US Economy Grows at 1.9 Percent Annual Rate in 1Q

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The Associated Press


WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year, slower than first estimated.

The Commerce Department says the downward revision from an initial estimate of 2.2 percent growth in the January-March quarter was largely because consumers spent less than first estimated, business restocked more slowly, and the U.S. trade deficit grew sharply.

Analysts believe the economy is growing at a slightly faster rate this spring. They estimate growth at an annual rate of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent in the April-June quarter. Many expect the economy will maintain that pace for all of 2012. That would represent an improvement from last year’s anemic 1.7 percent growth.


State off, rolling on film alliance

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Group aims to give Arkansas show-business star appeal

Arkansas Democrat Gazette


LITTLE ROCK — The state’s film industry decided to strike while the movie’s hot. Arkansas’ largest film production, Mud, is gathering international acclaim, and state officials reaffirmed their commitment Tuesday to becoming more competitive.

The Arkansas Production Alliance has been formed as a partnership between Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas that will work with the Arkansas Film Commission to attract and sustain a competitive film and digital-content production industry across the state.

“We are launching this in conjunction with the Little Rock Film Festival,” said Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane. The festival started Tuesday and will last until Sunday.

The alliance has a website,, that will afford communities and local crew members and talent the chance to submit themselves for consideration to productions filming in Arkansas. The website will be fully functional in about 30 days, but it is up and running.

“We can put our state’s best foot forward and make sure millions of people around the world see it,” said Grant Tennille, the executive director of Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The state spent about $24,000 to create the website.

Arkansas’ state-sponsored film incentive package offers production companies 15 percent rebates on spending in the state and additional 10 percent incentives on the salaries of Arkansas residents. That package was developed in 2009. Film projects must spend at least $50,000 in six months to qualify for the incentive program.

And the alliance is offering a private incentive to attract film production: a preferredvendor program. Registered vendors can give a minimum of a 15 percent discount to production companies.

Tennille said of the new vendor program: “The private sector has a real role to play here. If we truly want to be competitive in the production industry, everyone — private or public — has the opportunity to put skin in the game.”

The incentives are a way to keep talent in the state, as well as boost economic development.

“We don’t want to export the content-makers. We want to export the content,” Crane said.

Elizabeth Small, president of Fifty for the Future, an arm of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, noted film programs at state universities that train filmproduction workers. Pulaski Technical College, in particular, launched a training program in 2011 to meet the work force needs of the state’s film industry.

With the website, qualified crew members and communities across the state can register and participate in the industry.

“We don’t care where in the state the production goes, just as long as it comes to Arkansas,” Small said.

State officials said Arkansas is a late bloomer in attracting film production.

“Five years ago, Arkansas was simply not competitive in the film industry,” said Martin Rhodes, chairman of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. “We were one of two states with no film incentives. Today, we have modest but competitive incentives.”

The incentives attracted the movie Mud, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey, to Arkansas. It was filmed in 2011 in Stuttgart and Dumas. The soon-to-bereleased film has gathered buzz at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, and is Arkansas’ largest production to date.

Crane said he didn’t know yet how much revenue Mud brought to the state but that the state spent more than $10 million on production.

However, the economic boost that the film provided Stuttgart and Dumas has already been felt, he said. The communities saw economic growth, as film production workers and stars patronized local vendors.

And the advertising value the film will bring to the state is worth the cost, Crane said.

“The lovely cinematic value of the film is great advertising that will live on,” he said.

He said the film commission is “always talking” to new production companies about filming in Arkansas.

“I fully expect us to be entrenched in the game for a long time,” he said.


Arkansans honor fallen soldiers

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Memorial Day ceremony stirs memories, emotions, patriotism

Arkansas Democrat Gazette


LITTLE ROCK — Gordon Hartley doesn’t like to talk about those he remembers on Memorial Day. It still hurts.

When asked after Monday’s annual ceremony at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery, his relaxed demeanor changed. He fell silent and simply walked away into the crowd.

The Vietnam War veteran and Distinguished Flying Cross recipient doesn’t tell that story, his wife, Becky Hartley, explained with a smile. But it all has to do with a 1966 Ford Fairlane and a C-130 crash in Vietnam.

“We have six flags flying in our yard today,” she said, explaining that there is one for every member of the crew who flew a combat mission to Vietnam one fateful day in 1969 and never returned.

Gordon Hartley, a flight engineer, was scheduled to fly that mission out of the Philippines. But his family had just arrived and his commander swapped out his position on the mission so he could retrieve the family’s car and other belongings from the port.

“Had it not been for that car, he would have been on that plane,” Becky Hartley said.

The Hartleys have flown flags of remembrance for that crew ever since, both on Memorial Day and June 23, the anniversary of the crash. The Ford Fairlane is still parked in the Hartleys’ driveway. Becky Hartley laughed and said her husband thinks they should sell it. It doesn’t run anymore, but she refuses to let it go.

It is about remembrance.

“We have to remember that there are generations who have sacrificed,” Gov. Mike Beebe told the crowd clustered beneath shade trees at the veterans cemetery to avoid the day’s mounting heat.

Beebe said the families of those who died in battle should always be remembered, for they “have experienced pain that we will never know.”

He wished all 3 million Arkansans were attending Memorial Day ceremonies, but he said he knew most people were going on with their lives, thinking about their jobs and bills.

“It’s the men and women who wore the uniform that allowed us to be free,” he said.

He urged the crowd to hug a soldier or sailor, thank them and shake their hand. “Acknowledge them in a way that seems most appropriate to you.”

Two girls took the message to heart and passed out handwritten notes to veterans after the service. They ran up to World War II veteran Paul Goodman as he swiftly walked through the cemetery.

“You are an amazing blessing to America,” said one girl, giving Goodman a hug before skipping away.

Goodman was on the USS Charles Ausburne, a U.S.

Navy destroyer that fought in major battles throughout the South Pacific, from Leyte to the Solomon Islands, when a Japanese kamikaze pilot attacked the boat as it protected supply convoys in the Philippines. The day still lays dark in Goodman’s mind, but it is not that day that comes to mind on Memorial Day.

“These folks, the young people, protecting what we went out and fought for and died for, that’s what I think of today,” he said.

Pointing at the neat rows of white headstones, each decorated with a flapping flag, Maj.Matt Smeadly with the Arkansas National Guard said, “Freedom is great, but it comes at a price and these veterans here have paid it for you.”

No one knows that more than the Hartleys.

Gordon Hartley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross about five months after the deadly mission he missed. He was part of a crew that flew an urgent resupply mission into Bu Dop, Vietnam, near the Cambodian border, under heavy fire to deliver ammunition to ground troops who were on the verge of being overrun.

His own war memories give way to the memory of the mission he missed and the men who were killed that day so long ago.

“I wish I could find the families of those men,” Becky Hartley said of the crew that flew the deadly mission her husband was substituted out of. “But names change, people remarry. Time moves on, but we always remember.”


Congress hopefuls reflect on sacrifices

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Arkansas Democrat Gazette


LITTLE ROCK — The candidates for Arkansas’ four congressional districts spent Monday at cemeteries, memorials and home with their families.

Several said their experience in the military or that of family members caused them to pause and reflect.

Two of Arkansas’ congressional districts, the 1st and the 4th, will have a runoff election for the Democratic nomination June 12.Democrats in the 2nd and 3rd Districts were not challenged in the primary.

Republicans locked up their nominees in the May 22 primary, including three sitting Republican congressmen and 4th District Republican nominee Tom Cotton of Dardanelle, a former Army captain.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, a Republican from Little Rock, spoke at the Maumelle Veterans Memorial and throughout the course of the day listed on Twitter the names of Arkansas military personnel who have died.

Griffin is a U.S. Army Reserve officer.

“I think it impacts people more when you give an individual name … where people can say ‘that’s a real person with a real family.’ I just thought it was a good way of personalizing the loss,” he said.

Griff in said people throughout the year should remember military personnel who have died by taking care of family members left behind.

“We talk all about remembering those who gave their lives but there is really no way to recognize their lives as much as by remembering their family,” he said. “If we want to have an impact beyond the 24 hours that is Memorial Day that is a good way to do it. The other 364 days of the year the need is still there.”

Griffin’s Democratic opponent, attorney Herb Rule of Little Rock, who could not be reached for comment Monday, posted a message on his Twitter account, asking people to “take a moment to remember those that sacrificed it all for your freedoms.”

In the 1st District, Democratic state Rep. Clark Hall attended a veterans celebration in his hometown of Marvell, and he spent the rest of day with family.

He said that before the last decade “someone from my family has always been in the military … so it means a lot to me, it means a lot to my family. We appreciate what the military has done for us, not just the ones we have lost but the ones that were injured.”

His opponent in the Democratic runoff, Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington of Jonesboro, attended Memorial Day services in Craighead County and in Blytheville.

“Memorial Day is the day that we remember the folks who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” Ellington said. “It’s sad that there weren’t as many young people at the service.”

Ellington said in the afternoon he went to visit the graves of his father and two uncles who served in the military.

State Sen. Gene Jeffress, 4th District Democratic candidate,said he spent time with family at home watching memorial services on TV.

“It’s a day that I reflect on where our country has been and the service of those who have served and are still serving,” said Jeffress, who is from Louann. “It’s been a privilege to live in this country.”

His runoff opponent, attorney Q. Byrum Hurst of Hot Springs, viewed a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall at the Hot Springs Airport and then attended a Garland County veterans memorial event where he gave the invocation.

He said it can be easy to get wrapped up in treating Memorial Day as just a day off of work.

“We have a tendency to do that sometimes and we don’t think about the significance of the event,” he said. “It’s really important that we honor and we celebrate people who have made the ultimate sacrifice to our country,”

Cotton, who will face either Hurst or Jeffress in the November general election, attended a Memorial Day event in Hot Springs Village.

Cotton served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s our most sacred secular holiday,” he said. “It’s a time to remember in particular the people we knew overseas who didn’t come back with us.”

Ken Aden, 3rd Congressional District Democratic candidate, a former Army staff sergeant, said he attended memorial events over the weekend, but he spent Monday reflecting with his grandfather. He said his father and great-grandfather were veterans.

“It’s a good time to pause and reflect on all of the sacrifice that good men and women have made for this nation,” said Aden, who is from Russellville. “Being a veteran, you think about them all the time … but it’s good to have a special day set aside to honor their sacrifice.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers, spoke to a Bella Vista veterans group and spent the rest of the day with family, according to his campaign.

He is a retired colonel in the Arkansas Army National Guard, according to his campaign website.


Parties target vulnerable foes

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

But they aren’t saying where

Arkansas Democrat Gazette


LITTLE ROCK — With control of the Legislature at stake in the general election in about five months, leaders of the Legislature and the Democratic and Republican parties are targeting particular races as pivotal, but they’re not saying exactly which ones they are.

There’s no shortage of districts in which one party or the other predicts victory, predictions that the opposing side sometimes finds laughable, and party leaders are still saying at this point that every race is important.

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who was a senator for 20 years, said there are “three or four races where the Republicans think they can pick up [seats], and you got three or four races where the Democrats think they can pick up [seats in the Senate].”

Only Democrats and Republicans are in the Legislature. The Green and Libertarian parties field candidates, and some candidates run as independents, but usually only Democrats or Republicans win.

In the 35-member Senate, a majority is 18. Democrats outnumber Republicans there, 20-15. This fall there will be 16 districts in which Republicans and Democrats will face off.

In the 100-member House, a majority is 51. The Democrats’ margin there is 54-46. Democrats and Republicans will face off in 48 House districts this fall.

Beebe said there is “a reasonably good chance” that the Democrats will retain legislative majorities and “may even” expand their margin. “Just look at some of the Republican incumbents and where they are and who is running against them, particularly in the House.”

Two years ago, Republicans said that electing Democrats would advance the policies of President Barack Obama, who didn’t carry Arkansas in 2008 and continues to be unpopular in the state, according to polls. In 2010 the GOP won the offices of lieutenant governor, secretary of state and land commissioner, 15 seats in the state Senate, 44 in the state House, and four of the state’s six congressional seats. Those were the party’s greatest gains in more than a century.

Obama will be on the ballot again this year as the Democrats’ presidential nominee, and Republican leaders are echoing their themes from 2010. But this year, Democratic leaders are linking their candidates to Beebe, a generally popular governor who won each of the state’s 75 counties in 2010, and are saying that Republicans might bring about conflict and extremism.

State Democratic Party Chairman Will Bond of Little Rock said, “I don’t think Arkansans want to fill the Legislature up with far-right extremists that would put them against Gov. Beebe’s successful leadership,” adding that part of Beebe’s success is based on working with responsible Democrats in the majority in the House and Senate.

House Democratic leader Johnnie Roebuck of Arkadelphia said, “We are all Democrats, and we support the president, but this is not about Washington politics and this is doing what is best for Arkansas.”

GOP state chairman Doyle Webb of Benton said the Democratic Party “has drifted away from the views and values of everyday Arkansans” and supported implementation of Obama’s policies, such as the federal health-care overhaul.Arkansans want change in state government, Webb said.

“I think there is a lot of optimism on the Republican side,” said Hal Bass, a professor of political science at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. “I think President Obama is going to be a drag down-ballot at the head of the ticket.

“I think the Republicans have the winds at their back and the Democrats have the winds in their faces because of the national and regional [political] landscape,” he said.

Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, said he thinks that outside of Little Rock and the Delta, the Democrats running for state legislative seats “are going to do something of a dance when it comes to the president to show their independence from the national party” and “hope the presidential race is so boring in Arkansas that it never gets any traction.”

Republicans have a strong advantage because of Arkansans’ antipathy toward Obama, but that doesn’t guarantee anything in the November general election, said Senate Republican Whip Michael Lamoureux of Russellville.

He said Republicans won all seven contested open Senate seats in 2010, and he expects Republicans to be competitive in the seven contested Senate races this year. It’s easier when the opponent is not an incumbent, he said.

Though stopping short of predicting victory, Bond observed that Rep. Linda Tyler, D-Conway, is well positioned to win in Senate District 35 against Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, and Rep. Tiffany Rogers, D-Stuttgart, is in a good spot to win against Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, in District 28.

Particularly competitive, Bond said, are Senate District 9, where Democratic Rep. Tracy Pennartz of Fort Smith opposes GOP Sen. Bruce Holland of Greenwood, and the Senate District 15 race between former Democratic Rep. Johnny Hoyt of Morrilton and Republican Rep. David Sanders of Little Rock.

When asked about Bond’s remarks about those Senate races, Lamoureux said, “I don’t think Will really believes that.

“What else could he say but that?” Lamoureax said. “When you are party chairman you have to look for hope wherever you can.”

Among other state Senate races, Webb said he expects Rep. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas, to defeat Sen. David Wyatt, D-Batesville, in District 19, and for Hot Springs Republican Alan Clark to oust Sen. Mike Fletcher, D-Hot Springs, in District 13.

Rep. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, is leading Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, in polls, and Corning Republican Blake Johnson will defeat Senate Democratic leader Robert Thompson of Paragould, Webb said.

Thompson’s rejoinder: “I wouldn’t expect the chair of the Republican Party to say anything but that.”

He said Wyatt, a former county judge in Independence County, won’t lose.

Thompson also said he’s comfortable with the posture of Fletcher and his own campaign. He said he would be surprised if English is leading Hyde because Hyde is a longtime fixture in North Little Rock.

In other races, Webb said he believes Republicans will oust Democratic Reps. Butch Wilkins of Bono, James Ratliff of Imboden, Tommy Wren of Melbourne, James McLean of Batesville and Betty Overbey of Lamar.

Bond said Democrats are in a good position to retain their House incumbents and knock off GOP Rep. Loy Mauch of Bismarck with Malvern Democrat David Kizzia and Republican Rep. Jon Hubbard of Jonesboro with Jonesboro Democrat Harold Copenhaver.

“Hubbard has a long history of extremist views, and we don’t think he fits with what the folks of Craighead County want to send to the Legislature,” he said.

House Republican leader Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs replied: “I think we will let the folks from Craighead County decide that.” He said he attended a recent campaign event for Hubbard in Craighead County, “and it appeared he had a lot of support from Craighead County.”