[imgcontainer] [img:joplin.jpeg] [source]AP/Mike Gullett[/source] Joplin, Missouri, was devastated by a tornado in May, one of many particularly severe weather events in 2011. [/imgcontainer]

Tyson Foods, the chicken/pork producer and nation’s largest meat company, spent more than half a million dollars in the third quarter of 2011 to lobby against corn ethanol subsidies, according to Pork Network. 

Tyson argues that ethanol production raises the price of corn, which it uses to feed livestock. 

• We thought you’d like to know that a new study finds that chewing gum impairs short term memory.

In a forthcoming study to be published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers say they found that chewing gum does bad things for short-term memory. Gum chewers don’t remember lists as well as when they are gumless. So there.

• Yes, there were a higher number of severe — disastrous! — weather events in 2011.

The New York Times reports

A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion.

“I’ve been a meteorologist 30 years and never seen a year that comes close to matching 2011 for the number of astounding, extreme weather events,” Jeffrey Masters, a co-founder of the popular Web site Weather Underground, said last month. “Looking back in the historical record, which goes back to the late 1800s, I can’t find anything that compares, either.”

• Since 1984, the net worth of an average member of the House of Representatives more than doubled, from $280,000 to $725,000. During the same time, the median American family saw its net worth go from $20,600 to $20,500.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have stories about the rising wealth of members of Congress. The Times reports:

Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers.

But rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast so stark, between lawmakers and those they represent.

• States continue to reduce funding for their public universities

State funding was 26 percent of the University of Virginia’s budget two decades ago Now it’s 7 percent. At the University of Michigan, that figure has dropped from 48 percent to 17 percent. 

That’s why tuition is going up so quickly.

• People in Pennsylvania are having a hard time buying anthracite coal to heat their homes. Miners can’t dig the stuff fast enough to satisfy world demand. 

• Colorado has set up a new council to focus on the needs of rural schools. At the same time, a state court found in favor of rural schools who had challenged the way the state funds public education. The judge said the state school system was underfunded by up to $4 billion. 

• A Huffington Post writer finds that farming is luring young people. 

Dinesh Ramde writes that “there are signs more people in their 20s and 30s are going into farming: Enrollment in university agriculture programs has increased, as has interest in farmer-training programs.” 

• Farmland prices in the Delta are rising, just like they did in the 1980s. This time, foreign investors, many from South America, are buying farmland in the Delta, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Higher commodity prices are supporting the higher prices paid for land. Or that’s the story so far. 

“Really, it goes back to ethanol and the mandates for ethanol, which elevated demand for corn and limited the supply,” said Steve Witges, a regional lending manager with Farm Credit Services of Illinois. “Corn is the barometer for income on these farms; it’s the primary driver, and profitability has been very strong.”

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