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Rep. House: Sessions' repeal of hands-off policy on legal marijuana is 'inviting a disaster'

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 01:53 PM PST

An state representative who has worked extensively with Arkansas banks in the search for financial institutions that will provide banking for the state's burgeoning medical cannabis industry says that Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that he will rescind Obama-era guidelines that direct the federal government to take a hands-off approach to marijuana in states that have legalized medical and recreational cannabis will spook banks that are prepared to provide banking for dispensaries and cultivators, potentially forcing cannabis related businesses to deal solely in cash.

Rep. Doug House (R-N. Little Rock) was once a skeptic on medical marijuana, but said he has seen enough evidence of its benefits that he's now a believer in cannabis as medicine. Since the voters legalized medical cannabis in the state, House has spearheaded an effort to secure banking for cannabis-related companies in order to stave off a possibility that he said outright "terrifies" him: the state's dispensaries and cultivators forced to deal in — and secure — piles of cash.

House said that Sessions' announcement that he will rescind the 2013 "Cole Memo" — a "guidance document" that stipulates the feds should take a hands-off approach to those following the law in states where cannabis is legal —  is "inviting a disaster" when it comes to banking, with banks nationwide potentially bailing out of handling cannabis-related accounts rather than risk the wrath of the federal government. That includes the few banks in Arkansas that have quietly stepped forward in recent months to begin the process of establishing banking with the state's dispensaries and cultivators.

"If you repeal those memos, then you're putting literally hundreds of millions of dollars or billions of dollars of cash on the streets of America," House said. "That is a recipe for murder, extortion, robbery and official corruption."

House said that while it is within the power of Sessions' office to rescind the Cole Memo, he added that one stipulation of the Justice Department's budget is that the DOJ may not use federal funds to prosecute marijuana offenses by those who are following the law in states where medical or recreational marijuana has been legalized.  "It gets a little technical and of course they can prosecute cartels and things like that even in states where it's illegal," House said, "but the restriction of the use of federal money is a federal fiscal doctrine." 

House is talking about the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment (previously known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment). Passed as an amendment to the federal budget in 2014, the amendment has so far kept the DEA, DOJ and federal prosecutors from waging war on medical cannabis.  The re-authorization of the amendment has been opposed by Sessions, who has ratcheted up his push for a new round of Reefer Madness even though Donald Trump said multiple times during the presidential campaign that he would leave the regulation of medical marijuana to the states. 

A statement released today by the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association also referenced the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, calling on the state's Representatives in Congress to vote for its inclusion in the next federal budget. From the statement:

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Association has reviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement that he is rescinding a series of memos adopted to ensure the federal government does not interfere with states' rights to legalize and administer medical marijuana laws. In light of this news, the Association calls on the Arkansas congressional delegation to support reauthorization of the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment as part of the 2018 budget. The Rohrbacher-Blumenauer Amendment prevents the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana businesses and patients that operate in compliance with state law. The Association will work with the congressional delegation to ensure that Arkansas continues to have the right to administer a successful medical marijuana program.

House said he believes Sessions' rescinding the Cole Memo will throw the issue of what to do about legalized cannabis back on Congress, which he hopes will turn the issue over to the states to regulate. "They're going to have to make a decision: either 'okay we're going to enforce the federal law as far as distribution,' or else we repeal the law and let the states regulate it," House said. "Considering the number of states that have already gotten involved in it, that's the better way to do it." 

While he's a big proponent of medical cannabis, House said he believes the federal government should crack down on states where cannabis has been approved for recreational use. "I don't see the utility of it, other than that's just what people want to do," he said. "I think the social costs are too high. Medical, I'm absolutely for it these days. I've just talked to too many people and seen too much evidence. It has medical benefits for some people, and to force people to go onto the black market and buy poisoned trash off the streets is just not an appropriate public response."

House said that his conversations with bankers about the coming of medical cannabis has been "encouraging," with most saying their job is to provide a service to the community. Bankers understand the danger a cash-only cannabis economy could hold for the state and the nation. "To have that much cash floating around the streets is dangerous for our community," he said. "They're basically having their feet knocked out from under them. So I'm sure Congress is going to step in. I think I know the best answer is: let the states regulate it and let the feds worry about the interstate commerce of it."


Governor: Feds shouldn't target medical marijuana but recreational use is fair game

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 01:44 PM PST


Governor Hutchinson said today he believes the U.S. Department of Justice should distinguish between the medical and recreational use of marijuana when enforcing federal drug laws.

The comments, made during a Thursday afternoon press conference about an unrelated issue, were in response to reporters' questions regarding today's move by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind Obama administration policies that minimized federal prosecution of marijuana-related crimes. 

"From my perspective, there needs to be a difference in view between medical marijuana and recreational use of marijuana," Hutchinson said.

"Sessions … should look at where President Trump has been. President Trump has recognized medical marijuana as an appropriate exception to federal enforcement policy, but he's not said the same thing about recreational use."

With the passage of a 2016 ballot initiative, Arkansas joined the growing list of states that have legalized medical marijuana, though pot sales have not yet begun due to a slow implementation of the amendment. The measure was opposed by Hutchinson and most other Republicans before its passage. Recreational use remains illegal in Arkansas.

"I think it's a very significant development today," Hutchinson said today of Session's announcement to undo the Obama-era policy. "The question is what he's going to replace that guidance with … [and] whether there's going to be any carve-out exception in federal enforcement policy."

The governor noted the nascent marijuana industry in Arkansas needs clarity about whether financial institutions, which are subject to federal regulation, can perform transactions that may involve money related to marijuana sales. "Obviously, that impacts us in Arkansas with medical marijuana production and businesses."

The process of distributing licenses to marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers is currently underway in the state.

But Hutchinson — who is a former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — did not directly criticize Sessions' decision. He suggested that it would be appropriate to enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have sanctioned the recreational use of the drug, in part because of the chilling effect that the threat of such prosecutions might have on the spread of full legalization.

"I do not want Arkansas to become a recreational use state. The people passed medical marijuana; they did not adopt recreational use, and I do not believe they would. And so I don't want to see that national trend working its way into Arkansas, and federal enforcement is an important part of where we go as a country," he said.

Hutchinson would not say whether he would ask Sessions or the Trump administration for such a delineation between medical and recreational states.

"I've known Jeff Sessions for 30 years. We were both U.S. attorneys together. I know him well, and the only surprise I have is that it took him this long to get there," he said. "But it's still a little bit unknown as to where it goes from here. I may express my views to them, but we'll wait and see."

Share your Big Ideas to make Arkansas a better place

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 01:37 PM PST


It's the time of year again when we solicit suggestions for our annual Big Ideas issue. As in year's past, we're searching for specific, potentially transformative suggestions for making Arkansas a better place to live. We're open to practical, wacky and everything in between. You can see the range of what we've featured here.

Send your ideas to me at lindseymillar@arktimes.com ASAP and before Jan. 17.

State Police: one dead, three wounded in Brinkley apartment shooting

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 10:35 AM PST

Arkansas State Police reports four people were shot in an apartment in Brinkley this morning, with one dying at the scene from his wounds.

ASP said that the shooting occurred just after 7 a.m. today at Pinewood Apartments in Brinkley. Responding officers found Xavier Parish, 33, of Brinkley dead at the scene. Three other adult victims suffered gunshot wounds, with two transported to local hospitals and another treated by paramedics and released.

James Frost, 43, of Brinkley, has been taken into custody by the Brinkley Police Department in connection with the shootings, and is being held while the investigation continues. Investigators have not specified a motive for the shootings.


MLK Day set to stand alone

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 10:15 AM PST


Rep. Charles Blake celebrates a notable improvement in signage in public buildings in 2018. No, this won't dent, say, the wealth gap. But our symbols and traditions reflect who we are.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an activist who led massive peaceful protests for the civil rights of black people. A century earlier, Robert E. Lee led a treasonous army of men in a violent rebellion against the United States of America so that they might continue unfettered the enslavement of black people. For more than 30 years, Arkansas honored both men with a joint holiday until the legislature ended the dual holiday last year.

Here's Kaya Herron writing in the Arkansas Times in 2015 about the shame of the joint holiday. This year, MLK Day will honor the Dream, not the Lost Cause. Arkansas is a more decent state for that.


Report: Many nursing homes use corporate arrangements to juice hidden profits while care suffers

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 09:30 AM PST

Recommended read: In the New York Times, Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News offers a harrowing look at nursing homes, where corporate profits may take priority over quality of care.

Nearly three quarters of nursing homes in the United States, Rau reports, have "related party transactions" — in which nursing homes contract out goods and services to other companies in which the nursing home owner controls or has a financial interest:

Contracts with related companies accounted for $11 billion of nursing home spending in 2015 — a tenth of their costs — according to financial disclosures the homes submitted to Medicare.

These arrangements offer an additional advantage: Owners can arrange highly favorable contracts in which their nursing homes pay more than they might in a competitive market. Owners then siphon off higher profits, which are not recorded on the nursing home's accounts.
The arrangement might be a sweet one for nursing home owners but it can come at a cost for patients:

A Kaiser Health News analysis of inspection and quality records reveals that nursing homes that outsource to related organizations tend to have significant shortcomings: They have fewer nurses and aides per patient, they have higher rates of patient injuries and unsafe practices, and they are the subject of complaints almost twice as often as independent homes.

"Almost every single one of these chains is doing the same thing," said Charlene Harrington, a professor emeritus of the School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. "They're just pulling money away from staffing."

Another key point:
Such corporate webs bring owners a legal benefit, too: When a nursing home is sued, injured residents and their families have a much harder time collecting money from the related companies — the ones with the full coffers. Courts set a high bar for plaintiffs to bring these ancillary companies into their cases.
The nursing home lobby, of course, will be spending big this year in Arkansas to try to ram through a constitutional amendment to limit the damages plaintiffs can seek in court.

In the past, legal actions in Arkansas have exposed the unspeakable mistreatment of elderly people in nursing homes. In 2013, a unanimous jury verdict set damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish at $5.2 million for the negligent treatment of Martha Bull, a 76-year-old woman who died in agony at a Greenbrier nursing home owned by Michael Morton. The presiding judge, Mike Maggio, a major recipient of campaign cash from Morton, reduced the damages to $1 million; Maggio later admitted to bribery in the case.

Rau's story details the mistreatment of a woman in her early 80s, suffering from the early stages of dementia, in a Memphis nursing home. The nursing home was badly underfunded, even as it funneled hidden profits to its owners via related-party transactions. The woman's family filed a lawsuit and testified that her washing and eating needs went unmet and they frequently found her bed soaked with urine. The facility was chronically understaffed, they testified, and failed to provide proper attention after a stroke. The most horrifying detail: a son peeled a sock off his mother's foot in a nursing home in Memphis and discovered rotting flesh; the sock had been left on for a month. Her son insisted on taking her to the hospital, where most of her leg had to be amputated, above the knee. The family won a $30 million verdict; the nursing home owners are appealing. 

Read the whole thing.

Also from Rau, important report last week in Kaiser Health News: The Trump administration has scaled back efforts by President Obama to use fines under the Medicare program to address mistreatment in nursing homes. Since 2013, 40 percent of nursing homes — more than 6,000 nursing homes — have been cited for a serious violation, and Medicare fined two thirds of those. The Trump administration has bowed to the nursing home lobby and reversed the stricter guidelines issued by Obama.

Rau reports:
The new guidelines discourage regulators from levying fines in some situations, even when they have resulted in a resident's death. The guidelines will also probably result in lower fines for many facilities. ...

But advocates for nursing-home residents say the revised penalties are weakening a valuable patient-safety tool.

"They've pretty much emasculated enforcement, which was already weak," said Toby Edelman, a senior attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy.


UPDATE: Sessions rescinds memo that stopped crackdown on legal pot

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 08:12 AM PST


The AP reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will rescind an Obama-era memo that discouraged enforcement of federal marijuana restrictions on states where cannabis has been legalized. The announcement is expected sometime today by the Justice Department, according to two confidential sources who spoke with the AP.

UPDATE: (11: 45 a.m.):
And now the memo has been rescinded, according to the DOJ. Here's a copy of the letter Sessions sent to federal prosecutors. A statement was also released from Sessions.

"It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "Therefore, today's memo on federal marijuana enforcement simply directs all U.S. Attorneys to use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country."

This could give pause to some of the players in the emerging medical marijuana market in Arkansas. It also comes just after a California law that allows recreational marijuana went into effect at the beginning of the year.

A majority of states have either decriminalized marijuana, made recreational use legal or approved medical marijuana, according to NORML, which tracks cannabis laws. Once the memo is rescinded, U.S. prosecutors would have the ability to bring federal marijuana cases in these states.

UPDATE (11: 50 a.m.)

Cody Hiland's office, the U.S. attorney for Arkansas's Eastern district, said they are still preparing a statement on the memo. And Kenneth Esler's office, U.S. attorney for the Western district, referred the Times to the DOJ's main office.

Sessions, famously, hates marijuana, and Politico magazine recently ran a story worrying that federal restrictions on going after legal pot would crumble — leaving open the ability for Sessions to go after the industry. The backtrack on the memo may be just the first step, wrote James Higdon.
Thanks to Congress' fumbling over the spending bill, the AG's yearning to battle legal marijuana may get a major boost without him having to lift a finger. That's because Rohrabacher-Farr, a little-known and even less discussed amendment that protects state-legal medical marijuana programs from federal interference, is close to expiring. ... [If] negotiations in an upcoming appropriations conference committee fail to insert it in the final draft of the spending bill—entirely possible given House Republicans' hostility to marijuana—Sessions would be free to unleash federal drug agents on a drug, which according to federal drug law, is considered the equal of heroin and LSD.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has so far survived the spending bill debate. But it's fate is unclear as Congress continues to debate the federal budget.

This isn't the first DOJ memo Sessions has rolled back since becoming attorney general. He also took back a memo that told courts not to impose high fines and unnecessarily jail those who cannot pay (a New York Times op-ed headline against the decision: "Sessions Says to Courts: Go Ahead, Jail People Because They're Poor").

UPDATE (11: 48 a.m.)

A heavy backlash has already begun to the Sessions decision from legislators.




State revenue collections well above forecast for December

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 07:46 AM PST

Revenues last month were well above the forecast, according to the Department of Finance and Administration's general revenue report for December.

For December, net available general revenues were $53.7 million (11.5 percent) above last year, and $23.7 million (4.8 percent) above the forecast.

Year-to-date net available general revenues are $74.5 million (2.8 percent) above totals a year ago. Six months into the fiscal year, net available revenue is $23.7 million (0.9 percent) above the forecast.


Billy Fleming projects pickup opportunities for Democrats in the Arkansas House

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 06:58 AM PST


2018 is likely going to be a very good year to run as a Democrat, and the party will have a real chance to flip control in both houses of Congress. But what about in Arkansas? The state has been trending red since Barack Obama ran for president and in the last two election cycles, it's started to look like one of the reddest states in the country.

In his debut column for the Arkansas Times, Billy Fleming argues that Democrats have a chance to make significant gains in the state House. Using a statistical model, Fleming and his data collaborators project that 16 GOP-held seats are likely to flip. That would still leave Dems far short of a majority — they hold just 24 of the 100 seats — but it would represent real progress after the utter whoopings of the last few years. There's basically nowhere to go but up.

Ten of the 16 seats that Fleming identifies don't have declared Democratic candidates at all yet, so ... there's a pretty big fly in the ointment at the moment.

Inching past 25 would deny the Republicans the 75-vote supermajority necessary for most budget appropriations, which could give Democrats incrementally more leverage in the process. (Let's not get carried away, however — I doubt we'll see Democrats voting in lockstep to block appropriations, as opponents of the Medicaid expansion have periodically tried and failed to do.) Any gains at all could perhaps shift the balance on a committee or two. There are smart ways for, say, a 30-vote minority to exercise a tiny bit of pull that simply don't exist for a 24-vote minority.

Fleming notes the model he is using doesn't account for idiosyncratic variables such as candidate quality. I'd be interested to know how predictive this sort of modeling has been for small local elections, which feature very small samples of total voters, much more limited coverage and advertisements, wide variance in often very low name recognition, no public polling, and so on. Quirky factors can matter a lot in samples so small. I've seen research that these sorts of elections often track the generic partisan ballot, which would give Democrats some hope if national trends leak into Arkansas.

If the prediction is 16 seats flipping, I'm afraid I'll take the under. But Fleming believes that the underlying fundamentals and demographics give Arkansas a better shot for a blue wave than skeptics like me might think. In any case, it's hard to argue with his underlying case that Democrats need to aggressively recruit and field candidates in districts across the state. The national headwinds will probably at least help at the margin. Elections are weird and unpredictable. Put strong candidates on the ballot and you never know. Stuff happens.

In addition to the purple-ish districts you might predict, Fleming identifies a few surprising districts as pickup opportunities. Read the whole thing.

Fleming, a former Student Government president at the University of Arkansas, is the research director of the Ian McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the "Indivisible Guide." He's also previously pledged to make his own personal contribution to Democratic candidate recruitment:


Trump abandons voter fraud commission

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 05:33 AM PST


President Trump
has abandoned the voter fraud commission that he established in May. The commission was itself a fraud, which grew out of Trump's ludicrous lie that massive voter fraud had cost him the popular vote. Since the president is elected via the electoral college, not the popular vote, it is unclear why Dear Diva is so insecure about losing the popular vote by several million. In normal times, Trump's peevish insecurities would simply be a sad curiosity for reality television and gossip columns. After all, we know that he lies constantly, luxuriates in laughable conspiracy theories, and has petulant temper tantrums about all sorts of irrelevant matters. Ho hum. Unfortunately, he's president of the United States, so we ended up with this commission, which a White House adviser described to CNN as a "shit show" that went "off the rails."

It is worth noting that, as with many of Trump's lunacies, his voter fraud obsession simply grew out of actually taking cynical GOP rhetoric seriously. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been one of the more outlandish peddlers of this particular brand of manure, and naturally he was chosen to co-chair the panel. Kobach is an ally of Secretary of State Mark Martin, who has co-signed on voter suppression trickery, error-riddled voter roll investigations, and sloppily collected data highly susceptible to hackers. 

Martin, a longtime connoisseur of voter fraud fanfic, happily and immediately turned over voter information to Kobach and company, but most states bucked at Kobach's request for information, which included names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, birth dates, voting history, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Even red states were leery (more than 40 states refused to fully comply). The Republican Secretary of State from Mississippi responded, "My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state's right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes." States across the country filed lawsuits. A member of the commission also filed a lawsuit against the commission.

A statement from the White House whined that there was substantial evidence of voter fraud (there is not):
Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry. Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission, and have asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action.
Trump then followed up on Twitter, blaming Democrats, saying that states were knowingly hiding illegal voters, and closing with this: "System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D." Martin, probably, released a squeal of approval out of his cherub cheeks.

I shudder to think what Trump will tweet if he is voted out of office.

Fire at Bill and Hillary Clinton's Chappaqua property

Posted: 04 Jan 2018 04:10 AM PST

Various news outlets reporting that a fire broke out yesterday afternoon on the Clintons' property in Chappaqua, New York. The small fire happened at a Secret Service facility on the property, which was not connected to the Clintons' home. The fire was put out and nobody was injured. The Clintons were not at the property when the fire broke out.


A fresh start

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

For much of my adult life, I've tried to eat black-eyed peas and greens every New Year's Day, worrying that if I didn't, the year would be just awful. I've made resolutions. I've sworn off fast food. I've pledged to go to the gym three times a week.

For much of my adult life, I've tried to eat black-eyed peas and greens every New Year's Day, worrying that if I didn't, the year would be just awful. I've made resolutions. I've sworn off fast food. I've pledged to go to the gym three times a week. Out with the old. In with the new. It never works. This year, after getting sick during a post-Christmas trip to Branson, I stayed home while the rest of my family participated in New Year festivities with extended family. Instead of fretting over missed traditions, I napped and ate frozen pizza. You know what? It felt great.

Sometimes traditions do more harm than good. Sometimes trying to get a new start puts us back in the same old rut. As we enter 2018, I have a list of things we collectively need to leave behind in 2017. At the top of the list is the way we fall for the same old tired promise from politicians that they are the only person for the job and that we just cannot move forward without his or her (usually his) guidance. This attitude has led to the smug paternalism that is prevalent in our politics today.

When I was young, a beloved aunt and uncle often took me to the state Capitol during my summer visits to Little Rock. It was all so fancy, with the marble staircases and gold letterboxes and bronze doors. It was a place of wisdom and knowledge. So I thought. Either way, like many kids, I'm sure, each visit had me more and more convinced that only the smartest and most benevolent walked through those doors as public servants.

As an adult, I've found that those are certainly not the traits that get most people to the our capitol or any capitol, for that matter. Confidence. Bravado. Fundraising. Self-importance. Dunning-Kruger Effect. These all seem to pave the way for too many politicians these days. "Elect me," they say. "I can solve your problems." But that just is not the case.

I could start naming men and women I know who would do a wonderful job in the state Legislature and run out of column space before I really got started. Sure, politicians need new ideas and plans, but somewhere we lost the truth that the men and women in the Legislature or in Congress are really just ordinary people who represent our best interests while we work and take care of our families. Somehow, many of our politicians have come to believe that by merely being politicians, they possess an inherent wisdom that their constituents do not. This is glaringly obvious if you've ever been on the receiving end of a form letter from U.S. Rep. Steve Womack or U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton after expressing a concern about healthcare, net neutrality or tax reform. It's something I've heard over and over from the women in my district who tried to talk to state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) about guns on campus. Smug paternalism. And we stood by and let it get this way.

This year, I'm through writing letters and making phone calls to people who don't give a flip about what I have to say. A phone call on behalf of a candidate to a voter will go a lot further than another call to a congressional staffer. There is no convincing Womack or Cotton, or Collins for that matter, that any way but their way is worth pursuing. Instead, I'll spend my energy on helping men and women candidates, especially women candidates, get elected who are running not because they feel like they have all the answers but because they want to find the best path forward for and with their communities. Candidates who, instead of talking at us, talk to us. Instead of hiding behind telephone town halls, NRA-funded studies and meet and greets only accessible by ferry boats, they come home to their district every chance they get and really listen to the people they claim to represent.

2018 is a new start. We have a chance for a clean slate in many districts. We can end the ridiculous tradition of "politician knows best." We can fill our city halls and legislatures with men and women who mean it when they say they want to help. Men and women who, when faced with a viewpoint that is not their own, respond with respect instead of an outright dismissal or ridicule. And if all of this works, next year, I will again abandon my traditions on New Year's Day and, instead of black-eyed peas and greens, I may just treat myself to a movie and some nachos.

'Small Works on Paper' at Mosaic Templars Cultural Center

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

And much more.

THURSDAY 1/4

'SMALL WORKS ON PAPER'

5:30 p.m. Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.

In July 2017, a call from the Arkansas Arts Council went out to Arkansas artists for works smaller than 18 by 24 inches. As part of an annual juried competition the council conducts, Howard University professor James Phillips considered hundreds of those pieces for selection to participate in a touring exhibition, and bestowed purchase awards allowing a handful of them to become part of the Small Works on Paper permanent collection. Thirty-five artists' works make up the exhibition, which will travel to 10 galleries around the state in 2018; next stop is Harding University in Searcy. Of those 35, Phillips chose six artists for purchase awards: Terry Lynn Dushan of Fayetteville, Robert Simmons of Little Rock, Rex R. DeLoney of Little Rock, Mitchell Skinner of Grady, Melissa Foster of Conway and Elissa Gordon of Mountain Home. This reception is your chance to check out the work and talk to the artists — or, if your pockets are jingling with Christmas cash, to pick up a few treasures from Mosaic Templars' gift shop.

THURSDAY 1/4

CJ SOLAR

9 p.m. The Griffin Restaurant, El Dorado. Free.

I don't know if you can order a tall boy at the fancy new farm-to-table venue in El Dorado's resculpted downtown Murphy Arts District, but the Griffin's staff might want to consider a shipment of the 16-ounce domestic variety this week, when Baton Rouge country rocker CJ Solar takes the stage as part of the free Thursday Night Live concert series. Solar's barroom self-affirmation "Tall Boy" will undoubtedly inspire anyone sipping a handcrafted cocktail to follow it with something that demands only a napkin as garnish, and Solar's "Just Another Day in the Country" presents a wild juxtaposition for the spot's "industrial chic" vibe: "Proud bunch of hicks way out in the sticks, smokin' that John Deere green." If this one isn't in the cards, keep an eye out on this South Arkansas venue's calendar for a winter road trip; Cody Canada plays the Thursday Night Live series on Jan. 18 and Keith Sykes plays a show at the restaurant Saturday, Feb. 3.

FRIDAY 1/5

THE FEDERALIS, COUCH JACKETS

9 p.m. Maxine's, Hot Springs. $7.

If you could get Google to stop second-guessing you with terabytes of information on The Federalist Papers, you'll find a handful of songs from The Federalis, a Hot Springs-based group that marries straight-ahead blues drones with crunchy rhythm, lyrics about beating devils and dirty guitar riffs from guitarist Zakk Binns. All that should pair pretty nicely with a few thrashy, trashy rock anthems from Brother Andy and His Big Damn Mouth and the wavy gravy grooves of Couch Jackets, whose mission is recited on Bandcamp as the promotion of "positivity, individual empowerment and wholesome health through the outward expression of universal truths and unending questions" — and who describe their sound as "like an alligator's eating us," a bit of self-deprecation that belies the quartet's tight arrangements and sweetly druggy interludes, a la "Kamels" and "Sonic Tea": "There's something in the baby's room/I will not ask you to, there's always so much shit to do, but I won't mind."

FRIDAY 1/5

JOHN NEMETH

8 p.m. Stickyz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack. $7-$10.

John Nemeth's 2017 solo project was produced by Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, and its cover features the title, "Feelin' Freaky," next to a bumpy crimson Kool-Aid pickle, styled like Andy Warhol's pop-art banana. That's enough to let you in on Nemeth's aesthetic, and to suggest the style of electric blues in which he deals, both under his own name and as vocalist for an outsized project called The Lovelight Orchestra. Like his vocal predecessors Junior Parker and Bobby "Blue" Bland, Nemeth favors big, round horn riffs and nasty Delta guitar, a sound perfectly matched for anywhere that identifies itself as a "rock 'n' roll chicken shack." For a primer, check out Nemeth's mean harmonica on "S.T.O.N.E.D." and his ridiculous vocal range on the album's banner ballad, "Rainy Day." Then, go check out the family holiday card he posted on his social media accounts over Christmas, an endearing and surreal affair featuring Nemeth with his wife and children, perched among a dozen mannequins and a couple of monochrome animal statues.

SATURDAY 1/6

DEFRANCE

10 p.m. Four Quarter Bar. $7.

Count this show among the first of a hundred or more shows in 2018 for DeFrance, if 2017 was any indicator of the band's schedule to come. A straightforward rock outfit whose riffs are polished to a shine by a dense calendar of barroom and festival shows, DeFrance sticks to the sort of "original recipe" rock 'n' roll favored by its professed influences: Ryan Adams, Neil Young, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It does it damn well, too. Give a listen to the meandering title track from the band's 2015 release "Home" and the feel-good opener "Good Love," and trust anyone who's heard the band lately and tells you those songs sound way more ballsy and solid than they did when they were recorded. If you don't catch DeFrance in Argenta Saturday night, make a little scribble on your calendar and check it out at the Tom Petty Tribute and KABF-FM, 88.3, fundraiser at the White Water Tavern Saturday, Jan. 27, or later that same night at Midtown Billiards.

SATURDAY 1/6

ARKANSAS SHORTS

4 p.m. Historic Malco Theatre. 121 Central Ave., Hot Springs. $10-$20.

Reasons to be in Hot Springs for this evening with Low Key Arts include, but are not limited to, the following: 1. You love inventive film but missed last year's Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and just can't wait until next October — or, lacking the stamina for multiday film festivals, you've never been to HSDFI and need all that fabulousness squeezed into a single evening where all the films are less than 10 minutes long. 2. You want to watch movies inside the historic Malco Theater on Bathhouse Row, a gem of an art deco building whose glitzy marquee once boasted the names of silent films and vaudeville shows. 3. You've got breadth. The Low Key Arts screening committee organized picks into neat blocks, as the press release details: "an International block; a North American block with films that have screened at festivals like Sundance, SXSW, and the Hamptons International Film Festival; a block of student films from this year's Inception to Projection filmmaking class; and the Arkansas Shorts block, featuring a juried selection of films made by Arkansas residents and natives." 4. You've got options. A Hamilton will get you into one of those blocks if you're strapped for time, or you can pay the $20 all-access admission and get photographed by Thomas Petillo at the opening reception, watch all three blocks and get into the afterparty at the new SQZBX pizzeria and brewery at 236 Ouachita Ave. 5. As curator and filmmaker Jen Gerber said in a press release, "the seating is packed and the room is full of energy. I've traveled with my films to festivals around the world and Arkansas Shorts is one of the best screening experiences a filmmaker can get." Reasons not to go? You or the little ones you'll have in tow Saturday night are averse to strong language, nudity or violence, any combination of which may well be present in some of the films screened.

SATURDAY 1/6

ARKANSAUCE

8:30 p.m. Revolution Taco & Tequila Lounge. $8.

And just like that, all your world-weary cynicism about bluegrass bands doing quirky covers of '80s hits can melt away, because you watched Arkansauce take on the Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," complete with three-part harmony, the sustained intro and sneering lyrics — though they do make some amendments to that homophobic bit in the second verse. Lest you take the stringed ensemble for a gimmick band, though, check out the video for their song "Canary in a Coal Mine," filmed in front of Fayetteville's "most famous tiny house, which belongs to Trans-Siberian Orchestra violin player Asha Mevlana and adventure journalist Ryan Van Duze." The group's got a strong collective sense of where the beat lies, and that rhythmic confidence affords it a crystal clear cohesion; too clean and smart to be lumped in with Banjo Billybo-singing Adele (that is a real thing), and too harmonically inquisitive to come across as a Flatt & Scruggs tribute. Wear comfy shoes; this is some sweet two-step music and the Rev Room's got a great dance floor for it.

SATURDAY 1/6

AKEEM KEMP BAND, CHARLOTTE TAYLOR & GYPSY RAIN

9 p.m. White Water Tavern.

When it comes to the blues, seniority and experience are prized, and it's no wonder: How can you channel the languages of aches and redemption, after all, if you haven't lived enough life to speak it? There are, however, at least two powerhouses of the new guard of local blues musicians, and they're sharing this bill in what may be the closest thing we've got to an old juke joint. Morrilton native Akeem Kemp gets downright mean on the guitar. He's been playing with the same musicians since they were young and it shows. Taylor, a soul crooner and wailer from Heber Springs whose voice can coo, shout and snarl in the same stanza, is backed by her own longtime ensemble, Gypsy Rain. If local blues music has been off your radar a while, this is one to catch.

SUNDAY 1/7

TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC SESSION

2:30 p.m. Hibernia Irish Tavern.

Every Sabbath, just about the time you peek in the refrigerator to discover you haven't enough beer for a proper #sundayfunday, an informal session of traditional Irish music is kicking off at Hibernia Irish Tavern, and a host of Irish culture and music appreciators are sitting around a table casually playing fiddles and squeezeboxes and nursing pints of Guinness or Smithwick's. Or maybe Miller Lite, who knows? Whether you're a devotee to The Chieftains or just looking to expand your awareness to the realm beyond The Pogues, this weekly jam session deserves a wider audience, of which you could very well be a part.

TUESDAY 1/9

REDHOT & BLUE

8 p.m. South on Main. $10.

Yale University's oldest all-gender a cappella group was founded in 1977 and is named after a musical by a revered alum and former president of the glee club: Cole Porter. Since those days, Redhot's become a traveling affair, touring three times a year and peddling unaccompanied interpretations of Porter's own tunes and other jazz standards from the Great American Songbook, peppered more recently with covers of spiritual and gospel works and percussive takes on Britney Spears' "Toxic" and Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot." This year, the group's chosen to follow up its 2017 tour of Paris with some time in Arkansas in January (oof, sorry about that), and our ears will be the better for it. If you're a loyal Pentatonix fan or are just curious what a wholesome, 15-voice version of "Hit the Road, Jack" might sound like, this isn't a bad way to spend a Tuesday night.


Will Arkansas join the red state revolt?

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

The Republican stranglehold on Arkansas state government is in jeopardy. Using a model developed by John Ray and Jesse Bacon that incorporates a blend of fundamentals (presidential approval rating, for example) and legislative district-level demography (such as household income and race), we find that Democrats are poised to break the GOP supermajority in the state's House of Representatives this year.

The Republican stranglehold on the Arkansas state government is in jeopardy. Using a model developed by John Ray and Jesse Bacon that incorporates a blend of fundamentals (presidential approval rating, for example) and legislative district-level demography (such as household income and race), we find that Democrats are poised to break the GOP supermajority in the state's House of Representatives this year. In fact, we estimate that as many as 16 of the 76 seats held by Republicans are likely to flip to Democrats in 2018.

The scale of such a progressive wave in Arkansas cannot be overstated. A flip of 16 or more seats between parties has only happened once in the last half century. That, of course, was in 2010* when an anti-Obama Republican wave crashed through a Democratic supermajority in the legislature. It marked the beginning of a GOP resurgence in Arkansas that, over the next decade, would hand conservatives control of all six congressional seats, the Governor's Mansion and a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature. The election of Donald Trump is already doing the same for progressives across the rest of the South. Arkansas appears poised to join the burgeoning red state revolt.

Many of the seats that we expect Democrats to flip in 2018 will be obvious to close observers of Arkansas politics. House Districts 25 (part of Hot Springs and Garland County), 38 (North Little Rock), 65 (Conway and Perry counties) and 84 (Washington County) are perennial targets for both parties. But several of the seats our model identified as likely Democratic pickups proved surprising, including Districts 24 (part of Hot Springs), 28 (Saline County) and 96 (Rogers) — places where incumbent Republicans have gone unchallenged for far too long.

It's important to note here that, of the 16 districts that we've identified as likely to flip to Democrats in 2018, 10 do not have a declared candidate yet. Those communities are precisely where the Democratic Party of Arkansas should be focused on recruiting a new generation of dynamic, first-time candidates.

I should also say that there are a variety of important variables that we have yet to account for in our model. The challenges that come from differing levels of candidate quality, fundraising, dark money campaign expenditure and a paper thin state Democratic Party infrastructure could all attenuate the progressive wave as it flows through Arkansas. Though we'll eventually build those factors into our model, they are not factored into our current projections. But, if last year's elections in Virginia, Oklahoma and Alabama taught us anything about the viability of the anti-Trump resistance in electoral politics, it's this: No one knows much of anything about which races will be competitive, which candidates are electable and whether or not progressive values can win elections in the South. Before any establishment Democrats rush to tell me how different Arkansas is from those other places, know this: Oklahoma (65.3 percent), Alabama (62.1 percent) and Arkansas (60.6 percent) had comparable Republican presidential vote shares in 2016. Democrats cannot win where they do not field candidates and invest in organizing.

Those elections also revealed that progressives can win anywhere, even in places where the local Democratic Party is a shell of its Republican counterpart. In Alabama, a network of progressive activists — led by Indivisible, Woke Vote and many others — organized the ground game that delivered a Senate seat for Doug Jones in one of the nation's most conservative states. In Virginia, a similar coalition of local Indivisible groups, Sister District activists and candidates recruited by Run For Something flipped control of the state's House of Delegates and won a decisive gubernatorial victory for Ralph Northam. Neither of those victories would have been possible without the resistance.

A similar, nonpartisan infrastructure of progressive activists is maturing rapidly in Arkansas. Ozark Indivisible, Little Rock and Central Arkansas Indivisible, Boone County Indivisible, Northeast Arkansas Indivisible, Moms Demand and March on Arkansas are already organizing in support of progressive candidates. A few are even fielding candidates of their own. Democratic office-seekers would be foolish not to seek these groups' support in 2018.

As progressives gear up for this year's elections in Arkansas, it's important to remember just how long it took Republicans to seize power. Though their wave began in 2008, the GOP had to continue making gains through 2016 to garner its now-absolute control over state government. Democrats cannot erase those gains in a single cycle. But they can use 2018 as the first step in a multicycle effort to reclaim the state legislature and erase the corruption that comes from single-party rule.

Though I worked in a Democratic administration, I don't have much faith in the party's ability to get many things right. But I do think the donors who prop it up and the grassroots organizations that elect its candidates should view last year's wins as evidence of something important: The time to invest in politics is now and the place to do it is in the South.

Billy Fleming is the research director of the Ian McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a Ph.D. in city and regional planning. He is a co-author of the "Indivisible Guide," a co-founder of Data Refuge and a former Associated Student Government president at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

*A previous version of this column mistakenly dated state Republicans ending the Democratic supermajority in the state House and Senate as 2008. It also misstated that Republicans have had a stranglehold on state government for more than a decade.


Gov says open carry legal

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Also, Jan Morgan enters the fray, Huck says something dumb and more.

Tweet of the week

"Churchill was hated by his own party, opposition party, and press. Feared by King as reckless, and despised for his bluntness. But unlike Neville Chamberlain, he didn't retreat. We had a Chamberlain for 8 yrs; in @realDonaldTrump we have a Churchill."  — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) comparing President Trump to Winston Churchill.

Gov says open carry legal

Governor Hutchinson has informed the Arkansas State Police that he believes a 2013 law made open carry of handguns the law of the land in Arkansas and they should act accordingly.

There is, as yet, no definitive court case that substantiates this view of the law. Since its passage, a debate has raged over the law's meaning. Some contended it was merely meant to be a technical correction to Arkansas law that long had allowed the carrying of weapons on a "journey," but not in all circumstances. Gun advocates argued that the wording validated open carry. Critics have argued that such an expansive view might override some of the restrictions in law on where concealed weapons may be taken. Hutchinson's opinion carries no force of law, but the directive to an executive agency will have the effect of guiding state troopers, as indicated by a notice sent to troopers by Col. Bill Bryant, director of the State Police.

Hutchinson also informed prosecutors, through the state prosecutor coordinator's office, of his belief that open carry of guns was legal in Arkansas.

Though a number of prosecutors hold a similar view, Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley of Little Rock said the governor's letter doesn't change anything. "The governor doesn't articulate law enforcement policy," Jegley said.

GOP gubernatorial primary

Jan Morgan, the Hot Springs gun range owner, announced her expected Republican candidacy for governor at a New Year's Eve party in Hot Springs.

She said people know politicians are "taxing them into poverty, regulating them out of business and enslaving them with government entitlements."

Among other specific references:

• She wants required roll call votes in legislative committee, no voice votes.

• She seems to want to put an end to corporate handouts of tax money, such as the governor's quick-closing fund, and specifically criticized handouts to foreign companies

• Taxes were cut in some places, but raised in others, she complained. The tax burden needs to be reduced, she said. And, of course, it can be done without a loss of vital services by cutting "waste."

• She suggested the Arkansas adoption of Medicaid expansion had made insurance more expensive and harder to get. "Socialized medicine," she calls it. The best government intervention in health care is none, she said.

• "Arkansas is a constitutional carry state," she said.  She's also said she was a "born-again Christian" and "genetically conservative" and, among other attributes, she said, "I ride my own Harley." She won early fame for banning Muslims from her gun range, a policy that came to light after she ran off some dark-skinned Hindus. She claimed they were acting strangely and were not banned on account of their skin color.

Files foreclosed on

First Western Bank of Booneville bought three properties owned by Sen. Jake Files (R-Fort Smith), including his Fort Smith home on Free Ferry Landing, at foreclosure sales to satisfy unpaid loans of $2.1 million. The bank bid $2.048 million, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Files potentially faces bigger problems related to how tax money sent his way to build a local sports complex was spent. The FBI has been investigating. Files is not seeking re-election.

The Booneville bank won priority on the properties against a long list of people seeking money from Files, including other banks, the Arkansas Development Finance Authority and firms that had done business with Files' construction company. Files also was on the losing end of a $1.8 million foreclosure judgment in an apartment project.


Hillary done it

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Down at the courthouse, the kind of story Donald J. Trump is peddling is laughingly called the some-other-dude-done-it defense.

Down at the courthouse, the kind of story Donald J. Trump is peddling is laughingly called the some-other-dude-done-it defense.

Among the president's 23 (!) separate denials that his presidential campaign "colluded" with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign during a half-hour New York Times interview was this preposterous line: "I actually think it's turning to the Democrats because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion ... starting with the dossier."

The other dude, in Trump's addled mind, being "Crooked Hillary." She's the one that conspired with Vladimir Putin!

You see, deep thinkers on the right have been arguing that it was a partially unverified report written by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele that first convinced the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation of Trump's dalliance with the Kremlin.

And since the Democrats (taking over from anti-Trump Republicans) had partly paid for the so-called "dodgy dossier," the entire Russia probe amounted to nothing more than a "deep state" dirty trick. Because, as everybody knows, investigating a crime is exactly the same thing as committing one — an absurdly circular argument that would render law enforcement impossible.

Which in the case of Trump and the Russians, is exactly what's intended. To Trumpists, "deep state" refers to anybody and everybody in the U.S. government whose first loyalty is to the Constitution rather than to Donald J. Trump.

Just ask around at your friendly, neighborhood penitentiary. Maybe half the inmates will assure you that an unholy conspiracy among cops, prosecutors and lying witnesses is what put them there.

Once in a blue moon, it's even true.

But I digress. Some fervid Trumpists even began to talk about a "purge" of the FBI — language no American should use.

So somebody decided to set the record straight. The New York Times delivered itself of a New Year's Eve blockbuster. See, it turns out that it wasn't the Steele dossier that caused the FBI to open an investigation of the Trump campaign in the summer of 2016 at all.

"Instead," the Times revealed, "it was firsthand information from one of America's closest intelligence allies." Specifically, Australia.

"During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia's top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton" in the form of stolen emails.

"I can speak from experience," my pal Charles Pierce has written. "Drinking with Aussies is not for rookies."

Certainly not in Papadopoulos' case. At first, the Australians didn't know what to believe. But two months later, as stolen DNC emails embarrassing to the Clinton campaign began to appear on Wikileaks, the Australians took what they knew to the FBI: At some level, the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Kremlin. Only afterward were FBI agents dispatched to interview Christopher Steele — a respected intelligence professional.

Along with the Aussies and the Brits, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, France and Estonia also provided intelligence to the top-secret investigation.

The Times story also establishes that far from being the insignificant "coffee boy" depicted by Trump loyalists after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, Papadopoulos exercised real influence at key intervals. Guided by one Olga Polonskaya, a young woman from St. Petersburg posing as Vladimir Putin's niece, he helped craft Trump's first major foreign policy speech on April 27, 2016 — in which the candidate spoke warmly about Putin, with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak seated in a position of honor.

While The Times could not confirm that Papadopoulos told the Trump campaign what he told the Aussies about Russian espionage, what would you say are the odds that he kept the secret to himself? Moscow was his meal ticket. With Papadopoulos as a cooperating witness, we can be confident that by this time Robert Mueller's investigators know for sure.

What the Russians wanted was a relaxation of economic sanctions imposed by the NATO countries as a consequence of their seizing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine. Seen from that perspective, everything that happened subsequently — public and private — looks like a protracted negotiation between Trump and the Kremlin.

Thus when Russian operatives promised "dirt" on Hillary Clinton before the famous June 16 meeting in Trump Tower, Donald Jr. almost certainly thought he knew exactly what they had. And when his father the presidential candidate said in a July 2016 press conference, "Russia, if you're listening," the indefatigable Seth Abrahamson argues, "he a) knew they were listening, b) knew they'd stolen the emails he was urging them to release, and c) ... had already promised ... to reward them for being good to him."

Meanwhile, anybody down at the courthouse could tell Trump that if he really expects to be believed, 23 denials are about 21 too many.

No meat, no matter

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Viva Vegan will make you a believer.

In 2016, Springdale-based Tyson Foods took a 5 percent stake in Beyond Meat, a leading vegan "meat" manufacturer known for producing a burger made of plants that "bleed" (Tyson added to that investment with an unspecified amount in December). Last year, Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes told Fox Business, "Plant-based protein is growing almost, at this point, a little faster than animal-based, so I think the migration may continue in that direction."

That's pretty significant, considering Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S. and the world's largest chicken producer. It's a positive sign for those of us who believe that factory farming is bad for the environment, bad for human health and bad for animals. It's also, perhaps, a sign that makers of fake meat are coming up with products that don't taste like rubber or tofu.

Unconvinced? Try Viva Vegan, a delightful newish vegan and gluten-free restaurant that will make you forget how unfun "vegan" and "gluten-free" sound. There you'll find Mexican-fusion tacos and nachos made without meat or dairy that taste meaty and creamy. You can try it all in two trips.

Start with the Loaded Nachos ($8). It comes with a bed of tortilla chips topped by Viva Vegan's two proteins: Korean BBQ, a textured plant protein (100 percent better than the name suggests) cooked in a tangy marinade, and carnitas made of jackfruit, a big green fruit native to South Asia that, honest to God, looks like pulled pork when it's unripe. Unlike tofu, jackfruit takes a marinade easily. Viva Vegan owner and chef Maria Larios slow-cooks it in a secret marinade for eight to 10 hours. The result: It also tastes like pork, but without any of the saturated fat or cholesterol. On top of the meats comes a touch of spicy kimchi, Korean-style seasoned vegetables, chopped red cabbage and a crema rich enough that you would never guessed it's made of pea protein.

The Korean BBQ ($3) and jackfruit carnitas ($3) also come in street-style taco form, open face on corn tortillas. There's also another taco treatment of jackfruit that tastes like a classic pork street taco and comes topped with minced onions, cilantro and lime.

On one visit to the small but homey brick-and-mortar we split an order of Loaded Nachos and ceviche ($6) with a friend and left sated. The ceviche is made of hearts of palm and whatever other fresh vegetables Larios has on hand marinated in lime and seaweed, topped with an avocado tomatillo sauce and served with tortilla chips. We could eat it by the bucketful.

Larios opened the restaurant late last year after running Viva Vegan as a pop-up operation for a time. After living in LA, she and her partner landed in Little Rock somewhat at random, she said. They were looking for a community with a lower cost of living than in LA and with natural beauty; Little Rock fit the bill. Another motivating factor for Larios was her desire to continue and expand her Burrito Project food justice outreach, where she works to pool resources in the community to make food for homeless and low-income people. She also does mini-cooking demos on cooking plant-based foods that are affordable and taste good.

Locating Viva Vegan on 12th Street was by design. It's near where she lives, for one. When she moved there, she said, she noticed that her neighbors didn't really have many nearby food options. So far, many of her customers have been from the neighborhood, she said. A number of them have come in and said that their doctor has told them they need to cut back on meat, but after living on the same diet for all their lives, they're at a loss of how to go about it. Viva Vegan is a good place to start.

Viva Vegan
4601 W. 12th
901-303-8453

Quick bite

The horchata ($3), not available every day but often, is delightful. The innovative, revolving desserts — chocolate and strawberry cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake donuts — are good, if a touch sponge-y. Unlike the entrees, where nothing seemed lacking, we missed butter in the few we sampled. Larios says she's contemplating expanding hours to include a Sunday brunch, by customer demand. On Sunday, Jan. 7, she'll offer a special brunch event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hours

11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Other info

Credit cards accepted.

Applications released

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

The Medical Marijuana Commission released 326 applications from persons seeking to be licensed as dispensaries and/or cultivators of medical marijuana last week, documents that did not identify the applicant but did provide business names, phone numbers and names of the companies' registered agents (including Asa Hutchinson III, the son of the governor, who is representing a Bentonville grower applicant).

The Medical Marijuana Commission released 326 applications from persons seeking to be licensed as dispensaries and/or cultivators of medical marijuana last week, documents that did not identify the applicant but did provide business names, phone numbers and names of the companies' registered agents (including Asa Hutchinson III, the son of the governor, who is representing a Bentonville grower applicant).

The Arkansas Times called a few of the numbers, but many did not wish to comment or did not call back. For example, Amber Weinzimer, who is applying for a dispensary license for Hot Springs Medical, responded "no comment" to questions about her current job, what she hopes for her dispensary to be like and her past experience that would be helpful. She did say she applied "Just to help Arkansans" and that she has no other investors backing the project. "It's me," she said when asked about her team.

One potential dispensary owner said he would not comment because he did not want to do anything to give the state a reason to deny his request. But that didn't make any sense to Mitchell Wine, applying for a dispensary license for The Hemp Cafe in Mountain View, in the heart of Stone County. "You wouldn't do that if you were starting some other business," he said.

Wine and his partner, Chuck Widmer, have gone before the Stone County Quorum Court and the Mountain View City Council asking for permission to open their operation and have spoken with the Stone County Sheriff's Office, too. Wine says they hope to meet with the women's shelter and animal rescue and local businesses, too. They've pitched the potential dispensary as a new hub of economic activity.

Wine thinks outreach is essential. "I don't think you can come in and just sell pot," he said. "We need to come in and show the community what we're about." Wine hopes to open in a 7,000-square-foot building off state Highway 66 that used to house the Stone County drug court; he is leasing the building to buy for $1,500 a month. (On the idea of a dispensary on a former drug court, he said, "It's ironic.") The cafe will also sell natural foods from local businesses. Doctors and pharmacists will be on hand and healthy-living classes will be held.

Wine will also do research into how cannabis affects the community using Sheriff's Office data on DUI numbers. "Everything you experience when you walk into our door should be something that's good for you," Wine said.

The dispensary applications did not ask for information on how the business would benefit the community, nor did they ask if local politicians and community leaders approved. "They don't give you any credit for that in the application process, but I think they should have," he said.

A potential pitfall is that, as happened in Washington County, where the Quorum Court denied a permit for the Native Flower cultivation center, local governments could prohibit a state-approved dispensary or cultivation. It makes Wine worry that another kind of politics may come into play when the committee selects the companies to be licensed. "We didn't come from money and we don't have connections," he told the Times. "We have a strong team but that only goes so far when politics comes into play."

If you're looking to break into the dispensary industry, consider going to the Arkansas Cannabis Dispensary Agent Training scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 20 at the DoubleTree hotel on Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith. It's being organized by the Arkansas Cannabis Industry Association and tickets cost $149. Speakers will include, among others: Frank Hawkins, a dispensary owner from Nevada and a former running back with the Oakland/LA Raiders; Josh Winingham, a pharmacist and owner of Arkansas-based cannabis consulting firm called PhytoPharm.D; and Sara Payan, the vice-chair of the San Francisco Cannabis State Legalization Task Force and a national writer about medical marijuana. Certificates will be awarded upon the completion of the training. Topics will include everything from tips for dealing with state regulations to the everyday running of a dispensary. Call 501-238-1800 for more information. Tickets are available on eventbrite.com.

Vintage Hog ball

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

The Southeastern Conference era of Arkansas athletics has represented something of an oddity in that historically, the two flagship programs cannot seem to be on steady footing simultaneously.

The Southeastern Conference era of Arkansas athletics has represented something of an oddity in that historically, the two flagship programs cannot seem to be on steady footing simultaneously. Fortunately, at this moment, that means that the football woes of 2016 and 2017 (a sub-.500 record that torpedoed Bret Bielema's once-promising tenure and has ushered in Chad Morris) can take a momentary backseat to a basketball program that is truly and consistently resurgent for the first time in the post-Nolan Richardson era.

That is to say, things are exciting again and Bud Walton Arena doesn't resemble an echo chamber anymore. On Saturday, a Top 20 Tennessee team strolled in for the conference opener and for about 37 minutes the Volunteers threatened to yank the rug of optimism out from beneath the Razorbacks' speedy feet.

Ahead by nine with about three minutes and change to play, Tennessee seemingly had the Hogs buffaloed. The Vols had stroked the three-ball nicely, but most critically they had put the clamps on the Arkansas backcourt. Averaging 90 points per contest, Arkansas didn't crest the 60-point mark until less than five minutes remained, and it all looked like a hopeless affair because the Volunteers were extraordinarily resistant to the Hogs' signature runs.

Flash-forward about a half-hour, and Arkansas, naturally, had won the game 95-93 in overtime. And that three-headed senior guard combo of Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon and Anton Beard? Well, all they did was throw in 71 points combined, with the former duo being responsible for career-high outputs of 33 (Macon) and 28 (Barford). Beard nailed a big three to trigger the Hogs' critical 12-2 run in regulation, then dropped home another in overtime to push the Razorbacks' lead to 11 before Rick Barnes' remarkable little orange engine mounted one last charge with 14 points over the final 40 seconds of overtime to make it close.

When it was all said and done, Arkansas finally had the pollsters convinced it belonged inside the Top 25, with a golden RPI, some terrific nonconference victories, and a sellout crowd urging it to an SEC-opening victory. That alone is a rather critical momentum-builder, as Mike Anderson had previously won only one of his six SEC openers as head coach on the Hill, and the Hogs have only won their conference opener a total of four times since Richardson was fired in 2002.

What that means, mind you, is that Razorback basketball is back, and this team has the feel of a contender that could be playing on the other side of the vernal equinox. Barford is having a singularly terrific season at both ends of the court, and he's drawing rave reviews outside the state's borders. Some pundits think he and Macon represent the best Razorback tandem since the inimitable Scotty Thurman-Corliss Williamson combo, and there's merit to it beyond the mere statistics: These transfers have already amassed a 37-12 record in a season and a half, and the mark is an even saltier 20-5 over the last 25 games, which includes two losses to North Carolina and another to Kentucky.

This backcourt is dynamic, and is a throwback to Anderson's days at Richardson's side in the late 1980s and early 1990s when junior college transfers like Lenzie Howell, Robert Shepherd and Corey Beck came along to provide leadership and fearlessness to the perimeter. This group has that now, and Anderson's vision for the rebuild of the program is very much in operation as a result.

 How far the team may go could be dictated by the progress that Daniel Gafford continues to steadily make as the interior presence, the angular, raw Corliss for a new era. Gafford lacks Williamson's polish and bruiser mentality, but he and Bobby Portis represented the most pure interior talent since the Russellville All-American roamed the paint for back-to-back title game teams in 1994 and 1995. Portis in 2013-15 wasn't blessed with the support that Gafford has and, in fact, he was leaned upon too heavily in his two short years in Fayetteville. Conversely, Gafford is getting quality minutes and learning on the fly, but when he ends up in foul trouble, there's a measure of depth waiting to soak up some minutes and clog the paint while the scorers carry the load.

Erik Knowles at Loony Bin

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Also, "Casablanca" goes up on the big screen at Riverdale 10 Cinema.

THURSDAY 1/4

Comedian Erik Knowles goes for laughs at The Loony Bin, 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $8-$12. The Arkansas Chinese Lantern Festival continues nightly at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds, 5:30-10 p.m., $10-$15. E.J.'s Eats & Drinks hosts a rock show with Salsa and Josh the Devil & The Sinners, 9 p.m. Brewski's Pub & Grub hosts Karaoke in the Basement, 9 p.m.

FRIDAY 1/5

The next Sandwiching in History Tour from the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program explores the First United Methodist Church at 723 Center St., noon, free. Mark Wyers and Jason Hale kick off the weekend with a happy hour set at E.J.'s Eats & Drinks, 6 p.m., free. VĂ©nice Catherine De'Wilde hosts the open stage night at Club Sway, "Gayrobics," 9 p.m. Empyrean, The Violet Hour and Three Miles From Providence share a bill at Vino's, 8 p.m., $7. Revolution Taco & Tequila Lounge hosts the Winter All White Party, with dance music courtesy of DJ JJ Wilson and The Sleepy Genius, 9 p.m., $10. Brothers With Different Mothers take the stage at the White Water Tavern, with special guests The Shannon Boshears Trio, 9 p.m. It's blues night at Kings Live Music in Conway, where Trey Johnson takes his stompbox set, with an opening jam from Jet Blu, 8:30 p.m., $5. Unraveled takes the stage at Thirst N' Howl Bar & Grill, 8:30 p.m., $5. Foggy Bobcat, Rozenbridge, DJ Shortfuze and Crescent City Combo perform for "What's Up Fayetteville," a meet and greet at George's Majestic Lounge, 9:30 p.m., $5. The Electric Cowboy invites all for country dance lessons with a Pure Hearts Country Swing Workshop, 8:15 p.m.

SATURDAY 1/6

The Meteor hosts a coffee tasting and discussion of coffee-related facts and misconceptions, 10:30 a.m. The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center hosts its monthly Storytime Saturday session with "Proud to Be Me," 11 a.m. Insvrgence, Castaway, A Fate Foretold and Oblivion Rising share a heavy bill at Vino's, 8 p.m., $10-$12. Swayde's Motown Comedy Blast features sets from Eddie Bryant, Mike Bonner, Swayde Wilson, Karl A. Youngman and Keith Glason at Robinson Center Performance Hall, 8 p.m., $28-$38. Irma Gerd and Jess Kitten lead the drag party at Club Sway, "Club Camp: Dollar Menu," 9 p.m. One Way Road performs at Kings Live Music, with an opening set from Jamie Patrick, 8:30 p.m., $5. Intruders entertain at Thirst N' Howl, 8:30 p.m., $5. Heather Batchelor performs at By the Glass, 7 p.m., 5713 Kavanaugh Blvd., free. Bark Bar at 1201 S. Spring St. offers free admission to all rescue dogs, with animals from Central Arkansas Rescue Effort for Animals (CARE) on site for an all-day mixer (don't forget to take along your dog's shot records), 10 a.m. Funk Factory brings its grooves to George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, 9 p.m., $10. Rock City Rowing hosts a free indoor rowing class, 10 a.m., Little Rock Athletic Club, 4610 Sam Peck Road.

SUNDAY 1/7

El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center kicks off the new year with a Dia de Los Reyes open house with hot chocolate, atole and traditional king cakes, 3 p.m., 5500 Geyer Springs Road. Macarthur Museum of Military History screens "The Trial of David Owen Dodd," 2 p.m., free.

MONDAY 1/8

Tomes + Tea Book Club discusses Ram Dass' "Cookbook for Awakening," 6:30 p.m., Arkansas Yoga Collective, free.

TUESDAY 1/9

"Casablanca" goes up on the big screen at Riverdale 10 Cinema, 7 p.m., $9. Blue Canoe Brewing Co. hosts Yoga on Draft, a yoga class that comes with a pint, 6:30 p.m., $10-$11. The Architecture and Design Group hosts "Revitalizing the Arkansas Delta Culture for the 21st Century," a lecture from Martin Smith, PLA, ASLA, partner and landscape architect with Ecological Design Group Inc., 5:30 p.m., Arkansas Arts Center.

WEDNESDAY 1/10

Fretmoney Records hosts an Open Mic Night at Kings Live Music, or come early for trivia, 8 p.m., free. Ralphie Roberts takes his stand-up routine to The Loony Bin, 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $8-$12.

'Protect and serve' vs. 'patrol and control' in Little Rock

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

As the Little Rock Police Department has increased traffic stops to crack down on crime, it says the stops can also be part of community policing. Others say it's akin to stop-and-frisk.

One night in November, LaJoy Person did not use her blinker when making a left turn, and then noticed a Little Rock Police car following her. She waited for officers to pull her over, maybe give her a ticket, but they just trailed. "[They] even waited on me to stop at a stop sign [and] didn't turn on their lights," she remembered. Only when Person arrived at her destination, a white shotgun house just south of Interstate 630 where her friend Dexter Porter has a home office, did blue lights flash.

Porter, who had been expecting Person to arrive to lend him a textbook, saw the lights and peeked out the window of the home. He's grown used to being stopped on his street. "I'm numb to it," he said. He can remember at least five times in the past couple of years he's been pulled over for random stops and searches of his car. But he did not expect to see Person pulled over. "I was kind of surprised she was pulled over, because she's such a known helper in the community," he said. Person, 39, has been, among other things, a substitute teacher for 10 years, a member of a neighborhood association, an AAU men's basketball coach (some call her "Coach Momma"), a door-to-door community aide to help residents get on health insurance, a volunteer for homeless aid organizations and a mother to three boys. Person and Porter are both studying to be insurance agents, hence the textbook.

As one officer approached Person's window and another took up a position at the back right side of Person's car, Porter decided he'd pretend to take out some trash, walk in front of his house and activate a motion-sensor light so he could watch. He wanted to make sure he could keep an eye on the stop. Person noticed Porter, but focused on the officer at her window. The officer asked Person what she was doing in that neighborhood and for her registration. After explaining herself and handing over some papers, Person looked behind her and in Porter's light she was able to see fully the other officer hovering at the rear of her car.

"I saw a [female officer] out on the right side with her gun out," Person said. "The gun was literally out." Porter confirmed this. "[The officer] had pulled her weapon from her holster, but had it down," he said. For 15 minutes Porter watched as the stop continued: the female officer's gun out but down, the other officer questioning Person, and blue lights spinning through the darkness of his neighborhood.

The stop ended with the police officers giving Person a warning. It was, in some ways, just another of many routine police traffic stops. But it had a big effect on Person. "It really made me mad, because he pulled me over for really no reason. Why [were] they trailing me for no reason?"

"I've always been doing community work," she said. "But [the police] don't look at me like that; they look at my car." Person — who describes her car as "not nice" — did not forget to use her blinker: It's broken, one of many problems with the vehicle she can't afford to repair. Police "were just assuming because of how my car looked that I was a no good person or something," she said. "It felt like they wanted me to do something more than just not signal."

Such stops are called pretextual or investigative stops, in which officers use petty traffic violations — a broken tail light, expired registration tags, failing to use a blinker — as a means to inspect those they deem suspicious and possibly uncover more serious crimes. Officers hope to find a gun or drugs, leading to an arrest. More often they find a driver like Person and offer a warning.

In Little Rock, Person's story is becoming common, and so is the frustration. Since Aug. 18, the Little Rock Police Department has been paying 45 patrol officers overtime to conduct increased patrols. The move came after a violent summer in the city. By July, Little Rock had 42 homicides, the same number as the entirety of 2016. (At the end of the year, there had been 55 homicides.) On July 1, 25 people were shot — none fatally — during a concert at the Power Ultra Lounge nightclub, inspired, police said, by a dispute between "rival groups."

The suspected cause of the mass shooting underlined a cruel regularity to the rising violence. Soon officials launched task forces and made promises to crank up the federal prosecution of drug kingpins and to address problems of poverty and unemployment and prisoner re-entry, all long-term goals to curb the root causes of crime. But, in the meantime, with national news outlets evoking again the narrative of a gang war in Little Rock (a situation in the '90s that still casts a pall over the city), the public demanded immediate action from the police force.

It was in that context that the LRPD began, in August, requiring patrol officers to work an extra four-hour shift once (and a few twice) a week on top of their 40 hours to increase patrols. During a normal shift, a dispatcher directs patrol officers to 911 calls or other reported incidents. This leaves little time to do anything other than responsive policing. During the overtime shift, patrol officers roam neighborhoods that police intelligence has shown have high crime and conduct traffic stops in large volumes. Overtime pay, from implementation to Dec. 8, cost $970,434.

Critics have compared these investigative stops to stop-and-frisk, New York's controversial policy of stopping people on the street to question and pat them down, often with only a police officer's suspicion as a motive. As with stop-and-frisk, proponents of the policy say it's a valid tool to keep down crime. Opponents say it targets communities of color and treats innocent people like criminals.

But in Little Rock, the debate has taken on a new dimension. The LRPD calls the many warning stops — when a pullover does not lead to an arrest or ticket — an opportunity for community policing, part of the department's proactive strategy to create an amicable working relationship with the public to tamp down crime.

***

When top officers in the LRPD suggested at a public meeting, held Nov. 6 at the Willie Hinton Center on 12th Street, that increased patrols could serve as a way to improve community relations, few bought it.

Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson had called the meeting after hearing complaints from residents like Person about the stops. Richardson had earlier sent emails to fellow directors and city administrators about the increased patrols. Under the heading "Crisis In our Community," Richardson wrote, "Our police/community relationships are horrible at best and insulting and offensive at worst." He said he'd seen "single car traffic stops [with] 4 or 5 [police] units committed" and that he'd been told by people who'd been stopped that "officers were insulting, condescending ... dealing with the community members."

But Assistant Chief Hayward Finks told the dozen or more people who attended meeting that he heard from residents every day, too, mainly those complaining about the crime. Since police began the increased patrols, he said, calls reporting gunshots fired had declined by 32 percent. He also said situations in which warnings were given, as with Person, allowed for "constructive contact." Police had only used force twice amid thousands of stops, Finks said. He said officers were respectful and that giving warnings was a way to keep crime down and to interact with community members.

Person was taken aback by Finks' logic when she heard it. "That's not community policing. How is that community policing? Nobody wants to get pulled over, no matter what community you're in," she said. "It feels like stereotyping to me. ... What was I learning from this, that I can die today, for nothing? ... That's not making me feel good or comfortable. ... That's not community policing. How is that community policing? ... If every time they pulling you over the gun is out?"

After the meeting, Richardson said the idea that investigative traffic stops were community policing was "crazy."

"How do you build a relationship by randomly pulling over people?" Richardson asked. "That's not community policing. That's random stops."

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, who had been sitting in the back of the meeting room, echoed Richardson's sentiments.

"It is dumbfounding that the Little Rock Police Department would come out and brag about doing a rolling stop-and-frisk exercise and say, 'Look, this is how we're going to do community policing,' " he said after the meeting. "So we're not going to do community policing, we're going to roll up on people and stop them. ... but, be nice about it? And this is going to be the way we establish trust and build positive relationships with a community that already has ample reason not to trust us? It's stupid."

But in an interview, a week after the meeting, Finks stuck to his point. "I mean it's fair to feel frustrated and concerned. I think that's fair. I think that we have an obligation to do everything that we can. However, like I said, we have not abandoned community policing.

"We're not moving in as some type of a major enforcement state. ... I think that we are taking a course where we can — as we stop the crime — build a rapport and constructive contacts along the way. We're not abandoning constructive contacts ... even while we're short-staffed. We're trying to figure out a way to do both."

***

Others complain of treatment similar to what Person experienced.

It was around dusk when the LRPD pulled Sheila Thomas (not her real name) over in November. She and a few friends were headed to the Senor Tequila restaurant on South University.

Thomas, a middle-aged African American, moved to Little Rock eight years ago and settled down in the sprawling and well-to-do West Little Rock neighborhood of Chenal. She was not surprised to be pulled over en route to the restaurant. Since coming home she's been pulled over four times. Once was for speeding, but she characterized the three other stops as simply resulting from driving south of Interstate 630, long a dividing line between the city's mostly white residents to the north and the mostly black and Latino residents to the south.

Thomas, driving a Cadillac with tinted windows, knew the routine. She steered to the side of the road and began gathering up her documents. But this stop was different from the past ones: "By the time we looked up, there were like six other patrol cars," she said. Thomas wondered what she did wrong and what warranted all the police. One of her passengers, just 19, was "scared to death," she said.

An officer approached and told her the car's headlights were not on and to step out of the car. "Magically, when we looked, [my headlights] were on," Thomas said. She was not issued a ticket and drove away with a warning.

"It just felt it was more like my car and the area and just because ... just trying to see who's in the car more than anything," Thomas said. "Once they ran my name and thought I was clear they let us go."

Kim, a convenience store employee in Southwest Little Rock who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisal, said she "watch[es] [the LRPD] give out warnings all night long — sometimes six police cars will have one person pulled over." But, she said she "didn't totally understand it until it happened to me." She was exiting a store parking lot on 65th Street where there was a police officer in the parking lot. As she left the lot, she failed to signal as she turned at a stop sign. A little down the road, she saw "blue lights blazing down 65th Street," Kim said. She pulled over, thinking police were going after someone else. Three police cars pulled up behind her. An officer approached and asked what Kim, a white woman, was "doing in this neighborhood." He said she had a taillight out, too, as well as failing to signal, and gave her a ticket. "I didn't understand why he had to treat me the way he treated me," she said.

Asked if she felt the officers' actions were helping the community, she said, "No, no, no. They are not trying to get to know people — they can tell you that, but by my experience alone, no. I was almost in tears. I haven't done anything yet wrong, and you're treating me like a criminal."

"To be honest," Kim said, police are "just pissing people off."

Thomas also said her stop felt like a crackdown, not community policing. "I can tell the difference," she said. "That was a threatening interaction to me. I just think that type of thing is harassment. ... I don't hardly ride at night now. I'm more worried about becoming Sandra Bland."

***

The arrest of Sandra Bland in Texas is one of the videos Derek A. Epp, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the soon-to-be-published "Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us About Policing and Race," uses to explain investigatory stops. Bland was pulled over on a highway in Prairie View, Texas, for not signaling when switching lanes. The interaction between her and the police officer rapidly turned hostile as the officer questioned her and even tried yanking her from the car. She was arrested for assaulting the officer. Bland was jailed and later found hanged in her cell.

"We have really done the cost-benefit analysis of this kind of policing tactic all wrong," Epp said. "There is a benefit to removing the drugs [on a successful search], but what we've failed to do is assign any kind of cost to a failed search." Bland's arrest and death show those costs bluntly. Investigative stops, Epp says, create "mutual distrust" that builds up between police and the community, often minority and low-income, that is targeted. But when investigative stops were mainstreamed, aggressive policing costs seemed secondary to stopping violence. In the 1970s, James Q. Wilson and other social scientists developed the "broken windows" policing philosophy. Wilson proposed stringent punishment of minor crimes, such as a broken window, to prevent larger crimes. Holding people accountable for petty crimes, Wilson argued, maintained order and stopped the erosion of community, which led to the more serious crimes. He advocated for stop-and-frisk.

Wilson acknowledged in a 1994 New York Times op-ed that stop-and-frisk could result in profiling: "Innocent people will be stopped. Young black and Hispanic men will probably be stopped more often than older white Anglo males or women of any race." For Wilson, stopping crime was more important.

Finks usues similar logic. He was at the scene of a murder on Asher Avenue that occurred during rush-hour traffic when he called Chief Kenton Buckner and petitioned for the LRPD to implement increased patrols. It was the third homicide in as many days.

But Finks points to data that he says demonstrates the program is working. During the first four months of the increased patrols, as compared to the four months before the program began, traffic citations slightly declined, traffic warnings nearly doubled and the number of reports of gunshots being fired declined by 25 percent, from 905 incidents of shots fired from April 18 until Aug. 17 to 683 from Aug. 18 until Dec. 17. There have been 52 weapons and 114 drugs seized, the LRPD says, as of Dec. 25. The overtime patrol charged 349 felony counts (it's unclear, from LRPD data, how many actual people received charges) by Christmas.

But data shows the costs too: 5,823 subject and traffic stops by increased patrols in the same time span. That was approximately 112 traffic stops of residents like Person and Thomas per one gun seized.

***

The increased patrols have not occurred in a bubble. A task force including the State Police, the FBI, the DEA and other local agencies is trying to put together federal cases against major criminals in Little Rock. The LRPD has touted its Violent Crime Apprehension Team for making many felony arrests. This focus on enforcement, said Sgt. Willie Davis — a longtime member of LRPD and a community police officer who runs a program for young black men in the department — can be problematic.

"[You] still need somebody to soften that blow because when you go into a community like that — impacting people — you have to have someone to deal with the people or talk to the people that are not causing problems," he said. Otherwise, "they can feel intimidated and left out of the loop in terms of helping solve the problem."

This is especially true, Richardson says, because the trust between police and the community has been a problem for years. He has repeatedly complained of heavy policing in communities of color, saying, "There are some parts of the city of Little Rock where it's protect and serve for the Little Rock Police Department, and in other parts it's patrol and control." He said police too often treat residents in areas east of I-30 and south of I-630 "like everybody is everybody's criminal." Under the LRPD's method of policing, Richardson said, "One day you're treated like a trespasser in your community, the next day you're treated like a friend." Painting traffic stops as community policing is just the latest iteration, he says, of something that's been going on for years. In an email to fellow City Board members, he wrote, "I'm not sure if you guys realize this or not but the quick short term benefits may not be worth the long term effects. When these guys are upset about the humiliating treatment by LRPD, they have a tendency to take it out on each other. Usually in some form of violence."

Finks has said the LRPD is wary of a backlash. He said he knows the response in Ferguson, Mo., to the killing of Michael Brown was in part a result of over-policing for many years. But he says the rolling stops — and the number of warnings police have given vs. the number of citations — demonstrate a clear sign that the new effort is not just a crackdown of enforcement but an effort in community policing.

"The last thing we want to do is bring the violent crimes down for a minute and then everything blows up because everybody is so irate with the way the police department has been responding to the community," Finks said. "That's the last thing that we want."

"Community policing is not just narrowed down to the officers walking a beat. ... The problem is a lot of times, because of staffing, the officers are just constantly going from call to call and they don't have to. It's not because they don't have the skills or the will to do community policing. It's because of the call load."

The LRPD doesn't have enough officers, Finks said. In August, when the patrols began, the police had 54 vacancies (by Nov. 30, with a recent academy class graduating, the number was 21). Police can no longer walk beats in neighborhoods, and have to respond quickly to 911 calls instead, Finks said.

"That's great when you have [officers] on bicycles that are walking the beat in the neighborhood, getting to know the community. But, due to staffing concerns and issues, we had to scale back how many officers we could put in the neighborhoods," he said. After a summer of violence, his department needs to simply try to stem the violence. "I'm much more concerned with that right now," he said.

With new recruitment classes, in a year he thinks it's possible the LRPD could have more police working a community beat.

The LRPD has 19 officers assigned to a community beat. Many are concentrated in the River Market district, where nine officers patrol on bicycles. The sprawling southwest and northwest districts have only two officers each on bikes. Downtown has three.

Residents say the reason they feel targeted is that many police officers are not part of the community: A majority of officers live outside the city of Little Rock (65 percent according to the most recent data).

LRPD Chief Kenton Buckner has also drawn criticism. Hired in 2014, his tenure has been rocky at times. The Black Police Association has asked for "an independent investigation into the discrimination, inequities and disparaging treatment of minority officers and supervisors" under Buckner's command. Critics have also said the chief is often rude when talking before community groups; his supporters have said he speaks with a refreshing bluntness. Buckner, who declined to be interviewed for this article, often talks of "black on black" crime at community meetings and personal responsibility and downplays the idea that nonresident cops are a problem.

"Unemployment for black and brown communities is going to [go away]? Now, you know that's not going to happen," he said in an interview with the Arkansas Times last year. "The problem is, we keep looking for penicillin pills. It doesn't exist. Only heavy lifting is left. People are going to have to make some strong decisions about how they conduct themselves, how they go about living their lives, how they view education, choosing not to do drugs, choosing to have kids in wedlock, fathers choosing to have an active role with their kids. None of that has anything to do with a police officer living in the city."

Community members have also complained about what they perceive as the abandonment of the original vision for the 12th Street Station, which was once promised to be a mixed-use hub for the police and businesses but as of now only houses LRPD personnel. Built in 2013 during the tenure of former Chief Stuart Thomas, the 44,000 square feet of office space in the block-long building was supposed to take "the department into the future," Thomas said at the time, adding, "We're really looking forward to the opportunity to get working and operating out of this facility and see how it impacts the rest of the neighborhood." Police hoped the 12th Street Station would solve a chicken-and-egg problem: In order to fix crime, people need jobs, and in order for jobs to come, crime needs to go down. Mocked-up designs of the 12th Street Station made it look like a modern mall.

At the Nov. 6 meeting at the Willie Hinton Center next to the station, Buckner said of the lack of businesses in the area: "You think it's a coincidence that this commercial side of the 12th Street building is still vacant? There are several business people in here: Who in their right mind is going to bring their business into an area saturated with crime?"

The LRPD recently bought a building downtown on Markham to expand its headquarters.

Buckner's take on the failure of the 12th Street Station to attract commercial tenants resonated with Denise Johnson, who owns a beauty salon across the street on 12th: "That's why the police department is not that interested in this area; they're interested in where the money is." She had beamed with pride when the station was opened — she thought it meant the police would be part of the community and more businesses would move in. Now, she's disappointed. After 34 years on 12th Street, she wants to relocate. "When they had the groundbreaking, I thought it would make my clients more comfortable," she said. "They are more frightened now than they were then.

"I tell you one thing. I couldn't keep my door open before the police station and I still can't keep my door open. And I can see the police station, and I still cannot keep my door open."

***

Davis, the LRPD sergeant, said that an emphasis on community policing could help bring down the crime.

"Here's the thing: There is no way any cop, in any city, in any country can solve any problem unless someone says, 'That guy had on a red shirt, black shoes and he ran west.' If you don't tell us that, we don't know," he said. He does not see community policing as an extravagant add-on to policing but a part of the job. "If any police officer thinks their job is not social, they need to get their brain looked at. This is social work that we do. I don't care how you slice it. It's social work," he said. "I don't buy that I don't want to see them in a grocery store. I want them to see me in a grocery store. Not only that, I want them to see me and my son, who plays in the same park that their kids play in. I want them to know that I have a vested in the community where we all live. ... Do I not want to go to church with you? What are we saying?"

Remembering the officer who'd unholstered her gun during a traffic stop, Person said the police "need people in the community who are in the community who are not scared of the community. I don't like scared police in the community, because the first thing a scared police does is shoot."

Davis was quick to defend his fellow officers. "We have a lot of good officers; we do. I think 98 percent of the time we get it right," he said. "But there's a small degree. And, there's a few that will never accept the idea of community policing. In some cases it may be a person that acts as a leader — that may be a leader." Davis was among the Black Police Officers Association members to criticize Chief Buckner.

That's why so many have been frustrated by the increased patrols, Judge Griffen said. "This is stupid at the policy level," not just a beat cop going rogue, he said. "And it is going to do what stupid policy has been known to do for a half-century: create more distrust, create more possibilities for flashpoints." And those flashpoints, he said, can turn into something larger in this city where, already, distrust is pervasive between the police and communities of color. "Little Rock is running out of time," he said.


Undoing America

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

The U.S. Labor Department will tell the owners of restaurants and other businesses this month that they can keep the tips that customers leave for waiters and other service workers.

The U.S. Labor Department will tell the owners of restaurants and other businesses this month that they can keep the tips that customers leave for waiters and other service workers.

In the past — before 2017 — you would have expected anger from every quarter if the government invoked a rule that took money out of the pockets of some of the country's hardest-working and poorest laborers and gave it to their bosses. The United States became the world's biggest tipping economy because people knew that waiters and waitresses were often exempt from wage-and-hour rules and largely depended on tips for their livelihoods.

But cheers are always in order at such moments now. This year began like last year, with promises from the Trump administration to lift the heavy hand of government from businesses and turn them loose to harvest bigger profits. Business deregulation was President Trump's one achievement in his first year. Now you can add the law giving deep tax cuts and new tax loopholes to corporations, other businessmen, rich heirs and others with high incomes.

Trump is right. No president has undone so many government rules that were set up, by Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses alike, to protect workers, consumers, the environment and ordinary citizens from the perils of untrammeled commerce. By New Year, his administration had begun to unwind 67 business rules adopted by agencies under previous administrations.

That doesn't count scores of bills by Republican members of Congress that would roll back laws or parts of them that were enacted over the past 45 years restricting industries in some way, mostly affecting the environment.

Richard Mason, an El Dorado businessman who writes a column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, roared against one of them Sunday: a bill by south Arkansas congressman Bruce Westerman that would shut down public input and give the timber and paper industry that put him in Congress easier and more profitable access to national forests and other public lands. Other Republican members of Congress are herding bills to undo the Endangered Species Act, a goal of Trump.

Nearly all the business restrictions that Trump and many in his party inveigh against had their origins under President Richard Nixon, with primary support from congressional Republicans: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Council on Environmental Quality and Endangered Species Act.

A scientist whom Nixon recruited to write and help pass the endangered species rules recalled that he had asked Nixon's chief of staff if he could work with congressional Democrats to get it passed and the Nixon aide said he could as long as he never got his picture in the Washington Post with Democrats. They wanted to keep it a Republican triumph.

Now it is a Republican triumph to undo it all.

All those laws were enacted as a result of a national clamor for the government to do something about the pollution that people saw killing their forests and streams (like the death valleys that marked nearly every creek along my childhood road), corrupting the respiratory systems of their children and causing death and disability in dangerous workplaces.

The passage of OSHA, the worker-safety law, started the cry from industry that government was taking away American freedoms by telling businesses how to run their workplaces. By the way, about 14,000 people a year were dying from workplace injuries or illnesses when Nixon signed OSHA in 1971. Although by 2009 the workforce had increased by 60 percent, deaths had fallen to 4,300.

What is shocking about the Labor Department's plan to turn tips over to the owner is that it is a transparent attempt to advance the interests of business at the expense of workers and consumers, although the agency says companies could, if they chose, redistribute the tips among all its workers or lower prices.

But nearly all the regulations and laws that Trump and his congressional allies are scuttling are just as transparent. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the global-warming treaty, a profitable victory for the fossil-fuels industry. He is abolishing net neutrality, which allows AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to pick and choose who gets to sell their services on the Internet and at discriminatory rates.

Last week, the administration set out to roll back the safety rules imposed by the Obama administration on offshore oil drilling that aimed to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed a dozen people and billions of sea creatures in the gulf. Trump official said it would save oil companies $900 million over 10 years. They will take their chances on another disaster.

Also last week, they planned to stop government agencies — even Texas — from imposing restraints on oil and gas fracking, which is poisoning water supplies and causing earthquakes. They are undoing Obama rules that stopped mining companies from dumping poisonous debris in streams. They are ... well, just watch the paper.

Arkansas's Trump?

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Jan Morgan's challenge to Governor Hutchinson in the GOP primary is the most interesting political development in 2018 for sheer theatrics.

In terms of dramatic energy, the 2018 election cycle in Arkansas suddenly looks promising. A flurry of new Democratic candidates — most new to politics and many with interesting paths to the electoral game — announced their intent to run in 2018 in the closing weeks of last year, and Democrats were hopeful of more announcements in the early days of this year. Driven by various forces, from the national to the local to the personal, the next 10 months will determine the buoyancy of a Democratic comeback in the state. However, as shown clearly by her 10-minute announcement video, Jan Morgan's challenge to Governor Hutchinson in the GOP primary is the most interesting development for sheer theatrics. The question now is whether the changing Arkansas Republican primary electorate has a significant appetite for a populist candidate — an Arkansas version of a Donald Trump — or sticks with its bent for more establishment figures since Mike Huckabee's departure from the state's political scene.

Morgan, a Hot Springs gun range owner who became nationally famous in 2014 for explicitly barring Muslim Americans from admission to the business (and who later kicked out a Hindu father and son for being "Muslim"), has been visible in state politics since her aggressively ardent testimony against the "watering down" of the state "campus carry" gun legislation late in the spring 2017 legislative session. In a moment that has been watched numerous times on different video-sharing outlets, Morgan shows video savvy developed during her years as a local television reporter. While spending plenty of time on gun issues, the overarching theme of Morgan's announcement video is a populist cynicism toward "professional politicians" who hide behind voice votes on controversial issues, use hardworking citizens' taxes for "corporate welfare" to the governor's "business buddies" and incentives for Chinese companies, and care only about rural citizens when they need their votes. All problems emanate from Little Rock, including high crime rates against which she promises to protect Arkansans. There is a good deal of Donald Trump in the style and phrasings of Morgan; also like the president, Morgan's policy responses are generally vague and often contradictory.

In the lead-up to Morgan's New Year's Eve announcement, Hutchinson had evidenced concern about the risk she poses, not necessarily to cost him renomination, but to weaken his influence over legislators and his brand of pragmatic conservativism in future election cycles. Hutchinson — the former point person for the National Rifle Association on school safety — has continually reminded Arkansans of his commitment to gun rights, culminating in last week's directives to the Arkansas State Police and state prosecutors that, in his view, state law now allows open carry in the state. That move marked a stout statement from a typically risk-averse Hutchinson.

There is some evidence that Hutchinson is right to be concerned about a Trump-like populist attack electorally. While public polling of the hard-to-identify GOP electorate is rare, polling by Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College across the year has shown significantly higher approval ratings among Republicans in Arkansas for Trump than for Hutchinson, despite the governor's higher evaluations of job performance among all voters in the state. In the most recent Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College survey, for instance, the governor was running a full 20 points behind President Trump among Arkansas Republicans with 59 percent approval (Trump was at 79 percent.).

Moreover, Arkansas Republicans have shown a willingness to support a conservative populist even before the rise of Trump. Mike Huckabee, the consummate conservative populist ideologically and stylistically, dominated the state's political scene for a decade. Morgan lacks many of Huckabee's natural gifts — his sense of humor and his ability to turn a phrase — but she is cut from the same cloth in critiquing economic and educational elites.

Barring a lightning strike, Hutchinson's years of toiling on behalf of the state Republican Party and the connections it brings him, his name recognition, and his proven fundraising ability protect him from any real possibility of defeat by the newcomer. However, Morgan's showing in the late May GOP primary generally and the additional conservative populism dancing that Hutchinson has to do in the coming months to protect himself will tell us much about Arkansas's brand of Republicanism moving forward. The fundamental question that Morgan's candidacy will help answer: Will pragmatic conservatism survive after Hutchinson?


Girl meets amphibian

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' is, foremost, a love story.

When a filmmaker becomes as influential and successful as Guillermo del Toro — a "Hellboy" here, a "Pacific Rim" there, "Pan's Labyrinth" for the pure aesthetes out there — one hopes, surely, not to have to make demeaning, sound bite-sized pitches for projects. Yet the one that kept coming to mind during "The Shape of Water," del Toro's lush, strange and sort of pervy Cold War fairy tale about a woman and the fish-man she adores, the phrase that kept popping into my head was, it's like "Amelie" meets "The Creature From the Black Lagoon."

Looking at the allowance del Toro received — less than $20 million for the picture — it must've read like that on paper. Lamented the beleaguered director/screenwriter: "It was a terrible filmmaking experience. Very difficult, very difficult. We crammed $60 or $70 million of budget into a movie that had only $19.5 [million]." That's a pittance, especially when you're setting most of the action in a giant government facility slash research bunker; hiring as your stars Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon, Oscar nominees all (Spencer, a winner); and building an anatomically credible man-shaped fish creature replete with the sort of anatomical details (second eyelids, bristling quills, rad electrical currents) that make you believe, sure, the U.S. government found this specimen and maybe now wants to weaponize it, or at least make sure the Russians don't get it? "The natives in the Amazon worshipped it," says Shannon as Strickland, the brutal hardass in charge of the project and the antagonist. "Like a god. We need to take it apart, learn how it works." But — on a budget, everyone.

You won't miss the expenditure, though; del Toro is a mastermind at visual storytelling, and for all the grandiosity of the setup, the real story unfolds not as a monster-action flick but as an old-fashioned romance. Hawkins and Spencer are cleaning staff at this quasi-military facility where the creature (credited as "amphibian man," he's played by Doug Jones) is brought in one day — ostensibly as a top-secret asset, though guarded with 1960 tech and apparently without regard for the help. Hawkins, as Elisa, is mute; Spencer, who is black, seems equally invisible to Strickland and the rest of the brass there. Elisa in particular is captivated by this creature they keep chained in a tank, and which Strickland sadistically zaps with a prod. She smuggles in a turntable to play music for the creature; she gains his trust by leaving hard-boiled eggs on the rim of his pool; she teaches him some rudimentary signs so they can chit-chat.

For an amphibian man, look, let's just get this out of the way: He's pretty ripped. Maybe someone out there has an inchoate thing for mermen or whatever. If so, you totally hit the jackpot.

Anyway, Elisa and our swimming friend become pals, and maybe more than pals, and we know this is all going somewhere pretty romantical because the movie is pretty upfront about Elisa's affinity for water (rarely in American movies will you see a character incorporate self-pleasure into her daily bath as forthrightly as Elisa). She enlists the help of her painfully lonely, gay, recovering alcoholic artist neighbor (Jenkins, movingly) to help her make a break with her crush. Shannon, on the other end of the pendulum, is as ever the hard-edged, block-jawed emotionally constipated mid-century American male. He likes his Cadillac, his pneumatic wife and maybe his kids, if he were to notice them. He doesn't hear the French-tinged soundtrack, nor the jazz and blues of Elise's records, nor does it cross his mind that if a god exists, that He might look completely different from the old European notion passed down to us through cathedral frescoes. He might, in fact, be a gentle, rad fish creature who gets the hots for a quiet janitor who has good vinyl and who is, foremost, in touch with herself.

Baby driver

Posted: 03 Jan 2018 11:00 PM PST

Long after rookie pilots in The Observer's day went to test for a driver's license, Junior, 18, finally took the plunge over the Christmas break and got his permit.

Long after rookie pilots in The Observer's day went to test for a driver's license, Junior, 18, finally took the plunge over the Christmas break and got his permit. It was quite an endeavor to get him to that point, four full years after he legally could have tested and received the same permit in the state of Arkansas. The Observer, like all our friends, was standing on the doorstep of the revenue office the morning we turned 14 with our nose pressed against the glass, repeatedly whispering "open, open, open," and again at 16. We had long assumed it would be the same for Junior, but 14 came and went, then 16, then 18, his dear Ma and Pa cajoling and arguing and haranguing him the whole way about the wide-open world full of asphalt and adventure, free to roam for those with a license to drive. Junior just wasn't having it, content to allow his unpaid chauffeurs to deliver and retrieve him on the rare occasions he was required to leave the house.

Parents talk, mostly to make sure their kid is no weirder than anybody else's, so we knew this resistance to driving is common among his generation. Based on our gathered, anecdotal study, it seems like lot of them just don't want to make the jump from passenger to driver, perhaps content to go places in their minds and screens than drive somewhere to see the real thing. Still, for The Observer — who personally owned three running cars on the day we turned 16, having seen the gleaming, oil-slick heart of the motorvators' pistons and crankshafts, the birdlike guts of their carburetors laid out on red grease rags, the mechanical ballet of their camshafts and timing chains, pushrods and rockers, intake and exhaust values, all moving as harmoniously as the spheres of the universe to send fuel and air to the tip of a sparkplug perfectly gapped to throw a divine blue spark and bring about The Big Bang — that kind of thinking just does not compute.

Still, a year from now, Junior will be in college. So his mother insisted, and the week after Christmas, off we went to the State Police Headquarters. There we stood in a snaking line filled with parents and their teenagers. Periodically, a woman with a badge behind the desk would bark at some newcomer with his phone out, pointing to the prominently posted signs saying there would be ABSOLUTELY NO CELL PHONE USE in that room. Other than the periodic warnings, we all stood there silently, waiting to be tested, the phone-addicted teens sweating bullets at their momentary withdrawal from the world of texting and Instagram and funny cat videos, adrift for an excruciating 15 minutes in the electronic dead zone.

Junior passed his test, of course, even though he'd stayed up until 3 a.m. the previous night and hadn't, as far as we could tell, studied a lick. He's good like that. The Observer, meanwhile, had plentiful doubts about his potential success, having taken an online driver's test the previous night and having failed — twice — even though we've been driving so long at this point we used to drag race Henry Ford. Shows what we know.

So, belatedly, Junior's Pa enters the new realm of anxiety known as The Student Driver. Driving is serious business, as John Milner tells young Carol in Gearheadism's holy text, "American Graffiti," just before (SPOILER!) Milner and his yellow deuce coupe get mowed down by a drunk driver. He was right. Young folks, for the most part, don't understand Serious Business. But you can't get to Carnegie Hall without practice, practice, practice, so now The Observer reluctantly gives up the wheel and heads for the passenger's seat. As someone who once knew that first excitement of seeing the road roll out before us, knowing that if we stuck to it long enough, we could go anywhere and be anyone, we find quite a bit of excitement mixed in with our trepidation. We're ready to see where Junior might go, and what he might do when he gets there.