Kearney Hub. Dec. 28, 2013.
If food vs. fuel theory is correct, why no drop?
Stroll through the aisles at many grocery stores, and you're bound to see looks of bewilderment among shoppers who are finding it increasingly difficult to stretch their food dollars. Prices have been on the rise, but it's not because Mr. Farmer is taking a larger slice of the action or because ethanol production has diverted too much corn from the human food chain, as some anti-agriculture activists insist.
These tired theories about rising food prices — that farmers are getting fat from overpriced breakfast cereal or that mixing corn-based ethanol with gasoline is creating a food shortage — have long been the centerpiece of the food vs. fuel debate, but they have no basis in fact.
Corn prices have plummeted. Last year, a bushel fetched almost $8, but today the prevailing price is about $4 per bushel — near the break-even point for many corn growers.
While corn markets have declined nearly 50 percent during the past 12 months, it's impossible to see a corresponding drop in corn products at the retail level. That's because perpetrators of the food vs. fuel myth have it wrong. It's not grain prices or ethanol that drive food prices but an array of other factors, chief of which are the price of fuel and cost of transportation.
Very few Americans noticed when, in July, a study by ABF Economics, an agriculture and biofuels economics consultancy, found no direct correlation between the Renewable Fuels Standard — and thus increased ethanol production — and increasing food prices.
The finding backs up a 2010 World Bank study that cited higher oil prices as the leading cause of increased food prices globally, reversing the World Bank's earlier stance that linked increases to global biofuel policies.
The ABF Economics report uncovered the complexity of the multiple drivers behind increasing food prices. One of the main factors — high fuel prices — directly affects processing and transportation costs. The greater the cost of producing a product and transporting it to grocery shelves, the higher the price consumers will pay.
If the food vs. fuel people were correct, the 50-percent decline in corn prices — from nearly $8 per bushel one year ago to about $4 per bushel today — would be reflected at the supermarket. Sadly, Mr. Farmer is taking a bath in the commodities markets, while consumers aren't getting any relief when they buy breakfast cereal at the supermarket.
North Platte Telegraph. Dec. 29, 2013.
This roller coaster ride has just begun
What we need now is a really boring year.
We could use a little bit of Dwight Eisenhower these days, when the biggest complaint about the president was that he golfed too much. We need some stultifying, sleep-inducing, mesmerizing, slack-jawed, do-nothing boredom.
Unfortunately, that's about the last thing we will be getting as 2014 arrives on our doorstep.
The First Lady promised fundamental change in this country as her husband prepared to take office five years ago, and Barack Obama made good on that promise. For five years, the man formerly known as the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate has had this country on a roller coaster ride of change, in which some of the most basic givens about our country have been thrown into question.
As the president begins his sixth year in office, Americans are no longer sure what their health insurance coverage will consist of in coming weeks and months. Employer-provided insurance appears to be the next batch of policies on the chopping block as we apparently careen toward a single-payer, government-run system.
Perhaps most appalling is that, under the labyrinth of constantly changing regulation known as Obamacare, we are no longer even sure if we will be able to go to the family doctor. We predict more rough sledding ahead for the president, as one of the most private relationships of all — doctor/patient — is put up for grabs.
In order to provide health insurance to a comparatively small percentage of uninsured Americans, we have thrown the entire health care industry into chaos.
Doing the right thing is no longer necessarily the right thing. We hear on a regular basis that the companies that have helped make this country great, and provided advancements that have changed the world, are greedy and selfish. Even the Pope has criticized capitalism, despite the fact that it has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system.
Those who save, so that they will not be a burden to society, are all too often depicted as selfish. And committees in Congress are working on measures that would tap into our 401(k) accounts to further stoke the blast furnace of government spending. The term "no good deed goes unpunished" has never been more applicable.
And as the president's war on coal plays out, the jobs of countless Americans — many right here in North Platte — are thrown into the fray.
Our kids can't get jobs, the federal budget is a cosmic boondoggle, the family doctor may not be the family doctor anymore (if our doc hasn't already retired), and our savings are anything but safe. It is an indication of how tumultuous our times have become that the button for the "nuclear option" was pushed in the Senate last month, and many of us never even heard the boom.
We certainly hope this is not the hope and change so many Americans wanted.
And while we really need a breather right now — some time to take stock and figure out where we are and where we are headed — the election year that awaits only promises more of the same. Much more.
Hang on, fellow Americans. This roller coaster ride isn't anywhere near over.
Lincoln Journal Star. Dec. 28, 2013.
The long failure continues
The scathing report on ACCESSNebraska delivered by the Legislature's Performance Audit Committee is just the latest in a series.
You might say that the system is Nebraska's home-grown version of the federal government's messed-up Affordable Care website, except that its problems have persisted for years instead of months, and without lasting improvement.
The plan was that ACCESSNebraska would replace local offices with online capabilities and call centers.
The new system was unveiled in 2009 with glowing promises: Better service! Save $5 million a year!
None of that happened.
In the latest report the audit committee found that the system "has failed dramatically to reach key, client service goals set by the department," and exhibits a "very high level of program dysfunction."
In other words, same old, same old.
Here's one factoid: In one category of calls for July "an estimated 10,914 to 16,347 callers experienced call wait times of 45 minutes or more."
The busy signals and the long waits on hold "paint a picture of frustration before many clients even make contact with the program," the report stated.
The legislative audit report notes that the data it collected was gathered before Oct. 1.
Effective Oct. 1 the call centers in Lincoln and Lexington began handling only Medicaid cases. The Fremont and Scottsbluff calls centers are now handling all other benefits programs.
Not surprisingly, officials in the Department of Health and Human Services provided assurances that things have improved since then.
To be fair, the system does offer some advantages. For example, clients have praised the new opportunity to apply online, and save the time and expense of traveling to an office.
One key problem with the system might be understaffing. At least that's what officials from Nebraska's public employee union contend.
If so, the problem could be self-perpetuating. Employees working in a dysfunctional workplace tend to burn out more quickly. They quit after a few months, replaced by a new hire. "There's just so much coming in that they can't keep up with it all," said Mike Marvin, executive director of the union.
In a better world state senators could focus on matters of policy. Instead, in recent years senators have increasingly been called upon to fix problems in the executive branch of state government.
Fortunately senators have put together a pretty good track record in that regard.
So it's encouraging that the committee has recommended that the Legislature require monthly reports through March 2014. The department's excuses and promises have been tolerated long enough. It's time for some results.
McCook Daily Gazette. Dec. 27, 2013.
Underage drinking campaign facing an uphill battle
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will get $7.5 million from the federal government to try to get underage kids to stop drinking.
It will be targeted at 11 Nebraska counties that are considered higher-risk areas — Adams, Boyd, Dawes, Dawson, Douglas, Hall, Lancaster, Madison, Platte, Scotts Bluff and Thurston counties.
They were picked based on data from surveys, hotlines, treatment admissions and community assessment information.
The release didn't indicate exactly how the grant would be used, but such efforts usually involve "public education" or PR campaigns, counseling and enforcement.
Nebraskans in their late teens and early 20s are the most likely age group to drive after drinking and to die or suffer injuries in an alcohol-related crash.
And, that doesn't cover other dangerous behaviors associated with intoxication.
We wish the DHHS all success in its efforts to persuade teens and 20s not to drink and drive, but they're up against some pretty stiff competition.
What red-blooded young person isn't attracted to the party-down lifestyle depicted in beer commercials and popular culture?
Consider some of the lyrics to a Katy Perry song from a couple of years ago, heard daily on the radio:
There's a stranger in my bed
There's a pounding in my head
Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool
I smell like a minibar
DJ's passed out in the yard
Barbies on the barbecue
Is this a hickey or a bruise?
Last Friday night
Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot
Last Friday night
Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard
Last Friday night
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage a trios
Not exactly a commercial for making responsible choices, is it?
It will take more than a $7.5 million federal grant to counteract the mixed messages today's youths are receiving.