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Smart Talk

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Volume, volume, volume

The Central Arkansas Library System has just completed another successful used-book sale, but these things are not without criticism, we’ve learned.

A literary friend argues rather forcefully that libraries should not be selling books. Their purpose is to store books, he said, and if they’re not going to do that, what good are they? Besides that, we’ve been reminded that some people resist throwing books out of their own homes, apparently in the belief that every book is worth saving. (Ann Coulter is putting this belief to a severe test.)

So we asked Bobby Roberts, executive director of CALS, about it.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said. “You shouldn’t throw away ‘A Farewell to Arms’ because it hasn’t been checked out in 10 years. But some of our books are very dated. They’ve outlived their usefulness. Many of the books we sell were given to us and are duplicate titles.”

“We just don’t have the space to keep all the books,” Roberts said. “I have a rule at home that I won’t buy any more book shelves. So if I buy new books, I have to weed out some of the others.” The argument about keeping all the books is more compelling for a research library, such as a university library, than for a public library like CALS, he said.

Friends of Central Arkansas Libraries conducts the book sales, three a year. During the last sale, over the weekend of Jan. 20, some 40,000 books were sold, producing $16,200 for CALS. It was the biggest sale ever.

Hubbell high on insurance

The Washington Post brought us up to date on Webb Hubbell, the former Little Rock mayor and Rose Firm lawyer whose trip to Washington with the Clinton Administration as associate attorney general ended when he was prosecuted for embezzling money at his law firm and served a federal prison sentence.

He now works for an insurance agency in the Washington area, where he caught the Post’s attention for helping the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws sell new life insurance policies for marijuana smokers. He’s taped an ad on NORML’s website ( that notes that, for years, “responsible marijuana smokers” have been unable to purchase affordable life insurance policies unless they lied on applications. He hopes to encourage insurance companies to expand health and disability coverage for marijuana users. Hubbell told the Post that he got involved in the effort to help NORML find insurance carriers when he’d worked with a NORML founder on criminal justice reform issues.

EITC active

The earned income tax credit, or EITC, is getting a lot of attention from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an advocacy group for low- and moderate-income families. Having found that Arkansans missed out on millions of dollars in federal tax credits, ACORN is planning a grass-roots, door-to-door campaign to help eligible families claim the credits. At the same time, ACORN is lobbying for enactment of a state EITC.

The EITC provides payments to low-wage workers, who must file for the EITC in order to receive it. An ACORN report said that 3,800 low-wage households in Little Rock failed to claim the federal EITC refunds to which they were entitled in the 2005 filing season, losing $7.6 million. The report also said that of the 25,600 Little Rock households that received the EITC, half paid for a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) from a private lender, paying out more than $1.4 million in RAL fees. With an RAL, a borrower pays a fee so that he can receive his anticipated EITC money a few days quicker. ACORN considers the RAL to be a predatory lending practice, and has worked to discourage its use.

The ACORN report said that in the 2005 filing season, 1,400 low-wage workers at Pine Bluff missed out on $3 million in EITC refunds. Fifty-seven percent of the Pine Bluff households that received a refund paid for an RAL, losing $500,000 in benefits, ACORN said.

Enactment of a state EITC has been urged by ACORN and others, and some legislators have agreed that an EITC is a better way to help the poor than Gov. Mike Beebe’s proposal to remove half of the state sales tax on groceries. Neil Sealy of ACORN said ACORN supports Beebe’s plan too, but the EITC is a higher priority.

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