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Writing the president 

Sometimes it takes a young person to speak truth to power. Such was the case June 25, when 50 members of the 141-member class of 2007 Presidential Scholars delivered a hand-written note decrying America’s treatment of terrorism suspects to President George W. Bush during a ceremony at the White House.

The letter read, in part: “We do not want America to represent torture. We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees... .” According to published reports, Bush’s only reaction was an unhappy, “America doesn’t torture people.”

Though Arkansas Presidential Scholar Stuart Shirrell of Little Rock’s Central High School wasn’t able to attend the White House meeting (he was doing missionary work in Rwanda at the time), he supports the actions of his fellow scholars.

“I thought it was commendable,” Shirrell said. “I think it certainly showed the political nature of the scholars, but it also showed that they were willing to exercise their freedom to petition the government.”

Lana Hazel, Arkansas’s female Presidential Scholar for 2007, who attended Conway High School West, was present at the White House when the letter was delivered. She said she turned down an opportunity to sign the letter because she didn’t think the ceremony was the time or place to make such a statement. “It’s not that I didn’t necessarily agree with the letter,” Hazel said.

Hazel said her general feeling was that most of the scholars who refused to sign the letter did so for the same reason. After their meeting with the president, Hazel said, an advisor to the Presidential Scholars program told them that the letter would probably mean that President Bush won’t meet with the group next year.

Tax talk

Somewhat to our surprise we’ve confirmed a tip from an independent source that there are discussions underway in the city of Little Rock about adding a third penny to the hamburger tax — assessed on restaurant meals and hotel rooms.

Add a penny tax while the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission is still digging its way out of a publicity nightmare over past management malpractice?

Yes. But the idea seems to be to use another penny not to swell the coffers of the A&P Commission, but to inject money into Little Rock’s lagging park system, as North Little Rock does with its money. Don’t expect to hear anything official at least until after the special election on mayoral powers next month.

Arkansas traveler

U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana has been struggling with press reports that he patronized houses of prostitution in both Washington and New Orleans.

There’s an Arkansas angle. Wendy Cortez, a Louisiana prostitute who told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that she had entertained Vitter, has spent time in the Natural State. (Heh, heh.) According to the newspaper, Cortez has lived in several states, including Arkansas, under the names Yow, Cortez, Williams, Shackleford, Ellis, Scavone and Bruhn. Her legal record, the newspaper said, includes a 1995 extradition to Arkansas on unspecified charges.

Know her?

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