NEWS DAY | Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize / Farm prices down / University enrollment up / War reports

obama official photoObama wins Nobel Peace Prize President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize today, in a decision that surprised many because it came so early in his term. The committee said Obama has created “a new climate in international politics.”

Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. …
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

The New York Times reports that Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway said:

“One of the first things he did was to go to Cairo to try to reach out to the Muslim world, then to restart the Mideast negotiations and then he reached out to the rest of the world through international institutions. “

He mentioned in particular the recent United Nations Security Council meeting on nuclear disarmament and the announcement of the prize noted the special importance the Nobel committee attached to President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

While Obama’s critics at home and around the world denounced the award, NPR’s Rob Gifford, reporting from London, said:

He represents an America that the world really wants to engage with. I think this feeling of anti-Americanism, that if you’re in the United States of thinking that, ‘Oh, everyone out there is opposed to America,’ that really isn’t true.
People love America, many people really love America, but they love a certain idea of what America is, and they feel that with President Obama, the United States has come back to be that image of engagement and shared values and multilateralism, that everyone around the world wants to see in the United States.

Farm prices plummet Dairy, pork and grain farmers are among those hard-hit by plunging prices, with many losing money on every gallon of milk, every pig and every bushel they produce.

The Star Tribune reports that about 200 Minnesota dairy farms closed in the past year, leaving 4600 still hanging on. “Paul Liebenstein, who milks 300 cows at his farm in Dundas, Minn., has lost more than $1,000 a day for much of the year,” reports the Strib. That’s a local instance of a global crisis, as farmers sent at least 250,000 milk cows to the slaughter houses over the past 15 months, and farmers in Europe protest by dumping milk. In contrast to the dairy farmers who produce the milk, milk processors are reporting record high profits.

This decade has seen milk prices [to the farmer] drop below $10 per hundred pounds (a standard measure used on dairy farms), rise to $16, fall to $10 again and then rise to $20 before falling again. The most recent price in Minnesota, $11.32 per hundred pounds, is less than the $15 that most farms would need to cover costs.

Problems in dairy affect all of Minnesota, reports the Minnesota Independent:

The dairy industry, meanwhile, is labor intensive from farm production, feed, dairy processing, transportation and manufacturing. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture in May pegged total economic impact from dairy production at $9 billion and credited the sector for having more than 39,000 Minnesota jobs. … Losing dairy farms ultimately means losing jobs in the industry and the multiplier impact is felt in rural communities and in the Twin Cities.

Pork producers are also suffering from low prices, and four MN congress members signed on to a letter from 60 congress members asking for emergency relief for hog farmers, according to MPR.

Nationwide, grain farmers are expected to  harvest record yields, according to the Wichita Eagle. That’s not necessarily profitable, since net farm income is forecast to be down by one-third.

The USDA has projected the wheat price for the 2009 crop to be 33 percent below last year’s average price. Corn is off 24 percent and soybeans 11 percent.Fed cattle prices for this year are expected to average 8 percent below the 2008 level. Hogs are off 15 percent.

Spring red wheat in Minnesota are seeing even more trouble, reports the Star Tribune. Yields were high, but the grain is of lower quality because of weather conditions, and prices will barely meet the cost of production, if that.

In north and northwestern Minnesota, the weather has dumped on already-stressed farmers, and ag secretary Tom Vilsack has declared 12 counties eligible for federal disaster relief, reports the Star Tribune. Excessive snow and rain, flooding and unseasonably cool temperatures that occurred between April 1 and June 30 are the reasons for the disaster declaration, which makes farmers eligible for low-interest loans.

University enrollment up, but problems loom at U of M Recessions typically mean more students for higher education, and MN institutions report increases this fall, according to the Star Tribune, ranging from 5.8 percent for the University of Minnesota freshman class to double digits at 13 of the 25 state community and technical colleges. National enrollment figures have not yet been released, but the American Council on Education predicts a two million student increase to 18.5 million. Private colleges are also following the trend, with some seeing higher-than-expected rates of response to acceptance letters and some intentionally opening more first-year spots, reports MPR. Macalester’s enrollment this fall, for example, is nearly 2,000, the highest since 1971.

AP reports overall enrollment at the U of M up two percent, from 66,312 last year to 67,364 this year. Overall enrollment at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is up seven percent, rising to 199,000 for a fourth consecutive annual high, according to MPR.

Mike Bruner, is vice president of student services at Century College in White Bear Lake, where enrollment is up almost 12 percent over last year, said the poor economy is behind the increase.

“History shows that will send more adults back to the classroom to reequip themselves for either their career or advancement in their current career, or either to finish a degree that they’ve had their sites on,” Bruner said.

Even as enrollment figures rise, an internal task force said Thursday that the University of Minnesota is looking at increasing deficits, which could reach $50 million by 2012 and a billion dollars by 2025, reports AP. With state funding now supporting 20 percent of the U of M budget and health care costs skyrocketing, the solution will lie in increasing tuition, cutting staff and outsourcing work. Tuition now makes up 26 percent of the U of M budget.

Ellison, Franken, Coleman and more
With all the attention paid to Michelle Bachmann’s antics and Tim Pawlenty’s travel, MN Democrats may have been feeling a little neglected by the news media, but they made up for it on Thursday. Here are the headlines:

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman made a surprise announcement that he is NOT running for governor. Now there’s a way to stand out in the crowd. Eleven DFL gubernatorial hopefuls are set to share the TV stage in Duluth for the first televised debate of the season, sponsored by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5. AFSCME said Republicans were invited, but that none accepted.

Senator Al Franken was one of 30 Senate Democrats signing on to a letter to Senator Harry Reid, demanding a public option for health care. Senator Amy Klobuchar was conspicuously absent from the signatories.

• The House ethics committee changed its mind about Rep. Keith Ellison’s two-week trip to Saudi Arabia, which Ellison described as a personal religious pilgrimage, or Hajj. The Star Tribune reports that the committee, which previously said that Ellison did not need to reveal the amount paid for the trip by the Muslim American Society, now says he should. Ellison immediately released the number – $13,350.

War Reports

Pakistan A suicide bomber killed 49 people and injured more than a hundred in a crowded market in Peshawar, reports the New York Times. Pakistan said it is planning a major offensive against militants in South Waziristan.

The bombing came just days after a Taliban suicide attacker evaded tight security to kill five people at the office of the U.N.’s World Food Program in the capital, Islamabad and two weeks after another explosion killed 11 in another part of Peshawar….

Also Friday, militants ambushed a tanker carrying fuel for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan at a gas station near Peshawar, torching it, said Fazal Rabi, a police official. No deaths or injuries were reported in the attack, which highlighted the vulnerability of the American-led mission in landlocked Afghanistan as Washington debates sending more troops.

Afghanistan On Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Indian embassy and the Afghan interior ministry in Kabul, killing at least 17 people. This was the second attack on the embassy in a year, and the fourth bomb attack in Kabul since August. According to BBC correspondent Martin Patience, “The insurgents appear to be sending a clear message – we can strike anywhere in Afghanistan.”

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