Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


With a major national election just a month away, the stakes continue to get higher.  A well-educated workforce is the key to pulling the country out of the present economic doldrums.  But in election contests nationwide, and particularly in my home state of Louisiana, improving public education is rarely if ever mentioned as a campaign issue.

Congress eagerly jumped into the economic fray and fixed the banks and Wall Street, but left creative ideas to upgrade public education on the sidelines.  As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently, “We need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system.  Our educational failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness.”

In every study conducted that reviews how to make the country more productive and competitive, emphasis on math and science tops the list.  In national surveys, Louisiana math and science scores rank at the bottom.  The state has lost a number of startup companies to other cities like Dallas and Atlanta because of the lack of potential employees with math and science skills.

Yet, math and science achievements are far from being buzzwords of the state’s educational and political leaders.  Recent state economic grants of several hundred million dollars went to a sweet potato processing plant and a poultry plant that hires chicken pluckers. Now if we could just give state economic incentives for Louisiana farmers to grow “poke salad,” a traveler could buy a complete meal at a stand on the side of the road. 

A bright spot of logic in Louisiana comes from Shreveport cardiologist, Dr. Philip Rozeman.  He has been a guest on my radio show, and he thinks, with good reason, that educators and politicians spend far too much time on adult issues, like who runs the school boards, teachers unions, and how charters schools are licensed.  “Often, adult issues dominate the debate and children’s issues are pushed to the side.”

Our family spends part of the summer in rural Western North Carolina where certain schools have pushed “children’s issues” to the front burner.  Shanequa High School is located in in Gaston, N.C. where most of the students are black and many are from low-income families.  The school hours go from 7:30 am until 5:00 pm, with two hours of mandatory homework, along with Saturday morning classes every other Saturday, and three weeks of summer school.   There are no teachers unions here and teachers are attracted with high pay, and the freedom to be creative in raising the level of student interest.  The results?  All 48 graduating seniors were accepted to at least two colleges and all will be attending one next year.

In my home state of Louisiana, far from expanding the school day, some districts have gone to a four-day school week.  When the New Orleans Saints opened their season on a Thursday night a few years ago, schools in the New Orleans area shut down at noon.  Got to get ready for the game, right?

Our family adopted several local children’s homes here in the Baton Rouge. In talking to the kids, they expressed their frustration that when they left school and came back to the group home, no computers were not available. One thirteen year old told me:  “We can’t get help for our homework and projects over the Internet like the rest of the kids have at their home.”  We supplied six computers along with Wi Fi accessibility. 
Immediately, the student interest in studying improved and grades went up.

In a state like Louisiana, where abundant natural resources have been a disincentive to finding a good paying job, the basic qualifying education rate has been dismal for years.  But with mineral production slowing down, this should be a wakeup call. A well-educated work force will attract more advanced industries with high tech designs.  The path to a future of prosperity in all states, but particularly in Louisiana, is knowledge.  Someone needs to ring that bell.


“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.” 
    Lee Iacocca

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


 Newspapers are in trouble all across America.  A recent ax to fall is in New Orleans where The Times-Picayune has cut back to publishing three days a week. The reason is simple economics.  Since Katrina in 2005, The Times-Picayune daily circulation has dropped by more than half, from 261,000 subscriptions to a current low of 106,000.

New Orleans has become the largest city in America without a daily newspaper.  Other cities that have announced the same trend include Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as three cities in Alabama –Mobile, Huntsville and Birmingham.  So readers will be flocking to the Internet, right? Well, that depends.

All of these papers, with others to follow, have beefed up their web editions of the daily publications.  But the trade off is that they have cut down on, or shut down altogether, the daily delivery of an actual physical newspaper. This, of course, saves considerable daily fixed overhead costs with the reduction or elimination of the processing, printing and distribution of the current form of delivery.

I am amazed that my daily New York Times can be printed in Houston close to midnight, and be sitting in my Baton Rouge driveway by 6 am. The Internet makes this possible. But the paper continues to lose money, and my cost to receive it and other papers goes up regularly.  The Internet also makes it possible to “click” on a screen and read a story posted from anywhere in the world almost immediately.

But I’m old school when it comes to reading the news. I like to sit back with my morning coffee and have the paper in hand.  I mark it up for possible future reference, tear out a photo now and then to send to a friend, and set aside the crossword puzzles for my wife.  I suppose I can learn to adapt and gather the same information over the Internet, and print out what I want to either keep or forward by email to someone with whom I want to share.  And so can anyone. That is, if they have access to the web.

Losing a daily newspaper in any community is a real setback.  But those who want and need the news will find ways to adapt. That is, if they have access to the web.

And this is what’s most troubling about the demise of so many daily
newspapers.  Government in many parts of the country have been slow to respond with adequate plans for making the web more available and affordable.

Recently, The New York Times published a front-page story bemoaning the demise of the Times Picayune, pointing out that 36% of residents in New Orleans do not have access to the Internet in their homes. There is even less access in many of the Louisiana’s more rural areas.

In fact, a new report from The National Telecommunications & Information Administration – Digital Nation — says that about one-third of U.S. households still lack a broadband Internet connection. Furthermore, 5% to 10% of Americans only have access to Internet services that are too slow to even support a basic set of online functions, such as downloading Web pages, photos or videos.

What so few elected officials seem to grasp is the fact that the lack of Internet access is widening the educational gap between the haves and the have nots.  Kids in homes without Internet access are continuing to fall behind, as the web becomes an increasingly essential educational tool. Students with Internet availability at home have a significant homework and general learning advantage over the child who has no such access.

In my home state of Louisiana, the legislature just completed its regular 60-day session.  Even though Louisiana continues to rank at the bottom of most educational attainment lists, not one public official spoke the words “internet access” once during the session. The Internet today is every bit as important as telephones were 50 years ago.  Back then, having a telephone was looked on as a right.  Today access to the Internet is considered a privilege in many states — yet the lack of Internet access it is the single biggest obstacle preventing less fortunate kids from competing.

In a number of progressive school districts around the country, computers track each student’s performance. If a child gets a “D” or “F” on a test, the school’s computer generates an email to inform the parents so they can act accordingly. Modern educational strategies include seeing that every elementary school student has a computer. In India, innovative school leaders are making $35 touch screen tablet computers available to students, and many businesses are helping to fund such programs.

Computers have become a necessary way of life all over the world. But the advantage of having a computer is severely limited if access to the web is not available. The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have a national policy to promote high speed broadband. A number of European countries are making the web available to all of its citizens. The Supreme Court in France recently ruled that Internet access is a basic right, and there is a push at the United Nations to do the same. Finland recently became the first country to actually declare broadband Internet access a legal right. Laura Vilkkonen, the legislative counselor for Finland’s Ministry of Transport and Communications says, “We think it’s something you cannot live without in modern society. Like banking services or water or electricity, you need Internet connection.”

Here’s the point.  Our legislatures spend months, even years, talking about testing teachers, abolishing school boards, and new ways to grade students. But none of these issues are nearly as important as ensuring that all students have the tools necessary to be competitive.

Internet availability has become not just another way to learn. It has become a critical component in the learning process. And when some kids have it and others do not, the attainment divide continues to grow. Some kids prosper, while others lag behind. Until our politicians realize this, the U.S., and particularly my home state of Louisiana will be little more than a third world nation when it comes to providing competitive learning opportunities.

We will survive with reading a hard copy of the Times Picayune only three days a week.  But without round-the-clock Internet access, over one third of our kids will drift further behind, and a large part of American’s population will become functionally illiterate.  Our kids, and our nation as a whole, deserve better.


In the U.S., if we are serious about equality of opportunity, access to the Internet could be strongly defended as a human right…” Jerry Lanier, the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Friday, June 17, 2016


Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Now that basketball is over, baseball season is in full swing.  My college home team LSU just lost a heartbreaker that kept them from going to the college world series.  I’m a die-hard Yankees fan and tune in to a number of their games.  But it’s a presidential election year, so a tough choice of what to watch; a baseball game or political rallies?

Just what is America’s favorite pastime? Is it politics or baseball? Politics has always been a major spectator sport, particularly here in my home state of Louisiana. But don’t sell baseball short. Not only has baseball been around longer than any of America’s professional team sports, the game’s highs and lows have been injected in national politics almost from the sport’s inception.

Now I’m a diehard baseball fan. I grew up in St. Louis, and lived next door to the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the great former Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion. I was in his box the Sunday afternoon back on May 2, 1954, when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader.

The problems of major league baseball have often served as a mirror image of the problems facing America. Its history is both a reflection of this country’s fears and ignorance, and its hopes and promises. Like almost any other cultural phenomenon of such prominence, baseball has served as solace and as a poke to our conscience.

In 1948, the major leagues faced the problem of segregation earlier than the politicians in Washington, DC, did.  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and won the rookie of the year award in his first season. It was years later with court cases and sit-ins to get the attention of our political representatives to follow suit. Today, the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs undermines the image of baseball players as wholesome examples for American youth, and is the focus of an investigation in the nation’s capital, with the possibility of congressional legislation.

A few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays were the Cinderella team that went from “worst to first,” winning the American League pennant. Maybe it has something to do with their name. They used to be called the “Devil Rays” and their record was terrible. As soon as they dropped the word “Devil,” they became victorious overnight. Some would say it’s baseball pure and simple, but other wonder if the Religious Right is involved.

The conservative Fox network will carry many major league games this season. In the National League, everyone, even the pitchers, gets an equal chance to bat. Will Fox newscasters contend that the National Leaguers are socialists? Will Fox commentators argue they should call some home runs out if they are too far to the left?  And I guess you can’t blame the Democrats from bemoaning that every time someone steals a base, they get reminded of the 2000 presidential election.

There is also a lesson to be learned from Babe Ruth as congress considered limiting executive pay and bonuses of corporations who received bailout money. When the Babe was asked how he could justify making more money than the President, he shrugged off the question by answering, “I had a better year.”  And humorist Ron Dentinger suggests that the difference between politics and baseball is that in baseball, when you are caught stealing, you’re out.

For me, one of the biggest differences between these two spectator sports is the sense of optimism that baseball brings every spring. The crack of the bat, a pop fly against a blue sky, and the green grass seem to offer a sense of renewal. It harkens back to the essence of youth and heroes of the past, and you feel that almost anything is possible in the coming season. 

But in today’s political climate, there is little thought of great statesmen and principled political figures.  Political courage is too often defined by poll watching and sticking a wet finger to the wind.

So when the TV remote offers a choice of a Trump or Clinton speech or a Yankees game, I’ll choose the great American pastime. Baseball makes more sense than all the political bickering America will face in the months to come.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at