Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Divinity Dumped

The battle over approval of the Barber Group's controversial Divinity project on Dickson Street was ranked the Number One local news story of 2006. Not a surprising pick since Greg Harton and the editorial board of the Northwest Arkansas Times supported the project and gloated about its approval.

It was another of those almost predictable events where the Planning Commission stood strong and denied approval of the project because it was inconsistent with the Downtown Master Plan, but then Developer Dan Coody and his majority on the City Council lusted for tax revenues and approved it by 5-3 last July.

You had to think the Divinity Deal was seriously suspect when it was opposed by both Fran Alexander and Mike Masterson. You knew they were right when Candy Clark opposed it on the Planning Commission and when Aldermen Lioneld Jordan, Shirley Lucas, and Kyle Cook voted against it when it came before the Council. Then citizens Mike Shirkey and Peter Tooker sued the City for violating its own policies in approving the project.

Today, the final domino fell like a row of mailboxes run over by a SUV, and the Barber Group announced that it was withdrawing its plans for the Divinity hotel and condominium project on Dickson Street between Church and Block Avenues. Good.

Fayetteville Is Up Against the Wal-Martians

A group calling itself Against the Wal reminds us that it has been a year since Fayetteville was occupied by the Wal-Mart shareholders-- "another year of poor healthcare, gender discrimination, environmental degradation, poverty wages, the destruction of local businesses, and union busting." Dr. Lee Scott and the Wal-Mart shareholders are meeting up again, and Against the Wal is gearing up for another exciting week of resistance. Last year, Wal-Mart planted a spy with transmitting microphone in the group to follow their plans. This year, the group made it easy for the spymasters by putting their schedule on the web.

Wednesday, May 30th 6:00 PM & Thursday, May 31st 6:00 PM
Walton Bros. Circus: The Greediest Show on Earth!
Street Theatre
. Meet up at Bike City (546 West Center St. Studio C) and suit up for some radical clowning on Dickson Street. For 2 nights in a row we will bring our message of change in a fun & accessible way!

Friday, June 1st 9:30AM - Noon
Wal-Mart Shareholders Meeting Protest
Meet up in the Fayetteville High School Parking Lot, 1001 Stone Street, Fayetteville. March to the shareholders meeting in the Bud Walton Arena, University of Arkansas Campus

The protests should draw the media, who might even pay attention and acknowledge Against the Wal’s seven demands for change: (1) Living Wage - Pay all Wal-Mart workers a fair living wage so they can support their families; (2) Affordable Health Care - Provide all workers comprehensive, affordable health insurance coverage so they can care for their families and no longer be forced to rely on taxpayer-funded public health care; (3) End Discrimination - Ensure equal opportunity and equal pay for women and people of color in your workforce at all levels through a stringent and independent monitoring process; (4) Zero Tolerance on Child Labor - Adopt a zero tolerance policy and institute an independent monitoring program to stop the exploitation of child labor in the United States and abroad; (5) Respect Communities - Work with local communities to effectively address Wal-Mart’s negative impact on issues like traffic, sprawl, the environment, and local businesses; (6) Respect the Environment - Obey environmental protection laws and ethics so that a minimal environmental impact on the natural local ecosystem is obtained while avoiding pollution at all cost; (7) Stop Union Busting - Stop threatening and blacklisting workers who try to unionize. Fire your union busting informants and stop training managers how to keep workers from exercising their right to form a union.

No one expects Wal-Mart to do any of those things, but it never hurts to ask corporations to be good citizens and let the public observe their arrogance and indifference.

Gas Guzzlers, the Greedy, and the Gullible

Okay, that’s enough bullshit. I’m usually content to let the SUV crowd suffer the results of their own foolish choices and addiction to oil, but now they’ve gone to telling lies. The usual crowd of car dealers and highway contractors are putting up the money for mass deception and buying a full page advertisement in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Someone named James Sheppard from Fayetteville is among the eight signers of the advertisement that pushes “freedom of choice” to buy big gas guzzlers and warns that “politicians in Washington are trying to legislate unrealistic fuel economy standards.” Senate Bill 1419, the object of their fears, would give the Japanese and the rest of the auto industry 12 years to raise the average fuel economy of their vehicles to 35 miles per gallon. That's hardly unrealistic, considering the currently available hybrid vehicles that get 55 mpg and the soon available Smart Car that gets 80 mpg that would leave plenty of room for idiots who need a gas-guzzling 4WD to scoot from gated community to the mall and back.

Instead, James Sheppard and his pals tell us to contact “the politicians in Washington” and tell them we want to leave it to the bureaucrats in Washington to set those standards —specifically the Bush-Cheney appointed “experts” at the National Highway Traffic safety Administration. That’s right, they want us to trust the Bush Administration to set wise energy policy based on truth and facts, a feat they have failed us in every other area of public policy, foreign and domestic.

Monday, May 28, 2007

City Council Folds and Jim Lindsey Rolls

Once upon a time, the City of Fayetteville had a rational comprehensive growth plan embraced by the citizens and followed by the Planning Commission and the City Council. No more. Fayetteville should return the 2006 award it won from the American Planning Council and get one from the Auctioneers Association, in recognition of the fact that developers can ignore the City Plan 2025 at their whim and purchase exemptions with ease.

The Planning Commission rejected Jim Lindsey’s proposal for a 1,200-unit development in the western sprawl epicenter of Wedington and Rupple last March. Lindsey’s lawyer Hugh Jarrett urged the Planning Commission to ignore City Plan 2025, but only three of the nine commissioners bought that. Shortly thereafter, Developer Dan Coody and his little band of toadies led a purge of the Planning Commission to install more developer-compliant members who would ignore City Plan 2025.

Lindsey appealed to the City Council, who rolled over for him 6-2, although the Links development violates all six goals of City Plan 2025. Ward 4 Alderman Shirley Lucas, who voted for Lindsey’s monster development that tried to pitch a private golf course as public green space, admitted, “It is not a neighborhood. It’s an apartment complex; let’s face it.” The business-serving Northwest Arkansas Times confessed, “At 152 acres, The Links is unquestionably all sprawl all the time,” but they praised a political process that compromised away the principles that we know can keep Fayetteville one of the most “livable cities” in the nation. We ignore the impact of growth at peril to the community we love. Called compromise or sell-out, it will give us the beauty of Sixth Street strip malls and traffic-clogging apartment mega-complexes like The Links.

Only Ward 2 Aldermen Kyle Cook and Nancy Allen demonstrated the courage and integrity to vote against the abomination. As did the Planning Commission before them, they stood firm for the fundamental principles expressed by our citizens and enunciated in City Plan 2025. The goals established by our community as guiding principles for the Plan included the following commitments: 1) We will make appropriate infill and revitalization our highest priorities, 2) We will discourage suburban sprawl, 3) We will make traditional town form the standard, 4) We will grow a livable transportation network, 5) We will assemble an enduring green network, and 6) We will create attainable housing. We are grateful for public leaders like Cook and Allen. It is a shame of the city that we don’t have more like them in city government.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Those Other Immigrants in Springdale

Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest concentration of Marshallese in the world outside the Republic of the Marshall Islands, with an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 living here. This weekend, several hundred more flocked to the Jones Center in Springdale to celebrate their independence from U.S. control. These people are not U.S. citizens but are eligible for certain government benefits, so I'm surprised that the local yahoos and their legislative showmen are not clamoring to send these "brown people" back to wherever the Marshall Islands might be.

Like other immigrants, some of the Marshallese came to Northwest Arkansas for better jobs.The latest edition of "Doing Business," prepared by the World Bank's private sector resources department, declared the Marshall Islands to be the world's number one business environment for its cheap labor and ease in hiring and firing workers. Not being among the 179 signatory member countries of the International Labor Organization, the country is not obliged to abide by such fundamental labor standards as elimination of forced labor, child labor and discrimination, and respect for freedom of association and right to collective bargaining.

But there is another reason. After church on Sunday, February 10, 1946, U.S. Military Governor Commodore Ben Wyatt went to Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands (then a so-called U.S. "Trust" Territory) to ask them to give up their islands for the "good of all mankind" so that the U.S. could test nuclear weapons. The Bikinian leader, Juda, replied with resignation, ""Men Otemjej Rej Ilo Bein Anij" ["Everything is in the hands of God."]. Between 1946 and 1958 the United States detonated 67 thermonuclear atomic weapons in the Marshall Islands, including a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb in 1954 that was some 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Castle Bravo bomb blast vaporized three islands. The inhabitants were forced to abandon the other nearby islands three days after the test, leaving behind their homes and all their belongings, but many soon died. In 1957, three years later, the U.S. declared the area "clean and safe" and allowed the islanders to return. Evidence of continued contamination mounted, however, as many residents developed thyroid-tumors, and many youngsters died of leukemia. Even today, the grandchildren of the survivors are being born with severe birth defects.

The United States Army, under the 1986 Compact of Free Association, still maintains the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missle Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands for the "good of all mankind," and "Everything is in the hands of God."

Friday, May 25, 2007

He Ain’t No Fortunate Son

Ivan Dario Lopez of Springdale was arrested recently by Springdale Detective Al Barrios. Fortuneteller Lopez is accused of scamming local residents by performing spiritual rituals designed to cure bad luck and was charged with theft by deception. He was booked into the Washington County Detention Center then released on $150,000 bail.

Springdale detectives were tipped about Lopez by Jim Pierce, a city code enforcement officer, who visited the Lopez home regarding an alleged code violation and stated the home was sparsely furnished in such a way that the occupants could "pick up and leave" in five minutes. Don’t tell me that Springdale now has some city code on interior decorating that requires a certain amount of home decorating or furnishings? If the city is into aesthetics, they should start with a sign ordinance.

Arresting officer Barrios said he suspects Lopez is part of a band of Hispanic gypsies; “this guy denies being one, but the evidence points otherwise." Officer Barrios is just making this up to reinforce prejudice and stereotypes, because Roma (gypsies) are not Hispanic.

Police said they found a Spanish flier advertising tarot card readings, health and money cures, romantic bindings and other spiritual services. The flier was titled "Buda Fe," translated as Buddha Faith. This should have been a clear warning to the highly-trained Springdale police force. A long line of state and federal cases protect such activity. See Rushman v. City of Milwaukee , 959 F. Supp. 1040 (E.D. Wis. 1997); Spiritual Psychic Science Church v City of Azusa, 39 Cal 3d 501, 217 Cal Rptr 225, 703 P2d 1119. (Cal. 1985); Trimble v. City of New Iberia, 73 F. Supp. 2d 659 (W.D. La. 1999).; and Angeline v. Mahoning County Agr. Soc., 993 F. Supp. 627 (N.D. Ohio 1998). I dare to "predict" that Prosecuting Attorney John Threet knows them well.

As Judge Richard Arnold said in Argello V. City of Lincoln, 143 F.3d 1152 (8th Cir. 1998), “if citizens wish to have their fortunes told, or to believe in palm- reading or phrenology, they are free to do so under our system of government, and to patronize establishments or "professionals" who purport to be versed in such arts. Government is not free to declare certain beliefs - for example, that someone can see into the future - forbidden. Citizens are at liberty to believe that the earth is flat, that magic is real, and that some people are prophets.” This applies equally to the bad luck cures or fortunetelling of Ivan Lopez as it does to the pitch for life everlasting or claims for creationism of Ronnie Floyd. Theft by deception charges cannot be sustained against either.

Police have a lame back-up charge with which to persecute Lopez; they claim he had no business license on file with the city of Springdale. What BS. Trying to discriminate against and punish fringe religions has a long history, but the courts declared the “business licence” pretext unconstitutional more than 60 years ago. See, Jones v. Opelika, 319 U.S. 103 (1943); Berry v. City of Hope, 205 Ark. 1105 (1943). Cops who ignore these constitutional rights are subject to prosecution for damages.

So why must we endure such nonsense? An answer comes from the center of enlightenment, Livingston Parish, Louisiana, which this month unanimously enacted a criminal ordinance against all forms of fortunetelling. When confronted with the constitution, Councilman Jimmy McCoy replied, “I got elected to represent my constituents. I am a Christian, and I love the Lord, period.” That should settle it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Not Another Lawyer Joke

The Benton County Daily Record reports that Eric Dean Archer, a Rogers attorney accused of embezzling money from his clients for his personal use, including gambling activities, now sits in the Tunica County Mississippi jail awaiting extradition to Benton County on two counts of theft of property, a class B felony; and two counts of forgery, a class C felony. Archer is suspected of converting his clients’ money to his own use. Archer previously was arrested in 2004 and charged with theft of property, a class B felony, after an official with Arvest Bank reported Archer owed the bank $28,333 for insufficient funds on checks he deposited to his account.

I am of three minds about this news. I am always saddened when an officer of the court goes astray of the law we have sworn to observe and uphold, but I might be secretly pleased that the field is cleaned up a bit and the competition diminished. On the third prong, I am glad that they found Archer in Tunica instead of West Siloam Springs. That would have been really embarrassing for the profession.

Downtown Digital Debate

The Fayetteville Telecommunication Board has for sometime been interested in exploring free public Wi-Fi (wireless internet connectivity) in the city. The Board is merely advisory and often ignored, as in its futile efforts to get the city to sign a better franchise agreement with Cox Cable, but they could have more success with this idea.

The announcement that Bentonville will be offering such a public service around its public square and downtown park seems to have caught the attention of Fayetteville city officials. The Northwest Arkansas Times reports today that Mayor Dan Coody, who often urges Fayetteville to do just like whatever happens in Benton County, said he has asked city staff and administration to look at Bentonville’s lead. “We at least need to do something like that,” he said. It would allow more downtown residents to read The Mayor Dan Coody Campaign Blog hosted on the city’s official website, even if citizens cannot post comments or responses to the Mayor’s blog entries.

Not everyone thinks that free public Wi-Fi service would be a good idea. Alderman Bobby Ferrell says the city doesn’t have a good record with technology projects, and he wasn’t talking about the massive cost overruns with the new sewer plant. “I would sure want us to do a lot of fact-finding and research before going citywide with Wi-Fi,” Ferrell said. Alderman Ferrell is a former Southwestern Bell /AT&T executive, and AT&T markets and sells internet services in Fayetteville. Free public Wi-Fi could reduce revenue for private internet service providers.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

George's los trabajadores del pollo

Armed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents arrested 136 suspected illegal immigrant workers at a George's Inc. poultry-processing plant this week as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Most of those arrested are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The management of the poultry plant have not been charged, said ICE spokesman Tim Counts; however, he said the investigation is continuing. Family-owned George's Inc. in Springdale released a statement today saying, "George's makes every effort to comply with all employment and immigration laws.” A George's spokesman declined to comment further or to say how many people work at the plant.

Last week, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cited the same plant for animal sadism and workplace "accidents" such as throwing live birds against walls, kicking them like soccer balls, and spitting tobacco juice into their eyes. Gary George has not publicly acknowledged the abuses cited nor released any response to the letter dated May 15, 2007.

In 2002, Gene George was recognized as a successful business leader and inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, which "honors, preserves and perpetuates the names and outstanding accomplishments of business leaders who have brought lasting fame to Arkansas." The Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas sponsors the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, and Gary George is a member of the UA Board of Trustees.

Exporting Excellence

Local scholars Jacob Beck, Fayetteville High School; Meredith Brown of Shiloh Christian School; Caroline Srygley, Fayetteville High School;. Elizabeth Templeton, Fayetteville High School; Robert March, Rogers High School; Travis Rose, Rogers High School; and Jane Stitt of West Fork, home school, were among 34 Arkansas high school seniors of 2,200 students across the country named this week as recipients of National Merit Scholarships financed by colleges and universities. Congratulations to them!

Of those 34 students planning on attending college in Arkansas, 13 will be going to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, two to Hendrix College, and one to Harding University. Somewhat more telling is that 18 of these 34 Merit Scholars plan to attend out-of-state schools. Even four of the seven students from Washington and Benton counties will be packing up for an out-of-state education. As long as
our top students continue to choose to leave the state for their college education and Arkansas continues to export its outstanding high school graduates, we will have difficulty building our economy and community leadership for the 21st century.

If more than half of the state's top Sporting News high school athletes signed with out-of-state schools, heads would roll, and citizens would demand to know why we had such a dismal recruiting year. As long as we are losing only academic all-stars, well, so what?

It might not be a bad idea for Arkansas higher education officials, boards of trustees, and legislators to at least inquire of these students, their parents, and their school counselors why a majority have passed up higher education opportunities in Arkansas and all have taken a pass on all but one of our numerous state institutions. Governor Beebe and the legislature might find the answers interesting--and more helpful than relying solely on the representations of "need" offered up by the lobbyists for higher education who usually ask for more money under an old sinkhole formula that perpetuates past practices and priorities.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nationally Ranked High Schools in NWA

Three Northwest Arkansas high schools are among the country’s top 1,257 public high schools, according to Newsweek magazine’s latest Best American High Schools list. Bentonville High ranked 566th on the list of the best high schools. Fayetteville High ranked 628th, and Rogers came in at 892. That's out of 27,000 nationally.

The rankings are based on the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge exams administered last spring, divided by the number of graduates at the school. The formula known as the Challenge Index was developed by Jay Matthews, a reporter for The Washington Post and a contributing editor to Newsweek. Only about 5 percent of the nation’s 27,000 public high schools made it onto the Newsweek list.

Little Rock Central, which led all Arkansas schools, offers 33 Advanced Placement courses and is adding a 34th next fall. High school students who take the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and tests can earn college credit for their high school work. In Arkansas, students who take Advanced Placement courses are required to take the end of year Advanced Placement exams, and the state pays for the tests, which cost $80 each.

Most readers will be pleased that our local schools are nationally ranked, but some people will be disappointed. UA Professor Jay P. Greene has made a career out of bashing teachers and public schools, so this will undermine his self-published propaganda campaign for private school vouchers. Debbie Pelley of the Arkansas Family Association, who came to Fayetteville a couple years ago to ban books from the school library, has written extensively that the International Baccalaureate Program is the work of the ole debbil. Both should be expected to tell us soon why these outstanding public schools are no good.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

UA Plans Total Campus Ban on Stroking

The University of Arkansas is scheduled to become one of the first universities in the country to completely ban masturbation from its campus. University officials intend to give the Fayetteville campus community and its visitors more than a year to adjust to the policy: the ban is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2008.

"Obviously, this is a health issue," said Mary Alice Serafini, one of the deputy under assistant vice chancellors for meddling in student affairs. "Masturbation is harmful to anyone who does it, and even non-participants are harmed by second-hand strokes. We see a masturbation-free campus as a health benefit for the entire campus community." The draft policy is clear: Masturbation will be prohibited on all university property, indoors and outdoors, and the ban will apply to visitors as well as students, faculty and staff.

Bob Caudle does not intend to take this sitting down. “Our local institution of lower education, the University of Arkansas, is imposing a masturbation ban. Why is it there is always one group who perceives a solution and is willing to take command -- and often that group is crazy as hell? Uh, wait. Scratch that last statement. If it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, of course they're going to do it.

“This is just another case of a bunch of high-browed snits wanting to tell other people how to live their lives. The University masturbation policy was developed by Serafini, using a model provided by the Center for Disease Control. Students in the self-abuse prevention class taught by Dr. Ed Mink made several suggestions to campus administrators. Almost hidden in the hubris of the moment is this telling statement from the UA's Division of Student affairs: The policy was not discussed with the UA Faculty Senate, Staff Senate or Associated Student Government.”

Greg Harton is equally hard on the UA administration. “I’m not advocating masturbation, but there should be some concern about how far the government can go to prevent a person’s personal choices when those choices don’t adversely affect anyone else. The campus-wide ban on stroking — what today is a legal choice for adults to make — reaches past government protection. It attempts to stop individuals from freely choosing to engage in a legal activity that’s harming no one but themselves.

“The basis for such a far-reaching ban is (1 ) the UA administration believes it has the right to casually remove a person’s liberty to protect them from themselves or (2 ) the government believes it’s empowered to ban activity simply because it offends others and doesn’t match up with the university’s notion of what a person should be doing to themselves. It oversteps how far government should go in establishing an official standard of acceptable personal choice to be enforced on individuals. Even administrators probably have some unhealthy habits that they’d be better off without. If this stroking ban is embraced, they better watch out. Why not new rules about what they can eat or drink, how they have sex, how they treat their bodies and what they read?”

An editorial in The Morning News tossed off a similar argument. “Just because you can do something, it doesn't necessarily follow that you should. It appears, however, that the University of Arkansas is determined to proceed down the path toward a goal of banning self-abuse from the Fayetteville campus. We have a few questions, among them are Why? and, also, How? How is it that someone stroking, while sitting all alone in their room in Yocum Hall or in the attic of the Chi Omega house, threatens the well-being of another person? But, if we accept for the moment the university's good intentions in enacting such a ban, how will it be enforced? By whom?

“This is all preposterous, you say? Sheer exaggeration and hyperbole? Perhaps. But a little exaggeration may be a proper response to overreaction, which is what we think this policy is. But seeking out and eradicating this behavioral sin goes beyond the scope of public health concerns and moves onto the slippery slope of legislating morals and regulating personal behavior.”

Oh, they said smoking? Never mind.

Locals Win Mainstream Media Awards

Mainstream media journalists throughout Arkansas have been honored with awards for excellence by Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists, recognizing the best of news and editorial writing within the confines of what is allowed to be covered and written by corporate media owners of chain newspapers. These are real awards, unlike the phony Press Club of Dallas Katie Awards for excellence in journalism and corporate communications. Congratulations to the winners from Northwest Arkansas!

Editorial / Column Division III: 1st place, “Good Education Challenges Students To Think, Question Beliefs,” Linda Caldwell, The Weekly Vista; 2nd place, “Government Makes Right Funding Choice,” Linda Caldwell, The Weekly Vista; 3rd place, “Contributions Can Be Made In Many Ways,” Linda Caldwell, The Weekly Vista.

Campaign Coverage Division I: 2nd place, “Does It Want To Become A City ? A Village Faces Incorporation,” James Bowie, The Morning News; 3rd place, “Report: Candidate Smoked Marijuana,” Joseph Askins, The Morning News.

FOI Reporting Division I: 2nd place, “Public’s Trust Shredded,” Doug Thompson, The Morning News;

Minority Issues Division I: 1st place, “Blending Cultures,” Various, The Morning News

Hard News Division I: 2nd place, “Tornado: Storms Damage 100-120 Homes,” Kristin Netterstrom, The Morning News; 3rd place, “Identity Of Dead Men Revealed,” Jeff Niese, The Morning News. Hard News Division III: 1st place, “Villagers Choose Incorporation,” Charles Huggins, The Weekly Vista; 3rd place, “Housing Market Slowdown Has Ripple Effect On Economy,” Andra Atteberry, The Weekly Vista.

Young Journalist of the Year Division I: 1st place, John Henley Jr., The Morning News.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Benton County John Boozman's Energy Policy?

The Democrat-Gazette reports that gasoline prices in Arkansas set a record high Friday, averaging $3.02 for a gallon of pump-it-yourself regular. Nationwide, prices also broke the record, averaging $3.13. In Northwest Arkansas, we beat that with the average price yesterday at $3.224 a gallon, almost 23 cents more than in Little Rock. The newspaper did not report that Exxon Mobil Corp. also set a new record last month--net income rose to $9.3 billion for January-March, up from only $8.4 billion the first quarter last year. In 2006, Exxon Mobil posted the largest annual profit by a U.S. company — $39.5 billion. That result topped the previous record, also by Exxon Mobil, of $36.13 billion set in 2005.

“Chris Bartholomew put $100 worth of gas into his Chevrolet Suburban 1500 on Friday afternoon at the Kum & Go gas station in Lowell. His children play competitive softball, which can mean long road trips on the weekends for tournaments. ‘It’s affecting our kids,’ he said. ‘Basically, we have to rethink where we are going to travel to for softball tournaments.’” Right, Chris, and you might also rethink what kind of car you buy next time.

Consumers will either change their driving habits or find themselves with less discretionary income, said Kathy Deck, professor of the obvious at the University of Arkansas. Citizens will also demand that the politicians change our energy policies, or they will find themselves continually bent over and grabbing their ankles.

Congress should raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy for cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon, which would save 1.3 million barrels of oil, or roughly $65 million each day. A more aggressive but very achievable increase to 40 miles per gallon would save 3.4 million barrels per day. The Feds should also give tax credits to those who buy hybrid or electric vehicles, reversing the Bush-Cheney energy policy that gave tax credits to people who bought SUVs.

In Arkansas, there is a move toward tax incentives for bio-fuels, but it remains to be seen whether this is a practical approach or merely a boondoggle to subsidize rich planters and corporate scam artists. Our state levies a 21.5 cent gas tax plus the federal tax of about 18.4 cents a gallon, meaning we pay a combined tax of 40 cents per gallon, and most of that is spent on bonds to build more highways. In Great Britain, the fuel tax is about $4.40 per gallon, not only a disincentive to drive and an incentive to buy fuel-efficient cars but also revenue to help subsidize mass transit and other sustainable energy investments that actively provide citizens with alternatives to driving.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Springdale -- It Is That Bad

A 1952 brochure from the Chamber of Commerce touted Springdale as "a city of 7,000 people, all white native born true Americans." Although some residents regret the changes, it is somewhat larger and more diverse today. Springdale is now a city of 54,000 people, less than 80% white native born true Americans.

Springdale's historic animosity to racial minorities was detailed in a recent article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and in a book by Professor James Loewen, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. Neither addresses the current frothing about Hispanic residents, but both mention the restrictive racial covenants that attempted to prevent “Asiatics and Negroes” from renting or owning homes in the Sandy Heights Subdivision, developed by Sandy Boone in 1959.

Eleven years earlier, the United States Supreme Court in Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), heard a challenge to a 1911 St. Louis covenant against "people of the Negro or Mongolian race" and held that the enforcement of such a racially-based restrictive covenant by a State court is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Springdale Mayor Jerre Van Hoose built a home in the Sandy Heights Addition in 1964, but he says he never knew the covenant banned blacks and Asians. Sandy Boone said, “I’ve heard guff about that being in there,” but claims that his attorney, former Mayor Courtney Crouch, wrote the provision that prohibited blacks and Asians and that he “didn’t even know about it.” Courtney Crouch is dead and cannot deny it, but his son Jim says his father wouldn’t have wanted to ban blacks or Asians, and that lawyers typically write documents based on what clients request.

Springdale has a hundred city fathers, but the restrictive covenant appears to be an orphan. Still, there are lessons to be learned about the soul of the community, and the racial covenants in Sandy Heights remain even today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Honoris Causa

Honorary degrees are conferred by universities on individuals, both renowned and obscure, who represent outstanding achievement in their personal lives or fields of endeavor and who reflect the values that the institutions hold dear and wish to instill in their students. For example, scholarly achievement, public service, selflessness, and self-sacrifice are qualities often rewarded by an honorary degree at major universities.

Harvard University in 1996, awarded an honorary degree to Oseola McCarty, who left school after the sixth grade and supported herself for 75 years as a laundress. In her eighties, she donated her life's savings of $150,000 not to Harvard but to the University of Southern Mississippi to aid needy black students. Honorands are applauded not only for what they have achieved, but for what their presence contributes to society. As historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, "An honorary degree is granted honoris causa, both to honor the grantee and the University."

That is to say, not all universities hand out degrees to suck up to the rich or powerful. Lord Roy Jenkins, Oxford University's chancellor, recently made clear that no award would be given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, an Oxford alumnus, because Blair possessed a "second-class mind."

The University of Arkansas, however, seems to reward wealthy white people who inherit or make lots of money in the business sector, especially those who give some of it to the University for buildings or administrative projects. In that tradition, last week they gave an honorary doctorate to Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart.

Under Scott's leadership, Wal-Mart has delivered record growth at the company's discount stores, and the NLRB has issued over 40 complaints against Wal-Mart in the last three years, charging it with violations of labor law. Scott has been widely recognized for his leadership in making Wal-Mart a chronic low-wage employer, one that pays so low that 3,971 Arkansas Wal-Mart workers are forced to accept public assistance for food, housing, or health care, meaning in effect the Arkansas taxpayer is subsidizing the company's payroll by $16.2 million a year.

In 2005, the U.S. Labor Department required Wal-Mart to pay $135,540 for 24 child-labor violations involving teenage workers who used hazardous equipment at stores in Arkansas, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Two-thirds of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees are women, but they hold only one-third of store management slots and less than 15% of store management positions, and the company currently is facing a class action lawsuit by 1.6 million women employees who were paid less than their male colleagues. Wal-Mart paid big fines for using illegal immigrants to clean their stores, and they face another class action suit on racial discrimination in hiring truck drivers. They spy on employees and reporters.

That record got Lee Scott a $22 million bonus this year. Those are the business practices and values that the University of Arkansas chose to praise on May 12 by awarding an honorary degree to Lee Scott.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Know When to Fold'em

When George Bush and his failed policies lose the support of even the Republican Redoubt of the Third Congressional District, you know it's time to call in the dogs, put out the fire, and head on back to Crawford.

Results of new Northwest Arkansas Omnibus Survey released today show that a solid majority of local residents believe the United States made a big mistake by invading Iraq and should bring home most of its troops from Iraq within the next year.

In light of developments since March 2003, when U.S. troops invaded and occupied Iraq, most Northwest Arkansas residents (53.1%) now believe that the United States made a mistake in sending troops to the country. And, only weeks before President Bush vetoed a war-spending bill that included language about deadlines for troop removal, an even greater majority of local residents (57.4%) favor bringing home most U.S. troops in the next year.

Interestingly, 54% of residents from Benton and Washington counties believed the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, while it was even worse for Bush with rural voters where 70% of Carroll- and Madison-county residents thought the United States made a mistake.

These and other findings were released today, as part of the 2007 Northwest Arkansas Omnibus Survey, conducted by the University of Arkansas Survey Research Center. The survey, taken between March 28 and April 12, gauged sentiments of 602 residents of Benton, Washington, Carroll and Madison counties. Of course, this survey was conducted before Karl Rove came to Springdale and foolishly promised the party die-hards that the Administration would keep sending troops to Iraq until January 20, 2009,

"Considering the political climate of Northwest Arkansas, I was surprised by the number of local residents who favored bringing troops home and who thought the United States had made a mistake in Iraq," said Molly Longstreth, director of the research center. "In the 2004 general election - and remember that Arkansas was a 'red' state - Northwest Arkansas residents tended to support President Bush and presumably his policies. I think our current results show that opinions may be changing or have changed, which seems to reflect the mood of Americans as a whole."

If voting patterns also change, the political ramifications of the above sentiments may be even more dramatic. Bush is now beyond irrelevant; he is driving the Republican base into depression. Look for huge Democratic gains in the House and Senate, and taking back the White House is a given. If Northwest Arkansas Republican candidates persist in embracing Bush and his failed agenda, they could also lose seats in the Arkansas legislature.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bigots Beware

An article in today's Northwest Arkansas edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette features Eva Mae Ross, a Vietnamese 2-year old who was adopted from an orphanage and now is undergoing surgeries for repair of cleft lip and palate. Her adoptive parents are Dr. Robin Ross and Anne Shelley, both of whom have been active in promoting social justice in our area for years.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, affiliated with Rev. James Dobson's Focus on the Family, doesn't think that Ross and Shelley should have been allowed to adopt a child. He was pushing a bill by State Senator Shawn Womack (R-Mountain Home) in the Arkansas legislature to ban adoption by same sex couples. The bill passed in the Senate but was killed in the House Judiciary Committee. Now Cox is working with an out-of-state conservative Christian legal outfit to advance such bigotry by drafting an initiated act for the 2008 general election ballot, a move also anticipated to increase the chances of Republican candidates who will endorse the measure. Vickey Boozman of Rogers is on the Board of the Arkansas Family Council, as is Robin Lundstrum, who just chaired the Washington County Republican Committee dinner featuring Karl Rove.

On the other hand, all of the evidence suggests that Ross and Shelley will be excellent adoptive parents. A report from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School released in March documented that research shows LGB parents are as capable as any other parents, and "in fact, studies show that these parents tend to have a higher percentage of qualities that are highly desirable. On average, LGB adoptive parents and same-sex couples raising foster children are older and more educated than other foster parents. In addition, many LGB adoptive parents have access to more economic resources than other adoptive parents."

Consequently, a number of organizations have adopted official positions "stating that sexual orientation should not be a determinative factor in assessing the ability of individuals to raise children through adoption [or] foster care." These groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the Child Welfare League of America, and the American Psychological Association, among others.

Congratulations to Robin Ross, Anne Shelley, and Eva Mae Ross on their new family. As for Jerry Cox and his associated bigots, don't further embarrass yourself by bringing that narrow-minded, hateful partisan bullshit into the political arena.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

La Invasión Norteamericana

Until 1808, the southern plantation system relied upon imported foreign labor, and Arkansas even went to war to defend that economic regime in 1861. In the 1830s, Arkansas citizens such as Henry Warnell, Isaac Baker, Jesse Thompson were illegal immigrants in Tejas, but they are now considered local heroes after being killed at the Alamo in 1836 and assisting in the effort to take jobs and real estate away from Mexicans. Then in 1847, Arkansas citizens again invaded Mexico with Archibald Yell and Albert Pike as part of Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation, helping the United States to snatch Mexican jobs and real estate in what is now California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Nevada and Colorado.

Now things are different, and many Arkansas folks don't care for the change in migration patterns. No one remembers or cares that Arkansas was Spanish territory from 1762-1800. Northwest Arkansas politicians like Jim Holt, Jon Woods, and Steve Womack think there is much political capital in bashing Hispanic immigrants to our area and whipping up fears among descendants of the earlier Anglo immigrants who took this land from the Osage and Cherokees.

Thankfully, today's edition of The Morning News published a Special Report on immigration in Northwest Arkansas, presenting facts as well as arguments for understanding
the demographic, cultural and economic facets of the current controversies
. It is responsible journalism, and it is important reading. Get a copy.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Karl Rove Raising Money in Springdale

Smoke billowed from the vicinity of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone after at least two explosions were heard today in Baghdad, and five more American soldiers were killed by roadside bombs. Every day in Baghdad, and on a wall in Washington, we see the costs of a policy of just keeping U.S. military personnel in combat while the Administration demands the troops stay and hopes another idea might come up for a photo opportunity if not a plan for bringing them home safely. But Robin Lundstrum, Chair of the Washington County Republican Committee Lincoln Day Dinner, says that Karl Rove still will be their speaker at the $100-a-Plate Washington County Lincoln Day Dinner tonight, billed as the largest regular fundraising event for the Republican Party of Arkansas. For $200, you can get your picture took with Rove.

Washington County Democratic Chairman David Whitaker is not impressed. "I can think of no worse choice. The public information for this event states: 'This will be a very special night as we salute our local troops.' And 'To help us honor our troops, Karl Rove will be our special guest speaker.' While I applaud the committee for its choice to honor our men and women in uniform, I am saddened by their choice of speaker. As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Rove has repeatedly attempted to usurp this document."

Four years ago this month, George Bush pulled his Rove-designed publicity stunt and declared "Mission Accomplished."
Since then,
3,256 more American troops have died in Iraq, and 25,245 have been wounded. Just what is that mission? Maybe Karl Rove will let us know.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Home Tour Beats Karl Rove Speech

The Washington Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization will sponsor the fourth annual Tour of Homes fundraiser on May 12. The tour showcases the unusual and varied neighborhoods in the Washington attendance zone and includes homes of differing eras and styles, and the ticket sales support educational activities at the the school. Given a choice between this fun event for a good cause or paying big bucks to hear Karl Rove tell lies at a Republican dinner in Springdale, who would miss it?

Open for viewing between noon and 5 p.m. will be seven homes, with a voyeurs' refreshment stop at French Metro Antiques at 200 W. Dickson Street. The Gift House Antiques at 525 N. Mission also invites tour goers to a spring open house.

The generous hosts and great houses on this year’s Tour of Homes are:

Mark and Katie Zweig, 59 E. Prospect St. French Country style native stone and western red cedar shingle residence designed and built in 1935 by A.L. Trent

Janie and Bill Eldridge, 409 E. Lafayette. Cottage built in 1885 extensively remodeled.

Stuart and Missi Walker, 434 W. Prospect. A 1950s brick split-level with a California-ranch style makeover, recently featured on HGTV.

John and Jennifer Lewis, 607 Park Ave. A 1926 Craftsman style bungalow of stone and brick built by Noah Fields Drake.

Elliott West and Suzanne Stoner, 830 N. Park Ave. A 1935 house that was redesigned in 1997 to include a second story and an interior courtyard enclosed on three sides

Marlon and Ati Blackwell, 857 N. Woolsey. Modern design of steel, glass, and Brazilian redwood.

Scott and Anne O'Leary-Kelly, 220 E. Lafayette. Two-story 1899 colonial, renovated in 2006

Tickets are $20 at French Metro Antiques, The Gift House on Mission, Arsaga's Espresso Cafes and from Principal Ashley Garcia at the Washington Elementary School office. Tickets may also be purchased May 12 at any of the tour homes for $25. Information: 444-3073.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Doug Norwood -- The People's Hero

Congratulations to Rogers attorney Doug Norwood, who has been awarded the Arkansas Bar Association award for defending the rights of clients in "difficult, unpopular cases." The Lawyer Community Legacy Award is presented annually to attorneys and judges who perform volunteer public services with a genuine desire to give back to the community and profession, and Norwood was nominated "for the work he has done over the years in protecting the citizens of Benton County."

Norwood, 52, is known for representing thousands of clients charged with driving while intoxicated and also has represented the Ku Klux Klan and Outlaws Motorcycle Club. He filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas' "Choose Life" license plate and against former Benton County Prosecutor Brad Butler. He also established in federal district court that citizens cannot be convicted for extending the middle finger salute to police officers in Benton County. ."These are cases many lawyers wouldn't have taken because of the adverse publicity," Norwood said.

Norwood handled many of the cases pro bono or without expectation of receiving much of a fee, according to the association. He is president-elect of the Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and was awarded the association's Champion of Justice Award in 2003.

Thanks, Doug. Keep up the good work for the constitutional rights of the citizens of Northwest Arkansas.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Benton County Beggars' Opera

The Rogers City Council will consider a ban on beggars this week. The proposal prohibits soliciting drivers in the city for money or other charitable contributions. It is such an annoying and uncomfortable thing for Rogers residents to see beggars, so this ordinance would make the poor and homeless less visible to those in a hurry to get to their gated communities.

Wendy Shumate, assistant to Mayor Steve Womack, said her office gets complaints about panhandling. Mike Johnson, public information officer for the Rogers Police Department, said the city has its "fair share" of people soliciting money on city streets, but there have been no reports of anyone hurt while panhandling. The proposed ordinance provides an exception to the begging ban for city-sponsored fund drives, mostly for good causes and conducted by clean people.

Brooke Benoit, vice president for United Way of Benton County, warned earlier this year that donations to the organization were down by $260,000 or more, meaning that the 80 agencies and programs it supports would have their funding cut by 20 percent or more. Nancy Johnson, director of senior services for the Office of Human Concern in Rogers, which administers the Meals on Wheels program from three senior centers in Benton County, said that would be 2,824 fewer meals delivered each year to lower-income elderly.

Final figures showed that United Way of Benton County fell $500,000 short of its goal, and it has since announced plans to merge with the United Way of Washington County.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Many Northwest Arkansas residents are celebrating Cinco de Mayo, which has become the largest and most publicized unofficial holiday for the growing Hispanic community in this part of the state. Here it is more or less a celebration of the cultural contributions of our immigrant community than the Battle of Puebla in 1862, in which the Mexican forces defeated Maximillian and the occupying French Army that kept him in power.

The Hispanic Women’s Organization of Arkansas is hosting a two day event, which will continue today from 1-10 p. m., at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale. It is doubtful that Rogers Mayor Steve Womack will be leading any parades or speaking at any LULAC events honoring the cultural heritage of our new neighbors. Both Womack and Joe McCutcheon hardly pass up an opportunity to disparage immigrants who have chosen to live, work, and make their homes in Northwest Arkansas, but their shrill demagoguing reminds one of the Southern politicians' race baiting before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It’s uncertain how many Mexicans live in the Natural State. The U. S. Census Bureau estimates that about 131,000 Hispanics live in Arkansas. About 100,000 are immigrants and roughly two-thirds of those hail from Mexico and other Latin American countries, according to a new study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. About 50,000 illegal aliens live in the state, according to the study. Benton County had the highest immigrant population of any county: 20, 296 or 11 percent; Washington County was second, with 18,414 immigrant residents.

It is also worth noting that immigrants contributed $19 million to the state’s economy in 2004. The study looked at the cost of immigrants to the state in terms of public education, health care and the Department of Correction, then balanced those figures with consumer spending, taxes and income. Perhaps that's one reason why First Security Bank hosted a Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Springdale yesterday afternoon.

Public officials and political candidates who hope to win favor by attacking minority groups and immigrants might get elected for a few more years, but history is against them. The changing demographics of future generations of citizens will change the political landscape of Northwest Arkansas, and, with it, the level of enlightenment and concern of those in state and local public office.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

UA Priorities: Streams or Softball?

A 13-year University of Arkansas project on Mullins Creek, a high sediment-load watershed of the White River beginning at Carlson Terrace, will not be getting any attention or UA funding anytime soon.. The Audubon Society received a $150,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to aid in the renovation of the creek. Although the plans for the grounds fall under what Chancellor John White calls his Sustainability Initiative, the UA says it lacks the $900,000 for the project.

"It's a matter of priorities," said Mike Johnson, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management. "There is always a prioritization. We are always trying to find the best way to meet the need and the need always supercedes the demand," explained Don Pederson, vice chancellor of Finance and Administration.

Other UA priorities will affect the creek before anything can be done to restore it.
Midstream of the creek the UA plans to install two 42-inch culverts from the new women's softball field. While the stream project has languished for 13 years, the UA has been planning for the softball field for two years.

The price tag for the completed softball stadium is $6 million compared with the $900 thousand it would cost to restore and protect the adjacent stream. Priorities, as they say.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Cecile Bledsoe Looks Like Next Senator

Former State Representative Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers is a good bet to replace Senator David Bisbee (R-Rogers) in the 2009 General Assembly. Bledsoe has the experience of three terms in the House, a substantial war chest of carry-over funds, and solid Republican credentials. She would become the first woman ever elected to the State Senate from Benton County, joining seven other women likely returning next term.

In Benton County, winning the GOP primary in 2008 would be, in a hackneyed phrase, tantamount to election. Bledsoe was the front-runner already, and her path was further cleared when current Rep. Keven Anderson announced that he would not run for the seat. The other name mentioned as wanting to run for the seat is State Rep. Eric Harris, but few political observers give him much of a chance against Bledsoe.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Developer Dan and the Hogs at the Trough

What a surprise! Developed Dan tells the Fayetteville City Council's Street Committee that the most pressing road improvement needs are three projects to alleviate traffic congestion caused by commercial development at the north edge of town, and he proposes to spend $9.3 million to better serve those businesses that chose to build on the city outskirts in the Springdale School District.

These are road projects to help the same business "leaders" who fought against the road impact fees to assess commercial developments and require them to pay their fair share for traffic improvements that support their sales income and profits. Now you get to pay to improve access for their customer traffic, and they enjoy the last laugh.

The citizens who voted last year to increase the city sales tax on groceries and other necessities to fund street improvements should feel like the chumps they are, and they should listen closely as the developers, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council laugh loudly at them. All the way to the bank.

Who Will Fight for the Worth of Women's Work?

Former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro spoke on women and political leadership at the Fayetteville Town Center last night as part of the University of Arkansas's Distinguished Lecture Series. It was a risky invitation, and the UA Administration must have been holding their collective breath and their fat wallets. If he even attended the event that was not connected with fund-raising or Wal-Mart, John White was probably relieved when Ferraro talked about the need for more women in public office and political leadership.

In a speech 25 years ago, Geraldine Ferraro spoke as a bold advocate of equal pay for women and the patriarchal attitudes that held down their salaries and their employment opportunities. "As a bureau chief in the DA's office," she said, "I learned that I was being paid less than men with similar responsibilities. When I asked why, I was told “you don't really need the money, Gerry, you've got a husband.”

"As women, we still have to be better than men at most of the things we do, we have to work harder and we have to prove our worth over and over and over again. It is not just those of us who have reached the top who are fighting this daily battle. It is a fight in which all of us—rich and poor, career and home-oriented, young and old—participate, simply because we are women. Sixty percent of all women between the ages of 18 and 64 are workers, with 80% of all women who work concentrated in so-called “pink collar” jobs—jobs dominated by females and dominated by low salaries.

"It is too easy to divide the world into us and them. And it is far too easy for us—secure, successful, well-off—to become them. A simple thing—an illness, a divorce, widowhood, alcoholism, economic depression—could turn any of our hard-won gains into a struggle for mere existence.

"Who will fight for the worth of women's work?

"The fight for equity in the workforce is in full swing. It is happening in the statehouses, the union offices, and the courts. More than twenty-five states and local governments have launched studies of the comparative value of the work their male and female employees do. Spurred on by public employee unions, they are beginning to question the assumption that a tree trimmer should be paid more than an intensive care nurse.

"A majority may have the luxury of being a 'silent majority.' A minority in defense of its rights must speak up.

"Our responsibilities are heavy but they are not oppressive. We have an opportunity as well as an obligation—an opportunity to help create a better society for all Americans, men and women."

So do John White and the University of Arkansas.