May 2008

The farm bill: Shifting direct payments from being a black eye to a strengthening of the safety net

By Daryll Ray Budget issues are central to the slowness with which the farm bill is making its way from passage by the two chambers to a conference committee and eventually to the president’s desk. Both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill called for spending increases above the level provided for in the budget baseline.

The commodities boom and its impact on grain farming

By Lance O. Rice It appears that the commodity market has now caught the world’s attention. This once largely insular world of commodities trading has pushed itself to the forefront of our economic news with the prices of some of our most basic raw materials surging to new all-time highs. In fact, many of our most important commodities, such as oil, natural gas, copper, steel, wheat, soybeans and corn, have all seen dramatic price increases over the past several years. Additionally, the currency markets have witnessed the value of the U.S. dollar fall to all-time lows relative to the Euro currency unit. Weighed against the Federal Reserve Board’s trade weighted index of major currencies, the dollar has declined by more than 20 percent since 2002. What are the forces driving these rapid and dramatic price movements and how do they impact agriculture, one of our most important industries here in the Midwest? Further, how do farmers and ranchers use these markets to manage risk and increase the profitability of their operations?

Prophet and pastor ... To his former professor, congregant and friend, Jeremiah Wright has been both

Cartoon by Paul Fell
By Martin E. Marty Through the decades, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. has called me teacher, reminding me of the years when he earned a master’s degree in theology and ministry at the University of Chicago—and friend. My wife and I and our guests have worshiped at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where he recently completed a 36-year ministry.

Small is beautiful

By Robert Bateman The year 1998 marked the 25th anniversary of the publication of “Small Is Beautiful,” the influential book by British economist E. F. Schumacher. To celebrate the anniversary, the publishers reissued the book in a format that included remarks from people who were deeply affected when they first read Schumacher’s work and who still admire the author’s main goals. I was honored to be among those invited to comment. While some sections deal only with issues specific to Britain in the early 1970s, I believe the book’s essential thesis is as profound and pertinent as ever.

Grassroots boots on the Big Muddy river

By Steve Schnarr Missouri River Relief is a grassroots, volunteer-based organization based out of Columbia and Kansas City, Mo., dedicated to reconnecting people to the Missouri River through hands-on, on-the-river clean-ups and education. In 2008, we’re proud to be partnering with two major community river clean-ups in the “Valley below the Dams”—the upper reaches of the Lower Missouri River where the “Big Muddy” isn’t so muddy anymore.

Multifunctional rural landscapes: Impacts of land-use change in Nebraska

By Twyla M. Hansen and Charles A. Francis The conversion of farmland near cities to other human uses is a global trend that challenges our long-term capacity to provide food, fiber and ecosystem services to a growing world population. If current trends continue in the U.S., the population will reach 450 million by the year 2050. At the same time, an accelerating change in land use will reduce today’s two acres per person of farmland to less than one acre per person. This is scarcely enough to produce food for our domestic population, without any food available for export—even assuming advances in technology. We need to take these trends seriously, as the national economy and domestic food security are threatened by conversion of land to nonfarm uses.

The carbon conundrum: Hybrids and other short circuits

By Eli S. Chesen Carbon, carbon, carbon: What’s a person to do? Society’s worry du jour goes something like this: We have an insatiable carbonaceous appetite for oil, coal, ethanol and natural gas, and we have, already, in a single century, picked and burned the low-lying fruit from the derrick. In the meantime, there smolders an ongoing debate over the whys and wherefores of ethanol, wind, synfuels, nuclear, photovoltaic and other alternative sources of energy.

...They all fall down

By Arthur I. Zygielbaum At the end of February 2008, there was a brief flare-up of stories about a spy satellite about to fall from the sky. The stories ended almost as rapidly as the satellite, after it was pulverized by a Navy missile. While that story faded, it is important to note that there are tens of thousands of objects in earth orbit. Some are useful—like communications satellites. Some are not—like thousands of frozen drops of nuclear reactor coolant leaking from Soviet-era satellites. Unless they are in extremely high orbits, all of these objects will eventually return to earth.

The art of cuba

By Byron Barksdale The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, with the participation of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Foteca de Cuba, has created quite a stir in the art world with its magnificent exhibit “CUBA: Art and History from 1868 to Today” (exhibit ends June 8, 2008). The exhibition has 100 paintings, 200 photographs, 100 posters, and other works on paper, video, in music and in film excerpts.

Sonny's Corner

By Chris Rodgers As I have read this section during its inception, I have seen many approaches to how people have gone about sharing their thoughts about Sonny, and all of them reflected their own personal accounts of the man, his thoughts and his passion. So I figured the best route for me to take in this edition of “Sonny’s Corner” was to recount how I met him and how he has and continues to influence my brief and evolving role in local politics.

Immigration in Nebraska

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