Thursday, December 31, 2009

Benign Neglect 2009

The Little Rock media, both social and unsocial, have taken stock of the state of our state for 2009. Northwest Arkansas got off easy, probably because the metropolitan Punditry of Pulaski find us easy to ignore in their view of the world, but we can be thankful whatever the reason.

Longtime political observer and cultural critic Bob Lancaster's 2009 Best and Worst of Arkansas in the current issue of the Arkansas Times let's us off easy, at least as easy as one can when mentioning Chickendale. "Business Week magazine said in November that Springdale was the best town in Arkansas for raising children. Maybe so. At least Springdale police don't taser 10-year-old girls." The rest of us up here? We are not worthy.

Blake Rutherford's Think Tank offered an assessment of the Best and Worst of 2009 Politics and Blogging. In the only nod to our little corner of the state, he did give the Most Notorious Arkansas Political Figure award to Benton County's State Senator Kim Hendren. Hendren's national media attention from his unapologetic characterization of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer as "that Jew" would be hard to top.

Never fear, my friends. We will get much more attention in the Worst rankings of the 2010 retrospectives. It is an election year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Evnironmental Scorecard

A group called Environment America, a federation of of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations, has issued its roll call analysis of U.S. Senate and House voting records on environmental issues. They think that the voters give a damn how elected officials vote, so this is part of its campaign "to pass legislation in Congress to repower our economy with clean energy and cut global warming pollution."

Our delegation got three As, two Bs, and one F. On 15 key environmental votes, detailed in the report, Environment America found that 184 of the 535 national legislators voted pro-environment 100% of the time. Three from Arkansas had perfect records: Congressman Snyder, Senator Lincoln, and Senator Pryor. Two others, Congressman Ross and Congressman Berry, scored 87%, voting right on 14 of 15 issues.

Then there was the Congressman from the Green Valley of Northwest Arkansas, John Boozman, who voted wrong on 11 of 15 roll calls. All those eco-freaks in the Sierra Club did not scare our guy, who is not the least bit ashamed that he voted against the environment. He is proud to have the worst record and is only embarrassed because his score of 27% was too high for his corporate contributors.

If you are one of those inconsequential environmentalists, you can waste some more of your time and wallow in your political impotence by reading the full report.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jim Holt Ready to Rumble

Fans and followers of Jim Holt are throwing a fund-raising party in Fort Smith next week. It is your chance to get in on the ground floor of the 2010 Jim Holt for U.S. Senate campaign by writing a fat check. If enough people believe in him and make a love offering, then the race is on. His handlers point out that Holt got 44% against Lincoln six years ago, before she managed to upset so many voters on the left and right.

If hard times have made tightwads of the faithful, then Jim will be looking to take back his old State Senate seat now held by Bill Pritchard of Elkins. There are more Republican primary votes in Springdale than in the rest of the district.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Blogger on the Block

I have whined for years that Benton County was a target-rich environment that deserved its own blogs for commentary on the politics of that province. Fortunately, Rogers now has a very good one in Roger's Arkansas. It combines wit, insight, good writing in complete sentences, and it does not appear to be on retainer by either the Chamber or Wal-Mart.

Now, if only Siloam Springs got the blogging it deserved.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday's Gone

I read on the Fayetteville Flyer that T.G.I.Friday closed last week, and there is a vigorous and somewhat interesting discussion among readers in the comments section. Whatever your opinion of the restaurant, it sucks that about a hundred minimum wage and sub-minimum wage workers found themselves unemployed just before Christmas. Let us hope that they were paid the wages due, unlike what often happens to employees when some place like Osegueras closes and employees get stiffed for back wages.

I didn't ever eat at T.G.I.Friday during its four year life in Fayetteville, and I am not sure exactly where it was. I think it was somewhere over the rainbow, out in that field behind Kohl's, in that maze of restaurants that come and go. It must be close to the former Fuddruckers that closed up shop two years ago, when the manager said there were too many restaurants out there. Bill Ramsey said the business failed because the Fayetteville sign ordinance kept our city from looking more like Springdale, so T.G.I.Friday might have survived with a bigger sign that you could see all the way from the Wilson Spring Audubon Nature Center.

I don't know.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Blanche Declares War on Christmas

Fox News told us about The War on Christmas, but we didn't think Senator Blanche Lincoln would be a willing conscript. It is like something fron The X-mas Files. Today she used her official United States Senate email account to wish everyone Happy Holidays. "As you gather together to celebrate with your family this holiday, I encourage you to embrace the spirit of the season," she wrote cautiously, closing with the generic wish "from my family to yours, have a joyous holiday and a very happy New Year."

She hedged with a conifer and a carol in her video message, but she couldn't bring herself to say the "C-word." Is this some nefarious message, designed by a K Street Consultant, to make a play for the Arkansas swing voters among Jews, Muslims, Vegans, and Freethinkers? Is it her usual waffle on this issue as all others? Why bother abusing the taxpayer funded email system with such a dull message?

Wait until Jim Holt gets ahold of this. Her gutting health care reform and telling people to go volunteer at charity clinics during "the season" will get a pass, but not this heresy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Does Dr. NO Have a Jobs Plan?

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Jobs for Main Street Act (H.R. 2847), which appropriates $154 billion to create and save jobs. No new revenue or deficit spending required, because it’s totally paid for with leftover bank bailout funds. It actually cuts taxes for 16 million families through the Child Tax Credit.

The legislation provides funding for highway and local mass transit projects, construction and repairing schools and low-income housing, and jobs for teachers, police and firefighters. It provides job training programs and extends recovery act initiatives to help small businesses create jobs. There are also provisions for lifeline unemployment and health care and food aid to those who have lost their jobs during this recession.

The vote was 217-212. Congressman John Boozman voted against it. We are still waiting for Nero's plan to rescue the economy and put people back to work.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Boozman Bows to the Big Banks

Congressman John Boozman (R-Stephens, Inc.) has sold us out again. Yesterday he voted against HR 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, which would place controls on the irresponsibe Wall Street financial giants that gambled on risky loans and complex financial products, seeking short-term profits and big bonuses with little regard for long-term economic consequences, and would bring new transparency and accountability to the nation's financial markets.

The legislations would also consolidate existing regulatory efforts into a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, with the authority to put an end to misleading and dishonest practices of banks and institutions that market financial products like credit and debit cards; mortgage, auto and payday loans. Boozman didn't like that either, because the special interest lobbyists told him it would stifle the banking industry. He seems to think his constituents prefer to be victimized by mysterious fees, changing terms, pages and pages of fine print, and risky schemes that threaten our entire economy.

Boozman swallowed the phony arguments of the Wall Street bankers and voted to kill financial reform, choosing to leave American consumers and our economy vulnerable to another meltdown. Fortunately, his vote was unimportant and wasn't needed for passage of the bill.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Calling Out the Con-Sultans

Brian Kisida of the Mid-Riffs blog has a good shot and clean kill on the waste of money on high-dollar, no-bid consulting contracts to out-of-state consultants. His immediate target was the Fayetteville School District for a $36,000 focus group experience much like an earlier one done for the Rogers School District. The strength of the piece is that it goes beyond the blog's usual carping about all things related to public education to get at the bigger picture of waste.

One wonders what those of us here in Northwest Arkansas have done to deserve so much attention from charlatans lately. …The latest sum of money the community will be parting with–$36,000 to be exact–is going to pay Phi Delta Kappa for conducting a curriculum audit of the Fayetteville School District. Like Eva Klein & Associates did for Fayetteville (for $150,000), Phi Delta Kappa came into town for a few days and held focus groups with community members to hear their ideas. ...

I don’t know exactly why organizations pay money to outside consultants, like when the city paid Eva Klein & Associates to tell us that the University was one of our strengths, and that the perception that Fayetteville was anti-business was one of our weaknesses. Don’t we already elect and pay people to think about these things and have a vision for what we need to do? So why are they sub-contracting out their duties?
Good questions, we think, but maybe that's because we've been saying the same thing for years. The Eva Klein deal was just the worst of the lot, but everyone knew that from the start. It frittered away more than four times the amount of the school district's contract, and the local media treated that publicly-financed campaign stunt like it was something legit.

Quick, without peeking, can you name one single thing that the City got from Eva Klein that we didn't already know? Didn't think so. But, maybe the City learned one thing from that slick squandering, since the new administration seems to have sharply curtailed such foolishness.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reefer Madness

I have spent the last few days defending the Fayetteville Police Department's judgment, and then they go and do something like this. Big picture in the Northwest Arkansas Times today with Captain Kenny Yates showing off the take in a marijuana bust in Fayetteville, as if that has anything to do with protecting the public from serious crime or injury. More people have died this year from careless drivers at crosswalks in our city than from selling or smoking weed, yet who gets sent to jail?.

Fayetteville Police and the 4th Judicial District Drug Task Force seem to go for the easy picking of dope smokers while the real dangers of methamphetamine manufacturing appear to go virtually ignored and unchecked. These boys who like their toys. Helicopters, Tasers, and night goggles come to mind as what happens when agencies get too much funding and have too much time on their hands. It is like an addiction.

It is also a huge waste of tax dollars. As I have noted before, the City is set to spend $475, 562 for a Drug Enforcement Program that is expected to produce only $12,000 in fines and forfeitures. That's no way to run a city. Greenland and Johnson make far more than that on their speed trap operations. Admittedly, some of this huge inefficient budget comes from a federal grant, but we are still dumping in $233,000 in city general revenues for a failed War on Drugs started under a previous mayor. Let's take a pass on the federal funds and save our money.

Let's also get a grip on what crimes should be priorities for enforcement in a time of limited financial resources. Our constabulary should be allowed to focus on serious offenses instead of being diverted by suits taking federal money for frills.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Boozman for the Billionaires

Congressman John Boozman (R-Stepinfetch) today tried to give a big Christmas present to the billionaire Walton heirs. He was the only member of the Arkansas delegation voting to kill the estate tax on billionaires, which passed anyway today by 225-200.

HR 4154, the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Businesses Act of 2009, would exempt estates up to $3.5 million per individual and $7 million for married couples. That would exempt you and me, but it wasn't good enough for John Boozman. The four Waltons have inherited wealth of over $17 billion each, and he has consistently voted for all legislation to reduce their share of federal taxes.

Squabble in Siloam

I know it is too easy, but Siloam Springs keeps dishing up those softballs that beg for batting, and it has been more than a year since Fayetteville city council meetings have been so...colorful. Last night the Board of Directors got into a fuss over the budget, and Director Mark Long tried to make a motion while Mayor David Allen was still speaking in support of funding the Main Street Program. Then, called down by the City Attorney, Long made a motion to adjourn, which died for lack of a second. Director Long then stormed out of the meeting. He doesn't play well with others.

After the dust up, the Directors approved a budget with funding for a few select non-profit groups they believed most worthy, including $8,000 to the Lion's Club for "flag replacement." Found less deserving and getting no funds from the City were the Main Street Program, the Adult Development Center, Sager Creek Arts Center, and St. Francis Clinic of Siloam Springs.

That is a fair reflection of community values in Siloam Springs, a Taliban staging area for nocturnal incursions into West Siloam Springs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wasteland of Tax Dollars

The scam to get the City of Fayetteville to create a Tax Increment Finance District should not be soon forgotten, and the 2010 City Budget provides a reminder of the fleecing the taxpayers are still taking. We were told that spending $3.7 million in TIF bond funds to acquire property and demolish the Mountain Inn then selling the land to developers for a song was a great idea. They promised to build a big $24 million hotel and parking deck, and, despite pleas for caution from local citizens, former city officials pushed it on the longshot dream that increased property taxes would pay off the bonds.

It didn't work out that way. The City did its part, taking on millions in debt and handing over the deed to the developers. Because the contract signed by the City didn't require the developers to actually build anything, we now have an eyesore pay parking lot instead of a luxury hotel. The revenue from the parking fees goes to the developers, because they own the land. All of that new property tax revenue that we were told would be generated to pay off the bonds? That didn't happen either.

Part of the budget difficulties faced by the City today is a direct result of this financial folly. For 2009, the expenses of the TIF bond service exceed income by more than $5,700. For next year, the city's taxpayers are looking eating another loss on the projected deficit of $5,780 in the TIF Bond Fund (2010 Proposed Budget, p. 72).

The bitter irony that compounds the injury is that the vacant Mountain Inn generated $5,600 per year in tax revenue, and John Nock gets published as a deadbeat because he didn't pay his personal or real property taxes. And it is not just the money. Drive the newly completed College Avenue from Maple to Rock, and see the only section that has no trees, sidewalks, or decorative street lights.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cop Killer

Former Governor Mike Huckabee today said the focus should not be on him and lashed out at those who have criticized him for for commuting the 108-year sentence of Maurice Clemmons, the now-deceased suspect in the murders of four Washington police officers last weekend. He did not say who should be blamed for making him commute the sentence in 2000 and set Clemmons free to kill. It wasn't the Prosecuting Attorney, who opposed it.

It was another colossal mistake in judgment by Huckabee, just like the 1997 release of Wayne Dumond, who went on to again rape and murder. During the 2008 campaign, Huckabee tried to downplay his role in turning Dumond loose, blaming it on his hand picked parole board and former Governor Jim Guy Tucker.

This time, Huckabee is telling us it was a failure of the criminal justice system. Yes, Clemmons would still be in prison if Governor Huckabee hadn't failed to use good judgment by letting him out. The guy never could take responsibility for his actions and own up to his mistakes.

Meanwhile, the Huckster is traveling across the south selling and signing his latest book. It is already on the New York Times best seller list.