Friday: News roundup and open line

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 11:09 AM PST

Today's video news roundup starts at the bottom with Donald Trump. Here's the open line.

Arkansas Life magazine to continue with new subscribers, but shift to quarterly print publication

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 10:41 AM PST

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that additional paid subscriptions — 1,003 at $20 each — will mean the survival of its Arkansas Life magazine, but it will convert from monthly  to quarterly print publication, with monthly editions online only.

The magazine previously had about 3,500 subscribers paying $10 a year, with another 20,000 distributed free by mail. A print edition is in process for February. Quarterly editions will begin in April. The article doesn't specify if free circulation will continue for the quarterly or if the subscription cost will rise for the 3,500.

Publisher Walter Hussman had sent an appeal for paid subscriptions with the January issue saying it might cease without a "substantial" response because the magazine had been operating at a loss.

The change will eliminate the printing and mailing of almost 24,000 copies eight times a year and produce $20,000 in additional income.

UPDATE: Lynn Hamilton, the Democrat-Gazette president, said there's no final decision on circulation yet but it will be maintained at the current level and perhaps be higher. Existing subscribers will be asked for an increase to $20 when their subscriptions are up for renewal. He said the staff was gratified with the positive response to their social media campaign for additional subscribers.

Helping hands for victims of Donald Trump

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 09:04 AM PST

Stories are popping up all over of acts of kindness extended to people without income thanks to Donald Trump.

* COURT COSTS: From KATV comes a report that district court judges in Conway have suspended collection of fines, fees and costs from federal employees.

* SCHOOL LUNCHES: The Little Rock School District announced that people hurt by the shutdown may immediately qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, even if their normal incomes would disqualify them.

These are but a couple of acts ranging from free doughnuts to rental payment forbearance.

I'm of two minds. Let's praise charity by those making up for Donald Trump's hostage-taking. But many people find themselves in financial straits not of their making. Layoffs happen. Medical bills happen. But blanket protection for the unemployed isn't typical, if it happens at all in court or elsewhere. You may remember Congress took steps to ensure you may never be forgiven credit card debt.

It's sad, but ... The larger the humanitarian crisis the greater the likelihood that Donald Trump — or at least Republicans in Congress — might see the light and reopen the government.

Slideshow: Justin Timberlake at Verizon Arena

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 08:10 AM PST

On tour in support of his "Man of the Woods" album, pop prince Justin Timberlake took the stage at Verizon Arena last night. Check out Arkansas Times photographer Brian Chilson's shots from the show.

Hate checkout lines? Skip the line at Dollar General with the new DG GO! app

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 08:07 AM PST

Long lists and even longer lineups can test the endurance of even the most seasoned shoppers. From hopping in the car, to finding a parking spot, to navigating through the crowds, shopping sometimes feels more like an extreme sport than it does an everyday task.

But there are ways to make shopping less of a headache. The savviest retailers know that making the shopping experience easier draws in more customers. Dollar General, known as one of the best stores in Arkansas to nab a deal, has taken the legwork out of shopping with their new app, DG GO!. It isn't just a tech add-on — it's a way to completely transform the shopping experience.

First off: no more waiting at the checkout line. Instead, DG GO! lets customers check out and pay securely in the app at participating stores. Shoppers can pocket that extra time saved and spend it on things that matter, like time with family.

The appeal of the app is clear the moment a customer enters the store. Using the smartphone's camera, the app lets shoppers scan items to see prices and track spending as they go. This eliminates any unexpected surprises, as you know the exact total before you even reach checkout.

The app will also seek out additional discounts and promotions. That means shoppers aren't only getting access to items at everyday low prices, but are also guaranteed the best price available. DG GO! will tell app users about extra savings they can take advantage of by scanning additional items, too. This means Dollar General shoppers can reap the rewards of a buy-one-get-one deal they might have missed otherwise.

It's easy to lose track of coupons and mix up deals. This is where DG GO! comes in handy again. If customers aren't sure whether a coupon applies to an item, they can scan it with their phone and the app will confirm. Long gone are the days of hauling a newspaper with you to take advantage of in-store deals.

Finally, customers get 10 percent off all Dollar General purchases when they shop through DG GO!*. This means more chances to check items off lists for less. Use the Dollar General store locator to pinpoint locations in the greater Little Rock area.

DG GO! transforms the shopping experience, from easily sticking to a budget, to finding unexpected deals in store, to checking out via the app itself. To use the app, simply download it for free from either the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. And best of all: no lines. That alone is enough to make the shopping experience something to look forward to.

*Discount available for a limited time only.

Report: Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 07:17 AM PST

The famous Doonesbury cartoon of Watergate-era 1973 inevitably came to mind today on the report that Donald Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his Russian connections. But .....

If subsequent reports that there's proof of this in Robert Mueller's hands — Cohen tapes maybe? — are true, would even THAT persuade Republicans to join in impeachment and removal of the national disaster in the White House? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure Mike Pence wouldn't be worse.

PS: From Daily Beast's account:

According to the report, investigators first learned about Trump's alleged directive for Cohen to lie from interviews with multiple Trump Organization witnesses, internal company emails, text messages, and other documents.

Cohen is said to have then confirmed investigators' findings, telling them that Trump approached him after the election and personally instructed him to lie and say Trump Tower negotiations had ended months earlier than they actually had—a move that Mueller alleged in earlier court filings was aimed at "limiting the ongoing Russia investigations."

"Make it happen," Trump was quoted as telling Cohen by sources who spoke to BuzzFeed.

Nursing home-to-judiciary money trail: Bribery case links to Supreme Court justice

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 07:10 AM PST

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Debra Hale Shelton reports this morning further details of Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood's connection to the federal bribery case against former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker. Intriguing detail: The U.S. attorney's office says more information will be revealed at Baker's trial.

Baker has been indicted for bribing then-Circuit Judge Mike Maggio with campaign contributions from nursing home owner Michael Morton to reduce a $5.2 million jury verdict in a negligence case against one of Morton's nursing homes. Morton has not been charged. Maggio is serving a 10-year prison sentence, but as we indicated earlier, he was moved from federal prison to a private facility closer to Little Rock (in Tennessee) to provide new cooperation with prosecutors. That cooperation immediately preceded Baker's indictment last week.

The indictment cited, as I noted at the time, Wood's communication with Baker by text messages the day before Maggio reduced the verdict by $4.2 million. She was, at the time, close to Maggio as colleagues on the bench in Faulkner County. They campaigned together — she for Supreme Court, he for Court of Appeals. She received $48,000 in contributions from Morton arranged by Baker (who also likely was key in a number of other contributions by Morton to judicial candidates in Baker's home in Faulkner  County.)

Now to the news. Shelton asked Wood about her text messages to Baker. Wood said she no longer has them and can't remember what they might have said. But she said she had asked the U.S. attorney's office for them so that she could release them to clear the air.

U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland, who is from Conway, recused from this case long ago because of his roots in Faulkner County. (FYI: Baker supported an opponent of Hiland in a race for local prosecuting attorney.) Shelton reported:

John Ray White, criminal chief of the U.S. attorney's office, is acting as U.S. attorney in the Baker case.

Speaking through Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Harris, White declined to comment late Thursday on Wood's statement.

Asked if the prosecution has the content of the text messages, Harris said, "It will all come out at trial."

Wood has stoutly defended her propriety in this matter previously. She has also defended sitting on nursing home cases involving Morton, in part by saying she returned some of Morton's contributions. Her race ended up being unopposed, however.

Wood was once considered a prime candidate for the federal judgeship from which Leon Holmes has retired. The judgeship remains vacant because of problems that occurred with at least three candidates. Her connection to the Maggio case, however innocent, has long been thought a factor in a nomination of her not going forward. Another Conway candidate for the job, Circuit Judge Troy Braswell, also has apparently fallen by the wayside for unknown reasons. It so happens that he, too, was a recipient of Morton money in his first race for a judgeship, but only a relatively paltry $8,000 of the more than $60,000 he raised. Nor was Wood the only member of the Arkansas Supreme Court to receive Morton money.

As I reported some time ago:

Justice Karen Baker got $20,000 of the $27,000 she raised in 2014 from Morton. Justice Jo Hart got $23,000 from Morton to pay off debt from her last race and thanked Morton at her investiture. Justice Courtney Goodson got $91,000 from the nursing home lobby in her first race for Supreme Court. Justice Robin Wynne got $7,700. Justice Shawn Womack made a race for the court after a constitutional amendment prohibited corporate contributions, but as a Republican senator he sponsored legislation backed by the nursing home lobby to cap punitive damages and was a supporter of a tort reform amendment to the state Constitution. Only Chief Justice Dan Kemp, who defeated Goodson in her race to move up on the court, doesn't make the list of direct nursing home connections

As far as we know, however, Wood is the only one whose text messages to Gilbert Baker might be in the hands of U.S. prosecutors investigating public corruption. It is unclear if the prosecutor possesses only the record of an exchange of texts between Wood and Baker or also the texts themselves (and if there might be messages between Wood and Maggio). Wood said she has cooperated fully with the Justice Department.

I think we can agree none of this presents a good appearance for the Arkansas justice system, particularly the election of judges,

Unemployment rate holds steady in Arkansas

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 07:10 AM PST

The unemployment rate in Arkansas in December was 3.6 percent, the same as the preceding month and there was a small increase in the number working.

Full report here.

Trump's crisis builds, with housing among the pressure points

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 06:59 AM PST

Donald Trump's government shutdown is having an increasing damaging impact on more than the federal employees and contractors going unpaid, including threatening shelter for perhaps millions of people.

* Here's a report on the Arkansas landlord who sent eviction notices to tenants at 50 properties in anticipation of a cutoff of federal rental subsidies.

* Here's the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report on how the same situation threatens support for thousands of people in subsidized housing in the Little Rock area.

* I'm not sure it will matter to many landlords — particularly in Arkansas, the worst landlord-tenant state in the country — but here's one of many reports that it is illegal to evict tenants victimized by the stoppage of federal government payments.

This is just poor people, after all. The Trump base is probably happy to see them punished. But the landlords — remember where Trump's fortune is rooted — are another matter.

So, too, are air travelers.

Sen. Mitch McConnell could reopen government, but he's beholden to Trump's tantrum. Arkansas's Republicans in Congress haven't been exemplars of courage either. Call them. Tell them to get McConnell to call a vote on House-passed legislation to reopen government and have separate work on border security (which Democrats support, too, just not arbitrary sums demanded by Trump in addition to existing unspent appropriations for unspecified "walls".)

UPDATE: The housing situation will grow more complicated if the shutdown drags on. Here's some background from the National Housing Law Project.

Police shooting in Jackson County

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 06:49 AM PST

A state trooper shot a Jackson County man Thursday after the man reportedly pointed a gun at him, the State Police said. The man was hospitalized in serious condition. The trooper wasn't hurt.

The State Police release:

A Jackson County man has been identified after being shot by an Arkansas State Trooper earlier today.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department dispatched deputies at approximately 1 PM to a residence along Jackson County Road 76, east of Swifton.

According to initial statements provided by the sheriff's department, a Jackson County deputy made contact with Sjon Anthony Woods, 42, who was armed with a handgun and reportedly fired the gun into the ground.

Arkansas State Troopers, Swifton Police and Tuckerman Police responded to the location after learning of the situation.

Woods disregarded law enforcement commands to drop his weapon, and pointed it at the officers, at which time an Arkansas State Trooper shot Woods.

Woods was taken to an area hospital for treatment and is listed in serious condition. No officers were injured.

The Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division is investigating the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer and will submit the investigation for consideration to the local prosecuting attorney who will determine whether the use of deadly force was consistent with Arkansas laws.

The state trooper involved in the shooting has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Representative Denise Garner on listening and fixing income inequality

Posted: 17 Jan 2019 02:00 PM PST

Freshman Democratic state Rep. Denise Garner of Fayetteville gained national attention in her successful race against former Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, the sponsor of the bill that put guns on college campuses. Garner, a retired oncology nurse practitioner, mom, grandmother, and nonprofit founder, who is known for her use of her ever-present cell phone camera (I admit that I've hid from her once or twice when I wasn't looking my best) and her ability to be everywhere at once, sat down with me recently to talk about the biggest problem facing Arkansas, the expectations of the women who worked to get her elected, and what she is listening to as she prepares to represent District 84.

Garner believes the biggest problem facing Arkansas is financial inequality, just as it is across the nation, and that inequality in both education and health care are a direct result.

"I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Dallas. Our neighborhood had teachers and CEOs of big companies and there wasn't that much difference in their homes and where they went to school. There just weren't these huge gaps" in income. "That is what is just so frustrating to me right now."

The keys to fixing such inequality are retooling the economy and focusing on education, Garner says. She believes raising the minimum wage to a living wage is the first step. She calls trickle-down economics a failure and believes we need to shift to a consumer-based economy rather than a producer-based economy. This, plus expanding pre-K, raising teacher salaries and providing more wrap-around services, such as social workers and access to healthcare in our schools, could relieve some of the burdens on our educators, who often spend their own money on supplies.

"The way we pull people out of poverty and break the cycle is through education. If a child has had pre-K experience, that is huge. The statistics for Head Start and all of those programs are unbelievable. We have to make sure the public schools have the resources they need so the teachers can teach. And a $180 million tax cut is not going to do that." Governor Hutchinson is seeking such a cut.

Her win of such a high-profile election will no doubt come with pressure. Garner acknowledges she will disappoint some people and made a point to talk openly about it during her campaign. Her goal is to listen and research the issues well, something for which her predecessor was not known. She believes she should face the same consequences if she fails to listen and connect with the voters in her district.

"If I make the best decision I can and make sure that they understand why I voted that way, then that is the best I can do. I hope that is enough. If it is not, you know, I deserve to be ousted and let someone else try."

Asked if she has a playlist or favorite song to inspire her, Garner says she routinely listens to BBC, NPR and podcasts from Ezra Klein in lieu of music, but when she does feel down, she reaches back to her time with the Arkansas Travelers on the 2016 presidential campaign trail and hums some of the music frequently played at the Clinton rallies, including songs by Katy Perry and the campaign's unofficial anthem, "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten.