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Equal Pay Day highlights wage gap

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 11:09 AM PDT

Today is Equal Pay Day — the annual observance of the date that symbolizes how far into the year the average woman must work before earning what the average man earned in the previous year. In Arkansas, recent studies have found that women are paid around 78 cents for every dollar paid to men.

The Arkansas Equal Pay Coalition has come up with a nice way to observe the day, with three participating businesses offering 20 percent off to women:

Women in Arkansas earn approximately 80% compared to men.

For National Equal Pay Day three Little Rock businesses are helping us spread the word about the gender pay gap by charging women 80% of the cost of items (or, 20% off!).

So, ladies, pick your vice–wine, beer, or coffee–and receive 20% off for Equal Pay Day! It's only fair, right?

Plus, your participation will help us spread the word about the gender pay gap in our state!
ZIN Wine Bar (both the downtown and West Little Rock locations), Flyway Brewing in North Little Rock, and River City Coffee on Kavanaugh are all participating.

The Chicago Tribune has a good article today on the national wage gap:
The most recent annual government data show women who work full-time, year-round still earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn, a level that has hardly budged over the past decade after rising from about 60 cents in 1980.

"The wage gap seems to be stuck," said Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families. ...

The gap exists, to varying degrees, across jobs and industries. Personal financial advisers show the largest disparity, with women's median weekly earnings at 59 percent that of men's, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Women's Policy Research. Only in two occupational categories — "dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers" and 'wholesale and retail buyers, except farm products' — do women earn more than men, while in 107 occupations women earn less than 95 percent of their male counterparts, the report found.

State Rep. Clarke Tucker, a Democratic candidate for the Second Congressional District seat, highlighted Equal Pay Day in an email the campaign sent out today:

It's Equal Pay Day — the day demonstrating how far a woman has to work into 2018 to make what a man did in the same job last year alone.

Right now, American women must do 30% more work than men to earn their fair share of pay. For women of color, that percentage is even higher.

We claim to be a nation of equality and fairness, yet year after year, women in Arkansas lose nearly $6 billion dollars in wages for themselves and their families due to the gender pay gap. And despite the fact women pay the same amount for a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk as a man, we continue to pay our mothers, sisters, and daughters less than their male counterparts.

Let's make this Equal Pay Day the last one by making sure ALL WOMEN are paid equally for the same amount of work. Anything less isn't just nonsensical—it's downright wrong.

My team and I are working tirelessly to make sure this vicious cycle of underpaying and undervaluing women ends. And I will do the same in the US Congress.

Arkansas remains below national average in education assessment, with widening racial achievement gap

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 10:50 AM PDT

The National Assessment of Educational Progress today released results from fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math assessments conducted in early 2017. The assessment is administered every other year to a sample of fourth, eighth, and twelfth graders nationally.

Arkansas scores were lower than the national average, as has been typical for these test results. The state's scores did not show a statistically significant change as compared to 2015. Most students scored below the "proficient" level. A press release from the state's Department of Education noted that "Arkansas' scores held steady." (That's a little better than this headline today in an Alabama newspaper: "Alabama's national test scores still low, but not last").

The latest results once again highlighted the persistence of the racial achievement gap. The black-white gap in scores increased for Arkansas students in fourth-grade reading and math and eighth-grade math as compared with 2015 results (it remained significant for eighth-grade reading but narrowed).

Cleaning solution, porn, and the art of journalism

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 09:41 AM PDT

A brief interruption in our regularly scheduled programming to give credit where it's due — this, via Rachel Herzog at the Democrat-Gazette, is how to open a news story:
North Little Rock police Saturday arrested a man after finding him inhaling cleaning solution while watching pornography in his car, a report states.

Push polling hits Supreme Court race

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 09:22 AM PDT

A tipster informs us that push polling began this week on behalf of David Sterling, who is vying for the Arkansas Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Courtney Goodson.

The script for the "poll" targets three attacks on Goodson, who is seeking re-election, and one attack on Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson, who is also seeking the seat in the three-way race.

The poll has no disclaimer and it's unclear who was behind it. Dark money has poured into Supreme Court races in recent years and this year will be no exception.

Sterling, legal counsel for the Department of Human Services, is a tedious right-wing extremist who touts his Federalist Society, NRA and Christian Legal Society memberships.
He was defeated by Leslite Rutledge in a Republican primary race for attorney general four years ago despite major backing from various dark money groups.

Einstein Charter Schools nixes planned expansion into Little Rock

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 08:57 AM PDT

The Lens in New Orleans, which has been doing great reporting on the proliferation of charter schools, has a new report on the scandal over Einstein Charter Schools' failure to provide yellow bus service to elementary students in New Orleans. Toward the end, some important local relevance:
Einstein's board also approved a resolution Friday authorizing Davis "to terminate all efforts for replication of the school in Arkansas where practicable."

Board members and Einstein staff had a long discussion about whether to move forward with the planned expansion. Staffers said the board had to make a decision immediately so employees could make plans to move.

"At the moment," said board president Chris Bowman, "we have, in my mind, much bigger fish to fry."
In 2017, the state charter school panel approved an application by the Einstein Charter Schools to open a K-8 school for 600 students in Little Rock. The unanimous approval came over the objections of the Little Rock School District. The vacant Garland School building purchased by the Walton Family Foundation for $425,000 in 2017 had been the building they intended to use for their charter. (The building was never advertised in legal advertising by the district and the building was sold a day after the effective date of a new state law giving charter schools first dibs on vacant school buildings; the deal was kept secret until it was complete.) At the time, Einstein Charter Schools said it had plans to open three schools in Arkansas.

The planned expansion into Little Rock now seems to have been abruptly called off. Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key and Kathy Smith, senior program manager for the Walton Family Foundation, told the D-G that they have not received official word that the planned charter is dead. It's unclear what will happen to the Garland School, although I have a sneaking suspicion that the Waltons will try to find another charter school to pinch hit. Just yesterday, the Walton Foundation announced that it is pouring $300 million more in funding for charter school buildings, including in Arkansas.

As for the bigger fish to fry mentioned by Einstein's board president: Marta Jewson reports for the Lens that Einstein's CEO Shawn Toranto resigned amid a lawsuit filed by the Orleans Parish school district because Einstein refused to provide bus service for elementary school students at two of its four New Orleans schools. Einstein instead provided free vouchers for children to use public transit. The reliance on public transit for young children saved the charter group more than $500,000 a year, but failed to meet its obligation as a public school, district officials said.

"Einstein Charter School leadership must make a decision," Superintendent Henderson Lewis wrote in a letter to parents, threatening to revoke their charters in mid-April if they failed to provide the mandated bus service. "They must follow the contract signed with the district by providing the required transportation or face the consequences."

With two of its public school charters in immediate jeopardy over the dispute, Einstein's board finally hired a bus company on Friday.

Marty Stuart and LANCO to play Toad Suck Daze in May

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 08:30 AM PDT

Bluegrass master and mystic Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives and rising country rockers LANCO will headline the 37th annual Toad Suck Daze festival this year, to take place May 4-6 in downtown Conway.

In addition to the Friday night concert from LANCO and a Saturday night performance from Stuart, festivities include a Toad Suck Tinkerfest, which "will turn a downtown city block into an interactive learning environment for kids of all ages," a press release says, "Museum of Discovery 'Awesome Science' shows, a Conway Symphony Orchestra 'Instrument Petting Zoo,' PBS Kids characters, and 'Kids Shakespeare Improv' from Arkansas Shakespeare Theater."

The Toad Suck Daze committee also announced a series of monetary gifts, including $35,000 to Arkansas Preschool Plus, $20,000 to the Conway Downtown Partnership, $3,500 to Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, $2,000 to the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, $1,500 to the Blackbird Academy of Arts, $2,000 to the Conway Symphony Orchestra and $1,500 to the Red Curtain Theatre, as well as $15,000 in scholarships to seven Faulkner County students.

Groundbreaking for memorial for Elaine Massacre victims draws controversy over location

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 07:38 AM PDT

A groundbreaking is scheduled at noon today in Helena for a memorial to the victims of the Elaine Massacre in 1919, when white mobs killed hundreds of black Arkansans in the Delta, attacking men, women and children in one of the bloodiest racial conflicts in the postbellum history of the United States.

The setting for the memorial, in Court Square Park across from the Phillips County courthouse in Helena, has drawn some questions from local community members, including Mary Olson, the president of the Elaine Legacy Center, which opened last year to remember and honor the area's civil rights history (its sign proclaims Elaine as the "Motherland of Civil Rights").

Olson said that the groundbreaking — which will include an unveiling of the new monument's design — is moving ahead despite no discussion or vote in the Quorum Court, the county's governing body.

Various objections to the location have surfaced, Olson said: Some residents of Elaine believe that the memorial should be in Elaine rather than Helana, and argue that the larger city is seeking to create a tourist destination rather than helping the small town that suffered the massacre. Activists also object to the memorial being in the  same park with a memorial to Confederate generals and another to the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto.

"There is not agreement among Phillips County citizens on placement of the monument," Olson said. "Some are happy about the placement. Others do not want the Memorial in the Phillips County Park because it is in the same park with memorials for Seven Confederate Generals and de Soto. Still others want it located in Elaine because that is where most of the people were massacred. The feeling is strong about the location because in Elaine, most people have stories of suffering, death, and land loss that are being handed down from generation to generation. Rather than cement the location site, this groundbreaking today leads to controversy and opens up challenges to the decision that has no Quorum Court approval." 

A request was made to Phillips County Judge Clark Hall to postpone the groundbreaking "until the Quorum Court has time to listen to the citizens of the county, fully discuss, and vote." Hall denied the request.

The concern expressed by the Elaine Legacy Center is notable — various civic leaders, including Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen, state Rep. Chris Richey, and state Sen. Stephanie Flowers, have been involved in Center events. "Elaine must be proud of its past," Griffen said in a speech at the Center's inaugural event last year. "Proud of its leaders who didn't give up. Don't sweep history under the rug. Connect the dots so we know what is happening today."

Check out the Arkansas Encyclopedia for more on the horrific Elaine massacre, the heroic union organization of black sharecroppers in the Delta, the rounding up of almost 300 innocent black Arkansans by federal troops who put them in makeshift stockades with no due process whatsoever, and the persecution of the "Elaine Twelve." The white mobs who hunted black men, women and children, wrote the Arkansas Gazette in 1925, "committed one murder after another with all the calm deliberation in the world, either too heartless to realize the enormity of their crimes, or too drunk on moonshine to give a continental darn."

With the 100th anniversary a year away, here's some further reading on the Elaine massacre and its legacy: Grif Stockley's highly regarded book "Blood in Their Eyes: The Elaine Race Massacres of 1919" and Jay Barth's column last year in the Arkansas Times. A documentary on the events is in production.

Governor announces grant award to city of White Hall for military spending

Posted: 10 Apr 2018 04:36 AM PDT

Governor Hutchinson
yesterday announced a $70,000 Military Affairs Grant Program award to the city of White Hall. The grant will go toward a joint land use study aimed at improving the military output at Pine Bluff Arsenal, first established as a U.S. Army installation in 1941, which continues to provide smoke ammunition and chemical defense equipment for the military.

In a press release issued by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Hutchinson said, "Supporting our military installations and having this type of initiative will ensure we remain competitive and valuable to national security."

This the first grant issued by an initiative, begun as a task force by Hutchinson in 2015 with upfront funding of $400,000, to expand the military's economic footprint in Arkansas. In 2016, grant money was allocated to AEDC to establish the Military Affairs Grant Program "for projects and programs that strengthen and sustain military installations in Arkansas, resulting in economic growth in host communities, surrounding regions, and the State of Arkansas." The task force added a full-time state staffer within AEDC, the Director of Military Affairs, in 2017. Retired Col. Rob "Gator" Ator took over the position this year, at a salary of $85,000.

"Having the state's grant will allow us to enhance the Arsenal's military value and strengthen ties with our congressional delegation and national military leaders," White Hall Mayor Noel Foster said in the press release.

According to AEDC, the Pine Bluff Arsenal has an annual economic impact of $142 million, supporting 650 jobs.

If there's one thing politicians can agree on, it's military spending.

Tom Cotton, John Bolton, and Cambridge Analytica

Posted: 09 Apr 2018 04:26 PM PDT

Starting today, Facebook is sending messages to the 87 million users who may have had personal data about them improperly shared, without their knowledge, with the controversial political firm Cambridge Analytica.

Which brings us to Tom Cotton. Cotton's comments yesterday on John Bolton, Trump's new appointee as national security advisor, reminded me that Bolton and Cotton have a connection, right smack in the middle of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

CNN, among others, reported on Bolton's use of the firm late last month:
One of the first uses of a trove of Facebook data on tens of millions of Americans that has thrown Facebook and Cambridge Analytica into crisis this week was in 2014 by a super PAC run by John Bolton, President Donald Trump's new national security adviser, two former Cambridge Analytica employees told CNN.

The Bolton super PAC and Cambridge Analytica signed a $454,700 contract in the summer of 2014. The contract, obtained by CNN, outlined how the data firm would provide the super PAC "behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging."
The data, acquired in violation of Facebook policy, was used to help produce ads for Bolton's super PAC. Who was on the receiving end of this "behavioral mircotargeting with psychographic messaging"? Among others, turns out it was Facebook users in Arkansas. And who was benefiting from Bolton's Facebook footwork? That would be Tom Cotton, in his 2014 campaign for Senate.

From the CNN report:
Documents provided to CNN show how the SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica's parent company, outlined how to target voters in Arkansas, where Cotton was running for US Senate in 2014.

Entitled "Arkansas Priority Persuasion Clusters," it split Arkansas voters into five groups and outlined what messaging would resonate with them.

One ad by Bolton's super PAC for Cotton focused on patriotism, leadership and on the candidate's military service.

Wylie said that ad was primarily targeted at "cluster two" of Arkansas voters, which consisted of males in their 40s to 60s who cared most about national security and the economy. Among the "image guidelines" outlined by SCL Group to appeal to this group was a picture of Cotton in military uniform — similar pictures appeared in the ad.
Bolton's PAC poured more than $800,000 into Cotton's race. The Cotton campaign itself also hired Cambridge Analytica (Robert Mercer, the conservative billionaire and part owner of Cambridge Analytica, was a major donor to both Bolton's PAC and Cotton's campaign). Cotton also benefited from two other PACs — B-PAC ($77,916 spent on behalf of Cotton in the 2014 race) and the Ted Cruz-affiliated Jobs Growth and Freedom Fund ($5,333) — that  contracted with Cambridge Analytica.

Bolton's super PAC, one of the bigger outside spenders backing Cotton in 2014, has now paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1 million. Surreptitiously harvesting personal data of unsuspecting citizens is a pricey business.

Cotton said yesterday that Bolton "understands how to make the levers of power in Washington move" and "knows how to make things happen." Certainly Bolton helped make things happen for Tom Cotton.

Monday's headlines and the open line

Posted: 09 Apr 2018 02:39 PM PDT

Your headlines for April 9, 2018: Clarke Tucker has raised more than $500,000 in first quarter; David Couch has a new amendment ready for recreational marijuana as soon as approval polls show opportunity; Walton Foundation pours $300 million more into charter schools, to ease loans for new buildings.

Max is still on vacation and Brooke's little girl is sick – so Traci stepped up to help with today's headlines.

Treasurer, auditor, GOP head may testify in Woods trial: Correction

Posted: 09 Apr 2018 02:37 PM PDT

Doug Thompson, who is covering the trial of former Republican state Sen. Jon Woods on 15 corruption charges, reports in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that potential witnesses in the trial include state Auditor Andrea Lea, state Treasurer Dennis Milligan and state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb.

Woods, who represented Springdale, is accused of taking kickbacks from General Improvement Fund grants totaling more than half a million dollars to Ecclesia College in Springdale and then-president Oren Paris III, who disguised the kickbacks as consulting fees to an intermediary, Randall Shelton.

Also on the witness list: Other current and former state legislators who directed GIF funds to Ecclesia, including Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs), Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest), Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Berryville), Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville), Rep. Dan Douglas (R-Bentonville) and former state Rep. Duncan Baird (R-Lowell).

Thompson reports that "about 70" prospective jurors were called today in the trial, which is being held in federal court in Fayetteville.

CORRECTION: Sen. King and Rep. Douglas did not grant money to Ecclesia.

Trump says he will "make it up" to farmers potentially harmed by his trade war (he doesn't say how)

Posted: 09 Apr 2018 02:16 PM PDT

Speaking of President Trump, Arkansas farmers hurt by Trump's trade war will have to take whatever comfort they can from the president's promise to "make it up them." As reported by the AP and others, Trump made the following comments to reporters at a Cabinet meeting:

If we do a deal with China during the course of the negotiation they want to hit the farmers because they think that hits me. I wouldn't say that's nice, but I tell you our farmers are great patriots. They understand that they're doing this for the country. We'll make it up to them. In the end they're going to be much stronger than they are right now.

"The farmers will be better off than they ever were," Trump said. "It will take a little while to get there, but it could be very quick, actually."

He provided no details about how this might come to be.

China's retaliatory tariffs, if enacted, would likely cause a major hit for the state's farmers, impacting soybeans, ginseng, cotton, sorghum, and pork.