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Cabot, AR

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Latitude: 34.972647 -- Longitude: -92.022329

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As of the census of 2000, there were 9,764 people, 3,601 households, and 2,823 families residing in the city. The population density was 415.6/km² (1,076.4/mi²). There were 3,762 housing units at an average density of 160.1/km² (414.7/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.87% White, 1.53% Black or African American, 0.34% Native American, 1.05% Asian, 0.37% from other races, and 0.84% from two or more races. 1.05% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. There were 3,601 households out of which 42.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 63.9% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 21.6% were non-families. 19.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.65 and the average family size was 3.03. -- Source:

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Census Data for Cabot, Arkansas

Arkansas 2000 Census Population Profile Map

Cabot Arkansas United States
Population 15,261 2,673,400 281,421,906
Median age 32.3 36 35.3
Median age for Male 31.1 34.6 34
Median age for Female 33.4 37.4 36.5
Households 5,432 1,042,696 105,480,101
Household population 15,077 2,599,492 273,643,273
Average household size 2.78 2.49 2.59
Families 4,327 732,261 71,787,347
Average family size 3.14 2.99 3.14
Housing units 5,712 1,173,043 115,904,641
Occupied units 5,432 1,042,696 105,480,101
Vacant units 280 130,347 10,424,540

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Family Plans ‘Beautiful Sights’ Tour For Boy Going Blind

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (UPI) — A New Zealand mother said she and her family are taking her 12-year-old son to see the world’s most “beautiful images” before he goes blind. Catherine Corbett of Auckland said her three sons have all been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disorder that will eventually lead to blindness. But […]

Come to the Ark. Times/Root Cafe Beard Growing Contest, stay for Woody Pines

Time to clear your calendar, people. The second annual Arkansas Times/Root Cafe Beard Growing Contest is just around the corner. It's scheduled for 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 1 at the Bernice Garden, after the conclusion of the SoMa Mardi Gras Parade

Go here to see the 20 jaw bush cultivators who showed up for our official "Shave-In" on Dec. 7, having their fresh-shorn cheeks photographed as proof of a fair start. Between now and judging on Saturday, these 20 will grow their face hair to maximum length and beauty for cash and prizes. Categories include Fullest Beard, Most Original Beard and Best 'Burns and 'Stache Combo.

Judges will be KATV movie critic Renee Shapiro, green thumb guru P. Allen Smith and photographer Arshia Khan.

For those whose commitment to their beards wouldn't allow them to shave, there are also "lifetime achievement categories" — including Longest Beard, Best Santa Claus Beard, Best 35 and Under, and Best Aging Hipster Beard — that are open to entrants at the event. 

After the event, stick around for a SoMa Pop-Up party, where Nashville boogie heroes Woody Pines will perform for free. There'll be a beer tent, too, and Southern Gourmasian and Waffle Wagon will be nearby if you get hungry. 

Below, organizer and Root co-owner Jack Sundell offers the lowdown on how the contest will work. Note: No nudity. No artificial product in "Fullest Beard" category. 

When you arrive you will be checked in at the Welcome Table where you'll take a photograph holding your name like we did for the Shave-in. You'll be asked to sign a copy of the contest rules, declare your category, and also put on a number to wear that the judges will use to identify you. Please be groomed, trimmed, and dressed for the judging when you arrive.

For the judging, shave-in contestants will be separated into 3 sequential groups: Most Original Beard, Best 'Burns & 'Stache Combo, and Fullest Beard. Judges will rate contestants in one category at a time, using whatever means necessary to establish the winner. This could include touching beards, using a measuring tape, asking for a side profile, etc. The judges have been encouraged to be thorough and independent and have been informed of the criteria by which to rate beards of each category (fullest beard will be judged objectively, whereas most original and 'burns & 'stache combo is subjective).

After judging the shave-in contestants, the judges will view contestants in the 4 Lifetime Achievement categories. They will then have a period for deliberation, discussion, and tallying. Their results will be handed to the emcee, who will announce the winners and honorable mentions in each category, as well as the Grand Prize Best in Show Award.

A few contest rules to note:
*You should do all trimming and beard preparation before arriving at the judging—this is to protect originality of "Most Original" entries and to prevent last minute category switching.
*The use of hair care or artificial product (mousse, gel, spray, etc.) is acceptable in the categories of "Most Original" and "Best 'Burns & 'Stache Combo." "Fullest Beard" must be pure, unadulterated whiskers.
*The sideburns and mustache for "Best 'Burns & 'Stache Combo" do not have to connect. The only requirement is that you have the combination of sideburns and a mustache upon your face.
*In the category of fullest beard, only the beard itself is being judged. In categories of 'Burns & 'Stache" and "Most Original", judges are authorized, if they deem it appropriate, to consider outfit/dress as it relates to the presentation of the beard.
*This event is free and open to the public; therefore, contestants should behave in a family-friendly manner—no nudity, excessive profanity, or derogatory language.
*Each category will have one Prize Winner and two Honorable Mentions. There will be one Grand Prize "Best in Show" Award Winner.
*The decisions of the judges are final, and by participating in the judging you are agreeing to accept their pronouncements with grace and decorum.

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Do you know what's in your tamales?

Fresh from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:

Wildlife officers with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission today arrested a White County couple on several wildlife violations. The pair allegedly used wild animals, such as deer, to make tamales in their roadside stand.

Fred Thomas Atkins III, 49 and his wife Betty Louise Williams, 28, were arrested at their tamale stand on Arkansas Highway 16 between Searcy and Pangburn. The couple was issued citations for several game violations including buying and selling wildlife. If convicted, Atkins and Williams would face fines up to $5,000 on each count and up to a year in jail. The two were taken to the White County Detention Center in Searcy.

The six-week investigation targeted the couple after undercover wildlife officers sold several deer to Atkins. The wildlife officers also purchased tamales suspected of being made with deer meat. Officers from the White County Sheriff’s Office and investigators with the Central Arkansas Drug Task Force, along with the AGFC, were involved in the investigation.

Capt. Bill Howell of the AGFC said the individuals were gathering as many illegal deer as they could get. “It was not only the wildlife violations that we were concerned about, but also the health concerns. It was a great team effort by several agencies to protect Arkansas’s valuable natural resources and allow the public to safely enjoy them,” Howell said.

A spokesman said they only know for sure that deer was used, on account of the undercover work. But tamales have been sent for testing of presence of other varmints.

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Photos of Rohwer at Arkansas State

Paul and Ann Faris were invited to  the Rohwer internment camp for Japanese Americans in 1945 to photograph the people and record their stories. Next Thursday, March 6, many of those photographs will be exhibited, some for the first time, at Arkansas State University's Wilson Auditorium from 1-3 p.m. Professor Sarah Wilkerson Freeman and ASU history students will discuss research on the forced relocation of Japanese Americans into the camps during World War II. 

Rohwer is in Desha County. A memorial is all that is left of the camp where more than 8,000 American citizens were imprisoned because of their Japanese heritage after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Farises were invited to photograph artwork made by internees for "Beauty Behind Barbed Wire: The Arts of the Japanese in Our War Relocation Camps" by Allen H. Eaton; Eye Candy has written several times about Rohwer artists (Ruth Asawa, artist interned at Rohwer, dies""The Art of Living""Beauty in a Prison Camp").
In a press release, Freeman writes, “By bringing the photos to light, those involved in the project hope to preserve something of the visual evidence of the unconstitutional treatment of Japanese-Americans while demythologizing the camp experience.” 


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Name that Arkansas artist

There's nothing in it for you but bragging rights about your encyclopedic knowledge of Arkansas artists, but here's a chance for you to enter my revived "Name that Arkansas Artist" contest. The work above will appear in an exhibition opening next week in Little Rock. So who is the artist? Answer in the comment space below (it's easy to sign in) or on Facebook. First to answer correctly (gallery owners, don't play!) gets acclaim from fellow Arkansas art lovers.

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Natural Resources Commission rebuffs legislative pressure, refuses payment to builder of illegal dam

Legislative pressure tactics failed today to persuade the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to pay any legal or engineering fees incurred by Dan Eoff in Clinton as a result of his construction of an unpermitted earthen dam in Van Buren County. Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest and Rep. Josh Miller of Heber Springs, both Republicans, had pressured the agency to pay the fees and had held up the agency's budget to force the payment.

The issue was taken to the nine-member commission, which considered it in a brief conference call this afternoon. With one member absent, the commission voted 8-0 to reject the demand for money. The Commission stood by its belief that the dam on a tributary of the South Fork of the Little Red River is illegal and it had advice from the attorney general's office that Eoff couldn't win a claim for money from the state Claims Commission.

The Natural Resources Commission wants the dam removed because of concerns that it jeopardizes the flood insurance program for homeowners in the floodway; that it endangers some protected species, and that it is seeping. The Commission had moved in a circuit court suit to have the dam torn down. But a special legislative audit report — Bryan King co-chairs legislative audit — raised questions about a meeting at which the commission decided that course of action because the group had met the night before for dinner without issuing notice of the meeting. Commissioners have said they didn't do business that night, but the action tainted the lawsuit sufficiently that the commission didn't proceed with it. The EPA is still evaluating the situation.

When the Commission resisted pressure from King and Miller to pay Eoff for his expenses, the commission's budget was held up. That led to the meeting today on whether to relent. The vote was speedy and unanimous. No.

Commissioner Don Richardson of Clinton commented afterward: "Mr. Miller is my state representative and as I indicated earlier I'm offended by his asking us to do this. Mr. Eoff clearly built a dam illegally and he knew he was doing so. Actions have consequences. I believe Mr. Miller knows as well as anyone actions have consequences. I'm sorry he chose to act this way. I'm sorry it's going to be expensive, but he chose it that way."

Commissioner Ann Cash of Lake Village added: "Amen."

Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel complimented the agency and said it was unfair for them to receive pressure not to do their jobs. He said it was critical that it continue to do so and he asked what the consequences were of refusing to pay Eoff. Randy Young, director of the agency, said he couldn't predict how King would react. He said he'd been instructed to report back to King by Monday.

King is one of the biggest bullies in the legislature. He's repeatedly used his post at Legislative Audit to employ the staff as a cudgel against enemies. Josh Miller, you might recall, was a subject of my column this week. He's spoken out vociferously against the Medicaid expansion though he's been a recipient — and continues to be a recipient — of more than a million dollars in Medicaid assistance because of injuries from a vehicle accident 11 years ago. Richardson's comment about Miller seems likely to have been a reference to Miller's personal history. Miller himself talks freely and candidly about his irresponsibility then in being uninsured and driving while drinking, which led to the crash. But he draws distinctions between coverage for his injuries and ongoing personal services and insurance and the program he opposes to expand health insurance for working poor. He questions the ability of the government to pay more than it is already paying for Medicaid recipients.

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Cranford Johnson to relocate to Third and Main

A potential move reported here weeks ago has been firmed up: Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, the state’s largest marketing, advertising and public relations firm, will move from Capitol Avenue to the Fulk Building at Third and Main, the long-time home of Bennett's Military Supplies.

Jones Film Video, which has been at Sixth and Chester, will move into a building across the street that has been occupied by Mr. Cool's. Both buildings were owned by a partnership controlled by the family that operates Bennett's. I'd been told previously they would find another location downtown with this move, seen as a step in the development of Main Street as a corridor for arts, technology and other creative endeavors.

From the release:

Wayne Woods, chairman and chief executive officer of CJRW, said negotiations have been ongoing with Terraforma, Inc., a land acquisition and development firm in Little Rock. He said the decision reflects a commitment the agency has had to downtown Little Rock for its nearly 53-year history.

“Our agency has always been located in the heart of downtown and we have been looking at several options for the better part of a year now,” Woods  said. “When we considered what we will need moving forward, the Third and Main location made all the sense in the world,” he said. “To the extent that our move will advance all that is going on in the Main Street corridor, we are very pleased. Downtown has been good to us and we have always been a champion of downtown,” said Woods.

Woods said the two buildings will be renovated in anticipation of the agency’s move.

“In essence, we will be creating two new structures by installing infrastructure required to accommodate our state-of-the-art technology and creating an atmosphere and environment that is comfortable and conducive to maximum productivity for our staff and clients,” said Woods.

Doug Meyer of Terraforma said CJRW’s leases are an indication of confidence and investment in the redevelopment of downtown Little Rock.

“To have a company with the history and reputation of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods move to the Main Street corridor speaks volumes about what is going on in that area,” said Meyer.

Jim Dailey of Flake & Kelley, the commercial real estate firm handling the transaction, called the CJRW announcement “a watershed moment” in the development of downtown Little Rock.

“When you consider what Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods has meant to this city and state, and that their new locations will essentially be the ‘front door’ of the Main Street corridor that is being redeveloped, it speaks volumes  about the future of downtown Little Rock,” said Dailey, a former Little Rock mayor.

Terraforma has selected Jameson Associates, P.A., of Little Rock as the architect for the project. Meyer said an announcement concerning construction will be made when those plans are finalized.

Wayne Cranford and Jim Johnson founded CJRW in 1961 and Shelby Woods established The Woods Brothers Agency in 1967. The two firms merged

in 1990 to become Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, creating the largest marketing firm in the region. Today, CJRW has 85 employees among its offices in Little Rock, Northwest Arkansas, and Jones Film Video.

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Arkansas Times photo intern shoots the drag queens of Sochi

The Olympics are over and the torch extinguished, but it’s still surreal to think that I was there during the first week. Along with 27 others from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., I got to report from Sochi on the Winter Olympic Games as part of an immersive learning program. Our group, BSU at the Games, operated as a freelance news agency, with 28 student journalists on the ground in Sochi and 13 back in Indiana.
We traveled from Indiana to Sochi over the course of three days. To escape an imminent snowstorm, we left a day early and had to stay in Amsterdam because our visas would not let us in a day early to Russia. We then flew to Moscow where we had to stay another night before finally flying to Sochi.

We lived on a docked cruise ship, so we got to escape the disasters of unfinished hotel rooms and contaminated water. We took over a lounge on the ship and used it as our office space. The Wi-Fi was abysmal, but we were still able to turn out some great stories.

Armed with nothing but tickets to events and the Olympic Park, we had limited access compared to other reporters. We worked with media outlets such as our local NBC affiliate, The Chicago Tribune, the Advocate, Colorado Springs Gazette and The Spokesman Review out of Spokane, Wash. Most of the outlets had reporters on the ground covering sports and medal ceremonies, but they didn’t have anyone covering the culture of Sochi. That’s where we came in.

The first day in Sochi, we had to hit the ground running. We had just gotten in, eaten dinner, before we left to talk to people just behind the barriers at the Opening Ceremonies. It was one of those exhilarating moments in a new place where no one speaks your language and you have to come up with a story.

We covered everything from the stray dog problem to Sochi’s most popular gay bar. 

We went into Cabaret Mayak nervous about the anti-gay law and didn’t really know what to expect. When the owner told us he had never been threatened with violence and that he had even been asked by the mayor to help make Sochi a great place to visit, we were able to relax a little. Despite the law, Cabaret Mayak was just like any gay bar I have been to in the States. The crowded space made it difficult to maneuver, but exciting to be a part of. There were six other media teams trying to capture a new and interesting side of the same story there with us, too. We were brushing elbows with BBC and the Associated Press.

We made our way to the crowded stage just as the whole bar began singing the national anthem of Russia. The first drag queen up, Zaza Napoli, captured the attention of the audience with a performance of “I Will Survive.” After she finished, she walked over to me, said hello, grabbed my crotch and said something to the audience in Russian. Rough translation: “Oh, we got a big one!” It was one of those moments that will not easily be forgotten.

We worked on the story and photos when we got back and interviewed the two queens that started the drag scene in Sochi. We then pitched the story and photos as a package deal to The Advocate, which they decided to run. My blog post about my experience at the bar got some attention from Poynter and MediaBistro’s FishBowlNY. The headline on the item from MediaBistro was "Sochi drag queen manhandles Ball State student."

The time difference was probably the hardest part to the whole trip. We were nine hours ahead of Indiana, so we could not post when things actually happened. Instead, we had to post much later when people were awake, and after it aired back home. This made for very long nights and early mornings.

Many people were worried about our safety, but we felt completely secure. Between three security checks just to get onto our cruise ship and the complete pat downs whenever we took the train, we were put at ease.

Our time there was short, but it’s one of those experiences that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. These photos capture our experience as student journalists covering one of the world’s biggest events.

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No vote on private option today, but details of possible deal emerge


As expected, there was again no vote today in the Arkansas House of Representatives on the private option. The House adjourned until Monday, with the count for the private option apparently still at 73, two short of the needed 75-vote supermajority.

House Speaker Davy Carter
has been meeting with opponents over the last two days and proponents have said that progress is being made. Details remain scant on just what’s being discussed. It remains hard to imagine substantive changes to the bill that could maintain the needed support, though there may be possible concessions not directly included in the appropriation itself. 

Opponents now appear to be focused on limiting enrollment. That, of course, was the goal of the Bell amendments and Democrats are unlikely to go any further. 

Officials from Department of Human Services and Surgeon General Joe Thompson have been meeting with the governor today, so they may be working on the outlines of a deal.

UPDATE: Here is the deal potentially on offer, according to multiple sources [the broad outlines of which have now been confirmed publicly by the Speaker]: a limited enrollment period in the private option itself (access to private plans). But outside of that enrollment period, beneficiaries could still sign up for traditional Medicaid. Just why opponents of healthcare expansion would make this a priority is a little unclear to me (focus on personal responsibility and initiative in order to get in to the private plans?), but I will update with details. This would require federal approval (shouldn't be a problem) and would likely take effect some time in 2015. Nothing would be added to the bill itself, so it would not need to go back through the Senate. Most likely this would simply entail a commitment from DHS to seek permission from the feds to pursue this path — no legislative approval would be required at all. 

Details are still being hammered out, but it sounds like the potential enrollment period might operate similarly to the way the Obamacare exchange functioned this year. From Jan. 1 through March 31 of 2015, eligible people could enroll in private plans. Then, for the rest of the year, eligible people would only be able to enroll into traditional Medicaid, and would then only have the opportunity to enroll in private plans during the enrollment period the following year. Unclear whether the folks signed up to traditional Medicaid would then be required to enroll in a private plan during the enrollment period or could just choose to stay in traditional Medicaid, not an option under current policy. Presumably people already enrolled in private plans in 2014 would have a more streamlined process of re-enrolling. 

The federal match rates — with the feds covering 100 percent of the costs for the first three years — would be the same whether folks were in traditional Medicaid or the private plans. It's already the case that people are covered by traditional Medicaid as soon as they're deemed eligible until they complete the enrollment process. In practice, this approach would simply have them start in Medicaid for a longer period of time if they signed up outside of the enrollment period. 

This might add a small layer of administrative hassle or expense and a bit of additional confusion for beneficiaries, but from the perspective of covering low-income Arkansans, it would achieve the same results. It's just that a small group of people would end up on traditional Medicaid for a while before ending up on private plans, if they signed up outside of the enrollment period. Oddly, the private option was a compromise to get Republicans aboard by routing the Medicaid expansion through the private market, but this deal would in effect shift some people, at least for part of the year, from the private market to the state-run Medicaid program. 

One other small point is that it would keep a small portion of the private option group out of the risk pool on the Health Insurance Marketplace for part of the year, which might add some uncertainty for carriers and have a minor impact on premiums. (It would also, of course, lead to less months of paying customers for insurance companies.)

One question: given Rep. Nate Bell's amendment banning outreach — how would beneficiaries be informed of a limited enrollment period? It's hard to see the point of a special enrollment period if people don't know about it. 

Given that the private option is intended as an experiment in using private insurance to expand coverage to low-income people, having a portion of those folks on the old state-run fee-for-service Medicaid program for part of the year seems like an unnecessary layer of complexity. As a policy idea, it's not good. But given that it would maintain the same level of coverage, I expect this is something private option supporters could live with if it brings a few votes aboard. Will it be enough to finally close the deal next week? As always, things remain fluid. We'll see. 

The idea came out of discussions between House leadership and private option opponents, according to House Speaker Davy Carter. The opponents were focused on the idea of some sort of a limited open enrollment period to make the private option more like private employer-sponsored insurance or the private insurance sold on the Health Insurance Marketplace. That was an idea "worth of discussion," he said, though he acknowledged that he personally might prefer to simply enroll people in private plans year round. 

Carter said that many opponents had come to an understanding that the votes weren't there to dramatically alter the bill itself. "Reasonable minds can get together and figure out, if that’s not an option, what is," he said. Carter said that details were still being hammered out with DHS to figure out how the idea might be enacted and how it will fit within federal and state law. “This is a complex issue as far as this open enrollment goes,” he said. Asked about people potentially being routed to the traditional Medicaid program, he said DHS officials were also exploring just how the process would work for eligible beneficiaries outside of the open enrollment period, and that no one yet had a "definitive answer" on that. 

Carter was upbeat about prospects for passing the private option next week: 

We’re going to take care of our business here. We’re not going to let the people of Arkansas down. I hear that a lot from the members and we’re going to do that. We’re not going to leave here without having a budget. We’re going to get this issue resolved. Hopefully we’re much closer to having this issue resolved today than we were yesterday. We’ll show up on Monday and try and get it done. 

Nearly everyone I spoke with this afternoon at the Capitol believes that we're heading to the finish line, with a final vote Monday or Tuesday snagging the needed votes. But after the last few weeks, take any optimistic prediction on the House with a grain of salt the size of Arkansas. It would be a fitting conclusion, I guess: this weird deal, made to reach our state's quirky supermajority requirement, needed to pass our oddball version of Medicaid expansion. Arkansas! 

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No progress this week on Medicaid expansion

The Arkansas House adjourned today until 1:30 p.m. Monday. So further votes or action on amendments to make the private option Medicaid expansion acceptable to holdouts will wait until at least then. The measure has passed the Senate but needs 75 votes in the House. It has not gotten past 73 known supporters so far.

Before adjourning, the House approved the bill that allows the governor to bypass calling a special election this year to fill the vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor. The bill had already passed the Senate. Adjournment also left languishing the appropriation bill for the secretary of state's office. It's been held up for several days. The minority blockade of the private option, the secretary of state's role in the Voter ID law and a lack of warmth toward Secretary of State Mark Martin seem to be factors.

If only we could pass a law to avoid filling the llieutenant governor's office next year.

David Ramsey reports that Medicaid expansion opponents seem to want to place a limit on enrollment. He indicates that's unlikely to win approval. I hope so. Seems like an obvious equal protection problem. But he reports there's another wrinkle that might fly.

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Phil Wyrick to run for Pulaski County judge again

Pulaski County will have a vigorously contested race for county judge this year.

Republican Phil Wyrick, an unsuccessful candidate against Democrat Buddy Villines six years ago, told me that he'll be filing this afternoon. Villines is retiring. Former legislator Barry Hyde of North Little Rock will run as a Democrat. Glen Schwarz, a perennial candidate, is running as a Libertarian.

Wyrick, a Mabelvale rancher, is a former state legislator (Democrat originally) and headed the Livestock and Poultry Commission for five years by appointment from Gov. Mike Huckabee. He's also married to Little Rock City Director B.J. Wyrick. I told him I'd say — sincerely — that she was probably the top item on his resume. I suggested maybe she should run for county judge.

Wyrick, 64, will again talk fiscal conservatism. He said he remains committed to protection of the Lake Maumelle watershed and credits his last campaign for pushing Villines toward the successful drive for land use ordinances for the region. He acknowledges the need for more jail beds. But he's not ready to talk about specific ideas for paying them. I also couldn't get him to comment on the private option battle before the legislature. He said it wasn't relevant. I think it is. Every recipient of state aid — and that includes the county turnback fund — will have to look around nervously if the Medicaid expansion is killed and expected state revenue is reduced.

Wyrick is the Republican representative on the County Election Commission. He claims credit for a recent move by the commission to seek an attorney general's opinion on how to handle absentee votes submitted without ID required under the new voter ID law. He also noted he and Democratic members agreed to follow the attorney general's advice on the issue (that the law contains no cure for incomplete ballots) although that differs from the opinion given by Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin. He offered this as one example of his not being a doctrinaire type. Wyrick said he was not looking for a stepping stone, but public service.

Pulaski County is generally viewed as a favorable ground for Democratic candidates. Wyrick wonders if Schwarz's presence — he's a long proponent of marijuana decrminalization — might siphon votes from the Democratic candidate in a year when marijuana legalization could be on the ballot. Wyrick opposes decriminalization.

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Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival chosen as Academy Award qualifier

In a press conference at the Ron Robinson Theater this morning, representatives from the Arkansas Film Office, the Arkansas Motion Picture Institute and the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival announced that the festival has been named an Academy Award qualifier in the Documentary Shorts category. Susan Altrui, chair of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute board, pointed out that only "one percent of all film festivals in the world have this designation," and emphasized the economic potential for Hot Springs. She, as well as Courtney Pledger of the AMPI, mentioned Sundance as an analogy, which strikes me as pretty far-fetched, but it is definitely an exciting step for the already well-regarded Festival. 

Its qualifier status will go in effect in 2015, at which point any winner of the festival's "Spa City Best Documentary Short" award will be eligible for Academy Award consideration. As Christopher Crane of the Arkansas Film Office noted, "The film industry in Arkansas is not only growing, it's blossoming and beginning to produce fruit." Later he returned to this metaphor: "You see the growth. You feel the growth."

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Martha Shoffner makes federal court appearance

Former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner made an initial appearance in court today on recently filed federal  charges that she'd illegally spent campaign money on herself. David Goins of Fox 16/KARK reports that Shoffner had no comment for reporters and that her attorney said he was prepared for trial Monday on earlier charges that she took money from a securities salesman in return for state bond business.

Shoffner pleaded not guilty to the latest batch of charges.

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Quest charter school relocation was in works when state Board approved different site

Public hearings and a state agency hearing are scheduled for a proposed change of the recently approved Quest charter middle school from a location on Rahling Road in Chenal Valley to a location several miles east — on Hardin Road off Financial Center Parkway near I-430. The school operator, Responsive Education Solutions, has provided documents under an Arkansas Times Freedom of Information Act request that show the alternate site was under study at the time the state Board of Education approved the school application at the Rahling Road site. Location of the school was an aspect of the board's debate, but the new location didn't come up.

On a 6-2 vote Jan. 10, the state Board of Education approved the Quest middle school, to be operated by Texas-based Responsive Education Solutions, which operates or helps manage six other charter schools in Arkansas. The board approval followed favorable action by the Education Department's charter review panel. Both actions were based on an application that said the school would be in a commercial building at 1815 Rahling Road. The location, in the Pulaski School District, was noted during the discussion in part because a selling point for the school was its attraction to parents of Little Rock elementary school students who weren't happy with the lack of a middle school near the relatively new Roberts Elementary off Highway 10. Questions were also raised about transportation to the school for students from the inner city who might want to attend. Public bus service would have been difficult, at best. No mention was made that an alternative site was under consideration.

An FOI request I sent to Responsive Education produced documents that show that the company had been attempting for several months to negotiate a better lease arrangement with the owner of the Rahling Road Building, Two Rahling Center LLC. The representative of the building was John Rees of Rees Commercial. The discussion had been underway at least since November, documents show.

On Jan. 6, Curtis Cogburn, manager of real estate development for Responsive Ed, wrote in an e-mail that Reese had been unwilling to negotiate on rent or tenant improvement costs. Robert Davison, chief operating officer for Responsive Ed replied, "Then it looks like we won't be doing business with him if he cannot be flexible. We need all other options in West Little Rock on the table at this Friday's [Jan. 10] meeting." Cogburn responded the same day, Jan. 6, that he had an option at 400 Hardin Road, the site Responsive Ed now proposes to use.

On Jan. 20, 10 days after the state Board approved the school at the Rahling Road site, Gary Newton, a lobbyist paid by the Walton Foundation to lobby for charter school creation in Arkansas and a lead organizer of the Quest school, wrote to Responsive Ed and said of Rees: "In fairness, he's held this lease open since our application was submitted in September.  If another location is at play, need to approach with full understanding of all potential repercussions of move from Rahling."

No documents reflect what "repercussions" Newton had in mind. I've asked him for elaboration, but he's generally refused to discuss issues with me because of my criticism of the charter school movement. The new site is eight  miles east of Roberts Elementary and only two miles west of an existing middle school in the Little Rock district, Henderson. It is seen as a failing school by Newton because of low test scores.

Chuck Cook, CEO of Responsive Ed, remarked on Newton's concern: "Tell him that they have to raise the additional funds if we don't relocate to a more cost efficient location."

The plan to relocate to the Hardin Road location moved ahead.

On Feb. 7, Cogburn wrote Rees about the Rahling property. He said,  "RES will not be able to move forward with the 1815 Rahling Road location for a Quest School due to the overall costs involved with this area and location."

By Feb. 11, Response Ed had an executed purchase agreement with Doyle Rogers Co. of the Sedgwick Building on Hardin Road. 

A cost workup on the properties showed an annual lease cost of $618,360 on the Rahling Road property and $367,584 on Hardin Road, for roughly the same amount of space. An analysis showed an even more favorable deal for Responsive Ed in a purchase, almost break even in the first year thanks to income from existing tenants in the building. That is space Quest might ultimately want for expansion. Rees had argued that prices were higher in his part of town.

On Feb. 11, Responsive Ed asked the Education Department charter panel for a March 21 hearing on changing Quest's site to the Hardin Drive location.

I have asked Responsive Ed officials why they didn't mention the possibility of a new site at the Jan. 10 hearing. I've also asked Newton whether he was aware of the potential change when he testified in behalf of the Quest application Jan. 10. Among the Board of Education members voting for Quest's application was Diane Zook, Newton's aunt.

Newton has announced that public hearings will be held on the new location at 6:30 p.m. March 6, 13 and 18 at the Embassy Suites hotel, near the new school location. He notes in a Facebook post on the page of Arkansas Learns, the Walton-financed charter school lobby, that the cost saving will "create the opportunity to direct more of the operating budget to resources which more directly impact the education of the students." He said the new location also provides more opportunity for growth. The Quest organizers hope to expand into high school grades.

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Carroll Cloar at the Arkansas Arts Center

To prepare for your visit to see "Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South" opening Friday at the Arkansas Arts Center, watch this interview of Cloar on a West Memphis television station. I wrote about the show, which was organized by the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis and the Arkansas Arts Center to celebrate the Delta-born artist's centennial, this week in Art Notes. Tonight members may see the exhibition; a 6:30 p.m. lecture by the curator of the exhibit, the Brooks' Stanton Thomas, is sold out, but you might be able to squeeze in if there are no-shows. 

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A watershed year for marijuana

The New York Times writes this morning
 that more than half the states may consider ballot measures this year to legalize use of marijuana in some fashion. It's a movement that cuts across geographic and red state/blue state lines. The measures underway are split about equally between full legalization or medical use only.

Advocates of both flavor of marijuana decriminalization are at work in Arkansas. Petitions with 62,507 signatures must be submitted by July 7 for the 2014 ballot. The attorney general has signed off on the form of a medical marijuana initiative by Arkansans for Compassionate Care and another by Arkansans for Responsible Medicine. Some other ideas, including a straight legalization, are still working through the language review process. The Compassionate Care group continues to include a small grow-your-own provision, a factor that was considered important in the narrow defeat of a 2012 initiative.

Polls favor pot. So, too, do recent successful initiatives and the hands-off approach to legalized states by Obama's Justice Department. Opponents are mobilized, too.

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Budget office details harsh impact of health plan backed by Tom Cotton

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor's campaign is touting a Congressional Budget Office study released this week that details the harsh effects of health care legislation favored by his opponent, Republican Rep. Tom CottonThe CBO said it would increase the federal deficit and force a million people off private health insurance. The legislation is known as the Save American Workers Act.

Cotton defenders respond with earlier CBO figures on reduction in job hours on account of the Affordable Care Act (not a loss of 2.5 million jobs as Tom Cotton continues to claim.)

Shaila Dewan wrote in the New York Times Sunday on the seemingly perverse idea that a reduction in full-time hours as a result of expanded mandatory health coverage could have a positive impact.

 In a sense, Obamacare amounts to a massive transfer of risk. Under the old system, if you quit your job and couldn’t get health insurance, you courted financial ruin every time you did something as mundane as riding your bike or playing pickup basketball. Now that risk is distributed to everyone who buys health insurance (including the government). Free of the massive financial risk of being alive, unemployed Americans can more easily take on risks associated with doing what they want to do.

Though this is a good thing for people like Braun [someone who started a business], it doesn’t look good for the labor force as a whole — at least on the surface. In February, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce employment by the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time jobs. Opponents seized on this as evidence that Obamacare is a job killer. But that’s not what the C.B.O. meant. “The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor,” the report says. In other words, if people work less, it will be by choice.

It may seem counterintuitive, but from an economics perspective, this is a good thing, because it encourages the labor force to allocate itself more efficiently. Older workers will finally be able to retire, leaving openings for younger workers. People will switch to jobs that better suit their talents. Parents will be able to spend more time with their families. Such changes don’t always make people wealthier, but they make people happier.

The Pryor campaign cites, on the other hand, the CBO report on the Cotton legislation, which would add $73 billion annually to the deficit, knock 1 million people off coverage, add 500,000 people to Medicaid, make 500,000 uninsured and cause a reduction in workers' hours. All of the ill effects of Obamacare and more, in other words, with none of the benefits of expansion of protection for Americans.

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Chew on this: Salpicão from Cafe Bossa Nova

Unfortunate but true—there are several cuisine types we are rather deficient in here in Little Rock—Thai, Korean, and Spanish immediately come to mind. But remarkably, we’ve been gifted with a very nice Brazilian option in Café Bossa Nova. The Hillcrest staple was established in 2002 by Brazil native Rosalia Monroe, using recipes she brought with her from South America. The place remains a popular dining location for both dinner and lunch, and with the addition of the adjoining bakery, Rosalia’s Family Bakery, this little corner of Little Rock is really quite irreplaceable.

Looking through the menu, one dish in particular may get brushed over rather quickly due to its somewhat odd combination of ingredients. But this dish is placed at the top of the “Especialidades da Casa” section for good reason—the Salpicão deserves your attention.

It starts with a base bed of white rice topped with shredded chicken—but from there you’ll find chopped Fuji apples, carrots, sweet peas, and herbs all blended with mayonnaise and finished with crispy fried potato strings. An interesting combination, to say the least, for anyone not already familiar with the dish.

But after a little coaxing from my dining companion, I decided to give the dish a shot…and I’m ever so grateful I did. The marriage of flavors and textures in this dish is remarkable. Sweet and salty, crisp and creamy—it’s extremely well balanced and delightful to dig through. The chopped apples—a component I initially balked at—were the stars of the plate, though the crisp potatoes were not far behind.

My only beef with Bossa Nova is their prices—the Salpicão will set you back about $16, but it’s not even the most expensive of the lunch options, and dinner only goes up from there. With drink and tip, my lunch cost me over $20—and while it was a decently sized portion, it felt a little steep for a casual lunch. Perhaps if they threw in some complementary samples of their “famous” cheese bread, the tab would be a little easier to swallow—but at it is, price is the single factor that limits me from heading to Bossa Nova more often.

But I’ll be back—I’m not done with exploring their intriguing and original menu. I’m inspired by the Salpicão, and I’m eager to eat my way through more of their especialidades. 

Cafe Bossa Nova is located at 2701 Kavanaugh Suite 203 Little Rock, AR.

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It blows

But 'Pompeii' has its moments. by Sam Eifling

Not since "Melancholia" obliterated the entire Earth in its opening stanza has a film been so upfront about its designs on extermination as "Pompeii." Every school kid knows the Italian coastal burg that Vesuvius croaked under 20 feet of hot ash almost 2,000 years ago. It may be the most famous ghost town in the world, mass-murdered in a hot minute by a volcano that apparently didn't give proper warning of its intentions.

For all the permeating lameness of "Pompeii," at least it excludes that old natural-disaster movie stock character, the ignored doomsaying scientist. If only we'd listened to the astronomer/seismologist/climatologist! We wouldn't be caught so unawares by this asteroid/freak earthquake/gradual melting of the ice caps! No Cassandra PhD's here in "Pompeii." Practically everyone is going about the business of the Roman Empire, shrugging off Vesuvius's sudden venting and rumbling as so much Olympian indigestion, until, Wham!, pyroclastic hellfire everywhere. Then, it's all futile attempts at scramming.

We focus on Kit Harington (a.k.a. Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones") as a slave called the Celt. His formative years are spent watching his clan slaughtered by Romans. He plays dead in a pile of corpses, survives and grows into a serious badass. He's dragged to Pompeii to participate in gladiatorial contests, making no friends but for a champion named Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, televised in "Oz" and "Lost"). The catch is, they're scheduled to fight to the death. Except the Celt gets entangled with a princess-type (Emily Browning) who needs his help fending off creepo-Senator Kiefer Sutherland ... who just happens to have slit the Celt's mother's throat in front of him years back. Oh! And there's a volcano that's going to wipe them all out no matter what they do. So, try to focus on the niggling nattering details of love, courage and revenge. As in real life, we all wind up dead at the end.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson, known mostly for his video game adaptations ("Mortal Kombat," "Resident Evil"), turns in a movie here that plays like a dress rehearsal for an Xbox version, with many flaming chunks of digital debris crashing against flocks of panicked extras. (The credits list them as stunt performers; you'll see them as expendable yellers.) People accustomed to blowing up digital villages via handheld controllers will dig on "Pompeii." Also, people who enjoy the sight of grimy, chiseled man-abs and pretty horses will enjoy fleeting moments. It may in fact be the perfect date movie for couples who met in third period or at the orthodontist.

It also verges on the humorless, with nary a memorable quip or cheeseball punchline to leaven the lurching plot, so dry at times you'd swear George Lucas wrote and directed. We've seen this old story before. (Boy sees parents killed. Boy meets girl. Volcano incinerates girl's town.) And yet, against all odds, "Pompeii" squeezes some charm out of its $100 million budget. The action sequences are gritty and fun. The Romans are so vile it's rewarding to watch the movie snuff them out one by one, as if smashing fleas between its nails. The good guys are good, the bad guys are Kiefer Sutherland-grade bad, and the volcano takes no prisoners. This melodrama demands a nod of respect, at the very least, for its shameless scorched-earth approach.

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On a run

By the time you burden yourself with these fresh Pearls, you'll likely be all frothy with anticipation of the singular basketball stanza that will pretty much dictate how the postscript for 2013-14 is written. by Beau Wilcox

By the time you burden yourself with these fresh Pearls, you'll likely be all frothy with anticipation of the singular basketball stanza that will pretty much dictate how the postscript for 2013-14 is written. The Arkansas Razorbacks have scraped it together in February for a change, winning five of six to actually nudge upward in a jumbled SEC, and have therefore reignited a postseason flame that had all but been extinguished by a slew of seemingly fatal defeats early on.

What's been even more bizarre is how the rest of the conference has shown itself to be thoroughly unwilling to take a firm grip on that third or fourth potential NCAA tournament berth. Florida and Kentucky are the lone firm entries in the field at this point, with the Gators likely claiming the top overall seed if they keep up their flawless run through the league slate. Missouri has been every bit the source of head-scratching as Arkansas has, and the third-place Georgia Bulldogs were so flaccid in nonconference play that they've made their surprising success to date largely irrelevant from the perspective of those who have received advanced degrees in accredited Bracketology programs across the continental U.S. or in Vanuatu and Guam. Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and others have taken turns slipping on the ice.

The Hogs have managed to mesh a little bit and thrown together this spurt despite having made only mildly discernible on-court progress. The surge has undoubtedly been by way of soft scheduling: Arkansas has notched two road wins by all of six combined points, and should've frankly destroyed feeble Mississippi State last Saturday in a game that was played in some sort of barren Magnolia State trucking distribution center. Once again, this team proves that no opponent's lead is too large to be tested, and that its own wide margins of victory can be pared down in a laughably predictable bit of late-game neural misfiring. They've slogged through home wins against the absolute worst teams in the field (Alabama and South Carolina).

It hasn't been high artistry, but it's been enough to get the Hogs back to .500 in SEC play and have them feeling reasonably comfortable about the forthcoming end run. Going on the road to Rupp Arena is the first and by far most imposing test, but the Wildcats aren't coalescing quite as nicely as their record might suggest. They escaped LSU at home in overtime on a game-winning bucket by the supremely skilled Julius Randle and were substantially outclassed by Florida a week earlier, punctuating a month of fairly uneven play. Arkansas's overall record is all of three games worse than Kentucky's, and if the Hogs could execute a season sweep it should change the tenor of the discussion about the team's NCAA chances.

There are three imminently winnable games behind that one, too, and even losing at Kentucky wouldn't forestall the Razorbacks' reaching 20 wins for the first time in six seasons. They sit at 18-9 as it stands, and with home games against fading Ole Miss and Georgia and a swing down to Bama at the tail end, here's your utterly obvious, possibly throwaway comment of all-time: They could end up 22-9 and 11-7, scratching loudly at the tourney door, or fizzle so badly that another drab 18-13 or 19-12 finish is in the offing. Projection has never been this columnist's forte, but that's never been a real impediment before. Therefore:

Arkansas flatlines at Rupp Thursday night, losing by double figures. It's a listless, discouraging performance, but it's also the Hogs' last loss of the regular season. They clean things up and beat Georgia and Ole Miss rather handily to reach the 20-win mark, then put together their best road effort of the season in punishing hapless Alabama. The sum total of it is a solidly third-place finish in the 14-team standings, but moreover, there's a surge of teamwide unity built on the foundation of getting off the mat and closing strong for a change. And as a result, they enter the SEC Tournament feeling like there is something attainable in their midst.

I'll confess to being utterly dismissive of the team a few weeks ago and recent events do not ameliorate any overriding concerns about the team. This squad still doesn't rebound with great tenacity, shoots erratically from 17 feet outward, and has issues identifying its true go-to guy, particularly in moments where the opponent catches a spirited run. But sometimes the whole truly ends up being greater than the sum of the parts. If Arkansas can position itself well for the conference tournament first, then the percentage indices will improve commensurately and the overall mentality of a youth-laden team changes for the better.

And sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same: As it has been for two decades-plus in the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas has to prove itself against the bluebloods in the Bluegrass State first before it can even think about where spring break will be spent.

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Arkansans agree: It's time to raise minimum wage

The idea of raising the minimum wage gets traction, critics like to say, only in election years. So, because it is a vote-getter, President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing a wage bill this year, that is doomed to failure in a Congress controlled by Republicans. by Ernest Dumas

The idea of raising the minimum wage gets traction, critics like to say, only in election years. So, because it is a vote-getter, President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress are pushing a wage bill this year, that is doomed to failure in a Congress controlled by Republicans.

An Arkansas group led by a Methodist minister is trying to get an initiative on the ballot to raise the state minimum wage in annual steps to $8.50 an hour, eight years after driving the state's political leaders, including Gov. Mike Huckabee, to raise it to $6.25 an hour. So Arkansas politicians facing the electorate this year are running to endorse it (Democrats) or running for cover (Republicans typically).

So is the minimum-wage debate just more cynical politics, Democrats trying to collect the votes of the 4 percent of the U.S. workforce that earns below the proposed new federal wage floor? If so, it's wasted, minimalist strategy. That quotient of the workforce, unless they are minorities, tends not to vote at all or to base its votes on anything but self-interest: guns, gays, race — well, you know the list.

But the politics of minimum wage is transparent, even if it does not track the paranoia of the right, that it's all about getting votes for politicians.

Here is the real politics. The minimum wage is universally popular in America, even far outside the disciples of organized labor. More than Europe or the rest of the developed world, the United States is a nation of workers, where toil is revered as the first value of citizenship. Whatever the chamber of commerce says or conservative economists aver, the vast majority of people believe that honest toil, no matter how menial or unskilled, is honorable and should be respected and rewarded with pay that will afford them a decent life.

The spiritually inclined take their guidance on the matter from Jesus: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Most minimum-wage workers, by the way, are women.

So when Rev. Steve Copley's outfit ran a poll in 2006 about raising the minimum wage and linking it permanently to the cost-of-living index, 73 percent of people in this conservative state said yes. He was starting a petition drive to get it on the ballot as an initiated act.

No one doubted the poll so the business community ran to their antilabor Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, and begged him to summon the legislature to Little Rock and enact a wage raise, something a little less than the modest increase Copley was proposing and without indexing to the cost of living. Huckabee happily obliged and the legislature enacted the wage hike. In the regular legislative session a year earlier, Huckabee had opposed a modest increase in the minimum wage and, knowing that most people were paying no attention, Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike squashed the bill.

They are apt to approve it this year, if Copley's group can overcome the campaign to stifle the signature gathering and get it on the ballot. Unlike Huckabee, Gov. Beebe won't summon the legislature to a special session to pass a weaker bill because Republicans control the legislature and Republicans nowadays march to a different drummer than the people, mainly to Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth. It bears repeating here that a Republican governor enabled the Arkansas minimum-wage law. Winthrop Rockefeller, facing a conservative legislature made up of 132 Democrats and three Republicans, called a special session in the summer of 1968, before the election, and proposed a state wage floor. Shamed like their ally, the Arkansas State AFL-CIO, which had opposed Rockefeller, Democratic legislators meekly passed it.

These minimum-wage battles are always fought with battalions of economists — those on one side whose theories and studies suggest that many employers would cut their workforce and those on the other side who say the reduction would be small if any and the economic stimulus enormous.

But the pronouncements of academics and business economists don't weigh an ounce with that 73 percent, or whatever percentage that favors it this year. They know the drudges who do this toil and know that it will improve their lives and that their spending will recirculate in the community and redound to nearly everyone's benefit.

Copley's act will directly raise the pay of perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 Arkansans when its last stage kicks in, but opponents will cite business economists' projections that many others will be lopped off the payroll at a time when we are struggling with unemployment.

Forget the projections and go with history. From 1938 forward, minimum-wage increases have been followed by good job-growth years.

President Clinton's wage increase in 1996 was followed by some of the biggest job years in history.

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Does Dustin McDaniel have duty to defend ban on same-sex marriage?

Early this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had a message for folks in Dustin McDaniel's position. Holder called on the nation's state attorneys general to consider taking up the cause of marriage equality by refusing to defend their states' laws that block same-sex couples from access to marriage. by Jay Barth

Early this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had a message for folks in Dustin McDaniel's position. Holder called on the nation's state attorneys general to consider taking up the cause of marriage equality by refusing to defend their states' laws that block same-sex couples from access to marriage. Contending that the fight for marriage equality is a continuation of the civil rights struggle begun on race in the 1950s, Holder argued that he would have made a different decision than those in the office of state attorney general at that time. "If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities," Holder said.

Holder suggested that while attorneys general typically have a duty to defend state law, the rules of the game are altered when a law defies the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. When a minority group has been picked on by the majority because of a single inherent trait, all involved in the legal process have a responsibility to step up to protect them. Despite their unique role in the process, attorneys general appropriately take that same step in such "exceptional circumstances," Holder said in a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General.

Indeed, the decision by the Holder-led Justice Department to switch sides in the Defense of Marriage Act cases, including the Windsor case that overturned a key provision of DOMA, provided important momentum in the pro-equality direction in those proceedings. So, when Holder makes the case to state-level attorneys general that it's appropriate for them to take such a step, he speaks from the perspective of someone who's grappled with the competing ideals of a duty to defend the laws of the nation and equality in the eyes of the Constitution.

In recent years, a half dozen state AGs have taken just the step Holder advocates on marriage. For instance, new Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has refused to defend his state's constitutional amendment barring the recognition of same-sex marriage in Virginia as the case proceeds to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, more states' AGs disagree with what they see as a call for a dereliction of their duty as their states' attorney. As the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, J.B. Van Hollen of Wisconsin, responded to Holder's remarks, "It really isn't [Holder's] job to give us advice on defending our constitutions any more than it's our role to give him advice on how to do his job. We are the ultimate defenders of our state constitutions."

Arkansas law places clear responsibility with the attorney general to defend the state's laws. As the Arkansas Code states, the attorney general "shall be the legal representative ... in all litigation where the interests of the state are involved." Moreover, like all recent Arkansas attorneys general, McDaniel operates under the cloud of Steve Clark, who as AG was harangued for what was seen by advocates as a weak defense of Arkansas's blatantly unconstitutional creation science bill in the early 1980s. Televangelist Pat Robertson went so far as to say that Clark was purposefully losing the case. The pushback that Clark received served as a warning to future AGs on the potential cost of not defending measures popular with a group of engaged voters (the state's marriage ban clearly falls in that category).

Of course, Arkansas's AG takes an oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution as well. Thus, McDaniel — like his colleagues around the country defending their own states' bans on same-sex marriage — is caught in a moment when the U.S. Supreme Court is on the cusp of saying the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to be married. McDaniel's office is currently defending the state marriage ban and it would be awkward for the state to switch positions in the midst of that case. Whatever the outcome of the case now in Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's court, however, a new opportunity for the state to reconsider its position will arise as the case works its way up on appeal. Holder's high-profile statements on the issue are meant to nudge McDaniel and others to rethink the side they've come down on.

McDaniel is unquestionably "doing his job" by defending the state's marriage ban. However, moving toward a hiatus from electoral politics, having voiced the need for civil unions for same-sex couples since 2006 (which are also prohibited by Arkansas's expansive constitutional amendment), and knowing the clear direction of constitutional law and public opinion on the issue, McDaniel would be even more right to take an "exceedingly rare" step (in Holder's words) of refusing to defend the state's unconstitutional ban as the proceedings move forward.

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Five of a kind

It's not often we have a chance to praise five members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation for their votes on one bill.

It's not often we have a chance to praise five members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation for their votes on one bill. (In Vic Snyder's day, it was more often the other way around — one right, five wrong.) But five members voted correctly for the federal Farm Bill and sent it on to President Obama — Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro, Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock, Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers, Sen. John Bozeman of Rogers and Sen. Mark Pryor of Little Rock. Among other things, the bill helps feed low-income Arkansans. Only Rep. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle thought the price too high.

One cannot serve God and Mammon both. Cotton has made his bed with Mammon, and the Koch brothers.

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See that mountain over there?

Looking out of our office window, The Observer can see the Historic Arkansas Museum's 1850s homestead and log cabin preserved amidst the urban jungle of Little Rock's downtown.

Looking out of our office window, The Observer can see the Historic Arkansas Museum's 1850s homestead and log cabin preserved amidst the urban jungle of Little Rock's downtown. It's what used to be called a dogtrot house, with a breezeway that cuts right through the middle, so that you can see clear from one side to the other. It's beautifully incongruous, encircled by a jutting wooden fence, but also looks fit to be lived in. Once, during the recent snow, The Observer could swear we saw smoke rising from the chimney.

As such things often do — as, in fact, they are specifically engineered to do — the cabin lends itself to nostalgic brooding. Growing up, The Observer frequently spent time on an uncle's farm in Pelham, Ga., sleeping in a cabin of comparable design. This cabin did have electricity, as well as an occasionally functional water heater and an air hockey table, but it was the real thing. Many afternoons were spent there mowing grass, feeding catfish and swatting carpenter bees with a ping-pong paddle.

On the wall inside the living room, someone had carved a message in the chinking before it dried: "See that mountain over there?" It was a joke, because there were no mountains. It was also a reference to the Southern rock band Alabama, whose song "Mountain Music," opens with the same question. The phrase has embedded itself in this Observer's memory, in any case, detached from its original significance. It has become something like a Zen koan: See that mountain over there?

Once, a cousin wrestled an alligator out of the pond onto the cabin's dock, ran inside for his gun and came back to shoot the thing in the head. At the time, we were awed by this act of dumb heroism and savagery. Seeking to emulate or even top the act, we — a brother and myself — would float around the pond in a canoe looking for alligators to hunt. Sometimes we would come close, hovering barely over the waterline right beside one, but we were always too stunned to act and so would just look away and pretend not to notice.

Later, when we were in high school, we would bring friends to the cabin. We would have bonfires and fish poorly and listen to Outkast and disco-era Rolling Stones. We watched the movie "Signs" there once, the Mel Gibson one about aliens. The plot seems too distant to recall, but we remember walking out onto the dock afterwards and feeling a profound calm. Absent the city's light pollution, one could really see constellations from that dock, and though we could not name them, we were glad to see they were there. We thought of carpenter bees and intelligent life on other planets.

Here in Little Rock, walking past the downtown cabin or noticing it from the Times office window, we can't help but remember "Signs" as well as that earlier ritual of fake alligator hunting. Why even bother, in hindsight? For that matter, we haven't spoken to our brother in a couple of weeks. Maybe we should call him. Who used to live in that cabin? Why did they call it a dogtrot? Will anyone ever live there again? See that mountain over there?

Meanwhile, down the street, The Observer's honey works a day job that brings her frequently to the Pulaski County Courthouse, that stately old pile at Spring and West Second streets. She spends a lot of time in courtrooms, sitting on hard pews, avoiding the ones with cracks that can give you a smart pinch on the beehind if you scooch just right, learning the 10,000 reasons why a television courtroom drama that captured the reality of courtroom drama would be the equivalent of NyQuil: Spanish Influenza Strength. The Observer is proud of her. She's one of the good guys, just like every person who goes to the courthouse every day and works in the employ of Lady Justice: Judges, clerks, lawyers for and against, everybody else. You'll never hear The Observer make a lawyer joke. We told our last one some years back to a wily old attorney. His cheerful response: "Call a plumber when you get arrested, and see how that works out for you." Touche, Mr. Barrister.

As an added bonus, Spouse brings home delicious tales of the circus that is an average morning at the courthouse, so full of characters and questionable hair and wardrobe choices. Her most recent one: Sitting in court, watching a woman's trial on a felony charge. Only when the woman went up to the stand to testify on her own behalf could the gallery see that printed on the back of her T-shirt, in black "Frankie Says Relax"-sized block letters, was the phrase "DRUNK AS SHIT."

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Channel 11 Redesigns Website

KTHV/Channel 11/Little Rock has launched its new web design.'s design is used by many of the Gannett Broadcasting stations and properties.

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