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March 22, 2018

Vol 44 • No 29

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The Arkansas prison scandal

In the 1960s, Tom Murton attempted to reform Cummins prison farm, but lost his job after unearthing three skeletons on the grounds.

Silence is golden

Hillary Clinton has been the target of gratuitously negative coverage from the national political press for as long as she's been in public life. During Bill Clinton's presidency, rumors of her impending criminal indictment were a regular feature of "Whitewater" coverage almost until that media-created pseudo-scandal fizzled out altogether.

So-so

There was something about that NCAA Tournament draw that just had to make you nervous, right?

'Mamma Mia!' charms

Sophie steals the show.

State case helped halt segregation

But Arkansas is turning the clock back.

Are you being served?

These aren't good times for confidence in public servants.

The walkout

Goodbye to all that

This will be this Observer's last Observer column as a full-time employee of the mighty Arkansas Times. But never fear, Dear Reader. Through the miracle of modern anonymity, The Observer's beat will go on in this space next week, and the next, our streak unbroken, hopefully forever and ever, amen.

Votes challenged

Shifting right

Inconsequential News Quiz: The Kids Are Alright Edition

Play at home!

Beyond the Big House, with Jerome Bias

A Q&A with the furniture maker, culture educator.

Wunderbar Wunderhaus

Eastern European cuisine comes to Conway.

Deja vu re Trump

For a couple of million Arkansawyers, this fabulous circus of Russians, Trump, Mueller and Stormy is approaching deja vu.

Chris Cash at South on Main

Aaron Watson lands at the Rev Room.

Lexington Porter, Clyde Pound at The Ohio Club

Where Als Jolson and Capone once held forth.

Hitting students

A friend once joked that I love Arkansas so much that if they ever cut me open, they'll find an Arkansas-shaped heart beating inside my chest. It's true. But just as the state was beginning to show off her spring beauty last week, I was reminded of what a dark and imperfect place Arkansas can be.

Paddling punishment

Also, a deepening legislative scandal.

Walton money at work in New York

Walton money is at work again in New York to elect a pro-charter school Republican to state Senate.

Race and the police: An unarmed black man in Sacramento, a terrorist in Austin, Texas, the LRPD

Race and the police in Sacramento and Austin. And also Little Rock.

How Arkansas used a computer formula to cut services to the disabled

The Verge probes in-depth Arkansas's use of a computer algorithm, rather than human assessments, to calculate the number of hours of home help provided disabled people, a process that has had a negative impact on many.

8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirms Ted Suhl's bribery conviction, sentence

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed the bribery conviction and seven-year sentence of Ted Suhl, the former operator of a behavioral health company in Arkansas.

A taste of Trump's tariffs: Rice could be a point of retaliation

Rice sales might not be so nice as a result of Donald Trump's idea to use tariffs to go to war on trade.

Open line and headline news

The open line and the daily roundup of news and comment.

Why you should support the ACLU: Panhandling

The ACLU of Arkansas reports on its efforts at the state level and in Fort Smith, Rogers and Hot Springs to fight the unconstitutional attempts by Arkansas politicians to criminalize panhandling.

DeFrance at Verizon Arena: A Slideshow

Here's to Jon Bon Jovi for booking a local outfit, DeFrance, to open his show Tuesday night at Verizon Arena.

Booker Clemons named Jefferson County judge

Jefferson County has a new county judge, Booker Clemons.

Stodola reports good poll numbers for re-election bid

Mark Stodola says poll numbers look good for his re-election bid. And, yes, he says in response to some rumors circulating, he IS running.

Missing State Hospital patient provided contraband

Several news outlets, including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, have reported that missing State Hospital patient Cory Chapin had been provided contraband — including a cell phone and vaping device — and that a psychological examiner he left with, Michelle Messer, had been questioned about it.This confirms a telephone report we received from another hospital patient who reported on this and other favors Chapin had bragged about.

Arkansas unemployment rises

The Arkansas unemployment rate in February rose to 3.8 percent from 3.7 percent the month before as the workforce dropped by almost 1,800 people.

Texas harvests medical cannabis almost three years after law signed

In 2015, Texas passed a law legalizing sale of CBD, a non-euphoric oil derived from cannabis, for treatment of certain medical conditions. The Texas Tribune reports that the first crop has been harvested, almost three years after the legislation was signe

March for Our Lives includes Arkansas events

They're predicting one of the largest marches ever Saturday in Washington, the March For Our Lives against gun violence. Sibling marches, hundreds of them, are planned around the country, including Bentonville and Little Rock.

Suit filed over failed candy deliveries

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today filed a lawsuit against an on-line candy business based in Little Rock for failing to deliver orders.

Thank goodness: Friday

The open line and today's video headlines.

State will appeal Griffen decision on medical marijuana permits

The state of Arkansas served notice today that it would ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to review Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's order this declaring the award of five medical marijuana cultivation permits null and void.

Stu Soffer off state Election Commission

Chris Burks, attorney for the Arkansas Democratic Party, says Jefferson Circuit Judge Phillip Green ruled today that Stu Soffer, a White Hall Republican, couldn't serve on both the Jefferson County and state election commissions.

No Small Talk, Ep. 10: Take Five

This week, we round up a few jazz shows happening in the Central Arkansas area, and recap a big weekend for music in Hot Springs.

The GIF Scandal Goes On Edition

The resignation of Jefferson County Judge Henry Wilkins, the legal battle over the cultivation of medical marijuana and more — on this week's podcast.

Westside School student will march in Washington.

A survivor of the Westside School shooting in Jonesboro writes for the New York Times about while she'll join the March for Our Lives in Washington today, the 20th anniversary of Westside.

When the legislature acts unconstitutionally, do citizens have recourse?

The legislature illegally passed a big tax break for the billboard industry. The question is whether citizens have any recourse in court. The state attorney general seems to say no.

Lining up in Arkansas for the march against violence

Marchers are gathering around Arkansas in the March for Our Lives against gun violence.

The open line march: Everybody look what's going down

Young people all over the world marched against gun violence today. It will not soon be forgotten.

Root Cafe team to open Dos Rocas Beer & Tacos

A new Latin American street food restaurant is coming to the South Main district. Jack Sundell and Corri Bristow Sundell, who own The Root Cafe, will partner with longtime Root kitchen manager Cesar Bordon-Avalos and his wife, Adelia Kittrell, to open Dos Rocas Beer & Tacos.

The drug crisis: By Little Rock numbers

KARK reported this weekend that Little Rock police had responded to 79 overdose calls in the first 79 days of the year, with seven of these being fatal.

Work continues on ordinance to de-emphasize marijuana enforcement in Little Rock

City Director Kenneth Richardson has sent me the latest draft of his idea for a Little Rock ordinance to discourage misdemeanor marijuana arrests.

Family fight over money in Jonesboro

It's an old story: Ugly family fights over money. Today, the New York Times delves deeply into such a dispute in Jonesboro.

Crossett pollution: Does anybody care besides the newspaper?

There's an outstanding piece of reporting in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Eric Besson and Emily Walkenhorst about pollution at the Georgia-Pacific plant in Crossett. Will it join past investigative journalism in the dustbin?

Cotton Plant, Ark., makes the big time thanks to marijuana

The hopes of tiny Cotton Plant to be revitalized by a medical marijuana cultivation facility is the subject of a feature article in today's New York Times.

The dark and stormy open line

The line is open. Waiiting for Stormy Daniels and enjoying the unhappiness of the NRA about Saturday's marches.

Stolen "Hanging Judge" pin returned to Fort Smith museum

Good news for those of you following the caper of the missing lizard pin: The AP reported over the weekend that a stickpin that belonged to  nineteenth-century Judge Isaac C. Parker has been returned to the Fort Smith Museum of History.

Pulaski County Democrats host primary debates for statehouse and sheriff candidates

The national political climate has helped create several contested Democratic primaries in Central Arkansas, including in District 35 (the Heights and points west) and District 39 (Maumelle).

Marcus Richmond tapped to lead House GOP caucus

Mike Wickline reports in this morning's D-G that the Arkansas House Republicans have selected Rep. Marcus Richmond of Harvey as their new leader. Richmond has made his name opposing regulations aimed at curtailing bad practices by dog breeders and hallucinatory speeches about purveyors of Sharia law kidnapping children in Arkansas.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to join Stodola at community safety event

Landrieu will join the Little Rock mayor on April 6 for an event on community safety at the Clinton School

Gun manufacturer Remington files for bankruptcy

Ironically, the company's sales are flagging in large part because gun enthusiasts seem to feel confident the Trump administration won't allow new restrictions on firearms. Under Obama, gun sales soared.

Governor announces reduction in workers comp insurance rates, workplace fatalities

The state's incidence of workplace fatalities is at an all-time low, the governor said, falling from 106 in 1995 to 49 in 2017. Workplace injuries are down as well, he added.

Keith Moyer named new publisher of Las Vegas Review-Journal

The latest in the saga of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a story with a number of Arkansas connections that this blog has followed: Arkansas Business reports that the paper's current editor, J. Keith Moyer, has been named the newspaper's publisher, replacing Craig Moon.

Donald Trump denies affair with Stormy Daniels

Jumping the Shark Week.

Pair fleeing Arkansas psychiatric hospital arrested in Las Vegas

On March 20, hospital employee Michelle Messer escorted patient Cory Chapin from the facility and to her personal vehicle, state officials said last week.

Monday's headlines and your open line

Your Arkansas headlines for March 26, 2018 include the planning of a community safety summit for Little Rock, the March for Our Lives, Richmond tapped for House GOP caucus and the missing "Hanging Judge" pin has been returned.

Events coming up at Heights Corner Market

The Eventspace at Heights Corner Market has a full schedule of culinary and musical events coming up in the next few weeks. Don't miss out on these great experiences.

AG Rutledge joins red states opposing California immigration laws in federal suit

In a press release Monday, Rutledge embraced Trump's alarmist language on the dangers of immigrants, saying “California’s radical policies place all Arkansans and Americans in danger."

Trump administration moves forward with effort to sabotage the census

The Trump administration announced last night that the 2020 census will include a question on citizenship for the first time in 70 years. Experts warn that the move could depress participation by immigrants who worry that the information could be used against them. This may be a feature rather than a bug for Team Trump.

Ex-Razorbacks Head Coach Bret Bielema lists Fayetteville mansion for $2 million

Bret Bielema, canned as coach of the Hogs last year after an ignominious five-year run, has put his palatial Fayetteville estate on sale for $1.975 million.

No regrets for states that expanded Medicaid

The Brookings Institute takes a look at states that expanded Medicaid and finds no evidence of regret: "The strong balance of objective evidence indicates that actual costs to states so far from expanding Medicaid are negligible or minor, and that states across the political spectrum do not regret their decisions to expand Medicaid." That includes Arkansas, the state where Medicaid expansion has survived despite a perfect storm of political obstacles.

Walmart to remove Cosmopolitan from checkout lines

Walmart will remove Cosmopolitan magazine from checkout lines at 5,000 stores across the country, according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), an anti-pornography advocacy group.

Flood watch issued for seven counties in northwest Arkansas

With rain continuing in northwest Arkansas and Oklahoma, the National Weather Service has issued a flood watch until 7:00 p.m. in Benton, Carroll, Crawford, Franklin, Madison, Sebastian and Washington counties. Heavy rains are expected to impact much of the state.

'The Conversation' with Gwen Moritz

In this week's edition, host Matt Price interviews Arkansas Business Editor, Gwen Moritz.

GOP gubernatorial challenger Morgan praises Lt. Gov. Griffin, condemns Hutchinson

Trump set himself apart from his Republican rivals in part by embracing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. In contrast, Morgan said she'd end Arkansas Works, the Medicaid expansion program now providing health insurance to some 285,000 Arkansans. "Arkansas Works is devastating our economy," she said in an interview with Talk Business.

Top stories for Tuesday and your open line

GOP gubernatorial challenger Morgan praises Lt. Gov. Griffin, condemns Hutchinson, AG Rutledge joins red states opposing California immigration laws in federal suit, Ex-Razorbacks Head Coach Bret Bielema lists Fayetteville mansion for $2 million and Walmart will remove Cosmopolitan magazine from checkout lines at 5,000 stores across the country.

Women's Foundation study details income and education gaps by race and geography

The median gender pay gap persists nationally and is slightly larger in Arkansas than the country as a whole. The earnings ratio (which only takes into account full-time, year-round employment) is 77.8 percent in Arkansas and 79.6 percent nationally.

Federal authorities announce arrest of 10 on drug trafficking charges in North Little Rock

U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland said in a statement that the arrests were part of ongoing efforts to combat the distribution of opioids in Arkansas.

Second group seeks constitutional amendment for casinos

A second group, Arkansas Wins in 2018, is launching an effort to put a ballot measure before Arkansas voters this November to authorize casinos in certain designated locations, filing campaign-finance paperwork with the Arkansas Ethics Commission yesterday. The group proposes allowing four casinos, in Benton County, Bone County, Miller County and Pulaski County.

Democratic leaders call on Trump administration to release costs of Medicaid work requirements

Modern Healthcare reports that leading Democrats are pushing the Trump administration to release information about the administrative costs of implementing new work requirements for the Medicaid program in red states, including Arkansas.

Chronic pain patients fear upcoming Medicare change limiting opioid access

At the state and federal level, restrictions on opioids are tightening. But could that bite patients who need them the most?

Mendelssohn, marimba and Nintendo NES: ASO's chamber series charmed at the Clinton Center

Framed by the ever-darker blues of the western sky over downtown little Rock, members of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra delivered (brilliantly) a program in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center that was as demanding as it was quirky, with works from Mendelssohn and living composers Eric Ewazen and Charles Hawthorne, the latter of whom was in attendance.

Mayor of Highfill arrested on charges of sexual indecency with a child

The Benton County jail roster shows Digby, 44, was admitted to the facility at 11:30 a.m. today on one charge of sexual indecency with a child and one charge of sexual assault in the first degree, both felonies.

Art of Fashion: Merline Labissière

Merline Labissière, a designer who has appeared on Lifetime's Project Runway, will talk Thursday night about her nonprofit Provoke Style Fashion Camp Corp. at the Arkansas Arts Center, as part of the Arts Center's Art of Fashion series.

Kat Robinson dishes again

Kat Robinson, food blogger and author of several books on Arkie eateries, has used her encyclopedic knowledge of where to find good homemade pie in Arkansas to publish a second book on the subject, "Another Slice of Arkansas Pie." The book will be available at WordsWorth Books in the Heights and Honey Pies bakery in West Little Rock, or you can order it online from Amazon and other book distributors for a mid-April delivery.

Governor adds $300,000 to K-8 teacher computer science training stipends

The money will fund stipends for 150 teachers statewide who pursue the training, which begins this summer. The $300,000 announced Wednesday is in addition to $500,000 the governor originally allocated in December for 250 stipend slots statewide.

Medical pot company asks Griffen to vacate injunction, move case: UPDATE

Natural State Wellness Enterprises filed a complaint today asking that Pulaski Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen vacate the preliminary injunction he issued last week.

President Bill Clinton and James Patterson speak at Statehouse Convention Center

Former President Bill Clinton and author James Patterson are scheduled to speak at the Statehouse Convention Center Saturday, June 9 about their forthcoming novel, "The President Is Missing."

Poke OK for the Heights

Poke Hula, the restaurant serving up the classic Hawaiian raw fish bowls at 415 E. Third St. in downtown Little Rock, is opening a second location in The Heights at 5621 Kavanaugh Blvd., the spot formerly occupied by yogurt shop Red Mango.

Design Loblolly's new solar-powered ice cream truck

Loblolly Creamery and design agency Few are teaming up for the Few Design Challenge, a competition to determine the new look for Loblolly's solar-powered ice cream truck.

Wednesday's headlines and your open line

Headlines for March 28, 2018: A complaint filed today by Natural State Wellness Enterprises alleges Judge Wendell Griffen could not enjoin the awarding of medical marijuana cultivation permits because they'd already been awarded, Hutchinson adds $300,000 to K-8 teacher computer science training stipends, Mayor of Highfill arrested on charges of sexual indecency with a child and another group is seeking a constitutional amendment for casinos.

As LR mayoral race approaches, Stodola's address paints rosy picture of city

"We have created that 24/7 environment that will attract millennials ... to live and work in our downtown core. The collision of arts and culture with science and technology has become a reality!" Stodola enthused.

Oklahoma teachers win major pay raises from GOP legislature with threat of walkout

A major victory for teachers in Oklahoma, if an incomplete one.
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