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Squirrels caused Little Rock power outage

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 12:54 PM PST

Last night's power outages were caused by "squirrels nesting in and damaging underground equipment," according to Entergy Arkansas.

The cause of the outages — which occurred in both downtown and West Little Rock, noticeably leaving some office buildings a darkened black — had not been revealed until this afternoon. Entergy says it'll be fixing the problems "over the next several days."

One of the more prominent victims was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's website, which remains is now back up after being down from the outage into the afternoon. Instead of today's news — or being asked to pay $2.95 to look up an older article — you'd get the following message.

It was like that since at least this morning. The D-G was posting the full text of stories on Facebook.

The power outage almost sunk the whole print issue for today too (staffers worked in the dark to get it out).

If Max, your usual blog stalwart, was in town perhaps he'd use this as an opportunity to spin a tale about his life in news in Arkansas. He'd remember working in the dark, right up against a deadline, with sweat dripping from his brow and smoke from cigarettes filling the newsroom as typewriters chattered away. Or something about how he hates squirrels.

But you've got me today. Pardon the disruption in service, loyal readers.

Arkansas Plant Board meeting to discuss changes to dicamba ban

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 12:21 PM PST

The Arkansas State Plant Board is holding a special meeting at this hour to discuss changes to their proposed ban on the controversial herbicide dicamba in the coming growing season.

The herbicide has been blamed for widespread crop damage in East Arkansas since seed producers Monsanto and BASF released genetically-modified versions of their soybean and cotton seeds that produce dicamba-resistant plants, allowing farmers to use the herbicide against pigweed and other stubborn weed problems in their cotton and soybeans. Critics of the herbicide say that even newly formulated versions of dicamba, supposedly less volatile, can evaporate and lift from applications in the night and drift onto neighboring farms.

The dicamba issue has divided the farming community in East Arkansas, and led to at least one death. In August 2017, Arkansas Times published a cover story on the murder of Mississippi County farmer Mike Wallace, who was shot to death in October 2016 after confronting a neighbor over dicamba damage to his crops. Allan Curtis Jones, of Arbyrd, MO, was convicted in December of second degree murder in Wallace's death, and was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

On November 8, the Plant Board voted to ban the use of the herbicide during the growing season from April 16 through Oct. 31, with exceptions for applications in pastures, ranches, forestry and others. But the Arkansas Legislative Council's Administrative Rules and Regulations subcommittee voted December 12 to put the regulation changes on hold, asking the plant board to consider more evidence and the possibility of different zones in the Delta where dicamba could be used differently and at different times of the year.

Talk Business and Politics has more details on the meeting and the way it might reshape the ban. 

UA trustees approve selection of Cam Patterson for UAMS

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 10:59 AM PST

The UA Board of Trustees approved in a teleconference this morning President Donald Bobbitt's nomination of Dr. Cam Patterson as the next chancellor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Patterson is COO of Weill-Cornell Medical Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital. He'll start work here June 1. His total pay will be $1.2 million, which includes deferred compensation. Trustees commented at the brief meeting that Patterson's business experience would serve financially-troubled UAMS well. Trustees have told UAMS that they expect it to propose a balanced budget for the 2019 fiscal year. UAMS' is running a deficit of $72 million and it's expected that turning that around is going to cost jobs and programs.

Prior to his appointment as COO, Patterson was in 2015 awarded the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American College of Cardiology for his research in molecular cardiology.

Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., will continue in the job until Patterson arrives.

Governor taps Robert Ator II as new AEDC Director of Military Affairs

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 10:17 AM PST

Retired Col. Robert Ator II has been named Director of Military Affairs for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), Governor Hutchinson announced today.

The position was first created by Hutchinson as part of an initiative, begun in 2015, to expand the military's economic footprint in Arkansas.

From the AEDC's press release:

"Robert is the ideal person to carry on the mission of the state's Military Affairs Committee," said Governor Hutchinson. "He has dedicated his life to serving his country and his adopted state, and his numerous accomplishments in the U.S. Air Force and the Arkansas Air National Guard will be an asset as our state works to strengthen ties with our congressional delegation and national military leaders."

Col. Ator recently retired from military service after serving as commander of the 189th Airlift Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, the largest Air National Guard C-130 Wing in the U.S. As commander, Col. Ator was responsible for leading the wing's 14 subordinate units with more than 1,000 members, assets valued in excess of $2 billion, and an annual operating budget of $70 million. He and his family have lived in Little Rock since 1990.

"Under the leadership of the Governor, Mike Preston and the entire AEDC team, the state has seen strong growth in our economic prospects," said Col. Ator. "I am very pleased to join the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and excited to continue that work as the Director of Military Affairs. The U.S. military is an important economic driver in Arkansas – currently providing 64,000 direct and indirect jobs and a local economic impact of more than $4.5 billion a year. After a career of military service, I look forward to continued work with our men and women in uniform, while also helping to further develop a strong local economy that will benefit all Arkansans."

Clinton School speaker will focus on farm bill's impact on food stamps in Arkansas

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 09:21 AM PST

Ellen Vollinger
, legal director for the Food Research and Action Center, will discuss the upcoming Farm Bill legislation and its impact on nutrition programs for lower-income adults and children in Arkansas at an event tomorrow at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Vollinger is an advocate and expert on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and child nutrition programs.

The event, hosted in partnership with Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, will take place in the Clinton School's Sturgis Hall at 6 p.m. tomorrow, January 4. It is free and open to the public. Reserve seats by emailing or by calling (501) 683-5239.

Deadline extended for 2018 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 09:18 AM PST

The Arkansas Times has extended the deadline for submissions for the 2018 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase to January 15. Original material in any musical style is welcome.

Finalists will be asked to perform in one of four semifinal rounds, to take place at Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken Shack each Thursday night in February. Winners from each round will compete for a robust prize package in the final round at Revolution Taco & Tequila Lounge on Friday, March 9.

Send streaming links (Bandcamp, Youtube, Soundcloud, Facebook, etc.) of your band performing to and include band name, hometown, date the band was formed, age range of members (all ages are welcome) and a contact person's name, email address and phone number.

Steve Bannon: Trump campaign's meeting with Russians was "treasonous" and "unpatriotic" (Update: Trump says Bannon has "lost his mind")

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 08:51 AM PST

The Guardian has the scoop on a new Michael Wolff book in which Steve Bannon calls the Trump Tower meeting between key Trump associates and staffers and a group of Russians "treasonous" and "unpatriotic": 

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV." ...

[Bannon] is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump's son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would "incriminate" rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: "I love it."

The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: "The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers.

"Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."
More colorful commentary from Bannon:

"You realise where this is going," he is quoted as saying. "This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It's as plain as a hair on your face."

Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: "It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They're going to go right through that. They're going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me."
For your mental health, I would advise not trying to follow the beat by beat too closely and wait until we see what Mueller actually produces. This cast of characters is so full of goons, liars, and fools that it's hard to see through the fog of bluster and blunder. Bannon is, shall we say, not a clarifying presence. There is ample evidence of widespread corruption in the Trump orbit. His supporters don't care and here we are.

Meanwhile, here's an entertaining chapter from Wolff's book — excerpted by New York magazine — on the chaos that, according to Wolff's account, ensued when Trump and his team, who expected to lose, actually won. Basically everyone around Trump views him as an utter buffoon; they muddle through. Juicy tidbits abound.

Update: The White House responds: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Wolff's book is "trashy tabloid fiction." Trump says Bannon has "lost his mind" and "has nothing to do with me or my presidency."

Spa's got a SQZBX: Roorda/Smith pizzeria opens

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 08:22 AM PST

If you were in SQZBX Brewery and Pizza Joint in Hot Springs last Wednesday, you might have gotten to hear music by "Larry the flugelhorn player." That is something you might expect at a restaurant started by Cheryl Roorda and Zachary Smith of the polka duo The Itinerant Locals, and judging by Facebook reviews, you can expect good pizza and homebrewed beer, too.

SQZBX (as in squeezebox, which Roorda plays) quietly opened Dec. 18 and has had a nice turnout, Roorda said. Smith learned the pizza trade in North Carolina and from a friend in Louisiana, and the couple makes all the bread they serve. The menu includes appetizers (including bread knots and an antipasto plate), salads, submarine sandwiches and New York-style pizzas (with myriad toppings, including capicola, kalamata olives and arugula).

On tap are American Pale Ale "Mile Marker No. 1," Light Ale "Southern Lights" and Abbey Ale "Winter Market." Roorda said the restaurant hopes to add a fourth brew this week.  There will be six eventually.

The restaurant, which is next door to KUHS-FM, 97.9, the low-power radio station Roorda and Smith helped found, is in a building the couple bought and rehabbed at 236 Ouachita Ave. Accordions line the walls, the ceiling is tin and the eatery seats 91 in booths and at tables. Plans are to landscape the backyard in summer for pizza al fresco. Quiet jazz bands will play on the raised stage; there's a piano, too.

Besides their craft beer, the Roorda-Smiths serve a cider on tap and in the bottle. They will have gluten-free pizza soon, when the flour comes in. Diana Bratton of Taco Mama in Hot Springs is providing the dessert — cheesecake — at the moment.

SQZBX made the local news recently when 10 workers from the shuttered Dixie Cafe in Hot Springs found work at the pizza parlor. "How lucky for everyone," Roorda said at the mention of the workers' good fortune. "We have a crew of people ready to work and it's great."
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Metroplan releases economic review, points to challenges for retailers with emergence of e-commerce

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 07:52 AM PST

, the regional planning agency based in Little Rock, has released its 2017 Economic Review and Outlook, the latest edition of its biannual "Metrotrends" newsletter, with a focus on the "changing face of retail."

"With slow job growth and low unemployment, the Little Rock region's economy is stable but lacks dynamism for the moment," the publication finds. 

The report issues a warning about the potential for empty storefronts with the emergence of e-commerce:

The Little Rock region is traditionally a retailing center. For decades, Little Rock and North Little Rock were known for their malls and sophisticated shops. Later the big-box stores arrived. Shoppers from many parts of the state converged on the region, especially during the holidays. The area has consistently shown a higher-than-average concentration of business activity in retailing.

When population began migrating outward from the central cities, retailing gradually followed. The first suburban growth was in Sherwood and Jacksonville, and later Maumelle. From the late 1980s onward, migration to outlying counties increased. Saline, Faulkner and Lonoke Counties boomed as bedroom communities. Retailing followed, first with grocery stores and restaurants, and later major centers opened, too. With populations well over 100,000, Faulkner and Saline Counties now host national name-brand big-box chains, and many small retail options. In recent years almost all the net growth in retail sales has been in these counties. Pulaski County retail sales have been essentially flat, actually declining after inflation adjustment.

Local employment in retailing has continued climbing, and accounts for over 11 percent of all jobs. National retail employment, by comparison, has almost stopped growing, and its job share has declined from over 11 percent in 2012 to 10.8 percent in 2017. This may suggest the e-commerce  revolution—and its impact on jobs—has been tardy hitting Central Arkansas retail markets. National trends are worrisome, with e-commerce growth putting up to 1.5 million jobs at risk over the next five years. In the past three years major new retail centers have opened in Conway, southwestern Little Rock and (most recently) in Benton. Given national trends and local statistics, local retailing may be over-built, and a down-shift could be imminent. 
Here's more:
Like many regions, Central Arkansas faces potentially disruptive changes to its sizeable retail trade sector. Distinctive high-quality retailers will thrive, but large portions of the retail industry as we know it are threatened. Many acres of commercial land now devoted to shopping may need to be re-purposed within just a few years. There will be a growing risk of vacancy, and the urban decay which often follows. Where local codes are sufficiently flexible, however, there will be redevelopment opportunities on former retail sites, possibly involving multi-family housing and lower-intensity retail within mixed-use formats.
E-commerce presents opportunities as well, Metroplan argues, for business that can adapt and take advantage of the potential for growth through online sales and partners. Three such local retailers — Splashwear Aquatics, CocoaBelle Chocolates, and McClain & Co. — are spotlighted in the publication. The growth of e-commerce could also represent opportunities for the cyber-security industry, according to Metroplan, where "the region holds a niche in a vital field" and "has a demonstrated competitive edge. ... There will be similar spinoffs and opportunities in the data and business service sectors, which are traditional Central Arkansas strengths."

From Metroplan's press release, some other highlights:

• Retail accounts for the majority of commercial land use - 57 percent in Pulaski County.

• The Little Rock metro area remains in a pattern of slow economic and population growth, with low unemployment.

• Demand is strong for highly-skilled workers, and for unskilled workers willing to accept low wages, but there is a lack of jobs in the middle range of pay and skill.

• Areas of local strength have included education, health and social services, and trade.

• In early 2017, the total number of new units starting construction in the Little Rock region jumped to its highest level in seven years, especially multi-family construction.

• The average value of a new home continued increasing with a median of $190,099 in 2016, the highest yet recorded. The size of newly-built units also climbed in 2016 to a median of 2,775 square feet.

Fatal police shooting of Ozark man after domestic disturbance call

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 07:09 AM PST

Ozark Police fatally shot Ronald Elliot, 49, last night, after responding to a domestic disturbance call.

According to a press release from the Arkansas State Police, the incident took place after an officer was dispatched to a home on the 1000 block of West School Street in Ozark, in Franklin County, at 10:19 last night. Police stated that witnesses reported that Elliot was locked in his bedroom, armed with a gun:

Prior to an Ozark police officer arriving at the home, a woman had entered the bedroom in an attempt to disarm Elliot.

When the local police officer entered the bedroom, witnesses heard the officer instruct Elliot to put down the gun, followed by the sound of a gunshot.
Elliot was taken to a hospital in Ozark where he died, and his body is now at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, which will confirm the cause of death.

Ozark Police Chief Devin Bramlett has asked the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division to investigate the shooting; this investigative file will be provided to the Franklin County prosecuting attorney to determine whether the officer's use of deadly force was consistent with the law.

Fayetteville commits to 100 percent clean, renewable energy

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 06:26 AM PST

The city of Fayetteville yesterday became the fifty-fourth city in the nation — and the first in Arkansas — to commit to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. The City Council voted to adopt the city's Energy Action Plan, which aims to move all government operations to clean energy by 2030 and achieve 100 percent community-wide clean energy by 2050.

In a press release, Glen Hooks, Director of the Arkansas Sierra Club, applauded the measure, calling it a "tremendous step forward":

Mayor Lioneld Jordan, the City Council, and the superb public servants in the city's Sustainability Department are to be commended for their vision and commitment to improving the quality of life for Fayetteville residents. We are proud to recognize Fayetteville as the first Arkansas city to commit to a 100% renewable energy future—the first of what we believe will be many."

From the same press release, here's Mayor Lioneld Jordan's take:

Fayetteville has shown leadership in climate change adaptation and mitigation in a variety of ways. We've installed electric vehicle charging stations around the City, signed onto the Sierra Club's 'Mayors for 100% Clean Energy' pledge, promoted energy efficiency programs for homes and businesses, and much more. The Energy Action Plan is another bold step in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of life for all Fayetteville citizens, present and future.
The presentation of the Energy Action Plan to the City Council can be viewed here. The full draft plan for the city can be read here. Here's the overview:

The Energy Action Plan is structured around one overarching goal: reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) for activities occurring in Fayetteville. While GHG reduction is the guiding goal, a host of co-benefits accompany ghg-reducing actions. This plan outlines ways that the City can increase energy efficiency, transition to cleaner fuel sources, improve public health outcomes, build more resilient local businesses, and more.

The plan outlines strategies, goals, and actions in transportation, energy supply, buildings, waste, and cross-sector activities. The draft plan includes the following goals:

* Reduce total housing and transportation costs to 45% of area median income
* Develop and expand Fayetteville's reputation as a hub for socially and economically
responsible business development, entrepreneurship, and green jobs
* Build local support for national carbon emission reduction and carbon capture strategies

* Complete periodic feasibility analyses of building energy code updates
* Achieve 3% annual reduction in overall energy usage by total building stock
* Achieve 40% tree canopy coverage by 2030

* Achieve 100% local government clean energy by 2030
* Achieve 50% community-wide clean energy by 2030
* Achieve 100% community-wide clean energy by 2050

* Reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled to 2010 levels by 2030
* Achieve 25% bike/walk/transit mode share by 2030

* Achieve 40% total waste diversion from the landfill by 2027

Jan Morgan watch

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 06:08 AM PST

I would be pretty surprised if Jan Morgan topples Asa Hutchinson in the GOP primary. But I would totally shocked if she doesn't end up famous enough to cash out regardless of the outcome.

For the national media, the South is a dish best served odd. ThinkProgress and Newsweek and the New York Daily News and the Kansas City Star are on the case.

Some of these stories devote a fair amount of ink to Morgan, but it's all familiar territory to readers of this blog. ThinkProgress did ask a question I've been wondering — would Steve Bannon get involved in backing Morgan? Bannon didn't respond to their query.

The stories naturally center on the controversy that gave Morgan the first taste of pseudo-celebrity she so thirstily craves — her declaration several years ago that her Hot Springs gun range was a "Muslim Free Zone." One thing that strikes me about Morgan's campaign, however, is that the substance of her statements hasn't reached anything like that fever pitch. "Genetically conservative" is quite the line, but for the most part she sounds like a typical right-winger in the Arkansas legislature. Don't get me wrong, many of her declared views are repugnant or batty. But for a gadfly, she's really not that quotable. Her main thing is to call Hutchinson a RINO over and over. Pass the cayenne.

But maybe all these photos and videos are worth a thousand unhinged words. The Hog, the glock, the airbrush. She's a wacko for the vlogger generation.

Morgan is enjoying the attention:

How Donald Trump learned to stop worrying and love the bomb

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 05:05 AM PST

I was offline last night, so I woke up this morning blissfully unaware of our preening president's prattling provocations.

Well. When Trump was first elected, there were some who insisted his tweets should be ignored altogether. This has always seemed untenable in practice — public statements by the president are newsworthy and attract inevitable attention. You can choose to close your ears, but the nation and the world will still hear the voice from the bully pulpit. This was part of the package in electing Trump: his utterances are no longer just laughable droppings, they are statements from the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.  The North Korean regime is reading Trump's tweets whether or not I do.

The statement made by Trump last night does not appear to be strategically wise. It feeds the propaganda that the North Korean regime depends on and encourages escalation in a conflict with no good outcomes if it breaks out into war, and unthinkable human costs. It is hard to imagine a tweet more designed to encourage a nuclear test demonstration or other provocation from Kim Jong-un. Given the U.S.'s position of strength, Trump's middle-school disses are remarkably weak.

The best case scenario, oddly enough, is that the North Korean regime simply views Trump as a clown. This is the equilibrium that has kept total chaos from erupting domestically despite the fact that the president of the United States appears to know nothing about anything related to his ostensible job, lies constantly about easily verifiable facts, blubbers incoherently, and envelops the national dialogue in his own shockingly petty psychodrama. The assumption, nevertheless, is that others are by and large driving the day-to-day decisions that impact the nation's policies. Trump is just, the theory goes, a ranting reality-television star. He seems to have so little interest in policy or ideology that he is in many ways treated like a figurehead, our insult comic in chief, our creepy old uncle, our clown prince. There he goes again, saying crazy stuff.

There are all sorts of problems with this equilibrium. One problem is the risk that Trump's shtick will be misconstrued as a stick — and our own dear leader will lead us into an unnecessary conflict that brings about the annihilation of millions of human beings. 

Open Line

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 05:32 PM PST

It's yours.

PCSO: Body found in Arkansas River identified

Posted: 02 Jan 2018 02:20 PM PST

The Pulaski County Sheriff's Office announced today that they have identified a man whose body was found floating in the Arkansas River near Little Rock on December 30.

A release from the Sheriff's Office said the man had been identified by the State Medical Examiner's office as Jerome George, 41, of Little Rock. The cause of death was listed as drowning, and investigators said the body showed no signs of trauma. George's family had previously reported him missing to the Little Rock Police Department.

The body was seen floating in the Arkansas River around 9:30 a.m. on December 30 by a barge push boat operator. After pulling the body aboard, the operator docked at the Little Rock Port Authority, where the remains were recovered by the coroner's office and sent to the state crime lab for identification.