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Steve Barnes

Pryor news

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.

Hillary Clinton in Arkansas

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.

Voters want change

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.

Veterans deserve better

“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.

Government must satisfy veterans’ needs

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.

Arkansas primary election

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.

Same-sex marriages

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.

Obama in Arkansas

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.

Oklahoma execution gone wrong

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.

Kitchen makeover

‘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).

Taxes — the price of civilization

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 …?

Danger of doing business in cyberspace

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.

Craig Smith ready for Hillary

“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.”

Remembering Gabe Meyer

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.

We keep driving, flying

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.

The joy of Daylight Saving Time

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.”

Private option and prevention

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.

Saving Private Option to kill it

It was 1968, and the Vietnam War was at its bloody apex. The regional capitol of Ben Tre, once a Viet Cong stronghold, was now in American hands but the struggle had reduced it to rubble. A reporter surveying the ruin questioned a U.S. military officer about the tactic and was rewarded with a quote heard round the world: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

Snap … Crackle … Pop

As did many of most of the Arkansas political and journalistic community, I awoke on Tuesday morning with the Private Option on my mind. A legislative committee was to hear testimony on the state’s adaptation of the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — the renewal of which, when the General Assembly convened in another six days for its fiscal session, was at issue. At stake was, is, not only the continuation of the program, which has enrolled tens of thousands of low-income Arkansans in private sector insurance plans, but Governor Beebe’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The administration’s recommendations, about $5 billion in General Revenue money (assorted federal monies to the Highway Department and the Medicaid program will carry total spending well past $10 billion) are predicated on reauthorization of the Private Option.

State of the Union

The presidential State of the Union address has become a grand, or at least notable, tradition. Traditional, too, for all its themes and much of its language to be leaked by the White House — a road test, to detect any rhetorical rattles — before taking it onto the track. And, in the couple hours or so before the president leaves for the Capitol, tradition includes distribution of the speech word-for-word. Executive ad libs are optional but uncommon.