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Best & Worst 2014

Best & Worst 2014

December 25, 2014

Vol 41 • No 16

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Best and worst 2014

It's our annual roundup of the year's dumbest, weirdest, oddest, strangest and all-around Arkansasiest.

A guide to New Year's Eve

Amasa Hines, Cory Branan, The Big Dam Horns, DJ Sno White and more.

Tim Gaither at the Loony Bin

Also, the Andrew Christian Trophy Boys at Sway.

American Princes return to White Water

Also, Holiday Art Shows at Gallery 26, Hayes Carll at Revolution, Fresco Grey at Vino's, Big Boss Line at White Water and W. Kamau Bell at Juanita's.

'Hobbit' goes ka-bloom

Leaving story behind, trilogy finale overdoses on special effects.

Easy on the pay raises

An independent commission appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and the chief justice began work last week to fulfill part of Issue 3, the constitutional amendment that eased term limits, banned lobbyist gifts to legislators (sort of) and provided a mechanism for pay raises.

Here's to Hutchinson, McCain and American revulsion at torture

On Nov. 16, 1776, Gen. George Washington stood on the Jersey Palisades and peered across the Hudson River through his telescope as the British tortured American militiamen who had surrendered and then put them to the sword. Hearing the screams of his men, according to an aide, Washington turned and sobbed "with the tenderness of a child."

Don't get it 'Twisted'

Also, sympathy for the plight of "The Interview," Alice Walton reportedly paying a lot for a coffee table and by the number, IKEA-style.

Flyover territory: Flight Deck

Unless you're in East Little Rock or hungry for a veggie sandwich.


Arkansas guard Michael Qualls looks to drive to the goal against Southeast Missouri State guard Jarekious Bradley in second-half action at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014. Arkansas defeated Southeast Missouri State 84-67.

Texas Bowl preview: Hogs over Horns

Bowl games run the gamut, from the oddball and uninteresting to the compelling and rich (hat tip to Ron Burgundy). It's hard to imagine how Arkansas-Texas in any scenario would be a yawner, and the AdvoCare Texas Bowl next Monday night is a sellout for the first time in the game's relative infancy, so the appeal is unquestioned from the regional assessment and even on a broader scale will be embraced.

Praise for Broadway

I was a college professor for about 20 years at three colleges, two in Arkansas. In eight years on the Arkansas House of Representatives Education Committee in the 1970s, I observed and interacted with directors of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

The Internet gap in Arkansas education

In which a state agency and the telecom industry gouge public schools for millions.


This will be the last Observer for 2014, and The Observer has a lot of things to be thankful for in our 40th year on Planet Earth, system Sol, Milky Way Galaxy.

A double tragedy

In another week with more than its share of race-based strain on display across the nation, an Arkansas story was one of the saddest and most frustrating. It involved allegations of wide-scale theft of public dollars by a sponsor and administrators of a summer feeding program for poor children financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Literacy program loses financial support

KTHV reports on the likely closure of Literacy Action of Central Arkansas in January because of the nonprofit's loss of state funding.

McDaniel makes parting gift of state money to ASU

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, in his final days in office, has doled out another bit of state money without appropriation to Arkansas State University, whose main campus is in his hometown of Jonesboro, for its engineering program.

Republicans set to push limits on Obamacare

An AP interview with Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang indicates again that the only hope for continuing the private option version of Medicaid expansion is with some major alterations in the program to suit the anti-Obamacare element in the larger GOP majority.

The Christmas open line: Fifth Ave. edition

The Christmas Day open line includes a report from Fifth Avenue, New York.

A good year for Obama in 2014, except at the polls

Paul Krugman looks back on 2014 and finds more successes for the federal government than a restive electorate might indicate.

The new blood-sucking: Car title loans

The New York Times reports on a new incarnation of the sub-prime mortgage lending racket. It's the car title loan — fast credit for clunkers and exorbitant interest rates that too often leave poor people in the hole and without the cars whose titles they gave up for small loans.

Friday Five: Christmas hangover edition

Holiday cheer can turn ugly once the presents are open and the party winds down. Here's your Friday open line with our guide to surviving the Christmas aftermath.

Huckabee lands on 2014 list of questionable ethics

Media Matters rounds up the dubious conservative media plays of the year. Mike Huckabee naturally makes the list.

The Boxing Day open line: Also, death on I-30.

Boxing Day turns up not much news from my angle, but lots of shoppers.

Five in Arkansas family killed in Indiana crash

Five members of a Rogers, Ark., family returning home from Michigan were killed Friday when their car crossed a median of a freeway in Indiana and was struck by an oncoming truck.

The lonely progressives

A Nebraska liberal writes of the plight of the lonely progressives in a state dominated by Republicans. Sound familiar?

The homeward bound open line

I'm off to the airport for a flight home to Little Rock. See you in the morning.

Should Arkansas elected officials be paid more than unelected Arkansans?

Some advice for the new politicians' pay commission: Don't get carried away. Where did this idea come that increasing pay at the top (lawmakers, economic development directors) would trickle down on the least of us?

Another wrinkle in the Medicaid expansion

The New York Times reports on the expected ill effect of expiration of federal support of payments for primary care under Medicaid commensurate with Medicare. With many more people covered by Medicaid now, the fear is that declining pay for doctors will make access harder for the bigger audience.

Lottery scholarship legislation among the worst of early bill filings

Legislation filed for 2015 include a big tax cut, legislative incursions on the power of the executive and judicial branches and a particularly problematic bill that will favor upper income families in awards of lottery scholarships.

Jennings Osborne, gone but not forgotten at Florida Christmas time

The Jennings Osborne Christmas light display burns on at Disney['s Hollywood Studios in Florida and still draws many admirers. A Florida writer tells this story behind this year's display.

Little Rock's 42nd homicide occurs in fight over child

Troy Holmes, 37, was fatally shot about 11 p.m. Saturday in his home at 72123 Stevenson Drive in a dispute related to custody of an infant. It was the 42nd Little Rock homicide of the year.

Here's a Sunday open line

Brighten up a cold and dreary day.

Waiting for equality: Couples look to the Arkansas Supreme Court

Nov. 20, a federal judge and the Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The federal judge has ruled, but the Supreme Court has not. Might the silence be broken the last week of 2014?

For a slow day: The best and worst of 2014 in Arkansas

Did I miss the memo that declared today a state holiday? Where is everybody? For a slow morning, you could do a lot worse than snacking on David Koon's review of the high and lowlights of Arkansas in 2014.

2016 polling: Bush v. Clinton, with an edge for Clinton

CNN polling on 2016 president race puts Hillary Clinton ahead of the preferred Republican contenders, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie

Time for a productivity audit of colleges and universities; and the eVersity

Explosive cost increases call for a performance audit of higher education, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal argues. It perhaps also makes the case for on-line education.

No holiday for commission working on politicians' pay

One state commission will be at work this week — the independent body studying whether the legislature, state elected officials and judges deserve pay raises.

No decision expected in marriage case this year

A spokesman for the Arkansas Supreme Court said today she didn't expect a decision this year in the same-sex marriage case, "but anything is possible." A delay until next year will put a wrinkle in deliberations.

The post-holiday court docket

Domestic abuse cases pile up on the first day after the Christmas holiday at the county courthouse.

Izzy's is good for pizza, bad for burgers

Trekking out to the wilds of Highway 10 didn't bring any revelations in terms of great food. There was decent, and then there was the burger.

Mayor Stodola ends campaign season with $100,000 kitty

Mayor Mark Stodola racked up a $100,000 campaign kitty while running unopposed for another term as mayor this year.

Lottery Commission approves contract extension with Intralot

In a special telephone meeting today, the Arkansas Lottery Commission approved a three-year contract extension with Intralot, a supplier of on-line and instant lottery games, that will eventually reduce Intralot's take and save the lottery an estimated $5 million over the duration of the contract, through August 2019.

Hutchinson's tax cut push and its connection to the private option vote

How Asa Hutchinson plans to use early passage of an income tax cut to coerce obedient private option votes from Democrats. The missing link: The reactionary Republicans. They might not vote for the private option no matter what.

The Monday night open line: What are you watching on TV?

Here's the Monday night Texas Bowl open line.

Searchers find debris from missing AirAsia flight

Officials confirm that debris and bodies found off the coast of Borneo are from the crash of an AirAsia flight that disappeared Dec. 28 on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore.

A question about work schedules: Why stop at Lottery Commission

The Democrat-Gazette reported this morning on a note in a Legislative Audit review of the Lottery Commission that there was no documented working schedule for Lottery Director Bishop Woosley.

Pay commission meets; no cameras running

The independent citizens commission that is reviewing with state lawmakers, state officials and judges deserve a pay raise will meet at 8:30 a.m. today at Room 272 of the Capitol. Too bad it's not going to be streamed live on the web for greater public accountability.

Pay commission update: Much work to be done

The commission studying state official pay increases needs some research help. And, it heard today, there's some conflicting factors in the question of whether the state can afford pay increases it might recommend.

Pulaski County is in the money, survey shows

Pulaski County ranks high in a Brookings Institute ranking of U.S. counties based on average capital gains reported in 2012. A few people did very well, apparently.

Humanist Association explains lawsuit over Baxter County nativity scene

The American Humanist Association explains why it sued over Baxter County's refusal to allow anything but a Christian observance on the courthouse lawn in Mountain Home during the Christmas season.

Rally set for Reproductive Justice

The Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice has scheduled its fifth rally for reproductive justice at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24 at the Arkansas State Capitol. It serves as a useful counterpoint to the annual anti-abortion rally held the next day at the Capitol.

Arkansan on Politico list of top campaign givers talks of pushback against left

Politco's Kenneth Vogel reports on the 100 biggest poitical campaign givers in 2014 and includes some of the most extensive remarks I've seen yet about the prolific giving by poultry tycoon Ron Cameron of Little Rock, who gave $4.2 million, 13th on the list

Report: Texas governor considering Obamacare expansion

Texas, the biggest holdout, may be moving toward an Arkansas-style adoption of the Obamacare-financed Medicaid expansion. But ... will Arkansas continue to participate?

What Kansas can teach us about tax cuts

A three-judge Kansas court has now ruled that Kansas funding of public schools falls short of long-established constitutional standards.

State Police: Houston fugitive shoots self after traffic stop

The State Police said today that a 44-year-old man wanted by Houston police died at a Hope hospital today from a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a traffic stop.

Whole Hog better than remembered

A pleasant surprise from the barbecue chain.

SWEPCO drops power line project across Ozarks

Southwestern Electric Power Company announced in a news release today that it is dropping plans for a $116 million power line across Northwest Arkansas because the project is no longer needed. It would have covered 60 miles between Benton and Carroll Counties.

Hutchinson names senator's son as Arkansas surgeon general

Dr. Greg Bledsoe, son of Republican Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, will become Arkansas surgeon general, incoming Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced today.

The Tuesday open line; video report returns

The open line and video news roundup.

Patronage patrol: Why not a job for Bruce Holland?

As Republicans rush to fill state patronage positions, the name of former Sen. Bruce Holland emerges as a candidate for a couple of potential offices.

Here come the tax cuts; when will Hutchinson declare on private option?

Some $100 million in tax cuts take effect Thursday and the incoming governor wants to double those cuts in the early days of the 2015 legislative session. What about the private option? The question looms larger.

Little Rock House race cost more than $500,000, including more last-minute Michael Morton money

A House race in Little Rock, won by a Democrat Clarke Tucker, outspent by Republican Stacy Hurst, cost far more than four of the races for statewide office.

Chuck Hagel's holiday message includes gay sailor's proposal

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's video holiday message includes an image of a male sailor's marriage proposal to another male sailor. It's believed the first depiction of a gay military couple in such messages.

Same-sex marriage: The new normal in 2014, even in parts of Arkansas

The new normal: A country club reception in Little Rock for a newlywed men. Someday, it might even be legal here.

KKK in Arkansas headlines; including new Harrison billboard

One Klansman from Boone County is heading to prison and another Klansman has leased a billboard to send people to Harrison's racial turmoil is not over.

New surgeon general brings political experience to table

Arkansas's new surgeon general once fought a valiant but losing fight at the legislature to reinstate mandatory helmets for motorcycle riders. It's unknown if that will be part of the focus of his work in the future. The private option is of more pressing concern.

Beebe's midnight appointments include ANOTHER one for Cliff Hoofman

As I predicted here earlier, Gov. Mike Beebe's midnight appointments as lame-duck governor includes a third appointment of Cliff Hoofman to a two-year stint filling a vacated appellate court seat.

Hutchinson names Rural Services director; to keep current Oil and Gas and Parole leaders

Asa Hutchinson, the governor elect, announced that Amy Fecher would be director of the agency, succeeding John Andrews. Currently working for the Heart Association, she was deputy director of the agency under Mike HUckabee's administration.

The New Year's Eve open line; and a note on the passing of another of member of the Women's Emergency Committee

The New Year's Eve open line. And a warm word for another earthly departure for a member of the storied Women's Emergency Committee Jeanne Gallman Akins.

Exxon fights release of documents on unbuilt pipeline that would have paralleled Pegasus route

Plaintiffs for Mayflower landowners say that shows the company knew in advance that the existing Pegasus — which ruptured in 2013 — was nearing the end of its lifespan. Exxon attorneys, however, insist that the proposed Texas Access Pipeline was never intended to replace the older pipeline.

The unblinking camera catches a package pickup

A home security camera in northern Pulaski County catches a young man picking up a package that had been left at the home by UPS. The sheriff's office suspects something is amiss.