May 2015

A Responsibility to All Students

By Dave Van Horn

During the forty years that I was an educator, I had the privilege of working with thousands of individuals who as teachers, administrators, and members of support staffs were committed to the most important goal of helping each child and young adult grow, learn, and thrive. That was true in the early 1970s when I began my career and is equally true today. Having spent the last several years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln working with student teachers, I continued to be impressed and heartened by the degree of dedication to the mission that those new to the profession demonstrate.

The Sustainable Dog, Part Two

By Jill Morstad

In the social contract known as domestication, stewardship is perhaps the single defining aspect of our relationship to and our responsibility for dogs. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan argues that domestication of animals is beneficial to the domesticated species, including us.

He explains, “At least for the domestic animal (the wild animal is a different case) the good life, if we can call it that, simply doesn’t exist, cannot be achieved, apart from humans…”

Bringing Data and Historical Perspective to Nebraska's Tax Debate

Nebraska state senators during a recent session. (Unicameral Information Office)

By Renee Fry

Providing impartial research and analysis is particularly important this Nebraska legislative session with eighteen new senators, a new administration, and several other new elected officials eager for information on which to base their policy decisions. Our primary function at OpenSky Policy Institute is to bring data and facts to fiscal policy discussions. We believe lawmakers make better policy decisions when they have solid research, data, and analysis to work with. And sound policy decisions benefit us all.

Throughout this legislative session, lawmakers have been faced with a variety of tax cut proposals and a growing push to address Nebraska’s high reliance on property taxes to fund school and other key services. Compared to other states, our research shows Nebraska is second most reliant on property taxes to fund K–12 education.

Blue Nebraska, Red State

By Sally J. Herrin

Lincoln, Nebraska writer Mary Pipher published her first opinion column by invitation in the New York Times last Boxing Day, December 26, 2015. Her thoughtful piece has left me thinking about progressivism in Nebraska, about the institutions, public and private, which Nebraska progressive populists have built.

Nebraska populists, Democrats and Republicans both—these people build to last. The adept architecture that crafted governing structures of our state is a marvel, greater than the spectacular stone and bronze state Capitol that shapes and contains our day-to-day polity. Our nonpartisan Unicameral has served Nebraska exceptionally well. We are the only US state to set this very close kind of democracy in stone.

Documentary Will Share Impact of Drought on Ag Production

By Molly Nance

Drought causes devastating impacts to agriculture and the environment. According to a recent report from the University of California in Davis, California’s current drought is expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion this year, along with a loss of more than seventeen thousand jobs, as farmers are forced to fallow some valuable crops. Total cost projections from drought are difficult to quantify, but the World Economic Forum estimates that drought across the globe costs six to eight billion dollars a year from losses in agriculture and related businesses.

Nebraska: Where the West Begins (and the East Peters Out)

By Paul A. Johnsgard

In the mid-1800s the immigrants following the North Platte River upstream knew they had finally entered the American West as they approached Chimney Rock, the most easterly of the iconic monoliths along the Oregon Trail. In the parlance of the day, this landmark, at 103.2 degrees west latitude, confirmed that they were finally “seeing the elephant.” A general awareness that Nebraska represents a transition zone between East and West was formalized by the state legislature in 1963, in accepting our official state logo as “Welcome to Nebraska, Where the West Begins.”

There is some biological evidence for this assertion. In 1887 Charles Bessey, botany professor at the University of Nebraska, reported finding a “meeting place” of eastern and western floras in western Rock County’s Niobrara Valley, near the mouth of Long Pine Creek, at 99.8 degrees west latitude. Roger T. Peterson vacillated in selecting the western terminus of coverage in early editions of his classic Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, but by its fourth (1980) edition he had chosen the 100th meridian, the approximate longitudinal midpoint of the Great Plains. In a 1978 analysis of the zoogeography of more than two hundred species of breeding birds in the Great Plains, I also concluded that the 100th meridian represents a fairly accurate division point between eastern and western bird faunas, and it also closely conforms to the middle of several hybrid zones that exist in several of the occasionally interbreeding species of Great Plains birds.

The Prodigal Naturalist, Part Three: Deeper Still

By Jack Phillips

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon, and under every deep a lower deep opens. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, First Series: Circles, 1841

I love wooded ravines but love them a little less on humid summer days when mosquitoes also love them. My prairie friends complain of sylvan claustrophobia, but I take comfort in leafy embrace. I was raised where the tallgrass prairies and woodlands of the east thin into shortgrass prairies and oak savanna holdouts to the west. For me the woods have meant shade and water and amphibians who, like me, live in the Plains but dream in deep time and forested reverie. The vocation of the mosquito swarm is to perturb me into wakefulness or profanity at least. But I want to go deeper still to find the circle within the circle, the place were light makes a threshold of darkness, the place were new realities open as the earth narrows, the place where “the tempered light of the woods is like a perpetual morning...” as Emerson found.*

How Dangerous Are Immunizations?

By Charles Erickson

How many parents would allow their two-year-old to play in the street alone because they wanted the child to learn from experience to avoid dangerous situations? I suspect the answer is zero to none. And yet some young parents who have not experienced the illnesses for which we immunize elect to decline this life-saving technology for their children. In most instances a child left to play in the street would not be harmed because cars would avoid hitting her or she would run back to the safe yard. But why take a chance? Wouldn’t it be better to teach the child to stay out of the street even if they cried because they wanted to stay in this dangerous environment?

Although the recurrence of childhood diseases is more of a problem in other areas of the US, such as California where the recent Disneyland experience has led to an outbreak of measles around the country, we do have whooping cough and other childhood diseases here in Lincoln and Nebraska.

The Urban Institute on Wealth Inequality, Part Two

We were so impressed with the Urban Institute’s recently released “Nine Charts on Wealth Inequality” that we contacted them and secured permission to run the charts in Prairie Fire. Accordingly, we began with their first chart in April 2015, and the remaining charts consecutively over our next eight issues. Chart Two: One Reason for Rising Wealth Inequality is Income Inequality

Sonny's Corner: Until Freedom Comes: Building Class Solidarity in a Racialized World

By Jason Hertz

Last month Leonard Pitts Jr. spoke powerfully about the intersections of class and race at the Twenty-ninth Peacemaking Workshop in Lincoln. He advocated connecting these facets of social reality and emphasized the importance of economic analysis. Two of the strongest populist movements of the last five years, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, have both resisted exploitative material practices. Racial capitalism continues to perpetrate violence against us.

Immigration in Nebraska

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