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The Asa-Obama-Castro axis 

Quote of the Week

"This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic. ... This is a political choice that we make — to allow this to happen every few months in America."

— President Obama, speaking after yet another mass shooting, this one at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., last Thursday. Nine people were killed and another nine wounded before the gunman, a 26-year-old student at the school, shot and killed himself.

Another brick in the wall

Coming soon to the Little Rock School District: A renewed fight on the subject of facilities, specifically the likely purchase of a former office building and warehouse to house a new middle school for West Little Rock. Last week, LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus signed an $11.5 million conditional contract to acquire the former Leisure Arts building on Cantrell Road. LRSD has six months to study the property and determine whether it's feasible to retrofit as a school. The district will simultaneously begin planning a new high school in Southwest Little Rock to replace the existing McClellan campus. The two projects will "move along parallel tracks," said Kurrus. (See column, opposite page.)

West Little Rock has long clamored for a middle school, and understandably so. Still, new investment in majority-white, mostly affluent West Little Rock raises hauntingly familiar questions about racial and socioeconomic segregation within the district. After all, the LRSD was taken over by the state Education Department in January because of lagging student performance, and the district's low scores are concentrated in the schools that serve predominately lower-income and minority neighborhoods. Here's a secret: Those neighborhoods generally aren't in West Little Rock.

The Asa-Obama-Castro axis

Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week traveled to Havana to promote trade with Cuba, which is a potentially major market for rice, chicken and other agricultural products that Arkansas does well. For once, Hutchinson is on the same page as President Obama, who has worked to thaw diplomatic relations with the Communist nation over the objections of grandstanding Republicans like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (or our own Sen. Tom Cotton). The business interests of Tyson and Riceland trump even GOP orthodoxy, it seems.

The price of oil

Two and a half years after the Mayflower oil spill, a federal agency fined petroleum giant Exxon Mobil for safety violations in its operation of the ruptured Pegasus pipeline. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration assessed a civil penalty of $2.63 million on Exxon for being out of compliance with regulations regarding inspection protocols. PHMSA also ordered Exxon to improve its system for assessing the potential failure of welding seams used in its pipe. A ruptured seam — the product of a known manufacturing defect — was the immediate cause of the Mayflower spill.

Picking on Planned Parenthood

Federal Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction on Friday that would stop Arkansas from cutting off Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood. The order was narrowly tailored to apply only to three anonymous plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Gov. Hutchinson's attempt to defund the medical provider; Baker did not extend her injunction to all Medicaid-qualified Planned Parenthood patients.

Yet even so, the state is appealing that ruling, as well as barring any other Medicaid recipients from getting health screenings, contraceptives and other medical services provided by Planned Parenthood. (Note: Not abortion, because Medicaid does not pay for abortions, as per federal law, except in the case of rape, incest or to save a mother's life.) Planned Parenthood on Monday filed a motion asking that the case be treated as a class action.

Anne Frank tree finds home at Clinton Library

Bill Clinton stopped by Little Rock last week to celebrate the installation of a new memorial at the presidential library bearing his name: A sapling from the horse chestnut that stood outside the Amsterdam house where Anne Frank and her family sheltered from the Nazis. It's one of 11 saplings the Anne Frank Center USA has distributed across the country; another is to be planted at Central High. In her diary, written while she was confined in the house's attic for more than two years, Anne Frank wrote of gazing out upon the chestnut tree and dreaming of a better future.

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