Wednesday, March 8, 2017  SUBSCRIBE   
 
The show goes on: Award-winning community theatre builds on reputation in Starkville
Sitting in an auditorium full of community theater enthusiasts in Lexington, Kentucky, over the weekend, Gabe Smith sat back and watched his friends with Starkville Community Theatre perform a comedy at the Annual Southeastern Theater Conference. "It was great to just see people laugh," he said. "I was sitting next to some, probably college-age, students who just really got into the emotional parts of the show, and when one character is kind of on an important phone call, they were sort of inflating and deflating in their seats." Still, he wasn't expecting the theater's production of "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" to be one of two plays to win Best Production at the competition, meaning the actors will advance to Rochester, Minnesota for the national American Association of Community Theatre festival this summer. "I think my heart might have stopped (when we won)," said Pattye Archer, who directed the show. "I know I screamed."
 
Lowndes County supervisors approve funding for 50-plus job development
Lowndes County supervisors unanimously approved more than $1.7 million in grants and loans for a company to build a $7.5 million new facility on the Steel Dynamics, Inc. campus at the industrial park west of Columbus. Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said the facility, codenamed Project Garage, will need $750,000 in Development Infrastructure Program grants from the Mississippi Development Authority for road improvements. The project also requires up to $1 million in a state loan to pay for a rail spur from the railway near SDI's campus to the new facility. Higgins declined to identify the new company, saying Lowndes County was in competition with another location for the spot, and that location has not yet been notified of the company's decision to locate on SDI's campus. However, he said the new facility will process SDI's steel.
 
Hattiesburg-Laurel Airport to offer flights to Chicago
Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport soon will begin offering daily flights to Chicago in a new arrangement with American Airlines. The flights to O'Hare International Airport will begin June 2. Booking flights for the Chicago destination begins Monday. The change will mean the airport will have only one daily flight to Dallas instead of two. Although there will be fewer flights to Dallas each week, airport director Tom Heanue said there will be added weekend service with both flights departing daily. "Although we are losing our frequency to DFW, picking up another option for our travelers is helpful for those wanting to travel to the Midwest or eastern destinations," he said.
 
Mississippi craft breweries could sell beer on site under bill headed to governor
A bill that would allow small craft breweries to sell limited amounts of their beers on the premises is headed to Gov. Phil Bryant. The House on Tuesday concurred with changes the Senate made in HB 1322. Supporters of the bill said they believe Bryant supports it. The breweries could offer bottled or canned beer for sale to take home, as well as the beer they offer for consumption in their taprooms. If signed, the law would take effect July 1.
 
Senate passes Medicaid fraud bill after tense debate
The Senate easily passed a Medicaid fraud bill Tuesday despite a forceful 11th-hour opposition from Senate Democrats, who argued the legislation could jeopardize services to Mississippi's poorest citizens. House Bill 1090, which passed by a 30-17 vote, authorizes Medicaid and the Department of Human Services to contract with a third party vendor to vet the eligibility of new beneficiaries and weed out people who are ineligible for these government services. It also authorizes the vendors to detect provider fraud, such as doctors who bill for services not provided. Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, kicked off the opposition by questioning whether beneficiary fraud was a serious financial drain in the state, and Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, followed with questions about just how precise the verification system would be.
 
Mississippi moving to ban immigrant sanctuary policies
The Mississippi House advanced a bill to ban immigration sanctuary policies. Senate Bill 2710 says cities, state agencies and public colleges can't prevent employees from asking someone's immigration status. These public agencies also can't give legal status to people who entered the country without permission, such as by issuing an ID card. The bill passed the House Tuesday and will return to the Senate. "Here in Mississippi there have been efforts to create sanctuary cities, sanctuary policies and sanctuary campuses," said House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton. The bill would override Mississippi's only sanctuary policy: a 2010 Jackson ordinance that prevents police officers from asking about immigration status. An effort to make the University of Mississippi into a sanctuary campus failed last year.
 
Bill banning sanctuaries passes House
The House on Tuesday approved the only remaining bill addressing illegal immigration --- making it illegal for any state or local government entity to adopt policies providing sanctuary for immigrants from federal law. Senate Bill 2710 prevents local governments and public institutions, such as colleges and universities from adopting policies that "prohibits any person from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies or officials to verify or report the immigration status of any person." In all, lawmakers introduced five bills that would have affected immigrants living in Mississippi. During the morning's debate, Rep. Kevin Horan, D-Grenada, asked why the House should approve the bill when the Senate killed similar legislation five years ago. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said the bill is among his legislative priorities this year.
 
Legislature aims to change school conservatorship process
The House and Senate both approved bills changing the state's school district conservator law on Tuesday. Under current law, when a state of emergency is declared in a school district, the state Board of Education appoints a conservator to take over the district. There are no specific requirements or time limits for a district to be able to regain local control except for clearing all of its accreditation standards. Under House Bill 875, however, "interim superintendent" would replace the title of conservator, which the Mississippi Department of Education and some lawmakers have said has a negative stigma attached to it. The bill also would require school districts to maintain a C or higher accreditation rating for five years before being released from state control.
 
Millennial legislators form Mississippi Future Caucus
Mississippi legislators Tuesday announced a new coalition of young lawmakers who intend to create meaningful policy and increase civic engagement among the state's youth. Co-chairs Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Escatawpa, and Rep. Toby Barker, R-Hattiesburg, announced the creation of the Mississippi Future Caucus at a press conference. The bipartisan group comprised of legislators under age 40 will address issues facing Mississippi's millennial population. When asked how the group would foster bipartisanship in a Legislature that was overwhelmingly Republican, Barker said the two parties already agree on a number of issues like criminal justice reform and retaining talent in the state.
 
Lawyer: Mississippi flag sends message of 'white supremacy'
In the latest legal wrangling over one of Mississippi's most prominent symbols, a lawyer for a man who objects to the state's flag said Tuesday the Confederate-themed banner sends a message of "white supremacy." The comments by Michael Scott came during a federal appeals court hearing on a long-running feud over the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag. African-American attorney Carlos Moore, who is suing the state, contends the flag is "state-sanctioned hate speech." His 2016 lawsuit says it sends a message that black residents are second-class citizens. The hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centered mostly on Moore's legal standing to pursue the case.
 
CIA providing raw intelligence as Trump-Russia probes heat up
Lawmakers are trekking to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to review classified evidence on Russia's involvement in the presidential election. The House has scheduled its first public hearing on the issue. And the Senate is preparing to interview witnesses. The congressional investigations into ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russian officials are in full swing. For months, the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said their investigations into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election were in their "initial" stages. On Tuesday, it became clear that the probes had moved into a new phase. The CIA is now providing raw intelligence documents to committee members, according to multiple senators.
 
Obamacare overhaul faces resistance in Congress from right and left
House GOP leadership faced mounting opposition Tuesday after introducing an Obamacare repeal and replace bill that was rejected by small government conservatives, panned by Republican moderates and given only lukewarm support from President Trump. One day after unveiling the GOP's long-promised effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better, the new American Health Care Act already appears to be on life support, unlikely to survive the onslaught of friendly fire unless Trump personally rallies his party. But Trump's intervention looks uncertain. While the president embraced "our wonderful new healthcare bill" in an early morning tweet, he also suggested it's just a starting point "for review and negotiation" -- opening the floodgates to alternative ideas and proposals that could take weeks to sort out.
 
Did WikiLeaks just unmask CIA cyberoperations?
Nearly four years after Edward Snowden leaked top-secret details exposing National Security Agency surveillance programs, the US intelligence community is facing another crisis that could change the face of modern espionage. On Tuesday, the antisecrecy site WikiLeaks began posting what it claims to be "the largest ever publication of confidential documents" on the CIA. The documents appear to reveal the agency's vast and technically sophisticated methods for exploiting security vulnerabilities in iPhones, Android devices, Samsung TV sets, and Microsoft systems to carry out covert cyberoperations. While many experts say it's too early to say for certain that all of the leaked computer programs are genuine, there's a growing consensus among cybersecurity experts that the leak has indeed exposed critical agency hacking tools.
 
Itawamba Community College students offered 'once in a lifetime experience'
Itawamba Community College students will have the opportunity to work on the set of a professional television show next week in Tupelo. The students will help design logos and costumes while also being featured as extras in a few scenes of New Jersey film producer P.J. Leonard's new show, "D.P.W." Leonard, who is the producer and creator, said the show is "a great way to teach the students how the film industry works." "D.P.W." is dedicated to Pat Rasberry, founder and former executive director of the Tupelo Film Commission, who died Sept. 16 after a three-year battle with cancer. D.P.W.," also known as the "Department of Public Works," is a 30-minute situational comedy of blue-collar people leading simple lives set in the fictitious township of Rasberry, New Jersey.
 
Northeast Mississippi Community College student charged with selling marijuana on campus
A Northeast Mississippi Community College student is charged with selling marijuana on a school campus. Ke'Lyn James Earl Lubin, 20, of Tupelo was arrested by the Booneville Police Department at NEMCC with the assistance of campus police. He is charged with two counts of sale of marijuana on a school campus. Both charges are enhanced by being within 1,500 feet of a school. During the arrest, police report Lubin was also found to be in possession of marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. He is also charged with the felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. This is also enhanced by being within 1,500 feet of a school.
 
Auburn turning 'big energy' into 'small energy' for an affordable future
The American way of producing energy is amazingly successful. Prices for gasoline, for example, are cheaper here than any developed country. But the process is also wasteful, and that's what Auburn University scientists and engineers want to change. First, a little background. Almost every source of the energy Americans use daily -- electricity, gas for cars, gas for heating homes -- is "very, very large," researcher Dr. Bruce Tartarchuk said. Think oil refineries and chemical plants. "The problem is we have a lot of these energy sources, dispersed, remote, hard to transport," Tartarchuk said. What's the answer? At Auburn, it's developing "scalable, modular chemical operations," Tartarchuk said. "Things that aren't hundreds of thousands of barrels per day, but 100 barrels a day or less."
 
At Alabama colleges, marijuana enforcement varies widely from campus to campus
For students at the University of Alabama who use marijuana, life can change dramatically overnight. That's what happened to 61 UA students when the West Alabama Narcotics Task Force arrested them during a SWAT-style drug raid that began around 3 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2013. A large percentage of the students collared that day would later be exonerated or found to have committed only minor crimes. While the police tactics are highly controversial among UA students and parents, some other Alabama colleges cultivate more protective environments, going out of their way to keep their students from being arrested for having or using drugs. UA has made a push in recent years to try to find ways to keep students who commit low-level marijuana violations out of the criminal justice system, instead directing them into diversion programs aimed at rehabilitation. But dozens of students continue to be arrested for drug crimes on the university campus each year.
 
UGA going ahead with reinterment plans for remains uncovered in construction project
The University of Georgia is proceeding with its plans to reinter human remains removed from a construction site on UGA's North Campus in nearby Oconee Hill Cemetery, despite objections from leaders in Athens' African-American community who believe the remains are those of slaves. Of the 105 sets of human remains removed from a renovation and expansion project at Baldwin Hall, 30 contained enough human material to perform DNA tests; almost all proved to be of African-American descent, the university revealed last week. Baldwin Hall, originally built in the 1930s, is located at least partly over the Old Athens Cemetery on Jackson Street, the city's public cemetery in the first part of the 19th century. UGA officials are following the advice of State Archaeologist Brian Tucker in reinterring the remains, said Greg Trevor, UGA executive director for media communications.
 
Bond bill won't pay for new U. of South Carolina med school, college construction projects
The University of South Carolina's top legislative priority hit a wall Tuesday when the House's chief budget writer declared the state would not borrow money this year to bankroll new college construction. State Rep. Brian White said Tuesday the state's first bond bill since 2001 would pay for maintenance needs, not for USC's new medical school campus or any other new campus building. "That is not the point of this," the Anderson Republican said as House budget writers began to cut more than $2 billion in proposed projects into a roughly $450 million borrowing plan. "If the hogs come out and try to get greedy on something, it will just go away as fast as it appears." S.C. colleges apparently received that message ahead of Tuesday's hearing. New construction proposals were left off their bond bill requests.
 
Statistician Nate Silver to Texas A&M audience: Future still foggy
Despite a staggering accumulation of data, the world doesn't seem to have become a more predictable place, statistician Nate Silver told the audience in a packed Rudder Auditorium on Tuesday. Just take President Donald Trump's rise to power, for example. It was surprising because Trump "defies almost everything that we think we know about how politics work," Silver said, and is the type of event people just a couple of years ago would say was almost impossible to imagine. And yet, Trump's victory isn't the exception when considering major world events of the past decade that have defied best-laid plans and traditions. The popular prognosticator and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight.com explored this dilemma during his talk on the Texas A&M campus.
 
Texas professor recruitment program could lose funding
Gov. Greg Abbott's signature higher education project, which aims to lure top researchers to Texas universities, is at risk of being defunded by the Legislature. Two years after lawmakers created the Governor's University Research Initiative, both the House and Senate have zeroed out funding for it in their early budget proposals. This year, the governor's office had asked for $40 million for the initiative, the creation of which was one of Abbott's top priorities in his first year as governor. The initiative got that amount in 2015, and the money was used to help the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston attract a combined total of 11 prominent researchers. Universities could be facing hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding cuts, and they are facing mounting pressure to keep tuition under control.
 
Fueled by love of games, U. of Missouri prof creates successful board game of his own
When his Kickstarter campaign hit $100,000, MU advertising professor Mark Swanson wasn't surprised. But when it passed $300,000? That's when asked himself, "What's going on here?" After five years of work on his board game Feudum -- meticulously carving and coloring each wooden piece, sending his game to reviewers, reading over best practices for crowdfunding and asking questions of established game designers -- Swanson knew that raising $100,000 was possible. The fantasy-world board game is meant for two to five players and takes roughly 80 to 180 minutes to play. The game's premise is for players to facilitate the rotation of goods through six different guilds while competing for status within them.
 
While some in academe raise concerns about march, major science groups sign on
John Nemeth, executive director of scientific research society Sigma Xi, was a doctoral student at North Carolina State University when the original Earth Day was organized in 1970. The demonstrations across hundreds of U.S. cities were a "general uprising" to protect the country's natural resources, he said. But Nemeth, whose group signed on as a partner for the March for Science last week, rejects comparisons between this year's march and the original Earth Day celebrations, despite the shared April 22 date. "They're two different ideas," he said. "Earth Day is primarily a pro-environment operation. This is science in every possible aspect that you can think of -- A to Z." The announcement that Sigma Xi and, more significantly, the American Association for the Advancement of Science will become partners of the march signaled that the event has built mainstream cachet -- even as some academic scientists have raised concerns about the wisdom of a demonstration to advance the cause of science.
 
Years of Ethics Charges, but Star Cancer Researcher Gets a Pass at Ohio State
Dr. Carlo Croce is among the most prolific scientists in an emerging area of cancer research involving what is sometimes called the "dark matter" of the human genome. A department chairman at Ohio State University and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Croce has parlayed his decades-long pursuit of cancer remedies into a research empire: He has received more than $86 million in federal grants as a principal investigator and, by his own count, more than 60 awards. With that flamboyant success has come a quotient of controversy. Some scientists argue that Dr. Croce has overstated his expansive claims for the therapeutic promise of his work, and that his laboratory is focused more on churning out papers than on carefully assessing its experimental data. But a far less public scientific drama has been playing out in the Biomedical Research Tower that houses Dr. Croce's sprawling laboratory on Ohio State's campus in Columbus.
 
Mississippi has been living jackpot to jackpot
Longtime Mississippi journalist Charlie Mitchell writes: "Gov. Phil Bryant believes the time has come to add a lottery, creating yet another revenue stream for Mississippi. That will create suspense for the next few weeks. There is no suspense about the state being on the financial ropes. For the past two years, sensible and austere revenue forecasts have not been met. One cut has followed another. It's also interesting that Mississippi has been living like a gambler, sustained by one jackpot after another for nearly 30 years. Absent a stable and rising core of revenue from more and better jobs, higher property values and increasing economic activity, Mississippi has time and again just gotten lucky finding cash to pay its bills."


SPORTS
 
Long journey continues for Mississippi State today when SEC tournament begins
Mississippi State men's basketball coach Ben Howland can joke about the beginning of the season when he compares it to where his team is today. "When I think about our first game (against Norfolk State on Nov. 11), we crushed them by four," Howland said sarcastically, a line that was met with laughter Tuesday during his media availability. "Think about some of our games: Northwestern State, a resounding one-point win." His punch lines exhausted, Howland discussed how MSU finished with a .500 record and had a positive scoring margin against the 71st most difficult schedule out of 351 in Division I -- according to kenpom.com, a college basketball advanced statistics website. Twelfth-seeded MSU (15-15, 6-12 SEC) will try to translate everything it learned in the regular season into success in the postseason at 6 tonight (SEC Network) when it plays 13th-seeded LSU (10-20) in the opening round of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
 
Mississippi State seeking difficult trifecta
It's often said that one of the most difficult things to do in sports is beat the same opponent three times in one season. That's exactly what Mississippi State will have to do tonight to advance past the opening round of the SEC Tournament. The No. 12 seed Bulldogs will meet 13th-seeded LSU at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network. MSU defeated the Tigers 95-78 in Baton Rouge on Jan. 7 and 88-76 in Starkville on Saturday. "We've played them twice and beat them twice, but we know it's going to be hard," said MSU guard Quinndary Weatherspoon. "We're approaching this game the same way and doing the same things. We're not changing anything and going to try to come out with a win." The winner between the Bulldogs and LSU (10-20, 2-16 SEC) will meet No. 5 seed Alabama in the second round on Thursday at approximately 4 p.m.
 
Weatherspoon, Peters earn SEC honors
Mississippi State's two leading scorers received recognition Tuesday from the Southeastern Conference. Quinndary Weatherspoon was tabbed second-team All-SEC, while Lamar Peters was named to the All-Freshman Team. Weatherspoon was named a finalist for the C-Spire Howell Trophy, which is given to the best collegiate men's basketball player in the state of Mississippi. He made the All-Freshman team last year. "I credit my teammates for putting me in position to earn the award," Weatherspoon said. "It's an honor to be recognized for a second year." MSU (15-15) will play LSU (10-20) in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville on Wednesday (6 p.m., SEC Network).
 
Report: LSU will fire Johnny Jones after SEC Tournament, sources say
In what isn't exactly a surprise, Johnny Jones' tenure as the LSU men's basketball coach will come to an end when his team is eliminated from the Southeastern Conference tournament. Citing unnamed sources, multiple media outlets reported Tuesday afternoon that Jones, a former LSU player and assistant coach who has been the Tigers' head coach for the past five seasons, will be fired. It's been apparent for weeks that Jones' job status might be in jeopardy after LSU, which was 8-2 in nonconference games, started struggling just before league play began in late December. LSU is 10-20 overall and 2-16 in the SEC going into its first-round game against Mississippi State at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the league's postseason tournament in Nashville. LSU athletic director Joe Alleva would not confirm those reports.
 
Mississippi State softball finishes perfect homestand with 2-1 win over Troy
Mississippi State junior shortstop Reggie Harrison likes the mind-set of her team entering Southeastern Conference softball play. "We are just at a good place right now," Harrison said. "Everybody is contributing. This team is really close. When one player succeeds, we all succeed. We are ready to start conference play and see what we can do. We feel like we can surprise some people." MSU won its 15th straight game with a 2-1 win over Troy Tuesday night at Nusz Park. The victory allowed the Bulldogs to finish the homestand with a 7-0 mark. The game was also played on national television with the SEC Network showing the audience there is plenty of fight in the 2017 Bulldogs. SEC play begins with a three-game series this weekend at No. 6 Texas A&M (19-1), starting Friday.
 
Jeffery Simmons making impact on, off field for Bulldogs
Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons' year of mea culpa met one of its final stages Tuesday night in his first appearance in front of the media after MSU's third practice of the spring. A year after being lightning rod, the energy he attracts now is generally of a positive energy: in a defensive line group with an abundance of newcomers in spring practice via junior college signees, Simmons is now one of few showing the ropes to the new additions. He recognizes a sophomore being in such a leadership position -- particularly when addressing players older than he is -- is atypical, but like the many challenges of the past year, it's one he has embraced. "I have a lot to work on this offseason," Simmons said. Simmons may be more proud of an off-field accomplishment in that time: a perfect 4.0 grade point average. He seemed enthusiastic about continuing his 4.0 in the spring semester, not only for its own merit but also its meaning for his perception.
 
Jeffery Simmons moves past arrest for simple assault
Jeffery Simmons says he is grateful to get a second chance. The rising sophomore defensive tackle for Mississippi State nearly had his college football career derailed before it even began after video surfaced of the former five-star prospect punching a female several times while on the ground last March. "I regret doing it, but I have to live and learn from it," Simmons said. Simmons was arrested for simple assault, but MSU made the decision to still admit Simmons and punished him with a one-game suspension. So Simmons went about his business trying to block out the distractions during his first semester and concentrated on his future. "I did what I had to do on and off the field," Simmons said. "This first semester with my GPA, I had a 4.0. I was focused on and off the field. I worried about school and football."
 
U. of Alabama AD Greg Byrne to make $900K per year
New University of Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne is making $900,000 per year, The Tuscaloosa News has learned. Byrne's salary was revealed through an open records law request. His monthly salary is $75,000. The salary will make him among the top dozen or so highest-paid athletics directors in the country. Vanderbilt's David Williams, who is the school's vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs, is the top-paid executive over a collegiate athletics department at $3.24 million per year, according to the latest data published by USA Today. A previous open records request revealed that Alabama, through its Crimson Tide Foundation, paid the Turnkey Search firm $100,000 to head the search to find a replacement for Bill Battle, who retired after four years as director of athletics. The firm was also paid $6,700 in related expenses.
 
U. of Florida researcher studies risks for young pitchers
In warmer weather states like Florida, baseball is an attractive sport to play year-round. But throwing a baseball has its limitations, especially for younger athletes. As players pick up their gloves for a new season of competition, coaches and parents are advised to consider those limitations. "I've had a 9-year-old with a stress fracture in his arm," said Dr. Jason Zaremski, a non-operative musculoskeletal and sports medicine physician for the University of Florida and the Co-Medical Director for the High School Outreach Program. Zaremski, a former college baseball player at Emory University in Atlanta, is conducting a new study that tracks total pitches thrown that day by high school players, and not just game pitches. In Zaremski's study, which began at the start of this high school baseball season, 10 researchers are going to area games and charting total pitches. Two weeks in, they've got 19 games' worth of data.
 
Facing scrutiny, college sports organizations ramp up lobbying efforts
Speaking at a panel discussion in 2014, Tom McMillen, a former member of Congress and retired professional basketball player, warned of a coming apocalypse to the status quo of college sports. At the time, the National Collegiate Athletic Association was facing lawsuits on several fronts over its amateurism rules and player safety. Three months earlier, the association's president, Mark Emmert, had been grilled during a contentious Senate hearing in which lawmakers criticized the NCAA and its members for exploiting athletes and mishandling reports of sexual assault. "You're going to be facing a day of reckoning," McMillen said to the roomful of college sports leaders. More than two years later, that reckoning has yet to fully occur, but McMillen says it's still coming. And when it happens, he's aiming to have members of Congress already listening to the concerns of college sports officials.



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