Subscribe to Steve Barnes RSS feed
The little television set in the corner of my office is always tuned to one or another of the cable news channels unless there’s an especially good baseball game underway. But this is an even-numbered year, and thus every commercial break is jammed with political advertising, often back-to-back spots for Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton in the Senate race; or Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson in the gubernatorial sweepstakes. Or commercials for any of the above disguised as “issue” ads by “independent” third party organizations. Even with the sound very low or muted altogether the visual assault is overwhelming, enough to turn one away from a bases-loaded, two-out, ninth-inning rally involving two division-leading teams.
Back from the road, weeks away from the home front. A catch-up day or two invariably is necessary to sort through the backup, the anticipated and the unexpected.
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Not terribly long ago I sat atop the hood of my car, parked on the side of a dirt road just south of Arkansas’s southern border, and, frantic to meet a deadline, prepared to rig a cell phone to my laptop computer, hoping I remembered how to use the contraption, praying there was a transmission tower somewhere above and beyond the evergreen needles. As I prepared to connect the cables, I glanced at the screen and, to my amazement, noted a window that had opened in its lower right corner. Couldn’t be.
It wasn’t stop-the-presses news, not “Breaking News” news on a television screen, which would have indicted it wasn’t news at all or had actually “broken” hours earlier. Indeed it was so unsurprising as to be almost un-news. Still, it was news. And it was broken, as it were, not by an enterprising reporter but by the candidate himself, in a press release on July 7. “Senator David Pryor and First Lady Barbara Pryor to Hit the Campaign Trail in July” was the headline.
We installed a new water heater the other day. Suddenly foreign policy came home again to Arkansas, sending me back to an afternoon in Washington some 40 years ago, in the mid-1970s.
The former first lady of Arkansas, who is the former first lady of the U.S., and who is running for president as hard as anyone can run without announcing as a candidate, stopped by the other day to sign books and shake hands. Her book is a memoir of her time as secretary of state, and it has been selling quite well if not in the numbers that her White House recollections scored. The hands she shook almost certainly belonged to Arkansans who can be expected to vote for her in the 2016 Democratic primary and again in the November election.
CENTER RIDGE — If Tom Cotton didn’t make it to Bradley County, to Warren, for the annual Pink Tomato Festival, he made certain to get to Conway County, here, for the annual St. Joseph’s Church picnic.
“I feel stronger every day,” Sen. John Boozman told me on his first full day back in harness, 48 days after a trip to the emergency room, and subsequently the operating room, saved his life. His flawed aorta was quickly diagnosed and immediately repaired, and now he says his agenda, as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, includes helping cleaning up the mess — the latest mess — at the Department of Veterans Affairs. That would include $500 million that would finance additional doctors and nurses at veterans’ hospitals and authorize additional facilities.
A state, a region and a nation achingly in need of consensus got something less on Tuesday night from the political party that was in the spotlight. The election outcomes left more conflicted than ever the Republican Party organizations in Arkansas and Washington and clouded the immediate future of both with the prospect of yet more fratricide.
“Hi. I’m Jane Doe, and I’m running for attorney general of Arkansas.”
The first to die from Arkansas was Michael Vann Johnson Jr. of Little Rock. He was a medical corpsman 3rd Class, assigned to the 3rd Marine Detachment. “A big kid,” his sister was quoted as describing him, full of life and fun, dedicated to his mission.
The May 20 Arkansas primary succeeded in winnowing the field of players but as a referendum on the principal issue facing Republican voters it failed. The outcome in a dozen contests for seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives, campaigns in which “Obamacare” was the dominant theme, left in suspense the future of the Private Option, the Arkansas version of the Affordable Care Act.
Everyone was using the term “history.” They were making history, some said. Others said they were living history. I was there, in the Pulaski County courthouse, to record that history. This is some of what I saw and heard.
My hope is that by the time you read these lines the, president of the United States, Barack Obama, is back safely in Washington, secure in the White House. Or, should he be elsewhere, that he is similarly insulated from bodily harm.
Our neighbors in Oklahoma had a Ricky Ray Rector moment on Tuesday night. Their second, in fact. In the interconnected indices of the macabre and the Machiavellian the latest one surpassed the first. And it soared beyond the Rector episode.
‘Twas the night before Easter and all through our house, my dear wife’s howls of delight echoed. (After almost 33 years in matrimony I can distinguish her howls — joy, anger, delight, frustration, irritation, amusement — fixed points on her emotional register).
With a handful of bills and a couple of packages to mail, I drove to the local post office the other afternoon, about four o’clock. Curious; the usually accommodating parking lot was full, the line forming along the curb. What …?
Bankers in Arkansas, state chartered or national, aren’t going to like this column. Nor will utility companies, retailers — any business that conducts business in cyberspace, which includes pretty much the state and nation and much of the world. A huge majority of their presidents, managers and clerks will dismiss me as an old fogey, behind-the-times, a crank; they will sniff, or force a smile, and gently insist that I just don’t understand computer commerce, don’t comprehend how safe and secure are their systems.
“I want the catfish,” Craig Smith told the waiter, having given the menu scarcely a glance. “Yeah, the catfish. Gimme the catfish.” To his tablemates: “I can’t get catfish where I live now.”
Time passes, things change. There are goodbyes to be said. In Pine Bluff they are demolishing my elementary school, a touchstone. Maybe I can make it there before the last brick is carried away. I’ve lost touch with many of my classmates — my fault, not theirs — but I never lost touch with Gabe Meyer. Understand, please, I never met the man in whose honor the school was named. He was a little before my time. But I owe him.
Transponder — I sort of knew what that does. It’s an electronic thing that sends electronic signals automatically, from one airplane to another, or to and from airplane and satellite, or to and from an airplane to a receiver-transmitter on the ground. It sends these signals automatically, at designated intervals. Unless it’s turned off.
I am always a little embarrassed to confess, my dear wife being my primary confessor, that the arrival of Daylight Saving Time makes a profound difference for the better in my disposition. I am even more embarrassed when she replies, as she does every near-spring, “Tell me about it.” Which immediately depresses me, a little — her reminder that I’ve been something of a jerk the past few months, since the annual autumn “fall back.”
Only a few hours before a couple of Republican holdouts gave it up and gave their leadership, and the Beebe administration, and about 150,000 Arkansans the private option insurance program — just a few hours earlier the Gallup research organization released its annual survey of obesity in America. Not surprisingly Arkansas was in the top 10, which should be read as the bottom 10. But we always are. We ranked fifth, with more than three of every 10 adults self-reporting their weight and height to an intersection that doctors regard as not simply “full” or plump or “heavy,” but obese. Obese, with every potential for life-threatening or, short of sudden death, life-altering chronic maladies: coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, kidney failure. And others.
- Page 1