Thursday, December 29, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Big Jack Johnson: Great Bluesman

By Garrick Feldman
Leader publisher

Big Jack Johnson has been playing at Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, Miss., for the last couple of weekends, and if you hurry down there, you might still catch the great bluesman tonight as he rocks the juke joint down with his powerful guitar playing and soulful singing that’s as deep and satisfying as anything you’ll hear today anywhere in the Delta.

Johnson, who is 65 and a native of Clarksdale, is a gifted guitar player and a fine singer who might remind you of other blues greats from the area — Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker or even Earl Hooker, who’d moved away about the time Johnson was growing up there, but he must have absorbed their music from their records and has honored their legacy with superb blues that mixes tradition with a contemporary sound.

Listening to him one recent evening after seeing him many times over the years — the first time at Memphis in May and then at Riverfest in Little Rock — I finally realized that Jack Johnson is surely the region’s greatest living bluesman and is as good as any of those blues giants from the past.

You can hear him for free at many blues festivals — including at an unannounced appearance last October at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival at Helena with Lonnie Shields, an area native who came in from Philadelphia after several years’ absence, and you can also hear Johnson at the Sunflower Blues Festival in August .

But for $8 or so, you can often catch him at Red’s Lounge, a small juke joint where Big Jack and his band play facing the bar, and what a bargain: He plays three 45-minute sets from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. not far from where Muddy Waters made his Library of Congress recordings at the nearby train depot in 1942. Honeyboy Edwards, now 90 and living in Chicago, also made his LOC recordings and played on Fourth Street near Red’s around the same time and still plays now and then in Clarksdale.

Johnson, a former oil company truck driver, is as powerfully built as Muddy Waters with a voice to match, although Big Jack is probably the better guitar player.

His blues rocks and swings and moves you like a thunderstorm blasting through the night.

Big Jack’s playlist includes “If You Love Me Like You Do,” “Oh Darling,” “Since I Met You Baby,” “Have Mercy Baby,” “Rock Me Baby,” “That’s All Right Mama,” “Kansas City,” “Catfish Blues,” “Driving Wheel,” “Clarksdale Boogie” and much more.

If these songs don’t get you on your feet, better find a doctor to check your pulse.

This is American roots music at its best, born in the Delta and spread across the globe, copied by Eric Clapton, the Beatles and every rock group and lounge band from Bakersfield, Calif., to Moscow, Idaho, to Moscow, Russia.

Only nobody plays it better than Big Jack.

The first time we heard of Jack Johnson was when we walked into the Blues Museum in the old Carnegie Library in Clarksdale back in 1998, and the manager said “Off Yonder Wall” by the Jelly Roll Kings (Fat Possum Records) was the best CD he had for sale.

The manager, who obviously knew his music, had tipped us off to one of the great blues groups of the last 40 years. The Jelly Roll Kings consisted of Frank Frost on harmonica and keyboards, Sam Carr on drums and Big Jack Johnson on guitar.

Frost, a native Arkansan who was still living in Helena then, has since passed away. Carr, another Arkansan, lives across the river not far from the casino near Lula, Miss. Carr is 80 and is considered the best drummer in the Delta. Johnson joined the Jelly Roll Kings when he was just a kid, and the two still play together occasionally, but these days Big Jack has his own group or picks up a band when he travels around the world, which he does often.

(Carr, by the way, is the son of Robert Nighthawk, a brilliant slide guitarist who died in Helena in the late ’60s. Nighthawk, whose real name was Robert McCollum, and Frank Frost are buried in the same cemetery in Helena.)

“Off Yonder Wall” is one of the greatest blues CDs of all-time and was produced by the late Robert Palmer, a Little Rock native who wrote about music for Rolling Stone, Down Beat and the New York Times. He is also the author of “Deep Blues,” a fine history of Delta blues and its migration to the North.

We’ve been buying Jelly Roll Kings’ music ever since our first trip to Clarksdale, although we can’t afford everything they’d put out: A used LP version of “Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down” (Earwig Records) sells for $6,500 (that’s right) from a mail-order record dealer in Oregon.

When I asked Johnson if he might sell me an LP of “Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down” for $100, he said, “I wouldn’t sell it for $100,000.”

There are very few LP copies left, although Earwig’s CD version is available from the company’s Web site. Earwig also plans to reissue the vinyl version as a two-LP set next year. It will cost a lot less than $6,500.

Look for it and catch Big Jack live.

Big Jack Johnson Discography:
“Big Boss Man,” Frank Frost
“Rockin’ the Juke Joint Down,” Jelly Roll Kings
“Off Yonder Wall,” Jelly Roll Kings
“The Oil Man,” “Live in Chicago,” “Daddy, When Is Mama Coming Home?,” “All the Way Back,’’ “We Got to Stop This Killing,” “Roots Stew,” “The Memphis Barbecue Sessions,” Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

OBITUARIES >> 12-28-05


Betty Ann Bishop Everett, 60, of Jacksonville passed away Dec. 26.

She was born on Feb. 12, 1945, in Conway to the late Johnny and Ora E. Talley Bishop. Also preceding her in death was her husband, Carl Howard Everett, Jr. and sister, Irma Dean Markham. Everett is survived by five children, Leslia Lynn Sherron of Ward, Carlia S. Rickett and Daniel B. Everett both of North Little Rock, Kent K. and Brent L. Clark both of Springfield, Mo.; two brothers, Marvin Bishop of Tupelo and Bud Bishop of Vilonia and seven grandchildren.

Funeral services will be 10 a.m. today at Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home Chapel followed by interment in Chapel Hill Memorial Park in Jacksonville. Funeral arrangements are under direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.


Walker Hite, Jr. 75, of Jacksonville died Dec. 23 at Baptist Springhill Medical Center in North Little Rock. He was born Dec. 8, 1930, in Gilmer County, W.V., to Walker Fred and Sylvia Turner Hite. In 1947 he joined the Air Force where he served during the Vietnam War with the 555 Red Horse Squadron.

On Dec. 8, 1950, he married Elsie Hogan in Valley Head, West Virginia. They have lived in Jack-sonville since 1971.
Hite retired in 1974 as chief master sergeant. He was a recipient of the Bronze Star and Merit-orious Service Award.
He was a member of the V.F.W. and Lions Club in Jacksonville. He was preceded in death by a sister, Marjorie Starr.
He is survived by his wife, Elsie of Jacksonville; three children, Susannah Simmons, Steve and wife, Jeanne Hite, Sherri and husband, Bradford Harris, all of Jacksonville; six grandchildren, Nathan Haynes, Cody Simmons, Kelsie Hite, Brandon Harris, Braden Harris, Bailey Harris; four sisters, Barbara Shiley of Ona, W.V., Wanda Corder of Akron, Ohio, Doris Long and Linda Gould, both of Valley Head, W.V.; brother, Harold Hite of Buckhannon, W.V.

Funeral services will be 2 p.m., today at Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Chapel. Entombment will follow at Chapel Hill Mausoleum. Full Military Honors will be conducted at the service. Funeral arrangements are under direction of Moore’s Jacksonville Funeral Home.


Nina Grant Adams, 89, of Ward passed away Dec. 19 in Humble, Texas. Born Nov. 8, 1916, the youngest child of Robert and Bertha Grant of Ward, she was a woman loved and respected by many. She married Marvin E. Adams on Aug. 8, 1943, and lived the life of an Air Force spouse until Marvin’s retirement in 1964.

Making a loving, secure home for her family was her priority and she often made that home a refuge for military men serving away from their families.

In 1967, Nina and Marvin returned to her Arkansas roots and lived in North Little Rock. Several years later they built a home on the same piece of land that her family bought in Ward after the turn of the century. A member of Ward United Methodist Church, Ms. Adams also loved military chapels and faithfully attended and volunteered at the Protestant Chapel, Little Rock Air Force Base.

She also had been a working, involved member of the Ward Chamber of Commerce until shortly before her death.
She was preceded in death by her parents, two sisters, three brothers and her beloved husband, Marvin, to whom she was married for 54 years at the time of his death.

She is survived by her daughters, Sammy Harvey of Humble Texas, and Becky Tislow and husband, Terry, of Niceville, Fla.; five grandchildren, Carrie Tislow Jennings and husband Brent, of Cumming, Georgia, Angie Amyx and husband, Rex, of Pasadena, Texas, James Tislow and wife, Jennifer, of Pace, Florida, Doug Harvey and wife, Shawnda, of The Woodlands, Texas, and Scott Harvey and wife, Andrea, of Humble, Texas; 13 great-grandchildren, Allison Tislow, Jordan Amyx, Nicole Tislow, Kade Harvey, Carson Amyx, Jacob Harvey, Alexander Tislow, Brooks Jennings, Avery Jennings, Caitlyn Amyx and Alyssa Bryant.

She is also survived by her nieces Joan Boles, Betty Ann Russell, Dorothy Trickey and husband Gene, and Andrea White and husband Mart as well as a host of friends and loved ones.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Westbrook Funeral Home, with burial to follow at Monk Cemetery in Ward.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be given in Nina’s name to Ward United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 50, Ward, Ark., 72176.


Betty Jo (Davis) Yates, 60, of Beebe died Dec. 25. She was a housewife and a member of the Beebe VFW Post 7769, and a Baptist.

She was preceded in death by her parents, Bruce and Eva Taylor; two brothers, Charles and William Taylor, one sister, Peggy Robert-son, one stepson, Jason Yates and her husband of 28 years, Cecil Davis. She is survived by her husband of 14 years, Ron Yates; two daughters, Angie and Earl Lewis of Beebe and Kim and Jeremy Russell of Russellville; one stepdaughter, Suzanne Yates of Conway; one stepson, Andy Hornecker of Conway; four grandchildren, Brittany Daniel, Jay Mandrell, Courtney Lewis and Victoria Mandrell; three sisters, Lela Gary of Montgomery, Texas; Barbara Pearson of Little Rock, and Virginia Brighter of Little Rock.

Funeral will be 2 p.m. today at Westbrook Funeral Home in Beebe with burial in Providence Cemetery in Judsonia.


Waymon Eddy Sr. 86, of Austin, died Dec. 24 in Cabot. He was born to the late George and Lola Kirkpatrick Eddy on Dec. 4, 1919, in the Zion Hill Community. He was preceded in death by his son, David Eddy; grandson, Anthony LaFave; brother, Wesley Eddy; and sister, Jeffie Shurley.

He is survived by his wife, Elsie Eddy; eight children: Waymon and wife Ione Eddy Jr., Paul and wife Barbara Eddy, James and wife Janice Eddy, Juanita and husband Edward Brown, Darrell and wife Peggy Eddy, Patricia and husband Lloyd Balentine, Kenneth and wife Ruth Ann Eddy, Debi and husband Tom LaFave; 37 grandchildren; 60 great-grandchildren; daughter-in-law, Gladys Eddy; brothers, Bill and Ben Holtrop.

Funeral services were held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Lighthouse Pente-costal Jesus Name Church in Beebe.
Burial followed at Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Cabot. Funeral arrangements by Moore’s Cabot Funeral Home of Cabot.


James David Baldwin, 74, died Dec. 24. He is survived by his wife, Betty Baldwin; children, Ronny Baldwin and Doris Baldwin of Cabot and Joyce Cernicky of Chicago; four step-children, Ricky Smith of Florida, Cindy Ward, Sara Willi-ford and Sandra Stout of Lonoke; 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were held Tuesday at Eastside Baptist Church with interment in Sunset Memorial Gardens, arrangements by Boyd Funeral Home, Lonoke.


Mary Lucille Smith, 71, of Beebe, passed away on Dec. 25. She was preceded in death by her parents, Melton and Belle Stivers.

Survivors include her husband, Lemuel Smith of the home; daughters: Barbara Peeks of Beebe, Sandy Henson and husband Russell of Bald Knob, Kathy Stock-man of McRae and Brenda Hardin and husband Edward of Jackson-ville; son, David Smith and wife Shirley of Lonoke; brother, Melton Eugene Stivers of Greenbrier; sister, Gladys Sullivan of Lonoke; 16 grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. today at Lighthouse Pente-costal Church in Beebe with interment to follow at Beebe City Cemetery. Arrangements by Thomas Funeral Service 713 South Second St. Cabot, 941-7888.


Mary Frances Tarrow Muncie, 73, of Jacksonville, died Dec. 26. She was a loving and loyal wife and mother and attended the Assembly of God Church.

She was preceded in death by her husbands, Richard Tarrow and Oscar Muncie, and a daughter, Susan Cogen.
She is survived by one son, Richard Tarrow, Jr. of Jackson-ville; four daughters, Diannah Walburn of Beebe, Nona Graves of Jacksonville, Barbara Anderson of Beebe and Sheila Lindsey of Jacksonville; 12 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren; and two sisters, Margaret Power of Texas and Edra Reaves of Jacksonville.

Family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Westbrook Funeral Home, Beebe. Graveside service will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens, Beebe.

NEIGHBORS >> Road to Bethlehem is not less traveled

Leader staff writer

Just off Hwy. 31 in Lonoke County, on Bethlehem Road, is a four-mile community-wide project that displays the story of the birth of Jesus for motorists driving by.

The displays are illuminated every evening from 5:30 to 10 p.m. until New Year’s Eve.

For the past 19 years, nearly all the residents along Bethlehem Road have put up life-size Biblical figures and signs with Bible verses, made out of painted plywood in their yards. With sheep, shepherds, cattle and verses, nearly every yard has a unique display making up parts of the nativity scene.

“This year we added some more shepherds and two new signs out of Isaiah 9:6 verse,” Jeaneane Nipper said.
The Nipper home has the display of the Three Wise Men riding on camels towards Bethlehem.

Just down the road, another home has angels, both in the yard and one in flight suspended from the limbs of a nearby tree.

The final display, the manger scene, is on display at Bethlehem United Methodist Church, 2540 Bethlehem Road,

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the church has had open houses featuring programs presented by the Lonoke County Council on Aging, Glen Poole and the Pearsons, Bethlehem Carriers of the Light, Christ Worship Center Church, The Hickory Hill Blue Grass Gospel Singers and the Gospel Tones.

“We had between 600 and 700 people during the open houses,” Nipper said.

To get to the “Christmas Road to Bethlehem,” take Exit 16A off Hwy. 67/167 in Cabot and get on Hwy. 321.
Take the Hwy. 321 Spur until it dead-ends at Hwy. 31.

Turn left on Hwy. 31 and then right on Bethlehem Road.

There will be a green street sign as well as a white sign with red letters advertising Bethlehem United Methodist Church.

The final display, the manger scene, is on display at Bethlehem United

SPORTS >> Red Devils put away Hughes in first round

IN SHORT: Jacksonville used a fourth-quarter flurry to bury the pesky Class AA Blue Devils Tuesday night at JHS.

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville let class AA Hughes hang around for a long time. Despite several opportunities to put the pesky Blue Devils away, the Red Devils couldn’t do it until a final burst at the three-minute mark that led to an 86-65 victory.

Finally, after Hughes had cut another double-digit deficit to seven points at 69-62, Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner used a Hughes’ timeout to get his team’s attention.

There was no strategizing, no play was drawn up, just a serious challenge to his players’ collective heart. It wasn’t too long ago that Jacksonville blew a big lead in a loss to Russellville, and Joyner didn’t want to see it again.
This time, his team answered the challenge with furious relentlessness.

Hughes cut the lead to seven with 3:40 left in the game. Forty-one seconds later, it was over. Jacksonville scored nine straight points, the last seven of which came without the ball crossing halfcourt, in 41 seconds to make it 78-62 with 2:59 left in the game.

At the 2:20 mark, it was 82-62 and Hughes subbed out for the remainder of the game.

Jacksonville followed suit and cruised to victory.

“Hughes is a doggone good AA basketball team,” Joyner said. “We should have put them away earlier, but they were making it hard. They kept hitting shots and just wouldn’t go away. We still have to work on that killer instinct.

“I had to chew ‘em out and I’m glad they responded, but I can’t keep doing that. They’re going to have to find their own motivation. I don’t think we’re going to have that problem against the teams in our conference though. This game got a little easy at times and we lost focus. I don’t think we’ll be doing that in our conference.”

Jacksonville center K.C. Credit had a dazzling first half, with two alley-oop dunks and a reverse dunk in open court after picking the pocket of Blue Devil standout Kevin Brown.

Credit turned his ankle late in the second quarter. The injury wasn’t serious, but the 6-foot-5 post only played sparingly the rest of the game.

Senior guard Lavar Neely picked up where Credit left off, and turned in one his most complete performances of his stellar career.

Neely scored 26 points, dished out five assists, got four steals and grabbed four rebounds.

The team’s assist total was the highest of the season, with the Red Devils dishing out 17 total. Kajaun Watson matched Neely to lead the team with five.

Watson was also the second-leading scorer in the game with 17 points. Will Christian added 12 and Credit scored 10.
The win lifts the Red Devils to 7-2 on the season. They move on to play Mills University Studies in the second round at 8:30 p.m. tonight.

Mills demolished Catholic 53-25 in its first-round game.

The other first-round match-ups saw Little Rock Christian Academy decimate Conway 55-36, while Sylvan Hills upset No. 1 ranked Little Rock Parkview 53-51.

In girls action, the Lady Devils beat Dollarway 34-33. LR Hall beat Mills 47-43, Bentonville escaped LR Central 46-44, and McCellan defeated HWHC 54-50.

SPORTS >> Beyond driven: Jacksonville senior finds his inner drive on and off court

Leader sports editor

He says he’s shy, he speaks like an intellectual, he acts like a driven force, and those who know him say he’s all of those things. Airic Hughes, a senior guard for the Jacksonville basketball team, hasn’t seen much of the spotlight early in his career at JHS, but has made the most of his senior season.

He made himself known immediately, leading the team with 16 points in its season-opening win against North Little Rock. It was the first time in several years that Jacksonville had beaten the Charging Wildcats, and Hughes was the player of the game.

His efforts earned him The Leader’s Spotlight Player honor that week.

Immediately after that game, first-year Jacksonville coach Vic Joyner was asked where this kid came from, but Joyner wasn’t at all surprised by the play of his team’s smallest member.

“I don’t know why nobody’s heard of Airic Hughes,” Joyner said. “When I got here, it didn’t take long to see he has more drive, and is willing to work harder than anybody we got. He’s just driven. He wants to get better and he’ll do what you ask him to do in order to get better. I love coaching kids like that.”

Hughes toiled on the junior varsity team last year, but admitted he wasn’t happy there. Once Joyner came in, he knew what he had to do.

“Last year was like someone was putting restraints on me, but I didn’t get too upset about it,” Hughes said. “My grandma, I talk to her a lot about things, she told me to just be patient, keep working hard and trust in God. I trust her so I did what she said.”

Hughes and the rest of the Red Devils went through most of the summer not knowing who their coach was going to be, but it didn’t matter to Hughes.

“I just wanted to play. I was going to work as hard as I could all the time. So whoever the coach was, wouldn’t have a chance not to play me.”

When Joyner left rival North Pulaski to take over at JHS, his impact was also immediate, and good, according to Hughes.

“You could just tell the intensity was up,” Hughes said.

“You either come with it 100 percent, or get out. Offseason was grueling. We were lifting weights three times a day. We were running. He put a big emphasis on conditioning, but that’s good. That’s what we needed. He told us when we were running that we were going to be in better shape than the teams we were playing. He told us we’re going to see guys on the other team tired, bending over trying to catch their breath. He was right. We’ve seen that.”

The Red Devils are currently 7-2, which is miles ahead of where they were at this time last year, but it’s still not enough for Hughes, who says he’s not even close to satisfied.

“I’m not satisfied at all,” Hughes said.

“We could be playing a lot better. We’ve made too many mistakes. I’m one of them. I had a big turnover against Russellville that helped them come back on us in that game. We have to learn to put teams away. We didn’t do that. We should only have one loss.”

Hughes was referring to a 30-point drubbing the Devils took from Forrest City earlier this season, but he says he still wouldn’t be satisfied had they beaten the Mustangs. “I’m not satisfied until we hang a banner,” Hughes said. “There’s not any basketball banners in that gym. I want a championship banner, at least a conference, and hopefully also a state.”

Hughes understands the difficulty in getting a banner this season. The Red Devils play in the AAAAA-East, which some say is the strongest conference the state has seen in several years. But Hughes in undaunted by the monumental task of beating all those teams enough times to win that banner.

“The good thing is we have a legit shot to do it,” Hughes said. “I know what people are saying about the conference, but I know what they’re saying about us too. And we have a legit shot to do this.

“I’m glad the conference is considered that tough because that’s who you want to measure yourself against, the best.”
Hughes’ love for his school runs deeper than that of the ordinary student or fan. He hearkens back to his childhood days of watching DaShaun Ford run the court in the Devils’ Den, and remembers wanting to play in this gym back then.

Now that he’s there, he feels at home, especially with a big part of his home sitting in the top left corner of the bleachers of home games.

“My grandma comes to every game and sits in the same spot, and I love that,” Hughes said. “It’s comforting to look up there during a timeout or something and see her there. I already know she’s going to be there, but it’s nice to look up there and see her.”

The 5-foot-9 senior’s life runs deeper than basketball. He carries a 3.8 grade-point average and scored a 25 on his ACT. He’s currently hoping that his application to academically esteemed Baylor University is accepted.

He doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do in life, but he knows he wants to study history at Baylor. The processes of life have always carried a fascination for him.

“It’s always been interesting to me how people deal with major hardships,” Hughes said. “I think about stuff like that all the time. Why do cultures act like they do and have their practices and rituals and things like that? Why do rulers treat people like they do? I think about why there’s so much persecution.”

Hughes also understands that history can only tell him that those things happened, and that his questions teeter between history and philosophy. But he says he hasn’t come up with many answers.

“No I haven’t,” Hughes said. “Not any good ones.”

Although he says he doesn’t know what he wants to pursue as a career, he does already have at least one option in mind, an option that stems from his love and loyalty for Jacksonville.

“I don’t know what I want to do, but I know I wouldn’t mind coming back here and coaching Jacksonville,” Hughes said. “It’s where I feel at home. I just like it here.”

EDITORIAL >> Payday lenders Democrats' pals

It is the least surprising and most surprising news of the month: The payday-lending industry has settled more than $20,000 on the Democratic Party of Arkansas. The Arkansas Business newspaper reported that development this week.

Least surprising because it will come as a shock to no one to learn that an industry that gets its way in the legislative halls spends some money on political campaigns. The payday lenders, who give short-term loans to desperate people at triple-digit interest rates, got a law passed making their operations legal in Arkansas, and they have withstood meager efforts to get it repealed. The media could compile similar reports on the generosity of hundreds of other business interests that have thrived when laws are made or regulations adopted. Money, sadly, is the grease that keeps the wheels of government turning.

Most surprising because if any person or entity ought to be wary of contributions from the payday lenders it is the Democratic Party, which prides itself upon being the tribune of working people and the poor, the victims of the wretched practices of the usurious lenders.

It will be remembered that the former Attorney General and now U.S. Senator Mark Pryor took $14,000 from the lending companies when he ran for attorney general in 1998 and then took a hands-off view of the payday-lending legislation when people sought his official opinion on it as the legislature was passing it in 1999. He would not offer his opinion on the obvious: The big fees charged to people who would get the speedy loans amounted to interest and would violate the state’s constitutional bar to usurious interest on any kind of debt. Pryor insisted time and again that the big gifts to his campaign had not influenced his implied favor for the lenders’ legal position. Well, Pryor won anyway but the coincidence of the money and his stand robbed his campaign of much ardor.

It is now a problem for Attorney General Mike Beebe, who is running for governor. Beebe is obliged officially to defend the law empowering the lenders to charge the exorbitant rates because the attorney general defends statutes when they are challenged. But the sizable gifts to the party — will there be more? — raise doubts about Beebe’s rectitude and his attitude about this working-class issue. He is apt to be the principal beneficiary of the money as the party’s standard-bearer.

A Pulaski County trial judge has upheld the constitutionality of the law and it will be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, again. Let us hope that the court advances the case and makes the industry’s political slush moot by the 2006 election. Meantime, there would be nothing wrong with the attorney general saying that he believes sky-is-the-limit loans are rotten, whatever he considers his duty to be in defending the law’s constitutionality.

EDITORIAL>>Holiday spirit missing in D.C.

Christmas in the Year of Our Lord 2005 in Washington, D.C., finds little children, the sick, the meek and the poor in spirit more out of fashion than ever before in our nation’s capital.

The disciples are decidedly out of fashion, too, having been replaced by the less sentimental Grover Norquist and Ayn Rand.

Working into the night Wednesday, the Senate voted 51-50 for legislation that was called a deficit-reduction package because over five years it will reduce federal spending in a few programs by $39.7 billion, a trifle over 2 percent of the projected deficits over that period.

It would come out of what — corporate subsidies, investor entitlements, defense procurement?

No, it will primarily come from the neediest Americans: the elderly, the disabled and those who depend on Medicaid for their treatment and medicine. Some $12.6 billion would come from loan guarantees that help kids from working families go to college.

The Senate at least eliminated far more punitive measures against the poor and elderly that Tom DeLay’s House of Representatives had crafted and that President Bush wanted.

Still, enough Republicans refused to go along with the cuts that Vice President Cheney had to cut short his celebratory tour of the war zones so that he could cast a tie-breaking vote for the reconciliation bill.

Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, said the bill was a down-payment on the Republican promise to curb deficit spending.

The package was put together to blunt criticism that the GOP had become the party of deficits and fiscal doom.
Soon we will see very quietly the fruits of its work in our neighborhoods.

But don’t expect to see the deficit shrink. That is because of the other half of Congress’ seasonal blessings upon the country. To avoid the obvious judgment that the government was taking from the poor and giving to the rich, the Republican leadership separated a $70 billion package of tax cuts for corporations and well-to-do Americans, including future reductions in tax rates on stock dividends and other investment profits. They will pass it after the first of the year. Cheney’s vote may be needed then, too.

The net result by 2010 will be not a deficit reduction of $39.7 billion but an additional $30.3 billion of debt.

Senators Blanche Lincoln, who has sometimes shown a fondness for tax cuts for the super-rich, and Mark Pryor were targeted by the Republicans, but both voted against the fake deficit plan. Lincoln said she did not want people with disabilities and children to foot the bill for big tax cuts for the wealthy.

May the blessings of the season be upon them.

TOP STORY >> Home invasion nightmare

IN SHORT: Two intruders in ski masks menace residents in their Cabot home a couple of days before Christmas, shooting a man in the shoulder before fleeing on foot.

Leader staff writer

At first, Marsha Bailer thought the two men in ski masks standing in the front room of her Cabot house telling her and her family to get down on the floor were jokesters.

“I looked at them real hard,” she said, “trying to figure out who they were.”

But it didn’t take long for Marsha Bailer to discover last Thursday’s home invasion was no joking matter.

One of the two intruders ended up shooting her husband, Michael, in the shoulder before fleeing on foot from the Bailer residence at 254 Gray-hawk Cove.

Marsha Bailer said she had just gotten home from work and she, Michael, and their 2-year-old son were sitting down to dinner when the two men barged in.

“Michael told them to take whatever they wanted, but to leave us alone,” Marsha Bailer said. “When they started to get out duct tape, Michael went berserk. He threw a kitchen chair at them and then picked up the coffee table and pushed them out of the house,” she explained.

Marsha Bailer said her husband also poked one of the suspects in the eye and grabbed the other by his belt and threw him off the porch.

While pushing the suspects out of the house, one of them fired a .25-caliber pistol five times. One of the bullets struck Michael Bailer in the left shoulder.

As Michael Bailer went after the suspects, Marsha Bailer scooped up their 2-year-old son and hid in a corner. When she heard the shots fired, she ran out the back door with her son, screaming 911, she said.

“Luckily,” she said, “a neighbor was taking his trash out and immediately called 911,” Marsha Bailer said.

Once outside, the suspects fled down the street, and Michael Bailer went to his truck to follow them and that’s when he noticed he had been shot. “I’m just so proud of him,” Marsha said. “But I’m still concerned that these men are still out there. I want everyone to be aware.”

The Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office is handling the case because the Bailer’s live just outside the city limits of Cabot.
The sheriff’s office brought out canines Tuesday but the dogs were unable to pick up any scent.

Sheriff’s investigators have confirmed that five shots were fired in the home and one went through the coffee table.
The bullet that struck Michael Bailer entered the front of his left shoulder and exited out the back. He was taken to Rebsamen Medical Center where he was treated and released.

The suspects are described as white males. One is about 6-feet tall with blonde hair and a mustache. The other was a few inches shorter. The pair had on ski masks, but one didn’t have it pulled down all the way, and were wearing gloves.
The Bailers have no idea why they were singled out.

Sgt. Ruth Baker, with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, said they have leads that they are working on, but would appreciate anyone with additional information to call the sheriff’s office at 676-3000.

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> How bodies come home from Iraq

Leader publisher

Editor's Note: Relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq are often surprised to find out that their loved ones are returned home on commercial airplanes. This column first appeared here on May 26, 2004.

A couple of weeks ago, passengers on an airplane flying into Little Rock heard a pilot telling them that an officer was escorting home a soldier returning from Iraq.

When the passengers stood up after they landed late at night, they could see an Army officer in the front of the plane, but there wasn’t a soldier with him.

Some of the passengers must have realized why the returning soldier wasn’t sitting with the passengers. He was coming home in a casket.

An honor guard waited for the arrival of Sgt. Hesley Box, Jr., whose casket was lowered from the cargo area out of view of the passengers.

Because of the ceremony, it took a while for the luggage to arrive at the baggage area, but most of the passengers had no idea why their bags were delayed.

The soldier was a member of the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade based in Little Rock, which has lost nine members this spring, the highest of any Guard unit in Iraq.

Three other Arkansans assigned to other units have also been killed in Iraq. They come from all walks of life and from most parts of the state, and they had no idea when they went off to war back in March and April that they would join the rising toll of American casualties there.

The number of dead is ap-proaching 800, although only a couple of weeks ago, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was under the impression that figure was about half that many.

Apparently he hadn’t been checking his daily briefings that land on his desk.

The 39th Brigade, also known as the Arkansas Brigade, is special. “They’ve performed courageously in the face of insurmountable odds,” Staff Sgt. Mark Starr of North Little Rock told the Associated Press.

Starr survived an attack on his camp which killed four Arkansans and almost killed him.
For one thing, you won’t catch the 39th Brigade abusing prisoners.

“You see these pictures of Abu Ghraib in that prison. I tell you that would never happen in the 39th Battalion. They have a deep sense of obligation to the Iraqi people.”

But Starr, who is recovering from his wounds in his North Little Rock home, is critical of the way the war has been run since Saddam Hussein was overthrown.

“I’m very disappointed with the civilian administration,” Starr told the AP. “I feel this administration did not have a plan for the occupation after the war.”

“This president landed on an aircraft carrier,” Starr continued, “and he said combat operations were over, and it wasn’t over. The war is actually starting.”

(Postscript: U.S. combat deaths in Iraq now stand at 2,175.)

TOP STORY >> New start for Cabot utility as '06 nears

IN SHORT: The city council approves just enough to meet its Jan. 1 takeover deadline.

Leader staff writer

The consensus of the Cabot City Council Tuesday night was that the devil was in the details of severing the water and sewer departments from the city and turning them over to a commission to run.

So to make it happen by Jan. 1 as the ordinance they passed earlier this year required, they left such details as rights-of-way and franchise fees to be worked out within the next 30 days.

The council met in special session with a full agenda of items relating to separating the city utilities from city control, but only passed the three necessary to make sure the commission would take over Jan. 1 — an ordinance cleaning up the language of Ordinance 32 which created the new commission, an ordinance setting the water and sewer rates the commission will charge, which are the same as the existing rates, and an agreement by which the commission will pay for the services of the city’s human services department to perform human resource functions for the commission’s employees.

Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh also assured the commission that control of the water and wastewater systems included control of the money.

Commission members knew going into the meeting that it might not be easy to get the entire package passed. Commissioner Bill Cypert learned earlier in the day that Alderman David Polantz would oppose turning the utilities over to the commission on Jan. 1 because he had not had time to look over the 200 pages of documents that would help make it happen. Polantz proposed postponing the transfer until Feb. 1.

But the commission had been working overtime for months to get ready for the transfer of control. To not take over would cause problems with accounting, billing and personnel records, Tad Bohannon, the commission’s attorney, said.

Bohannon told the commission during a 45-minute-long meeting before the council met that if the council took no action, the commission would still be in control of the utilities Jan. 1. But whether Com-munity Bank would turn over the accounts was an unknown.

So the commission went into the meeting prepared for Bohannon to argue their case. J.M. Park, commission chairman, said the crucial issues were “getting control of the purse strings and getting control of the personnel. If we get the purse strings and we get the personnel, we can operate,” he said, and the full commission agreed those things were what they would try to get.

But getting the council to hand them over took one and a half hours.

Stumbaugh said he appreciated all the work the commission had done to get ready for the takeover, but some of the details were problematic. If the council voted to pass them, he would veto them, he said.

Alderman Odis Waymack, who had pushed to put the commission in control, suggested passing only what was needed and Alderman Patrick Hutton listed the three that would be voted on.

Polantz voted no for all three as well as for the emergency clauses that made them take effect immediately instead of in 30 days. “This is an extremely complicated event,” he said early in the council discussion. “I’ve set here too long and I know that small words make a big difference … I don’t see where a month one way or the other will change the plan on this thing.”

Back in session for a brief meeting after the council vote, the commissioners congratulated Bohan-non for his work before the council and Bohannon in turn congratulated them: “Come Jan. 1, you have a water and wastewater system to run,” he said.

TOP STORY>>Christmas celebrated with jobs, loved ones

IN SHORT: Somebody is always on call at the animal shelter or working at the Waffle House so others can celebrate.

Leader managing editor

Spending the day cleaning up an animal shelter isn’t what someone usually has in mind as an enjoyable way to spend Christmas Day.

Cheryl Rainbolt-Wood said she tried to make the best of it.

As an employee of the Jacksonville Animal Shelter, Rainbolt-Wood was on-call on Sunday, meaning she had to spend Christmas Day cleaning up the shelter, which included feeding the animals and hosing down the kennels. She also had to respond to any animal-control calls that the city might have received.

Surprisingly, no calls came during Rainbolt-Wood’s shift.

“I wasn’t busy at all,” she said. “Basically, we were closed, but I was on call and I expected a call or two. But I didn’t get paged one time.

“Considering I had to work, it wasn’t that bad of a day.”

Rainbolt-Wood has one of only a few professions that call for working on Christmas.
Mary Whitlow has another.

As manager of Jacksonville’s Waffle House, Whitlow was busy on Sunday, serving everything from pork chops to eggs to chili to grits, to a constant rush of customers. “It was really busy,” Whitlow said. “It was definitely Christmas. It was an all-day thing. The place was constantly full and people were waiting all day. We always have extra staff on hand for Christmas.”

Wanda Martin, manager of the Waffle House in Cabot, echoed Whitlow. “It was an awesome day,” Martin said. “We had triple our normal business.”

Waffle House is one of the only chain restaurants open 365 days a year.

“I know we got a lot of phone calls, with people asking if we were open,” Whitlow said. “We’re open every day and I think if everyone would have known that we may have been even more busy. We don’t get snowed out, iced out or blacked out.”

Whitlow said most customers were in a friendly, holiday spirit, making it easier for restaurant workers.

“The people who came in seemed to be in better moods than normal, I guess because it was Christmas,” Whitlow said. “It makes it easier for the employees who have to come in and work. I’m really lucky to have employees who don’t mind working on a day like Christmas.”

A lot of happiness with friends and family was the common Christmas theme of many area residents, while any negative aspect of the holidays was minimal — at least in comments gathered by The Leader.

“Getting to see my family who I don’t get to see that much was the best part of Christmas,” said Amanda Wawak of Cabot.

“Spending time with my family and everyone getting together is what I enjoyed most,” Debbie Place of Austin said.
Tim Snell of Cabot and Tim Reed of North Little Rock said spending time with their families was also their favorite part of the day. The worst part of the holiday?

“All the travelling,” Reed said.

“I’ve had a cold,” Rob Rodgers of Jacksonville said.

A woman going shopping at Knight’s grocery store in Jackson-ville said her holiday was dampened by the death of a close friend.

George Webster of Jacksonville said his favorite thing about Christmas was the food he had.
“The chicken and dressing with gravy was good,” he said. “The low point, though, was that we didn’t have any presents this year.”

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim appreciated the nice weather. In 2004 many families were stuck away from their loved ones due to several inches of ice and snow leaving roads too hazardous to drive.

“Christmas was very good this year,” Swaim said. “I had the pleasure of having all my immediate family home.
“The weather was nice and we had plenty of food. It was a great day.”

Staff writer Sara Greene contributed to this story.

TOP STORY >>Bond: 'I'll be next speaker'

IN SHORT: Jacksonville lawyer, a rising star in the Democratic Party serving his second term as a state representative, says he thinks he’ll have the 51 votes he needs to be the next speaker of the House.

Leader staff writer

The most powerful voice in the state House of Representatives when it reconvenes about a year from now is likely to be Jacksonville’s favorite son, state Rep. Will Bond.

Bond, who has established himself as a careful, thoughtful legislator throughout his first and second terms, says he expects to have the 51 votes he needs for election as speaker of the House when it meets Jan. 9 expressly for the purpose of selecting its future leader.

Running against Bond is state Rep. Benny Petrus of Stuttgart. Both are Democrats.
Petrus, who is a farmer and automobile dealer, could not be reached for comment this week.
The current speaker, state Rep. Bob Stovall, D-Bigelow, will serve until the beginning of the next regular session in January 2007.

Bond has a Jacksonville law practice and was active in the Educating Our Children group that fought a hard, but so far unsuccessful battle to allow Jacksonville and north Pulaski County to detach from the Pulaski County Special School District, forming their own district.

Bond chaired the House City, County and Local Affairs Commit-tee, where Deltic Timber’s controversial bill to strip regulatory authority and the power of eminent domain from Central Arkansas Water died last session.
The bill was part of Deltic’s strategy to build mini-estates on the banks of Lake Maumelle, central Arkansas’ primary drinking water reservoir.

Petrus supported the Deltic bill, and Deltic has at least once raised funds for his campaign as speaker.
“We feel like we’re going to win,” Bond said on Monday of the speaker’s race. “I feel like we have more than 51 votes. Some are still undecided and uncommitted. We’re very confident we can maintain momentum through (the Jan. 9 election.)”

No matter how many of the House’s 100 representatives show up for the vote, it will take 51 votes to win. This will be the first time the speaker will be chosen between regular sessions, Bond said. It’s possible for him to be elected speaker Jan. 9, then lose the regular election next November.

Bond said being speaker “is about being inclusive of all points of view and encouraging vigorous debate. It’s the speaker’s job to make sure everyone’s had a fair shot.”

Bond said that because of term limits, “The House can’t be led based on experience. It must be led by knowledge and fairness.”

Bond said he hadn’t promised committee chairmanships to anyone. “We want people who work hard and are talented,” he said. “It takes a hundred members to run the House effectively. You can’t gather up 10 or 20 people and try to run it your own way.

“One of the important things is to be able to sit down and look each other in the face and talk about differences of opinions without yelling and screaming.

“I don’t think it’s the speaker’s job to have a legislative agenda.
“The speaker needs to have the big picture, knowledge of budget, how to work with the Senate and executive branch to come up with a balanced budget.”
Because he says the race is not about issues, Bond was reluctant to discuss differences between his and Petrus’ voting records, but when pressed, he did say, “My voting record for pre-K and K-12 is a lot different than Benny’s. We’ve had to increase funding levels for those. That’s the future of Arkansas, making sure our public schools are first class. That required additional funding and accountability, which I was committed to.”

Bond said he expected education, the Deltic-Lake Maumelle water and condemnation issue, economic development and in light of special election failures Dec. 13, highway and higher education funding to be among the pressing items facing the next regular session of the state legislature beginning in January 2007.
“We’re going to have a new governor for the first time in 10 years,” Bond said. “We need to work with the new governor.”

Bond said he believes he has strong support among some Republicans, but that a probable majority will back Petrus, who voted with Republicans to shut down the legislature without a budget in 2003.
Bond has practiced law in Jacksonville for 10 years and his partners have included Pat O’Brien, now the Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk, and his current partner, Neil Chamberlin.
He and his wife, the former Gabriel Wood of North Little Rock, have a 4-year-old son and twin daughters born this year.

Bond attended Jacksonville schools and graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1988. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Vanderbilt University and a law degree from the Uni-versity of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

As a trial lawyer, his practice is about 50 percent personal injury, a quarter divorce and custody and the balance general law.

Bond said he serves because “to those given much, much is expected.”
“I had a wonderful upbringing by my parents, went to a great school and law school — chances many don’t have,” Bond said. “I love people, being a lawyer and hearing about people’s problems and understanding government.”

Bond said if he is re-elected for this third term next November, he intends to retire from politics at the completion of his next two-year term — at least for a while.