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War on Christmas is over

War on Christmas is over

December 10, 2015

Vol 42 • No 14

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Three spirits

The Arkansas Times' Observer busts the usual box to deliver a rambling Christmas prayer, possibly more gravy than grave.

The Times' 2015 holiday gift guide

A Christmas catalog for the discerning (or desperate) Arkansan.

Governor says Arkansas has made progress on foster care, but the numbers tell another story

Available beds have increased, but so have the number of children entering foster care.

Rules of engagement

From the fate of my mediocre fantasy football team to make the playoffs to the selection of jurors in criminal cases, the rules of the game are important in determining winners and losers in all aspects of life. As it now becomes increasingly likely that no candidate is going to run away with the 2016 presidential nomination in an emphatically factionalized Republican Party, the rules for determining the selection of convention delegates make it difficult for one candidate to claim a majority before the mid-July GOP convention in Cleveland.

The search for welfare fraud

A major federal indictment last week passed with barely a peep from Arkansas politicians and scant notice from news media.

They're playing with your guns again

Vesuvio goes big

Erupting with good food, good drink.


The Observer is typing this on the tiny, digital keyboard of our phone, sitting in a doctor's office waiting room, waiting for the love of our undeserving life to emerge from the door. Fat fingers and little keyboarditis abound, but the time when you're waiting in a doctor's office pours out like cold caramel sauce, and we'd rather do this than bite our nails.

Square New Deal

The foundation of all civilization is built on principles — chiseled from the bedrock of antiquity. It cannot blow away like a line in the sand, nor disappear in the tragedies, failures and disappointments of life. It endures even when the wall it supports is breached.

Hogs trending up, down

Given that Arkansas is an indisputably intriguing team — who loses to Toledo at home and then wrecks Ole Miss' charmed season seven weeks later? — the Hogs' cemented bowl destination may come as something of a letdown. The Liberty Bowl does pay well, it provides the Razorbacks a Jan. 2 afternoon kickoff in a familiar and proximately fine location, and it affords the team a better than sporting chance at finishing with eight wins.

The fall of Ted Suhl

Also, Lindsey Graham speaking the truth, your 2 cents on the Arts Center, certified delivery and four little words.

To the blacklist and back

Cranston carries 'Trumbo.'

Lots of laughs, insight in 'The Foreigner'

A smart comedy that forces us to take a look at ourselves.

Little Rock Wind Symphony presents its Christmas Concert at Second Presbyterian Church

Also, the National Circus and Acrobats of the People's Republic of China performs at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

Ravings from the right

Along with watching cable TV news terrorism coverage 24/7, some people appear to think it's your patriotic duty to run around with your hair on fire.

The case for gun regulation

The U.S. Supreme Court may not follow the election returns, as Finley Peter Dunne famously alleged, but it does follow the news, including the regular mass shootings and terror attacks over the past 20 years and the wave of public fear that follows the worst ones.

Holiday cocktail list

With recipes from Sebastian Yingling of Raduno and Emily Lawson of Pink House Alchemy and Fox Hole.

'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'Home Alone' at Ron Robinson

Also, Celebrity Karaoke at Verizon, the 11th Ever Nog Off at the Historic Arkansas Museum, 'The Nutcracker' at the Maumelle Performing Arts Center, the Winter Market at Two Rivers Park and Dan the Automator in Fayetteville.

Letter, former players level complaints against Razorback volleyball coach

The Traveler student newspaper at the University of Arkansas reported yesterday on allegations of abusive treatment of players by women's volleyball coach Robert Pulliza.

Little Rock fights for police records secrecy in civil rights lawsuit

KARK reports that the city of Little Rock is attempting to put under seal information about allegations of misconduct by police officers in the civil rights lawsuit over the shooting death of 15-year-old Bobby Moore in 2012.

Craighead assessor reinstalls cross display, draws new complaint

Yet another episode of an Arkansas public official forcing her religion on the public. The Craighead County assessor has reinstalled a religious display in her office, with backing from the Quorum Court, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation isn't happy about it.

What Chick-Fil-A does right

A food snob conducts an experiment to see what the Chick-Fil-A fuss is all about.

Asa Hutchinson's political strategy for continuing the private option: give it a new name

"Please understand very carefully that on Dec. 31, 2016, the private option ends," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a speech this week. The "new" program, Arkansas Works, will add some conservative bells and whistles, but it will continue the Obamacare-funded coverage expansion using Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance for low-income Arkansans. In other words, it will continue the policy that we've been calling the private option. Hutchinson has to re-brand, however, in order to get support of legislators who campaigned explicitly against the private option just last year.

UPDATE: Religious colleges, including one in Arkansas, move to protect LGBT discrimination

Dozens of Christian colleges, including Williams Baptist in Arkansas, have asked for federal waivers from Title IX so that they may be able to continue to receive federal money while discriminating based on religious tenets, typically against LGBT students but sometimes also against unmarried women who have children or have had abortions.

Americans for Prosperity slams Gov. Asa Hutchinson on private option

As I noted earlier today, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is hoping to add some conservative bells and whistles to the private option, but that doesn't change the fact that he is recommending a continuation of the Obamacare-funded Medicaid coverage expansion in Arkansas.  Americans for Prosperity-Arkansas, the conservative advocacy group that has poured millions of dollars into legislative races in the last two cycles, is not satisfied with Hutchinson's effort to re-brand.

Supreme Court halts part of order on birth certificates for same-sex couples

The Arkansas Supreme Court today granted Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's request for a stay of the general impact of Judge Tim Fox's decision that allowed three same-sex couples to have names of both mothers on their children's birth certificates.

Library Board chooses Nate Coulter as next director

Little Rock lawyer Nate Coulter has been selected to succeed Bobby Roberts as director of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Man with gun who prompted ASU lockdown in custody

UPDATE: After roughly 90 minutes of tension, KAIT-TV in Jonesboro reported shortly before 3 p.m. that an armed man that put the Arkansas State University campus in lockdown had been taken into custody. There have no reports of shots fired. A bomb squad will check the man's truck, which police surrounded shortly after he drove onto the center of campus and was seen holding what appeared to be a shotgun.

An open line for a busy Thursday

An open line, plus the daily video.

ACLU's case against Supreme Court review of invalidated 12-week abortion ban

The ACLU of Arkansas filed its brief opposing Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's appeal for the U.S. Supreme Court to take up two lower court rulings invalidating the state's ban on abortion at 12 weeks.

State takes over Dollarway School District

The state Board of Education today voted to take over the Dollarway School District because of its low test scores. Barbara Warren was named as superintendent, to report to Education Commissioner Johnny Key.

Ethics Commission gets Milligan staffers' e-mails from former employer

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, a nonprofit lobby organization, has released to the Ethics Commission and others e-mail written by former employees on the organization's work e-mail who were also helping the election campaign of now-Treasurer Dennis Milligan.

Supreme Court remark on Fox continues long-running court political feuding

Tim Fox's remonstrance of Arkansas Supreme Court for delays in the same-sex marriage case prompted a veiled remark yesterday suggesting the Supreme Court plans to take him to the woodshed for disrespecting the high court. Plus: a reminder on other dirty judicial politics in the background of this and a note that the Supreme Court, in moving to get even with Fox, has only managed to again highlight its mishandling of the marriage case.

Blue Bell announces return to Little Rock

Blue Bell Ice Cream, struggling back to life after a shutdown linked to unsanitary products, says its gradual return to full operation will bring its ice cream back to the Little Rock market Jan. 11.

Winter is coming and you need a hot toddy

Fight the chill of winter with our guide to a cold weather delight: The Hot Toddy.

Juanita's hangs up sombrero

Juanita’s Cafe and Bar at 615 President Clinton Ave. is saying adios on Dec. 20, general manager James Snyder has announced. He said he thought he should give the 30-year-old restaurant the “respect it deserves” by not abruptly shutting down but staying open through all its music bookings and to let people have a final meal.

Goodson shows off Mike Beebe backing; GOP senator gets a way to say thankyou

Former Gov. Mike Beebe and Sen. Jonathan Dismang hosted a fund-raiser for Courtney Goodson's campaign for chief justice last night. Legal or not, it's another illustration of the ill appearance of judicial candidates soliciting money from people who'll have interest in cases in their court.

Announcing the 2016 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase

The search is on for the 2016 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, in which performers will compete for an array of prizes worth over $2,500. Acts must perform 30 minutes of original material with live instrumentation. All styles are welcome. To enter send a link for Facebook, Reverbnation, Bandcamp or Soundcloud to and include the following:

Grady Spann to be new state parks director

Grady Spann will become director of Arkansas State Parks when Greg Butts retires Dec. 31 after 25 years as director.

Man arrested with gun at Arkansas State made 911 call; police notified about him day before

The Associated Press adds details from a Jonesboro police report on the man who drove onto the Arkansas State University campus yesterday and prompted a campus lockdown after saying he might fire a shotgun into a propane tank in his pickup. Also, KAIT reports police had checked him day before because of a Facebook post that he felt homicidal or suicidal.

How the consultant hand-picked by private option foes might help save the private option

In many ways, the Stephen Group is describing the same lay of the land on the private option that lots of other folks have been describing for years. But this time, the aginners might actually listen.

Small Works' big names: Duvall, Edgington, Reep, Galusha, etc.

Forty works by 37 Arkansas artists have been chosen for the annual Small Works on Paper touring exhibition, which opens Jan. 5 at the Batesville Area Arts Council Gallery, and the following artists will receive purchase awards: Kathy Attwood of Eureka Springs; Margo Duvall, the late Amy Edgington and Robert Reep, all of Little Rock; Clarke Galusha of Norphlet; Matt Kaye of Camden; Penny Jo Pausch of Jonesboro; David Rackley and Rachel Trusty of Russellville; and Steven Vickers of Van Buren. Purchase awards become part of the show's permanent collection.

A hot day in December does not prove climate change. But ....

Vox offers a wonderfully simple explanation of why efforts to debunk climate change are likely to fail. Its illustration is simple, too.

Tom Courtway plans to step down as UCA president

Tom Courtway told the University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees today that he plans to step down as university president.

UA mum on Title IX inquiry in volleyball coach complaint

The Athletic Department at the University of Arkansas has said it is looking into an anonymous complaint about bullying treatment of players by women's volleyball coach Robert Pulliza. But what about the university office charged with compliance with federal non-discrimination law?

District judge recommended for reinstatement after dropping of battery charge

The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission has recommended thatLonoke District Judge Joe O'Bryan be allwoed to return to the bench after a suspension that followed a domestic battery charge.

Friday's open line

An open line and today's news and comment by video.

2nd Friday Art Night: Nog and new works

What is Christmas without eggs, cream and booze? It's not fun, that's what. The Historic Arkansas Museum knows that and tonight hosts the 11th annual Nog-off competition between lots of folks who think they nog best. HAM Director Bill Worthen puts his ancestral Nicholas Peay recipe up against the punchbowl secrets of Cache Restaurant, Loblolly Creamery,  John Selig and Lea Elenzweig, Stone's Throw Brewing, Heritage Grille, One Eleven at the Capital Hotel and Rock City Eats.

The Making Medicaid Meaner Edition

The standoff with an armed man on the campus of Arkansas State University, Asa Hutchinson’s political strategy for continuing Medicaid expansion in Arkansas, the latest on the court saga involving same-sex parents and birth certificates (with a side trip into the latest Supreme Court intrigue), a new gig for former Gov. Mike Beebe, the selection of a new Central Arkansas library director and the UCA president announces he’s calling it quits — all covered on this week's podcast, sponsored by the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in Bentonville.

8th Circuit revives lawsuit on scope of dental practice

A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit challenging the Arkansas law that prohibits dental specialists from providing general dental services, such as teeth cleaning.

Fact-finding in Little Rock police civil rights case; city resists sunshine

I wrote earlier about the city of Little Rock's resistance to providing information requested by attorneys for the family of Bobby Moore, who have filed a federal civil rights case over his fatal shooting by then-Officer Josh Hastings.

Open line, plus: Bank robbery, bigots, Bielema, balmy weather

The open line for Saturday includes some news: A bank robbery, anti-refugee demonstration at state Capitol and the loss of a Razorback assistant football coach.

Little Rock: The next Gonzaga?

For a slow Sunday, a shoutout to good news from the sports world at Little Rock (nee UALR), which has an undefeated men's basketball team.

Women vote. But will they vote for a woman solely on gender?

The New York Times keeps busy finding things wrong with Hillary Clinton's campaign for presidency. Today it is the possibility that her candidacy might not excite younger women.

A rainy open line: With some political and religious reading recommendations

The open line includes some reading recommendations. 1) Survey says Republican presidential candidates are more prone to tell falsehoods than Democratic candidates. 2) How well do you know your religion?

Final GOP debate set; Huckabee again misses main stage

The lineup for the final Republican televised debate this year is set and Mike Huckabee is again with a small group to be exposed only among a group of four lagging four behind in polls. The main debate is at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on CNN.

After Paris talks, UA reiterates pledge to be 'climate neutral' by 2040

The University of Arkansas announced today it's recommitting to a pledge on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of the landmark agreement on climate change that was reached by most of the world's nations in Paris over the weekend.

160 new jobs for Batesville

A $7.8 million expansion by Bad Boy Mowers, which has built "zero turn" residential and commercial mowers in Batesville since 2002, should add 160 new jobs to the city, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission  announced today.

Pro-Hillary group goads Huckabee with hat; "Truth Squad" hits, too

Correct the Record, a "a strategic research and rapid response team designed to defend Hillary Clinton from baseless attacks," has sent a letter and personalized hat to former Gov. Mike Huckabee in response to his "Wake Up and Smell the Falafel" remark at the threat of Muslims. The hat is emblazoned with Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan to make a comparison between the two Republican presidential hopefuls.

Eight-year driver's licenses starting Jan. 1

The state Department of Finance and Administration has announced that the state will issue eight-year drivers' licenses starting Jan. 1. They'll cost $40 (twice the four-year license cost of $20). The cost of duplicates, $10, will remain unchanged.

The Medicaid lockout: Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposal to bar beneficiaries from coverage for six months if they miss premium payments

Here's a deep dive on the punitive "lockout" policy proposed by the Health Reform Legislative Task Force consultant and backed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Certain beneficiaries would be subject to small premiums, and if they failed to pay, they wouldn't just lose their health insurance — they would be barred from getting back on private option coverage for six months (even if they were willing to pay back what they owed for missed premiums). Hutchinson argues that beneficiaries need to face "consequences" if they fall behind on payments, but critics say it would threaten access to care, punish the poor, and lead to more uncompensated care.

Little Rock attorney says terms of settlement shortchange Goodson law firm clients

Great story from Arkansas Business' Mark Friedeman on a new class-action strategy employed by trial lawyer John Goodson's Texarkana law firm, Keil & Goodson, that seems to be a way for Goodson and co. to line their pockets — at the possible expense its clients.

Alice Stewart leaves Huckabee campaign

Politico reports that Little Rock talk show host Alice Stewart has left her post as communications director for Mike Huckabee's flagging campaign for the GOP nomination.

Hot Springs: into the crystal vortex with Brasher and Rowe

Brasher and Rowe look into the metaphysical convention world of Hot Springs and discuss CRYSTALS. Recommended if you like: fading resort cities, development, names that sound like Kool Keith aliases, blackbird killing, indigo children, the Arlington Hotel, and much more!

Disability advocates prod legislators on clearing waiver waiting list

Advocacy groups for disabled people and their families today sent a letter to the co-chairs of the Health Reform Task Force asking for some answers on the continually deferred issue of home- and community-based services waivers for care.

Recommended reading: Yglesias on why GOP leaders may have to embrace Ted Cruz

Matthew Yglesias at Vox writes convincingly about why Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is the Republican Party's "last, best hope" in 2016 as a Donald Trump alternative.

Monday's open line

Have at it.

Huckabee keeps the speaking fees going

Mike Huckabee and a couple of other Republican candidates have made the unusual decision to keep scoring private speaking fees while running for president. It requires dodging through a regulatory minefield.

Nursing homes and long-term care providers set to cut deal to avoid Medicaid managed care

The rumor at the Capitol, confirmed to the Times by multiple lawmakers and others in and out of state government, is that long-term care providers and their advocates in the legislature have struck a deal with the governor to "carve out" long-term care from the Medicaid managed care plan likely to be put forward by the task force.

Same-sex spouses in Florida ask federal judge for relief in birth certificate case

The Advocate reports on an unfolding federal lawsuit in Florida over birth certificates for the children of same-sex couples.

Tech glitch at UALR holds up payroll

A glitch in the system that direct deposits payroll checks to University of Arkansas at Little Rock employees meant that no one got paid last night, but UALR says employees who bank at Arvest Bank will get a check today and those who bank elsewhere will get their deposit tomorrow.

Bonnie Montgomery nominated for Ameripolitan Awards

Searcy native Bonnie Montgomery has been nominated for Outlaw Female in the 2016 Ameripolitan Awards, an Austin, Texas-based award show that honors musicians whose work doesn’t match with today’s notions of country music. The awards ceremony will be held in Austin on Feb. 16, 2016.

Officer accused of staging crime scene, shooting self after nonexistent traffic stop

Out of Lonoke County comes the bizarre case of David Houser, a former sergeant with the England police department who allegedly shot himself in the chest in October as part of a fabricated story about a traffic stop turned violent.

Introducing Twiggy's Treatery

New bakery debuts at Argenta Certified Farmers Market.

New music from Goon des Garcons, John McAteer and Gentlemen Firesnakes, Solo Jaxon, Young Spielberg and more

From my perspective, Goon des Garcons did more than anyone else in 2015 to make Little Rock look like a fun place to make art, and that accomplishment alone demands respect. He also happens to be an almost compulsively ambitious rapper, continually raising the bar for the production value and reach of his and his friends' work. Arkansas tends to prefer a kind of modest, slacker self-effacement from its artists, and so Goon's loud pride might seem initially misplaced or uncouth; but the guy is explicitly attempting to start a movement, to get some momentum going. And look at what he did.

Last chance for "Freedom! Oh, Freedom" at Mosaic Templars

First Kansas Colored Infantry re-enactments and a living history performance will mark the closing reception Thursday, Dec. 17, for the exhibition " 'Freedom! Oh, Freedom!' Arkansas's People of African Descent and the Civil War: 1861-1866" at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at Ninth and Broadway streets. The event runs 6-8 p.m.

A win for the EPA on air quality, a black eye on water regulations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won a victory in the D.C. Court of Appeals today on its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. On a political level, that's probably outweighed by a slapdown offered yesterday by a congressional watchdog agency concerning another regulation, the Waters of the United States rule. Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge is in the middle of both fights.

And speaking of environmental propaganda, a lesson in bad math from National Review

National Review recently tweeted out a graph that claims to show global warming is a hoax. It's hilariously misleading.

Tuesday's open line

An open line, imagine that.

UA volleyball coach accused of abusive language issues denial of wrongdoing

Robert Pulliza, the head volleyball coach at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, has issued a statement responding to a recent anonymous complaint of bullying treatment of players on the women's volleyball team.

Pulaski puts transit sales tax on March 1 ballot

The Pulaski County Quorum Court voted tonight to put a quarter-cent sales tax on the county ballot March 1 to provide a dedicated source of revenue for Rock Region metro, the agency formerly known as Central Arkansas Transit.

Health Reform Legislative Task Force split over managed care

A group of lawmakers, all medical providers, made the argument against managed care for high-cost populations in Medicaid to the Health Reform Legislative Task Force today. Here's all the latest on the task force's divide over managed care, with hundreds of millions of Medicaid dollars at stake.

Today's the day for Little Italy; what's at stake

County Judge Barry Hyde will hold a hearing today on a petition to incorporate a sprawling, lightly populated stretch of rural land in northwestern Pulaski County as the city of Little Italy.

Big news except in Arkansas: The shift from coal

Ernest Dumas this week points out the enormous significance of American Electric Power's decision to depart the conservative ALEC political lobby because it can no longer support that organization's diehard support for the dirty energy of coal-fired electricity production.

As the Clinton National Airport turns: Bookkeeping and city politics

As the Little Rock airport turns: How does an airport with declining customer base keep making more money? And who'll be the next rich white guys appointed to the Airport Commission?

Questions about the governor's side deal with the nursing homes to keep them out of Medicaid managed care

The governor has reportedly cut a special deal with the nursing homes, which are seeking to dodge Medicaid managed care. Some big questions remain.

Zagat's names Franke's pie top desert in Arkansas

What's the best dessert in Arkansas? According to restaurant guide experts Zagat's, it's the Karo Nut Pie at Franke's.

Gov. Hutchinson's fight for Arkansas-style Obamacare. Update: his task force approves his plan

The debate on continuation of the Arkansas version of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is underway. Who'll pay for Gov. Asa Hutchinson to get the continuation he wants?

Home is the debater, home from the kids' table

A photo of Mike Huckabee's return to Little Rock after last night's debate is evocative of the rigors of the campaign, particularly for second-tier candidates such as the former Arkansas governor.

Task force recommends revised private option and pursuing $835 million in traditional Medicaid savings

The latest on the future of Medicaid and the private option from the Health Reform Legislative Task Force.

Wynne judge denies all allegations in ethics case

Joseph Boeckmann of Wynne, who's been suspended as a part-time district judge in Cross County because of a pending complaint by the state Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, has filed a formal response to the charges denying all allegations of impropriety.

Forest Service officer gets earful when ticketing state legislator's husband

The Forest Service responded by certified mail today to my Freedom of Information Act request for information on tickets given to Ted Bentley, husband of Republican state Rep. Mary Bentley, over Forest Service rules violations. "Kiss my groin," he reportedly told the officer writing the ticket.

Riverdale 10 upgrades its seating

Breaking news, in a way: Starting this weekend, Riverdale 10 Cinema will be adding leather recliners to its theaters. We of course fully endorse this development, just as we endorse seating-and-comfort-upgrades in any local establishments.

Asa Hutchinson hates Obamacare but wants to keep Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion in Arkansas

Anti-Obamacare Arkansas Republicans in Congress keep voting to take away funding for the private option. Gov. Asa Hutchinson opposes Obamacare too, but he wants to keep taking Obamacare funding to "continue the coverage for the expanded Medicaid population." The same funding that Sen. Tom Cotton and company keep voting to snatch it away.

Governor gets highway funding options

Another governor's working group issued a report today — ideas on raising more money for highway spending.

Robert Pulliza quits under fire as Razorback women's volleyball coach

The University of Arkansas Athletic Department has announced the departure of women's volleyball coach Robert Polliza, under fire recently by players who complained of abusive methods.

Report: Duggars may adopt. Also: Mrs. Josh Duggar speaks

Life & Style, a celebrity weekly, reports that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar are talking of adopting a 20th child

Over the hump night open line

Here's the Wednesday open line and today's news and comment, unfortunately done ahead of a few interesting developments.

No decision today on Little Italy incorporation

No decision today in county court on petition by several hundred people to incorporate more than eight square miles of rural land in northwestern Pulaski County as Little Italy.

On Medicaid "lockout" provision, Gov. Asa Hutchinson hedges

Last week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson was gung-ho about locking out Medicaid beneficiaries from coverage for six months if they failed to make premiums. This week? He may be changing his tune.

Graham Rich departing as chief of Central Arkansas Water

Central Arkansas Water announced late this afternoon that Graham Rich, the utility's chief executive for 8 and a half years, is resigning to take a job in his home state of South Carolina. Tad Bohannon, the utility's legal counsel, will serve as interim director.

Reminder: Arts writer to talk about how artists can make a living

Arts consultant and "Be Smart About Art" founder Susan Mumford will give a talk about her new book, "Art Is Your Life. Make It Your Living.," next week at M2 Gallery in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center.