Could Louisiana survive without its colleges and universities?

By Robert Mann

The differences in opinion are stark but not surprising. “A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year,” the Pew Research Center reported the other day. “By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.”

Many who disparage higher education likely live in states with the lowest rates of college graduates, like Louisiana. Too few people in those states understand the value of universities beyond providing entertainment like football and basketball.

Nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 33 percent of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, with almost 60 percent having some college. Among the states, Massachusetts has the highest percentage of college graduates, with 41 percent. Not one Southern state makes the top 20. In the South, Georgia is highest with 29 percent.

You will not be shocked to learn Louisiana has among the lowest percentage of college graduates, with 22.9 percent. We’re in 46th place, a notch above Kentucky (22.2), Arkansas (21.4), Mississippi (21.8) and West Virginia (19.2).

I would bet next month’s paycheck that the bulk of GOP disregard for higher education comes from states like Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal and his legislative allies slashed higher education funding and worked to weaken LSU and other schools.

They knew they would pay no political price for attacking universities because so few of their supporters had college degrees.

These new Pew survey numbers are interesting and telling, but they don’t answer the central question, which should not be difficult to answer: Could a state like Louisiana — even one in which only one in five has a degree — survive without its universities?

We couldn’t. Where would we find engineers to design and build our roads and bridges? Where would we get new doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and veterinarians to replace those who retire each year? Where would we find school teachers? Who would train accountants, lab technicians, coastal scientists and architects?

I could go on, but you get the point: Our colleges and universities are vital to Louisiana’s economic and cultural life.

Sure, it’s possible to support a family without a college degree. Many do. It’s not possible to have a functioning society, however, if you lack residents with degrees and the specialized skills that accompany them.

Continue reading on at this link.

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President Trump has been great . . . for Europe


By Cyril Vetter

Donald Trump has been a great President, so far. At least if you’re a European.

In June, I had the pleasure of traveling to Berlin with my friend James Carville, who gave a talk to the staff at the U.S. Embassy there. His comments were deliberately apolitical.

James talked about how impactful and important the work of career Foreign Service officers is to the U.S. and to the countries in which they are stationed. He compared career Foreign Service officers to career military personnel, both of whom have dedicated their lives to maintaining the interests, international prestige and involvement of our country.


James Carville (left) and Cyril Vetter talk with LSU Mass Communication students in Berlin in June 2017

We also had the opportunity to join up with an LSU Mass Communications study abroad group and both of us were impressed and humbled by LSU’s student presence and participation in world affairs.

And with that group of impressive young representatives of LSU we met Ulrich Brueckner, PhD, on the faculty of Stanford in Berlin and a specialist in European integration.

Herr Dr. Brueckner described in some detail how the election of Donald Trump, layered on the Brexit vote, worked to marginalize the right- and left-wing nationalist, white supremacist movements in Western Europe and move countries like France, Germany, Austria, Holland, et al, to the center and toward more moderate elected officials and a more moderate electorate and civil society.

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Donald Trump, Republican Party are marooned on Know Nothing Island

By Robert Mann

Marooned on an island of discarded ideologies and false beliefs, members of the modern-day Republican Party are like Japanese dead-enders from World War II who thought the conflict was still raging and that victory — long ago lost — was still possible.

Simply put, the U.S. Republican Party is the most extreme, isolated major political movement in the Western world.

Regarding man-made climate change, Republicans are as anti-science as the church officials who persecuted Galileo in 1615 for claiming the Earth revolved around the Sun. They cling to ignorant, antiquated views in the face of overwhelming empirical evidence. Most of the world’s people accept peer-reviewed scientific research on the world’s climate. Only 15 percent of conservative Republicans do.

Among the world’s developed countries, there are more people who believe NASA faked the Moon landing than say society shouldn’t care for the sick. Only 32 percent of Republicans believe the government has any role in guaranteeing health care to its citizens.

And in Europe and other developed nations, more people than ever can vote, while the Republican Party tosses millions of minorities and young people off the rolls. Only 35 percent of Republicans say “everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.”

Across the developed world, people accept that climate change is real, more people should vote and everyone deserves good, affordable health care.

Among developed nations, however, only the United States has a ruling political party devoted to the minority view on these questions and others (including marriage equality, greater rights for women and minorities and affordable college education).

It’s difficult to understand what a radical, know-nothing retrograde outfit runs the United States government if you follow only American politics. What appears normal to domestic eyes is among the most unusual set of political and scientific beliefs in the developed world.

In two cases — voting rights and health care — the questions are about what it means to call ourselves a democracy devoted to equality and human rights. In the other — climate change — it is a willful decision by party leaders and their propaganda arm (Fox News) to deny and lie about the near-unanimous results of decades of peer-reviewed research.

Consider voting rights. From our beginning, the nation has argued over which people will elect our leaders. Since 1776, the franchise has expanded to those without property, to women, to blacks and other minorities, to young people and to ex-offenders who have served their time.

Continue reading on at this link.

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Trump’s disdain for the world is making America weak again

By Robert Mann

PRAGUE — “People over here ask me about the difference between America and the UK. I tell them, ‘The UK is crazy; America is stupid.'” So observed a 60-something Louisiana man I met the other day in a Strasbourg, France, train station. What he meant was the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) is foolhardy, while America, under Donald Trump has dangerously abdicated world leadership.

This Denham Springs resident sporting an LSU jersey was succinct in capturing the widespread view that my students and I encountered everywhere we traveled during June. From London to Paris to Strasbourg to Berlin to Prague, the observations we gathered in dozens of conversations are supported by a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

According to Pew, “a median of just 22% [in 37 countries] has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.”

In Germany last year, Obama enjoyed the confidence of 86 percent of the public. Only 11 percent now expresses confidence in Trump. The numbers are similar across Europe: In France, 84 percent were confident in Obama compared to 14 percent who say the same about Trump; in the U.K., 79 percent confidence in Obama compared to 22 percent for Trump; in Turkey, 45 percent had confidence in Obama’s leadership, while only 11 percent feel the same about Trump.

In only two countries — Israel and Russia — does Trump enjoy higher public confidence than did Obama.

This widespread distaste for Trump is probably a result of his disdain for the EU, NATO and the Paris Climate Accords, his racism and sexism and his predilection for strongmen and autocrats like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. It also is a byproduct of his theme, “America First,” which is not only an echo of the American pro-Nazi “America First” movement of the 1930s but also connotes a harsh, dismissive attitude toward the world.

The Pew survey, however, does have some good news. “While the new U.S. president is viewed with doubt and apprehension in many countries, America’s overall image benefits from a substantial reservoir of goodwill,” Pew said. “The American people, for instance, continue to be well-regarded — across the 37 nations polled, a median of 58% say they have a favorable opinion of Americans.”

Trump’s successor will need this goodwill to assert American leadership after he is gone.

Continue reading on at this link.


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Senate health care bill is a risky vote for Sen. Bill Cassidy, GOP

By Robert Mann

You need not be a politician with the superior political intuition of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton to understand how dangerous the Republican health care bill is to the future of that party’s majority in both houses. Even so, it looks like Louisiana’s GOP senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, will support legislation that could damage the GOP’s chances of holding onto Congress in 2018.

Could Republicans’ irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act drive them to an insane act of self-immolation by replacing it with a disastrous bill that most Americans oppose?

The House-passed American Health Care Act is not only the most unpopular legislation Congress has debated in decades; it’s also earned the disdain of President Donald Trump, who threw a party for the bill in the Rose Garden but later called it “mean.”

Cassidy, who has a bill to replace Obamacare, suggested weeks ago he would not support the House bill (and I applauded him for that). More recently, however, he has warmed to supporting a new version that 13 male senators wrote in secret.

From the outline Republicans released on Thursday, the Senate effort isn’t much of an improvement. Like the House bill, Republicans in the Senate would slash deeply Medicaid and eliminate health insurance for tens of millions to finance tax cuts for millionaires.

As a bipartisan group of governors wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, the bill “calls into question coverage for the vulnerable and fails to provide the necessary resources to ensure that no one is left out, while shifting significant costs to the states.”

McConnell and other GOP leaders are likely urging Cassidy to get on board (it doesn’t appear Kennedy needs his arm twisted to support the legislation). If you’re Cassidy, the worst position is to be a senator whose opposition to the bill killed the repeal-Obamacare effort.

Well, that might be the second-worst outcome, as worse might be the passage of the bill with Cassidy’s crucial vote to help. If Cassidy is betting his constituents’ hatred of Obamacare is so intense they will abide a bill that cripples their health insurance coverage, the evidence suggests he is wrong.

Using eight surveys from respected national pollsters and a sophisticated statistical method called M.R.P. (multilevel regression and poststratification), researchers Christopher Warshaw and David Broockman, of MIT and Stanford respectively, concluded there is not one state in which most people support the GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA).

As they wrote recently in The New York Times: “Across all the states that voted for President Trump last year, we estimate that support for the A.H.C.A. is rarely over 35 percent. A majority of Republican senators currently represent states where less than a third of the public supports the A.H.C.A.”

Continue reading on at this link.

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It’s no mystery how Louisiana could solve its fiscal, economic woes

By Robert Mann

You would think fixing Louisiana government’s fiscal affairs was like achieving Middle East peace or beating Alabama at football. For almost 10 years, state government has staggered from one fiscal crisis to another. Lawmakers are like blindfolded children lost in a maze. All they have to do is rip off their blindfolds and follow directions to the exit, but they won’t.

Sensible state fiscal policy that supports vital services like health care, education and transportation is no impenetrable mystery. It would only take a little foresight and fortitude to enact policies the public and most economists and policy experts support.
It also would require legislators to risk offending their wealthy constituents. That’s far worse, apparently, than watching the state’s fiscal affairs go the way of Oklahoma or Kansas.

I suspect lawmakers know what they must do, as road-tested recommendations abound. I am impressed, in particular, by two recent reports that contain sound suggestions. (And don’t get me started on the practical 2016 report by the Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy, which lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards have largely ignored.)

The first report I recommend is from the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). In its April 2016 report, “A Fiscal Policy Agenda for Stronger State Economies,” the center examined a host of academic literature on many aspects of state fiscal policies.

First, the center explained how targeted “public investments in education, transportation, and fire protection — services that business rely on heavily — can create jobs in the short run and improve economic growth and job quality in the long run.”

One example state leaders should consider, the CBPP says, is universal preschool: “High-quality preschool improves not only children’s academic performance but also the quality of a state’s workforce and jobs over time.”

The CBPP also offers sound advice about supporting existing entrepreneurs and startups as opposed to wasting revenue on economic development programs to lure corporations from other locales.

Second, the CBPP suggests revising state policies to “help struggling families share in prosperity.” Under Edwards, Louisiana has taken one important step in this direction by expanding Medicaid. The report also suggests expanding the state-level Earned Income Tax Credit and strengthening programs that help and protect the neediest and most-vulnerable children (much of which the federal government funds).

Lawmakers recently adopted one key CBPP recommendation by reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice policies.

Continue reading on at this link.

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London attacks bring out the best in Londoners, worst in Trump, Clay Higgins

By Robert Mann

LONDON — U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins may be the former “Cajun John Wayne,” but he is now auditioning for the role of Dirty Harry of the House — the bravest, boldest member of Congress, one who will stop at nothing to secure justice.

Unfortunately, the former St. Landry Sheriff’s Department spokesman was never much of a cop; he mostly played one on TV. And now, in pursuit of greater fame, he’s playing an anti-Muslim bigot. His recent screen test was a bizarre, bloodthirsty statement posted to Facebook the day after the deadly June 3 London terrorist attacks:

“The free world … all of Christendom … is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identify them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Is Higgins an anti-Muslim Clint Eastwood? Hardly, although he might stand a better chance of winning that role by conversing with empty chairs.

Higgins resembles Barney Fife more than Eastwood. That’s because the character trait that best describes him is not toughness, but cowardice. It’s fear — abject terror — that motivates people like Higgins to lash out so hysterically.

It takes little courage to advocate — from the comfy confines of Lafayette or the cozy corridors of the U.S. Capitol — the summary execution of millions of Muslims who are, by Higgins’ vague estimation, “radicalized.”

If anyone is radicalized, it is Higgins, who libels the Christian faith by invoking “Christendom” in his demand for a 21st Century crusade. Invading Muslim countries to wage indiscriminate war has always gone so well for us, hasn’t it? Maybe the problem that Higgins has brilliantly identified is that we haven’t killed and maimed enough Muslims?

“Kill them all” is a compelling bumper sticker slogan for mindless haters of Islam. It’s also a recipe for helping ISIS and other terrorist organizations sign up untold millions more recruits.

While Higgins’ statement feigns courage, it’s anything but courage.

You know what courage is? It was the average citizens of London who fought back against the terrorist attackers near London Bridge. One London paper I read the other day described the heroic, “Kristi Bowden, 28, a nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, who was stabbed to death as she dashed on to the bridge to help the wounded.”

The next day, most London citizens displayed remarkable fortitude and pugnacity by rising, overcoming their fears and going into Hyde Park, Westminster Bridge or any of a thousand local pubs and coffee shops.

My son and I witnessed that London courage, having arrived in town the day before the attacks. And we saw it the morning after the tragic events, as my LSU colleague and I greeted 19 students to London. Most had boarded transatlantic flights the previous night, aware of the carnage on and near London Bridge. In spite of their anxiety when they first learned of the attacks, not one of them demurred. They landed here as local police were still investigating the attackers’ identities.

Continue reading on at this link.

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