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The mostly lowlights of what I missed on a long vacation:

• ABORTION RIGHTS: Missouri Rep. Todd Akin pulled a Fay Boozman by uttering the nonsense that women secrete a magical substance that prevents pregnancy in cases of real rape.

This didn't help the cause of women's medical rights as much as you might think, because other Republicans' condemnation of the remark tended to obscure the uglier truth: Republicans really do oppose all abortion — for rape, incest, grave health concerns for the mother, fetuses incapable of life outside the womb and even in the first minutes after intercourse by means of pills. Akin's lone defender, Mike Huckabee, who famously blocked Medicaid funding of an abortion for a retarded teen raped by her father, made clear that Akin's view was that of the Republican Party. Indeed, the party has moved past criminalizing abortion to ending ready access to contraception. Akin's gaffe also obscured Republican support, notably by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, for the notion that rape isn't really rape unless a woman gets the living crap whipped out of her, too.

•ARKANSAS AND THE RED TIDE: The Koch brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity rolled out its secretively financed attack mailings on Democratic candidates for Arkansas legislature.

The mailings are full of lies, chiefly that Democrats voted for highway tax increases, when they (and several key Republicans, who could have killed the idea in committee) only allowed a public vote. The Kochs hope to buy a legislative majority for the rich in the last holdout state of Dixie. Some $250,000 could do it, chump change for a billionaire (about the same as a $10 tip from the average Arkansas worker).

The good news is that Democrats have an organization built on Gov. Mike Beebe's fund-raising that is fighting back with ads associating the extremist Republicans with opposition to Beebe's popular and successful centrist governance. The Republicans respond with the black face of Barack Obama. As if he, and not Mike Beebe, is the dominant influence at the state Capitol.

•GOVERNMENT OUTSOURCING: The bombshell news unearthed by our Leslie Peacock that UAMS is considering a merger with St. Vincent Infirmary left me puzzled. Government going into business with a private enterprise, using tax money for venture capital? Why St. Vincent and not Baptist Health or the Arkansas Heart Hospital or someone else?

The combine got off to a bad start with a blatant violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Will this be a theme — government run like unaccountable private business?

Chancellor Dan Rahn of UAMS kept saying the combine could expand UAMS education. Not in women's health care. The state would join forces with an organization that won't perform abortions no matter the legitimate health circumstances, that won't tie a woman's tubes, that won't provide full preventive health coverage to female employees, which won't provide morning-after pharmaceutical intervention to rape victims. How can UAMS really ensure that the blended enterprise will serve ALL Arkansas interests and not just interests as defined by the religious leanings of St. Vincent? Would a former UAMS employee, if transferred, still have the same access to birth control pills or condoms at St. Vincent once enjoyed at UAMS? Will St. Vincent promise non-discrimination against sexual minorities, a written policy of the University of Arkansas system but NOT a tenet of Catholic authorities (who are putting up a significant roadblock to implementation of the Obamacare legislation Gov. Mike Beebe supports)? The same potential for church-based discrimination exists when UA finally provides domestic partner benefits for its employees.

Forget religion. If government is going to invest in private enterprise, why not a UA partnership with the University of Phoenix or a Highway Department combine with McGeorge Contracting?

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Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

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