- Associated Press - Monday, November 27, 2017

Lincoln Journal Star. November 22, 2017

Paid family leave long overdue for Americans

Though a variety of polls have indicated a large majority of Americans support the idea of paid family and medical leave, disagreement about whether it should be mandated by the federal government and where the money should come to pay for it from remains strong.

In the end, it often comes down to a tug-of-war between what businesses can afford and the desire to ensure workers have the chance to provide for their family members, both financially and in person.

A plan by Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer that attempts to bridge this gap offering a tax credit to employers worth between an eighth and a quarter of wages paid to eligible workers during their absences. While the plan doesn’t guarantee a minimum number of paid days like those seen in other countries, it marks an initial step to address paid family leave, an area where the United States has long fallen short.



No other developed country lacks paid parental leave requirements at the federal level, according to the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Yet the U.S. has more working mothers and two-income families than ever before.

Fischer is correct in noting many pertinent federal laws were passed in an era with far different workforce participation. The Family and Medical Leave Act, for instance, wasn’t passed until 1993.

Yet, nearly a quarter of a century later, the Pew Research Center reports only 13 percent of Americans received specific employer-paid leave. Most received at least some pay from banking available time off prior to their absence, but the lowest-income workers were least likely to earn any pay while away from work - and nearly half reported having to go on public assistance to cover lost wages.

Forcing Americans to rely on public assistance is an expensive proposition that often creates a vicious circle for its inhabitants. In too many cases, increasing work or wages leads to an abrupt end of needed money, trapping families by limiting their only way to make ends meet to the social safety net.

To that end, Fischer’s plan also has a cap on earners that attempts to provide low and middle earners the benefit they’re less likely to have than their peers.

The good news is Fischer’s measure, which she’s billing as the nation’s first paid family leave plan, has been included in the Senate’s tax reform bill. Though that bill has some major flaws about which we harbor deep concerns, it’s better than its companion in the House - but faces a difficult road to passage.

Still, the senator has pushed a long-stated legislative goal closer to the finish line. Even if the Senate’s tax efforts fall apart, Fischer has crafted a worthwhile endeavor on paid family leave that aims to address an age-old shortcoming for American workers.

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Omaha World Herald. November 24, 2017.

Nebraska can compete in the ‘new economy’

Ongoing technological change continues to transform America’s economy in remarkable ways. Companies feel great pressure to keep from falling behind. So do states.

Although states such as California, Massachusetts and Washington will likely retain the biggest tech concentrations and remain pioneering on the advanced-technology front, Nebraska can be competitive, relative to the size of its economy.

The keys: focusing on economic fundamentals and taking advantage of the state’s particular strengths. Nebraska, in short, can succeed by embracing the “new economy” in its own way.

A new report indicates the state is having success on that score.

In a ranking of the 50 states for technology and innovation, Nebraska has moved from 35th place in 2014 to 27th. In doing so, it moved past eight states, including two of its neighbors, Missouri and Kansas.

The rankings were developed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation of Washington, D.C., which looks at 25 “success factors.”

Nebraska scored well in regard to high-wage service jobs, online agriculture, information technology jobs, workforce education and broadband telecom. It ranked low in regard to foreign direct investment, high-tech exports and industry investment in research and development.

The task for Nebraska isn’t to seek to create immense tech concentrations in the vein of Silicon Valley or to crack the top five in the 50-state rankings. Instead, the goals should be scaled appropriately for Nebraska, maximizing the benefits for the state.

Nebraska entrepreneurs and university researchers, for example, should nurture appropriate tech specializations. The range of Nebraska’s economic sectors - agriculture, finance, health services, manufacturing - should strive to incorporate technological advances, which boost productivity and encourage innovation.

Nebraska can point to significant achievements in this regard. A few examples:

“ Raikes School. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Raikes School of Computer Science and Management has a proven track record of developing Nebraska tech talent.

“ Specializations. Lincoln is now home to an impressive sports-technology sector, with video-editing firm Hudl, in particular, achieving great success. Omaha is seeing the start of promising commercial collaboration between the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center on biomechanics research.

“ Landing new businesses. Ink Labs, a Silicon Valley startup that markets a modern printing kiosk to colleges, announced this year that it’s moving its headquarters to Lincoln. Toast Inc., a Boston-based restaurant services software company, will open an Omaha office. Among the factors for these projects: lower business costs, well-coordinated recruitment efforts and significant civic amenities in Omaha and Lincoln.

Today’s economic environment is highly competitive and ever-changing. But Nebraskans can have confidence that with continued focus and smart strategies, our state definitely can compete.

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McCook Gazette. November 22, 2017

Thank producers for lower price of this year’s feast

Many families make a habit of asking each member to mention something they are grateful for as they sit down the Thanksgiving feast.

Relatively cheap, abundant food might be first on the list.

Better yet, many share that abundance with the less fortunate, supporting food pantries and helping provide meals for the less fortunate.

Not only are Americans blessed with an abundance of food for Thursday’s Thanksgiving meal, but they’ll spend the least amount for it they’ve spent in five years.

The American Farm Bureau’s 32 annual price survey found that the traditional centerpiece, a 16-pound turkey capable of providing meat for 10 people with plenty of leftovers, is about 2 cents a pound cheaper than last year, or 36 cents cheaper than 2016.

Foods showing the largest drop in prices this year in addition to turkey, were a gallon of milk, $2.99; a dozen rolls, $2.26; two nine-inch pie shells, $2.45; a 3-pound bag of sweet potatoes, $3.52; a 1-pound bag of green peas, $1.53; and a group of miscellaneous items including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour), $2.72.

Foods that increased slightly included a half-pint of whipping cream $2.08; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.81; a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.21; a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries, $2.43; and a 1-pound veggie tray, $.74. There’s an increased consumer demand for full-fat dairy products, which caused whipped cream prices to climb.

All told, the average cost for this year’s feast for 10 is $49.12, a 75-cent decrease from last year’s average.

A total of 141 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 39 states, asked to look for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals.

Shoppers should be able to find similar prices nationwide, and ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals for up to 10 people, with all the trimmings, for $50 to $75, are available at many supermarkets and take-out restaurants.

Adjusted for inflation since 1986, when the survey was founded, this year’s Thanksgiving dinner would be $20.54, the lowest price since 2010.

The Farm Bureau attaches a dollar amount to the abundance of food most Americans enjoy this week, but we need to remember that family, friends and other blessings are priceless.

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Kearney Hub. November 18, 2017.

Overseas corporations that import Nebraska ag products want to know the people they’re doing business with, Axtell farmer Steve Nelsen told members of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation in the Oct. 27 newsletter. As Farm Bureau president, Nelson had just returned from a Nebraska trade mission to Japan, and wrote, “One of the things I find true, no matter where you go in the world … is that personal relationships are very, very important. International buyers want to see who they are dealing with.”

That’s the human side of trade, and it seems to be missing from President Donald Trump’s treatment of agricultural trade. By withdrawing from negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and in threatening to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump shows he needs to know more about the farmers and ranchers he’s harming with reckless trade strategies. Ag trade is important to farm states, and also the nation.

This year, the United States could ring up a trade deficit exceeding $400 billion. Pledging to put “America first,” Trump believes the way to end the imbalance is to abandon multiple-nation agreements in favor of negotiating one-on-one, but so far the global reaction has been negative. The U.S. could be left on its own if Trump follows through.

The president should abandon his “my way or the highway” tactics and instead take a cue from Nelson. Relationships matter, especially here at home, where people in farm states like Nebraska voted Trump into the White House. Farmers deserve Trump’s attention. He could start by deepening his knowledge of trade and how farm country relies on it.

Foreign demand boosts prices for livestock and grain and chips away at the U.S. trade imbalance. If Trump examined the statistics, he would discover that - almost without exception - ag products produced in states like Nebraska create surpluses that help counter deficits from importing products manufactured overseas.

Trump needs to keep his hands off NAFTA or he risks undermining U.S. trade surpluses such as: meat, $5.2 billion; dairy and eggs, $1.3 billion; cereals, $12 billion; feed, $6 billion; and miscellaneous edible products, $3.2 billion. The export of hides, oil seeds, wood pulp, animal oils and vegetable fats also created surpluses, according to federal data from 2016.

The Farm Bureau’s Nelson wrote that withdrawing from the TPP negotiations likely cost Nebraska farmers $378 million. What will the damage be if Trump does away with NAFTA?

Stakes are high, Nelson said. “When it comes to trade, we need to be in the driver’s seat, not just along for the ride.”

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