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Steve Barnes


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.

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.

Arkansas Republican Party

Rarely have the stakes been higher for Arkansas, and its newly muscular Republican Party, than in the fiscal session of the General Assembly to convene Feb. 10. Governor Beebe is hardly on the sidelines, but his legacy is not on the line; and if a meltdown is the temporary or long-term product history will record that he warned of the possibility and sought to avert it.

‘What’s going on up there?’

At a small dinner party in Little Rock a few nights ago one of the attendees, a five-figure donor to the University of Arkansas, her alma mater, angrily vowed that not another of her dimes would flow to Fayetteville until and unless she had a better understanding of “what’s going on up there.”

Obama-Castro handshake?

American conservatives, especially in the hard-right sector, are up in arms, where they like to be, aghast at President Obama’s handshake with the president of Cuba, Raul Castro. Fidel’s brother. Raul took over when his sibling grew too ill to go on TV. Messrs. Obama and Castro were seated near one another at the Nelson Mandela funeral in South Africa and, exchanging pleasantries with other heads of state, the U.S. president found himself confronting his Caribbean counterpart and, well, either offered his hand or accepted Castro’s.

Toxic in nation's capitol

The Friday following Thanksgiving — a slow news day, no deadlines looming; my wife out of town and the kids and the grands all occupied with whatever. So, with some time on my hands, I thought to begin the Christmas season with a long overdue call to an old friend in the nation’s capitol.

Thanksgiving made easy

My hope is that your Thanksgiving, the one you’re having or the one you’ve just enjoyed, was, well, enjoyable. No, delightful. Caloric, but not catastrophically so. And familial, certainly, for what can one be more thankful than family? Blood kin or crafted through matrimony, or from friendship, family is the stuff of any holiday.

Remembering John F. Kennedy

The rumors — they were only rumors at that hour — began rippling across the campus of Pine Bluff’s Woodrow Wilson Junior High before the lunch period ended. By the time Wayne Waller’s music class began they’d gained momentum, rushing from every tongue. Mr. Waller was dismissive.

Remembering Carol and Christmases past

MORRILTON — I knew there was no way she would see Christmas though I hoped she at least could have another Thanksgiving. But no. The cancer, which had taken root in her lung before moving to her liver and from there to her spine — the cancer had its own agenda, its own timetable.

Prisons 'busting at the seams'

We’re going to need another prison, Gov. Mike Beebe said on Monday, beginning a new week by not making news. Either a new joint, or an expansion of one of the existing 17 facilities, which are filled to overflowing. I would suppose it would be an additional barracks, or four or five or six, at one or more of the units, since the figure Mr. Beebe mentioned — $6 million — probably would cover no more than site acquisition, environmental impact study and asphalt for a staff parking lot. And a new prison is like a new yacht: buying it is the cheap part; keeping it running is the real expense.

Rep. Tim Griffin's departure

A politician or other figure in the public arena who announces he wishes to spend more time with his family and therefore is stepping aside ordinarily is (a) in the shadow of indictment, (b) embroiled, or about to be, in personal scandal or (c) staring at a very discouraging poll.

Congressman Cotton's commercial

We might call it the Curious Case of Congressman Cotton’s Commercial. That’s too much alliteration, even when we drop the “Curious,” which we should do as there is nothing curious about it. It more properly should be labeled “Congressman Cotton’s Conscious Calculation of Constituent Incompetence.” Still too much alliteration, but it cuts to the chase.