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Nebraska officials optimistic after ag trade meeting with Trump

A cadre of Nebraska's top elected officeholders joined other farm state Republican leaders Thursday in personally delivering an urgent message to President Donald Trump about the importance of trade and the negative impact of tariffs on their states.

Sen. Deb Fischer emerged from the White House gathering, which lasted more than an hour, optimistic the president had heard them.

"I think it was a very good meeting, very productive," she said during a telephone interview.

Following the conversation around a table in the cabinet room, Gov. Pete Ricketts reacted with an optimistic tweet.

"Great meeting with @realDonaldTrump this morning on agriculture, ethanol and trade issues. He listened and expressed a commitment to growing international markets to grow opportunity for our farmers and ranchers."

Sen. Ben Sasse issued a news release stating, "It is good news that today the president directed Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Lighthizer to negotiate U.S. entry into TPP."

Kudlow is director of the National Economic Council; Robert Lighthizer is U.S. trade representative. 

The president told those administration officials to "begin working on that with TPP countries," Fischer said. 

But Fischer said she thinks the president may be more inclined to negotiate bilaterally with the 11 nations that ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after Trump withdrew from the trade pact because he has previously expressed a preference for bilateral trade agreements.

In any event, she said, it was a productive meeting for farm states and agriculture.

"I told the president that agriculture is the economic engine in our state," Fischer said. 

"I reminded the president that Nebraskans voted for him" in 2016, she said. "And that they have confidence he will take their needs into consideration.

"That's the message I will continue to share with the president," Fischer said.

"He said he understands the concerns that farmers and ranchers have," Fischer said. "He hears it and he hopefully is going to be able to negotiate something that would be beneficial for our state."

And that specifically includes a successful conclusion to the current renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, she said.

Mexico and Canada, the NAFTA trade partners, are key markets for Nebraska farm products. 

"People in agriculture are concerned," Fischer said.  "They want to keep those market opportunities that we have."

Fischer is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Ricketts said "Nebraskans appreciate the work the president has done to open new markets for Nebraska beef and pork, but there is also uncertainty around the disruption tariffs may cause."

"I urged the president to put a continued focus on expanding markets for agriculture," the governor said. 

Rep. Don Bacon, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, also participated in the meeting. 

"I told President Trump that our farm prices are significantly down," Bacon said. "Our farmers and ranchers in Nebraska cannot take much more and we need to protect our nation's ag economy."

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Lincoln consultant says young people picking midsize cities over larger metro areas

Midsize cities like Lincoln are attracting more young people to live in their downtown areas because they offer some urban amenities without the high housing prices of superstar cities, according to a consultant hired to work on a new downtown master plan.

This reverse migration -- away from cities such as Nashville, Denver, San Francisco -- is one of the newest downtown trends, said Bradley Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates, or P.U.M.A., the lead agency in development of the master plan.

Young people are flocking to mid-tier cities, where the costs are lower, there is a great quality of life and they have a chance to become involved in civic affairs, he told the more than 200 people who came to a public meeting this week where consultants described the trends globally and gathered ideas from participants on what they would like to see in downtown Lincoln.

More and more downtowns are turning into neighborhoods, with different housing options and amenities, he said. 

Segal described some other new realities.

Because of the national debt -- which has grown from $29,000 per capita in 2007 to $63,000 per capita today -- the federal government cannot spend what it has been spending and cities can’t rely on the federal government for infrastructure, innovation and education funding. Instead cities will have to focus on working together regionally, he said.

Segal drew applause for several observations, including the continued desire from Lincoln residents for a full-service downtown grocery store, for additional downtown parking and for more housing for adults who are not students.

Segal said he expects the city’s new downtown bike share program to be successful because it includes a college campus.

And bike lanes, he said, can be part of the image and perception that draws young people to a city.

In Denver, employers -- not “the environmental or bike-crazy people” -- wanted bike lanes because of demand from their young workforce, he said. The employers didn’t care if people used the lanes; they wanted them to be part of the image of the city, he said.

Entertainment, planned events and programming will draw more people downtown, said Segal, who noted few people in Lincoln live more than 20 minutes from the downtown area, which is a very short commute compared with cities like Denver.

He jokingly suggested there may be no hope for some of the people who won’t drive 15 minutes to get downtown.

Cities that want to create successful downtown areas will have to pay attention to the growing economic inequity and create opportunities for a variety of people, not just tech workers, he said.

Segal also described the generational groupings and their potential impact on the downtown of the future.

* Millennials: Ages 20 to 35 "are going to save us from everything." This is an important generation. Every city is competing to keep or attract people in this generation, who are generally “optimistic, tolerant and who are redefining adult milestones." For example, his youngest son lived in his basement for a year and a half after college, Segal said. 

This generation could be half of the workforce by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Cities need to make sure they have a downtown that this age group wants to live in.

* Generation X: Ages 35 to 49. This generation, which used to be called "slackers," has grown up. They have the most disposable income and are moving into leadership positions.

* Baby boomers: Over age 50. This generation shaped a lot of the post-World War II era and was hard hit by the recession 10 years ago. “A lot of us are aging in place and that is good news for downtowns,” he said.

* Generation Z: The 70 million-plus born after 1996 have grown up in fairly turbulent times with a 24-hour news cycle and are, in general, less interested in college when they can take an eight-week coding class and make high salaries and as they see their older brothers and sisters move back home with giant college debts. They may be more materialistic than millennials, he said.

When to say when: Study says limit alcohol to 1 drink a day

NEW YORK — Here's some sobering news: A large international study says adults should average no more than one alcoholic drink per day, and that means drinking guidelines in many countries may be far too loose.

The study found that people who down more than seven drinks a week can expect to die sooner than those who drink less.

"What this is saying is, if you're really concerned about your longevity, don't have more than a drink a day," said David Jernigan, a Johns Hopkins University alcohol researcher who was not involved in the study.

While the U.S. government currently recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, the recommendation for men is 14 drinks. That's because earlier studies found women are hit by the effects of alcohol at lower amounts than men for several reasons, including the fact that women weigh less than men on average and blood alcohol concentrations rise faster.

The new study estimates that 40-year-old men who drink as much as the current U.S. guidelines allow can expect to live one to two years less than men who have no more than seven drinks per week.

Canada and Sweden have guidelines similar to those in the United States set by the Department of Agriculture. Some countries have much higher ceilings. Spain and Romania set the upper limit for men at the equivalent of 20 drinks each week, for example.

British guidelines were like the U.S. standards until two years ago, when U.K. health officials brought the recommendation for men down to the level for women.

The study "is a serious wake-up call for many countries," Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation said in a statement. The group partly funded the study, which was published Thursday by the Lancet journal.

The research combined results from 83 studies conducted in 19 countries, tracking nearly 600,000 people who drank alcohol. The researchers focused on who developed — and died from — stroke and different forms of heart disease. They made a point of excluding people who had a known history of heart problems at the time they had entered a study.

About half the participants said they had more than 100 grams of alcohol a week. There's variation from country to country as to how many grams of alcohol are generally found in a standard drink. In Britain, that's about six pints of beer a week. But in the United States, 100 grams is equivalent to what's in seven 12-ounces cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits.

The researchers found a higher risk of stroke, heart failure and other problems in that group of heavier drinkers. That may partly reflect that alcohol can elevate blood pressure and alter cholesterol levels, the researchers said.

Notably, the heavier drinkers were less likely to have a heart attack. But balanced against the increased risk of a stroke and other heart problems, the impact of drinking more than seven drinks a week is more bad than good, said the study's lead author, Dr. Angela Wood of the University of Cambridge in England.

Like most studies, this one has flaws. It's not built to make firm conclusions about cause and effect. Research that rolls together previous studies can be problematic if they aren't similar enough, though this one appears to have done a good job at overcoming that obstacle and combining comparable data, Jernigan said.

Researchers relied on what participants reported drinking at the start, recognizing that many people may be lowballing how much they actually down. And the study didn't account for any changes in their drinking habits.

At O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub, a watering hole in lower Manhattan, one patron shrugged off the study and its recommendation. Shawn Freeman, visiting from St. Louis, said other things influence how much he drinks, like his mood and whether he'll be driving.

Another patron, Jaussi Ruotsalainen, a tourist from Finland, said he rarely drinks because he has two young kids at home.

"That takes care of it," he said.