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Tea Party favorites in Nebraska PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 07 October 2011 18:20

Capitol View

By Ed Howard

 

The competition for Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate is a little more interesting these days, thanks to the tea party.

A couple of tea parties, actually.

State Treasurer Don Stenberg, a GOP warhorse of more than 30 years standing, has been endorsed by FreedomWorks PAC, known as “a deep-pocketed Tea Party group that has promised to get involved in Republican primaries.”

Word around the campfire is that this outfit might provide Stenberg with some serious money.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jon Bruning, who already has serious money, has a tea party endorsement of his own. He was given the nod previously by the Tea Party Express.

Polls to date have shown Bruning leading Stenberg, as well as state Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine and Pat Flynn of Schuyler.

Stenberg supporters are understandably fond of pointing out that Bruning was a Democrat back in his college days, while their boss has generally been to the right of Barry Goldwater since birth.

It had to make Stenberg feel good when FreedomWorks Executive Director Max Pappas said: “Nebraskans described Stenberg to us as ‘tea party-minded before we had tea parties’ ….”

Stenberg was the star of several failed Senate bids, including one in which he narrowly lost to U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, the incumbent Democrat who is considering a bid for a third term.

If he should win the primary, Stenberg’s campaign finance worries would be virtually over. The national Republican Party has made clear that Nelson is their No. 1 target in the 2012 congressional elections.

Stenberg and Bruning have earned reputations as gut fighters when it comes to politics. Their previous opponents would undoubtedly agree on the importance of a maxim central to survival in the ring — whether the political kind, or the type used for boxing: Protect yourself at all times!

The Senate race and the fight over the path of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline have dominated political news around the Capitol throughout the summer, and there’s no indication that will change before the year ends.

Whether the controversial pipeline eventually carries tar sands oil from Canada through Nebraska’s Sand Hills and over the Ogallala Aquifer will be a political issue, and continuing story, for many years.

Part of that story will center on the role the Legislature chooses to play, or not to play, in the economic / environmental policy war generated by the project.

To date, the State Department and Congressional Research Service have insisted that the state has authority over routing such pipelines, if the Legislature decides to exercise it.

Gov. Dave Heineman has been just as adamant in contending that he doesn’t believe it.

Heineman has refused to call the Legislature into special session to work on the issue, and only a few legislators have shown an interest in having the Unicameral call itself back to Lincoln through a vote of 33 of its 49 members.

 

ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.

 
Taking a hard look at Infoma Economics’ study of GIPSA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 29 September 2011 19:24

Policy Pennings

By Daryll E. Ray

 

In anticipation of potential Congressional action and the issuance of the GISPA rule by USDA, we have been rereading Informa Economics’ “An Estimate of the Economic Impact of GIPSA’s Proposed Rules,” prepared for the National Meat Association.

It can be accessed at: http://www.beefusa.org/uDocs/Gipsa-Report_2010-11-09.pdf.

According to Informa’s analysis, as a result of the implementation of the proposed GIPSA rule, the annual economic costs for the meat industry will total $1.6 billion.

These numbers are in contrast to the initial estimate by the USDA that the cost of the proposed rule would be negligible.

As in any study of this sort, the results are often determined by the methodology, so particular attention must be paid to the methodology used by Informa in this study.

As Informa reports, “Gaining first-hand input from industry stakeholders was considered to be essential for identifying and measuring the financial and business impacts from the proposed GIPSA rules.”

They said that they interviewed “stakeholders at all levels of each supply chain”—poultry, pork, and beef. They also looked at the costs of implementing the various proposals, conducted a literature review, and engaged in macroeconomic modeling using an input-output model.

From the material presented in the study, it appears that the interviews of stakeholders were concentrated among the large packers and suppliers with little evidence that the concerns of the small producers were taken into consideration.

There were no stories of packer interference with growers attempting to watch their chickens being weighed, or the fear of chicken producers to speak out against integrator policies that were so evident at the USDA-Justice Department hearings that were conducted in the summer of 2010.

 This study is an analysis of what it would cost the industry if the worst fears of the packers were to come true. These numbers then result in the cost of a worst-case scenario and assume that the packers made no change in their operational model that would respond to the calls for fairness that are embodied in the rules.

 By examining an analysis that looks at the costs of a worst-case scenario from the perspective of the packers and large feeders, Informa fails to take into account the losses that small producers are incurring under present conditions.

By offering premiums to “favored” feedlot operators on lot size and delivery times and denying these premiums to groups of smaller finishing operations that could band together to meet the same lot size and delivery time, the smaller operations receive a lower cost for their cattle than do the larger operators.

Especially in times when feed costs are rising, these lower costs result in the loss of small finish operations and the costs associated with the end of their enterprises.

These smaller operators are driven out of business, not because they are inefficient operators, but because their competition receives a subsidy in the form of premiums that they are denied.

The costs of the unfolding of these smaller operations and the associated job losses that are taking place in the industry are not included in the study.

Also not included is the profit these smaller operations would create and the employment they would provide if they were competing with the larger operations on a level playing field.

The industry expressed to Informa the fear that the loss of the use of premiums would result in an unpredictable supply of animals that would then result in an inefficient use of their plants.

By making the premiums available to any operator or combination of operators that can meet the lot size, and time of delivery, the implementation of the rules could result in an increase in the stability of supply.

It would appear that all of the losses associated with the loss of lot size and delivery time premiums is premised on the industry eliminating these premiums — a problem the industry could eliminate simply by making the premiums available to all.

Informa spends some time talking about the poultry tournament system and the rationalization for forcing growers to make upgrades to their chicken houses that some growers think are unnecessary.

In the end, it seems to us that the legitimate concern of the integrators is in factors like the daily rate-of-gain, feed conversion to pounds of meat, total pounds produced, and animal death rates.

That would suggest that growers be paid on the basis of those items and charged for feed use above the average.

Our observation is that under those conditions, farmers will make the changes that will result in higher net income — payment for higher yield minus the cost of improvements.

It should matter little to the integrator whether the grower uses an old barn or a new one with all of the latest tunnels and monitors as long as the grower provide healthy animals with a good daily rate-of-gain and total feed conversion rate, and pounds of meat because ultimately what the integrator is selling and profits from is broiler meat and not chicken barns.

Informa asserts that “the most extensive interpretation of the rules could potentially break up a settlement group of 15 or 20 growers into 6 or 7 groups with no more than 2 or 3 growers apiece.

This would be done to ensure that growers were competing with farmers with similar barns.

By looking past barns and paying for healthy animals, good daily rate-of-gain, total feed conversion rate, and meat produced — all farmers have these in common — there is no need to break up tournament groups.

Again with chickens, Informa writes, “interviews with chicken dealers revealed an incredible amount of concern…if discounts to the base pay were no longer allowed, it would have the effect of lowering the base pay for everyone and severely restricting their ability to give premiums to new growers…to help them as they make significant capital investments.”

This makes little sense from an economic perspective. In a true competitive market — like a functioning auction market — the amount paid for a pound of product is the cost of bringing online the last unit of production.

If demand is up and it costs more to bring additional production to the market then all growers ought to benefit for that increase in demand instead of being asked to accept a “lowering of base pay” so that the integrator can “give premiums to new growers.”

The integrators enjoy a monopsonistic market structure. Typically the growers, though they own the buildings, have only one integrator that will buy their chickens. The growers form what is called a captive supply and are at the mercy of the integrator.

There will be economic winners and losers if the GIPSA rules are placed into effect — that is to be expected.

It’s the justification of continued use of practices that result in unequal treatment of some participants because the elimination of these practices would cause economic costs by participants who have greater economic and political power that seems illogical and counter to the purpose of rules.

 

 

Daryll E. Ray holds the Blasingame Chair of Excellence in Agricultural Policy, Institute of Agriculture, University of Tennessee, and is the Director of UT’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC). Harwood D. Schaffer is a Research Assistant Professor at APAC. (865) 974-7407; Fax: (865) 974-7298; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; http://www.agpolicy.org.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 September 2011 19:26
 
Keystone XL Pipeline bad for Nebraska PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 23 September 2011 20:22

By Brett Lindstrom

Congressional candidate

Nebraska's 2nd District

 

Energy independence and job creation are vital catalysts to our nation’s prosperity, and in recent weeks we have seen some elected officials including my opponent, Lee Terry, vehemently advocate for the construction of TransCanada’s very own Keystone XL Pipeline through the heart of Nebraska.

By now, most people are probably familiar with much of the rhetoric surrounding the pipeline project, so I will not pretend to bore you with the mundane details.

I am in favor of energy independence and job creation; however, there are many credible reasons to consider whether this project, as it is currently proposed, is truly in Nebraska’s best interest.

1. The Keystone XL Pipeline may negatively impact Nebraska’s water supply and lead to environmental destruction.

2. I question that the Keystone XL Pipeline will result in the creation of long-term jobs for the state.

3. Our research does not support the claim that the Keystone XL Pipeline will lead to greater energy independence.

4. Reasonable public officials have realized the potentially negative ramifications associated with building the Keystone XL Pipeline over the Ogallala Aquifer.

TransCanada further argues that attempts to change the pipeline’s course will adversely affect its bottom line, resulting in a 25 percent increase in construction costs.

Since when do hardworking Nebraskans care about a foreign corporation’s bottom line?

 One would think that, if the pipeline had to be built, re-routing its path would potentially mitigate irreversible damage to the Ogallala Aquifer.

 If this truly creates jobs for Nebraskans then prove it. After all, most companies in anticipation of opening their doors or breaking ground preemptively hire staff and employees.

If the pipeline’s construction is eminent, how many Nebraskans have been hired to date? The time for true leadership on this issue is now. While most of Nebraska’s Congressional team has thoughtfully called into question the Keystone XL Pipeline’s merits, one stalwart has openly championed the interests of a foreign-owned corporation to the detriment of Nebraska residents — Lee Terry.

Even Nebraska’s chief executive, Governor Dave Heineman, has formally expressed his reservations with the Keystone XL Pipeline stating, in a letter to President Barrack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer. I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will have potentially detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska’s economy.”

In light of the four points mentioned above, Lee Terry still persists in his ongoing defense of corporate special interests over the Nebraska taxpayer. What is particularly troubling is that Lee Terry would take it upon himself to introduce a bill (H.R. 1938) to expedite the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline in an area that he doesn’t even represent (i.e., the 3rd Congressional District).

The fact that this week the President of National Petrochemical & Refiners Association applauded Lee Terry’s efforts on the Keystone XL Pipeline further proves that special interests, not Nebraskans are the biggest benefactors of this project.

Perhaps if Congressman Terry was not beholden to special interests, he would be able to see the metaphorical forest through the trees and realize that pushing the Keystone XL Pipeline is both bad policy and politics.

 

Brett Lindstrom is a financial advisor and a former Nebraska quarterback. He is currently challenging for the Republican 2nd Congressional District nomination. Brett and his family reside in Omaha.

Last Updated on Friday, 23 September 2011 20:25
 
Nebraska’s attempt to partially privatize child welfare services a fiasco PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 16 September 2011 20:36

Capital View

By Ed Howard

 

The recent fiasco resulting from Nebraska’s attempt to partially privatize child welfare services is remindful of two things.

The first is that anytime government hands off an important duty to the private sector, it should be as certain as possible that things are set up to make the transition work.

When the Department of Health and Human Services began in 2009 to oversee a private contractor that would handle child welfare services it wasn’t prepared to do the job, as noted in a caustic report from the state auditor’s office that scorched DHHS.

The costs of child welfare efforts increased by tens of millions of (taxpayer) dollars between 2009 and 2011.

The privatization effort was supposed to save money, ultimately; to enhance efficiency and oversight.

In the vernacular of the Internet it would be labeled: FAIL.

The audit cited failures of oversight, overpayments, wrong payments and failures to use the bidding process to let some contracts and … a lot of other stuff.

Then there was the other thing, previously referenced, that griped some reporters (like this one) and hopefully griped some English teachers.

Throughout the development of the plan to privatize a portion of the child welfare system, reporters constantly referred to the proposed changes as “reforms.”

And when everything went south, reporters still referred to problems with the “reforms.”

In fact, the changes were not “reforms.” They were revisions. Or changes, if you prefer. They definitely were not reforms.

The word “reform” does, by definition, mean to make something better. To improve it.

Whatever happened to the child welfare system, it wasn’t “reform,” was it?

That is why politicians and reporters should refer to proposed revisions in laws and programs as revisions.

The word “revision” means to change something. It is neutral in judging the merits of the revisions.

Why is this important? Because words have meanings. Even in election years.

It’s also a tad important because raising the issue serves (I hope) to let you know that editors and reporters discuss these types of things. Actually, they holler and sometimes pound desks. Some of us have the advantage of being columnists, so we can prompt discussions. Or arguments.

And without having to hear anyone holler, we get away with saying: “There is nothing to discuss! ‘Revision’ is the correct word, and ‘reform’ is the wrong word, and our readers deserve the correct word.”

The view from here: This is a good opportunity to bring another thing into the marketplace. Virtually everyone describes interest groups as “special interest groups,” which is a redundancy so obvious that its use should be a misdemeanor, at least.

No matter how long you witness the policymaking process, you will never meet one interest that isn’t special to someone.

If you’re an environmentalist, you might consider the oil industry a “special interest.” What’s special about it? It’s no more special than the insurance industry, the agricultural chemical industry, the automobile

industry or groups that want REVISIONS in laws or regulations which apply to midwifery, the nursing of infants in public or the qualifications needed for obtaining real estate licenses.

“Special interest” is thrown into conversation like a rock. It has become a pejorative. And it has always been redundant.

And redundancy, like clichés, should be avoided. Like the plague!

 

ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.

Last Updated on Friday, 16 September 2011 20:37
 
Public campaign finance laws on the chopping block thanks to ruling PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 01 September 2011 19:45

Capitol View

By Ed Howard

 

Opponents of U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson are making an issue of his keeping a comparatively low profile while Congress is taking a break.

Translation: Republicans wish the Democratic lawmaker would make more public appearances, in hopes that he would face noticeably animated complaints from some among his constituency.

They also hope that any unpleasantness would be the subject of headlines.

That’s fair enough. A Senate race is big league politics. Your opponents throw curves, or they throw at your head.

Besides, if Nelson didn’t face some tough-minded folk among the electorate, he would likely be unique among members of the Senate and the House.

Questions about funding Social Security and Medicare, and increasing numbers of questions about the preferential tax status of the wealthiest corporations and individuals, are being thrown at members of Congress all around the country.

And at some public appearances they are being thrown like rocks.

Interestingly, there is the possibility that Nebraska and some other states might test the veracity of a longtime bit of popular wisdom concerning Social Security.

As far back as the 1960s the “popular wisdom” among politicians, political reporters and just about anyone you might talk to, was that Social Security represented the political “third rail.”

Subway trains run on electricity. The electricity runs through the third rail. Put your hands on the third rail and you die.

Only recently have there been serious-as-a-heart-attack discussions about ultimately reducing Social Security benefits of all kinds.

The increased level of discussion in Washington, however, has unarguably generated a discernible rumbling among the proletariat — whether pro or con.

Some of the rumbling has to do with the fact that only a few of the elected crowd have acknowledged or championed any of the simple steps that could easily solve any funding problems in the system.

So, what about that popular wisdom of more than half a century?

The former included the notion that the third rail of Social Security would become increasingly deadly, because there would be so many Baby Boomers in a hugely important political demographic: “Old geezers who can be counted upon to vote!”

It also included a presumption that if an incumbent said they would cut Social Security, an opponent would immediately start bouncing around like a bug in a skillet, screaming, “Not me! Not me!”

The view from here: The popular wisdom being discussed was developed long ago, in a political and social galaxy far, far away.

Today’s popular wisdom might be that the degree to which voters are likely to be annoyed or pleased with a candidate can be overwhelmingly influenced by the amount of interest group money and support they can collect.

And by the fact there might be other issues — social, economic and political — that could reduce the power in that third rail.

Of greater importance: In some races, including the 2012 Nebraska Senate campaign, both candidates might be on the side of cutting Social Security and / or Medicare benefits, although they aren’t likely to say so in plain language.

(Wipe that surprised look off your face.)

Such realities might only be changed if some politicos hear a noise rising from the electorate — like the third rail being powered up — sufficient to convince them that they could still be headed for a nasty shock.

 

ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 September 2011 19:47
 
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