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Signs of the times in Alabama

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 12:07 PM PST

Offhand, I would think that the fellow who wants to volunteer to help build Trump's wall for free should simply send a letter to the White House, and not waste his time and energy on a yard sign which will be seen by a relatively small number of people.

As we drove through Alabama on vacation we had expected to see - even after the election - hordes of signs in support of Roy Moore, but we were thwarted in our attempts to find and record such on film. Down where we are vacation, however, we found a few signs which show the deep divide not only in Alabama, but in our nation, as well.

In the lawn in front of one convenience store three small signs in favor of Doug Jones, the man who defeated Roy Moore, are placed where the entire world can see them - even weeks after the election. Just a mile or so down the road, in the yard of a man who has his large Confederate flag festooned with Christmas tree lights, three large signs stand proudly together in his front yard.

One goes with a variation of an old trope:


Another sign announces:


The third and final sign proclaims:


Oh, and underneath, we have the inevitable:


The Doug Jones signs appear on a public highway, where many folks can see them.

The man who would volunteer to help build Trump's wall for free (though I'm not believing this for a second) lives on a road which is just not that well-traveled, yet he made signs which the entire neighborhood can enjoy.

Even at the height of the tourist season, when more people would be on this island, there just can't be that many people who might see and enjoy his artwork. Is he expressing a view most of his friends and neighbors are in line with?

Or is he just trying to piss them off?

Well, he gave me something to write about, at any rate, which is always a good thing in my book.

Interestingly enough, he had not even one sign in support of Roy Moore; maybe that was just a bridge too far, even for this stalwart fellow?


Today's soundtrack

Listening to Maurice Jarre's score for "Lawrence of Arabia" this morning.


Quote of the Day

I never read the life of any important person without discovering that he knew more and could do more than I could ever hope to know or to do in half a dozen lifetimes. - J.B. Priestley


Walmart shoplifting punishment program suspended

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 11:49 AM PST

An alternative punishment program for Walmart shoplifters has been suspended after backlash, reports the Wall Street Journal. (CNBC reported it too, if you get blocked by the  WSJ paywall.) The Bentonville-based retailer hired Corrective Education Co. and Turning Point Justice to administer a diversion program for those caught shoplifting in at least 2000 of the 4600 U.S. Walmart locations. The former options: face prosecution or pay to attend an online behavior course.

If you paid to be reformed, you would not face the many negative consequences of having a criminal record (all laid out, according to the Marshall Project, in a video presented to those caught shoplifting before they're given 72 hours to make a decision.)

A judge called the program: "a pseudo-justice system that is based on profit" and "textbook extortion." (Max in a blog post called it "another example of extraction of money from potential criminal defendants.")

But Walmart is not alone in this, by any means, according to CNBC.
Tens of thousands of first-time shoplifting suspects have paid for Turning Point and Corrective Education's programs, executives told the Journal. Other clients include Target, Bloomingdale's, Burlington Coat Factory and Goodwill Industries.
Here's a long story from the American Bar Association magazine about the potential problems with these programs. The lead tells the story of a quadriplegic woman, Debra Black, who accidentally stole $6 worth of goods from a Goodwill. She was pressured to pay $400 for a reform class. The article then discusses the issue of having a private company stand in as an arbiter of justice where cracks exist in the current criminal justice system.

Shoplifting is a massive problem for retailers, who lose $13 billion a year to theft. They get only limited help from the criminal justice system because shoplifting is considered a minor crime.

That's why some national retailers have turned to private companies like CEC and a competitor, Turning Point Justice, based in Draper, Utah. The companies tout their programs as a win for everyone: Offenders avoid a conviction, retailers get the crime addressed and law enforcement can focus on more serious offenses.

But some observers are skeptical. They worry that suspects could, like Black, feel pressured into signing up even if they aren't guilty. And because the programs are outside the criminal justice system, skeptics say they could ensnare innocent people without due process.

And since we're on the subject, here's some more Walmart shoplifting news, from the AP: A Myrtle Beach Walmart shoplifter was searched on Christmas Eve and found holding a Ruger 9 mm handgun, heroin, $2,500 plus in cash, dozens of pills and two human teeth.

March again! With a focus on voting: Jan. 20

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 11:36 AM PST

The women who took part in the Women's March the day after the inauguration of the worst man ever to preside over the fortunes of Americans did more than stroll in huge numbers to the state Capitol last year. They brought sexual assault into the open with the #MeToo movement, causing several men, with the notable exception of the pussy-grabber-in-chief, from their jobs. Their protests drew attention to the terrible legislation coming out of today's greed-driven Congress, such as the moves to take away children's access to health care, women's reproductive rights, and to dismantle Obamacare. Most importantly, women are running for office, to clear out politicians corrupted by money and unresponsive to their constituents.

This year's march, dubbed the March on the Polls, will be held Jan. 20 and teams up with the 8th annual Rally for Reproductive Justice. Speakers will address the democratic ideals that are facing threats: Immigrants, and DACA. Public education, particularly the Little Rock School District. Sex education. The struggle of LGBTQ Americans.

The lineup is at 11 a.m. at Capitol Avenue and Pulaski Streets. A fundraiser for Gwendolynn Combs, one of the Arkansas Women's March founders and one of two Democratic candidates for the 2nd District congressional seat held by French Hill, follows at 3 p.m. at the Studio Theater, 320 W. Seventh St. There will be a #MeToo panel discussion. Tickets are $10. Combs faces Paul Spencer in the Democratic primary.

Bending the cost curve? New data shows that health spending growth has slowed dramatically.

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 10:35 AM PST

One rather remarkable finding from a new Kaiser Family Foundation report, based on newly released National Health Expenditure data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: Health spending continues to grow, but per capita growth has slowed and is now much closer to the GDP per capita rate of growth.

Does that mean the cost curve has been bent? Too early to say, but it's worth noting that the graph above would have been unthinkable in the decade prior to Obama coming in to office. Whether or not you think Obamacare is the prime mover here, it's worth noting that this represents significantly more progress than even the most ardent backers of the law were hoping for. Those that said who said that the law would lead to an explosion in health spending growth rates were wrong. 

It's worth keeping this progress in mind when Republican lawmakers inevitably claim that we need to pay for the tax cuts they just enacted with cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

Trump administration seeks to sabotage the census

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 10:06 AM PST

This bears watching — good report from ProPublica, which obtained a Department of Justice letter arguing for an alteration to the census:
The Justice Department is pushing for a question on citizenship to be added to the 2020 census, a move that observers say could depress participation by immigrants who fear that the government could use the information against them. That, in turn, could have potentially large ripple effects for everything the once-a-decade census determines — from how congressional seats are distributed around the country to where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent.
The Trump administration claims, dubiously, that it wants the data to better enforce civil rights laws. In practice, adding a citizenship question — particularly given what the current president of the United States has had to say about undocumented people living in this country — would almost surely have a chilling effect on the response rate, badly skewing the results.

More from ProPublica:

Observers said they feared adding a citizenship question would not only lower response rates, but also make the census more expensive and throw a wrench into the system with just two years to go before the 2020 count. Questions are usually carefully field-tested, a process that can take years.

"This is a recipe for sabotaging the census," said Arturo Vargas, a member of the National Advisory Committee of the Census and the executive director of NALEO Educational Fund, a Latino advocacy group. "When you start adding last-minute questions that are not tested — how will the public understand the question? How much will it suppress response rates?"

Voters prioritize CHIP; GOP Congress not so much

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 09:08 AM PST

It has now been three months since the federal government allowed funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — which provides health coverage for 9 million lower-income children, including 400,000 kids who are covered by ARKids — to lapse.

Thus far no state has had to stop services because of emergency stopgap funding. Alabama was set to freeze enrollment because of the funding lapse, but temporary funds provided by Congress in December have bought the state three to four more weeks. Other states are preparing to notify families that their children could be in danger of losing CHIP coverage. Without a funding re-authorization, programs in most states project to run out of funds in the next month or two; ARKids would be projected to run dry in June.

It's easy for substantive issues to get lost in the shuffle as the drama queen in chief vamps across the public stage, full of sound and fury, bloviating nothing. But this December poll from Politico and Harvard caught my eye: When given a list of 15 domestic policy issues identified in the media as potential areas on which Congress could take action this year, the top priority was renewing CHIP funding:

Will Congress listen? Thus far, re-authorization of long-term funding has been at a standstill because Republicans insist the nation can't afford to fund CHIP unless other social services are cut — at the same time that they devoted all of their energies last month to ramming through a tax cut that will add at least a trillion dollars to the national debt. It's a scandal. Most observers are expecting that action will finally be taken this month, but that's what they said last month. Perhaps worth noting that Doug Jones, the newly elected senator from Alabama, made re-authorizing CHIP a signature campaign issue. Any Democrat running for office should be raising hell on this issue. Health insurance for millions of children hangs in the balance.

Paul Spencer raises $135,000 in fourth quarter

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 07:53 AM PST

Paul Spencer
, one of two declared Democratic candidates for the state's Second Congressional District, announced his fourth quarter fundraising totals today. He has raised more than $135,000 from more than 2,000 individual contributors. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. French Hill, and is likely Democrats' best shot to nab a congressional seat in Arkansas in 2018.

Spencer, a teacher who also grows pecans and raises bees near his home in Scott, has been a dogged campaigner for ethics reforms in the state. He is making "Medicare For All" a key campaign plank, as I expect many Democratic candidates across the country to do.

In a press release, the campaign stated:

This brings the campaign's total contributions to over $150,000 in its first six months without the aid of any special interest or PAC. In addition to its over $125,000 cash-on-hand, the campaign also has over 200 volunteers signed up for its second phase mobilization efforts in all seven counties of the Second District. 
My guess is that a significant number of Democratic donors in Pulaski County are waiting to hear whether state Rep. Clarke Tucker is going to enter the race, as has been rumored.

More from the Spencer campaign press release after the jump:

Candidate Spencer provided the following statement:

"Our people-powered campaign and its successful fundraising thus far prove that overturning Citizens United, debt-free higher education, and Medicare For All are no longer far-fetched policy goals. Our message of rejecting corporate interests and giving a voice to all working families is clearly the path forward for Democrats if they want to re-establish a political foothold in the South.

"People across the Second District and the entire nation know that the stakes are too high to sit back and accept the scraps that the political establishment has seen fit to give to the American people. Now is the time for Arkansans to demand their rightful seat at the table."

Less than 1% of the over 2,000 contributors have donated the maximum amount allowed by the FEC, and the average contribution is below $60. Comprised of many working-class people and first-time political contributors from both Arkansas's Second District and over 30 other states, this donor network is standing up for a new message of economic and political justice, and they are ready to repeat and amplify the success of this fundraising quarter again and again.

Instead of being funneled to cynical and stale political consultants, every dollar raised this quarter, and every dollar raised throughout this campaign, will go directly into expanding an already established seven-county infrastructure. With its final quarter fundraising totals, the campaign has demonstrated that it has what it takes to expand its message to the electorate in communities often forgotten or taken for granted. This includes increasing outreach to rural communities, struggling neighborhoods, and small towns that Democrats had previously assumed to be forever lost to the GOP.

If we want to defeat the dystopian agenda of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell which is embodied by Representative French Hill, we must work together and find our collective voice. 

South Carolina lawmakers want to build monument to non-existent black Confederate soldiers

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 07:18 AM PST

The Lost Causers are nothing if not committed to their myths. Two South Carolina state representatives want to build a monument to honor black Confederate soldiers, the AP reports. Though some unarmed slaves were forced to work for Confederate units, there is no evidence of black soldiers seeing combat for the Confederacy. Pension records in South Carolina show that no black soldiers were recognized for armed service during the Civil War.

This hasn't stopped South Carolina Republican Reps. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns, who say their bill is about "education." What does motivate all this motivated reasoning?

A counter-proposal from a black Democrat and a white Republican would create a monument to honor a black South Carolinian who actually existed: Robert Smalls, who hijacked a Confederate ship in 1862, liberating his family and becoming a Union hero.

The black Confederate myth is canon in Lost Cause propaganda. Let's hope Arkansas legislators don't get any ideas.

The Jan Morgan experience

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 06:29 AM PST

The national media has begun to take note of Jan Morgan's entrance into the governor's race. I'd expect more attention — though Morgan probably has little to no chance to unseat Governor Hutchinson, the sheer spectacle is likely to prove irresistible.

Meet the Press host Chuck Todd tut-tuts, but of course it's the outrageousness of Morgan that caught Todd's attention and prompted him to dole out a little free publicity for Morgan to his 2 million followers on social media. Would the host of Meet the Press be gripped by a minor longshot primary challenge in Arkansas otherwise? The American experiment might hope for better, but most of us like to watch cartoons from time to time.

The news needs a funnies section, which is all this is. Unless she wins.

Morgan has a website up. The "Meet Jan" section has significantly more oomph than the "Policy Platform" section. It's enough to make you wonder whether Morgan is actually running to be a celebrity. A few more scolds from Chuck Todd and surely she could get a deal for a reality television show. It is 2018 and the future has arrived: Everyone is aggrieved for 15 minutes.

Happy holidays.

Supreme Court could open door to collection of sales tax on ALL sales

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 05:18 AM PST

A law professor writes an op-ed in the New York Times today on a coming U.S. Supreme Court case with huge importance in both Arkansas and the rest of the country.

The court will decide whether the explosion of the Internet — and its devastation of local retailing — along with easier mechanics should reverse a precedent that said retailers weren't required to collect sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence.

In theory, purchasers are supposed to collect the "use" tax on such sales and remit them to state government, but virtually no one does.  The loss of revenue on Internet sales has particularly hurt local government, which is suffering a double whammy from decline in local retailers thanks to the Amazons of the world. (Amazon has grown so large it has begun voluntarily collecting and remitting sales taxes on its own sales in Arkansas and other similar states — but not those of merchants who share its website — though it has no physical presence in the state.)

A Supreme Court change would be a boon to cities, particularly those such as Little Rock limping along with stagnant revenue collections. A sudden infusion of money for the state (and the Amazon collections that started this year haven't shown an enormous impact) would be a different political matter. Pressure would be strong in the controlling Republican Party to use the sales tax revenue to pave the way for another state income tax cut.

I'm with the writer who says the Supreme Court should revisit the issue. The premise enjoys broad support, even among some Republicans, such as Rep. Steve Womack. He is carrying legislation to correct the imbalance in part because Walmart, headquartered in his district, has brick-and-mortar operations in all 50 states and is at a competitive disadvantage on-line against pure Internet retailers.

Writes David Herzig in the Times:

There are compelling reasons to overturn Quill [the currently controlling precedent]. Most important, according to market analysis, state and local governments will lose about $34 billion in revenue in 2018 because of the physical presence requirement, a number that will rise to nearly $52 billion by 2022. In 1992, in e-commerce's infancy, the loss was $700 million to $3 billion.

For their part, retailers say that out-of-state retailers should not be deputized as an agent of the state. That job, they say, is for the state to do, through the enforcement of the use tax. This is essentially the same argument made in Quill.

But Quill arguments are less compelling now than in 1992. For example, the administrative and record-keeping burden didn't disappear under the physical-presence rule — it was merely shifted to consumers, who are left to comply with tax obligations on their own. And improvements in technology mean that collecting sales tax for different states isn't nearly the burden for retailers that it would have been in 1992.

The Quill decision has now not only hurt states but also distorted behavior of big retailers: It discourages them from establishing a brick-and-mortar location (and creating jobs) in a new state and being liable for collecting its sales tax. Online retailers also enjoy state services — like roads that allow their products to be delivered efficiently to customers — without contributing to their upkeep.

The pigskin open line

Posted: 01 Jan 2018 03:00 PM PST

The open line includes an update on the early morning shooting on Dickson Street.

From 40/29:

Officers found Trenton Coney with a gunshot wound to the chest. He was transported to Washington Regional Medical Center where he died from his injuries.

Police say detectives learned Christopher Rankin, 25, of Sherwood was walking a female to her vehicle, when Coney, who was a friend of the victim approached. They say "the victim (Coney) checked on her which reportedly upset Rankin."

That's when they say Rankin removed a handgun from his jacket pocket and pointed it at the victim. They say they exchanged words, Rankin put the gun back in his pocket, and the two began to fight. They say Coney fell to the ground, and Rankin stood over him, and fired one shot, striking Coney in the chest.

ALSO: KARK reports a double homicide is under investigation in White County. A man and a woman are dead. A man is a suspect. It happened near, yes, Romance.

UPDATE: Reports say the suspect was fatally shot when he came out with a gun when surrounded by deputies.

ALSO: If it makes you feel any better, the cold this morning WAS a record at the North Little Rock weather station. 9 squeaked under the 10 low in 1977. When the weather station was in Little Rock, it dipped to 5 on New Year's Day in 1928. The 24-degree high hear today was the second coldest high on record, against 18 in 1928.

Otherwise, nothing but football. SEC stands at 2-6 going into games featuring Georgia and Alabama.