings and a legislative committee's approval of the change. The commission, appointed by the governor, oversees land use in neighborhoods around the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. The height limit was put in place to prevent new construction from blocking Capitol views. Cook said he thought the restriction was important and hoped that it would be retained.
"If they are going to amend the plan to allow things that were not allowed, I'm not sure why need to regulate it at all. Why not just give jurisdiction back to city and let them do it, " Cook said.
Cook said discussions are already underway about amending the plan and that he's prepared to oppose it. Burkhalter is a recent Beebe appointee to the state Highway Commission whose investments include a technology company.
Boyd Maher, director of the Commission, said he'd have to talk to commissioners to decide what comes next — an appeal of the judge's ruling or the beginning of a process to change the rules in some fashion to allow it. Burkhalter was not a party in the case, but intervened. He had won the waiver by arguing that he'd have a hardship in building a structure with enough square feet to be profitable without the additional floors. Opponents responded that he should have contemplated the limit in buying the property.
Both Maher and Cook noted that the judge didn't consider the broader issue, whether the Commission had received sufficient evidence to justify the waiver. The failure to follow administrative procedures was enough to sink the permit. Joel Hooever, who represented Burkhalter Capital Development in the intervention, said they'd have no comment.
It seems the student-produced Russellville Middle School yearbook included a feature on the "Top 5 worst people of all time." Hitler, check. Osama, check. Charles Manson, check. George Bush and Dick Cheney? You might say check and doublecheck, too, particularly if your worldly experience dates back to about 1998.
School officials were not amused when the feature was discovered (or more likely, when the inclusion of Bush and Cheney in Republican-friendly Russellville was discovered). Solution: Censorship. Stickers were placed over the offending passage. But a School Board member remains UNamused.
School board member Chris Cloud said the stickers, however, come off easily, and is less than pleased with the solution arrived at after he and school administrators spoke about the problem last week, he said. He learned of the list in the yearbook Wednesday.
“I was assured that we would speak to this problem with some tape that would not be able to be moved off,” he said Saturday, referring to the sticker solution as “a Band-Aid fix to a major problem.”
CNN has just sent a breaking news bulletin on this story:
Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, the World Health Organization said today.
This puts cell phones in league with lead, engine exhaust and chloroform as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
What that means is that right now there haven't been enough long-term studies conducted to make a clear conclusion if radiation from cell phones are safe, but there is enough data showing a possible connection that consumers should be alerted.
I don't know from cancer. But I do know cell phones. Use of them while driving is an enormous safety hazard. But that clear fact doesn't stop jillions of people from jabbering on them — even texting on them at 85 mph as one Lincoln driver I observed yesterday on I-40 was doing. A little cancer threat isn't going to discourage the phone addicts.
The Little Rock Police Department has sent along two reports of robberies of people after they left the Riverfest grounds over the weekend.
* A 20-year-old Mabelvale man said he was robbed of a cell phone and beaten by a group of young men while walking on West Markham Street near the Capital Hotel after leaving Riverfest Saturday night.
* Late Sunday night, police say three men — two from Walnut Ridge and one from Hoxie — were carjacked and robbed of wallets and phones near Sixth and Broadway. A report to an officer directing traffic nearby led to recovery of the car and the arrest of two suspects, Lt. Terry Hastings said.
John Brummett rounds up legislators' comments at a recent panel discussion, including Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker's prediction that the GOP will take control of the state Senate in the next election.
If 2010 is a guide — when Republican predictions were right and Democratic ones were bad wrong — this should light a fire under someone.
SOMEHOW, I don't think trends spotted elsewhere in the South are likely to be replicated in Arkansas (though these trends do explain why Republicans are trying to crack down on early voting and otherwise invent tools to depress voter turnout among problematic groups.)
The dynamics in North Carolina that worry Republicans — a booming minority population, an influx of more moderate voters and a changing set of priorities — are on display across other parts of the South as well, notably in Virginia and Florida, where Obama also won in 2008.
This time around, his campaign hopes to make a play for Georgia and Texas, seeing in those states the same sorts of economic and cultural changes as elsewhere in the South. An Obama victory in either would be a long shot, but a win in any of those Southern states would make it difficult for Republicans to capture the presidency.
So, back home. A quiet day from all appearances. I do see the slime-bucket Andrew Breitbart has been flogging (aided by every usual-suspect Repub) a story that, on evidence so far, appears to be a dirty trick against Rep. Anthony Weiner by the stalker of a young woman who admires Weiner. The trickster may get serious on a legal response. That might not be a bad idea. Though, as with birthers ....
I'll be driving home today and plan to check in this evening. A quick look indicates a quiet Memorial Day.
* RIVERFEST: Here's a gallery of closing day photos from Brian Chilson. His personal Riverfest report was that wearing the wristband for three days was kind of a drag (but undboutedly a guard against counterfeit admission buttons) and he's hot that REO Speedwagon wouldn't allow photography of their aging act. A quick review finds little out of the ordinary save somebody shot in the foot around 11:45 p.m.
The only gunshots I heard in Kansas City was mortar fire during the 1812 Overture, played by the Kansas City Symphony in front of Union Station. After nightfall, the terminal was focus of a spectacular light show and fireworks capped the evening.
Did Gov. Mike Beebe really sing with REO Speedwagon?
* INSENSITIVE REPUBLICANS: John Brummett is inclined to cut Rep. Eric Cantor slack (not me) for linking storm relief for Joplin with budget cuts. I'm not. But I think everyone can agree nobody's uttered anything more pig stupid than Rep. Rob Woodall talking about his "free" health insurance while caring little about the health coverage of the less fortunate. And that insults pigs.
Just consider this the all-day, all-night open line.
As I mentioned, I'm in Kansas City, one of my favorite cities in part because of old memories of riding the train up from Louisiana with my dad every summer to watch the Kansas City A's.
The video is a small taste of Darcus Gates, singing an appropriate song last night in the Blue Room, part of the American Jazz Museum (many tables encase jazz memorabilia) in the 18th and Vine District. Good show in a packed club. She's connected to the Gates BBQ dynasty in KC, thus the riff in the lyrics. We went earlier to Arthur Bryant's, where a 40-minute or so wait was required to pass through the line for Saturday barbecue. The Truman Museum today. Then a patriotic symphony concert tonight in front of Union Station, with fireworks shot from the hilltop across Pershing Street that's home to the World War I museum and war memorial.
Good story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today that reports that cumulative spending by lobbyists appeared to be down this year during the Arkansas legislative session, at least judging by official reporting forms.
I don't believe it and the story provides plenty of anecdotal evidence to support my cynical view. Spot-checking some people who should have turned up with expenses for some marquee social events, the Democrat-Gazette's Michael Wickline found that several major lobby groups, gee, just forgot to report contributions to some big throwdowns like dinners for the House speaker and Senate president.
I believe that a ton of legislative hog-slopping goes unreported. The Walmart cup of coffee rule is the only solution for this corruption. Neither the lobby nor legislators can be trusted to be honest or not to seek the abundant loopholes. Consider, too, some of the reported feeds. The Arkansas Realtors spent more than $21,000 on a legislative reception at the Capital Hotel. Even if all 135 legislators attended, the per-head cost is $150 or so each. Such pricey wining and dining is legal, but should it be? Tangible gifts worth more than $100 are illegal. You can see that you can get away with murder on group events, where individual expenditures on legislators need not be reported.
And speaking of gifts: Wonder if those $50 leather "padfolios" given to every legislator by the Farm Bureau will be reported on legislators' annual financial disclosure statements? And I wonder what other gratuities find their way to legislators that we don't know about.
New York Times reports on the many ways Republicans are working across the country — including in Arkansas — to throw up impediments to voting. Photo IDs. Shorter early voting periods. Tight restrictions on voter registration drives. (The League of Women voters is giving it up in Florida, apparentlhy.)
It's the modern-day version of Jim Crow laws and literacy tests. It's aimed at Democratic base voters and particularly the new wave of immigrants. There's scant indication of fraudulent in-person voting. There's a lot of evidence of caging to strike legitimate voters from rolls however. (Tim Griffin, anyone?)
We should be making voting easier, not harder. Postcard voting and on-line voting should be universal.
The line is open. If it's happening, I don't know it. I'm at Kansas City hotel. A HUGE crowd of Widespread Panic followers just checked in for their show down the street at local arena. Looks like the fans just rolled in from Little Rock.
Here's a slideshow of scenes you might have missed at Riverfest. More later from Brian; send yours, too, if you want to add to the fun.
Update: We're having technical problems, apparently. Will try to get them fixed.
Update 2: Click on the permalink to see the slideshow.
The New York Times reports this morning that exploring the Texas shale for oil (as opposed to gas) could increase U.S. oil supplies by 25 percent, with fewer risks than off-shore drilling presents.
Nothing is perfect. (But don't ask the Arkansas Legislative Shale Caucus to believe the downside:)
The technique, also called fracking, has been widely used in the last decade to unlock vast new fields of natural gas, but drillers only recently figured out how to release large quantities of oil, which flows less easily through rock than gas. As evidence mounts that fracking poses risks to water supplies, the federal government and regulators in various states are considering tighter regulations on it.
The oil industry says any environmental concerns are far outweighed by the economic benefits of pumping previously inaccessible oil from fields that could collectively hold two or three times as much oil as Prudhoe Bay, the Alaskan field that was the last great onshore discovery.
Once again: We almost certainly want to explore the shale. But no matter how many jobs it creates, it doesn't mean it should be done without adequate regulatory oversight and every possible means of protecting people and the environment from harm. That's not happening now in Arkansas in the gas patch.
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