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Smart Talk Oct. 14

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Unaffordable health care Health insurance premium costs for Arkansas workers rose three times faster than earnings from 2000 to 2004, according to a report from Families USA, a national nonprofit and nonpartisan organization for health care consumers. Premium costs rose by 39.1 percent while earnings rose only 12.1 percent. The report was co-released by Arkansas ACORN, an organization of low- to moderate-income households. Nationally, workers’ health insurance premiums rose 35.9 percent from 2000 to 2004 while earnings rose only 12.4 percent. "These comparatively large premium increases occurred despite erosions in health care coverage, with employer-provided insurance packages covering fewer health services and workers paying more in deductibles and co-payments," the report said. During the same period of time, the number of elderly people in Arkansas who did not have health coverage at some point rose from 708,000 to 844,000, or from 31.2 percent to 36.1 percent. Arkansas is among the 10 states with the highest rate of uninsured adults. The number of Arkansans whose total health costs consumed more than one quarter of their earnings rose from 141,000 in 2000 to 176,000 in 2004. Silent scream Eureka Springs might be the last place you’d look for a dastardly gang of art thieves, but don’t tell that to the FBI. Last week, as reported in the Lovely County Citizen, a G-Man dropped in for a visit with Eureka Springs art dealer John Mitchell, seeking "The Scream," the priceless Edvard Munch masterpiece boosted in August from a museum in Norway. The painting in question — a parody of the Munch canvas, reflecting local artist Karen Foster’s fear of garden worms and featuring a figure with a grub-like body — was purchased by Mitchell a little over a year ago at a charity auction for $35. In the last few weeks, Mitchell has displayed the painting for sale in the window of his gallery (along with a placard reading "Priced to sell, inquire within"), and a photo of it recently appeared in the Citizen — the probable source of Eureka’s visit by the "G." Though the matter was quickly sorted out, Mitchell admits he didn’t realize how serious it was at first. "He really was a nice young man," Mitchell said. "I thought he was an insurance agent until he showed me the badge." No trolley abuse As if George Bush hadn’t added enough restrictions onto Americans’ freedom of expression during his administration, a Times reader has discovered another limitation, leftover from times of yore, that Arkansans will have to keep in mind from now on. Quoting from the Arkansas criminal code: "If any person wantonly, maliciously, or mischievously discharges firearms or throws stones, sticks, clubs, or other missiles at, into, or against any locomotive, railroad car, or street car on any railroad, he or she shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." We don’t like to get too imaginative contemplating what "other missiles" might include once the River Rail gets into full swing and both pedestrians and motorists must learn to make way for it. But giving into a belligerent impulse could land you in jail for three months and/or paying a fine of up to $250.

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