Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Quote of the Week 1
"Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities and nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina."
— Hillary Clinton, in the first presidential debate, responding to Donald Trump's assertion that she "doesn't have the stamina" to be president.
Quote of the Week 2
"That makes me smart."
— Donald Trump, responding to Clinton's statement that he paid zero federal income tax for several years in the 1970s and 1990s, according to the sparse records publicly available from Trump's past. Trump has refused to release his tax returns for more recent years.
Squeezing mental health care
On the surface, the Medicaid reimbursements cuts approved by the legislature last week looked like a no-brainer: Arkansas spent $147 million on group psychotherapy over three years, which is more than eight other Southern states combined. The new caps imposed on the group therapy benefit will save tens of millions of dollars per year, budget hawks said, thus bringing Arkansas's spending down to earth.
But the regional mental health centers that receive the funding say the caps will be financially devastating. Yes, providers in other states bill far less for group therapy, they concede — but they say those states also dedicate other revenue to support mental health care, whereas Arkansas does not. Simply cutting the group therapy money will force many centers to close, they say. That means severely mentally ill people — including some in residential care at the centers — could go without treatment entirely. Given Arkansas's dismal record in caring for the mentally ill (the state has been in and out of court over the years due to inadequate care), it seems wrong to pare down funding.
An arrest, then an apology</p>
State Rep. John Walker (D-Little Rock) and fellow lawyer Omavi Kushukuru were arrested by Little Rock police for "obstructing governmental operations" on Monday after filming the separate arrest of two men in a vehicle apparently stopped for having no license plate. According to the police report, Cedric Bell and Gary Gregory were arrested near MacArthur Park after officers found they had outstanding warrants. While Bell was being walked to a patrol car in handcuffs, Walker and Kushukuru arrived on the scene and started filming, the report states. The cops say Walker was "antagonistic and provocative" and that he and Kushukuru entered the area of the traffic stop despite warnings not to do so. The two were booked at the Pulaski County Jail and released on $1,000 bonds.
However, the next day, City Manager Bruce Moore announced the LRPD will formally drop charges against Walker and send him a formal letter of apology. Police did not drop charges against Kushukuru. As of press time on Tuesday, neither Walker nor Kushukuru had issued a statement.
Hate wins in Bentonville
School board races may be small potatoes, but they can be telling. In the Bentonville School District, challenger Eric White easily ousted incumbent Grant Lightle, an attorney for Walmart, in a three-way race. The key issue at play was Lightle's unsuccessful attempt in 2015 to enact a nondiscrimination policy for district employees that would have covered sexual orientation. (In short, that means the district wouldn't have been able to fire someone solely for his or her being gay.) Before the election, mailers were sent out — it's not clear by whom — saying Lightle "promotes the LGBT-transgender agenda" in the school district and tying him to "Obama's agenda [of] indoctrination of children!" That message still plays well in Benton County, evidently.
Meanwhile, there was better news in the Fort Smith School District, where voters gave a victory to incumbent Susan McFerran and board newcomer Talicia Richardson. Both supported an end to the use of the Rebel mascot at Southside High School, and both faced opponents eager to reinstate the divisive symbol.
And speaking of the Rebel flag
The student senate at the University of Arkansas tabled a resolution to condemn display of the Confederate battle flag at the annual Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally in Fayetteville. According to the Arkansas Traveler, some student senators were concerned the measure might offend alumni and lead to their discontinued financial support. Sounds like a bright political future lies ahead.