I'll spare you all but a few tidbits on my three-week Asian vacation.
Best stop: Easily Shanghai, exploding with commerce and space-age skyscrapers, but still richly endowed with landmarks from the days of Western colonial outposts.
Best food: A heaping platter of boiled crawfish, awash in hot pepper oil, part of a feast of spicy dishes in a simple Beijing restaurant.
Funniest moment: When, after much gesturing and an utter failure of spoken communication, I realized that a Chinese family — large in number but very small in stature — wanted to have their picture made with a pale-faced Western giant they had encountered on a tour of the Forbidden City. I obliged.
The jet lag was fearsome and not helped by a 10-hour layover in Chicago on account of American Airlines' bollixed schedules last week. But I finally managed to get some sleep, get the clothes washed and hurry through the stack of newspapers that accumulated during my absence.
After the catastrophic weather, it didn't appear that I missed much by way of big news. As expected, Gov. Mike Beebe won legislative approval of a gas severance tax. (Take a bow, Sheffield Nelson, for the critical nudge of the governor with a proposed initiated act.) I know the tax includes some significant breaks for gas producers over what Nelson had proposed. I know that the deal was done in secret and that key players included a Beebe pal who now lobbies for a gas company. I know that I've long been put off by Beebe's coziness with the lobby. But still. I just can't join the carping that has accompanied this historic tax achievement. The state essentially had no severance tax on gas. It now has one. It should soon be producing tens of millions annually. The few previous governors willing to try to correct this outrage failed. The outcome may not be perfect, but it isn't bad.
Permit me to carp, however, about one local story that developed while I was away. It is the continuing opposition — by greedy developers and wrong-headed politicians — to a Pulaski County land use ordinance that would cover the Lake Maumelle watershed and protect Central Arkansas's major water source from undue pollution.
Pulaski Justice of the Peace Doug Reed emerged as a leader of an effort on the Quorum Court to urge the county to default on assuming its rightful responsibility for land use. He described himself as a “property rights” person. I suggest somebody install a pig feeder operation next door to Reed's house. Should Reed object, invite him to pay the pig feeder whatever outlandish price is necessary to remove the stench, but, please, no land use restrictions. Reed seems most interested in forcing Central Arkansas Water to pay highway robbery prices to opportunistic land developers who can threaten environmental degradation as a bargaining chip to peddle their acreage.
It's the second time in a year that Reed, a Republican who teaches at Pulaski Academy, has provided a useful reality civics lesson on bad government. The first was in self-dealing. A few months ago, he sponsored legislation to allow his employer, Pulaski Academy, to use municipal finance to pay for school construction, a benefit worth millions to the school. Now he's gone to bat for the interests of a handful of property owners over the broad public interest in clean water. Sadder still is the number of other Quorum Court members who've joined him.