Category Archives: Business

Castro’s death moves Cuba farther into the market for Arkansas rice, ideas

By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Fidel Castro is dead. How does that affect people in Arkansas? Maybe a lot, especially if they work in the rice industry or are elected to represent people who do.

Cuba’s 11 million people import 400,000 tons of rice each year, mostly from Vietnam, which means the rice arrives after a long boat ride from a country on the other side of the globe. Rep. Rick Crawford’s eastern Arkansas 1st District includes half of America’s rice acreage, so it’s understandable that his reaction to Castro’s death focused on the future, not the past.

“Fidel Castro’s death is an opportunity for America to end its ineffective policies so we can influence the future direction of that nation,” he tweeted, then added, “Through my own visits to Cuba I’ve seen people ready for change. With Fidel dead, America needs to help lead Cuba toward a better future.”

In West Memphis, it’s all connected

Junior Jeremy Paige is learning to become an aircraft mechanic, while senior Summer Abram plans to use the skills she learned in high school as a diesel mechanic to pay her way through school as she becomes a psychologist.
Junior Jeremy Paige is learning to become an aircraft mechanic, while senior Summer Abram plans to use the skills she learned in high school as a diesel mechanic to pay her way through school as she becomes a psychologist.
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The late Lt. Governor Win Rockefeller used to say that the education system is like a string of water pipes laid end to end but not connected. In West Memphis, they’re connected.

The high school, known as the Academies at West Memphis, has a conversion charter, which is an arrangement with the Arkansas Department of Education where some of the usual rules don’t apply and the school can experiment and innovate.

Arkansans of the year

arkansasFlagBy Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Time magazine names a “Person of the Year.” Sports Illustrated has a “Sportsperson of the Year.” Who are the Arkansans of the year?

In politics, it’s not even close. On issue after issue, Gov. Asa Hutchinson either achieved his objectives or appointed a study commission to buy time to achieve his objectives. He wants to continue but change the private option, the controversial program that uses Medicaid dollars to buy insurance for lower-income Arkansans, so he asked the Legislature to fund it two years while a replacement can be found. That’s what’s happened – so far. He and the State Board of Education butted heads over the Common Core-related PARCC exam. He wanted to replace it; the Board wanted to keep it. It’s gone. In the debate over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Hutchinson was perhaps the only elected official who pleased (too strong a word?) both sides. His signature education issue, requiring high schools to teach computer coding, has resulted in 4,000 students taking a class. The only downside to Hutchinson’s year is that next year can’t be this good.

Cuba: Carrots and sticks

By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

There are two ways in politics to change behavior: power and influence. Power is the stick – using your greater strength to make someone do what you want them to do. Influence is the carrot – encouraging them to want to do it themselves. Sometimes you use both.

We’re somewhere in the middle of all that when it comes to Cuba, as shown in recent weeks by Arkansas’ political leadership.

As a congressman, Gov. Asa Hutchinson supported the Cuban embargo, and as undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security he was part of an administration that enforced it.

But American policy – and American attitudes – are changing. This summer, President Obama announced the two countries were re-opening diplomatic relations that had ended in 1961. Many people who usually disagree with him don’t this time, including many Arkansans. The U.S. embassy is now open there, though the 55-year-old trade embargo will remain until Congress ends it.