The Rural Blog

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

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Beef may be what's for the Fourth, but prices rise with fireworks to near record

Backyard barbecue grills will be flaring this weekend with the annual surge of burgers and steaks over July Fourth holiday, the year's biggest weekend for beef buying, writes Andrew Shain of The Charlotte Observer.

Ephraim Fleabag, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, told the newspaper beef prices nationally are near records. The Canadian cattle ban, a thin domestic herd and a rash of "meat-centric diets," have driven prices up. And, , writes Shain, pork and poultry prices have been pressured up by beef to just pennies from record levels. (Read more)

The Livestock Marketing Information Center reports some cuts of beef have mushroomed in price more than 35 percent since 2002. Food Lion, the second-largest grocer in the Carolinas, said it has not passed higher beef prices on to shoppers despite wholesale increases of 10 percent to 15 percent since January. Harris Teeter, the region's dominant chain, has raised beef prices, but declined to tell the newspaper by how much.

Grocery chains say customers are picking up more chicken and pork but without any significant decline in beef buying, "apparently indicating a few extra bucks won't cool the coals this holiday," Shain writes.

More stories for the Fourth: The public-information office of the Census Bureau offers interesting "facts for features" on population, flags, fireworks, cookouts and patriotic-sounding places. But they don't answer why West Liberty, Ky., is east of Liberty, Ky.!

As July 4 approaches, fire chief calls for a ban on fireworks sales; local angles

"Although fireworks are considered to be a traditional part of the Fourth of July by many Americans, a coalition of fire safety and health groups is urging a ban on the sale of fireworks and urging consumers to leave fireworks displays to professionals," reports Bill Grubb of The Rogersville (Tenn.) Review.

The Review, which promotes itself as "All local, all the time," uses as its news peg "Bill Killen, a Church Hill resident who currently serves as vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs," who tells the paper that even sparklers are "extremely dangerous. They burn at more than 1,000 degrees." (Read more)

Killen told the Review the IAFC is one of 21 safety and health organizations that are jointly urging a ban on the sale of fireworks to consumers. "Killen referred to data supplied by the National Fire Protection Association, part of the coalition, to highlight the potential damage that can be caused by legally purchased consumer fireworks." In 2003, 84 percent of the 9,300 fireworks injuries that were reported to emergency departments involved fireworks (formerly known as Class C) that consumers can legally use. "Killen said the figures show 60 percent of those injured were age 19 or younger," Grubb writes. The highest risk to children aged 5 to 9.

Also in last weekend's edition of the Review was a letter from a local CPA and Baptist minister (a combination this blogger has never encountered) about his disappointment in an encounter with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and his staff during a controversy about Bredesen's cuts in TennCare, the state's version of Medicaid. "I was the only one wearing a suit, and shortly upon arriving a government dignitary introduced himself to me and we started to have a cordial conversation until he discovered I was with the enrollees," Earl Barnett wrote. At that point he snubbed his nose and I was no longer a person of interest. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?"

It also goes to show that even an "all local" paper can look beyond the county line. --Al Cross, director, IRJCI

Demagoguery and big money increase in races for judgeships; beware next year

Journalists in states where judges are elected will face a new challenge next year -- refereeing elections for judgeships, which may become demagogic free-for-alls now in the wake of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled unconstitutional strict limits on what judicial candidates can say in their campaigns.

The ability to have a broader message will also increase the demand for campaign money, so while journalists are trying to examine candidates' statements they will also have to spend more time looking at their financial reports. Things can often get out of hand, as journalists and voters in West Virginia saw last year, when Massey Energy President Don Blankenship gave $2.5 million to "For the Sake of the Kids," a television attack campaign against incumbent Justice Warren McGraw, who lost the general election to Republican lawyer Brent Benjamin.

A new study says the race was the nation's most negative for a state high court. "Negative television ads were aired 5,096 times in the general and primary elections. Of those, 83 percent, five out of every six ads, were negative," writes Paul J. Nyden of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more) Attack ads in the Mountain State accounted for three of every seven negative ads run in Supreme Court races in 15 states last year, according to the study by the Justice at Stake Campaign and its partners, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School and the Institute for Money in State Politics.

The report came exactly three years after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out certain speech limitations on judicial candidates. "Many observers predicted this would make state court races even more political and put interest groups in the driver’s seat, at the expense of fair and impartial courts. The data released today underscores how quickly interest groups have moved to politicize judicial elections," Justice at Stake said in a news release.

Big money and attack ads are unlikely to be limited to statewide or partisan races. "The Family Foundation, for example, has said it wants to solicit judicial candidates' views on such issues as gay marriage and abortion rights. There will be pressure from many organizations to fill out questionnaires and to sign pledge cards that promise in advance how candidates would decide cases," The Courier-Journal said in an editorial this morning.

The editorial was prompted by the announcement by two Republicans on the Louisville Metro Council that they will be paid consultants for nonpartisan candidates, including those for judgeships. The danger isn't that any partisan politician plays a role in judicial races, the paper said: "The danger is that the candidates will become like partisans, differentiating themselves by their political positions instead of by their judicial capacities. If that happens, lawyers and their clients will inevitably have to wonder if their side of a case can be fairly heard."

Town Centers for Agriculture promotion gaining popularity across Massachusetts

Massachusetts farmers "are gaining a renewed voice in local policy-making, thanks to state development officials who are promoting the growth of town centers and the protection of outlying agricultural land and open space," writes Tyler B. Reed of the Weston Town Crier of Framingham. (Read more)

Twenty-six communities, this year alone, have created agriculture commissions, writes Reed. Three towns have approved them to becoming the first in their region to give a formal voice to local farmers.

Doug Gillespie, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, told Reed,
“We’re finding that the biggest problems facing farmers right now are regulations or actions at the local level, and that’s largely because farmers aren’t at the table in policy-making.” The Agricultural Resources agency, state farm organizations and the Office of Commonwealth Development, Reed writes, are teaming up to promote the commissions, which Gillespie told him are to “protect farms and farmland without costing a lot of money.”

The commissions have no official policy-making power, writes Reed. Instead, they are designed to give farmers a voice and educate the public about the benefits of agriculture. Before this year, 14 communities had agriculture commissions, some up to two decades old. Now, he writes, 40 communities will have one.

Economic development in Appalachia: Lessons from modern marvel Ireland?

Many of the settlers of Appalachia were Scots-Irish, bent on freedom and opportunity. Now it appears their descendants could take some lessons on recovery from the Celtic economic empire that is modern Ireland.

"Ireland today is the richest country in the European Union after Luxembourg," writes Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. (Read more) From its history of poverty, famine, war and mass migration, Ireland has turned itself into a modern marvel for those seeking ways to join the accelerating age of technology and globalization.

"The Irish government, the main trade unions, farmers and industrialists joined forces. Corporate taxes were slashed, wages and prices were moderated, foreign investment was aggressively sought. In 1996 Ireland made college education basically free, creating an even more educated work force," writes Friedman. Now, nine out of 10 of the world's top pharmaceutical companies have operations in Ireland, as do 16 of the top 20 medical device companies and 7 out of the top 10 software designers.

Dell Computer founder Michel Dell, told Friedman what attracted them to Ireland was a well-educated work force, good universities close by, an industrial and tax policy consistently supportive of businesses, a politically independent business environment, good transportation, logistics and location making it easy to move products to major markets quickly." He said the Irish "are competitive, want to succeed, hungry and know how to win."

"Ireland's advice is very simple," writes Friedman. Make education free, lower corporate taxes, seek global companies, open economies to competition; speak English, keep your fiscal house in order; and build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management." Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney told him, "It wasn't a miracle, we didn't find gold. It was the right domestic policies and embracing globalization."

Lesson on education: Rural high school students thrive in isolation in High Sierra

A high school in the Sierra Mountains of California is elevating its students' knowledge the old fashioned way. They make them earn it, with high standards and a low teacher-to-student ratio.

"Eastern Sierra Academy [near] Bridgeport, Calif., was ranked 19th out of America's 27,000 public high schools by Newsweek magazine. The school also was the top-ranked California school in the Newsweek poll and the highest-ranked school west of Texas," writes Ray Hagar of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Hagar writes the secret is "$400,000 in high-tech computers, smart boards and other teaching gizmos that are shared by the school's 23 extremely motivated students. That's roughly $17,391 per student. Much of it was purchased with a $255,000 grant." Principal Roger Yost told him, "We have software you'll only find in Hollywood and professional offices. [It's] the same [as that] used to make the monsters in Star Wars."

There are no sports or other extracurricular activities. The focus is academics. Students have two to four hours of homework each night and study on weekends. School lasts until 3 p.m. but some students stay into the evening. Seniors are required to take at least three advanced placement classes. Juniors must take at least one, and students must have a B or higher to pass. Parents are given grade reports every two weeks, Hagar writes.

Students see academics as a way to realizing their dreams, notes Senior John Pelchowski, 17. He told the wire service, "I would consider this as the gateway to the world. You are really exposed to a lot of things here." Only one student has not gone on to college in the past five years. The others have been accepted at prestigious schools such as Williams College in Massachusetts and the University of California in Berkeley.

Principal Yost told AP, "Students have come back (from college) and said this school was harder." The staff is two teachers, a teaching principal and a secretary. But, the small number of students allows them to give a lot of personalized attention to the students, Hagar writes.

Political lesson: Nevada lawmakers tell rural leaders to woo urban legislators

Two Nevada legislative leaders, one from the rural north, the other from the urban south, told a gathering of rural officials this week they need work harder to woo urban lawmakers if they want a bigger cut of the state budget.

"Assembly Republican Leader Lynn Hettrick of Gardnerville told the third annual Nevada Rural Summit in Minden this year's legislative session was not a good one for rural Nevada," reports KESQ-TV, of Palm Desert, Calif. (Read more) And, he added, "I don't think we're going to fare well in future sessions either." Hettrick urged rural leaders to begin an outreach program to urban legislators. For more information from The Nevada Rural Development Council, click here.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins of Henderson told the television station the health of the entire state depends on the health of rural Nevada. He urged them to bring urban legislators into rural parts of the state to better understand what rural Nevadans enjoy on a daily basis. The summit concluded yesterday, after examining a range of topics from rural education and water systems, to tourism, local finances and wildland fires.

Abandoned mines danger to Ohio people, environment; city wants site reclaimed

All that remains of one Canton, Ohio, area strip mine are piles of spoil, the gravel-like substance left after the coal has been extracted, but the site continues to be a threat to the town's people and its environment.

"The spoil contains iron sulfite and iron sulfides, which contaminate water that collects in abandoned ditches and seeps into neighboring water supplies. The pools themselves are potential drowning hazards for young swimmers who underestimate the risk,"writes Austin Lavin of the Canton Repository. (Read more)

The newspaper reports fourteen people have died in abandoned mines between 1999 and 2004 in Ohio. Lavin writes that spoil can be a potential landslide hazard, "because it is piled four stories high in unnatural slopes," he notes. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to reclaim the site that is the focus of the newspaper, but, writes Lavin it remains, at best, a middle priority because others are viewed as more hazardous. The mine, one of 359 abandoned coal mines in Stark County, has been scheduled for cleanup since the 1980s, the newspaper reports, but they write, the $500,000 reclamation has not yet begun.

The national Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund expires Sept. 30 -- unless Congress renews it, as it has in the past -- and states are scrambling to persuade the federal government to renew the funding. Before a 1977 federal law, strip mining was lightly regulated in most states. Tens of thousands of acres were left unusable by mining companies, affecting water supplies across Ohio, Lavin writes.

Documentary debunking Appalachian myths starts Sunday; 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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Kentucky tobacco production may be moving west, student journalist finds

The end of the federal tobacco program means that Kentucky farmers are expected to grow 25 to 30 percent less burley than last year, but some counties will grow more, "signaling a westward shift in the state’s trademark crop," reports Philip Stith, a University of Kentucky student who was part of a reporting project on the future of tobacco and tobacco-dependent communities. Click here for the story and here for an index to other stories.

"In Breckinridge County, agriculture officials predict the county’s 2005 tobacco production will surpass pre-buyout levels, and there are signs elsewhere in near Western Kentucky of higher tobacco production," Stith writes. "To the southwest, in Logan County, the end of the quota and price-support system has opened the door for many large-scale farmers to increase their tobacco production substantially."

Stith's object example is Page Barker, who plans to increase his burley production to 100,000 pounds, from 72,000 last year. But only 1,200 pounds was grown under his own federal quota, and he paid 70 cents per pound to lease the right to grow and sell the rest. "But with quotas abolished and his land available, Barker will not have to spend a penny for the right to grow tobacco in 2005," Stith reports. "The result could be a huge increase in profits for Barker and other growers who were forced to rent the majority of their quota," even though the end of the tobacco program means per-pound prices will fall to about $1.50 from last year's $2.

"What allows Barker and other Western Kentucky farmers to increase production so substantially is the landscape where they live," Stith writes. "Unlike Eastern Kentucky and the adjoining part of Southern Kentucky, which are hilly and tillable mainly in small tracts, Logan County is 90 percent tillable, Barker says. It is for such reasons that some observers expect the production of tobacco in the Bluegrass State to shift westward, to areas where larger tracts of land are available and -- unlike in much of Central Kentucky -- relatively cheap."

Courts growing more skeptical of special legal protections for the press

The often heard claim by reporters they are representatives of the public, and any special legal protections they claim are for the good of society generally, is more and more often falling on less receptive legal ears.

"Courts were for a time receptive to that argument. But a pileup of recent cases and judicial decisions, including the Supreme Court's refusal Monday to hear the cases of two reporters facing jail, suggest a new hostility, one fueled by skepticism about the very value of the institutional press," writes Adam Liptak of The New York Times. (Read more) Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond School of Law, told Liptak, "and that atmosphere, I think, makes courts reluctant to recognize any special First Amendment protection."

Jane Kirtley, who teaches media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, told Liptak, "We're seeing outright contempt for an independent press in a free society. The fact that courts have no appreciation for this is new, is troubling, and you cannot overestimate the impact it will have over time." Kirtley said the legal turning point came in 2003 with a decision written by Richard A. Posner, an influential federal appeals court judge in Chicago. Posner wrote that lower courts had often misread and failed to follow the holding of a 1972 Supreme Court decision, Branzburg vs. Hayes, which rejected protection for reporters facing grand jury subpoenas.

As the latest example of the shifting tide, Liptak cites the Monday Supreme Court decision, which "upheld without comment lower court decisions ordering that Judith Miller of the Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine be jailed for refusing to testify about their sources in an investigation into the disclosure of a covert CIA officer's identity." For the Times article on the Miller decision, click here.

High court upholds lower courts on other Decalogue displays; local fights forecast

The U.S. Supreme Court, a day after sending a mixed message about the constitutionality of religious displays on public property, let stand several lower-court rulings outlawing these exhibits on school grounds and in courtrooms. The justices declined to review four cases involving displays in Harlan County, Kentucky, and Adams County, Ohio. A fifth appeal, involving a ruling that barred the Great Falls, S.C., town council from opening its meetings with a prayer invoking the name of Jesus Christ, also was rejected, writes Hope Yen of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The Harlan County schools had the Commandments surrounded by historical documents, including the Declaration of Independence. The school district had argued that "a broader display made it of historical, not religious, significance," Yen writes. The rulings came a day after the high court issued a pair of 5-4 rulings that struck down framed copies in two Kentucky county courthouses but upheld a monument on the Texas Capitol grounds. The court held that exhibits would be upheld "if their main purpose was to honor the nation's legal, rather than religious, traditions, and if they didn't promote one religious sect over another," Yen notes.

Meanwhile, "Each side predicted many suits and local skirmishes to sort through the tension between the two decisions," David Kirkpatrick reports in The New York Times. "Two groups in Washington, Faith and Action and the Christian Defense Coalition, said they hoped to encourage supporters to petition local officials to install new displays of the Commandments to test the laws. Lawyers on each side said such new deliberately religious displays were highly unlikely to last under the court's new precedents." (Read more)

Justice Department asks judge for $14 billion in penalties in tobacco trial

The government has asked a federal judge to impose $14 billion in penalties against major cigarette manufacturers in a racketeering lawsuit, seemingly ignoring criticism that prosecutors had offered to settle for much less.

"Cigarette makers ... said they would ask U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to throw out the proposed remedies. The Justice Department's request ... fleshed out proposals that prosecutors put forward during the trial's closing arguments earlier this month," writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. (Read more)

"The government asked for the companies to pay for a $10 billion, five-year smoking cessation program and a $4 billion, 10-year education campaign to counter tobacco marketing. Prosecutors also asked for cigarette makers to
reduce youth-smoking levels by 42 percent by 2013, or pay stiff fines," Roxe writes. Philip Morris attorney Dan Webb told her, "every single one of the remedies is legally defective."

.Bill Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called the plan "an act of desperation," saying the companies "are about to lose the liability part of this case." The government alleges tobacco companies conspired for decades to mislead the public about the health risks of smoking. The trial started in September. If the companies were forced to pay out billions, they might reduce their purchases of expensive U.S. tobacco.

Sears' small-town franchisees say deal with Kmart brings unfair competition

A group of Sears dealer store owners has filed suit against the company claiming unfair competition from the sale of Sears products at nearby K-Marts threatens their very existence.

"Joseph Verdecchia, a small-town Sears franchisee, fears his sales could plunge by $400,000 a year because a neighboring Kmart has started selling the same tools and lawn-and-garden equipment that he once sold exclusively.He won't divulge how much of his total sales would be hit, but it's a substantial loss he said came as a surprise. He is afraid that the Kmart, less than 2 miles away, will start selling appliances and leave him defenseless," writes Sandra Guy, a business reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. (Read more)

Verdecchia and his wife, Suzanne, who co-own their Chester, Md., store, are among more than 200 owners of Sears "dealer stores" who filed the federal lawsuit against Sears in Minnesota this week, claiming Kmart's takeover of Sears threatens their businesses. Families and small-business people own and run Sears' 818 dealer stores nationwide. The association that filed the lawsuit represents about a quarter of store owners. Sears provides the tools, appliances and electronics that the dealer stores sell, writes Guy.

The dealers say Sears promised the store owners "they'd have an asset to pass on to their children with the independently owned stores. They also believed that Sears had promised to pay them 10 percent of their yearly sales if they lost their exclusive market. Instead, Sears has offered two owners of shut-down stores 3 percent of sales, the amount it pays when it makes the rare decision not to renew a store's contract," Guy writes.

Kansas bill resurrects gambling as education funding; would delay gaming in Wichita

Casino gambling has resurfaced as a potential source of funding for Kansas schools, but a new measure introduced in a state Senate committee would bar Wichita from obtaining a casino for at least five years. "The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted to send to the floor an amended version of a gaming bill the Senate (had earlier) rejected," writes Fred Mann of The Wichita Eagle. (Read more) The measure would allow destination casinos in two counties where voters already have approved expanded gambling. Another county would be included pending a vote there.

If Wichita or Sedgwick County wants a destination casino, Mann notes, it would need voter approval, then would have to seek legislative permission. But the new version of the bill imposes a five-year moratorium on any expansion beyond Wyandotte and Crawford counties. Proponents said the new version is an attempt to ease the fears of many senators who voted against the original bill because they thought it would have led to an influx of casinos, writes Mann.

The new bill still would permit up to 1,500 video lottery terminals at a Wichita dog racetrack, as well as dog and horse tracks in four other cities. The new bill also increases the state's share of revenue from the machines from 24 percent to 40 percent. For an extensive article, Gambling spurs social, legal woes; Utah could have up to 88,000 'problem' gamers, in the Deseret Morning News of Salt Lake City on the possible social consequences from gambling in that state, click here. The paper is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Farm work for prisoners provides career paths, puts tax money to work, officials say

Inmates of the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, Ky. are baling hay, feeding livestock and doing other down on the farm chores in a special work program, officials say gives them "something to do that's skillful instead of sitting around and costing the taxpayers money."

"Nine inmates ... are responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the cattle farm including repairing fences and weeding, feeding and breeding the animals. The cattle that are raised are sold at auction. The cattle farm also has a vegetable operation where about 600 head of broccoli and an acre each of tomatoes, bell peppers and cabbage are grown," writes Michelle Ku of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

In addition to the cattle farm, Blackburn also is home to a nearly 100-acre Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation horse farm. TRF is a non-profit corporation dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and housing thoroughbreds no longer able to compete. Blackburn's program started in 1999. Sixteen inmates who work on the horse farm are responsible for feeding, bathing, walking and spending time with 88 retired thoroughbreds. Linda Dyer, corrections farm manager who oversees the horse farm, told Ku the majority of their racing careers were ended because of injuries, and many can never be ridden again. Those who do recover from their injuries are put up for adoption.

Marty Story, an inmate from Murray, Ky., who used to train barrel racing horses, told Ku, "We just try to make them healthy and happy." Through their work on the farm, the inmates learn about horse care and stable management. Those who are interested can take an eight- or 16-week course to earn a certificate in stable management, Ku writes.

Historian laureate Thomas Clark, dead at 101, lived nearly Kentucky's history

Each state has certain special treasures, many of which are individuals. Some citizens stand taller than others and make contributions that are historically significant. For Kentucky, Thomas Dionysius Clark (1903-2005), was its living, breathing history, having chronicled its times, turbulent and glorious, for most of his exemplary life.

We sadly note his death yesterday at a century plus one. There are plenty of stories on his passing, including: The Courier-Journal, Historian laureate, advocate for progress dies, by Deborah Yetter; and C-J guest columns, Herodotus of the Bluegrass and Tom Clark's legacy, through the eyes of his peers; the Lexington Herald-Leader, Now a part of history, (Clark) made Kentucky's past a lifetime study, by Andy Mead; and related stories: Remembering Thomas Clark - From his works, Services: 1 p.m. Friday at Lexington's First United Methodist Church... , Editorial: Thomas Clark: a colossus passes

Documentary debunks Appalachian region’s myths; KET to air starting Sunday

"The Appalachians is an elegant film about a people and a region that are rarely examined beyond stereotypes. The writer and producer, Phyllis Geller, 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. (Read more)

The documentary discusses Appalachian residents’ struggles in detail, including how they were swindled by Northern and Midwestern investors, who convinced the residents to sell mineral rights during a period of coal mining growth. Those investors "made a point of depicting the locals as feral, backward and obstructionist," Gates writes. "The Appalachians ended up working as miners for the outsiders, who paid low wages and hired trigger-happy ‘security forces’ to squelch efforts to unionize."

"There were signs of hope, when Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the New Deal . . . By the time Charles Kuralt made his television documentary 'Christmas in Appalachia,' the locals were sick and tired of being condescended to," writes Gates. "And many still are. This film is a welcome first step toward a new image for a population apparently still unprotected by political correctness."

This documentary, which has aired in other parts of Appalachia, is coming to the state that has more persistently poor counties than any other in Appalachia. Kentucky Educational Television will air the documentary in three parts starting at 9 p.m. on July 3. The complete airing schedule will appear Friday on The Rural Blog.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Industry-funded study shows horses are $39 billion business, with 1.4 million jobs

The equine industry, with hundreds of stables, breeders and training farms around the country, and a network of veterinarians, farriers and tack shops, is a multi-billion dollar industry with 1.4 million jobs, a new study says.

"Deloitte Consulting LLC estimates the horse industry contributes $39 billion to the U.S. economy, covering everything from the cost of saddles and salt blocks for backyard ponies to the earnings of millionaire jockeys and trainers at the nation's thoroughbred racetracks," reports David Koenig of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The study showed with indirect costs included -- money spent at grocery stores, car dealers and dry cleaners by people who work in the business -- the economic impact is $102 billion. Several horse racing groups paid for the study, released by the American Horse Council yesterday. The study found there are 9.2 million horses, an increase of about 2 million since the last similar survey nearly 10 years ago.

Horse fanciers explain the industry's strength saying there is a nostalgic yearning for simpler times, when horses were a part of daily life, doing chores and providing transportation. Horse Council President Jay Hickey told AP, "Even though they're not used as much in commerce as they once were, horses are still an important part of many people's lives. It's an agribusiness. It's a sport. It's gaming. It's a breeding industry." For more industry figures, click here.

Commandments ruling invites more activism on both sides, and thus more reporting

Partly because it didn't set a clear standard, yesterday's Supreme Court ruling on displays of the Ten Commandments offers story opportunities. For example, governments not involved in the case have such displays; what will the decision do to them? Also, some advocates of the displays say they will renew their efforts to have other local governments post the Decalogue; watch your local courthouse and city hall. Will opponents mount counter-efforts?

Other questions, asked by Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute today, include: "What do local community leaders and members say about how Ten Commandments monuments and displays affect their citizens and the way local and state governments acknowledge religion? The campaign supporting Ten Commandments displays is overwhelmingly Christian, but not all Christians support them. Will clergy respond to the rulings in sermons this weekend?" Sounds like a house of worship, not only Christian, might be a good place for a reporter this weekend.

In the state where one of the cases arose, Kentucky, there was a mix of defiance, testy compliance and some confusion among local officials. Rowan County Judge-Executive Clyde Thomas told the reporters a wall display of the Ten Commandments will remain until his county receives official word on how the court's ruling applies. Martin County Judge-Executive Kelly Callaham said he does not plan to remove a Ten Commandments display until he hears from state officials. Others told The Courier-Journal (read more) they would comply.

Callaham told Alan Maimon of the Louisville paper he was puzzled because the Supreme Court's own courtroom includes a representation of the commandments. "I don't understand why it's OK for them but not for us," Callahan said. The justices did address the issue, saying the frieze includes 17 other lawgivers, most of them secular figures.

Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter said the ruling created a "mixed bag" for his state. Gibson and Montgomery counties -- both sued by the Indiana Civil Liberties Union -- might be able to keep their displays because they resemble one in Texas that was ruled constitutional. But it's not clear if such a monument will be allowed on the Statehouse lawn, The C-J's Lesley Stedman Wiedenbiener reported.

National officials tell sheriffs that cooperation is key; agencies suffer funding cuts

"Two national figures in crime prevention, FBI Director Robert Mueller and U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden, told sheriffs from around the country yesterday that local and federal agencies need to work together," reports The Courier-Journal.

Mueller, speaking at the National Sheriffs' Association meeting in Louisville, said because of an emphasis on fighting terrorism, the FBI has had to cut back its work on bank robberies, small white-collar-crime cases, drug cases and government fraud. Mueller said that has required more interaction and cooperation between the FBI and local agencies. Muller told the gathering, "But in working together, I do believe we've become more effective," writes Jessie Halladay of the Louisville newspaper. (Read more)

Biden, a Delaware Democrat who says he plans again to seek the presidency, authored a crime bill that put 100,000 police officers on the street during the 1990s. He cited a critical need for more federal funds to support local law-enforcement. Biden told the sheriffs, "There is never a time … you can justify spending less money on crime than you did the year before." Biden talked about federal funding for local agencies being cut, then urged sheriffs to fight for attention from national officials. "Crime is not just a local problem. Crime is a national problem. It is a national responsibility," he said.

'Red hat' program filling labor void in coal mining; many finding new careers

The coal industry is booming thanks to rising energy needs, and is trying to fill the growing need for more miners. The answer: "Red hat" apprentices with previous career experience looking to cash in on the industry's growth spurt. "Mickey Carrico has one big regret about giving up the electrician’s job he held for 15 years to become an apprentice coal miner. He wishes he had done it sooner," writes Kathy Still of the Bristol Herald-Courier. (Read more)

Carrico, 37, is a red-hat miner for Alpha Natural Resources’ Paramont operation in Coeburn. The program was developed by Alpha head Mike Quillen and his managers to help fill the labor void created as southwest Virginia’s miners near retirement. Mining companies have found an absence of eager workers scrambling for jobs. The apprentice miners undergo six months to a year of intense training before they earn their official mining papers. The veterans watch out for their safety. A black mining hat comes only after one year of training and work.

Giving up his job as a contract worker at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., was not an easy decision for Carrico, writes Still. But, the lure of good pay and benefits proved too hard to resist. Carrico had pushed aside ideas of a mining job, because he felt coal companies only hired experienced miners. But he noticed newspaper articles about the region’s efforts to lure new coal-fired power plants to southwest Virginia and thought that sounded good.

Carrico didn’t pursue a coal mining job until he met another Alpha worker at a campground. The worker suggested that Carrico apply for a slot since he already had highly-coveted electrician’s skills, writes Still. Alpha Natural Resources has 203 miners in the red-hat program. Nearly 120 red-hat miners have earned their black hats.

Coal-transport case settlement leaves pay question unanswered for utilities

A legal challenge over rising rail prices for transporting coal through Central Appalachia has been settled, but the agreement does not answer how utilities should pay for steep rate hikes.

"Norfolk Southern Corp. announced last week confidential agreements with subsidiaries of Duke Energy Corp. and Progress Energy Inc. in their federal Surface Transportation Board rate case. The Norfolk, Va., rail company said the settlement could boost this quarter's income by $24 million, or 6 cents per share," reports Erik Shelzig of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The forebearers of the two companies filed the complaint in 2001 after Norfolk Southern raised rates from $10 to $15 per carload of coal from West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. The settlement involves an undisclosed cash payment by Norfolk Southern and a multiyear rail transportation contract that keeps rates comparable with 2002 figures, writes Shelzig. Progress Energy, based in Raleigh, N.C., declined to give specifics about the agreement.

The Surface Transportation Board ruled the railroad did not charge unreasonable rates, but because of "unusually large rate increases," the board reviewed whether hikes violated a constraint on how quickly - and by how much - new rates are used. A "phasing constraint" request had never been sought by a utility before and the board has never applied one, writes Shelzig, which makes it uncertain whether the Surface Transportation Board "would find the phasing constraint applicable, and if it did, whether phasing would be ordered retroactively or prospectively or both."

Geologists take another look at Appalachians in search of 'bubbling crude'

Many people will remember the words to the Beverly Hillbillies theme, "Then one day he was shooting at some food, and up from the ground came a bubbling crude." Now, it seems the hunt is on again. "Ohio and some other states are part of a consortium that is planning an exhaustive study in search of new oil reserves beneath the Appalachian foothills," reports WXIX-TV in Cincinnati. (Read more)

The two-year review is being sparked by record-high prices for crude oil and the country's continuing need for it. Some experts remain concerned about digging deep enough into the Appalachian basin to find oil, and transporting it where it needs to go afterwards. The region was a significant producer in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, reports the television station. A stretch in northwest Ohio saw nearly 100,000 wells that produced about 600 million barrels. But eventually coal became the area's most valuable natural resource.

Scientists are now poring through existing records to determine the existence and location of bigger, deeper oil deposits. A Kentucky geologist told WXIX the area could be an important oil producer again.

Ethanol industry breaks production record for April, but demand falls again

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) today announced that the U.S. ethanol industry set a monthly production record for April of 238,000 barrels per day (b/d), according to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Production was up over 9 percent compared to the prior April record of 218,000 b/d in 2004.

“Despite unprecedented favorable blending economics, ethanol demand fell again in April,” stated RFA President Bob Dinneen. “At a time when ethanol prices are falling and petroleum prices are setting record highs, it is unfathomable that ethanol demand would slack off. Clearly, the petroleum marketplace is not functioning to the benefit of consumers. This is more proof of the need for a robust renewable fuels standard as part of national energy legislation.”

For more information, visit the RFA Web site.

Indian tribe files lawsuit to reclaim Ohio land; chief cites gambling opportunity

The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma has filed a federal lawsuit to reclaim Ohio land it says was taken illegally, but appears willing to settle for a lot less as long as it gets sites for the state's first casinos.

"The Eastern Shawnees claim Ohio was their home, dating back to the 1600s, and that the U.S. Army forced the Native America tribe out of 27 villages by the year 1786. It's not just about the land, but what could happen on the reclaimed land that's the issue here," reports WBNS-TV, in Columbus. (Read more) Tribal Chief Charles Enyart's option of choice in Ohio would be casino-style gambling. He told the television station, "It would be very good for the tribe. We use revenue of gaming to better members all over the U.S."

The tribe lays claim to about 145 squ\are miles in Allen, Auglaize and Logan counties, but "An acceptable settlement to the tribe could include allowing casino gambling in Botkins, Monroe, Lorain and Lordstown, four cities that would welcome it," the TV station reports. The Shawnees want to build a $100 to $300 million casino resort in Lordstown, creating 3,000 jobs. Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee told WBNS-TV, "It would be big for our town, by definition agreement. We'd get two percent of gaming profits; we estimate four to five million dollars a year."

Tom Smith, of the Ohio Council of Churches, says his group will continue to fight any gambling plan. "Studies have shown within 35 miles of the casino, the number of addicted gamblers doubles," he contends. Casino-style gambling is not currently allowed in Ohio, and Republican leaders do not support it, and Ohio's attorney general says he doesn't believe the Eastern Shawnee tribe is entitled to any land in Ohio, reports WBNS-TV.

Indian tribes use casino cash used for ventures from concert venues to banking

Indian tribes, which have parlayed their right to run casinos into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, are fanning out in the business world to bolster their fortunes with diversity. "The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe [near Auburn, Wash.] has staked out its corner in the next generation of American Indian business. It's the White River Amphitheater, a 20,000-seat concert venue owned by the tribe and managed by Clear Channel, the world's largest producer of concerts and other live-entertainment events," writes Curt Woodward of The Associated Press.

New tribal enterprises range from high finance and tourism to agriculture and food processing, including banks in California and Montana, a $43 million Washington, D.C., hotel owned by four tribes from Wisconsin and California, and a fruit juice plant purchased last year by the Yakima Nation of eastern Washington. Ron Allen, past president of the National Congress of American Indians, told Woodford, "The majority of us are focusing in on trying to diversify and trying to develop those foundations before the gaming revenue disappears." (Read more)

Indian casino growth has profits rolling in for many tribes - more than 400 casinos in 28 states earned some $18.5 billion last year, writes Woodward. But it also has them feeling the heat from political critics and the non-Indian gambling industry, which is angling for access to the lucrative slot machines that are reserved for tribes in many states.

Jonathan Taylor, a research fellow with the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development told AP, comprehensive data on tribal business aren't available, but recent years have seen tribes with gambling adding tourist-based businesses that add to the draw of their casinos. Some tribes, Taylor said, are moving to a second tier of businesses including retail, light manufacturing and defense contracting.

Increasing number of dry lots -- unregulated, arid land -- sold in rural Arizona

A sales increase of dry lots, which require buyers to find water or have it trucked in, is fueling rural development. "A California developer sold about 500 home sites north of Kingman without providing a permanent water source. Buyers will have to haul water or have it hauled in for them," writes Shaun McKinnon of The Arizona Republic. (Read more) "Sometimes, it's a concern," developer Ron Freeman said. "But it's a balancing act, a trade-off."

Some cities, including Phoenix and Tucson, are held to higher standards requiring a designated water supply. The restrictions do not apply to many rural areas, enabling landowners to build small subdivisions that rely on unmonitored wells without long-term water guarantees. The unregulated growth has some people worried. Rep. Tom O'Halleran, R-Sedona, told the newspaper, "The economic viability of rural Arizona is at risk if we don't do something." But, writes McKinnon, serious consequences such as water shortages or water quality problems may not surface for years.

In rural Arizona, builders must still submit plans to the state Department of Water Resources, but even if it finds the water supply won't last, the developer can build anyway. About 35 percent of the 171 applications processed by the state's Assured and Adequate Water Supply Office since 2001 were found to have an inadequate supply, according to state records. State law requires the developer to disclose the state's finding to the initial buyer, but if that buyer sells, he or she isn't obligated to tell the next buyer that there's no guarantee of water, McKinnon writes.

Maine doubles cigarette tax, inflaming smokers; will some grow their own?

Cigarette smokers in Maine are angry at state lawmakers over a big tax increase to help balance the budget, a measure they feel unfairly targets them.

"But most (smokers) concede they won't resort to ... growing their own tobacco or crossing the border to buy smokes. Doubling the tax on each pack of cigarettes from $1 to $2 will raise $142.8 million in fiscal 2006. That's $46 million more than the tax brought in this year and enough to save lawmakers from having to borrow money to balance the budget," reports The Associated Press. (Read more) For a related story in the Concord Monitor, click here.

Anti-smoking advocates lobbied for the tax increase as a way to encourage smokers to quit and reduce Maine's skyrocketing health-care costs. Democratic lawmakers embraced it to avoid borrowing money or making deep cuts to social services. Smokers and retailers say it's disingenuous for legislators to claim that the tax is meant to encourage people to give up cigarettes, reports AP.

Peter DiPietrantonio, who owns a chain that is one of the state's largest cigarette retailers, said, "It was a quick fix for the state. I don't believe they want people to quit smoking. They want their money." His store generates about $500,000 for the state through the excise tax. When the tax goes up in September, DiPietrantonio contends his sales will decline slightly. Ultimately, DiPietrantonio says, the majority of smokers will foot the bill for the Legislature's spending plan even though many of them cannot afford it. AP reports, in 2003, the median household income for Maine smokers was $29,352, compared with $43,070 for nonsmokers, according to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Hispanic influx heightens demand for fresh cheese, revitalizes North Carolina dairy

Two North Carolina women are finding a future in fresh cheese by making a food that is in high demand in the growing Hispanic community, reports Jennine Jones Giles of The Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C.. (Read more)

Claret Fullam and Lynnette Raines of Fullam Cremery see that fresh cheese is a popular with Hispanics, writes Giles. The cheese they make is being bought by a Latino services business and is available in many local tiendas, or markets. "Part of our goal is to get it to restaurants," Raines told Giles. "We're not sure how many might be interested. We discovered that the Mexican restaurants typically use American cheese rather than authentic Mexican cheeses."

Fullam said 10 percent of their time is used making cheese and the other 90 percent is spent cleaning. No one is permitted in the cremery’s cheese-making section without hair netting and sanitary "booties" over shoes. Gloves and special cloaks are worn too. "We are very cautious because these are fresh cheeses," Fullam told Giles.

Ex-CEO ordered to pay Heartland papers $5.1 million, triple what he borrowed

Heartland Publications' former leader must pay $5.1 million in damages to the company after admitting he borrowed $1.7 million from the company during his tenure. "James M. McGinnis, 56, was president and CEO of Heartland Publications LLC until being replaced in February. Heartland publishes 19 newspapers in Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Oklahoma," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

The Duval County Circuit Judge granted Heartland's motion for a summary judgment against McGinnis. The newspaper chain said it asked McGinnis to repay the money, but he had not. "There are no genuine issues of material fact to dispute that James McGinnis committed theft ... by taking $1,713,342 from Heartland's accounts for his own personal use and benefit," the judge wrote.

In accordance with Florida law, the judge ordered McGinnis pay Heartland more than $5.1 million, which is triple the amount he took, writes AP. McGinnis' last known address was in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Keillor starts movie with this plot: Prairie Home Companion gets canceled!

"It was high noon last week on a hot, sticky Thursday. Outside St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater, Exchange Street was quiet and deserted. Inside, it was a different story. The Fitz, normally deserted on a weekday, was crawling with workers," writes Deborah Caulfield Rybak of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. (Read more)

Workers were setting the stage so cameras can start filming Wednesday on Prairie Home Companion, a "comic fable" based on Garrison Keillor's public-radio show. The cast includes Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson and Lindsay Lohan, and the director is Robert Altman (MASH, The Player, Short Cuts). Keillor wrote the screenplay and will play himself in the film, a backstage story about a radio variety show being canceled.

"The movie is coming together a lot like its radio inspiration -- at the last minute," writes Rybak. Financial hurdles delayed filming several months from an original start date last fall. Now the set and the actors are ready for action.

Chicken Poop for the lips!? Kansan's venture is proof you can market anything

A Kansas entrepreneur is banking today's society, steeped in scatological humor and references, will embrace a new, if not aberrant "down on the farm" product aimed at modern tastes.

"Jamie Tabor hopes to someday retire on Chicken Poop. Chicken Poop is the whimsical name of her all-natural lip balm," made from soy, jojoba oil, orange, lavender and beeswax, writes Deb Gruver of The Wichita Eagle. Your blogger questions the use of "whimsical." Although technically correct, it used to refer more to pleasant flights of fancy.

Tabor sells Chicken Poop at 15 stores in Wichita and across the country. Much of her business is coming from Chicago, driven in part by a mention in Daily Candy, an e-mail magazine of sorts about fashion, shopping and cultural events tailored to metropolitan areas, Gruver writes.

Tabor said she began making Chicken Poop in 2000. The name Chicken Poop comes from a joke her grandfather used to tell her: (We'll let you read the joke from the news story itself.) She receives orders every day on her Web site and advertises the product around town with a VW Beetle adorned with pink stars and the Chicken Poop logo, writes Gruver. Orders are up enough for Tabor to consider hiring employees.

Tabor told Gruver, "We're trying to find venture capital. I want it to be huge. I want Chicken Poop to be bigger than Burt's Bees," a product line that also includes lip balm. Blogger's Note: My father used to say, "There's no accounting for taste." I would add, or the lack thereof, but we note the story as a sign of the times.

Rural Calendar: Food-safety seminar for journalists set July 16 in New Orleans

Functional foods could be on the way, but what can consumers expect from groceries to safely better their health? Journalists who cover health, science, fitness or the food industry will get an answer to that question and more at a free all-day seminar presented by the Foundation for American Communications. The seminar, loaded with Ph.D.s, is presented with help from the non-profit Institute of Food Technologists and the institute's foundation.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists are eligible for a limited number of travel stipends of up to $150 in actual expenses. Ten stipends are available to those requiring travel and overnight accommodations. To apply, register for the program here, then call FACS at 626-584-0010.

Monday, June 27, 2005 (excerpts)

Lawrence Journal-World may be showing the way to the newspaper of the future

"The Newspaper of the Future" is the Lawrence Journal-World, a 19,200-circulation daily in a college town in Kansas, according to yesterday's New York Times. "Nobody else is close to doing what they've done," David Card, a new-media analyst at Jupiter Research, told Times business reporter Timothy O'Brien.

As examples, O' Brien cites a voter guide that let voters match their views with those of the candidates, personalized electronic trading cards for Little Leaguers, photo views of seats at the University of Kansas stadium, court cases illuminated by transcripts and chats, and "piles of public records" on the paper's Web site, LJWorld.com, and the bloggers and downloadable music on its site aimed at college readers, Lawrence.com.

O'Brien writes, "The steward of this online smorgasbord is Dolph C. Simons Jr., a politically conservative, 75-year-old who corresponds via a vintage Royal typewriter and red grease pencil while eschewing e-mail and personal computers." Simons told O'Brien, "I don't think of us as being in the newspaper business. Information is our business and we're trying to provide information, in one form or another, however the consumer wants it and wherever the consumer wants it, in the most complete and useful way possible." To that, we say "amen."

Simons, the editor and publisher of The Journal-World, told the Times he is "terribly concerned" about the decline of newspaper readership. "I think we all have to learn new things as fast as we can. Otherwise other people are going to beat us to it," he told O'Brien. "We need to be driving with our brights, because if we're driving with our dims somebody's going to come in from the side of the road and knock us off."

Simons is the chairman of World Co., the newspaper's parent firm, which has long been an innovator. It used newspaper profits to string TV cable and offer programming in 1971, and began publishing on the Internet in 1995. "In 1999, the newspaper and its television station began sharing talent, using reporters to write for The Journal-World and appear on the company's news stations," the Times reports.

Through it all, the focus has been local. "When the space shuttle blew up, we didn't have it on our home page; when the war in Iraq started, we didn't have it on our home page," Rob Curley, director of new media, told O'Brien. "It's focusing entirely on local stories that we think made our Web traffic go crazy." In the three years since Curley arrived, the Web sites' monthly page views have jumped from 500,000 to 7 million, and the company expects its online business to make a profit this year.

The paper tries to build demand by offering more services. In 2003, it installed about 30 wireless routers around town and began sending daily content to cell phones. Recently, it stared "podcasts" of information to owners of MP3 players such as the Apple iPod. "It plans to offer a service that automatically loads information onto a docked MP3 player in the early-morning hours before students head to school," O'Brien writes.

The online operation limits costs with heavy use of interns, "but the company is still finding it difficult to persuade readers to interact with online display ads," the Times reports. "And, while willing to adapt to news advertising demands, the company refuses to turn its Web site into an advertising billboard, believing that the clutter would undermine the quality and integrity of its journalism." For O'Brien's full story, click here.

'King of the Hill' is a way for some Democrats to understand small-town values

To learn whether he is connecting on social and economic issues with conservative, small-town and rural voters in North Carolina, Gov. Mike Easley tells his pollster to "separate the state's voters into those who watch 'King of the Hill' and those who don't," reports Matt Bai, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.

Bai summarizes the Fox animated show: "It revolves around a classic American everyman, the earnest Hank Hill, who sells ''propane and propane accessories'' in the small town of Arlen, Tex. Hank lives with his wife, Peggy, a substitute Spanish teacher who can't really speak Spanish, and his son, Bobby, a sensitive class clown who exhibits none of his father's manliness. . . . This could easily be the setup for a mean parody about rural life in America, in the same vein as 'South Park,' but 'King of the Hill' . . . has never been so crass. The show's central theme has always been transformation -- economic, demographic and cultural. Hank embodies all the traditional conservative values of those Americans who, as Bill Clinton famously put it, 'work hard and play by the rules'."

Bai's main point: "Like a lot of the basically conservative voters you meet in rural America -- and here's where Democrats should pay close attention -- Hank never professes an explicit party loyalty, and he and his buddies who sip beer in the alley don't talk like their fellow Texan Tom DeLay. If Hank votes Republican, it's because, as a voter who cares about religious and rural values, he probably doesn't see much choice. But Hank and his neighbors resemble many independent voters, open to proposals that challenge their assumptions about the world, as long as those ideas don't come from someone who seems to disrespect what they believe."

But Democrats may need to learn fast, because the next season, the show's 10th, could be its last. "There are rumors that the network may want to substitute yet another new reality show in its place," Bai writes. "This is odd. After all, there is more reality about American life in five minutes of 'King of the Hill' than in a full season of watching Paris Hilton prance around a farm in high heels." To read the entire column, click here.

Saturday special, June 25, 2005

Kentucky weekly examines local groups' spending of tobacco-settlement funds

When the Kentucky legislature allocated half the state's money from the national tobacco settlement to agricultural development in the state, it set aside 35 percent of that half for county-level programs, endorsed by local boards and and administered largely by local people. Though the settlement fund is the largest discretionary pot of money in Kentucky state government, the spending of it has received relatively little news coverage.

That is not the case in Casey County, in the south-central part of the state, where disputes between locals have prompted detailed coverage by the Casey County News. This week, the paper began a five-part series on how the settlement money is being spent in the county. The paper has no Web site, but the entire story is posted here.

The story, by Editor Donna Carman, reports that the largest single beneficiary of settlement money in the county has been the farmer who was chairman of the Casey County Agriculture Development Council, which sets priorities that guide the state Agricultural Development Board in allocating money to county programs. The story also reveals that the state board set a limit of $15,000 on payments to any one farmer, partly because the board chairman had received $19,519 from the program -- the last $5,000 two days before the limit took effect.

“The fact that the previous chairman collected from four different programs and drew the largest amount of any farmer, while others were waiting, may or may not be legal, but it sure is unfair,” his successor, Marion Murphy, told the weekly newspaper in March. Murphy resigned May 15, but his complaints prompted a state investigation and policy changes, and that is the focus of a story by Brittany Johnson, now a Casey County News intern, written when she was a student in the Rural Journalism class at the University of Kentucky this spring.

The story also noted a lack of state oversight. It was part of a reporting project on the future of tobacco and tobacco-dependent communities, edited by class instructor Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. To read it, click here. For a growing list of related stories, click here.

Animal in Texas found to have mad-cow disease; first such animal born in U.S.?

The finding of mad-cow disease in an animal born in the United States "is likely to further complicate several contentious issues," reports Marc Kaufman of The Washington Post. "The administration is eager to reopen the Canadian border to shipments of live cattle -- favored by some large beef packers with operations on both sides of the border but opposed by many U.S. cattle farmers and feedlot operators who fear additional contamination from Canada. At least four mad cow cases have been identified in Canada." (Read more)

Also, the administration wants to modify the ban on allowing "downer" cows, those that cannot stand on their own, into the food supply -- a ban imposed after the first mad-cow case was found in Washington state in 2003.

The Department of Agriculture announced Friday that a Texas animal that it earlier declared to be free of mad-cow did have the disease. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said officials are trying to learn more about the animal's origin, but he said there is no indication that it was imported, as was the only other animal to test positive for the disease in the U.S. "That would make the newly identified animal the first born in this country found to have mad-cow disease," Kaufman notes.

When the first case surfaced, "The beef industry lost billions of dollars . . . and critics said the administration has sought to minimize additional threats to protect the industry from a second crisis," Kaufman reports. Johanns "acknowledged a number of embarrassing mistakes and oversights by the agency. In addition to misdiagnosing the diseased sample, officials apparently mislabeled the sample that tested positive," the Post says.

Johanns said the agency believes the animal was born before 1997, when the U.S. banned cattle feed that included animal parts -- feed that scientists believe is the source of the disease. "In very rare cases, the disease has been passed on to humans who eat the infected meat, and the result was always fatal," Kaufman reports.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Global conference delegates hear about America's approaches to rural broadband

High-speed Internet access in the United States, which lags behind that of many other developed countries largely because it is scarce in the nation's rural areas, was discussed in depth yesterday by three expert presenters at the International Rural Network Conference at Abingdon, Va., which concludes today.

Stephen McDowell of Florida State University cited a 2003 survey showing that 20 percent of Americans have broadband, “sort of in the middle” of the developed countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “That’s got a lot of people worried in the United States,” he said, because of a consensus that broadband is needed for economic development.

Much discussion dealt with government efforts to extend and restrict broadband service. While some state and local governments have launched broadband projects, some legislatures have passed laws that make it more difficult if not impossible for public agencies to offer the service, and a bill to prohibit that in most cases is pending in Congress. The laws were written by phone companies, said Sharon Strover of the University of Texas.

Phone companies say they have not extended broadband to many areas due to lack of demand. McDowell said that when local governments get into the business, they often stimulate demand. Greg Bischak, the Appalachian Regional Commission's senior economist, said several examples of that exist, especially in Pennsylvania. Rural service often “has to do with whether the state forces the hand of the big telcos to do something about it,” he said.

Another bill would preserve local governments' right to provide broadband, blocking state prohibitions. It also has an anti-discrimination provision, "that municipalities have to apply the same rules to private providers," says Muniwireless.com. Also opposed to limitations on government broadband is Freepress.org. A delegate from Australia said government-funded broadband access sites there raised residents' expectations too high.

Most U.S. libraries offer free Internet access; rural areas have lowest, slowest levels

A study released yesterday by the American Library Association shows nearly all U.S. libraries provide free public Internet access and an increasing number offer wireless connections.

The study by Florida State University found that 99 percent of libraries offer free Internet access, up from 21 percent in 1994 and 95 percent in 2002. It also found that 18 percent of libraries have wireless access and 21 percent plan to get it, writes Gretchen Ruethling of The New York Times. (Read more)

The study found that rural areas were more likely to have slower connections and fewer workstations and training opportunities. Arkansas, California, Idaho, New Hampshire, Virginia and West Virginia had the lowest access levels. Urban areas, which also had some of the highest poverty rates, tended to have high access levels.

John Carlo Bertot, one of the study's authors, told the Times, "U.S. public libraries have gained a tremendous amount of headway as it relates to connectivity and access. The challenge lies in ensuring that libraries continue to get the support they need to provide necessary improvements to the technology."

The study sampled 6,865 libraries out of the country's 16,192 and received responses from 5,023 libraries in 34 states. The number of annual library visits has increased from 500 million in the early 1990's to 1.2 billion. The study also reported that almost 40 percent of public libraries filter public Internet access to guard minors from sex content. The study showed that state library systems in Georgia and West Virginia put filters on all public libraries.

Nearly one-third of rural Nebraskans lack Internet access, recent poll finds

The 2005 Nebraska Rural Poll asked the state's rural residents about changes they may have experienced in the past 10 years. Where have they lived during that time? In what types of business activities have they been involved? Have they received any education or training in that time? What is their Internet experience? To read coverage provided by the Gering Courier, click here.

Based on 2,851 responses, findings include: 25 percent have lived somewhere other than their current community; younger residents are more likely than older residents to have lived elsewhere; 20 percent currently own a business; persons living in or near the smallest communities are more likely than persons living in or near larger communities to currently own a business.

Internet findings include: 69 percent have access; higher income residents are most likely to have access; information searches and email are big reasons for having access; and persons living in or near larger communities are more likely to say their satisfaction with their Internet connection has increased during the past 10 years.

Virginia newspaper retires 'pioneer' information system; Internet replaces 'Beeline'

Yes, Virginia, there was something before the Internet. On September 20, 1991, the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee became one of 15 newspapers nationwide with an electronic call-in system known locally as the Beeline. "The system, which has been a hive for the latest news buzz for nearly 14 years, will be shut down (today)," writes the newspaper’s Otto A. Mazzoni III. (Read more)

The Beeline provided weather, national and local news, horoscopes, soap opera schedules, sports and stock quotes updated every 15 minutes. Don Webb, the Register and Bee’s interactive media coordinator, said "Only a few newspapers were willing to be pioneers. At the time, we were getting as much as 4,000 calls a day. We have had literally millions of calls into the Beeline over the years.” Webb sees the Beeline as a precursor to the Internet. “Of course, we are moving everything to the Internet, which we have been doing for a long time," he said.

Wireless providers boast millions of customers, want more breathing room

Cell-phones and laptops provide communication for millions of people. Now wireless service providers are setting their sights on more territory: Analog airwaves occupied by TV broadcasters, writes Catherine Yang with Heather Green and Tom Lowry for Business Week. (Read more)

This summer, a Congressional committee is expected to “introduce legislation that would require TV stations to go all-digital and relinquish their analog airwaves by Dec. 31, 2008. That would complete the push launched in 1996, when Congress gave local stations an extra set of airwaves to go digital. The stations, which fear losing viewers who lack digital TV sets, have long fought the move," reports Business Week.

The bill could pass because lawmakers want the $10 billion the Congressional Budget Office is estimating that spectrum sales could reap. That has made Republicans more agreeable to Democrats' wishes that the government subsidize analog-to-digital converter boxes for households unable to afford new digital TVs.

A few years will pass before the spectrum comes available, but competition should be great among companies seeking to meet wireless demands. The market for wireless data, ranging from broadband to TV on cell phones, could jump from $7.6 billion this year to $38 billion in 2014, according to Kagan Research LLC.

New public broadcasting chief chosen; foes fear Harrison's political influence

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting yesterday appointed Patricia S. Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, to be its next president and chief executive.

"The corporation board brushed aside concerns from many public television and radio stations . . . that choosing Harrison threatened to inject partisanship into an organization that is supposed to shield public broadcasting from political pressures," write Stephen Labaton and Anne E. Kornblut of The New York Times. (Read more)

Harrison's selection comes just as public broadcasting's direction is under fire. CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson has taken steps to correct what he and conservative critics see as liberal bias, and public broadcasting executives have responded by accusing him of threatening their editorial independence. Harrison's backers said her credentials will help win support for public broadcasting, write Labaton and Kornblut.

Harrison, an assistant secretary of state, has no significant broadcasting experience, and Democratic lawmakers called her too partisan for the post. Democratic critics included Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota. Dorgan told the Times, "I think this is a huge mistake. My sense is that this is going to do real injury to public broadcasting."

Grapes replacing burley tobacco; production, big increases in sales to vineyards

"On a tumbling hillside where he once grew rows of burley tobacco, Wayne Vice now cultivates red cabernet franc grapes. Vice ran cattle, tried vegetables and even raised ginseng to diversify his farm, northeast of Lexington, but he believes grapes will replace the income he once found with tobacco. So he has expanded his Windy Hill Vineyard to eight acres, up from (two)," reports The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Once reliant on out-of-state vineyards, Kentucky wineries increasingly are turning to growers like Vice, as the state's wine grape production expands. Kentucky wineries bought nearly four times more grapes from state vineyards in 2004 than the year before, while growers more than doubled their wine grape production. And those wineries used Kentucky grapes in 71 percent of their wines, up from 55 percent in 2003, Marcus Green writes.

"A recent University of Kentucky survey of state wineries shows an upswing in the state's fledgling grape growing efforts. University horticulturist John Strang told the newspaper the survey reflects the state government-sponsored effort to establish grapes as a viable crop," Green writes for the Louisville newspaper. "Kentucky's share of a national settlement with cigarette makers also has helped some vineyards increase grape production and given Kentucky wineries incentives to buy Kentucky grapes. The state Agricultural Development Board, which oversees settlement money, has allocated $1.7 million for wine-related projects since 2001."

Southwest Virginia woman gives up tobacco farming for lavender production

A former tobacco farm on the Clinch River near Dungannon, Va., is now producing lavender. Pat Osborne's "inheritance of the family farm and a knee replacement operation made her realize that there had to be something more to this farming gig than the same old crops and usual profit margins at the cattle market," reports Kevin Castle of the Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News. (Read more)

Osborne told Castle, "I needed something that was low maintenance but something that was innovative. I've been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, so I'm always looking for new things. That's when I saw an article in Country Living magazine on people who raised lavender." Now she is harvesting two acres and hanging the crop to dry in the barn that once housed burley tobacco.

The barn will also be the site for manufacturing of lavender products, such as pet beds that Osborne says make dogs and cats smell better and discourage fleas. Click here for Obsorne's Web site.

Rural Georgia school districts suing state, arguing education funding inadequate

Dozens of rural school districts argued in court Thursday that Georgia has failed to provide an adequate education for all students, writes Mary MacDonald of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Read more)

The lawsuit by 51 school systems asks Fulton County Superior Court to say the state's money distribution system to schools has penalized small, tax-poor communities. The schools are mainly funded by state and local taxes. Rural schools argue that budget cuts have placed a greater burden on the property tax of local communities. Rural systems say they have trouble raising money, because they lack the larger tax bases of wealthier communities.

As a result, lawyers for the Consortium for Adequate School Funding say students go without needed services, such as summer school or translators for schools with immigrant students. The systems say the state must provide all students with an "adequate education," one that would allow them to function as productive citizens.

The state attorney general's office wants the case dismissed, arguing local school systems are responsible for providing public education. A decision is expected later this summer.

Dothan newspaper brings the Southern Baptist Convention home to Alabama

In an example of how national rural issues can be locally focused, "The newspaper for the 'wiregrass' since 1903" sent one of its reporters to cover the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville this week.

"Instead of pushing for a withdrawal from public schools, Southern Baptists have urged parents to become more vigilant over school curriculum in light of what they say is a gradual moral decay of public education," writes Lance Griffin of the Dothan Eagle. (Read more) The convention expressed concern over the approval of alternative lifestyles in public education, but stopped short of suggesting parents should take their children out of public schools. Instead, the resolution called for parents to be their childrens' primary educators, Griffin writes.

Rev. Ray Jones of Dothan's Ridgecrest Baptist Church told Griffin, "Basically, what it said was, 'Parents, be involved.' Understand what is being taught in your schools and be willing to question morally offensive or immoral kinds of materials, and, if need be, be ready to take a stand on issues that could be morally compromising."

Winn-Dixie closings' effects far-reaching; customers are losing options

The announcement this week that once southern stalwart, Winn-Dixie, will close its stores in four southern states made national news, but it had a very personal down-home impact for shoppers who've called the chain their own for decades, writes Kim Gilliland of the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record. (Read more)

"Lori Hawkins will soon have to find another place to shop for groceries. Her favorite supermarket, Winn-Dixie, is closing," writes Gilliland. Winn-Dixie will cease operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. The closings will cut 22,000 jobs under the company’s proposed bankruptcy reorganization plan.

“It will inconvenience me quite a bit," Hawkins said. "This is the only store from Sawmills to the Catawba County line.” Winn-Dixie is seeking buyers for the stores and wants new owners to retain workers. "Shirley Young’s late husband, Edward, managed the Granite Falls store for 20 years. She wishes the company would leave the Granite Falls store open," Gilliland writes. A total of seven Winn Dixie stores are closing in the newspaper's area.

National debate on corporate tax breaks hits home in North Carolina lawsuit

A growing national ground-swell of opposition to using state and local tax breaks as economic incentives may find added legal impetus from a North Carolina lawsuit involving computer maker Dell Corp. Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr filed the suit yesterday to overturn tax breaks for Dell, citing the almost $300 million in incentives for the company as "the poster child for a growing problem."

"We're delighted Dell's in North Carolina. We just want them to pay their share of the taxes," said Orr, who heads the nonprofit N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, writes David Rice of the Winston-Salem Journal. (Read more) Orr asked the court to strike down at least $242 million in tax breaks and other incentives the General Assembly approved for Dell last year. The suit also challenges $37 million in incentives that Winston Salem and Forsyth County offered Dell to build a plant in Forsyth County.

Orr said, "This action should not be construed as an attack on efforts to help North Carolina grow and prosper and produce jobs for its citizens. This suit is simply about the constitution and what limits it places on public officials and the expenditure of the public's money." Orr said the case is part of a growing nationwide debate over corporate subsidies, adding, "You can call it corporate welfare. You can call it subsidies. They like to call them incentives. But the bottom line is it's going far beyond where it's supposed to," writes Rice.

Virginia’s brook trout soaking up too much air pollution for their own good

“Brook trout are special. They are a child of the Appalachian wilderness, living in some of the world’s most beautiful spots: mountain streams that are cold, clear and clean. For me, it always has been a thrill to catch one, especially a native, but even if you are unsuccessful you can enjoy the simple pleasure of just sharing their pristine habitat,” writes Bill Cochran of Roanoke.com. (Read more)

Brook trout are the smallest of Virginia’s big-three trout -- rainbows, browns and brooks. They are the only native trout of the East, and they face trouble, reports Cochran. More than most species, the brook trout is affected by emissions from coal-burning power plants and vehicles. The result can be sterile water without trout and the insects and minnows they need. Scientists say about half the state’s 400-plus streams with brook trout are hurt by acidity. Strides have been made to improve air and water quality, but work remains, writes Cochran. Places in Virginia’s brook-trout country fail to meet the Environmental Protection Agency' new air standards.

Now there is “Back the Brookie,” a campaign started by Trout Unlimited in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia. Campaign components include: to protect and restore brook trout's habitat; to educate the public, especially youth; to keep elected and appointed officials and business and industry leaders updated on needs and challenges; and to attract new Trout Unlimited members.

Rare conference promotes use of mined lands for Kentucky wildlife management

In a rare if not unprecedented meeting, several coal industry-related groups agreed that coal operators need financial incentives so that they will buy into more and better ways to reclaim mined land for wildlife management.

"More than 200 people from 14 states and Canada attended a daylong Mine Reclamation for Wildlife Summit in Louisville, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which enjoyed success at restoring elk in Eastern Kentucky," writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

Jon Gassett, interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, told Jester, "We are doing a pretty good job now, not having incentives. (But) Coal companies are not going to do good wildlife management on reclaimed land if it costs them anything." Paul Rothman, acting director of the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources' division of mine reclamation and enforcement has worked with Don Graves, former chairman of the University of Kentucky's Forestry Department, on the Kentucky Reforestation Initiative, which outlines management and reclamation practices. "We hope to get coal operators to understand that, by changing their reclamation practices, they can start forests and save costs," Rothman said.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, agreed with Rothman. But Caylor said the challenge is overcoming a mentality among land-owners that leveled mined land is worth more money than forests. For a more national perspective on this story from The Associated Press, click here.

Somerset, Ky., officials want another hospital to compete with for-profit chain

In the midst of a critical need for increased health care for rural areas, a battle is brewing over a call for a new hospital in the Southern Kentucky town of Somerset. "The Somerset City Council, the Pulaski County Fiscal Court and the Somerset-Pulaski County Industrial Development Foundation all unexpectedly adopted resolutions last week endorsing a request to Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration for an emergency certificate of need for a new hospital," writes Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

William Sisson, CEO at Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital and a vice president of its parent organization, Baptist Healthcare Systems Inc., says Baptist Healthcare is willing to build the new hospital if Somerset and Pulaski County secure state approval and the community gets behind the project. But Jeff Seraphine, CEO at Somerset's existing Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, said his company will oppose any application for a new hospital. He says the area couldn't support two competing regional hospitals, writes Warren.

Somerset Mayor J.P. Wiles said interest in a new hospital has grown out of concerns over the skyrocketing cost of providing group health insurance for city and county employees. He citing an insurance report that showed that the cost of services at Lake Cumberland Regional is significantly higher than at other area hospitals.

The Somerset hospital is owned by Tennessee-based LifePoint Hospitals Inc., which operates about 30 hospitals in nine states. The 227-bed facility is completing a $55-million expansion, including new surgical facilities and 25 more care beds. The expansion should open in September, Warren writes.

Tennessee Press Association to decide whether free papers can join the group

The Tennessee Press Association, perhaps the last group of its kind to refuse admission to free-circulation newspapers, may let them in as non-voting members. After hearing from several advocates and one opponent yesterday, the TPA board submitted to member newspapers a long-debated change in the association's by-laws.

Executive Director Greg Sherrill told the board that "as far as I can determine," TPA is the only state press association that does not have a class for free papers -- except Wyoming, which has no such papers, and Texas and Wisconsin, where paid and free papers have separate groups. He said the Wisconsin groups are discussing a merger "for strength of numbers in the legislature," which is the driving force behind the Tennessee proposal. "In terms of numbers, our membership base has slowly declined," Sherrill said.

David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association, told the board that his group has benefited from free-circulation members, most recently when one helped defeat a bill that would have allowed public agencies to post required legal notices on the Internet instead of in newspaper ads.

Unlike Tennessee, Kentucky has a law requiring legal notices to be run in paid-circulation papers, and Pauline Sherrer of the Crossville Chronicle said she feared admission of free papers, which have a growing place in the business, would lead to loss of legal advertising, costing her thousands of dollars a month. For more background on the Tennessee situation, see The Rural Blog's Feb. 18 edition.

Indiana casino gets gaming commission go-ahead; locals see economy boost

The Indiana Gaming Commission has given initial approval to a $240 million plan to open a casino in Orange County, which local residents hope will lead to an economic revival for the area.

"The proposal led by Bloomington billionaire William Cook's company was the only one submitted after Donald Trump's casino company withdrew in March from its contract to build and operate the casino," writes Ryan Lenz of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Commission Executive Director Ernest Yelton told reporters, "Although we were presented with only one applicant, we weighed our consideration as if there were many." The casino would be the eleventh allowed under Indiana law. Final approval could be granted by August, writes Lenz.

Agriculture secretary commends Idaho's pursuit of roadless area conservation

"Today Governor Dirk Kempthorne announced that the State of Idaho will develop a petition to conserve and protect roadless areas,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a statement.

"I commend Governor Kempthorne for his leadership in this area and look forward to working with him as he develops Idaho's petition for roadless area conservation," continues Johanns. "Governor Kempthorne is sending a clear message that we can work together to cooperatively conserve inventoried roadless areas within our national forests. USDA is committed to working closely with leaders in Idaho and in every state that contains roadless areas, to determine the best course of action."

Ex-agriculture commissioner in Alabama settles in for a two-year prison stay

"Former Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Charles Sharpe has begun serving a two-year prison sentence for extortion and lying to a federal officer in connection with a cockfighting ring," reports The Associated Press with information from the Aiken Standard. (Read more)

Sharpe, 66, reported to a low- to medium-security federal prison in Estill on Monday. “Sharpe pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking $10,000 in December 2002 from an organization involved in breeding and raising birds for cockfighting in exchange for helping the group avoid legal trouble,” AP reports.

U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie gave Sharpe two years in prison and three years probation. Sharpe, a Republican, was elected agriculture commissioner in 2002.

Historic Virginia tavern, where Patrick Henry lived and worked, reopens

A historic tavern across the street from the Hanover County Courthouse has reopened for wayfarers seeking a hot meal, a pint of ale and entertainment, just as it had done since before the American Revolution.

"After closing its doors a year ago to complete the final leg of a 15-year preservation and restoration effort, the historic Hanover Tavern is ready to entertain guests," writes Melodie Martin of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. (Read more) Sarah Y. Smith, executive director of the Hanover Tavern Foundation, told Martin, "It is a place where people of all economic means would come throughout history to get a meal, to get refreshments, to stay overnight or to come see a play."

The earliest surviving section of the tavern dates back to 1791. Early documentation indicates an "ordinary" was licensed for the site in 1733. American patriot Patrick Henry lived and worked at the tavern, which was owned by his wife's family. The tavern was host to such notable guests as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Lord Cornwallis, P.T. Barnum and Co. and J.E.B. Stuart, writes Martin.

This day in history: Soviets blockade West Berlin, 1948

One of the most dramatic standoffs in the history of the Cold War began June 24, 1948, as the Soviet Union blocked all road and rail traffic to and from West Berlin. The blockade turned out to be a terrible diplomatic move by the Soviets, while the United States emerged from the confrontation, ended by the Belin Airlift, with renewed purpose and confidence. (Read more)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Public broadcasting funding targeted; cuts could be critical in rural areas

Small towns could lose their broadcasting links to educational opportunity, diverse cultural activities and some world events, as the U.S. House considers slashing funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides money for such programming as "Sesame Street" and National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," write Tom Dorsey and James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Conservatives say the federal government shouldn't fund public broadcasting at a time of greater needs and budget deficits. Others say without federal money, access to valuable educational and cultural programming will be lost, especially in rural areas. Mac Wall, executive director of Kentucky Educational Television, the largest PBS member network in the country, told Dorsey and Carroll, "It's as serious a threat as we have ever faced." Gerry Weston, president of Louisville's Public Radio Partnership, which stands to lose as much as $120,000 a year, told the Louisville newspaper, "It's hundreds of thousands of dollars for us. We're in a state of shock."

Weston said the effect on public stations in small towns, which rely much more heavily on federal funding could be devastating. "People ought to fear the fact that rural America may no longer be able to receive public radio," he said. Paul Hitchcock, general manager of Morehead State Public Radio, said about one-third of WMKY's budget comes from federal funds, which essentially pay for NPR programming." Hitchcock told the newspaper, "Those (morning and afternoon programs) are the tent poles of our programming as far as listeners are concerned. We would have to hire local people (to fill in), but of course there's no way we could replace those shows."

The House Appropriations Committee has approved a 45 percent cut during the next two years for the public broadcasting corporation, reducing its budget of $400 million for fiscal 2006 to $300 million. In Virginia, the proposed cuts could mean a loss of close to $400,000 for Roanoke's public radio and television stations, reports The Roanoke Times. (Read more) The New York Times provides additional coverage. The Washington Post provides another perspective, as does the Los Angeles Times. (click here)

Supreme Court says localities may seize property for economic development

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled local governments may seize homes and businesses against owners' will for private development, which effects communities where economic growth clashes with individual property rights.

Today's ruling effects some Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to allow for an offices. "They argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas," writes Hope Yen of The Associated Press. Cities could bulldoze residences to allow for hotels and shopping malls in order to generate tax revenue, she writes. (Read more)

The justices said local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. A working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed suit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices. City officials said the development would boost economic growth and that outweighed the homeowners' property rights.

Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned in recent years, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm. States that forbid the use of eminent domain when the economic purpose is not to eliminate blight include Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington. Another three — Delaware, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — have indicated they probably will find condemnations for economic development alone unconstitutional, AP reports.

Saving one-room schoolhouses: Group pushes for preservation of education 'relic'

The fifth annual Country Schoolhouse Conference being held this week in Waco, Ky., seeks to preserve a fading institution: America’s one-room schools, writes Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

“To many, the one-room school might be only a relic of the dim and distant past, to be forgotten like the horse-and-buggy,” reports Warren. “But don't tell that to any of the people who squeezed into the tiny children's desks at the Bend School yesterday. For them, one-room schools are still very much alive.”

Professor Mary Outlaw, director of student teaching at Berry College in Rome, Ga., preps students to work in modern schools. They can learn from one-room schools, she said. "To do a better job I needed to know more about the history of education," Outlaw told Warren. "And that led me right into country and one-room schools."

Richard and Catharin Lewis of League City, Texas, saved a one-room school and made it the West Bay Common School, a children's museum that provides a look into education’s past. "We get between 5,000 and 7,000 visitors every year," Catharin Lewis told Warren.

U.S. House passes amendment to prohibit flag burning; Senate could follow suit

"A constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to ban flag burning passed the House yesterday, and congressional leaders said it has a strong chance to clear the Senate for the first time, sending it to the states for ratification," writes Mike Allen of the Washington Post. (Read more)

The House has passed the measure before, but it has always failed to get the two-thirds vote needed in the Senate. Changes in the Senate's makeup lends more support to the measure, reports Allen. The issue has been a hot button issue for conservatives since a 5 to 4 Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that protected flag desecration as free speech. An Associated Press survey found 35 senators on record as opposing the amendment - one more than the number needed to defeat it if all 100 senators vote. (Read more)

Rural interest in the idea is strong. A new supporter, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who pushed the issue in his campaign, said, "Out in the country, at the grass-roots level, it's seen as a common man's practical patriotism."

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said she would "support federal legislation that would outlaw flag desecration, much like laws that currently prohibit the burning of crosses, but I don't believe a constitutional amendment is the answer."

Without quotas, burley tobacco production making a comeback in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania farmers have planted enough burley tobacco to possibly offset the state's slide in leaf production, taking advantage of a window that opened last year with the lifting of the decades-old federal quota system.

"The broad, yellow leaves of burley tobacco will lend their distinctive hue to David M. Zimmerman's fields this summer as he and many other growers look to cash in on the crop for the first time since the Depression," writes Marc Levy of The Associated Press. (Read more) Zimmerman, on his 57-acre farm in Lancaster County, the center of Pennsylvania's tobacco country, told Levy, "Just about everyone I know is growing burley."

Industry and state officials estimate burley planting will mean Pennsylvania's largest one-year increase in tobacco acreage in 25 years. If burley production is successful and brings higher prices, it could end a 90-year decline in tobacco growing north of the Mason-Dixon Line and prompt a modest increase in acreage, Levy writes.

For the most part, the opposite is occurring in the burley belt (Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina), where growers are being paid for lost federal quotas and price supports. Prices will drop and a 30 percent decrease in production is expected. Efforts could be made to grow burley in non-quota states such as Louisiana and Illinois, but for now, Daniel Green, a spokesman for the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association in Lexington, Ky., told Leavy, "Everybody's talking about Pennsylvania."

Burley's return to Pennsylvania comes 67 years after the federal government placed a quota on burley growing to ensure that prices remained stable. Pennsylvania's farmers rejected the quotas because they opposed government intervention, and instead grew more bitter varieties of tobacco that are used sparingly in cigarettes, writes Levy.

Oregon congressman introduces bill to boost rural access to health-care system

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has introduced bipartisan legislation to improve access to health care for Central Oregonians living in rural communities by maintaining critical support for the Sole Community Hospital Program (SCH). That program ensures that rural Medicare beneficiaries get necessary services only available at larger, regional hospitals, reports Bend.com, Central Oregon's "On-Line Community." (Read more)

The bill would stop SCH reimbursement policies from expiring later this year. The policies allow St. Charles to continue providing advanced and specialty care to communities throughout the region. "Sole community hospitals provide care to rural areas throughout the nation that is vital to both physical well-being and quality of life," Walden said. "This legislation reinforces a commitment made by the federal government to those communities, ensuring that an area hospital will be able to provide needed care in their own region, closer to home."

Currently, Medicare payments to SCHs can be based on either a cost-based system, or they can be based on a federal prospective payment system, whichever is greater. This ability, called "hold-harmless," is available to rural hospitals, to ensure those hospitals stay operational for critical services, Bend.com writes.

National Guard member challenging sex policy; she and husband get 'no contact'

Kentucky National Guard Sgt. Amanda McCormick of Lexington, Ky., is confronting her unit's policy prohibiting her from having sexual contact with her husband while the two serve together in Iraq.

"The military couple can't kiss or even hold hands, under the 940th Military Police Company's across-the-board no-sex policy. The company, based in Walton, has a large Central Kentucky contingent and is now under Army command," writes Valarie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) Military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan are disproportionately from rural America.

Sgt. McCormick e-mailed U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Versailles, saying she and her sergeant husband, Todd McCormick, could be punished for being alone together. "We are not allowed to live together," she said. "We are not allowed to spend time alone together. Basically, in a nutshell, we are not allowed to be married." Chandler's staff and Army officials are looking into the complaint, writes Spears.

At issue in the case is a memo written by Unit Commander Brandon McNeese notifying "dual military couples" and all other soldiers that policy prohibits them from having "sexual contact, hand holding or kissing." The policy's only exception is that deployed "dual military" couples may have sex on leave. Goldie Lakes, vice president of a military families group for the 940th, told Spears, "How could anyone begrudge them for having a honeymoon when they are serving their country?"

Virginia judge says he will rule next week in nation's first 'right-to-hunt' case

A Virginia judge, presiding over what is believed to be the nation's first right-to-hunt trial, should rule next week.

"Following final arguments ...in Nelson County Circuit Court, Judge Michael Gamble said he will issue a written opinion June 30 on whether a constitutional amendment that protects Virginians' right to hunt should apply to shooting at clay targets on an exclusive hunting preserve. Orion Estate is accusing the Nelson County Board of Supervisors of violating its right to hunt by denying a zoning request for a shotgun sports center," writes Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times. (Read more)

The center would allow members of the 450-acre hunting preserve to shoot at clay and plastic targets thrown by machines. The operation was defended by Orion as an integral part of hunting and dismissed by the county as a commercial venture unfit for rural land that borders the James River near Wingina, writes Hammack.

The judge gave no hint of how he might rule in the case, the first of its kind in Virginia since voters codified rights to "hunt, fish and harvest game" in the state's constitution in 2000. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia is one of 12 states to make hunting and fishing a constitutional right, and others are considering such measures. Lawyers in the case say no judge has interpreted that right, Hammack writes.

Canadian survey: City, rural folk not that different; misconceptions on both sides

Canadian city dwellers and their country counterparts are not that different according to a recent national survey, "disproving the idea that urbanites are cold-hearted and autonomous while rural folk idle over a slice of pie and a glass of lemonade with neighbors," write Scott Deveau and Katie Rook of Toronto's The Globe and Mail.

Statistics Canada figures show rural residents may be more likely to trust and know their neighbors, but they were not significantly more likely to lend a helping hand, nor to feel isolated within their community. The survey shows about 20 percent of rural Canadians reported receiving help from friends and family in the month before the survey, only four percentage points higher than for residents of the largest cities.

"In addition, the number of rural residents who said they had lent a helping hand to friends and family was only six percentage points higher than for city dwellers. But Danka Gareau, 43, who has lived in the one-traffic-light town of Deep River, Ont., between Ottawa and North Bay, for 22 years, says her community regularly rallies behind neighbors in need. Just last week, she stopped making dinner to take her ailing next-door neighbor to the hospital when he had heart palpitations," write Deveau and Rook. (Read more)

The report, based on information from the 2003 General Social Survey on Social Engagement, looked at about 25,000 Canadians age 15 and over. There was one significant difference along the lines of community roots. While 32 percent of rural Canadians reported a very strong sense of belonging to their local community, only 19 percent of city folk felt the same way.

Global conference visitors visit sites in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky

Delegates to the International Rural Network Conference in Abingdon, Va., took field trips yesterday to small towns, trails and other sites in the region, and got coverage from the Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News.

In Tennessee's oldest town, Jonesborough, "Jimmy Neil Smith, president of the International Storytelling Center, said Jonesborough had been chosen as a workshop because of its success in rural development," Ben Ingram wrote. Smith told the group, "We have a story to tell . . . and it centers around the revitalization of Jonesborough through the use of two tools -- historic preservation and cultural tourism." (Read more)

"Smith said the marriage of those tools has helped Jonesborough become the town it is today and paired examples like the Storytelling Festival as an example of cultural tourism and the Oak Hill School history museum as a part of the town's emphasis on historic preservation," Ingram reported. He concluded with quotes from Rhys Evans of Scotland, who conducted a similar, successful festival: ""The reason people were leaving the towns in Scotland was that they wanted something different, and towns like Jonesborough recognized that, and that's why it's thriving today. There are a lot of parallels in Jonesborough and in Scotland alike, local pride and tourism."

The Kingsport paper's Virginia edition reported on a field trip to the University of Virginia's College at Wise and its Health Information Outreach Program and a regional physicians residency program. (Read more) Delegates also heard about health and social services and a fiber-optic network installed by local governments. Dr. Motilal Dash of India, on his first trip to the U.S., said he was impressed by what reporter Stephen Igo called "the by-the-bootstraps approach of most Americans." Dash told Igo, "That is why this country is so developed. You do not do what you do by government alone. You do not always wait for government to do something. You decide what you need done and plan how to get that done. And do it. That is a very good thing."

Other field-trip destinations included St. Paul, Va., also in Wise County; and Whitesburg, Ky., home of the Appalshop arts organization and The Mountain Eagle, a crusading weekly newspaper.

Respect lowly potato, don't 'couch' remarks; some folks take tubers very seriously

The Roanoke Times notes on its editorial page, "Two eager groups of British potato farmers demonstrated in London and Oxford recently, urging Parliament to ban the term 'couch potato' from the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary reference to persons of an idle, slothful persuasion, the farmers insisted, defames the vegetable. One person's special interest is another's defender of linguistic precision." (From chief blogger Bill Griffin: My paternal grandfather came from Ireland. He worked on New York City's docks most of his life. To him a great meal was a big bowl of steaming hot potatoes. For him, and his, the potato meant life.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

High-tech health care helps rural folk; small device provides services, cuts costs

Patients can monitor their blood pressure, weight or oxygen levels without leaving home, and nurses can keep an eye on their patients without leaving the office. A device no bigger than an alarm clock is changing home health care in urban and rural America, reports KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Read more)

Judy Rall, Director of Home Health Care at Good Samaritan in Sioux Falls, says, "Once a day a clinicianer looks at the readings and is able to determine whether they are outside the accepted range or the parameters the physicians set. And we contact the physician or the patient to discuss the findings."

This device is a huge benefit in rural areas, Rall said. "When people live in rural America they have much less access to health care, these monitors are global, they can go anywhere you have a phone line,” she said.

By checking daily on even slight changes in a patient's vital statistics, Rall says the device is helping control health care costs. "The idea with the tele-health monitors is it reduces emergency room visits, and hospitalizations, we're catching something before it becomes a crisis," says Rall. Some insurance companies cover the cost of the device, and Medicare approved home health care also covers the expense.

Appalshop films on coal, economy stir audience at international rural conference

A film about a huge coal-slurry spill in Central Appalachia and its aftermath, and another production by Appalshop Films, prompted a lively discussion yesterday evening at the International Rural Network Conference, being held this week at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency has called the 2000 spill in Martin County, Kentucky, the largest environmental disaster ever recorded in the southeastern United States, several Americans at the meeting said they knew just as much about it as attendees from other countries -- nothing. "Some people we talk to don't think there's any coal mining going on in this country any more," Herb E. Smith of Appalshop told the crowd.

Much of the discussion focused on how to get the film, Sludge, by Robert Salyer, before a large audience. For example, a photojournalist from Bangladesh offered to distribute it through private networks in 10 to 15 countries. Appalshop, based in Whitesburg, Ky., has been "a lighthouse for a generation in Appalachia," Charles W. Fluharty, director of the Rural Policy Research Institute, the conference's organizing sponsor, told the crowd.

When the film reported that the spill of 250 to 300 million gallons, affecting 100 miles of streams, had resulted in a fine of $110,000 for a subsidiary of A.T. Massey Co., there were audible gasps in the crowd, which clearly believed the fine was too small. Later, there were exclamations of disbelief when the film reported that the Mine Safety and Health Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, had reduced the fine to $5,500.

Sludge also tells the story of former MSHA official Jack Spadaro, who said his investigation of the spill was short-circuited by Labor Department officials. An internal review by MSHA confirmed Spadaro's central allegations, but he retired after the department demoted him, transferred him and filed charges against him.

The audience also saw Thoughts In the Presence of Fear, which puts to film an economic essay that rural Kentucky writer Wendell Berry wrote in the wake of 9/11. Smith told the audience that the film, which he is producing in cooperation with Alan Banks of Eastern Kentucky University, is still being refined.

Conviction in civil rights murders helps a town come to grips with itself

"A Neshoba County jury convicted Edgar Ray Killen of three counts of manslaughter shortly before noon (Tuesday) in the 1964 murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner," reports Debbie Burt Myers, managing editor of The Neshoba Democrat. (Read more)

Killen's defense plans to appeal the verdict, reports Shaila Dewan of The New York Times. (Read more) "At least he wasn't found guilty of a willful and wanton act," said James McIntyre, one of Killen's lawyers. "Manslaughter is a negligent act." Killen's sentencing is scheduled for Thursday in Philadelphia, Miss., and he faces up to 20 years in prison on each manslaughter count.

Jim Prince, editor of the weekly Democrat, co-chaired a local committee that lobbied for the reopening of the case. "Finally, finally, finally," Prince told Dewan. "This certainly sends a message, I think, to the criminals and to the thugs that justice reigns in Neshoba County, unlike 41 years ago."

The legal proceedings took an emotional toll on the rural Mississippi community. "Some feared that this town, which gave Killen four decades of refuge, could not have a reckoning with him," reports Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Washington Post. "This is a place of cozy familiarities, and the trial was no different." (Read more)

"(Neshoba County District Attorney Mark Duncan) is a child of the same county that sheltered Killen all these years; Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who personally tried the case with Duncan, grew up not far away," writes Roig-Franzia. "Killen's brother Oscar Kenneth Killen lashed out at Duncan while testifying, accusing him of being the hypocritical son and grandson of members of the Ku Klux Klan, a charge that the prosecutor later denied. 'I'm one of y'all,' Duncan said after the verdict, directing his remarks at his neighbors."

Public Broadcasting funding cuts prompt Democratic backlash, call for resignation

Sixteen Democratic U.S. senators have called on President Bush to remove Kenneth Y. Tomlinson as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, concerned he is injecting partisan politics into public broadcasting.

The senators told the president in a letter, "We urge you to immediately replace Tomlinson with an executive who takes his or her responsibility to the public television system seriously, not one who so seriously undermines the credibility and mission of public television," writes Stephen Labaton of The New York Times. (Read more)

The call for Tomlinson's resignation follows a series of disclosures about him, now under investigation by the corporation's inspector general. Those disclosures include his decision to hire a researcher to monitor the political leanings of guests on the public policy program "Now," the use of a White House official to set up an ombudsman's office to scrutinize public radio and television programs for political balance, and payments approved by Tomlinson to two Republican lobbyists last year.

Tomlinson told reporters, "There is no reason for me to step down from the chairmanship of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I am confident the inspector general's report will conclude that all of my actions were taken in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations and the traditions of CPB." The White House said the president continues to support Tomlinson. Several rural radio stations receive public broadcasting funds.

Consumers Union seeks more USDA protection; requests additional mad cow tests

Consumers Union wants Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns to require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to test all cattle over 20 months of age at slaughter and adopt the most accurate and sensitive "Western blot" test as part of its testing protocol in suspected mad cow cases. (Read more)

In a letter to Secretary Johanns issued Monday, Consumers Union asks that USDA: require that all cattle over 20 months of age be tested at slaughter for mad cow disease; utilize the most accurate and sensitive Western blot test along with the IHC test when confirming a suspect case; and make clear to the public that a positive result on either test indicates that the suspect cow is positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The USDA announced last week that a U.S. cow tested positive for mad cow disease. The animal was originally suspected of having the disease last November, but USDA failed to test the animal using the more sensitive Western blot test until earlier this month. In a previous case of an infected Canadian-born animal found in Washington state, the Western blot test helped confirm that the animal was infected.

Raising the bar: High schools getting tougher graduation requirements in 18 states

In the almost six months since a national summit, at least six states now have tougher high school graduation standards, writes Lynn Olson of Education Week. (Read more)

Although Arizona legislators opted to give high school seniors more flexibility in passing the state’s exit exam, states typically are sending a stricter message by requiring that students take more courses in mathematics, science, and other core areas, reports Olson.

“The number of states that have moved, just in this legislative session, to increase graduation requirements is clearly based on the momentum coming out of the summit,” said Matthew Gandal, executive vice president of Achieve Inc., a Washington group that co-sponsored the summit with the National Governors Association.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed the Achieving Classroom Excellence measure, requiring students to take college-bound curriculum, starting in 2006-07, unless parents sign an opt-out form. His aim is “to better prepare (students) for life after high school.”

Indiana law requires that students complete a college-preparatory curriculum to earn a diploma, starting in 2010-11. Eighteen states make up the American Diploma Project Network, a group committed to higher standards. Recent additions to the network include Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.

Bluegrass area named one of world's most endangered sites; development cited

For much of the past 200 years, what has brought the world to Kentucky is its pastoral settings, bucolic lifestyle and picturesque farms that have sired many world-champion thoroughbred horses. Now, the Bluegrass landscape is one of eight U.S. sites on the list of the world's 100 most endangered places because of development, according to a world preservationist group.

"Between 1997 and 2002, 328 square kilometers of agricultural land in the Bluegrass were developed, according to the World Monuments Watch," writes Chris Poynter of The Courier-Journal. (Read more) Preservationists said the dwindling buffer zone between development and the Bluegrass landscape in Central Kentucky should prompt regionwide planning to preserve historic sites.

"Under towering trees, surrounded by an old stone fence, the Hamburg Place Farm cemetery holds the graves of 18 famed racehorses, including 1898 Kentucky Derby winner Plaudit. Soon, their remains will be dug up and the cemetery moved several hundred yards -- to make room for a Super Wal-Mart and Lowe's," writes Poynter for the Louisville newspaper. (For the Bluegrass version by the Lexington Herald-Leader, click here.)

Fayette, Anderson, Bourbon, Boyle, Clark, Franklin, Harrison, Jessamine, Mercer, Scott and Woodford counties and the 1.2 million acres they encompass are being threatened by "uncontrolled and aggressive development," the international preservation group's report stated. "Burnham said the listing should be a 'wake-up call' that Kentuckians are slowly losing their unique heritage: the rolling fields where foals romp, the family tobacco farms with their distinctive barns, the hand-laid rock fences," Poynter writes.

Once a rural stalwart, Winn-Dixie leaving four states; thousands of layoffs

Supermarket chain Winn-Dixie plans to cease operations in four Southern states, closing 326 of its 913 stores and cutting 22,000 jobs under its proposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization plan.

"The company will stop operating in Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas and trim operations in its five remaining states -- Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The cuts amount to 35 percent of its stores and 28 percent of its current work force of 78,000. An additional 500 workers will lose their jobs in the company's corporate headquarters in Jacksonville (Fla.)," writes Ron Word of The Associated Press. (Read more) Winn-Dixie said it will try to find buyers for the stores it decided to sell yesterday and ask the new owners to retain as many employees as possible. The company recently closed its operations in Kentucky. The Charlotte Observer provided additional coverage on the closings.

Winn-Dixie President/CEO Peter Lynch said, "We regret the impact these tough decisions will have on many of our associates, customers and local communities. We do not take these decisions lightly and would not be proceeding if these steps were not essential to restore Winn-Dixie's financial health." Experts say the company's problems are a result of Wal-Mart's expansion.

Illinois moves to stoke state's coal industry; synthetic natural gas considered

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has signed legislation meant to help develop new markets for his state's coal by encouraging its conversion to synthetic natural gas.

"The new law removes some regulatory obstacles to the production of ultra-clean, high-efficiency coal gasification sites, which could use Illinois' high-sulfur coal to produce natural gas through newly developed technology," writes Jim Suhr of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The governor also signed bills to make it easier for coal producers to find secondary markets for their byproducts and to boost Illinois' competitiveness as the site for the Energy Department's FutureGen project to build
the first coal-based, emissions-free power plant. Blagojevich told reporters the synthetic natural gas legislation seizes "a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate to the world that there are innovative and environmentally-friendly ways to use more Illinois coal, which will give this critical industry an important economic boost."

The new law permits gas utilities to enter into 20-year supply contracts with any synthetic natural gas producer that starts construction in Illinois by mid-2008 using the type of coal common in the state. Unless state utility
regulators deem the cost of the gas unreasonable, they cannot easily prevent the contract from going through. The contractual guarantees are meant to help developers get financing for the new projects, writes Suhr.

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's conservation efforts come to Kentucky

A wildlife conservation group based in Missoula, Mont., is spearheading an effort to reclaim Kentucky's coal mines for wildlife, a plan that could expand eastern elk hunting within five years.

David Ledford, who directs the Appalachian Wildlife Initiative for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation told Michael Jamison of The Missoulian, "But what this has morphed into now goes far beyond Kentucky." Ledford said the plan to better reclaim mine sites for wildlife could soon encompass Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama. "So far," Ledford added, "it's just been a resounding success." (Read more) For The Associated Press version, click here.

In 1997, wildlife officials began reintroducing wild elk into Kentucky, more than 150 years after the game animals were hunted to extinction there. Over five years, he said, about 1,500 western elk were turned loose in Eastern Kentucky, most transplanted from Utah. Radio collars helped wildlife managers track the elk. "What we learned was they use the reclaimed mines very heavily," Ledford said.

The population of the herd is expected to hit 5,500 by year's end. Unlike the West, Ledford told Jamison, the 4.1 million acres in Kentucky's "official elk zone" is mostly private land, with less than 5 percent in public ownership. Much of the best habitat is owned by coal and timber companies. About a year and a half ago, the Elk Foundation and state wildlife officials in Kentucky started in earnest the work of assessing habitat on reclaimed mine sites. What they found was browse Ledford calls "pretty inadequate."

The mine reclamation guidelines that companies have been following are outdated, Ledford said, "written in a time when wildlife pretty much meant deer and wild turkeys." The group sat down with the stakeholders - the land managers and hunters and conservationists and mine owners to dramatically rewrite the rules, Jamison writes.

Energy drilling in western states pitting Republican policy against party's base

There's a development war brewing in the west, but it's not environmentalists versus energy companies. Instead, it's landowners fighting a "drill, drill, drill," national policy coming down from the top.

"Amid the clank, clatter and fire of the largest natural gas boom ever on public land in the West, a new kind of sagebrush rebellion is stirring. Ranchers, cowboys, small property owners and local government leaders - the core of the Republican base in the Rocky Mountain West - are chafing at the pace and scope of the Bush administration's push for energy development," writes Timothy Egan of The New York Times. (Read more)

Lawsuits have been filed challenging federal authority to drill in certain areas. Others are protesting new gas and oil leases. The is a call for local control over a distant federal landlord. "But for the first time, it is the Republicans who find themselves the target of angry speeches about lost property rights and tone-deaf federal land managers. And people who have been on opposing sides of the major land battles in the West - mainly property owners and ranchers versus environmentalists - are now allies," reports Egan.

Tweeti Blancett, a coordinator for George Bush's presidential campaign told Egan, "The word from Washington is drill, drill, drill, and now they've basically destroyed our ranch. A lot of Republicans are upset." Natural gas prices have more than doubled over the last five years. The region, called the Persian Gulf of Gas, has enough natural gas to heat 55 million homes for almost 30 years, the government says. By drilling near national parks, wilderness areas and favored hunting grounds, the administration has angered many communities

Colorado and New Mexico, in the center of the boom, are also where Democrats hope to tip the balance of the national electoral map. What makes the fight particularly bitter is because of the legacy of the homesteading era, people may own the land on which they live or graze livestock, but not own the mineral rights below the surface. These so-called split-estates properties cover 58 million acres in the West, writes Egan.

Tennessee governor vetoes cigarette tax hike; funds were set for health care

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has vetoed a 50-cent-per-pack tax increase on certain small cigarette brands that would have generated more than $12 million for the TennCare, the state's "health safety net." The governor says, however, he'll find money elsewhere to help some 226,000 people who will soon be kicked off the troubled health-care program's rolls, writes Trent Seibert of The Tennessean. (Read more)

"Advocates for TennCare enrollees have said they doubt the net will be able to catch everyone. Those who fight for small-business owners have argued that the tax was unfair, burdening the cigarette companies that compete against the biggest corporations and make the least profits," writes Siebert for the Nashville newspaper.

Legislative leaders who crafted the tax and helped build the proposed $104 million safety net were displeased by the veto. They said the tax would have also raised the prices on the cheapest of cigarettes and kept them out of the hands of more children. Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, told Seibert, "If participation in the master settlement agreement prohibits Tennesseans from discouraging underage smoking then we need to ask ourselves if it is in the state's best interest to continue participating in the master settlement agreement."

Montana doctor shows computers can provide vital link to rural patients

A Montana doctor has demonstrated how technology can overcome information gaps and gaffs that so often plague doctors trying to serve patients in rural areas.

Missoula heart specialist Mark Sanz, of St. Patrick Hospital, has demonstrated newly installed technology that could eliminate unreadable, blurry, lost and otherwise unusable medical records, at least for heart patients. "It is the first phase of a program to digitally share and archive heart tests such as those called ECGs or EKGs, making them available on the Internet to doctors and hospitals in western Montana 24 hours a day, seven days a week," writes Mea Anderson of The Missoulian. (Read more)

Sanz told Anderson about 20 Western Montana hospitals and clinics are already linked and online; another 25 will be in the next few months. Doctors also will be able to send and receive, across miles and computer lines, heart tests in real time. As the test is conducted, readouts and photographs of the working heart are sent immediately to another doctor miles away who can interpret results and decide on treatment.

U.S. Labor Department begins meetings on weapons worker compensation

U.S. Labor Department hearings on new rules guiding a federal compensation program for former nuclear weapons workers began yesterday and continue today in Oak Ridge, Tenn. - sight of a World War II vintage uranium enrichment plant - reports Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Similar meetings are scheduled in more than a dozen states through November, including two in Paducah, Ky., in September. Most of the people covered by the program worked at facilities in Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington state.

"The compensation program is one of two designed to pay workers who got sick while helping to build Cold War-era bombs or clean up the waste left behind. Officials began, earlier this year, giving lump-sum checks of $125,000 to survivors of workers who died from job-related illnesses, paying out about $63 million for more than 500 claims. But living workers, who can receive up to $250,000 through the program, had to wait until officials developed a payout formula that accounts for permanent impairments and lost wages," writes Roxe.

Shelby Hallmark, who heads the Labor Department's worker compensation programs, told AP officials hope to hand out 1,200 checks by September. The department is compiling information about materials and illnesses found at nuclear sites, which could help workers prove their claims. The Labor Department will accept public comment on the new rules until August 8.

Gorging on volunteerism: Public keeps Kentucky trail maintained without pay

The all-volunteer Red River Gorge Trail Crew, established in 1998, is keeping the Kentucky hiking hotspot in tip-top shape, writes Robin Roenker for the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

There are hundreds of miles of trails winding through the Red River Gorge's 13,000 acres of wilderness land. The work of maintaining them is done almost entirely by the trail crew, said Charlie Rowe, trail technician and volunteer coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service's Stanton Ranger District. "There is no way the trail maintenance would get done without this group,” Rowe said. “We'd have too few people and two little money to do the work without them."

Last year, the group logged 2,150 hours of volunteer service in the Gorge. Their real contribution is in their numbers, Rowe said. Though the crew boasts 200 associates from throughout Kentucky and Ohio, Rowe counts on seeing around 15 to 20 volunteers at each month's gathering.

"The trail maintenance, just moving the trees and digging the trails is so enjoyable," volunteer Laurie Shelton, of Shepherdsville, Ky., told Roenker. "I'd always wanted to be in the Forest Service, but I went into another career path. But with the trail crew, I can feel like I'm living my dream once a month.”

The group meets the second Saturday each month at 9 a.m. at the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center. Everyone is welcome, though children from 10 to 18 should be accompanied by an adult. Children under 10 are advised not to attend, because of the labor-intensive work involved. For more details, email Rowe at charlierowe@fs.fed.us or or call (606) 663-2852. Also visit www.gorgecrew.com.

Kentucky man puts roar back into engines by repairing ATVs and motorcycles

Some 1,400 motorcycles and ATVs are stationed in organized rows in one of Casey County, Kentucky's meadows. The roar of their engines can no longer be heard, as they sit in the junkyard at McDonald's Motorcycle Repair, writes Byron Crawford of the Courier-Journal. (Read more)

"Back in 1973 my dad extracted a few promises out of me -- which I never kept -- and let me take my tobacco crop money and buy my first bike," recalled Tim McDonald, the 48-year-old owner of the business. "It took me about a year to tear the thing up. I tinkered it to death."

McDonald started a motorcycle repair business in 1985 with about $100 in his company account, writes Crawford for the Louisville newspaper. "Regardless of the fact that there were no phone calls and nobody was coming around, if you're going to start a bike shop, you've got to be there working," McDonald said. "So I bought little pieces of junk and refurbished them to where I could sell them."

Bikers and ATV riders soon discovered the repair shop, reports Crawford. McDonald eventually expanded and ATV parts and repairs comprise at least 70 percent of his work. "What actually attracted me to bikes in the first place was not so much riding them," McDonald said. "I was really intrigued by these little mechanical things that they could do so well -- and the distinctive sound.”

University becomes salamander research center for the world; human applications

The University of Kentucky's residential numbers increased by more than 400 yesterday. And, these new residents make the university the center of attraction for researchers worldwide.

The first arrivals -- 424 exotic salamanders floating in plastic bowls - "some dark and speckled, some pure white, the adults as big as 9 inches long -- are part of the world's largest research colony of axolotl salamanders, officially known as the Ambystoma Genetic Stock Center, which is relocating to UK this summer. The stock center is the main provider of thousands of salamander eggs and embryos studied by researchers around the globe," writes Barbara Isaacs of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

"This is for the world," Randal Voss, the UK associate professor of biology who is director of the colony told Isaacs. "It's an important service to researchers."

The exotic salamanders are valuable research tools because they can regrow lost body parts, including their spinal cord and even some brain and heart cells. They also can also easily accept transplanted parts from other axolotls and even different types of salamanders."They can help us understand the secrets of regeneration, and that will have direct application to humans," Voss said. The 424 salamanders are less than 25 percent of the nearly 1,800 salamanders that will call UK home. The stock center has been at Indiana University since 1957.

Voss has sequenced between 40,000 and 50,000 pieces of axolotls salamanders' DNA and has a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for that purpose. Understanding the structure and function of salamander genes, Voss said, has applications to humans, Isaacs writes.

Kentucky city honors veteran broadcaster; bridge named after 79-year-old retiree

A member of the "Greatest Generation" was honored Monday in Hazard, Ky., reports WYMT-TV. His voice was heard on WSGS and the East Kentucky Sports Network for decades, now a bridge is named in honor of 79-year-old Jay Lasslo. (Read more)

"He's always been a really good example. He set the mark really high with his involvement in his city and his church and his country. When he served overseas and was actually a prisoner of war for about a week until he escaped. So it's really an honor to be his son," Mike Lasslo said.

Lasslo's health has declined in recent years, but family members were happy he could be a part of Monday's ceremony. Lasslo retired from broadcasting in 1997 after 40-plus years on the air.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Good times, bad times: Nation's cattle sales booming; mad cow could cause stink

The cheerful atmospheres found at livestock auctions nowadays are a reflection of record good times in the nation's $175 billion cattle business, where 1,300-pound steers notched an average $84.50 per hundred pounds last year. That represents a $20 jump since 2002, writes Jim Wasserman of the Sacramento Bee. (Read more)

The good times may not last, though. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced June 10 that a U.S. cow had tested positive for mad cow disease in one test. A final report on the cow, which showed both negative and "weak positive" mad cow findings, is due within days. If positive, this would be the first U.S. case since December 2003, when an infected cow in Washington spurred a 53-nation ban on U.S. beef imports.

The recent USDA announcement sent cattle futures and fast food stocks falling. "This is really throwing us a wrench," said Max Olvera, manager of an auction yard that sells up to 110,000 cattle a year in California. Every year, about 1.4 million cows are slaughtered in California.

"If you sell cattle in these two weeks, you're going to take a hit," Olvera said. "It could be 5 cents, 10 cents a pound -- $60 to $70 a head -- out of your pocket because of some negative news. That's how markets react."

Global rural conference discusses issues such as poverty, health, development

Three-hundred adults from Kenya, Scotland and 38 other countries are in Abingdon, Va., this week for the Fourth Annual International Rural Network Conference at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center. It is designed to give rural residents a voice by fostering conversations around the world.

John Bryden, chairman of International Rural Network, told Samantha Sieber of the Bristol Herald Courier the conference also allows participants to work together to find solutions for problems they all face. The U.s. sponsor of the annual meeting is the Rural Policy Research Institute. (Read more)

Bryden said despite differences in language, education and profession, the representatives all have one thing in common – they are rural people from rural places who need help facing everyday challenges. "Health and education (officials) don’t talk to each other and when they do they often aren’t successful," Bryden said. "Trying to put all these things together is innovative. Talking is good, but talking across big divides is best."

Muthengi Kimanzi, of Kenya, told Sieber she wants to learn how other communities deal with poverty, her community’s greatest concern. "(Poverty) is about the lack of basic things, food, clothing and water," Kimanzi said. "We can take back ideas to help our people get out of where they are."

Anne Pope, federal co-chairwoman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, told Sieber that’s why it is important that this year’s conference is being held in Southwest Virginia. Appalachia’s rural communities are putting into practice the conference theme: The Power of Place. Pope said the region is a success story of how to take a community’s resources to rebuild its economy, writes Sieber.

Giant fish invading the country; 50-pound carp leap into boats, harass other species

"It just sounds so crazy, but it is true, and it is going to become a heck of a problem if fish and wildlife folks can't find a way to stop the spread of giant 50-pound carp who leap into boats. These giants also eat so much they drive out other species," writes Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. (Read more) Tompkins is drawing on articles from the Washington Post and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The invasion is creating enough concern that natural resource officials are hurrying to build two unprecedented fish barriers on the Mississippi River in Iowa to halt the upstream migration of Asian carp. The barriers, to be located near Dubuque and Davenport, Iowa, would emit bubbles and sound to discourage the carp from entering locks when their gates are open. The large fish have been spotted as far south as Alabama and as far north as Illinois.

"Two species of the invasive fish, bighead and silver carp, escaped from southern fish farms years ago and have moved steadily north along the Mississippi and its tributaries, threatening native fish and other aquatic life," reports Tompkins. Another species, the black carp, is present in several locales, but it is unknown if it is reproducing.

In seeking $7 million, mainly in federal funds, state and federal officials urge that fish barrier projects must be started soon or the invasion will spread to northern waters. One bighead carp was caught in Lake Pepin, south of the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., in the fall of 2003, but no more have since been found.

In his column, Tompkins also mentions the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, housed at the University of Kentucky. The institute is a valuable source for journalists covering rural issues, he notes.

Settlement urged in landmark tobacco case; 'political influence' being investigated

"The judge presiding over the government's troubled racketeering case against the tobacco industry summoned cigarette companies' chief executives, their lawyers and Justice Department attorneys for a closed-door meeting yesterday and urged both sides to settle the case," writes Carol D. Leonnig of the Washington Post. (Read more) For more information on the litigation itself, click here.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said she closed the meeting because it was "a routine, informal discussion with the parties again urging them to consider the advantages of settling the case rather than the risks of litigating it." Dan Webb, lead attorney for Philip Morris, told Leonnig, "The judge put this meeting under seal. We're just not going to discuss it, period." This comes as the government's civil racketeering suit is in political turmoil and viewed with suspicion by anti-tobacco advocates.

The government had claimed the six largest tobacco companies engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking from the public and should have to pay to help 45 million Americans quit smoking. Yesterday's meeting was the first opportunity for Judge Kessler to meet with the parties since the eight-month trial ended and the allegations of political interference were reported. If the parties do not settle, Kessler will decide whether the industry engaged in a fraudulent conspiracy and what penalties, if any, it should face, writes Leonnig.

The Justice Department's Professional Responsibility Advisory Office has launched an investigation into whether political interference tainted the case. A group of senators have also asked Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to remove Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. from involvement in the case. McCallum, a former partner of a firm that represented R.J. Reynolds, told career government lawyers to reduce their recommended penalties, Leonnig writes. For The Associated Press version, click here.

Indians suing Interior Department over royalties, say they'll settle for $27.5 billion

If Congress does not to draw money from other programs affecting them, American Indians suing the U. S. Interior Department for more than a century's worth of lost royalties said they will settle for $27.5 billion.

The lawsuit, filed in 1996 on behalf of 300,000 Indians, accuses the department of mismanaging oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties from Indian lands dating back to 1887. Elouise Cobell, the lead plaintiff, told news reporters Indian leaders had agreed on 50 principles for a settlement, including a calculation that the royalties plus compounded interest owed them totals $176 billion, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Cobell said she wants the money paid into the government's fund for paying judgments on legal claims. She told the AP, "It is discounted quite substantially,but I think we all understand that there's a lot of suffering in Indian country. Many people will die before the money is approved."

The Interior Department has said it could take at least several years and require spending $12 billion to $14 billion to determine what Indians are still owed.

Seminole Indians and Florida governor face off over slots and tribal rights

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has begun talks with Governor Jeb Bush over expanding gambling on reservations, their third attempt in 15 years to come to an agreement with the state's chief executive.

Previous such attempts ended in lawsuits and a stalemate. "The tribe is hoping the third time -- which began Thursday -- is the charm. The governor's goal of limiting gambling could collide with Indian tribes' quest to offer casino-style games. But, if the early comments are any signal, the goal of tribal leaders to offer Las Vegas-style slot machines could clash head-on with the goal of Gov. Jeb Bush to limit gambling in Florida," writes Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald. (Read more)

Tribal leaders believe Broward County voters opened the door to Las Vegas-style slot machines in March when they approved allowing slots at racetracks. Before the tribes can offer such slot machines, federal law requires them to negotiate a pact with the state that allows the state some influence over their operation and some revenue from the games. Bush said last week he considers the push to expand gambling in Florida ''a very dangerous trend'' and his "hope and objective would be to limit the expansion of gambling in our state," writes Klas.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act says if a state allows any form of gambling, the tribes within the state may engage in that gaming, free of state control. Tribes must enter into an agreement with the state and, while the state can't tax the tribes, it can give them an exclusive benefit in exchange for revenue sharing, Klas writes.

Catfish co-op, built with tobacco settlement funds, angling for gourmet market

A Kentucky catfish-farming cooperative, built with money from the national tobacco settlement, wants to shift its business to niche markets by providing fillets to gourmet stores and specialty shops.

The Purchase Area Aquaculture Cooperative is seeking $400,000 in loans to produce smoked and marinated fillets, mostly for big-city markets, said Tom French, interim general manager, writes The Associated Press. (Read more) French told reporters, "In the past, we were trying to produce at high volume and low margin, and we ran out of products. Now we're looking at low-volume, high-margin products."

The co-op's plant is limited because there aren't enough local farmers to produce the 300,000 pounds needed yearly to stay in production. The 4-year-old plant employs eight to 12 people, down from about 40 when production was peaking. The specialty market will require only 20,000 pounds a year. French said, "The flip side of that is we've got to find outlets for the rest of the fish we're producing," adding that farmers are shipping fish directly to processors elsewhere to supply catfish to stores and restaurants, largely in the South.

The plant, built via the state's Agriculture Diversification Program, was financed with money paid to the state by cigarette companies as part of the tobacco-settlement agreement. Diversification funds also were used to help farmers build ponds to produce fish, reports AP.

Controlled burning at Land Between the Lakes helps restore land to ancient state

Some of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is being returned to its pre-1700 state, before pioneers and settlers, when mostly Indians, natural wildlife and buffalo roamed. The transformation is being accomplished through controlled burning in the 173,000-acre peninsula on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

"Native American cultures practiced basic land management, including selective tree thinning and clearing to support wildlife and healthier forests," said Jim McCoy, LBL wildlife biologist/fire management officer, reports The Associated Press. (Read more) Details for this story came from The Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville, Tenn.

McCoy told reporters, "It's pretty well documented through Native American cultures that fire was used to develop farms and ranchland to create habitats for wildlife. That shaped the landscape into a combination of open areas called 'barrens' and forests that were park-like by today's standards, where bigger, healthier trees were more widely distributed and more sunlight was therefore able to reach the forest floor."

When early settlers arrived in the peninsula between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, fires were suppressed and the forests grew thicker with dense undergrowth, writes AP. The U.S. Forest Service, which oversees the area, began prescribed burning in March along 350 of the 5,000 acres on the Tennessee side of LBL's Oak Grassland Demonstration Area, where visitors can watch and learn about the project.

The program should help introduce more grasses and wildflowers to the landscape and also encourage expansion of a fire-adapted species of tree that's abundant in the park, the Big-Tooth Aspen. To help track their success, officials are monitoring some of the area's most threatened species, writes AP.

Kentucky hunter suing after findingchampion coonhound shot by horse owner

Burch Hager, of Nicholasville, Ky., can barely contain his emotion over the shooting death of Jack, his champion coonhound, writes Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "To me, Jack was the perfect dog, you know? He was my Smarty Jones," said Hager. "A hunting dog, his performance is what makes him. He's just like an athlete. He's just like a racehorse. That's what makes him what he is." (Read more)

Horse farm owner Pete Primiano, the admitted shooter, faces a civil lawsuit filed earlier this month by Hager and two misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and criminal mischief. Primiano said he was protecting his thoroughbred horses from what he thought was a coyote. "I'm protecting my livelihood," Primiano told Kocher, and yet, "I've become the bad guy in this whole thing."

The shooting occurred last November when Hager was hunting and lost sight of his coonhound. About 30 minutes later, Hager heard gunshots from the direction Jack had gone. Using a tracking device, Hager located his champion dog, valued at $15,000, dead on Primiano's property with a gunshot wound on the right side.

A Versailles, Ky., police report states that Primiano's AR15 223 rifle was equipped with "a high quality night vision scope." "Through my observation of the scope, I determined that it would be nearly impossible to mistake the coon dog for a coyote," police officer Nathan Craig wrote. "The scope presented a very clear view of the area in question, especially the 50- to 75-yard distance in which the dog was shot."

Several animal welfare groups seek protection for Florida's black bears

A coalition of conservation and animal welfare organizations, including Defenders of Wildlife, The Humane Society of the United States, The Fund For Animals, and the Sierra Club, plan to challenge U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to deny protection to the Florida black bear under the Endangered Species Act.

The Florida black bear, a distinct subspecies of American black bear, historically roamed throughout Florida and into Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Today, the remaining 3,000 Florida black bears are spread out in nine isolated populations, occupying only about one-quarter of its former range.

"The Florida black bear's home is being broken up into smaller and smaller pieces as we build our subdivisions, malls, roads and highways across their path," said Laurie Macdonald, director of Florida programs for Defenders of Wildlife. "The bears showing up in peoples' backyards are searching for food in all the wrong places because their places in the natural community are being eliminated.”

Animal welfare groups are citing urbanization and human development as threats to the black bears. Other threats include road-kills caused by increasing highway construction and expansion, intensive recreation such as off-road vehicle use and road creation, and illegal hunting and poaching, and sport hunting in Alabama and Georgia.

Internet sales booming nationwide; businesses battling fraudulent credit cards

In the Appalachian foothills in Keyser, W.Va., Gary Howell's auto parts business has experienced both the Internet's benefits and its headaches, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. (Read more) Howell has a drawer filled with folders. "These are all fraudulent credit cards," Howell told Orr. Howell has lost tens of thousands of dollars to fraudulent transactions. Credit card companies have charged him fees in those cases.

Internet commerce was up 23 percent last year to $69 billion, but one of every 50 online transactions is fraudulent, reports Orr. The problem is businesses never see the customer or the credit card, which creates risks. If the card number turns out to be stolen or fake, the merchant loses the money from the sale, loses the product if it's been shipped and pays a penalty.

"Credit card companies absolutely have a vested interest in minimizing and preventing fraud," Nessa Feddis, of the American Bankers Association, told Orr. "There is a cost associated with an invalid transaction. And the fee is intended to help recover those costs but also to encourage the merchant to be more careful."

Small businessmen want the credit industry to share the burden. "I don't like accepting all the risk for multi-million, multi-billion dollar corporations," Howell said. Until fraud fighting is improved, the "little guy" will be largely on his own, and coughing up money for the losses, reports Orr.

News councils netting more interest; groups investigate complaints, issue findings

Two state news councils have announced that they will award $75,000 start-up grants to two nonprofit groups interested in launching new state news councils. The Minnesota News Council and the Washington News Council will oversee a national competition for the grants. The start-up funds were funded by a $250,000 grant to the Minnesota and Washington councils by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, Fla.

The independent, nonprofit councils investigate complaints against news organizations and issue rulings about accuracy and fairness. “If the news media want to restore their eroding credibility with the public, they should embrace the news council concept,” said John Finnegan, Sr., chairman of the Minnesota News Council board and retired executive editor of the St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press. “A news council properly structured and operating with clearly defined policies can help the media earn trust by being more open and accountable.”

Applications for the national competition are available at www.news-council.org, and www.wanewscouncil.org. Applicants must show that they can raise funds including a significant portion from media organizations, to support operations for at least three years. Applications are due Feb. 15, 2006. Winners will be known by May 2006.

Audit blasts Eastern Kentucky regional jail; coal tax money used to bail it out

A regional jail in Beattyville, Ky., lambasted last week in an audit by Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen, will hire its fourth administrator in three years tonight.

"The 156-bed facility, which serves (three) counties, is struggling to stay afloat while its board tries to keep up with payments on a $6.3 million bond," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) Luallen said the audit "raises serious doubts about the jail's ability to be self-sustaining within its current financial structure." The audit indicated the jail had defaulted and had an operating loss of $68,665. As of May 27 this year, according to the audit, the jail had $135,343 in outstanding and past-due bills.

County officials said many operational and financial problems cited are being addressed by the jail's 10-person board and its chairman. Auditors were told the counties agreed to pay $500,000 in coal severance tax money to alleviate the default on the jail's debt service reserve account. The audit claimed the jail authority did not provide adequate oversight during construction and did not adequately monitor financial management at the new jail. One official said many problems could have been avoided if the jail board had been audited after its first year in 2002.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cutting Medicaid costs faces political obstacles; could cause ruin in rural U.S.

Fixing the finances of Medicaid could devastate the economies of rural areas that have become reliant on health care, Gardiner Harris reported yesterday in The New York Times' Week In Review section.

Medicaid, which pays for health care for the poor and disabled, is the nation's largest anti-poverty program, serving 52 million people. It is "bankrupting state governments," consuming more money than all elementary and secondary education, Harris reports. "As the population ages, Medicaid spending will only skyrocket."

Some states are cutting Medicaid rolls, and governors "want legislation that will give them the flexibility to make even more changes," Harris writes, but adds there could be political obstacles: "Voters may be more comfortable spending money on health care than on a government dole. And, unlike welfare, the middle class benefits from Medicaid, either directly through nursing home payments for their elderly parents and or indirectly, through local economies that depend on health care." Also, changes in Medicaid will affect Medicare and private insurance.

For an example of a place that fears Medicaid cuts, Harris looked at Hazard, Ky., "a poor town of about 4,800 in Appalachia," and talked with his predecessor in The Courier-Journal's Eastern Kentucky Bureau, former journalist and lawyer Judy Jones Owens, who now runs the University of Kentucky's Center for Rural Health.

"If Medicaid took a big cut, our civic infrastructure would just about be destroyed," Owens told him. "This is very scary for us." Harris notes that in 2003, "the most recent year for which numbers are available, welfare payments in Perry County [Hazard is the county seat] had dropped 25 percent [since 1995] to $2.7 million while Medicaid spending in the county doubled to $55.2 million. . . . Indeed, Medicaid has become the area's lifeblood."

One of Hazard's biggest employers is its hospital. In Eastern Kentucky towns hurt by loss of coal-mining jobs, "their strategy has been to develop health care," Owens told Harris, who added: "There is also the question of whether voters think of Medicaid as a government program that they want to dispense with -- like welfare -- or that they want to keep, like Social Security. And that may make cutbacks difficult."

N.C. congressman says Bush's plan for Social Security betrays rural Americans

President Bush's plan for private accounts in Social Security betrays rural Americans living in rural areas, a Democratic congressman from North Carolina congressman said Saturday in a response to Bush's weekly radio address. "The president's Social Security plan cuts benefits and jeopardizes the most important safety net in rural areas for retirees, survivors and the disabled," said Rep. Bob Etheridge.

"Etheridge said he would help educate rural Americans, usually older and poorer," about the program, CNN reported. "Bush's proposals for Social Security have been at the forefront of his second-term domestic agenda." A White House "fact sheet" says Social Security reform is particularly needed by "low-wage rural workers and farmers," and notes that farmers would be especially helped by the ability to pass the accounts on to heirs.

Kentucky town shows how a rural area can deal with globalization of its economy

When an underwear company took 3,200 jobs out of Campbellsville, Ky., in 1997-98, Taylor County faced a 30 percent unemployment rate and an uncertain future. Campbellsville is 40 miles from an interstate and 90 minutes from the nearest major airport, and it "had a largely working class, high-school educated work force ill suited for high-technology jobs," The Courier-Journal reported yesterday, starting a series on globalization in Kentucky.

"But seven years later, Campbellsville has added nearly 3,800 jobs, a net gain of 600 from when the Fruit of the Loom layoffs began, while bringing in 13 employers. That includes an Amazon.com distribution center . . . and major expansion by a half-dozen local industries," business reporter Wayne Tompkins wrote for the Louisville newspaper. The average weekly wage and retailed sales are up, "and many people thank Team Taylor County, a crisis-response team of local business, community and academic leaders, for bringing the county back. The team has seen its strategy studied by international scholars looking for ways to cope with globalization's downside."

Local officials agreed "not to worry about who got political credit for successes," got state and federal officials to improve the road to the interstate, created a Web site for recruiting employers, set up a wireless, high-speed Internet network and created "new learning opportunities for an undereducated work force," including a technology training center funded by a federal grant, but also an MBA program attractive to employers.

Still, some local workers "say the recovery work is far from finished" and are "skeptical that the 'Campbellsville comeback' has been as successful as its hype," Tompkins reports. "They say for many former workers, pay and benefits are less, cut in half in some cases, and the same bills still have to be paid."

Tompkins' series led with a story saying globalization's effects on Kentucky have been uneven. While it "has ravaged the state's apparel industry, a stable employer in some of the poorest rural regions for decades," he wrote, the state has become a major exporter and consumer prices have been held in check. (Read more)

Globalization's effects on rural areas, and their responses to it, were a frequent topic of discussion at "Rural America, Community Issues," a conference held last week at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland and programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Reports from conference sessions are posted here.

Mountaintop removal Part 1: Foes, backers meet on the streets of Lexington, Ky.

When environmentalists scheduled a series of rallies against coal mining by mountaintop removal, including one Friday near the headquarters of the Kentucky Coal Association and Kentucky Utilities Co., which burns coal, the coal association staged a counter-rally.

"A comic moment when four of the protesters decided to confront coal association president Bill Caylor," the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. (Read more) "In April 2004 . . . at the University of Kentucky, Caylor said there was nothing toxic in the 300 million gallons of coal slurry that broke through an impoundment in Martin County in 2000, flooding nearby streams. . . . Caylor said then that he would eat the coal waste to prove that it was only dirt and not toxic. Yesterday, a dinner of slurry, taken from Martin County, was put in goblets and on a plate and delivered to him by Ali Meyer, a UK research assistant; Erik Tuttle and Nick Smith, UK students from Knox County; and Maude Richards, a Mountain Justice Summer volunteer from Seattle. . . . Caylor took a tiny bit of the slurry and touched it to his lips" and repeated his stand that the material is not toxic.

Mountain Justice Summer is a series of mountaintop-removal protests by environmental groups from Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia. Its Lexington event attracted 175 people, and the coal association's counter-rally had 150, Herald-Leader reporters Scott Sloan and Art Jester wrote. They quoted Paul Matney of Corbin, personnel director for Tampa Electric Co.'s TECO Coal: "I resent people coming to tell me what I can and can't do with my property."

Mountaintop removal Part 2: OSM agrees to EIS on proposed stream-filling rule

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining has announced that it will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on rules on stream buffer zones and excess spoil -- key issues in the regulation of mountaintop-removal strip mines.

The Citizens Coal Council, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Mountain Watershed Association (Pennsylvania), the Bull Mountain Land Alliance (Montana) and the Kentucky Resources Council argue that the proposed rules would weaken the general rules now in place and would invite lawsuits unless an EIS evaluated the impact of the proposed changes and other alternatives. The groups support strict enforcement of the current rules, and particularly want each state to protect "the full extent of headwater streams from filling with mine wastes" KRC said last week. To read the letter form KRC and the CCC, click here.

OSM says the rules are intended to "reduce misunderstanding" of a 1983 rule by "establishing clear conditions under which coal mining operators may be allowed or denied permission to mine in a 100-foot zone around perennial and intermittent streams." It also said the rules would strengthen requirements for valley fills and "minimize the generation of excess spoil fills and ensure that environmental values are fully considered." The agency noted that excess spoil (broken rock and soil) "often results from coal mining in the steep terrain in central Appalachia, but excess spoil may be created anywhere rugged topography and coal mining occur."

To read OSM's press release about the formal notice, click here. The leader of the team that will prepare the statement is David Hartos, at dhartos@osmre.gov or 412-937-2909. The team has tentatively five potential meeting locations, given sufficient interest: Washington, Pittsburgh, Knoxville, Denver and Alton, Ill.

Charlotte region losing its tree cover, and Observer has satellite maps to prove it

The Charlotte metropolitan region, including some of its outlying rural areas, lost 20 percent of its tree cover from 1984 to 2003, "while urban areas [those 80 percent ore more streets and buildings] have more than doubled in size," The Charlotte Observer reports, and shows it vividly with interactive maps. To see the maps, click here.

Many Charlotte residents have called it "the city of trees," but the newspaper's headline asks, "Charlotte: City of stumps?" The region is one of about 20 analyzed by American Forests, a conservation group that compared satellite images taken in 1984 with those from 2003. The Knoxville, Tenn., area, showed a 42 percent loss in moderate tree cover from 1989 to 1999, the Observer reported.

In the Charlotte area, "The region's total tree cover, 40 percent, is the level American Forests calls healthy," reporter Bruce Henderson writes, but the group says the losses "cost the region millions of dollars a year in lost ecological services -- absorbing air pollution, soaking up storm water and intercepting stream contaminants."

Henderson adds, "The Carolina Piedmont Green Initiative, a collaboration including Charlotte, Salisbury, regional councils of government, Catawba College, UNC-Charlotte and others, has formed to encourage tree protection in the region."

Some localities including Charlotte have begun requiring developers to leave a certain percentage of trees, but environmentalists say a Senate-passed bill pending in the state House would ban such regulations. The sponsor , who wrote the bill with the North Carolina Forestry Association, says it would merely prevent localities from regulating forestry, but Environmental Defense says the bill would create another obstacle to clear-cutting bans.

Burned Korans are found in bag at door of Islamic center in southwest Virginia

Muslims in Blacksburg, Va., discovered recently that partially burned copies of the Koran had been left in a shopping bag by the front door, The Washington Post reported Friday. Police are trying to determine whether a hate crime had been committed at "a time of particular sensitivity," Jerry Markon wrote, noting recent confirmation of "five cases of U.S. personnel mishandling the Muslim holy book at the prison at Guantanamo Bay."

Blacksburg Police Lt. Joe Davis told Markon that members of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg reported finding "three or four" partially burned Korans in a plastic bag early Saturday afternoon, June 11. The group had held a prayer meeting at the center earlier in the day, left and returned. "Davis could not say whether the copies of the Koran belonged to the center or how severely they had been burned," Markon wrote. "A man who answered the phone at the center yesterday said no one was available to talk about the incident." (Read more)

Friday, June 17, 2005 blog is not available.

Thursday, June 16, 2005 (excerpts)

Globalization demands changes in the way rural America develops economy

Rural America must change the way it seeks jobs in a globalized economy, and journalists should help public and private policymakers at all levels realize the challenges and choices they face, a leading student of the rural economy said yesterday at the "Rural America, Community Issues" seminar at the University of Maryland.

The journalists heard from Mark Drabenstott, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and director of its Center for the Study of Rural America. He said globalization means that rural America can no longer use cheap labor, low taxes and cheap land to compete, because "there are legions of places around the world" with those advantages.

"We are going to move away from a model of recruiting businesses to rural America to growing businesses in rural America . . . gardening vs. hunting, if you will," Drabenstott said. But he added that he sees "very little discussion" of the challenge. "There is a tremendous opportunity for you to improve the economic literacy of our nation on some of these issues," he told the journalists.

Drabenstott said one key to being competitive is thinking regionally, from town to town and even across state lines. He said people in a self-defined region should ask themselves: What are our distinct economic assets? What market opportunity can we tap that no one else can? How do we exploit our assets to seize that opportunity? To answer such questions successfully, he said, a region needs the fuel of innovation and the engine of entrepreneurs.

To function regionally, Drabenstott said, there must be public-private partnerships; regional assets must be understood and measured, competitive advantages must be identified, and entrepreneurs must be developed.. A big question, he said, is whether the tools of measurement and analysis will be private or public: "Do we leave it to the consultants, or is it a job for the [Cooperative] Extension Service?" he asked.

One effort at entreprenurship was mentioned by Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which is programming the conference for the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He mentioned the Kentuucky extension service's creation, with tobacco-settlement funds, of an institute to train not just entrepreneurs but coaches to train entrepreneurs in the state's most tobacco-dependent region.

Drabenstott had a charge for journalists: "There’s a tremendous opportunity for the press. How you build bridges across your region as a public voice seems to me to be terribly important. … Do you want to simply trumpet your home town and bash all the other towns around you?" He challenged rural journalists to "foster a climate for partnership by public and private leaders" and focus coverage on long-term successes, not short-term ones.

Drabenstott said such processes call for patience, but he quoted an unnamed Texan on the urgency of the challenge facing rural America: “Time is short, the stakes are high, and the alternative is a Third World economy.” A longer report on Drabenstott's presentation will be posted in the Reports section of this Web site next week.

Agriculture still matters, partly because it provides rural leadership, expert says

Though agriculture accounts for less than 1 percent of America's gross domestic product, it remains important because of its relationship to the environment and, more intriguingly, to the culture and politics of America. So said David Freshwater, director of graduate studies in agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky, at the national conference for journalists on rural issues yesterday.

Farmers are still "a key part of the social elite" in rural areas, as leaders in civic, school and political groups, and at the national level they exploit the agricultural roots of the United States and do not align themselves closely with either political party, giving them more leverage on both parties, Freshwater said. "They have an effective voice that greatly outweighs their numbers," he said, attributing that partly to leadership training rural youth get in the Future Farmers of America and 4-H Clubs.

Asked about the effect of the tobacco buyout on Kentucky, the state with more tobacco growers than any other, Drabenstott said it is"incredibly important" because "the tobacco program froze the structure of agriculture in Kentucky in the 1930s," preserving it as a state of small farms and small towns. Without the program, he said, Kentucky will produce as much tobacco, but for less money, and "We'll see a lot of small-town dry-up."

Big-box stores draining, reshaping economies, character of nation’s small towns

When Wal-Mart Supercenters come to towns across America, they drain about 70 percent of their trade from local merchants and reshape the character of the communities, retired Iowa State University economist Kenneth Stone told the national rural journalism conference yesterday. Stone's research also shows that the Supercenters have helped some local businesses that don't compete with Wal-Mart, by generating traffic from a wider area.

Stone, who has become known in some circles as “the Wal-Mart Man” because of his studies, conducted some of the first and most extensive research on the economic impacts of malls, discount stores and big-box building materials stores and various forms of Wal-Marts. A study in Iowa showed Supercenters hurt grocery, specialty and apparel stores but helped restaurants and service businesses because of the “spillover” effect of extra traffic.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer with about 4,000 stores nationwide, had sales of more than $288 billion last year, and is forecasting more than $416 billion by 2008. But Stone said there are some signs that its growth is beginning to taper off, as Wal-Marts become located more closely together and drain traffic from each other.

When one journalist at the conference said some localities are offering incentives to attract Wal-Mart supercenters, Stone said he strongly opposes such deals.“It takes money from taxpayers to give to big companies who then take it from the local merchants,” he said.

Stone said Wal-Mart, under fire for its business practices, is becoming more media-savvy in its public relations, providing information that it once told journalists was proprietary, and has started to buy run-of-paper advertsing in newspapers. A top Wal-Mart official is scheduled to address this year's National Newspaper Association convention in Milwaukee on Sept. 30. For more on the convention, which runs Sept. 28-Oct. 1, click here.

For reports by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues on two TV documentaries about Wal-Mart last November, one of which featured Stone and his research, click here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005 (excerpts)

Rural areas need broadband to compete economically, researcher tells journos

High-speed internet access is no longer a luxury for rural communities because they need it to compete economically, an expert on rural broadband said at “Rural America, Community Issues” at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland yesterday.

"If you don't have broadband, certain things don't fall into place as easily," said Sharon Strover, director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute at the University of Texas. Not only do businesses use the Internet to buy, sell, distribute and control inventory, but health care increasingly uses Web-based forms to deliver information, and governments are interested in providing services online because it is cheaper, she said.

“What we’ve also heard from rural communities is that telecommunications was important to them because they are losing population," Strover said. Broadband access can entice young people to "stick around a little longer" and explore career options closer to home. She said terms like “the knowledge economy” can “create a lot of fear in rural areas because they feel like they’re gonna fall behind; they’re not there yet and the rest of the world is.”

When some local governments got into the broadband business, telephone companies began lobbying legislatures to pass laws making municipal broadband more difficult or impossible. The companies say "Get rid of government and we’ll compete," Strover said. “In fact, competition doesn’t just occur after government is no longer there. ... Everybody talks a good line about competition, but in fact, companies hate it." For more of this view, click here.

Strover said the national extent of broadband monopolies is difficult to determine, partly because the Federal Communications Commission signed confidentiality agreements with providers. Journalists may know who their local broadband providers are, but Strover said they face other obstacles writing about the issue: It is "filled with jargon," the technology changes constantly, and the business is regulated at all three levels of government.

Recent data from the census and the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that Internet use by rural Americans is about 10 percent less than for the nation as a whole, but rural broadband use is 50 percent less.

Rural veterans' health needs growing, says National Rural Health Assn. president

Amid all the special needs of rural health care is a growing need for services for rural veterans -- a need that is increasing with the conjunction of aging Vietnam Veterans and returning military from Afghanistan and Iraq, the president of the National Rural Health Association told the national rural journalism seminar yesterday.

Hilda Heady, associate vice president for rural health at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, said that while the federal government has several ways of getting health care to veterans, "Most health care for veterans comes from primary care physicians," a resource that is scarce in America’s rural areas.

“The baby-boomer Vietnam veteran’s average age is 58, and the coping mechanisms they had 20 to 30 years ago to help them deal with their experiences are collapsing,” said Heady. “Many are only now beginning to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms,” which Heady said is partly responsible for the increase they are seeing in the need for mental health care services.

Heady said traumatic brain injury, in which the brain is bruised by sudden shock, is the “signature injury” for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “We have advanced so far with armoring vehicles and body armor that soldiers are surviving blasts that previously would have killed them,” she said. “The injuries range from temporary memory loss, to a persistent vegetative state.

She said funding for rural veterans’ services is hampered by competition between service networks that favor areas with higher population density. She also noted that the National Guard and Reserve troops generally do not qualify for veterans' health benefits, though legislation has been introduced to make them eligible.

Heady suggested that reporters interested in telling the rural veterans' story start with the state office of rural health policy, which can provide access to experts and information on each state’s needs.

Journalists told to chronicle rural schools' struggle with No Child Left Behind law

Rural schools are having trouble coping with the No Child Left Behind law, and journalists need to write about the issue, the only reporter who covers rural education full-time told a national rural journalism conference yesterday.

Alan Richard of Education Week said the challenges include school choice, the ability of students to transfer to another school in the same district if their school is failing; the requirement that failing schools offer tutoring, which he said all rural schools need; and recruiting and retaining teachers who have college majors in the subjects they teach and are certified at the grade level they teach, long an obstacle to quality education in rural schools.

"It's important to ask rural school leaders how they're spending their money," Richard said. "Do they really need that third assistant superintendent? Maybe they ought to pay their teachers more." Richard told journalists at the seminar, programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. On the larger scale of the No Child Left Behind law, he said, "We need to help our country determine whether this is going to help states and schools do better by students."

Richard said many rural schools will not meet the goals the law sets for 2014, but he said the law has forced schools to focus on minority groups that lag in student achievement. He said that may be the best part of the law. "No Child Left Behind is a gold mine for stories," he said. Other issues in rural education, he said, include finance, with lawsuits over funding in several states; questions about school size, with misgivings in West Virginia about the closing and consolidation of more than 200 public schools; and segregation and demographic shifts.

Richard offered several sources for journalists, including his own publication, which he said will soon start charging for access to its archives at www.edweek.org; the National Rural Education Association; the National Dropout Prevention Center; the Institute for Education Leadership, which has an education-policy fellows program in about 16 states; the Alliance for Excellent Education, which aims to transform high schools; and the Rural School and Community Trust, which he said is a liberal group that advocates for small schools and publishes annual state-by-state rankings of rural education.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005 (excerpts)

Rural voters, key to Bush, could turn on GOP in 2006, bipartisan panel says

Rural voters were key to President Bush's election and re-election, but some "buyer's remorse" is showing up in recent polling, and that could pose problems for Republicans in next year's election, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and Republican consultant Bill Greener said yesterday at "Rural America, Community Issues," a five-day conference at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Greener said his fellow Republicans should not get "smug" about where they stand with rural voters, because "All it takes is somebody who is able to connect at a very human level," such as former President Clinton. But Greenberg said she blames Clinton for her party's "terrible job of iterating an economic narrative that would be popular in rural areas." She said he abandoned the party's populist streak after the 1994 GOP landslide.

While polls show rural voters being driven by social issues such as abortion, gun control and gay marriage, "something they think they know about and understand," Greener said, they also are concerned about education, health care, job retraining for displaced workers, and access to technology.

"We need a national strategy for rural America. This is not something that can be attacked in piecemeal fashion," Greener said, echoing the remarks of the conference's keynoter, Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies, which sponsored polls by Greenberg in rural areas of battleground states in the 2004 presidential election.

Both speakers said organization through churches was very important for Republcians last year. For the first time, Greener said, his party, which once expressed activism "only with a checkbook," matched the grass-roots intensity of Democrats. Greenberg said the GOP's use of local volunteers talking to neighbors was more effective than the Democrats' importation of groups of volunteers into key areas.

Thematic rural coverage can connect people, places and issues, and drive policy

Journalists interested in rural issues discussed better ways to tell the stories of rural America with Ali Webb, communications manager for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, yesterdat at the Knight Center conference, which is being programmed by the the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Kellogg, the largest private funder of rural enterprises, has sponsored research into coverage of rural America by major national media in 2002 and 2004. Webb said it shows the coverage is disproportionately episodic -- single stories relying entirely on ordinary individuals -- rather than thematic, an approach that ties together issues and larger trends, with the addition of authorities and advocates who help make the connection. "What we all need are these bridges," said Kathyrn Stearns, editor of The Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H.

Webb noted that Kellogg has a list of rural resources, some of them nontraditional, on its Web site. “This isn’t an either/or, but instead it's both,” she said. News managers and news consumers want to see ordinary citizens in stories, she said, but limiting stories to that approach makes the stories seem less important to policymakers, and thus makes it more difficult for them to tackle rural problems ranging from health care, education, land use to development and the decline of family farming.

The leading example during the discussion was a story last October by National Public Radio rural-affairs correspondent Howard Berkes, one of the 31 Knight Center fellows at the conference. The story was a 7-minute piece from rural Louisiana on proposed relaxation of rules requiring banks to make loans to low- and moderate-income lenders in their communities. Berkes enlivened the topic by talking with individuals who would be affected, and an articulate advocate for rural residents who was able to help make the connection to the larger picture.

What's rural? It depends on your interests and your conceptions, USDA expert says

The first question a journalist asked at the "Rural America, Community Issues" journalism conference this week was "What is rural?" There is no definite answer, partly because the face of rural America is changing, but some valid options were offered at the conference's first daytime session: Calvin Beale, senior demographer for the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture and a USDA employee for more than 51 years.

"It depends so much on what your interest is, and what your perceptions are," Beale told the journalists. Various laws establish as many as 75 definitions of "rural" for different federal programs, which often include more than the 59 million people classified as rural by the 2000 census. For example, 102 million that are eligible for rural-development assistance from the federal government.

One of the broadest definitions of "rural" is any place outside one of the nation's metropolitan areas, which have citires of 50,000 or more. However, some metro areas include rural census tracts or block groups. For example, the U.S. county with the most rural population is Worcester County, Massachusetts, with 144,000 residents around a metropolitan center. Beale noted that the Census Bureau does not identify whole counties as urban or rural, but the Office of Management and Budget defines the counties that make up metropolitan areas.

A much narrower definition, perhaps borrowed from Europe before Wolrd War I, says any incorporated place or densely settled area of 2,500 or more is urban. Before that definition was adopted, the threshhold was 8,000. Beale's personal dividing line is a populated place of 10,000 or more, but he acknowledged, "In terms of the upper limits of 'rural,' that is a subjective thing."

Beale also offered observations on rural population trends, in the nation as a whole and several individual counties in various parts of the country. He said the growth rate in rural areas has been rising since 2000 while that in metropolitan areas has been falling, but the rural rate is still half the metro rate. Sources of growth include retirement communities; immigration of Hispanics; movement of white-collar tasks to small towns, often via technology; and prison construction, which not only adds employment but put prisoners into local census counts. In the 1990s, he said, a prison opened in a non-metro county every 15 days.

The states with the largest rural rate increases from 2000 to 2004 were North Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Texas. The largest declines were recorded in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and North Dakota, reflecting a regional decline. "You could drive from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and never go through a county

that was growing in population," Beale said.

Monday, June 13, 2005 (excerpts)

National rural conference for journalists opens with call for a rural policy

"We need a rural policy. We need a thoughtful rural policy," Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, said last night in the keynote speech for "Rural America, Community Issues," a five-day conference on rural issues for journalists at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland.

Rather than a rural policy, Davis said, the United States has a farm policy that fails to sustain and develop rural communities -- where fewer than 2 percent of the people earn their primary living by farming. He suggested that the billions in subsidies to farmers could be phased out and the money redirected to rural-development programs, contending that some of Amercia's poorest counties get heavy agricultural subsidies.

Davis gave a litany of statistics that define the problems of rural America, such as: 195 of the nation's 200 poorest counties are rural; rural children are 50 percent more likely than others to lack health insurance; and rates of certain drug use are much higher in rural areas than the rest of America. Yet, he said, the federal government's community-development programs invest more than twice as much in urban areas as in rural, and only $100 million of the $30 billion in U.S. charitable contributions last year were targeted to rural areas.

Davis also offered a definition for "rural" and a reason for the conference: "Rural is where the market ends," because rural people are harder to reach and have less purchasing power, but "they still need real journalists looking into things that matter to them." He said surveys for his group have shown rural Americans are "feeling alone out there," and "Mostly, they felt that when the media got to them, they got it wrong." He challenged the journalists to "Come into the countryside and get some shit on your shoes." For the whole speech, click here.

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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.




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Last Updated: July 17, 2005