Rural Blog Archive July 2005

Issues, trends, events, ideas and journalism from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Friday, July 29, 2005

Two N.C. reporters who made up quotes resign, and so does their editor . . .

An editor and two reporters at a The Reidsville (N.C.) Review have resigned after the writers were accused of inventing quotes published on the paper's front page. See item in yesterday's Rural Blog.

Managing Editor Jeff Sykes told William L. Holmes of The Associated Press he resigned yesterday afternoon. (Read more) Sykes apologized to The Review's subscribers in a column published yesterday. Sykes said he learned of the deception earlier this month and verbally disciplined both reporters, but believes he made a mistake by not immediately firing them. He told AP, "I was trying be compassionate."

Ellen Ishmael, publisher of the 5,195-circulation Media General daily, said in a Letter to Readers today, "We let you down by not having an appropriate check and balance system. I assure you we will impose a better editing process immediately. And I will continue to investigate the accuracy of other stories written by the two reporters. ... I am committed to giving you a fair and accurate news report every morning. I will dedicate myself to regaining your trust."

Reporters Brook R. Corwin and Michael Pucci "were making up quotes and attributing them to friends and family members who do not live in Reidsville," Ishmael wrote. They invented quotes for the daily 'Two Cents Worth' feature, which includes a small picture of a person, along with their name and response to a question," AP writes. An article this week in the Greensboro News & Record, circulation 90,436, reported on a number of individuals who were included in the column disputing they had said what they were quoted as saying, and charging they had never given permission for use of their photos.

Sykes told Lesley Messer of Editor & Publisher that when the reporters admitted their transgression, "I was just dumbfounded at that point. I was in shock. I think I said, 'You guys are killing me.' Sykes told Messer he is "the one paying the price." Sykes added, "When I made the decision that they deserved a second chance, I didn't think about the fact that this would spread across the globe in the blink of an eye and that I would be scrutinized a la Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass," infamous fakers. (Read more)

To Jim Romenesko at The Poynter Institute, Sykes wrote "An apology to journalism," saying he had made the wrong decision but was upset about "a disagreement with my publisher and some advertising staff over the independence of the editorial department" and wanted to give a second chance to "two of the best and hardest working reporters I had recruited here to our group of two daily and one weekly newspapers. . . . I never thought about their sins again until the mighty sword of journalistic morality fell upon me Tuesday. I did not believe that a Two-Cent item that runs with an ad on the front page was part of the editorial responsibility, and that the breach of trust was not one of journalism ethics, but of being forced in a small market to do leg work for other departments." Sykes was editor of all three papers.

. . . Meanwhile, rural expert says reporters and editor aren't all to blame

After reading the E&P story, Tim Marema of the Center for Rural Strategies voices sympathy with Skyes, in an e-mail to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: "Part of what's going on, aside from bad journalism, are pressures on editors and reporters to churn it out. The chains are all about the bottom line until some poor sucker like this editor makes a big mistake, and then suddenly they are about journalism ethics? I don't think so.

"Small-town editors are in a bad position. They have to keep their costs down by limiting the number of staff, increasing the number of assignments, and keeping wages as low as possible. They have to provide all the features the publisher, circulation, and advertising departments think are going to sell papers (on top of actually covering the news). And they have to abide by the rules of journalism and police their staff to make sure they are doing the same. Under conditions like these, it's not suprising that an editor would
say, 'All in all, I can't afford to fire these guys right now because I'll never get the paper out if I do.'

"I think he made the wrong decision, but if I were in his shoes, I would have thought long and hard before firing 40 percent of my reporting staff (and 100 percent of my government reporters) in one day. Why are the government reporters having to do a worthless feature like "Two Cents Worth" anyhow? Because some publisher or ad exec thinks it sells papers, that's why. You know the editor and reporters thought it was crap. They shouldn't have treated it that way, but I don't blame them for thinking it.

"If the editor had fired those reporters, he would have to explain to his publisher not only why there was no 'Two Cents Worth' on the front page, but why the rest of the front-page copy was recycled press releases and wedding announcements. What those reporters did was wrong, and they deserved to be fired for it.
But when you place tremendous economic pressure on editors who are supposed to operate based on ethical standards, the press, of all people, shouldn't be surprised when they cave. So, there's my 2 cents."

Other postings on this issue will be considered for publication. Click the List Serve button above.

Energy bill with tax breaks for companies, longer DST nears final passage

A far-ranging energy bill, sought by President Bush since taking office, with billions in tax breaks and other incentives to encourage energy production from traditional and alternative sources, appears headed toward passage today in the U. S. Senate after the House approved it yesterday.

The measure includes $14.5 billion in tax breaks, most for coal, oil, natural gas and utilities. Other incentives are designated for hybrid cars, alternative sources of energy such as wind, and for energy efficiency -- including a four-week expansion of daylight saving time. Supporters say the bill will help develop less polluting sources of electricity, including nuclear and "clean coal" facilities, and could improve the nation's electrical grid making it more reliable through enforceable rules regulating its operation,writes Justin Blum of The Washington Post. (Read more)

Opponents, however, say the bill does little to bring down gasoline prices or lessen dependence on foreign oil. They say the measure fleeces taxpayers by providing billions in tax breaks and subsidies to oil and gas companies, already set to experience huge profits this year.

Nearly 1/3 of Iraq veterans have mental problems; strain on rural health care?

The Army’s surgeon general has reported that 30 percent of U.S. troops returning from the Iraq war have developed stress-related mental health problems three to four months after coming home. Veterans are disproportionately from rural areas, where treatment of such maladies is often hard to find.

The problems "include anxiety, depression, nightmares, anger and an inability to concentrate," said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley and other military medical officials, writes John J. Lumpkin for The Associated Press. (Read more) Some troops experienced more severe symptoms and were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a serious mental illness.

The 30 percent figure contradicts the 3 to 5 percent who are diagnosed with a significant mental health issue as they left the war theater. A study of troops who were still in the combat zone in 2004 found 13 percent experienced significant mental health problems. Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a military psychiatrist on Kiley's staff, said such problems are sometimes more acute in members of the National Guard, who return to civilian jobs when they leave active duty.

Rural users need continued analog cell phone service, says newspaper

The Federal Communications Commission wants an all-digital cell phone system nationwide. What will happen to rural residents with phone systems not set up for digital and who rely on the old-fashioned telephones to keep in touch or call for help? A Henderson, N.C., newspaper has taken up that cause.

By the end of this year, notes the Henderson Daily Dispatch, the FCC wants 95 percent of each wireless company's customers to have digital phones, allowing emergency operators to pinpoint a 911 call location. And, by 2008, wireless firms could drop analog service entirely. (Read more)

"Which is all well and good, provided you can actually get digital reception everywhere. Right now, in mid-2005, you can't," the Dispatch said in a recent editorial. The paper noted other efforts to "rally support for a resolution seeking to suspend or modify the deadline on location-capable phones." It quoted FCC Commissioner Bob Sahr as saying that for rural areas "analog phones are the only kind that really work."

The newspaper emphasized that "The National Emergency Number Association opposes a blanket delay in the move to new digital phones, even though it confesses that fewer than half of the nation's 911 centers even have the technology to pinpoint the digital phones' emergency chips." They conclude, "Clearly, digital cell phones are superior. Reception (where you can get it) is clearer, and they offer far better functions and features. But a digital phone with no signal is a paperweight."

FDA bans poultry antibiotic, citing cases of resistant infections in humans

The Food and Drug Administration is banning the use of an antibiotic in poultry because of concerns it could lead to antibiotic-resistant infections in people. FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford ordered that approval for use of the drug Baytril be withdrawn effective Sept. 12, reports The Associated Press.

Manufactured in Germany, Baytril is similar to the popular drug Cipro, used in humans. Crawford cited concerns about a particular bacteria which is increasingly causing serious illness in humans, and the agency notes treatment efforts can be less effective if the germ has already developed resistance. (Read more)

Margaret Mellon, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told reporters, "It's the first time [the] FDA has withdrawn a veterinary drug on the basis of antibiotic resistance concerns." Crawford said the particular bacteria -- Campylobacter -- is commonly found in the intestinal tracts of turkeys and chickens, where it does not generally cause illness. The wire service reports that resistant bacteria may be present in poultry sold at retail outlets. Crawford noted that since the drug Baytril was introduced for poultry in the 1990s, the proportion of resistant infections in humans has risen significantly.

CAFTA chatter pits USDA secretary versus Louisiana's top farm official

This week's narrow passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) has caused such a clatter, we opened up the Web to see what was the matter. No fewer than 37 groups had CAFTA statements today on Government Policy News-links. Here are takes fom each side.

U.S. Department of Agricuture Secretary Mike Johanns called CAFTA a boon to American farmers. "The implications of this trade agreement extend well beyond agriculture," he a statement at Info-line.com.

Louisiana’s Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom is among those denouncing CAFTA's passage in a report by Steve Sabludowsky in the Metairie, La., publication Bayou Buzz. (Read more) "I am terribly disappointed that Congress and the Administration supported something that could cause such great damage to American agriculture," Odom said. "Our sugarcane and poultry industries will face negative effects from this agreement."

Poultry, Sabludowsky notes, is Louisiana’s most valuable livestock commodity at $1.5 billion in total value last year. Under CAFTA, exports of some assorted package chicken will not be eliminated for at least 10 years. Sugarcane, which may be more heavily affected by CAFTA, has an economic impact of nearly $500 million, with 720 sugarcane producers and some 29,000 jobs tied to the industry.

Ontario cattlemen say mad-cow crisis has strengthened Canada's beef industry

Canada's embattled beef industry says it's better positioned to compete in the global market following a two-year U.S. ban on Canadian beef spurred by mad-cow disease.

The Ontario Cattlemen's Association said "The closure of the U.S. border to Canadian cattle cost the industry an estimated $7 billion but also gave rise to a state-of-the-art beef production industry in Canada," reports The Canadian Press, Canada's analogue to The Associated Press. (Read more)

Association President Ian McKillop told the news agency, "This has made us a very strong competitor with the U.S. on the world market, stronger than before. By processing the animals in Canada, putting the beef in boxes, we have the ability to ship it around the world."

U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins met with Ontario farmers to discuss last week's border re-opening and he told the CP, "The administration's position is very clear, that we support open borders and support the flow of Canadian cattle to the United States." Wilkins commented just hours before U.S. officials revealed another potential mad-cow case. The renewed trade applies to cattle under 30 months old, thought to be at lowest risk for mad cow. Up step would be trading older cattle, including breeding stock.

Colorado officials cite agri-terrorism, want homeland security beyond metros

A top state administrator in Colorado says the state's rural settings deserve no less federal support than metro areas when it comes to protection against a terrorist strike.

"Michael Beasley, executive director of the state Department of Local Affairs, spoke with The Daily Sentinel to address the way federal homeland security grants are divvied up across Colorado," writes Danie Harrelson of the Grand Junction newspaper. (Read more)

A 10-county region of northwest Colorado has received more than $2.1 million in federal anti-terrorism assistance in 2005, money that critics say "would be better spent on such obvious targets as ports and high-profile cities with high-traffic borders," writes Harrelson. But Beasley told the newspaper local communities, large or small, that are prepared to handle any hazard are better prepared to handle a terrorist strike. “I worry as much about agri-terrorism. People can’t underestimate the threat to the nation’s food or water supply," Beasley added.

Sen. Ron Teck (R-Grand Junction) told editors, "Trying to identify what regions or sites in the state face a bigger threat of terrorism and thereby merit more anti-terrorism funding doesn’t yield cut-and-dried answers," the newspaper writes. “It truly is a bit of a shell game. Do I assume a terrorist would attack a water supply or a sports arena?" Teck asked.

In 2002, Gov. Bill Owens established an Office of Preparedness, Security and Fire Safety to oversee Homeland Security efforts, and last year he split the responsibilities between an existing anti-terrorism agency and the Department of Local Affairs. That split has caused statewide debate, Harrelson writes.

Old farm company joins new-age venture, invests in rural wind harvesting

One of the oldest and most steadfast names in farming, John Deere, has announced its investment in several wind energy projects in Minnesota and Texas. The company is also considering projects in other states and has reviewed projects in other countries.

"Over the next 15 years, experts in the industry predict the amount of energy generated from wind power will increase dramatically," reports Agriculture Online. (Read more) Wind power in the United States produced less than 7,000 megawatts in 2004 but could reach more than 100,000 megawatts in 2020.

John Deere has created a business unit to provide project development, debt financing and other services for those interested in harvesting wind. The wind energy initiative, the company says, will help it improve profitability and productivity. Blogger's note: It used to be "nothing runs like a Deere." Now, it might be said, "Deere runs like the wind."

U.S. attorneys from Iowa, Nebraska send strong signal to meth makers

U.S. Attorneys for Nebraska and Iowa are sending a strong message to manufacturers of the highly addictive drug methamphetamine. They want to get their respective state anti-meth laws federalized, reports The Associated Press. (Read more) For a story focused on Iowa, click here.

"Nebraska's U.S. Attorney Mike Heavican and his counterparts in Iowa, Charles Larson, Sr. and Matthew G. Whitaker, [have warned that] anyone who intends to cross state lines to obtain the key meth-ingredient pseudoephedrine may be prosecuted in federal court," AP writes.

Iowa's new law, effective May 21, is touted as the nation's toughest. A new Nebraska law, taking effect Sept. 3, "requires common cold and allergy products that contain pseudoephedrine to be placed behind the counter or in a locked case, limits how much of it can be sold at once, requires the purchaser to show an ID and be at least 18 years old," and is similar to new laws in numerous states, AP notes.

A U.S. Senate committee has passed an amendment to a proposed federal anti-methamphetamine law. That amendment would protect Oklahoma's stronger regulations. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) lobbied for the change to protect Oklahoma's existing and highly effective anti-methamphetamine law. Read more from a staff report in the Tulsa World. Coburn told reporters, "This amendment will ensure that a federal 'one-size-fits-all' solution does not water down Oklahoma's successful law."

Ohio senator questions Shawnee chief about off-the-reservation casino plans

U.S. Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) yesterday questioned an Indian tribe's chief attempting to build casinos in his state on whether to curtail off-reservation gambling.

Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma Chief Charles D. Enyart, a proponent of casinos in several Ohio communities, told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee his tribe seeks "a mutually beneficial and political economic relationship with the state" 150 years after its ancestors were forcibly removed from [it]," writes Sabrina Eaton of The Plain Dealer. (Read more)

The tribe filed a lawsuit last month seeking the return of its ancestral lands after Ohio elected officials refused to discuss the matter, writes Eaton from the Cleveland newspaper's Washington bureau. Casinos in Ohio communities would boost area economies and help lift his once impoverished tribe, Enyart told committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain has conducted hearings to determine whether Indian gambling laws should be revised.

Voinovich accused the tribe of gold-digging in more populous parts if Ohio, and insisted the tribe and its financial partners are "blackmailing the state and they are not even being subtle about it." Voinovich has introduced a bill to limit the scope of Indian casino gambling. A representative of the Interior Department, which regulates Indian tribes, told the newspaper it's rare for tribes to seek off-reservation casinos, and the Eastern Shawnee haven't yet sought permission from the agency to build in Ohio.

Also, an Indiana tribe seeking to build a Michigan casino has filed a motion in federal court to intervene in a suit aimed at blocking the facility, reports Chris Knape of The Grand Rapids Press. (Read more)

Rural Virginians get free health care via Remote Area Medical Expedition

Health care for many southwest Virginia residents is an unaffordable luxury in a region that habitually records some of the worst health statistics in the nation. Once a year, however, thousands get wide-ranging free medical care at the Wise County Remote Area Medical Expedition, which last year provided almost $1 million in free services to about 6,000 poor people.

The 2005 medical expedition began early today near Wise, Va. Last night on America Public Media's Marketplace, heard on many National Public Radio stations, Julia DeBruicker had a preview of this year's event and a retrospective on what the medical help has meant to area folks. (Story web-page) (Listening to story requires high-end Web audio capability.)

Sonja Cox told DeBruicker she is "disabled and doesn't make enough money for a pair of bifocals." Most attending the expedition make a thousand dollars a month or less. The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps, is a 20-year-old non-profit, volunteer, airborne relief effort that provides free health, dental and eye care, veterinary services, and technical and educational assistance to rural residents.

Last year in Wise, doctors, nurses and dentists provided care to 6,026 patients; extracted 3,291 bad teeth and filled 932; gave 3,398 consultations, including lab procedures, pharmacy and telemedicine; performed 104 mammograms; and conducted 1,078 eye examinations with free prescription eyeglasses, many of which were provided on site. All that free care was valued at $946,326, reports Marketplace.

Wal-Mart going green? Company uses wind turbine and rainwater pond

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is experimenting in McKinney, Tex., with its first environmentally friendly store to conserve resources and save money, the company says.

"The world's largest retailer opened a 206,000-square-foot building last week that will include such features as a 120-foot tall wind turbine that will produce about 5 percent of the store's energy and a rainwater harvesting pond designed to provide 95 percent of the water needed for irrigation," writes Steve Quinn of The Associated Press. (Read more)

"McKinney's hot summer climate also made it an ideal location for Wal-Mart to test its new energy-efficient cooling and heating systems," writes Danny Gallagher of the daily McKinney Courier-Gazette, with a story that offers many details about the project. (Read more)

Don Moseley, manager of Wal-Mart experimental projects, told Quaid, "We want to be more sustainable, more economical or more environmentally responsible." The company said there were additional costs with the conservation efforts, but would not elaborate on the price tag. Gus Whitcomb, a regional Wal-Mart spokesman, said, "We want to see if this can save us some money and keep our costs down."

Wal-Mart has been working to polish its image as an employee- and community-friendly corporation, and has earmarked $35 million over 10 years to help the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation conserve 1 acre of priority habitat for each acre developed, writes Quaid. Analyst Al Meyers of Retail Forward Inc., a consultancy, said he'll be watching the store and the company's environmental efforts closely.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Newspaper accused of making up quotes, plagiarizing photos; culture flaw?

The Reidsville Review stands accused of "using photos from TheFacebook.com and making up quotes for its front-page 'Two Cents Worth' column," charges the Greensboro News & Record, a Landmark newspaper. (Read more)

"Jack Wiley Westall, 22, was quoted in the man-on-the-street feature about his summer plans, but says he never talked to the [Reidsville] paper or gave permission for his photo to be used. Others tell similar stories. Review executive editor Jeffrey Sykes refuses to answer questions about the bogus quotes and copied photos," reports Carla Bagley of the News & Record. The Review, a Media General paper, has a ciruclation of 5,195. The News & Record, a Landmark Communications paper, has 90,436.

If the tales proves true, it could be an example of what American Journalism Review Managing Editor Lori Anderson writes about in AJR's upcomiong August-September issue: America embracing a culture of opinion and entertainment and moving away from one of fact.

"In the not-too-distant past, journalism sages, columnists and otherwise rational old people were quick to condemn the ethically lax, morally inept, not-able-to-handle-the-pressure-of-the-big-time 'kids these days' as the root of the plagiarism and fabrication problem. Young journalists -- whom one newspaper columnist I interviewed defined as anyone under the age of 40 -- can thank Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair for the slew of blame-it-on-the-young diatribes. If only the problem were that simple," Anderson writes..

"As the recent round of cheating cases cropped up -- there was a decided lack of excuses put forth. No whining about temptations of the Internet. Little bemoaning the sad state of youth," she writes. "Has the search for why been called off? Or is the industry ready to tackle a much more difficult matter: The culture? Nobody wants to hear this. 'Culture' is so new-agey, touchy-feely, some would say 'soft,' awful gauzy for a place as crass, competitive and cynical as a newsroom." (Click here for AJR Preview)

Miami columnist Jim DeFede fired for secretly taping phone call with victim

The Miami Herald has fired columnist Jim DeFede because he tape-recorded a phone conversation with Arthur E. Teele Jr. without his knowledge, moments before Teele shot himself in the head.

"Teele had killed himself ... without ever knowing that the columnist recorded their conversation," writes Jay Weaver of The Miami Herald. (Read more) Both Publisher Jesús Díaz Jr. and Executive Editor Tom Fiedler told Weaver they fired the popular metro writer because it is illegal to tape a conversation with another person without that individual's consent in Florida.

Diaz told Weaver that during his interview with Teele, DeFede turned on a tape machine to record his conversation as the politician confided in him about his public corruption charges, financial problems and other sensitive issues. At one point, notes Weaver, Teele told the columnist he was not speaking on the record -- but DeFede continued to record him anyway without his knowledge.

Diaz said of the firing, ''With all of our sources, we have to treat them with respect and dignity. I don't think we did that in this situation. The public's trust is at stake ... we have to make sure the public understands that trust is the most important value that the community bestows upon us.''

Comment from blogger Bill Griffin: The Herald sub-headline read, Former official faced fraud charges - shot self at newspaper. What we noticed, along with the chosen venue, was the number of staff used to tell the story of Teele Jr. shooting himself in the head yesterday as police arrived at The Herald building. (Read more) Along with principle writers, Luisa Yanez, Carol Rosenberg, Matthew I. Pinzur and Scott Hiaasen, 11 other news staff members contributed to the story. Our question, especially for our rural, less richly staffed colleagues, is how many newspapers do you know of that even have 15 reporters total? The story ran about 1,500 words. That works out to a hundred words a piece. Nice work if you can get it!

The story also prompts reflection on the media's power to prod the accused over the edge. Teele, besieged by considerable media coverage and "buckling under chronic debts and legal bills," the Herald reports, told DeFede moments before killing himself, "Who did I piss off in this town?''

Newspaper seeking to silence its own; wants ban on even off-duty staff griping

The possibility of any newspaper firing its workers for griping about their workplace, even while off duty, could send shivers and shock waves throughout the industry.

"There's not a newspaper in the country where reporters and editors, at some time or another, haven't spouted off about what they didn't like about the place. Work-related griping over a beer at the neighborhood tavern -- or nowadays in an e-mail among colleagues -- is as common as spin control from a political flak," writes Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher. (Read more)

But, Strupp reports, if the York (Pa.) Daily Record has its way, such outspoken opinions, either in the newsroom or at a nearby watering hole, may become a fireable offense. Among several proposals in the latest contract offer to Daily Record guild members is a provision that would ban disparagement of the company by its employees.

Lauri Lebo, unit chair for the York Local 38218 of The Newspaper Guild, told Strupp, "People are horrified. I actually shrieked when I read it." Its members received the proposal earlier this month.

The Guild local oversees two units at the Daily Record and a third unit at the cross-town York Dispatch. Both Record units are under a three-year contract that ends Sept. 30, while the Dispatch unit's agreement does not expire until next year, writes Strupp.

Possible third case of mad-cow disease needs more testing, U.S. officials say

A cow that died of complications from calving in April may have been infected with mad-cow disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday.

The animal posed no danger to the human or animal food supply because it was destroyed where it died after tissue samples were taken, said USDA Chief Veterinarian Dr. John Clifford, writes Steven Bodzin of the Los Angeles Times. (Read more) The animal's death while calving in "a remote area" led to an inconclusive tissue study, reports the USDA.

Clifford told the Times a brain tissue sample submitted by a veterinarian who treated animals in a remote area was treated with a preservative -- which allows only one type of test -- and frozen for analysis. The results of the test were inconclusive.

Additional samples are being tested at the USDA laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and at a laboratory in England, considered the most sophisticated in the world. The results are expected next week. Mad cow disease is spread when cows eat brain or nerve parts from an infected animal. Japan has had 20 cases of mad cow disease and tests every animal slaughtered. Authorities there have demanded the United States test more animals before beef exports to Japan can resume.

World markets rattled with each reported mad-cow case, officials say

News of mad cow disease can move markets, stall trade negotiations and prompt nations to grow more skeptical of American beef; economic calamity that is inspiring a debate on releasing test results and raising questions about regulators protecting the market rather than consumers.

"Although beef markets reacted mildly in late June to the confirmation of the nation's first home-grown case [of mad cow in Texas] the damage was done. Nations such as Taiwan and Indonesia quickly restricted beef purchases from the U.S.," writes Purva Patel of the Houston Chronicle. (Read more)

Industry observers told the Chronicle, "The type and timing of the information released by regulators can make all the financial difference in the world to[those] whose livelihood is tied to the price of beef," writes Patel. "But trying to find consensus among state and federal agencies can be difficult, as two recently obtained letters from Texas regulators to the U.S. Department of Agriculture show."

The letters included concerns from the heads of the Texas Agriculture Department and Texas Animal Health Commission on the USDA's handling of cases. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs suggested federal regulators hold results from the public until animals are confirmed positive or negative.

Combs wrote, "While markets may bounce back, enormous amounts of money can be lost in the interim. It is estimated that the market dropped $25 per head on cattle, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to our cattle industry." However, Animal Health Commission Executive Director Bob Hillman wrote, "Experience has shown it is impossible to prevent rumors from any number of sources." Commission Chairman Richard Taylor wrote, "Uncertainties and rumors are far more damaging ... than known facts."

Blogger's note: A sample measure of how these reports reverberate is exampled in today's and yesterday's media coverage of the most recent case. In addition to the L.A. Times story (noted above) here's just a few other story links: The New York Times, The Washington Post, MacNewsWorld.com, CJAD 800 AM Radio - Canada, KOMO - Seattle,WA (Radio & Television), Guardian Unlimited - United Kingdom, which ran The Associated Press story by Libby Quaid.

Kentucky expands ban on southwestern states' livestock to protect its own

While news of mad cow reverberates worldwide, a lesser known animal affliction, Vesicular Stomatitis, which can affect humans, has prompted tighter restrictions on livestock coming into Kentucky.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has widened its prohibition on all livestock and exotic or wild animals to include four more counties in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

With the four new counties, Kentucky has now banned animal exports from a total of 20 counties in those states. An agriculture department news release reports the state wants to keep vesicular stomatitis (VS) from spreading to the valuable horse and cattle industries.

Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said, "VS could affect the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking farm families [and] the department will do all it can to keep this disease out of the state and prevent it from harming our agriculture economy." AP reports VS is a rarely fatal viral disease that can affect humans as well as horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goat and deer. It is similar to foot-and-mouth disease, which has not been seen in the United States since 1929. Infected animals may get blisters on their mouths, hooves and teats. Humans infected with VS may experience flu-like symptoms.

N.C. to join states tightly regulating meth ingredients; compromise bill expected

A North Carolina legislature joint committee is expected to iron out differences between House and Senate version of bills banning ingredients used to make the powerful, addictive, destructive and socially devastating drug called meth, which is especially prevalent in rural areas.

"North Carolina is poised to clamp down on [the] widely available ingredient in the addictive stimulant [meth] say state House members who approved [passage of a measure yesterday]," writes Matthew Eisley of The News & Observer of Raleigh. (Read more). The vote limits the ability to buy ordinary cold medicines which contain the component, the popular decongestant pseudoephedrine.

Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a Republican business owner from meth lab hot spot McDowell County, along the Blue Ridge mountains, told Eisley, "Will this make it harder for the average citizen to obtain (the colds medicine substance]? Yes, it will! But, we see in our paper every week the devastation this terrible drug causes. It is a very tragic thing." McDowell County was recently reported as the most meth lab-infested county in the Tar Heel state.

The anti-meth bill now goes to the Senate, which already has approved a different version. The chambers differ on which medications to regulate, and how, Eisley writes.

Columnist sees irony in Appalachian forest-cutting incentive

Rural Policy Research Institute fellow and columnist Thomas D. Rowley is one of many journalists who notice the best of humankind, and its worst. Rowley, after recently praising a Kenyan government policy of paying residents not to destroy their nearby forest ecology, writes of an Appalachian example of the opposite - an incentive to cut down trees which ironically may conserve. (Read more)

"Folks in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee are being compensated ... in the name of conservation. If that sounds wacky, just wait. Not only are these Appalachian landowners being paid to harvest trees, they are being paid a premium and for the worst trees," writes Rowley. The Appalachian Sustainable Development (ASD) "Sustainable Woods" program is "an effort to improve the health of the local forests and at the same time improve the health of the local economy," notes Rowley. He observed the program as part of the International Rural Network conference last month in Abingdon, Va., from "the forest and at the saw-mill," he describes.

Rowley the conservation program's purpose is "to institute environmentally friendly forestry practices. It then takes the timber that results and processes it locally to create jobs and improve incomes." He notes the timber cutting is done in an area where "the trees are felled and ... hauled out of the forest ... and often as not by horse."

ASD Executive Director Anthony Flaccavento told Rowley, "We take a market approach," which means "landowners are paid for the timber, and [paid] well - as much as 25 percent more per board foot than other lumber companies [which] helps landowners swallow the notion of cutting fewer trees and effectively leaving money in the forest instead of putting it in their pockets." Flaccavento told Rowley that landowners "are getting a little more for leaving a little more." This, and other columns, available here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Energy bill almost ready for president; last-minute coal cleanup idea left out

"After coming up short for years, Congress is preparing to enact a broad energy plan that would provide generous federal subsidies to the oil and gas industries, encourage new nuclear power plant construction and try to whet the nation's appetite for renewable fuels like ethanol and wind power," write Carl Hulse and Michael Janofsky of The New York Times. (Read more)

Final details were ironed out in a nine-hour meeting that ended early Tuesday. House and Senate leaders hope to get the bill in President Bush's hands by week's end, a goal that has been on the administration's to-do list since 2001. The last step - an estimated $11 billion in tax breaks for energy production and efficiency - was being handled Tuesday night, report Hulse and Janofsky.

An editorial by the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune attacked the bill: "The current version of the energy bill provides plenty of expensive incentives to satiate America's hunger for energy, but painfully little to curb its growing appetite. House and Senate negotiators are nearing completion of a comprehensive energy package, and they could send this pork-laden measure to the president's desk by the end of the week." (Read more)

The editorial criticizes legislators for leaving out a coal cleanup provision. “Rep. Barbara Cubin [wanted] to re-authorize the 1977 abandoned mine cleanup law, which is set to expire Sept. 30,” the paper writes. “Cubin, a member of the House-Senate conference committee working on final details of the energy bill, had said last week she hoped to include the compromise measure she and Eastern lawmakers had crafted.”

Cubin (R-Wyo.) and Rep. John Peterson (R.-Pa.) tried to resolve their differences on the mining provision. “Wyoming, which now produces more coal than any other state, is the biggest contributor to the federal cleanup fund and gets the most money from it,” writes Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press. “But Eastern states like Pennsylvania have declining coal production and the most abandoned mine land.” (Read more)

Peterson wanted more funding for states with the most abandoned land, while Cubin wanted more funds for Wyoming. Some legislators from Appalachian states supported adding the amendment to the energy bill, reports Jalonick, because it expanded guaranteed health care benefits to thousands more retired miners from the United Mine Workers of America who worked for now-defunct companies.

Farm Bureau praises energy bill, neglects to mention daylight saving time

As earlier noted, many rural folk feel daylight saving time is a "feuding, fighting and fussing" issue. And yet, the American Farm Bureau Federation, which one would think takes rural folks to heart, praises the federal energy bill containing DST expansion without noticing the "March of Time" provision.

A Farm Bureau news release -- a statement from president Bob Stallman on the energy bill -- reads, "The House and Senate conference committee compiled an excellent compromise energy bill that will benefit all Americans, including farmers and ranchers."

"Of major importance is that the conference report requires the use of 7.5 billion gallons of home-grown renewable fuels by 2012," he states. “Farm Bureau is urging the full Senate and House to pass the compromise legislation so that President Bush may sign it into law. Enacting the legislation will start reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Farmers and ranchers will increase their use of renewable fuels, mainly biodiesel and ethanol, and farmers will also play a big part in producing these fuels from such crops as soybeans and corn."

There's no mention, however, as noted in our July 25 Rural Blog, that "The four-week extension [of daylight saving time] is less than initially proposed. Under the measure, [it] would begin on the second Sunday of March and clocks would be turned back an hour on the first Sunday of November. Currently, [it] starts the first Sunday in April and lasts to the last Sunday in October. The extension would become effective one year after passage of the bill and requires the Energy Department to study its impact," we wrote. Blogger's note: Should we get Mr. Stallman a rooster?

Wal-Mart lifts ban on Pensacola paper; company didn't like critical column

The Pensacola News Journal will soon be back on the rack at northwest-Florida area Wal-Mart stores. The nation's largest retailer had imposed a ban when a local manager considered a newspaper column derogatory.

"Columnist Mark O'Brien wrote Pensacola should 'be more than the Wal-Mart kind of town we're becoming -- cheap and comfy on the surface, lots of unhappiness and hidden costs underneath,'" writes Bill Kaczor of The Associated Press. (Read more) O'Brien's column cited a New York Times report which found 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees in Georgia's health-care program, costing taxpayers nearly $10 million a year. O'Brien noted the Times report was cited in "The World is Flat," a global economy book by Thomas Friedman.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said, "We did make an error in judgment. They should be available in our stores by the end of the week." News Journal Executive Editor Randy Hammer told Kaczor, "There are lots of different ways to disagree with people; this wasn't necessarily one of them." The offended manager defended Wal-Mart's wage and employment practices in a letter to the editor citing the average full-time pay at more than $10 an hour, twice the federal minimum wage, and that an estimated 160,000 people obtained health insurance by going to work for Wal-Mart.

In a Sunday column, Hammer said that in a conversation with the offended Wal-Mart manager, the manager discussed lifting the ban if the newspaper fired O'Brien. But, Hammer said, "I might understand it if Wal-Mart [had] said I ought to fire Mark because what he wasn't accurate, but that isn't the case." The Wall Street Journal yesterday ran a profile of Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott which included "a very good summary of how the company turned from darling to devil," notes IRJCI Director Al Cross. The WSJ article requires a subscription. The News Journal, owned by Gannett, has a circulation of 63,016. The original Mark O'Brien News Journal column is archived requiring a search, and a fee after seven days.

Montana governor issues order to inspect Canada beef after ban lifted

With Canadian cattle crossing the U.S. border again, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer last week ordered that all livestock headed for Montana must be checked to ensure federal restrictions compliance.

Schweitzer told reporters state Livestock Department supervised veterinarians will inspect cattle that are younger than 30 months, not pregnant and have the mandated "CAN" brand, writes Bob Anez of The Associated Press. (Read more) Owners will pay the cost, an estimated $3 to $5 a head.

Schweitzer, who is a rancher, said, "I am committed to the ranchers and consumers in this state. We will take every precaution available to us to protect [our people and our] cattle industry," writes Anez. Schweitzer said he'd urge similar action by governors in Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. Montana cattle industry leaders and the activist R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) applauded the move. John Lockie, executive director of the Montana Cattlemen's Association, told the AP, "It only makes sense to make sure that we're checking and we're getting what we're supposed to be getting."

Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, said his only concern was whether Canadian ranchers could be forced to pay for the inspections in Montana. Rob McNabb, assistant manager of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said producers won't pay again for the same inspection they finance before their cows can be shipped. The United States banned Canadian cattle in May 2003 following Canada's first case of mad cow disease.

The Consumers Union has called on the USDA to release data on the government's inspection program, in light of the mad cow scare and the reopening of the Canadian border, which it says "raises serious concerns about credibility of government surveillance program." For the story on that click here.

Canadian farming co-op forging independent meat processing facility

A Northern Alberta, Canada farming cooperative is progressing on plans to build its own meat processing facility.

"Members of the Peace Country Tender Beef Co-op say they're not deterred by the long-awaited reopening of the American border to Canadian cattle," reports the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Read more)

The co-op formed during the border closure and industry ban following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in 2003, and has grown to about 600 members. Member Seth Barnfield told reporters Canadians need to become less dependent on the United States. "We've got to get more value added, we've got to get more processing in our country or we're going to be behind it all the time. We're shipping everything out, like our lumber, and we're just killing our small communities."

The co-op is transforming a curling club into a meat processing plant to be open this fall, and is working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on plans for a new slaughter house for 2006. "The Canadian cattle industry was decimated by the closure of the U.S. border," reports the CBC. Exports losses were about $7 billion. The Canadian government and provinces spent $2.5 billion to keep the industry afloat. Blogger's note: 'Curling' is a distinctly British Isles sport which involves sliding a pumpkin-shaped object over ice to bump your opponents' out of the way to score points; kind of shuffleboard with bigger pucks.

Pennsylvania congressman's bill limits Indian tribes' casino ventures

A dispute between an American Indian tribe and township property owners over 315 acres of land sought as part of a casino venture ended in a victory for the township when a federal judge ruled in their favor. But, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent says he's filing a bill to give property owners more protection.

Dent (R-Lehigh Valley) said, "The threat is far from over," writes Sarah Mausolf of The Express Times in Easton. (Read more) Dent noted, "An appeal [of the township-American Indian tribe decision] is before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. [And] I am concerned about this kind of 'reservation shopping.'"

Dent has unveiled a bill limiting the ability of tribes to expand into new properties "for the sole purpose of building casinos," writes Mausolf, by stiffening the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. That measure forbids American Indian gaming but has numerous exceptions. Dent told reporters ''reservation shopping'' places unsuspecting homeowners at risk. Under Dent's proposal, tribes wanting to build casinos could only claim lands adjacent to existing reservations. All other lands would be off limits.

Dent's bill would also limit the power to base a claim on land deals reached before the United States was founded. In Forks Township, the Delaware Nation argued it was swindled out of land by William Penn's son in 1737, 50 years prior to the enactment of the U.S. Constitution. "The bill would give the Legislature power to block land claims fueled by casino projects. Presently, only the governor can contradict such a land claim once it has been approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior," writes Mausolf.

Activist group announces national campaign against Moosehead development

A coalition of environmental groups says it is ready to launch a "national campaign" to stop a proposed large-scale development in Maine's Moosehead Lake Region.

Former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Carter said the "Save Moosehead" campaign will pursue every "political, legal and legislative" option to end the development. If that fails, he said, the coalition will be ready to start a petition drive for a statewide vote, writes Jerry Harkavy of The Associated Press. (Read more)

A development group called Plum Creek filed a plan with state officials involving 426,000 acres, of which about 10,000 are slated for development. The development would include 575 shorefront lots and 400 back lots, writes Harkavy. Carter charges the developers deceived the residents of Maine when Plum Creek bought 900,000 acres seven years ago and stated they had no plans to carve it up for vacation homes.

Carter, now director of the Forest Ecology Network, told AP, "We´re going to attack from all sides." Jim Lehner, Plum Creek´s regional general manager, said, "Opposition to the project by environmental groups was not unexpected or beyond the level that his company had foreseen."

ACLU challenging the practice of courts not allowing non-Christian oaths

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina has filed a lawsuit challenging the state's practice of refusing to allow people of faith to take an oath in court using a religious text other than the Bible.

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, states in an ACLU news release, "The government cannot favor one set of religious values over another and must allow all individuals of faith to be sworn in on the holy text that is in accordance with their faith." Rudinger says limiting an oath to only the Bible is "discriminating against people of other faiths." The lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court seeks a court order clarifying the phrase "Holy Scriptures" in the state’s existing statute, which the ACLU claims is broad enough to allow the use of multiple religious texts.

The ACLU has asked the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to adopt a policy allowing the use of the Qur'an and other religious texts, and an Islamic Center previously offered to donate copies of the Qur'an to the Guilford County court system for this purpose, notes the release. Muslim groups, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and interfaith religious organizations also joined the ACLU in calling upon the state courts to respect religious diversity. The AOC responded that the legislature or a court ruling would have to settle the case.

But, the ACLU notes, "Existing North Carolina statutes allow for the use of a religious oath to be sworn 'with upraised hand,' without the use of any religious text, and for the use of a secular oath [where] the word 'affirm' replaces the word 'swear' and the words 'so help me God' are deleted." The ACLU lawsuit does not concern these options but is to address religious oaths using religious text.

Study shows decline in crossings' collisions; is more safety needed?

A U.S. Department of Transportation study reports highway railroad crossings deaths decreased 50 percent last year from 1995 figures. Poynter Institute commentator Al Tompkins is asking if more should be done.

Tompkins' column states, "There were almost eight such collisions a day [3,045 total] in 2004, resulting in at least one death per day [and 368 fatalities that year]. In the last 10 years, the feds have closed tens of thousands of crossings and installed more than 4,000 crossing gates and flashing lights. Train companies have had to install new reflective stickers on railroad cars, increase the sound of warning horns and install locomotive event recorders."

Tompkins asks, "So what can be done to further reduce the numbers?" And, he challenges, "Here is your local angle. Read this fairly mind-blowing section of the report." "The biggest cause of train/car wrecks now," Tompkins opines, "is knuckleheads driving around the automatic warning gates." In other words, Tompkins continues, "Additional gains will be harder to achieve. To illustrate, automatic warning devices do not prevent all accidents. Nearly half of the crossing collisions that occurred in the last five years occurred at crossings with active warning devices."

Tompkins contends, "Further progress will be difficult because railroad accident reports attributed 91 percent of collisions [over the last five years] to reckless or inattentive drivers [ignoring] warning signs or [driving] around barriers as trains approach." The Department of Transportation, Tompkins notes, "says railroad companies must also be more vigilant in reporting serious accidents to the federal government quickly [21 percent go unreported]." "The report suggests the federal government should aggressively fine railroads for unsafe crossings," writes Tompkins. Currently, only about 5 percent of critical violations ever get punished with fines, and he draws our attention to page five of the report.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Laws aiding rural hospitals against large competition facing court challenge

Rural health care is a precious commodity. In an effort to protect public hospitals some counties have prevented private health care businesses from building new facilities. That practice now faces opposition.

"Counties around the nation, and at least three in Indiana, have adopted ordinances that prevent health care businesses from building new facilities for one year," The Times of Munster, Ind., reported Sunday in a story by Matthew Van Dusen. (Read more) For The Associated Press's updated version, click here.

"The ordinances can protect public hospitals from private firms that siphon off profitable services ... that hospitals use to support unprofitable specialties such as maternity care," writes Van Dusen. Officials at county-owned Porter hospital asked local commissioners to pass a one-year moratorium on outpatient surgical centers, imaging centers and specialty hospitals. Similar ordinances have prompted lawsuits claiming unfair competition, and that counties do not have the power to regulate health care businesses.

Kentuckiana Medical Center LLC is suing Clark and Floyd counties in Indiana and Sisters of St. Francis Health Services is suing Morgan County for similar restrictions. Proponents say such restrictions are allowed under the state's home rule statute, which allows local governments to make any law that is not forbidden and to regulate what is not already regulated. The lawsuits say the restrictions give the counties the power to regulate hospitals, which they claim belongs solely to the Indiana Department of Health.

Stephen Bush, a Floyd County commissioner who voted against the law, told Van Dusen, "I opposed it, saying competition is good.Why send people over the river (to Kentucky)?" Bush believes new hospitals expand the tax base and provide more health care options. Porter hospital board Chairman John Rhame told reporters private hospitals and health-care "boutiques" generally are not concerned with treating the poor or indigent, [and] do not provide unprofitable, but necessary, services.

'No wading in the meth pool,' says expert; addicted teens need special help

A Wyoming detention facility has started a unique program after seeing an alarming increase in teenagers addicted to methamphetamine, and finding treatment especially challenging for the young users who are instantly seduced by the drug and face permanent damage.

The Jeffrey C. Wardle Academy is where Mandy (last name protected) has gone for help on her 16th birthday. "This is her second stay at the detention facility east of Cheyenne, though no details were offered about her first time here. She's a long way from her western Wyoming home," writes Juliette Rule of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. (Read more)

Mandy and seven other teens are among the first in the country to participate in the special program, says psychiatrist Chris Reyburn, who is medical director for Compass Point Wellness Center. The center formed last year to bring this and other substance abuse treatment programs to the academy. Reyburn told Rule, "Other programs aren't designed with kids who use meth ... in mind."

Experts say meth inhibits brain development and teens need more intense treatment. Compass Point psychologist Earl Faulkner told Rule addicts use meth because it is cheap and delivers instant gratification. He said meth corrodes the passages of the brain through the cerebral cortex, which is the attention-driving, impulse-curbing part of the brain. Faulkner explains that is why high-level users are prone to anxiety, aggression and sometimes violence.

Faulkner says meth's effects can be permanent, stunting the brain's ability to develop beyond early to mid-teen years. He told Rule, "A [general treatment plan] is not going [be intensive enough]. We wanted something to address the intensity and specificity of [teen] meth addiction." Reyburn, describing the addictive power of the drug to quickly seduce users, said, "There is no shallow end of the meth pool. People can wade into the water of alcohol and marijuana, but there's no wading in the meth pool."

Farming's future: Son ignored father's advice, took up the profession

A 27-year-old farmer near Dover, Wis., didn't listen to his dad. Steve Henningfield is an anomaly "in an industry that's rapidly aging, where production expenses are out-pacing agriculture prices and where market values are fluctuating drastically," writes Tom Barton of the Journal Times. (Read more)

But he says he is determined. The youngest of nine siblings, he was the only one to follow his father, Frank Henningfield, into farming. "It was the one lifestyle Frank did not want for his children," writes Barton.

But Steve couldn't be happier, telling the Racine newspaper, "There's only one thing I know I can do well and which I enjoy, and that's farming. I really enjoy it. I like being my own boss and setting my own schedule." He's in the minority. U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture estimates and U.S. Census figures show about 2 percent of the U.S. population are farmers and in Wisconsin farming accounted for less than 1 percent of the state population in 2002.

USDA figures show fewer than 4 percent of farmers in Wisconsin are 27 years old or younger. Other key statistics: The average age of all principal U.S. farm operators has increased to 55 in 2002 from 50 in 1974. The age of farm operators 65 years and older in 1974 was 1 in 6. It was roughly 1 in 4 in 2002. The number of U.S. farmers 35 years and younger has declined to about 6 percent in 2002 from about 16 percent in 1982. Wisconsin farmers 25 to 34 years old fell to 4,380 in 2002 from 6,144 in 1997.

Steve Henningfield told Barton, "My dad discouraged the whole family from farming. He said it was too hard of a life and it was too hard to farm. I'm the only one that didn't listen." Barton writes, "In 1989, after farming for nearly 40 years, Frank Henningfield sold his milking operation, including his cows and machinery." The farm was still left, but plans were to sell or rent it out. Steve Henningfield didn't listen.

Gettysburg battle roils between history preservationists, gambling developers

President Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, "We cannot consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract." But some developers armed with the state's new expanded gambling law have their eyes and wallets set on -- or at least near -- that hallowed ground.

"About four miles from one of America’s most sacred sites [the] developers energized by a new Pennsylvania law that authorizes the largest expansion of gambling in state history want to build a slot machine casino," writes Peter Durantine in a special report to Stateline.org. (Read more)

The 3,000-machine casino proposal has ignited a global uproar, including the Oval Office. A Virginia congressman has written President Bush and called for action. Opponents don’t doubt a group of investors named Chance Enterprises and their leader, Gettysburg businessman David LeVan, can afford the state’s $50 million license fee. Their plans include a luxury hotel and spa, restaurant and shopping mall.

Several leading Pennsylvania legislators denounced the idea. "The 70,000-member Civil War Preservation Trust and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson also have excoriated it," Durantine notes. A fusillade of mostly critical coverage appears to have not slowed developers, but they have stopped talking to reporters. LeVan previously told the Scotsman the casino is far from earshot and eyesight of the battlefield. “The only thing it’s going to have in common is the name Gettysburg,” he said.

"Unlike other Civil War battlefields such as Vicksburg, Miss., where riverboat casinos are docked along the Mississippi River about a half mile from a historic site," Durantine writes, the Gettysburg site hasn't had to face a lot of development pressures until now. Katie Lawhon, a spokeswoman for the park, which is maintained by the National Park Service, told Durantine, "We’re fortunate in that it hasn't’t happened often here. We have a good track record of acquiring land to preserve the battlefield."

Historic Minnesota forest land up for auction; helps Forest Service pay bills

Valuable northwoods Minnesota land owned by the U.S. Forest Service is for sale to the highest bidder.

"The sale is part of a national pilot project that allows individual national forests to keep the proceeds from property sales and use the money for local projects. In the past, the money went to Washington, " writes John Meyers of the Duluth News Tribune. (Read more)

Some of the houses to be auctioned off are in "pristine condition with modern plumbing — one with a three-season porch and a giant stone fireplace. The logs are big, more than 18 inches wide, and are unusual because they are poplar or aspen, not pine," writes Meyers.

Crews from the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps built the houses in 1933 on bluestone foundations. The oldest cabins are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and buyers will be required to keep the character of the buildings intact.

It's not clear what the properties are worth. Forest Service appraisals aren't complete. "The sales are part of a nationwide trend in which national forests are selling little-used or abandoned properties to reduce the backlog of unfunded repairs and maintenance estimated at $1.2 billion," notes Meyers. Interested buyers can go on the Web starting next month and hundreds of people have already inquired. The government will take online bids and will decide how to sell based on the best offer.

North Carolina enviros want state to be national model on hog-waste ponds

Environmental Defense and the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) want North Carolina to draw up a "multifaceted plan" based on systems being tested at state universities to help hog farmers convert hog-lagoons to waste management technologies to protect the environment and public health.

"N.C. State University (NCSU) has announced [more] waste systems under review meet stringent environmental performance standards ... bringing to five the number of cleaner systems identified," Environmental Defense reports in a news release on its Web site. (Read more)

Joe Rudek, senior scientist with the North Carolina office of Environmental Defense, says in the release,"We now know for sure that there are cleaner technologies for hog waste treatment. Now it's time to design a plan that will ensure that hog farmers can afford to switch to cleaner technologies and properly close out polluting lagoons." Rudek's statement continues, "We call upon [North Carolina) Attorney General Roy Cooper and Governor Easley ... to provide bold leadership. And we call upon the pork industry to rededicate themselves to showing the nation how to solve this problem."

The group says despite a moratorium on new open-air lagoons and improved regulations, residents near hog farms "continue to suffer from odor and air pollution, contaminated groundwater and polluted streams." SELC Senior Attorney Michelle Nowlin said in the release, "We urge lawmakers to support cleaner waste technologies and move the state's hog industry to a total phase out of hog lagoons."

Environmental Defense is a national nonprofit organization claiming more than 400,000 members. Since 1967, the organization says it has linked science, economics, law and private-sector partnerships to create solutions to serious environmental problems.

Drought-parched Illinois formally requests federal disaster aid; farmers hit hard

As expected, Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich yesterday requested a federal disaster declaration for his drought-drained state where farming has been scorched by record heat and parched by a lack of rain.

"With counties in the northern and western parts of the state seven to 10 inches below normal precipitation levels, many farmers expect to lose all or part of their crops. The ... declaration would allow them to apply for low-interest loans to cover ... losses," writes Courtney Flynn of the Chicago Tribune. (Read more)

After sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns formally requesting federal aid, Blogojevich said, "Although our crops are still in the fields, reports--even at this early date--show drought losses enough to warrant a federal disaster declaration and only will mount without significant rainfall."

As reported in yesterday's blog, the continuing drought, the fifth-driest growing season in 110 years, is afflicting farms and ranches region-wide. The drought covers the northern three-quarters of Illinois. Statewide, the latest U. S. Department of Agriculture report shows 55 percent of the corn crop and 36 percent of the soybean crop is rated very poor or poor. Of 102 counties, 98 have reported drought-related crop damage.

Kentucky ATV death rate high; safety advocates push for child helmet law

All-terrain vehicle safety advocates in Kentucky, many of whom live in rural areas, want a statewide law requiring children 16 and younger to wear helmets while riding their four-wheelers.

"Kentucky has been among the nation's leaders in the number of ATV deaths and injuries, advocates told the interim joint [legislative] Committee," writes Joe Biesk for The Associated Press. (Read more) Dr. Roger Humphries, chairman of the emergency medicine department at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, told Biesk children younger than 16 are vulnerable because they often lack the physical strength and cognitive development needed to safely maneuver ATVs. "Car accidents will happen. But this is different. This is basically an irresponsibility of society," said Humphries.

Similar measures have stalled in the Kentucky General Assembly, but backers hope that will change when the assembly meets next year. Mary Haas, of the Brain Injury Association of Kentucky, told AP, "It's time for Kentucky to protect the children of the commonwealth. Children are dying on ATVs, and children are being seriously injured." Humphries told Biesk the UK hospital's trauma center admitted 151 patients younger than 18 with ATV-related injuries between 1996 and 2000.

Associated Press drops separate Web fee idea; media opposed the plan

The Associated Press, facing resistance from some newspapers and broadcasters, has dropped plans to begin charging a separate fee for clients who use its stories and photographs on Web sites, reports James T. Madore of Newsday. (Read more)

The wire service's board opted to roll a proposed "online licensing fee" into the general assessment paid yearly by member papers and TV and radio stations. That assessment or membership fee will increase by 2.2 percent next year, the smallest hike in 35 years, except for 1999, when it was the same magnitude.

The move comes after three months of debate in which some journalism experts and others expressed concern that Web readers would lose access to AP stories, long the backbone of many news sites.

Rural Calendar: Activist group invites public on 'Mountain Witness Tour'

A Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's Mountain Witness Tour is set for Saturday, July 30 in Harlan County with a focus on protecting communities in and around Cumberland from heavy coal truck traffic.

"Local residents want the coal company to use an alternate route to haul coal so the community can again be a quiet, safe place to live. We will also visit a nearby mountaintop removal site and hear more about the biology of why mountaintop removal is the most destructive form of mining," KFTC writes. The tours bring people together from different communities both inside and outside coalfields to learn and take action. KFTC hopes to "broaden the communities organizing against the abuses of an outlaw coal industry."

The tour will start with a potluck lunch at 11:30 a.m. KFTC is encouraging people to carpool, especially groups coming from Louisville, Lexington or distant places. For more information, contact Colleen Unroe in Whitesburg at 606-632-0051 or e-mail her at cunroe@earthlink.net.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Energy bill with expanded daylight-saving time nears final passage in Congress

In rural areas, where legend has the rooster sounding the rise of day, tinkering with time is an issue that can bring responses bordering on a Hatfields-McCoys dispute. Still, “House and Senate negotiators agreed [last week] to extend daylight saving time by four weeks as part of a sweeping energy bill," writes Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times. (Read more) Much work remains on the energy-policy overhaul.

The four-week extension is less than initially proposed. It was drafted to address "concerns about children waiting for morning buses or walking to school in the dark" and complaints from airlines about disruption of schedules, Simon writes. Airlines still dispute supporters' contention the provision will save energy.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a co-sponsor, told Simon, "The beauty of daylight-savings time is that it just makes everyone feel sunnier." Under the measure, daylight time would begin on the second Sunday of March and clocks would be turned back an hour on the first Sunday of November. Currently, daylight time starts the first Sunday in April and lasts to the last Sunday in October. The extension would become effective one year after passage of the bill and would require the Energy Department to study its impact.

Ex-FBI man, now local official in N.C., shows the way to open government

We think every newspaper in America should reflect on, and perhaps publish, the remarks that Mark Swanger, chairman of the Haywood County, North Carolina, Board of Commissioners, made Friday upon receiving the 18th William C. Lassiter First Amendment Award from the North Carolina Press Association. The story of Swanger, is a road map to open government for other public officials, and for the journalists who cover them.

Swanger, who returned to western North Carolina after a career in the FBI, was elected three years ago "during a climate of general public discontent over what was perceived as a secretive board that made a concerted effort to block the public out of the decision-making process," the NCPA convention program said. He told the convention that he got three of the other four commissioners to support his open government measures because "The process became a campaign issue." That is a lesson for journalists. If you ask candidates at election time where they stand on freedom-of-information issues, you are likely to get responses that will help you win FOI battles when those candidates take office.

The NCPA gives the award to a non-member who has devoted time and effort in defense of freedom of the press, the promotion of open government and the public’s right to know. Swanger was nominated by Becky Johnson of the Smoky Mountain News, who told the convention that before him, "The public never seemed to know what the commissioners were up to." Now, she said, Haywood County has "one of the most open county governments in the state." It videotapes and broadcasts commission meetings, puts those tapes in libraries, gives journalists the same background information commissioners get, at the same time; makes adherence to FOI laws part of the county manager's duties; and takes minutes of closed sessions, and makes them available to the public when the reason for the closed session no longer exists.

In the FBI, Swanger's focus was public corruption, and he told the convention that he found such corruption “could not succeed unless the press and the people were deceived. This deception can be overt, or it can be more subtle. The subtle deception can often be just as dangerous because conducting meetings in secret, manipulating the media, conducting meaningless public hearings and meetings after the real decisions have already been made, can become institutionalized over time. It can become the norm – just 'business as usual'.” He said a "culture of secrecy" is more likely in small jurisdictions, where "people are afraid to be honest" and more likely to take cues from lawyers. To read all of the remarks Swanger prepared for delivery, click here.

Born poor, live poor, die poor: West Virginia economy defies welfare reform

Poverty is lot like a field of thistles or briars. You can cut it down, but often it stubbornly persists, springs back and spreads, if it isn't killed at the roots. "Sophia Diamond was born poor and does not doubt that she will die the same way," writes Evelyn Nieves of The Washington Post, to introduce a story about the persistence of poverty in some parts of America, many of them rural, after welfare reform.

Diamond is a 30-year-old, disabled, unemployable woman who lives in Delbarton, W.Va., on public assistance with no transportation living 45 minutes by car, behind coal trucks, over bad roads, from the nearest grocer. She got welfare until it ran out. She gets Supplemental Security Income (SSI), $479 a month and $160 in food stamps, but can barely afford electricity for her trailer or food for her daughter, the Post reports. Diamond told Nieves, "I can't work at all, and there ain't no jobs here no-how, except in the coal mines. Without my family, I would not survive."

"In the Central Appalachian coal country, where the land is famously rich and the people famously not, welfare caseloads are down, but poverty still flourishes," Nieves writes. Since welfare reform passed in 1996, West Virginia's caseload has dropped to fewer than 10,000 from 38,404. The law, which sets a five-year limit and requires recipients to get an education, take job training or perform community service is considered a success, notes Nieves, but West Virginia University research has found that many former recipients are worse off than before.

The research, with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, shows moving welfare recipients into jobs is easier said than done. The researchers found a year after welfare stopped, 73.1 percent of former recipients were unemployed, 65.6 percent reported not being able to afford their basic utilities, and only a few believed their prospects for the future were good.

"The main problems: Jobs were few and far between, getting from here to there was a major ordeal, and added personal burdens -- from health concerns to child care quandaries -- could derail even the most determined attempts welfare recipients might make at self-sufficiency," Nieves writes. The legislature is considering stricter work requirements and more child care funding. (Click here to read the full story.)

Judge to let groups seek tougher fine if tobacco companies lose landmark case

The federal judge in the Justice Department racketeering case against major tobacco companies has agreed to let public-interest groups intervene and argue for tougher punishment if the government wins. Big penalties for tobacco companies could mean less business for American tobacco growers.

Coming some six weeks after both sides rested, "The unusual decision by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler will allow groups such as the American Cancer Society and the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund to make the case that the Justice Department did not properly represent the interests of the public," writes Marc Kaufman of The Washington Post. (Read more)

The Justice Department reduced its requested "remedy" from $130 billion to $10 billion. Public interest groups strongly opposed the move. The groups will now be allowed to argue the companies should be forced to pay more for smoking-cessation programs, but they won't be able to enter new evidence.

In her order, Kessler concluded that "it will serve the public interest for major public health organizations, who have long experience with smoking and health issues, to contribute their perspectives on what appropriate and legally permissible remedies may be imposed should liability be found," Kaufman writes.

The government said an earlier appeals court ruling had forced it to change its position. But last week they decided to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue is whether any smoking-cessation program ordered by Kessler should be offered to a wide range of smokers, or just those who will become addicted to tobacco in the near future, writes Kaufman.

West Virginia residents protest the protest of 'outsiders' at Massey site

At a school nearly surrounded by a coal mine and processing plant, targeted by the Mountain Justice Summer protests of mountaintop-removal mining, teachers and students' relatives confronted protesters and disputed their contentions that the Massey Energy facilities put the students' health and safety at risk.

"Ninety-five percent of them come from out of state, and they want to say they're speaking for the community. They're not," parent Sheila Gunnoe of Dry Creek told Eric Schelzig of The Associated Press. The other counter-protester in Schelzig's story was a woman whose husband is a heavy-equipment operator for Massey, which is based in Richmond, Va., and is the largest producer of coal in Central Appalachia. (Read more)

The competing protests took place at Marsh Fork Elementary School, which "has become a focal point of protests by Coal River Mountain Watch and Mountain Justice Summer," Schelzig reports. "They say dust from a coal preparation plant -- where rock is removed from mined coal -- enters the school, causing asthma and respiratory problems. The groups want to shut down the plant, a 1,849-acre mountaintop removal mine site and a 2.8 billion-gallon coal sludge dam about 400 yards from the school."

Massey wants to erect another coal silo at the site, but state officials have questioned whether it would be on the same property used for processing before passage of the 1977 federal strip-mine law, which prohibits new surface-mine operations within 300 feet of a school.

South Dakota law requires home sellers to disclose if property had meth lab

A South Dakota law that took effect this month requires anyone selling a home in the state to disclose if the property was ever used to produce methamphetamine, production of which is prevalent in rural areas.

South Dakota Real Estate Commissioner Loren Anderson told Nathan Johnson of the Yankton Press & Dakotan that "Everybody who sells their home, whether it's through a real estate company or not, is to fill out one of those disclosure statements." (Read more) But the law requires only disclosure, and "any action taken on a site beyond authorities' initial processing is up to the property owner," notes Johnson.

Rick Lancaster, an environmental project scientist for the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), told the newspaper a landlord who has rented property to a manufacturer often must deal with the cleanup, and suggests buyers or renters should ask what has been done to the site. "It's buyer beware. It's whatever you're comfortable with," said Lancaster.

Methamphetamine is a toxic blend of chemicals. After discovering a lab, hazardous waste professionals clean up the site, but traces of the toxic substances are often left behind. Jason Kirwin, of the Minnesota-based West Central Environmental Consultants, told Johnson it's hard to say when a site is actually clean. "No one has told us what the magic number for meth residue is," Kirwin said. "[The company gives property owners lab results and] it's up to them whether they'd want to move back into the house or not."

The newspaper reports the DENR has issued contamination guidelines, and the agency recommends no more than .1 micrograms of meth residue per 100 square centimeters. Michael Moore of The Missoulian reports an alarming trend for area teens showing an increase in meth addiction. (Click here)

Historic Army post in rural Virginia being enveloped in suburban sprawl

If a Special Forces grunt is training to survive in the middle of nowhere, can he learn the necessary skills in close proximity to soccer moms and strip malls? That appears to be the plight of a sprawling rural Virginia military installation facing encroachment from the growing suburbs of Washington, D.C.

"The Washington growth equation abhors a vacuum, and developers have their eyes on [two military posts, including] Fort A.P. Hill, a 76,000-acre Army training facility just over the border in Caroline County. Soldiers, police officers and agents of various stripes go there to shoot, blow things up and practice surviving," writes Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post. (Read more) That would include your chief blogger, Bill Griffin, who trained in 1968 pre-Vietnam tour.

County supervisors scheduled a public hearing earlier this month on a proposed 1,500-home development called New Post, less than two miles from the base, prompting A.P. Hill's commander to write, "The approval of this [rezoning] request and others that would increase residential development near the installation boundary is very likely to have an adverse effect on future military training and national security."

"As dozens of people waited to testify, supervisors abruptly canceled the hearing," Boorstein writes. The hearing is to be rescheduled. Government officials and experts told Boorstein "encroachment" is a key concern for the military as communities grow around bases, most of which date to the World War II era. "The growth brings concern about endangered species and putting civilians in the way of harm from modern weapons that have more range and greater space requirements," she writes.

Everglades development boundary line dispute has sides gearing up for fight

Escaping urban sprawl and searching for quiet nights, clean air and less traffic, many Miami Beach area residents have moved inland to more peaceful climes.

"As developers increasingly eye untouched land in western Miami-Dade County, environmentalists worry that politicians will soon allow the sprawling housing developments and congestion that has clogged much of South Florida to invade the Everglades," writes Mc Nelly Torres of the Miami bureau of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. (Read more)

At issue, writes Torres, "is Miami-Dade's three-decades-old Urban Development Boundary, the county's buffer between heavily populated areas and the Everglades. Although county officials are not yet considering a plan to move the line, developers and their representatives say that is inevitable because Miami-Dade needs more land for affordable housing projects to accommodate its growing population."

Florida City has annexed 1,700 acres beyond the boundary forcing county officials, already under pressure, to choose sides, Torres notes. Environmentalists fear if Miami-Dade permits the kind of growth Broward County officials have allowed, more homes could endanger environmental restoration projects, affect flood control and water supply and that more traffic would hamper hurricane evacuations.

John Adornato, a representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, told Torres, "Broward County has developed all the way up to the Everglades, and until now the boundary had protected the sensitive wetlands down in South Miami-Dade as it was supposed to do."

Opponents of development near the Everglades were discouraged last month when the Miami-Dade County Commission overrode the Florida City's mayor's veto of the commission's approval of Florida City's annexation plan, Torres writes. Blog assistant Chas J. Hartman's late grandfather, George Fry, served as assistant superintendent of Everglades National Park from 1954 to 1959.

Woodpecker claim comes under fire; last accepted sighting occurred 57 years ago

An Alabama man who says he discovered an ivory-billed woodpecker is facing the kind of scrutiny usually reserved for people who spot UFOs or perhaps the Loch Ness Monster.

"In the church of birds, where passions run high and prophets emerge from swamps and thickets with revelations, nothing can ruin a reputation like admitting that you have seen an ivory-billed woodpecker," writes James Gorman of The New York Times. (Read more) Photography professor Bobby Harrison is admitting just that and critics are questioning a videotape and eyewitness statements. They want a clear picture of the woodpecker and a bird that can be seen repeatedly.

"It is 17 months since the day -- Feb. 27, 2004 -- when (Harrison) and Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology were paddling a canoe in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas, bumping into cypress trees and searching tall tupelos for some hint of an ivory bill," reports Gorman. "They were following up on the report of Gene Sparlin, a kayaker who had seen some sort of bird but was not sure what it was. ‘We knew what we were looking for,’ Mr. Harrison said."

When they saw a bird flying in the distance, Harrison told Gorman they knew its identity. “When it flew over land, they tried to chase it through the swamp, running over the wet ground, carrying binoculars and notebooks,” writes Gorman. “Finally they stopped, (Harrison) said, and he wept.”

Harrison wants a picture of the ivory-billed woodpecker that can stand up under close scrutiny. John V. Dennis snapped the last accepted photograph of the bird in 1948 in Cuba. Harrison will return to the Arkansas swamp in August and then visit other swamps later this year. "I've waited all my life for this," he told Gorman. "Still haven't got that photograph I want."

Drought-ravaged Illinois requesting aid; some farms teeter on brink, says Tribune

Beyond the bright lights and big shoulders of Chicago is largely rural and agricultural, and widely indicative of farming throughout the Midwest. The drought picture there is a portrait of farming in trouble.

"Farmer Bob Bleuer stood last week on dry, cracked ground amid cornstalks never likely to bear kernels, fingering tassels on plants as high as his chest," write Hal Dardick and John Biemer of the Chicago Tribune. (Read more) Bleuer told them, "It should all be way over your head this time of year." Bleuer expects a near-total loss of his 500-acre corn crop.

The continuing drought -- triggered by above-average temperatures and the fifth-driest growing season in 110 years -- is afflicting farms and ranches region-wide. The drought covers the northern three-quarters of Illinois, write Dardick and Biemer. Statewide, the latest U. S. Department of Agriculture report shows 55 percent of the corn crop and 36 percent of the soybean crop is rated very poor or poor. Of 102 counties, 98 have reported drought-related crop damage.

U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Yorkville, Ill., Republican says he plans to meet this week with Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is expected today to request the federal government declare a disaster in Illinois, making affected farmers eligible for a wide array of relief. The National Weather Service reports, "Extreme drought extends from Lake Michigan to west central Illinois." "Extreme" is the second-highest classification, after "exceptional," Dardick and Biemer write.

A recent opinion piece by Martin Naparsteck in the The Salt LakeTribune favorably reviews a book by George Pyle which paints a dark view of modern agriculture. Pyle, Naparsteck writes, says "American farms are too big, ... use too many chemicals, a few big companies pretty much dictate farm policy ... and, as a result, farmers in this country and poor people around the world suffer." (Archive fee required)

Alabama extension-service merger on legislative fast track for more urban focus

An Alabama effort to comply with a court-order and merge agriculture extension services is making its way through the state legislature with the kind of speed folks at Talladega would envy but with a purpose many rural racing fans might find puzzling.

Both chambers [have] "passed bills to … [merge] Auburn University's and Alabama A&M University's extension operations and give them a more urban focus," writes Tom Gordon of The Birmingham News. (Read more) The House measure could go before the Senate as early as tomorrow.

The bills would change the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, based at Auburn, to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The director would be at Auburn but chosen by the presidents of Auburn and A&M after each school's board of trustees approval, and each university would pay half the director's salary. The new extension system would provide "useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture," but would include "family and individual well-being, youth development, community and economic development, urban affairs and other areas as needed," writes Gordon.

The merger was ordered in Alabama's long-running higher education desegregation case focused on historically black A&M in Huntsville and Alabama State University in Montgomery. In his 1995 decree, the judge ordered millions of state dollars to create trust funds and scholarships at both colleges that would help attract white students, Gordon writes.

Editor Carroll worries about the journalism of publicly traded corporations

John Carroll, who retired last week as editor of the Los Angeles Times, owned by Tribune Co., is voicing concern that publicly traded corporations cannot produce top-notch journalism. Here's a premise and a question posed to him by Paul McLeary of Columbia Journalism Review, and his answer:

McLeary: "It's generally acknowledged that the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are the four premier newspapers in the country in terms of resources that they throw into reporting and presenting the news. Three of those four are essentially family-held enterprises, in that a majority of voting stock remains in private hands. The fourth -- your employer -- is a publicly-held company. Is it possible for a great newspaper to thrive under the umbrella of a publicly traded corporation?"

Carroll: "This is one of the penetrating questions about our business. Can corporations that are not family-controlled produce excellent newspapers? The returns aren't in, but it's not looking good. Newspaper-owning corporations -- and I mean all of them, not just my own employer -- have an unwritten pact with Wall Street that requires unsustainably high profit levels. Each year, newspapers shed reporters, editors, photographers, designers and newshole. Each year, readers get less. Each year many of those readers turn elsewhere for their news. Professor Phil Meyer [of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] has plotted our oblivion, which, as I recall, comes in less than two generations. As I say, we are on an unsustainable course. The old family-owned papers had their flaws, but at least the owners tried to preserve them for their children and grandchildren. It's important that the Los Angeles Times remain firmly in the top tier -- important to the community, important to journalism, important to the national conversation. There's no other newsgathering engine this formidable west of Manhattan. The nation's voice should not be monopolized by New York and Washington."

Friday, July 22, 2005

Bush high court nominee helped loosen limits on mountaintop removal mining

John G. Roberts Jr., President Bush’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, helped the coal industry overturn a 1999 federal court ruling that limited mountaintop-removal coal mining.

Roberts was among the lawyers who represented the National Mining Association (NMA) in the case but was not the primary lawyer and it was the only case in which he represented the organization, writes Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette. (Read more)

Roberts was one of three lawyers at a firm that filed a "friend of the court" brief in an appeal before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The 4th Circuit overturned the landmark decision setting limits. In its decision, the appeals court said the dispute belonged in state court, not in front of a federal judge.

One of the judges who overturned the decision, J. Michael Luttig, was considered by Bush for the open Supreme Court seat and, according to national media reports, is a close friend of Roberts. New York Times reporter Adam Liptak today writes of Roberts' decisions, Nominee Favors Judicial Caution. (Click here) And, the Times has an interactive display of all of his decisions. Click here.

Studies provide hospital comparisons, find wide variations in quality of care

"U.S. hospitals are improving the quality of the care they provide, but even the best fail too often to offer the right treatments, such as immediately giving aspirin to victims of heart attacks and properly administering antibiotics to pneumonia patients, according to the two most comprehensive analyses of the issue,” reports Rob Stein of The Washington Post. (Read more)

Two studies of 3,000-plus hospitals found that despite overall improvement, hospitals in the North and Midwest generally outperforming those in the South and West. For regional differences, click here. "Wherever you live and whatever you're being treated for, you really should get the same quality of care," Ashish K. Jha of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led one of the analyses, told Stein. "Our study reinforces that that's really not happening."

In the first study, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations compared how 3,087 hospitals scored between the third quarter of 2002 and the second quarter of 2004 on 18 measures of care quality for three conditions: congestive heart failure, heart attacks and pneumonia. Those conditions are among the most common reasons people are hospitalized.

The study does not rate differences in care at rural and urban hospitals, but categorizes hospitals as acute care and critical access. Up to 12 hospitals in each category may be viewed at one time, but hospitals from both groups cannot be viewed simultaneously. Federal law defines critical access hospitals as small facilities in rural areas. An acute care hospital provides inpatient medical care and other related services.

For the second study, Jha and his colleagues analyzed data from 3,558 hospitals collected by the Hospital Quality Alliance. While most hospitals scored highly, in 10 percent to 30 percent of cases patients failed to receive potentially life-saving treatments.

Livestock ID system brings order to Tennessee cattle call, worries some farmers

An electronic tagging system designed to track diseased livestock was given a road test recently in Tennessee. Some farm groups welcome the measure, but others don't like the added bureaucracy.

The Southeastern Livestock Network held the demonstration at the East Tennessee Livestock Center in Sweetwater, tagging a group of cattle with radio frequency identification tags (RFID) to track the cows from market to slaughter. "The demonstration is part of an effort to educate farmers on the national identification program being rolled out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture," writes Larisa Brass of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. (Read more)

The USDA has indicated RFID will be mandatory starting in 2008. Some farmers dislike the expected extra work and government involvement. Others see benefits for food safety, writes Brass. The Tennessee cattle sale was used to promote the first step to a national ID program, "premise registration," which is to record every farm, auction yard, fairground and other locations handling livestock.

The system is designed to allow 48-hour trace-back of livestock's movement throughout their lives in case of disease outbreak. State veterinarian Ron Wilson and Charlie Hatcher, recently named to head the state's animal identification program, told Brass, "This is a needed component to our agriculture." Wilson admitted, "Not necessarily a welcome component, I realize."

Canada expands its RFID policy to include U.S. livestock seeking to graze

Canada has opened her gates to allow U.S. cows to graze but says the livestock won't be let loose until they're wearing ear tags embedded with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Identification Association, created by the Canadian government several years ago to implement its national ID program, now requires that all U.S. cattle who graze on Canadian feedlots must have the RFID tags identifying place of birth, writes Laurie Sullivan of Information Week. (Read more) The association will oversee tag distribution and manage a database.

Behind the change is the recently lifted bilateral ban on cattle importation between Canada and the U.S.

British officials fear 100 blood donors may have human form of mad cow

United Kingdom government officials have announced more than 100 blood donors are being told they may have the human form of mad cow disease, variant CJD.

"The donors do not necessarily have the disease, but [are being] told in letters from health officials they have a greater chance than the rest of the population," writes Louise Gray of The Scotsman. (Read more) Health officials also say those recipients can no longer donate blood, tissue or organs and must inform their doctor so extra precautions can be taken. All those notified are being offered counseling to cope with the news. Up to 3,000 others who received blood, but who have no signs of vCJD, could be contacted.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Aileen Keel told Gray,"... it is sensible that we take precautionary measures." Keith Thompson, the director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, urged donors to not be put off by the vCJD scare.

Second-hand tobacco smoke exposure down in U.S., survey finds

Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke is down across the nation, according to the latest U.S. government survey on chemical exposures.

The National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, detailed 148 different chemicals found in the blood and urine of 2,400 volunteers, writes Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent for Reuters. (Read more)

The report measured exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, focusing on a chemical called cotinine, a breakdown product of nicotine. It found cotinine levels in blood have fallen 68 percent in children aged 4 to 11 from a previous 1988-to-1991 test period, by 69 percent in 12- to 19-year-olds and by 75 percent in adults aged 20 to 74. But blacks and children still have higher levels than white adults, the survey found.

CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding commented the study says virtually nothing about whether the chemicals pose any danger to people. Noting the discrepancy, Gerberding asked, "What are the human health consequences of those exposures?" This is where research is needed, and finding those answers will take years as scientists look at disease in the population and correlate it with the findings of the regular CDC surveys started in 1999, notes Fox. The study also looked at lead and mercury levels.

Dentists on wheels help brighten smiles in dental-challenged Appalachia

If the patient can't come to the dentist, because of bad roads, poverty, or no understanding of oral hygiene, then the dentist is going to meet the patient.

"With a silvery Airstream trailer as a dental office, Dr. Jeff Bailey goes about his work brightening the often gapped smiles of people in a part of the country with the highest rate of toothlessness in America," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Alford calls Bailey "one of many volunteers ... bringing free mobile dental care to poor people in ... Appalachia, [who] sees case after case of severe tooth decay and gum disease -- the consequences of sugary foods, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, a lack of fluoridated water, and simple neglect."

Bailey told Alford, "People have a mind-set that if your grandfather and father were in dentures, then you're going to be in dentures, too. We need to break that attitude." Bailey and the other volunteers are trying to reach people who cannot afford dental care but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

The central Appalachian states lead the nation in toothlessness, notes Alford. The Centers for Disease Control reports more than 32 percent of Tennessee residents surveyed last year, 38 percent in Kentucky and 43 percent in West Virginia, had lost six or more teeth because of decay or gum disease.

Rural landowners examining ways for development without sprawl

Groups of landowners and farming interests in Boyle County, Kentucky, agree development is inevitable, but aren't certain exactly how it should be done.

"One [group] believes the agriculture economy is slowing and farmers should be able to sell their land for development. The other believes the county should preserve its rural character by looking at ways to develop without creating urban sprawl," writes Liz Maples of The Advocate-Messenger. (Read more) Gary Chidester of the Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning Commission told the newspaper the two sides are more alike than they think.

Planning and zoning staff will write two versions of a zoning plan, one incorporating the idea that agriculture is declining in Boyle County and the other including alternatives to development. The group of 24-plus landowners suggested changes about preservation of some landscapes to give farmers different development options. Group spokesman Ron Scott said, "We are going to grow. The question is how?"

That group also suggested "developing in village environments or clusters. Maples writes, "Instead of dividing 100 acres into 20 lots that are each 5 acres and harder to sell, the landowner would be able to cluster 20 houses close together and the land around the houses could still be farmed or maintained as green space." P&Z attorney Bruce Smith said a neighboring county is doing that to fight urban sprawl.

Rural West Virginia areas to get math, science and language boost via grants

Verizon West Virginia, Marshall University and the state have given $250,000 a piece to launch a technology-based effort to help rural areas narrow the learning gap in science, math and languages.

June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development Director Stan Maynard, said, "The idea behind the continuing partnership ... is that no child or teacher should be left behind because of his or her address, " writes Lori Wolfe of The Herald-Dispatch. (Read more) The effort also includes assistance from the Regional Educational Service Agency.

George Beck, manager of strategic initiatives at Verizon West Virginia, told the newspaper "The objective ... is to utilize the best technology [to] increase access for students in rural areas." The money will fund technology that allows learning to go on between teachers and students miles apart.

Stan Cavendish, president of Verizon West Virginia, said the combination of technology and the expertise of those at the Marshall center will mean "more effective instruction in [the] math, sciences and languages fields." Cavendish added, "I think it has the chance to have a revolutionary impact on the quality of learning. The world is changing and students need to be equipped."

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation says ag's future hangs on education resources

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation (VFBF) says if state agriculture is to thrive, it needs governments to provide the financial resources to land grant universities needed in that effort.

VFBF Senior Assistant Governmental Relations Director Andrew Smith said in an agency news release, "Virginia needs our land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State, to be in a position to provide fundamental and innovative research, aggressive new market opportunities and dynamic instructional programs." (Read more)

The bureau says "improving Virginia’s education and research support for agriculture is a key element of the 2006 Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Initiative, a political platform recently presented to all seven candidates running for statewide office this fall." The bureau also notes Virginia’s agriculture education system "faces challenges in this time of tight state and federal budgets," and ask members to lobby candidates for continued support for the programs.

"A recent Virginia Tech study found that every dollar spent on agriculture research results in increased farm production of $9.10, and that each dollar spent on Virginia Cooperative Extension programs results in $3.87 in increased production," the bureau writes.

Associated Press announces 30-year veteran is new Illinois bureau chief

William R. Handy, a publishing executive and former reporter and editor at newspapers in Florida and Kansas, has been named Illinois chief of bureau for The Associated Press, based in Chicago.

Tom Brettingen, senior vice president for Newspaper and New Media Markets, announced the appointment yesterday. Handy, 55, succeeded Jim Reindl, who earlier was named the AP's director of major accounts development.

Handy worked in Florida for The Ledger of Lakeland and The Haines City Herald before joining The Tampa Tribune in 1976. He was state editor at Tampa for three years before moving to The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, where he became managing editor in 1985. He held that position six years before becoming the Eagle's director of development for creating new publishing businesses, they write.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Mad-cow fears prompt USDA to speed plan for national animal ID system

The recent confirmation of a second case of mad cow disease in the United States has prodded the U.S. Department of Agriculture to accelerate implementation of a national animal identification system.

Because the cow in question found in Texas "was unable to walk, a downer cow, it never entered the general food supply [according to the USDA]," writes Paul Hollis of the Southeast Farm Press. (Read more) Now "beef leaders in at least one Southeast state are endorsing the USDA' s plan to implement a National Animal Identification System (NAIS)," Hollis notes.

The Alabama Farmers Federation State Beef Committee supports the plan, which Hollis writes, would allow "animal health officials to better manage disease surveillance and control programs." When fully operational the system would use electronic identification to track all animals and locations that have had contact with an diseased animal within 48 hours of diagnosis.

"Federation Beef Director Perry Mobley says the plan will protect consumers and producers because it will allow USDA to quickly track exposed animals in the event of an agri-terrorism attack or disease outbreak," writes Hollis. To find out how to participate in the identification program in your state, contact your state veterinarian or click here for more information.

Kentucky plans to help new cigarette maker; critics say it's a contradiction

Kentucky plans to use tax dollars to help two of its local entrepreneurs get into the cigarette-making business, even as it spends more than $1.2 billion a year treating sick smokers.

"Cantus Tobacco has received preliminary approval from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority for $750,000 in tax credits," writes Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) This comes as the state recently raised the tax on cigarettes, and earlier this month Gov. Ernie Fletcher announced a federally-funded hotline to help callers quit smoking

Ellen Hahn, University of Kentucky professor and tobacco control policy researcher, told Patton, sarcastically, "We'd much rather subsidize an industry that promotes death than subsidize prevention programs that can reduce economic burden and costs to quality of life. It's really a sad day, I think."

The money the state dedicates to smoking-cessation programs has been cut in half since 2000. Peter Fisher, director of state issues for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the Cantus incentives "the height of irresponsibility." J. R. Wilhite, commissioner of existing business development, said cigarette-making is a worthwhile investment because of the good jobs Cantus will create in a poor county. "If there's any issues of product safety or liability, that's just a part of their business environment," he said.

Wilhite told the newspaper the Cabinet for Economic Development recognizes this program "certainly does not improve the health situation," but the jobs outweigh that consideration.

Florida group wants lawmakers to fund youth anti-tobacco programs

A coalition of anti-smoking and health groups plans to back a petition drive to amend the Florida Constitution to force lawmakers to restore youth tobacco education funding, charging state lawmakers have ''decimated'' the state's tobacco-education program aimed at young smokers.

"Heart, lung and cancer associations, working with the nationwide advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said they were forced to resort to using the constitutional amendment process after the Legislature repeatedly ignored their calls to restore the money the state once spent on tobacco education," writes Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald. (Read more)

Florida receives about $360 million a year from the tobacco settlement, which requires the state spend part of the proceeds on youth tobacco education, writes Klas, but "lawmakers have whittled the amount down from a high of $70 million in 1998 to $1 million in the last three years." Michael Kasper, a Boca Raton oncologist and member of the Floridians for Youth Tobacco Education, the group that will conduct the petition drive, told Klas, ''The only message that is getting out is the tobacco industry's.'' Kasper said as a result the impact of tobacco education in Florida has declined.

Kasper says teen smoking has stopped declining and has leveled off, and he says tobacco industry reports more money is being spent to target Florida youth than in any other state -- $772 million in 2002.

Idaho Power wants wind-farm moratorium; farmers fear investor exodus

Idaho Power is asking the state for a moratorium on any new wind farm projects.

"Because of rising power costs many Idaho farmers have given up traditional farming for something a little less 'down to earth' -- wind farming," reports David Gale of KTVB (NewsChannel 7) in Boise. Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez told the station, "We’re not opposed to it. We're simply saying that right now we're seeing this incredible growth and it doesn't seem to be slowing down.” (Read more)

Idaho Power is required under a 1978 federal law to purchase electricity from small-scale energy suppliers to help development of renewable sources like wind farms. Lopez told Gale, "The thought was if you could build enough small qualifying facilities that were renewables, that you would reduce the total number of thermal plants, of coal- and natural-gas-fired plants."

Idaho Power wants the moratorium to reevaluate the rates and reliability of wind projects. But wind farmers fear the moratorium would basically kill many projects. Wind farmer Leroy Jarolimek told Gale, "This moratorium it's going to slam the door on possibility, because a lot of these farmers are struggling, just like I am." Idaho Power says wind power is not always reliable. Advocates point to natural gas and other sources which they say are also unpredictable.

Peter Richardson of Exergy Development Group told the station, "There is no fuel risk, and there is no risk that some Arab country is going to take away the motive for us [to generate wind power]." If not resolved quickly, wind farmers fear investors will leave for states where interest is higher, Gale notes.

Entrepreneurship in Nebraska is rising, but health care costs hinder it

More Nebraskans are owning their own businesses, but a recent study also notes that the high cost of health insurance may be a major hindrance to continued entrepreneurial expansion.

"Entrepreneurs are cropping up ... faster than most people think, says a Center for Applied Rural Innovation (CARI) study at the University of Nebraska," writes Mina Azodi of Inc.com. (Read more)

The survey of nearly 3,000 rural Nebraska residents ... focused on changes in residents' lives over the past decade. CARI Professor Randy Cantrell told Azodi, "One of the most important changes is the large number of rural Nebraskans who started their own businesses in the past 10 years."

The survey indicates 20 percent of rural residents now own companies and rural business owners turn to entrepreneurship as the only opportunity in a small town. Cantrell explained, “You either have to leave an area you love ... or you have to engage in an entrepreneurial activity.” Many survey respondents had moved to rural communities from larger cities over the past decade.

"Rural towns are attracting a younger, more educated population than ever, and the increased mobility fosters entrepreneurship," Cantrell noted. He also told Inc.com. legislators could do more to nurture small business growth in rural communities. Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said health insurance costs makes self-employment unappealing. Cantrell emphasized, "If legislators want to continue to bring young entrepreneurs to rural areas, they must see health insurance from an economic perspective."

Loudoun Part 1: Fast-growing Virginia county enacts new curbs on growth

Suburban Loudoun County, Va., supervisors have voted for stronger growth controls that could limit growth in one of the last remaining open spaces in the Washington, D.C. region.

"The ... vote ran counter to the expectations of some landowners and developers who ... helped elect a Republican majority on the county's Board of Supervisors with the hope of avoiding such controls," writes Michael Laris of The Washington Post. (Read more) The decision also responded to a recent ruling by Virginia's Supreme Court, throwing out a set of tighter building limits on a technicality.

The restrictions backed by two Republicans, two independents and the lone Democrat on the Board of Supervisors, would "prevent construction of [many] houses worth billions of dollars in a scenic expanse that constitutes the western two-thirds of the county," notes Laris. A final vote is still required.

The plan would replace the three-acre-per-house zoning requirement with an average of 20 acres per house in northwestern Loudoun and 40 acres in southwestern Loudoun. They could build twice as many if they follow guidelines for maintaining open space. The plan's most unusual feature is the introduction of an option to rezone property in exchange for contributions for roads, schools and other costly public projects. The plan allows landowners to sell individual parcels more easily and gives families rights to subdivide.

U.S. Census Bureau figures released today show between April 2000 and July 2004, 24,755 homes were built in Loudoun, the third-fastest construction boom in the nation. Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg), who helped craft the plan endorsed told the newspaper, "Growth is inevitable. [But] we have an opportunity here to manage it, and you have to look at all the issues affected by it."

Loudoun Part 2: Farms evolve to pay property taxes, avoid development

Farms in Loudoun County have evolved to keep going. Some changed from dairy to beef when milk prices fell off, others from tobacco to a diverse array of alternative possibilities. And now, farmers are looking at a complete makeover to survive rising property taxes driven upward by nearby development.

"Dave Messenheimer stood in front of an old barn at the Hatch family farm south of Leesburg last week and imagined something different," writes Michael Alison Chandler of The Washington Post. He told Chandler he envisioned "a little tasting room where people can come for wine and cheese and meats. It's a great space with exposed oak planks." (Read more)

Messenheimer "was speaking the language of the future of farming," Chandler writes. "With three-acre home sites selling for more than $200,000 in western Loudoun County, earnings from the beef cattle farm can barely keep up with property taxes. Farmers in the area must figure out how to adopt newfangled ideas or risk being forced to make tougher decisions." Warren Howell, the county's agricultural marketing manager, told Chandler, "It's getting harder ... to justify farms [with] so much land [that] produce relatively little." Howell said many older farmers have been struggling or selling out.

But new or adapting farmers have had some success, Chandler notes. USDA figures show farm sales in Loudoun County rose 39 percent to nearly $39 million in 2002, up from $28 million in 1997. At the same time, the average farm size decreased 25 percent from 146 acres to 109 acres. Chris Hatch hopes to learn from new farmers, not only to make his farm more profitable but to inspire his two daughters to stick with farming, writes Chandler.

Senate Democrats get religion with ‘A Word to the Faithful’ on a Web page

"Senate Democrats are getting religion," write Alan Cooperman and Brian Faler of The Washington Post, reporting on Minority Leader Harry Reid's posting of a Web page aimed at religious voters and plans to hold a conference on faith-based social services in his home state of Nevada on Aug. 24.

The Post notes, "During the 2004 presidential campaign, Democrats accused the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives of holding similar conferences -- paid for with taxpayer dollars -- to build support for the Republican ticket in swing states," with rural votes critical for both sides. A Reid spokeswoman said the Federal Home Loan Bank Board will sponsor his conference in Las Vegas.

The Web page, which Reid titled "A Word to the Faithful," says it is "dedicated to illustrating how people of faith and Senate Democrats can work together to lift our neighbors up and achieve our common goals." It includes a photo of Reid praying with a group in his office.

"Evangelicals were not impressed," the Post reports. "Basically, it looks like he's created a Web site that will appeal to liberal Protestants and some Catholics. Those are people who have largely been inside the Democratic camp already," Michael P. Farris, chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, told the newspaper. "I hope they spend a lot of time and money on it, because it will be a waste of money." (Read more)

African project provides incentives toward education for protecting ecology

Many African children living on the edges [of life and] the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Reserve and National Park on Kenya’s coast are forced by poverty to plunder the timber and wildlife of the nearby forest to live. Now a new project is providing them with incentives to preserve rather than destroy it, and it offers an example for rural people all over the world, writes Thomas D. Rowley in his latest Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) column. (Click here to read the full column and more from RUPRI)

Almost all of the 25,000 children in the region qualified to attend secondary school in 2000 did not because they could not afford it, Rowley reports. "A small nature conservation organization called A Rocha Kenya has developed the Arabuko-Sokoke Schools and Eco-tourism Scheme. ASSETS for short. The concept is elegant in its simplicity," he says. "ASSETS replaces the incentive for local people to exploit the forest with incentives for them to protect it by collecting guide fees, park entrance fees, donations, etc. from eco-tourists who come to marvel at the forest’s incredible and endangered wildlife and uses that money to fund school scholarships for local kids," he writes.

Rowley concludes, "Among environmentalists, recognition is growing that the future of the natural world depends on the well being of the people—many of them rural--who interact with it. Regulations by themselves are not enough. If habitats and species are to survive, local people must value them. For people to value habitats and species, they must benefit from them—in economic and other ways. ASSETS captures that recognition and puts it into action."

John Carroll, Pulitzer producer from Ky. to Calif., retiring from L.A. Times

Los Angeles Times editor John S. Carroll is retiring, to be succeeded by Dean Baquet, the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning managing editor, the newspaper reported yesterday.

Carroll has been an editor at several papers, and "In each of his incarcerations, the name John S. Carroll has been synonymous with quality journalism.," writes Rem Reider, editor of American Journalism Review. "The newspaper business today lost one of its best editors." To read the rest of Reider's column, click here) For AJR Online's story, click here.

Carroll, 63, was editor of the Lexington Herald from 1979 to 1983 when the it was merged with The Lexington Leader and for the combined Lexington Herald-Leader until 1991, when he was named editor of The Sun and The Evening Sun newspapers in Baltimore. For Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post's perceptive and colorful accounting of Carroll's career and retirement -- which may have been occasioned by budget pressures from Tribune Co., the Times' owner -- click here.

"In Kentucky, John saw the intimate connection between rural counties and urban centers. He understood one depended on the other and he ran the Herald-Leader that way by pushing people and resources out of Lexington and into the rest of the state," said Bill Bishop, reporter for the Austin American-Statesman and former Herald-Leader writer. Under Carroll, the Herald-Leader won its first Pulitzer Prize in 1986, for investigative reporting and was a Pulitzer finalist five times.

Carroll was named editor of the the Los Angeles Times in April 2000. During his tenure, the paper won 13 Pulitzers, and weathered circulation and advertising declines. Carroll started his career in journalism in 1963 as a reporter for the Providence (R.I.) Journal-Bulletin. He later served as a correspondent in Vietnam, the Middle East and at the White House for The Sun.

Blogger's Note: While working as a Navy journalist in Vietnam, our unit coordinated a trip for Carroll out to the USS New Jersey in 1968 for a 'gunfire mission' onto the DMZ. He was impressed at what "The Old Gray Lady" could do with her 16 inch guns some 23 years after she was commissioned. We were impressed with his affable and easygoing nature not long after the Tet offensive, when some parts of Saigon were still "hostile." --Bill Griffin

Tennessee's Lebanon Democrat hauls in journalism awards

The Lebanon Democrat won big in Tennessee's two most prestigious journalism contests recently, bringing in a host of first-place awards.

"Wilson County's 118-year-old daily newspaper brought in first place awards for investigative reporting and business writing as well as feature and sports photography in the Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors contest (TAPME)," the newspaper reports. (Read more)

The Democrat also won first place awards in Public Service and Personal Humor Column writing in the Tennessee Press Association annual journalism contest. The awards were announced at banquets in Nashville, they write. Blogger's Note: Hats off to the long-standing tradition of excellence on the part of the Democrat, extended and corroborated in these latest accolades.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Rural War: Iraq War deaths disproportionate among rural, poor counties

Kipling wrote in his famous tribute to British soldiers, Tommy - "For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out,' the brute! But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot.'" Now, a study published in today's New York Times further indicates America's Tommies fighting and dying in Iraq are disproportionately from rural, poor counties, where patriotism is abundant and opportunities are scarce.

"A look at the demographics of soldiers killed reveals that Iraq is not the war of any one race or region. Rather, it is rural America's war," write Robert Cushing and Bill Bishop in an Op-Ed piece for the Times. (Read more) For details on their data, click here.

Cushing and Bishop found that, "a nearly equal percentage of [those] aged 18 to 54 live in counties with a million or more inhabitants as live in counties of 100,000 or fewer. And yet, of [those] who have died in Iraq, 342 came from densely populated counties while 536 came from smaller ones."

Their column displays a hot-link that clicks to a chart with figures derived from Pentagon and U.S. Census data, which shows the Iraqi war death rates for every 100,000 people ages 18 to 54 by the size of their county's population. The difference, they write is visible "in the size of a soldier's county of origin, but also in its location. Small rural counties have a death rate nearly twice that of counties that have the same population but happen to be part of metropolitan areas," note Cushing and Bishop.

Cushing and Bishop say this is happening because, "The armed forces ... must be disproportionately drawn from rural communities." And, they add, "Military studies consistently find that a poor economy is a boon to recruiting. The higher rate of deaths from rural counties likely reflects sparse opportunities for young people in those places. When ... Iraq war memorials go up ... monuments to heroism and sacrifice ... [fewer will be found] in thriving urban centers than in lagging rural communities."

Military base closure panel adds facilities to list; eight states affected

From California to Maine military facilities that dodged a bullet in the Pentagon's spring reorganization recommendations are learning they could still be targeted.

The base-closing commission charged with reviewing the proposals yesterday voted "to add a handful of military facilities in eight states and the nation's capital to the list of bases [being considered for] shut down or [reduction]," writes Liz Sidoti of The Associated Press. (Read more) This will likely ignite a new round of lobbying by communities whose military facilities are now being targeted.

To soothe anxieties, Commission Chairman Anthony Principi said adding a base to the list "does not necessarily mean the base will be realigned or closed but will allow the panel to further analyze those bases," Sidoti writes. The spring list included 62 major bases and hundreds of smaller installations.

Bases added: Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine, Naval Master Jet Base, Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., Navy Broadway Complex, San Diego, Calif., Pope Air Force Base, N.C., Galena Airport Forward Operating Location, Alaska. The commission also included several small installations in Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, California, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for consideration. The commission is to make final decisions next month, with President Bush and Congress making the final decisions in the fall, AP reports.

Justice Dept. opposes shield law for reporters, says bill on sources bad policy

A bipartisan effort to protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources, is being opposed by the Justice Department, calling the legislation "bad public policy" which is says would impair their ability "to effectively enforce the law and fight terrorism."

Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr. told a Senate Judiciary Committee, "imposing inflexible, mandatory standards" would hurt prosecutions involving public health, safety and national security, writes Howard Kurtz for the Washington Post. (Read more) The position disappointed lawmakers and news media advocates working with Justice officials on a bill to meet administration objections.

Senate sponsors Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) offered changes that would allow prosecutors to force journalists to testify where it would prevent "imminent and actual harm to national security" and the harm outweighs public interest in "unfettered reporting," writes Kurtz.

Dodd said Justice officials "are making a judgment that this is good politics for them to be opposed," and added, "There are numerous instances since the founding of the republic when we have relied on aggressive investigative reporting to get to the bottom of things. You now have a chilling effect."

Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who narrowly avoided jail by testifying last week in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, and Time Inc. Editor in Chief Norman Pearlstine, who surrendered Cooper's notes, are scheduled to testify before the committee today. While 31 states and the District of Columbia have "shield laws" protecting journalists, the recent jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to testify in the outing of a CIA operative has fueled the debate.

Missouri governor wants bill - he signed - shielding public officials repealed

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has called on government officials to ignore a new law he signed July 13 that would keep the addresses and telephone numbers of public officials and law officers from being posted on the Internet without their consent.

"The new law would impose the ban beginning August 28. But Blunt said he hoped legislators would repeal it during a September special session," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Blunt suggested officials not implement the law while waiting for its repeal and he noted the ban contained no penalty for governments that post the information. Some county officials say the law could force them to take some government Web sites off the Internet.

The Missouri Press Association has urged Blunt to veto the bill because of the provision. Blunt explained "he signed the bill because it also contained some good provisions, including one expanding the circumstances that would prohibit a child taken into the foster care system from being returned to the home of a convicted sex offender," AP reports.

Kentucky weapons depot may separate toxic warheads, rockets; concerns rising

The Army is considering separating potentially unstable rockets from chemical warheads at the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, Ky., inspiring new safety concerns from local residents.

"The Defense Department wants to make sure that aging rocket propellant is safe, following recent fires during the disposal of chemical weapons at the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Oregon and the Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Arkansas," reports James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. (Read more) For the Lexington Herald-Leader version by Peter Matthews, click here, and for a related story by Matthews, click here.

Jim Fritche, site project manager at the depot for the assembled chemical weapons alternatives program, said the rockets have not caused any fires or explosions. But Fritche added officials want to know more about the state of the decades-old rocket fuel, reports Carroll for the Louisville newspaper. "If it is deteriorating, we want to know that sooner than later," Fritche said. "If we don't have an emergency, we're not going to go forward on this."

Fritche told Carroll the Army may know as soon as Thursday "whether propellant samples from other stockpiles show the fuel has so degraded that it could ignite under certain conditions."

Anti-smoking activists rallied at Capitol for federal regulation of tobacco

Activists pushing for federal regulation of tobacco used 1,200 empty pairs of shoes to illustrate the dangers of smoking at a rally yesterday in front of the U.S. Capitol.

Kassie Hobbs, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' National Youth Advocate of the Year, explained the display saying, "Twelve-hundred people die a day from tobacco - but it didn't mean anything until now. Everyone wears shoes. But 1,200 people can't wear them because they died from tobacco use." The rally was to promote House and Senate bills that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to restrict tobacco advertising, ban candy-flavored cigarettes and require ingredients to be listed on cigarette packages, writes Emma Burgin for the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. (Read more)

Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) told the gathering, "We must regulate this product. It is long overdue."
The Senate passed similar legislation twice in 2004 that met resistance from the House leadership. Advocates hope that bipartisan support this year will push through the measure, currently in committee.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said, "So many people die from tobacco, the statistics often blend into the woodwork, and yet Congress acts as if nothing is wrong." Myers also chastised the tobacco industry for controlling legislators through campaign contributions. A recent Center for Public Integrity study found the tobacco industry spent $250 million in political lobbying and contributions between 1998 and 2004, writes Burgin.

Australian farmers applaud calls for rural state to boost parliament presence

The immediate past president of the New South Wales Farmers Federation has gotten behind calls for a seventh Australian state just for rural residents.

"Mal Peters says the survival of rural NSW could depend on the idea," writes Tanya Nolan for ABC On-Line Australia's PM. (Read more) The seventh-state plan is the brainchild of farmer Ron Young, based in Coonabarabran, who says rural residents are under-represented in Parliament. "Rural New South Wales is basically governed by a city-centric government ... [that is] really not interested rural affairs," Young said.

Under the plan, NSW would be split in two, writes Nolan. Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong would constitute NSW, while other rural areas would form a new state with a new government. Young told the news agency, "I think it will be up to individual areas to decide whether they want to be with Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, or whether they want to be in the bigger rural area."

NSW Farmers Federation conference delegates voted in favor of the idea. Peters told Nolan, "Is it good for Australia to potentially be able to grow those other areas by having another government?" But Federal Minister for Regional Services Warren Truss does not think a seventh Australian state is a feasible option.

Legislation favoring municipal high-speed networks garners Intel endorsement

Intel Corp. has endorsed legislation allowing cities to participate in high-speed Internet networks, which thrusts the high-tech giant full-force into the vortex of the broadband debate.

Intel Communications Policy Director Peter Pitsch said the legislation "strikes an appropriate balance between preempting state prohibitions on the municipalities that provide broadband service and requiring municipalities to operate in a competitively neutral manner under open, transparent processes," writes Drew Clark of National Journal’s Technology Daily. (Read more)

Clark notes that the legislation "would bar states from opposing municipal broadband as long as municipalities do not discriminate against competitors," while a competing House bill "would bar states from permitting municipal broadband when already offered by the private sector."

Senate Commerce Technology Subcommittee Chairman John Ensign (R-Nev.) is working on language that would set limits on municipal broadband. Ensign told Clark, "As far as the municipalities competing, you can grandfather some of them in, or if there is no one willing to bring it in, then you can allow them to do it. But don't allow them to continue to compete with the private sector in the future."

Kentucky columnist cites 'United States of Wal-Mart' book in latest column

Don Quixote McNay has focused on the lance and pen of another crusader-knight who has pointed his sharpened wit at the giant windmill known as Wal-Mart in a journalistic joust where the nation's number one retailer is likened to a sovereign nation, and we its serfs.

McNay borrows from John Dicker, author of "The United States of Wal-Mart," - which can be found at www.penguin.com - writing that, "Dicker ... explains the sociological and business changes that allowed Wal-Mart to become the 800 pound gorilla of the retail world ... [and he] points out Wal-Mart’s warts but entwines them in the history of how Wal-Mart grew from one store to a company that does $288 billion in sales." (Read more) from McNay's column.

McNay says Dicker delves into "Wal-Mart’s alleged exploitation of foreign labor and allegations of mistreating American employees ... [and] notes the number of class action lawsuits, like the one filed in Ashland, [Ky.] based on alleged gender discrimination and alleged violations of wage and hour laws," and also "explains why attempts to unionize the company have failed and that some of the blame goes to the inept efforts of union leaders with six- figure salaries and country-club memberships."

"Protests over labor practices or its impact on other businesses have had little success, but zoning battles have kept Wal-Mart out of some cities. The prospect of driving down property values or traffic problems will cause a large cross section of a community to fight Wal-Mart. Nothing else will stop it," Dicker writes.

The book ends with an ominous insight, writes McNay. "The ugly truth is that we have become a nation that values little above a bargain. Customer service, product quality, a connection to people who make and sell our sacred stuff – it’s all become secondary to savings," writes Dicker. McNay calls on his readers to read Dicker's book, writing, "It is funny, insightful and not on sale in the Wal-Mart book department."

Desert Morning News reports Wal-Mart is planning to open a bank in Utah. For details, click here.

USDA announces $200 million in loan guarantees for renewable energy, efficiency

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office for Rural Development has announced $200 million in guaranteed loan funds are available for agricultural producers and rural small businesses looking to invest in renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.

The money is part of a funds announcement in March of 2005 by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, writes Tim McNeilly in the USDA news release.

Johanns indicates money will be made available in two stages, the release states. In March, the USDA began receiving grant applications and the deadline was June 27. For more information, click here or here.

Conservation group announces solar water heater installer training workshop

Energy from the sun, it appears, can go a long way toward helping consumers wanting to save on the costs of laundering their clothes, or relaxing in a heated pool.

A two-day workshop sponsored by Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest's Kentucky Solar Partnership will cover solar water and pool heating system design, installation and maintenance techniques.

Officials say the seminar is "geared to plumbing and heating contractors, and reasonably priced at $115, it is also open to interested homeowners." Some scholarships are available, they report. For more information, e-mail a request to solar@kysolar.org or click here.

Rural Calendar: Catholics mark century of mission with art exhibit, Mass

Louisville has been chosen as one of three cities to showcase a Catholic Extension Society art exhibit. The Mission American Art Exhibit is a multi-media presentation highlighting a century of "building the faith in America's [Catholic] missions," writes Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly in The Record, the Louisville Diocesan newspaper.

The exhibit, which began yesterday is being displayed at the Cathedral Heritage Foundation's Museum of Faiths in Louisville until August 18. The society also is conducting a centennial Mass and reception at the Cathedral this coming Saturday, July 23 beginning at 5:30 p.m. You can RSVP or get more information at 1-888-47-FAITH, or by contacting Sister Judy Morris, O.P. at 501-741-0045.

Since 1905, nearly $400 million has been distributed to needy (many rural) dioceses nationwide to help them survive. In Kentucky alone, the society contributed $4.5 million in aid to its mission churches.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Justice dept. asks high court to allow pursuit of $280 billion tobacco penalty

The Justice Department has asked the U. S. Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court ruling which halted an earlier effort and allow it to force tobacco companies to turn over $280 billion in profits.

"The government should be allowed to pursue the money to address 'ongoing concerted unlawful activity in the tobacco industry spanning decades and affecting the lives of millions of Americans,' the department said in asking the high court to take the case," writes Mark Sherman of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The decision by the appeals court was a major blow to the government's long-running racketeering lawsuit against the cigarette companies. The request came at the deadline for the administration to decide whether to appeal the February ruling by an appellate court that the government could not use a federal racketeering law to seek the penalty.

The $280 billion is the most ever sought in a civil racketeering trial, and has been described "as an estimate of money the companies earned illegally through fraudulent activities such as marketing to children and denying that it did so," writes Sherman. For The New York Times story by Eric Lichtblau, click here.

Danny McKinney, chief executive officer of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association in Lexington, Ky., told Sherman the federal suit and the appeal aren't good for tobacco farmers. "They ultimately are our customers, and that can't help us." Gary Huddleston, spokesman for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, told AP Kentucky views the Justice Department suit as "kind of piling on." And, he added, "It appears that (the government) is taking a whole new attack or just looking for a way to go after the same companies for the same alleged sins, but just using a different part of the law."

Maryland tests to extract tobacco's proteins may be boon for growers

A blue substance on a tobacco leaf used to send chills throughout the farming community fearing loss of crops due to "blue mold" fungal infection. But, in Maryland blue on leaves there could very well bring gold to the beleaguered tobacco growers.

"The strange crop growing in [a] University of Maryland field is part of an initiative that researchers believe will transform tobacco, which has hastened the deaths of millions, into a plant with beneficial uses that could enhance shampoos, treat kidney dialysis patients or even fight certain types of cancer," writes Amit R. Paley of the Washington Post. (Read more)

Project creator Gary V. Hodge told Paley, "It's the ultimate irony. But it might be just the thing that ultimately keeps tobacco alive." Some view the federally funded Alternative Uses of Tobacco Project as the last chance to revive an industry that was the economic and cultural basis of Southern Maryland.

Six years ago, after the Maryland General Assembly approved a tobacco buyout, about 85 percent of the state's 1,000 or so tobacco farmers promised to stop growing tobacco in exchange for cash payouts. The exception was if they grew tobacco for non-smoking "alternative" uses. Now scientists are racing to complete research before farmers die and their land is sold off.

Hodge told Paley, "All we need is a way for farmers to reengage in tobacco for a totally different purpose than its historical purpose of smoking."

U.S. gets first Canadian cattle shipment since mad-cow ban lifted

A shipment of Canadian cattle crossed the U.S. border yesterday, four days after a federal appeals court ended a two-year-old ban originally instituted because of mad-cow disease.

The 35 black Angus cattle arrived at Lewiston, N.Y., near Niagara Falls, destined for a Pennsylvania slaughterhouse. "In Washington state, a common destination for Canadian cattle, another Canadian shipper has submitted a request to cross the border," writes Libby Quaid of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The owner of the company that shipped the cattle, Wally Schaus, told Quaid, "We went from 18 trucks to nine, and it was a struggle to keep nine trucks busy, but with the border open again, it won't be hard to get 20 trucks going again."

A federal appeals court last week overturned a Montana judge's decision upholding the embargo. The U.S. ban on Canadian cattle began in May 2003 after Canada's first case of mad cow disease. U.S. meatpackers laid off an estimated 8,000 workers as a result of the ban. Canada shipped 1 million head a year into the United States before the ban, writes Quaid. Stan Eby, president of the 90,000-member Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said the closure cost Canadian producers around $5.7 billion.

Johanns warns Congress impatient on Japan beef ban, may retaliate

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has warned Japan that Congress may lose its patience and step up retaliatory pressure if Tokyo fails to lift its ban on American beef.

"Johanns told reporters he conveyed the warning to Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshinobu Shimamura during their talks [last week] ... [at] a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in ... China," reports Kyodo News International. (Read more) The Japanese ban on imports began 19 months ago after the United States discovered its first case of mad-cow disease.

The Japanese news agency reports Johanns said, "I explained to the Japanese minister ... there's a point at which Congress does lose patience. And ... I would be very, very worried that a course of action would be taken that none of us want." Neither the Senate nor the House of Representatives have moved toward voting on a retaliatory resolution submitted earlier this year. That measure urges economic sanctions against Japan for failing to implement an agreement reached last October to resume imports of U.S. beef from animals aged up to 20 months. Japan was the U.S.'s largest importer of beef before the ban.

If a famous steak house in Chicago is a national indicator, Americans continue ordering steaks at the usual mad pace, despite all the publicity and scare surrounding mad-cow disease. "The restaurant's 28-ounce rib-eye steaks are running at their customary 40-50 a night," writes Jeremy Grant of the Financial Times of London. (Read more)

Broadband 'more attractive' for rural states; might stem youth out-migration

Experts have told the nation's governors that rural states should make a major effort at expanding or encouraging broadband Internet services to attract and keep businesses.

A panel at the National Governors' Association meeting in Iowa looking at expanding broadband services to new areas and customers determined "governments should support businesses that provide the service as a way to compete for industry. The discussion also focused on showing the governors different models for doing that," writes Rachel Gallegos of The Des Moines Register. (Read more)

Panel member John Rutledge, chairman of private equity firm Rutledge Capital, said states have two choices. "We can either learn to compete for capital . . . or we can learn Chinese." And, he added, when telecommunication and technology companies export to other nations, "they take your children's jobs with them." He called on states and the nation to support these companies, making them want to stay.

Brian Mefford, president and chief executive of ConnectKentucky, an alliance supporting technology in in Kentucky described how the model created by Taylor County officials after the manufacturer that domainated the town closed down has developed rapidly and is now being used statewide.

Mefford told the panel, "We want to create a work force that is capable of adjusting in this new age" , And he said by bringing broadband to the rural areas, equaling the technology found in the cities, people "not only can move back to Kentucky but also stay in the rural areas."

Weapons ban prompts NRA to move confab; other local laws targeted?

The National Rifle Association has canceled plans to hold its national 2007 convention in Columbus, Ohio, an event that was expected to pump more than $15 million into the local economy.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, "Thanks to the Columbus City Council, 65,000 people will not be coming to your wonderful Greater Columbus Convention Center in 2007," writes James Dao of The New York Times. (Read more) "The only thing the City Council can expect out of their decision is the gratitude of those businesses in the city we go to instead," LaPierre continued.

This follows Mayor Michael Coleman signing a sales ban on certain types of assault weapons. The ban requires people who buy such weapons before the law takes effect, Aug. 12, to register with the police. Columbus officials and gun control groups say the withdrawal of the convention is an effort to embarrass the council and a bid to get the state Legislature to pass a bill that would invalidate the Columbus ban and prohibit other local governments from enacting such measures.

Coleman told the council yesterday, "What we saw today was a heavy-handed attempt to dictate policy. That might work in Washington, but it's not going to work in Columbus." Dao notes the rifle association's action has implications in the 2006 race for governor. Coleman plans to run against Representative Ted Strickland in the Democratic primary. Strickland voted against a federal assault weapon ban in 1994 and has been endorsed by the NRA.

Europe, Mideast blasts may prompt U.S. bus driver anti-terrorism training

Recent London bombings, terror in Madrid, and military and civilian deaths at the hands of insurgents and suicide bombers in Iraq on top of the mind-numbing devastation of September 11, 2001 may be pushing national educators to take action to protect America’s school children.

"The National Association for Pupil Transportation wants to train more than 600,000 school bus drivers across the country to be prepared for terrorism, ... an attempt to develop a national anti-terrorism training program," writes Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute in his Morning Meeting column. (Read more) School officials started the training in earnest in October after terrorists took over a school in Beslan, Russia, and killed more than 300 people.

Sam Garza, a former school teacher employed by Highway Watch, a Washington-based anti-terrorism training program for transportation workers, speaking of the training program, told the Dallas Morning News, "It opened up a lot of eyes to the potential for what terror organizations worldwide are willing to put on their map as targets." For several months Garza has been traveling across south Texas training school bus drivers. "I think that school was definitely an eye-opener for a lot of people," he said.

The newspaper also wrote, "[The National Association for Pupil Transportation] ... commissioned the school bus curriculum for the American Trucking Association, which has received $40 million in federal homeland security money over two years to train truckers through Highway Watch," writes Tompkins.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Meth driving rural mailbox thefts in Georgia, spread of HIV in South Dakota

Federal, state and local law enforcement agents in north Georgia are hunting down thieves who have been using identities stolen from mailboxes to obtain money for methamphetamine.

Some 20 "Mailbox Meth Gang" members have been arrested in a three-county area in north Georgia and charged with fraud, identity theft and meth-related offenses, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Authorities say one part of the gang altered and forged checks and another focused on credit card theft. Thieves also steal checks, bank statements and preapproved credit card applications. Investigators don't know the network's size. Some 65,000 credit-card numbers were found in a laptop computer seized in a raid last month in one county, and the U.S. Secret Service identitied 14,000 of the cardholders. Valid card numbers have been traced to Georgia counties and victims in North Carolina, California and Texas.

Meanwhile, federal officials say meth use has become an epidemic, estimating 1.5 million regular users exist in the U.S. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports as of 2003 12.3 million Americans had tried methamphetamine at least once, up nearly 40 percent over 2000 and 156 percent over 1996, writes Brian Knickerbocker for the Christian Science Monitor. (Read more)

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., reports "Intravenous use of methamphetamine and people hooking up with anonymous sex partners on the Internet have doubled the HIV rate in South Dakota, worrying health officials." (Read more) Meth can be an aphrodisiac.

State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger told reporter Corrine Olson, "We're on the cusp of a trend. ... People know the risks, but [but despite this they] discount the virus." The state reported 26 new cases of HIV ... in the first six months of this year, compared with 19 in all of 2004 and 25 in 2003, Olson writes.

For a special report, "Covering the meth epidemic in rural America," click here.

Governors debate government's role in development of broadband access

Experts told the National Governors Association meeting in Des Moines that broadband capability is driving a new global marketplace, sweeping aside the old one that was predicated on the infrastructure mainstays of physical access to roads and waterways.

"Governors debated public ownership of broadband networks as an economic development tool during this weekend's NGA meeting," writes The Associated Press. (Read more) Former White House financial adviser John Rutledge told the conference the lack of broadband access is costing the country precious investment capital, and he said Americans should learn to compete for capital, though he says municipal broadband networks would deter private development.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford told the gathering the Internet has changed the world forever and the nation must better compete with developing countries. Sanford cites Europe, Korea, China and Japan where broadband is cheaper, faster and more accessible. For additional coverage of the NGA meeting, click here for related stories in The Des Moines Register.

Volunteer group fighting illegal immigration gets outposts far from border

A volunteer group vowing to guard America from illegal immigration is spreading its message and membership from the U.S.-Mexican border to the ridges and valleys of Appalachia. "At least 40 anti-immigration groups have popped up nationally, inspired by the Minuteman Project that rallied hundreds this year to patrol the Mexican border in Arizona," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Jim Gilchrist co-founded the Minuteman Project 10 months ago. He told Duncan Mansfield, who is based in AP's Knoxville bureau, "I struck the mother lode of patriotism or nationalism. ... Due to politically-correct paralysis ... everyone was afraid to bring up the lack of law enforcement."

The Tennessee Volunteer Minutemen is run by Carl "Two Feathers" Whitaker, an Indian activist and perennial gubernatorial candidate. He says his group's aim is "exposing those who employ illegals," AP writes. Critics it vigilantism and are comparing it to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. A recent report said some counties in Appalachia would have lost population in the last census if not for influx of Hispanics.

Minuteman Project chapters are in 18 states, from California, New Mexico, Utah, to Minnesota and Maine. They have no direct affiliation, but share a common goal. The Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is guarded about Minuteman-type activism. An agency spokesman told Mansfield, "Homeland security is a shared responsibility ... but as far doing an investigation or anything beyond giving us a heads-up, that should be handled by trained law enforcement."

Young farmers getting hard to find, especially in California, says the Merc

"Young farmer? Nationwide -- and statewide -- that's an oxymoron if there ever was one," writes Carolyn Jung of the San Jose Mercury News, citing Census data showing that ",the number of farmers under 35 fell 44 percent in California and 18 percent nationwide from 1997 to 2002. As a result, in 2002, only 5.8 percent of all farmers nationwide" were under 35.

"The high price of land, the scarcity of farmland near urban centers, as well as more lucrative job opportunities in other less physically taxing industries, have increasingly made farming a hard sell to a new generation," Jung reports, noting that the average age of a farm operator has risen steadily since 1978, to 55.3 in 2002. In California, it was 56.8.

`"Farmers look at all the barriers -- economic, trade, environment, irrigation, the market,'' Michael Marks of Sacramento, a longtime produce specialist, told Jung. "When you look at all that, why in the world would a college-educated son of a third-generation farmer want to take over the family farm except to take over the land to sell it to a developer?"

But some get into farming, and they include "Latino and Southeast Asian immigrant farmworkers who have risen to new independence in running their own farms," Jung writes. "And some are U.S.-born and college-educated, drawn to this graying industry to rally the causes of organics and sustainability."

Small cattlemen's group showing muscle in beef over Canadian imports

In the business of beef, and cattle imports, its not the size of the group in the fight, but the size of the fight in the group, some might say of a Billings, Mont.-based cattlemen's organization that is three-for-three in major court battles over Canadian imports following a mad-cow scare.

"R-CALF United Stock Growers of America was a tiny cattlemen's group focused on what many in the industry considered a non issue; Canadian beef imports," writes Becky Bohrer of The Associated Press. (Read more) "But three cases of mad-cow disease in Canada have propelled the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund from bit player to ringleader in a trade dispute that some see as the biggest and most divisive issue to confront the cattle industry in recent memory."

The organization led the legal battle to keep Canadian beef and cattle out of the United States to "protect consumer health and cattlemen's herds," it said. R-CALF's leaders say the cause struck a nerve and inspired thousands of new members, adding respect and credibility. Chief Executive Officer Bill Bullard told Bohrer, "The influence we are having is reshaping the direction of the U.S. cattle industry itself."

Some detractors see R-CALF as protectionist and anti-trade. They say the group is more a disruptive force than a major player. Meat packers and some cattlemen's groups say the group's argument and credibility have been undercut by the more recent discovery of diseased cow in Texas.

Andy Gottschalk, of the agribusiness research company HedgersEdge.com, told AP, "They're kind of in a box with their argument." But, some packer and industry groups still contend R-CALF cannot be ignored. Stan Eby, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, told Rohrer, "We do not underestimate what the R-CALF people can accomplish."

With tobacco program over, Kentucky may lose a third of federal farm offices

The federal agency that administers farm programs is considering closing a third of its offices in Kentucky, largely because of the demise of the demise of the federal tobacco program.

"Kentucky Farm Service Agency State Director Jeff Hall said about 30 of the current 90 offices might be closed. Hall also said 51 positions, of about 450, might be eliminated as part of a national staff reduction of more than 600 jobs," writes Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

Hall told Patton, "It affects us more than it does really any other state." Kentucky has had more tobacco growers than any other state. Hall told her employees would be offered buyout incentives and severance packages, and he cites the loss of the tobacco program as the impetus for the cuts. Forty-three of the 51 positions being eliminated are tobacco-related.

The FSA tracked production, quota and leases of tobacco. The FSA also helps farmers with loan programs, commodity supports, environmental programs, business plans, disaster assistance and more.

Journalists say reporter's jailing on source issue making media firms timid

Are newspapers becoming more reluctant to do hard-hitting investigative reporting because a New York Times reporter is in jail for not revealing her confidential sources? Two noted journalists say the answer to that question is a resounding, ominous "Yes!"

Cokie Roberts and her husband, Steve Roberts, note in a United Feature Syndicate story that a major Ohio daily is holding back on two stories for fear the reporters might be subpoenaed. (Read more) "The Cleveland Plain Dealer is holding back two stories of 'profound importance' because executives fear that aggressive prosecutors would demand to know their sources of information," they write.

Plain Dealer "Editor Doug Clifton explained to Editor & Publisher why his paper is so timid: 'The reporters say, 'Well, we're willing to go to jail,' and I'm willing to go to jail if it gets laid on me. But the paper isn't willing to go to jail. That's what the lawyers have told us. So this is a Time Inc. sort of situation,'" write the pair referring to that company's having "caved in to the pressure by supplying notes and documents, and its reporter, Matt Cooper, avoided jail by claiming his source had freed him from promises of confidentiality."

The Times refused to reveal its sources, and saw its reporter incarcerated rather than break her promise of confidentiality. The case involves CIA operative Valerie Plame. Prosecutors are trying to determine who leaked her name to several journalists, which is a possible crime. In a recent Times column, "Worse than Watergate," Frank Rich quotes what journalist and author David Halberstam asked after Time turned over Cooper's notes: "Is this a journalistic company or an entertainment company?"

Cooper appeared yesterday on NBC's "Meet The Press" to counter claims by White House adviser Karl Rove that he learned the name from reporters. Cooper said he learned of Plame's name from Rove. For the Times story on Cooper's story and interview, by Lorne Manly and David Johnston, click here

Even as Congress debates its funding, NPR says it's going full steam ahead

"Even as Congress debates funding for National Public Radio, the network's top officials said this week they are pressing ahead with plans to strengthen the franchise's technology and news-gathering abilities," reports Martin Miller in the Los Angeles Times. (Read more)

In a few months, "The network expects to launch new multi-casts, further enhance its burgeoning satellite and podcasting capabilities, while also continuing an ongoing three-year, $15-million expansion of its news division," Miller writes. "NPR officials said they are paying special attention to podcasting and ... its ability to let listeners with portable devices hear programming on their own schedule." The new tools "are going to change the way people listen to radio," Ken Stern, NPR's executive vice president, said last week in L.A.

"Ideas for future growth were derailed last month when the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash funding by some $200 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," Miller notes. CPB gives NPR about 2 percent of its $118 million budget but a much greater share to rural NPR affiliates. However, public outcry seems to have made big cuts "far less likely," Miller reports. "This week, a key Senate subcommittee approved restoring funding to near its original level."

Miller concludes, "NPR officials are optimistic they will keep all, or almost all, of their funding. Their confidence is due in part to an outpouring of popular support for the network that followed the proposed cuts." Stern said at the Los Angeles Press Club, "The speed and power of the reaction was staggering."

But NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service remain under fire from conservatives for what Wall Street Journal Editorial page Editor Paul Gigot calls a "center-left" perspective. Paul Farhi of The Washington Post examines such complaints in a story today. He begins: "To its conservative critics, public broadcasting is the little liberal idea that won't go away."

This Day In History: "Gonzo journalist" Hunter S. Thompson born, 1929

The Pioneer of "gonzo" journalism, Hunter Stockton Thompson, was born on this date in 1929 in Louisville, Ky. "By age 10, Thompson was publishing his own two-page newspaper, which he sold for four cents. By his early teens, he had already launched on the life of drinking, vandalism, and pyromania that would turn him into a bestselling writer," according to The History Channel.

Friday, July 15, 2005

U.S. Appeals Court overturns Canada beef ban prompted by mad-cow scare

A federal appeals court yesterday lifted an injunction blocking the resumption of cattle imports from Canada, after agriculture officials said the animals are no threat to humans from mad cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was unavailable to say when Canadian cattle imports would resume. "The agency banned the imports in May 2003 after a cow in Alberta was found to have mad cow disease," writes David Kravets of The Associated Press. (For the New York Times story, click here.)

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimous ruling overturns a Montana judge who blocked the USDA from reopening the border in March. That judge said such imports subject "the entire U.S. beef industry to potentially catastrophic damages" and "presents a genuine risk of death for U.S. consumers." The appellate judges are expecting justices to issue another ruling soon explaining their rationale.

Wednesday the Justice Department urged the appeals court in Seattle to reopen the border to imports. Justice Department attorney Mark Stern said lifting the ban is based on "good science" and would not result in the "infestation in American livestock."

American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle told AP the industry will be able to resume cattle shipments quickly. "A lot of the preliminary work is already done. I think you'll see the industry move quickly." Boyle told reporters the ruling is "a win for American consumers who were paying $1.85 a pound for ground beef before the border closed and are paying about $2.55 today."

High tech expert tells young farmers, 'Get ready for wireless broadband!'

Since ancient times, farmers have depended on the skies for life giving resources to produce precious bounty. Now, a high-tech information guru is telling young farmers a variation of the same, only he says in the new age of agriculture they need high-speed, direct wireless information as much as sun and rain.

Todd Peterson, manager of enabling technologies at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, in a recent lecture to a group of young future farmers near Des Moines, Iowa talked about wireless broadband and how it is going to revolutionize farming, writes Cheryl Rainford, news editor of Agriculture OnLine. (Read more)

Peterson, told about 40 National FFA Organization New Century Farmers, "What's going to rock our world is wireless Internet in rural areas." Rainford notes anyone who has ever upgraded from a dial-up modem to broadband has felt the power of the technology. Wireless, or WiFi, goes one better, she writes. The lecture was centered on creative uses for yield map data combined with GPS and other information technologies. Peterson was asked about the next big technology trend in agriculture.

He said, while today's farmer may carry around a laptop computer, a cell phone, a camera and a PDA, next year he predicts that may be a tablet combining the laptop, PDA, and cell phone with a camera. He called Bluetooth's wireless technology "sort of neat," Rainford writes. "Real time broadband access will dramatically change what we do," Peterson said, and he predicts wireless will make Web sites for farmers obsolete. Peterson says information will need to go direct to growers in the tractor, combine, or truck.

"Every tractor, every combine will be a node on the Internet," predicts Peterson. And, he said new technologies will be automatic and employ voice technology, writes Rainford.

Aspiring farmers encounter a dreary landscape of high land prices

"The dark prairie soils of central Illinois grow some of the world's finest corn and soybeans. They also command steeply rising prices, inflated in part by investors who snap up farmland across the Midwest. While rising prices are good for older landowners, whose land may represent a life's savings, they make breaking into the farming business tougher than ever and are the most recent of many developments that are putting a way of life at risk,” writes Richard Mertens for The Christian Science Monitor.

Farmland is appreciating throughout the country, increasing land rental and purchase prices. “The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported in May that farmland values in the region rose an average of 10 percent over the preceding year and as much as 14 percent in some states, including Illinois,” reports Mertens. (Read more) Most young farmers rent land before buying it. Also, most new farmers are people who benefit from their parents' land, equipment, and connections.

Other changes are occurring in the rural Midwest, writes Mertens. Farmers are getting older, and landowners are increasingly farmers’ children who have moved to cities and lost interest in their parents’ trade. Also, costs keep jumping for fertilizers, fuel, and health insurance. These changes may lead aspiring farmers to cutback their plans or delay their careers.

Iowa State's Beginning Farmer Center Director John Baker helps new farmers break into the business. "They don't have the money. They can't buy their way in very effectively," Baker told Mertens. "What they do have is education and labor and energy. I think it's a tremendous problem if we're going to put people into agriculture in this borrow-and-buy model."

Weekly keeps probing tobacco-settlement spending; student stories coming

A group of cattle farmers is managing most of the agricultural-development programs funded by the national tobacco settlement in Casey County, Kentucky, and the Casey County News took a look at the organization's work this week in the latest installment of a series about the subject. The newspaper has no Web site, but its stories are being posted at www.ruraljournalism.org; for the latest, click here.

The Casey County Cattlemen's Association has doled out about $750,000 to 315 farmers in the county, some of them husbands and wives, and in one case a 15-year-old boy. The administrator for the group, Jim Young, told the newspaper that state regulations allow a husband and wife to apply, but only for separate farms, and using separate Social Security numbers. The 15-year-old was qualified to receive money for improving the genetics of his cattle herd because he possessed his own cattle.

The association said it would have a committee to approve applications and make sure applicants were using the money properly, but the responsibility has devolved solely to Young. He told the paper that the committee approach didn't work out because the other members had full-time jobs. Young said he has inspected"about 12 to 15" of the 150 operations that got money for cattle-handling facilities.

"Young said he mainly takes participants at their word," Editor Donna Carman wrote, under a subhead reading "Potential for fraud." Young acknowledged that the potential exists, but said it was no more than with any other government subsidy. "We have fraud in Medicaid, don’t we?" he asked.

Through June, the state Agricultural Development Board had made 2,147 tobacco-settlement grants totaling more than $179 million. State officials have acknowledged hat they do not have the staff and time to make extensive checks on how the money has been used.

That acknowledgement was made to a student in the spring-semester Rural Journalism class at the University of Kentucky, as part of a reporting on the future of tobacco and tobacco-dependent communities. His story and others about Kentucky's tobacco-settlement spending will appear on this site soon, in conjunction with research by students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on settlement spending in that state. Other stories from the UK project, including one about the Casey County Cattlemen's Association and other grant administrators in the county, are on the Reports section of our site.

Louisville paper, TV station collaborate for a look at Kentucky's health

"If Kentucky were a patient, it'd be in the ICU -- we live in one of the sickest places in America. And yes, much of the blame has to do with our behavior -- what we smoke, eat and drink," Jean West of WHAS-TV reported in the first segment of a report advancing a major project that will appear Sunday in The Courier-Journal. The two Louisville media outlets, which the Bingham family sold to separate owners in 1986, collaborated on the project, which the paper started about a year ago.

In her second segment, West reported that much of the state's poor health ranking comes from Eastern Kentucky. She reported from Owsley County, the state's poorest: "The death rate here from chronic disease is twice that of the national average. Wherever you look, there is smoking, fatty foods, and despair. And if you need medical care, you'll have to go out of town, too."

C-J medical reporter Laura Ungar told WHAS, "A lot of people told us that state government hasn't done enough over the years to affect smoking rates, obesity rates.” The station reports, "Adults in Kentucky smoke at the highest rate than any other state. Kentucky is second worst in the nation for cancer deaths, fourth worst for obesity, fifth worse for heart disease. The underlying cause . . . is poverty."

The newspaper's project, in a special section coming Sunday, is titled "Kentucky's Health: Critical Condition." For Part 1 of the TV report, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Tick-borne illness rising in North Carolina; leads nation in spotted fever

North Carolina has more people ill with the tick-borne disease Rocky Mountain spotted fever than any other state, and cases of the potentially fatal, flu-like illness are rising again this year.

Last year, the Tar Heel State had 535 of the 1,514 cases reported nationally, more than three times any other state. North Carolina had more cases than South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee combined, writes Emily Almas of The Charlotte Observer. (Read more)

By early July, N.C.'s fever cases had climbed to 146, about 33 percent higher than the same period last year. Epidemiologist Dr. Jeff Engel told Almas the state is a hotbed of spotted fever because it has large numbers of dog ticks that can carry the RMSF bacteria. And, he told the newspaper, rapid growth in suburbs in recent years is "exacerbating the problem by bringing more humans and ticks closer together."

People usually get potted fever through bites from ticks infected with the rickettsia bacteria. Common symptoms are severe head or muscle aches, high fever, nausea and a rash, which appear within two weeks of being bitten, writes Almas.

Organic corn and soybean yields measure up long-term, with extra benefits

Organic and conventional farming yield the same long-term production of corn and soybeans, and organic farming uses 30 percent less energy and less water, as well as the most familiar benefit of avoiding pesticides, a Cornell University professor has concluded after reviewing a 22-year study.

"Organic farming offers real advantages for such crops as corn and soybeans," ecology and agriculture professor David Pimentel writes in the July issue of Bioscience, reviewing the Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, the longest-running comparison of the two methods. Organic farming also causes less erosion, maintains soil and groundwater quality, and conserves more biological resources, he reports.

"The study compared a conventional farm that used recommended fertilizer and pesticide applications with an organic animal-based farm (where manure was applied) and an organic legume-based farm (that used a three-year rotation of hairy vetch/corn and rye/soybeans and wheat). The two organic systems received no chemical fertilizers or pesticides," says Newswise, a research-reporting service.

"First and foremost, we found that corn and soybean yields were the same across the three systems," Pimentel said. While organic corn yields were about one-third lower during the first four years, the organic systems eventually produced higher yields, especially during droughts -- because erosion degraded the soil on the conventionally farmed acreage while the soil on the organic operation "steadily improved in organic matter, moisture, microbial activity and other soil quality indicators," Newswise reports.

"Pimentel noted that although cash crops cannot be grown as frequently over time on organic farms because of the dependence on cultural practices to supply nutrients and control pests and because labor costs average about 15 percent higher in organic farming systems, the higher prices that organic foods command in the marketplace still make the net economic return per acre either equal to or higher than that of conventionally produced crops," Newswise reports. He said organic farming can compete effectively with conventionally grown corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and other grains, but it might not be as favorable for crops with greater pest problems, such as grapes, apples, cherries and potatoes.

Want to know more about agri-terrorism? Free online courses are coming

Free, online courses on agri-terrorism awareness, with information about the potential for terrorist attacks on crops, livestock and the U.S. food supply, are scheduled to be available in August.

"Agri-terrorism has already occurred in the U.S. and, since 9/11, seems more likely to occur again," said Mark Schneider, director of technology and terrorism preparedness at the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, which prepared the courses with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky colleges of Agriculture and Public Health.

"The new courses follow a series of online terrorism preparedness courses that Schneider developed for Kentucky first responders," writes Aimee Nelson of the agriculture college's news service. "When those initial courses became available on the Internet, users from across the United States and other countries began logging on. Schneider saw the opportunity to expand the offerings and said it was natural to
collaborate with experts in the Cooperative Extension Service."

The courses are aimed in part at increasing awareness, and thus the likelihood of reporting suspicious activity, among Extension personnel and young people who are in 4-H and FFA. They include videos, animation, interactive exercises and examinations. Successful completion will earn a certificate. Both courses are available on CD-ROM to provide extra bandwidth for interactive features. For more information, see the the KIPRC Web site.

Michigan Senate leader wants tobacco settlement money for economic boost

The leader of the Michigan Senate is comfortable with a House plan to sell part of the state's tobacco settlement but, he says, only if the money is used to boost and diversify the economy.

"Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, said selling the settlement for a lump sum payment of $1 billion to invest in high-tech industries is a good idea because the state could get the money right away and avoid a costly statewide election," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Others had proposed bonding for the money, but that would require voter approved in November, writes AP. Sikkema said borrowing against future tobacco settlement payments should be done only for one-time needs, such as diversifying the state's lagging economy. His comments to reporters make it more likely some of Michigan's future tobacco settlement payments will be sold for economic investment. That plan would replace proposals to get voters' approval to sell bonds for such an investment. Under the "tobacco "securitization plan," an election would be avoided, saving the between $7 and $9 million, writes AP.

Information on the tobacco settlement bill (HB 5048) is available on the Michigan Legislature Web site.

North Carolina farmers finding future in fish; some turning Koi into cash

A former tobacco farmer in North Carolina, is doing swimmingly in the state's growing aquaculture industry finding specialty fish farming can be a lucrative replacement for leaf.

"Ornamental-fish farming is a small segment of North Carolina's aquaculture, but the profit margin can be high, possibly high enough that state officials hope that other former tobacco producers might consider commercial fish production as a viable option to replace the golden leaf," writes Sherry Youngquist of the Winston-Salem Journal. (Read more)

Koi are colorful carp. They can grow to be about 3 feet and fetch thousands of dollars. Ron Stroud also sells some goldfish — comets and fan-tails — but the demand is highest for koi, he told Youngquist. Stroud, the owner of Tar Heel Fish Farm near Walnut Cove, N.C. told her, "You go out to Japan, and they're everywhere. They'll come out of the water and into your hands." The most Stroud has paid for a fish is $800, which he said, "was about six to eight inches about four years ago. Now, it's in excess of 25 inches and valued at $4,000 to $5,000." Blog Note: Talk about goldfish!

Like Stroud, more than 250 people in North Carolina have been issued licenses for pond and tank aquaculture, notes Youngquist. The majority of aquaculture in the state is in fish raised to be eaten, such as catfish, trout and hybrid striped bass. The majority of aquculture in the state is in fish raised to be eaten, such as catfish, trout and hybrid striped bass, she writes.

Survey shows Public support for reporters keeping news sources confidential

A new survey brings encouraging news for journalists in the midst of a seemingly endless string of stinging criticism, and debate over confidential sources following the jailing of a New York Times reporter.

"In the latest State of the First Amendment survey's findings about unnamed sources, the 2005 edition of the poll found 69 percent of Americans agree that "Journalists should be allowed to keep a news source confidential." The survey was commissioned by the First Amendment Center in collaboration with American Journalism Review (AJR). (Read more)

"This broad support for a reporter's right to shield sources comes as protection of anonymous sources is under assault in the federal courts and as abuse of unnamed sources has fomented myriad news scandals," notes Rachel Smolkin, an AJR senior writer.

Rural Calendar: Entrepreneur conference set for July 17-19, Charleston, W.Va.

As rural America endures economic restructuring and transitions from traditional to knowledge-based economies, innovation is key. The Incubating Innovation and Entrepreneurship conference will examine business incubation, technology commercialization and entrepreneurial support initiatives.

The conference Web site provides an agenda, accommodation information, online registration and more. For more information, call Jeri Adkins of Charleston Area Alliance at (304) 340-4253
or by email jadkins@charlestonareaalliance.org.

This Day In History - 1971 Nixon announces a visit to China

President Richard Nixon stunned the western world when he announced he planned to visit Beijing, China, before May 1972. The news was issued simultaneously in Beijing and the United States, according to The History Channel. (Read more)

Nixon reported he was visiting in order "to seek normalization of relations between the two countries and to exchange views on questions of concern to both sides." Privately, Nixon hoped that achieving a rapprochement with China, North Vietnam's major benefactor, would convince Hanoi to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the Vietnam War.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Rural banks spread out to compensate for fewer customers, limits on loans

With declining populations, Iowa's rural banks are turning to larger city institutions in order to survive. Blencoe State Bank manager Charles Hitchman "realized three years ago that if the bank was to prosper, he had to branch out, in this case eight miles away in Onawa," writes S.P. Dinnen of the Des Moines Register. (Read more) Since 1940, Blencoe's population has declined to 220.

Dinnen notes Blencoe's aging population makes for "loyal customers and a good source of deposits," but he writes, "As they die ... the money they have on deposit increasingly is leaving rural areas for banks in [cities] where their children now live."

Rural banks depend on making farming loans. "If farming turns down, banks will falter, too," writes Dinnen. And, he notes economic development tends to cluster where people cluster, favoring cities over small communities, "far off the interstate or a rail line [which] may have a hard time attracting a factory and lack the financial clout to campaign for a new employer."

Rural bankers also face finding "someone willing to step into their shoes [when they retire] in a community of 1,000 or even 500 people," Dinnen writes. "[Hitchman's] county is one of the most elderly in Iowa, and his bank has $21 million in assets," so laws prohibit him from loaning more than $306,000 to any one borrower. He said, "Most [customers] need $500,000 or more to plant their crops or rent farmland."

Hitchman turned to an Onawa branch to get access to more home mortgage loans and diversify from the agricultural loans. "Diversity ... has been a key driver behind bank mergers and branch openings the past few years," writes Dinnen. "The Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas have been the primary beneficiaries as banks from rural areas have sought to establish a foothold in growing markets."

Mining deaths spur calls for drug education and testing by state, industry

A U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) official is calling on government inspectors and industry groups to curb coal-mining deaths, while the head of that organization told a Louisville newspaper reporter there is a need for increased awareness of the dangers of miners using drugs.

Ray McKinney, head of the agency’s coal division, told Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. a “serious effort” is needed “to get ahead of this issue.” (Read more) While MSHA Director David Dye told Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal, "federal authorities will try to educate miners about the dangers of using drugs at work but said the industry and states should be responsible for drug testing." (Read more)

Dye told Maimon he will not ask Congress to pass a law permitting his agency to test for drugs, and said states and the industry should handle tests. Officials have said two Kentucky miners who were killed in underground coal mine accidents in the past two years tested positive for drugs, but it isn't clear whether drug impairment led to either accident, writes Maimon.

As of the end of May, five coal-mining fatalities had been reported nationwide; five more have been reported since then. Alabama leads the nation this year with three coal-mining deaths, writes Ward. MSHA records show West Virginia and Kentucky have each reported two fatalities.

There have been 10 fatalities so far this year compared to 14 through the same period last year, but, McKinney told Ward, “The types of accidents that have caused these fatalities were surely preventable.” The July 4 issue of the industry newsletter Mine Safety and Health News first revealed McKinney's concerns. MSHA has announced two mine safety and awareness campaigns to address the problem.

Bush to visit North Carolina textile plant in bid to salvage trade treaty

President Bush will visit a textile plant in Belmont, N.C., tomorrow to shore up what the Charlotte Observer described as "thin Southern support for a controversial new trade pact."

The president's schedule calls from him to visit the plant and then tout the Central America Free Trade Agreement in a speech at Gaston College. "In coming to Rep. Sue Myrick's 9th Congressional District, the president is coming to the only district in the Carolinas whose representative publicly supports the pact," write Jim Morrill and Tim Funk. (Read more)

The Senate has approved the trade agreement; a House vote could come as soon as next week. A poll of 39 House members from the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama released Tuesday by Women's Wear Daily showed Charlotte Republican Myrick is one of only two members who support the agreement.

The newspaper reports Bush's advisers "had hoped to send the president to Rep. Howard Coble's district to turn the Greensboro Republican into a key 'yes' vote on CAFTA." The 11-term congressman apparently is leaning against the treaty. Coble was among 14 members recently invited to the White House for a meeting with Bush. Coble got emotional talking about his late mother, a former textile worker. "He said, 'Every time I go into a textile mill, I see the face of my mother'," Coble spokesman Ed McDonald told the reporters. "So it's hard for him to vote for something he thinks could cost textile workers their jobs."

Critics say CAFTA will cost the state jobs by making it easier for U.S. companies to relocate operations in Central America, where labor costs are much cheaper, but Bush says the treaty will bring jobs to America.

Ohio cigarette tax increase has more smokers saying they will quit; all talk?

Ohio's 70-cent cigarette tax increase may inspire smokers to visit Kentucky and other states in search of cheaper smokes, but it also appears to be increasing the number of people thinking about quitting.

Shawn Chapman, who works with the Freshstart smoking cessation program in Cincinnati, told Joshua Rinaldi of the The Cincinnati Post, "We do have more people talking about quitting. I think this is common when the price goes up." (Read more) While the jury is out on whether talk will turn into action, cigarette price hikes usually signal increased enrollment in the cessation programs, notes Chapman.

A pack of cigarettes in Ohio costs nearly $5. Chapman told the newspaper even diehard smokers are reluctant to spend more money. "Those who are very highly addicted, stay addicted. It's like the price of gasoline. It keeps going up, but we still need it."

Becky Catlett, community liaison for St. Luke Hospitals, which oversees a 13-week smoking cessation program in Northern Kentucky, told Rinaldi that smoking causes countless health concerns, but "The more they have to pay out of pocket for the habit, the more they consider stopping." Still, Kathy Rack, a Kentucky Cancer Programs control specialist, said, "I can remember hearing people say 'when packs go up to a dollar, that's it,' and we're way past that."

"Although some people likely will quit the habit instead of spending an extra 70 cents a pack, the real benefit of the tax, they say, is not to cause people to quit, but to prevent people from starting, especially young people," Rinaldi writes. Rack told him, "Any time the price of cigarettes go up, fewer people start smoking." Catlett lamented Kentucky's much lower tax on cigarettes, fearing many Ohioans will merely buy across the river. She claims the deterrent of higher taxes has been proven in New York where smokers pay $1.50 in city tax on top of the $1.50 state tax.

Men planned rocket escape for methamphetamine in Missouri, police say

"Two Kentucky men face federal drug-trafficking charges after the Missouri State Highway Patrol allegedly found methamphetamine and cash in their vehicle along with a rocket system in the car’s trunk. Authorities suspect the rocket was intended to jettison the drugs in the event it was detected by police," reports Joe Meyer of the Columbia Daily Tribune. (Read more)

Michael Ray Sullivan of Louisville and Joseph C. Seidl of Sebree were arrested June 24 in Kingdom City, Mo. In the vehicle’s trunk, officers found a "hobby-style" rocket, 3 to 4 feet tall and 3 to 4 inches in diameter, said Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Kansas City. Troopers also found a system of ropes and pulleys that lifted the rocket to an upright position when the trunk was lifted. The rocket could be launched using the car’s cigarette lighter, Ledford told Meyer.

The rocket contained more than two pounds of methamphetamine, worth about $145,000. The rocket was ready to go, Ledford said, but he did not know if the trunk could be opened from inside the car. "During a search of the 1990 Ford Thunderbird, officers discovered $13,534 in cash," writes Meyer.

Ohio editorial blasts USDA for dragging feet on mad-cow disease detection

An editorial in yesterday's Columbus Dispatch excoriates U. S. Department of Agriculture officials for dragging their feet on the testing of, detecting of and alerting of the nation to another case of mad-cow disease this time involving an infected animal in Texas. (Read more; requires subscription)

The newspapers editors fired a sarcastic blast at USDA experts, saying they "pinned down where the nation's second case ... is believed to have originated, a mere eight months after the animal died. Hey, what's the rush." The Dispatch says while the danger to humans is limited, a "lot of havoc could have met the beef industry and consumers in that time." And, the editors charge several indicators months ago should have "prodded officials to quickly investigate further."

They criticize the agency's focusing of testing on so-called "downer cattle," saying, "Testing in other countries has found mad-cow disease in seemingly healthy animals.". The paper also questions the claim that the animal in question was infected from eating food mixed with animal parts from cattle. Editors wrote the practice "was outlawed not long after the stricken animal was born." And, the editorial concludes, Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns "continues to tell the world that U.S. beef 'is the safest ...in the world.'" The newspaper says that claim is hard to sustain without constant testing.

Beetles invade America: Destructive Asian insects discovered in California

Federal and state agriculture officials have issued a warning after the discovery of destructive Asian beetles outside a Sacramento warehouse at the former McClellan Air Force Base, and they have dispatched federal firefighters to nearby forests to search trees for traces of the insects. Officials believe the beetles arrived last month from China in wooden crates along with a tiles shipment, writes Kathleen Hennessey of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The beetle is known for destroying hardwood trees such as maple, birch, elm, poplar and sycamore. But, Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, told AP that oak trees, one of California's best-known hardwoods, are at low risk.

Matt Mathes, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, told the wire service this is the first time the beetles have been found outdoors in the state. The beetles have plagued forests and parks in New York, New Jersey and Illinois since they were discovered in the U.S. in 1996. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates state and federal agencies have spent $168 million on eradication efforts.

The beetles kill trees because they tunnel into them and lay eggs in their bark. The larvae then consume the trees from the inside before emerging as adults. Insecticide is useless once the eggs hatch.

Ohio newspaper reports noted editor recovering from brain-tumor surgery

The editor of the Springfield News-Sun, Karla Garrett Harshaw, underwent surgery Monday for removal of a brain tumor, the newspaper announced on page one of its local/state section yesterday. (Read more; free registration required) The newspaper reported the surgery was successful on Harshaw and “She is progressing as expected… recuperating from her surgery at a Dayton hospital.”

Harshaw, who recently completed a one-year stint as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, became editor of the Springfield newspaper in 1990. Earlier, she worked as a reporter, assistant city editor, features editor and assistant business manager at the Dayton Daily News, also owned by Cox Enterprises. The newspaper invites well-wishers to send an e-mail message to her through a link on the story site. Click here for the "guest book."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Statistics show farming hazardous to health, especially for young workers

National statistics show the agriculture industry is more deadly for young workers than any other industry in the country, a growing problem that a farm safety course at a rural Ohio high school is trying to address.

National Consumers League figures show 42 percent of all work-related deaths of young people between 1992 and 2000 occurred in the agriculture industry, making it the number one most dangerous industry for young workers. Bureau of Labor Statistics found the risk of fatal injury for agricultural workers ages 15 to 17 is four times that of young people working in any other industry, reports Cassie Shaner of The Marietta Times. (Read more)

David Rankin, 15, of Waterford, took the safety course taught by Allen Clark at Warren High School, and told Shaner, “It’s all kind of dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. I thought I went in there knowing everything I could know. I came out knowing a lot more information than I ever would have imagined.” For farm safety tips, and statistics, click here.

Machinery, electrical currents, bodies of water, grain storage facilities and livestock are all potential farm dangers. Crop production specifically accounts for 52 percent of all work-related fatalities on farms. A16-year-old boy working on the family-owned farm east of Columbus died recently while transferring soybeans from one grain bin to another. It's believed he fell in and was trapped by the weight of the beans.

'Silver lining' to base closings; most money, job losses recouped, study says

A new Heritage Foundation study indicates losing a military base does not spell economic disaster.

"Communities where bases close regain about 90 percent of the jobs lost within six years," according to a news release from the foundation. "And, [it continues] although per capita incomes drop slightly at first, they quickly recoup that loss and often experience strong growth thereafter." The study was led by Jack Spencer, a senior defense policy analyst at Heritage and an expert, the foundation says, on the Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) process. (Read more)

The foundation study calls for "quick action by local leaders to transform the abandoned facilities into engines of economic growth," and says, "Communities have converted bases to a variety of new and profitable uses." The news release lists several examples noted in the study.

The foundation study says Congress can help in two ways; "first by holding hearings on how communities have overcome base closures. Also, lawmakers should encourage communication between communities that have gone through the process and those that face it now," the news release states. Spencer says, “BRAC is about sorting out which facilities we need and which can be converted to other uses. It’s up to community leaders ... to move quickly to deal with the fallout.”

Trash for cash: Rural areas get more city waste, smells, long-term waste issues

Fifty thousand tons of trash are transported daily from New York to landfills and incinerators in rural towns and poor cities in New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina.

"Experts say these ... long hauls [often up to 650 miles by rail and highway] have become the norm ... as [local] landfills fill up and close," writes David B. Caruso of The Associated Press. (Read more) The Congressional Research Service reports that in 2003, about a fourth of the all municipal trash crossed state lines. During that year, 10 states received at least 1 million tons of trash, up from only two states in 2001.

New York City wants to extend their range by using barges to locations up and down the East Coast, writes Caruso. The plan is already fueling debate. Many states are raising concerns about the smell and environment dangers. But, AP notes, "more urban trash is winding up in rural communities where political resistance is likely to be minimal."

Fox Township, Pa., supervisor Michael Keller - 130 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. - sees 1,300 tons of garbage arrived daily from New York and he worries the landfill’s protective liners won’t hold up, which would endanger the environment. “My concern is ... years from now, they’ll be saying, 'What were those guys thinking, allowing something like this to be built in this community?'" Keller told AP.

Virginia, which received 7.8 million tons of garbage last year from New York, up 67 percent from 1997, is also watching the plan. "The issue has been contentious since laws passed by legislators in the late 1990s seeking to slow the importation of trash were struck down by the courts," writes Caruso.

'Fast track' development law delay extended; enviros want measure killed

A delay on a law allowing speedy expedition of development projects in New Jersey has been extended by that state's acting governor until conflicts with federal restrictions can be worked out.

"The starting date for a now year-old law that would allow quicker approval of some construction projects has been delayed again, drawing cheers from environmental groups who would just as soon see the measure killed," writes Jeff Linkous of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Former Gov. James E. McGreevey first put a moratorium on the law, dubbed the "fast track" law by critics and "smart growth" law by its supporters, Linkous writes. Some of the laws provisions have drawn strong opposition, including the automatic approval of permits if state environmental regulators fail to act within 45 days and the limiting of public comment. Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, a co-sponsor of the law, had named an overseer to handle the permits but left the door open to revising the statute.

Jeff Tittel of the state's chapter of the Sierra Club, told AP, "Governor Codey ... stood up to special interests and did what's right for the people of New Jersey." Tittel's organization and others threatened to sue if the law took effect, claiming it posed an environmental danger. Doug Fenichel, a spokesman for the state's largest home builder, said his company hoped the law would take effect, and he disputed claims it would compromise environmental standards.

Corn crops, gravel roads, rural hazard at highway and railway intersections

The Iowa Department of Transportation has updated its Driver's License Manual to include a section on driving rural roadways, with a warning that might be described as beware of "corn that's as high as an elephant's eye," to borrow a line from a Broadway musical.

"The manual now includes details on crop-obstructed views at rural highway intersections and railroad crossings as well as how loose gravel can affect stopping distances and the driver's ability to control a vehicle," reports the Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil. (Read more) The information was added based on suggestions from seventh-graders who are raising awareness in response to deadly crashes on rural roads.

While there were no fatalities on farm/residential drives or rural intersections because of obstructed views by trees or crops, 17 major injuries and 25 minor injuries were reported in a total of 63 crashes with property damage totaling $594,236, the newspaper writes. The state usually has three fatalities each year because of sight obstructions on rural gravel intersections and driveways.

Most rural intersections and rail crossings in Iowa do not have stop or yield signs, reports the newspaper. DOT safety engineer Tom Welch, told them, "These intersections should always be approached with caution especially when the view is obstructed by crops or trees."

Major white water attraction access caught in eminent domain dispute

An eminent domain dispute in West Virginia, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a city’s right to take private property for public good, has one of the region’s most popular white water rafting, boating and tourist attractions caught in the middle, reports West Virginia Public Radio. (Listen)

For years, private boaters and paddlers were welcomed, but now the owners of a private mid-river access point on the Gauley River want the government to buy their property. The report by Anna Sales follows the breakdown of negotiations between the National Park Service and the landowners. Sales says "whitewater enthusiasts are worried they’ll be up a creek."

Charlie Walbridge, who has boated the Gauley for nearly 35 years, told Sales he heard the access points would be closed to all private users the entire Gauley Season, which runs for six weekends beginning September 9. He told her losing those access points leaves private boaters with few options. "If the private access points are closed, [the] only real option [is] to boat down [the] entire 26 miles of the river, which is really too much for [many] people."

The Gauley River National Recreation Area was established in 1988. There are no official estimates of how many private boaters come to the Gauley each year, but the W.Va. Division of Tourism says more than 43,000 people rode the Gauley last fall and spent nearly $11 million in the state.

Massey began coal silo construction near school without permit, before approval

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection records show Massey Energy was allowed to start building a coal silo near an elementary school more than two months before permits got approved.

DEP records show "Subsidiary Goals Coal Co. began work on the silo in early April [which will be] 260 feet from Marsh Fork Elementary School at Sundial," writes Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette. (Read more) Environmental Protection Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer told Ward the state did not approve the final permits for the Raleigh County project until June 30. But, by then, the company had completed the foundation for the 10,000-ton silo.

DEP officials said they did not object because Massey planned only to build the foundation, and not the 168-foot-tall silo itself. Keith Porterfield, an assistant director at the DEP Division of Mining and Reclamation’s Oak Hill office, told Ward, “This was just pouring concrete on the ground.” But, some residents "are upset about the silo, and worried about Massey’s continued operation of a preparation plant and huge slurry impoundment so close to an elementary school," Ward writes.

Ivory-billed woodpecker's rediscovery spurs song, gives Arkansas residents a voice

An ivory-billed woodpecker is bringing hope to residents of Brinkley, Ark., and it inspired a song called "The Lord God Bird" by Sufjan Stevens, reports National Public Radio. (Read more)

Once thought extinct, the ivory-billed woodpecker was recently rediscovered near the small Arkansas farming community, which is being hit with a recession and population drop. "Independent radio producers Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister were curious about how Stevens writes his songs, which, much like their own work, are filled with stories of places and people," NPR reports. "So, they introduced Stevens to the Arkansas town of Brinkley.”

Collison and Meister interviewed Brinkley residents and gave their statements to Stevens. The song’s title refers to the ivory-billed woodpecker being known as the "lord god" or "great god" bird due to its beautiful features. “The Lord God Bird” succeeds in painting a lyrical and musical portrait of Brinkley. “It’s the great god bird down in Arkansas and the hunters beware,” Stevens sings.

Stevens needed a song about Arkansas and the two producers wanted a portrait of Brinkley. So the collaboration killed two birds with one stone. Links to two versions of the song, one with residents’ statements intertwined and one with only Stevens are available at this site.

Mayor seeks open records, meetings workshop; police records request denied

Farmington, N.M., Mayor Bill Standley may require his city officials to attend an open records, open meetings workshop after a local newspaper was denied police records which are supposed to be public.

"The issue came to light after a request by The Daily Times. The state Inspection of Public Records Act requires blotters, radio logs, dispatch logs, desk logs and other records of incidents reported to law enforcement be open to the public," reports The Associated Press. Standley thought there had been a misunderstanding and said he would ask the attorney general's office to hold a public records workshop.

Farmington police told the Times they no longer keep those records. Police Chief Mike Burridge said his department has no need for blotters anymore because of administrative changes and he'd have to gauge the public's need before making them available. Records requests were referred to central dispatch in Aztec, where the supervisor said they don't "just allow the public to come in and look" for security reasons.

Former Reuters reporter named AP correspondent for Missouri, Arkansas areas

A former chief correspondent for Reuters in Vienna, Austria, Marcus Kabel, has been named The Associated Press' correspondent for southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas.

Kabel, who worked for Reuters the past 15 years, will cover Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, based in Arkansas, AP reports. AP bureau chiefs Randy Picht in Kansas City, Mo., and Robert Shaw in Little Rock, Ark., announced the appointment. Kabel is from St. Louis and Chicago and graduated from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., where he also worked for WKBV radio. He also has worked for the City News Bureau in Chicago and the German wire service DPA.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Only 61 congressional districts are rural, Congressional Quarterly reports

"A 27-page special report by Congressional Quarterly that examined voting and demographic data for all 435 House districts concluded that for the first time, most districts -- 220 -- have a majority of their populations in the suburbs," writes Mike Allen of The Washington Post. "The study found ... 90 districts are urban, 61 are rural and 64 are mixed. In a similar survey in 1997, many more districts were mixed."

CQ's report said that the new suburban majority means that unless Democrats "figure out a strategy for breaching the outer suburban fortress, it will be a struggle to achieve the 15-seat gain they would need to capture control in the 2006 midterm election. And their prospects look bleak for a return to the kind of dominance they enjoyed during a House reign that ran from 1954 to 1994."

CQ.com is a subscriber-only service, but offers free trials to qualified subscribers. For details, click here.

Calls growing to subsidize 'green farming,' reports National Public Radio

The federal government is expected to dole out $24 billion in farm subsidies this year. Critics, including some farmers, say taxpayers should not have to pay for corn or cotton surpluses. Instead, they say the funds should go toward projects that benefit the public, such as cleaner water and a healthier environment.

In a National Public Radio's Morning Edition story yesterday reporter Dan Charles visited a farm in a watershed that is one of 220 areas eligible for funding from the USDA's Conservation Security Program (CSP). The program pays farmers who help the environment. "Farmers can qualify for payments if they can show they've done a good job protecting the environment in the past. They must also show they're preventing manure or other fertilizer from running into streams, and they're conserving soil and minimizing pesticide use," NPR reports. (Read more)

Farmers who have qualified "can get extra points and higher payments for [such things as providing] habitat for wildlife or [protecting] streams and groundwater ... cutting back on fertilizer or pesticides, converting crop land into permanent pasture, or building windmills to supply the farm with energy," reports Charles. The CSP was established in 2002, and will distribute about $240 million to farmers this year -- 1 percent of the total subsidies, Charles notes.

Also, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking public comments on the CSP until July 25th. Last year’s public comments prompted the "NRCS to make several important program modifications," the NRCS announced. To comment, write a brief letter to NRCS on its Revised Interim Final Rule, which is the mechanism it uses to guide the 2005 CSP sign-up process. You can find out more on the Center’s Web site. Click here for a map of regions currently eligible for CSP funds.

'Dennis' brings menace to Midwest farms; soybean rust in the wind and rain

The big winds blowing into Winnetka, remnants of Hurricane Dennis, bring with them much-needed rain, but also an increased chance of damage to soybean crops, agriculture experts warn.

"The storm clouds also could be carrying spores of a potentially devastating soybean fungus," writes Rick Callahan of The Associated Press. (Read more) Purdue University plant pathologist Greg Shaner told Callahan when Dennis made landfall, it picked up spores from southwestern Alabama and parts of Florida, where fields are infected with soybean rust, and carried them to fields in Midwestern states where much of the nation's soybean crop is grown. For USDA soybean rust facts, click here.

Soybean rust has not caused any significant damage in the United States since it arrived last year, but it cost farmers in Brazil about $1 billion last year in crop losses and fungicide treatments, AP reports. Matt Royer, with the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, said soybean rust spores could enter the Deep South, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and parts of Missouri and Illinois this week.

N. West Virginia mining may come back; labor, environmental issues linger

"After nearly a decade and a half, coal mining in north-central West Virginia looks to be on the rise. There are plans to open a new mine and reopen another that’s been idle for years. Both announcements were made in recent weeks. However, these mining operations will likely have to contend with lingering labor and environmental issues," reports Emily Hughes for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. (Listen)

International Coal Group hopes to open a mine next year in Taylor County, near Grafton. Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Hughes the mine should employ about 300 people. "And it’s good to see mining take place again in Taylor County," Hamilton said. "It’s been several years since we had active operations in that area."

In Marion County, a company from Missouri bought a mine that was shut down years ago. "This outfit is buying the old Martika mine . . . jobs should belong to the miners that worked there," Rich Eddy, with the United Mine Workers of America, told Hughes. Eddy expects the Missouri company to merge with International Coal Group, which bought most of Horizon Natural Resources mining operations after a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that Horizon could cancel health insurance policies for 3,800 union miners.

Twelve to 15 years ago, coal mining started slowing down in north-central West Virginia. "Clean Air Act requirements made much of the region's high-sulfur coal impractical to mine," reports Hughes.

Community approves annexation that could allow liquor right on a 'dry' lake

The Burnside, Ky., City Council has approved an annexation that could bring controversial business to the community that depends heavily on the tourist and recreation mecca, sprawling Lake Cumberland.

"The council annexed a corridor of land about 11 miles long in order to take in Lee's Ford Marina Resort. The marina is only 2 or 3 miles from Burnside as the crow flies, but about 11 miles by way of the lake," writes Bill Estep for the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) The city annexed a strip of land along one side of the water to cover that distance. The land is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the 101-mile-long lake.

There are some concerns, however, that the move to expand could bring alcohol sales to an area of the county that did not have a chance to vote last year on legalizing liquor sales. Councilman Don Coggins, principal at a Christian school and the lone dissenter, said "This is a much greater issue than the six of us."

Annexing the marina into the city of 635 people would boost the tax base, say other council members, providing additional money for critical city services. Mayor Dean Lovins estimates the annexation could produce $70,000 a year, an increase of 20 percent to 30 percent in the city's tax base, writes Estep.

Kansas Press Association's former exec charged with stealing tens of thousands

Jeff Burkhead, who once held famed rural editor William Allen White's old job at the Emporia Gazette, has been charged with theft after being forced to resign as executive director of the Kansas Press Association and being sued by the KPA for recovery of missing funds, reports The Associated Press.

The charge is obtaining or exerting unauthorized control of property valued at more than $25,000. Burkhead resigned in September 2003. "After an audit, the organization discovered a loss of $119,500," AP reported. "A lawsuit seeking recovery of money was settled this year." Burkhead agreed to pay $56,000, in addition to a $25,000 insurance settlement and other payments he made earlier.

"Criminal charges were an unfortunate possible outcome when this began," John Montgomery, past KPA president and editor and publisher of the Hays Daily News, told AP. He said the association had no agenda "other than to be straightforward about what we know and cooperate with investigators."

Burkhead had been editor and publisher of the Southwest Daily Times, circulation 4,250, in Liberal, Kan. The Gazette is still owned by the White family and has a circulation of 7,943.

Tennessee newspaper wins merit award for historic preservation efforts

The Tennessee Historical Commission has recognized Pulaski Publishing for its preservation of the state’s cultural heritage with a Certificate of Merit Award.

"We are interested in recognizing activities in the areas of publication, commemoration, education and any other efforts to preserve our history and heritage," said Herbert L. Harper, commission executive director. "[Harper] presented the award as part of the National Trust’s 'Communities at a Crossroads' 2005 preservation month," writes Claudia Johnson of the Pulaski Citizen, which has no Web site.

“Pulaski Publishing has owned and operated the Pulaski Citizen, one of the 10 oldest newspapers remaining in operation in Tennessee, and the Giles Free Press for more than 20 years,” writes Johnson. A panel of authorities from across the state reviewed the nomination. She notes that, "Company President Hershel Lake and newspaper publisher Steve Lake have consistently supported historic preservation."

The nomination focused on the 2004 Citizen sesquicentennial and A Page from the Past, Johnson's compilation of news from each week of the paper's historyt, but also noted the company continues to print several local books about historically significant figures and occurrences, such as the early history of Giles County, two histories of Pulaski and the history of the Ku Klux Klan, which began in the town.

Kentucky institute to offer lessons in building communities, organizations

The Brushy Fork Institute will offer "real solutions to the challenges facing your community or organization" at its new regional program Sept. 14-17 at Berea College. The institute says attendees will "return home with cutting edge skills, applicable resources and expanded connections."

Participants choose from concurrent tracks that provide 10 hours of intensive training from regional and national experts focused on one topic. Tracks include community economic development, nonprofit management, financial Management for nonprofit groups, proposal writing, fund-raising beyond grants, Web site development, leadership development, marketing and running for public office.

Plenary sessions for all participants will explore regional leadership and community development issues. Keynote speaker Dr. Vaughn Grisham, director of the McLean Institute for Community Development, will discuss economic development in Tupelo, Miss., and applying that model elsewhere. The program also aims to help participants build connections and share ideas and strategies.

The registration fee is $400 until Aug. 14. Late registration fee is $425. For more information, visit Brushy Fork's Web site, e-mail jane_higgins@berea.edu or call 859-985-3858.

Kentucky Waterways Alliance prepares for annual meeting, invites public

The Kentucky Waterways Alliance will hold its annual meeting July 16 in Horse Cave, Ky., at the historic Thomas House and the public is invited.

"The day-long [event] offers canoe cleanup trips on the Green River in the morning, [and] a cave tour at the American Cave Conservation Association's Hidden River Cave in the afternoon," prior to the annual meeting and dinner beginning at 5:30 pm (CST). For directions, accommodations, and registration information (deadline tomorrow) click here, or call 270-932-2884.

Rural Calendar: Sweet Corn Festival offers ears to eat, music for the ears

Evans Orchard, near Georgetown, Ky., is conducting its "Sweet Corn Festival" from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. July 23 at its orchard and cider mill, 180 Old Stone Road, in Scott County.

"We'd like to invite you for a full day of family fun out on the farm. We will have craft booths, mouth watering food, kids play area, and much more all day long! Food that will be featured includes grilled corn on the cob, cheeseburgers, rib-eye sandwiches, fried apple and peach pies, fresh vegetables, homegrown peaches, fresh squeezed lemonade and more," said organizer Jenny Evans.

The Dixon Line will provide live music from noon to 2 p.m. Call Evans at 502-863-2255 for more details.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Rural Kentucky newspaper profiles ease and speed of prescription drug abuse

The ability to abuse prescription drugs requires only a mouse-click, according to a reporter for a rural Kentucky newspaper, underscoring for local readers the dimensions of a regional problem.

Tim Weldon of the Winchester Sun, as part of a series the newspaper did recently on illegal trafficking of painkillers and access to painkillers through online pharmacies, was able to acquire a sizeable amount of drugs quickly without a prescription and without question. (Read more)

"In an effort to determine how easily narcotics can be purchased online, The Winchester Sun authorized me to do exactly what a number of drug dealers do on a regular basis - buy prescription drugs online that would be delivered right to my door," writes Weldon.

"All it took was a simple Internet search to find a list of cyber-pharmacies offering pain medication. Twenty-four hours after speaking on the phone with the pharmacy's 'doctor,' 90 Lortabs -- a potent prescription painkiller that is commonly trafficked illegally -- were delivered to my home in a nondescript package," notes Weldon. In an editorial last week, the newspaper called for a quicker national-to-local remedy of this problem, which is especially prevalent in Eastern Kentucky. (Read more)

"Money, time and personnel need to be set aside for enforcement of this law. Let law enforcement agents go fishing on the Internet to see who will ship drugs to Kentucky illegally and once a violator is found, throw the book at them," the newspaper opines. "The proposed Ryan Haight Internet Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which places strict controls on Internet pharmacy sites, also needs to be passed. Winchester residents have died and will continue to die from them."

Internet access via power lines easier said than done, reporter notes

Internet access via power lines instead of cable or phone lines is touted as a cost-efficient means of brining the Web to rural areas, but deployment difficulties appear to be slowing down the dream. "Power-line broadband has been talked up for years as a cheap, widely available alternative to cable-modem and digital subscriber line (DSL) access, but it has been slow to make the move from laboratories to homes," writes Maria L. Henriques of The Washington Post. (Read more)

In the Washington, D.C., area, Manassas became the first to start offering power-line access, launching the service in January 2004. Henriques, a Manassas resident, writes, "I ... was told it would arrive in my neighborhood that May and put my name on a waiting list." But, she notes, "the May deadline was pushed back to July, then October, then January of this year. I finally got hooked up in February."

This happened for two reasons, writes Henriques, because the Manassas Department of Utilities "had to lay in a fiber-optics network to bring Internet data to and from its power lines, then install special relay units on its network of power lines. The department had to build in this capability one street at a time and is still not done." Utilities Director John D. Hewa told her 10,000 of the city's 12,500 households can get the service and that the remainder should over the next two months.

There were other complications, she notes. "The city also changed Internet providers when its contract with its first operator, Prospect Street Broadband, ended. A new franchisee took over in July 2004: Chantilly (Va.)-based Communication Technologies Inc., or ComTek for short."

The power-line service is slower than that available by cable or DSL, but has proved reliable, with no outages, and "its cost savings are substantial, and its coverage advantages -- once a utility has prepared its system for this technology -- are even more so," she writes. "DSL is limited to areas near telephone-network hubs, and cable service doesn't reach some rural areas, but everybody has electricity."

Fuel costs vexing rural school transportation officials; pondering ways to save

Record crude oil prices, which are driving up expenses for rural school systems nationwide, have Arkansas school officials straining to conserve fuel as they put together a facilities and transportation plan.

Division of Public School Facilities and Transportation Director Mike Simmons told James Jefferson of The Associated Press, "We have not really discussed alternatives, but it's something that we may have to pretty quick." (Read more) Transportation officials say buses could spend less time idling and reduce transporting students to special activities this fall to counter rising fuel prices. Facilities division spokeswoman Julie Johnson Thompson said rising gas prices will "definitely have an adverse effect on budgets. That comes out of maintenance and operation expenditures."

Tennessee school officials say raising taxes to offset rising expenses will be a hard sell. Critics doubt funds are wisely spent, while backers say more teachers are needed, reports Bill Poovey of AP. (Read more)

Nolan Elementary School in Signal Mountain, near Chattanooga, is finding that "cost-cutting means that more students are competing for the teacher's time and that the principal runs the floor buffer. More than two-thirds of Tennessee's 95 counties have raised property taxes since 2003, [but] the Hamilton County Commission voted not to last year, which forced Principal Ken Barker to eliminate funding for a part-time maintenance worker," notes Poovey.

Reducing Nolan Elementary's budget by $110,000 also meant eliminating salaries for full-time and part-time teachers, a part-time guidance counselor and part-time physical education instructor. Fewer teachers meant increased class sizes. Barker jokingly told AP, "I'm probably the highest-paid floor buffer in the state of Tennessee." Tennessee schools have no separate taxing authority, so their budgets depend on local governments. Successful tax increases are usually tied to school improvements.

Few wealthy farmers owe estate taxes, report says; repeal would shift burden

A Congressional Budget Office report shows the number of farms owing an estate tax dropped by 82 percent since 2000, to 300 farms, as Congress more than doubled the threshold at which the tax applies.

"All but 27 farmers left enough liquid assets to pay taxes owed, the budget office found, although it hinted that the actual number might be zero. The study examined how much in cash, stocks and bonds these farmers left to pay estate taxes, but the report noted that no data existed on how much life insurance the farmers had put into trusts," writes David Cay Johnston of The New York Times. (Read more)

The Senate is set to vote on a repeal of the estate tax, which raised an estimated $23.4 billion last year. Repeal would shift part of the burden of taxes off the richest 1 percent of Americans onto the general population. The loss could be made up in three ways: higher income taxes; reduced government services; or more borrowing. President Bush, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association contend the estate tax is destroying family farms, but have not cited a case of a farm lost to estate taxes. Bush has said he talked to such farmers.

The small number of farms subject to the tax has fallen since the president "persuaded Congress to raise the threshold to $1.5 million, double that for married couples, for last year and this year," writes Johnson. Currently, families with children can shield several million more dollars from the tax.

Banks, lenders tempting growers with up-front, lump-sum buyout payments

Banks and other agricultural lending institutions across tobacco country are enticing growers and quota holders with offers of buyout payments all at once.

"The lump sums are less than what they would have gotten if they opted for annual payments. The actual lump sum will be determined by the discount rate set by each financial institution. In return, recipients assign their total annual payments to the financial institutions. Those lenders recoup their payments, plus some, through those installments," writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. (Read more) Under the offer, buyout recipients would end up with about 75 percent to slightly more than 80 percent of their total buyout amounts. Competition among financial institutions could boost benefit somewhat.

Paul Hornback, a Kentucky tobacco farmer who stands to receive several hundred thousand dollars if he takes the lump sum told Schreiner, "It's by far the biggest decision I've ever made, because it's more money at one time than I've ever dealt with." Some financial institutions have held back on the offers until the U.S. Farm Service Agency approves the multitude of buyout contracts and issues final rules for some forms of the lump-sum deals.

Tobacco farmers’ use of the money is a concern of the Cooperative Extension Service. For University of Kentucky journalism student Lindsey O’Donnell’s story about the service and its concerns, click here.

Mountaintop removal prompts miners protest, call for end to practice

About 200 protesters marched last week on coal giant Massey Energy Co.'s headquarters in Richmond, Va., demanding an end to mountaintop removal strip mining, continuing a string of similar protests.

"Led by the Mountain Justice Summer campaign, it marked the latest showdown between the nation's fourth-largest coal mining company and environmentalists. Mountain Justice Summer is described by its participants as a non-violent campaign ... for the abolition of mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia," writes Dionne Walker of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Mountaintop-removal mining involves blasting rock and dirt from mountaintops to expose seams of coal underneath. The leftover dirt is then deposited in nearby valleys. Katharine Kenny, vice president of investor relations, told AP about 75 percent of Massey's coal mines are in West Virginia, and she estimated 67 percent of the nation's coal is produced through surface mining methods, which the company contend are cleaner and safer than ever.

Environmentalists, however, claim the techniques have destroyed more than 1,000 miles of stream beds in West Virginia alone. And, they claim noxious fumes from a coal operation are blackening the lungs of some West Virginia school children. Julia Bonds of West Virginia's Coal River Mountain Watch gave a "fiery speech" at the Abingdon protest. Afterward, she told AP, "I don't want to see babies poisoned."

Barter Theater attracts big talent, diverse plays; tickets used to cost a chicken

The Barter Theater in the picturesque Appalachian town of Abingdon, Va., is known for attracting big talent, from producers to actors, doing productions from down-home to Hamlet, and when it first opened the fine art might cost you a chicken.

"The Barter Theatre opened in 1933 at the height of the Depression. True to its name, it accepted live hens, a dead rattlesnake and canned goods in return for tickets. A ham for Hamlet, as the saying goes here," writes Calvin Woodward of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Barter began small before becoming a Mecca for theater elites, notes Woodward, "drawing 150,000 through its doors in a season in this southwestern Virginia town of fewer than 8,000 people." In addition to accepting poultry for performances, productions occasionally ruffle some feathers. Its staging of "Liquid Moon" in 2003 featured two naked actors for part of the performance, drawing protests from a state senator and the Cedar Bluff Baptist Church in nearby Atkins.

The atmosphere at the theater remains a bit rustic. "The wail of a passing freight train echoes through the tall, old windows," Woodward notes, but "these young actors know that whatever the odds, others who spent time on the Barter stage found success. Among them were Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn and Ned Beatty."

Newspaper dispute pits 'pugnacious' against more conventional

Two small weekly newspapers and a city-subsidized newsletter in the Cincinnati suburb of Dayton, Ky., (pop. 6,000) are slinging ink and words at each other in a bitter battle for dominance.

"The feud has puzzled residents of this working-class town in the shadow of Cincinnati.," writes Brandon Ortiz of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) Even the executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, David T. Thompson, told Ortiz he's never heard of such a strange fight. And, Dayton Mayor Ken Rankle told him, "It is really just a weird, screwy situation with those papers."

The River Cities Beacon is suing the former publishers of the town's two other news publications: the Dayton Dispatch News, a taxpayer-financed newsletter; and the River Cities Star, edited by the Beacon's former editor. "The Beacon, a weekly paper that was distributed at local businesses, is also suing the city of Dayton, its mayor and police chief on allegations they violated its First Amendment rights because it criticized the city," writes Ortiz.

The Beacon, circulation of 1,000, more often acts as "cheerleader for the community," he writes, but also "responds to criticism and perceived wrongdoing with aggressive coverage," Ortiz notes. Tom McQueen, husband of Beacon publisher Valerie McQueen, told Ortiz, "People don't like us -- they either love us or hate us. There is no in-between."

Henry Bird new head of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.'s Midwest Division

Henry Bird, publisher of The Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill., and vice president of Pulitzer Newspapers Inc., will lead the Midwest Division of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., reported The Associated Press.

The division, based in Carmel, Ind., includes 12 daily newspapers -- seven in Indiana, four in Illinois and the Mankato Free Press in Minnesota -- and eight weeklies and specialty publications. Bird has been president and publisher of The Pantagraph since February 2001 and a vice president of Pulitzer since 2003, first supervising papers in Illinois and Wisconsin, then adding those in California and Utah. From 1996 to 2001, Bird was publisher of The Star Press in Muncie for Central Newspapers Inc. -- owner of The Indianapolis Star -- which was bought by Gannett Co. He had been publisher of The Herald-Bulletin in Anderson and a group publisher for Thomson Newspapers in Indiana and Michigan.

Pulitzer was sold to Lee Enterprises, based in Davenport, Iowa, in a deal completed last month. "Linda Lindus, publisher of the Herald & Review in Decatur, Ill., will succeed Bird as publisher of The Pantagraph, one of 14 dailies that joined Lee ... in its acquisition of Pulitzer," AP reports. "Lindus, who had been in Decatur since 2002, also oversees Lee newspapers in central and southern Illinois, as well as one newspaper in Missouri. Lindus' successor in Decatur is Todd Nelson, general manager of the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, also a Lee paper."

This Day In History: Burr slays Hamilton in duel, 1804

In a duel held in Weehawken, N.J., Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shoots his long-time political antagonist Alexander Hamilton, according to the History Channel. Hamilton, a leading Federalist and the chief architect of America's political economy, died the following day.

Friday, July 8, 2005

As FCC reports broadband gains, study questions subsidies for rural access

Federal Communications Commission statistics show U.S. consumers and businesses subscribing to high-speed Internet service, or broadband, jumped 34 percent last year to almost 38 million lines.

The U.S. still lags behind 15 other countries in broadband coverage, but U.S. officials stress "some countries subsidize deployment and are more densely populated," which makes it easier and less expensive to develop broadband, reports Reuters. (Read more) The report says cable companies added about 5 million customers during the year, a 30 percent increase to 21.4 million lines, while the number of DSL subscribers climbed about 45 percent, or 4.3 million lines, to 13.8 million lines. For the report, click here.

President Bush has pledged universal access to broadband by 2007. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has said he wants to eliminate regulatory hurdles to achieve that goal, and in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, he said the FCC should ease some old regulations on telephone companies to put them on equal footing with cable operators, but not full relinquish protections. For the FCC press release, click here.

Consumer advocate Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, criticized FCC policies as harming competition for broadband. He told Reuters, "Competitive Internet service providers are now history; the U.S. has a duopoly -- cable and telephone industry -- over broadband. Both cable and telephone have a long history of anti-competitive behavior."

Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute has issued a report, New Study Questions Benefits of Subsidizing Broadband, on Marshall University's review of high-speed Internet services in West Virginia. "Much of the economic benefits of broadband have already been realized, and gains from its further extension to rural areas are probably not sufficiently large to justify government subsidies," says the institiute, which has a libertarian outlook. For the full text, click here.

Extension Service facing challenges in helping tobacco growers, communities

After nearly seven decades of federal tobacco quotas and price supports, "Kentucky’s quota owners and growers [have entered] a new era of uncertainty, [with] questions ... in need of educated answers," reports Lindsey O’Donnell, a University of Kentucky journalism student who was part of a Rural Journalism class reporting project on the future of tobacco and tobacco-dependent communities.

"The future of local economies of tobacco-dependent communities may depend on how the farmers choose to spend their buyout funds," writes O'Donnell. "But where do these people go to get the advice and information necessary to make a short term or long term investment?" O'Donnell asks.

Shelby County extension agent Brittany Edelson told O'Donnell she is concerned with how farmers will choose to spend the money they receive from the buyout. “You can lead a horse to water and that’s what we’ll try and do through education, but people will make their own decisions in the end,” Edelson said, adding that she does not try to tell former quota holders how to spend their money, but tries to provide options and opportunities.

UK's extension economist for tobacco Will Snell, told O'Donnell the tobacco buyout is the biggest issue currently facing the university's extension service. Snell says he prepared seven years for the buyout, which "is probably the most significant and far-reaching piece of agricultural policy legislation for Kentucky farmers and rural communities since the development of the federal tobacco program in the 1930s."

Click here for the story, and here for an index to other stories in the project. More are coming.

Study shows cig tax revenue falling as customers cut back, go underground

A study by the Tax Foundation suggests that states hoping to plug budget gaps with higher cigarette taxes are seeing a diminished return as higher prices drive down conventional purchases and some consumers get their smokes from the black market.

In the study, Tax Foundation Background Paper No. 48, “State Excise Taxation: Horse-and-Buggy Taxes in an Electronic Age,” George Mason University Professor Richard Wagner says “All excise taxes on particular products are obsolete [and] because government is always slow to change, they will die a slow death. In the meantime they will cause a great deal of harm ... to taxpayers and to the state governments.”

The foundation found that among the selective excise taxes, states raise the most by taxing cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline and telecommunications. Of these, the study says, "It is the cigarette tax that states have raised most ... during the last 10 years, despite abundant evidence the high tax levels are creating a host of problems," including: Revenue estimates are rarely met, making budget forecasting difficult, and bonds sold against future master settlement revenues are unattractive except at preposterously high interest rates.

Wagner says the "growth of these destructive consequences brings state governments to a crossroads. In one direction: [are] state governments that use invasive, threatening, expensive and ultimately futile tactics to enforce high tax rates. In the other direction: [are] innovative, service-oriented state governments that know they must compete with their neighboring jurisdictions by levying reasonable taxes.

Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, said, “Cigarette taxes are already an unreliable revenue source, and that unreliability will surely get worse as tax rates climb and more customers are forced to shop for low-tax cigarettes from legal and illegal sources.”

Nevada Republican congressman proposes tax credit for rural physicians

Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Nevada Republican, announced yesterday that he has filed a bill offering tax credits to encourage physicians to practice in rural America.

"I represent every single rural community in Nevada and as a result, I am committed to ensuring that these Nevadans receive the same quality health care services as others living in urban areas," Gibbons said. "This bill will encourage more doctors to serve rural areas and expand the health care services available to these communities."

The National Rural Health Association endorsed the bill. "Rural communities frequently suffer from a shortage of physicians because many doctors feel that they cannot sustain a viable practice in a rural setting," NRHA President Hilda Heady said. NRHA said in a news release, "Graduating medical students who may have preferred a working rural practice tend to practice in more urban settings simply because of student-loan debt."

Senate hearing set on shield law; follows reporter jailing, news-media pleas

The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning hearings on a bill that would protect reporters who refuse to identify their sources.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed Wednesday for refusing to tell prosecutors who leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer. The bill, sponsored by Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican, "would require prosecutors and judges to meet strict national standards and exhaust other remedies before they could subpoena reporters," reports The Associated Press.(Read more)

Matt Cooper, the Time magazine reporter who barely escaped being sent to jail along with Miller, says the grand jury probe makes the case for such a law. The prosecutor and representatives of the media outlets could be called to testify. The House legislation is sponsored by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence (R).

Would grass-fed cattle, state-inspected slaughter prevent mad-cow disease?

Advocates say the chance that meat with mad-cow disease would end up on your dinner table could be reduced if the federal government encouraged more grass-fed cattle farms and in-state slaughterhouses.

"The advocates say there would be no chance of animal waste products added to feed or cows in contact with other ill cows," writes M. J. Ellington of The Decatur Daily. (Read more) Heightened by the recent report of an infected cow from Texas, advocates charge "the government is more interested in protecting the nation's beef suppliers and minimizing financial impact from another mad-cow announcement than in guarding consumer health," Ellington writes for the Northern Alabama newspaper.

Alabama officials said the nation's beef supply is safe and "doubt the demise of the country's system of cattle fattening and slaughter," Ellington reports. Still, the executive vice president of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association told the newspaper that Auburn University has been at work on plans to encourage more grass-fed cattle farming. ACA Executive Vice President Bill Powell endorsed grass-fed cattle farms and Alabama slaughterhouses for some of the state's cattle producers. Powell said Auburn and ACA see the logic of developing a network of small, inspected slaughterhouses in his region.

Coal mining for workers: firms raising wages, wooing younger generation

Coal industry and union executives, concerned that Pennsylvania may face shortages of skilled coal miners similar to those experienced in the Appalachian states of Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky, are gearing up a nationwide effort to recruit more miners.

Katharine Kenny, director of investor relations for Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy Co., the nation's fourth-largest producer, told Pamela Gaynor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that in much of central Appalachia, "We're always 200 to 300 miners short of where we want to be." (Read more) Pennsylvania coal producers have yet to feel such a pinch, writes Gaynor, but George Ellis, president of the Pennsylvania Coal Association, "We see a problem up the road if we don't start doing something" to step up recruitment, she writes.

Global demand for coal, rising electricity consumption and a surge in oil prices have boosted coal mining out of a 20-year slump. The lack of hiring in the past two decades has crated labor shortages in some previous industry strongholds, such as southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, and a rapidly aging work force in others, including Pennsylvania, notes Gaynor.

United Mine Workers of America District 3 is seeking $4.6 million in state funds for a training center. Union and industry officials also are discussing a proposal to recognize skill certifications obtain outside Pennsylvania. Other key mining states already provide the so-called "reciprocity." Consol Energy Inc., which plans next year to begin a $500 million expansion project -- the largest in its history -- in Washington County, also are taking steps on their own to avoid shortages in Pennsylvania, Gaynor writes.

University Center of the Mountains attracts southeastern Kentucky students

Appalachian students who live hours from the nearest state universities are taking advantage -- in growing numbers -- of an initiative designed to increase the number of people with college degrees.

"Enrollment at the University Center of the Mountains ... is expected to top 300 this fall and could reach 1,000 in the next five years, said Ron Daley, who heads the initiative," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. (Read more) Daley told Alford only 8.6 percent of residents in the center's eight-county service area have four-year degrees, making it one of the least-educated regions of the country. Classes at Morehead State University and Eastern Kentucky University, the nearest universities, require round trips of four hours.

The University Center of the Mountains started in 2002 with a $300,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. It provides offices and classrooms for state universities and private colleges that offer classes for bachelor's degrees in 15 areas of study, from business administration to social work, writes Alford. Hazard Community and Technical College President Jay Box, who helped to found the center, predicts the number of degree programs and enrollment will increase, and that the 3,800 students enrolled at his two-year college will take courses through the center.

Mountain methadone clinic request pulled after residents take protest to state

A company planning to run a methadone clinic in Middlesboro, Ky., has withdrawn its application in the face of staunch opposition. Steve Shannon of the Kentucky Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse said Rehabilitation Drug Services made the request yesterday, AP reports. (Read more)

A meeting set today with state officials in Frankfort on whether to allow the methadone clinic has been canceled. Several hundred people opposed to the proposed clinic were expected to attend the meeting. RDS President and General Manager Barbara Smith has requested state assistance in preparing another application to open a clinic in Middlesboro, and asked the meeting held to consider the company's next application be private, because of "The sensitive nature of the proprietary information contained therein."

Middlesboro residents opposed the proposed clinic because its planned location was within three blocks of two schools. Mac Bell, who oversees methadone clinics for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said the opposition to the Middlesboro clinic was unprecedented.

Florida police say woman ran meth lab out of home and FEMA trailer

Port St. Lucie, Fla., area police have accused a woman of running a methamphetamine lab out of her grandmother's house and a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer supplied to house victims of last year's hurricane damage.

The woman faces at least four felony and two misdemeanor charges. Investigators found a portable meth lab in the kitchen of the home, and items used to make the drug in a trailer provided by [FEMA] ... after last year's hurricanes, writes Will Greenlee of The Stuart News. (Read more)

A police spokesman told Greenlee "they could have manufactured meth anywhere." Police say the woman admitted that methamphetamine, cocaine and weapons were in the home. They say they also found about 10 grams of crystal methamphetamine in her purse and in a bedroom.

Institute director, an ex-political writer, named to review judicial campaigns

The combination of more than 200 races for judgeships next year in Kentucky, and court decisions greatly relaxing guidelines on judicial campaign ethics, has prompted Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Lambert to set up a special panel to "monitor and encourage ethical campaigns by judicial candidates," writes Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader (Read more)

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues Director Al Cross, who was political writer for The Courier-Journal for 26 years and still writes a twice-a-month column for the Louisville newspaper, is among those who have agreed to serve on the panel. Cross wrote of the coming races in Kentucky and other states in a June 30 Rural Blog item, Demagoguery and big money increase in races for judgeships; beware next year.

Other members include lawyers Jon Fleischaker of Louisville and Robert Houlihan of Lexington, both First Amendment specialists; Bowling Green lawyer Charles English, a leader in evaluation of federal judicial candidates; and Bob Schulman of Louisville, a journalist who has worked with Lambert to conduct dialogues between judges, lawyers and journalists.

Lambert said he hopes the panel will have "a considerable moral suasion and restraint on candidates who might be inclined to let campaigns go into the mud.We want our judges to have freedom of speech, but also to be impartial." Lambert has asked Tony Wilhoit of Versailles, executive director of the state Legislative Ethics Commission and former chief judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, to head the group, to be called the Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee.

Comments sought on EPA's Environmental Justice Strategic Plan by July 15

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comment on a proposed framework and plan for its "Environmental Justice Strategic Plan."

"The plan will guide the agency in prioritize issues facing communities with disproportionate impacts from pollution, and may also affect the grant priorities for the next 5 years," says the agency. The draft framework and outline are available at on the agency's Web site. Deadline for comments is July 15.

This day in history: In 1776, the Liberty Bell proclaimed the Declaration

In Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell rang out from the tower of the Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall), summoning citizens to the first public reading of The Declaration of Independence, according to The History Channel.

On July 4, the historic document was adopted by delegates to the Continental Congress meeting in the State House. However, the Liberty Bell, which bore the apt biblical quotation, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land unto All the Inhabitants Thereof," was not rung until the Declaration of Independence returned from the printer on July 8.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Libraries, especially rural ones, struggle to meet demand for Internet access

Almost all U.S. libraries now have free Internet access, but they are struggling to meet the public's demand for the service, especially in rural areas, according to a new study done by Florida State University.

The study found that 99.6 percent of all public libraries were connected to the Internet in 2004, but "more than 85 percent of libraries said they were not able to meet the public demand for computers consistently or at certain times of the day," says Newswise, a research-reporting service. "Adding to the problem is the fact that 13 percent of libraries reported a decrease in their technology budgets from the previous year, and more than 50 percent indicated their technology budgets stayed the same with no increase for inflation or demand for services."

Rural libraries generally "have slower connections, fewer workstations and fewer training opportunities" than urban libraries, Newswise reports. Some libraries with wireless capability have begun to loan laptops for use inside the building because they lack money and/or the space for more workstations, researcher John Carlo Bertot said. "About 18 percent of libraries already have wireless Internet access and 21 percent are planning wireless access within the next year," Newswise reports. (Read more)

"Public libraries serve a vital role in helping to bridge the digital divide," Bertot said. "They play a critical role in keeping people from falling behind, which is important for careers and quality of life. It's a place of first and last resort for a lot of people."

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Library Association. Other professors who performed the work were Charles R. McClure and Paul T. Jaeger, who is research-development manager at the Information Use Management and Policy Institute in the FSU College of Information.

Kentucky weekly keeping tabs on local spending of tobacco-settlement funds

When the Kentucky General Assembly set aside half the state's national tobacco-settlement money for agricultural development, it allocated 35 percent of that half to local agriculture councils, which set priorities for use of the money in each county. But the county councils lack any direct authority over spending of the money by groups and businesses that are awarded the grants, and state Agricultural Development Board officials acknowledge that they are short-handed when it comes to checking up on spending at the county and farm level, even though the settlement fund is the largest discretionary pot of money in Kentucky state government.

That's an invitation for some accountability reporting, and the Casey County News of Liberty, Ky., is meeting the challenge. The paper is in the middle of a five-part series about tobacco-settlement spending in the county, and is asking pertinent questions about state, regional and local oversight. For example, a story last week about a multi-county goat program questioned whether the administrator was checking to see whether farmers had met the requirements for use of the money, and one this week about a forage program posed similar questions.

The Casey County News has no Web site, but its stories are posted here, on the site of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Also in the Reports section of the site are stories by students in the University of Kentucky's Rural Journalism class, taught by the director, on the future of tobacco and tobacco-dependent communities. Other reports from the class and a class at the University of North Carolina will be posted soon.

Jailing of journalist heightens call for federal shield law to protect sources

With the jailing yesterday of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to release confidential source information, (click here for the Times' full story) the Newspaper Association of America and 80 other news media organizations, are calling for "Congress to act on legislation that would protect journalists" who refuse to reveal such information. (Read more from NAA)

The NAA release said the proposed Free Flow of Information Act would follow Justice Department guidelines, allowing prosecutors to compel a journalist's testimony only after non-media sources have been exhausted and the information is essential to a criminal investigation or the resolution of a civil case." NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm said, “Confidential sources have played a vital role in the reporting process, contributing important information on [critical] issues. Without ... confidentiality, sources, including whistle blowers, will not come forward.” For The Washington Post story, click here.

The Times, which usually has three or four editorials, had only one today, on the Miller case, saying, "This is a proud but awful moment for The New York Times and its employees. Ms. Miller has taken a path that will be lonely and painful ... but we are certain she did the right thing. She is surrendering her liberty in defense of a greater liberty, granted to a free press ... so journalists can work on behalf of the public without fear of regulation or retaliation." For the Post editorial on Miller, click here.

There is disagreement in the news business about Miller's decision, but we think all media owners need to get behind the bill for a federal shield law and explain to their readers, viewers and listeners wby it's important to have confidential sources. --Al Cross, IRJCI director

Chief blogger Bill Griffin adds this food for thought: German theologian Rev. Martin Niemoller said in 1945 about his Nazi imprisonment following the round-up of numerous other groups, "Then they came for me, and ... there was no one left to speak up for me."

Meth toll on rural families increasing; 'fosters family breakups,' reports NPR

Wreckage from methamphetamine is widening and deepening, destroying not only users, but those who depend on them to live. The growing epidemic means family members are becoming collateral damage, says a survey by the National Association of Counties.

"The nation's methamphetamine epidemic [especially prevalent in rural areas] continues to challenge not just local law enforcement but child welfare workers across the country," reports Howard Berkes of National Public Radio. Click here to read or listen to his story.

Berkes reports not only on the conclusions of a new National Association of Counties (NACO) survey of sheriffs, noted in yesterday's Rural Blog, but on responses from more than 300 county child-welfare officials, which detailed the anguish of the drug's social consequences.

"Forty percent of the county child-welfare workers surveyed say meth abuse by parents puts more children in foster care or some other out-of-home placement. Almost 60 percent say meth is such a persistent drug that it makes reunification of families more difficult," Berkes reports.

Bartering still basic commerce in Virginia community; leave the wallet at home

Time has stood still somewhat, at least in economics and commerce, in a Virginia community where bartering is still a valued means of remuneration.

"They came to Blue Mountain Mercantile store in downtown Floyd, Va., to get back to the land, to be alone, to find community or to make music. They fit here because they didn't’t quite fit in anywhere else. Here the counterculture met the mountain culture and something unique was born," waxes Calvin Woodward of The Associated Press. (Read more) That "something" is a growing barter system.

A lack of money in both groups inspired the barter system, which is defined as trading goods or services with no money involved." Woodward writes this economic throwback to more agrarian days "courses through Floyd, an Appalachian town that still attracts people who are off the beaten path in life."

At a medical "Barter Clinic," people bring firewood, meat and soap to trade for medical services. A man worked for 15 minutes at a local natural foods and exotic gifts store for "a few croissants as payment the next day," notes Woodward. Dawn Shiner and her family help a farmer cut and bale hay, and in return they receive all the hay they need. They also work at a market for five pounds of almonds for baking.

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond economists told Woodward "informal commerce, including bartering, baby-sitting, lawn mowing and unreported moonlighting, make up at least 6 percent and even as much as 20 percent of the national economy." And, he notes, that doesn’t count criminal transactions.

ACLU wants gay rights suit reopened against Kentucky county school system

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked a federal judge to reopen its gay-rights lawsuit against the Boyd County, Kentucky schools, charging inadequate anti-harassment training.

"The ACLU argued school officials failed to comply with a settlement that allowed the Boyd County High School Gay-Straight Alliance to use school facilities," writes Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal. (Read more) The settlement required the school district to provide anti-harassment training focused on "sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination," writes Maimon for the Louisville newspaper.

Sharon McGowan, a staff attorney for the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, told Maimon, "To end up in front of the judge again is very disappointing, but the district's efforts fell so far short of the mark." Teresa Cornette, a school board member, told The C-J the district has "struggled to come up with a complete program about sexual orientation." To read the ACLU press release, click here.

Canada coal creates booming need for miners, competition among companies

Growing global energy demands and a long untapped major source of coal near Halifax, Nova Scotia, has fueled a rush of applications from former and would-be miners, and forged an alliance of coal companies from around the world to unearth the "black gold."

"More than 600 résumés sit on a desk in Bob Burchell's Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, office, from coal miners salivating at the possibility of the sooty, black mineral again fueling the economy and the culture of Cape Breton" Island, writes Shawna Richer of the Globe and Mail of Toronto. (Read more) Burchell toiled in a Nova Scotia mine until 1982, becoming an international representative for the United Mine Workers.

Coal, Richer writes, "was both literally and figuratively the foundation on which Cape Breton was built." The Nova Scotia government is set to announce which of three bidders will open an abandoned underground mine closed nearly four years ago. Australian company Xstrata Coal, with its partners, Kaoclay Resources Inc. of Halifax and Atlantic Green Energy Development of Savannah, Ga.; Donkin Resources, of Sydney, Nova Scotia; and a third group in partnership with Commonwealth Coal of Virginia, are under consideration for the job.

The new mine could, the newspaper reports, create up to 300 jobs directly and 700 indirectly. Some 12,000 people were employed in the coal industry at its peak in the area. As much as 700 million tons of coal could come from the mine. Tunnels were dug at the site near Glace Bay more than two decades ago but the coal reserve was never extracted, writes Richer.

Arizona group stands for rural causes, shaping, influencing development

A community group formed in opposition to incorporation of a new city in Arizona is expanding its efforts to direct development in its predominantly rural area.

"The Better Living Coalition formed more than a year ago as an opposition group to [efforts to] incorporate a city of San Tan," writes Sara Thorson of Scottsdale's East Valley Tribune. (Read more) "When the incorporation effort failed, and a renewed effort was persuaded to leave rural areas out of the proposed city, coalition members decided they didn't’t want to stop making a difference in their community," Thorson continues. Gordon Brown, spokesman for the group, told Thorson, "We’re not big on saying, ‘We see a problem and somebody needs to fix this for us. We see a problem and get out of our road, we’re going to fix it.’ ’’

The group is expanding efforts to identify community needs and is considering a more formal membership process to accomplish goals. Currently, 10 directors communicate with a growing membership through e-mails and meetings, writes Thorson. Brown also told her, "There’s always been kind of a loose-knit organization [but], an interconnected community. Somebody ... cries wolf and people come from the hills." Group members have discovered they face many of the same issues; responsible housing, development, community fundraising, unregulated subdivisions and blasting.

Life getting faster along rural interstate highways; signs of the times?

"Life in the fast lane" usually refers to the pace of city dwellers. And a tour of the countryside usually means a leisurely stroll, but much of that is changing. Speed limits on some interstates in rural areas are going up.

"Indiana Department of Transportation workers [have] began replacing more than 600 signs to reflect the higher limits of 70 mph for cars and 65 mph for large trucks on rural interstates, which are those that are 10 miles outside of areas with populations of 50,000 or more. The 55 mph limit in urban areas will not change," writes By Harold J. Adams of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

The Louisville newspaper reports the higher limits are being posted along parts of Interstates 64, 164, 65, 69, 70, 74, 94, the Indiana Toll Road and parts of I-469 around Fort Wayne. Limits also are being increased to 65 mph on sections of U.S. 20 and U.S. 31 in rural Elkhart and St. Joseph counties. The limit has gone up slightly on sections of I-64 and I-65 in Kentucky. Resident Dale Barns told Adams, "I like it. You get places quicker," while Melvin Roberts of Columbus, Ohio, isn't a fan of the change. "at 65, people are doing 75 to 80, and now that it's 70 [so] they're doing 85 to 90," he said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports Indiana joined Iowa as the 30th and 31st states to authorize speed limits of at least 70 mph on rural interstates. Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio -- have speed limits of 65 mph. Michigan has a 70 mph limit for cars and a 55 mph limit for trucks, Adams writes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Sheriffs say meth top U.S. drug problem; survey at odds with administration?

Five hundred sheriff's departments in 45 states say methamphetamine has become the leading drug problem affecting local law enforcement in the United States, according to a national survey.

The National Association of Counties survey shows 90 percent of the sheriffs questioned "reported increases in meth-related arrests in their counties over the last three years, and more than half considered meth the most serious problems their department faces," writes Ryan Lenz of The Associated Press. (Read more) Arrests have packed jails in the Midwest and elsewhere, swamped other county-level agencies, and stretched the resources for agencies that care for children whose parents have become addicted and cleaning up the toxic chemicals left behind by largely rural meth cookers, writes Lenz.

Larry Naake, NACo's executive director, told Lenz, "We're finding out that this is bigger problem than we thought." The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, however, recently declared that marijuana remains the nation's most substantial drug problem with 15 million users compared to1 million meth users. But most law enforcement agencies say the costs of meth far outweigh marijuana's costs.

The greatest increase in meth arrests over the last five years occurred in the upper Midwest, the Southwest and Northwest. Arrests doubled in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, Wyoming. Georgia, Kentucky, South Dakota, Iowa and Mississippi, reported similar increases, notes Lenz.

Sheriff Keith Cain in Daviess County, Kentucky, which leads the state in meth arrests, said meth has slowed fighting other crimes. He told Lenz, "The other crime ... worsens because it's not being dealt with." The survey also examined meth's effect on children and found 40 percent of child welfare officials in 13 states where welfare is a county responsibility had removed more children from homes because of meth.

Tax land more heavily than buildings to encourage development, researcher says

Two-rate property tax systems, with lower taxes on buildings and higher levies on land, encourage the construction of new buildings and maintenance of old ones, and thus promote growth in income and employment, says Richard England, an economics professor at the University of New Hampshire.

In the June issue of National Tax Journal, available only to members of the National Tax Association, England wrote, “Our research suggests that a two-rate property tax would be good for local economic activity, especially in New Hampshire's cities. It would also help to preserve open space by encouraging larger buildings on smaller lots.” England's research focused on Dover, N.H., which he said was chosen because it has a “landscape ranging from a traditional central business district to suburban shopping centers and office parks to undeveloped farmland. Its housing stock ranges from aging apartment buildings to new condo projects and from modest ranch homes to expensive waterfront mansions.”

"More than a dozen cities and towns in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh, Scranton and Harrisburg, have operated under the two-rate system," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. In 2002, the Virginia legislature allowed the city of Fairfax to do likewise. "Although two-rate taxation has been restricted to Pennsylvania until now," England says, "interest seems to be spreading. It is being seriously considered now in Virginia, Minnesota and Connecticut." To read the Newswise release, click here.

Update: Reporter Judy Miller goes to jail rather than reveal confidential source

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan of Washington, D.C., sent New York Times reporter Judith Miller to jail today for contempt of court for "refusing to divulge her source in the investigation of the leak of an undercover CIA officer's name," The Associated Press reports.

"There is still a realistic possibility that confinement might cause her to testify," Hogan said. AP reports, "Unless Miller decides to talk, she will be held until the grand jury ends its work in October. The judge speculated that Miller's confinement might cause her source to give her a more specific waiver of confidentiality," as did the source of Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who said that without the waiver he was prepared for months in jail. Last week, Time said it was giving Cooper's notes to U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald, who is investigating the leak of the name of undercover agent Valerie Plame.

"Fitzgerald opposed a request that Cooper and Miller to be granted home detention — instead of jail — for remaining tight-lipped about their sources," AP reports. "Fitzgerald said allowing them home confinement would make it easier for them to continue to defy the court order."

AP sums up: "The case is among the most serious legal clashes between the media and the government since the Supreme Court in 1971 refused to stop the Times and The Washington Post from publishing a classified history of the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers. This time, the high court refused to hear the reporters’ appeal." In 1972, the court ruled 5-4 that the First Amendment right to gather news did not give journalists the right to withhold testimony in a criminal case. But the opinion said there might be cases in which such a privilege would exist, and some federal appellate courts recognized it. But recently the trend has gone against the news media, and today's sentencing is a landmark event in that process.

All states but Wyoming have "shield laws" or court decisions that establish at least some limited reporters' privilege to keep sources confidential, and a bill in Congress would enact a federal shield law.

Beefing up openness: Bipartisan coalition seeks law to force FOI Act compliance

A political pastiche of legislators, advocacy groups and news organizations is looking to crack down on government officials who ignore public requests for information, and their efforts earned them a story in The Washington Post this morning.

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) are pushing legislative proposals that would fine agencies that ignore Freedom of Information Act requests. They also want to create a an ombudsman for FOIA, who would help referee conflicts while requiring departments to provide more information on how quickly they process requests, Brian Faler writes for the Post. (Read more) The ombudsman provision would help those unhappy with an agency's decision, an alternative to going to court. Currently, they can appeal and then sue if necessary -- an option that is too costly for many.

Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, told Faler that the bill reflects laws in many states. "In Washington there's no real presumption of openness," he said. "There seems to be very few incentives . . . to encourage timely compliance with FOIA requests." The bill would penalize agencies that do not meet the current requirement to within 20 business days whether requests will be met, and would reduce the number of legal grounds on which an agency could withhold a document if it does not meet the 20-day deadline. It would also create a public, government-wide tracking system to keep tabs on requests.

The legislation has been endorsed by a groups across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Heritage Foundation and Common Cause, along with some news media organizations. The Newspaper Association of America and the Society of Professional Journalists also support it. We encourage rural media to ask their senators and congressmen to vote for the bill.

Journalist must face charges for taking photos of Florida voters in long line

A journalist arrested for taking photos of Florida voters in a long line last Election Day will continue to face misdemeanor charges, a Palm Beach County judge said yesterday, the Palm Beach Post reports. (Read more)

Judge Peter Evans ruled James Henry violated a state law against soliciting voters inside a 50-foot buffer zone. "Criminal defense attorneys for Henry, a Harvard-trained lawyer and author, had asked that the charges be dismissed. They argued that the state statute creating a 50-foot buffer ban on soliciting voters did not apply to working media," Susan Spencer-Wendel reports. Evans wrote that the law "is designed to allow voters to cast their votes unmolested and with some degree of peace. There must come a time when the constant bombardment of partisan politics and news gathering will stop and voters may be free to walk into a voting booth undisturbed."

Henry, 55, of New York, was in Palm Beach reporting for a book, Democracy In America. "A sheriff's deputy, following the order of then-Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore, warned Henry to stop taking photos, according to an arrest report," Spencer-Wendel writes. "Henry refused, the report said, then fled when the deputy told him he would be arrested." He is charged with resisting arrest and unlawful solicitation of voters.

Newspapers betting on interactive audience participation; passive soon passée?

Printed news, through the Internet, is morphing into universal town squares, where citizens have a say and where every reader is a reporter. The News & Record of Greensboro, N.C., is New York Times reporter Kit Seelye's example of a transformation in the works across the country, "where top-down, voice-of-God journalism is being challenged by what is called participatory journalism, or civic or citizen journalism," Seelye writes. "Under this model, readers contribute to the newspaper. And they are doing so in many forms, including blogs, photos, audio, video and podcasts."

Seeyle continues, "Whether such efforts can revive revenue for newspaper publishers is an open question, but with gloomy financial forecasts and declines in circulation, some papers are starting to see participatory journalism as their hope for reconnecting with their audiences." (Read more)

Interactivity has many permutations. Citizens are the only contributors to Backfence.com, in suburban Virginia, and the Web site is unedited. "In Bluffton, S.C., Blufftontoday.com is made up largely of reader contributions, but some content is also published in a colorful tabloid newspaper and distributed free," Seelye writes. "In Colorado, The Rocky Mountain News is creating 39 local Web sites under the umbrella of YourHub.com, with most of the material intended to come from readers. . . . Nearly all newspapers have been troubled by the loss of 18-to-34-year-old readers; the loss of trust in conventional news media; and the emergence of technology, especially blogs, that make it easy for ordinary people to barge into the old media's one-way conversation."

In Greensboro, www.Greensboro101.com says it already provides residents with "an alternative media hub." Several area politicians blog, including city council member Sandy Carmany, who scooped The N&R recently on the city budget. And, when an N&R reporter called councilman Tom Phillips for comment on the paper's would-be scoop on some Wal-Mart news, Phillips broke the story on his blog!

Tobacco-treaty inaction threatens U.S. influence; year without ratification

A year-old tobacco treaty, designed to tighten control of cigarette advertising and consumption worldwide has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate, The Washington Post notes today. (Read more)

The treaty is already in effect in 70 nations, and when then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson signed the treaty in May 2004, he said he hoped the treaty would pass by year's end. State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez told Kaufman, "The treaty is still under interagency review."

The treaty calls for reducing tobacco consumption through various measures, including increasing the size of safety warnings, strictly limiting cigarette advertising, moving toward smoke-free workplaces and public areas, and reducing cigarette smuggling, a priority for tobacco companies.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said it objects to treaty provisions that "would restrict cigarette advertising and centralize and expand government authority over other aspects of the industry." A company spokesman told Kaufman, "Some of the restrictions are things that could prevent us from competing effectively for the business of adult smokers." A spokeswoman for Altria Group, the parent of Philip Morris USA, voiced concerns about possible restrictions on the cigarette sales in duty-free stores and advertising bans in some nations, Kaufman writes. Altria, unlike RJR, favors having the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products and is using its influence in Congress to get a bill passed.

A spokesman for Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., home of RJR, told Kaufman Burr opposes "anything that threatens the viability of tobacco farmers." Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the administration is forfeiting the nation's leadership on tobacco-control issues and may see other nations make decisions that will have a significant impact on U.S. consumers and companies.

Some Atlanta suburban residents say two Wal-Marts too close for comfort

In fast-growing Cobb County, Georgia, a developer is scraping away trees near a parkway to make room for a Wal-Mart Supercenter less than three miles from an existing Supercenter on the same road.

"When the new store opens next year, the two Supercenters will be the closest together in metro Atlanta," writes Brenden Sager of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Read more) Wal-Mart spokesman Glen Wilkins told Sager, "We usually open stores in areas that are growing very quickly."

The back-to-back Wal-Marts are the latest development along a rapid growth corridor. Within the last few years, Home Depot and Lowe's have opened stores there, just a short drive from a large mall near Interstate 75. Also, a SuperTarget is under construction between the Wal-Marts, in a shopping center that will include a Circuit City and an OfficeMax, notes Sager.

Luring the retailers is a bumper crop of new houses in an upscale subdivisions around a lake, once a quiet rural area of small ranch houses and trailers. Now, home prices in the subdivision start at $620,000 and go up to more than $1 million. While soaring property values offer some compensation for their problems, residents are starting to feel the pinch of development and traffic. To some, two Wal-Mart Supercenters so close together is too much.

Troy Williams, who lives less than half a mile from the new superstore, told Sager, "It's absurd." Williams runs an antiques store with his retired parents along North Cobb Parkway at the Bartow County line. He and others who live in the area have heard rumors that as soon as the new Wal-Mart opens, the company will close the other store or turn it into a Sam's Club, which has happened elsewhere. But, a Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper, "We have no plans to close that one down."

Nutritionist veggie-testifying; seeks kiddie disciples of health, apostles of greens

Smack in the middle of the power-center of this hectic world of fast-food, high fat, high carb, high sugar, high grease-mania nation, appeared an oasis of health -- and the keepers of this otherworldly vestibule of veggies were kids, and their high priestess was a gourmet restaurateur from Berkeley, Calif.

The great gourmand and writer R.W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times reports from the National Mall in Washington that he saw "a dozen raised beds of thriving corn, beans and eggplants, okra and mizuna, onions and tomatoes." (Read more) The garden was part of a plan by Alice Waters to improve the eating habits of schoolchildren and promote sustainable agriculture at the same time.

In a fell swoop, Waters was fighting rampant obesity and supporting sustainable, local agriculture. She terms it "edible education," and she has declared all-out war on the burger-and-soda school lunch, writes Apple. The Washington garden was a miniature version of the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, where students plant and harvest fruits and vegetables, then cook and eat meals using their own produce. Waters told Apple, "It makes the connection for them ... If they grow it, we find, they'll probably eat it."

The garden on the mall helped Waters draw attention to what she is doing as she begins to expand the program at the King school into all 16 public schools in Berkeley, providing nutritious lunches for more than 9,000 students from kindergarten through high school. She hopes it will be a pilot program for the nation, writes "Johnny" Apple.

Rural-issues columnist promotes 'Interdependence Day' to learn from world

Inspired by the recent International Rural Network Conference in Abingdon, Va., where experts from 46 counties and 35 states discussed common problems, Rural Policy Research Institute columnist Tom Rowley observes, "We all too often think we’ve nothing to learn from other countries. As a result, many policymakers choose to ignore that the world is a shrinking place -- that the global economy inextricably links (everyone worldwide). They choose to deny that we -- rural (and urban) -- are all in it together."

And, Rowley notes, "policymakers aren’t the only ones. American citizens, too, have our fair share of hang-ups when it comes to learning from and working with people in other countries." He writes that his friend, Priscilla Salant of the University of Idaho described the stares and crossed arms she gets when sharing lessons from abroad, and says "You can’t speak French in Idaho." But "Metaphorically we must speak [multiple languages] . . . rural people everywhere must work together." Brian Dabson, associate director of the Institute, told him, “We must build bridges across the gaps that divide us.”

"At the conference, hundreds of those bridges started taking shape," Rowley reports. "People interested in forestry took back ideas from a project in Virginia on harvesting lower quality “character grade” logs and selling them at a premium in niche markets—benefiting the forest, the landowner, and the logger. Those working in education learned from successful efforts to base curriculum for aboriginal Australians in their own place and their own culture."

Rowley ends: "Lest I be labeled 'unpatriotic,' let me quickly add that I do not think that interdependence contradicts our independence. American independence is to be treasured, and those who have won and kept it for us, honored. Our independence, however, should never be a rationale for isolation or an excuse for not working with and learning from others. In today’s world, our neighbors may be thousands of miles away, but they are still our neighbors — economically, environmentally, and politically."

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

'Meth mouth' costs rising for states as numbers of addicted inmates rise

The explosion of methamphetamine addiction and its resulting dental damage and neglect has added to prison costs for dental care, as states see more inmates "with black-orange smiles, enamel completely rotted, gums bleeding and receding, and no choice but to have every tooth pulled," writes Brett Barrouquere of The Associated Press, offering some fresh data on a growing problem. (Read more)

The chemicals used to make methamphetamine slow the blood flow to teeth and speed up decay. The drug also dries up the the mouth, gives users a sweet tooth that leads to high intake of "sugary junk food and soft drinks with lots of caffeine," AP reports. "Meth mouth" statistics are hard to come by, but Barrouquere reports that the number of days a dentist served inmates in North Dakota shot from 50 in 2000 to 78 in 2004. Minnesota's bill for inmate dental care went from $1.2 million in 2000 to $2 million in 2004.

Extractions costs taxpayers $500 per inmate. Ken Fields, a spokesman for Correctional Medical Services in St. Louis, which provides dental and medical care in prisons in 27 states, told AP, "It's in every state I can think of." Meth is especially a problem in rural areas, where production is easier.

Hispanics fueling growth in Appalachia, making up for white outmigration

Hispanics have surpassed African Americans as the nation's largest minority group, but not in the 13 states that make up the 200,000 square miles of Appalachia. However, Hispanics' cultural contributions are carving out special niches and increasing their numbers and influence throughout the mountainous region.

Lee Mueller, Eastern Kentucky Bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader, localized an Associated Press story on Hispanic influence in Appalachia. by profiling several Hispanics who have parlayed their culture into businesses in Paintsville, Pikeville, Hazard and West Liberty, Ky. (Read more)

"Historically, Kentucky's section of Appalachia has contained few non-whites. But the Kentucky State Data Center shows a relative explosion in the region's Hispanic population since 1990," writes Mueller. "In Pike, Floyd, Martin, Magoffin and Johnson counties, the number of Hispanics increased by 155 percent, from 387 to 987, between 1990 and 2000."

A 2004 study by the Population Reference Bureau found blacks still outnumber Hispanics in Appalachia, although Hispanics have fueled the growth there since the 1990s, writes AP's Vickie Smith. (Read more) "Nearly half of Appalachia's 321,000 new residents since 2000 are minority members, about 80,000 of them Hispanics. Because so many are children or working-age adults, the study done for the Appalachian Regional Commission concludes that racial and ethnic diversity will only grow," she writes.

Smith also points out, "Without minority growth, West Virginia and some other states would have lost population between 1990 and 2000: The report found that 211,000 new minority residents offset the loss of 47,000 whites in northern Appalachia." For more information on the ethnic background of the region, see The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia at Marshall University.

Employment in Appalachia still a challenge; Gannett newspapers survey needs

Gannett News Service took a fresh look at the continuing economic challenges in Appalachia, focusing on southeastern Ohio, which is served by several Gannett Co. newspapers.

"Too few roads and inadequate water and sewer connections continue to bedevil some parts of Appalachia's 13-state region," Raju Chebium reported from GNS headquarters in Washington. His story that was part of a package published over the weekend. In Ohio's part of the federally defined Appalachian Region, Gannett has newspapers in Zanesville and Chillicothe. It also has dailies in Cincinnati, Mansfield, Newark, and Lancaster, which are near the region and reach it with their circulation. Gannett also owns The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, W.Va., the only state lying entirely within the region.

Ohio has 29 counties are in the region handled by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Because they have smaller populations, the economic impact is greater if a local company closes or lays off workers, and Appalachian Ohio "tends to be less economically diversified than counties around Ohio’s big cities, so if a company closes, its former workers must scramble to find a good-paying job," Dennis Evans of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services in Columbus told the news service.

Since the commission was created 40 years ago, poverty in Appalachia has been reduced by 50 percent, and the region's high-school graduation rate is up by 70 percent, but there are still pockets of resistance to federal and state efforts, GNS reports. For look at poverty in several Ohio counties, by Greg Wright, click here; for a more localized version by Daniel Prazer of the Chillicothe Gazette, click here.

Land boom in rural Texas fueled by urbanites' desire for 'a place to go'

Texans "frustrated by lackluster returns on Wall Street and encouraged by the cheapest money in a generation, gobbling up rural land for personal hunting estates" are seeking respite from their teeming cities in increasing numbers, reports Angela Shah of The Dallas Morning News (Read more)

James Griffiths, an Abilene real estate agent who sold a property to a client who wants a place to hunt and fish, told Shah, "People just want a place to go." And, Shah reports, businesses -- including dairy farms that have moved to the state from California -- have relocated because land is so much cheaper than on the coasts. But the land rush hasn't reversed the decline of many Texas' rural communities, whose share of the population in 2040 is expected to drop to 9 percent, from 20 percent in 2000.

While "some old-timers say higher land prices make the math of farming a lot trickier," new cash is flowing into normally strapped economies, and landowners have adapted, ditching century-old farms for dude ranches catering to city slickers and Old West re-enactors," she writes. "Behind the boom is an urban state rediscovering its country heritage."

"North Texans, in particular, are attracted to the relatively nearby communities in West Texas for recreational and hunting land," Shah reports. "In Taylor County where Abilene is located, former scrubland is now prized for abundant white-tail deer, turkey and quail," she reports, citing Griffiths. "In some parts of West Texas, real-estate prices have tripled."

Curing doctor shortage: University of Arizona reaches out to inspire rural help

Arizona's flagship university has started special "summer camps" for high school students from around the state to pique their interests in medicine in hopes they will enter the profession to help address the state's doctor shortage, especially in its rural areas.

The camps are conducted by the University of Arizona's Health Sciences Center. One "MedCamp" ended last week and gave students a "comprehensive overview of the medical field." A second MedCamp, lasting six weeks, in addition to exposure to the medical field, is giving 43 students "a taste of college life through academics and dorm living," writes Monica Warren of the Tuscon Citizen. (Read more)

The first camp included a "virtual autopsy," a tour of the medical center and lectures from the hospital's top doctors. Nishant Patel participated in MedCamp in 1998 and told Warren "it was one of the main things that got me interested in medicine." Linda Don, director of the Office of Minority Affairs for the health center, told Warren the more intensive program also prepares students [also] for the "rigor of college."

The students in the intensive course are to travel to Northern Arizona University for a week to learn dentistry and physical therapy, and to visit a Hopi health center and hear from a traditional American Indian healer. The program started in 1968 to increase the number of minorities in health care in Arizona and the University of Arizona said, "to improve health care in rural and economically disadvantaged areas."

Couple makes natural farming profitable through marketing innovations

A Kentucky farming couple is using high-tech and modern marketing methods to enhance the ancient art of farming into a money-making and all-natural enterprise.

Au Naturel Farm near Smiths Grove uses high-tech marketing to sell their grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chickens and year-round crops. "In addition to sending a weekly e-mail of produce available from their farm to regular customers, Paul and Alison Wiediger take e-mail orders so if a family likes mesclun, but not lettuce, they can order that," reports Greg Wells of the Bowling Green Daily News. (Read more)

Paul Wiediger told Wells, "From 7 to 12 they can pick up their order at the farmers' market. They know we'll have what they wanted waiting for them." In the winter, they offer home delivery of produce, a personal touch that is "an outgrowth of the connection they have with their customers," writes Wells.

Though the farm uses organic methods, it has opted out of the official "organic" label because of the cost involved in the program, Wells writes. Alison Wiediger told him, "We're about making a living. People talk about sustainable agriculture like it's some kind of lofty ideal. If it isn't profitable, it isn't sustainable."

California county ponders ordinance to preserve history, maybe a tree

A California newspaper, examining a proposal for a historic preservation ordinance in rural Humboldt County, asks a variation on an old question, "If a tree were removed, who would make a sound?"

Wendy Butler of The Eureka Reporter writes that the county does not have the ability to prevent destruction of historic places or objects such as the Old Arrow Tree, the site of an Indian treaty with settlers, though the tree is listed as one of the California State Historical Landmarks. (Read more)

County Senior Planner Michael Richardson told Butler if a development were planned on that parcel of land, it would come under the state's Environmental Quality Act which would make it mandatory to disclose the development’s potential impacts, and developers would have to explore alternatives “that are less damaging,” but “There is, in my mind, a need to develop policies to protect historic resources.”

Eureka is the only city in Humboldt County with a historic preservation ordinance and a Local Register of Historic Places. Thirteen Humboldt County locations are on the California historical register and 51 sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, she writes. The county is updating its general plan.

Manganese may pose showery risk, especially in private supplies such as wells

If you shower with water from a well or another private supply, you may be at increased risk for damage to the brain and the rest of the central nervous system, a new study warns.

“Nearly 9 million people in the United States are exposed to manganese levels that our study shows may cause toxic effects,” says Dr. John Spangler, an associate professor of family medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Inhaling manganese, rather than eating or drinking it, is far more efficient at delivering manganese to the brain.” Manganese "can cause learning and coordination disabilities, behavioral changes and a condition that is similar to Parkinson’s disease," reports Newswise, a service that distributes research results.

Manganese levels are especially high in wells and other private water supplies. Public water systems are required to monitor and limit levels of the naturally occurring element, but the Environmental Protection Agency standard for manganese is based on odor and taste, not the potential risk of accumulation in the brain via inhalation.

Spangler found that concentrations well below the EPA standard might lead to brain injury. He said, “Inhaling manganese, rather than eating or drinking it, is far more efficient at delivering manganese to the brain. The nerve cells involved in smell are a direct pathway for toxins to enter the brain.” Newswise reports, "Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and patients with liver disease are at highest risk from manganese toxicity. Some of these groups have developed manganese poisoning even at fairly low doses in their water supplies, Spangler said."

According to Newswise, "The study is the first to show the potential for permanent brain damage from breathing vaporized manganese during a shower. It was conducted by reviewing the medical literature and calculating, based on animal studies, the amount of manganese people would absorb by showering 10 minutes a day." The study appears in the current issue of Medical Hypotheses, a forum for ideas in biomedical science.

Guild, SPJ call for observances of the impact of sources case on journalism

"The Newspaper Guild has asked industry workers to pause and stand for two minutes of silence at noon on Wednesday. In addition, the Guild has asked its local unions to conduct one-hour vigils outside federal courthouses," both in observation of the jail time about to be served by Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine for refusing to reveal their sources before a grand jury, the Society of Professional Journalists said in a news release today.

SPJ President Irwin Gratz, of Maine Public Radio, called on journalists "to mark the appointed time as you see fit. And I ask the public to ponder the potential impact of this action on the practice of journalism in the United States."

Gratz said, "Anonymous sources are sometimes necessary in ferreting out vital information on the operation of our governments, and the integrity of the profession and its mission in informing the public are jeopardized when journalists don't honor their promises of confidentiality to those sources. The Society believes anonymity should not be bestowed lightly, that sources' motives must always be questioned before granting anonymity and that the public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability. Although we deplore the overreliance on anonymous sources, we nevertheless stand with those principled professionals who refuse to abandon their promises of confidentiality to their sources when the government applies pressure." Time last week agreed to turn over Cooper's notes as demanded by the court.

Indians honor sacred white buffalo, say rare calf's birth means peace and unity

Native Americans consider the birth of a white buffalo much as christians view the birth of the Messiah, so members of many Indian nations came to Bagdad, Ky., this past weekend for a sacred Lakota ceremony to honor the recent birth of a white buffalo there.

The calf, "named Medicine Heart, was born June 3 at Buffalo Crossing in Shelby County. Its Lakota name is Cante Pejuta. Steve McCullough, a Lakota Shawnee from Indiana, led the 90-minute ceremony that also thanked the Lakotas' creator for the gift," writes Steve Ivey of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) McCullough told Ivey, "The white buffalo calf is still very sacred to us today."

Lakota tradition says the spirit White Buffalo Calf Woman came to the Lakota 19 generations ago to bring them their beliefs and traditions. Other tribes also believe in the spirituality of the white buffalo calf. McCullough told Ivey, "This ceremony brings unity, peace and hope," he said. "It's for all nationalities -- red, yellow, black and white." Native Americans performed prayer songs to the beat of a drum. At the end of the ceremony, several of the 200 spectators tied prayer flags and other offerings around the fence to honor the buffalo calf, writes Ivey.

Medicine Heart is the first fully white calf born at the ranch according owner Bob Allen. The calf is the granddaughter of renowned bull Chief Joseph. Allen purchased Chief Joseph in Denver for $101,000, the highest price ever for a buffalo, Ivey writes. In what some see as a spiritual omen, Chief Joseph was struck by lightning Sept. 11, 2003, and died a couple weeks later.

Friday, July 1, 2005

O'Connor's retirement leaves Supreme Court with weak ties to grass roots

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's announcement today that she will retire from the Supreme Court has, as we like to say here at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, rural resonance.

Not only was O'Connor raised on a working ranch in Arizona, she is the only member of the court who has stood for elective office, as a judge in her home state. There are broad and deep virtues to working the land for a living, and working the electorate for an office. You gain a grasp of others' beliefs, values and daily concerns in ways that urban work and appointive office rarely provide.

Today, in a story about Congressional reaction from the right and left to the Supreme Court decision allowing governments to take private property for private use, Mike Allen and Charles Babington of The Washington Post called it "the latest of several congressional moves to curb a judiciary that some lawmakers consider out of touch with average Americans." O'Connor wrote the dissent in that 5-4 decision, saying "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power. . . . As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more."

House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said of the largely Eastern intellectuals in President John Kennedy's foreign-policy circle, "I'd feel a whole lot better if just one of them had once run for sheriff somewhere." Likewise, this country, which is becoming more deeply divided about the role of the judiciary and the social issues it is being asked to decide, would probably feel better about the Supreme Court if at least one justice had the experiences of working the land and asking for votes.

Here's hoping that whoever fills the vacancy, and/or the one likely to be created by the retirement of ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist will meet those criteria. --Al Cross, IRJCI director

Vermont and other mainly rural states continue to lead in Iraq combat deaths

As Americans head into Independence Day weekend, we remain in a war that has claimed the lives of 1,741 U.S. military personnel. A disproportionate number of those are from rural areas, where service to country often is a higher calling, and the lifestyle, historically, seems to generate more young warriors.

"California, the nation’s most populous state, has the most casualties with 191, according to Pentagon figures. Vermont, meanwhile, has the most casualties per capita," reports Nick Timorous of Stateline.org. (Read more) But, Timiraos writes, "In a state of just over 600,000, 11 men and women from Vermont have died in the war, or 1.77 per 100,000 citizens," the highest per-capita loss rate in the nation.

After Vermont, states with the most deaths per capita are North Dakota (9), Wyoming (6), South Dakota (8), and Mississippi (29). Other predominately rural states with high losses include: Kentucky (25) Ohio (69), Indiana (37), Tennessee (37), West Virginia (13), Virginia (53) North Carolina (35), South Carolina (29), Georgia (38), Pennsylvania (81), Louisiana (45), and Arizona (27). A full accounting is on the story page.

The per-capita figures are calculated by dividing war deaths for each state by the 2004 estimated U.S. Census Bureau figures for state population. War deaths by state are also available at the private Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count Web site and alphabetically by service at Defend American - Operation Iraqi Freedom.

County officials continue to back off convention in Hawaii; coverage cited

Four weeks ago today, The Rural Blog relayed a Charlotte Observer report of a rebellion, of sorts, in Gastonia, N.C., where local citizens asked county officials not to go to the National Association of Counties convention in Hawaii because the county faces a tight budget. Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute and others picked up the story, the rebellion spread, and now convention organizers are trying to make up a shortfall in revenue.

In his "Morning Meeting" column today, Tompkins relays a report from The Pacific Business News that many officials have backed out of attending the convention in a couple weeks because of news coverage about their spending. Newspapers from Idaho, Iowa, Virginia and beyond have reported their politicians are demurring or "having to defend their trip as being educational or a way to learn to serve the public, he writes.

Now, Tompkins reports, the host city may be out a bunch of money. The city, he writes, "will spend a million dollars hosting the convention and only has $25,000 of the expenses underwritten. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that bad press was partly to blame for the fundraising problems.

Legislators push rural telecom goals; one is to assure all high-speed Internet

The Congressional Rural Caucus has launched a preemptive strike for telcos serving small, predominately rural markets, saying the Universal Service Fund must be continued as an industry-funded mechanism.

As Congress discusses a rewrite of the Telecom Act, The bi-partisan group is stressing that "rural carriers need to be compensated for all traffic on their networks, a direct shot at voice-over-IP providers," writes Vince Victor of Telephony Online. (Read more)

The CRC urged the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to take the special needs of rural telephone companies into consideration. "As the [country] moves into the broadband age, ...Let's make sure the commitment to universal access to communications services is protected during a rewrite so that all Americans can have access to advanced communications, such as DSL, cable, wireless and satellite."

"Broadband isn't simply a faster way of connecting to the Internet. [It is] an essential means through which rural America gains access to the outside world," said U.S. Representative John Peterson (R-Pa.), who is also co-chairman of the CRC. Peterson continued, "If [rural] residents are to be competitive in today's fast-paced, technology-driven global marketplace, our communities will require affordable high-speed, high-capacity access to data and information over the Internet," Victor writes.

Global rural conference had sessions on education issues around the world

Rural education scholars and activists from around the globe converged last week in Abingdon, Virginia at the fourth International Rural Network Conference to discuss the struggles of rural schools worldwide.

"Researchers presented academic papers on important education topics [and] addressed other rural issues, such as community development, culture, tourism, and health and hygiene," writes Alan Richard of Education Week. (Registration required. Click here for Web site.)

Participants heard about “place-based learning” in Alabama, a concept that emphasizes the use of local resources to teach children, And about the influence of rural parents in Australia. Jack Shelton, a retired University of Alabama professor, head of the small schools cooperative, PACERS, talked about how educators can use rural communities as platforms for teaching.

Shelton said “consequential learning”— which ties learning to community needs—helps students see their schoolwork can contribute to the economic and educational development of rural communities." Shelton said, “Schools have become franchises, like McDonald's,”criticizing federal and state education laws that require similar academic standards and streamlined tests in many grades and subjects.

Megan McNicholl, immediate past president of the Rural Education Forum Australia, spoke about the influence rural parents have on federal education policy in Australia. The network includes organizations focused on education and health. She said, “We’re not powerful, we’re influential.We’re [all] volunteers”

The conference was sponsored the Rural Policy Research Institute, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the International Rural Network and other sponsors. This conference was the first to be held in the United States. Others were held in Scotland, Canada, and Australia. India may be the next site.

E&P announces 2005 '10 That Do It Right' awards; models for other papers

Editor & Publisher magazine's July issue reveals the 10 newspapers E&P that believes set an example for papers nationwide, with its annual List of '10 That Do It Right.'

E&P Editor Greg Mitchell explains, "We're not honoring the '10 Best' newspapers, but 10 papers that can serve as a model for others in one or several important areas: Editorial. Community awareness. Marketing. Tech. Attractive Design. Online innovations. Diversity in coverage and in hiring. Once again, in our search and evaluation, we found much to like across the U.S.A.," the magazine writes. (Read more)

This is the sixth year E&P has awarded these honors. The 2005 winners are the Chicago Sun-Times; The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.; the News & Record of Greensboro, N.C.; the Columbia Missourian: (circulation 7,011); Reflejos of Arlington Heights, Ill.; the Centre Daily Times of State College, Pa. (circulation 24,395); Willamette Week of Portland, Ore.; the Asbury Park Press of Neptune, N.J.; the Noblesville (Ind.) Daily Times and Your Mom of Davenport, Iowa. Circulation figures for the last two were not immediately available.

Explanations for the selections are in the full story, and articles about each newspaper are available on the E&P Web site to subscribers only in the Print section.

You can get a free copy of the Atlas of Poverty in America by Amy Glasmeier

Amy Glasmeier, a geographer at The Pennsylvania State University, is offering free copies of her work, The Atlas on Poverty in America: One Nation, Pulling Apart, 1960–2003. The 50-page booklet (plus notes and index) provides graphically vivid accounts, historical and contemporary, of economic opportunity.

"The United States is a nation pulling apart to a degree unknown in the last 25 years," Glasmeier says. "A decade of strong national economic growth in the 1990s left many of America’s communities falling far behind median national measures of economic health," including Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Native American lands and the region along the Mexican border, which get special attention in the atlas.

Key factors for displays in the atlas, Glasmeier says, "are the historical record of poverty in America and the lived experience of being poor in our nation today. A central theme is the enduring character of poverty in America, consistently reflecting groups of individuals and places over time. A key message of this atlas is that America’s poor are people who work, or who are dependents of people who work, and face limited opportunity -- often due to living in places that are seriously disadvantaged because of geography or history or both. The story also is one about public policy and the extent to which public intervention has been sufficient to ensure that all persons in this country have an equal chance to achieve their highest potential."

Glasmeier's research was supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation. For a free copy of the atlas, write Amy Glasmeier, Penn State University, 308 Walker Building, University Park PA 16802,or akg1@ems.psu.edu. Check out the Atlas at http://www.emsei.psu.edu/~kolb/amy/Atlas.

Glasmeier spoke at "Rural America, Community Issues," a conference that the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues programmed for the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism in mid-June. To read reports about some other speakers' sessions, click here.

Thomas D. Clark, historian with strong rural roots, laid to rest after tributes

Kentucky Historian Laureate Thomas D. Clark was remembered at his funeral yesterday as a witty, earthy and fully engaged citizen who stayed in touch with his rural roots all the way to his death at nearly 102.

"Dr. Clark has cast an imposing shadow over the landscape of Kentucky and even of America," his University of Kentucky History Department colleague, Dr. Charles P. Roland, said in a tribute to Clark in a packed First United Methodist Church in Lexington. "Kentucky's debt to him is beyond expression." Roland called him "a man of outstanding vigor" for whom history was "a vital element in the life of society." Clark was involved in many civic causes, and "his involvement lent strength and legitimacy to any effort," Roland said.

Roland, a native of West Tennessee, said Clark's rural upbringing in east-central Mississippi often showed in his earthy characterizations. Once Clark said he caught a colleague, with whom he was in a dispute, "with wool between his teeth." Roland explained that was Clark's way of calling the colleague "a sheep-killing dog." He said Clark's "masterpiece" was his 1944 book, Pills, Petticoats and Plows, a history of country stores. Among his 35-plus other works are A History of Kentucky and The Southern Country Editor.

Roland said Clark was "a historian of international distinction," and The New York Times pretty much confirmed that judgment yesterday, with a bylined obituary by Wolfgang Saxon. To read it, click here.

Saturday update: Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader has an excellent report on the funeral.

Appalachian documentary starts airing Sunday on KET; schedule listed

"The Appalachians is an elegant film about a people and a region that are rarely examined beyond stereotypes. The writer and producer ... and the West Virginia-born executive producer, Mari-Lynn C. Evans, want the world to know that the people who live in the Appalachians from West Virginia to Alabama have a proud heritage and have gotten a supremely raw deal from the news media," writes Anita Gates of The New York Times.

This documentary, which has aired in other states, is coming to the state that has more persistently poor counties than any other in Appalachia. Kentucky Educational Television will air it in three parts starting at 9 p.m. on July 3. The complete KET airing schedule is: Part I: Sunday, July 3, 9 p.m.;Wednesday, July 6, 2 a.m.; Saturday, July 9, 10 p.m. Part II: Sunday, July 10, 9 p.m.; Wednesday, July 13, 2 a.m.; Saturday, July 16, 10 p.m. Part III: Sunday, July 17, 9 p.m.; Wednesday, July 20, 2 a.m.; Saturday, July 23, 10 p.m.

This Day In History - 1863 - The Battle of Gettysburg begins

The largest military conflict in North American history began this day, 142 years ago, when Union and Confederate forces collide at Gettysburg. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retreat to Virginia by Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. (Read more)

Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, East Tennesee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.




Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
College of Communications and Information Studies

122 Grehan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0042

Phone: (859) 257-3744, Fax: (859) 323-9879

Questions about the web site: Contact Al Cross, Institute director, al.cross@uky.edu

Last updated: July 29, 2005