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Smart Talk March 31

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Solving the homeless problem You’ve got to love a good urban myth. The reason they are so long-lived is because we repeat them, and the reason we repeat them is that they reinforce our cynical suspicions about the way the world works. The other day, a friend of a friend dropped a fresh one on our laps: That police in St. Louis and Memphis were offering $50 and a one-way bus ticket to Little Rock to any homeless people ticketed for loitering more than three times. Asked about the rumor, the officer who answered the phone in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Public Affairs office responded with what can only be called a guffaw, adding “I can assure you that is absolutely not true” and hanging up before we even got a chance to ask his name for the record. Sgt. Vince Higgins with the Memphis Police Department was a little more forthcoming. He said that the closest he has ever heard to the rumor described was individual Memphis cops taking it upon themselves to drive vagrants “across the bridge,” though he added that the practice hasn’t been common for 20 years or more. “Nobody is giving [the homeless] a bus ticket and a banana and sending them to Little Rock,” Higgins said. “Not to my knowledge.” Joe and Blanche An American Prospect article about Connecticut Democrats who want to dump Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, believing him more Republican than Democrat, says that although most people don’t know it, Lieberman’s voting record is actually that of a “pretty orthodox Democrat.” “The American Conservative Union … gave Lieberman a zero [rating] for 2004 and 2003, offering him a lifetime 17. This puts him to the left of uncontroversial Democrats like Blanche Lincoln (21), Thomas Carper (18), Tim Johnson (20), and [Harry] Reid (21).” It’s pretty easy to get to the left of Blanche Lincoln. And some orthodox Arkansas Democrats would disagree that she’s “uncontroversial.” Hands across the water U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins of Little Rock has been making more news in Memphis than in Little Rock of late. He’s drawn attention because he was named special prosecutor in an investigation of Dr. O.C. Smith, a former Shelby County, Tenn., medical examiner. Smith’s three-week trial, prosecuted by Cummins and assistant Pat Harris, ended in a hung jury earlier this month. Cummins recently decided not to retry the case, which turned on conflicting statements Smith gave about an alleged attack on him at the morgue. The Tennessee prosecutor recused because of ties to Smith. Could it be that Cummins crossed the Mississippi to help because of a similar gesture in this direction? We refer to persistent rumors that the U.S. attorney in Memphis is looking into a high-profile case of financial shenanigans in Little Rock because of a potential conflict in the Justice Department here. Cummins said he couldn’t comment in any case on investigations, but seemed to indicate in a brief conversation that he wasn’t aware of such a case.

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