Rural Blog Archive April 2005

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

Friday, April 29, 2005

Kentuckians to pay more for soaring Medicaid prescriptions to rein in costs

More than two-thirds of a million (685,000) elderly, disabled and poor Kentucky Medicaid recipients, will pay more for many prescriptions in another state effort to rein in the soaring costs of the health care program.

The higher co-payment is designed to push people toward the use of generic drugs, rather than more expensive brand names. If generic drugs are used, the existing $1 per prescription co-payment will not increase, writes Mark Chellgren of The Associated Press. For brand name drugs, the co-payment will be $3 per prescription. For brand drugs that are on Kentucky's preferred list, designated because of their effectiveness or special financial arrangements, the co-payment will be $2. There will be a cap of $9 per month for charges on brand name drugs, writes Chellgren. Medicaid Commissioner Shannon Turner told Chellgren, "It's to make people look at the purchases they're making."

Prescription drugs are the largest single cost in the $4.5 billion annual Medicaid program, at least in Kentucky. In most states, hospitalization or long-term care are the largest Medicaid costs. Nationally, the average Medicaid patient gets around 11 prescriptions a year; in Kentucky, the average is 23. The co-payment is waived for pregnant women, children to age 19, some minorities and people who are in nursing homes and other institutions. Turner said the higher co-payment may not make a huge difference, but even a 5 percent savings would be significant. The increase is viewed as a necessary evil in some quarters.

Ed Monahan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, told AP, "This is a prudent way to avoid having benefits or eligibility reduced." Pharmacists will get to keep the co-payment, which can only be waived if the pharmacy also waives co-payments for private insurance. As it stands, however, pharmacists cannot unilaterally substitute a generic drug if there is a brand name on the prescription. The higher charges will take effect in late May or early June.

Hoosiers to sync-up on daylight-savings; time zone dilemma to be studied

After decades of debate, discord, dissent, and division, daylight-saving time is coming to all of Indiana for the first time in more than 30 years.

The Indiana House yesterday passed by a five vote margin the controversial issue, which has dominated hoosiers' daily lives for the past four months as the legislature wrestled with "father time," report Mary Beth Schneider and Kevin Corcoran of The Indianapolis Star.

"Gov. Mitch Daniels, who made passage of the time change one of his top economic priorities, will sign the bill soon so that on April 2, 2006, Hoosiers will join people in 47 other states in turning their clocks ahead one hour," they write. Some legislators argued the changes are needed to boost Indiana in a global economy and erase the state's backward image. Others called it an unnecessary intrusion in Hoosiers' lives.

Indiana's time zones remain the same. Opponents had argued their state is a better fit in the Central time zone. The state is to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to hold hearings on where the time zone boundary should fall. Currently, 82 Indiana counties are in the Eastern time zone, and 10 counties in northwestern and southwestern Indiana are in the Central time zone. The bill will validate five southeastern Indiana counties that have been illegally observing daylight-saving time. (Blogger's note: Your blogger worked in Indiana, way back, and recalls one elderly woman's radio comments in opposition of DST, saying "the extra hour of sunlight is killing my flowers.")

N. C. Senate passes measure to curb meth labs; control key ingredients

Legislation to slow methamphetamine production throughout North Carolina has moved a step closer to becoming a law. The Meth Lab Prevention Act has cleared the state Senate by an overwhelming vote.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper has pushed for the law to fight the spread of meth labs by controlling sales of meth’s key ingredient, writes Lindsay Nash of The Asheville Citizen-Times, who was the principal writer on a series the newspaper ran this week entitled, "Meth: The Rural Plague."

Cooper told Nash, “These deadly drugs destroy families and communities. We’ve got to pass this law now to stop our meth lab problem from turning into a crisis.” The measure would require tablet forms of common cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine to be sold only from behind a pharmacy counter. Wal-Mart, CVS Corp., Target Corp. and Rite Aid have all said they will place the cold medicines behind the counter. The law would require customers to show photo identification to buy tablets containing pseudoephedrine. Purchases would be limited to no more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine within 30 days without a prescription, writes Nash.

Meth production and addiction has soared in North Carolina, where 243 labs were found last year, up from nine in 1999. Since enacting similar legislation, Oklahoma has seen an 80 percent drop in meth production. Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and Oregon also have passed bills patterned after the Oklahoma law. Similar measures are under consideration in many other states, including Western and Midwestern states, where meth lab busts total in the thousands annually.

Minneapolis area robber targets pharmacies for ‘Hill-billy heroin’ - OxyContin

A pharmacy bandit who has struck five times since Feburary in the suburbs of Minneapolis - St. Paul, Minnesota demands the same thing: OxyContin, the powerful and highly addictive prescription painkiller dubbed "hillbilly heroin" for its widespread abuse in Appalachia, reports Jill Burcum of the Star Tribune.

Capt. Rob Bredsten of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office told Burcum, "This is the first OxyContin serial robber that I can recall. We've had other situations where pharmacies have been robbed of other narcotic drugs but certainly nothing where it's been this prolific and in this short amount of time."

Across the metro, pharmacists say they're worried by the robberies and are taking steps to prevent being targeted, Burcum writes. Wayne Jeffrey, owner of a pharmacy in a clinic in Ramsey, a rapidly growing suburb bordering Anoka, told the Star Tribune, "We're all a little uneasy." Steve Simenson, managing partner of four pharmacy locations, told the newspaper he has prepped his employees on what to do if the bandit strikes. "All are aware that it's safety first."

So-called OxyContin robberies are nothing new in Minnesota or across the nation, she writes. Soon after the drug's introduction in 1996, its illicit use as a street drug became a problem, particularly in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, as well as rural Maine and Florida, according the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Work lacked proper permits at West Virginia coal mine where explosion occurred

Contractors lacked proper safety permits at a McDowell County, West Virginia abandoned underground coal mine where five workers were hurt in a methane gas explosion April 19.

The project involved pumping water from a flooded mine shaft next to a reclamation site to reprocess waste from an adjacent coal refuse pile. But, the plans were never submitted to regulatory agencies for methane testing or other safety measures, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. Jesse Cole, director of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration's district office in Mount Hope, told Ward, "We didn't even know about that. No one contacted us about that, or informed us it was going on."

The McDowell County Economic Development Authority was using funds from the federal Abandoned Mine Land program to build a large landfill. Officials wanted to clean up a 60-acre coal refuse pile, hire a contractor to reprocess the usable coal, then use leftover debris to build the landfill base

Reclamation officials last fall had told the state Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training they wanted to enter the adjacent underground mine. Agency Director Doug Conaway sent an inspector to test for methane gas and oversee the unsealing of the shaft, but the agency never heard from the company again. Last week, the reclaiming company brought in a crane truck to help install a pump in the mine shaft. On April 19, a spark from a welding torch ignited the explosion. The workers, who were not identified, suffered arm and facial burns. The DEP and U.S. Office of Surface Mining are still reviewing the accident.

West Virginia could be home to 'Mountain Music' Heritage Center

“Mountain Music” will have a home of tribute in “The Mountain State” if a congressman from “Them Thar Hills” is successful in his efforts.

"Tennessee has the Country Music Hall of Fame. Kentucky's got the International Bluegrass Music Museum. And if U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall gets his way, southern West Virginia will someday be home to the Appalachian Mountain Music Hall of Fame," writes Vicki Smith of The Associated Press.

What "mountain music" is depends on who's talking. It can be bluegrass or blues, string band or Swiss, gospel or guitar. Those who study it say it's a little bit country and a whole lot of soul, Smith writes. The Rev. Thomas Acker, who will be part of a year-long effort to document the state's musical culture and history, then shape the vision for a regional music heritage center, told Smith, "I would like to call mountain music that which originates in the mountains, whatever nature it may be." Acker is a past president of Wheeling Jesuit University who's now with non-profit economic development group, Forward Southern West Virginia.

Initial research will be done by the West Virginia Humanities Council with a $97,000 federal grant obtained by Rahall, D-W.Va., whose district includes southern West Virginia. Rahall says the hope is to build a tourist attraction in the Beckley area, possibly featuring a concert hall, exhibits and access to historical documents, photographs and recordings. For more on "Mountain Music" from The Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College click here.

Kentucky-based coal group files for IPO; acquired bankrupt Horizon assets

International Coal Group Inc. has registered for an initial public offering of up to $250 million in common stock, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Ashland, Kentucky-based company is a producer of coal in Northern and Central Appalachia, with a range of low sulfur steam and metallurgical coal. It was organized by WL Ross & Co. in October 2004 to acquire the main assets of bankrupt Horizon Natural Resources Co., reports The Associated Press. That bankruptcy resulted in the loss of health and retirement benefits to hundreds of coal miners.

Details about the number of shares offered and estimated price range for the offering weren't disclosed in Thursday's filing. The company said it will use $174.6 million of the net proceeds from the offering to repay its term loan facility and the remaining proceeds to further reduce debt or for general corporate purposes.
UBS Investment Bank and Lehman Brothers were listed as underwriters for the offering, writes AP.

The company said it plans to list its shares of common stock on The New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "ICO." The $250 million valuation for the offering was estimated solely for calculating the registration fee, the filing said. Often, the eventual price terms of an offering differ substantially from the valuation in the first registration, they write.

Ashland Inc. revises $3.7 billion gasoline refining business deal with Marathon Oil

Ashland Inc. and its shareholders would reap an extra $700 million in a revised deal to sell off its minority interest in Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC to partner Marathon Oil Corp. in a $3.7 billion cash and stock transaction.

Covington, Ky.-based Ashland owns 38 percent of MAP, the nation's fifth-largest gasoline refiner and marketer. Houston-based Marathon owns the rest, reports Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. Ashland's top executive, James J. O'Brien, chairman and chief executive, said in a conference call with industry analysts the amended deal marked a new era for Ashland as it focuses on chemical and road construction businesses while shedding its refiningand marketing operations. Ashland's shares rose by 97 cents, or 1.5 percent, to close at $65.07 in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Sponsors urge Congress to enact reporter's shield law; confident of passage

Allowing a free press to report on government activities without fear of being compelled to reveal sources and protecting whistleblowers who disclose wrongdoing would benefit the public, four members of Congress said today in urging their colleagues to support reporter's shield bills currently before both houses, writes the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Sens. Chris Dodd D-Conn.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) reiterated their support for the bills at a press conference yesterday on Capitol Hill. Stressing the bipartisan effort, the four said they are confident a shield law will pass. A House committee hearing on the bill is scheduled for May 12, and one is expected soon in the Senate, reports the RCFP.

Lawmakers told the RCFP talks with the White House and Department of Justice have been "constructive." The Justice Department's position is important because law enforcement officials often believe shield laws interfere with criminal prosecutions. The department has declined comment on the bill.

Colorado newspaper launches web-based civic journalism intiative

This May, the Rocky Mountain News will launch, one of the largest civic journalism initiatives with 40 neighborhood Web sites and 15 zoned print editions.

Anyone can post what they want on the neighborhood sites, so long as it’s not obscene or offensive, and some content will be reused for the print section for subscribers of the Rocky and the Denver Post. YourHub sites will also link to stories from any news source that carries a story relevant to the neighborhood, reports Graham Webster of Editor & Publisher.

It will compete with The Daily Camera’s community Web site at Ad sales teams will divide the 39 Web sites and the 15 print editions into 10 advertising zones, to compete with other community papers like the weekly Canyon Courier in Evergreen.

Two KBA stations win Crystal Radio award for commitment to communities

The National Association of Broadcasters awarded WUGO in Grayson, Ky., and WCMT-AM in Martin, Tenn., the Crystal Radio Award their outstanding commitment to community service. The ten Crystal winners were picked from 50 finalists and recognized at the Radio Luncheon during the NAB’s convention. They will be further honored at the Service to America Summit in Washington, D.C. this June.

WUGO in Grayson, with station manager Francis Nash, is winning its third Crystal Award, something only seven other stations have achieved. WCMT, with station manager Paul Tinkle, is part of the Kentucky Broadcasters Association, along with WUGO, and the Tennessee Broadcaster’s Association.

PEER condemns U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding Everglades development

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility criticized the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for changing its position on development in the Everglades area of Florida.

In February 2001, the service objected to development proposals in southwest Florida, expressing alarm at “the trend in wetland habitat loss and its contribution to significant degradation of aquatic ecosystems,” according to PEER’s records. The service focused on 24 proposals and 15 other projects where the service had already voiced objections. It cited that there had been on cumulative assessment of all the projects’ combined impact on the environment, there was improper mitigation and there had been no analysis of alternatives for the development.

But four years later, the objections have disappeared, PEER says. “Four years after sounding the alarm, the Fish & Wildlife Service has fallen through the political looking glass and now defends what it once condemned,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The very same projects that the Service cited for exacerbating environmental problems are now proceeding without a hitch, despite the irreversible problems they will cause.”

Rural Va. county dealing with cat-astrophe; colony of out-cats thriving for years

They call it “Cat City.” Scattered in the woods behind a well-traveled stretch of road in suburban western Henrico County sits a colony of more than two dozen so-called "feral-cat houses," where numerous out-cats have mysteriously thrived for eight years.

"Mostly cardboard boxes covered by plastic trash bags, the cat homes are behind a shopping center," writes Meredith Bonny of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The humane society has been called and county officials are investigating the problem. County Supervisor Patricia S. O'Bannon, told Bonny, "It is very difficult when someone (who is feeding them) is absolutely dedicated to something like this and continues to do something that is not in the best interest of everyone."

Some say the cat habitat is a nuisance and is on a utility easement between a shopping center and a nearby neighborhood. The shopping center is home to a few restaurants, a beauty salon and a pet-grooming boutique. An official told the newspaper thy've posted no-trespassing signs and used night surveillance to deal with the problem," and that sent letters have been sent to people suspected of feeding the animals.

One nonprofit group in Richmond, called Operation Catnip, operates a high-volume, no-charge clinic where feral and stray cats are spayed or neutered and vaccinated. All cats have the tip of their left ear cropped, which identifies the cat as sterilized, according to the group's Website. There are no clear indications, however, whether the people caring for the animals in Cat City are affiliated with Operation Catnip. Two cats were seen by a Times-Dispatch reporter near the colony but ran away when the reporter approached them. (Cats and politicians share the same skittishness.)

JOURNALISM HISTORY FOOTNOTE: On this date in history, William Randolph Hearst was born.


May 4: Deadline for journalists to apply for national rural-issues conference

One week remains for journalists to apply for sponsored attendance at Rural America, Community Issues, a conference to be held June 12-17 at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. The Knight Center is offering fellowships for this in-depth seminar, programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Speakers will be experts from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Confirmed sessions and speakers include: Dee Davis, president, Center for Rural Strategies; Charles Fluharty, director, Rural Policy Research Institute; Mark Drabenstott, Center for the Study of Rural America, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Calvin Beale, senior demographer, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; experts on the perceptions and politics of rural America; Hilda Heady, president, National Rural Health Association; Alan Richard, Education Week writer who covers rural schools; Sharon Strover, University of Texas at Austin, expert on rural broadband; Ken Stone, professor of economics, Iowa State University and student of the Wal-Marting of America; David Freshwater, agricultural economist, University of Kentucky; Deb Flemming, former editor, Mankato Free Press; Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky. ; Al Smith, former editor and publisher of weeklies in Kentucky and Tennessee; Tom McDonald, general manager of the Las Vegas (N.M.) Optic and former editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial; and Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman. Also, a Washington field trip will explore the roles of federal and state governments, and the interests that lobby them, in rural issues.We will talk to policymakers, big thinkers and detail folks.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is May 4. To apply, send three copies of each of the following materials, organized into sets: A resume, including contact information at work; a statement of up to 500 words giving the reasons for applying; a supervisor's strong nominating letter that also agrees to pay partial travel costs to and from the seminar and salary during the seminar (freelancers send a letter of recommendation from an editor); and three published articles (editors may send edited work, broadcasters send one CD, audiotape or VHS videotape). Send applications so that they will be received by May 4 to: Carol Horner, Director, Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, University of Maryland, 1117 Cole Field House, College Park, MD 20742-1024. Contact the Knight Center at 301/405-4817. 

May 18: Editors training program deadline fast approaching

The registration deadline for APMe NewsTrain’s training program is approaching. Register by May 1 to participate in the program at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind., designed to help frontline editors develop editing and management skills. The program is sponsored by The Associated Press Managing Editors and receives funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Local partners include The Courier Journal, The Associated Press, Indiana University Southeast, the Kentucky Press Association and The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown, Ky.

June 11: Spots open in journalism workshop on children and farm safety

There are still openings in the 2nd journalism workshop, titled “Kids on Farms: Telling the Story in Cooperstown, NY,” from June 11-12. The workshop will cover all expenses and pay a stipend to each participant. For more information, visit this website, or contact Christian L. Hanna, MPH, of the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety, 1000 N. Oak Ave. in Mashfield, Wisc., 54449. Her phone number is (715) 389-3116 and email

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Think tank says nation’s policy makers out of step with rapid rural growth

A new study by SRI International, A Menlo Park, California – based think tank says America's rural areas are growing faster than government policy makers can keep up.

Pat Conway, president of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, which paid for the study, told the Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal, "It is time for a fresh start in formulating strategies to strengthen rural America is important we support and stimulate economic growth in rural America. The study can serve as a framework to develop new strategies." For a related story from The Des Moines Register, click here.

The study's authors suggest a renewed, stronger focus on assets and opportunities for rural America to reclaim its prosperity, writes the Business Journal. The study also identifies policy and program steps that can be taken to enable economic growth in rural areas, including consolidating multiple programs, avoiding duplication and making them easier to find and use; greater flexibility in terms of assistance and timeframes, and co-investment by rural communities, businesses, and institutions.

On the whole, rural America has several assets on which to build, the study says. These include steadily improving education achievement, low cost of doing business, high quality of life, and increasingly high levels of entrepreneurship and small business development. Liabilities faced by rural areas include declining population, difficulty retaining educated residents, and lack of employment opportunities, particularly in growing economic sectors, they write.

The Business journal reports that while rural America is moving toward a more diverse economy and agriculture is declining in its share of that economy, the study shows the bulk of federal support remains primarily in direct subsidies to agriculture. Thirty percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2003 budget was allocated to agricultural subsidies while rural development accounted for 3.5 percent of the budget. The full study is available on the SRI Website.

Congressional action could threaten local-government broadband projects

In rewriting federal law on telecommunications, Congress could make it more difficult for local and state governments to get into the business of providing high-speed broadband Internet service, which could limit the accessibility and affordability of the service in small towns and rural areas.

"Internet services are inherently interstate in nature," said Rep. Fred Upton, R.-Mich., chairman of the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, "Federal jurisdiction -- and a unified federal broadband policy -- trumps state jurisdiction." Upton said the hearing, the panel’s fourth on Internet services, is the last: “At the close of this hearing it is my goal to legislate along these lines."

That approach worries representatives of local governments and public utilities, several of whom testified at the hearing. "Many benefits accrue from community-owned communications systems including lower prices for consumers, increased competitiveness in the marketplace, responsiveness to local needs, universal access and economic development," said Lewis Billings, mayor of Provo, Utah, which has a city-run electric utility.

Billings spoke on behalf of the American Public Power Association, reports Drew Clark of National Journal’s Technology Update (subscription required). “Billings said 600 of the country's 2,000 public power systems provide some sort of broadband access over fiber wires, power lines, wireless or a hybrid of fiber and coaxial cables,” Clark writes. “Billings criticized cable and telecommunications companies for opposing municipal broadband, and said that Provo had built a municipal fiber network because of inadequate broadband in Utah. He cited support for municipal broadband from Intel Corp., the High Tech Broadband Coalition and the Consumer Federation of America.”

Arvada, Colo., Mayor Kenneth Fellman, speaking for the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers, county officials who draft cable franchise agreements, asked the subcommittee to “take a deliberative approach and ensure that any new regulatory regime respects social obligations of service providers.” Fellman was “particularly concerned about what he called ‘economic redlining,’ which involves directing services or products at only the most affluent customers," Clark reports, quoting him: “One of the primary interests of local government is to ensure that services provided over the cable system are made available to all residential subscribers in a reasonable period of time.”

John Perkins, president of the National Association of State Utility Advocates, said federal preemption of state Internet telephone regulation might jeopardize public safety through access to 911 services, Clark reports. “Dissenting somewhat was Charles Davidson, a state utility commissioner in Florida, who said consumers would benefit from competition between cable, telecom and other companies, saying, "A patchwork of rules will deter some from entering this market."

Rural Virginia tourism: Small, but growing fast where bucolic is beatified

Virginia Tourism Corporation officials say rural areas of the state, especially in the southwest, that offer winding trails, bluegrass music and wine-tasting have become some of the state's fastest-growing attractions.

Alisa Bailey, president of the VTC, said recently at the Governor's Conference on Tourism held in Richmond, "Visitors from afar are drawn by the image of Main Street America, the old-fashioned, wave-to-your-neighbor place that doesn't exist in many cities — but does in parts of Virginia," writes Dionne Walker of The Associated Press.

The rapid growth of these small attractions follows a national trend of city dwellers seeking relaxing, country getaways. Many of these tourists prefer to blend their vacations with activities like wine tastings and spa treatments, and flock to rural Virginia areas rich in culture, fine dining and recreation, writes Walker.

Southwestern Virginia has responded with "The Crooked Road," a 250-mile trail highlighting eight country music landmarks. Matt Bolas, vice president of the Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau told Walker the one-year-old trail has drawn international tourists, boosting the region's economy. Bolas told the wire service they are expecting 60,000 trail visitors within the next year. Steve Galyean, director of tourism with the Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau, said attendance numbers at trail attractions are growing. The Barter Theatre, for instance, saw 155,000 visitors last year, up 25,000 from 2003. But, historic attractions like Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon are grappling with fewer visitors. Kat Imhoff, a vice president at Monticello in Charlottesville, said annual attendance there hasn't cracked 500,000 in nearly three years. Bailey said tourists appear to be bored with static history.

For a story by Izak Howell of the Roanoke Times on that southwest Virginia city's learning from Asheville, N.C. in an effort to greater capitalize on growing Appalachian Trail tourism, click here. Roanoke is trying to boost its business while Asheville, with its Bilmore Estates, among other attractions, has seen exponential growth it its area tourism. Click here for a story by Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader on Nicholasville, Ky.'s efforts to boost tourism business.

Summit says not enough beds for recovering meth addicts in West Virginia

There are few resources available to help recovering methamphetamine addicts in West Virginia, according to a Charleston, W.V. summit, Building a Meth-Free Community.

Addicts have no resources in prison and few beds in treatment facilities outside of prison, reported Dan Heyman of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. There are no resources available for women, though they just opened a 10-bed unit in Charleston, said Larry Bryson, Team Agape Inc., a faith-based group. To listen to the report, click here.

Best way to get from here to there is by air, says Dakota-based flying service

Point2Point Airways, a new, on-demand charter service designed to appeal to business travelers who are hundreds of miles away from a major hub airport, is attracting a lot of attention from business people who have to travel a lot in highly rural areas.

"Some industry insiders liken Point2Point to an air taxi service, because the trips will begin and end when the passengers want to fly. The Bismarck, North Dakota - based firm will charge businesses about $350 an hour for Midwest flights, and it is asking companies to buy flight time in blocks, which they can use over a 12-month period, writes Liz Fedor of The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, Minn. With Point2Point, business trips that took a day or two will be done in half that time or less, say supporters.

John Boehle, a Grand Forks-based consultant, told Fedor, "We have pre-sold time aboard the first two aircraft." Point2Point will operate single-engine planes that seat a pilot and three passengers cruise at 210 mph and have a range of 800 nautical miles. Point2Point expects to operate with five Cirrus planes during its first year of operations and expand to 15 planes in year two, writes Fedor. Passenger revenue for the first 12 months is projected to be $646,000 and $22 million by year five, she writes.

AEP in talks to settle clean air violation lawsuits; nation's largest power generator

American Electric Power is in talks to settle a nearly 6-year-old lawsuit accusing the nation's largest power generator of violating Clear Air Act rules by not installing modern pollution controls at nine plants, the company's top executive said.

AEP president and chief executive Michael Morris told The Columbus Dispatch, "We continue to believe that we did not violate" the law, reports The Associated Press. Columbus Dispatch story requires registration. The Justice Department sued AEP and several other utilities in 1999 over accusations dozens of coal burning power plants in the Midwest spewed dirty air that caused smog and health problems across the Northeast. The government claimed the utilities made physical changes to their plants without upgrading pollution controls.

AEP's case involving nine plants in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and Indiana is set to go to trial on June 6 in Columbus before U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus. Morris told Columbus Dispatch reporter Ken Stammen that AEP has participated in meetings at the request of Sargus, but is ready to go to trial. Ben Porritt, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told the newspaper both sides are prohibited from talking about the status of negotiations. Last month, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. agreed to pay $1.1 billion in fines and cleanup costs at four power plants in the second-largest federal settlement with an electric utility over air pollution. AEP has about 5 million customers in 11 states.

Kentucky county's residents 'guaranteed' to get hundreds of new jobs

At least 320 new jobs are coming to Knox County, Kentucky as an existing business expands and a brand new one moves into the county.

Pearson Government Solutions, located in Corbin, will be adding 120 new jobs through an expanded federal contract, according to Deputy Judge-Executive Bruce Murphy, writes Melissa Newman of The Times-Tribune in Corbin. The Knox Fiscal Court is offering a tax incentive program to Pearson if they assure the fiscal court all 120 new jobs will be held for Knox County residents only and the work will last at least one year. The incentive package states if all criteria is met, then the 1 percent occupational tax paid by Pearson will be refunded to them after one year. The median salary for this particular contract is $10 per hour per employee, writes Newman.

Knox County Judge-Executive Raymond Smith said Pearson assured the fiscal court there would be an accounting of all personnel for this particular contract to ensure all those obtaining the jobs are from Knox County. The total incentive package will cost the county about $20,000. Smith told Newman if Pearson hires even one person out of the120 not from Knox County or if they keep the employees for 11 months instead of the full 12, they don't get the incentive. Smith told the newspaper the reason for the absoluteness terms of the incentives offered has to do with companies finding loopholes to gain tax incentives, and not entirely following the rules of the agreement, she writes.

Health-care journalists hire new exec, move base to his current home at Mizzou

Len Bruzzese has a new employer in journalism but has managed to do it without moving. He is the new executive director of the Association of Health Care Journalists, which is moving from the University of Minnesota to the University of Missouri – longtime base of Investigative Reporters and Editors, of which Bruzzese is deputy director. He will start his new job July 1.

AHCJ has a Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, which will also be joining several other professional organizations housed at Missouri. They include the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, the National Newspaper Association, the Journalism and Women Symposium, and the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, which works closely with IRE.

“Health care is one of the fastest growing specialties in journalism,”' Bruzzese said. “I'm excited to be part of AHCJ's efforts to educate journalists, advocate on their behalf and, ultimately, better serve the general public.” AHCJ is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. Its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. The Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism focuses on training to cover all aspects of health care, including business issues, public policy, medical research, medical practice, consumer health issues, public health, health law and ethics. More information about AHCJ and CEHCJ click here.

Bruzzese, 47, has spent the past seven years working at IRE and teaching at the UM School of Journalism. As IRE's deputy director, he helped manage programs and services for the 5,000-member group, which builds membership mainly through conference registration fees. Bruzzese co-authored the fourth edition of The Investigative Reporter's Handbook and edited 10 other books while at IRE. Previously, he held editing, reporting and management positions with newspapers and wire services, including The Olympian in Olympia, Wash., the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., USA Today and Gannett News Service. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

NCBA appealing ruling that mad-cow disease has “genuine risk of death”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, along with the American Farm Bureau Federation and many cattle organizations, cattlemen, farm bureaus and the National Pork Producers Council, filed a “friend of the court” brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Their concern is with the ruling that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, known as mad-cow disease, poses “genuine risk of death” for consumers.

NCBA President-Elect Mike John said the ruling was “a far cry from sound science,” and that the group’s priority is to re-open the Asian beef market. “BSE experts from the World Organization for Animal Health agree that BSE is not a public health or herd health risk when key firewalls are in place to protect consumers and cattle, even when a case of BSE is found. The United States has these firewalls in place, as does Canada,” John said in a press release on the group’s website.

Pikeville wants A&E apology; also working with U of L on health research

While Pikeville, Ky. residents concerned about the city's image are demanding an apology from the A&E television network after an "unflattering and unfair" episode of City Confidential, the city's largest private employer wants the University of Louisville to build a medical research center there to help them diversify a local economy once dominated by coal.

City Manager Donovan Blackburn wrote in a letter to the A&E network, "Obviously, being labeled the town from hell can not be interpreted in any way as positive," Blackburn told Roger Alford of The Associated Press. The documentary revolved around murders committed by a group of occultists who lived in the area. The show delved into the 1997 kidnappings and murders of a Tennessee couple and their 6-year-old daughter by six Eastern Kentuckians now serving life prison sentences. The couple's 2-year-old son also was kidnapped and shot, but survived.

A&E said, "It was not the intention of A&E Network to malign the town of Pikeville, but rather to examine it through the eyes of people who live in that community and who were affected by the particular case we were profiling," writes Alford.

Meanwhile, Alan Maimon of The Courier Journal writes, "Pikeville Medical Development Corp., a subsidiary of Pikeville Medical Center, with about 1,300 employees, will apply for grants, seek donations and oversee plans for the research facility and other projects."

Walter May, president of Pikeville Medical Center, told the Louisville newspaper, "Health care is a real impetus for economic development ...It's more important than the coal industry now." May has met with U of L President James Ramsey. He also plans to discuss the idea with the University of Kentucky. The corporation wants to develop collaborative research projects, obtain funding for expansion of programs at the Pikeville hospital and encourage private companies to locate in Eastern Kentucky. Plans for the center are still in the early stages. Pike County Judge-Executive William Deskins said the potential partnerships represent a great opportunity for the county, Maimon writes.

Mountain murders: Same gun used in two murders 38 years apart, same place

The same gun used in the murder of an award-winning Canadian filmmaker in Letcher County, Kentucky in 1967 turned out to be the weapon used in another murder in the same community in 2003, reports The Associated Press.

A Letcher County jury convicted Kathy Walters-Williams, 48, of Jeremiah, of the murder of Forest Caudill in November 2003. Prosecutors said Walters-Williams approached Caudill, 19, and without provocation killed him, writes AP from a story reported in The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg. (no website)

Both shootings occurred on property that once belonged to the late Hobart Ison, who in March 1969 pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Montreal filmmaker Hugh O'Connor, killed in September 1967. Whitesburg filmmaker Elizabeth Barret, who produced the film "Stranger With a Camera" in 2000 about the shooting of O'Connor, said it seemed strange the same gun would have been used in two fatal shootings on the same property.

Police found the gun hidden under a rock on the top of a mountain about five miles away from where Caudill, and years earlier, O'Connor, were killed. The gun was soaked in motor oil to prevent laboratory technicians from recovering fingerprints. Jeremiah resident Begie "Moose" Breeding Jr. told The Mountain Eagle his family took ownership of the gun after Ison pleaded guilty to manslaughter on March 24, 1969, AP writes.

Breeding said the gun was given to his family by the Letcher County Sheriff's Department and placed in a safety deposit box in the Bank of Whitesburg. He said the gun remained in the bank until he took it out while Appalshop was filming "Stranger With a Camera," reports the wire service.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

U.S. slides in broadband penetration; other countries encouraging competition

The United States lags behind the rest of the world regarding broadband Internet service, with countries like Norway, Israel and Finland now surpassing the nation in broadband penetration for the first time.

Getting broadband service has been especially difficult for rural areas, which are usually outside the existing networks for major telecommunications companies. Business Week reports that it’s expensive to expand the networks in a country as large as the United States. “About 20 percent of the U.S. has no way to get broadband Net access, and 5 percent to 10 percent more only have one choice: Their local cable-TV provider. Makes sense then, that while the U.S. ranks 11th in total broadband penetration, it ranks 23rd in DSL use,” BusinessWeek reports.

Some telecommunications officials have attributed the slide to the lack of competition in the marketplace and the absence of any public policy to promote broadband Internet, reports Drew Clark of the National Journal’s Technology Daily. Critics say the broadband market has thrived in Canada and France because the countries have encouraged competition. “If cable companies were forced to open up their lines, over-night 80 percent of the U.S. would have more than one broadband supplier to choose from,” writes BusinessWeek. “Theoretically at least, that would drive down prices and force companies to offer enticing service packages like phone and TV delivered via the Web.”

Another issue, playing out at the state level: Legislation that keeps local governments from getting into the broadband business. This and other topics will be the subject of a session at a national seminar on rural issues June 12-17 at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland. For more information, click here.

Virginia Republicans join ranks of those seeking waivers of 'No Child' rules

Two Virginia Republicans have introduced legislation that would let the Old Dominion get a broad waiver from key accountability provisions of President Bush’s education overhaul, the No Child Left Behind law.

Former governor, now Sen. George Allen and 6th District Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte introduced the bills, writes Peter Hardin of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to pave the way for states like Virginia to get waivers from the federal formula used to determine whether a school or school district is making "adequate yearly progress." Allen said Virginia's own Standards of Learning program has proved "clearly successful, yet aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind law are confusing parents and undermining the progress of our high academic standards and accountability in Virginia." Goodlatte said their legislation "gives states with strong accountability standards, like Virginia, the additional flexibility they deserve," writes Hardin.

A spoeksman for Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner said the chief executive "has been vocal for some time about the need for the federal government to provide more flexibility." At the National Education Association, lobbyist Joel Packer told Hardin Allen's bill offered "a key political sign bipartisan opposition is increasing to the No Child law as it's currently worded."


‘More modest’ national energy plan includes 'clean coal' and liquefied gas

The White House said last night that President Bush will unveil five modest proposals today encouraging production and use of domestic energy sources, including nuclear power and cleaner-burning coal and diesel.

Prompted by record high gasoline prices, “Bush plans to renew his push for a broad energy proposal in a speech today and present the new measures in an effort to ease concerns about the supply and cost of energy. White House officials released the details to reporters under the condition that their names not be used,” writes Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post.

The newspaper reports that Bush plans to request clear federal authority over the siting of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, as a way to speed up the completion of 32 new terminals. A White House official told The Post confusion over federal authority in the process is slowing expansion. Finally, Bush plans to ask Congress to expand the tax credit that applies to hybrid and fuel-cell-powered vehicles to also cover clean diesel and encourage other countries to help promote clean coal and nuclear power, writes VandeHei.

Officials admitted early the new plan would not immediately bring down gasoline prices. Proposals include a mix of incentives and regulatory changes, mainly to encourage the construction of new production facilities, which the White House plans to weave into the energy bill now making its way through Congress. Bush will call for federal risk insurance to "reduce the uncertainty" for companies wishing to build nuclear plants, VandeHei writes. The president plans to prod federal agencies to work with communities to encourage the construction of new refineries at closed military bases. Because of the cost of building new refineries, most companies have chosen to expand production at current sites instead of building new ones, he writes.

Wind energy industry boosting its projected numbers, creating new jobs

It looks like the U.S. wind energy industry may shatter its previous record for the number of projects installed, helping to create clean power and new jobs across America, the American Wind Energy Association said on its website. Reporters and editors interested in seeing if any of the proposed projects are in or near their state can check the AWEA’s website here to get a state-by-state list.

The trade group nudged its 2005 forecast from about 2,000 megawatts of energy to about 2,500 megawatts, based on survey results of wind turbine manufacturer plants. One megawatt of wind energy generates enough electricity for 250-300 households, the group said.

Pennyslvania Gov. Edward Rendell announced earlier this year that the Spanish wind turbine maker, Gamesa, will build a turbine blade manufacturing plant in the state. The company's activities in the state are expected to create 1,000 jobs over the next five years. Blade manufacturer LM Glasfiber also created 100 new jobs in North Dakota and Vestas-American Wind Technology is advertising 100 new positions.

"More states are looking seriously at wind energy these days as an engine of economic development, and what they are seeing confirms a major study released last fall by the Renewable Energy Policy Project," said AWEA executive director Randall Swisher. "It reported that boosting wind energy from 6,000 MW to 50,000 MW nationwide would create 150,000 manufacturing jobs."

Unmined minerals lawsuit settled; should increase Ky. tax receipts, says lawyer

A disagreement over how Kentucky should assess coal still in the ground for property taxes has been put to rest after more than 20 years.

The agreement lays out guidelines the Kentucky Revenue Department must use to make the assessments, which are then used to levy property taxes by the state and various local taxing districts, reports The Associated Press. The first lawsuit on the topic was filed in federal court, but moved in Franklin County Circuit Court in 1988. It was filed by the Kentucky Fair Tax Coalition, the predecessor to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

The most dramatic change in the assessment program came in 1994, when the General Assembly assigned the task to the Revenue Department instead of county property valuation administrators. Lexington lawyer Joe Childers, who claims 22 years on the case, said the ruling should result in higher assessments and therefore greater tax receipts.

Farmers, property owners protest high voltage power-line proposal

Propoerty owners in northern Anderson County, Kentucky, are angry over Kentucky Utilities Co. 's plans to erect a new high-voltage transmission line across their farms.

Fifty people attended a public meeting at an elementary school last night to learn more about the proposed transmission line, and to voice their displeasure. KU says the line is needed to serve its customers in the future and to keep pace with demand, writes Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

David Mountjoy, who lives north of Lawrenceburg, was among those protesting the KU plan. He told Kocher, "I don't want a high-power line running across my property. It's going to kill the property value." Anderson County Fiscal Court magistrate Larry Smith said, "A lot of these farms have been in people's families for 100, 150 years."

Dennis Monohan has lived on one of those properties for 32 years. The land, now used to raise beef cattle, had the potential for future residential development. But, he told Kocher, the proposed path of the power line could end that. "With a line going through there, you can't build under it, and you don't want to build near it," Monohan said. Other complaints dealt with safety and aesthetics.

KU intends to rebuild existing lines from its plant on the Kentucky River to a substation near a plant north of Lawrenceburg. A new transmission line would be built from that substation north, across Interstate 64 and to a substation west of Frankfort. The 13 miles of the line would cross about 60 individual properties. KU spokesman Cliff Feltham told the newspaper half of those properties already have existing transmission lines. The other 30 properties, however, do not have KU lines.


Americans trust the news but see bias, says Journalism Center survey

Most Americans believe news coverage is biased and negative, but they also say they respect journalists and trust what they hear and read.

A national survey conducted by the Missouri School of Journalism's Center for Advanced Social Research found 62 percent consider journalism credible and more than half rated newspapers and television news as trustworthy, reports Sam Hananel of The Washington Post. At the same time, 85 percent said they detect a bias in news reporting. Of those, 48 percent identified it as liberal, 30 percent as conservative, 12 percent as both, and 3 percent as other bias. About two-thirds said journalists invade people's privacy too often, while roughly three-quarters said the news is too negative.

George Kennedy, a Missouri journalism professor and co-author of a study that incorporates the survey results told Hananel, "The consumers of American journalism respect, value and need it, but they're also skeptical about whether journalists really live up to the standards of accuracy, fairness and respect for others that we profess."

Ohio cities, newspapers argue in state Supreme Court over release of police photos

Attorneys for state newspapers suing for photos of uniformed police officers told Ohio Supreme Court justices yesterday that recent changes to the state's open-records law should not prevent the release of those photos, reports The Associated Press.

Fred Gittes, a lawyer representing The Vindicator of Youngstown said, "A police officer's name and image is not private, it's not personal. We don't have KGB police forces and secret forces here." At issue is a 2000 change to the law that exempts from disclosure any record identifying a person's occupation as a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician, writes AP.

Attorneys for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and The Vindicator argued, if interpreted literally, the law would make it impossible to identify any police officers. But Thomas Anastos, assistant Cleveland law director, said information such as officers' names and photos still could be obtained by suing or filing a complaint. Justice Paul Pfeifer questioned whether that wasn't an extreme course of action, AP writes. Justice Pfeifer said identifying specific officers can be important, especially when they're accused of wrongdoing.

NYT reports ad problems worse at big, national newspapers than local chains

While ad revenue remains a challenge for all newspapers, national and other larger daily are suffering more than local chains, according to The New York Times, one of the victims of this trend.

While Yahoo and Google surpassed all advertising estimates, "Dow Jones said ad revenue at its domestic and international print publications, including The Wall Street Journal, fell 10.8 percent during the first quarter," the Times declared, writes Editor&Publisher. "But ad revenue at its Ottaway Newspapers division, which includes 15 daily newspapers and 18 weekly publications, rose 1.9 percent," they add.

Similarly, ad revenue at The New York Times Co. unit that includes The New York Times, The New York Times on the Web, and The International Herald Tribune, fell 0.8%, but its regional media group increased 7.2%. In general, smaller was beautiful. Lee Enterprises reported a 7.5% surge in ad revenue, Knight Ridder 3.3%, and a little less at the Tribune Co. One exception: USA Today, published by Gannett, saw ad revenue increase by 4.8% in the first quarter.

N.C. paper fights for opening water meetings; files suit against city, county

Buncombe County commissioners and Asheville City Council members worked behind closed doors all day yesterday and into the night to find an end to a stalemate over the future of the region's water system, while local media filed a lawsuit against the secret session, reports the Asheville Citizen Times. As of late last night, neither the city nor county showed signs of bringing the negotiations to an end. No one gave any predictions as to when the meetings would end.

Councilwoman Holly Jones told the North Carolina newspaper, “I think we want to keep talking. We’d really love to serve our community by walking out of here with a good deal for everybody.” The City Council, last May, announced it would end the Regional Water Authority agreement and take control of its assets. The agreement includes Buncombe and Henderson counties. The three sides have been trying to come to a new agreement before the current one expires, the newspaper reports.

City and county residents have asked City Council and Buncombe commissioners to discuss the agreement in public, but they chose a closed process with a mediator, they write. The Asheville Citizen-Times and WLOS-TV yesterday filed a lawsuit in Superior Court asking the court to declare the city and county violated state law with the closed meetings and to issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop the two bodies from meeting illegally again.

In addition, according to the court papers, any decision the city and county reach during the meetings should be struck down. The case is scheduled to be heard at 10:30 a.m. today at the Buncombe County Courthouse. City Council and Board of Commissioners members said the meeting was within the realm of the open meetings law because only one or two of their members at a time met with the attorneys and mediator John Stephens.

Also in the Citizen-Times today, the newspaper continued its series by Lyndsey Nash on Meth: The Rural Plague. For that story, click here.


N.C. committee OKs age limits for ATV drivers; bars children younger than 12

A North Carolina Senate committee has approved a measure that would block children younger than 12 years old from operating ATVs, the popular off-road recreational motorbikes responsible for numerous deaths and injuries nationwide.

The bill would outlaw young children from driving three- and four-wheeled off-road vehicles, while those age 12 to 15 could operate smaller ATVs under an adult's supervision, writes Margaret Lillard of The Associated Press. Robert Schafermeyer, a doctor at Carolinas Medical Center said his hospital treats dozens of children annually -- nine so far in 2005 -- who have been hurt while using ATVs. Many suffer severe head, neck or spine injuries, sometimes causing permanent disabilities. He told AP, "As a physician and father, this is painful to watch," she writes.

The measure would also set requirements for safety equipment, safe operation and areas where the vehicles could legally be used. It would also require all ATV drivers to complete a safety course by October 2006. Violations would be misdemeanors, with punishments varying from a minimum fine of $200, to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for disregarding the age restrictions or operating an ATV on public roads and highways. North Carolina is one of five states with essentially no restrictions on ATV use, writes Lillard.

Tourism leaders advised to cooperate, promote attractions of history enthusiasts

Consultants recently told a gathering of tourism officials in Williamsburg, Va., that tourism attractions need to stop competing and work together to find a broad base of travelers and promote the region as a hub.

After a year of interviews and research, consultants hired by the local tourism industry unveiled their road map to improving the region's competitiveness after years of low visitor rates, reports Chris Flores of Money & Works. The report is timely as the region gears up for an influx of tourists for Jamestown 2007. After years of cuts to the state's funding of regional marketing efforts, the industry is also becoming flush with advertising cash from a new $2 lodging fee.

Mitch Nichols, president of the Nichols Tourism Group said leaders do a good job with historical areas and shouldn't de-emphasize this strength, but they need to figure out how to make people stay longer, writes Flores. Consultant David Radcliffe of the Radcliffe Company told the gathering to capture the visitor a little longer, they need to be aware of options like shopping and promoting destinations beyond the historical sites also will attract new types of customers. Dave Schulte of the Williamsburg Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said the are too often is seen as a short stop in a bigger vacation.

The region needs to work together to monitor competitors and figure out which regions are stealing potential or past business, writes Flores. The Virginia Tourism Corporation compiled detailed data that was released last fall, but is underused, and too little visitor data is shared locally. For all of these initiatives to work, the numerous tourism-related organizations and companies need to work together and refine the roles they are playing, said Nichols. The long consulting process helped many of these groups form closer relationships, he writes.

More wild horses killed as Interior, Ford Motor Co. team to save others

The U. S. Interior Department has halted delivery of mustangs to buyers as it investigates the slaughter of 41 wild horses in the West this month, which may violate a federal contract requiring humane treatment.

By enlisting last-minute financial help Monday from Ford Motor Co. -- maker of the Mustang sports car -- the agency saved the lives of 52 other mustangs, writes John Heilprin of The Associated Press. The latest horses killed came from a broker who obtained them from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. The tribe traded most of the aging horses it bought from the government for younger ones. Interior officials said they would review whether a federal contract had been violated.

Kathleen Clarke, director of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, told AP, "I don't think it's fair to say they violated the agreement. They were not traded to the animal processing facility. They were trading to a private individual." Todd Fast Horse, a spokesman for Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Charles Colombe, said they did not knowingly do anything wrong. The tribal council passed a resolution saying the BLM horses could be traded or exchanged. The Sioux tribe had to sign an agreement with BLM that it would "provide humane care" to each of the animals. Clarke said Interior is investigating that arrangement.

The department also is investigating the sale of six wild horses to an Oklahoma man and their slaughter at the Cavel International Inc. commercial packing plant in DeKalb, Ill., the same place the 35 were killed. Clarke told Heilprin, "It's incredibly disappointing. It is not our intent to have these animals killed. That's why we acted very aggressively." For more on wild horse rescuing, click here.

Its not easy being green: Tree frog gains official Georgia amphibian status

The green tree frog has gained equality in Georgia with the Vidalia onion, the knobbed whelk, square dancing and the annual "Shoot the Bull" event. The tiny amphibian has become one of Georgia's 44 state symbols and designations, joining the official processed food, vegetable, seashell, folk dance and beef cook-off, writes Carlos Campos of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The green tree frog movement began with a group of middle-school students from the Rome area studying the frog two years ago.The Rome News-Tribune reported details of the frog "Leaping into the law" in its edition yesterday. The students liked the tiny frog, which has smooth green skin and suction-like feet, and can be heard making a loud "quacking" sound in the summer. The children also were learning about state symbols, and one student wondered why there was no official amphibian, Campos writes.

The students got their legislators to push a bill (no reference to leap-frogging) through the General Assembly to designate the green tree frog the official state amphibian. Two years and lots of political wrangling later, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law at the state Capitol yesterday, he writes. (Blogger's note: Yes, we had to look up 'knobbed whelk' - a.k.a. the Busycon carica - and found it is a seashell of sorts, and, yes, it has a web page. P.S. any frog that quacks is okay with us.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Report says many rural children living in poverty also reside in the South

A report from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture titled has found that a large number of rural children live in the South, and many rural children are more likely to live in poverty.

Rural Children at a Glance” reports that 45 percent of children in poverty live in the South and that the more rural the area, the more likely its children are to live in poverty -- up to a high of 23 percent in completely rural counties. However, the overall child poverty rate did decline between 1990 and 2000, as did the disparities between the types of rural areas.

“Rural child poverty has been most persistent and severe in Central Appalachia, the Deep South (including the Mississippi Delta), the Rio Grande border area, the Southwest, and American Indian communities in the Northern Plains,” the report says. “Although poverty declined between 1990 and 2000, over 750 nonmetro counties (37 percent of all nonmetro counties) had child poverty rates of 21 percent or more in 2000.”

In 2001, 1.6 million children in nonmetro areas had no health insurance, or 22 percent of the total living in those areas. The figure for metropolitan counties was only 12 percent. Children in non-metro areas are also more likely than those in metro areas to have parents who are younger and less educated, and are therefore more likely to poor and unable to provide health care and other important services for their children.

The Web version of the report does not offer county-by-county data, but gives a person to contact for more information: Carolyn C. Rogers at or 202-694-5436.

Florida gun law expands self-defense; NRA to promote in other states

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) could sign as early as tomorrow a bill allowing Floridians to "meet force with force," erasing the "duty to retreat" when they fear for their lives outside of their homes, in their cars or businesses, or on the street.

"The legislation passed so emphatically that National Rifle Association backers plan to take it to statehouses across the nation ...over the next year," writes Manuel Roig-Franzia, Florida-basd reporter for The Washington Post. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said the Florida measure is the "first step of a multi-state strategy" he hopes can capitalize on a political climate dominated by conservative opponents of gun control at the state and national levels. LaPierre told the Post, "There's a big tailwind we have, moving from state legislature to state legislature. The South, the Midwest, everything they call 'flyover land' -- if John Kerry held a shotgun in that state, we can pass this law in that state."

The Florida measure says any person "has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm." Florida already lets residents defend themselves against attackers if they can prove they could not have escaped. The new law would allow them to use deadly force even if they could have fled and says prosecutors must automatically presume would-be victims feared for their lives if attacked.

The overwhelming vote margins and bipartisan support for the Florida gun bill have alarmed some national gun-control advocates, who say the measure that made headlines in Florida slipped beneath their radar. Sarah Brady, chair of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told the newspaper, "I am in absolute shock. If I had known about it, I would have been down there."

Officials in Bush's home state shrug off fine over 'No Child Left Behind'

Authorities in President Bush’s home state of Texas have said "so what," more or less, to a fine the federal Department of Education has imposed because it was late last year in notifying schools and districts whether they had reached student achievement benchmarks under the President's No Child Left Behind law.

Sam Dillon of The New York Times writes, “While promising to notify schools in a timely fashion this year, the education commissioner of Texas, Shirley Neeley, said, "Classrooms and teachers will not be harmed by this fine." Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced the $444,282 fine. It appears to be the largest fine imposed on any state since Bush signed the law in 2002.

Spellings, who was Bush's top education adviser when he was governor of Texas in the 1990s, said in a terse letter she would withhold the money from the more than $1 billion the state receives in federal education financing, arguing that the six-week delay was unwarranted, writes Dillon. The fine concludes one skirmish in a broader conflict between Washington and Texas. In the dispute, which has nettled the Bush administration, Texas has refused to apply a provision that limits the number of students with learning disabilities who can be exempted from regular standardized tests, he writes.

Wal-Mart restricts cold tabs; W.Va. has anti-meth rally; N.C. meth series continues

Wal-Mart has announced its stores will move many nonprescription cold and allergy medications behind pharmacy counters by June because they include an ingredient used to make the illegal stimulant methamphetamine.

The world's largest retailer will join rivals Target Corp. and Albertson's Inc. in making such a move throughout all locations, writes Joe Bel Bruno of The Associated Press. All three retailers are trying to make it more difficult for customers to obtain medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key component for making methamphetamine, a powerfully addictive drug, reports AP. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.estimates 60 percent of its stores are already selling such abused products behind the counter. Wal-Mart had not previously announced a timetable for making the changes.

Meanwhile yesterday, organizers of a 'Unity against meth' rally in West Virginia urged various groups to work together against methanphetamine. U.S. Attorney Kasey Warner boiled down the state ’s methamphetamine problem into a simple equation: “Meth is bad. We need to work together. We need more funds. Let’s move on,” writes Dave Gustafson of the Charleston Gazette. Better cooperation among law enforcement, prosecution, federal agencies and community groups was established as the goal of the state’s first summit on meth, which continues through tomorrow at the Charleston Marriott.

Summit coordinator James E. Copple told Gustafson the hundreds of people from across the state attending the “Building Meth-Free Communities” conference would create recommendations specifically for West Virginia. Copple has organized 15 such conferences across the country. He told the newspaper, “We’re chasing this problem in many states. We’re coming in way too late.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times continued its in-depth series on "The Rural Plague: Meth in western North Carolina." In today's story, Kerra L. Bolton writes of the state legsilature's plans to restrict colds medicine sales there. Yesterday, in part two, Lindsey Nash wrote of how meth is ruining families and how children were found in homes involved in 25 percent of North Carolina’s meth lab busts in 2003.

More on Wal-Mart: Council limits store hours; NYC site trashes company

The West Des Moines City Council has voted to uphold restrictions on the hours of operation of a Wal-Mart Supercenter under construction. The council upheld a previous vote that approved building the store but required it shut its doors at 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 p.m. on Sunday and not reopen until 8 a.m. the following day, writes Tom Suk of The Des Moines Register.

The limited hours were sought by nearby residents who argued an around-the-clock operation would disrupt their neighborhood and hurt their quality of life. In the resolution to confirm the previous vote, city officials said "evidence was presented the retail development will generate noise, traffic, light and litter."

In the city of New York, "There's nothing wrong, in our view, with large retailers," writes Charley Suisman's Manhattan User's Guide (MUG). "This city, after all, gave rise to the department store," it continues, "And, it isn't that these behemoths are category killers, pushing out the mom and pops – which they are and which they do. Ultimately, we think the market should decide."

"But Wal-Mart is a different matter," MUG charges. "It is the antithesis of everything for which New York has stood and for which it should stand." The article cites Wal-Mart's wages which it says "force many Wal-Mart employees to turn to the government for food, housing and other assistance."

On the issue of the company's health insurance, it says the company covers "fewer than half its employees," and cites Georgia as an example, where MUG says, "over 10,000 of Wal-Mart’s employees were on Medicaid – fourteen times the number of people of the next highest employer." And, in Florida, the magazine says, "more than 12,300 Wal-Mart employees are eligible for Medicaid."

Wal-Mart is facing lawsuits alleging exploitation of illegal immigrants. Child labor law violations. Unfair pay and unequal promotion for women prompting a gender discrimination class action suit, outsourcing to Chinam anti-union intimidation, and racial discrimination, it reports. Supporters say Wal-Mart offers a choice for consumers. There’s no doubt that Wal-Mart's prices are low; the issue is how they got that way and at what human cost, they write. To learn more or get involved, MUG invites its readers to go to Wal-Mart Free NYC and Walmart Watch.

'Bible Belt' stereotype debunked by University of Arkansas history professor

The words “Bible Belt” may not immediately bring to mind images of Muslim slaves, North Carolina Jews or southeastern Indians, but these should be part of any conversation about religion in the American South, according to Beth Barton Schweiger, a history professor at the University of Arkansas.

Schweiger and her colleague, Donald G. Mathews of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have edited a book on religion in the American South from the beginning of the 18th century to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Newswise reports. “Religion in the American South: Protestants and Others in History and Culture,” published by UNC Press, incorporates essays from young scholars on different perspectives on religious experiences.

Schweiger said of the essays, “These authors think beyond the categories laid out by earlier studies to complicate ‘Southern religion’ geographically, chronologically, and thematically. They banish the equation of ‘Southern’ with white and challenge the interpretive hegemony of the ‘Bible Belt.’”

The essays, says Schweiger, address a variety of subjects often not considered in discussions of the Bible Belt, including Muslim slaves, biracial revivals, southeastern Indians, Confederate soldiers, North Carolina Jews, white Pentecostals and black Memphis émigrés to Detroit. This collection pushes the scholarly conversation on Southern religion into new territory in three ways. First, it demonstrates the importance of religion in the South not only to American religious history, but also to the history of the nation as a whole.

Animal-rights activists say Ky. cockfight fines too low to deter the activity

Animal-rights activists, unhappy with the fines being assessed people caught at a suspected cockfighting operation in central Kentucky, have urged tougher penalties to deter the "blood sport."

More than 500 people were charged with attending cockfights recently at a game club in Montgomery County, writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. People pleading guilty in Montgomery County District Court have been ordered to pay $195.50 in fines and court costs. Some defendants decided to pay that amount before their court dates. More than 750 people -- including children -- from at least 16 states, Guam and Canada were on the grounds when police arrived.

Dan Paden, with the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the punishment amounted to a slap on the wrist that wouldn't discourage bird fights. He said bird handlers caught at this month's event could quickly recover their losses at another cockfight.

Those caught inside the suspected cockfighting arena were cited on second-degree cruelty to animal charges, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. John Goodwin, with the Humane Society of the United States, told Schreiner Kentucky should join the 31 states that make cockfighting a felony, which would carry harsher penalties. He told Schreiner, "The penalty for cockfighting has to be strong enough to offset the gains ...people see a small fine as simply the cost of doing business." Typically, large sums of money are wagered at the events.

PETA asked Montgomery County Attorney Paul Cowden for the maximum penalty for those convicted of animal cruelty -- whether they were bird handlers or spectators. Cowden said he respected PETA's opinion, but seeking jail time for more than 500 people was impractical. He estimated it would cost more than $100,000 to put all 507 defendants on trial before juries.

Poll finds Georgians support smoking ban; more restrictions in burley country

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has indicated he might reject a smoking ban approved by the state legislature, but a majority of Georgians say they want smoke-free air in restaurants and other public places, according to a poll released today.

The Zogby International poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week found that 64 percent of Georgians favor the smoking ban approved by the Legislature, but only 38 percent support shielding the names of people who give money to public universities. About 54 percent opposed the idea, writes Sonji Jacobs of The Journal-Constitution.

A spokesperson told Jacobs that Gov. Perdue is considering how to strike the right balance between protecting personal liberties and addressing health concerns. Both Republicans and Democrats told pollsters they support the smoking ban. The bill passed last month with bipartisan support in the Senate, but the House approved a weaker version, writes Jacobs.

The Danville, Ky., City Commission has joined the growing list of governments restricting smoking. It has voted to prohibit smoking in municipally owned buildings, vehicles and parks, in the heart of Kentucky burley tobacco country. A citizen who spoke against a proposed smoking ban in restaurants, factories and other privately owned workplaces, told the city it should police itself before banning smoking in public facilities. City Manager Darrell Blenniss acknowledged Danville employees and police officers may smoke in city-owned vehicles, writes Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The neighboring city of Lancaster, home of the Garrard County Tobacco Festival, will consider a similar ordinance banning tobacco products from municipally owned buildings as early as next week. Roger Trent, director of the Boyle County Health Department presented to the Danville commissioners a model ordinance similar to Lexington's indoor smoking ban, which turns one year old tomorrow. For more on current anti-smoking efforts nationwide, click here.

Former workers of nuclear weapons plant pressuring for medical compensation

Over a dozen former workers of the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant in Middletown, Iowa, and their relatives pressured a federal advisory board in Cedar Rapids to speed up compensation for employees who either got sick or died after exposure to radiation, reports Erin Jordan of The Des Moines Register.

The board recommended compensating some former employees, but the decision stalled after the board started reviewing information from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The group said that because some of the information is classified, it’s impossible to estimate the amount of radiation exposure, if any, involved in each claim.

U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin encouraged the board to speed up the compensation process. Aides to Grassley said the legal opinion was unusual, and it essentially said the secretary of health and human services didn’t have authority to carry out the board’s decision.

Congress approved legislation to compensate workers who became ill after working with nuclear weapon components with $150,000 and medical care. Between 1947 and the mid ‘70s, about 4,000 workers assembled and tested the nuclear weapons. Hundreds of their claims have languished for many years.

U. S. Senate 'Sunshine' bill would allow broadcast cameras in federal courtrooms

Broadcast journalists covering federal trials could be allowed to use cameras and other recording devices - now banned in the federal courts - under a bill introduced April 18 by Sen, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reports The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The "Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2005" would give full discretion to the presiding judge of a case as to whether cameras or recording devices would be allowed during proceedings in federal trial and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. In appellate courts -- where three-judge panels most often hear cases -- the most senior active judge would have discretion, under the bill, writes the RCFP.

Grassley said on the Senate floor about the measure, "I believe that the First Amendment requires that court proceedings be open to the public, and by extension, the news media. The sun needs to shine in on the federal courts. . . . There are many benefits and no substantial detrimental effects to allowing greater public access to the inner workings of our federal courts."

In Virginia, Charlottesville's Daily Progress on the march, literally, musically

To the grand ranks of newspapers that have their own marches, such as John Philip Sousa's "The Washington Post March" or the less-frequently played "Chicago Tribune March," composed by William Paris Chambers, comes The Daily Progress, the 30,000-circulation Media General Inc. paper in Charlottesville, Va., writes Mark Fitzgerald an editor-at-large for Editor & Publisher.

The newspaper's march, simply titled "The Daily Progress," debuts today in a performance by the Charlottesville Municipal Band at its 83rd annual Spring Concert Charlottesville. Resident Paul Richards, a trumpet player in the municipal band for 15 years, said he was inspired to compose the march for the newspaper by the wisecracks of other musicians in the band.

Richards told Fitzgerald, "We have some people who comment every time that we play 'The Washington Post March,' why don't we have a 'Daily Progress March?' And over time, that seemed like a good idea." The composition was first reported by The Daily Progress in an article Monday by staff writer John Yellig.

Got a tick? Pick the bloodsucker, post the pest, says Georgia

Georgia health and poison control officials want to study the range and severity of diseases spread by ticks, and to help their effort, they are requesting anyone who has a tick bite them to send them the bloodsucking critters, writes Patricia Guthrie of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"We need for anyone who has a tick attached to them to call the Georgia Poison Center. . . . and arrange to have the tick mailed to us," said Dr. Stuart Brown, acting director of Georgia’s Division of Public Health. "The more ticks we receive, the greater our opportunity to learn where ticks are biting people in Georgia and if they are carrying disease-causing organisms."

Poison control officials will help callers safely remove the ticks and explain how to package them. Health workers will call back within a few weeks to check on symptoms of illnesses and exposure to tick habitats. In warm weather, ticks move in to shady, moist areas, like in tall grass or in wooded areas.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The rural plague: Asheville paper looks at meth in western North Carolina

Methamphetamine production and addiction is blanketing western North Carolina, endangering children, law enforcement and people who unknowingly live near the toxic and explosive meth labs.

The Asheville Citizen-Times’ Lindsay Nash is examining the threat to that area in a series of stories that began yesterday. “Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland had one simple question. How many of you know someone who does meth? Just about every student listening to an anti-drug program in Franklin High School’s 780-seat auditorium raised a hand,” writes Nash.

The methamphetamine scourge has swept across rural America, settling within the past few years in Western North Carolina, ruining lives and costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nash reports. Remote areas help hide the pungent, ammonia smell produced by a meth lab, she writes. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there were nearly 16,000 methamphetamine lab seizures nationwide last year, compared with 912 in 1995. In North Carolina, law enforcement officers swooped in on 243 labs last year, up from nine in 1999. Their hazardous chemicals can push cleanup costs up to $20,000 a lab.

Thirty-five labs have been found there so far this year. The four counties that comprise western North Carolina also reported record numbers, and the drug is becoming more than one used by the young and naive. White, male, blue-collar workers have used the drug, Nash reports, but it is becoming a choice for diverse groups, including people in jobs that demand long hours, mental alertness and physical endurance.

For the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues' roundup of rural reporting on meth, click here.

News U. can use: Site has free, diverse training, ideas and sources for journalists

Rural newspaper editors and staff are often caught “in the crunch” between their desire to learn how to better serve their communities and the realities of their budgets. They often don’t not have the finances to network with fellow journalists or attend the many seminars and lectures that could help them.

But, the News University, a service of the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, provides an on-line service to spark new ideas, and provides an information resource, at no cost. IRJCI Interim Director Al Cross says of News U., “It looks like a very useful service for rural journalists, especially those whose employers won't support their attendance at conferences."

News University works in concert with leading journalism organizations and journalism schools to offer three types of electronic instruction: self-directed classes that journalists can complete at their own pace; faculty-moderated seminars that are scheduled over a period of days or weeks; and live "eSeminars" broadcast over the Internet. News U. is funded by a five-year, $2.8 million grant from Knight. Its public rollout came after 18 months of development and use by 2,000 early adopters, according to the Knight Foundation.

The Knight Foundation's own, separate site has links to various sources. Topics currently on the site include the National Venture Fund, aimed at helping new immigrants. There is also information on a bipartisan panel at American University about “Flaws in the 2004 voting,” a segment on Journalism Initiatives, another on “filling the news gaps” for ethnic communities and one on “Health Issues in The South.”

Iowa program aims to help rural entrepreneurs; helps determine costs, customers

Rural Iowans interested in starting a business or just becoming Internet-saavy to boost their business acumen have found an ally in the University of Northern Iowa.

“Penny Nelson might still be running her graphic design business as a part-time venture if she hadn't signed up for the first pilot 'MyEntreNet' classes in New Hampton,” writes Dan Haugen of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. The university's Regional Business Center developed the courses that helped Nelson calculate building costs and network with potential customers.

Nelson's business, Graphics FX, eventually moved into its own building with a garage for doing vehicle work. She designs and makes signs, banners and fleet graphics. Nelson told Haugen, without the program, "I probably wouldn't have had the guts to get it out of my house." The objective of 'MyEntreNet' is to help rural entrepreneurs overcome their disadvantages. Director Maureen Collins-Williams told the Courier, "The challenge is that rural entrepreneurs are geographically isolated."

Compared to their metro counterparts, rural entrepreneurs often lack investors, services and networking opportunities, Collins-Williams added. "MyEntreNet" addresses those issues with classroom and Web-based programming. About 100 participants recently finished classes at branch campuses, where the business center did its first full run though of the program. Some signed up for the program with ideas for new businesses. Others came to refine existing companies, Haugen writes.

Wyoming town joins list of rural areas trying to attract more residents

Chugwater, Wyo., is joining many other small towns in the country that offer land at a reduced price in the hopes of luring more residents, reports Michael Riley of The Denver Post.

Beginning next month, newcomers can get a lot 100 feet by 120 feet for $100, if they agree to build a house and stay in the town at least two years. It’s another step to try and reduce the shrinking rural population, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service described in a report, saying that 698 counties in rural areas have lost more than 10 percent of their population since 1980.

Chugwater is suffering because now, ranchers and farmers can take Interstate 25 to Cheyenne instead of riding through the tiny town. They can buy their lumber at mass retailers like Home Depot and their food at Wal-Mart, instead of coming to local stores in Chugwater. The town’s youth is also disappearing, because of a lack of jobs and also because many don’t want the limitations of a small-town lifestyle.

But many choose to stay, not because life was somehow easier in a small town, but because things are better. “Doors are left unlocked. Neighbors pull together. And the town's soda fountain has charms no Wal-Mart can match. A handwritten sign under one shelf stuffed with knickknacks proclaims, ‘Make an offer.’”

Rural Alabamans support creation of rural center to help development

Visitors to this year's conference by Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, which includes A&M and Auburn University, called for urban-rural parternships to develop and protect the state's ecosystem, writes Kenneth Kesner of The Huntsville Times, a daily paper with 53,000 circulation.

This year’s conference, titled “When the Environment Bites Back,” talked about what happens when “urban” meets “rural.” Environmental and health hazards can be the result if the state doesn’t plan for “green infrastructure,” as urban sprawl pushes into rural areas, said Dr. Greg Ruark, director of the National Agroforestry Center.

Over 200 people from rural areas echoed some of these concerns when they flooded Boaz, Winfield, Alexander City, Demopolis and Montgomery, Ala., to talk about many of the problems facing them as residents of rural Alabama. They came to talk to the state senate's Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee about the loss of jobs and youth, and the constant struggle to make ends meet in rural areas, writes the editorial board of The Eufaula Tribune, a weekly paper with 12,500 circulation. Their purpose was to support the creation of a proposed Center for Rural Alabama, an effort to bring comprehensive development to rural regions of the state.

Over the past fifteen years, the number of jobs in rural areas of the state grew 8.1 percent, less than one-half the rate elsewhere in the state. There are also 12,000 fewer jobs in the state today than five years ago. The Center would help by coordinating education, health care, employment and other efforts specifically for rural areas. "This is an opportunity to bring vision to rural areas, an opportunity to help people see a bigger picture," said Arnelle Adcock of the Central Alabama Electric Cooperative.

ATVs bring bucks to rural economies; gas, equipment, food, safety gear add up

While ATVs often bring news about safety concerns because of fatal crashes and serious injuries, some rural areas have found the off-road recreational vehicles bring big bucks to local economies. The latest report is from Utah, via Tom Wharton of The Salt Lake Tribune.

"Trailers, trucks, motor homes and tents carpeted the desert floor as 20,000 off-highway-vehicle riders gathered at Little Sahara Sand Dunes over Easter weekend. Out front were the toys - thousands of dirt bikes, dune buggies and all-terrain vehicles," writes Wharton. All that recreational equipment adds up, he adds. And that's not counting fuel. With gas prices shooting well above $2 a gallon, that group spent more than $900 on gasoline alone for its Easter weekend outing. Add the cost of new machines, trailers, food and safety gear for the nearly 200,000 registered OHVs and it adds up to a huge economic impact.

Before the Paiute ATV Trail opened, the town of Marysvale was dying. Now, there are 29 business licenses and two-acre building lots are selling for $38,000. "The Paiute trail is the best economic boost Paiute County has ever seen, including the boom years in mining," says RV park owner Ron Bushman. Kevin Arrington, a tourism and events director, estimates that 80,000 riders use the Paiute Trail during the summer. They spend $100 to $125 a day, which generates up to $6 million a year. Last year's Rocky Mountain ATV Jamboree in brought riders in from 33 states and several countries, he writes.

Farmer-crusader keeps storm-water vigil and puts officials' feet to the fire

Armed with a video camera, Tennessee farmer-crusader James McMillan, who believed his land was flooded by erosion and pollution from a nearby construction site, has begun documenting alleged violations at sites throughout Knox County in a fight for tighter stormwater controls.

"His vigilante inspections have targeted dozens of half-finished subdivisions where he says silt-runoff routinely escapes downstream, without proper detention, due to (the county's) lagging standards and lack of inspections," writes Hayes Hickman of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

To underscore his call for reforms, McMillan has also targeted runoff from a nearly completed sports complex. The $3.5 million project is administered by Knox County. McMillan told Hickman, "It's a typical Knox County project - hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. They took no precautions." The project was cited for multiple violations after McMillan forwarded his on-site footage, to the local office of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Paul Schmierbach, TDEC's water pollution control manager for the Knoxville field office, told Hickman, "It looks like they've had some problems. We've identified deficiencies we think may be contributing to erosion pollution." McMillan, however, told Hickman that county engineers should hold themselves to a higher standard. "They're supposed to be in charge of water quality and quantity. How can the citizens trust that Knox County will enforce its regulations on others when they don't enforce them on themselves?"

By the time state officials arrived at the sports complex for a follow-up inspection, "significant improvements" had been made. The problems had been corrected shortly after the TDEC Notice of Violation, although Doug Bataille, senior director of Knox County's Parks and Recreation Department, told the newspaper, "they should have been fixed earlier," writes Hickman.

Farmers in W. Ky. aim for better quality crops; co-ops' viability questioned

The West Kentucky Growers Cooperative may be facing a make or break year and officials are changing some practices in the hopes of making it.

The cooperative will promote product quality this year by hiring a production manager and inspecting vegetables, said Joe Cecil, the cooperative's CEO and president of sales, reports The Associated Press.

The move comes after the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board questioned the cooperative's viability when it asked the board to cover operating losses last year caused by heavy summer storms. Although some growers have made profits in previous seasons, the cooperative as a whole has not turned a profit in its five seasons, AP reports.

Cooperative officials said they hope the new position of production manager can help more farmers turn a profit. Production manager Dave Kendrick will work with the cooperative's 39 growers to make sure they have high quality sweet corn, bell peppers, squash and broccoli -- most of which are high maintenance crops that need more attention than traditional row crops such as corn and soybeans, writes AP.

Mountain pleasure horses prized now for gliding gait; breed dates to 1700s

An equine breed developed in Appalachia at a time when people needed horses that were sure-footed enough for trips across steep trails, brawny enough to pull a plow, and gentle enough to give rides to children on lazy Sunday afternoons is becoming a hot commodity among trail riders across the country, with some selling for as much as $150,000, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Nora Deaton, a breeder who operates Golden Arrow Farm with her husband and daughter near Rogers, Kentucky told Alford, "They're very, very versatile and intelligent. You can teach them anything. They're the Cadillac of horses."

Sarah Sparks, owner of "Star", better known as "Goldfinger's Star," the 2003 world conformation champion mountain pleasure horse, told AP, these horses seem to have the suspensions of luxury sedans. "You can drink coffee and ride him. You won't spill a drop," said Sparks. Mike Spradlin, president of the Mountain Pleasure Horse Association, said the horses have been around for centuries, brought into isolated Eastern Kentucky communities by the first settlers in the late 1700s and 1800s.

Byron Crawford of The Courier-Journal has a column on a couple rescuing "orphaned nurse mare foals" at a farm in Rowan County. Click here for that information.

Dogwood disease infests Mammoth Cave's forest; Indiana has signs of infestation

Native dogwood trees blossoming white beneath a budding canopy of green leaves are typically the harbinger of spring. But in forests across the East, including Kentucky and Indiana, dogwoods are struggling to survive against a deadly disease that has now invaded Mammoth Cave National Park.

So writes James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal, reporting for the Louisville newpaper that the anthracnose fungus likely has struck about 70 percent of the dogwoods in the park. Officials have examined 2,298 trees on 10 randomly selected large plots in the park, and discovered only 29 percent were healthy. The disease had affected 43 percent of the trees, and 28 percent more had died from it, Bruggers reports.

Mark DePoy, chief of science and natural resources at the park, told Bruggers, "We are extremely concerned. It's a keystone species, an important tree, ecologically." DePoy adds the tree's fruit helps sustain wildlife, and are especially helpful at returning nutrients to the soil. Forester Diana Olszowy, who works for the Kentucky Division of Forestry, told the newspaper, "People are very sentimental about their trees."

The disease has also affected some dogwoods in other parts of Kentucky and Indiana that have been planted as ornamental trees, but experts said those in sunny areas are less likely to get sick. Dogwoods are also better able to resist the fungus if there is good air circulation. As a result of the Mammoth Cave study, park workers are trying to identify dogwoods that have resisted the disease in hopes of reproducing them in a nursery-like setting, then planting the offspring in the forest.

Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., cutting half its workers

When most people think of bourbon, they immediately think of Kentucky. When they think of Wild Turkey bourbon, they think of the heart of the bluegrass.

But Wild Turkey distillery in Kentucky recently announced it’s cutting half of its jobs and, in an ironic move, is re-locating all of its bottling and shipping from Lawrenceburg, Ky. to Lawrenceburg, Ind., reports Don White of The Anderson News of Lawrenceburg.

Troy Heightchew, who has worked at Wild Turkey for 10 years, is one of the employees losing his job. "It's not the end of the world. Most of us can go out and find something else," he told White. Sandrine Ricard, spokeswoman for Wild Turkey’s parent company, Pernod Ricard USA, said the decision had been “in the works” for a while. "It was a tough decision for us to make," she said.

Ricard said the move would make the bottling and shipping process “much faster and more efficient,” reports Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The bourbon will continue to be warehoused in Kentucky, Ricard said. Lawrenceburg stands to lose not only in taxes but also in water revenue, Mayor Bobby Sparrow told Kocher. The distillery "is a major water consumer for the city water system," Sparrow said.

County Judge-Executive Anthony Stratton said plans were already in the works to assist laid-off workers in finding new jobs and training. Kocher added that the blow of Wild Turkey lay-offs would be softened by the March announcement that Wal-Mart plans to build a SuperCenter in Lawrenceburg next year.

Politically savvy bloggers taking root in Kentucky; readerships increasing

One of the lessons learned by journalists and political pundits alike from the 2004 national presidential campaign is the power of Web logs or, as they are commonly called, "blogs." And, it appears, blogs are increasing exponentially in their influence, diversity, depth and breadth.

"They fashion themselves as modern-day William Randolph Hearsts or Joseph Pulitzers of Kentucky as they publish local news items laced with their preferred political spin. But instead of typewriters and printing presses, these scribes simply rely on computers with Internet connections," writes Ryan Alessi of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Over the last year, a host of online blogs focused on Kentucky politics have sprung up, and a handful have developed loyal readerships and statewide reputations. Leland Conway, one of three co-founders of the Conservative Edge blog, tells Alessi, "They are realizing it's a viable outlet."

Blogs can be found all over cyberspace, writes Alessi. The ones aimed at politics typically garner the most attention. In last year's presidential election national bloggers were credited with first challenging the authenticity of memos CBS cited in a report about President Bush's National Guard service. CNN has begun a daily report on what political blogs are saying.

In Kentucky, Alessi notes, such political blogs have been slower to develop clout. Ben Carter, a University of Kentucky law student who started Democratic-centric a year ago, told Alessi, "I do feel like a journalist because the primary role is to get the the story out there. You're just able to make it a little more personal, a little more inflammatory than a regular news story."

Free Press disciplines Mitch Albom, others, but keeps them on the payroll

The Detroit Free Press has disciplined sports columnist and author Mitch Albom and four other employees deemed responsible for publishing a column that Albom wrote as if he had attended an event but in fact was written before the event. The column appeared in a Sunday, April 3 section that was printed before the event but distributed after the event. The nature of the discipline and the other employees were not revealed.

"We took into account many factors, including the seriousness of the offense, the importance of our credibility, the history of those involved and Albom's 20 stellar years at the Free Press," Editor and Publisher Carole Leigh Hutton said in a letter from the editor in Saturday's paper. "We also think it's important to report on ourselves and our transgressions in the same way we would report on the institutions we write about regularly. So, reporting is continuing on a story that will be published as soon as it is ready."

Hutton invited readers to examine the paper's ethics policy, available here.

Friday, April 22, 2005

NPR looks at farm reports as examples of government-produced news

Is government-produced news, such as U.S. Department of Agriculture audio news releases that are widely used at rural radio stations, blurring the line between programming and propaganda? National Public Radio yesterday took its microphone and that question to rural Virginia, where USDA reports comprise a significant portion of what rural listeners hear with most stations unable to produce their own national news.

"Despite intense criticism, the federal government is putting out video and audio news pieces that seem to blur the line between real news and government propaganda. Newspapers and Democrats have denounced this practice. The White House has defended it," said "Morning Edition" host Steve Inskeep. "In rural Virginia, the information from the government is welcomed. Broadcasters have no problem airing it, and farmers who tune in seem grateful," he adds, introducing the in-depth report by NPR's David Greene. (To hear the full 7-minute, 44-second report, click here to access the story page, then click the "Listen" icon.)

In the report from Harrisonburg, Va., store owner Doug Michael tells Greene, “Everybody around here turns on WSVA-AM 550 (of ) and listens to Jeff Ishee and his reports. It's just good, well-rounded information." Ishee does the station’s agribusiness reports, from a town that Greene describes as “surrounded by silos stretching for miles in all directions.”

Each weekday, Ishee turns to the USDA Web site to help him fill a number of newscasts. Ishee tells Greene, “It's got 10 different stories that I could use if I wanted to. And they even provide, if you want to use it, a suggested lead for your story. Some are just sound-bites of agricultural officials. Others sound like stories on any news station, except it's the USDA's communication staff reading the script."

One soundbite Greene relayed was from Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, defending his effort to drop the ban on importation of Canadian beef, which a federal judge has blocked. "The Bush administration wants the ban lifted, and that's exactly what Ishee tells his listeners," Greene reports, without offering any comment from those who want the ban kept in place.

Ishee doesn't have any other reporters, notes Greene, so if he wants to give farmers national or international news, the USDA is just about the best and least expensive source he can find. "There's no way we could get an interview on a daily basis with the secretary of agriculture, but they have access, which here in Virginia, I wouldn't," Ishee told Greene. "A farm reporter in Iowa or Nebraska, they wouldn't have that access."

USDA officials tell NPR their reports have nothing to do with politics and are just a service to farmers. In each report, NPR notes, the narrator makes clear he or she works for the agency, “but is it really clear to the audience?” Greene asks. WSVA news director Karl Magenhofer tells Greene he's not even sure listeners pay attention to who's talking. “I (don’t think) they don't even know what's live and what's not live,” he said.

Marvin Kalb, of the Washington office of Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, and a long-time CBS correspondent, told Greene the government label alone is not enough, that listeners should know where their information is coming from; but more importantly, people who put it on the air must make sure they're doing a service for their audience and not for government policy-makers. “Is this information being provided for a political purpose? Does the government use the information in order essentially to win votes? Now if the answer to that question is yes, then it's a no-no,” says Kalb.

Ishee, however, tells Green: "I don't detect any bias at all, at least from the USDA." Dairy farmer Lowell Heatwole tells Green he knows some of the reports could be propaganda, but that doesn't bother him. “They will naturally tell you what they want us to hear, which is OK. I mean, you know, I don't have a problem with that,” he says. And, he says, farmers don't have much choice about whether to listen to Jeff Ishee's show or not. "They absolutely depend on his weather reports, and the rest just comes naturally," reports Green.

On Earth Day, environmentalists mull movement's future; losing the debate?

With the 35th anniversary of Earth Day, "Environmentalists are debating the future of a movement that seems to be losing the battle for public opinion," writes Terence Chea of The Associated Press.

"President Bush's re-election, the failure to slow global warming and the large number of Americans who dismiss them as tree-hugging extremists have environmental leaders looking for new approaches," Chea says. Polls show most Americans want clean air, clean water and wildlife protection, but environmental issues rank low on their list of priorities -- behind jobs, health care, education and national security. Peter Teague, of the Nathan Cummings Foundation told Chea, "There's this paradox where Americans hold these views, but when it comes time to take action, there are many, many issues that trump environmental concerns."

George Lakoff, a University of California linguistics professor, argues the public agenda has been seized by a "right-wing ideological political movement that's extremely powerful and well-funded." The Bush administration's environmental philosophy has centered on the idea most environmental decisions are better made by the marketplace, landowners and state and local governments. And, he says, certain proposals the Bush administration has floated -- such as changes to the Clean Air Act -- would lead to weaker regulations than required by laws already in place, many environmentalists argue.

Many green leaders say they deserve some of the blame for the situation. Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice, who chairs a coalition of 30 national environmental organizations called the "Green Group," told AP Bush "was re-elected in a campaign in which neither candidate talked much about the environment."

Smokies backdrop for Bush on Earth Day; enviros call visit 'height of hypocrisy'

Environmental advocacy groups have bashed President Bush's environmental policies on the eve of his Earth Day visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, "alleging faulty leadership and a record of missed opportunities, writes Scott Barker of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

“The White House on Thursday countered that high-profile controversies have overshadowed the environmental achievements that should be the focus of Earth Day,” Barker writes. Bush is scheduled to help on a volunteer work project today before speaking on volunteerism and environmental issues.

Environmentalists criticized Bush on issues ranging from global warming and air pollution to the energy bill approved earlier in the day by the House. Dave Muhly, who heads the Appalachian regional office of the Sierra Club, told Barker, "It's the height of hypocrisy for President Bush to come to the Smokies on Earth Day." Jim Connaughton, chairman of the president's Council on Environmental Quality, defended the administration's record, citing conservation provisions of farm legislation, a key law to clean up contaminated industrial sites and a wetlands conservation initiative, Barker writes.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is both the most visited and most polluted national park in the country. Bush's primary air pollution proposal, the Clear Skies initiative, is bottled up for now in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, calls the Clear Skies initiative an "Orwellian" measure that would gut provisions of the Clean Air Act requiring industry to install advanced technologies to reduce emissions, he writes.

Virginia official not shut out of committee on merging development programs

When a nationwide committee meets to discuss consolidating 18 federal economic and community development programs, an official from Virginia will definitely be getting a seat.

Ron Flanary, the executive director of the Lenowisco Planning District Commission, was not originally included as a panel member on the press release that Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez sent about the committee. At the time it had 17 panel members, but the number has increased to 25, writes Jeff Lester of The Post, Flanary’s hometown newspaper in Big Stone Gap, Va. Federal officials hadn’t finished security clearances for Flanary and the others so he wasn’t added to last week's press release, Flanary said. He "has spent more than 30 years navigating the details of community development block grants" and other federal economic-development programs, Lester reported.

The committee will discuss the Bush administration’s “Strengthening America’s Communities” initiative. The plan would merge federal programs, such as the massive community development block grant initiative, the Rural Development agency funds and the Economic Development Administration funds. They will all join to make a single, two-part program for needy communities, which the Commerce Department will administer. The Bush administration said that in their current state, the programs sometimes overlap and create unnecessary bureaurcracy and that sometimes urban communities automatically get development funds, trumping needy rural areas that have to compete for the money.

Flanary supports the idea that all communities should compete for the funds, and that all projects in urban areas that are now funded by entitlement grants should have a cap placed on their size. He is skeptical, however, of having the Commerce Department administer all the programs. That means lots of development money would be put to a single yes or no vote.

Congress votes to extend daylight saving time as Indiana wrestles with issue

Time is of the essence as Indiana state lawmakers are in a rush to beat the clock before the legislative session ends. At issue is whether Indiana will join 47 other states that participate in daylight saving time, writes Mary Beth Schneider of The Indianapolis Star.

But, while Indiana is considering turning its forward as a state for the first time, Congress is has voted to expanding daylight saving time by two months as part of a new energy bill. If the measure passes the U.S. Senate, daylight savings would start the first Sunday in March and end the last Sunday in November.

Indiana Gov .Mitch Daniels has made daylight time a priority of his administration, saying it will spur jobs in the state. But many constituents have told him they are “overwhelming against a change,” he said. Lawmakers will vote next week on whether the state will observe daylight saving time; the bill would require Daniels to ask the Department of Transportation to host hearings on where the time zone boundaries should be in Indiana. All but the northwest and southwest corners of the state are in the Eastern Time Zone. However, five counties in the southeast observe daylight time illegally to be in sync with nearby Louisville and Cincinnati.

Kentucky authors call for end to mountaintop-removal strip mining

A group of Kentucky authors wants the state to outlaw a widely used but controversial coal-mining method because it causes "appalling destruction to the land" and "economic and cultural violence" to the entire state.

"The statement by 16 of Kentucky's best-known authors came after their two-day tour of mountaintop removal strip-mining sites in Leslie and Perry counties," writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The statement came in conjunction with a social action group, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which organized the tour. Probably the toughest words in the authors' document came in the concluding paragraph.

"We are horrified that this practice is legal. We are angry that representatives in our own government are allowing this to happen. Mountaintop removal is not right; it is not acceptable, and it is an act we will fight. We call for the abolition of mountaintop removal and urge our fellow citizens to pressure elected officials in every way to stop this criminal desecration of our common wealth." The de facto chairman of the authors' group who drafted the first version of the statement was Silas House, a novelist who teaches English and writing at Eastern Kentucky University. House said the statement was adopted unanimously after the authors met yesterday morning at the Hindman Settlement School to craft a final version.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, responded with a brief statement. He said the authors' statement "was an emotional tirade playing fast and loose with statements of facts. These are the same people who would be outraged if they knew where their ground beef came from." The controversial strip mine method uses explosives to blast away dirt and rock above a coal seam, then alternate lawyers of dirt and coal are removed. Afterward, the remaining dirt is bulldozed into a plateau. Excess dirt and rock are dumped into adjacent hollows, which become what are called valley fills.

Two mine blowouts in a week cause concerns in Eastern Kentucky; elsewhere?

Two separate blowouts at abandoned underground coal mines in Eastern Kentucky in the past week killed fish, turned a stream orange and closed a major highway for three days.

"Blowouts, the equivalent to a dam bursting, are the result of a buildup of underground water that creates extreme pressure inside old coal mines," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. Mark York, spokesman for the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, said blowouts, once common in the coalfields, now are rare, despite the back-to-back incidents. He told Alford, "They can cause some environmental problems when they do occur. But we have not seen an increase in the number of blowouts that would cause us to become overly concerned at this point."

Tom FitzGerald, head of the environmental advocacy group Kentucky Resources Council, told Alford blowouts can be damaging to streams and property, and, depending on where they occur, can be life-threatening to residents. "There has certainly been hazards created for localized flooding, and obviously that's a concern. It is an issue that has plagued the region for some time, and will continue to do so."

Kentucky began requiring coal companies to build stronger barriers in entrances and near outcroppings in underground mines following a series of blowouts a decade ago. Between 1993 and 1995, 15 blowouts occurred in the state, records show. Inspectors from the Department of Natural Resources still are monitoring the effects of the latest incidents in Harlan and Knott counties, he writes.

Major coal user AEP raises outlook for first quarter earnings after sale of units

After a year of turmoil over layoffs of coal miners and the loss of health benefits for retirees, one of the nation's largest users of coal, American Electric Power has reported profits would be much higher than expected in the first quarter helped by a settlement the company reached over sharing future profits from operations it sold in Texas.

The nation's largest power generator said it now expects earnings of 88 cents per share, discounting one-time costs, for the quarter that ended March 31 compared with 71 cents a year ago. AEP received a $70 million payment, or 11 cents a share, in March from Centrica, a United Kingdom company that bought two AEP retail operations in Texas in 2002, reports The Assocaited Press. The retail operations sell electricity to customers. The deal included a provision that allowed AEP to share in the profits if business grew by a certain amount. AEP also expects payments in 2006 and 2007.

The first quarter results also benefited from a plan approved by Ohio regulators that allow AEP to recover some regional transmission organization and environmental costs incurred through 2005 that will be collected from customers in 2006 and 2007. Its stock price has ranged from $28.50 to $36.34 in the past year. AEP has more than 5 million customers in 11 states.

Colorado plateau gas drilling effects underestimated; danger to wildlife

State wildlife managers say a draft federal report on gas drilling on a prized Colorado plateau underestimates potential impacts on wildlife, ignores science and lacks the details needed to make predictions.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife comments, obtained by The Associated Press through an open-records request, also accuse the Bureau of Land Management of downplaying the economic benefits of hunting and recreation on the Roan Plateau, writes AP's Judith Kohler. The division said of the BLM report, "It does not describe the irreplaceable losses or the regional impacts which is required information."

The plateau, about 200 miles west of Denver, is prized for its wildlife, rugged terrain and abundant natural gas. Industry representatives say the nation urgently needs the natural gas locked in the plateau and in deposits across northwestern Colorado. The Division of Wildlife says the document does not fully describe the project or its potential affect on wildlife, writes Kohler.

Pete Kolbenschlag, field director for the Western Slope office of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, which opposes drilling on the plateau's top told Kohler, "I think they are pretty strong comments. They get to the point that there are a lot of flaws in the document." The agency's comments are among at least 74,000 submitted this month on the proposed management plan for the Roan Plateau.

Steven Bennett, an associate field manager for the BLM, told AP the agency may make corrections and clarifications in the agency's final environmental impact statement. Opponents of wide-scale development argue extensive drilling will deplete deer and elk herds and undermine the area's economy. The division estimates fishing, hunting and wildlife watching produce about $5 million a year for the area.

N.C. ag-diversification money being used to expand burley tobacco territory

A North Carolina state foundation established to help tobacco-dependent communities diversify has given a grant to researchers to help farmers outside western North Carolina grow burley tobacco.

The Golden LEAF Foundation, which receives half the state’s tobacco settlement funds, has approved a grant of $264,800 for scientists at North Carolina State University to research burley production and teach farmers in the Piedmont and eastern parts of the state to cure it, reports The Associated Press. Valeria Lee, Golden LEAF president, defended the grant against criticism that it doesn't fit legislative intent: “Our research told us the market is still there for burley tobacco. So it’s a question not of whether it’s going to be grown, but where. There is a market and someone’s going to fill it.”

For more than 65 years, the federal system of tobacco quotas and price supports kept burley confined mainly to Kentucky, Tennessee and the Appalachian areas of North Carolina and Virginia. But those geographic restrictions disappeared with the federal buyout of the quota system. Though burley is generally known as a mountain tobacco, the North Carolina effort will install curing structures and research plots at a number of research stations far to the east of the plant’s usual environs, in flue-cured tobacco country.

Tommy Bunn, the executive vice president of the Leaf Tobacco Exporters Association and a member of Golden LEAF’s board, said, “It’s to determine where burley can be successfully produced. The intent is to find how far it can move east. “We’re not trying to move burley production out of the North Carolina mountains. We’re trying to find a way to supply a market that’s already out there.” Burley tobacco typically accounts for about 30 percent of the leaf used in U.S. cigarette blends, while flue-cured leaf accounts for 60 percent and Asian tobacco 10 percent, AP reports.

Louisville smoking ban finds vocal support; backers flood council hearing

A public hearing on a smoking ban for Kentucky’s largest city became almost a pep rally for supporters last night as most speakers urged Louisville Metro Council members to adopt strong restrictions. For the latest rundown on smoking bans nationwide from Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, click here.

"Kenneth Frye put on a gas mask when he reached the lectern to take issue with bar and restaurant owners who argued that a ban would hurt their business," writes Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal. Frye said, "That's just a bunch of crap. You ain't going to lose no business."

But Larry Flaherty, co-owner of the Castaway Lounge on Old Shepherdsville Road, said he is convinced a smoking ban would force him to shut down. "The problem is, people come to bars to relax. Smokers cannot relax in a nonsmoking bar," writes Gerth. A recent survey of businesses in Lexington on the economic effects of that city's smoking ban showed no discernable consequences.

The Metro Council committee is nearing a vote on the issue of a smoking ban, which has been under consideration for nearly two years. John Dant, president of the Metro Louisville Hospitality Coalition, told Gerth ban supporters knew of the meeting before his side did and took most of the speaking slots. He said he wouldn't ask for another hearing.

Tobacco racketeering case wraps up first phase; 'seven pillars' sagging?

The first phase of the federal government's racketeering case against the nation's largest cigarette companies has ended with lawyers debating whether the firms misled the public about the health effects of smoking.

After a recess next week, the trial will move into its final stage, witness testimony on remedies that U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler may apply if she decides in favor of the government, writes Michael Janofsky of The New York Times. Liability arguments gave each side a chance to consolidate the enormous amount of evidence that has come before Kessler as the government has tried to prove that the companies engaged in a conspiracy of fraud for more than 50 years. Lawyers for the companies insisted the government had fallen short in its mission and had failed to take into account the changes the companies had made since 1998, when they signed the Master Settlement Agreement to end a series of lawsuits with the states over the medical costs of smoking. For details, click on the Justice Department tobacco litigation:

Reviewing the so-called "seven pillars" (or the major tobacco companies) on which the government built its current case and trying to dismantle them through citations of testimony, David Bernick, a lawyer for Brown & Williamson, now part of Reynolds American, the second-largest tobacco company, told The Times the government's effort was in "a shambles." "Today, not a single one of those pillars stands strong and stable," adding later with a reference to the civil statutes of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, "Even if you froze the facts as they were in 1999, they don't support a wire fraud case and certainly don't give rise to any RICO violations," Janofsky writes. For The Associated Press version, click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Census report shows more people heading South: shift shaping the nation

The U. S. Census Bureau estimates in a report being released today that within three decades, nearly four in every 10 Americans will be Southerners with significant social, religious, cultural, political, businesses, industrial and economic implications for the nation.

Scores of newcomers are establishing their own cultural touchstones, writes Bob Dart of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The South's population will be about 143.3 million in 2030, which means 39.4 percent of the U.S. population will live in the South. Three Sun Belt states — Florida, California and Texas — will account for nearly half of U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2030, the Census Bureau projects. Previous census reports showed the largest sources of migration to the South between 1995 and 2000 included Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, while New York was the No. 1 source of new residents in Florida.

Economic and cultural reasons appear central in the move, along with the climate and a desire to be closer to relatives. People are looking at employment opportunities, professional growth, and the tangibles and the intangibles, writes Dart. Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, told Dart, "This is probably good news for Republicans." The "Solid South" used to refer to the region's Democratic loyalties. But now, the South is solidly GOP, and vital in establishing the current GOP dominance in Washington, writes Dart. The South is picking up congressional seats and presidential electoral votes, and explained Black, "It means Democrats can't afford to alienate themselves from Southerners."

William Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the Journal-Constitution the population shift "means much of America's legacy is now rooted in the South, culturally, economically and politically." And, the notion of what's Southern will undergo dramatic changes, too, writes Dart, particularly with an increasing share of newcomers hailing from Latin America and Asia. Suzanne Jones, an English professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, told him, "I foresee an upsurge of immigrant literature in the South."

Kentucky authors view strip mining; mountaintop removal causes concern

Some of Kentucky's best-known authors were hard-pressed for words to describe Eastern Kentucky mountains reshaped by a controversial form of coal mining, called mountaintop-removal strip mining.

“After looking at mountaintop removal strip-mining sites in Leslie County on the first day of a two-day trip sponsored by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the authors went to Hazard's Wendell H. Ford Regional Airport for a flyover of more mining sites,” writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Bob Sloan, a Rowan County author and a former Herald-Leader community columnist, said the flyover had him "vacillating between rage and tears" and grasping for a way to tell about what he just saw. "It was as though somebody took a knife and cut all the life off a thousand acres -- every tree, every blade of grass, every thing green, everything not a mineral. I don't know how you can fix it. It can't be fixed," writes Jester.

Sloan was one of 16 Kentucky authors on the tour, which totaled about 35 people. Some of the most notable Kentucky authors were there, including Silas House (author of Clay's Quilt), Erik Reece (who is writing a book on mountaintop removal mining and recently had an article on the subject in Harper's magazine), Gwyn Hyman Rubio (whose Icy Sparks was a selection for Oprah's book club), Ed McClanahan (The Natural Man), children's author Anne Shelby and Loyal Jones, retired director of the Berea College Appalachian Center, he writes. The Rural Blog has featured a critique March 28 of Reece's Harper's story, and another article on Reece on April 14th.

Groups like Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which focuses on social justice issues in Eastern Kentucky, hope to bring more attention to mountaintop removal methods in Kentucky, West Virginia, southwest Virginia and east Tennessee. The groups are preparing for what they call "Mountain Justice Summer."

Report finds people in rural areas often live on brink of financial catastrophe

People who live in rural areas have lower wages, fewer job opportunities and inadequate services, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation called "Family Economic Security for Rural Americans."

The report studied 13 states and found that twenty percent of Americans live in non-metropolitan areas, The Associated Press reports. The findings suggest that Census data do not accurately reflect the challenges of living in rural areas, said the communications coordinator of Voices for Children in Nebraska, Eric Fought. The report recommends creating programs to help rural communities economically and to create partnerships to improve services like transportation and health care. Such programs are needed, the report maintains, because many rural areas have only one or two dominant job industries, which are often on the decline.

Kansas University panel finds the state's rural communities facing sharp decline

Rural Kansas is facing painful hardships, said several panelists at a Kansas University forum titled, “Farmers, Food and Rural Communities in the 21st Century."

The forum came after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that most of Kansas’ counties are losing population, and 30 rural counties lost over 5 percent of their population in the first half of this decade, writes Joel Mathis of The Lawrence Journal-World. "The state of rural communities is tough," said Tom Gissel. He farms 7,000 acres with his brother.

Panelists described many woes for farmers, including how agriculture is too reliant on far-away markets and how consumers don’t understand how the food they buy got to the supermarket. "I prefer to call them the eater," he said. "I think there needs to be education for the eaters."

Ethanol benefits questioned; homegrown fuel might worsen cities’ air pollution

Ethanol, a fuel that's backed by state and federal governments and viewed as a boon to corn farmers in the Midwest and South, may make it harder to breathe in cities this summer.

"While governors in more than 25 states, including Kentucky and Indiana, tout it as a way to make gasoline burn cleaner, there's new evidence ethanol can worsen some types of pollution linked to damaging health effects -- namely ozone and fine particles," writes James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal. That could make it harder for cities, where it already is being used, to meet air standards.

Frank O'Donnell, a longtime clean air advocate in Washington, D.C., told Bruggers, "There is growing evidence that when used in the summer with reformulated gasoline, ethanol actually creates more smog and fine-particle soot. Ethanol has been oversold as a clean fuel." His comments are backed by a new draft study from the California Air Resources Board, the nation's leading air pollution agency, and other reports. But ethanol supporters cite different research to portray the fuel in another light.

Todd Barlow, executive director of the Kentucky Corn Growers' Association, a partner in a new ethanol plant in Western Kentucky, told the newspaper."It's certainly a benefit to farmers to create a market (for ethanol) as well as to provide a clean, environmentally friendly and American-made fuel," he said. "Science has documented the overall benefits of ethanol."

Ethanol reduces carbon monoxide, a wintertime concern in some parts of the country. And ethanol in gas can produce fewer emissions that are blamed for global warming. Advocates see ethanol as a renewable fuel made from homegrown crops like corn, and say its use can help reduce American dependence on foreign oil. Recently, wholesale ethanol has been cheaper than wholesale gas, writes Bruggers.

Bush's education law goes to court; NEA, states challenge 'No Child' rules

The nation's largest teachers union joined school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont in filing a federal lawsuit charging the Department of Education has failed to provide adequate funding for the No Child Left Behind initiative.

"The first-of-its-kind suit is the latest in a series of challenges to the Bush administration's signature education law, which is designed to make every student in the country proficient in reading and math by 2014," writes Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post. The Utah legislature this week voted to give priority to its own school accountability system over the federal law in the event of a conflict.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based think tank that has been tracking implementation of the No Child Left Behind law, told reporters, "The rebellion is growing. These actions are all ratcheting up the pressure on the Bush administration to either relax some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind or provide more money to fund it." For The New York Times version, click here.

Pine Mountain gets easier to cross; improved route formally opens tomorrow

A 250-million-year-old barrier to travel in the heart of Appalachia has become noticeably easier to cross, giving travelers a much better view of the mountains and a safer, often faster route. The barrier is Pine Mountain, a long ridge that runs through southeastern Kentucky, from the Virginia border into Tennessee. The route is US 119, which will be formally dedicated at 11 a.m. tomorrow, at a new overlook on top of the mountain near Whitesburg, Ky.

The view from the overlook is “calming but exhilarating at the same time,” Terry Tackett of Whitesburg told The Mountain Eagle, the town’s newspaper. Before the road was improved, the Eagle said, “The scenery was all but forgotten by drivers as they gripped their steering wheels, eyes glued to the narrow, winding roadway, afraid to look off into the distance. Narrow driving lanes, switchbacks, steep grades, and sheer drops from virtually nonexistent shoulders made crossing Pine Mountain a risky experience.” The road, built in the 1920s along old logging roads, rises and falls more than 1,700 feet as it crosses the mountain, the Eagle reported. The old road was “incredibly crooked,” helping make US 119 “reportedly one of the most dangerous major roads in America,” says the privately operated Kentucky Highway Page.

For most of the 20th Century, there was talk of improving the route, even with a tunnel, as was done several years ago to the southwest, under Cumberland Gap of Cumberland Mountain – the next summit to the southeast in the series of Appalachian ridges and valleys that run from Alabama to Pennsylvania. But as time passed, cost estimates rose, and each succeeding alternative seemed too expensive to policymakers. The issue was forced in 2000, when a school bus collided with a tractor-trailer on Pine Mountain. Local and state officials and citizens worked together to design and build the new route. The tunnel option remains, with the help of Appalachian Regional Commission money, but still seems distant.

The road is still winding, and will remain a barrier to some, but it now has passing lanes, paved pull-offs and much better safety features, and at little environmental cost. The Eagle called it “a model of environmental stewardship and an outstanding example of context-sensitive design,” protecting 93 species of rare plants and animals on the mountain. The project has no “hollow fills” common to such projects and large surface coal mines in the region “because preserving the integrity and beauty of the environment was right up there as a priority with making the road more safe,” Danl Hall, chief highway engineer for the region, told the Eagle.
For a detailed report on the project and tomorrow’s ceremony, from the privately operated site, click here. For details on the geology of Pine Mountain, formed by the collision of continents and their tectonic plates more than 250 million years ago, click here.

Chemical neutralization funding delayed for Kentucky chemical weapons depot

Delays in funding for a chemical neutralization plant at Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, Ky. mean the United States will probably miss a treaty deadline for destruction of its chemical weapons, according to members of a local advisory board. "The group also discussed 10 potential changes in design or destruction processes that are being studied to fulfill a Pentagon directive to cut costs at the $2 billion plant," writes Peter Mathews of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Pentagon asked the Army to study potentially less-costly alternatives to building the plant, such as transporting the weapons to other disposal sites. After pressure from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and others in Congress, the Pentagon agreed to release money it had been withholding from the project and shelved the transportation concept. The money should enable work to continue through September 2006.

Although the money has been released, cost-cutting measures are still being sought. Officials haven't determined how much the changes might save, writes Mathews. One is potentially unpopular: a proposal to ship the chemical compounds left over after munitions are chemically decomposed and neutralized out of state instead of destroying them on site. Officials didn't say where the waste material might be shipped.

Illegal cigarette sales could be aiding terrorists; tobacco company receives tips

Calls to a consumer complaint line tipped Philip Morris USA to a problem that's costing the cigarette giant and states around the nation millions and could be providing terrorists and organized crime with easy money.

The red-and-white cardboard packs that customers were buying looked like Marlboros, but were made by counterfeiters profiting off one of the world's most recognizable trademarks. In one case last year, federal officials broke up a Texas-based ring and seized $18 million worth of counterfeit cigarettes, writes Brendan Farrington of The Associated Press.

Now Philip Morris is going state-to-state asking lawmakers to pass bills that allow law enforcement to better track sales, with the hope of removing illicit cigarettes from the market. States would require anyone involved in cigarette sales to be licensed and to document where they received their product. Wholesalers would have to make sure cigarette packs have stamps that prove they paid the state tax. A PM spokesperson told AP, "We want to make sure that, if a consumer is going into a store and paying $3, $4, $7, $8 a pack for a pack of our cigarettes, they're getting the quality they've come to expect. Why should anyone else care? Revenue."

That point has been proven in California where the number of legal cigarette sales jumped by more than 42 million packs the year after a law tracking sales was passed there, writes Farrington. Officials say that helped raise $36.7 million in cigarette taxes in a state where cigarette sales had been declining in recent years. Counterfeiters spend about $2 a carton to produce cigarettes and can sell them for as much as $70 a carton in places such as New York, according to estimates by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he writes.

U.S. Appeals Court won't reconsider barring $280 billion penalty in tobacco case

A federal appeals court won't reconsider its ruling barring the Justice Department from seeking $280 billion in a lawsuit against cigarette companies.

"The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has released its 3-3 decision not to reconsider the case," writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. Officials said the government has not decided whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum Jr. told AP, "...the United States will carefully review its options and make a determination in the near future as to what course of action it will pursue." In the case, filed in 1999 under a civil racketeering statute, the government is alleging cigarette makers conspired for decades to deceive the public about the dangers of smoking. A trial began in U.S. District Court in September, and is ongoing. Click here for more information on the Justice Department tobacco litigation:

The defendants include: Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co.; Liggett Group Inc.; Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A.; and the Tobacco Institute.

Kentucky Press Association appeals case regarding access to juvenile records

The Kentucky Press Association voted to appeal a juvenile court proceedings lawsuit to the Sixth Court of Appeals. The lawsuit was filed last fall, but was dismissed by the district court.

The original case was filed against the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Clerk of Franklin Circuit Court Janice Marshall, to challenge several statutes in the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code that deny public access to juvenile court proceedings and records. A copy of the KPA's appeal is available here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Catholics ponder the pope: Southwest Virginia provides rural example

Church historian Fred Baumgartner of Virginia Tech University told The Roanoke Times the new pope "is not sympathetic to the issues Catholic leaders face in this country," reflecting concerns by many in the church -- even among the more conservative elements found in rural America.

"In western Virginia as around the world, Roman Catholics -- and those who study them - are trying to figure out just what the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI means," writes the Times' Cody Lowe, in an enterprising example of localizing an international story from the perspective of the many Catholics that do not congregate in urban areas.

Msgr. Thomas Miller, pastor of St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Roanoke, told Low, "I think people, including myself, are surprised it happened so quickly. Given what a long and amazing pontificate there had been with John Paul II, I thought perhaps this would be a time when it would take a good while for the cardinals to decide who should step into this role. It will be interesting to see what the Holy Spirit had in mind here." Baumgartner, an expert on papal succession, told the newspaper he was "surprised by how short the conclave was, and by the choice." Baumgartner has made a special study of papal succession and wrote a recent book on the subject. He told Lowe, "I think it tells us that the cardinals expect a steady-state situation for the next few years, that they don't want any change -- a two-thirds majority of them, anyway."

While many saw the name selection as an indication that Ratzinger, who has been viewed as a church hardliner on orthodoxy, may be signaling a more moderate direction for his papacy by following the moderate example of Benedict XV, elected in 1914, Baumgartner said he has "no idea what the choice of (the) name means," Lowe writes. For more on the new pope from The Catholic News Service, click here.

Utah rejects 'unfunded and conflicting' parts of No Child Left Behind law

The Republican-dominated legislature of Utah, in a rebuke of President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, has passed a bill directing state officials to ignore provisions of the law that conflict with Utah's education goals or that require state financing.

The bill is the most explicit legislative challenge to the federal law by a state, and its passage marked the collapse of a 15-month lobbying effort against it by the Bush administration, writes Sam Dillon of The New York Times. Federal officials fear Utah's action could embolden other states to resist what many consider intrusive or unfunded provisions of the law.

Utah's action comes as a federal-state conflict over the law appears to be escalating. The attorney general of Connecticut has announced he will sue the Department of Education over the law's finances. Texas is defying a federal ruling on testing disabled children and many state legislatures have protested various provisions of the federal law, which has required a sweeping expansion of standardized testing, writes Dillon.

The 29-member Utah Senate passed the bill just hours after the Utah House approved it. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a Republican, has said he intends to sign it. Several lawmakers said in the debates they admired Bush, but described the 1,000-page federal education law he signed in January 2002 as an unconstitutional expansion of the federal role in education, he writes.

Alliance to improve land trusts, train and accredit conservation organizations

A national conservation group has announced it is launching a $3 million program to improve ethics and governance at the nation's 1,500 land trusts.

The Land Trust Alliance, the nation's leading association of conservation organizations, is funding the effort largely through a $1 million challenge grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The grant is to help the alliance train and accredit conservation groups, part of a broad effort to improve professionalism and weed out rogue nonprofits, writes Joe Stephens of The Washington Post.

Rand Wentworth, president of the Washington-based alliance, said, "We cannot allow a few bad apples to stop thousands of private land owners, working farmers and ranchers, and local communities from protecting America's natural areas and landscapes," Stephens writes. The move comes as some conservation organizations are under attack, especially for practices related to conservation and historic facade easements. A congressional committee has recommended doing away entirely with some tax breaks associated with the donation of such easements: development restrictions placed on property deeds in an effort to preserve open space and protect antique streetscapes. In February, the Internal Revenue Service included excessive tax deductions related to facade easements -- easements that protect the outward appearance of historic buildings -- on the IRS's annual "Dirty Dozen" list of scams for taxpayers to avoid, he writes.

Pentagon to release money to destroy chemical weapons in Kentucky, Colorado

A Defense Department memo says the Pentagon will release at least $300 million to dispose of chemical weapons stockpiles in Kentucky and Colorado, setting stalled destruction programs back into motion.

"The money was earmarked for the two sites in the 2005 budget but frozen as the Pentagon considered whether there were cheaper ways to destroy the deadly munitions," writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. Undersecretary of Defense Michael W. Wynne asked project managers to develop budgets that will move the programs forward with a goal of meeting an international treaty deadline. Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a Kentucky-based watchdog organization, called the decision "a complete turnaround."

Under the international treaty, ratified by the Senate in 1997, the weapons stockpiled at eight sites across the country must be destroyed by 2012. The Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky., and the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Pueblo, Colo., are the only sites where disposal facilities have not already been constructed, Roxe writes. The military earlier this year said it was studying other ways to destroy the weapons, including moving them to other facilities. Wynne's memo doesn't take that option off the table, but asks project managers not to consider the possibility "at this time." Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a vocal advocate for Blue Grass, told the newspaper, "It sounds like complete capitulation to me." For The Courier-Journal story, by James R. Carroll, more specific to the Blue Grass Depot in Richmond, click here.

Reporters lose again in CIA leak case; grass-roots reporting in jeopardy?

"This is not a New York Times or a Time magazine issue. What's at stake here is journalism at the grass-roots level." That's what Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said after a federal appeals court rejected a request for a new hearing for two journalists after they refused to disclose confidential sources to a grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA operative's name. They could face jail time as early as next week.

"The decision by the full U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington accelerates the pace of the conflict between a special prosecutor and the two reporters, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of The New York Times," writes Dan Eggen of The Washington Post. It also serves as a firm rebuke to major news organizations and First Amendment groups who had weighed in on the case, legal experts said.

Both news organizations indicated they would immediately seek a stay of the appellate court's order and ask for a review of the case by the U.S. Supreme Court. Without such a stay, attorneys said, the case would be sent back next Tuesday to the lower court judge, Thomas F. Hogan, who first ordered the reporters jailed for as long as 18 months last October, Eggen writes. New York Times spokesman Toby Usnik said, "We are disappointed with the court's decision and we will seek a stay in order to have sufficient time to seek U.S. Supreme Court review." A similar statement by Time Inc. said the newsweekly was "disappointed but not surprised by the decision."

The ruling marks the latest chapter in the ongoing Justice Department probe by Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald to determine whether a government official knowingly leaked the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to columnist Robert D. Novak in the summer of 2003. Fitzgerald indicated in court filings last month he had completed his probe except for the testimony from Cooper and Miller. For The New York Times version, click here.

Washington Post top editor says much in media 'opinion, gossip, propaganda'

The future of journalism is being challenged by repetitive news produced by media outlets that are understaffed and financially crunched, the executive editor of The Washington Post said last night.

Leonard Downie Jr. spoke at the University of Kentucky's 28th Joe Creason Lecture to encourage young journalists to enter a business full of opportunity to change society, despite the challenges, writes Samieh Shalash of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Downie said "accountability journalism" is the highest role of the press in society, so reporters must continue pursuing stories of waste and corruption that keep the government in check. But, he contended, they often miss stories that affect the heartbeat of a community, such as coverage of young adults and immigrants. Instead, he contends, the media are obsessed with rehashing crime, catastrophe and celebrities. And, he opined, most of what America sees isn't journalism at all, but thinly veiled opinion, gossip and propaganda.

He told the audience, "Overall, journalism is a shrinking part of the growing world of media," referring to the advent of Internet media and 24-hour cable stations that often air the same news on repeating cycles. But, Downie added, even the content on TV and the Internet usually comes from a newspaper because "at their core, newspapers own the news." He cited torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, athletes on steroids, war crimes in Darfur, Sudan -- all stories told by journalists, he said. Americans never would have heard otherwise, writes Shalash.

Six added to Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, from various specialties

Six journalists were inducted last night into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, including two journalists retired from The Courier-Journal, the news director of an Owensboro radio station, the student publications director at Western Kentucky University, a past president of the Kentucky Press Association and the first woman reporter for a major Kentucky daily newspaper.

The Courier-Journal's story by Elisabeth Beardsley highlighted its alumni. Bob Schulman wrote the groundbreaking "In All Fairness" media criticism column for The C-J and Louisville Times from 1974 to 1981. He also was known for his earlier WHAS-TV and radio commentaries, "One Man's Opinion." Bob Johnson covered politics for the newspaper from 1979 to 1989, and held several editing positions before retiring in 1997. He also worked for WHAS-TV and Radio in 1958-78, first as a newscast scriptwriter and later as a reporter focusing on government and politics. Johnson's former C-J colleague, Richard Wilson, said Johnson may be the first Hall of Fame member qualified to enter from both broadcast and print.

The others honored: Lee Denney, news director of Owensboro's WBKR-FM/WOMI-AM since 1985, with more than 40 years in broadcasting; Gene Clabes, past president of the Kentucky Press Association and former owner of three weeklies known as Recorder Newspapers in Northern Kentucky; Bob Adams, Western Kentucky University student publications director and adviser to the school's College Heights Herald since 1968. Marguerite McLaughlin of the University of Kentucky and the Lexington Herald-Leader was honored posthumously. She was the first woman reporter for a major Kentucky daily newspaper. McLaughlin taught for 38 years at until 1950. She died in 1961. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Hall of Fame, which is sponsored by the UK School of Journalism and Telecommunications and the UK Journalism Alumni Association.

Citizens' group disappointed after W.Va. governor vetoes English-only bill

The chairman of U.S. English Inc., which says it wants to preserve the role of English in the U.S, announced disappointment with West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin’s decision to veto controversial English-only legislation.

The amendment to make English the official language of the state was added on to a bill with another topic, which the West Virginia Constitution prohibits. Manchin supported the legislation, but vetoed it because of its "technical flaw," he told The Associated Press. U.S. English Inc. Chairman Mauro E. Mujica responded, “I share the sentiments of the vast majority of West Virginians in that I am extremely disappointed in Governor Manchin’s veto. Laws that the public supports should not be stopped by supposed ‘technicalities.’”

The group was founded in 1983 by the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California, and now has more than 1.8 million members, the group says.

Remains at building site may be of ancient Indians; Wal-Mart project waits

Archaeologists have unearthed what they believe are 5,000-year-old remains of two American Indians at a Louisville site planned for development, a find that has building plans on hold for the nation's largest retailer.

Bone fragments were found during a recent archaeological survey of a 55-acre site slated for a Wal-Mart, restaurants and condominiums. Spear tips and burned rock were found several years earlier at the site, officials said, writes Chris Kenning of The Courier-Journal. "The remains, accompanied by trash pits, charcoal, carbonized seeds and tools, suggest a camp used by nomadic hunters who might have gathered medicinal herbs and food in the wetland area around 3000 B.C., said David Pollack, a Kentucky Heritage Council archaeologist and site-protection manager," Kenning writes for the Louisville newspaper.

The Army Corps of Engineers also is involved in handling the site. Indian tribes have been notified of the find. Archaeologists hired by the developer are still working to determine the scope and significance of the find -- and if more remains exist beyond a one- to two-acre section, she notes. For more on efforts to find and preserve Native American Indian burial sites and remains, click here.

Longtime Kentucky newspaper photographer, John C. Wyatt, dead at 76

John C. Wyatt, an intensely private man who earned his living peering into the lives of thousands of other people through the lens of his camera, died yesterday at Kenton Health Care Center.

Wyatt, who was a photographer for the Lexington Herald-Leader for more than 40 years and who took pictures for Keeneland Race Course for more than 30 years, was 76, writes Jennifer Hewlett of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Former Herald-Leader associate editor Bill Hanna told Hewlett, "I think he was one of the hardest working, conscientious newspaper photographers I've ever seen. He knew his job --knew how to do it and knew how to help others do theirs."

Wyatt began his career as a teenager, developing negatives for a local photographer. He became a photographer for the former afternoon daily, the Lexington Leader, in 1946. He retired from the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he was chief photographer for many years, in 1990.

Clogging workshops, competition kick off dancing season in Maggie Valley, N.C.

If you are a ‘hoofer from the hills,’ you may want to clog your way to Maggie Valley, N.C. this coming weekend, as dancing season kicks off at the Stompin' Ground on Soco Road. The American Clogging Hall of Fame's spring workshop and competition marks the beginning of weekend dancing, writes Jill Ingram of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

There are Friday evening and Sunday morning events for Hall of Fame members, but the main attractions for the public are Saturday's workshop and competition, which include precision dancing, flatfoot, clogging, line dancing and more for dancers of all ages, writes Ingram.

Last year's event attracted about 40 teams, mostly from the Southeast. April 29 and 30 will kickoff regular weekend dancing through the end of October at the Stompin' Ground, the dancehall that Kyle and Mary Sue Edwards started more than 20 years ago. Kyle Edwards told Ingram, young people still take up dancing, "but not near as many as there once was. Times change, I guess."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bush-backing papers with rural audiences join call for DeLay’s departure

Some newspapers that urged their readers, many of them rural, to re-elect President Bush have joined more liberal editorial voices in calling for embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to step down. The trend is “calling into question the contention that DeLay's woes are the result of a battering by ‘liberal media,’ as some of his supporters claim,” writes Graham Webster for Editor & Publisher.

Webster’s story was prompted by a release from the liberal media watchdog group, Media Matters for America, which cited editorials in The Wall Street Journal and eight newspapers that endorsed Bush in either or both the 2000 and 2004 elections, including The Daily News-Leader of Staunton, Va., circulation 18,200. It said on April 12, “Republicans have rallied around DeLay in the same loyal way that the Democrats circled their wagons around [former House Speaker Jim] Wright. If you ca't count on your own party, who can you trust? But it is becoming rapidly clear that, in order to cut their losses and regain the moral high ground, DeLay must go."

Media Matters also cited editorials in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch and the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, which said, April 12, "It's time for Republicans to renounce his leadership and choose a more principled and temperate representative as House Majority Leader.”

Farmers seed program to save land; preservation versus development

A farming couple in Shelby County, Kentucky, took expensive preventative measures after they saw the 300-acre farm next door carved into lots for houses, in an effort to "save" their property in the future.

"To hold off the encroaching suburbs farmers Susan and Doug Schlosnagle paid nearly $400,000 to buy 11 lots covering 70 acres between their farm and the highway," writes Michael A. Lindenberger of The Courier-Journal. Susan Schlosnagle, who has cattle, more than 1,000 free-range laying hens and may plant an orchard on the new 70 acres, told Lindenberger, "We would have had 10 driveways coming onto the road leading from our farm to (the) highway. It would have changed everything."

The loss has contributed to a debate about the future of Shelby County, with some advocating wholesale preservation of farmland, and others warning such a move could increase the cost of housing. Activists want to create a program to pay farmers to preserve their land forever for agriculture. The goal is to remove the temptation for farmers to sell to developers. Fayette County is the only Kentucky county now with such a program. The state runs a similar program, but it has a waiting list of 587 applicants statewide. For information on Fayette County's farmland preservation program, click here.

Jim Ellis, president of the local conservation group called Maintain Our Rural Environment, is calling for quick action, but developer Mike Meinze is concerned it could drive up prices up for those seeking to buy new homes. Some realtors note the county's location between the state's two largest cities and near the state's capital, makes it a "natural choice." Former Kentucky first lady Libby Jones, on the board of the state farm preservation program since it began, said, "We are just trying to channel development into areas where it can be served cost-effectively," Lindenberger writes.

In Shelby County, since 1999, more than 2,100 single-family housing permits have been issued, as the population rose from 24,842 in 1990 to an estimated 37,219 in 2004. The state launched the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement program in 1994. Farmers retain ownership and the rights to sell the land or give it to heirs. They agree to limit the land to agricultural uses forever, a restriction that would run with the deed and bind future owners as well. The waiting list has 587 applications, representing 115,000 acres, with an estimated value of over $100 million. The state only has about $800,000 to spend each year, half of which comes in federal funds, he writes. For the C-J story headlined Farm sale worries neighbors along Wolf Pen Branch, by reporter Matt Batcheldor, click here.

Not enough low-cost rural housing; millions can't afford home, advocates say

A national housing assistance council maintains there are more than 35 million rural families who cannot afford rental housing.

Duplicate the situation nationwide, and 35 million households - one-third of all U.S. households - suffer from a shortage of affordable rental housing, according to advocates for more and better rural housing. That is projected to rise by another 2 million in the next decade, writes Roque Glenn Omanio of the Scripps Howard Foundation wire service InfoZine. “Rural Californians (as one example) who earn less than $12 an hour - nearly twice the state minimum wage of $6.75 per hour - can't afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment near their jobs," Omanio noted.

With housing subsidies from the government running dry, housing units built 15 to 30 years ago are now in dire need of repair, and prospects for new construction are bleak. Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust, a nonprofit group that preserves subsidized housing, told reporters, "We no longer build a sufficient supply of new rural housing. We are losing apartments, as owners want to rent them to people who can pay more," Omanio writes.

Bodaken said some private investors buy low-rent apartment houses and raise the rents, making affordable places for low-income renters hard to find. The MacArthur Foundation, which finances rural housing preservation projects, said 19 million households live on annual incomes of $30,000 a year or less, which made them qualified for government housing assistance, but only 5 million receive it, he writes.

N.C. newspaper unveils a topic of fear and confusion: registered sex offenders

The Watauga Democrat of North Carolina is going where few newspapers have gone: into the heads of convicted sex offenders, examining their lives post-conviction and the roads that got them where they are.

The paper is talking to sex offenders in a two-part series. The first story is written by Jerry Sena. He talked to “John,” one of 25 registered sex offenders in Watauga County. He accepted a plea bargain after he was charged with statutory rape and indecent liberties with a minor. He was convicted of indecent liberties to avoid going to jail for 30 years, Sena writes. John maintains that he was wrongly accused, but now has to register as a sex offender wherever he goes, for the rest of his life. On his three-year probation, he will attend four counseling sessions each month and submit to searches and drug tests without notice.

"For the first six months of this, I was very angry, and very hurt..,” he said. “But, I managed to deal with it, through the help of my friends, and my counselor, talking about things like this in class and how people react."

Ex-user in Tennessee forms ‘Mothers Against Meth’ prayer support group

A 22-year-old, five-year methanphetamine addict and mother of two children from Bradley County, Tennessee, has formed a prayer support group to help others who want a higher power's help fighting off the ravages of this rural plague.

As she sat and cradled her 3-month-old son, Bryson, while telling her story, Brittany Bowman said she can hardly accept that she was once a slave to the highly addictive drug, writes Tammie Goins of the Cleveland Daily Banner. Bryson considers both her children to be miracles because they were exposed to meth in and out of the womb, but are still healthy. "Bowman is a living testament that meth users can be free from the drug and stay off it with a little help from above," writes Goins for the Cleveland, Tenn. newspaper.

To help others, Bowman has established a Mothers Against Methamphetamine prayer support group in Bradley County. She told the newspaper, "I wanted to do something to help people be aware of what meth does to you, and how to cope. Family members and law enforcement have no control over it. The only thing that does is God." The Bradley County Chapter of MAMA was named "Heal the Hurt" by Bowman. Brittany Bowman's e-mail address is

The support group is not only for mothers, but for fathers, brothers, aunts, uncles or even addicts who want help for themselves or a loved one. Bowman said, "They can't do it by themselves. This is a time to come and be loved on and share personal stories. The only way to reach these people is through prayer," writes Goins.

Minnesota-based Target tackles abuse; bans or restricts meth ingredients

Target store customers across the country will have to ask pharmacists for cold pills and other pseudoephedrine-containing products, a move announced by the discount retail giant in an effort at keeping needed chemicals out of meth-makers' hands.

"At the (Minnesota) Capitol, where similar proposals are under consideration, officials hailed the announcement as a bold move in the fight against methamphetamine," writes Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Scott Carlson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said, "They're showing leadership at a national level. We're trying to get the Legislature to legislate what they're doing voluntarily." Officials from the Minneapolis-based discount retailer — the nation's second-largest — said the company opted to move the drugs behind the counter because it is the right thing to do and it allows the company to have a consistent policy in the face of dozens of different state and other local restrictions on pseudoephedrine sales, write Stassen-Berger and Carlson for the Pioneer Press.

Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter told them, "It is part of our business. ...we think it really is the way to go." The new policy — the first for a national discount retailer — will go into effect in all the Target stores that have pharmacies, about 1,000 stores, in the next two to three months. Target will stop selling the pseudoephedrine products completely in its 300 stores without pharmacies. For The Associated Press version, click here. For reaction to the policy and information on the problem, click here.

North Carolina medical director urges cigarette tax hike to fight health effects

North Carolina's state medical director has strongly and publicly waded into the debate over increasing the cigarette tax, irking some legislators in the nation's No. 1 tobacco-producing state..

Dr. Leah Devlin, in a letter to the state's General Assembly, urges lawmakers to raise the tobacco tax from the current nickel a pack to at least 50 cents per pack, a proposal made by Gov. Mike Easley in February, writes Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer. The move elicited a sharp response from opponents of an increase over what they see as a politicization of the health director's post. Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Republican from a large tobacco-producing county said, "It's out of line, frankly."

Devlin said in her letter that a higher tobacco tax is one of the most thoroughly documented strategies toward reducing smoking and its damaging effects on health. She wanted legislators to have that information as they prepare to vote on a cigarette tax, writes Johnson. She added, "It's important for them to know that there is well-established science that a tobacco tax that goes to at least 50 cents would have an incredible impact in terms of saving lives."

She highlighted the $1.9 billion that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says North Carolina spends every year on tobacco-related health care. Devlin also wrote that, according to CDC, an increase to 50 cents would reduce youth smoking by nearly 10 percent, prevent thousands of smoking-related deaths and save tens of millions of dollars in health care costs. Daughtry said he didn't receive any letters from state officials when Democratic legislators took money from the Health and Wellness Trust fund to balance the budget in recent years. Part of that money is intended for anti-teen smoking efforts, he writes.

Kentucky, the No. 2 tobacco state, recently raised its cigarette tax to 30 cents from 3 cents.

Mine seal blowout, flood shut road in Kentucky; safety problems elsewhere?

A seal in an inactive underground mine collapsed yesterday, sending water, mud and rocks across all four lanes of a highway near Softshell east of Hindmanin in Knott County, Kentucky, again raising questions about the safety of other such operations throughout Appalachia.

Sara George, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet office in Pikeville said no one was injured and there have been no reports of damage to homes or personal property, but water gushing out of the mountainside was eroding the highway, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. The blowout occurred at a mine which was operated in the 1980s and 1990s by Consol of Kentucky. The blowout then triggered a mudslide. Local officials expect the highway to be closed for "at least two days." Kentucky State Police officer Tony Watts told reporters the water gushing across the road could go on for hours, maybe days.

State officials told reporters that unlike the Martin County sludge spill in 2000, when 306 million gallons of thick coal wastes poured out of a ruptured impoundment into abandoned mineworks and then into nearby streams, the spill yesterday contained mostly water. Sediment problems are the only environmental worries at this point, Natural Resources Department spokesman Mark York said. York said he's received no reports of damage to homes or personal property in the area, the newspaper writes.

Knott County is in the heart of Eastern Kentucky's coalfields, where both underground and surface mines are widespread. Once sealed, water frequently collects inside underground mines. Some mountain residents, including small towns, use such abandoned mines as a source of water. York said inspectors have begun an investigation into what caused the mine blowout and are trying to determine when the water flow will stop.

People from 16 states, Canada and Guam attend illegal Kentucky cockfight

There’s more evidence that the outlawed sport of cockfighting is popular in many parts of the nation, and that the laws against it, and enforcement of those laws, are not strong enough to deter it.

“Most of the 507 people cited after a raid this past weekend on a suspected cockfighting operation in central Kentucky’s Montgomery County will not have to go to court if they plead guilty and pay fines and court costs,” writes the Lexington Herald-Leader The fine is $50 and court costs are $145.50. First appearances for cases that go to court will begin Monday and run through June, the newspaper writes.

Kentucky State Police told the newspaper more than 750 people from 16 states, Canada and Guam were on the grounds. The owner of the property was charged with cruelty to animals. Capt. Lisa Rudzinski, a state police spokeswoman, said more charges are possible after a grand jury hears evidence. State police say fights were held at the same location a couple of times a month before large crowds. The arena featured three rings, an announcer's booth and stadium seating. There also was a restaurant, holding areas for roosters, and concession sales. (Bloggers' note: It appears to this reporter that fines, enforcement and distance don't seem enough to deter attendees, who could gain significantly from betting on the blood sport.)

West Virginia ‘English-only’ bill vetoed by governor; 'flawed, not wrong'

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has vetoed a bill that would have made English the state's official language. He said he did so not because he did not like the idea, but because the legislation had a technical flaw.

Manchin, who co-sponsored unsuccessful English-only bills when he was a lawmaker, cited the state's Constitution, which limits each piece of legislation to one topic. An English amendment was added to a bill on increasing the size of local park and recreation boards in the final hours of the legislative session, reports The Associated Press.

West Virginia has the highest percentage of English-only speakers in the nation, with only 2.7 percent of its residents speaking a language other than English at home, according to the 2000 Census. For an earlier AP report, with more background, click here.

Authors Guild to offer online purchasing of books by Appalachian authors

The Appalachian Authors Guild plugged itself into the virtual world last week as it unveiled its online sales website to market Appalachian authors in an array of genres. The Appalachian Regional Commission and the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology have both financially supported the AAG’s effort, reports Angie Arms of the Richlands News-Press / Clinch Valley News.

The site will offer books from many different authors for purchase, and will include pages for the different authors with their biographies, links to personal websites and scheduled online chats, writes Arms for the Virginia newspaper. Johnny Duncan, AAG's e-commerce director, said the website will also help authors keep more of the revenue. It will require a 25 percent take, which helps pay for the Guild's marketing, whereas sites like Barnes & Noble and Amazon may take up to 45 percent of the sale revenue.

Bobbie Ann Mason to lecture, Al Smith to be honored at University of Kentucky

Bobbie Ann Mason, writer in residence at the University of Kentucky, will deliver the 24th annual Edward F. Prichard Jr. Lecture at the UK Library Associates annual meeting Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Lexington, The Campbell House. The associates will present Al Smith, notied civic leader and host of KET’s "Comment on Kentucky," with the UK Libraries Medallion for Intellectual Achievement. The award was created in 1990 to recognize high intellectual achievement in Kentucky or by Kentuckians, and to encourage education and the free and creative use of the mind in the citizens of Kentucky.  

Raised on her family’s dairy farm near Mayfield, Mason has a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. Her first short stories were published in The New Yorker magazine , and some appeared in her first book of fiction,  Shiloh and Other Stories, published in 1982.  She has published three other books of short stories and four novels, including her famed work In Country.  She will read from Clear Springs, her memoir and family history that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The meeting will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30, with the lecture and awarding of the medallion at 8 p.m.  The meeting is open to the public.  Tickets are $50 and may be purchased by calling Esther Edwards at 859-257-0500, extension 2159.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Democrat warns Republicans that Medicaid cuts will hurt rural folks most

U.S. Rep. Sharon Sanders Brooks, a Democrat from Kansas City, Mo., warned rural Republicans that their constituents, not urban African Americans, would bear the blunt of Medicaid cuts.

Brooks was fired up after reading a story that quoted a Medicaid patient who incorrectly complained that most patients were black, write Kit Wagar and Tim Hoover of The Kansas City Star. Brooks has received many letters from rural Missouri residents begging her not to vote for cutting coverage. One woman from Potosi said the cuts would make her $645 monthly disability income disqualify her from Medicaid. “Explain to your child when she comes home crying why you can't afford $5 for a classroom field trip,” she wrote. “Or choose which bill isn't going to get paid (because) your children need shoes and clothes.”

The House approved a cut in Medicaid spending by $307 million, eliminating coverage for about 92,000 people. “These people from Hootin' Holler, they're not my constituents,” Brooks said. “You ain't kicking the brothers and sisters off Medicaid. You're kicking other folks off.”

Increase for Medicare spent, many rural elderly may lose home therapy services

Two years ago, a five percent increase was added to Medicare services, targeting hard-to-serve rural areas. It gave thousands of elderly residents in rural areas the chance to get needed nursing care and therapy at home, helping them avoid nursing homes, writes Lawrence O'Rourke of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Home health care in rural areas costs more, one reason being the residents live farther apart. Therapists may drive 40 miles in between patients’ homes. Someone has to pay for the mileage, explained the vice president of CareSouth, a major home healthcare provider in the Carolinas, Chris MacInnis. "Those distances really drive the expenses up," said MacInnis.

Now, the $100 million that was earmarked for Medicare services is spent. The one-year add-on expired March 31, and it’s unlikely the funds will be renewed, leaving the elderly who benefited from the plan this past year facing big cuts. "We will not sacrifice patient care," MacInnis said, noting that the loss of the extra money pressures therapists to cut the number of visits to patients. "The government is putting the onus on providers to offer better care with less money," MacInnis said.

Panel named on community-development overhaul; Virginia official not on it

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez has named 17 people whom his press release calls "national and regional experts" to advise him on the Bush administration's plan to consolidate and reduce spending on community- and economic-development programs.

A southwest Virginia economic and planning official who has been skeptical of Bush's plan, but had hoped to be named to the advisory committee, did not make the list. Ron Flanary's hometown newspaper, The Post of Big Stone Gap, reported Wednesday that he might be appointed at the suggestion of U.S. Sen. George Allen, and that the committee would have 25 members. It wound up with only 17 members.

Flanary is executive director of the Lenowisco Planning District Commission and "has spent more than 30 years navigating the details of community development block grants" and other federal economic-development programs, senior writer Jeff Lester reported for The Post. His story called Flanary "a finalist" for the committee, and said Allen suggested his name after he told the Republican senator of his "skepticism and concern about the fate of several programs that have been instrumental to projects in Wise, Lee and Scott counties and the City of Norton," which comprise the planning district.

Lester's story and a sidebar laid out the arguments on both sides of the proposal, which would consolidate 18 programs and cut their initial funding to $3.7 billion from $5.3 billion. Fla nary told the paper that too much of the community development block grant program supports urban bureaucracies; agencies such as his "get no direct CDBG funds," The Post reported. The paper's thorough coverage also included a list of local projects that had received recent grants from the programs that would be consolidated.

The panel includes two people with connections to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues -- Inez., Ky., banker and Republican National Committee Treasurer Mike Duncan, who is a member of the Institute's advisory board, and Mark Drabenstott, director of the Center for the Study of Rural America at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Drabenstott will speak at a national seminar on rural issues, which the Institute is programming for the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland June 12-17. He is chairing the advisory committee.

Cut food stamps to preserve farm subsidies? Bad idea, says Johanns

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns opposes the notion of some in Congress that food stamps will have to be cut in order to spare farmers from reductions in subsidies. "It's a very tough sell to say we're going to get out there and cut food programs for the most needy Americans because we don't want to take cuts over here," Johanns said in an exclusive interview with the Des Moines Sunday Register.

"Johanns, the former Nebraska governor, knows something about the politics of spending cuts," wrote Philip Brasher of the Register's Washington bureau. "He warned that cutting the food stamp program more than the relatively small amount that the administration has proposed would undermine public support for farm programs." Johnanns told him, "All of a sudden you start reading stories on the front page about how a very needy family has been impacted in the food they eat."

Johanns has the unenviable job of "selling farm groups on the Bush administration's deficit-reduction plan, which would cut farm subsidies by $9 billion over the next five years," Brasher notes. "Congressional leaders are trying to work out a compromise that could cut Agriculture Department spending by as little as $2.8 billion. Lawmakers say some of that will come out of nutrition and conservation programs. . . . Spending on food stamps, projected to hit $38 billion next year, double what it was when President Bush took office, would be pared by $100 million annually under the president's budget."

Johanns told Brasher that he expects Congress to impose caps on subsidies that individual farmers and landowners can receive. "Southern Republicans, including the Senate Agriculture Committee's chairman, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., strongly oppose the new caps, which would fall heaviest on large cotton and rice farms in the South," Brasher wrote.

Texas senator learns about rural health care issues in roundtable discussion

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, learned a few things about about health care issues in rural areas of his state, after participating in a roundtable discussion at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center.

Cornyn, a member of the Senate Republican Task Force on Health Care Costs and the Uninsured, told Brandi Dean of the Amarillo Globe-News, "Texas is a big and diverse state. It's not just defined by I-35. There's a lot of people who live in smaller parts of the state where health care is an issue. I'm here to listen to good things that are being done and find out how I can help."

One issue, he added, is that the state’s rural population is older and more reliant on Medicare. "We have a challenge because people should not have to go to a big city in order to get good quality health care,” he said. “Nor should they be forced, because of where they live, to delay treatment when it could be treated more humanely and cost effectively early on."

Newspaper publisher and anonymous writer defend Wal-Mart in Berea, Ky.

"It's OK to shop at Wal-Mart." That was the headline over Publisher Teresa Scenters' editorial in last week's Berea (Ky.) Citizen in apparent response to a column in the April 3 Richmond Register by columnist Don McNay, who bemoaned the closing of a Berea grocery and blamed it on Wal-Mart -- which is notorious among newspaper people because it rarely uses their medium to advertise.

"Wal-Mart is one of those things we love to hate," Scenters wrote. "Even though we may gripe about it, I can't think of too many people in town I haven't run into there at one time or another. . . . It's out of necessity for most of us." Such as the reader who sent Scenters an anonymous letter. The Citizen (which does not put its content on the Web) doesn't run such letters, but Scenters quoted from it in her editorial:

"There are many families like mine who cannot afford to support the locals if we can get lower prices at Wal-Mart. . . . My family has to exist on $15,000 annually, and I realize we are in better shape than some families, especially senior citizens." The writer said the letter was anonymous because "If my employer knew I was complaining of my minimum-wage salary with no benefits, I would then really be in trouble. In a small town, a person of ordinary means cannot express themselves for fear of being ostracized."

Minister-columnist-goat raiser says goodbye to readers of The Mountain Eagle

Tom Currie, a Presbyterian minister who raised goats for Heifer International and wrote a column for The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., said goodbye to his readers last week after retiring to Carthage, N.C., near Fort Bragg. Some excerpts:

"Don't ever let anyone put down Letcher County or Appalachia," Currie wrote. "Sure, it is not for everyone . . . but it has a great deal to offer anyone who is looking for a place to call home and enjoy. . . . We will always be marked in a positive way by the people we have met and gotten to know while in Eastern Kentucky, and by the experiences we have had while in your midst. . . . You taught me about compassion and family loyalty. I leave Kentucky a more educated fellow than when I arrived."

Currie concluded, "I will not forget you!" And neither will those of us at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, who met Tom Currie and enjoyed his columns. Best of luck, Preacher.

SPJ announces finalists in Green Eyeshade Awards for Southern journalists

The Society of Professional Journalists has announced the finalists for the 2004 Green Eyeshade Awards, which recognize the best journalism in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Among smaller and rural-oriented media outlets, the finalists include editorial writer Mac Thrower of The Paducah (Ky.) Sun, investigative reporters Jon Elliston and Barbara Solow of The Independent Weekly in Durham, N.C., and humor columnists Tim Nicholas of The Clinton (Miss.) News and Scott Wright of The Post in Centre, Ala.

The finalists will be honored May 14 at a banquet in Atlanta, home of the SPJ chapter that began the awards 55 years ago. During the banquet, first, second and third place winners will be announced, along with the winner of the overall Green Eyeshade Award. The winner receives a $1,000 cash. For more information, contact Heather Porter at or 317-927-8000, ext. 204.

Booklet offers ways to use newspapers to teach about First Amendment rights

With so many high school students ignorant about the First Amendment, teachers can look to new teaching methods when addressing the amendment's freedoms. Five pairs of teachers, who each won in the 2001 Newspaper Innovators in Education Awards, recently compiled a First Amendment booklet for teachers with suggestions on how to use newspapers to explain the amendment’s five freedoms. The suggestions are targeted for elementary, middle and high-school students, with activities to explain each of the five freedoms.

Some ideas include having students write letters to the local newspaper editor, asking them what freedom of the press means to them in their job and, for high schoolers, reading newspaper stories and identifying who might not want the story published. Let students decide if the press goes too far, not far enough, or just right regarding what it publishes.

Prominent journos coming to Bowling Green, Ky., for First Amendment event

Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting, along with the provost office’s American Democracy Project, will host a celebration called “First Amendment First,” on Thursday, April 21. The celebration comes after a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey revealed many high school students are ignorant about the rights guaranteed them in the First Amendment.

The event will feature professional journalists, philosophers and educators discussing First Amendment freedoms. The list includes recently retired New York Times columnist William Safire; former NBC chairman Julian Goodman; First Amendment Center executive director Gene Policinski; former Courier-Journal publisher Barry Bingham Jr.; his daughter, photojournalist Molly Bingham; and David Yalof and Kenneth Dautrich of the University of Connecticut, who conducted a survey of high school students’opinions of First Amendment rights for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Society of Professional Journalists and its Western campus chapter are also working on the First Amendment celebration. SPJ participants will include Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs Jim Highland, adviser to the campus chapter; and three past SPJ presidents, Gordon “Mac” McKerral, Robert Leger and Al Cross, will be present on the Town Hall Meeting panel. Cross, former political writer for The Courier-Journal, is interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Leger is editorial page editor of the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.

Bobbie Ann Mason to lecture, Al Smith to be honored at University of Kentucky

Bobbie Ann Mason, writer in residence at the University of Kentucky, will deliver the 24th annual Edward F. Prichard Jr. Lecture at the UK Library Associates annual meeting Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Lexington, The Campbell House. The associates will present Al Smith, notied civic leader and host of KET’s "Comment on Kentucky," with the UK Libraries Medallion for Intellectual Achievement. The award was created in 1990 to recognize high intellectual achievement in Kentucky or by Kentuckians, and to encourage education and the free and creative use of the mind in the citizens of Kentucky.  

Raised on her family’s dairy farm near Mayfield, Mason has a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. Her first short stories were published in The New Yorker magazine , and some appeared in her first book of fiction,  Shiloh and Other Stories, published in 1982.  She has published three other books of short stories and four novels, including her famed work In Country.  She will read from Clear Springs, her memoir and family history that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The meeting will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30, with the lecture and awarding of the medallion at 8 p.m.  The meeting is open to the public.  Tickets are $50 and may be purchased by calling Esther Edwards at 859-257-0500, extension 2159.

SPJ conference in Morgantown, W.Va., on shield laws, records, rural journalism

The Society of Professional Journalists will host a conference titled“Protecting Sources, Preserving Our Rights,” at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., on Saturday, April 23. The conference will focus on shield laws for reporters to protect confidential sources and the erosion of public records.

At 10 a.m., there will be a panel titled, “Protecting Sources, Preserving our Rights,” with Eric Eyre, from The Charleston Gazette, and James V. Grimaldi, part of The Washington Post’s investigative team and a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Also at 10 a.m., Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and Chris Staelman, publisher of The Parsons Advocate, will host a panel titled “Rural Journalism: Small Ain’t Necessarily Bad.”

At 1:15, Kate Long, a writing coach with The Charleston Gazette and a frequent presenter through the Poynter Institue, will host “Telling the Story Behind Health Care,” At 2:45 she will host another lecture panel titled, “Better Storytelling.” To register, fill out a registration form.

'Understanding the Social Security debate' seminars set for journalists

Several no-cost, half-day seminars on Social Security will begin April 25 at the University of Oklahoma and continue May 5, at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Others will be held May 13 at the University of South Florida in Tampa; May 20at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, June 10 at the University of Texas in Austin and one other location to be announced soon.

The seminars are being presented by the National Press Foundation and The National Academy of Social Insurance. They are being underwritten by a grant from the Ford Foundation "Designed to inform in a balanced and interesting way, but not to advocate any specific viewpoint, the seminar will feature speakers recognized as national experts but with different perspectives," promotional materials say.

Scheduled speakers in Huntington include William J. Arnone of Ernst & Young; David John of The Heritage Foundation; Laurel Beedon of the AARP Public Policy Institute and Robert Rosenblatt, senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance. They will look at the fundamentals of Social Security, examine how government programs fit into retirement, and include a debate on the merits of private accounts.

Reservations are required. To reserve a seat contact the National Press Foundation. E-mail is Call Kashmir Hill at 202-663-7282. Fax is 202-530-2855. Mail to National Press Foundation, “Understanding the Social Security Debate,” 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC 20036. Provide name, affiliation, address, telephone, email and fax.

Journalists invited to apply for national conference on rural issues

Rural journalists and others who cover rural America are invited to apply for fellowships to attend Rural America, Community Issues, a national conference on rural issues at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, June 12-17.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is programming this conference, which will feature speakers from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is May 4.

Session topics and speakers include the politics of rural America, the rural economy, the technology divide, rural health care, education in rural areas, strategies for managing rural growth, the financial realities of rural journalism and a field trip to Washington. For details and application information, click here.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Protagonists of battle over 'The Real Beverly Hillbillies' find common ground

The man who proposed a reality show based on “The Beverly Hillbillies” explained himself yesterday at the opening session of a symposium on “The Media and Appalachia” at East Tennessee State University. Then he listened to the man who mounted a successful campaign to keep CBS from producing the show.

“I’m as unapologetic a hillbilly as you’ll ever meet,” Dub Cornett, a native of Appalachia, Va., said in introducing himself to the audience. He said he looked for a likeable family that could mirror the integrity and judgment displayed by the patriarch of the original show. “Jed Clampett had integrity,” he said. “The banker was the idiot.”

Cornett said Appalachian stereotypes would continue to prevail in the media until those in the region are able to tell their own story. “The people here have never had a chance to speak for themselves,” he said. “The media have always defined us.” He said documentaries don’t have the impact of entertainment, and journalism has been taken over by show-business values anyway. “If we don’t set the agenda, Paris Hilton will,” he said, alluding to the show “The Simple Life,” in which Hilton and Nicole Ritchie engage with rural folk. “We can either get positive about it or we can keep hiding.”

Documentary filmmaker Dee Davis, president of the Whitesburg, Ky.-based Center for Rural Strategies, said he accepted almost of Cornett’s arguments, but did not believe the show would have turned out the way Cornett hoped, because CBS had set the frame for it and “would continually be playing off the stereotypes.” Davis reminded the audience that the only “Beverly Hillbillies” character who could read was 26-year-old Jethro Bodine, who has a sixth-grade education and some weird ideas about how the world worked. And he noted that one CBS executive thought it would be funny to see the family interviewing potential maids.

Earlier, anticipating Davis’s remarks, Cornett argued that it is easy to say that the show could not have reflected well on Appalachia, but “That’s self-loathing, to me.” Davis said Cornett was “a wonderful gentleman to be in a protracted fight with,” and added that Cornett told him they wanted the same thing, “but he was doing it like Al Sharpton and I was doing it like Martin Luther King.”

The symposium continues today; for a more complete report, including a parody of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" and a presentation about Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, click here. Here is the program.

Bush to pay Earth Day visit to polluted Great Smoky Moutains National Park

President Bush plans to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park next Friday, one of the nation's worst areas for air pollution, to mark the annual Earth Day. The office of U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., a Knoxville Republican, announced Bush's visit, and Duncan plans to join Bush at the most-visited national park, writes Richard Powelson of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

The White House had no comment yet on Bush's schedule for Earth Day. Bush could use the backdrop of the Smokies to make another pitch for his administration's proposed regulation to reduce unhealthy levels of air pollution in many areas of the country. Bush's latest proposal is called the Clean Air Interstate Rule, writes Powelson. The Republican-controlled Senate Environment and Public Works Committee deadlocked and failed to pass Bush's "Clear Skies" legislation to address air pollution concerns. One Republican and one independent joined Democrats to stall the bill and seek another approach. Environmental groups have alleged that the current Clean Air Act's laws are stronger than Bush's proposals for change.

Don Barger, a spokesman for the National Parks Conservation Association, told Powelson, "The air quality situation at the Smokies points to the inadequacies of the administration's policy on clean air." Barger agreed with a recent statement by National Park Service Director Fran Mainella that the air in the Smokies is improving. Barger told the newspaper, "But cleaner air does not mean clear air." He also warned that federal requirements need to do more and do it faster for the long-term health of the Smokies park.

Kentucky's fastest growth near cities, interstates; rural areas continue to struggle

U.S. Census Bureau population estimates released yesterday show Kentucky's suburban counties grew rapidly over the past four years, while Eastern and Western Kentucky rural counties faltered, reports Roger Alford of The Associated Press. For quick facts on your state and counties, click here.

Ron Crouch, head of the Kentucky State Data Center at the University of Louisville, told Alford, "The trends are continuing. We're becoming a more urbanized society, and areas along interstates are the ones that are benefiting. Areas off the interstates are the ones that are struggling." Crouch told the AP population declines in rural counties also are largely the result of economic factors, especially in the heavily agricultural sections of Western Kentucky, where Fulton (4.5 percent) and Crittenden (4.3 percent) suffered the biggest losses. Among agricultural counties, Christian County had the largest numerical loss, 1,625 people.

Crouch told Alford, "As farms get bigger and get more automated, you need fewer people to work on the farms. That's resulted in people moving to more suburban counties." Eastern Kentucky counties losing the largest percentage of population over the four-year period include Harlan, 3.3 percent; Leslie, 2.8 percent; Carter, Letcher and Lewis, 2.2 percent; and Pike, 2.1 percent.

W. Va. congressman reintroduces mine cleanup bill; health care provision included

U. S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall has reintroduced his version of a bill to extend and reform the nation’s program to clean up abandoned coal mines. The new version also includes a proposal to help some miners who have lost their health care benefits. "The West Virginia Democrat again proposed the 15-year extension with Rep. Barbara Cubin, a Wyoming Republican who is chairwoman of a key House subcommittee that must approve the legislation," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

Their bill is the first legislation this session of Congress to address long-term plans for the Abandoned Mine Land, or AML, program.The Bush administration has said it supports continuing the program, but declined this year to reintroduce its own extension plan. The bill would reduce coal industry taxes that fund the program by 20 percent, but extend them through 2020. Rahall and Cubin propose to expand use of AML money to cure problems in health-care plans that cover retired United Mine Workers members.

The bill would funnel interest on the $1.5 billion AML trust fund to the UMW’s Combined Benefit Fund, and also two other union health-care plans currently paid for by the nation’s largest coal producers. Estimates of the annual cost of those transfers were not immediately available. Rahall said that the UMW funds need the money to combat financial woes caused by a rash of coal and steel industry bankruptcies, he writes.

Ruling sought in mine inquiry; company allegedly interfered in firing probe

The U.S. Department of Labor has asked a federal court to stop a Harlan County, Kentucky, coal company from allegedly interfering with an investigation of the firing of a miner and allegedly threatening employees who agreed to talk.

The filing in U.S. District Court in London asked for a preliminary injunction against two defendants, B&D Mining of Harlan County and Michael K. Bishop, a B&D shift superintendent, writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Also named as a plaintiff was U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. A hearing on the requested injunction is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell at the federal courthouse in London.

The legal action stems from a complaint that miner Ray Brummett filed with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is part of the U.S. Labor Department. Brummett alleged he had been fired illegally for "making safety complaints about unsafe equipment and for refusing to operate unsafe equipment." Brummett had worked at B&D's No. 3 mine at Mary Alice, in Harlan County.

W. Va. Environmental Protection Department unsure about water-rules plan

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has no plan as yet for how the state Department of Environmental Protection will take over the duties of writing West Virginia’s water quality rules, following a reversal on who is to have the authority and how they are to make those rules.

"For at least three years, lawmakers have debated transferring the water quality rule-making job to DEP from the state Environmental Quality Board. This year, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer reversed the agency’s previous opposition and supported the change," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

DEP chief communications officer Jessica Greathouse said agency officials have not sat down to figure out how to do the job. She told Ward, “We don’t have a plan.” Timmermeyer has not returned calls and has declined to be interviewed about the subject. Greathouse told the newspaper, “We’re not really prepared to talk about water quality rule making until we have a chance to sit down and look at the legislation.”

DEP officials also refused to talk about how to handle the rule-making duties until it was clear that lawmakers were going to make the switch from the board. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, DEP officials also said they had no records about the legislation, he writes. For another story, also by Ken Ward Jr. in The Charleston Gazette, on the W.Va. DEP merging two top positions, click here.

Tennessee state parks chief promoted to head of environment and conservation

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has promoted state parks chief Jim Fyke to commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, an agency Bredesen called vital to the state's future prosperity. Bredesen also named Paul Sloan, an environmental advocate, to be deputy commissioner in charge of the Bureau of Environment, writes Scott Barker of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Fyke succeeds Betsy Child, who is leaving to run a geothermal heating and air-conditioning company in Livingston. Sloan replaces Karen Stachowski, who will remain in the bureau as an assistant commissioner. Environmental groups praised the appointments, saying Bredesen listened to their requests to hire someone with environmental experience, writes Barker. Fyke has run the Bureau of Parks since April 2003. Previously, he had served a quarter century as director of the Metro Nashville Board of Parks and Recreation. He serves on the Tennessee Valley Authority Regional Resource Stewardship and formerly served as chairman of both state and national recreation and parks associations, he writes.

Iowa restoring prairie chickens population; public and bird watchers enthused

'Tis the season for love. Bird love, to be precise. Tomorrow, as part of Prairie Chicken Day at the Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation Area, near Kellerton, Iowa, residents and visitors will be able to watch as the birds spread out the orange sacks on their necks and fan their tail feathers, all to attract a mate.

The arrival of mating season for the prairie chickens brings a smile to the face of wildlife biologist Mel Moe, who, with help from other Iowa Department of Natural Resources employees, has been working to help restore the chickens to Iowa, writes Juli Probasco-Sowers of The Des Moines Register. "The prairie chicken is important to Iowa because it is part of our heritage, and it is a real interesting bird to watch," said Moe. He and other Natural Resources employees have been releasing birds in the Ringgold County area until the population started taking hold in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "When there is excellent habitat, they do OK," said Moe. "But they are not spreading . . . like we thought."

Viewing of the birds begins at 6 a.m. at a platform west of Kellerton. There will be spotting scopes available, but Micah Lee, a wildlife technician with the Mount Ayr Wildlife Unit, said visitors should try to bring their own scopes or binoculars. "We'll have . . . people there to talk about the history and tell them more about prairie chickens," Lee said.

Iowa completely banned hunting of the chickens in 1915. Agricultural growth and the plowing of the grasslands caused the prairie chickens to disappear from the state until 1987, after efforts from wildlife enthusiasts like Moe. "The future of prairie chickens in Iowa depends on how much work is put into the habitat," Moe said. "I think we can keep them here for our grandchildren to see."

SPJ conference in Morgantown, W.Va., on shield laws, records, rural journalism

The Society of Professional Journalists will host a conference titled“Protecting Sources, Preserving Our Rights,” at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., on April 23. The conference will focus on shield laws for reporters to protect confidential sources and the erosion of public records.

At 10 a.m., there will be a panel titled, “Protecting Sources, Preserving our Rights,” with Eric Eyre, from The Charleston Gazette, and James V. Grimaldi, part of The Washington Post’s investigative team and a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Also at 10 a.m., Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and Chris Staelman, publisher of The Parsons Advocate, will host a panel titled “Rural Journalism: Small Ain’t Necessarily Bad.”

At 1:15, Kate Long, a writing coach with The Charleston Gazette and a frequent presenter through the Poynter Institue, will host “Telling the Story Behind Health Care,” At 2:45 she will host another lecture panel titled, “Better Storytelling.” To register, fill out a registration form.

SPJ announces finalists in Green Eyeshade Awards for Southern journalists

The Society of Professional Journalists has announced the finalists for the 2004 Green Eyeshade Awards, which recognize the best journalism in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Among smaller and rural-oriented media outlets, the finalists include editorial writer Mac Thrower of The Paducah (Ky.) Sun, investigative reporters Jon Elliston and Barbara Solow of The Independent Weekly in Durham, N.C., and humor columnists Tim Nicholas of The Clinton (Miss.) News and Scott Wright of The Post in Centre, Ala.

The finalists will be honored May 14 at a banquet in Atlanta, home of the SPJ chapter that began the awards 55 years ago. During the banquet, first, second and third place winners will be announced, along with the winner of the overall Green Eyeshade Award. The winner receives a $1,000 cash. For more information, contact Heather Porter at or 317-927-8000, ext. 204.

'Understanding the Social Security debate' seminars set for journalists

Several no-cost, half-day seminars on Social Security will begin April 25 at the University of Oklahoma and continue May 5, at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Others will be held May 13 at the University of South Florida in Tampa; May 20at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, June 10 at the University of Texas in Austin and one other location to be announced soon.

The seminars are being presented by the National Press Foundation and The National Academy of Social Insurance. They are being underwritten by a grant from the Ford Foundation "Designed to inform in a balanced and interesting way, but not to advocate any specific viewpoint, the seminar will feature speakers recognized as national experts but with different perspectives," promotional materials say.

Scheduled speakers in Huntington include William J. Arnone of Ernst & Young; David John of The Heritage Foundation; Laurel Beedon of the AARP Public Policy Institute and Robert Rosenblatt, senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance. They will look at the fundamentals of Social Security, examine how government programs fit into retirement, and include a debate on the merits of private accounts.

Reservations are required. To reserve a seat contact the National Press Foundation. E-mail is Call Kashmir Hill at 202-663-7282. Fax is 202-530-2855. Mail to National Press Foundation, “Understanding the Social Security Debate,” 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC 20036. Provide name, affiliation, address, telephone, email and fax.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bush won't cut payments to farmers, but other agricultural cuts are expected

After two months of fierce resistance from farmers and Congress, the Bush administration has dropped an effort to cut government payments to farmers.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said cuts would be felt most keenly by cotton and rice farmers in the South and California, but growers across the country oppose any cuts, writes Libby Quaid of The Associated Press. She told AP, "Perhaps the administration has finally begun to hear the roar from the heartland."

Bush asked Congress in February to slash billions of dollars from payments to large farm operations, dropping the maximum farmers are allowed to collect from $360,000 to $250,000 and closing loopholes allowing some growers to obtain millions of dollars. He also proposed to cut all farm payments by 5 percent. But, U. S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has told key senators that while spending must be reduced to hold down the federal deficit, he is willing to look elsewhere in agriculture programs for cuts. Johanns acknowledged to a Senate Appropriations Committee panel on farm spending that such proposals as the one to cut the payment limit are "quite sensitive."

Johanns told the committee "We recognize Congress may have other proposals to achieve these savings, and we are willing to work with the Congress on other cost-saving measures." He told reporters afterward that reducing the deficit is more important than anything else. Bush wants to cut the deficit, projected to rise to $427 billion this year, in half by 2009.

Coal official notes power of author's argument against mountaintop removal

Kentucky author Erik Reece has produced new writing about strip mining in Eastern Kentucky that could set off a searching and acrimonious debate about the region, reports Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The power of his argument is recognized even by one of the top officials in the coal industry.

Reece is a lecturer in English and writing at the University of Kentucky. His 19-page article, Death of a Mountain: Radical Strip Mining and the Leveling of Appalachia, appears in the April issue of Harper's Magazine. It's an excerpt from his book that will be published in the summer of 2006. (Your Rural Blog reviewed Reece’s Harper's article March 25. For that report click here.)

Wendell Berry, the esteemed Kentucky author and longtime environmental advocate, called Reece's book the "most important document so far on strip-mining," writes Jester. Berry told him that Reece's book, while different from noted Kentucky author Harry Caudill’s acclaimed Night Comes to the Cumberlands, nevertheless achieves Caudill's aim, to "think soberly and seriously about the fate of Eastern Kentucky."

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association and a sharp critic of most of Reece's article, agreed the author could have the same effect as Caudill, by forcing renewed debate about Eastern Kentucky's future, Jester writes. Reece writes about what he and other environmentalists call the most destructive form of coal mining in Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia -- mountaintop removal.

Cracks in teeth, dentists note, from poverty and rural-prevalent 'meth mouth'

A dentist noting a patient’s comment "Yeah, crystal meth. It broke my tooth," has brought renewed attention to a report by the nation’s top doctor five years ago on the lack of proper dental care among the nation's rural poor and increasing signs of methamphetamine in rural America, reports The New York Times.

In 2000, Dr. David Satcher, then the surgeon general, issued the first report on oral health in America. Calling dental and oral diseases a "silent epidemic," the report details significant oral health problems in poor people of all ages, members of racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and those living in rural America, writes the Times' Ben Daitz. The report emphasized the major factors exacerbating the condition of Americans' teeth and gums, including lack of community fluoridation programs, lack of transportation to see dental providers, and, low rates of dental insurance coverage, all problems especially prevalent among rural poor. According to most authorities on oral health, dental care for Americans has not improved since the report, and there are many indications it is getting worse, writes Daitz.

New Mexico is among the poorest and most rural states in the country. While 600 dentists practice there, more than 400 of them are in Albuquerque. The rest are mostly in the next largest cities, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. New Mexico does not have a dental school, but in June 2004, the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center began a dental residency, in part to help address the state's poor dental care.

Dr. Charles Tatlock, a dentist on the faculty, sees patients at Albuquerque's Health Care for the Homeless Clinic and reports more and more patients with "meth mouth." Dr. Tatlock and Dr. Steve Wagner are researching the effects of methamphetamine use on the teeth and gums. "Meth use is an emerging epidemic," Dr. Wagner said. "It explodes people's teeth. It's like ice crystals forming in the crevices of rock, fracturing the teeth."

Virginia is denied waiver from 'No Child' Law; 'no loopholes,' official says

The U.S. Department of Education has rejected Virginia's first request for a waiver from part of the No Child Left Behind law, which has strict testing requirements to determine whether students from all economic, ethnic and other groups are performing up to par.

The notice came after U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings convened a meeting of the nation's top state school officials at Mount Vernon, Va., to promise there would be new flexibility for states that "show results and follow the principles" of the federal law, writes Rosalind S. Helderman of The Washington Post.

However, in her speech last week, Spellings added that states "looking for loopholes to simply take the federal funds, ignore the intent of the law and have minimal results to show for their millions of federal dollars" would be disappointed. Virginia educators, who have argued that the state's standardized testing program fulfills the law's intent, have asked to be exempt from several provisions of the law and have been waiting since January for formal responses, Helderman writes. Virginia's schools superintendent, Jo Lynne DeMary, said she was deluged with questions from state lawmakers and local educators about Spellings's speech and what it portended for Virginia's requests. Then she got the rejection letter.

She told Helderman, "What was the purpose of (the meeting) last week and was it as open as it seemed, in terms of looking at what would make [the law] work in every state." Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the denial "should not be taken as a statement as to whether the state is a model in implementing the law," and that Virginia's other requests remain under consideration, she writes.

Sky high fuel prices life or death for Roanoke's helicopter emergency service

Tanking-up for a Roanoke, Virginia emergency medical helicopter service, Carilion Life Guard 10, is underscoring an increasing problem with rising fuel prices, but in the case of emergency responders, especially in the nation's rural areas, it’s a matter of life and death.

“The crew of Carilion Life Guard 10 counts seconds, not gallons,” reports Angela Hatcher of Roanoke’s WSLS, NewsChannel 10. "You probably have to fill up the tank on your average size car about once a week and it likely costs you around $25 or $30. The emergency medical helicopter service has to fill up every 3 hours and it costs more than $686," notes Hatcher. Life Guard 10 operations manager Allan Belcher, told her to put the crisis in perspective: "Three hours of fuel would probably take us from the New River Valley Medical Center, to UVA (University of Virginia, at Charlottesville) and then back to Roanoke."

A 10,000-gallon fuel farm in Roanoke supplies Life Guard 10. It's filled about once a month, Hatcher writes. Jet fuel was at $1.35 a gallon around the beginning of the year, so it cost $13,500 to fill the tank. A month later at $1.53 a gallon, it cost $15,300. Last week at $2.08 a gallon, it cost $20,800 to fill the tank. The chopper burns more than a gallon per minute. If they fuel up outside of Roanoke, the gas is even more expensive. It's $4 a gallon, she writes. Carillon's second chopper Life Guard 11 goes up in May, and so will the cost, Hatcher writes. It takes about $300 to fill its tank for a two-hour flight. But, Belcher tells her, it's about saving lives, not money.

W. Va. optimistic about landing AEP plant, despite rejecting tax break request

Gov. Joe Manchin says he believes West Virginia is still in the running for a coal-gasification power plant that American Electric Power plans to build, even though he rejected the utility's request for tax breaks.

American Electric Power Co. has identified three potential sites in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio for its first Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant, reports The Associated Press. The West Virginia site is in Mason County near AEP's Mountaineer Plant. The other sites are in the Great Bend area of Meigs County, Ohio, and the Carrs area near Vanceburg in Lewis County, Kentucky. Coal-gasification plants convert coal into gas that is burned in turbines to power electric generators with reduced nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions.

Small Arkansas town loses Greyhound bus service but refuses to be shut out

Greyhound Bus Lines had to cut bus services to rural communities recently, including over 140 small towns in such states as Kansas, Arkansas and Texas, reports Greg Allen of National Public Radio. But one small town decided that without the bus service, they desperately needed another plan.

In Newport, Ark., population 8,000, a town with no trains or airports or taxi cabs, the news came as a shock. Mayor David Stewart told Allen, “What we found was that there was a possibility that we were going to lose a very important service to our citizens. When we found that, we decided that we needed to do something if it was even a break-even proposition.”

Stewart and Malcolm Vance, an employee of the bus terminal, got together to solve the problem. They talked to Jefferson Lines, a Minnesota carrier that offered some service in Arkansas. It offered to help if the town could arrange a van service to nearby towns, like Little Rock. The state Transportation Department had vans to lease, and the town council approved to pay for the agreement. “Friday morning, we got to work again and hired a full-time bus driver,” Stewart said. “I hired a part-time bus driver just a few minutes ago to work weekends. And we'll have at least one more, and we're in the bus business.”

Kentucky burley acreage will drop after tobacco buyout; yield is the key

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on March 31 that Kentucky burley acreage would drop 31 percent in 2005, but a University of Kentucky tobacco economist says that even though total production will drop, several farmers have changed their minds and will keep growing tobacco.

Will Snell with UK’s Department of Agriculture said farmers that originally said they wouldn’t grow tobacco on March 1, when the USDA made its estimate, have decided to grow tobacco this year, writes Laura Skillman, also with the Department of Agriculture. Several farmers opted out of tobacco growing after the tobacco quota buyout in 2004, eliminating price supports and production controls. Some farmers retired, others don’t anticipate yields adequate to be competitive, and others are quitting because the tobacco manufacturers’ incentives aren’t attractive enough, Snell explained.

“I definitely think eastern Kentucky will lose production and the bluegrass area is also likely to decline. On a percentage basis we will likely see a greater share of Kentucky’s burley tobacco production shifting to the central and Midwestern part of the state,” he said.

To be successful, tobacco growers will need access to barns and land, average 2,300 pounds of tobacco per acre, and produce quality leaf, say tobacco production specialists. Burley acreage makes up the bulk of tobacco production in Kentucky and is expected to drop, but dark acreage is expected to be higher because of increasing demand and price incentives from companies, Skillman writes.

Louisville smoking-ban proposal advances; restricted in most public places

Louisville, Ky.’s Metro Council may be nearing a compromise that would ban smoking in indoor workplaces, except for bars, two years after the debate began in a city that for decades was the headquarters for most of the major tobacco companies.

Republican councilperson Ellen Call, who is leading the council committee studying a smoking ban, said she has asked the Jefferson County Attorney's Office to draft a smoking-ban ordinance, writes Joe Gerth for The Courier-Journal. Call said the ordinance would prohibit smoking in virtually all indoor public places except bars, which likely would be defined as establishments that derive more than 25 percent of their gross receipts from alcohol sales, writes Gerth for the Louisville newspaper.

Churchill Downs will be exempted, even though the newly renovated racetrack only allows indoor smoking inside one fully enclosed bar. The proposal could change as council members reach a consensus. For example, Call told Gerth, "if someone really wants bingo halls exempted, we could exempt them." Call expects to introduce the ordinance in late April or early May after council members review the proposal. Council members who support a ban believe they have enough votes to pass an ordinance by midsummer.

Anti-smoking wristbands debut; support program aids black youths

The popularity of yellow plastic bracelets linked to cyclist champion Lance Armstrong's charity -- The Lance Armstrong Foundation -- has prompted several health groups to join forces in a campaign to keep young African-American males from smoking, reports Gregory A. Hall of The Courier-Journal.

The Band4Life campaign seeks to spread black wristbands, with the program's name and Louisville's 502 area code on them, to black youths. The bracelets would be a sign of a young person's commitment not to smoke, writes Hall for the Louisville paper. Christy Brooks, the Louisville Metro Health Department's tobacco coordinator, told Hall, "You need to acknowledge that smoking kills and (that youths need to) make smart choices so that you can have a longer life." The program includes the Health Department, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association.

Tennessee National Guard member starts donation drive for Iraqi school children

A member of the Tennessee Army National Guard has started an effort to provide Iraqi children with needed school supplies for the upcoming fall, writes Claudia Johnson of the Pulaski Citizen Press.

Backpacks for Iraq began after Lt. Col. Bart Butler, civil affairs officer for the 194th Engineer Brigade, was stationed in Southern Iraq. He noticed that children desperately need basic school supplies. They also need backpacks, because some children walk one to three miles a day to school and must carry everything they need. He is starting the donation drive to get supplies and hopes to have enough by August to equip several hundred school children. For more information about Butler’s unit, visit their website. The community outreach page has a list of needed school supplies and where donations should be sent.

Longtime Western Kentucky journalist David L. Riley dies of cancer at 52

David L. Riley, who spent 24 years as a reporter, photographer and editor for the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, died yesterday of cancer. He was 52, reports The Associated Press. Riley died at his home, an 1820s log house he restored with his family. For the New Era report by Jennifer P. Brown, click here.

Taylor Hayes, the New Era's publisher, said, "Trying to keep up with him was impossible. He did so much." Riley was the editor of the newspaper's editorial page. His career at the New Era began as a reporter and photographer in 1981, and he also served as editor, graphics editor and weekend editor, AP reports. He graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 1971 and attended Hopkinsville Community College. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Missouri.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Study: 'No Child' law, passed to boost achievement, may have reverse effect

A new study has found that students' academic growth in a given school year has apparently slowed since the passage of No Child Left Behind, the education law that was intended to achieve just the opposite.

"The researches said in both reading and math, the study determined, test scores have gone up somewhat, as each class of students outdoes its predecessors. But within grades, students have made less academic progress during the school year than they did before No Child Left Behind went into effect in 2002," writes Greg Winter of The New York Times.

That finding casts doubt on whether schools can meet the law's mandate that all students be academically proficient by 2014. In fact, the study said, to realize the goal of universal proficiency, students will have to make as much as three times the progress they are currently making. The study was conducted by the Northwest Evaluation Association, which develops tests for about 1,500 school districts in 43 states. The group drew upon its test data for more than 320,000 students in 23 states, a sample that it calls "broad but not nationally representative," in part because the biggest cities, not being Northwest clients, were not included, writes Winter.

One of the more ominous findings in the study is that the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students could soon widen. Closing the gap is one of the driving principles of the law, and so far states say they have made strides toward shrinking it. But minority students with the same test scores as their white counterparts at the beginning of the school year ended up falling behind by the end of it, the study found. Both groups made academic progress, but the minority students did not make as much, it concluded, an outcome suggesting that the gaps in achievement will worsen.

Gage Kingsbury, Northwest's director of research, told Winter, "Right now it's kind of a hidden effect that we would expect to see expressed in the next couple of years. At that point, I think people will be disappointed with what N.C.L.B. has done." The findings diverge from those of other recent studies, including a survey last month by the Center on Education Policy, a research group. It found that a significant majority of state education officials reported widespread academic progress and a narrowing of the achievement gap, he writes.

Wal-Mart, facing enviro, labor opposition, to give $35 million for conservation

Barely a week after environmentalists forged a broad alliance with organized labor and community groups to attack Wal-Mart and its business practices, Wal-Mart has announced plans to donate $35 million over the next decade to an ambitious new conservation effort by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

"The gift will be used to buy land or secure conservation easements, legal agreements limiting development on a piece of property to protect its ecological value. The land will consolidate existing nature preserves to protect larger areas from development and encroachment," reports The New York Times.

Some $6 million of the money will be spent on an agreement to protect 312,000 acres of contiguous land between 600,000 acres of protected land in New Brunswick, Canada, and 200,000 acres protected by the State of Maine. The purchase will create an area of roughly 1 million acres of protected land, with more than 50 lakes, 1,500 miles of rivers and streams and 54,000 acres of wetlands, home to 10 percent of Maine's famous loon population, Stephanie Strom writes for the Times. John Berry, executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, said of the Maine agreement, "I cannot overstate the importance of this. (It) is like a Noah's Ark for Eastern wildlife species, everything from big stuff like moose to frogs and salamanders."

The program created by Wal-Mart and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, called Acres for America, intends to acquire 138,000 acres eventually using Wal-Mart's gift, as much land as the company projects that its American stores, parking lots and supply centers will occupy in 10 years, she writes.

Guards assist drug rings at prisons? Tennessee correction chief says 'conspiracy'

With the proliferation of maximum security prisons in Appalachia, a story out of Tennessee could echo alarmingly through those rural areas.

The Tennessee Department of Correction commissioner said Tuesday during a legislative hearing a "conspiracy" among prison guards to smuggle drugs and cell phones to inmates is leading to sophisticated jailhouse drug rings. Officials said prison guards earning little more than $20,000 a year are being coerced to traffic drugs and, authorities suspect, outside gang members have been able to infiltrate the system as guards, writes Matt Gouras of The Associated Press.

One lawmaker said the drug rings stretch far beyond prison walls. Agency Commissioner Quenton White said drug smuggling into prisons is increasing, something that would be nearly impossible without the help of prison employees. White told the committee that recently, 60 to 70 cell phones were confiscated from inmates in a three-month period at one state prison in West Tennessee. The cell phones are used to coordinate much of the smuggling, writes Gouras.

Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson believes part of the problem could be caused by the low prison guard pay and resulting turnover in staff. Jackson said Gov. Phil Bredesen needs to look at the budget again and put some money into the problem."Understand, these people behind the prison walls are running drug rings on the outside of the prison walls using cell phones. They are part of the drug racketeering that takes place in the communities we live in." According to officials, the Tennessee Correction Department budget has decreased in the last 10 years, leaving it strapped for resources, he writes.

Drug Court key part of Tennessee plan to treat meth addicts; treatment lengthy

A highly acclaimed felony Drug Court in Nashville may find itself facing a different sort of addict: the methamphetamine user.

"Crack is still the drug of choice for 95 percent of the residents at the Davidson County Drug Court but, under a $1.7 million plan proposed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, meth users from around the state will be taken for treatment in Nashville," writes Sheila Burke of The Tennessean.

Methamphetamine poses a new challenge for the Drug Court, which is the only self-operated residential drug court in the U.S., and has been recognized by the Bush administration as a national model. Because the program has been so successful — about 75 percent of graduates are not convicted of another crime within five years — the governor's office is hoping it can play a pivotal role in helping to stop the growing impact of methamphetamine in Tennessee, writes Burke. Will Pinkston, an aide to Bredesen, told Burke, the hope is to save the money it costs to incarcerate addicts. Only nonviolent addicts will be allowed into the program.

Drug Court officials said treating methamphetamine addicts is a daunting challenge. Experts have cited methamphetamine as being more addictive than cocaine. John Averitt, a scientific consultant to the Governor's Task Force on Methamphetamine, told Burke the chemicals used to make methamphetamine, are highly toxic and alter the brain chemistry differently than other drugs. ''It's going to take probably six months for the methamphetamine addicts to kind of clear their mind to be able to think properly.'' Averitt said only then can work begin on the addiction problem, she writes.

Nuclear fuel in South Carolina for testing; protesters say shipment dangerous

A shipment of nuclear power plant fuel made from weapons-grade plutonium and headed for testing just south of Charlotte, N.C. has arrived in Charleston, S.C., despite protests from activists who said the shipment poses environmental and terrorist threats.

Duke Power spokeswoman Rose Cummings said the shipment of mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX fuel, a mixture of plutonium oxide and uranium oxide, will be tested at a nuclear facility about 20 miles south of Charlotte, writes Jacob Jordan of The Associated Press. For the Charlotte Observer version click here.

The U.S. Energy Department shipped the batch of plutonium to France for conversion into MOX because there isn’t a plant in the United States that can do it. Officials want to build a conversion facility at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. but construction has been delayed. Cummings told AP, “The U.S. Department of Energy has taken possession of the MOX fuel and they, that is the Department of Energy, will deliver that fuel to Catawba in time for our routine refueling of our Catawba reactor.” The testing at Catawba is part of the beginning stages of a U.S.-Russian agreement to convert 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium.

The shipment arrived in Charleston amid a small group of protesters, who tried unsuccessfully to follow a convoy thought to be carrying the fuel. Tom Clements of Greenpeace International was in Charleston when the heavily guarded shipments arrived. He thought the shipments were headed to Catawba and is concerned the nuclear plant has not met Nuclear Regulatory Commission security requirements. The NRC said last month several conditions still needed to be met.

Anti-nuclear activists have said the government would have to keep the material in a secure location until the NRC approvals are granted for depositing the MOX at Catawba. Clements told Jordan, “They never should have sent this stuff over from France without having their ducks in a row, and it’s quite clear that they’re scrambling to meet the conditions of storage,” But the National Nuclear Security Administration and Duke Power officials said everything has proceeded as planned without any delays.

Smoking ban sparks GOP rift in Georgia legislature; Gov. Perdue in quandary

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue must decide soon whether he'll snuff out or sign a smoking ban that has exposed a smoldering fault line within the state's new Republican majority.

"The state Senate and House, in GOP hands for the first time in 130 years, approved the ban, which would prohibit smokers from lighting up in many Georgia eateries and other public places. But the Republican governor has problems with the legislation, which some Republicans view as government big-footing into the affairs of private business," writes Jim Tharpe of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Perdue, a nonsmoker, told the newspaper, "I'm still smoking it over, but haven't made a decision yet. There's some really divergent philosophies about this bill that I'm trying to consider." A possible veto has provided a rare hint of political drama in the post-session bill-signing season, which ends May 10. Perdue must sign or veto more than 400 bills by that date or they automatically become law, Tharpe writes.

The smoking ban legislation was sponsored by a fellow Republican, Sen. Don Thomas, a family doctor who has pushed a smoking ban for four years. Thomas wants to spare nonsmokers from the health risks of secondhand smoke. The bill passed by large majorities in both legislative chambers, but Republicans in the House split over the issue. Thomas told Tharpe if Perdue vetoes the bill, he will reintroduce it next session.

Lincoln, Neb., smoking ban sparks threats to withdraw its state funding

Nebraska lawmakers have voted down a proposal that would have withheld state cigarette tax dollars from the city of Lincoln because of its ban on workplace smoking.

"It was part of a debate on whether the Nebraska Legislature should toughen up state anti-smoking law even as cities begin to take action of their own on smoking in the workplace," writes Leslie Reed of the Omaha World Herald. In November, Lincoln banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Officials in Omaha and in Grand Island also have considered workplace smoking bans.

State Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha offered the amendment to forfeit Lincoln's share of cigarette tax dollars, money the city now is using to help finance a major flood-control and a downtown redevelopment project, writes Reed. Bourne told the newspaper he offered the amendment as a "carrot-and-stick" effort to promote a uniform statewide policy. He said Nebraska's "cobbled-up mess" of smoking laws does not treat businesses fairly. " I think consistency should be the goal here."

State Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, a supporter of stronger restrictions on smoking, said the Legislature is going to be left behind by the majority of the state. He told Reed, "I'm not Nostradamus, but I predict that some time in May, the City of Omaha and the City of Grand Island will pass stricter smoking bans than the state law provides. We're talking about the three largest stand-alone communities in the state of Nebraska."

Woman claims coal mining forced her out of her home, into tool shed

An Eastern Kentucky woman who says she had to live in a tool shed for nearly two years because mining activity drove her out of her mobile home goes to court next month in her lawsuit against a coal company.

Beatrice Turner, 65, said she had no choice but to move out because mining turned her lawn into a bog and filled her home with mold that made her sick, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.Turner, the widow of a United Baptist minister, told Alford, "Oh, mercy! Many nights I've cried all night long over this. I couldn't treat a dog or a cat the way I've been treated."

In a trial set to begin May 9, Turner will seek an unspecified amount of damages from the Koch Victory division of C. Reiss Coal Co. of Richlands, Va. Her attorney estimates the cost of repairing the mobile home and property at more than $66,000. Martin Osborne of Prestonsburg, attorney for the coal company, claims Turner didn't live on the property at the time the mining was done. Instead, he charges, she and her late husband bought the property after it was mined, and caused the damage, after excavating the land.

Osborne argues C. Reiss Coal owes Turner nothing, and has filed a counterclaim, asking that she be ordered to reimburse the company its expenses in repairing damage to the land caused by Turner. Osborne didn't return phone calls from AP. The Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement had ordered the coal company to make repairs on the property in early 2003 after a landslide occurred above Turner's home. Osborne said the company made the necessary repairs.

Governor to chair W. Va. public broadcasting, says will not affect news content

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin announced yesterday he would not interfere with public broadcasting’s programming or with general newsgathering after he becomes chairman of the state’s Educational Broadcasting Authority.

A newly passed state bill makes him the EBA chairman, giving him the authority to hire and fire its executive director, writes Scott Finn of The Charleston Gazette. Manchin said he wants to control the EBA in order to make it more efficient and accountable for voters, not because he wants to dictate its content. He said he has no plans to change the board’s personnel, but that it will come up with is own management plan. The bill will sunset in four years, so if state lawmakers don't changes it, the board will return to its current set-up.

West Virginia’s state-run public broadcasting authority is the only one out of the current 15 that give the governor so much power, said the president of the National Educational Telecommunications Association, Skip Hinton.

Casinos in Illinois are a jackpot, but industry in trouble with increased taxing

Legalizing casino gambling has created a new “cash crop” for the state of Illinois, but the industry is facing an economic downfall with increased taxes even while the state is considering expanding gambling.

“Ornate black and gold street lamps line the newly paved sidewalks of Elgin's downtown, and dozens of stately Victorian homes have been repainted in their traditional yellows, greens and blues,” writes Maura Kelly Lannan and Ryan Keith of The Associated Press.“The source of the once-struggling river town's rejuvenation is docked a few blocks away - the Grand Victoria casino has pumped $250 million in taxes into Elgin over the past 10 years.”

However, the graduated tax on the state’s nine casinos is now at 70 percent. In response, casinos have had to cut over 3,000 jobs, cut back on wages and benefits by $50 million, and reduce their services, Lannan and Keith write. Meanwhile, Illinois lawmakers are considering allowing more gambling, including a mega-casino in Chicago and two others in suburban areas.

Harrah’s Joliet Casino experienced a 37 percent drop in attendance and a 13 percent drop in revenue since 2002, when the taxes skyrocketed, said the general manager, Joe Domenico. "If the tax rate is not lowered, the state basically closes any opportunity for casino operators to invest one cent in Illinois," he told Lannan and Keith. "It makes no financial sense."

Expected 'shroom boom in Alaska, state shows rural areas how to market them

Alaska is bracing, in fact hoping, for a boom this year like many in the state’s history. But unlike the hunt for fur, gold or oil, this one boils down to a tiny fungus: the morel mushroom.

The mushrooms are popular in French cuisine and they thrive after forest fires, which Alaska set a record for last year after over 6.5 million acres burned, writes Dan Joling of The Associated Press. Alaska’s extension service is providing a workshop for rural communities to show how to pick, dry and market the mushrooms. When they are dried they can bring in hundreds of dollars per pound, Joling writes.

The Rural Calendar

April 14: 'The Media and Appalachia,' symposium at East Tennessee

How do journalists accurately cover Appalachia, and how is the region represented in the media? The Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University is holding a symposium Thursday and Friday to answer those questions and celebrate the center's 20th anniversary.

The symposium begins at 1 p.m. Thursday with "Hollywood and Hokum," a panel discussion on how the region is a source of entertainment. The panel includes Dub Cornett, who first proposed "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" reality TV show, and Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies of Whitesburg, Ky., who mounted a successful campaign against it. Following an afternoon tour of Bristol Motor Speedway, attendees will hear from author Rick Bragg, formerly of The New York Times.

Friday's events include a panel discussion with Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, and other ARC officials; and breakout panels. Subjects and speakers include the environment, with Alan Maimon, Eastern Kentucky Bureau reporter for The Courier-Journal. The symposium will conclude Friday afternoon with observations from two responders -- East Tennessee novelist Cameron Judd of Tusculum College and Al Cross, interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. For more details click here.

Events will be held at the ETSU Millennium Center, next to the Carnegie Hotel. The registration fee is $105. Students may register for $40. ETSU and other Tennessee educational institutions’ faculty and staff may be eligible for an employee audit fee waiver.

April 14: Panel about rural life and farming comes to University of Kansas

The University of Kansas history department, along with the Kansas Farmers Union, will host a discussion by a panel of Kansas farmers on April 14 on the university’s campus. The discussion, "Farmers, Food and Rural Communities in the 21st Century,” will focus on the health of family farms and rural communities in Kansas. A public lecture will follow the panel, titled, "Every Farm a Factory: the Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture," by Deborah Fitzgerald, president of the Agricultural History Society.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Farm thefts rise nationwide, with methamphetamine partly to blame

The theft of farm and construction machinery has risen to annual losses of $1 billion nationally. In Kentucky, police say thieves sneak onto farms to steal tanks of liquid fertilizer used to make methamphetamine, and if they can't find the fertilizer, they are stealing equipment to sell so they can have money to buy drugs.

"We see it as a growing problem and one that will likely get worse before it gets better," Patrick Duncan, manager of the farm, crop and commercial division of United Farm Family Mutual Insurance Co. in Indianapolis, told Jim Malone of The Courier-Journal.

Kentucky State Police say farm larceny reports in the state rose to 357 in 2003, the latest year available, from 41 in 1996 -- or 770 percent, Malone writes. He reports that farms have become more tempting as city sprawl draws closer. Farm equipment is increasingly costly and hard to trace. "A $60,000 backhoe can be hauled off at night, have its serial number changed, and be sold without a title at an out-of-state auction," Malone writes for the Louisville newspaper.

Bill Riley, a Kentucky State Police detective in a special-investigations unit that tracks vehicle and equipment theft, told the C-J that once sold, "This equipment is not on the highway and it is not out where someone will see it." William Lewis, a former state police captain and now sheriff of Lewis County, told Malone, thieves who specialize in farm theft "case a place out and they usually are pretty coy about it, where a druggie will just steal whatever he can and run."

In a C-J sidebar, Mark Pitsch reports that a multimillion dollar theft operation that targeted farm and construction equipment in Central Kentucky has been cracked. Two Morehead residents have been arrested in the eight-month investigation and more arrests are expected. About $1 million in property was recovered at three sites and police were looking for more stolen property. The recovered equipment involved thefts in Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Powell, Rowan and Scott counties. For the Lexington Herald-Leader version of the Central Kentucky thefts story, click here.

Report says most media ignored U.S. rural life, while some major outlets better

A two-year study of press coverage released yesterday charged that much of the press is apathetic toward America's heartland and clueless about the rural way of life, while some major media outlets significantly increased their rural coverage.

"To most TV reporters in the coastal network bureaus, middle America is a big red question mark," said Robert Lichter of the District-based Center for Media and Public Affairs, which examined 529 print and broadcast stories in 2002 and 2004, writes Jennifer Harper of The Washington Times.

Crops, fields and farming legislation barely registered on media radar. Only 3 percent of rural-themed stories even mentioned "farming," and only 1 percent had any connection to agriculture.Instead, charged Lichter, who is a regular commentator for the Fox News Channel, most rural coverage was fixated on urban sprawl and zoning issues, Harper writes.

The report criticized journalists as descriptive but not necessarily insightful: Although they generously bandied about such positive terms as "pastoral" and "picturesque," the press often ignored rural realities or issues important to family farms. The study said, "The media frequently hollowed out whatever substantive meaning might be attached to rural conditions or lifestyles. Rural life was often presented positively but defined negatively -- not in terms of what it is, but what it has ceased to be or what it may become."

Network news, the report claimed, has been the most apathetic. Rural coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC -- and related morning and evening news programs -- fell 23 percent in the past two years. Between them, the three networks only featured 48 rural-themed stories last year, down from 62 in 2002, she writes. Newspapers and magazines, however, were more farm-friendly. Rural coverage in the New York Times, USA Today, Time magazine and four other publications actually rose by 75 percent, from 275 stories in 2002 to 481 last year.

'The Media and Appalachia,' symposium at East Tennessee, starts Thursday

How do journalists accurately cover Appalachia, and how is the region represented in the media? The Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University is holding a symposium Thursday and Friday to answer those questions and celebrate the center's 20th anniversary.

The symposium begins at 1 p.m. Thursday with "Hollywood and Hokum," a panel discussion on how the region is a source of entertainment. The panel includes Dub Cornett, who first proposed "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" reality TV show, and Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies of Whitesburg, Ky., who mounted a successful campaign against it. Following an afternoon tour of Bristol Motor Speedway, attendees will hear from author Rick Bragg, formerly of The New York Times.

Friday's events include a panel discussion with Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, and other ARC officials; and breakout panels. Subjects and speakers include the environment, with Alan Maimon, Eastern Kentucky Bureau reporter for The Courier-Journal. The symposium will conclude Friday afternoon with observations from three responders -- leading Appalachian historian John Alexander Williams of Appalachian State University, East Tennessee novelist Cameron Judd of Tusculum College and Al Cross, interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. For more details click here.

Events will be held at the ETSU Millennium Center, next to the Carnegie Hotel. The registration fee is $105. Students may register for $40. ETSU and other Tennessee educational institutions’ faculty and staff may be eligible for an employee audit fee waiver.

Congressmen form caucus to support economic development in Appalachia

To increase financial support for issues effecting the Appalachian region, 24 congressmen have joined to form the Congressional Appalachian Caucus. Reps. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., and Bob Ney, R-Ohio, created the caucus to promote legislation that supports economic development programs for the Appalachian region.

An important goal of the caucus is to help the Appalachian Regional Commission, and money -- $65.5 million -- is the main way the caucus can do that, as Congress prepares to vote on President Bush’s budget recommendation for the ARC, writes Sarah Bruyn Jones of Medill News Service. An ARC spokesman, Louis Segesvary, told Bruyn Jones, "We see this caucus as further support from Congress for the work in the region that needs to continue even in this time of budgetary constraints." The ARC needs money to support the initiatives in its five-year plan, which includes building an Appalachian development highway system.

Maine is way behind in delivering high-speed Internet access to rural areas

Rural Maine’s Internet service in 2005 is reminiscent of Internet service in 1995. Then, a small percentage of homes had access to the Internet through dial-up services, but now, a small percentage has access to the growing technology of broadband Internet service, writes Tux Turkel of the Portland Press Herald.

Peter Mills of Cornville, Me., has been waiting five years for broadband. He lives in a rural area not directly served by the telephone company’s central office but by a subloop. Vernon Burke owns Skowhegan Online, an Internet service provider, and he wants to bring Mills high-speed Internet by using a small portion of the network to extend to his area. But, Burke says Verizon is in no hurry to make the needed connections.

Verizon is fighting with Burke and other Internet service providers in the area, both at the Maine Public Utilities Commission and before the Legislature, over whether the state has the authority to regulate Internet access. Earlier this year, Gov. John Baldacci announced his vision to have broadband access for 90 percent of Maine homes by 2010. Only 15 percent of Maine homes currently have high-speed access. Verizon and other companies said that the Federal Communications Commission ruled states can’t regulate Internet service. "Verizon believes the competitive marketplace is doing a good job of getting the technology where it makes sense," said Peter Reilly, a Verizon spokesman in Maine.

Rural Missourian's victory could hold lesson for Democrats elsewhere

A Missouri Democrat endorsed by Missouri Right to Life and the National Rifle Association won in a special election last week and became the only rural Democrat in the state’s 34-member Senate.

Barnitz contends his victory should provide a blueprint for Democrats, if they are to have any hope of regaining power. When he and two other newly elected lawmakers are sworn into their new offices, Republicans likely will hold a 23-11 Senate majority over Democrats and a 98-65 House majority, writes David Lieb of The Associated Press. Republicans have won their majorities in recent years partly by capturing rural seats vacated by term-limited Democrats, many of whom had been more socially conservative than city Democrats, Lief writes. Guns and abortion have been fundamental issues for the GOP, he adds.

Barnitz joined Republicans in those votes. In fact, he was one of the lead sponsors of the concealed guns legislation. So, observes Lieb, Barnitz had solid gun and abortion credentials last week for the rural voters of his district, which is generally considered Republican. Republican State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, whom Barnitz will succeed in the Senate, previously won the region with 72 percent of the vote. And even though Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is a native of that district and won statewide, she lost in the 16th Senate District with less than 43 percent of the vote.

Barnitz said in an interview with AP, "You've got to have the right issues. You take the two issues that have divided the parties out of the mix, because I've been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and I'm a pro-life Democrat. ... And you bring back the conversation to those issues that impact Missourians statewide. Those issues are education, health care and jobs," writes Lieb.

Daylight Saving Time bill, a long-debated issue, may see the light in Indiana

In a state where the time is a time-honored issue of contention, Daylight Saving Time has lived to see another day in the Indiana General Assembly.

"But even though it has been rescued twice, it is far from certain whether it can survive the final three weeks of the legislative session and land on the desk of its biggest backer - Gov. Mitch Daniels," writes Mike Smith of The Associated Press. The governor has made adopting Daylight Saving Time one of his top legislative priorities, saying it would eliminate confusion and boost commerce. Unlike 47 other states, 77 counties in the Eastern time zone portion of Indiana do not change clocks, writes Smith.

Daylight Saving Time has been an extremely divisive issue in the General Assembly for three decades. This year marked the first time in a decade such a proposal made it to the floor of either chamber, Smith writes. Proponents said statewide daylight time would promote economic development. Opponents whose districts are adjacent or close to Illinois and the pockets of southwestern and northwestern Indiana that are in the Central Time Zone, said most of their constituents were against any switch. Rep. Dale Grubb, whose district includes three counties that border Illinois, said, "The sun will come up tomorrow on its own time."

Suburban Atlanta schools to use metal detectors, other security measures

Clayton County Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said yesterday that school officials will begin using hand-held metal detectors for the first time in an effort to crack down on crime and violence in the 52,000-student district southeast of Atlanta.

She declared, "We will not, under no circumstances, tolerate any behavior that jeopardizes the safety of students and staff, period. As much as we would like to believe our schools are immune to violence, no schools are," writes Bridget Gutierrez of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Pulliam told the board of education schools would begin using hand-held metal detectors on students "randomly" and when there is "reasonable suspicion." Pulliam ordered more than 30 "batons," as she called them, for use in the county's high schools. System spokesman Charles White said school administrators as well as school resource officers would use the metal detectors in the hopes of preventing violence. Last month, Clayton was hit by a rash of violent incidents, including the beating of a teacher and a racial brawl at one school, writes Gutierrez. Board members also agreed to a "pilot program" using dogs to sniff out drugs and gunpowder through the end of the school year at high school campuses.

Jonesboro mother Artansa Snell said she appreciated Pulliam's actions. But, she told Gutierrez, "I don't want them violating the civil rights of children." Many parents said they were in favor of the superintendent's plans, but one father, Bob Hartley, asked the board to reconsider the use of canines. He told the board, "I don't want my child walking past dogs every day going to class." Pulliam lamented the need for the new measures, but said, "It is not my wish to do this, but it is one of the most reasonable ways that we can ensure safety of our students," Guttierrez writes.

Ten states to sue EPA over mercury rules; Sierra Club applauds action

Wisconsin has joined a list of states suing the federal government's environmental policies, challenging new regulations they say fail to protect children and expectant mothers from dangers posed by mercury emissions.

In announcing his approval of the lawsuit, Gov. Jim Doyle said the Bush administration has cowed to big business with new guidelines for coal-fired power plant emissions that could allow 19 states to increase mercury emissions in the next five years by setting caps that are higher than current levels, writes Juliet Williams of The Associated Press.

The New Jersey attorney general's office is taking the lead on the lawsuit. The eight other states involved are California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York and Vermont. The Sierra Club applauded Wisconsin for being the first Midwest state to sue. Eric Uram, the club's regional representative, told Williams, "We hope Governor Doyle takes this opportunity to help call on other Great Lakes and Midwest states to join Wisconsin."

Mercury settles in waterways and accumulates in fish. If eaten, the toxic metal in those fish can cause neurological and developmental problems, particularly in fetuses and children. The suit criticizes the EPA for exempting power plants from having to install the strictest emissions control technology available. The New Jersey attorney general says that technology would cut mercury pollution by 90 percent.

Nuclear plants not keeping track of waste; GAO study faults federal government

A federal report issued yesterday said pervasive problems plague the control of radioactive waste at the nation's nuclear power plants, in part because the federal government has been sluggish in instituting and enforcing safeguards.

The Government Accountability Office's indictment of the nuclear facilities and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the most comprehensive reckoning to date of problems that have begun to emerge at a number of plants in recent years, writes Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post. The GAO said inadequate oversight and gaps in safety procedures have left several plants unsure about the whereabouts of all their spent fuel. Problems in tracking the materials suggest that radioactive rods could be missing from more than the three plants that are widely known to have problems.

The commission agreed with the GAO's findings of "uneven" control of spent nuclear fuel. NRC spokeswoman Beth Hayden told The Post the agency had been forced to prioritize safety concerns after the Sept. 11 attacks, causing delays in implementing security measures to safeguard the spent fuel rods. The nuclear industry pointed out the GAO had not found evidence of adverse health consequences, writes Vedantam. Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told him problems in accounting for the fuel are being addressed. Critics, however, said close ties between federal regulators and the commercial facilities they supervise has dulled the edge of oversight, he writes.

Surprise! English made official language of W. Va.; ACLU says discriminatory

Much to the surprise of many in the West Virginia Legislature, two days after the end of the session they are discovering they voted to make English the official language of their state.

The language amendment was quietly inserted into a bill on appointments to boards of parks and recreation. An amendment adds the provision that "English shall be the official language of the State of West Virginia," writes Erik Schelzig of The Associated Press. Senate Majority Whip Billy Wayne Bailey offered that change amid a flurry of bills in the House and Senate Saturday, the last night of the 60-day legislative session. Bailey told Schelzig, "I just told the members the amendment clarifies the way in which documents are produced." House Majority Leader Rick Staton recommended his chamber agree with the Senate's changes, but said he was unaware of the substance of the amendment until asked about it by AP.

Efforts to make English the state's official language have been introduced annually since the late 1990s. A group called U.S. English has championed the cause. House Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores, who helped kill an earlier proposal to forbid any state or local agency from having to print documents in any language but English, told AP "I think it's wrong that's something like that was snuck into that bill in the last minute." Andrew Schneider, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, told Schelzig that English-only laws "do nothing constructive to increase English proficiency. They simply discriminate and punish those who have not yet learned English."

Journalists are invited to apply for national conference on rural issues

Rural journalists and others who cover rural America are invited to apply for fellowships to attend Rural America, Community Issues, a national conference on rural issues at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, June 12-17.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is programming this conference, which will feature speakers from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is May 4.

Session topics and speakers include the politics of rural America, the rural economy, the technology divide, rural health care, education in rural areas, strategies for managing rural growth, the financial realities of rural journalism and a field trip to Washington. For details and application information, click here.

Pat Chapman, who helped produce graphics for the C-J, dies at 53

John Patrick "Pat" Chapman, a graphics researcher who worked for The Courier-Journal & Louisville Times Co. for more than 28 years, died early yesterday of complications from a heart attack he suffered a week earlier, writes Paula Burba of The Courier-Journal. He was 53.

Chapman used resources ranging from the Internet to printed reference materials to find details and context for the art and graphics with everything from daily stories to The C-J's most complicated special projects, writes Burba for the Lousville newspaper. Bill Ellison, then the newspaper's deputy managing editor, said the newspaper created the position in 1996 as "sort of a one-man Library of Congress" and Chapman was "just the right person to fill it." Bennie L. Ivory, executive editor and vice president/news, said, "He took his job seriously, and he was very good at it. I will personally miss him."

Monday, April 11, 2005

Meth replacing marijuana as teens' high of choice; moving from rural to urban

While the meth epidemic often has been associated with drug labs hidden away in the countryside, today's users frequently defy that image, whether they are urban professionals or suburban homemakers.

Minnesota, for example, has been dealing with all of the above and is home to another scary trend: There, many young people and experts who monitor drug use agree that meth is steadily replacing marijuana as the teenage drug of choice, writes Martha Irvine of The Associated Press. Anthony, a 17-year-old student at Sobriety High School in St. Paul, who first tried meth at age 13 and has been in recovery since he overdosed last summer, told Irvine, "Meth is the thing. It's what everybody wants to do." Though statistics show that meth use among teens and middle-school students has been level for the past few years, experts caution that those numbers can be deceiving since meth seems to spread in pockets, leaving some regions or populations relatively untouched while others are devastated.

Caleb Banta-Green, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington's Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, told AP, "Meth is an oddball in that way. You never know where it's going to hit." Few states have thus far evaded meth's reach in one population or another, including young people, writes Irvine. In Nebraska, she notes, two 20-year-olds who were high on meth froze to death after getting lost in a snowstorm in January. And in Oregon, officials recently reported that meth is now second only to marijuana -- surpassing alcohol -- as the drug that sends the most teens to treatment in that state, she writes.

Nebraska and Oregon are among the nearly two dozen states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Illinois, that have entrenched meth problems, according to state-by-state advisories the Drug Enforcement Administration released this year. And the DEA says meth is a growing concern in sections of nearly every other state. Many states are pinning their hopes on proposed laws that would make it difficult for anyone to buy large quantities of cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in meth.

Sludge slugfest prompts officials, newspaper to take closer look at regulation

All communities have the same problem of sludge and how to get rid of it. And, while everyone has sludge, nobody wants someone else’s as a Kentucky company found out this past month. So writes James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal in the wake of withdrawal of an application to truck as much as 500 tons a day of sludge from Nashville, Tenn., to strip-mined land in Hopkins County, Kentucky.

Hopkins County Fiscal Court, the county's governing body, pushed ahead last week toward approving an ordinance regulating sludge treatment and disposal, Bruggers writes for the Louisville newspaper.

A leader of a joint House-Senate environmental committee, who usually favors busienss interests, said last week that he's concerned state rules would allow such a project with no public notice or involvement. Rep. Jim Gooch, co-chairman of the joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, told Bruggers he is concerned about "expedited permits … without local people's input." LaJuana S. Wilcher, secretary of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, told the newspaper, "The rules are only as good as the people who implement them. In this case, they were sufficient."

Communities produce more than 7 million tons annually. Nationally, about 60 percent of sludge is reused under terms allowed by state and federal rules. But the practice is loosely regulated compared with disposal of other material, such as solid or hazardous waste, because sludge is presumed safe if state and federal regulations for treating, monitoring and applying it to land are followed, writes Bruggers.

However, environmentalists and some industry insiders said that state and federal rules are out of date and that enforcement is often sketchy. Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, told the C-J, "There is a virtual circle of neglect when it comes to the use of these sludges. They are often not adequately tested for pollutants or properly managed by state and federal regulators in light of their potential to affect public health and the environment."

Atlanta-area refuse threatens country dreams for those seeking rural refuge

When Georgians Joe and Morel Ann Klatka fled congested Gwinnett County for Jackson County, they had no idea Gwinnett's garbage might follow them — into a proposed landfill near their home. The problems plaguing congested Gwinnett wouldn't migrate up I-85 into rural, unspoiled Jackson County, they thought, writes Rebecca McCarthy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Klatkas are just one of several transplanted Gwinnettians fighting a proposed landfill in northwestern Jackson County — one that would take in garbage from Gwinnett. The Klatkas, like their many neighbors, say they knew nothing about the proposed landfill when they bought property in River Plantation, where houses range from $250,000 to $800,000. Morel Ann Klatka told McCarthy, "We pictured band shells, community concerts and good restaurants coming here. As it turns out — we get a landfill."

The landfill in question would be a 94-acre construction and demolition facility near the city of Pendergrass, which opposes it. First proposed in 2001 by Earth Resources Inc., the landfill is willing to restrict its operations. But, Jackson County's Planning Commission voted to reject their request. The County Commission also denied the company's request, saying that the proposed use for the property didn't conform to the county's land use plan, writes McCarthy. Earth Resources filed a lawsuit arguing the facility would meet federal and state regulations. With a capacity of 4 million tons, it would accept construction waste from suburban and exurban counties, including Gwinnett, for 15 years.

On March 18, Jackson County Superior Court Judge T. Penn McWhorter ordered the County Commission to give Earth Resources a conditional use permit. Jackson County has appealed that ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court, said Gainesville attorney Julius Hulsey, who represents the county. He said he doesn't expect to hear from the court for eight to 10 months, she writes.

Movie filmed in Appalachian county will premiere locally; filmmaker area native

A Los Angeles filmmaker is getting a chance to premier his works closer to home, in Appalachia.

“Last year, it was only a script. Now, Shannon Blackburn is ready to premier his first feature-length film, the film filled with Pike County. BlackArc Production's 'The Humane Game' gave Blackburn, a Los Angeles producer/writer, a chance to work closer to his hometown,” writes Janie Taylor of The Appalachian News-Express. Blackburn told Taylor, "Seventy-five percent of this film was shot in Eastern Kentucky. A lot of local Pikeville business owners stepped up to the plate and helped this become a reality." Blackburn, a Pikeville native, said hard work and a leap of faith completed the film, writes Taylor for the Pikeville paper.

Blackburn told the newspaper, "We were really impressed with the local talent here. A lot of people in Pike County were extras." He said the film would have cost $5 million had it been filmed it in Hollywood and that more than 100 directors were screened for the movie. Acting auditions were held in New York and Eastern Kentucky. He told Taylor three or four of the major characters are from Kentucky. The light-hearted drama, according to Blackburn, deals with the life and lost love of a wealthy Kentucky businessman as he hosts a local reality show, writes Taylor.

Blackburn said, "The heart and soul of the film is in Eastern Kentucky." A limited DVD release of the film is planned for the end of May. The film, Blackburn said, has been accepted at both the Chicago Independent Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, and has been "accepted in Chicago and people from MGM, Warner Bros. and Fox will be there." That, he sayskl, could lead to wider distribution. The film's VIP premier is scheduled for mid-May with the time and location to be announced later. Blackburn said only 200 tickets will be available for the showing. For ticket information on call 434-2711. Staff Writer Janie Taylor can be reached via e-mail at

Rural Iowa internship program designed to keep youth, spur new business growth

Many small towns may be slowly disintegrating, statistics show, because many of the towns’ youth are disappearing in favor of urban life, writes Josh St. Peters of Brownfield.

But Kossuth County, Iowa has started a plan, funded through a federal grant from the Cooperative Extension Service, designed to pull some of those youth back into rural America. The plan revolves around a college internship program to attract youth seeking business opportunities, in the hopes the students will come back to the rural areas after college. The program encourages the interns to start new companies as business entrepreneurs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says 80 percent of jobs created in rural areas are from new businesses.

Dropping ethanol prices and rising gas prices create concern for the industry

The price of ethanol dropped 20 percent since last September to $44 a barrel, threatening the foundation of the growing industry, reports USAgNet. Last year, approximately 3.57 billion gallons ethanol were used in the country, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Ethanol comes from fermented renewable crops, like corn. In the past, ethanol prices fluctuated along with gasoline prices, but in the past few years ethanol prices have dropped while gas prices have skyrocketed.

EPA cancels controversial pesticide study; trials focused on poor children

The Environmental Protection Agency has canceled a controversial study using children to measure the effect of pesticides after Democrats said they would block Senate confirmation of the agency's new head.

Stephen Johnson, as EPA's acting administrator, ordered an end to the planned study, a reversal from the agency's position just a day earlier when it said it would await the advice of outside scientific experts, writes John Heilprin of The Associated Press.

The aim of the study, Johnson told AP, was to fill data gaps on children's exposure to household pesticides and chemicals. He suspended it after ethical questions were raised by scientists within EPA and by environmentalists. Over the study's two years, EPA had planned to give $970 plus a camcorder and children's clothes to each of the families of 60 children in Duval County, Fla., in what critics of the study noted was a low-income minority neighborhood. EPA also had agreed to accept $2 million for the $9 million "Children's Health Environmental Exposure Research Study" from the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that represents chemical makers. For The New York Times version, by David D. Kirkpatrick, click here. For The Washington Post version by John Heilprin, click here.

W. Va. lawmakers vote to double cell-phone 911 fees, help smaller counties

West Virginia legislators have approved a plan to more than double 911 fees on cell phones and to distribute more of the collected fees to small counties.

The bill bumps the monthly 911 service improvement charge from $1.48 to $3 and increases the share collected by all but four counties, writes Erik Schelzig of The Associated Press. Sen. Brooks McCabe amended the bill to include a fund to encourage the construction of cell phone towers and to allot 10 cents of every fee to improve State Police communications technology. McCabe earlier took issue with the notion that every county needs money for 911 centers. He argued that would be a disincentive for counties to merge services. McCabe told Schelzig, "I had to do something with this bill to make it more palatable.They would have pushed this thing through anyway." McCabe’s amendment would set aside $1 million that could help build as many as 10 new towers a year.

Fifty-five percent of the county distribution is based on population and number of landlines. Each county would receive 0.85 percent of the remainder under the plan headed for Gov. Joe Manchin’s signature. Under the new provisions, only four counties receive lower projected 911 fees, writes Schelzig.

Momentum building for Cincinnati-area casino; could bring in new state revenue

Supporters who want to build a land-based casino in the greater Cincinnati region say it's just a matter of time before the way is cleared for one or more to be built in that area, writes The Equirer, in a plethora of reports on numerous aspects of the possibility, "SPECIAL REPORT: The Big Gamble."

Even gambling opponents agree the region, which already has casinos on riverboats on the Indiana side of the Ohio River, is one of the strongest potential casino markets in the country. Jerry Carroll, a Kentucky developer who wants to build one, told the newspaper, "You put a casino along the riverfront or along the I-75 corridor in Northern Kentucky, and you couldn't build it big enough."

Proponents say Ohio casinos could bring in more than $500 million a year for schools, tax cuts or other uses. Kentucky casinos could create $400 million annually in new taxes in that state. Their argument is gaining momentum with business leaders and politicians, who see an opportunity for new revenue in their financially strapped states, writes the Cincinnati newspaper. Ohioans spend $2 billion and Kentuckians spend $725 million on the lottery every year, and horse racing has been popular in both states for decades.

Opposition, however, is considerable, notes The Enquirer. Ohio voters rejected ballot initiatives on casinos in 1990 and 1996, and some state office holders continue to oppose casinos. Kentucky's legislature quit for this year without taking any action on gambling. Opponents say casinos bring more crime, corruption and family dysfunction. Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, leader of the 800,000-member Kentucky Council of Churches, told the newspaper, "We're going to work harder than we ever have."

But a majority of Kentuckians said in a recent statewide poll they want slot machines at racetracks. And in Ohio, a new poll by The Enquirer found most state lawmakers would put casinos or slot machines up for a statewide vote this fall if details on spending the profits could be worked out. Gambling supporters say the combination of more jobs, tax revenue and entertainment trumps the negatives. For the summary version from The Associated Press, click here.

Special announcement: Journalists invited to apply for rural conference

Rural journalists and others who cover rural America are invited to apply for fellowships to attend Rural America, Community Issues, a national conference on rural issues at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, June 12-17.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is programming this conference, which will feature speakers from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is May 4.

Session topics and speakers include the politics of rural America, the rural economy, the technology divide, rural health care, education in rural areas, strategies for managing rural growth, the financial realities of rural journalism and a field trip to Washington. For details and application information, click here.

Newspaper investigates best-selling author's faulty column on basketball game

An assistant managing editor and a group of reporters at the Detroit Free Press will conduct an investigation prompted by errors in a column by best-selling author Mitch Albom.

Free Press managing editor Thom Fladung said in a telephone interview, "Basically it will be some reporters doing what reporters do, which is checking it out," writes Sarah Freeman of The Associated Press. Albom apologized to readers for reporting former Michigan State players Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson attended the Michigan State-North Carolina NCAA basketball game. He'd written the players "sat in the stands, in their MSU clothing, and rooted on their alma mater." Neither player was at the game, writes Freeman. Albom said he wrote the column before the game took place, as if the events already had happened, based on what the players had told him they planned to do. The paper said the players' plans changed after they were interviewed.

Albom told Freeman the column had to be filed Friday afternoon - a day before the game - but appeared in the paper Sunday. The paper said the section in which the column appeared was printed before the game. The investigation first was announced in a letter to readers from publisher and editor Carole Leigh Hutton, and published on the paper's front page Friday. For Michael Hirsley's version in the Chicago Tribune via The Baltimore Sun, click here. For commentary by Nat Ives of The New York Times, click here.

Chalmers Roberts, noted Washington Post journalist, dead at 94

Chalmers M. Roberts, a retired chief diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post who covered the cold war, the nuclear arms race and the seats of power in Washington in the 1950's and 60's, died Friday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 94.

The cause was congestive heart failure, writes Robert D. McFadden of The New York Times. A typewriter-pounding deadline reporter who preferred the street to the desk, Roberts joined The Post in 1949 and took on the diplomatic beat in 1953. Besides global affairs, he covered a range of general assignments, writing about the Supreme Court, Congress, the White House and political campaigns.

Roberts also wrote obituaries of world leaders, including Churchill and Stalin, chronicled the summit meetings of American and Soviet leaders, reported from Vietnam and the Middle East and covered the United States tour of Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev in 1959 and rioting in the Watts section of Los Angeles in 1965.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Special announcement: Journalists invited to apply for rural conference

Rural journalists and others who cover rural America are invited to apply for fellowships to attend Rural America, Community Issues, a national conference on rural issues at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, June 12-17.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is programming this conference, which will feature speakers from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is May 4.

Session topics and speakers include the politics of rural America, the rural economy, the technology divide, rural health care, education in rural areas, strategies for managing rural growth, the financial realities of rural journalism and a field trip to Washington. For details and application information, click here.

Friday, April 8, 2005

Bush budget drug program cuts to hurt states' meth war programs, say officials

The Bush administration is retreating in its battle against methamphetamine, a pullback that will trip up enforcement programs just as they are hitting their stride, some state and local officials say..

President Bush has proposed gutting funding for some programs and slashing spending for others, proposals that worry officials who have seen firsthand the debilitating effects of methamphetamine in their communities, write Larry Bivins and Pamela Brogan of the Gannett News Service. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, there were 1,259 meth incidents in Tennessee alone during 2004. The cases included the discovery of labs, lab dumpsites or lab paraphernalia. The discoveries placed Tennessee No. 3 in the nation, behind Iowa with 1,300 and Missouri with 2,707. Here are some methamphetamine quick facts. Here is a report on how to cover meth in rural areas, where its impact is disproportionately heavy.

Overall, Bush plans to spend $12.4 billion on the drug war in 2006, a 2.2 percent increase over current funding. But most of the additional money is targeted toward intercepting drug shipments before they cross the border and international programs, such as crop eradication. The president intends to eliminate a $634 million grant program for state and local police departments and cut anti-drug spending in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) from $226 million to $100 million, write Bivins and Brokan

Bush also would reduce spending on a Justice Department methamphetamine initiative from $52.6 million to $20 million, a 60 percent cut. Bush's budget would: eliminate grants to states under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, funded at $441 million this year; eliminate grants to states under the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, (NAMSDL) an organization that has been instrumental in helping states draft legislative responses to the methamphetamine crisis; and, eliminate Justice Assistance grants used to bolster multijurisdictional anti-drug task forces. Sherry Green, director of the NAMSDL, told Bivins and Brogan, 'The consequences of (meth) addiction are being felt all across this country in a complete drain of resources.''

Dale Woolery, associate director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, told the news service the Justice Assistance grants ''constitute the backbone of resources for drug task forces in Iowa.'' DeLynn Fudge, director of public programs for the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, said the 23 drug task forces battling meth in that state rely heavily on Justice Assistance grants. She told Bivins and Brogan, "If Bush's proposed budget cuts are approved. I'm fearful of what might happen. Half our task forces might be eliminated. The thought of it is frightening for public safety,'' they write.

Death and funeral of the pope stir local story ideas on religious subjects

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, in today's Morning Meeting, passes along two good story ideas for reporters and editors anywhere, originating with the newsletter Religion Link.

“Has the inundation of papal coverage washed up any potential converts at the door of your local parish? It can happen, as the interest and emotion -- whatever the event -- draw people to learn more,” Tompkins writes. “Who are those people who just joined? Will others now make that pilgrimage as well? Conversely, will Catholics who were turned off by John Paul's policies and teachings give their old church a second look when a new pope is elected? Remember, the second-largest "denomination" in the United States is ‘lapsed’ Catholics . . . who have largely given up all ties to the church of their birth.” For data on how many members each denomination has, go to

The grandiose formality of the pope’s funeral occasions another observation and a possible story: Increasing use of ritual in Protestant churches. “A growing number . . . are increasing the frequency of communion, for example, and coming-of-age rites that resemble confirmation services or bar mitzvahs are becoming popular in churches and communities -- even humanist groups -- that would not normally be associated with the kind of display . . . in Rome,” Tompkins writes. “Rituals for death, life and commitment are vital, and the distance between the Eternal City and your city may not be so wide.” He also notes “the power and efficacy of ritual in our lives. Psychologists and sociologists of religion can testify to this, but trends in local houses of worship across the religious spectrum also demonstrate the power of ritual. “

Native Americans across the country proposing big-city sites for their casinos

The Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians have not had land in Colorado since a massacre by soldiers at Sand Creek in 1864. Driven out of the state, they live today in poor rural areas scattered around Oklahoma.

But the tribes are now offering Colorado a gift of $1 billion and are willing to give up their ancestral claims to nearly half of the state, all in exchange for a 500-acre piece of land near Denver on which they hope to build one of the world's largest casinos, complete with a five-star hotel, a golf course, a mall and an Indian cultural center, writes Fox Butterfield of The New York Times.

Currently there are efforts by several tiny landless bands of Indians in California to build casinos in three cities on San Francisco Bay. There are also proposals by three tribes, now in Oklahoma, to construct casinos in Ohio, where they once lived. And there are tribes in Wisconsin and Oklahoma, originally from New York, that have proposed exchanging their land claims for the right to build casinos in the Catskills, he writes.

The National Indian Gaming Association says revenues for tribal casinos reached $18.5 billion last year, double the take of all the casinos in Nevada. That is up from $5.4 billion in 1995. The drive for permission to build casinos far from reservations is drawing protests from more established Indian gambling operations that do not want more local competition, as well as from tribes that built casinos on their own remote lands, limiting the kinds of profits they can make. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee, headed by Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., is examining such proposals and where lawmakers in both houses are considering more stringent rules, like banning tribes from moving across state borders and giving greater say to other tribes that would be affected, writes Butterfield.

Southwest Virginia paper focuses local attention on how to build tourist trade

The folks who run the Richlands (Va.) News-Press and the Clinch Valley News see economic potential in tourism, and are trying to gets their readers to think about it with a series of editorials and guest columns.

"We hope that you will read and consider what they have to say and make your own decision on whether or how tourism can be a strong part of this community's economy and way of life," the newspapers said this week. "Tazewell County has places worth the time and money to get here. But those places need the support of tourist infrastructure - motels, restaurants, marketing and guides, advice from professionals to help destination owners find a profitable niche market of visitors."

The editorial starts with observations that apply to many rural communities seeking tourists: "The uninitiated often think that it's a matter of putting out a few signs, selling a few arts and crafts and bringing in the visitors and the dough. Guess again. As has been demonstrated several times over in Southwest Virginia and other parts of the Commonwealth, just calling one's self a tourist destination and a buck-fifty will get you a large cup of coffee. And even a coherent tourism development strategy . . . with viable resources and destinations may not be enough without the active, long-term involvement of several sectors of the community."

Kentucky residents outraged after local official turns down unionized jobs

Madisonville, Ky., residents met in the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ Tuesday to demand the firing of Danny Koon, the executive director of Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corp.

The campaign for Koon’s removal began he told a group of business leaders in October that he turned down a company that would have provided 500 jobs for the community, because they contacted with United Auto Workers. He told the group that the Corp. doesn’t “look at any companies that have representation with a bargaining group,” reports The Messenger of Madisonville. (Link goes to the newspaper's homepage; the story requres a subscription. To contact the paper, click here.)

The economic development board reprimanded Koon and he later apologized publicly, but six months later people are still asking for him to be removed. “I dare say if any of us made such a blunder, we would have been fired,” said Bishop Raymond Marion, a retired United Auto Workers member and president of the Madisonville NAACP branch.

Marion attended the Tuesday meeting and gave some startling figures, provided by the UAW research department and the Economic Policy Institute, to show how much Koon’s decision would cost the community. Union workers are more likely to have better wages and be covered by health care and retirement plans, and are less likely to be forced to contribute to maintaining such plans than nonunion workers, the UAW said.

Koon has been praised for his work in the community in enticing other companies to come to the area, including Land O’ Frost, a meat-packing company, and Fort Knox National, a call center for electrical payment services. Combined, the companies will offer almost 700 jobs.

Tobacco exec tells federal court policy changes were 'good business decisions'

The head of Philip Morris USA Inc. told a court that the company shifted its policies on publicizing the risks of smoking in recent years partly to increase respect for the company and drive up its value.

But a government attorney questioned whether many of the changes Michael E. Szymanczyk described were mere publicity ploys, designed to improve the image of a company beset by lawsuits, writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. The chairman and chief executive officer of Philip Morris was testifying in a civil racketeering lawsuit the Justice Department filed against major U.S. tobacco companies. The government alleges the companies spent decades conspiring to conceal the health risks of smoking. Szymanczyk said when he took the top job in 1997, it was clear that Philip Morris was "out of alignment with society's expectations of a socially responsible company."

He told the court policy decisions, such as those to dedicate more money to stopping underage smoking, to provide links to health-related Web sites from its homepage, and to scale back magazine advertising, were driven partly by the settlement agreement reached with 46 states in 1998. Justice Department attorney Sharon Eubanks pointed to a 1999 memo circulated to employees of Philip Morris companies that included comments from a financial analyst who concluded the company needed to make potential jurors and the public believe that it was making responsible decisions. For more detail on the Justice Department tobacco litigation, click here.

Coal-dust mask makers fighting miners' lawsuit; miners complained of illnesses

Three companies that manufactured dust masks and respirators used in the Kentucky coalfields are not responsible for miners' contracting black lung disease, said attorneys for those companies.

3M, a Minnesota manufacturing company named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed in December in Harlan County, said the miners could be ill because they misused, altered or didn't properly wear their masks, reports The Associated Press. Jacqueline Berry, spokeswoman for 3M, the largest manufacturer named in the suit, told AP, "The allegations have no merit, and we're going to vigorously defend against this lawsuit." 3M contends the dust masks were safe. The company has successfully defended itself against dust-mask lawsuits in the past, winning six out of seven jury trials, AP writes.

The 12 Harlan County miners are asking for unspecified compensation and punitive damages in the suit, which has been moved to federal court. Hundreds of Kentucky coal miners have filed similar suits blaming their illnesses on 3M and companies that distributed dust masks. The lawsuits claim the dust masks used from the 1970s through the 1990s were ineffective in keeping them from inhaling airborne particles that cause black lung, a crippling and often fatal disease that kills 1,000 people a year. The lawyers who filed the Harlan County suit said wearing the dust masks made the miners think they were safe in the mines.

U. S. senator pushes for chemical weapons destruction; restores funding

U. S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is trying to force the Pentagon to abandon its proposal to delay the destruction of aging chemical weapons at Kentucky's Blue Grass Army Depot.

McConnell this week won the Appropriations Committee's approval of a requirement that Defense Department officials press ahead with original plans to eliminate the munitions early in the next decade, writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. The Pentagon, citing budget constraints, had said it would hold up work on a depot facility to destroy 523 tons of weapons, including the nerve gas sarin and VX, a toxic liquid. The facility was scheduled to begin operations in 2010 and would take about two years to destroy the munitions, Carroll writes for the Louisville newspaper.

McConnell told reporters after the committee voted to include the so-called "directive" in a fiscal 2005 supplemental spending bill, "Our goal is to keep the project on track." Asked about McConnell's directive, spokeswoman Kathy DeWeese for the Pentagon's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program said, "If it becomes law, we will set about doing what we can to implement it." The directive eliminates any Pentagon discretion on the matter. McConnell said he did not expect any problems in the House during a conference later this month to work out a final version of the bill. He predicted final passage and President Bush's signature "within the next month or so."

Advocates of destroying the weapons praised the effort. Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a watchdog organization based in Berea, Ky, told the C-J, "Obviously, it breathes new life into the disposal process here in Kentucky. Berea Mayor Steven Connelly called McConnell's move "good news." He told the newspaper, "We are one of the more populated areas that have a significant portion of the nerve gas rockets, and we think every day they grow older they are more of a hazard."

West Virginia racetracks say late start killed legislation to allow table games

West Virginia’s four racetracks blame bad timing on the demise of legislation that aimed to transform them into full-blown casinos by allowing blackjack, craps and similar table games.

John Cavacini, president of the state Racing Association, said the tracks waited too long by not having Senate Bill 442 introduced until March 3, three weeks into the Legislature’s 60-day session, writes Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. Cavacini told Messina, "This bill got caught up in the logjam of bills, in both houses. We happened to get caught behind some of the most complex and contentious issues this session." House Speaker Bob Kiss announced the Senate-passed bill had been pulled from his Judiciary Committee’s agenda to allow work on more "critical" bills before the session expires at midnight Saturday. A leading critic of the proposal agreed with Cavacini’s assessment, at least in part. Rev. Dennis Sparks, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, told AP, "There was the crowded agenda."

A February poll found that 60 percent of the House members interviewed -- 77 of 100 delegates were surveyed -- supported county referendums on table games. Senate Bill 442 proposed to allow Hancock, Ohio, Jefferson and Kanawha counties to vote on whether to permit the games at their tracks.

West Virginia environmental board concerned about secret meetings

When West Virginia lawmakers transferred water quality rule-making authority to the Department of Environmental Protection they also gave DEP permission to ignore the state’s open meetings law.

Under the bill, DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer can meet privately with companies that want to weaken water pollution rules, writes Ken Ward, Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. Timmermeyer and other DEP employees can also meet privately to discuss water pollution rule changes with agency consultants and with other state and federal agencies.Previously, all such discussions were held in open meetings held by the state Environmental Quality Board.

The measure to transfer the authority to write state water pollution limits from the board to DEP now goes to Gov. Joe Manchin. Spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg told Ward unless there is a technical flaw in the bill, Manchin will sign it. Board members said they were concerned about secrecy provisions of the legislation. Board lawyer Wendy Radcliff told the newspaper the legislation would allow DEP to have rule-making discussions in private that the board now conducts in public. Radcliff said, “The implication is that does not have to happen in the open anymore.”

Board member Ted Armbrecht, a Charleston businessman, initially said he thought that lawmakers removed what he felt was the worst of the secrecy provisions. But, when told about the legislation's language after final modifications, which added that DEP can hold private meetings with “any interested party for the purpose of collecting facts and explaining state and federal requirements relating to a site-specific change or variance,”Armbrecht said that Manchin should be made aware of its secrecy provisions.

North Carolina suspends mobile-home hauling rules; no police escorts required

North Carolina has approved a three-month experiment that allows truckers to carry 16-foot wide mobile homes on two-lane roads without a police escort. The N.C. Highway Patrol and the mobile home industry asked for the test, saying the current rule requiring a blue-light escort was a nuisance for both parties and did not improve safety, writes Dianne Whitacre of The Charlotte Observer.

Companies taking part must have their extra-wide load accompanied by two private escort vehicles bearing strobe lights, flags, flashers and banners to make them more visible. Currently, private escort vehicles have a banner and a revolving orange beacon. About 800 16-foot mobile homes are shipped each month in North Carolina, Whitacre writes. State traffic engineer Kevin Lacy told the newspaper an average of about six crashes a month involving mobile homes and manufactured housing, with 82 percent causing no injuries.

Tom Crosby, spokesman for AAA Carolinas told Whitacre the blue-light escort is important for safety and especially to keep drivers from passing the wide load. "People have a lot more patience with a 16-foot wide when it is escorted by police." For information on mobile home rights and laws and a referral list of lawyers who are familiar with the laws and rights of mobile home owners, from the The Colorado Coalition for Mobile/Manufactured Home Residents Rights (CCMMRR) , click here.

West Virginia Senate passes bill for mini-distilleries with direct public sales

The West Virginia Senate has moved to create mini-distilleries in the state that would be allowed to sell directly to the public, bypassing state rules that limit liquor sales to licensed retailers.

The House measure applies to distilleries making less than 20,000 gallons a year. The state’s two distilleries, Isaiah Morgan in Summersville and Mountain Moonshine in Morgantown, would qualify for the new designation and have their licensing fees dropped from $1,500 a year to $50, writes Erik Shelzig of The Associated Press.

In exchange for breaking with the state-run system, the distilleries would pay regional retailers 10 percent of their sales. Sen. Steve Harrison, R-Kanawha, was the lone dissenter in the 33-1 vote, citing concerns about increased availability of alcohol, Schelzig writes. The House passed a similar version of the bill, but will have to approve the minor changes made by the Senate before the measure can head for the governor’s signature.

Newspaper van crashes, burns all copies of Kentucky paper's latest edition

A newspaper van crashed last Wednesday, destroying all the copies of the latest edition of The Paintsville Herald, a 5,200-circulation newspaper in eastern Kentucky.

Editor Loretta Tackett said the van was traveling north on U.S. 23 from Pikeville, where the twice-weekly newspaper is printed, to Paintville when a tire blew out, causing the crash, reports The Associated Press. The van struck a guardrail and burst into flames, destroying all the newspapers. The driver escaped without injury, AP writes. Tackett said the newspaper was reprinted later that day, with photos and a story about the crash. "We altered the front page to insert the story of why readers were a bit late getting their news."

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Kentucky's easternmost county gets America's first fine-arts extension agent

Say "extension agent" and you get an image of a man visiting a farm or a woman speaking to a meeting of homemakers. But Pike County, Kentucky, in the heart of Central Appalachia, has America's first extension agent in fine arts.

Stephanie Richards started work in Pikeville in December, but her arrival was celebrated last week with a gathering of local artists and University of Kentucky officials who have brought new meaning to the name, "Cooperative Extension Service." The name signifies the support the service gets from local, state and federal governments, but this agent is supported with a memorandum of understanding between the university's College of Fine Arts and College of Agriculture, which has the extension service.

Richards, who is also the artistic director for Artists Collaborative Theater in Elkhorn City, told Jamie Taylor of the Appalachian News-Express, "The audience here is so ready for arts and culture. I believe we can become a cultural destination for the arts and give local artists the opportunity to thrive artistically and financially." She told the newspaper that she hopes to capitalize on Pikeville's role as a regional medical center. "Richards said a large number of Pikeville medical professionals have already expressed a cultural interests in area art," Taylor wrote.

Richards wants to open an artists center for classes and exhibits. She credited Robert Shay, dean of the College of Fine Arts, with the notion of an extension agent in fine arts. "He had the idea that we weren't getting arts and culture into our rural areas," she told the News-Express. "And for the past three years this has been getting off the ground and approved."

Rural empowerment zone beneficiary charged with fraud in bankruptcy

A federal trustee has charged the owner of a defunct Kentucky houseboat company with hiding ownership of major assets in his $2.2 million bankruptcy. John Sturgill's Fantasy Custom Yachts was the first firm scheduled to open in Wayne County, Kentucky, with the help of America’s rural empowerment zone program.

Sturgill “also shorted creditors by funneling income to his wife that should have been his, according to the complaint filed on behalf of Richard F. Clippard, federal bankruptcy trustee for the Kentucky-Tennessee region,” the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. “The complaint seeks to bar Sturgill from having his debts wiped away, as his Chapter 7 bankruptcy requests.”

Sturgill acknowledged to Herald-Leader reporter Bill Estep that agents from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service have also looked at his case. No criminal charges have been filed. He denied any fraud and said the allegations stem from “false information from disgruntled former employees or a part-owner with whom he had a falling out,” Estep wrote.

The empowerment zone, a federally funded program, provided loans and tax credits in Clinton and Jackson counties and the part of Wayne County that adjoins Clinton. Jackson does not border either county. After Sturgill entered the houseboat industry around Lake Cumberland in 1996, houseboat makers in the part of Wayne County outside the zone complained that the program gave him an unfair edge, and helped him siphon away their employees. “Sturgill and officials of the program defended it, saying it had helped create jobs, ” Estep reported. Sturgill said his company did well for several years, but suffered in the economic downturn following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

Rural Internet use focus of Maine legislation; needed for economic development

Supporters of two bills to improve Internet access in Maine say the state's economic growth is suffering from lack of high-speed access in many rural areas, reports the Bangor Daily News.

"If Maine is to attract more businesses, then we must improve and expand access to high-speed Internet services," Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland, told the Legislature's Utilities and Energy Committee during public hearings on the bills Tuesday. "This is a requisite and not a luxury as we move forward."

At present, high-speed Internet access is available in those limited parts of Maine served by cable television, fiber-optic cables, or digital subscriber phone lines, known as DSLs. One of the bills discussed Tuesday proposes a study to determine if municipalities could act as Internet service providers in areas where high-speed Internet service is now lacking. Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, has introduced a second bill, which would create the Maine Broadband Advisory Council and expand the authority of the Public Utilities Commission to regulate line-sharing agreements and establish right-of-way rules, writes the Daily News.

Several environmental concerns in Kentucky and Colorado are settled

The company that wanted to truck 500 tons a day of Nashville's sewage sludge to a site in Hopkins County in Western Kentucky has withdrawn its proposal for the project, blaming the move on what it called, "environmental hysteria in the media."

In a letter to Kentucky regulators, BioReclamation LLC manager Charles W. Martin said the company feared that the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet was going to "proactively scrutinize" the proposal in ways that exceed state requirements, writes James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal. Martin declined to elaborate. State officials would not comment.

Hopkins County Judge-Executive Patricia Hawkins predicted that the county's fiscal court will adopt an ordinance that "gives us some kind of leverage and control if we are hit again with another attempt like this." Louisville environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council told Bruggers, "Whenever you propose to bring 500 tons a day of active sewage sludge into a community with no public hearing, no notice to local government and no opportunity for local input, what do you expect?"

A couple hundred miles to the east, more public concern about contamination was settled after a Kentucky congressman warned top Pentagon officials to abandon any proposal to move chemical weapons from Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, Kentucky, rather than destroy them there.

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a Democrat whose 6th District includes the Richmond depot, said that moving the weapons would be dangerous and told Assistant Defense Secretary Dale Klein, "You will probably see a nuclear response from the citizens of our district. Transportation is not an option, just very simply," writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. The Pentagon in December said it was looking at relocating chemical weapons as part of an examination of cost-saving alternatives, writes Carroll for the Louisville newspaper. For The Associated Press version, click here.

To the west, more concerns about radioactive waste contamination, this time in Colorado, were addressed by the Department of Energy, which wants to move a 12-million ton pile of radioactive waste away from the banks of the Colorado River. The river is a major source of drinking water for about 25 million people in the Southwest. Environmentalists and Western politicians fear the debris could poison the drinking water supply for Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities, writes Travis Reed of The Associated Press. The Department said it will recommend the waste be moved to a closed storage facility about 30 miles north, near Crescent Junction. Now, the mostly open-air heap sits 750 feet from the river. The 94-foot-tall pile contains dirt, toxins and traces of radioactive substances from decades of uranium ore processing, he writes.

EWG lists rural MTBE polluted water supplies, and backers with local pollution

The Environmental Working Group says 26 members of Congress voted in late 2003 to stop their communities from being able to sue oil companies for polluting their drinking water with a toxic gasoline additive called MTBE.

Since that vote, says EWG, communities in each of those districts have filed suit for help with cleanup, and if members vote again this year siding with the oil companies "they will be voting away their constituents' right to sue," EWG claims in its website news release. Interested reporters can search a list of those 26 members, along with the names of water utilities who bear cleanup costs that could reach $29 billion nationwide, here. Eighty-six additional members who voted, the environmental group says, to shield oil companies have MTBE contamination in their districts, but no lawsuits yet, EWG says. For that information click here.

EWG Action Fund's website lists the Members' districts — including the number of water drinkers and utilities affected and where there are lawsuits — for all 112 House Members who voted with the oil companies last year. EWG also says its site features documents disproving oil company claims of having been forced to add MTBE to gasoline.

Urban dwellers making ‘rural rebound’; migration may push out some farmers

Several American families, originally from cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Houston, are evacuating urban life for rural serenity, according to population researchers. Over five million residents moved to non-metropolitan areas during the 1990s, and today, rural areas within reasonable commuting distance from major cities are rapidly expanding in a “rural rebound,” teports Don Teague of NBC News.

Steve and Rhonda Linehan are one example of a family that traded their “strip of grass” in Orlando, Fla. For a 35-acre farm in Rockwall County, Texas. "The big appeal was the open space; No. 1, for the kids to play, and No. 2, it’s nice for the adults to have the open space surrounding you as well," Steve told Teague. Rockwall County is the fourth-fastest growing in the country, Teague writes. But, the growth comes at a cost: farmers say they are being squeezed out, as more subdivisions develop on farm land.

Farmer J.D. Jacobs told Teague that a new subdivision, filled of homes that have five-acre lots, now rests on the 1,000 acres he used to lease for growing corn. "My son wants to farm," he said. "But if he does, he'll have to move out of this area."

With acres on the block, West Virginia towns trying to find answers for growth

Some West Virginia towns have taken original approaches to development, with some trying to keep their towns as they are today, and others creating plans for the future.

Some residents in Scrabble, W.Va., for example, pitched together to try and buy 300 acres of a farm that was up for sale, to keep more subdivisions and development out of their town, writes Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post. (Katherine Frey of The Post contributed to the report.) "This is an investment not only for ourselves but in our community," said many residents in a presentation to local lawyers about letting them buy the land. But the final price was what stomped the dream: $3.6 million for the whole farm.

From 1990 to 2000, Berkeley County’s population increased by almost 30 percent and Jefferson County’s grew by about 20 percent. People in Berkeley are developing a blueprint for future growth in the county, which has no zoning, and slow-growth advocates are now dominating the Jefferson County Commission.

But some residents of Scrabble want the farms to stay as they are, Williamson writes. Many acres in the town have already gone up for sale, but, “the Scrabble plan reflected a broader truth here on West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle: a determination to find unique answers to the challenges of exurban growth. In that, the people here are hoping to succeed where communities such as nearby Loudoun and Frederick counties [in Virginia] have faltered,” Williamson writes.

North Carolina joins lottery ranks; millions expected to help plug budget gap

The North Carolina House of Representatives has voted to create a state lottery.

The House vote likely clears the way, because leaders in both parties expect the Senate to give it a friendly reception, write Mark Johnson and Sharif Durhams of The Charlotte Observer. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, who would have to sign the bill, has long been a lottery champion.

State officials say players could see scratch-off tickets as quickly as Thanksgiving, if the Senate acts soon on the bill. House Speaker Jim Black, who largely engineered the passage in hopes of getting more money for schools, told the newspaper, "This goes a long way toward solving our problems." The lottery is projected to raise $300 million to $400 million a year, according to the Easley administration and General Assembly officials. Legislators are trying to fill a $1.3 billion gap in the state budget, write Johnson and Durhams.

State officials say half of all gross sales would be devoted to prizes, 16 percent would cover administrative costs and the remaining third would be spent on education.The education money breaks down like this: 50 percent for school construction, 25 percent for college scholarships for the needy and 25 percent for an education fund appropriated by the legislature, they write.

Texas legislator’s bill would lure more students to rural institutions in west

Officials with Texas’ Angelo State and Sul Ross State universities are hoping a bill before the Texas House Higher Education Committee will boost enrollment at the rural West Texas institutions.

Angelo State President James Hindman and Sul Ross President Vic Morgan testified in front of the committee about a proposal that would provide scholarships to attract 1,000 Texas students to enroll at Angelo and 600 students to Sul Ross in Alpine, writes Tim Eaton of the Scripps Howard Austin Bureau.

Campbell said the bill would set up a pilot program to add students to the universities, both of which have room to accept more students without expanding. Campbell asked why legislators should pay to expand state universities, such as the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A & M University, while other institutions need students, writes Eaton.

Campbell said, "This pilot program is meant to fully use existing but underutilized classroom space in some of our colleges and universities,'' The program would set aside $6.5 million in grant money for the 1,600 students to attend Angelo State and Sul Ross. Both presidents said they could handle the extra students without any new bricks and mortar, he writes.

Ag. Sec'y Johanns sets $22.8 million for renewable and efficiency energy projects

U. S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced $22.8 million to support investments in renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements by agricultural producers and rural small businesses.

Johanns said in a USDA release, "Renewable energy is an exciting growth frontier for American agriculture. Implementing an innovative energy policy, which the President has proposed, provides an opportunity to strengthen both our national security and the rural economy."

Sections of the Farm Bill established the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements loan and grant program to encourage agricultural producers and small rural businesses to create renewable and energy efficient systems, write Ed Loyd and Tim McNeilly. The funds will be available to support a wide range of technologies encompassing biomass (including anaerobic digesters), geothermal, hydrogen, solar, and wind energy, as well as energy efficiency improvements. To date, the news release says, the Bush Administration has invested through this program nearly $45 million in 32 states.

Montana Public Service Commission breathing life into major wind power deal

Montana's first major wind power project cleared its final hurdle when the state Public Service Commission approved NorthWestern Energy's agreement to buy 135 to 150 megawatts of electricity for 20 years from a wind farm to be built near Judith Gap.

By a 4-1 vote, the commission gave NorthWestern an expedited ruling so Invenergy Wind can build the $150 million wind farm by Dec. 31, when a federal wind production tax credit expires. Dissenting was Commissioner Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, writes Charles Johnson for the Helena Independent Record.

The PSC approved the deal over the objections of PPL Montana, which now supplies 70 percent of NorthWestern's electricity supply through mid-2007, and Exergy Development Group, an unsuccessful bidder. David Hoffman, PPL Montana's external affairs manager, declined to say whether the company would appeal the decision to court.

Rhode Island reporter granted early release from sentence for not revealing source

A Rhode Island television reporter who was convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal the name of the person who gave him an F.B.I. videotape has been granted early release from his sentence, writes Pam Belluck of The New York Times. The judges action sent chills throughout the journalism industry.

The reporter, Jim Taricani of WJAR-TV in Providence, was serving a sentence of six months of home confinement. At the time of his sentencing last December, the judge had said Taricani could be eligible for release in four months if he abided by the terms of his sentence. Yesterday, the judge ruled he could be released on Saturday. Taricani was unable to speak with reporters because he is barred from giving interviews until his sentence is complete. He was also prohibited from working or using the Internet.

Taricani was convicted of violating a court order to disclose his source for the videotape, evidence in an investigation of government corruption in Providence. The tape showed an aide to Mayor Vincent Cianci taking a $1,000 bribe. Those involved in the investigation were ordered not to release any surveillance tapes. Taricani refused to reveal his source, who he said had demanded confidentiality. But a week after his conviction, the source, Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr., identified himself.

National conference in Lexington, Ky., to address rural health and safety

University of Kentucky extension educators are helping plan the National Priester Extension Health meeting along with the UK College of Public Health; USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service; the National Association of State and Land Grant Colleges and Universities; the National Institute for Agricultural Safety; and several land-grant universities.

200-plus participants are expected to attend the April 12-15 gathering in Lexington, Ky., at the Radisson Plaza Hotel, reports the university's Agricultural Communications Service. Conference participants are university, state and federal government employees from across North America. Several conference panelists and discussion leaders are specialists with UK’s Cooperative Extension Service.

Topics include Agricultural Rehabilitation for Occupational and Physical Therapists, Legal and Regulatory Responses to Bio- and Agri-Terrorism, Addressing Rural Health Care Shortages, Health Literacy in Rural America, Farm to School and Physical Activity Legislation, and Food Security. Speakers include Dr. John Nelson, president of the American Medical Association; John Perkins, senior policy advisor for food and nutrition at the Texas Department of Agriculture; Dr. Paul Gunderson, former director of the National Farm Medicine Center; Dr. Richard Jackson, California State Public Health Officer; and Dr. David Mathews, chief executive officer of the Kettering Foundation.

For registration and program information, click here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

New website offers vast array of data on individual schools; instant information

"After today, public accessibility to education data will never be the same." So said David P. Driscoll, president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, last week about School Matters, a Web site created by Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services and featuring the world's largest collection of public education data.

The site offers a powerful tool to journalists who investigate education. It allows free public access to a vast array of information through a searchable database. Educational information can be sorted and compared by state, district, or individual school. Demographic information, math and English proficiency measures, itemized measures of school spending, and tax and revenue information are all easily found for each school in all 50 states.

School Matters also features several success indicators labeled as "S&P ratios." These ratios offer a quick way to evaluate school success based on a variety of statistics. School Matters uses one such S&P ratio to provide a list of schools in each state that outperform their demographically similar peers. Kentucky, for example, features 18 such outperforming schools. Other interesting S&P ratios measure school performance based on the school's return on money spent and provide an aggregate measure of school performance.

With such a detailed and precise database available, the School Matters Web site takes great pains to encourage responsible use of the information. "Pulling individual data points out of context to create a ranking is a serious misuse of the data and S&P strongly discourages users of this website from using data in this way," the site cautions. Former North Carolina Gov. James Hunt, a board member of S&P School Evaluation Services, also warns potential users of the site that S&P ratios "should not be used alone to draw conclusions about education performance. These ratios should always be considered with other academic, financial, and demographic indicators provided on the website."

Federal Court rules Western Kentucky landowners cheated; restitutions ordered

After 40 years of legal battles, a federal judge has ruled the federal government cheated hundreds of Western Kentucky families evicted from their farmland to make way for a World War II Army training camp.

The heirs of those families are now entitled to at least $32 million in compensation - and likely more, given the award was calculated in 1965 dollars, writes Maureen Hayden of the Courier & Press of Evansville, Ind. The ruling by U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Susan Braden, says the federal government "unjustly profited" from the sale of 36,000 acres in farmland condemned in 1942 to make way for the Camp Breckinridge military installation.

Braden ruled in favor of more than 1,000 plaintiffs who contended their families were forced off their farmland and the government purchased the land at rock-bottom prices while promising the families could buy back the property after the war. Many families were not paid until after the war, Braden notes in her ruling. The judge also noted how the federal government continued ownership of the land, which it bought for a total of $3.2 million, and resold it to oil, gas and coal developers for more than $35 million in 1965. That decision, she ruled, allowed the government to "unjustly profit" at the expense of hundreds of landowners whose farms had been in their families for generations, writes Hayden.

Ruby Higginson, 78, whose family was evicted from their 803-acre Union County, Kentucky farm, told Hayden, "I'm elated. It's been a long wait for justice." Higginson's brother, now dead, brought one of the first lawsuits against the government in 1965. The plaintiff's attorney, Steve Pitt, says the wait may be longer because of the 'interim ruling," where Justice Department lawyers have 60 days to appeal, and could argue Congress must act before compensation could be paid out.

Uner the ruling, plaintiffs are entitled to the profits the government made from the sale of their land and has given the Justice Department 60 days to argue why the plaintiffs shouldn't be given their money. The judge decided to reopen the case after plaintiffs had been excluded from the lawsuit by a 1998 ruling. Braden also found the government land agents and the property owners initially undervalued the property, but also noted the federal government found out after the war just how rich the land was in coal, oil and gas. For The Courier-Journal version by Jim Malone, click here. For The Associated Press version click here.

Iowa law officers warn warmer weather brings meth labs, say more chances to 'cook'

Warmer weather means more methamphetamine labs are moving outside, creating more toxic and dangerous dump sites, warn Iowa law enforcement agencies.

Capt. Brian Gardner of the Linn County Sheriff's Office, told The Associated Press, "Typically, it's seasonal. The nicer weather provides more chances to cook (meth) outdoors." Lt. Brent Long of the Cedar Rapids Police Department credits increased public awareness for identifying methamphetamine byproducts, but he warns people not to touch suspicious items. Items found at a dump site can include bottles, pseudoephedrine packages, gas tanks with pipes attached and aerosol cans. Long told the wire service, "Leave it alone. Call us."

Resolution seeks to stop tobacco sales at UT; also proposes smoke-free entrances

For some University of Tennessee professors there are just too many unhealthy butts on campus.

They would like to see an end to the sale of tobacco products at UT and the creation of some smoke-free entrances at all of its buildings, writes Randy Kenner of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

For the second time in two years a nonbinding resolution has been presented to UT's faculty senate to stop the sale of tobacco on campus. The measure, introduced by faculty senator Mark Harmon, an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media, also added the smoke-free entrance provision, writes Kenner. The last such bid by Harmon failed in late 2003. Harmon introduced his resolution at Monday's faculty senate meeting, where it didn't make it to a vote. Instead, it was pushed back to next month.

Harmon told Kenner after the meeting,"I'm pleased. It's a lot better than losing outright. If the faculty senate wants to take a month and debate it on the (group's) listserv fine. I hope we can pass it in May." Harmon said he introduced the measure again in part because cigarette smoking contributed to the death of his brother two years ago and because he said college is when some students become addicted to nicotine. Harmon told the newspaper, "I think it's a health issue. We are a better campus when we don't sell tobacco products."

Beauvais Lyons, a professor of art and former faculty senate president, spoke against the resolution because it was "brought to us in the 11th hour." Lyons called Harmon a good friend but said "whether you are in favor or against this resolution this is not the way we should do business, folks." Lyons said the resolution should go through the senate executive committee or another committee and be debated before the senate considers it, he writes.

EPA removes 21 counties in 9 states meet air-quality standards; removed from watch list

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced 21 counties in nine states are being removed from the government's watch list of areas in the country with the dirtiest air. Interested reporters and editors can look at the EPA's complete list to see if their county is effected and if so, can use the information to make a localized story. The states with counties now in compliance with the clean-air rules for soot are Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and California.

Ken Ward, Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports that the EPA list removed Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties in West Virginia's from its "'nonattainment' areas for small-particle pollution." The action will loosen permit requirements for new busineses in those areas, Ward writes, and the state's air quality officials won't have to create plans for reducing the air pollution of those areas. The EPA made the decisions after local business leaders, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the state Department of Environmental Protection made numerous complaints, he reports.

The government had identified 225 counties in 20 states that were either unclassified or not meeting its new clean-air standards for reducing the amount of microscopic soot in the air, putting those areas on notice that they must devise a pollution-reduction plan, writes Malia Rulon of The Associated Press. Failure to comply could mean a county will have to limit development and its state could lose federal highway dollars.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety, asked the EPA to review its list based on 2004 information. The agency said the review indicated certain areas now have air that is free of dangerous levels of soot, which comes from power plants, car exhaust, diesel-burning trucks, wood-burning stoves and other sources. About 5 million people live in these areas and now benefit from cleaner air, said the agency.

W. Va. Governor Manchin set to sign bill wooing AEP power plant; wants fast-track

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's proposal to help attract a next-generation, coal-fired power plant to the state awaits his signature after the state House unanimously agreed to accept Senate changes to the legislation.

The measure would end a requirement that utilities wait for final approval from the state Public Service Commission before applying for other permits. The Senate had amended the bill to only apply to power plants, writes Erik Shelzig of The Associated Press. Manchin introduced the bill to make the West Virginia site more attractive for American Electric Power Co. to build its first Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant. AEP has also identified potential sites in Kentucky and Ohio for the power station. IGCC plants convert coal into gas that is burned in turbines to power electric generators with reduced nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions.

P. Scott Icard, government affairs manager for AEP-subsidiary Appalachian Power Co., told Schelzig, "I think this (legislation) will be of benefit and certainly of consideration about where we're going to locate our plants in the future." The PSC permitting process can take 13 months, followed by another six months for environmental evaluations. Icard told AP, "You add those figures together consecutively and you're talking about a considerable length of time." Manchin said he hopes the legislation will help avoid delays, writes Schelzig.

Wal-Mart summons media to Arkansas headquarters for criticism counter-offensive

Continuing a public relations offensive that began last year, Wal-Mart executives brought reporters from around the world to company headquarters in Rogers, Ark. to address criticism it has received over its treatment of workers, its impact on small towns and its push into major metro markets such as Chicago and Los Angeles.

Wal-Mart Chief Executive H. Lee Scott said Wal-Mart's size and its expansion into the supermarket business, a unionized industry in many parts of the country, have made the retailer a lightening rod for disparagement, writes Heather Landy of the Star-Telegram of Dallas, Texas.

Scott told Landy, the criticism "is self-serving for people who do not want to compete in the arena the way it is today. They want to protect the status quo." Scott disputed labor groups' claims that the retail giant is leading a "race to the bottom" for wages and benefits, and he argued that the chain raises the standard of living for customers and employees, writes Landy. The company estimates its low prices save shoppers $100 billion a year, while aggressive hiring has helped remove 160,000 people from the ranks of the uninsured. Some 84 percent of Wal-Mart's workers have health insurance, more than half of whom are covered by Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart has been trying to repair its image after a series of embarrassing legal challenges and scandals, Landy writes. Female employees have filed a class-action lawsuit claiming widespread sex discrimination. The company also recently settled charges that its cleaning crew contractors hired illegal immigrants and that underage workers operated dangerous machinery.

Growth group staff member hope to get area thinking about suburb alternatives

A Virginia man who grew up in rural Prince William County in Northern Virginia., Michael McDevitt, says he watched as fields and woods around his boyhood home were gradually transformed into suburbs and shopping centers. Now he’s working to see that a similar fate does not befall the areas around Richmond.

As the first full-time staff member of the new Partnership for Smarter Growth, McDevitt hopes to help put together a blueprint for the region's growth, writes Will Jones of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He described the group to the Times-Dispatch, saying, "We're not coming into this with a confrontational attitude. We want to develop and grow in a way that's sustainable and livable." He said that means building more walkable neighborhoods near jobs, and clustering homes to preserve fields and forests. "It's all about having choices and alternatives" to traditional suburban- style growth.

McDevitt said he understands local governments have their own plans to guide development and that officials and many residents guard that authority fiercely. The problem, he told Jones, is the individual plans often don't make sense collectively. "If you take a bunch of pieces of cloth and stitch it together, I guess you could call it a suit, but I'm not going to wear it." The Partnership for Smarter Growth started last year and is operating through the education fund of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan, anti-sprawl lobbying group led by a steering committee of 10 to 15 people from across the region.

WKU hosts First Amendment celebration featuring prominent journalists

Western Kentucky University’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting, along with the provost office’s American Democracy Project, will host a celebration of the First Amendment called “First Amendment First,” on Thursday, April 21. The celebration comes after a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation survey revealed many high school students are ignorant about the rights guaranteed them in the First Amendment.

The event will feature professional journalists, philosophers and educators discussing First Amendment freedoms. The list includes recently retired New York Times columnist William Safire; former NBC chairman Julian Goodman; First Amendment Center executive director Gene Policinski; former Courier-Journal publisher Barry Bingham Jr.; his daughter, photojournalist Molly Bingham; and David Yalof and Kenneth Dautrich of the University of Connecticut, who conducted a survey of high school students’opinions of First Amendment rights for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

With so many high school students ignorant about First Amendment rights, some concerned teachers can look to new teaching methods when addressing the amendment's freedoms. Five pairs of teachers, who each won in the 2001 Newspaper Innovators in Education Awards, recently compiled a First Amendment booklet for teachers with suggestions on how to explain the amendment’s five freedoms using the newspaper. Their suggestions are targeted for elementary, middle and high school aged students, with activities to explain each of the five freedoms.

Some ideas include having students write letters to the local newspaper editor, asking them what freedom of the press means to them in their job and, for high schoolers, reading newspaper stories and identifying who might not want the story published. Let students decide if the press goes too far, not far enough, or just right regarding what it publishes.

The Society of Professional Journalists and its Western campus chapter are also working on the First Amendment celebration. SPJ participants will include Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs Jim Highland, adviser to the campus chapter; and three past SPJ presidents, Gordon “Mac” McKerral, Robert Leger and Al Cross, will be present on the Town Hall Meeting panel. Cross, former political writer for The Courier-Journal, is interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Leger is editorial page editor of the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader.

Six honorees to be inducted in Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame at April ceremony

The University of Kentucky has announced four journalists and two college professors will be inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in Lexington, reports The Associated Press.

The six, who will be inducted on April 19, include: Robert R. Adams, who has been a faculty member at Western Kentucky University since 1966 and adviser for the College Heights Herald since 1968. Gene Clabes, a past president of the Kentucky Press Association and former owner of the (Ludlow) News Enterprise and the Recorder Newspapers of Northern Kentucky. Lee Denney, a news director and anchor at WBKR-FM and WOMI-AM in Owensboro. Bob Johnson, a former political and government reporter for WHAS-TV and radio in Louisville for almost 20 years. He also was the chief political writer and, later, editor for The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

Marguerite McLaughlin, a UK faculty member from 1914 until 1950. McLaughlin, who died in 1961, was the first female reporter on a major Kentucky daily newspaper and one of the first female journalism teachers in the nation. She also co-founded the UK School of Journalism. Bob Schulman, a former radio, television and newspaper journalist in Louisville. He wrote for The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times and had a long-running commentary series on WHAS-TV and Radio.

Boston paper may cut one quarter of union newsroom positions after failing revenue

The Boston Herald’s publisher recently announced he wants lay-off about one quarter of 145 union newsroom positions, saving the newspaper $2 million.

Publisher Patrick J. Purcell wants to carve $7 million out of the paper’s expenses, after circulation and advertising revenues have both stagnated, writes Mark Jurkowitz of The Boston Globe. In a meeting with the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston yesterday, Purcell laid out a plan to cut 35 editorial positions. The company wants to try to reduce the staff through buyouts, but to follow up with layoffs if needed, Jurkowitz writes.

Some newsroom employees work on contracts instead of being covered by the Newspaper Guild. The guild was assured no changes would be made to nonguild employment, said Lesley Phillips, the guild's president. Phillips said the company indicated it would implement layoffs with regard to seniority, though Purcell made no reference to how they would be handled. Lay-off decisions by seniority runs against the union contract, but it’s not clear how the union would react if that were to happen, the Globe reports.

''It's shocking, frankly," said Tom Mashberg, a newsroom union shop steward. ''Obviously, you can't cut 35 people from your news staff and not have an impact on your product."

Hunter Thompson's ashes will be shot from cannon in tribute, wife says

Often noted for his outlandish lifestyle, “Gonzo Journalist” Hunter S. Thompson's ashes will be blasted from a cannon mounted inside a 53-foot-high sculpture of the journalist's "gonzo fist" emblem.

His wife told news reporters the cannon shot, planned sometime in August on the grounds of his Aspen-area home, will fulfill the writer's long-cherished wish, writes Dan Elliott of The Associated Press. Anita Thompson said, "It's expensive, but worth every penny. I'd like to have several explosions. He loved explosions." Thompson, 67, shot himself in the head on Feb. 20 after a long and flamboyant career that produced such new journalism classics as "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and cast his image as a hard-charging, drug-crazed daredevil, AP reports.

The cannon shot will be part of a larger public celebration of Thompson's life. Some details of the ceremony and celebration remain to be worked out. But, Anita Thompson said the gonzo fist will be mounted on a 100-foot pillar, making the monument 153 feet high. It will resemble Thompson's personal symbol, a fist on an up-thrust forearm, sometimes with "Gonzo" emblazoned across it, writes the wire service.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Report shows where health care stands in each state, in nine areas of concern

A national health report provides an opportunity for reporters and editors to do stories on how their states ranked on nine different health-related issues, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health and respiratory disease. The 2004 National Healthcare Quality Report, a state-by-state review mandated by Congress, looks at the "effectiveness, safety, timeliness, and patient centeredness" of state health care for each issue, according to the full report's web site.

Kentucky is one state plagued by high rates of cancer and diabetes, but the state received solid marks for some preventive efforts, writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. The state ranks high for early prenatal care and is in the middle of the pack nationally for blood cholesterol checks to try to prevent heart disease, said the report. Kentucky's best ranking was 12th for the percentage of women receiving prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy, Schreiner writes. But, the state's overall cancer death rate easily exceeded the national average. In 2001, Kentucky had an overall cancer death rate of 227.9 per 100,000 people, compared with a national average of 195.1. Kentucky's death rates from lung cancer and colorectal cancer also topped the national averages, he writes.

For The Courier-Journal's version of the story by Patrick Howington, click here.

Uncertain tobacco times mean less production in state where leaf was once king

Many tobacco farmers in Western Kentucky are opting out, while others plan to hold on, but in the state where tobacco has been king, the crop for 2005 appears to be considerably less than previous years.

According to the planting-intentions reports to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 73,000 acres of burley tobacco will be planted in Kentucky this year, compared to 106,000 acres in 2004, writes James Mayse of the Messenger- Inquirier. U.S. farmers intend to plant a total of 108,000 acres of burley, down from 154,650 in 2004.

Mayse reports a wide variation from county to county in the Owensboro newspaper's circulation area: "In Hancock County, only one-fourth of farmers who grew tobacco in 2004 will plant a crop this year. But, in Daviess County, it seems most tobacco farmers intend to grow the crop in the upcoming season."

Daviess County's extension agent for agriculture, Clint Hardy, told the newspaper most county growers he knows plan to grow tobacco this year. His counterpart in Hancock County, Diane Perkins, said "very few" farmers will grow tobacco this year, and "I'm very surprised." Perkins told Mayse that producers are uncomfortable with the prospect of growing tobacco without the price support program that ended with the federal buyout of tobacco quotas.

The buyout has removed from the equation many of middlemen, such as quota owners who did not grow a crop but leased their allotment. Many growers continue to be interested in producing tobacco for a few more seasons, Mayse writes. Kelly Tiller of the University of Tennessee told him, "We're going to have two to three years of transition."

Second tobacco buyout program regulation published; dictates how buyout to occur

The first payments in the $10.1 billion tobacco buyout passed by Congress last year will be made between June and September, starting annual payments that will end the program that controlled American-grown leaf for 65 years.

The Agriculture Department has published the second of two regulations to dictate how the buyout occurs. The regulation spells out formulas that will be used to determine how much growers of each class of tobacco will be paid, and when the payments will occur, writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. Officials began registering quota holders and producers last month at Farm Service Agency offices. Sign-ups will continue through June 17.

Beginning next year, the government will make annual payments every January. Quota holders will receive $7 per pound of tobacco marketed under the quota in 2002, writes Roxe. Producers will receive $3 per pound, based on their share of the risk in the 2002, 2003 and 2004. Steve Connelly, assistant deputy administrator for farm programs at FSA, said there is no early count of the number of people who have signed up for the program so far.

Connelly told AP, "There's a lot of money at stake, a lot of people that are nervous because they're counting on this money. Doing away with the quota system is going to be a lifestyle change for a lot of producers. We want to make sure that we treat everybody fairly." FSA first mailed information to the 500,000 people registered as quota holders and producers after the buyout passed last fall. It has been running announcements in various media and scheduled 48 town hall meeting across tobacco states, Roxe writes.

For Farm Service Agency tobacco information, click here. The regulation can be found in the Federal Register.

Asheville poverty law center to fight eviction notice from federal poverty legal agency

The federal agency that helps fund legal services for the poor has filed a lawsuit seeking to force Pisgah Legal Services to give up the historic Asheville building that has housed its offices for nearly 24 years.

Pisgah Legal vows a spirited court battle against Legal Services Corp. Pisgah Legal severed its ties with the federal agency in 1998 because it wanted to retain local control, writes Clarke Morrison of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Attorney Larry McDevitt, a former Asheville mayor and one of the founding board members of Pisgah Legal Services told Morrison, “I can’t think of another act that will rally the lawyers of this county as much as this lawsuit will. And defend it we will. The gall of them to come in and take our building away is remarkable. We have a strong position, a position that is superior to theirs legally and morally.”

Raboteau Wilder, a Charlotte attorney representing Legal Services Corp. in the lawsuit, couldn’t be reached for comment. Phil Smith, president of the non-profit organization’s board of directors, told the newspaper defending the lawsuit will divert valuable resources away from the purpose for which Pisgah Legal Services was established in 1978: providing free legal assistance for the community’s most vulnerable citizens, writes Morrison.

Smith told Morrison, “We are determined to continue providing these critical services and helping people in crisis, regardless of this federally funded effort to bully Pisgah Legal Services out of its offices.” Legal Services Corp. maintains in its lawsuit that Pisgah Legal is in violation of its rental agreement and has refused to comply with demands made since 2002 to vacate, he writes.

Georgia school's effort to reduce dropouts show area’s plight: Poverty repeats itself

In Gordon County, Georgia, high school principal Allen Fort wanted to start encouraging students and convincing them a high school diploma is a life necessity. But five years into those efforts, 7.5 percent of Gordon Central High School’s 1,600 students dropped out last year, and only 50.5 percent of its students earned a diploma in four years.

About 36 percent of Georgia’s high school students don’t earn a high school diploma, one of the worst rates in the nation, writes Mary MacDonald of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Out of every six students in Georgia who graduates, three will go on to college and one will earn a college degree, said the former chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Phil Jacobs. "From an economic development standpoint, more and more people who are looking to relocate to Georgia are asking questions about why we are doing so badly," he told MacDonald.

In the Gordon County school system, low-skilled jobs are plentiful. Approximately one-third of Gordon Central High’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and about 40 percent of the area’s adult population didn’t graduate from high school. Employers in the area say they have to train recent graduates in typically entry-level tasks. Jacobs, who is now president of Georgia operations for BellSouth, said that less than half of applicants pass an entry-level assessment of as basic reading and writing and interpretive skills.

Fort summarized many of his student's attitudes about school, saying many of them would rather start making money that stay in class. "If I'm on my fourth generation of dirt poor — what is my life?" he said.

West Kentucky workers charge unfair treatment; say tire plant withholding benefits

Hundreds of former employees of a Western Kentucky tire plant that has ceased production protested this past weekend in front of the company to complain that their benefits are being withheld. The former workers at the Continental Tire plant in Mayfield marched about one mile from a local steelworkers union hall to a road near the plant on U.S. 45, reports The Associated Press.

United Steelworkers of America leaders say the workers have been shorted benefits due to them because the company says they have been laid off indefinitely. The plant ceased tire production on Dec. 15 and cut 730 jobs, but Continental officials say there is a chance that tire production might one day resume.

Union President Terry Beane said, "I can't make them give you guys your jobs back. All we're asking is something decent for these people to walk away with." Beane said Continental site manager Ken Herndon was invited to the rally. Herndon, AP reports, sent letters last week to notify laid-off workers of a current company proposal to provide $8,000 in severance pay, add five months of company-paid health care and increase early-retirement supplemental pay by $250 a month. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Prof with mountain experience heads University of Kentucky Appalachian Center

A University of Kentucky faculty member who has worked extensively in the mountains and Cumberland Plateau of Kentucky and Tennessee is being recommended as the new director of UK's Appalachian Center.

Evelyn Knight, a researcher and associate professor in the university's College of Public Health, will begin her new duties May 1, pending approval by the UK Board of Trustees, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. Knight worked 14 years in Appalachia before joining UK. She was an associate professor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., and was a coordinator at Appalshop, an arts and cultural cooperative in Whitesburg. Wendy Baldwin, the university's executive vice president for research, told AP, "She's going to bring a lot of new energy and her broad vision to the Appalachian Center."

Knight told the wire service she is excited about the position. The first order of business, she said, will be to meet with people who have an interest in the Appalachian Center, whether they're students, professors or community leaders in Eastern Kentucky. She told Alford, "I'm looking forward to it. The main thing I want to do is get out and talk with people. We'll be spending a lot of time in the car, really getting to know folks." Some in Eastern Kentucky have criticized the university for not locating the center in Appalachia.

The mission of the Appalachian Center, created more than 25 years ago, is to enlist experts from every field of study at the university to help solve problems in the mountains. Knight will guide the center as it takes on various research, service and education projects involving mountain communities. Knight, a New Jersey native, beat out one of Eastern Kentucky's best-known champions for economic development. Roger Recktenwald, who helped develop industrial parks and recruit factories to the region, was among the finalists selected by a search committee, Alford writes.

Millions designated to protect Colorado River wildlife; enviros say effort not enough

Federal and state officials have committed $626 million over the next 50 years to protect some of the Colorado River's most imperiled wildlife. They hope that the move will allow them to keep tapping water for swimming pools and irrigation ditches across the arid Southwest. The conservation effort, more than a decade in the making, is intended to keep healthy 26 species of plants, fish, birds and other animals along 400 miles of the river below the Hoover Dam, in Nevada, Arizona and California, writes Dean E. Murphy of The New York Times.

The water agencies expect to continue water and power operations on the river unburdened by concerns about endangered and threatened species. Craig Manson, the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks in the Interior Department, said at a gathering here near the dam, "Never before have we undertaken a program of this scope. Fifty years from now, the communities of the lower Colorado River will still be thriving," writes Murphy.

Environmental groups are highly critical of the effort. Most refused to participate in the planning because the 100 miles or so of the river in Mexico, where some of the richest and most threatened habitat exists, were excluded. Federal and state officials said it would have been impossible to control conservation activities across the border. Critics have also suggested the program does too little to account for climate changes because of global warming, which many scientists theorize will result in long-term reductions in water flows. Environmentalists want more of the water to remain in the river for wildlife, rather than have it siphoned off for agriculture and the 20 million people in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California who rely on it , he writes.

Conservation program in Nebraska seeks to recharge reservoirs, stop river depletion

Western Nebraska farmers took a big step in the fight to save water this Monday by signing up for the new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, designed to take irrigated land out production.

The program envisions taking 100,000 acres of irrigated land along the Platte and Republican River basins out of production, to recharge reservoirs and stop the depletion of rivers and streams, writes David Hendee of the Omaha World-Herald. “The program pays farmers the average of the irrigated cash rental rates in their counties,” he writes. “The average producer would receive about $125 an acre to turn their cropland back to grassland for 10 to 15 years.”

Officials hope to enroll 15,000 acres of land in the program’s first year. About 6,000 acres were enrolled by Sunday mid-afternoon, Hendee writes.

Minnesota casinos voted down; gambling plans may be melded after both go bust

Two bills proposing new casinos near the Twin Cities for rural Indian tribes have been decisively defeated in a Minnesota Senate committee The votes against the bills by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party majority on the committee were expected, writes Patrick Sweeney of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

But a decision by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Republican House leaders to postpone casino votes set for today in the House Tax Committee was a more important sign that the move to expand gambling in Minnesota is facing significant opposition from lawmakers, Sweeney writes. House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, told Sweeney members of Pawlenty's staff requested a delay in the Tax Committee votes because they feared the casino bills might be defeated.

Sviggum told the newspaper, "The governor's office wanted some opportunity, some time to develop a different strategy," A merger between the two casino plans — a state-tribal partnership that Pawlenty advocated and a rival plan promoted by the owners of Canterbury Park racetrack in Shakopee — could be the next step. Erma Vizenor, chairwoman of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, told Sweeney, "The tribes would consider it favorably."

As satellite radio takes off, it is altering the airwaves; more than 5 million

The newly emergent titans of radio –Clear Channel Communications, Infinity Broadcasting and the like – have been accused of lacking programming and news diversity and of drowning listeners in wall-to-wall commercials.

But now, the new medium of satellite radio is fast emerging as an alternative. And broadcasters are fighting back, writes Lorne Manly of The New York Times. The announcement last week by XM Satellite Radio, the bigger of the two satellite radio companies, that it added more than 540,000 subscribers from January through March pushed the industry's customer total past 5 million after fewer than three and a half years of operation. Analysts call that remarkable for firms charging more than $100 annually for a product that has been free for 80 years, writes Manly. Total subscribers at XM and its competitor, Sirius Satellite Radio, will probably surpass 8 million by the end of year.

XM and Sirius are furiously signing up carmakers to offer satellite radio as a factory-installed option and are paying tens of millions of dollars for exclusive programming. XM has begun offering every locally broadcast Major League Baseball game to a national audience, having acquired the rights in a deal that could be worth up to $650 million over 11 years, Manly writes. Each company offers 120 or more channels of music, news, sports and talk.

Sean Butson, an analyst with Legg Mason, told The Times, "Radio almost killed the golden goose by getting it to lay too many eggs. If you're going to have a third of an hour of commercials, you're going to turn a lot of people off, and they're going to look for an alternative." (Legg Mason owns stock in XM.)

Shop talk: Some Pulitzer Prizes have rural resonance; veteran Virginia editor retires

A series of articles about fatal accidents at rail crossings won a Pulitzer Prize for Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times. Finalists in the national reporting category included Steve Suo and Erin Hoover Barnett of The Oregonian, for their stories on the spread of methamphetamine in rural areas, highlighted in this report. The Oregonian acknowledged that the local alternative weekly, the 90,000-circulation Willamette Week, formed former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt that he had sexually abused a female minor in the 1970s -- a story that the daily paper chased but never nailed down. The weekly and Bogdanich also won Investigative Reporters and Editors awards, all listed here.

In literary Pulitzers, Nebraska insurance executive Ted Kooser, who just agreed to a second term as America's poet laureate and is a voice for rural America, won for poetry, recognizing his book Delights and Shadows. (On a new Library of Congress Web site, Kooser offers to newspapers for free.) For the story in his local paper, the Lincoln Journal Star, click here. Marilynne Robinson won the fiction prize for Gilead, named for a small Iowa town, which reviewer Michael Dirda said in The Washington Post "reads like a spiritual diary, the journal of a country pastor."

Nick Anderson of The Courier-Journal won the Pulitzer for editorial cartooning. Judges said Anderson, 38, was honored for "his unusual graphic style that produced extraordinarily thoughtful and powerful messages." Some of the cartoons in his entry took swipes at President Bush, the Republican Party and the religious right. Others were critical of the new Medicare prescription drug program and even the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, AP reported.

Charlotte Observer photographer Patrick Schneider, 35,took home two awards in the 2005 National Press Photographers Association's "Best of Photojournalism" competition, his newspaper reports. He won for his Olympic coverage and got an honorable mention for domestic news with a picture taken while documenting the efforts of the Charlotte Fire Department's swift-water rescue team during last summer's hurricanes.

After 39 years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, including more than 11 as executive editor, William H. Millsaps Jr. is retiring in July 1, his 63rd birthday. J. Stewart Bryan III, chairman and chief executive of Media General Inc., which owns the Times-Dispatch, said, "We're all sorry to see him go, but he deserves a retirement, if that's what he wants to do." Millsaps said he had been mulling it for about a year and a half but wanted to stay on to help make sure Thomas A. Silvestri "gets off to a fast start" as publisher, a job he assumed Jan. 1, writes the newspaper's Bob Rayner.

Monday, April 4, 2005

North Dakota farmers wary of proposed cuts; subsidies not a recipe for growth?

No one is talking about eliminating federal farm subsidies, just reducing them. But in North Dakota, where more than three in four farmers receive payments -- the highest percentage of any state -- the proposals working their way through the hearing rooms on Capitol Hill are big news.

President Bush proposed cuts of $5.7 billion from agricultural programs over the next 10 years as part of a deficit reduction package. The House Budget Committee set the figure at $5.3 billion, while its Senate counterpart said $2.8 billion should be trimmed. Most North Dakota farmers tell Peter Slevin of The Washington Post that any cut would be a bad cut. Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told the Post, "They've either had droughts or floods so many years in a row now, they've got a double-whammy. The further west you go, the more marginal the land is, so the 5 percent cut is going straight at your midsize family farm that's relying on commodities."

Bush called for a reduction of 5 percent across the board, as well as a $250,000 cap on payments to large producers. Farm income has been up the past two years, but Congress has channeled more than $130 billion in subsidies to farmers in less than a decade. Seventy percent of the cash goes to 10 percent of the producers, particularly cotton and rice farmers in the South, writes Slevin.

Farm subsidies create more dependency than growth, according to Mark Drabenstott, director of the Center for the Study of Rural America, writing in the latest issue of the center's Main Street Economist. He cites data from farm-dependent counties and says the key to rural economic growth is "fostering a climate of business innovation and entrepreneurship." Drabenstott's center is part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

Public investment in Internet access may help, not hurt, private firms

In many ways, affordable access to high-speed Internet broadband service resembles reliable electric service in the 1930s: It doesn’t exist in most rural areas, and municipalities have taken to providing it for these regions by trying to tap into larger private companies’ networks.

Those companies have persuaded state legislatures in Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah to ban municipalities from joining and creating communications networks. But the principal argument for prohibiting municipalities from joining the industry may be based on a huge misconception, according to new research by George S. Ford, president of Applied Economic Studies, a Tampa consultancy.

That misconception is a hypothesis that Ford calls “crowding out,” that a market can only sustain so many companies, so a municipality will crowd out at least one private company. Ford finds that a municipality may be the only way to get certain services to particular geographic areas, usually rural areas, partially because the return may not be large enough for a private firm to want to invest in that area.

His study found the opposite theory is more likely, one he calls “stimulation.” Municipalities investing in communication services, such as Internet access, actually helps increase the number of private firms in the region, presumably because the municipality helps build up the network the private firm needs before it will invest.

Such findings could hamper the arguments of telecommunications firms that have been pushing states to keep communities from publicly investing in communications services. The issue arose recently in the West Virginia Senate, when legislators toned down a bill designed to encourage public-private partnerships for broadband Internet service, after pressure from larger communications companies.

To see the blog item of this Charleston Gazette story, visit the March archive. To see Ford’s full report, click here.

Biofuels incentives encouraged; may not create alternative fuels market, says report

A report by the state comptroller’s office says Tennessee lawmakers should include incentives for consumers in any taxpayer-funded help for the alternative fuels industry. The report, which didn't advocate a course of action, also cautioned lawmakers to take a close look at markets and infrastructure needs before subsidizing production and distribution networks for biofuels, writes Scott Barker of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Bio-fuels include ethanol, which is made with corn or sugar, and bio-diesel, which is made with soybeans or waste grease. Advocates for bio-fuels say their use would help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, create a renewable energy source, strengthen farmers and reduce harmful emissions, Barker writes. The report concluded that using bio-diesel in trucks and heavy equipment could reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions. Less clear is the effect of ethanol on ozone levels.

Both farm and fuel trade groups found something to like in the report, though they differed in how they would like to see the biofuels industry develop. Mike Williams of the Tennessee Petroleum Council, which opposed an ethanol bill proposed last year, said consumer demand must come first. Distributors wouldn't invest the millions of dollars necessary to build a distribution network for biofuels, he said, without a market for them. However, he told Barker, if incentives create a market, energy companies would fill it. "We're in the fuel business, not the gas business. If people want to run their cars on vinegar and soda water, we'll provide it."

Joe Pearson, director of commodity activities for the Tennessee Farm Bureau, told the newspaper consumer incentives alone wouldn't do. He said subsidizing production and distribution would help stimulate demand at the same time by making it easier for motorists to find outlets selling biofuels.He said "It's the old chicken-and-the-egg deal."

Ky. joblessness hits rural areas hardest; toughest for coal economies, physical labor force

Officials in many rural areas across Kentucky are scrambling to lower unemployment, but are finding that bringing jobs to a local economies that have been based primarily on agriculture isn't a simple feat.

Last year, 74 out of Kentucky's 120 counties had an unemployment rate above the state's average of 5.3 percent, according to the Kentucky Education Cabinet's Office of Employment and Training. The rate in 41 counties was below the average, and five were right on the average, writes Joe Biesk of The Associated Press. Wolfe County Judge-Executive Raymond Hurst told Biesk, "I really don't know the answer. If I knew, I'd get something in here."

In 2004, the U.S. unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, according to the office. The statistics are estimates and based on the number of people actively seeking work. The same year, Eastern Kentucky counties of Magoffin, Elliott, Wolfe, Morgan, Leslie, Carter, Lewis and Powell -- along with Fulton and Hickman counties in Western Kentucky -- all had unemployment rates above 8 percent. Magoffin County had the highest at 12.7 percent, followed by Elliott and Wolfe counties at 9.9 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively, writes Biesk.

John Garen, an economics professor and co-director of the University of Kentucky's Center for Business and Economic Research, told Biesk that historically many counties, particularly in Eastern Kentucky, have had unemployment rates above the state and national averages. Many of the counties have had less of a knowledge-based economy and focused more on physical labor, including coal mining. That, Garen said, has contributed to the higher unemployment rates. And, he added, it's a cycle that's hard to break. When companies look to locate in Kentucky, they tend to focus on the state's urban areas of Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky, writes Biesk.

Kentucky crackdown on overweight trucks nets violators; speed-ticket blitz planned

A year after it began, Kentucky's crackdown on overweight coal trucks in Eastern Kentucky is rolling on. Now enforcers plan to focus more on ticketing truckers who drive fast to get in extra, lighter loads.

Final numbers had not been tabulated, but in one four-day stretch, Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement officers weighed at least 957 coal trucks in Eastern Kentucky and wrote only 32 overweight tickets, writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Most officials were not surprised by the results. KVE Commissioner Greg Howard told Mueller, "I just want people to know the enforcement is here to stay. It's not a fly-by-night thing." Howard, however, pointed out that up until last year's unexpected blitz -- resulting in more than 200 overweight tickets -- nearly all of the 1,800 coal trucks traveling U.S. 23 daily exceeded the state's generous weight limits.

For more than three decades, law-enforcement agencies had essentially ignored the speeding, grossly overweight trucks that occasionally killed people in traffic accidents and pulverized the 114-mile four-lane highway, which is Eastern Kentucky's main north-south artery, Mueller writes. Because it leads to a sprawling complex of barge-loading facilities on the Big Sandy River near Catlettsburg, it also is generally considered the nation's busiest coal-haul road.

Kentucky's maximum fine for overweight trucks is $500, although judges in most mountain counties levy lower penalties. Under Kentucky law, 18-wheel tractor-trailer rigs are legally permitted to haul up to 126,000 pounds of coal -- 46,000 pounds above the federal weight limit. But until last year, Howard told the Herald-Leader, trucks frequently were caught carrying up to 200,000 pounds. Rick Caudill of Martin in Floyd County said, "It's like they've taken the biggest, baddest shark in the ocean out of the water. It just feels safer. A lot safer."

Consumer advocate sees 'tug of war' for new power plant; W.Va., Ky. and Ohio vying

A fight over the location of a new, billion-dollar power plant could mean consumers will end up footing the bill, according to a top consumer advocate in one of three states vying for the project.

"American Electric Power Co. wants to build its first next-generation, coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River, but the utility is seeking changes to permitting and cost-recovery mechanisms before making a final decision," writes Erik Schelzig of The Associated Press.

Ohio Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander told Schelzig, "It seems that AEP is playing Ohio against West Virginia to see who will give them better rate recovery. It's not right to do that at the cost of the consumers." Kentucky is also in the running for the new facility. The AEP project would be the first commercial-scale plant using special technology to convert coal into gas that is burned in turbines to power electric generators. The process decreases nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates and mercury emissions, writes Schlezie.

AEP has filed paperwork in Ohio requesting the utility be allowed to increase rates to help pay for planning and building the plant at a site it is considering. The company has also made a preliminary filing in West Virginia for a possible plant about eight miles away from the Ohio site. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has introduced legislation to speed up permitting procedures in hopes of persuading AEP to build the facility near an existing plant.

But Manchin bristles at the suggestion that West Virginia could be manipulated into making unfavorable changes to the state's permitting rules. He told AP, "They're not going to play me against anybody. We have the utmost confidence we can attract a plant here, but we have to have the best possible deal that we can get." AEP officials say a third potential site, in Kentucky, remains in the running.

Opponents of Wal-Mart to coordinate efforts; company countering, courting media

Led by Wal-Mart's longtime opponents in organized labor, a new coalition of about 50 groups -- including environmentalists, community organizations, state lawmakers and academics -- is planning the first coordinated assault intended to press the company to change the way it does business.

In the next few months, those critics will speak with one voice in print advertising, videos and books attacking the company, they say. They also plan to put forward an association of disenchanted Wal-Mart employees, current and former, to complain about what they call poverty-level wages and stingy benefits, writes Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times. The critics have already begun lobbying in 26 states for legislation intended to embarrass Wal-Mart by disclosing how many thousands of its employees do not receive company health insurance and turn to taxpayer financed Medicaid.

Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club, which has joined the coalition, told Greenhouse, "We recognize that we are much more likely to win the battle against a giant like Wal-Mart if we act on multiple fronts. You don't want to challenge Wal-Mart just on health care or just on the environment or just on sex discrimination. You want to pressure them on all three. This is an assault on a business model. We're not trying to shut Wal-Mart down."

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest company, is in turn mounting a huge counter-offensive. Last week, it took out an advertisement across two pages in The New York Review of Books in which it defended its business practices and accused its union detractors of being selfish, writes Greenhouse. Wal-Mart is spending millions of dollars on television advertisements in which blacks, Hispanics and women say Wal-Mart is an excellent place to work. And, Wal-Mart has invited 100 journalists to its Arkansas headquarters to hear its case tomorrow.

N.C. paper clarifies living wills, advanced directives after Terri Schiavo confusion

The Watauga Democrat in Boone, N.C., was one of many local newspapers that responded to the Terri Schiavo controversy with a story for residents concerned about how to manage their affairs in prepartion for the worst.

Scott Nicholson of the Democrat talked to local attorney Carole Spainhour, experienced in estate planning and elder law for ten years, about living wills, advanced directives and other documentation. She said a living will is “not ironclad,” because it leaves many details subjective, especially in determining what's considered a “terminal and incurable condition,” Nicholson writes. She recommended instead filing a certain advanced directive form for “Health Care Power of Attorney,” which appoints a legal agent who can make medical decisions on your behalf, should you be incapacitated. Let that person know your wishes, and share those wishes with all other family members.

Every state has its own advanced directive forms, so make sure if you move that you fill out that state’s forms, Nicholson writes. Spainhour recommends not filling out a living will, because some of the language may trump the Power of Attorney form. “Basically, what you find is that doctors and hospitals can ignore living wills. It’s important to keep those documents in place,” Spainhour said. “Even more important than the document is to have the conversation with family members.”

Smithsonian launches music download service, features traditional music

The Smithsonian Institution will soon be competing with other popular music download services, such as Apple’s iTunes Music Store and Microsoft’s MSNmusic, when it launches the Smithsonian Global Sound project this June during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The project will offer all kinds of music, from the earliest American folk songs to groups doing contemporary versions of traditional European, African, Asian and South American music, writes Jacqueline Trescott of The Washington Post. The songs, available in MP3 format, will cost 99 cents each and the Smithsonian will pay royalties to the artists.

The Rockefeller Foundation, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and the Allen Foundation for Music and Folkways Alive! at the University of Alberta contributed start-up money for the project. The site will allow searching by artist, location, language, cultural group or instrument.

Mike Seeger, a member of the New Lost City Ramblers and son of musicologist Charles Seeger fully supports the new project. "I have a feeling of mission that I would like to have people get to know this realm of music better. This is a way to afford it," he said.

Wolf group causing a stir in the Senate after trappers threaten to end research

A family of wolves, known as the Toklat group, has become an easy target for trappers after long cohabitation with people in Denali National Park in Alaska.

For about sixty years, biologist Gordon Haber and other scientists have chronicled hunting techniques, mating habits and the social structuring of this geographically stable family of wolves, but members are being picked off with traps, writes Blaine Harden of The Washington Post. Thomas Meier, a biologist for the National Park Service in Denali, said, "Frankly, these wolves aren't as wary of humans as the average wolf. Trappers usually catch young wolves, stupid wolves, but that is not the case here. They are catching mature animals habituated to people."

After pressure from animal rights groups and wildlife preservationists, Sens. Frank Lautenberg, Carl M. Levin and Barbara Boxer wrote to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, asking her to take immediate action to save the Toklat family of wolves. "These wolves are a national treasure and are of inestimable value to scientists and thousands of park visitors each year," the senators wrote. So far Norton hasn’t replied, a department spokesman said.

Haber asked the Alaska Board of Game to stop trapping on state land that juts into a northeastern section of the national park, where the Toklat wolves have been trapped recently. However, the board refused to expand the no-trap buffer area. "We don't manage wolves for their safety and livelihood and whatnot," said the board chairman, Mike Fleagle. "We feel that wolves shouldn't be treated individually. Sure, wolves are complex, and sure, they have a pretty interesting social structure, but the bottom line is Alaska is crawling with wolves. We manage for population."

Remedies emerging as issue in federal tobacco case; cost, benefit ratio a concern

One of the most costly civil cases ever prosecuted by the Justice Department, the racketeering trial against the tobacco industry, now in its seventh month, is being heard in two courts and could reach a third, raising questions about what the government might gain with a victory.

Testimony continues in the Federal District Court in a nonjury trial to determine whether companies hid the adverse health affects of cigarettes for 50 years, as the government contends. Meanwhile, an appeal is already under way to determine the extent of liability if the trial judge rules against the companies, writes Michael Janofsky of The New York Times. Barring a settlement, the efforts are expected to drag out for months, driving up litigation costs to hundreds of millions of dollars for each side. William S. Ohlemeyer, vice president and associate general counsel for Altria, the parent of Philip Morris and one of the five defendant companies, told Janofsky, "This is a very expensive, very time-consuming process. It's particularly difficult with such a large number of people working for such a long period of time."

The big question now is how the tobacco companies might be held accountable if the government wins its case. Judge Gladys Kessler had ruled the government could seek $280 billion from the companies as a remedy for any past fraudulent acts. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has overruled her, asserting financial remedies would be contrary to civil racketeering law, which requires remedies to prevent and restrain future illegal acts.

The appellate decision has cast doubt on other remedies the government might seek and whether they would accomplish the lawsuit's goals any better than the latest tobacco bill in Congress, which seeks to confer regulatory authority over tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration. Government lawyers say that even without a financial remedy, Judge Kessler has at her disposal a broad pallet of methods that could discourage future illegal acts.

President Bush authorizes use of quarantine powers in cases of bird flu

President Bush has signed an executive order authorizing the government to impose a quarantine to deal with any outbreak of a particularly lethal variation of influenza now found in Southeast Asia.

The order intends to deal with a type of influenza referred to as bird flu. Since January 2004, an estimated 69 people, primarily in Vietnam, have contracted the disease. But Dr. Keiji Fukuda, a flu expert at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said he suspects there are more cases, reports The Associated Press.

The fatality rate for the disease is reported to be about 70 percent. Health officials around the world are trying to monitor the virus because some flu pandemics are thought to have begun with birds. President Bush's order added pandemic influenza to the government's list of communicable diseases for which a quarantine is authorized. It gives the government authority to detain or isolate a passenger arriving in the United States to prevent an infection from spreading, AP writes. The Department of Health and Human Services told the wire service the authority would be used only if the passenger posed a threat to public health and refused to cooperate with a voluntary request.

The quarantine list was amended in 2003 to include SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, which killed nearly 800 people in 2003. Other diseases on the list are cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, plague, smallpox, yellow fever and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

Bluegrass journalists' seminar on words, religion, using Internet to catch criminals

The Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is conducting a second 'Learning from the Best' forum Saturday, April 9 at the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The forum, entitled 'Riting, Religion and Research,' features a first session on 'Getting Your Words Worth' with Emmy Award winning, writing consultant and nationally syndicated columnist Rick Horowitz. The second session will feature a panel discussion moderated by Asbury College journalism professor Mike Longinow on religion, including the Muslim faith. In the afternoon, Herald-Leader staffer Linda J. Johnson explains how she used the Internet to track a convicted baby-killer, the subject of the cover story in this month's Quill magazine, and give tips on computer-assisted reporting.

The Herald-Leader is located at 100 Midland Ave. in Lexington. The cost for SPJ Bluegrass members is $10, for non-members, $20 and for students it's $5. For further information, you can e-mail chapter treasurer Patti Cross at or Liz Hansen, chapter president, at

Friday, April 1, 2005

Bipartisan freedom-of-information reforms running into trouble in Congress

Looks like it may be time for journalists in all parts of the country, rural and urban, to speak out in favor of improving the federal Freedom of Information Act. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday that he thinks his proposed legislation to study problems with FOIA will pass, but legislation to actually reform the law may be up against a wall.

Some of Cornyn’s colleagues said they questioned why he wanted to “help the press” and “make it easier for reporters to air government’s dirty laundry,” he told Lisa Falkenberg of The Associated Press. Cornyn said members of Congress would not be subjected to the FOIA reforms, but the added exemption was necessary so he could get the bill to pass. "We hope to get a good start on this bill and not kill it in the cradle," he said.

Cornyn, a Republican, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, co-sponsored a bill to create a panel that would recommend ways to speed up information requests, writes Falkenberg. The bill to reform the FOIA would create an ombudsman to settle disputes, and require agencies to give requesters a tracking number within 10 days, so that they can check the status and estimated date of completion for their requests. The bill also requires agencies to create either a telephone or Internet system, so that requesters can check their request’s status. Agencies that fail to respond within 20 days would forfeit FOIA request exemptions and could be forced to pay the requester’s attorney fees.

Rural Montana schools need strong incentives to attract teachers, report says

A new report shows Montana's rural and American Indian school districts have the hardest time recruiting teachers, and recommends the state should develop incentive programs that entice educators to those areas.

Curt Nichols, former assistant state budget director, prepared the report on teacher recruitment and retention for the Montana Taxpayers Association. "Nichols' report contradicts the argument made by the education lobby that the state should raise the base pay of all teachers in order to help rural and Indian districts recruit teachers," writes Allison Farrell of the Billings Gazette.

Nichols told the special legislative committee working on a school funding formula, "I think it's questionable whether a general rise in salaries would solve recruitment and retention problems." He said teachers in rural and Indian districts earn an average $7,000 less than their teaching counterparts statewide. Raising the pay of all teachers would preserve that inequity, writes Farrell.

The most difficult positions to fill in all schools are in world languages, special education, mathematics and music. Nichols said Montana's recruitment problems follow the national trend, and the state should consider offering targeted incentives, such as student loan forgiveness, signing bonuses, moving expenses, additional stipends for teachers in shortage areas, increased starting salaries and differentiated compensation for teachers in high-demand fields. He cautioned against raising the base pay of all teachers, she writes.

To bring Montana teacher pay in line with the average pay of bordering states would cost an additional $6.4 million a year. To bring Montana teacher pay from the bottom of the nation to 25th in the nation would cost another $74.7 million a year and to bring it to the U.S. average would cost an additional $122.4 million a year. The Montana Supreme Court declared the existing funding formula unconstitutional and told the Legislature to come up with a fix by Oct. 1.


Eastern Kentucky cattle farmers reporting success on topless mountains

A project to improve heifer quality has produced vast improvements in cattle and sale prices for Eastern Kentucky farmers, who are grazing cattle on reclaimed mountaintop-removal strip mines.

Each October, consignors bring cattle to the D&D Ranch in Knott County, named for the Duff brothers who mine coal in the area. According to a story by Aimee Heald-Nielson of the communications office of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, the heifers have the same vaccination schedule and must meet a strict pelvic measurement requirment. Larger pelvises reduce calving problems.

Heifers are bred at the ranch and sold, but some farmers bring cattle home to improve herds. The project manager, Perry County farm extension agent Charles May, said he’s seen improvements in the cattle and in management practices. While some price increases can be attributed to the overall higher cattle market, May said some stems from the quality of the animals. "We started out averaging about $700 a head and in the last sale we averaged nearly $1,000,” he said. “We know people are hearing a lot about these heifers and they are willing to pay more for them."

The project is now operating at or near full capacity with 600 heifers. In fact, the program can’t grow anymore because it has run out of land, May said. Consignors from Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky are all participating. "We started over seven years ago and I never knew where we'd be by now, but it just keeps getting bigger and better," he said. "This year we actually had to turn some people away."

Studies by UK professor David Ditsch, associate agronomy professor and superintendent of the university's Robinson Station, have shown that cattle generally need more than three times as much reclaimed land as typical pasture land. That's because reclaimed land is highly compacted and has a lower capacity to retain water. Waste from grazing cattle helps the soil develop a thin but useful layer of organic matter in 10 to 15 years, sooner than expected, Ditsch reports.

Kentucky county moves to keep Nashville sludge off reclaimed strip mine

Hopkins County, Kentucky's governing board has moved to block a proposal to import sewage sludge from Nashville.

A standing-room-only crowd of about 80 people watched as the Fiscal Court voted unanimously to pass a draft ordinance forbidding any use of sludge "that causes or may cause a nuisance." The ordinance requires another vote, tentatively set for the Fiscal Court's April 14 meeting, before it becomes law, writes James Malone of The Courier-Journal. The county attorney raised concerns that it may be too stringent to survive a court challenge.

Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, said Gov. Ernie Fletcher has decided the state will conduct a public hearing on the application to import the sludge before a permit is granted, if the plan passes technical approval. Magistrate Karol Welch said, "If it starts, we can't stop it." Welch told the newspaper more than 1,000 people signed petitions calling on Fletcher to require a hearing. The application led to an outcry from people who live near the mine site near Nortonville. Residents fear the sludge would cause unpleasant odors, draw swarms of flies and possibly hurt water quality.

Charles W. Martin, manager of Bioreclamation LLC of Wickliffe, the company that filed the sludge application, did not return a phone message left at his office by Malone seeking comment on the Fiscal Court's action. In its application last month with the state Division of Waste Management, Bioreclamation proposed bringing in 3,000 tons of sewage sludge a week from Nashville to a reclaimed strip mine owned by Don Bowles of Madisonville.

Tom FitzGerald, who drafted the ordinance for the county, said it would prohibit composting sludge in unlined earthen trenches, which is what Bioreclamation proposes to do. Under the application, sludge would be placed under a layer of dirt in unlined trenches at the strip mine and allowed to decompose without air for about four months. It later would be mixed with power plant ash and applied as a soil additive to reclaimed strip mines.

West Virginia water-quality board opposes weaker pollution rules

As West Virginia lawmakers appear poised to strip the state Environmental Quality Board of its rulemaking authority, board members have taken one last shot at opposing efforts to weaken the state’s water-pollution rules. They have refused to endorse a legislative-ordered elimination of a statewide water quality limit for the toxic metal manganese, writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

The change was sought by coal-industry lobbyists and added to a bill last year that made several other industry-backed changes to state water rules, Ward writes. Ed Snyder, a Shepherd University scientist and chairman of the board, told him, “I see this as being an issue that, as a board, we would be unwise to endorse.” In ordering the manganese change, lawmakers added to growing tension between themselves and the board members.The move helped set up — for the third year in a row — a battle over industry efforts to move water rulemaking duties from the board to the state Department of Environmental Protection, he writes.

South Carolina polluters could face grand jury; proposal cracks down on offenders

Companies and their employees who intentionally harm the environment could face state grand jury investigations under legislation that has cleared the South Carolina Senate.

The legislation, seen as a key tool for the attorney general’s office in prosecuting environmental crimes, has gotten final Senate approval. The House is considering similar legislation, writes Jim Davenport of The State. Companies would have to cause more than $1 million in damages before the state grand jury could investigate, he writes for the Columbia newspaper. Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, said the bill will “protect the state from those people who intentionally violate the state’s laws.” Sen. Dick Elliott, D-Horry, spoke against the bill but won changes that clarified how it would work. It still has a shortcoming, Elliott said, because the definition of what might be an environmental crime is too broad. For instance, he said, there’s no clear definition on wetlands..

Under the bill, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control would investigate how companies are following the state's environmental laws. If they have evidence of intentional violations, and an independent estimate showing that damage or cleanup costs could be $1 million or more, the DHEC would call on the state Law Enforcement Division and the attorney general's office. The attorney general would refer cases for grand-jury investigation. Companies would be protected from simultaneous state and federal prosecution. Knotts told Davenport the legislation is not to harrass companies, but is “solely for those people who are intentionally, knowingly or willfully violating the environmental laws.”


Getting plucked: Chicken farming resembles sharecropping, Texas Observer says

Chicken farmer Barry Townsend woke up and took his wife’s 38-caliber revolver to Sanderson Farms. There, he shot and killed manager Kevin Crook, injured manager Larry Ryals and then put the gun in his mouth and killed himself.

Why, at age 46, would Townsend do that? A rumor in New Waverly, Tex., is that Townsend was a victim of modern-day sharecropping and indentured servitude, writes Dave Mann of The Texas Observer. He talked to 11 current and former growers whose contracts with Sanderson Farms required them to borrow $400,000 or more to build chicken houses. Contractors often put up land as collateral, and with their land at stake, they are totally under the company’s control, Mann writes. He says Sanderson Farms declined to comment.

The contractors described low pay, long hours, financial manipulation and health problems that some blamed on additives in the company’s chicken feed. Sanderson Farms advertises its chicken as “all natural,” but some groups are challenging that, Mann reports. Susan Martin, a former contract egg grower for the company, says its feed has traces of arsenic. Sanderson has acknowledged that arsenic is part of Roxarsone, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to spur growth and kill bacteria. Scientists have questioned whether arsenic in chicken feed can make its way into the meat, but so far data remains inconclusive, the Observer reports.

Barn restoration popular in Maine; residents try to preserve ‘rural heritage’

Some homes in Saco, Me., are looking a little different than the average Midwesterner would expect. Instead of terraced windows there are high lofts, and curved roofs replace some of the slanted, triangular house tops.

No, it’s not a revolution in architecture. It’s the result of a growing movement, which began in the 1990s, in Maine to restore historic barns. Newcomers bought up homes with empty barns and “turned farm country into suburbs,” reports The Associated Press. A historian with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, Christi Mitchell, said awareness of barn restoration has grown in the past 10 years. ''Barns are one of the most important markers we can use to look at our rural heritage," she said.

There’s no state money to support the cause, but the Legislature is considering several bills that would create a grant program for barn restoration projects, AP writes. Jim Leary, 75, is one resident pleased with the move. He owns Saco’s last operating dairy farm, and he’s seen lots of barns raised in his lifetime. ''Something about barns, especially old post and beam ones that were hewn out by hand, there is a spirit of cooperation about them,” he said.


Georgia legislators approve smoking ban before adjourning; will Minnesota follow?

The Georgia General Assembly has wrapped up its 2005 legislative session by voting to, among many other things, restrict where people can smoke in a state where tobacco has long been grown.

The legislature gave final approval to a smoking ban bill that prohibits lighting up in many eateries. It exempts bars and restaurants that don't employ minors. Smoking also would be allowed in lounges at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and at some small businesses, write Jim Tharpe and Nancy Badertscher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sen. Don Thomas (R-Dalton), a physician who sponsored the bill, told the newspaper, "It'll save thousands of lives."

Minnesota's state legislature is also considering a statewide smoking ban in restaurants. A House committee rejected a measure earlier, but backers in the Senate are still pushing to revive the issue this year, reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Supporters may try to attach it to healt care-related measures on the House floor, said Rep. Ron Latz and Rep. Doug Meslow. Chief sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble told reporters there is about a 50 percent chance of statewide ban passing if it were put to a full Senate vote. The state's two biggest counties have already passed smoking bans.

Georgia lawmakers pass voter photo ID law; critics say hurts poor, old, rural residents

The Georgia legislature has approved what election officials called the strictest measure in the country for screening voters, requiring one of six forms of government-issued photo identification at the polls.

Supporters said they were trying to prevent fraud and breed confidence in election results. But Democrats accused the legislature's Republican majority of trying to screen out poor, rural and minority voters, who they said were less likely to have such identification and less likely to vote Republican, writes Ariel Hart of The New York Times.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, will review the bill before deciding whether to sign it, said his press secretary, Heather Hedrick, but in general he "believes that voting is at least as important as seeing an R-rated movie," for which she said photo identification was also required, writes Hart.

Georgia voters are now allowed to present any of 17 forms of identification, most of them, including bank statements and utility bills, bearing no photos. Seven other states request photo identification, but all offer an alternative, according to the Georgia secretary of state's office, she writes.

Shootout coming in Nebraska legislature: Panel approves concealed-weapons measure

Nebraska lawmakers may have to hunker down for a gunfight, at least figuratively, following the legislative Revenue Committee's approval of a proposal to legalize carrying concealed weapons in the state.

“The bill, introduced by State Sen. Jeanne Combs of Friend, would allow Nebraskans to carry concealed handguns if they obtained training and a permit and passed a background check,” writes Leslie Reed of the Omaha World-Herald. Carrying concealed weapons has been a contentious issue before the Legislature for a number of years. Combs told the newspaper Nebraska is now one of only four states that do not allow concealed carry. Despite a history of avoiding the issue, Combs believes this is the year for a concealed weapons bill to pass.

As amended, the proposal would give the Nebraska State Patrol authority to issue the permits. Supporters say that would result in more consistent standards for issuing the permits and improved public safety. But, State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha vowed another tough battle on the floor of the one-chamber Legislature. "I will not be the only one opposing it. It's going to be a hard battle for them."

Supporters say a decision on when the concealed-carry measure might reach the legislative floor for debate is up to Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear and they hope the measure can be debated before the state budget is forwarded to the full Legislature for action later this month. Combs told Reed she hopes to have the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill over a filibuster by opponents. Combs is a former crime victim who owns a handgun. She asked rhetorically, "What's 911? 911 is what you call after the fact to pick up the pieces."

West Virginia Legislature may help local governments with jail costs

Legislation to split the cost of regional jails among state, counties and municipalities has apparently died in the West Virginia Legislature, but other measures aimed at saving counties money on the jails remain alive.

Bills in the Legislature had to pass their house of origin by mid-week to stay alive. The session ends April 9, writes Scott Wartman of The Herald-Dispatch. Lawmakers had introduced a flurry of bills targeting the large cost the regional jails impose on the state’s counties, writes Wartman for the Huntington newspaper.

The Legislature drafted bills to either split the $48.50 per prisoner per day cost, currently paid by counties, or make the court system more efficient and therefore reduce the amount of time prisoners spend in jail. But, bills to divide the costs of the regional jail between the different governments didn’t garner much support.

One would have made the state responsible for 50 percent of the cost of housing prisoners and the municipality responsible for 10 percent if the crime is committed in the municipality. Others to make the arresting agency, either state, county or municipal police. pay for the first night’s incarceration also failed to get approval from either house. Del. Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, told the newspaper the state or municipalities don’t have the money. He told Wartman, "I think a lot of those bills were for show than for real. To suggest the municipalities can just come and pick up a share of the cost when there is no money is not real sound."

Other bills to help reduce the costs and number of prisoners still stand a chance of passage. The Senate passed two bills that would require bond reviews for defendants after each term of the grand jury where the state would have to show a judge why the prisoners should not be released on bond while awaiting trial. Another bill passed by the Senate allows magistrates to order home confinement to keep people out of the jails. The Senate also passed a bill to add $30 court fees for criminal cases and $20 for civil cases to go into a fund to help counties pay for the jail. Regional Jail officials have estimated this could reduce jail costs for counties by 10 to 15 percent.


Feds reviewing Kentucky road-construction change orders that raise costs

The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating how change orders are used at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to raise the cost of road projects, sometimes by millions of dollars. Until a recent change by the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, changes could be made by officials in the field, without approval from their supervisors in the state capital. Kentucky continues to undertake much road construction in rural areas.

The federal DOT's Office of Inspector General first called the cabinet last year, after the cabinet ordered its own inspector general, Bobby Russell, to resign. Russell had submitted a report that specifically criticized change orders approved for some of the state's most prominent road builders, writes John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

For five months, the Transportation Cabinet has refused to release Russell's report, calling it an early draft that needs more work. But, state Highway Commissioner Marc Williams told the newspaper the cabinet's new inspector general is sharing the report and other records with investigators from the federal DOT's regional office in Chicago.

Officials in the federal DOT's Office of Inspector General said they have the authority to look for waste, fraud or abuse in state projects involving federal highway money, but declined to discuss specifics of the case, writes Cheves. The cabinet's new inspector general, David Ray, declined to discuss meetings with federal investigators. Ray also would not say how his predecessor's report on change orders is being altered, or when it will be finished.

State Auditor Crit Luallen recently released a report on use of federal funds at many state agencies, including a section urging more scrutiny of change orders at the Transportation Cabinet. Yesterday, Luallen said her auditors ran into investigators with the federal DOT in February at the cabinet's Frankfort headquarters. For several weeks, her auditors shared meetings and compared notes on change orders with the federal investigators and the cabinet's inspector general. Luallen told the newspaper, "Obviously, there is interest in this issue from several different fronts. The federal highway officials at this point have the lead."


Today is deadline to sign up for April 9 Mammoth Cave wildflower hike

Saturday, April 9, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education is hosting a day of hiking and enjoying the wildflowers of Mammoth Cave National Park. The group says its "reasonable" registration fee includes breakfast, lunch, and a copy of the field guide Wildflowers of Mammoth Cave National Park. For more information contact KAEE President Julie Gee at

Volunteers sought to test Kentucky River water quality; training sessions planned

Volunteers are needed to test the quality of water in the Kentucky River and the streams that feed into it. The Kentucky River Watershed Watch will train testers in five workshops beginning Sunday. There is no charge, but part of the training will be in a stream, so volunteers should dress to get wet, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The schedule is: noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Midway College, Midway; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 9, Centre College, Danville; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 16, Douthitt Park, Jackson; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 30, Meadowbrook Farm, Richmond; and noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 30, Hall's on the River, Winchester. For more information, or to register, click here, or call (859) 846-4905.

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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 Tennessee 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: May 2, 2005