The Rural Blog Archive August 2005

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

Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005

U.S. to dip into petroleum reserves in Katrina's aftermath; groups helping victims

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said this morning "that the Bush administration will release oil from federal petroleum reserves to help refiners affected by Hurricane Katrina," write Jacqueline L. Salmon, Ann Gerhart and Fred Barbash of The Washington Post.

Crude oil and gasoline prices have reached record highs in the aftermath of the hurricane that ravaged the Gulf Coast and disrupted the oil supply chain. The Energy Department's Web site states that it would be possible to get about four million barrels of reserve oil per day, but it would be a couple of weeks before that oil entered the U.S. market.

In addition to handling oil problems, Louisiana state officials are expecting an influx of tens of thousands of evacuees to Red Cross and community shelters, report Salmon, Gerhart and Barbash. (Read more)

Al Tompkins Morning Meeting poses the question, "How do you find a responsible relief agency that is working to help storm victims?" Tompkins provides information about a Web site with a charities database and he lists several of the charities helping out in the hurricane's aftermath. (Read more) The Christian Science Monitor reported that the Red Cross alone has 5,000-plus volunteers assigned to helping out.

National survey shows overwhelming, diverse support for teaching Creationism

A national poll released yesterday seems to indicate the rural-urban divide apparently does not delineate the debate over teaching Creationism alongside Evolution in American schools.

"In a finding that is likely to intensify the debate over what to teach students about the origins of life, [the] poll ... found that nearly two-thirds of Americans say creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools," writes Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times. (Read more)

The poll found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time, 18 percent said that evolution was "guided by a supreme being," and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism, The poll was conducted July 7-17 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The questions about evolution were asked of 2,000 people. The margin of error was 2.5 percentage points.

John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum, told Goodstein he was surprised to see teaching evolution and creationism was favored not only by conservative Christians, but by majorities of secular respondents, liberal Democrats and those who accept the theory of natural selection, calling it a reflection of "American pragmatism." National Center for Science Education Director Eugenie C. Scott, who is a prominent defender of evolution told the times the findings were not surprising because "Americans react very positively to the fairness or equal time kind of argument." So far this year, "The National Center for Science Education has tracked 70 new controversies over evolution in 26 states, some in school districts, others in the state legislatures," writes Goodstein.

Men denied right to speak found not guilty of disruption, resisting arrest

A Giles County, Tennessee jury last week ruled not guilty a man denied the right to speak at a public school board meeting, and another who asked why, both of whom were subsequently charged with disruption and and resisting arrest following their attempts to be heard.

When the trial of Fred Winkles and Allen Barrett began last week, Circuit Court Judge Robert L. Jones, cautioned the jury they were "'going to have to be awfully careful' in dealing with 'the fine line between the right of assembly and freedom of speech,'" writes Claudia Johnson of the Pulaski Citizen.

"Barrett made several attempts to be placed on the agenda for the Feb. 10 Giles County Board of Education meeting, leaving multiple messages, all unreturned, for School Board Chairman Mike Gonzales and speaking on the phone with Director of Schools Tee Jackson," writes Johnson. Barrett wanted to address extending Jackson’s contract until 2008. Barrett questioned the extension saying it "would circumvent the right of the public to vote for a director of schools should the legislature restore that right before the 2006 election," she notes.

Barrett was not recognized to speak after asking four times and Winkles asked why Barrett could not be recognized. Barrett asked, "why can’t I speak? Gonzales responded, "this is a public meeting, not a meeting of the public." Gonzales moved for a recess and called 911. He testified in court he was unable to perform his functions and called the recess because Barrett was directly behind him, making him uncomfortable. He said he called 911 “so the situation would not escalate.” Charges of resisting arrest were presented to the grand jury later, and both men were acquitted of all counts, writes Johnson.

National Operation Wildfire nets 427 arrests, 200 pounds of meth and 56 labs

Operation Wildfire, an effort by more 200 police departments and the Drug Enforcement Administration, resulted in 427 arrests, 200 pounds of meth seized and 56 labs busted, authorities announced Tuesday, reports The Associated Press.

Seventy of the arrests occurred in eight counties in rural western North Carolina. Authorities took custody of 30 children, including two in Missouri who were living in a bug-infested home-turned-meth lab, writes AP. (Read more)

Local officials praised Tuesday’s announcement, but some people questioned a proposed $804 million cut in grants to local authorities for drug-fighting efforts. "We'd like them to reverse that decision," Joe Dunn, assistant legislative director for the National Association of Counties, told reporters.

North Carolina approves lottery; 35 percent of revenue slated for schools

North Carolina legislators approved a state lottery Tuesday, making it the last East Coast state to do so, write Sharif Durhams and Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer.

Scratch-off tickets could be for sale early next year. “North Carolina will benefit from the path cleared by other states, including all of its neighbors, in how to set up and run a lottery, and, hopefully, in how to avoid the scandals and financial shenanigans that have erupted elsewhere,” reports the newspaper. Tennessee adopted a lottery last year and South Carolina started selling tickets in 2001.

Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, plans to sign the lottery measure today. "This is a win for the four-year-olds who require pre-K, the low-wealth counties that need assistance with school construction and the disadvantaged students trying to go to college," Easley said in a statement.

The estimated annual lottery revenue $1 billion, 35 percent of which would go to education and the remainder to prize and operating costs, report Durhams and Johnson. (Read more) Education money will be divided into 50 percent for prekindergarten instruction for at-risk 4-year-olds and elementary school teacher hires, 40 percent for school construction, and 10 percent for need-based college scholarships.

Hybrid solar lighting shines bright in debut; energy savings potential cited

"Sunlight Direct is marketing a hybrid solar lighting system that officials say trims energy costs, boosts productivity and spurs shopping," writes Bob Fowler of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and introduced Tuesday at the American Museum of Science and Energy, the HSL 3000 system concentrates sunlight into optical fibers that are strung into buildings and used to power lights, reports Fowler.

"The potential is there, and now the hard work is beginning,'' Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman Bill Baxter told Fowler. "It comes down to, can you make it affordable to somebody as hard-nosed as Wal-Mart?" With the lab's co-sponsorship, one system is being tried at a Wal-Mart in McKinney, Texas, and another is being used at a Opry Mills Mall in Nashville.

The third-generation lighting technology system costs $24,000 to illuminate 1,000 square feet, but the price per unit down should drop to $8,000 within two years, Sunlight Direct President John Morris said. "Energy savings from reduced lighting and air conditioning costs will amount to about $1,000 a year, Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Duncan Earl said," writes Fowler. (Read more)

Protected Canadian geese invade New Hampshire; hunters left with few options

"Several farm operators have expressed to me their exasperation with Canada geese this summer, and at
Mascoma Valley Regional High School in West Canaan the fall sports program is being disrupted by a flock of the birds continually defecating all over the playing fields," writes Commissioner Stephen H. Taylor in the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food Weekly Market Bulletin.

"Canada geese are supposed to be migratory fowl, but many of them now have chosen to become year-round residents of the northeastern United States ... They’ve become a first-class nuisance, thanks to their voracious feeding on grass and landscape plantings and the prodigious amounts of manure they deposit wherever they go," continues Taylor.

"They’re a protected species, so about all a landowner can do legally is to try to drive them off. To that end, trained Border Collies are effective in chasing them away, and then there are pyrotechnics aimed at scaring them off—but both such means are costly and of limited value in the long run. Sept. 6 thru Sept. 25 marks an open season on Canada geese, and hunters holding a valid New Hampshire waterfowl license with both state and federal endorsements can bag up to five," notes Taylor. The Weekly Market Bulletin is available only with a paid subscription. (Click here for more information)

New report aims to assist Southern states striving for stronger communities

Southern states' progress in building healthy communities is now being tracked in a plan released at the Southern Governor's Association meeting in Greensboro, Ga.

The Southern Community Index ties in with an integrated economic development strategy, and it features 15 quality of life measures. Some of those areas include access to healthcare, homeownership rates, crime rates, employment rates, levels of civic engagement and leadership diversity. The report's goal is to raise awareness about those issues and to spur communities to adopt growth plan.

States covered in the Index include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Puerto Rico is also included in the report. To view the document in pdf format, click here.

Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005

NAB teams with Red Cross to provide Katrina relief, air public announcements

The National Association of Broadcasters, representing radio and television stations across the United States, and the American Red Cross have joined forces to provide public service announcements (PSAs) on how citizens can donate money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The NAB is also asking members to donate much needed equipment to television and radio stations affected by the hurricane.

Radio PSAs of 10, 25 and 30 seconds can be downloaded from the NAB Web site, while television stations can order a free overnight dub by e-mailing Sarah Roberts at sroberts@nab.org. The PSAs detail Red Cross services available, and include a localizable spot broadcasters can customize with local chapter contact information. The spots ask listeners to give to the Disaster Relief Fund, visit the Red Cross Web site or call 1-800-HELP-NOW to learn how they can help. The TV PSAs feature the same information and show images of hurricane damage and Red Cross service delivery.

NAB President and CEO Edward O. Fritts said, "As attention turns to the clean-up effort, we urge radio and TV stations to carry these timely PSAs to help our citizens who were victims of the hurricane." American Red Cross President and CEO Marsha Evans said, "We rely on broadcasters to make our lifesaving mission a reality."

The NAB represents broadcasters' interests before Congress, federal agencies and the courts. NAB also serves a growing number of associate and international broadcaster members.

Illinois Attorney General Madigan says EPA takes it easy on coal plants

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sent a scathing letter to the state's Environmental Protection Agency office documenting more than 7,600 pollution violations since 1999 at six coal-fired power plants owned by Midwest Generation.

Monitoring equipment measured the amount of light blocked by coal smoke, and "the EPA is supposed to use the information to gauge whether coal plants are releasing too much pollution that can trigger asthma attacks and cause lung disease, heart problems and premature deaths," writes Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune. (Read more) But, Hawthorne notes, "EPA officials say there isn't a problem ... [and] they agree with company executives who [say there is] nothing to worry about."

Madigan accused the EPA of skirting a "clear, absolute and non-discretionary requirement of federal law," and wants the power company to clean the aging plants, some five decades old, before they get new air-pollution permits. Madigan wrote, "Principles of sound law enforcement do not generally counsel excusing violators because they deny the violations occurred, especially when their self-reported compliance data admits to thousands of violations." EPA Air Bureau Chief Laurel Kroack replied, "Merely because they've had intermittent ... violations doesn't mean they have excess emissions ... it also could just be water vapor."

Coal plants are major sources in creating smog and also emit soot, which is considered a significant threat to public health. "Testy exchanges between the EPA and the attorney general's office are the latest sign of tension between Madigan and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, both Democrats," writes Hawthorne.

Tennessee's tobacco farmers should see ‘growing’ profits in booming season

Tennessee's Cheatham County Extension Office is reporting a major increase in tobacco acreage, which is likely to yield increased profits for farmers, by perhaps as much as 20 percent.

"Farmers ...are continuing ...to reap what will hopefully be high-yielding crops ...," writes Candis Ann Shea of The Ashland City Times. (Read more) "Cheatham County is considered the heart of Tennessee tobacco country, making the area's crop in high-demand for exporting."

Extension Agent Ronnie Barron told Shea the county's tobacco crop usually yields around $5 million, but he predicts, “This year could be more - maybe six (million) - because we have a lot more tobacco.". Barron told the newspaper local tobacco generates about $55 million in tax revenue per year.

Barron referenced last year's lifting of the federal quota system which determined how much tobacco a farmer could grow. He told Shea farmers previously resorted to renting other quota amounts to produce more of the crop, but the additional costs drove tobacco prices up. Now, the free market puts no limits on farmers, as long as they hold contracts with tobacco companies to sell their crops.

Tennessee's tobacco farmers are considering several factors before planting; what companies prefer, which varieties are top-quality and which yield more per acre. The University of Tennessee and the University of Kentucky are studying 10 tobacco varieties to determine top-quality producers, the most disease resistant and which ones suit different farmers’ needs, writes Shea.

Tennessee pushing for Broadband; could mean jobs, money for small towns

Bridging the digital divide is gaining in popularity as a quest for communities and states, who seek economic development opportunities for under-served rural areas.

Bringing broadband to rural Tennessee is a hot topic today and tomorrow at the Governor's Conference on Economic and Community Development at the Nashville Convention Center. "Getting it, somehow, someway, is the game rural Tennessee counties, cities, even single businesses are playing — hard. Push has come to shove for country towns trying to keep their economies afloat, and having broadband Internet access is the only way to do it," writes Leon Alligood of The Tennessean. (Read more)

Joe Max Williams, executive director of the South Central Tennessee Development District, told Alligood, "Manufacturing jobs are leaving us, and if we want to replace them we've got to have high-speed Internet access. That's what potential businesses looking to relocate ask all the time: 'Have you got broadband, can you get me a fast connection to the Internet?'"

Scott Lindsay, president of Rural Broadband Coalition, a Washington-based advisory group focused on rural broadband, told Alligood, "Broadband is a huge economic development driver. It can open up a lot of opportunities for rural areas and it can improve the quality of life.'' Mickey Ledbetter, a marina operator at Willow Grove at Dale Hollow Lake said, "It's one of those things you add to keep your business." Ledbetter contracts with a company that provides wireless Internet to Willow Grove and other marinas.

ConnectKentucky to pursue extending wireless networks to more rural users

ConnectKentucky has partnered with the Australian Crown Castle International Corp to evaluate land and identify opportunities for extending wireless service, especially to rural areas.

As a ConnectKentucky partner, Crown Castle is gathering demographic data and radio frequency drive-test information for certain state properties. ConnectKentucky will use the data gathered to fully assess the opportunity for additional build-out and to identify priority areas for infrastructure expansion in underserved areas, reports ConnectKentucky on PRNewswire. (Read more)

ConnectKentucky reports Federal Communications Commission (FCC) data shows Kentuckians have more wireless phones than wire line connections. "The FCC reports the number of wireless subscribers in the Commonwealth rose to 2.2 million in 2004, an increase of 21 percent, while wire line connections declined to 2 million statewide. Nationally, the market is split 50-50," writes the group.

Crown Castle has over 12,300 wireless communication sites in the United States and Australia. ConnectKentucky is the state's technology-based economic development partnership of technology-minded businesses, government entities, and universities.

Development plan riles Durham residents; some fear losing their homes

In light of rapid urban growth and fears of eminent domain dictates taking private property, more than 200 Durham, N.C., residents packed their city hall last night. Their concern: A proposed development ordinance, which some allege is a conspiracy to take homes.

"The proposed [ordinance] UDO includes zoning changes that encourage dense redevelopment in the neighborhoods near downtown," writes Michael Biesecker of The [Raleigh] News&Observer. (Read more) (Registration required) Some think the new rules would help the city and county governments re-enact hated urban renewal programs, during which a predominantly black neighborhood was condemned and bulldozed. Some of that land was then used to build the Durham Freeway.

Denise Hester, a member of a group seeking $25 million in city money to redevelop the Fayetteville Street corridor, mailed meeting invites to residents south of downtown. The card showed condo development near Duke University with the caption: "Your Last Chance to Stop Urban Renewal." On the back, Hester wrote, "If we work together, we can prevent this tragedy from engulfing our community again."

City-County Planning Director Frank Duke said the cards are part of "a misinformation campaign that implied the government was plotting to seize property from poor homeowners and turn it over to wealthy developers -- a practice that would be illegal under state law," Biesecker writes.

WKU, NPPA win Knight Foundation grant for online photojournalism program

Western Kentucky University and the National Press Photographers Association have been awarded a $100,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to create an online education program for photojournalism.

"WKU and the photographers association will work with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies' News University Web site to create a curriculum based on work that has won the association's Best of Photojournalism contest," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) The distance-learning program will allow students to view award-winning work on the NewsU Web site and learn how it was made. The Web site is http://www.newsu.org.

WKU's award-winning photojournalism program has produced 12 photojournalism grads who have been on Pulitzer Prize-winning teams. WKU ranked No. 1 in the overall Hearst Journalism Awards competition three of the past five years, and the photojournalism program ranked No. 1 in 15 of the past 17 years.

The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation was established in 1950. It promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. The foundation is independent of and wholly separate from Knight Ridder, which owns the Herald-Leader, the newspaper writes. For more information on the foundation, click here.

Rural Calendar: 4-H teen council prez & Johanns to speak at forum tomorrow

Four-H Teen Council State President Janie Williams has been asked to speak at a public forum tomorrow hosted by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in Louisville, Ky., as part of USDA nationwide Farm Bill listening tour. The forum will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31 in the South Wing Conference Center, Room B102, at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center.

Williams is a senior at Hardin Co. High School and is planning to come to the University of Kentucky and major in agriculture education. Her goal is to become a County Extension agent, says Larry W. Turner, Ph.D., P.E., Associate Dean for Extension and Director, Cooperative Extension Service.

In addition to a Q&A session with Johanns, the format will allow an open comment period for general Farm Bill comments. The public can submit comments via the USDA Farm Bill Forums Web site. Forum attendees are encouraged to arrive by 3:30 p.m. EDT to visit state USDA representatives and other Kentucky agriculture leaders.

Monday, Aug. 29, 2005

Kentucky governor pardons all but himself in civil-service hiring probe

Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky, in a bid to stop a Democratic attorney general's investigation into Fletcher's hiring practices, announced this evening that he would pardon anyone charged with violating the state's civil-service law, except himself, and would not testify before a grand jury tomorrow.

Fletcher's plan was reported this afternoon by Bill Bryant of Lexington's WKYT-TV. The Lexington station noted, "Fletcher lost a bid earlier this afternoon in Franklin Circuit Court to delay his testimony" before the special grand jury investigating allegations that his administration was filling civil-service jobs on the basis of politics rather than qualifications. The jury has indicted nine people, all on misdemeanors, and one of the nine also faces felony cover-up charges.

Fletcher's gambit had been rumored for weeks, and some Republicans had publicly urged him to issue pardons. "It's the only move he has," 1995 GOP nominee Larry Forgy told Louisville's WAVE-TV yesterday. Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said in a personal column for The Courier-Journal yesterday, "Fletcher and his advisers may have concluded that the way out of the mess is for him to play Harry Truman, say 'The buck stops here' ... " This evening, to applause from supporters in the Capitol rotunda, Fletcher used that phrase, after acknowledging in his greatest detail yet that his administration had made mistakes.

Fletcher's course is risky, but political abuse of the merit system, Kentucky's version of civil service, "is more common in the state's smaller, rural counties, so there is still a considerable body of opinion that Fletcher's personnel policies aren't that much different than those of his Democratic predecessors," Cross wrote. "And statewide, many voters are tiring of the constant drip-drip-drip of the probe and want it to end. Between those groups of voters and Fletcher's base, you might have numbers that add up to a strategy of testify, pardon and make a frontal assault on Stumbo ... "

This evening, Fletcher repeatedly attacked Stumbo, saying the attorney general was wasting tax dollars on the probe, destroying lives of young Fletcher aides, and failing to investigate health-care fraud. Stumbo said Fletcher had "slammed the door on the public's right to know what wrongs his administration has committed." Stumbo said he was especially troubled that Fletcher did not apologize for the wrongdoing, "and no one said it won't happen again."

As Stumbo continues to investigate Fletcher, some Democrats want to raise the stakes. "I think several of us in the House would be interested in filing impeachment papers," Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, told WLKY-TV. Democrats run the House; Republicans run the Senate, where impeachments are tried.

Monday, Aug. 29, 2005

Kentucky governor pardons all but himself in civil-service hiring probe

Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky, in a bid to stop a Democratic attorney general's investigation into Fletcher's hiring practices, announced this evening that he would pardon anyone charged with violating the state's civil-service law, except himself, and would not testify before a grand jury tomorrow.

Fletcher's plan was reported this afternoon by Bill Bryant of Lexington's WKYT-TV. The Lexington station noted, "Fletcher lost a bid earlier this afternoon in Franklin Circuit Court to delay his testimony" before the special grand jury investigating allegations that his administration was filling civil-service jobs on the basis of politics rather than qualifications. The jury has indicted nine people, all on misdemeanors, and one of the nine also faces felony cover-up charges.

Fletcher's gambit had been rumored for weeks, and some Republicans had publicly urged him to issue pardons. "It's the only move he has," 1995 GOP nominee Larry Forgy told Louisville's WAVE-TV yesterday. Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said in a personal column for The Courier-Journal yesterday, "Fletcher and his advisers may have concluded that the way out of the mess is for him to play Harry Truman, say 'The buck stops here' ... " This evening, to applause from supporters in the Capitol rotunda, Fletcher used that phrase, after acknowledging in his greatest detail yet that his administration had made mistakes.

Fletcher's course is risky, but political abuse of the merit system, Kentucky's version of civil service, "is more common in the state's smaller, rural counties, so there is still a considerable body of opinion that Fletcher's personnel policies aren't that much different than those of his Democratic predecessors," Cross wrote. "And statewide, many voters are tiring of the constant drip-drip-drip of the probe and want it to end. Between those groups of voters and Fletcher's base, you might have numbers that add up to a strategy of testify, pardon and make a frontal assault on Stumbo ... "

This evening, Fletcher repeatedly attacked Stumbo, saying the attorney general was wasting tax dollars on the probe, destroying lives of young Fletcher aides, and failing to investigate health-care fraud. Stumbo said Fletcher had "slammed the door on the public's right to know what wrongs his administration has committed." Stumbo said he was especially troubled that Fletcher did not apologize for the wrongdoing, "and no one said it won't happen again."

As Stumbo continues to investigate Fletcher, some Democrats want to raise the stakes. "I think several of us in the House would be interested in filing impeachment papers," Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, told WLKY-TV. Democrats run the House; Republicans run the Senate, where impeachments are tried.

With help from women, Bush regains part of slippage among rural voters

President Bush's job-approval rating among rural Americans slipped in late spring and early summer, but he regained about half his loss, thanks to a rebound among women, according to poll data provided to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues by NBC News.

Surveys for NBC by Public Opinion Strategies found that Bush's job approval among rural voters from mid-July through mid-August was 54 percent, up from 46 percent in May and early July. In January and late April, his rural approval was 59 percent. (In each case, the polling firm merged its data from two polls to provide a sufficient sample size for analysis of rural voters, who make up about 21 percent of the U.S. population. The error margins for each merged sample, in reverse chronological order, were plus or minus 5.3, 3.2 and 2.5 percentage points.)

The polls indicated that Bush's decline in late spring and early summer was about the same among men and women, but that women's later rating of his job performance rebounded almost to earlier levels, while men's rating of him remained depressed. Alex Bellone of Public Opinion Strategies said the protests centered on Cindy Sheehan may have "galvanized some rural voters to move in the opposite direction -- that Sheehan has gone too far to the left."

Bush's summer rebound among rural voters left his approval rating among them 7 percentage points higher than his overall July-August approval of 47 percent. During his dip, his rural rating was only 2 points higher than overall. Rural voters were keys to Bush's election in 2000 and his re-election in 2004. Exit polls last November indicated that he won 62 percent of the rural vote to 38 percent for Sen. John Kerry.

Weak building codes, enforcement in rural areas could amplify Katrina's toll

Hurricane Katrina's expected devastation might have been less in rural Louisiana if local governments had stronger building codes and enforced them better, reports The Miami Herald.

"The prevalent hurricane code in Louisiana has been what engineers consider the bare minimum -- that buildings be designed to withstand 100-mph winds," reporter Andres Viglucci writes. "In January 2004, the Louisiana legislature approved a higher standard comparable to post-Andrew codes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties -- the highest in Florida -- that buildings stand up to gusts of 146 mph.

"But the legislature didn't require localities to adopt the new standard. New Orleans and Baton Rouge did, but many local communities have codes that haven't been updated in 10 or 15 years," the Herald reports, and enforcement of the weak codes has been spotty in rural areas, according to Marc Levitan of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center. He also told Viglucci that local contractors seem reluctant to use hurricane-resistant windows and shutters. (Read more)

Reporting tip: Matt Waite of the St. Petersburg Times used free Google Maps to produce a hurricane tracking map on his Web site. Waite explains here how he fed National Weather Service and data to Google Maps. "This is probably just the beginning of newspapers taking advantage of the free use of Google Maps," says Mark Schaver, computer-assisted reporting director at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. "The Times Herald-Record in New York state used Google Maps to create an online Record Gas Watch giving reader-contributed gas prices for stations in its area."

Katrina headed inland; like Camille, it could wreak havoc in mountains

As Hurricane Katrina barrels inland, it conjures up memories of another devastating hurricane, Camille in 1969, which ravaged the Gulf Coast and then deluged many inland rural areas.

"Those of us who lived though Hurricane Camille will never forget it," writes Ken Ringle for The Washington Post. "Its nearly 200-mph winds and 25-foot storm surge exploded concrete buildings and erased entire communities -- then gouged open graveyards and hung corpses in the live oaks like so much Spanish moss. There was a problem for a time telling the storm victims from those already embalmed." The death toll for Camille was more than 250 after it hit and "swept up the Mississippi Valley as a tropical storm," writes Ringle. "Then, three days and 1,000 miles after it hit the coast, it took a right turn over West Virginia and, in some sort of terrifying meteorological joke, dumped 20 to 40 inches of rain in eight hours on Nelson County, Va., hosing away entire mountainsides, drowning or burying 150 more people and touching off 100-year-record floods in the James River basin." (Read more)

A recollection from chief blogger Bill Griffin: Hurricanes are often hyped beyond their reality, and all get compared to the big three -- the unnamed Labor Day hurricane of 1935, Frederick in 1979, and the one whose name is spoken with the same awe as Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- Camille in 1969. I flew over Camille's devastation the next day to film for WEAR-TV and saw a large ocean tanker hundreds of yards inland. The bay at Pass Christian was covered in debris and only the ripple of waves moving the flotsam and an occasional glint of sunlight reflected enabled one to tell that it was a bay of water. A Holiday Inn on the beach, where dozens had decided to stick it out with a hurricane party, was gone. Only the concrete steps to the side of the building remained, later a monument to the dead. The trees and everything else were gone as far inland as we could see from about 1,000 feet up. I had seen large areas of Vietnam devastated by B-52s and defoliation. Camille's path looked worse, and without the craters.

Miss church? 'Godcasting' will let you catch up -- or keep on missing?

IPod users can now listen to their favorite tunes downloaded off the Internet and catch the church service they missed last week via “Godcasting,” reports The New York Times.

“Just as Christian organizations embraced radio and television, podcasting has quickly caught on with religious groups," writes Tania Ralli. "Since the beginning of July, the number of people or groups offering spiritual and religious podcasts listed on Podcast Alley (podcastalley.com) has grown to 474 from 177.”

Using airwaves to spread spiritual messages dates as far back as 1931, when the Vatican transmitted its first broadcast. Evangelical Christians have used both radio and television to spread their messages. “New technology like podcasting updates the mission, although on a much smaller scale for now,” reports Ralli.

Rev. Mark Batterson of National Community Church in Alexandria, Va., foresees Godcasting having as big an impact on the church as printing presses did with Bibles in the 15th Century. "If you really believe in the message you're preaching, you want as many people as possible to listen," Batterson told Ralli.

Melissa Rogers, a visiting professor of religion and public policy at the Wake Forest University Divinity School, predicts that podcasts will not actually replace people attending church. "Podcasts provide a way for people who are very busy these days to get their religion on the fly, but for most people this will be a supplement, not a substitute," she told Ralli. (Read more)

Retreat mining under scrutiny; growing number of deaths linked to practice

A popular method of extracting more coal, used in mines throughout Appalachia, is also placing miners in grave danger and has killed a number of them, say critics.

"Layers of rock overhead rumble like thunder. Dirt and pebbles rain down. A rock fall is imminent. So what is a miner to do? 'You run for your life,' said Tim Miller, who toiled in Kentucky's mines for more than two decades," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Underground coal miners "know what it's like to have to scurry like gophers through the darkness to get away from falling rocks. Miners say that's part of the job, especially when it comes to digging coal from the very pillars that keep layers of rock from collapsing in on them," Alford writes. While the practice may seem strange to outsiders, "generations of miners have been cutting away those pillars to increase coal production in a practice known as retreat mining," he writes. Alford notes that although the legal practice is a standard procedure, it has killed 17 miners in the past seven years.

Four Kentucky miners have been crushed in rock falls during retreat mining in the last 14 months. Miller, an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America, told Alford, "You're definitely playing Russian roulette. You remove those pillars, the roof is coming down. It's inevitable."

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has commissioned a study on ways to make retreat mining safer. Fletcher appointed the panel soon after two miners were killed in a rock fall near Cumberland, Ky., Aug. 3.

Mad-cow disease detection progressing; could lead to early treatment

A lack of a way to diagnose mad-cow disease has long been the biggest obstacle in the effort to detect and treat the disease and its human version. But, a new process may point the way to a useful blood test.

"Transfusions can spread the disease among people, but there is no practical test to detect it. That is why blood donors are carefully screened to weed out people who have lived or visited in certain areas where they might have become infected," writes Randolph E. Schmid of The Canadian Press. "Until now, dissecting [brains] offered the only way to detect such brain-wasting diseases in humans."

These diseases are caused by agents known as prions. A number of researchers, led by neurology professor Claudio Soto at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, have developed a method of more easily detecting prions. This "could help prevent the spread of the disease ... and detect the illness in people or animals before it can be spread to others," Schmid writes. (Read more) The findings, published in the September issue of the journal Nature Medicine, are available online.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Intramural John Sealy Endowed Fund for Biomedical Research. For a related article, Consumers Union Wants More Data on Mad Cow Testing, click here.

Pastoral Vermont braces for meth plague; state police issue warnings

If methamphetamine gains a foothold in Vermont, the drug could create an epidemic that far outpaces the impact that heroin has had on the state, say law enforcement officials.

"That was the message from Vermont State Police Detective Trooper Michael Smith at a recent forum held in Rutland to raise awareness about the dangers of methamphetamines," writes Alan J. Keays of the Rutland Herald in Rutland,Vt. (Read more)

Smith, a member of the state police criminal intelligence unit, told Keays, "If we end up with a meth problem in Vermont, it will overrun our heroin problem. We don't currently have a meth problem. We want to get ahead of it. We want to be truly proactive."

Smith spoke to 60-plus people at a methamphetamine forum, including prison guards, prosecutors, judges and drug treatment providers. Similar information sessions are taking place across the state. Smith said, "There are other states out there and we're looking to see what they have done. We're trying not to reinvent the wheel." He told the newspaper he isn't sure why the drug — which has swept across the West and Midwest, leaving a swath of addicts and crimes in its wake — has not yet reached Vermont.

In June of last year, police broke up what they believed to be the state's first methamphetamine lab. They arrested two men from Arkansas and charged them with setting up shop in Shrewsbury.

Oklahoma students say rodeo cowboys should spit out tobacco partnership

Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) wants Oklahoma's Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) to cut its ties with the United States Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC), according to submitted reports in the McAlester News-Capital.

The PRCA hosts the Bullnanza rodeo and the Wrangler ProRodeo Tour, and it promotes USSTC, maker of Skoal and Copenhagen. During a recent SWAT gathering, members urged that PRCA and Bullnanza "spit out big tobacco." SWAT member Charlet Ringwald said, "We want the PRCA to realize that rodeos are for families, not addictive and deadly tobacco products," writes the newspaper.

SWAT's protest was led by a hearse and followed by a caravan of cars. For more information about the group, contact Oklahoma Coordinator Jennifer Wilson at (405) 271-3619. (Read more)

Rural Calendar: SAMAB roundtable on sustainable forests set Sept. 12-15

Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Cooperative and Foundation will hold its Southern Roundtable on Sustainable Forests 2005 Conference (SRSF) Sept. 12-15, in Asheville, N.C.

SAMAB is inviting everyone interested to join them and their partner organizations "to discuss emerging issues in the South including land conversion, conservation incentives, markets for ecosystem services, hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, tribal forest sustainability, regional indicators of sustainability, and more. Click here for agenda and registration form.

The conference will be at the Holiday Inn Sunspree (Crowne Plaza), One Holiday Inn Drive, Asheville, N.C. 28806. The hotel phone number is 828-254-3211 or 800-733-3211. The organization has set aside a block of rooms under Southern Forest Sustainability Conference. The room rate is $81 a night, for a limited time. For more information contact Jennifer Hayes at 828-257-4207 or e-mail her at: jenniferhayes@fs.fed.us.

The (SRSF) was founded in November of 2003 "to begin addressing the challenges and opportunities associated with sustainable forest resource management in the South," they note. For more details on this and other regional events, click here.

Friday, Aug. 26, 2005

Greyhound leaves more than 1,000 rural places (and counting) without service

"For the first time in as long as most people can remember, the old 'silver dog' failed to stop last week in Hollywood, Fla.; Hurricane Mills, Tenn.; and Ludlow, Vt. -- just a few of close to 1,000 out-of-the-way hamlets where residents can no longer leave the driving to Greyhound," Patrick Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor writes from another of the places left behind, Windsor, N.C.

"So far, 750 rural towns -- and hundreds of more in-between 'flag stops' in even smaller places -- have lost their Greyhound connection this year. Service stopped at 81 locales last week alone, and hundreds more are expected to be dropped as the Dallas-based carrier and its subsidiaries roll out new routes across the country into 2006," Jonsson writes.

"It's part of a broad restructuring of the 91-year-old long-distance carrier, which is trying to regain traction after losing $22 million in the first quarter of this year. Left in a puff of exhaust are the small towns that helped define the image of the Greyhound as a low-rent hitch that appealed to Americans' sense of adventure and earned it broad cultural recognition in everything from country songs to movies like 'Midnight Cowboy.' Greyhound's new strategy: adopt faster and more direct urban routes."

In Windsor and places like it, Jonsson reports, "the decision compounds a sense of dislocation and increasing distance from the country's booming urban centers -- not to mention the loss of a cheap ticket to the big city for many rural poor, especially in the South." Traffic runs the other way, too. ""Most people come from the country, not the city, and they have to have a way to come back for weddings and funerals, and the bus is still that way for a lot of people," Maria Wesson of Windsor told Jonsson. (Read more)

Kentucky high court says repeated, sloppy reporting is actual malice, libel

In a decision that could chill aggressive reporting, the Kentucky Supreme Court yesterday reinstated a $2.97 million defamation verdict won by amusement park Kentucky Kingdom against WHAS-TV of Louisville, which imprecisely described events at the park in a series of reports.

First Amendment lawyer Jon Fleischaker told Andrew Wolfson of The Courier-Journal that the ruling might prompt other libel suits against news organizations, but that it remains to be seen whether the decision will hamper the press because the facts in the case were so rare and unlikely to be replicated.

"WHAS broadcast several reports that included three statements that a jury found were false and defamatory," Wolfson writes. After state inspectors shut down a ride on which five people were injured, a WHAS reporter interviewed a passenger who said, "I mean, everybody should know about how dangerous this ride is." The reporter then added, "State inspectors also think the ride is too dangerous." The court's 4-3 majority, reversing the Court of Appeals, "found that the station knew that no state inspector had said the ride was too dangerous but reported that anyway," The C-J reports.

The second report at issue was on the park's plan to reopen the ride, which the station called "the roller coaster ride that malfunctioned earlier this week." The majority found "The station knew that the ride hadn't malfunctioned and that the accident was caused by operator error," The C-J says. The other instance showing malice came "several years later when, describing evidence in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the injured passenger, WHAS-TV reported that the park had removed 'a key component of the ride'."

The dissenting opinion by Justice William Cooper said the first two assertions were "substantially true." He said the first was "a rational interpretation" and that in full context, the reports were "unmistakably substantially true." He predicted that "self-censorship by the media in its conduct of its most essential role" will be "the inevitable result" of the decision. "The real tragedy of today's decision … is that it significantly diminishes the breathing space … that is imperative for a vigorous and competent press," he wrote.

But the majority opinion by Justice Donald Wintersheimer, joined by Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, said "the station failed to correct errors and failed to investigate and verify the credibility of sources, and that "the general makeup and presentation of the story exhibited hostility." WHAS-TV's parent company A.H. Belo Corp., told the newspaper it may ask the court to reconsider the decision. (Read more)

Family and small-farm advocates riled by PBS documentary, say it's exploitive

A new television series set to air on public TV stations nationwide this fall has angered activists "who say its funders exploit a model of factory farming that has profoundly undermined the same rustic lifestyle the program is meant to showcase," reports The NewStandard, an online liberal magazine.

The telecast, America's Heartland, is 20 half-hour episodes produced by PBS affiliate KVIE in Sacramento, writes Getzan. The bulk of the new national program's underwriting will be provided by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and biotech giant Monsanto. The show is also receiving financial support from a number of other large farming associations.

Despite not having seen the show, family farming and environmental advocates want to stop the series. "They cite the main financiers' involvement in technologies and policies that undermine small farmers as cause for their assumption that the programming will offer a distorted picture in documentary form," notes Getzan. Chris Cooper, a spokesperson for Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE), said, "Our opposition really stems from how they went about finding funding for the program. It might be fine for Exxon to fund a program on Masterpiece Theatre, [but not] a documentary on oil."

GRACE also believes the theme of the program will breed misconceptions about rural life. Ben Lilliston, communications director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy told Getzan, "When you're talking about farmers or rural America, it's impossible to tell an accurate story without telling about the role of agribusiness." The number of U.S. farms has been rapidly declining since the 1960s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in 2001 the vast majority of farms are still family-run, but half of all agricultural sales were concentrated among just 2 percent of farms. (Read more)

Another W.Va. county passes a smoking ban; all but three now have them

After 10 months of heated debate, the Mercer County, W.Va., Board of Health has banned smoking in most public places, to cheers and jeers from those gathered to see a legal end to the discussion.

"The ordinance bans smoking in virtually all public places in Mercer County, with the exception of bars and several other specialized establishments. Only three West Virginia counties -- Barbour, Mingo and Pocahontas -- do not have smoking ordinances," writes daily Bluefield Telegraph State Editor Barbara Hawkins in an opinion piece. (Read more)

Jeff Harvey of the weekly Princeton Times reports, "Freddie Harvey of Princeton told health board chairman Joe Coburn that the ordinance 'is a violation of my constitutional rights, which I fought for. I can't understand how five people can make a decision for 64,000. Anything that affects the rights of so many people should be put up for a vote by the people.'" (Read more)

Many other local governments are debating smoking bans including Brewton, Ala. Click here for a story from the weekly Brewton Standard, by managing editor Mary Allison Lancaster.

Maryland indicts MS-13 gang; violent group infiltrating rural Appalachia

A federal grand jury has indicted 19 men accused of being members of a violent Latino gang on racketeering charges in six murders, three attempted murders and two kidnappings in suburban Washington. Recent law enforcement reports say the gang has begun to infiltrate the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and rural areas of Virginia.

"Prosecutors ... called the case the broadest yet against members of ... Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, under federal racketeering laws," writes Gary Gately of The New York Times. (Read more) The ... crimes [occurred] in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties, outside Washington, D.C., but federal and state law enforcement agency reports indicate gatherings of MS-13 members and recruiting efforts in a growing number of areas of the northern Appalachians.

The 19 were charged as part of a "racketeering enterprise," which allows each defendant to be held accountable for crimes committed by the whole gang. Federal and local law enforcement authorities expressed alarm over the rapid growth and violent ways of MS-13. It traces its origins in this country to Los Angeles, but has spread to at least 10 states and the District of Columbia. It has about 10,000 members worldwide.

Maine congressman takes up rural veterans' healthcare issue, says much needed

Democratic Rep. Michael H. Michaud of Maine's 2nd District wants rural veterans to have the kind of healthcare they currently find difficult if not impossible to obtain, saying the nation owes them nothing less.

Michaud recently convened a field hearing of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Subcommittee on Health in Bangor, joined by Rep. Henry Brown, R-S.C., the subcommittee chairman. The focus was on rural veterans' access to primary care, Michaud writes in a column published by the Magic City Morning Star of Millinocket. "Veterans in rural states face unique challenges to accessing primary care," he said.

Michaud said he and many of his colleagues have been fighting to increase veterans' health care funding, mostly on a bipartisan basis. He added, "The secretary, the administration, and the congressional leadership have chosen to turn their backs on veterans and ignore the obvious need for an increase in funding. The result is a catastrophic shortfall that leaves veterans behind." (Read more)

He endorsed pssage of the Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act, which he said "would create a guaranteed stream of funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system based directly on the number of veterans it serves and the medical inflation rate for hospitals. This would help to avoid budget shortfalls and provide resources that are not subject to yearly political wrangling."

Chemical-weapons employee says monitoring system flawed, Army retaliated

An employee at an Army chemical-weapons facility in Kentucky has alleged his post failed to properly monitor deadly nerve gas for months, and took punitive action against him when he complained.

"The commander of the Blue Grass Army Depot ... would not comment on the allegations, but said the toxin is secure and his employees well cared for. In a sworn affadavit, Donald Van Winkle, who operates air-monitoring units at the Richmond facility, charged [the] monitors [used] to ensure ... VX nerve toxin [doesn't] leak were incorrectly configured, threatening the lives of employees," writes Jonathan M. Katz of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Winkle added that when told of the problem, depot officials did not take immediate action, and he has been denied overtime pay and had part of his security clearance revoked as a result of complaining about the security situation. Post commander Lt. Col. George Shuplinkov told AP the depot did change its monitoring procedures based on the suggestion of an employee, but said the change was optional. Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman., told Katz, "They're serious allegations and based on information that's received they'll be looked into."

About 520 tons of chemical warfare agents are stored at the Madison County depot. The Defense Department has slated the weapons for destruction. Some 27,000 people live in nearby Richmond. Van Winkle called for the department's inspector general to examine the depot's monitoring system and records. The inspector general's office is considering the request.

Coal association president convicted of scamming miners; Nov. 21 sentencing set

The president of the Kentucky Black Lung Association was convicted last night of using sick coal miners in a Medicare fraud scam.

After deliberating for four hours, a federal jury convicted association president Carolyn Sue "Susie" Davis on 13 counts of fraud and obstructing a health care investigation. Her husband, Otis Davis, 72, was convicted on the same charges. The couple live in Salyersville and were indicted in May, reports Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. A third defendant, Dr. Raghu Sundaram, 62, of Montgomery, Ala., was acquitted. Prosecutors had charged the former Floyd County doctor approved bogus claims and was part of the scheme.

Sentencing for he Davises has been scheduled for Nov. 21. They each face maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. The total amount of money paid to the medical company by Medicare between January 1999 and August 2003 was not revealed, but bank documents produced during the trial showed at least one $100,000 deposit. (Read more)

Effort to trademark state motto, 'The Last Best Place,' angers Montanans

Montanans proudly call their panoramic big sky country, where mountains and prairie stretch to infinity and cows outnumber people by more than 2 to 1, "The Last Best Place." Now, an effort by a wealthy entrepreneur to trademark that phrase has prompted a ruckus as big as the state itself.

Blaine Harden of The Washington Post reports that entrepreneur David E. Lipson, a Montana land owner, wants to trademark "The Last Best Place." The former chairman of Frederick's of Hollywood wants his various companies to have the exclusive commercial use of phrase as a brand name. It could be used to sell anything -- real estate, footwear, maybe a fruit drink, Harden writes. Six of Lipson's applications have been all but granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a rancher himself, told Harden, "We just don't like big shots coming from someplace else and claiming they own something they don't. Who is he? The Wizard of Oz? We don't think he is the Wizard of Oz, and I sure as hell ain't the scarecrow!" Lipson said he would not protest the State of Montana using the motto for promotion and he just wants to prevent trademark infringement.

"Lipson's reputation ... has taken a terrible pounding," writes Harden. Local newspapers have focused on the $2.8 million fine he was ordered to pay in 2001 to resolve an insider trading charge involving haircut chain Supercuts. Lipson served as Supercuts CEO in the mid-1990s. (Read more)

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette buys interest in Northwest Arkansas newspapers

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is acquiring interests held by Community Publishers in their joint venture in the Northwest Arkansas Times, the Benton County Daily Record and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Northwest edition, and the weekly newspapers they publish.

The two companies formed this alliance in August 2000 and have published combined editions for the past five years. Community Publishers was established in 1982 and currently operates 15 weekly, two twice-weekly and three daily newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas. The company also operates a web printing facility in Missouri. Eight employees of the company own 100 percent of its stock.

No editions or staffing changes are planned at the newspapers. Jeff Jeffus, publisher of the Northwest Arkansas Times and vice president of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Northwest edition, will assume overall responsibility for all Northwest Arkansas publications. Kent Marts, editor of the Benton County Daily Record, will assume additional duties as vice president and general manager of the Daily Record.

The Northwest Arkansas Times, the Benton County Daily Record and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Northwest edition will continue to publish their own independent editorial pages directed by their respective editors. The transfer will occur Sept. 30.

The following weeklies also are included: the Rogers Hometown News, the Bella Vista Weekly Vista, the Pea Ridge Times, the Siloam Springs Herald Leader, the Gentry Courier Journal, the Gravette News Herald, the Decatur Herald and the White River Valley News.

Rural Calendar: Renewable energy exposition set in Kentucky Sept. 24-25

The Bluegrass Energy Expo, described by organizers as Kentucky's largest event promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency, will be held at the Lexington Convention Center on September 24-5.

The event sponsors, Appalachia-Science in the Public Interest, invites submissions of artwork for display at the Expo exhibit. The theme for the exhibit is "Energy and Nature," and participation is free, organizers say, and artists may offer any work accepted into the exhibit for sale. Submission deadline is August 29 - to participate contact Cara Lundy by e-mail.

Thursday, Aug. 25, 2005

School integration tale fully told 42 years late: Students, principals took charge

A remarkable story of how a Kentucky high school integrated was finally told in full this month, 42 years after the fact, thanks to the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, Ky.

Reporter Jennifer P. Brown heard that students of the old Todd County Training School, which had been the county's high school for African Americans, were planning a reunion, and that one of them, Stanley Russell, had been among the first black students to attend Todd County Central High School. Then she learned from Russell that he and 81 other students integrated the school pretty much on their own in 1963.

Russell "was part of a group of students who forced the issue of integration in Todd County," Brown wrote for the New Era. "It is a story many people have never heard. Forty-two years ago, on a Tuesday morning, the Todd County superintendent's office put out a 10-word news release, a terse acknowledgment in those days that integration was under way in one local school. 'Todd Central enrolled 82 students who formerly attended Todd Training,' an official announced to area newspapers."

The weekly Todd County Standard more or less repeated that line, and that was the only hint of a historic integration in its short Page One story about the beginning of the school year. The school system has no integration plan -- except, perhaps, in the minds of two principals and some black students.

The daily New Era, in adjoining Christian County, ran a story on Sept. 4, 1963, above the fold on the front page, with the headline “Todd County High Integrates.” The story said Supt. Henry Malone “declined to comment in any way on the integration,” other than his terse announcement. But near story's end was this: “The integration reportedly took place in this manner: When students reported for the first day of class yesterday, the 82 students at Todd Training indicated they wished to enroll at Todd Central. Buses were then provided to transport them to the newly opened school at the south edge of Elkton.”

Brown's story, 42 years later, revealed that Todd Training Principal William Gilbert “had prepared for the move and had three buses waiting for the students ... . He called the principal at the new school, Robert Bush, and told him the students were on their way.” Bush welcomed them with a smile. Todd Central was to be a consolidation of three white high schools, and “We thought, if they were going to consolidate, then they should really consolidate," Russell told Brown. To read Brown's full story, click here.

Broadband I: Experts critical of America's lack of a comprehensive vision

A number of experts who have looked at the nation's broadband efforts have all come to much the same conclusion; there is no coherent, cohesive, comprehensive vision.

Nortel Networks Chief Executive Officer William Owens said the country lacks a "profound vision" for deploying high-speed Internet services. "Citing ... advances in wireless broadband ... in [developing nations], Owens [said] there is not enough high-level leadership to drive robust broadband deployments in the rural United States," , writes Randy Barrett of Technology Daily. Owens made his remarks at the Progress and Freedom Foundation annual conference this week in Aspen, Colo.

New York University professor Lawrence White gave the government a C-minus and said the National Telecommunications and Information Administration should be more proactive, Barrett writes. University of Pennsylvania business professor Kevin Werbach agreed, saying "It would help to have a national broadband policy and at least one pipe going everywhere."

NTIA Director Michael Gallagher noted that 90 megahertz of spectrum will become available for auction in June 2006 and that it will drive more broadband services and deployment. "That's a 45 percent increase in spectrum," writes Barrett. More spectrum will be made available over the next several years as broadcasters relinquish about 60 megahertz as they switch to digital.

The success of short-range systems based on Wi-Fi wireless technology and wireless home networks is an example, Gallagher said. "There is acceptance among policymakers that says [licensed and unlicensed spectrum] can be woven together," Barrett writes. (Read more)

Broadband II: Lawmakers, experts clash over government as the provider

The battle over government-owned telecommunications networks was at center stage at the recent National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle, with detractors noting security concerns and economic pitfalls, while supporters touted the benefits of more high-speed Internet deployment.

Steven Titch of the Heartland Institute said cities' offering telecom service is "a bad idea," and added, it is "a question of fiscal responsibility, not really of technology," writes Chloe Albanesius of Technology Daily. Titch said unsolicited commercial e-mail, piracy, online gambling and pornographic material, will make those municipalities "a hotbed of liability," writes Albanesius.

State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas of Pennsylvania, where officials in Philadelphia are moving toward offering the first citywide, wireless broadband network, dismissed Titch's liability concern, saying "You walk across the street and there's a liability." Thomas said legislators thought the marketplace would drive broadband deployment, but "That has not happened, and the ball is now in the courts of the municipalities." Thomas said, however, that any plan should make sure "taxpayers are not adversely harmed," writes Albanesius.

Municipal network opponents contend government involvement stifles innovation. David Olson, director of Portland, Ore.'s Office of Cable Communications -- which is exploring free wireless access for that city -- said innovation can also be stifled by private industry. He said, "The phone industry, the cable industry, telecom lobbyists are mounting attacks at every state legislature and introducing bills left and right to shut down innovation," Albanesius writes. (Read more)

For more background on government and broadband, see the community-broadband Web page of the American Public Power Association and the community-internet page of Free Press.

Broadband III: Isolated Massachusetts towns band together to bring service

Two isolated communities in the Western Massachusetts hill country have banded together to wage a battle to bring high-speed Internet service where now it is nonexistent. The fight is uphill.

"In Shutesbury and Leverett, ... with telecommuters and self-employed transplants from urban areas, [residents share] an unwanted bond with exasperated neighbors: They inhabit an island in Massachusetts where high-speed Internet service is not available, either via telephone lines or by cable," writes Jenna Russell of The Boston Globe. The two towns formed a broadband committee more than two years ago which "has lobbied the state's major providers of Internet service and has investigated home-grown alternatives such as a locally funded fiber network. Leaders say the results have been disappointing.".

Verizon Communications and Comcast Corp. say they would lose money on high-speed service in the two towns, which have a total of 3,500 residents. The homes are too spread out, the companies contend, making the costs prohibitive. A planned $5 million fiber network has been postponed. Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey told Russell because of low population density and the distance to the nearest switching station, the costs could not be recovered. He told Russell, ''There are a handful of places where it doesn't make business sense. If we could make a go of it, we would."

In a place "where many moved to find a better work-life balance," some who hunger for broadband say they have considered relocating again, someplace where the slower pace is not quite so slow, Russell writes. ''If they can't do their business, they're not going to [stay]," a local official told her. A regional council of governments reports one-third of all Western Massachusetts towns are in the same boat. Several companies who tried satellite Internet access complained of weather related interruptions. Hughes Network Systems, which offers satellite Internet service, told Russell that occasional weather-related glitches are unavoidable, but that they are not a major problem. (Read more)

Western states may follow Northeast on CO2 cuts to fight global warming

"Hoping to follow the Northeast's lead, three western states are trying to forge an agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the region's power plants by 2020," reports The Washington Post.

Tuesday, nine northeastern states vowed to cut their power plants' carbon-dioxide emissions by 10 percent over 15 years, in a first-of-its-kind effort against global warming. Wednesday, California officials said they hoped to strike an even bolder deal with Oregon and Washington.

"The move on both coasts to regulate emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels highlights the extent to which states are taking the lead on climate-change policy," reporter Juliet Eilperin writes. "The Bush administration has refused to impose mandatory limits on carbon dioxide."

"The states are doing what the federal government should be doing," Anthony Wexler, who directs the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California at Davis, told Eilperin. "This is fantastic." But he added that, as Eilperin paraphrased it, "states would have to make sure they did not undermine cuts in their own states by buying electricity from out-of-state polluters." (Read more)

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents big utilities, said the Northeast deal may raise electric bills. ""Make no mistake, a plan like this has the potential to have a significant impact on electricity prices in those states," EEI spokesman Dan Riedinger said. For the EEI Web site, click here.

Enviros call proposed mountaintop removal mining buffer-zone change 'absurd'

Environmentalists yesterday continued their efforts to block a proposed government relaxing of limits on a controversial mining practice critics say destroys the environment while coal advocates say it is needed.

At a meeting in Charleston, W.Va., "Environmentalists ... labeled as 'absurd' a proposal that would relax a federal mining regulation which requires a 100-foot buffer zone around streams in areas where strip mining is conducted," writes John Raby of The Associated Press. The meeting in Charleston was one of four this week in eastern coal states on the buffer-zone rule.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining proposed easing the federal buffer zone rule in January 2004, saying current policy is impossible to comply with during mountaintop removal mining The current rule says mining cannot disturb land within 100 feet of a stream unless a company can prove it will not affect the water's quality and quantity. The proposed change would require coal operators to minimize only "to the extent possible" any damage to streams, fish and wildlife by "using the best technology currently available."

Maria Gunnoe, who lives on Island Creek Mountain in Boone County, W.Va., said, "Leave the rule as it is and enforce the rule," reports AP. Her property has been damaged by seven floods in the five years since a 1,183-acre mountaintop mining operation began in a nearby hollow. "The forested mountains and streams running through them are a part of our identity as the Appalachian people. These are our hunting and gathering grounds. Here lie our family cemeteries," Gunnoe added. (Read more)

Burley demand up, Kentucky not meeting it; other states, nations stepping in

With North Carolina tobacco farmers experimenting with burley after being limited to flue-cured, and other states jumping into burley production with the demise of government mandated limitations, Kentucky, the one-time burley king, has decreased its production even though demand for the light leaf is increasing.

Until this year, about 70 percent of domestically grown burley, a key to cigarette flavor, came from Kentucky. Paul Howell, business writer for The Associated Press, noted that the 2005 Kentucky burley crop is that state's smallest in nearly 80 years, the result of a loss of producers after the buyout and a summer drought. That lowered production has created a need that farmers elsewhere have rushed to fill.

Tobacco economist Blake Brown of North Carolina State University told Howell, "When the companies found out they could not get the volume of burley they needed from states like Kentucky, they went elsewhere. They also are looking at Mississippi and Illinois and some other states." Brown added farmers in Argentina and southern Brazil are growing burley, but U.S. tobacco companies want a guaranteed and reliable supply of domestic leaf, writes Howell. Wilkes County, N.C., extension agent Matt Miller told AP, "The tobacco companies are concerned that supply is not going to meet the demand. This is the impetus for encouraging some of them to grow it. It gives them a chance to get their feet wet."

Philip Morris USA asked Speaks to plant a small plot of burley along with the 80 acres of flue-cured tobacco he expects to sell the Richmond, Va.-based cigarette maker. Philip Morris spokesman Bill Phelps told Howell, "We have been talking to growers all along the fringes of the traditional burley growing area. We are still contracting with growers." (Read more)

Mountain columnist reflects on the demise of tobacco and its rhythms

"My first tobacco buyout check came last week," writes Anne Shelby, a contribuing columnist from Eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader. " 'Tobacco's over with,' a neighbor told me earlier in the summer, while we pitched dusty tobacco sticks out of my barn into the bed of his pickup. He wanted to use them for sticking beans and peas in his garden.

"Until this year, my family grew tobacco for as many summers as I can remember. It's strange, I know, to wax sentimental about carcinogens, but there are things I will miss: white canvas on the plant beds, the growing leaves, the pink blossoms, the cut tobacco like tepees in the field, the smell of it in the barn, the tobacco check that always came just in time for Christmas. And I'll miss the rowdy crews of neighbors rolling in to help set, cut, hang or strip. These activities bound us together and, early spring to late fall, set the rhythm for our lives." (Read more)

Activist groups oppose Wal-Mart Bank; retailer says there's money on the table

Two community groups have formally notified the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) they oppose an application by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. for a proposed Wal-Mart Bank.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now (WARN) "expressed strong opposition to Wal- Mart's request that its new bank be exempt from the Community Reinvestment Act," reports Newswire. (Read more)

ACORN spokesman Alton Bennett told Newswire, "Wal-Mart wants to do an end run around [regulations] which requires banks to make at least some credit available in low income and minority communities. History shows what the effect will be if you remove the money from our most distressed neighborhoods, they will even become worse." Rick Smith, Florida Director for WARN, said, "Wal-Mart's proposed bank will weaken local economies. They will only provide 'selected core banking services' and not make loans. They plan to drain resources from local banks that play by the rules, and invest in their communities, to boost [Wal-Mart's] bottom line."

Such worries are unfounded, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marty Heires told The New York Sun. "The charter of this bank and the focus of this bank are very narrow," she said. "What we're seeking to do here is save money on transaction fees for debit, credit, and electronic checking." The Wal-Mart Bank would allow the company to process payments without using an outside vendor. "We can take the money we save by doing that and turn it back to our customers in the form of lower prices," Heires said. "There was some money sitting on the table, and this is a chance to grab it."

The comment period on Wal-Mart's application to the FDIC is Sept. 23. For a detailed Business Week story about Wal-Mart's foray into banking, click here.

Indiana man charged with making meth in a church, near a youth center

A Peru, Ind., custodian was arrested for making methamphetamine inside the church where he worked, police said. "Richard J. Mosley, 30, of Peru, has been charged with felony manufacturing methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a youth center. He was arrested Monday after Miami County sheriff deputies discovered materials used to make the drug in the First Baptist Church, reports WRTV of Indianapolis, with help from The Associated Press.

Mosley was also charged with possession of stolen property, possession of precursors with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and maintaining a common nuisance. A search of his home and pickup truck turned up items used to make meth, including cooking manuals and some finished product.

Law officers said Mosley cooked the drug late at night in the attic of the church and the church ventilation system helped control the smell. The Rev. Bob Adelsperger, a pastor at the church, told reporters he was "deeply saddened this happened in a house of worship." "If you read the scriptures, there are worse things than this. Although, at the moment it doesn't seem like it," he said. (Read more)

The Tennessean cuts its Franklin weekly again, lays off the editor

The Tennessean of Nashville "laid off Williamson County Review Appeal editor Mindy Tate on Friday and announced that it would begin publishing the paper just once a week," Liz Garrigan reported in her news-media column in this week's Nashville Scene.

"When The Tennessean acquired the paper last year, it was a six-day-a-week publication. It then changed to three days, then to two, now to one. Some kind of weaning. It will now publish on Wednesdays," Garrigan writes. "Tate was summoned to Tennessean managing editor Dave Green's office Friday, where she was matter-of-factly dismissed and told that there was simply no ad support to continue publishing the RA on Saturdays." Gannett Co. owns the Tennessean and almost all the weeklies around Nashville, and in the last year became the leading owner of weeklies listed in the Editor & Publisher database.

"I've had a great career here in Williamson County, and I'm just going to sit and take stock," Tate told the Scene, which closely covers The Tennessean. "I do think every challenge is an opportunity." (Read more)

Under-performing newspaper stocks starting to look like better investments

Some managers of stock funds think overwhelming pessimism about publicly owned newspaper companies "has created some compelling bargains in the sector," reports Paul La Monica of CNN.

"The valuations of newspaper stocks have become exceptionally attractive because the outlook on these companies has become particularly negative," Wendell Perkins of Johnson Asset Management told La Monica -- who notes that Gannett "trades at just 13 times 2006 earnings estimates, and earnings are expected to increase by 10 percent next year. Journal Communications has a price-to-earnings ratio around 18, "and analysts are predicting a profit increase of 15 percent in 2006."

"The industry is also slowly starting to capitalize on the surge in online advertising," still just 4 percent of its total ad revenues, La Monica reports. "According to figures released Monday by the Newspaper Association of America ... online ad growth at newspapers in the second quarter increased 28.6 percent from a year ago. "Newspaper sites continue to rank at the top of the most visited online news sources in the nation," NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm said in a statement.

"Perhaps the biggest reason for excitement in the group is the possibility of mergers," La Monica reports. "In fact, there already has been one newspaper merger this year, with Lee Enterprises buying Pulitzer for about $1.5 billion. The only issue is that with the stocks of many newspaper companies hovering near their 52-week lows," at least one analyst is "not sure how many more companies would be willing to sell out at such discounted prices." (Read more)

Rural Calendar: Johanns hosting farm bill forum in Louisville next week

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will host a forum in Louisville, Ky., as part of a USDA's nationwide Farm Bill listening tour. The forum will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31 in the South Wing Conference Center, Room B102, at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center.

The public is invited to attend and respond to questions posed by Johanns. The format also will allow an open comment period for general Farm Bill comments. The public is also welcome to submit comments via the USDA Farm Bill Forums Web site.

"We encourage all that are attending the forum to arrive by 3:30 p.m. EDT to visit with your state USDA representatives and other leaders in Kentucky’s agricultural community. The forum will begin promptly at 4 p.m. We hope you will take the opportunity to contribute to the future of Kentucky agriculture," said Kara K. Keeton, spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy.

Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005

Rural Telecommunications Congress to target broadband needs, solutions

The ninth annual Rural Telecommunications Congress from Oct. 9-12 in Lexington, Ky., is expected to be "the highest-impact rural technology conference in the United States," reports Newswire.

The conference will address technology issues such as broadband infrastructure expansion, technology-based community and economic development, e-health and education applications and broadband policy and regulation. (Read more)

With a theme "States as Broadband Laboratories," the conference will gather leaders from federal, state and local governments, technology professionals and small and rural business owners. The event will take place corresponding with the fall horse racing meet at Lexington's Keeneland Race Course.

Speakers include Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.), U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope, and Office for the Advancement of Telehealth Director Dena Puskin. "Each of these exciting keynote speakers brings to the conference a different and appealing perspective on the importance of broadband technology and its impact on community and economic development," event organizers said.

Officials say space will be limited to the first 500 registrants. To register or find additional information about the Congress, visit its Web site. Those interested in registering or sponsoring the event also may contact Kyle Lanphear at 270-781-4320 or e-mail him at klanphear@connectky.org.

Nine states to cut coal-fired power plants' emissions; enviros hope for trend

A confidential draft proposal indicates officials in New York and eight other Northeastern states have come to a preliminary agreement to freeze emissions from coal-fired power plants and then them 10 percent by 2020, The New York Times reports.

"The cooperative action, the first of its kind in the nation, came after the Bush administration decided not to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Once a final agreement is reached, the legislatures of the nine states will have to enact it, which is considered likely," writes Anthony DePalma.

The regional initiative would set up a market-driven system to control carbon dioxide emissions from more than 600 electric generators in the nine states. Environmentalists who support a federal law to control greenhouse gases believe the model established by the Northeastern states will be followed by other states, which could pressure others and lead to the enactment of a national law.

California, Washington and Oregon are exploring a regional agreement similar to the Northeastern plan. The Northeastern agreement includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, writes DePalma.(Read more)

Proposed mountaintop-mining rule change attracts dozens to meeting

The federal government is finding no shortage of opinions on a proposal to relax restrictions on mountaintop removal coal mining. Officials arrived in Hazard, Ky., on Tuesday to gather opinions for a federal study on the proposal's environmental impact.

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth member Patty Wallace told Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal she was suspicious of the study:"You get so tired of these things when you know they already have their minds made up." Some say the study will be used to justify changing the 22-year-old rule, which restricts mountaintop mining within 100 feet of streams.

Critics charge easing the restrictions would pollute streams. Supporters say it would benefit the coal industry without hurting the environment. Mike Gauldin, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, told Maimon, "Our goal is clarity, to give the industry guidance on what it can and cannot do."

Don Gibson, a manager with the Ashland-based coal company ICG, said strict permit requirements already address environmental concerns. He told The C-J, "We just don't want the process to become more stringent." David Hartos, an Office of Surface Mining scientist, said his agency "would explore options that include keeping the regulation as it is; clarifying it to explain when mining can occur within 100 feet of streams and strengthening it to minimize the presence of rock and debris taken from a mine site." A final decision is not expected for 18 months to two years. (Read more)

The meeting in Hazard was one of four in coal-mining areas in the eastern United States. The first was Monday in Knoxville, Tenn. (Read more in a report by J.J. Stambaugh of the Knoxville News-Sentinel). Meetings will be held tonight in Charleston, W. Va., and Thursday in Pittsburgh.

Beef cattle profits drained by continuing drought; other farming also hurt

Kentucky beef cattle farmers are beginning to buckle under the weight of a continuing drought that is increasing their costs and cutting into their profits.

"Every third day ... farmer Charles Miller delivers hay to feed his hungry cattle, making up for his dried-up pastures. Miller usually doesn't start dropping off the 1,500-pound bales until the forecast might include snow, but this year his 700 beef cattle have munched on hay for three weeks because of a summer drought," writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. Kentucky is the top beef cattle producer east of the Mississippi, bringing in $620.7 million last year from the sale of cattle and calves. The drought could force farmers to cull their herds to compensate for short hay supplies.

Two creeks and two ponds on Miller's land have dried up, forcing him to rely on public water. Monthly water bills range between $200 to $250. Cattle producer have been weighing calves weaned a month earlier than normal because of the drought, and are seeing drops in weight, down as much as 20 percent.

The drought is taking a toll on other products. Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service reported 46 percent of the hay crop was rated poor or very poor, 35 percent fair, 18 percent good and 1 percent excellent. The service also said pasture conditions also were dismal, with 51 percent rated poor or very poor, 36 percent fair and 13 percent good. (Read more)

N.H. won't appeal ruling against using trespassing law on illegal immigrants

New Hampshire's attorney general will not appeal a ruling that dismissed trespassing charges against illegal immigrants arrested by two police chiefs who said they were frustrated by lax federal enforcement.

Attorney General Kelly Ayotte sent that notice to the state's police chiefs her office and instructed them not to use the trespassing law to take undocumented immigrants off the street, reports The Associated Press. Ayotte said, "This office has determined that there is an insufficient basis for appeal."

This spring, police in Hudson and New Ipswich arrested illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico, under the state's trespassing laws, arguing that people in the country illegally also were in the towns illegally and subject to trespassing laws, AP writes. The immigrants had been stopped on traffic violations and police say they admitted they were in the United States illegally. (Read more)

Earlier this month, a judge ruled the trespassing charges cannot be used as an immigration tool, and that the town's police chiefs violated the Constitution by trying to enforce federal laws, AP writes.

Kansas land giveaway spurs home sales; community gets economic boost

When 12 or more communities in Kansas and Nebraska started offering land for free, organizers envisioned that it would lead to population growth and economic prosperity. While those goals are being met, it turns out people are reserving the free land and also buying existing homes in the community of Ellsworth, Kan., writes Calvin Woodward of The Associated Press. (Read more)

During the last two years, 18 families have come to Ellsworth to see the free land and ended up purchasing existing homes, reports Woodward. Families with children have taken advantage of another incentive that provides a down-payment grant of up to $3,000.

"The town gets a tangible benefit from its investment, beyond the boost of having more people around to shop," writes Woodward. "Each child who enters a local school attracts $6,000 a year in state aid. The 25 kids who have enrolled from the new families bring $150,000 annually to the education system, enough to pay for several teachers."

Ten free lots averaging about one-third of an acre are still up for grabs in the city and four other lots exist in Ellsworth County. "Local families are eligible for the free lots, and two have built on them, but the down-payment aid is for newcomers only," reports Woodward.

Road plans altered to avoid writer Bobbie Ann Mason's family farm

For writer Bobbie Ann Mason and many of her followers, the Mason family farm in far Western Kentucky is sacred ground, a place of inspiration and precious memories that helped spawn award-winning books. Now, Mason and her devotees can breathe easier. The Kentucky Department of Highways has decided to adjust its road plans and leave untouched the property in Graves County.

"Mason and her husband, Roger Rawlings, said ... they received an e-mail from state Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert stating that plans for re-routing the road in front of the Mason family farm are being altered, and that the farm will not be disturbed," writes Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader, who wrote a story last week about the state's plans to take part of the farm.

Mason told Warren that Nighbert altered the plans after she complained, and consulted with Commerce Secretary Jim Host and Education Secretary Virginia Fox. The planned Mayfield south-side bypass will go ahead without affecting the Masons. Mason told Warren, "It's amazing, wonderful news." (Read more)

Mason family members feared the original plan would have destroyed much of the front yard, including some old trees, and bring the roadway within about 20 feet of the front porch. The farm was purchased by Mason's grandparents in about 1920. The place is vividly described in Mason's book, Clear Springs: A Memoir. Mason lives in Central Kentucky and is writer in residence at the University of Kentucky.

West Virginia U. gets huge grant for heart, diabetes and obesity research

Wyeth Pharmaceuticals has donated $11.79 million in support of biomedical research at West Virginia University over the next three years. "The Wyeth Pharmaceutical Research Fund at WVU will be used to support up to 15 new faculty positions at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center," reports Newswise. "The University hopes to hire scientists in heart and vascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, neurobiology and respiratory biology."

WVU President David C. Hardesty said, “These Wyeth Research Scholars will contribute their efforts toward finding the causes and cures of diseases that afflict tens of thousands of West Virginians. This will add immeasurably to the advancement of WVU as a research institution, and the achievement of our strategic research plan.” Wyeth agreed in 2000 to fund this research as part of an agreement that settled West Virginia diet drug litigation. (Read more)

Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2005

RFD-TV plans daily news show aimed at growing rural audience nationwide

RFD-TV has announced plans to launch "Rural Evening News," with hopes it will become a CNN for agricultural America, reporting "stories that might get short shrift at regular news outlets, such as the effect of a cold front on crops or the ramifications of a mad-cow tissue study," The Wall Street Journal reported. (subscription required for online edition)

"Patrick Gottsch, the 52-year-old president of RFD Communications Inc., Nashville, Tenn. [is] betting the farm -- actually, close to $3 million for the first year -- that there is sufficient demand for a daily half-hour news show about cattle futures, storm fronts and farming legislation to attract corporate sponsors willing to pick up the show's operating costs. He plans to open news bureaus in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and São Paolo, Brazil, in November, and says he'll hire 22 news staffers, including two news anchors, to troll for stories in North and South America. "We're not just going to sit on our butts, read copy and put a picture up in the corner," Gottsch told Journal reporter Timothy Martin.

The network reaches 28 million households. "I think they've tapped into something," Shane Moreland, news director at WSLS-TV in Roanoke, told Martin. "It's really all about the content. If it's something no one else is offering and there's a hunger for it, it should survive." Martin notes that the network's offerings include "'Horse Babies,' a chronicle of how breeders and owners are 'living out their dreams with horses'; an award-winning cartoon, 'Jasper: The Story of a Mule'; and 'Trains & Locomotives,' a show consisting mostly of scenic railway footage [and] 50 hours of a live auction in which more than 275,000 cattle were sold over the phone."

"We're a bunch of farmers with a television network," Nebraska native Gottsch, 52, told Martin, who wrote, "RFD-TV is getting noticed partly because satellite dishes are cheaper and smaller. Also, rural audiences find so much cable and satellite programming distasteful, says Gene Millard, an RFD-TV viewer and the former executive director of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters."

The network's Web site announces that in May, it added two hours to each weekday schedule.

Web site for community leaders, entrepreneurs provides guide to the future

In any community's efforts to keep up in the rapidly changing global economy, the first need is to keep pace with information. Now there is a Web site to help visionaries find accurate data they can use to plot a new courses for their people.

Community-Wealth.org "provides information about the broad range of community wealth strategies, policies, models and innovations. The site is built upon the proposition that above all, practitioners, policymakers, academics and the media need solid, cross-cutting information and tools that can help them to understand and support the expansion of these institutions," reports The Council of State Governments in its Agriculture Weekly Update.

Community-Wealth.org writes on its home page, "Our goal is to provide you with the Web’s most comprehensive and up-to-date information resource on state-of-the-art strategies for democratic, community-based economic development. The resources offered here include directories, breaking news, publications, and conference information, as well as cutting-edge initiatives from cities, states, community development corporations, employee-owned firms, land trusts, non-profit organizations, co-ops, universities, and much more," they state.

The site is funded by the Ford Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which are also the major funders of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

D.C. law firm wants to break up Media General cross-ownership in Tri-Cities

Media General Inc. could be forced to sell the Bristol Herald-Courier or its sister television station, News Channel 11 in Johnson City, Tenn., and two other properties in similar cross-ownership cases, if a Washington public-interest law firm has its way.

"The firm [has asked] the Federal Communications Commission deny Richmond-based Media General’s request for a waiver that would allow it to continue operating a newspaper and television station in the same media market," writes Joe Geraghty of the Herald-Courier. Since the 1970s, the FCC has prohibited one company from owning both types of properties in the same market. A company may purchase both but must sell one or apply for a waiver. Media General filed for a waiver when it applied to renew WJHL-TV’s license, writes Geraghty.

Andy Schwartzman, an attorney for Media Access Project, told Geraghty, “Owning the dominant newspaper and dominant television station in one market is more power than any company should have in a democracy.” Cross-ownership limits the number of voices the public hears, he added. James H. Hyatt Jr., regional vice president of Media General papers in southwest Virginia, told Geraghty sharing allows combined operations to offer more to readers and viewers. Hyatt told Geraghty, “The reader, the viewer and the clicker are the winners.”

Media Access Project also has filed challenges to waiver requests filed by Media General in two other cross-ownership markets – Pensacola, Fla., and Florence, S.C., Geraghty writes. (Read more)

Florida developer counting on 'new ruralism' aimed at aging, wealthy boomers

"What is a striving Florida developer to do when most of its vast holdings are not beach chic but rural, remote and mosquitoey?" asks Barbara P. Fernandez, reporting for The New York Times.

"The St. Joe Company, which owns 800,000 mostly inland acres in the scrubby pine forests of the Panhandle, is invoking Thoreau," she answers, referring to the famous author/poet's call to return to nature.
In developments called RiverCamps, homes sit on lots of up to four acres near marshes, creeks and conservation areas. At WhiteFence Farms, on 5- to 20-acre lots near fields and ponds, "farmhands" will gas up an owner's tractor and help mow the meadow. A third category, Florida Ranches, will have up to 150 acres and cater to hunters, writes Fernandez.

The idea, Fernandez writes, "is a corporate reinvention of new urbanism, an anti-sprawl movement that advocates compact, old-fashioned towns where residents can commune in parks, shops and restaurants within walking distance of their homes. Instead of connecting with neighbors, new ruralism promotes connecting with the land -- though these cabins in the woods come with wireless Internet access and porches with screens that unfurl by remote control," she notes. (Read more)

The target market is people 42 to 60. Most are expected to be used as second homes, though many prospective buyers plan full-time residency. Peter S. Rummell, St. Joe's chairman and chief executive told Fernandez, "People are trying to get back to a time they remember. A moderated ruralism seems pretty attractive." Fernandez writes that 145 buyers, mostly from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas, have closed on plots at RiverCamps on Crooked Creek, the first of three such developments.

Nebraska finding 'Ag' aids in recruiting students; more marketing needed

What is in a name? Contrary to a perceived national trend where colleges are shying away from the term "agriculture" to recruit students, Nebraska is finding the old image still has strong appeal when promoted.

”Maybe the word 'agricultural' isn't dead weight after all,” writes Bill Hord of the Omaha World-Herald. “The word seems to be an advantage, not a detriment, in attracting students to the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, according to survey findings by a faculty subcommittee," he writes. (Read more; registration required)

A faculty group called on the college to do a better job of marketing what it has to offer rather than change its name. The survey found "about 46 percent of the students who attended the ag college were influenced to do so by the fact that the word agricultural would be on the diploma. Only 10.4 percent who chose a different college were influenced negatively by the word agriculture," writes Hord.

Faculty survey committee chairman Dan Husmann told Hord the results prove "agriculture" is a positive word for those considering CASNR. The survey was prompted by eight straight years of enrollment declines. The college’s students had decreased by 21 percent. Steve Waller, dean of the college, said the survey committee's recommendations make it less likely the college name would be changed, Hord writes.

Meat from cow restricted under mad-cow rules recalled; six states affected

Beef banned under mad-cow disease rules was shipped to wholesalers in a half-dozen states and is now being recalled by a Wisconsin beef plant.

Nearly a ton of beef shipped included meat from a Canadian cow that inspectors determined was eligible for shipment to the United States, but a later audit found the cow was too old to be allowed entry, reports Daniel Goldstein of Bloomberg News. (Read more) The U.S. last month began importing live Canadian cattle younger than 30 months of age, thought to be the lowest risk for mad-cow disease.

Steven Cohen, spokesman for the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service told Goldstein, 'There is a minimal chance, given the age of the animal and the health of the animal, that there was any risk whatsoever to people.'' The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is investigating and has suspended the veterinarian who certified the cow. Green Bay Dressed Beef of Green Bay, Wis., distributed the meat to wholesalers in Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Officials are trying to find out how much beef wound up in retail stores.

Montana governor calls Department of Agriculture 'bunch of stooges'

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer says U.S. states need to oversee federal inspectors of Canadian beef because the Department of Agriculture is acting in the interest of beef companies, calling the agency "a bunch of stooges."

Schweitzer has fought allowing the importation of young Canadian cattle, as a partial lift of mad-cow restrictions. Schweitzer told Adam Tanner of Reuters, "A few years ago, the four big meat companies ... expanded their role in this country. They bought ... [the USDA] ... crawled right into bed with them [the meat companies] and they run our internal policy and our international (beef) policy." (Read more)

Schweitzer has led a state fight against imports of Canadian cattle under 30 months of age after a federal appeals court lifted a two-year ban in July. Schweitzer announced his state would test Canadian cattle and charge for the extra inspection. The Montana-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund has fought for a permanent injunction against the Canadian imports.

The governor's move angered Canada and the USDA, which said it inspects imported cattle and that Montana may not have the authority to conduct extra tests. Schweitzer, defending his action, told Tanner, "All I said was Montana will watch the regulators of the USDA and ... the Canadians, and the USDA became unglued because we were going to require that they actually do their jobs."

Critics say Schweitzer is embracing a protectionist policy, but the governor said he was concerned about Canadian cattle imports driving down the price of Montana cattle. Schweitzer said, "Bottom line, I'm trying to keep family ranchers in business," writes Tanner. Schweitzer, a Democrat, has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2008.

Pennsylvania treatment focuses on alcohol, but meth damages more quickly

A Pennsylvania community organizing to face the growing threat of methamphetamine and addressing its treatment programs has found the emphasis of rehabilitation in their area and state is toward drinking, not the highly addictive drug meth blighting rural areas, and inner cities around the country.

Last week, the Bush administration announced its national anti-meth efforts after criticism that it wasn't aggressively responding to the growing epidemic. The national policy has been geared heavily toward teenage drinking, but federal officials detailing the new anti-meth initiative, said that no drug problem took precedence over another.

"The highest rate of substance abuse in Bradford County involves alcohol, not hard drugs such as methamphetamine, said Phil Cusano, of the Bradford-Sullivan County Drug and Alcohol Services," writes Lisa R. Howeler of the Sayre Evening Times, of Sayre, Pa. But, Cusano told the newspaper, "It takes 30 years for alcohol to cause the physical damage to a person to the level that we see with meth in three to four years." (Read more)

Cusano told the newspaper alcohol is the primary substance abuse problem for the entire state and the nation. He noted that alcohol related traffic fatalities have counted for more deaths in a year than soldiers killed in Iraq. "Last year, 58 percent of the admissions for treatment were for alcohol; 5 percent for cocaine; 3 percent for heroine; 16 to 18 percent for marijuana; and 14 percent for meth. Alcohol will remain primary. For one reason - it's legal," he told Howeler.

Appalachian hospital chain turns down incentive to move HQ to Appalachia

Government leaders in the Eastern Kentucky city of Hazard have offered free rent to Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) to lure the hospital chain's corporate headquarters to the town in the heart of Central Appalachia, but the healthcare company has turned down the offer.

"Mayor Bill Gorman said he believes any company serving Appalachia should have its headquarters in the mountains of Appalachia, not in the flatlands of the bluegrass region, reports WKYT-TV of Lexington in a composite story from their own sources and The Associated Press. (Read more)

Gorman said he had hoped that the offer of free use of a $1 million building would entice the company to make the move. However the company, which operates nine hospitals in Appalachia, declined the invitation, saying it would cost more than $10 million to make the move. Spokeswoman Melissa Cornett said the company would rather spend money on projects that relate directly to patient care, like a planned $17 million worth of expansions at the Hazard hospital.

Hazard and Perry County gave ARH $5.3 million in coal severance-tax funds in 2001 to help pay for relocating some offices from Lexington to Hazard. The company said it had more than 150 corporate employees in Hazard, including two vice presidents, 14 corporate directors and administrators.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare is a not-for-profit company that operates hospitals and clinics, home health agencies, and pharmacies in Kentucky and West Virginia. It is the largest private employer in southeastern Kentucky, and the third largest private employer in southern West Virginia.

Indiana governor announces training program to help coal miners

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has announced a partnership with Vincennes University, the Indiana Department of Labor and Indiana's coal-mining industry to start a miner-training program.

"The new program will offer individuals 40 hours of initial training required before beginning work as a miner. Proposals to develop continuing education courses for experienced miners, certificate programs, and a degree in mining technology through Vincennes University are also being considered, writes Halea Franklin of the Linton Daily Citizen in Linton, Ind. (Read more)

In announcing the partnership, Daniels said, "With the economy we live in now, there is no job that does not require education, does not require sophisticated training, does not use modern technology. There's essentially no jobs like that left. "This program is consistent with our goal of creating a well-educated and talented workforce that will meet the needs of current and future Hoosier employers," writes Franklin.

Miguel Rivera Sr., Commissioner of the Department of Labor, told reporters, "Mining in the state of Indiana is going to grow tremendously in the next five years ... miners have told me time and time again that there was a strong need to train Indiana miners for opening up new mines to replace miners who are going to retire and to also meet the demands of the increase in mining tonnage," Franklin writes.

Daniels presented Vincennes University President Richard E. Helton with a check for $10,000 to help start the program. The money comes from part of a grant from the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The program will begin this fall with part of the training at Vincennes University and at a local mine. Southwestern Indiana lies in the Illinois Basin coal field.

Old Cumberland Mountains mining trails now popular off-road attraction

Some 72,000-acres of the Cumberland Mountains have become a favorite playground for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, ripping and running along ridges and roads once used only for hauling out coal.

"Coal Creek Co. owns the land, which stretches from Windrock Mountain in Anderson County to north of Caryville in Campbell County. The 133-year-old company leases the land for coal mining and natural gas and oil drilling," writes Bob Fowler of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "Some 200 miles of old logging and mining roads and new trails blazed by off-road motorists crisscross the rugged landscape," Fowler adds.

The coal company has an agreement with a local all-terrain vehicle organization -- the Windrock ATV Club -- that gives off-road drivers access to the land. Company spokesman Chuck Wicker, told Fowler, "We've got hikers, ATVs, Jeeps, rail buggies and one group of idiots that are downhill bicycle racers."

News of of the pact between the off-roaders and the coal company has spread and use has mushroomed, so much so that the coal company is building a 12-acre campground to accommodate visitors with amenities ranging from RV hookups to bathhouses to primitive campgrounds.

Fowler reports that 750 to 1,000 people visit the area on an average weekend. Tommy Rhea, the Windrock ATV Club's media director told the newspaper a spring jamboree attracted more than 3,000 visitors. A fall benefit ride in late October is expected to draw a similar crowd, with proceeds going to a local charity. Larry "Red" Hudgins of Knoxville, the club's president, told Fowler, "(The land) offers everything. It's got beautiful scenery and good trails." (Read more)

Smoky Park tries to solve traffic jams to protect black bears, landscape

Too much of a good thing can be destructive. Officials in charge of one of the nation's most popular natural attractions are concerned that success may spoil their scenic mountain mecca.

"More than 2 million visitors a year flock to Cades Cove a 6,500-acre valley at the southern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border, making it one of the most heavily used park areas anywhere in the United States," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Dianne Flaugh, the park's landscape architect, told Mansfield, "You have great scenery, great nature and great history. It's got the combination there." But, Mansfield writes, with sightseers comes traffic congestion, particularly during the height of summer vacation and at the peak of brilliant autumn colors. As many as 4,450 vehicles a day take the narrow, one-way, one-lane road that loops the cove.

With traffic volume roughly doubling each decade to more than 563,000 vehicles a year, the park is now considering ways to cut, not just cope, with congestion in Cades Cove. "Suggested alternative approaches take progressively stronger actions, from adding warning signs for 'bear [traffic] jams ahead' and more roadside pull-offs to creating a shuttle service or limiting access during peak periods," writes Mansfield.

A survey of about 900 Smokies visitors in July -- part of a $1.3 million study on the Cades Cove experience -- is still being compiled, but will lead to a round of public meetings next summer and final recommendations in 2008, Mansfield writes.

Monday, Aug. 22, 2005

Meth ring out of Mexico targeted Indian reservations, federal prosecutor says

"A ruthlessly planned and executed business plan developed by a Mexican drug ring targeted Indian reservations in the West for methamphetamine distribution," the Casper Star-Tribune reported Sunday. "Leaders of that drug gang are in prison or on the run, say law enforcement officials, who broke up a meth distribution ring based in Ogden, Utah. The gang's tentacles reached deep into the Wind River Indian Reservation and surrounding Fremont County communities in Wyoming," writes Brodie Farquhar.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Murray of Wyoming, an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, told the Star-Tribune that the Mexican gang's plan had all the elements of a classic business plan: "It identified a potential consumer base (Indians living on reservations or nearby); successful businesses that already preyed on addicts (the liquor stores); a regular source of income their customers could use to buy meth (the monthly checks); and the conviction that alcohol consumers could be switched over to being meth consumers (free samples of meth)," the Star-Tribune reported.

Murray said gang members developed romantic relationships with Indian women, even having children with them, then giving them free samples of meth, to which they became severely addicted. "To support their new and expensive habits, meth customers became dealers and distributors themselves, using free samples to recruit customers, Murray said. From there, it was steady growth as customers became dealers/recruiters themselves, and their customers became dealers/recruiters in a deadly pyramid growth scheme," Farquhar wrote. To read more about the gang and how the feds broke it up, click here.


Debate over broadband market resembles New Deal struggle over rural electricity

"When the Internet debuted on the national political stage in President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union address, it was generally accepted that the private sector would take the lead in growing the unusual and compelling, new commercial network. Eight years later, the debate about whether municipalities should be funding or creating high-speed Internet networks has a back-to-the-future quality," Drew Clark of Technology Daily wrote to begin an in-depth series about the issue.

"It is something the United States has not seen in seven decades, at least since the progressive and New Deal era: a debate about whether the state, either instead of competing with the private sector, should own 'the means of production' in an information age. Many proponents look back a century for historical guidance from the country's experience in publicly provided rural electrification," Clark writes.

"Many cities want to offer broadband networks at low cost, or free. In the early years of that experiment, in 2002, Bristol, Va., strung fiber-optic wires for broadband, cable television and telephone service. In Utah, 14 counties have collaborated on a similar project. Last month, 62 percent of voters in Lafayette, La., voted for a bond issue to build a network. The rise of wireless technology, particularly Wi-Fi, has recast the technologies and politics of municipal broadband. Such networks are much cheaper than fiber-to-the-home, but for now they lack a video component. With municipalities fighting for their rights to sell or share Internet access against incumbent telephone and cable operators, technology firms like Intel have aggressively promoted Wi-Fi." Technology Daily's special report includes stories on Bristol, Lafayette and Grand Haven, Mich., one of 34 U.S. cities (there are 50 in other nations) with Wi-Fi, according to the site www.muniwireless.com. At least 19 other cities in this country and 15 elsewhere have Wi-Fi zones.

Other technologies are coming into play. Municipal utilities such as the one in Manassas, Va., are offering broadband over power lines, which offers much promise for rural areas where cable and phone companies are reluctant to build out broadband networks. That evokes the development of electricity, which was slow to come to rural areas and many small towns. "If you go back a century, the battles were almost exactly the same," Jim Baller, an attorney with the Baller Herbst Law Group, which represents public utilities and helped organize the Community Broadband Coalition, told Technology Daily. A later edition of The Rural Blog will have more on this angle, but you may be able to read it now by clicking here.

"Until recently, municipal broadband primarily was fought on the state and local stage," Clark writes. "A 2004 Supreme Court decision said states must set the rules for municipal engagement, but today the issue is squarely part of any rewrite of the nation's telecommunications laws. Bills now in Congress could bar states from allowing municipal broadband in areas served by the private sector, and on the other hand are measures to pre-empt the 14 states that ban or restrict the provision of broadband by local governments."

Local governments get tech allies in battles to preserve right to offer broadband

"One of the greediest moves ever by big telephone companies," their efforts to get state legislatures to keep local governments from offering high-speed, wireless Internet service, including broadband, "appears for the moment to have run amok, if not backfired," columnist Neal R. Peirce writes.

Legislation to block or hinder government WiFi was introduced in 14 legislatures this year, and passed in Colorado, Florida and Nebraska. "But then cities began to counter-lobby. And some corporate heavies -- Intel and Texas Instruments, makers of chips for modems and WiFi routers, and Dell, which offers WiFi in its new laptops -- joined them," Peirce reports. "In June, the cities' cause got a major boost when (in a deliciously ironic piece of federalist 'preemption of preemption'), Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced a bill invalidating any state laws that stop municipalities from offering direct broadband service." McCain said it was "appropriate and even commendable" for local governments to invest in broadband.

Telecommunications companies argue that governments are unfair competitors, "even though the phone companies received (according to a Wall Street Journal report) $5 billion in federal subsidies last year," Peirce writes. " The stakes, of course, are huge because it's likely that Internet, television signal and phone service will eventually all be available by a single broadband connection."

Ron Sege, CEO of Tropos, a firm that provides equipment for WiFi networks for 250 localities, told Peirce that local governments' demand demand for WiFi is soaring. "Most, he reports, are aiming to offer citizens and businesses 'all you can eat' broadband access for $20 or less a month, far below average telecom prices," Peirce reports. Not all such networks are urban; Robertson County, Kentucky, is creating a countywide WiFi network with money that the state got from the national tobacco settlement and earmarked for agricultural development.

Peirce's weekly columns are syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group and later posted at http://citistates.com and http://www.postwritersgroup.com/peirce.htm.

Most farmers still dial up to the World Wide Wait; Kentucky's are least wired

A biennial U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that 69 percent of farms that are on the Internet still have slow, dial-up service -- and some major farm states "seem to be the least technologically advanced," Agriculture Online reports. "Of the Indiana farmers surveyed, for example, 86 percent said they use a dial-up connection. In Ohio that number is 82 percent. New Jersey growers are the least likely to be dialing up, with 46 percent reporting they use such a connection. Instead, 21 percent of farmers there connect by DSL, and 26 percent by cable."

Wireless technology is reaching some farms. In Arizona, 15 percent of farmers on the Net are wireless; 10 percent use DSL and only 3 percent connect through cable. "Wireless connections are also gaining converts in New Mexico, Nebraska and Colorado where 8 to 9 percent of farmers use them," Ag Online News Editor Cheryl Rainford writes.

Other findings of the survey include: 51 percent of farms have Internet access, and 31 percent use computers for farm business, both about the same as two years ago. "Usage of computers and the Internet breaks down along economic lines, with the highest-earning farms most likely to have a computer and an Internet connection they use for the business," Rainford reports. "Crop and livestock farmers are pretty much equally likely to have a computer they use for their farm business - but the trend is leveling off for crop farmers, and increasing for livestock producers." (Read more)

About 76 percent of farmers in Wyoming and New England are on the Net, and those in New England are most likely to do farm business online. The least wired are in Kentucky, where only 30 percent are online.

Newsweek columnist discovers the issue of broadband access in rural areas

"The sticks are getting shafted when it comes to broadband," which is "quickly becoming an essential, just like electricity and phone service," wrote The Technologist, Steven Levy, in last week's edition of Newsweek. "The Pew Internet and American Life Project study reports that rural users are only half as likely as urbanites to use high-speed Internet service, and that two thirds of rural dial-up users either don't know of their options to get the fast stuff or have checked it out and learned for sure they can't get it."

Levy writes that he experienced the realities of the issue at his "western Massachusetts retreat. This is dial-up country, and my browser refreshes in slo-mo, my mailbox fills up in dribbles and two coats of paint can dry before a PowerPoint file downloads. Though the Berkshires are only hours away from superwired citadels like New York and Boston, in terms of telecommunications this might as well be Nepal. ... Earlier this year Verizon canceled its plans to make DSL upgrades in this part of the county, explaining it wasn't worth the expense. The Berkshire Eagle gave one resident's response: 'You've just given us a death sentence.' (Read more)

"The good news for rural America is that new wireless technologies might make it much easier for companies to extend broadband down the unpaved roads and over the hills. Here in the Berkshires a company called WiSpring is hoping to use something called "fixed wireless" (sort of a cross between Wi-Fi and satellite, with powerful transmitters on poles and sensitive receivers in the home) to serve the towns here. As it turns out, Verizon itself is looking at fixed wireless as a way to get its customers into the cyber fast lane; last week it expanded a trial program with three towns in Illinois and one in Pennsylvania."


Grass-roots discontent with No Child Left Behind Act grows, Monitor says

"Just as students are heading back to school, frustration with the federal No Child Left Behind education law is hitting new heights at the grass-roots level from Maine to California, reports The Christian Science Monitor. "Three states are already in open rebellion: Connecticut, Utah, and Colorado, which have either planned lawsuits or passed laws that trump the federal mandates. At least five other states -- Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, and Virginia - are deemed 'hot spots' that could join the revolt in the coming school year."

Reporter Alexandra Marks writes that 21 states are considering some kind of legislation critical of the law, according to the Civil Society Institute, "a nonpartisan advocacy group in Massachusetts. It rounded up a report of this dissatisfaction to call attention to what it says is a disconnect between the federal government and the educators, students, parents, and local lawmakers that live with NCLB every day."

Supporters of the law cite rising test scores and it's working, and that frustration about the law's rigidity "has more to do with the level of federal intervention in what used to be a primarily state and local issue," the Monitor reports. "They also praise the federal Department of Education for being flexible in dealing with state concerns. But several independent education experts, as well as state legislators from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the aisle, say that even with this flexibility, frustration is on the rise." Those include Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C. Others note that scores were rising already because of state-level reforms.

The law requires standardized tests and penalizes schools that do not make "adequate yearly progress" as defined by the law. "Many teachers and local legislators . . . argue that the high-stakes nature of NCLB's test encourages 'teaching to the test' and actually undermines learning and critical-thinking skills. At the same time, they contend, NCLB mandates drain resources from key enrichment programs," Marks writes.

"I think the dissatisfaction will continue to grow," says Reggie Felton, director of federal relations with the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., told Marks. "That will result in a stronger sense of urgency in congressional districts, which will then result in members of Congress saying, 'We can't wait. We must act now because I'm up for re-election." (Read more)

Beverage makers endorse taking soda pop out of elementary schools

The American Beverage Association last week endorsed "Limiting the availability of soft drinks in schools across the country, a move that comes amid increased pressure to curb the epidemic of childhood obesity," The Associated Press reports.

ABA, which represents companies that make and distribute non-alcoholic beverages, said parents should rest assured that "their children aren't drinking an excessive amount of sweetened drinks at school," AP reported. "The association's board voted unanimously to work with school districts to ensure that vending machines stock only bottled water and 100 percent juice in elementary schools."

Sodas have already been barred from most such schools. "Several states have considered or enacted laws establishing nutrition standards in schools, including whether students should have access to vending machine soft drinks," AP reported. "Of the 38 states that considered legislation this year dealing with school nutrition, 15 enacted legislation that addressed the issue in some way," according to Amy Winterfeld, a health-policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"An estimated 9 million schoolchildren ages 6-19 ... are overweight, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," AP noted. "Since 1980, the number of overweight children has doubled, and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled, according to the CDC." NCSL estimates that obesity-attributed medical expenses in the U.S. were $75 billion in 2003. (Read more)

Alabama teachers get guides on how to deal with religion in schools

The Alabama Education Association is sending the state's public-school teachers two booklets on how to handle religion. "The booklets advise an academic, not devotional, approach," reports Dana Beyerle, Montgomery bureau chief for New York Times Regional Newspapers in Alabama.

AEA spokesman David Stout said the group wants to to dispel the notion that the Bible and prayer aren't allowed in public schools. He said no particular event prompted the move, but it was encouraged by the Montgomery-based Redeem the Vote, a national voter-education group headed by Montgomery physician Randy Brinson. He told Beyerle the booklets give guidance so that "people of faith can talk about their faith without fear of repercussions." (Read more)

"Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center wrote the booklets after U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley in 1999 suggested a guide to teachers," the Times papers reported. "Haynes has been the principal organizer and drafter of a series of consensus guidelines on religious liberty in public education endorsed by a broad range of civil liberties and educational organizations. In January 2000, three of these guides were sent by President Clinton to every public school," The Associated Press noted.

The booklets "emphasize that teachers and other school employees are government employees who may not promote religion but may explain its history, its place in ancient and modern times and the Bible in its various forms," AP reports. "Schools may strive for awareness but not acceptance of religion, the booklets say. Schools also may sponsor religious studies but not the practice of religion and schools may expose students to diverse religions but may not impose, discourage or encourage any particular religious view. The guides also say schools may teach about religion but may not denigrate or promote any particular one. Schools may inform students but not seek to conform him or her to any particular belief." (Read more)


At heart of Bush-Cheney country, in Wyoming, discontent about farm policy

First, the Casper Star-Tribune's Robert Black wrote a story saying that discontentment was brewing in "one of the reddest of the red states ... over the administration's handling of agricultural and trade issues." Then the paper's Tom Mast went to the Wyoming State Fair, where a Department of Agriculture official got an earful from farmers and ranchers about the very issues Black had written about -- "globalization and health insurance, the new farm bill and the future [and] trade deals like the recently passed Central American Free Trade Agreement."

Randy Stevenson, a cattle feeder from Wheatland, told Mark Rey, undersecretary for natural resources and environment, that the agency should think about ensuring real competition. "Most of us sell locally," he said. It's the big corporations that can operate globally, often to the detriment of small producers."

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, told Rey that USDA has let ranchers down on some issues, and should "get firmly on board with country-of-origin labeling" for food products and vigorously enforce trade agreements.

"Converse County rancher Richard Cross complained about wealthy people who buy agricultural land and take up 'fake residency' in the state," Mast wrote. "They drive up land prices to a point where it's impossible for young people to farm and ranch, he said." (Read more)

Wal-Mart, folksy enterprise and 'arbiter of social mores,' starts selling liquor

"Two years ago, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. held a series of meetings with the world's top liquor makers at its alcohol headquarters, in the middle of a dry county," The Wall Street Journal reported this week. "The results of those meetings are now starting to hit store shelves. . . . Wal-Mart is pushing into hard liquor, one of the rare product categories where the world's largest retailer is very small."

Reporters Deborah Ball and Ann Zimmerman said liquor sales raise "complicated issues for a company that presents itself as a folksy, all-American enterprise and an arbiter of social mores. . . . Some store managers have balked at the effort to promote liquor sales, citing local sensitivities." Also, state regulations governing liquor sales are complicated and vary widely, and often require the use of local distributors, contrary to Wal-Mart's direct deals with manufacturers.

The company is experimenting close to its home base of Bentonville, Ark., where the only legal alcohol is in :members only" clubs and residents often drive 20 miles to Pineville, Mo., to stock up. When the company opened its new Pineville store in January, "It borrowed a well-worn-trick from the liquor industry: planting a liquor store just over the border of a state or county with restrictive booze laws," the Journal reports. The new store has a separate, 5,000-square-foot section that "has been a success, Wal-Mart has told suppliers." Its prices on expensive liquors undercut those of a nearby liquor store.

"Encouraged by the Pineville experience," Wal-Mart asked its prime liquor partner -- Diaego PLC, the world's largest liquor company -- to look for similar sites, the Journal reported. "It plans to close a Sam's Club in a town just south of Bentonville because it couldn't secure a liquor license." The store is being moved several south to Fayetteville, where the company did get a license.

House chairman Sensenbrenner puts the brakes on bill for a federal shield law

House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has set a high bar for a federal shield law that would keep journalists from revealing confidential sources. Sensenbrenner won't hold a hearing on the bill unless it has "little to no opposition," his spokesman told Human Events, a conservative magazine.

"The biggest obstacle to Pence’s bill is the Department of Justice, which criticized the first draft of the legislation during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing July 20," the magazine noted. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.). The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and its co-sponsors include powerful Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).

Sponsors in both chambers "added a national security exception to the legislation in hopes of winning support from DOJ. It has yet to reveal its opinion on the revised version," Human Events reported.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called Sensenbrenner’s demand “unreasonable.” She told Human Events, “We’ve been trying to engage the Justice Department all summer, and it has been very difficult. We have been trying to meet their concerns and address their concerns. The idea that it has to have absolutely no opposition — that’s just unreasonable.”

To read the entire article by Robert Bluey, click here. For Human Events' interview with Pence, click here.

Scientists propose Great Plains parks with large African, Asian animals

Scientists at Cornell University are proposing that cheetahs, lions, elephants, camels and other large wild animals native to Africa and Asia be brought to North America for new, giant parks.

"If we only have 10 minutes to present this idea, people think we're nuts," said Harry Greene, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell. "But if people hear the one-hour version, they realize they haven't thought about this as much as we have. Right now, we are investing all of our megafauna hopes on one continent -- Africa."

Greene, graduate student Josh Donlan and some other noted ecologists and conservationists published a paper in the latest issue of Nature, "advocating the establishment of vast ecological history parks with large mammals, mostly from Africa, that are close relatives or counterparts to extinct Pleistocene-period animals that once roamed the Great Plains," writes Newswise, a research-reporting service. Click here to read the release; click here to read the full paper.

"Obviously, gaining public acceptance is going to be a huge issue, especially when you talk about reintroducing predators," Donlan said. "There are going to have to be some major attitude shifts. That includes realizing predation is a natural role, and that people are going to have to take precautions." Donlan suggests starting with large private tracts and continued research. "We are not advocating backing up a van and letting elephants and cheetahs out into the landscape," he said. "All of this would be science driven."

Research has indicated that animals at or near the top of the food chain play important roles ecology. When humans almost wiped out wolves and grizzly bears in the U.S., elk populations rose. Elk eat willow, a favorite food of beavers, so along winter elk ranges in Colorado, beaver populations have declined 80 to 90 percent. "With fewer beavers to create dams that raise water tables, fewer wetlands developed to support willows," Newswise reports. "Today, there are 60 percent fewer willows in parts of Colorado where beavers have declined."

Kentucky hog farming set for growth as one county's regulations vacillate

Planned increases in hog production in Kentucky by a Tennessee company -- up nearly 40 percent -- call to mind a case study in how a rural community changed its mind and regulations to accommodate despite environmental problems, only to have the state be the final arbiter.

"The corporate hog-farm revolution that pushed Iowa and North Carolina to tops in the nation is poised to enter Kentucky in a big way," writes James Malone of The Courier-Journal. (Read more) The issue "has triggered a tug of war between farmers, residents and government officials over economic renewal, smell and waste disposal," Malone writes for the Louisville newspaper. Tosh Farms plans to open about 50 more barns over the next three years, boosting the state hog population by nearly 38 percent. That would make Kentucky 18th in the nation, up from 20th, in state hog births.

"Fulton County's experience with hog farming underscores its political and legal pitfalls," writes Malone. After residents objected to plans for large hog farms in 1997, Judge-Executive Harold Garrison studied North Carolina's efforts and his "reports of the mess and odors" led to an ordinance to keep so-called factory hog barns out," Malone writes.

But after a tour of a major hog farm, Garrison said it didn't smell like he had feared. The county Fiscal Court then revised the ordinance dropping a required look at adverse effects. "A day later, the county took in the first of five applications for 83,000 hogs a year," notes Malone. Opponents sued and the ordinance was repealed. "Now only state regulations apply in Fulton," he writes.

Cockfighting penalties: Lobbyists get big bucks to oppose federal reforms

Federal records show opponents of a proposed tougher federal penalty for cockfighting have paid lobbyists about $600,000 over the past six years to defeat such legislation. Several groups have paid lobbyists in recent years, "but the only remaining active group appears to be the United Gamefowl Breeders Association, based in Ripley, Miss., " reports the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

The newspaper reports no one in Tennessee's congressional delegation openly backs the bill. Republican U.S. Reps. John J. Duncan Jr., of Knoxville, and Bill Jenkins, of Rogersville, have voiced reservations about a stronger federal penalty. Duncan said he probably would vote for the bill. Jenkins also opposes cockfighting but said it should stay a misdemeanor offense, Richard Powelson writes. (Read more)

Thursday, Aug. 18, 2005

Kansas town is boomerang rural community; outward bound, some return

Ness City, Kan., is what it was -- a quiet rural community where neighbors speak to each other and crime is as scarce as hen's teeth. Like many places in the Plains states, it has outward migration of youth drawn by the allure of better paying jobs elsewhere. But now, some, older and wizened, have found, like Dorothy of Oz, , "There's no place like home."

"Eric Depperschmidt ...talks to high school students about the virtues of their hometown. He can see the wanderlust in their eyes. They want to run out and slam the door and never look back. [but] he tells them 'not to slam the door too hard,'" writes Calvin Woodward of The Associated Press. (Read more)

A dozen or more young adults "who blew out of this small town like the south winds of summer have come back, Depperschmidt, 33, included," writes Woodward. With college, marriage and children, "They're opening businesses and toughing it out. Whether [the city] thrives or follows the path of other High Plains towns ... to dust depends largely on whether [these] ambitious people succeed," notes Woodward.

The prodigal group includes the county's new economic development director, the sheriff, and a entrepreneur who has opened regional chiropractic clinics and a fitness center. Others have returned to "the furniture store, the farm, the oil patch, the grocery, the funeral and flower concern," Woodward lists. They "speak of the neighborliness, the way people look out for each other, the safe streets. The last homicide was in 1970, before the sheriff was born," he writes.

According to the 2000 census, many small towns in isolated stretches of the Midwest and Great Plains are drying up. Their young adults are moving from farming communities to urban centers for better paying jobs, shopping and other amenities that aren't as plentiful in rural America, Woodward writes.

Iowa town draws jobs, Hispanics; South Dakota city studying example

When a rapidly growing meatpacking industry in Iowa recruited more Hispanics and members of other ethnic groups to fill thousands of jobs, one city engineered a complete community makeover to draw the prize. Now leaders in a South Dakota city are studying the example to help them adjust to the future.

"People from all walks of life in Marshalltown [Iowa] spent thousands of man hours drafting their plan ... to improve the community systems in housing, health care, recreation, education and workforce training and development to recruit and retain a skilled workforce that meets the current and future employment needs,” writes Roger Larsen of The Plainsman in Huron, S.D. A 2002 report stated, “The size and strength of the Hispanic community today makes it a natural part of any future growth strategy for our community.” Huron’s leaders, preparing "for the changes they know are on the horizon, have followed Marshalltown’s lead and tapped ideas that community developed," writes Larsen.

Barb Cook, executive director of the Huron Housing Authority, told him, “Marshalltown is a community that did it right.” Marshalltown is in central Iowa, northeast of the capital of Des Moines, and is home to other major employers like Fisher Controls, founded in the 1870s and now the world’s leading supplier of control valve technology, products and services to power generation, chemical processing, oil and gas production and paper manufacturing industries.

Ken Anderson, president of the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce, told Larsen every facet of daily life was impacted by language and cultural barriers. The housing, school, business and health care sectors all evolved, and “now you see dual language all over the place.” (Read more)

Midwest utilities watching 'perfect storm' slow down coal shipments

Utility companies across the Midwest are casting a watchful eye toward slower shipments of coal out of Wyoming used to fire up electric generators and light thousands of communities.

"A pair of train derailments and subsequent repair work on the rail line coming out of the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, one of the nation's prime sources of coal, has reduced shipments between 10 percent and 15 percent as a hot summer has pressured utilities to crank out more watts," writes David Twiddy of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Some companies report they have enough stockpiled coal and are monitoring the situation while others are already increasing customers' bills as they switch to more expensive natural gas or buy extra power on the open market. Jason Cuevas, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C., told Twiddy, "Stockpiles are a little lower than they'd like but, realistically, it isn't a concern."

Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co., the nation's largest purchaser of coal, said moving coal from eastern states flush with Appalachian coal and other methods have kept operations stable. Spokeswoman Melissa McHenry told AP, "Obviously it's not ideal and creates more challenging coal management issues but we have been able to manage it."

Cuevas told AP companies extremely dependent on Powder River coal could seek higher rates by the end of the summer. He told Twiddy, "We're looking at a 'perfect storm' scenario with the problems in rail use, a hot summer and demand for coal up across the board." Among the hardest hit are Alliant Energy Corp. and Xcel Energy Inc., each considering passing on its added costs to customers.

Some North Carolina tobacco farmers experiment with burley

With no more government regulation of what kind of tobacco can be grown and where, some North Carolina farmers are branching out to grow burley, a variety found mainly west of the Appalachians.

"Cecil Isley has farmed tobacco for 38 years. This season, he's learning as he grows," reports Gail Bartunek of WFMY News 2 of Greensboro.(Read more) Under the tobacco quota and price support program, repealed last year, flue-cured tobacco was generally the only kind grown in the Triad area of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.

Rockingham County Extension Director Scott Shoulars told Bartunek, "Burley tobacco areas were typically west of here ... in the mountains of North Carolina into Kentucky and Tennessee." Cecil Isley is one of 10 Triad farmers with a contract to grow burley tobacco, the station reports.

Burley tobacco, unlike flue-cured, can dry itself, and that eliminates the cost of electric bills and fuel. David Smith, a crop science extension specialist, told Bartunek, "Curing expenses are really up this year because of the high price of curing fuel." Extension agents told Bartunek tobacco companies have 1,700 acres of burley under contract to cigarette companies.

U.S. mulling over allowing beef from Japan, reports farm news service

The U.S. Department of Agriculture "says it is proposing lifting its ban on some beef imports from Japan, which has reported 20 of its own cases of [mad cow disease]," reports Tom Steever, of Brownfield, which bills itself as "America's Ag News Source." (Read more)

A proposed rule change "would allow the importation of whole cuts of boneless beef derived from cattle, born, raised and slaughtered in Japan. That would be done with the provision that the country confirms it has implemented food safety measures," writes Steever.

Steever cites a story from Oster Dow Jones, where USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service spokesman Jim Rogers stated, "it is pivotal that Japan ensures its industry remove all specified risk materials from cattle that could carry the BSE infection," he writes. Japan was once the largest foreign market for U.S. beef, but stopped imports after the USDA announced the first BSE discovery here in December of 2003, notes Steever.

Trees planted on mined land; critics wary of initiative's reforestation

The federal Office of Surface Mining has begun an initiative to return hardwood forests to mine-scarred lands in the Appalachians, and seven states have signed on to the project.

University of Kentucky researchers working on mined lands in the state's eastern coalfield found a way for native hardwoods not only to grow on the reclaimed mountaintops but to grow faster than they could elsewhere," reports Roger Alford of The Associated Press. (Read more) (See May 31 Blog item.)

"That could be the key to returning the once heavily forested mountaintop land to its natural appearance," notes Alford. Brent Wahlquist of OSM's Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative told him, "It's our hope that through this initiative, perhaps 50 to 100 years from now, it can be forest again and be virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the landscape."

Gov. Ernie Fletcher and UK President Lee Todd have signed on to the initiative. Kentucky joins Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia in the push to create hardwood forests on land that now sustains primarily grasses. Fletcher said the initiative "will improve air and water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and create jobs in the timber industry," Alford writes.

Standard reclamation in Appalachia calls for soil and rock dislodged by mining be put back in place and compacted. Trees have difficulty taking root. The UK research has found that less compaction allows trees to grow better, but some environmentalists told the wire service the project cannot replace the original forests. Dave Cooper of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth told Alford he would prefer mining companies not strip mountains of vegetation. "This is an improvement, but this is not a solution."

Farmers, ranchers speak out on U.S. farm policy, reports Farmland Trust

American Farmland Trust (AFT) has released findings from eight forums held nationwide that the trust reports show farmers and ranchers nationally anticipate and may welcome major agriculture-policy change.

"The producers said globalization, federal deficits, World Trade Organization negotiations, and changing consumer demands are creating an environment for change," an AFT release said. "Although they expressed considerable anxiety, the producers hoped change would bring new policies that reduce distortions, expand conservation and help rural communities, enhance food and energy security as well as improve nutrition."

Specifically, according to the release, "If reform proceeds, they would like a new farm bill to: Furnish a better safety net to help all farmers manage risk; reward farmers for providing environmental benefits; nurture entrepreneurship and the development of new markets; help farmers transition and adjust to global market changes; expand support for regional food systems; and shift payments to support such national priorities as energy, nutrition, food security, and rural development.". (Read more)

To realize these goals, producers "recommended such measures as improved crop insurance, block grants for regional flexibility, consolidated conservation programs, expanded Conservation Security Program, revenue-based risk insurance and farmer savings accounts." AFT says the forum results will help the organization and its partners develop a blueprint for farm bill reform that will be released early next year.

November workshop to help Kentucky communities fight meth epidemic

Methamphetamine production and abuse are growing problems, with roots firmly planted in rural areas and ravaging families and communities nationwide. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service plans a two-day workshop Nov. 14-15 to help communities combat the scourge.

"The program, entitled 'Methamphetamine - Too Close to Home,' will be at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton," writes Laura Skillman of the UK extension service communications office. Torey Earle, chair of the Cooperative Extension Service's West District quick response team on drug abuse awareness, told Skillman the purpose of the event is to provide assistance and resources to community partners that will enable people to work together locally to address the issues.

The first day of the workshop will focus on family and community alliances, and feature a discussion with legislators on anti-meth legislation. Environmental impacts on farm and family, including the standards for cleanup and remediation, will be the topic of the second day. Workshop sponsors include the UK Cooperative Extension Service, UK Health Education Extension Leadership (HEEL) Program, Eastern Kentucky University Training Consortium, Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force and Butler County Extension Homemaker Association, writes Skillman.

Participants may attend the program for one or two days. The cost is $15 for one day or $25 for both. Lunch, beverage breaks and an informational CD are included in the fee. Registration forms and more information about the workshop are available at county offices of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

Chemical weapons disposal official placed on leave; said to be reluctant

The Pentagon official charged with destroying aging chemical weapons, including those stored in Kentucky and Colorado depots, has been placed on leave.

"Patrick Wakefield, the Pentagon official whom critics call a prominent opponent of chemical neutralization and public involvement in the weapons destruction program, has been placed on administrative leave. Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman, said the move followed an investigation by the inspector general's office for the Department of Defense ... completed Aug. 3," writes Peter Matthews of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more) One prominent critic, Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, "cheered the news," Matthews writes.

Williams told Matthews, "Should [Wakefield] be removed permanently ... many of the roadblocks faced by the disposal program will leave with him." Carpenter told the newspaper, "Wakefield's removal was not caused by his oversight of the chemical destruction program." The project has been plagued by financial and safety problems. Madison County, Kentucky activists have battled the Army over plans to incinerate the depot's chemical weapons.

Institute seeks leadership hopefuls; registration deadline extended to Sept. 1

The Brushy Fork Institute has announced its first "Annual Institute" to be held September 14-17 on the campus of Berea College, in Berea, Ky. The institute is geared toward entrepreneurial enterprise training for nonprofit organizations, public agencies and grassroots leaders, and the deadline for registration has been extended to Sept. 1.

"The new institute ... includes ... nine 'hands-on' 10-hour classes [to] equip participants with specific [entrepreneurial] skills," writes Ida Holyfield of Coalfield.com, Web site for The Coalfield Progress, The Dickenson Star and The Post in the Norton, Va., area. The classes address topics ranging from community economic development and nonprofit management to proposal writing, fundraising, Web site development, marketing and even running for public office, she writes. (Read more)

Jane Cline Higgins, project director, recently told a Kiwanis meeting in her native Big Stone Gap that the Institute has been working to "improve quality of life for citizens of Central Appalachia." Brushy Fork was founded by Berea president John Stevenson during his tenure from 1984 to 1994.

The institute registration fee is $400. The fee includes a Sept. 14 reception, Sept. 15 lunch and dinner, and lunch on Sept. 16 and 17, but does not include lodging, Holyfield writes. "Some foundations and other funding agencies offer grants to support organizational and staff development opportunities for grantees, she noted, and prospective participants are finding funding sources there," she writes.

Deadline for registration is Sept. 1, moved forward from Aug. 14. Those registering after Sept. 1 will have to pay a $25 late fee. To learn more or register, visit the Brushy Fork web site or e-mail Higgins at jane_higgins@berea.edu, or call 859/985-3858.

Law vs. journalism: Judith Miller panel discussion brings heated exchange

Court TV recently convened a panel with seven prominent members of the media industry to discuss journalists and their confidential sources and the incarceration of New York Times reporter Judith Miller for refusing to reveal a source. The result, at times, was incendiary.

"The lively, often belligerent" debate focused on Miller and the "Valerie Plame investigation and was marked by recriminations, regrets and at least one profanity," reports the Web site of the channel devoted entirely to legal issues and court coverage. Court TV anchor Catherine Crier was moderator.

Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Norman Pearlstine questioned whether Time reporter Matt Cooper should have given the source, White House advisor Karl Rove, anonymity in the first place. Pearlstine said, "A 90-second conversation with the president's spin doctor who is trying to undermine the workings of a whistle blower didn't deserve confidential source status."

Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff suggested the Plame story was one of the most important of the era and more reporting on it earlier would have resulted in George W. Bush's defeat in the 2004 election. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen responded, "This is not a major story. This is a crappy little crime and maybe not even a crime." And, Wolff shot back, "If Karl Rove were out of business in this administration, it's a [expletive deleted] big story."

Other panel members included noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, who represented Miller; Nicholas Leamann, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism; New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin; and Paul Holmes of Reuters. (Read more)

Mississippi paper changes name for new owner, adds God-fearing slogan

The Chickasaw Journal & Times-Post of Houston, Miss., says its new name, expanded from The Times-Post, communicates a new beginning as it begins a second 100 years, now under new ownership.

The weekly newspaper, its shopping guide and related publications were purchased Aug. 1 by Hassell Franklin of Houston and Journal Publishing Co., owners of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, from Boone Newspapers of Tuscaloosa, Ala. Also included in the purchase was The Monitor-Herald, the 3,280-circulation weekly in adjoining Calhoun County.

The 15,800-circulation Chickasaw County paper said the use of the county's name indicates an "interest in the well-being of the entire county," and the Journal name "links the weekly and daily newspapers, a family of publications."

The nameplate also carries a new slogan, "A locally owned newspaper dedicated to the service of God and mankind," the newspaper noted in a story about its new name.

Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005

Small town in Texas takes initiative to offer broadband over power lines

A small Texas town has jumped into the future -- offering high-speed Internet service over power lines -- and not through any state or national initiative, but by what might be called good old-fashioned local entrepeneurial enterprise, according to e-business news and National Public Radio.

"[The] recent FCC ruling that utility companies could run high-speed Internet access through existing electrical outlets -- broadband over power lines, or BPL -- may just be the wave of the future. On NPR [yesterday] morning, [there was] a great story of a small town in Texas known as Flatonia [with] a population of about 1400 ... no one would provide them with broadband services," writes John Stith of e-business news. (Read more)

The town, Stith writes, "took it upon themselves to go and get it, through their power lines," costing about "$200,000 to turn their lines into data lines." The electric utility is city-owned ... [and] gives the town broadband and an advanced detection network for both electricity and water meters. They will also have the ability to pinpoint electricity outages [through the system]," he writes.

"The customers will also get a lot of bang for the buck," notes Stith. "They connect to the Internet through their power lines at 4 megabits per second, about the same speed as cable or high end DSL service and they said BPL equipment in development right now will go as fast as 90 mbps. That's fast," he writes.

NPR reports, "Utility companies are excited about the marketing opportunity for a new technology that allows high-speed Web access through existing electrical outlets. The Federal Communications Commission has given its approval." (click here)

Consumer activists' report shows big gap between urban and rural broadband

A report by Free Press, the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, mentioned in a Rural Blog item yesterday, establishes that there is still a big disparity between development of broadband in urban and rural areas -- further denying economic opportunities and what rural advocates say could be a portal to the future.

Citing a June report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the report says 17 percent of adults have broadband at home; in urban and suburban areas, the figures are 31 and 32 percent.

The report also charges, "The FCC has [overstated] penetration rates, service quality, and the competitive conditions of the marketplace." The report, by Free Press Research Fellow S. Derek Turner, says, "The FCC uses a misleading measure of broadband coverage. The commission counts a ZIP code as covered by broadband service if it contains at least one broadband subscriber. No consideration is given to the price, speed or availability of connections across the ZIP code." And, the summary states, "More than half of DSL lines do not offer capacity of 200 kilobits per second (kpbs) in both directions. Consumers in France and South Korea have residential broadband connections with speeds of 10 to 20 times higher than those in the U.S." To read the full report, click here.

Bush team to unveil anti-meth plan at carefully choreographed media event

The Bush administration is set to announce in Nashville tomorrow new initiatives against methamphetamine, after being criticized by some Republicans for not being more active against a nationwide epidemic that has spread from rural areas to suburbs and inner cities. (See Rural Blog item from Aug. 1.)

"U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, and Director of National Drug Control Policy John Walters will discuss the Bush Administration’s comprehensive strategy of prevention and treatment, law enforcement, supply reduction, and environmental protection to help states and local communities reduce the trafficking and abuse of methamphetamine," states a White House Media Advisory. "Director Walters, Attorney General Gonzales, and Secretary Leavitt will also announce new Federal initiatives for combating the meth threat," the advisory states.

Coverage is pooled, which is considered unusual for such events. And, the radio pool is being handled by a talk station, WTN, and a station producer who is a Republican activist. The pool is permitted access to only the first five to 10 minutes of a planned roundtable with local officials, which appears likely to produce the most news and sound botes. Tennessee, a state with a Democratic governor and two Republican senators, recently reported a 59 percent reduction in lab busts. (See Rural Blog item from Aug. 3.)

Oregon anti-meth law is toughest; requires prescription for cold medicines

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has signed legislation making his state the first to require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications that can be converted into methamphetamine.

The requirement applies to any medication containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth. Oregon and several other states already require consumers to show identification and sign a log when obtaining over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines like Sudafed and Claritin D from pharmacies, and Congress is moving toward similar restrictions, reports Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian.

The governor told reporters he's aware the law may inconvenience allergy and cold sufferers, but said pharmaceutical companies are already producing replacement medications without pseudoephedrine. Kulongoski said at a signing ceremony in Portland:"We all have a role to play in stopping this meth epidemic. For some, that means providing temporary care for children removed from a (meth) home, for others that means finding another cold and flu remedy." (Read more)

The Oregon Board of Pharmacy has until next July to carry out the prescription requirement, but the board executive director told the newspaper the law could be in place within three months, Mapes writes.

New generation flocks to Appalachian coal mines; beats Wal-Mart, prisons

"A new generation of miners is in training in central Appalachia, where a onetime hub of the nation's coal industry is recovering from prolonged slumps that shuttered mines, bankrupted companies and whittled away the life from communities," reports Chris L. Jenkins of The Washington Post. (Read more)

One case in point cited by Jenkins, Vernon Johnson, 34, left the trucking industry to work for Alpha Natural Resources,"wearing the soot-crusted red helmet of an apprentice miner while working under this patch of southwestern Virginia," he writes. The new miners are replacing older, retiring workers as the world is demanding more coal. Johnson hopes to be a full-fledged miner making more than $50,000, plus health and pension benefits by the end of next month.

Eight hundred people showed up last year when the coal companies held a job fair in Castlewood, Va., and expected 200. Colleges are ramping up mining-certification and safety classes. Five years ago they could not find enough students to take the courses. "Today's mining is a mix of 21st-century technology and old-era grit," writes Jenkins. "Cramped shaft elevators and rickety, open-air shuttle cars still sink into the mountains and take miners to the low-slung tunnels. Workers still move on all fours in crawl spaces so they can mine hard-to-reach seams. It's still dark, dirty, dusty and, in some cases, dangerous."

Lawrence Hollyfield, 56, a retired second-generation coal miner who teaches courses in mining safety at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, told the Post, "Coal jobs have always been the best-paying jobs around here. The pay is better than Wal-Mart, better than a job in the prisons. That's why these kids are going back into the mines."

Protesters arrested at Tenn. mine in campaign against mountaintop removal

Environmental activists were arrested Monday as they tried to block the entrance to a National Coal Co. strip mine on Zeb Mountain in Tennessee "in the first direct action protest against mountaintop-removal mining ever held in the United States," reports Environmental News. (Read more) Wire reports put the number arrested at ten. Environmental News reports nine arrests.

The protesters were among 20 individuals who demonstrated last Friday at the state Capitol in Nashville, urging Gov. Phil Bredesen to stop the practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining, in which hilltops are blasted off and leftover dirt dumped into nearby valleys, The Associated Press reports.

State regulators say mountaintop removal is prohibited in Tennessee, but the state does allow cross-ridge mining, in which the mountain's topography must be restored and streams cannot be harmed, they write. True mountaintop-removal mines are exempt from the 1977 federal strip-mine law's requirement that mined land be rerstored to its approximate original contour -- if the land will have a "higher and better use" for the landowner.

A local sheriff said the demonstrators were charged with criminal trespassing and their bond was set at $10,000 each. The activists, affiliated with Mountain Justice Summer and Katuah Earth First, locked themselves to a car and drilling equipment along the haul road to the mine, about 40 miles north of Knoxville. Authorities said the protest began before dawn and was over by midmorning, they report.

Protester Maria Johnson of Kingsport, Tenn., told reporters that "since regulatory agencies refuse to protect our mountains, nonviolent citizen intervention has become necessary. Another protestor, Mere Burton told AP, "We are reclaiming Appalachia."

Mountain town OKs restaurant alcohol; proponents want hotel and jobs

Pineville has become the latest Kentucky city to approve a referendum allowing alcohol to be sold by the drink in restaurants seating 100 or more people, with proponents painting a picture of increased tourism and its accompanying economic boost.

The measure passed by 77 votes. A total of 959 of the city's 1,536 registered voters cast ballots, writes Lexington Herald-Leader Eastern Kentucky reporter Lee Mueller. (See Rural Blog item Aug. 15)

Pineville Mayor Bruce Hendrickson told Mueller, "I feel like I just won the state championship." Pineville has no restaurants that seat more than 100, but Hendrickson told Mueller approval of the referendum appears to open the door for a proposed $15 million hotel that Wilkesboro, N.C., developer Maurice Elledge & Associates had pledged to build if the measure passed. The mayor told the newspaper he also plans to contact state officials, who have held uo a land swap with Pineville that provides a site for the proposed hotel, on the southeast side of the Cumberland River gap in Pine Mountain. (Read more)

The Rev. Tim Mills, chairman of the United Dry Forces of Bell County, told Mueller on Monday that opponents do not think legal liquor would help the economy.

The Bell County seat, with 2,198 residents, is the latest city to approve limited sales in otherwise dry areas since state law was changed in 2000. Since then, there have been at least 53 similar votes with sales authorized in 29, including Corbin, Georgetown, Franklin, Harrodsburg, Danville, Radcliff, Elizabethtown, London, Murray, Guthrie, Kuttawa and Shelby County. Hendrickson told Mueller that the mayors of four "wet" or "moist" cities told him "they've had nothing but economic progress since the elections."

Judge throws out cockfighting convictions; law unclear, appeal expected

"Hundreds of people who attended an alleged cockfight [in Kentucky} last spring had animal-cruelty charges thrown out by a judge who said the state law is unclear," reports Lexington's WKYT-TV, in a story compiled from wire service information, a newspaper report and its own sources. (Read more)

The district judge in the case said his ruling was not an endorsement of cockfighting, which he called "mean, nasty, dirty and bloody," but he told reporters the state's animal-cruelty statute was ambiguous. The Humane Society of the United States called the ruling "outrageous." John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal fighting issues for the group, told reporters, "This ruling could have huge repercussions across the state. We believe it must be reviewed by a higher court."

More than 500 people were cited following an April 16 raid on a farm near Jeffersonville, southeast of Mount Sterling. Police seized "cash registers, tax returns, chicken paraphernalia and more than $420,000 in cash, " they report. Trial was set Monday for thirty defendants. A handful of others were scheduled for pretrial hearings. "Lane told the defendants the charges were dismissed," the station reports.

Assistant County Attorney Kevin Cockrell told the television station he plans to appeal the order. Kentucky State Police spokeswoman, Capt. Lisa Rudzinski, said they would consult with prosecutors about the appeal and that their investigation is continuing. "We respectfully disagree that cockfighting is exempt as a sporting activity according to the statute," she said.

USDA finds 1,000 violations of mad-cow rules; food industry says insignificant

The Department of Agriculture says its food-safety inspectors found more than 1,000 instances since 2004 where meat plants cut corners or violated rules aimed at preventing the spread of mad-cow disease.

USDA documents released "to the American Meat Institute and the consumer group Public Citizen showing ... inspectors filed 1,036 noncompliance reports ... involving the removal of the brain, skull and spinal cord of cattle aged 30 months and older," writes Randy Fabi of Reuters. (Read more)

"The materials are considered to carry the highest risk in spreading the brain-wasting disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)," writes Fabi. The USDA banned them from the human food supply after the December 2003 discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease in Washington state. The nation's second confirmed case was discovered earlier this summer in Texas, he notes.

Reacting to the report, Public Citizen legislative representative Tony Corbo told the wire service "It is not a fail-safe system." Jim Hodges, president of the AMI Foundation, told Fabi, "Some groups will no doubt attempt to use this information as evidence of possible operational problems and even a food safety concern, when nothing is further from the truth." AMI said the noncompliance reports represent just one-tenth of 1 percent of the 46 million cattle slaughtered nationwide during the 17-month period, he writes.

Staff of magazine quits after purchase by CNHI chain, will start own mag

When Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. bought Home Magazine, a free-circulation advertising paper in Mankato, Minn., for an undisclosed price last week, the magazine's longtime manager and 11 other staffers quit, saying they would start a similar weekly magazine to compete with their former publication. It will be called the Southern Minnesota Star and is aiming for September publication.

“We cannot see how another CNHI publication in this area with the combined goal to ‘Maximize revenue from the market’ can help our merchants and service providers the way an independent paper can,” former manager Tom Murray said in a press release reported by The Free Press, CNHI's Mankato paper. “The 12 of us have well over 200 years combined experience publishing free community papers. We feel that the only way to continue to provide the highest level of service and advertising results that this area’s advertisers and readers have come to expect is with a competitive paper.”

Kevin Kampman, chief operating officer of Community First Holdings Inc., the CNHI subsidiary that purchased Home, said, “We are disappointed that these employees didn’t give us a chance. They left without getting to know us, but we fully expect to be able to maintain the full level of service our Home Magazine customers have come to expect.” The Free Press said it “will have no oversight over Home Magazine.” The magazine has a weekly circulation of 39,316; the daily circulation of the Free Press is 22,032, according to the online Editor & Publisher International Yearbook.

CNHI is based in Birmingham, Ala., and “owns more than 200 daily, weekly and semi-weekly publications in 22 states. Founded in 1997, CNHI is a privately held company whose largest investor is the Alabama state pension system,” The Free Press reported.

California's oldest weekly, Mariposa Gazette & Miner, moves to new, bigger digs

The Mariposa Gazette & Miner, California's oldest weekly of continuous publication (since 1854), recently relocated its general offices to historic downtown Mariposa. The paper, with a circulation of 5,189, now has 5,000 square feet of completely remodeled office space. Tucker describes how Mariposa County is experiencing phenomenal growth and in order to serve the community they way they have "with a strong and relevant community newspaper," he felt it was time to grow. Mariposa County takes in the heart of Yosemite National Park.

The Wednesday publication is enhancing its press operation, replacing some older units and adding three more to complete a nine-unit press line that will facilitate the newspaper's leap to a twice a week publication in the near future.

Gonzo journalist Thompson's ashes to be shot from cannon this weekend

As he wished, and mirroring how he lived, the father of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, will be given a fitting tribute this weekend as his ashes are fired from a cannon, as he instructed.

The blast-ceremony will be held in the backyard of Thompson;s home near Woody Creek, Colo. "The monument towers over a field between the home and a tree-covered red rock canyon wall. It is shrouded in gray and blue tarpaulins that ripple in the wind and it will not be unveiled until Saturday," writes Dan Elliott of The Associated Press, who conducted a 2-1/2 hour interview with Thompson's widow, Anita Thompson. (Read more) The monument is modeled after Thompson's Gonzo logo: a clenched fist, made symmetrical with the addition of a second thumb, perched atop a dagger, describes Elliott.

Anita Thompson said the event "will include some reminiscence, readings from Thompson's work and performances by both Lyle Lovett and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. About 250 people have been invited, including Thompson's longtime illustrator, Ralph Steadman, and actors Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, close friends of the writer," writes Elliott.

Depp, who portrayed Thompson in the 1998 movie version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," is financing much of the send-off. The event is private and security will be tight, he notes. Thompson shot himself to death six months ago at age 67.

The life and career of Hunter Thompson calls to mind words that he probably applied to himself: "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night ... Rage, Rage against the dying of the light." --Dylan Thomas

Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2005

Deadline extended to Thursday to apply for government-coverage seminar

Newspapers and broadcast stations that want to cover state and national affairs, but lack bureau reporters in state capitals or Washington, are invited to apply for admission to "Carrying the Capitals to Your Communities," a conference to be held Sept. 9 and 10 in Somerset, Ky.

The first day of the conference will deal with state government and politics and will be programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. The second day will deal with getting information from the federal government and will be programmed by the National Press Foundation.

The conference is being coordinated by the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at The Ohio State University, and that is where applications must be received by Thursday, Aug. 15. The original deadline was yesterday, but has been extended due to much last-minute interest.

The conference is free, and one night's lodging will be provided, but employers must pay transportation costs and allow employees to attend on company time, and attendance will be limited to 20 to 25 journalists. For more details on the conference and an application form, click here.

Rural suicide: Data says men tough it out, get little mental-health help

Health officials are working to put the pieces of a puzzle together in "America's silent farm crisis" to better understand why rural men more often undertake suicide. An Iowa based mental health expert has found some commonalities in the data.

"Many farmers never seek help for mental health problems because of the stigma, said Michael Rosmann, executive director of Agriwellness, a rural-health outreach program based in Iowa, writes Maggie Stehr of the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune. Rosmann told Stehr suicide data also can be distorted when families fail to accurately report it, or by inability to separate accidents from intentional injuries.

Rosmann detailed for the newspaper common factors found among rural suicide: Rates for men are four times higher than for women, because, Rosmann says "Society better accepts women showing emotion and seeking help." Farm men tend to commit suicide on Sunday or Monday mornings. Rosmann suggests "feelings of frustration are most acute to farmers during Sunday church activities, and Monday represents a dreaded return to work. He also notes, "Farm men attempt suicide using more lethal means. The average number of guns per household among U.S. farmers is 2.6, compared to 0.6 nationwide.

"Farming is usually listed among the top 10 percent of high-stress jobs - and ranks in the top three most hazardous occupations for job-related illness, injury and death. Medical problems can increase depression and lead to suicide," Rosmann notes. Some other commonalities, Rosmann found, are: Seasonal fluctuations in rural suicide rates follow high expectations of financial loss. Pesticide exposure increases the risk of suicide. And, substance abuse also increases suicide rates in rural areas.

North Dakota had the highest adult binge-drinking rate in 2003, according to a study released this year, reports Stehr. And, she notes, health officials also attribute the lack of mental health care clinics in rural areas to high suicide rates among farmers and ranchers. Click here to read the full story.

Critics say FCC paints overly-rosy picture of broadband availability in U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission is overstating broadband availability in the U.S. even as "America's access to affordable, high-speed Internet lags far behind the rest of the digital world," Consumer Affairs reports, citing a critic of the agency. Broadband is most limited in rural areas.

Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, said, "The digital divide in America remains large and will continue to grow unless some real changes are made. By overstating broadband availability and portraying anti-competitive policies as good for consumers, the FCC is trying to erect a facade of success."

Consumer Affairs writes that a July 2005 report from the FCC hailed recent progress, but "upon closer scrutiny, the claims made and a subsequent op-ed piece by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin in the Wall Street Journal are, at best, wildly optimistic." A new report by Free Press research fellow S. Derek Turner, "Broadband Reality Check," calls into question the FCC's conclusions. To read it, click here.

Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst for Consumers Union, said, "Fudging the facts won't provide high-speed Internet access to those who need it most. If the FCC is content to let cable and phone companies control the broadband market, then consumers need a third option; wireless broadband that is less expensive and which doesn't depend on DSL or cable modems. It offers the best and perhaps now the only way to close the digital divide." (Read more)

Robert Pegoraro writes in The Washington Post that “broadband is too important to be left to [what he describes as] a "cable-phone duopoly." He writes, "Competition in the market for broadband ... access remains alive, despite what can look like a concerted campaign ... to abolish it. The latest such steps were a Supreme Court ruling and [an] FCC vote that allowed cable and phone companies to block competitors. Be glad that competitors are still around: The phone and cable incumbents still fall short of many customers' needs, and it's up to other companies to meet them." (Read more)

Canada has bumper flue-cured tobacco crop, as U.S. burley off 30 percent

"The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away" could explain contrasting reports from Canada, where a bumper tobacco crop is being harvested, and in the eight U.S. states that produce burley tobacco, where the expected yield is down about 30 percent. Kentucky, the main burley state, expects its lowest harvest since 1927, more than a decade before the recently repealed federal tobacco program began.

Meanwhile, Eric Bunnell of the Times-Journal in Tillonsburg, Ontario, reports, "Hot, dry weather this summer means the prospect of a bumper crop for Ontario flue-cured tobacco producers."

However , "this summer’s periods of near drought have meant irrigation -- and that drives up the cost of production," Bunnell reports. Linda Lietaer, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Flue-cured Tobacco Growers’ Marketing Board, told him, “It adds to the cost significantly.” And, she added, because tobacco in Canada is a supply-managed crop, producers can’t just sell more to recoup the costs. The extra goes into storage for the next crop year. Bunnell writes that "Some Canadian producers began harvesting the 2005 crop last week and most of the harvest now is underway." (Read more)

In Kentucky, "Government forecasters predicted statewide production of 142.5 million pounds as of Aug. 1, down 31 percent from last year’s crop. Also, this year’s burley harvest will cover an estimated 75,000 acres statewide, the lowest total on record and down from last year’s 106,000 acres," writes Marcus Green of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal.

Green reports Kentucky’s burley yield is expected to be 1,900 pounds an acre, "down 50 pounds from 2004 and below the 2,100-pound average over the past 25 years," they report. And, across the burley states, production was forecast at 203.7 million pounds, off 30 percent from 2004. Kentucky experts had expected higher-than-average yields, but weather and an exodus of farmers have thwarted their forecast. University of Kentucky tobacco specialist Gary Palmer told reporters, “Some of the people looked at the economics of the prices they were offered and decided that wasn’t enough to suit them.” (Read more)

Bill on DNA-altered crops reaps organic outrage among North Carolina farmers

A television commercial used to chide "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." Now, it appears, many farmers in North Carolina feel that way in reaction to a legislative effort to allow genetically altered crops.

"The idea of rearranging the DNA of plants once sounded like the stuff of science fiction. Today, man-made plants that repel pests or survive heavy doses of weed-killer cover 3 million acres of North Carolina farmland -- and state agriculture leaders are paving the way for more," writes Kristin Collins of the News & Observer of Raleigh. (Read more - site requires registration)

The state legislature is likely to pass a bill this session, notes Collins, "that will stop local governments from banning genetically modified crops, as three California counties have done." Requested by the state's Department of Agriculture, the bill has passed in the Senate, "the last major hurdle to its success," writes Collins. The House must now agree to a few changes.

Collins writes, "The bill has created a maelstrom among those who say that genetically engineered crops pose a danger to the food supply and could destroy organic farming." Ken Dawson, a California organic vegetable farmer told Collins, "They're really playing with Mother Nature in a pretty perverse way. We don't know what the consequences are." While state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, who grows genetically modified soybeans on his farm told her, "Research and science has moved agriculture from the horse and plow and very low yields to very efficient operations that can meet the world's food demands. I don't know that we can afford to stop doing that."

Rural Iowa residents back energy policy promoting alternative fuels, usage

A poll of Iowa residents shows strong support among rural residents for the nation's new energy plan because of the boost it could give the state's predominant crop, corn, and its overall economy.

"With President Bush's signing of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, many Nebraskans were excited because it promised a brighter future for the state's corn and ethanol industries," reports Robert Pore of The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent. (Read more)

Mark Jagels, chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board, told the newspaper "the energy bill's 7.5-billion-gallon renewable fuels standard will spur more ethanol plant development across the state," writes Pore. Jagels told him, "That's great for corn producers because of the increased demand it creates for our product, but it's also positive for the livestock industry, rural communities, motorists and the general economy of the state."

A recent University of Nebraska poll showed nearly 90 percent of respondents agreed use of renewable energy sources should be promoted. More than 80 percent agreed producing more ethanol and biodiesel-blended fuels and generating more electricity with wind turbines would benefit the state's economy. Sixty-five percent also agreed alternative energy sources are better for the environment.

Bruce Johnson, an Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources agricultural economist who worked on the poll told Pore, "A strong majority feels alternative energy can be [a] win-win." Johnson told the newspaper he has felt that Nebraskans strongly supported alternative energy, but was surprised by the magnitude of the results.

Safety and health concerns loom over school near West Virginia coal site

State education officials say the results of air quality tests at Marsh Fork Elementary School near Beckley, W.Va., show high humidity may be the source of students' maladies, but some parents remain convinced coal dust and pollution from Massey Energy's nearby sludge impoundment is the source. And their larger worry could be the safety of the school, because of seepage from a coal-sludge dam above it.

"Monthly federal Mine Health and Safety Administration inspections of Massey’s impoundment dam 400 feet above the school show recurrences of widespread seepage. As Dan Heyman reports, what this means depends on who you talk to," West Virginia Public Radio reported yesterday. One instance of seepage from the 2.8 billion-gallon impoundment "was extensive enough to leave trails of wet coal dust down the face of the dam. Still, MSHA says the seepage is nothing to worry about." (Click to listen)

Former MSHA boss Davitt McAtteer, who runs the Coal Impoundment Project at Wheeling Jesuit University, "Finds the reports troubling. He says widespread seepage is a bad sign," Heyman reports. "It's an indicator that you’ve got a potential problem," MacAteer said. "It would not unlike the brake light coming on in you car. It doesn't mean imminent failure but it tells you that you ought to take a look."

Meanwhile, "Gov. Joe Manchin's office is conducting an investigation into claims of a group of concerned Coal River Valley residents that students . . . are constantly sick," writes Amelia Pridemore of the Register-Herald in Beckley. The state inspections found excess humidity, but no visible signs of mold, and air-conditioning filters met requirements. (Read more) Vernon Haltom, a Naoma resident and member of the local Coal River Mountain Watch group, told Pridemore he remained skeptical -- and charged school officials knew about the inspections and did "heavy cleaning" beforehand. He also told the newspaper, "If it's OK for coal dust to be on air ducts, then regulations aren't that good." Haltom said members of his watch group had "continually found coal dust on air ducts, a water pipe in the gymnasium and that they have videotape of it. He told Pridemore, "It's getting close to school starting, and a lot of parents are still afraid of sending their children back there."

Pharmacy college opens in southwest Virginia mountains, targets rural needs

Seventy-seven students in the pioneer class of the University of Appalachia College of Pharmacy began their studies yesterday at the new southwest Virginia institution, the second college to open in Grundy in less than a decade.

"School officials aim to turn out pharmacists who will serve their communities especially rural and underserved areas by promoting healthy lifestyles and creating illness-prevention programs. It's a three-year pharmacy program. Traditionally, it takes four years to earn a pharmacy degree," reports Bill Archer of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. (Read more; full story available only in printed edition) The Associated Press reports, "Dr. Edgar Gonzalez, the school president and founding dean, says the school has received its preliminary credentials from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, and could receive full accreditation after its first students finish the program and take state examinations." Fifty-four percent of the charter class members are Virginia residents, AP writes.

A crowd of 228 people gathered for the grand opening, marking the second institution of higher learning to open its doors in their community in about 10 years, reports the wire service. The Appalachian School of Law opened eight years ago. Archer writes that Dr. Gonzales asked the crowd: "How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?" The guest speaker, Republican U.S. Senator George Allen, answered, "You need five. One to change the light bulb and four to talk about how great the old light bulb was."

Violent Hispanic MS-13 gang trickling into W.Va.'s Eastern Panhandle

Picture a secluded spot along the Shenandoah River where the loudest noises are the crunching of tires along gravel roads and the rush of water over a dam. It would seem an unlikely place for a meeting of a big-city gang, but the picture is changing.

"On a narrow road just across the Virginia state line, authorities say members of MS-13, one of the nation's most violent gangs, have begun to congregate," reports Vickie Smith of The Associated Press. Jefferson County sheriff's Lt. Bobby Shirley told Smith, While women serve picnics and children play, "the men are standing around, clearly doing business."

Smith notes that "MS-13 is shorthand for Mara Salvatrucha, a gang founded in Los Angeles by refugees from El Salvador. Federal authorities consider it one of the nation's most vicious street gangs and estimate it has some 10,000 members in more than 30 states."

Earlier this year, after several murders in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the FBI announced a crackdown. Hundreds of members have since been rounded up, and some deported. But the gang, in part to lower its profile, is spreading out. West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, less than 70 miles from Washington, offers a haven from prying eyes.

West Virginia State Police Capt. Rob Blair told Smith, "We're so close to Baltimore, Washington, even Philadelphia, that we're getting an element that we definitely don't want." Smith writes that growing economic opportunities draw potential gang members to the area, and often, "they arrive alone and friendless — a situation the gang can use." Jefferson County Sheriff Ed Boober told AP, "They're looking for people who don't belong. The bad thing is, once you join, you can't unjoin."

Former Modesto, Calif., police officer Jared Lewis told AP, "MS-13 markets the gang as a way to embrace Latin American heritage. Parents who are unfamiliar with American teens' customs may not recognize what's happening, mistakenly believing their children are just learning to fit in." (Read more)

Disease similar to mad-cow found in Idaho; officials say not from animals

Idaho officials have confirmed one case of what they say is "naturally occurring" Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, (CJD) similar to the human form of mad-cow disease, and five suspected cases are being investigated. But they said none of the cases came from eating infected animals.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the five cases under investigation involve recently deceased people who lived in neighboring counties and were older than 60. The sixth case centered on a man, also older than 60, who lived 90 miles away and is still alive. Officials expect to receive the results of a more in-depth second test within a week, reports Reuters.

Reuters reports that naturally occurring CJD, a rare brain-wasting disease that usually affects people in their sixties or seventies, is not the same as the human form of mad cow disease, which is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and is linked to eating beef from infected cattle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the naturally occurring form is found in one case per 1 million population annually. In Idaho, with 1.4 million people, so many suspected cases has sparked concern. (Read more)

Development threatening habitat of wild horses, a tourist attraction in N.C.

The oft-used phrase, "Wild horses couldn't drag me away," could be turned around for the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where wild horses bring millions in tourist dollars each year and development in the area is threatening to undo this lucrative natural attraction.

The area's famed Corolla wild horses draw hundreds of tourists daily to view the free-roaming herds, but the vast stretches of beaches they roam also are fast becoming a draw for developers eyeing vacant, sandy lots ready for construction, reports Robert Kelly-Goss of The Daily Advance of Elizabeth City. And, some local business owners say development of homes and hotels under consideration by Currituck County government is placing the wild horses at risk of extinction.

The N.C. Department of Commerce reports the county generated $100 million in tourism-related dollars last year. But, county Tourism Director Diane Sawyer told Kelly-Goss there is no way to place a dollar figure on the wild horses economic contribution. But, she told him if the horses are pushed out of the Outer Banks, "tourism would be impacted greatly." (Read more)

At least four local businesses depend on hauling tourists to the area's beaches to see the ponies. Scott Trabue of Wild Horse Safari is among those who accept that one day the horses will be gone, but he told the paper, "I have never been political, but I am ready to jump into the fray because I want to save the horses." Bob White, owner of Bob's Wild Horse Tours, told Kelly-Goss he averages about 15 tours a day, hauling between six to nine people per tour. He estimates he takes in about $100,000 during an average four-month season, but is realistic about the future: "(Development) will put us out of business. To be honest, I don't see this business lasting forever. I don't see it lasting for another 10 years."

Monday, Aug. 15, 2005

First county-by-county estimates on health insurance offer a reporting tool

For the first time, there are official estimates of the number of people in a county who lack health insurance
-- a key piece of data for local reporting on health care and health.

"More than 530,000 Kentuckians, have no health insurance," writes Adam Sichko of the University of Kentucky as part of his summer internship at The Courier-Journal: "For the first time, the U.S. Census Bureau has pulled together estimates on the numbers of people with -- and without -- health insurance, and broke them down by county." (Read more)

Kentucky ranks 27th and has 13 percent of its residents lacking health insurance. More than 95,000 of those uninsured are younger than 18, Sichko writes for the Louisville newspaper. The bureau compiled the data from five sources, including Medicaid and food stamp records and federal tax returns.

Judy Jones Owens, director of the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health in Hazard, is among those who think the statewide figure of 13 percent is too small. She told Sichko, "There are more uninsured or underinsured people than a lot of the data seems to suggest." But Mark Birdwhistell, undersecretary for health in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, says the state's figures line up pretty well with the Census Bureau's numbers.

According to center data, the greatest proportion of uninsured citizens in Kentucky are in Clay, McCreary and Owsley counties, all in rural Appalachia. The Census Bureau generally agrees, but reverses their order, reporting that fully 25 percent of Owsley County has no health insurance.

Poverty still prevalent in rural America; some Plains states show improvements

"In an annual, summertime ritual, we bring you the latest data from the ... Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis on county income levels," reports the Center for Rural Affairs.

Based on 2003 data (the latest data available), they report "the new figures again show ... of the 250 lowest income counties in the nation, 228 are non-metropolitan counties," the center writes. While "the lowest income region in the nation from 1997 to 2002, the Great Plains still has several of the lowest income counties in the nation in 2003, things are looking up for several counties and states." For the complete report, click here. The report includes the 20 lowest per-capita income counties in America.

From 1997 to 2002, Loup County, Nebraska, the CRA reports, was the first, second, or third lowest income county. In 2003, Loup County is the fourth lowest income county, "but its per capita income increased nearly $3,600 by 2003. And, the center reports, "2002’s lowest income county, Slope County, North Dakota, is not even among the 250 lowest income counties in 2003. For six consecutive years, the center notes, "rural Nebraska was also home to several of the lowest income counties in the nation. In 2003, only two rural Nebraska counties were among the 50 lowest income counties in the country."

The center also cites Starr County, Texas, which "had the nation's lowest per capita income, at about 34 percent of the nation’s per capita personal income, and about 800 percent less than the nation’s highest income county [the Manhattan borough of New York]."

Exurbia growth is increasing in rural areas, reshaping American society

"America is growing. And it is growing the fastest ... at the farm-road margins of metropolitan areas, with planned communities sprouting up and becoming a prime focus, almost a fetish, for election strategists from both major parties," writes Rick Lyman of The New York Times. (Read more)

Lyman writes the growth is not "happenstance," but is, by intelligent design, "Driven by irresistible economic forces and shaped by subtly shifting social patterns, they are being created, down to the tiniest detail, by a handful of major developers with a master plan for the new America."

Often that developer, he writes, "is KB Home, with $7 billion in sales last year." KB Home has is developing 483 communities in 13 states. The company "expects to complete more than 40,000 new homes this year," notes Lyman. And, he writes, "[it] is just one of about two dozen such corporate giants fiercely competing for land and customers at the edge of America's suburban expanse."

The newspaper notes that "elaborate market research" is used to target young families, to "evoke a soothing sense of safety," writes Lyman. And, he notes, these corporations know "almost to the dollar how much buyers are willing to pay to [gain] a sense of higher status and the feeling of security." Marshall Gray, president of KB's Tampa division, told Lyman people are attracted by open space. "But, I assure you, there are deals in the works for virtually every significant piece of ground you can see out here," he said.

"The term 'exurb' was coined in the 1950's in The Exurbanites by A. C. Spectorsky, a social historian, to describe semi-rural areas far outside cities where wealthy people had country estates," writes Lyman. But, he notes, "Exurbanites of the 21st century "tend to turn their backs to the street, with the biggest and most used rooms in the rear. And, instead of the all-white enclaves of the 1960's and 70's, the new exurbs are a mélange of colors and cultures."

Use of trespassing law against illegal immigrants knocked down by judge

A New Hampshire judge has thrown out a strategy that two police departments had used to combat illegal immigration. "The strategy involved charging illegal immigrants with criminal trespassing, and in the last few months such citations were filed against at least nine people, most of them Mexicans, in the towns of New Ipswich and Hudson," writes Pam Belluck of The New York Times. (Read more)

The police chiefs "decided to take immigration matters into their own hands because overburdened federal immigration authorities were unable or unwilling to take action against immigrants who were not considered dangerous or otherwise a high law enforcement priority," writes Belluck. The move in New Hampshire got national attention and had police departments "from Florida to California considering taking similar steps if the charges were upheld in the New Hampshire courts," she notes.

The judge in the case said "the towns' actions could not be upheld because such immigration matters must be left to federal authorities," Belluck writes. Runyon wrote in his decision, "The criminal charges against the defendants are unconstitutional attempts to regulate in the area of enforcement of immigration violations, an area where Congress must be deemed to have regulated with such civil sanctions and criminal penalties as it feels are sufficient." The citations carried a $1,000 fine but no penalty of prison, but it was thought they would deter illegal immigrants, she writes.

Rural commentator and NYT call for steps to make beef supply safer

After more than two years of food-chain fears, one of the nation's most respected newspapers says in a recent editorial that a calm in the midst of mad-cow calamity does not a victory make. In fact, the New York Times says, the recent calm "is no reason to feel confident about the American beef supply."

"American cows still eat food that can potentially infect them with mad cow disease. American meatpackers use dangerous methods that other countries ban. And the United States Department of Agriculture does not require enough testing to ensure that American beef is completely safe," they write.

Meanwhile, Rural Policy Research Institute Fellow Thomas D. Rowley opines that the USDA is "asleep at the switch," in the mad-cow dilemma. For this and previous RUPRI columns click here.

The Times reports that USDA officials and the meatpacking industry argue the public is protected by current safety procedures. And, the newspaper admits "the chance of human infection is indeed very low - but the disease that mad cow induces in human is always fatal, so extreme caution is warranted. The Agriculture Department is hamstrung by its dual and conflicting mission: to promote the nation's meat industry and to protect the consumer. It's clear which is winning."

The newspaper's editorialists conclude, "European countries test all animals over a certain age, and until recently, Japan tested every cow. More than 60 countries have completely or partly banned American beef, including Japan, the largest importer. Wider testing would probably open these markets. Instead of winning other nations' trust by improving safety, Washington relies on clout. It is time for Americans to have the protection of a food safety agency separate from USDA." (Read more)

Midwest crops threatened, and rivers drying up, as drought burns on

Parched land, drying rivers, and withering crops are unraveling a sizable portion of the "Breadbasket of America" as skies over parts of the Midwest continue to deny the land a much needed reprieve.

"As the worst drought since 1988 has deepened ... low-water levels are ... turning parts of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers into virtual sandbars, causing towboats and barges to run aground and delaying shipments of petroleum products, coal, chemicals, agricultural goods and road-paving materials," writes Alexei Barrionuevo of The New York Times. Commodity analysts and barge-shipping officials told the newspaper, "The delays are threatening construction projects throughout the region, and the higher transportation costs could ultimately make this year's harvest of corn and other crops too expensive for some international markets. (Read more)

Lynn Muench, vice president for the mid-continent region of the American Waterways Operators, told Barrionuevo, "There is high anxiety that we are close to shutting down the river." Friday, the Coast Guard ordered a seven-mile stretch of the Ohio closed, near its confluence with the Mississippi. The drought has mostly affected parts of Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. It has wreaked havoc on corn and soybean fields. Corn in Illinois, the second-biggest producer after Iowa, has been irreversibly damaged, with production down 12 percent from last year's record harvest. And, the National Weather Service is predicting more hot, dry weather in the eastern Corn Belt, writes Barrionuevo.

Mining Academy being created in W.Va.; high need for workers of all sorts

West Virginia's robust severance tax-revenues have given the state record surpluses of late, and now state officials are hoping the private sector can find enough qualified workers to keep the mines cranking out coal and tax money.

During a recent meeting of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Workforce Investment, "lawmakers heard first hand just how the coal industry is partnering with higher education to create two mining training academies that could begin instruction as early as next month," writes Juliet A. Terry of The State Journal. (Read more)

The West Virginia Coal Association, West Virginia University Mining Extension Service and the Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College have all joined forces to create a new non-profit corporation, The Academy for Mine Training and Energy Technologies Inc., "dedicated to funding and operating training facilities in Morgantown and Logan County," writes Terry for the weekly newspaper in Charleston. "The new organization is forging ahead thanks to some state funding and donations from private companies," she writes. The biggest private donation so far came from Consol Energy, which donated its Dawles Run Mine Training Academy with its existing training building and land for simulated mines.

Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the state coal association, told Terry, "As we lose miners to retirement, we're also losing accountants, office managers, engineers ... It's not just miners. I want college people coming to this industry ... where we can offer immediate employment, $50,000 salaries with benefits and a 20-year career. To meet the rising demand and retain our ..position in domestic and world energy markets, we need the manpower," he added.

N.C. judge rules state's school budget short; legislative response under fire

A judge at the center of the state's landmark lawsuit over school funding charged that North Carolina lawmakers have failed to provide enough help for the state's neediest students, as the state's General Assembly debated a budget.

"Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. told lawyers in the long-running dispute that legislators did not respond adequately to his orders to boost spending on students who are struggling. The case has resulted in two decisions by the state Supreme Court that have defined the state's constitutional duty to provide students with an adequate education," writes Steve Hartsoe of The Associated Press.

"Manning also expressed frustration with the limits he faces in enforcing a three-year-old order that the high court affirmed last summer," AP reports.

TV station in court battle, facing fines after refusing to turn over videotapes

A Kentucky judge last week ordered a TV station to turn over tapes of interviews related to a shooting or face $10,000 in fines each day the tapes are withheld, but another judge held up the fines pending appeal.

"McCracken County District Judge Bard Brian [had] set a 3 p.m. CDT Monday deadline for WPSD-TV in Paducah to turn over unedited tapes of interviews with witnesses to the Aug. 1 shootout," reports The Paducah Sun. (Site requires subscription) But later, AP reports, "McCracken Circuit Judge Jeff Hines issued a restraining order putting the sanctions on hold. The countermanding order means WPSD-TV will not have to pay the fines while they challenge Brian's order holding the station in contempt. Hines' order does not end the contempt hearing against the station. Instead, it stops the court from enforcing the $10,000-a-day fine or any other sanction while the tapes are in dispute, writes AP. (Read more)

An attorney for one of the accused in the shooting asked Judge Brian to force the station to turn over the tapes, saying they contain information crucial to the defense. The station has turned over the portions aired but not the unedited footage. Whitlow said Kentucky's shield law protects the station from the subpoena. The protection does not apply if the information sought was part of a public broadcast, AP writes.

Small Alabama city gets big national TV spotlight on ABC reality show

Outside of Alabama, not many people would know a lot about its city of Greenville. But, the community got a nationwide boost last night as some of its residents were featured on a new realty TV show.

"The ABC-TV reality game show 'My Kind of Town' premiere[d] at 8 p.m., [and featured] two hundred Greenville residents who were flown to New York July 29 for the taping of the program filled with skits, gags and some old-fashioned humor," writes Angie Long of The Greenville Advocate. (Read more)

"In spite of being the second show taped for the new series, the Greenville episode ... was selected to be the show's premiere. Greenville bumped the Bordentown, N.J. episode out of the front running," notes Long. "A production crew spent nearly two weeks in Greenville prior to the show's NYC taping, preparing segments showcasing some of the city's sights and citizens."

The network show has been the talk of the town -- and Butler County, writes Long. "Tim Hattaway, a fourth grade teacher at Greenville Elementary School, started the school year off sharing the good news with his students," she writes. "Everyone [on the production staff] kept telling us what a great town and great audience we were, and it's good to see they meant it," Hattaway said.

Bob Glasscock, one of several participants featured in promos on ABC's Birmingham affiliate, told the newspaper the Greenville episode [has shown] the nation tyat the city "has a lot going for it. I hope this will lead to Greenville being chosen for other projects, maybe movie locations, for example. Maybe this will lead to bigger and better things," he said.

Wet-dry vote set for mountain town high on tourism; wrong-headed, says critic

The residents of Pineville, Kentucky are to decide thumbs up or down tomorrow in a local option "wet/dry" election whether or not they feel the sale of alcohol would benefit the area and boost tourism for the community considered a mountain respite by some folks in three adjoining states.

But, in a column in the Pineville Sun, contributing writer and former local prosecutor Bill Hayes opined weeks ago that alcohol sales would be the easier route, bringing more problems with scant economic improvements, while major changes would only come with far-sighted and tougher decisions.

"There is a culture of prohibition in the Bible Belt that has long rendered most of this area we call Appalachia subject to extremely restricted alcohol sales illegal in most part of the region," Hayes writes. "It goes back to the rip-roaring era when coal miners hit town on Saturday night and tore the places up on their ways to consorting with women of the street and shootouts in the streets and saloons," he adds.

The referendum is being pushed by developers of a proposed hotel -- at the Narrows gap where the Cumberland River flows through the Pine Mountain -- that would incorporate the local off-track betting parlor and perhaps be the site of slot machines or even a casino, pending further legislation.

"It will take more than a few drinks and a little gambling to bring prosperity to Appalachia," Hayes wrote. "Our cities will need to be cleaned up, our governments will need to become honest and transparent, and our education systems are going to have to be improved before prosperity can really take hold."

Hayes concluded, "We need to fight to attract new people with new ideas and new money. These battles are a lot harder to win than a wet/dry election, and so we go on, hoping that success can turn on simple choices. That way, we never have to make big decisions."

Rural Calendar: Enviro groups, City of Livermore to host Green River Day

"Celebrating Clean Water and enjoying a day on the Green River is the purpose of Green River Day, Saturday, Aug. 20, a free event for everyone who wants to know more about the quality of our water and the role it plays in our children’s health, and enjoy a day of music, speakers, and sunshine," writes Aloma Dew of the Sierra Club.

Sponsored by Sierra Club, Green River/Lower Green River Watershed Watch, Sierra Club Water Sentinels, and the City of Livermore, this year’s event will be held at the Livermore Riverside Park within sight of the US 431 bridge, which crosses the confluence of the Green and Rough rivers. The event is free and open to the public.

The festivities will begin at 11 a.m. with a riverside nature hike. Other features are Bluegrass music and speakers on mercury pollution and other threats to our rivers and steams and our children’s health. Every one is invited to bring a picnic lunch, blankets and chairs.

There will be games and activities for children, door prizes, and tables with environmental information. The day will conclude with an afternoon canoe float on the Rough River. Rental canoes must reserved and require a $5 deposit. People may bring their own canoes or kayaks. For reservations for canoes, please call 270-685-2034. Contact: Aloma Dew, 270-685-2034 Sierra Club.

Sunday, Aug. 14, 2005

Radio outlets in Texas, Montana, Appalachia serve rural areas

An ambitious station in Texas, a Montana-based news network and a three-station cooperative in Central Appalachia offer hope for the future of radio news, especially in rural areas, said those who heard their stories at the nation’s largest journalism convention, which concluded yesterday.

A session at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications confab in San Antonio spotlighted KWED of nearby Seguin, an AM station that says it makes money with a daily, printed publication; the Northern Broadcasting System, which started as an agricultural network and now has a 32-station news network; and non-commercial Allegheny Mountain Radio, three stations in southeast West Virginia and southwest Virginia.

The session was the last of several about community journalism -- which some educators, many of them former journalists, said was a hot topic at the 88th annual convention, which attracted about 2,000 people.

Chris Martin of West Virginia University said that in five days at the convention, the community-journalism sessions were the only times she heard about increased circulation and audiences, and that she heard no other journalists say what KWED News and Operations Director Darren Dunn said -- that they had covered a community in every way possible and got it right.

Dunn, an African American, grew up in the suburbs of Houston and aimed for a broadcast career. “I never thought I could live in a small town” like Seguin, population 23,000, he told the educators. Now he not only lives there but is president of the local Rotary Club and puts out what amounts to a newspaper – the Seguin Daily News, a 32-page mini-tabloid, with a free circulation of 3,500, five days a week.

“I feel like some days I’m more of a print person than I am a broadcaster,” he said. Martin said KWED’s story is a great example of media convergence, one done with much less hoopla and money than better-publicized convergence efforts.

A newsy station gets newsier -- in print

KWED had the horses to operate in another medium because it already had a news department with three full-time employees, plus interns from Texas Lutheran University in Seguin (pronounced seh-GEEN, with a hard “g”) and other schools. “We believe in community-oriented radio. We believe in strong service to the community,” including editorials on local issues, station owner Hal Widstein said. The print operation has two employees of its own and recently started turning a profit, he said.

The paper started several years ago as a front-and-back, 8½-by-11-inch flyer with classified ads, then became a four-pager. It expanded to a colorful mini-tab through a deal with a local printing company. Widstein, who has owned KWED since 1983, said that as far as he knows, his venture into print is unique. “We can’t find another one of these anywhere,” he said. The paper is also online, at this site.

Widstein said he saw a need for another print news outlet in Guadalupe County because the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, which publishes daily except Saturday and Monday, left too many things uncovered and seemed to have too many political agendas and too much biased reporting. After the mini-tab started, the Gazette-Enterprise, owned by Southern Newspapers, “added color, shortened stories, and started printing a section with only good news,” Dunn said.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues sought a reply from the Gazette-Enterprise. Managing Editor Chris Lykins, quoting Publisher Tommy Crow, said in a telephone message that the newspaper has a policy of not commenting on other local media outlets, and will continue that policy.

Dunn said the Gazette-Enterprise, formed by a merger in the 1980s, was not accustomed to competition, while the radio station has always competed with all the stations in San Antonio and half those in Austin. “I think the town has been the big winner in all of this,” he said. “If they get better, we get better.”

The paper’s most popular feature is “Seguin Citizen,” a daily profile of a local person. Dunn said readers often skip the news up front to see who has bene selected and read about their neighbor. The choice for Thursday, Aug. 11 was the manager of a local futness center, which had a quarter-page ad in the edition.

The station has another print product, a 120-page program for local high-school football games. It sells the ads for the outer 40 pages, which change from game to game, and the local booster club sells the ads for the center 80 pages, which don’t. “Our idea is that we’ve got this community covered in every possible way,” Dunn said. “I say if it happens in Seguin, we’ll cover it.”

As for the radio business, Widstein said it has “a lot of challenges these days,” including “big-box retailers” that put local stores out of business. He said large radio groups, such as San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications, filled a need because nearly half of U.S. radio stations were losing money when the groups began forming.

“I have no problem with consolidation,” Widstein said. “I just have a problem with the people who are doing it.” He said “there are a lot of better broadcasters” than Clear Channel, by far the largest owner of radio stations, “but these were the guys who were able to put together a whole lot of money really quick . . . because Lowry Mays [chairman of Clear Channel] is an investment banker.”

A network grows in Montana, and other states

The Northern Broadcasting System was started in 1975 by Conrad Burns, now a U.S. senator, as a way to deliver farm news to Montana, a large, sparsely populated state with 2.3 cattle per person. Burns, who sold the network when he entered politics, gave the network a regional name so it could more easily expand beyond Montana. Today, stations in the Dakotas, Wyoming and Idaho, and one in non-adjacent Oregon, are among the 70-plus affiliates that receive 109 farm- and rural-oriented radio programs each week. It also produces two TV programs, aired on eight Montana stations.

Five years ago, NBS began the Northern News Network, now with 32 affiliates, most of whom are also members of the Northern Ag Network, said Kathy McCleary, NBS's director of sales and marketing.

The news network offers seven newscasts a day, as well as a daily commentary, a daily talk show and a daily sports report. McCleary said the sports program includes a continuing story about a golf course being built hole by hole for a disabled child, now the subject of a movie being produced for HBO. Students of Denise Dowling of the University of Montana have done stories on the Montana legislature for the network and 20 unaffiliated stations.

Because airtime for advertising on affiliate stations is hard to get, McCleary said, the network sells sponsorships for one-minute blocks. It established that revenue source by indirectly helping Montana’s rural electric cooperatives overcome their problems with the legislature. The network paid for a survey of the co-ops’ members, McCleary said. “They found out their own members didn’t know they were co-op members or who owned them.” Two years later, after the advertising had raised the co-ops’ profile and influence, “They said they’d never had such an easy time in the legislature.”

For more about NBS, click here. For descriptions of its programs, click here. For a look at its staff, including four broadcast personalities in cowboy hats, click here.

Appalachian stations offer lifelines in isolated area

Allegheny Mountain Radio is a network of three noncommercial stations in adjoining counties across a state line – WVMR-AM in Frost (Pocahontas County), W.Va., WVLS-FM in Monterey (Highland County), Va., and WCHG-FM in Hot Springs (Bath County), Va. Two are classified as sole-service providers, meaning that no other station serves the community.

The stations are owned by Pocahontas Communications Cooperative Corp., which has an elected board of directors and an advisory board, and gets most of its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It has seven employees, 20 regular volunteers and other occasional volunteers.

“I hope it represents a wave of the future in terms of return to localism in radio . . . perhaps a movement of citizens taking back the airwaves,” said Maryanne Reed of West Virginia University, who has a vacation home in the area.

The West Virginia station was founded in 1982 by Gibbs Kinderman, an Oregonian who came to the area as one of the Appalachian Volunteers, the mid-1960s forerunners of Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) workers – who are now among the station’s staff. The Virginia stations went on the air in 1995, and the cooperative is planning a station in Monroe County, W.Va., a non-adjacent county to the west. For more on WVMR, click here. For a map of the region with WCHG's coverage area, click here.

The West Virginia station can’t use the FM band or broadcast after 6 p.m. because it is eight miles from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, W.Va. But the station was allowed to remain on the air for 72 consecutive hours during a flood in the area a few years ago. “Where community radio really gets important is when you have a disaster in the community,” Reed’s WVU colleague, Ralph Hanson, said during an earlier session at the conference. Appeals for victims of misfortune are heard at other times; Hansen cited one for a family whose house burned down. Allegheny Mountain Radio is “hyper-local media . . . local media that’s actually local,” Hanson said.

One of the cooperative’s slogans is “unique by nature, traditional by choice.” Reed said it has “old-fashioned public-affairs programs,” bluegrass, old-time country, gospel and “roots” music. Burl Ives’ “I Found My Best Friend at the Dog Pound” introduces the animal-shelter report that seeks adoptions.

While the stations' background might suggest a liberal bent, Reed said the area is socially conservative and the stations “try to be politically neutral” and do not air any political talk shows or commentary. She said it dropped James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family” program when it became more political and anti-gay. To balance that decision, she said, the co-op made its gospel music program a daily feature.

Widstein said he sees a place for non-commercial stations – including low-power, community-operated FM stations to serve underserved constituencies and provide an outlet for lesser-heard voices – but is concerned that community boards lack the continuity needed to ensure adherence to technical rules and standards, and thus may create problems for other broadcasters. “We have the potential of creating Citizens Band on the AM and FM bands,” he said. CB is notorious for interference caused by engineering violations and other problems. Also, he said, such stations need to be kept truly non-commercial -- not allowing underwriting and sponsorship recognitions to expand into commercials, and prohibitions against exchanging the stations for money.

Friday, Aug. 12, 2005

Applications due Monday for rural media government & politics news seminar

Newspapers and broadcast stations that want to cover state and national affairs, but lack bureau reporters in state capitals or Washington, are invited to apply for admission to "Carrying the Capitals to Your Communities," a conference to be held Sept. 9 and 10 in Somerset, Ky.

The first day of the conference will deal with state government and politics and will be programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. The second day will deal with getting information from the federal government and will be programmed by the National Press Foundation.

The conference is being coordinated by the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at The Ohio State University, and that is where applications must be received by Monday, Aug. 15.

The conference is free, and one night's lodging will be provided, but employers must pay transportation costs and allow employees to attend on company time, and attendance will be limited to 20 to 25 journalists. For more details on the conference and an application form, click here.

Clear Channel execs defend remote-news system but acknowledge pitfalls

Facing a journalism researcher yesterday, Clear Channel Communications officials said one of their program directors should have seen that stories by the station’s reporters -- including one about forest fire outbreaks -- went on air through a central production hub. But the radio giant defended its hub-and-spoke news production system, which sends material to hubs where stories are produced for individual stations.

The encounter occurred at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s annual convention in Clear Channel's home base of San Antonio. The executives were Mark Mays, the company’s president and CEO; and John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio, the country's largest radio operator. The researcher was Lee Hood of the University of Colorado, a former broadcast producer who spent a week last summer in one of Clear Channel's western markets. Hood welcomed the executives, because the Clear Channel station with the central hub declined cooperation.

Hood said big stories in the unnamed city of 50,000 on July 13 and 14, 2004, included: severe thunderstorms and resulting forest fires; a county fair parade that drew a huge, holiday-sized crowd; and a utility’s request for a rate increase. She said none of those events were reported on the day they occurred, except a National Weather Service warning about the storms – which was followed 50 minutes later by the station’s recorded weather forecast of "partly cloudy with a chance of a few scattered thunderstorms."

Hood said the station’s two reporters filed stories, with asterisks to alert the central hub, and were shocked to hear that they didn't air that day. "It’s difficult to say that a local market is being served if things like forest fires don’t get on the air," Hood said.

"Sounds like a bad program director," Mays replied. Hogan said any one of the company’s 900-plus local program directors can decide what stories go on the air. "Nobody in a remote location makes the decision to control local programming," he said. "It doesn’t sound like the person did a very good job."

Hogan said the hub-and-spoke concept allows Clear Channel to use "better resources, like better voices or better technologies," including digital files sent over the Internet. If a station can only afford two reporters, he asked, why not transfer the production function elsewhere? In this case, he said, "The execution . . . clearly was wrong."

Municipal broadband hits stride; rural senators push for high-speed access

A multi-part series on federal and state policy implications raised by municipal broadband networks reported by Technology Daily finds "digital municipalism" is running at a good clip, while U.S. senators from predominantly rural states are pushing to expand high speed access in less densely populated areas.

Technology Daily's Drew Clark writes, "The debate about whether municipalities should be funding or creating high-speed Internet networks has a back-to-the-future quality. Technological advances, dissatisfaction with the nation's broadband pace over the past several years, and the dynamics of convergence have led 'digital municipalism' to hit its stride."

Clark notes that "many cities want to offer broadband networks at low cost, or free," citing Bristol, Va., in 2002, which strung fiber-optic wires for broadband, cable television and telephone service. In Utah, he reports, 14 counties have collaborated on a similar project. And, he reports, "The impulse for high-capacity fiber technologies is still present, as exemplified by the 62 percent of voters in Lafayette, La., who last month cast ballots for a bond measure to build a network." Fiber Optic Communities of the United States, he states, reports of the 398 communities deploying fiber technologies as of May 2005, 23 of the larger projects were provided by municipalities

Clark reports "the rise of wireless technology, particularly wi-fi, has recast the technologies and politics of municipal broadband." He concludes, "the issue is squarely part of any rewrite of the nation's telecommunications laws. Bills now in Congress could bar states from allowing municipal broadband in areas served by the private sector."

Hatch also reports, "Capitol Hill sources have confirmed [that] Republicans Conrad Burns of Montana and Olympia Snowe of Maine, along with Democrat John (Jay) Rockefeller of West Virginia, plan to draft universal service legislation in consultation with Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Preserving the $6.5 billion universal service fund is a top priority of the lawmakers." According to Hatch, Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., recently introduced a measure that would authorize up to $500 million per year to help high-speed Internet reach rural areas.

7-Eleven settles flap over tobacco sales to minors; affects stores in 30 states

Convenience-store leader 7-Eleven Inc., the nation's largest cigarette seller, has agreed to toughen its procedures to catch underage shoppers attempting to buy tobacco products. Tobacco is the Dallas-based company's biggest-selling product, accounting for 29.1 percent of its sales in the United States and Canada last year, reports Barry Schlacter of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. (Read more)

In the deal, covering stores in about 30 states, the company agreed not to place tobacco signs next to products popular with minors, to ban vending machines for tobacco and remove outward-facing window signs for tobacco within 500 feet of schools or playgrounds. They also agreed to require a government-issued photo identification for any shopper who appears to be under 27, and the company said it would use decoy shoppers to check on enforcement.

7-Eleven also agreed to pay the states $375,000 for tobacco-related public health and enforcement programs. The agreement covers company-owned stores, but 7-Eleven officials said the company would ask its franchise operators to follow the same rules. Nearly two-thirds of 7-Elevens in the United States are operated by franchisees. The 7-Eleven agreement is similar to deals that state officials have reached with other retailers since 2000, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Walgreen Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and other leading gas station operators.

The agreement was signed by officials from 40 states and the District of Columbia. 7-Eleven has about 5,800 stores in the United States and Canada and owns, operates or franchises more than 27,000 stores worldwide, with sales last year topping $12 billion.

Land, lots of land, and a paradox; West has most densely populated urban areas

Ten of the 15 most densely populated urban areas in the nation are in the West, reports The Washington Post, in an area where legend and stereotype have shaped perceptions of sprawling wide open spaces populated not by people but by sagebrush, cacti, cattle, cowboys and creepy crawly critters.

"But take a closer look: What you knew about sprawl turns out to be wrong," writes the Post's Blaine Harden. "The urbanized area in and around Los Angeles has become the most densely populated place in [the continental U.S.]. Its density is 25 percent higher than that of New York, twice that of Washington and four times that of Atlanta in residents per square mile of urban land," she writes.

Robert E. Lang, director of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute in Alexandria, told Blaine, "If you want elbow room, move to Atlanta or Charlotte or the countrified suburbs of Washington. You probably aren't going to get it in the West. There, if you and your neighbor lean out your windows, you can hold hands." To put a more rural perspective on it, L.A. is nine times as densely populated as Nashville.

Harden reports, "This ... is having profound effects on housing construction, commuting and the quality of urban life." According to the Census Bureau, he writes, "Ten municipalities in the nation average more than four people per household and nine of them are in greater Los Angeles." The newspaper reports the population density pressure, "has a way of turning garages into illegal apartments, while strangling public schools, overwhelming parks and choking streets with cars," and, it reports, "overcrowding problems are often ignored by politicians, since many residents are illegal or poor or both -- and do not vote."

Harden concludes, "Open space in the West has always seemed endless. But deserts, mountains, huge tracts of federally owned land and a pervasive lack of water make much of the region unlivable. As such, it has remained the most rural part of the country in terms of land use while becoming the most densely urban in terms of where people live." (Read more)

For a report from The New York Times on growth in Wisconsin prompting water supply issues, Growth Stirs a Battle to Draw More Water From the Great Lakes, by Felicity Barringer, click here.

Food pyramid and farm subsidies out of sync; groups want nutritional match-up

"Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and the government tells them they should eat better. But it doesn’t put its money where their mouths are," reports The Associated Press.

This year farmers will receive $17 billion in subsidies, but "Rather than focusing on the producers of good-for-you fruits and vegetables, half [of the] subsidies go to grain farmers, whose crops feed animals for meat, milk and eggs and become ... ingredients in processed food," writes AP's Jay Berman. (Read more)

Andy Fischer, executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition, an advocacy group, told Berman, “Obesity. That’s clearly the problem, if you look at the outcome in today’s society.” Berman notes, "Since two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, it’s clear people are getting the calories they need and more. Diet and disease experts say, however, that they’re not getting enough nutrition."

The new Department of Agriculture food pyramid calls for fewer calories and more fruit, vegetables, low fat milk and whole grains, and for avoiding partially hydrogenated oils and sweeteners used in snack foods. In contrast, "Federal farm programs ... aim to maintain the financial health of American agriculture," Berman writes. Subsidies "encourage an abundant supply of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans [which ultimately] translates to lots of calories, lots of artery-clogging fat and little or no healthful fiber."

Adam Reendows, professor of epistemology at the University of Washington, told Berman, "As those foods ... become progressively cheaper, the prices of fruit and vegetables rise. If we tell a family, ‘You really ought to be eating more salads and fresh fruit,’ and this is a low-income family, we’re essentially encouraging them to spend more money." Ralph Gross, president of American Farmland Trust, a group that advocates conservation on the farm, said, "Here we are as a society, talking constantly about obesity and diets, and yet our farm policies are not structured to encourage the kind of diet that the food pyramid suggests we should adopt."

Canada cranks up penalties for crystal meth; possibility of life in prison

Canada's government says it is making the punishment fit the crime as it increases penalties for possessing, making and trafficking crystal meth including the possibility of life in prison. The tougher sentencing was announced yesterday, but it's a strategy that some social workers say has proven worthless in the country's fight against other highly addictive illegal substances.

"The stiffer sentences on methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, are now in line with offences associated with heroin and cocaine," writes Amy Carmichael of Canadian Press. (Read more)

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told reporters, "Specially designated prosecutors will also deal with the most serious cases and will speak to judges in sentencing about the corrosive, poisonous nature of the drug and how it destroys lives." Cotler also said, "We are making a clear statement today about the gravity of the offence and the responsibility of the offender." The maximum penalty for production and distribution was increased to life in prison from 10 years.

For a report on the meth arrests of a county coroner and his family in north Georgia, click here.

Post points out paradox of podcasting: clandestine pop-culture phenomenon

Say the word "podcasting" to many people and their reactions range from glazed eyes to the kind of quirky look you would get if you were describing aliens and UFO's. But, the growing phenomenon of tailor-made downloadable, I-POD pulsating electronic packets of everything from news, weather and music, to the ramblings of miscreants and malcontents, is creating a "buzz" across the cultural spectrum.

"Podcasting has done what no new technology that I'm aware of has ever accomplished: It's gone mainstream and underground at the same time," Robert MacMillan of The Washington Post wrote in a recent opinion piece. (Read more)

"I don't know any other word to use besides 'mainstream' when I hear from the White House that President Bush's radio addresses will be offered via podcast. And I have no other word at my fingertips than 'underground' when I read a recent Los Angeles Times opinion piece that suggests that podcasting is the biggest tech craze that most of us have never heard of," MacMillan opines.

White House spokesman David Almacy told MacMillan, "As technology advances, the White House recognizes the importance of providing content in new ways to reach new audiences to communicate the president's vision." And, he notes, "Regardless of the current brouhaha over what that vision is, it might be possible to classify the Bush White House as jumping ahead of the curve on technology." But, MacMillan notes, "Today, there are only 6,000 to 7,000 regular podcasts being created online, and the number of regular listeners probably doesn't exceed the lower reaches of 'hundreds of thousands.'"

AEP buying West Virginia gas-fired power plant for high demand needs

A subsidiary of American Electric Power is set to buy a generating station in West Virginia that the company says will augment its peak demand capacity.

Appalachian Power Co., which is part of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP, announced yesterday that if federal and state regulators allow it hopes to close the $100 million deal with Reliant Energy Inc. by early next year, writes Eric Shelzig of The Associated Press. (Read more) The deal would give Appalachian Power the 505-megawatt Ceredo Generating Station.

Appalachian Power serves about 929,000 customers in West Virginia and Virginia. The company reports it experienced an all-time peak last winter and set a summertime peak last month. The natural gas-fired Ceredo plant, which went online in June 2001, is designed to be used only when demand is high.

AEP plans to use the plant as part of a generation pool serving customers in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The deal will be evaluated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the West Virginia Public Service Commission, and must also meet federal antitrust regulations.

The slow art of Christmas tree farming; six years from planting to sales

For a special type of farmer raising a popular but seasonal product the answer to the derisive question, "What are you waiting for? Christmas!?" would be a sigh of relief, "Yes!"

A profile of a Christmas-tree farming family in Virginia, written by Tarryl Jackson of the Staunton News Leader, provides some poignant insight to the trials and tribulations of raising "Tennenbaums."

"In this August's heat, Greg Tolbert is having thoughts of Christmas. Or more specifically, Christmas trees.
The owner of Bit-O-Honey Farm in Fishersville is in the midst of shearing season. He and his family are going through their 2,200 Canaan Fir and Blue Spruce trees, shaping each into the classic Christmas tree," writes Jackson. (Read more)

"Six years after planting their first seedlings, the family is still a year away from having trees ready for harvest," Jackson writes. The Tolbert family plants every spring, "digging every tree plot by shovel on their 20-acre farm for two weeks, and then the annual nurturing begins," she writes. The trees, which naturally grow up and out, require careful shaping and shearing.

Tolbert told the newspaper it takes at least $10,000 to start a Christmas tree business, and growers usually lose about 40 percent of their crop. However, they have been able to keep their tree loss under 1 percent by surrounding each tree with mulch, weed-free cloth, weed killer and quality topsoil. Still, they keep an eye out for Rudolph's cousins. Tolbert told the newspaper one great difficulty is deer who often eat into the profits. "It's years invested in [the trees]," Tolbert said. [And,]"In a moment they've ruined them."

W.D. “Bill” Knox, longtime editor of Hoard's Dairyman, is dead at 85

W.D. Knox, who guided the twice monthly magazine Hoard’s Dairyman for six decades, died Aug. 5 at age 85. “Bill” Knox became editor of the magazine in Fort Atkinson, Wis., in 1949 at age 29.

Knox first entered journalism as editor of his high school paper, where he received a D letter grade. Knox often attributed that grade to his outspoken editorials on movie ticket prices.

During his tenure at Hoard’s Dairyman, Knox traveled 100,000-plus miles a year giving speeches, attending meetings, testifying before Congress and championing the dairy industry. Hoard’s Dairyman has subscribers in nearly 100 foreign countries.

Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005

Plan to reduce or close Air Guard bases in 27 states draws strong opposition

A proposed overhaul of more than two dozen Air National Guard units in 27 states and a U.S. territory has become the most contentious issue in the Pentagon's overall plan to close, consolidate or realign hundreds of military sites nationwide, affecting thousands of personnel, disproportionately rural and poor.

"The Air Force wants to retire aging aircraft from many Guard units, close or consolidate some bases and give some units new missions, like flying remotely piloted Predator aircraft, that are better suited to today's national security environment, Air Force officials say," writes Eric Schmitt of The New York Times. (Read more) But, lawmakers say that would leave more than two dozen states without emergency aircraft to fight fires, recover from hurricanes and cope with other natural disasters.

Officials say the plan would leave them vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Illinois and Pennsylvania have filed suit contending the units cannot be moved without the consent of the state governors. Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat, told Schmitt, "These are the wrong recommendations, at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, and, on top of all that, they are illegal." Blagojevich also said the plan could imperil the safety of the state's 11 nuclear power plants and 28 locks and dams.

Members of the independent commission have expressed alarm at the recommendations. Commission lawyers have said the governors may have a sound legal argument, and the Justice Department has been called in to give its opinion. In addition to Illinois, bases in Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico are affected.

Anti-indecency activist joins FCC; agency poised for programming crackdown?

The Federal Communications Commission has added an anti-indecency activist to its staff, prompting speculation the agency is gearing up for another crackdown on "inappropriate" programming. Penny Young Nance is now an adviser in its Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, which helps set an overall agenda for the agency, writes Chris Baker of The Washington Times. (Read more)

FCC spokesman David H. Fiske told Baker that Nance is working part time to focus on "consumer and social issues" in broadcasting and cable, and he said she will serve as a liaison with Capitol Hill, the industry and other activists.

Indecency opponents praised Nance's appointment, but a frequent FCC critic charged political patronage. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer-advocacy group, told Baker, "She's there to give the religious right and the conservative right a voice at the FCC. ... It's disquieting that someone who is so ideological has a position like this."

Robert Knight, director of the Concerned Women for America's (CWA) Culture and Family Institute told Baker,"It's about time we had a mama bear in a position of influence to help the FCC do its job." The CWA describes its mission as working "to bring Biblical principles into all levels of public policy."

Public employees activist group attacks forest service law director choice

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is calling into question the appointment of a new director of law enforcement and investigations for the U.S. Forest Service. The group says the choice lacks any previous law enforcement experience, citing agency documents released yesterday. And, PEER says the forest service changed the requirements to make the appointment.

"To accommodate the move, the agency has hurriedly amended its manual to remove the requirement that the Director of Law Enforcement must be a peace officer ... and to allow the position 'Top Secret access' without the normal background checks," writes Chas Offutt of PEER. (Read more)

Last month, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth named John Twiss, a long-time Forest Service employee who has spent much of his career in staff positions within Washington. D.C. headquarters, to the director post. Twiss is the first person without any law enforcement qualifications or credentials to occupy the top law enforcement slot, notes Offutt.

"In addition to his lack of experience, Twiss’ appointment reverses progress in increasing professionalism of the Forest Service law enforcement program in that a civilian will be making decisions about how criminal and other sensitive investigations will be conducted," writes Offutt. Twiss is to oversee some 660 agents and officers who investigate resource crimes, from timber thefts and fossil poaching to clandestine drug labs on 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands covering more than 193 million acres.

Oil and gas leasing on public lands thrown into doubt, enviro group reports

A federal court has withdrawn approval of a 2003 legal settlement between Utah and the federal government that opened millions of acres of undeveloped western lands to development.

"The court’s action immediately threw into doubt planned government oil and gas lease auctions scheduled for later this year and next year on some of these lands," reports Earthjustice. The action came at the urging of the environmental activist group. (Read more)

The settlement grew out of a lawsuit filed by Utah against the Clinton administration challenging federal procedures for identifying and protecting wild public lands. The Bush administration settled the lawsuit by agreeing to Utah’s request to abandon the protective regulations. "Since the settlement was finalized, the federal government has used it to open unroaded, pristine portions of southern Utah and Colorado to oil and gas development," the group writes.

Earthjustice challenged the settlement, it says, to have the wilderness protections reinstated. The court’s withdrawal of its approval of the settlement came Monday. Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell said, "Any oil or gas company thinking about drilling and pumping from these wild public lands better think twice. The public has a great interest in keeping these lands wild. There are lots of other places where they can drill.”

Earthjustice says it is representing Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, California Wilderness Coalition, and Idaho Conservation League.

Raccoon bait drop begins in Appalachia; aerial bombing targets rabies

Raccoons began getting treats from the sky earlier this week as state and federal agriculture officials commenced an aerial bombardment of bait laced with rabies vaccine to prevent the disease's spread among the pesky critters known for their stealthy disguise.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture's wildlife services program is using small planes to drop baits in parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee and North Carolina along the Appalachian Mountains. In more populated areas, the baits will be dispersed by hand," writes Mannix Porterfield of the Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va. (Read more)

The USDA has conducted the program for several years to create a "rabies-free barrier" in the eastern United States. They target raccoons because the cunning critters are more likely to come in contact with people and pets than other wild animals, writes Porterfield.

In West Virginia alone, pilots will drop some 2.3 million of the 1-inch square fish treats. West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass told the newspaper, "If it gets across the Ohio River, there's no controlling this strain of rabies." John Forbes, project coordinator for the USDA in Morgantown, said data suggests about 30 percent of the state's raccoons have been vaccinated. Blogger's note: No wonder Raccoons wear masks and travel mainly at night.

Milwaukee to host inaugural regional Agro-Security Symposium

Some 1,000 people are expected to congregate this November in Milwaukee for a first-time symposium on ways to protect the nation's food supply.

"The gathering, Great Lakes Agro-Security Symposium, will draw from public and private sector representatives from regional states and Canadian provinces, according to David Duecker, who, with the Wisconsin Procurement Institute, is helping to plan the event," writes David Niles of the Wisconsin Technology Network. (Read more)

Duecker, director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Homeland Security Partnership, told Niles, "There have been other ... conferences addressing regulations and such ... but nobody has drilled down to who is going to give the practical [security] tools to farmers and those involved in the food processing chain." Duecker noted, "There are a lot of vulnerabilities in the food chain."

Duecker also said, "Homeland Security Presidential Directive ... clearly establishes the roles and responsibilities of the government and the private sector in protecting this critical infrastructure and key resources." The government late last year implemented new rules intended to trace the source of food contamination, particularly in the event of a bio-terror attack on the food supply, notes Niles.

Drought has burley farmers anxious as first season without support approaches

Facing the first harvest without a decades-old steadying price support system, in a very dry summer, tobacco farmers are feeling the heat and growing wary as the selling season approaches.

"Anxiety has set in among some Kentucky burley growers beginning to harvest drought-stressed tobacco without the security blanket of a federal tobacco price support program, which ended when Congress passed a $10.1 billion buyout last fall," writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Michael Duckworth, agricultural extension agent in Woodford County, a prime producer of burley, told Schreiner, "The free enterprise system is good if you have good year. Free enterprise may come back to haunt all of us." Duckworth said irrigated leaf looks good, but tobacco lacking water is struggling. "There will be a lot of crops that won't even come close to breaking even," he added.

Steve Moore, ag extension agent in Henry County, told the wire service, "What is still at issue is: What will the companies do? Will the company actually reject their best effort? Nobody knows that answer yet."

A crop reporting service says in Kentucky, the nation's top burley producer, half the crop is good or excellent and the rest is fair or poor. Government forecasters report burley acreage in Kentucky will total 75,000 acres this year, down about 30 percent from a year ago. University of Kentucky tobacco specialist Gary Palmer told Schreiner, "It's kind of varied anywhere from the best crop they've had in a long time all the way to [farmers saying they will plow-under their crop]." But, Palmer said the statewide average yield could slightly exceed last year's level, despite the dry weather. One farmer in Scott County told AP he expects to receive just $1.35 to $1.40 per pound for his leaf . Last year he averaged $1.98 a pound.

Gambling on gambling? Connecticut newspaper cites Rhode Island corruption

With a number of states eyeing expanded gambling as a revenue-booster for their cash-strapped coffers, a Connecticut newspaper says Rhode Island offers a case in point for watchful wariness and steadfast scrutiny over those charged with making the decisions that could mean billions of dollars.

"The conviction of [a] dog track and two former top executives in a bribery case encourages hope that Rhode Island can move beyond its past of rampant political corruption," writes The Day in an editorial published yesterday, entitled Freight Train A Comin. (Read more) -- Free registration required

"The track and [the] two men were found guilty of conspiring to bribe former House Speaker John B. Harwood with more than $4 million in exchange for 1,000 more slot machines at the track and for blocking a proposed Indian casino," reports the New London, Conn., newspaper.

"It is a cause for additional optimism that Mr. Harwood ... has been driven from power, and the power of the Speaker's office substantially reduced by a separation-of-powers amendment approved by voters last year. The company that owned and operated the dog track has been replaced by a new owner," the paper writes. "But the behind-the-scenes politics that brought about the scandal ... unfortunately, goes on. The scandal arose over the expansion of gambling in the state, and that growth proceeds apace with help from some of the same political dynamics."

"The battle in Rhode Island is not between those who are opposed to gambling and those who are promoting it, but over turf. Gambling is roaring down the tracks in Rhode Island, and with it all the unwholesome possibilities it brings. ... And that's not a cause for optimism among those who have been hoping Rhode Island was escaping its unsavory past," the newspaper concludes.

Tarnished Pulitzer Prize winner joins University of Alabama journalism school

Beginning with the fall semester, University of Alabama journalism students will take classes taught by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg, disciplined by the Times for taking credit for information in a story from Apalachicola, Fla., actually done by a local journalist.

E. Culpepper Clark, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences, made the announcement in the college's newspaper today. Bragg will teach magazine writing, reports Stephen Dawkins, administrative affairs editor for The Crimson White. (Read more). Clark told the newspaper, "He is absolutely marvelous at coaching students in writing. Students will love him." While working for the Times, Bragg won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

Bragg also won the Clarence Cason award for nonfiction writing in 2004 - the UA journalism department's highest honor, and has written several books including "All Over but the Shoutin'," "Ava's Man," "Somebody Told Me" and "I'm a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story." Before joining the Times, Bragg worked for The Anniston Star, The Birmingham News, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Bragg resigned from the New York Times in 2003 after he was disciplined for not crediting a freelance reporter who helped him report for one of his stories. Clark told the student newspaper, "I did discuss it with leading academicians and professionals. They considered what happened ... an injustice." For additional information on Bragg's departure, click here for an article by Slate editor-at-large Jack Shaffer.

Rich in lessons, Illinois man named National Rural Teacher of the Year

A Central Illinois teacher, ideally named, is the National Rural Teacher of the Year.

"Rich Lessen teaches agriculture science, computers and related subjects at Delavan's junior and senior high school in Tazewell County," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

The schools has 230 students in grades seven to twelve. About half have Lessen as a teacher. Lessen told reporters the award could have gone to any teacher in the small district, but his colleagues cited Lessen's 24-hours-a-day devotion to his students. Lessen is to accept the award this fall during a convention in Tucson, Ariz. The school receives $1,000 for equipment as part of Lessen's award, which is sponsored by Deere and Company. Lessen also receives a $2,000 honorarium.

Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005

Alabama first to change eminent domain law after Supreme Court ruling

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has signed a bill prohibiting cities and counties from using eminent domain powers for private development or enhancing tax revenue, making it the first state to enact a law strengthening owners' property rights. Supporters fear developers could skirt the restrictions.

The move follows a controversial Supreme Court decision in June allowing a Connecticut city to take private property for use in an economic redevelopment project. But the Institute for Justice, which represented the New London, Conn., property owners in their fight, believes the Alabama law left a large loophole developers and cities can exploit, reports Greenwire. Site requires registration, membership. The law would allow eminent domain to be used to take "blighted" properties for private development.

Greenwire reports more than two dozen states are considering legislation limiting the use of eminent domain for private projects. The Supreme Court decision reaffirmed the use of eminent domain by cities and the taking of private property for just compensation as long as the land in question is for public use. At least six states are considering amending their constitutions to prohibit the practice.

Agriculture groups calling on farmers to join the national fight against meth

Farmers must get involved in fighting meth, a dangerous, highly addictive, illegal drug that is prevalent in many rural communities and requires a popular farm fertilizer for its production, say several ag groups.

Meth took center stage at the Gilfillan, Minn., "FarmFest" last week, writes Carol Stender of Agri-News. (Read more) Anhydrous ammonia is among several ingredients needed in meth production, said John Schutske, with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, and it is typically stored in portable LP gas containers. "This is a team effort. We all have to be working off the same page," Schutske said. Schutske cautioned the Farmfest crowd against entering an area where a meth lab may be operating. Meth users become violent because of the drug's effects and the residue from meth production is highly toxic.

Ginger Peterson, with the Minnesota River Valley Drug Task Force, said farmers should be vigilant in checking their properties. Any tip, no matter how insignificant it seems, could help law enforcement. Sometimes the tip can provide important information in an on-going investigation, and farmers should monitor all property including remote and abandoned buildings and vehicles, Peterson said.

State Sen. Julie Rosen said interest in fighting meth has increased, after years of some metro legislators not understanding the drug's effects on people and local governments in rural areas. Rosen has championed legislation limiting access to specific colds medicines that contain a meth ingredient, reports Stender.

The Iowa Hawkeye reports that many farm product suppliers in that state have begun locking-up their anhydrous ammonia in an effort to curb the increasing theft of the fertilizer for meth production. (Read more) The locks sell for $43. The newspaper reports that U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D–Iowa, secured $300,000 in federal funds for locks in several counties. Four counties are receiving locks this week.

Kentucky to study methadone deaths; lawsuit spotlights treatment facilities

Spurred along by a $2.8 million jury award to the family of a Leslie County man who died while being treated for drug addiction at a methadone clinic, Kentucky regulators want to monitor patients' deaths.

Mac Bell, administrator of the state agency that oversees 11 methadone programs in Kentucky, told Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader, "There is no investigation process for the state with the death of a client." (Read more) Bell said his office has no legal jurisdiction to investigate reported deaths. He said when there's a death, the report goes back to the program director.

A jury found the Hazard Professional Associates clinic negligent in the 2002 death of Jason Caldwell, 21. Pikeville attorney Gary C. Johnson said the former coal miner was injured in a car wreck and became addicted to the powerful painkiller, OxyContin. Johnson said Caldwell sought treatment at a Hazard clinic to "get off" OxyContin, but died five days later after receiving allegedly toxic doses of methadone. Bell said his agency receives reports of about five deaths a year at methadone clinics in the state, and the amount of methadone patients is on the rise. About 1,800 patients are being treated in Kentucky methadone clinics.

Official wants power plant air permit revisited; EPA to ensure lower emissions

A state hearing officer wants environmental regulators to re-examine an air quality permit issued for a proposed western Kentucky power plant that would consume lots of coal and create hundreds of jobs.

"An environmental activist applauded the recommendation by the state administrative hearing officer ... for further review of pollution-control methods planned by Peabody Energy for its proposed plant near Central City," writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. (Read more) The 1,500-megawatt plant would generate enough electricity for about 1 1/2 million families. Hank Graddy, an attorney for the Sierra Club, told AP if Peabody and regulators follow through with the recommendation, the state "will be in a better position to issue a more protective air-quality permit, and all Kentuckians can breathe a little easier."

A spokesperson for Peabody Energy, told Schreiner, "We look forward to quickly completing our review and response and to advancing the development of [the plant]." The company says the plant would generate clean, low-cost electricity while creating more than 450 permanent jobs, consuming more than 6 million tons of Kentucky coal each year and injecting tens of millions of dollars into the region's economy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to ensure that power plants in 28 states and the District of Columbia reduce emissions as required under the Clean Air Interstate Rule finalized in March, reports WasteNews.com (Read more). The proposal in part responds to a petition filed by North Carolina and advocacy groups Environmental Defense and the Southern Environmental Law Center. The parties expressed concern about whether the rule would adequately reduce pollution entering North Carolina from upwind states. Details about the EPA´s new implementation plan and how to submit comments to the agency are available online.

Cattlemen's group charges USDA targets, unfairly closes processing plants

A Montana cattlemen's group has accused the U.S. Department of Agriculture of trying to shut down federally inspected beef-processing plants in the state, a claim an agency spokeswoman has denied.

Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, told Becky Bohrer of The Associated Press, "Our agency runs on the letter of the law, and everyone is treated the same regardless of a plant's size or location." (Read more)

The USDA temporarily closed Ranchland Packing Co., a slaughter and processing plant in Butte, after an inspector last week found what Eamich described as unsanitary conditions, writes Bohrer. Dennis McDonald, president of the Montana Cattlemen's Association and chairman of the state Democratic Party, called the timing of that action and enforcement at other plants "disturbing."

McDonald told Bohrer the closures may be tied to efforts by Montana cattle producers to block the U.S. government's resumed cattle trade with Canada in the wake of mad-cow disease reports. McDonald, a member of R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, the ranchers' group that sued to prevent cattle and expanded beef trade with Canada, said, "If you line up the dots, it's pretty obvious what's happened."

The Montana Cattlemen's Association says the USDA is targeting small plants for "enforcement actions or suspension of operations" that could lead to closure. Eamich said the allegations are groundless, AP writes.

Federal bill promotes alternative fuels, could boost Arkansas farming

In a good example of putting a local spin on a national story, The Commercial reports southeast Arkansas farmers could find a better marketplace for soybeans and corn in a few years as a result of federal legislation that encourages alternative fuels.

"The new [energy] policy, signed Monday by President Bush, will promote cleaner and alternative fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. The policy could build a better market for some crops required to produce the fuels," writes J. Griffin Coop of Pine Bluff, Ark., newspaper. (Read more)

The Arkansas Farm Bureau favored the legislation because it provides an expanded market for the crops and makes the country less dependent on foreign fuels. Audie Ayer, communication coordinator for Arkansas Farm Bureau, told Coop, "We're seeing different places bringing (alternative fuel) in and selling it, and the demand here can be built up to the point where Arkansas farmers can produce it right here."

Coop writes that local farmers and industry representatives have shown an interest in building an alternative fuel plant in the area. Don Plunkett, of the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Service, said some groups disagree about which crop should be emphasized. Farmers have favored a soy diesel plant, which would take advantage of the area's heavy soybean production, while industries have favored an ethanol plant, which would require more corn production.

Iowan forms Center for Agriculture Security, seeks protection for food supply

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge has formed a new division within her department -- The Center for Agriculture Security -- to coordinate efforts to protect the state's food supply.

Judge told reporters that because the state leads the nation in pork, egg, corn and soybean production, it is vitally important that the state protect its food supply. She also says it's an economic concern, with agriculture contributing more than $13 billion to the state's economy and providing 160,000 jobs, writes The Associated Press. (Read more)

Judge appointed Jane Colacecchi, the agency's executive liaison, to head the new center. Colacecchi has been coordinating the agency's homeland security policy with federal agencies. Judge told reporters the only other state she knows of with such a center is Georgia. Judge has announced plans to run for governor next year, but Colacecchi told AP the timing of the announcement was not politically motivated.

Georgia voter ID bus tour aims to boost turnout; critics skeptical of venture

Georgia officials, responding to criticism of the state's new voter ID law, are putting a bus on the road to issue photo identification cards to low-income people.

"The bus will roll Sept. 1, with the goal of helping Georgians meet the requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls --- and defusing criticism that the law will disenfranchise the poor, elderly and minorities," writes Nancy Badertscher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Read more)

Critics doubt the effort can help the many poorer residents of the state who don't have a driver's license or photo ID, especially those in rural areas, far from the offices of the Department of Driver Services. State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, told the newspaper, "It's a public relations gimmick." State Sen. Tim Golden (D-Valdosta), who represents parts of rural South Georgia, told Badertscher, "They said it was about getting rid of fraud, but it's really about trying to keep people from voting." Jesse Jackson has blasted the ID law, and former President Bill Clinton has criticized the plan as "just wrong."

The Republican-led state legislation approved the ID requirement ostensibly to make voter registration more voter-friendly and to combat fraud at the polls. "Critics have said it's the most restrictive law of its type in the nation and would hinder groups they say tend to favor Democrats," writes Badertscher. AARP Georgia research shows more than 150,000 Georgians age 65 or over did not have a driver's license when they voted in the 2004 elections. AARP also estimates that one out of every three Georgians over age 75 doesn't have a driver's license.

Newspaper mounts campaign against city business license fee 'on principle'

In an old-fashioned display of civic hell-fire and brimstone, more typical of papers of a bygone era, and bigger cities, the Kentucky New Era has mounted a protest in print, and in civic action against a city-mandated business license fee. The paper says the fee discourages corporate and entrepreneurial efforts that could benefit the area. (Stories no longer archived)

The newspaper’s president and general manager, Chuck Henderson, wrote Hopkinsville Mayor Rich Liebe charging, “The negative message this ordinance sends far exceeds the small amount of dollars you will receive by taxing the citizens who are only trying to make this community a better place to live.”

The newspaper has backed-up its fight against the fee with several articles on the dispute, and refused last week to supply the city council with information about its board members who could be subject to the fee. The city’s business license ordinance was adopted seven years ago. The city began collecting the fee on corporate directors two years ago.

Henderson questioned how the policy would encourage corporations to do business in Hopkinsville. He also told Mayor Liebe that he (Henderson) and “the newspaper’s publisher, Taylor Hayes, are not personally affected by the license fee because they do not receive stipends to attend New Era board meetings." Other board members, however, receive $300 a month.

The city says it will seek advice from its attorney, Steve Underwood, to decide if it should take legal action against the newspaper.

Obituary: Ex-Observer editor and columnist, called 'rock of newsroom,' dies

Stan Brennan, a former editor for the Charlotte Observer, died at age 74 yesterday at Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy in Charlotte, N.C.

"Complications from liver disease took him, but not before he filled his life with family, jazz, books, bridge games and a colorful career," writes Ken Garfield of the Charlotte Observer. (Read more) A graveside service will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Sharon Memorial Park, 5400 Monroe Road. Visitation will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Rollins' home, 8513 Tintinhull Lane in Union County.

Brennan began his newspaper career in 1949 as a copy boy for the Birmingham (Ala.) Post. He started at the Observer in 1964, tackling a series of newsroom jobs that led to his home away from home, the metro desk at night, writes Garfield. Brennan eventually supervised the metro desk and wrote columns.

Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2005

Daylight saving time, ethanol, coal are winners in freshly signed energy law

President Bush signed the huge energy bill yesterday. It is a measure with few guarantees, other than daylight saving time will last four weeks longer and energy companies will get billions in tax breaks, with the express goal of reducing dependence on foreign oil by fostering new technologies.

The time change will make clocks "spring forward" on the second Sunday of March and "fall back" on the first Sunday of November, beginning in 2007. The current schedule starts on the first Sunday of April and ends on the last Sunday of October. Canada and Mexico are considering whether to follow suit. That is big news in some rural areas; Kentucky's weekly Gallatin County News put it on last week's front page.

The bill has $14.5 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas producers, ethanol makers, users of technology to burn coal more cleanly, and "smaller incentives for consumers who use cleaner-burning fuels produced in this country," report Jim VandeHei and Justin Blum of The Washington Post.

"Analysts say it is unlikely most Americans will see a noticeable improvement in their energy costs in the short term. But supporters said the new law is designed to provide a long-term lift to the fuels of the future, including cleaner-burning coal and a new generation of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles," the Post says. "Ethanol, for instance, is a big winner under the new law because it is often produced from corn, a popular and plentiful crop in the Midwest, where many states are considered up for grabs in next year's election."

Assaults on rangers, park police indicate crime rates increasing in U.S. parks

When Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reported that ""National Park Service officers are 12 times more likely to be killed or injured as a result of an assault than FBI agents," the Christian Science Monitor concluded that crime is increasing in national parks.

The Monitor's Brad Knickerbocker writes, "Hideaway methamphetamine labs and marijuana fields in rural park areas (some of them run by drug cartels) and illegal aliens crossing through parks near the U.S.-Mexico border are part of a growing crime scene. But like increasing incidents of road rage, the stress of modern urban life, especially in the post-9/11 world of terrorism, may have something to do with it."

PEER said commissioned law-enforcement officers of the NPS were assaulted 111 times in 2004, and nearly a third resulted in injury. The figures were 106 in 2003and 98 in 2002.

National forests are increasingly islands surrounded by housing, study says

National forests are beginning to look like green islands of green in an expanding sea of new houses, "a forestry researcher will report today at the 90th annual Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in Montreal," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

"The widening circle of development around forests such as the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California is serving to block natural corridors, or wild "highways" that enable plants and wildlife to move easily between nearby forests, says Volker Radeloff, a forestry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Radeloff analyzed government census data on housing increases in and near all U.S. national forests between 1950 and 2000 . . . in collaboration with UW-Madison graduate students and the North Central Research Station of the United States Forest Service." For images, click here.

Radeloff also found that housing growth inside forest proclamation boundaries, the areas in which the Forest Service can buy property. :Between 1950 and 2000, the number of housing units within national forest boundaries increased from 500,000 to 1.5 million, an increase Radeloff largely attributes to inholdings, or parcels of forest land owned by private citizens," largely in the East, Newswise reports.

Supporter kills opponent in Iraq war argument; local papers play it differently

"It was bound to happen sooner or later, and in what newspapers in Kentucky are calling a first, one American has killed another in a dispute over the Iraq war," Editor and Publisher reports.

"It happened at Floyd County flea market on Thursday, when two friends, who were firearms vendors there, drew guns after quarreling about the war. Douglas Moore, 65, of Martin, who backs the war, shot and killed Harold Wayne Smith, 56, of Manchester, who opposed it, according to investigators. Moore was released without being charged after he convinced police he had acted in self-defense. A grand jury may yet hear evidence in the case. Commonwealth's Attorney Brent Turner said the episode might mark the first death in the U.S. due to a dispute over the war."

"Harold was talking about the 14 people that were killed in Iraq the other day and Doug said that just as many people were killed on the highways here," Sam Hamman, a witness, told the Floyd County Times. Hamman said Moore "pulled his gun out and said, 'I'm going to shoot your brains out,' I heard him say that, and Doug pulled his gun out and shot him." For the Times story, click here (free registration required). The Times downplayed the Iraq angle, unlike the competing regional newspaper, the Big Sandy News, which headlined "Argument over war leads to shooting." For its paid-subscription site, click here.

Yahoo claims its search-engine index is the Internet's largest

Yahoo Inc. said yesterday that its online search engine index "now spans more than 20 billion Web documents and images, nearly double" that of Google Inc, The Associated Press reports. "Yahoo's expansion doesn't necessarily mean it produces more useful results than Google, which has long been considered the Internet's most comprehensive database."

Until now, Yahoo hadn't disclosed the size of its index, but informed estimates had placed the figure somewhere between 6 billion and 8 billion. Google spokesman Nate Tyler declined to comment.

"Yahoo has had its sights set on Google since early last year when it introduced its own search technology and index to end a business partnership between the two companies," AP reports. "For the previous 3½ years, Yahoo had been licensing its search results through Google — an arrangement that helped turn its rival into one of the Internet's biggest success stories."

Reporters in Pennsylvania can be deposed in intelligent-design case

Two York, Pa., newspaper reporters who wrote that school-board members "discussed creationism during public meetings can be questioned by lawyers for a school district that has been sued over its intelligent design teaching requirement, a federal judge ruled Aug. 2 ... but cannot have access to one reporter's notes and another's e-mails pertaining to two school board meetings in June 2004," AP reports.

"At issue is the theory of intelligent design, which holds that the universe is so complex, it must have been created by some kind of guiding force. The school district is believed to be the nation's first to require that students be told about intelligent design during biology lessons on evolution. The board adopted the changes in October. The school board destroyed the taped recordings of the meetings."

The Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school board, sought to depose the reporters in case the plaintiffs -- eight families represented by the American Civil Liberties Union -- call them as witnesses. The York Dispatch and the York Daily Record/Sunday News wanted to block having the reporters deposed, saying the plaintiffs could simply interview other witnesses to board meetings.

South Florida SPJ Board asks Miami Herald to reconsider columnist's firing

"The officers and board of directors of the South Florida Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists are dismayed at the dismissal of Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede," they said in a statement yesterday. "We urge Herald executives to reconsider the summary firing of DeFede, one of Florida?s finest journalists. No one questions the Herald's right to make management decisions, but we believe that decisions made under extraordinary circumstances and pressures do merit revisiting."

DeFede tape-recorded a phone conversation with Miami-Dade Councilman Arthur E. Teele Jr. without his knowledge, moments before Teele shot himself in the Herald's lobby. Florida law bans taping of a conversation without consent.

"Unquestionably, DeFede made a mistake," the SPJ chapter said. "But we believe that error in judgment should be weighed against more than a decade of excellent journalism in Miami that DeFede has produced. We assert that Jim DeFede is a complete professional and ethical journalist who made an error in judgment under pressure and who came forward to his supervisors to admit that he made the tape with a humane concern for his source's well-being."

SPJ, whose membership includes many managers of journalistic enterprises, has a general policy of not becoming involved in employer-employee disputes, but local chapters are not bound by the policy.

Police say Pennsylvania newspaper reporter snared in Internet sex sting

A reporter for The Times Leader, circulation 42,285, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has been charged with trying to arrange a sexual encounter via the Internet with an undercover officer posing as a 13-year-old girl.

"Police found a digital camera, condoms, ropes and duct tape in Steve Sembrat's car, and he admitted he was going to use them on the teenager, police said," AP reported. "Sembrat, 48, has worked at the Times Leader since 1987. He recently moved from the sports department to a health beat."

"I am shocked and saddened that a long career of a prolific writer appears to be coming to an end," said Pat McHugh, president and publisher of the Times Leader, circulation 42,585. "He said the paper plans to fire Sembrat," AP reported. "Sembrat, being held in lieu of $250,000 bail, called the Times Leader on Aug. 1 and said he plans to admit to the allegations, the newspaper said."

Judge clears arrest from record of photographer in Muncie, Ind.

"A judge has cleared the record of a newspaper photographer who was arrested on an allegation that he roughed up the friend of a shooting victim," AP reports. "Randolph Superior Court Judge Peter Haviza issued the order Aug. 3, saying the prosecutor's office indicated it did not intend to file charges against Kurt Hostetler, who works for The Star Press of Muncie," circulation 32,215.

Hostetler, 35, was arrested April 13 while taking photographs at park where a man had been shot that evening. A friend of the victim told police that Hostetler approached him, grabbed his shirt, ripped it and bruised his shoulder. The man said he then kicked the photographer's car. Hostetler denied assaulting him.

Monday, Aug. 8, 2005

Rural school districts facing teacher shortage; low pay cited as one reason

The No Child Left Behind education law, passed in 2002, will make it more difficult for rural school districts to recruit teachers, rural educators told Raju Chebium of Gannett News Service, who writes, “Rural school districts traditionally have had a tough time attracting teachers because they can't pay as well as metropolitan schools or offer the amenities of cities."

New teachers must have completed coursework for the subjects they teach or pass proficiency tests. Current teachers may take the exams or opt to satisfy proficiency requirements by taking college classes or professional development seminars. All teachers must have bachelor's degrees. Rural teachers tend to handle several subjects on many grade levels. In order for schools to get subject-specific teachers, states will need money to compete for the best teachers, writes Chebium.

"The real problem is No Child Left Behind was designed to correct the ills of the educational system in urban areas," said Bob Mooneyham of the National Rural Education Association, based in Oklahoma. "Very little consideration was given to this supply-and-demand factor for rural teachers. It's not like a student is graduating from a university and setting their sights on rural America to teach."

Mainly urban states such as New Jersey, Connecticut and California have higher teacher pay than mainly rural states such as West Virginia, Montana and the Dakotas, according to a recent National Education Association survey. Urban school districts also average higher pay than rural ones. With fewer students, rural schools can't justify higher teacher pay, Mooneyham told Chebium. (Click here to read more)

Rural college graduates migrating to urban locales, but long to come home

"One of the surest routes to the American Dream is a college education, but recent news accounts would suggest that this road to social mobility has created a rural 'brain drain,' with college grads leaving for hipper cities and more pleasant climates in such dramatic numbers that states such as Iowa will face severe shortages of educated workers within the next two decades,” Maria Kefalas and Patrick Carr write in a Des Moines Register column. (Read more)

"As part of the MacArthur Foundation's Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, we led a group of researchers to a farming community in northeastern Iowa to learn about how young Iowans are making their way into adulthood. As we talked about the twists and turns their lives had taken since high school, we found that it is simply a mistake to assume young people are rushing to exchange their 'Little House on the Prairie' upbringings for 'Sex in the City' lifestyles," continue Kefalas and Carr.

"One thing we realized from our study is that it is wrong to assume that youth who leave have no respect for their communities. They want their communities to thrive, and they are sad to leave them. Many told us they would like to come back, if they could," write Kefalas and Carr.

"What can small towns do to make it easier for them to stay? First, communities must cultivate the connection the young adults feel toward their community, and they must capitalize on its benefits: affordability, slower pace, and a strong civic life. Second, rather than focusing on the loss of "college-educated" singles, why not invest more aggressively in the hard-working and talented young people (many of whom have families and two-year college degrees) who opt to remain in the state?" they conclude.

Pre-packaged rural: Pennsylvania development promises 'Olde Towne' feeling

"Out in the undulating green farmland of Westmoreland County (Maryland), Route 819 and Forbes Trail Road form a lonely crossroads in Hempfield. This rural junction is watched over by a few faded barns, and is easily missed in a blink through the windshields of speeding motorists. But if developers have their way, this piece of great wide open space soon will be the seed of a new community, the main street of a 700-acre 'traditional neighborhood development' called Northpointe," writes Caitlin Cleary of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Read more)

Developers want to build a densely organized and pedestrian-friendly "town" featuring up to 2,000 single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, carriage homes and larger estates, said Mike Rosen, a Philadelphia architect. Northpointe, a traditional neighborhood development (TND), would take eight to 10 years to complete, reports Cleary, and follow a "smart growth" plan with no big-box stores or huge parking lots.

Approximately 300 TNDs exist nationwide and the most well known is Celebration, Fla., a town built by the Walt Disney Co. "It is one thing to create a brand-new 'Olde Towne' in an area already surrounded or threatened by the creep of suburban sprawl -- such as Celebration, near Orlando. But is it still 'smart growth' to build a TND out in the middle of the countryside, within miles of small towns like Irwin and Jeannette, which are struggling to revitalize themselves?" asks Cleary.

Alex Graziani, executive director of the county's Smart Growth Partnership, said that modern zoning separates residential and commercial property more effectively than ever before. "People are looking for that neighborhood diversity and community, a small-town feel," Graziani told Cleary. "The challenge that many towns in Western Pennsylvania face is that their infrastructure has not kept pace with the needs of today. A lot of us love the look and feel of the older neighborhoods, but we don't like old wiring."

Night lights: Maryland residents seeking limits on growth to curb illumination

"Patricia Meagher decided the newcomers flooding into Calvert County had finally gone too far when a blinding light woke her in the middle of the night. It turned out a new neighbor had installed a security lamp so bright that it seemed to her like mid-afternoon," writes Amit R. Paley of The Washington Post.

In the last 30 years, tens of thousands of city residents and suburbanites have flocked to the Southern Maryland county and some of them want to regulate outdoor lighting. "This is a rural county. Why does he want to make it all lit up like Alexandria?" Meagher asked. In an area where urban sprawl is constantly being debated, the two opposing sides are now light and darkness, reports Paley. (Read more)

Several Maryland counties already have outdoor lighting regulations. "It's all part of the grass-roots movement to try and control development," said Rob McKinney, president of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club. Increased illumination may just be one more sign that are rural towns are becoming bedroom communities, writes Paley.

For the city residents moving to bedroom communities, the main problem is not having enough light. "I think this county needs to join the 21st century," John Eney, a Baltimore native who moved to Calvert nine years ago, told Paley. "It's ridiculous that people have to fumble around in the dark under starlight."

Mercury from coal-fired power plants is being found in bats, songbirds

Emissions from coal-burning power plants are being blamed for increased levels of mercury among bats in Mammoth Cave National Park and songbirds in the Adirondacks and in New England, The Courier-Journal reported yesterday and The New York Times reported today.

Western Kentucky University and Mammoth cave park experts, who conducted the research aimed at measuring the amount of toxic metals in park wildlife, said the endangered Indiana bat is among those with excess mercury levels,” writes The C-J's Jim Bruggers. (Read more)

Bats are consuming insects that feed on animals infected by mercury found in microscopic plants, Briggers reports. Mammoth Cave officials are putting most of the blame on power-plant emissions, which utilities says they are reducing. Kentucky is being labeled a mercury "hot spot" thanks to several coal-fired plants ,and all 120 counties in the state have mercury warnings about consuming fish. Park officials are also worried that coal-fired plants could hurt plants and rare or endangered mussels and cave shrimp.

The Times story by Anthony DePalma talks about researchers looking for signs of mercury in songbirds in New York, after finding it in New England and the Adirondacks. If they find elevated mercury in songbirds, that would bode ill for a watershed that 9 million people use for drinking water. (Read more)

When mercury from power plants in the Midwest comes into contact with water, it becomes a toxin, DePalma explains. Scientists thought problem was limited to water, but songbirds never go into water.

Experimental vaccine shows promising results in fight against bird flu

As states scramble to prepare for an outbreak of bird flu, researchers report some progress toward a vaccine against the disease that spreads through Asian poultry and could infect chickens in rural America.

The report is "the first evidence that any inoculation could provide a powerful weapon against the deadly microbe," writes Rob Stein of The Washington Post. Two doses of a vaccine produced a response potent enough to neutralize the virus in tests on 113 volunteers taking part in a study being conducted at University of Maryland at Baltimore, the University of Rochester in New York and the University of California at Los Angeles, reports Stein. (Read more)

More testing is needed to determine how the experimental vaccine could be used, and scientists must determine how to produce and distribute large of the vaccine, said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"These are very important studies," said Michael T. Osterholm of the University of Minnesota. "This is confirmation of what we hoped would be the case. We all had anticipated that two doses were going to work. If it didn't, we would be in trouble." The U.S. government purchased 2 million doses of the vaccine.

Health officials are worried about a strain of flu virus known as H5N1, which has infected birds in Asia, and 100-plus humans in the last 18 months, killing nearly half. Millions of Asian birdshave been slaughtered to halt the virus' spread, and scientists have worked non-stop to find a vaccine.

In West Virginia, no hotbed of chicken production, "state agencies are preparing for and working to prevent a possibly devastating outbreak of avian influenza," writes Morgan Kelly of the Charleston Gazette. "Although the likelihood of a pandemic is uncertain, humanity’s vulnerability to this particular strain is causing concern that an outbreak could overwhelm unprepared health facilities." (Read more)

Tyson settlement over hog farmers' contracts means two plant closings

Tyson Foods Inc. will pay $42.5 million in a settlement with 85 hog farmers, close two Mississippi processing plants and leave 320 Arkansas residents without jobs, writes Cristal Cody of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (Read more; subscription required)

The settlement comes after nearly three years of fighting by farmers who got stuck with bills when Tyson canceled contracts. The settlement still won't cover farmers' bills because of all the legal fees, plaintiffs told Tyson announced in August 2002 that it would end contracts with 132 hog farmers in Arkansas and Oklahoma. A quarter of the farmers accepted buyouts, but the rest joined the lawsuit, reports Cody.

The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the farmers in February 2004 saying they could sue rather than adhere to arbitration clauses in Tyson's contracts, writes Cody.

Mountaintop removal for coal: Property rights and 'Potemkin villages'

Stronglyn worded arguments on both sides of the debate about mountaintop-removal mining in Central Appalachia apear in today's Lexington Herald-Leader.

Mining engineer David Sanders of Pikeville, Ky., recalls the sale of mineral rights in the region a century ago and says those who would limit or ban the practice "are trying to wrestle away our remaining surface rights." He says he wants "economic diversity" in the region and "I cannot think of a single industrial park in the coalfields that was not developed on a reclaimed mine site."

Author Bob Sloan of Morehead, Ky., says mountaintop developments are like the "Potemkin villages" created to mislead Catherine the Great, because they are one-of-a-kind projects like a golf course in Prestonsburg, Ky., or have problems with subsidence of "dead ground," which creates structural problems for buildings elrected on reclaimed sites. (Click here to read more from either writer.)

Branson attracting upscale developments, hopes to remain 'slice of America'

"Here in the lush foothills of the Ozarks it is barely 9 a.m., with temperatures inching toward 100, and already throngs are pushing into Silver Dollar City. It's an 1880s-era theme park that launches every day with the Pledge of Allegiance, hosts four packed Sunday Christian services and requires customers to dress in appropriate family attire,” Lois Romano of The Washington Post writes from Branson, Mo.

Seven million people come every year to Branson, to see live entertainment, camp, fish and chow down on all-you-can-eat buffets. Serving up down home entertainment, Branson is a summer hot spot for Mid-American families, veterans, conservatives and others, reports Romano. Now, city officials and business leaders want to attract a more sophisticated clientele. Next year, a $400 million lakefront complex will open with two Hiltons, a large convention center and upscale shops.

"Branson will always be a slice of America," said local Chamber of Commerce President Ross Summers. "We never intend to alienate our base. . . . [But] we're aiming at a new market that might be more upscale -- people who have a preconceived notion that Branson is just country shows ... and senior travelers."

Branson has always been a low-cost vacation spot, and the average visitor has a household income of $55,000, stays less than four days and spends $217. Forty percent come from within a 300-mile radius. Businessman Steve Presley told Romano the development challenge will be to keep "the personal, hometown feeling that built Branson." (Read more)

TVA ordered to connect Kentucky co-op with new source of electricity

"The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Wednesday ordered the Tennessee Valley Authority to interconnect its power system with East Kentucky Power Cooperative, which eventually will provide power to Warren Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. The order also allows TVA to recover costs related to the connection," writes Robyn Minor of the Daily News of Bowling Green, Ky.

TVA spokesman Gil Francis said the interconnections proposal is not proper. He said TVA "lawfully" declined East Kentucky's request to provide transmission service to WRECC, or in the alternative to purchase that service, reports Minor.

A prior ruling asked TVA and East Kentucky Power to collaborate on the connection issue, but no agreement occurred, writes Minor. Under the Federal Power Act, an interconnection may be ordered if it "would encourage overall conservation of energy or capital, optimize efficiency of use of facilities and resources, or improves the reliability of any electric utility system to which the order applies."

East Kentucky is slated to start providing electric service to Warren in 2008. "At present, WRECC serves several hundred thousand residents in eight counties with TVA power," reports Minor. (Read more)

Sunday, Aug. 7, 2005

'Dukes' makes fun of white, rural Southerners, asks them to laugh along

The Dukes of Hazzard movie "sells itself as a good-natured exercise in rebel pride, a red-blooded red-state romp replete with moonshine, shotguns, stock car rallies and Southern belles," writes New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott. "But let's be honest: what this really is is a white-face minstrel show, which happily traffics in stereotypes, hoping that the people being made fun of - white, rural Southerners - will laugh along instead of picketing or writing angry letters." (Read more)

Scott also notes, "There is also, by the way, quite a lot of swearing for a PG-13 movie." This echoes the criticism of Ben Jones, who played Cooter in the television series that belatedly spawned the movie of the same name, served briefly in the U.S. House from Georgia and now makes a living off memorabilia and memories from the TV show. Here is the Cooter's Place Web site.

Jones "was right when he warned fans away from this mess. Stay far away. Or stay home and rent the TV series. . . . It's every bit as bad as you thought it'd be. Only worse," reports Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in a review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, perhaps more relevant than most because the movie suggests that it is set in Georgia. "The movie's version of the city — probably shot at the Warner Bros. Ranch — looks about as much like Atlanta as Sheboygan does Paris," Gillespie writes.

In the Lexington Herald-Leader, Rich Copley calls the movie "a raunchy, humorless betrayal of the source material. . . . here's the social commentary. Dear southeastern United States: Hollywood thinks you're stupid. Surprise. Just when we thought maybe we were over this." Whether such reviews will have much impact remains to be seen; late Sunday, we learned the move was No. 1 over the weekend.

Bluefield editor wins top journalism prize in West Virginia from press group

Bluefield Daily Telegraph Executive Editor Tom Colley won "the most prestigious award presented to a journalist" at the West Virginia Press Association convention last night, his paper reports.(Read more)

Colley accepted the Adam R. Kelly Premier Journalist Award at the association's Better Newspaper Awards banquet, "attended by several hundred newspaper publishers, editors and writers from throughout the state," the Telegraph's Barbara Hawkins writes from the Morgantown event.

"The award, which is kept a secret until the presentation, goes annually to recognize a distinguished journalist who has rendered outstanding service to his or her community and to the journalism profession, including service to the WVPA." The Telegraph, which also circulates in adjoining Virginia, has a circulation of about 19,000 and is owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Colley has headed a committee that promotes literacy in the Bluefield region and West Virginia. He is one of five Mercer County representatives to America's Promise, a national program for children at risk.

In the Better Newspaper Awards competition between the state's two largest papers, the Charleston Daily Mail won 12 awards and the Charleston Gazette won nine. The Daily Mail won for business and labor coverage, legal issues and courts reporting, front page, best headline, informational graphic, lifestyles page, lifestyles feature story, feature photography, news photography, single issue, sports columns and sports features. The Gazette won for governmental affairs reporting, best written news story, business page or section, best columnist, sports photos, service to the community; single editorial and special section.

Saturday, Aug. 6, 2005

OSM adds Kentucky, West Virginia cities to list of stream-rule hearing sites

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining has added Hazard, Ky., and Charleston, W. Va., to the list of sites for public meetings about changes to a federal rule that prohibits coal mining within 100 feet of streams. This is a key rule affecting mountaintop-removal coal mines, which fill headwaters with rock and dirt.

When OSM announced in June that it would conduct a detailed study of its proposal to change the stream buffer zone rule, it said it “would hold meetings on the study in Pittsburgh; Knoxville, Tenn.; Alton, Ill.; Denver; and Washington. None of those cities is within the nation’s top three coal producing states — Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky,” reports Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette.

OSM had dropped Denver and Alton -- which is near St. Louis, home of major coal firms Arch and Peabody -- and replaced them with meetings Aug. 23 in Hazard and Aug. 24 in Charleston. "An announcement of the meeting times and places is expected to be published next week in the Federal Register," Ward reported, citing an e-mail from OSM scientist Dave Hartos. (Read more)

“In January 2003, OSM had proposed to essentially eliminate the 20-year-old stream buffer zone rule, which generally prohibits mining activity within 100 feet of streams,” Ward recounts. To mine within the zone, “companies must show that their operations will not cause water quality violations or 'adversely affect the water quantity and quality, or other environmental resources of the stream.'” OSM has proposed a weaker rule, allowing mining “if a company showed that it would 'to the extent possible, using the best technology currently available' prevent additional solids from leaching into the stream and 'minimize disturbances and adverse impacts on fish, wildlife and other related environmental values of the stream.'”

OSM is taking written comments until 4 p.m. Aug. 15. Mail to EIS Scoping, SBZ Rulemaking Comments, OSM Appalachian Region, 3 Parkway Center, Pittsburgh, PA 15220. E-mail to SBZ-EIS@osmre.gov.

Roanoke Times concludes multimedia series on Virginia's Heritage Music Trail

Reporter Ralph Berrier Jr., photographer Kyle Green and multimedia editor Seth Gitner of The Roanoke Times have published a fine series of stories, photos and video about people and places on The Crooked Road, Virginia's Heritage Music Trail, concluding with a report yesterday from the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, featuring Janette Carter, last surviving child of country-music pioneers A.P. and Sara Carter.

The series also includes reports from the towns of Ferrum (home of the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College), Floyd (a live music hotbed), Galax (home of the Old Fiddlers Convention), Clintwood (site of the new Ralph Stanley Museum), Grayson County (where guitar maker Wayne Henderson has finally finished a long-overdue order from Eric Clapton) and Bristol, the Tennessee-Virginia city where the Carters, Jimmie Rodgers and the Stonemans (whose daughter Roni has returned to southwest Virginia from Nashville) recorded the first commercial country music in 1927. On the Web, the series has extra photos, videos, podcasts, suggested side trips, radio guides, recipes, maps and Lord knows what else.

Berrier grew up in Cana in Carroll County, "right in the middle of mountain music territory," and among musicians, the paper says. He begins and ends the series at the grave of his grandfather, a musician, with virtually the same words: "I am standing at my grandfather's grave. A summer storm is gathering in the west beyond the Blue Ridge."

Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

Soldiers come home to find rural doctors won't accept military health plan

Tricare contractors say finding doctors who accept military patients in rural areas is becoming a major headache, a problem exacerbated by the number of guardsmen and reservists returning from overseas,” writes Leo Shane III of Stars and Stripes. (Read more)

Scott Celley, a vice president for TriWest Healthcare Alliance, said in Oregon and Iowa, which have few military facilities, several physicians lack experience in dealing with military patients or the Tricare system that active duty solders may use. There are reserves and National Guard soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who are come home to rural communities not ready for veterans. “They’re not just coming back around military bases. They’re all over the state,” Celley told Shane.

TriWest is contracted by the Defense Department to administer military health care in 21 Western states. Celley said his company is working to identify doctors in rural areas and get them to accept Tricare payments. TriWest has signed up about 95,000 providers, mostly in California. In Minnesota and Utah, the company averages one doctor per 50 square miles. “If there are providers out there, we’re doing everything we can to get them into the system,” Celley told Shane.

In Idaho, the number of doctors who accept Tricare jumped from 400 to 1,600 in the past year. But on Monday during a Congressional hearing in Idaho, state and Defense Department officials said Western states have a problem with physician accessibility generally. TriWest CEO David McIntyre said that in areas outside a 40-mile radius of military treatment facilities, it is difficult to find physicians who provide the necessary services. “Those gaps are happening across the West in varying degrees,” Celley told Shane. “We’ve been meeting with congressional representatives to see what can be done about that.”

Rural communities must prepare better for terrorism, columnist says

"Small, rural communities like mine are probably less likely than New York, Washington, or London to be a target [for terrorists]. That doesn’t mean, however, that such communities can afford not to prepare. While rural America doesn’t have the big-city targets preferred by terrorists thus far, it is home to water supplies, power plants, military installations, and agricultural enterprises that provide not just for rural people, but for the entire Nation. Beyond all that, rural communities—particularly those within an hour or two of major metropolitan areas—will be the places urbanites flee to when disaster strikes," writes Thomas D. Rowley, a fellow at the Rural Policy Research Institute. (Read more)

"According to a recent report, 'Preparing for Public Health Emergencies: Meeting the Challenges in Rural America,' multiple barriers limit rural areas’ ability to respond to terrorist attacks and other public health emergencies: lack of high-speed telecommunications prevents the fast communication and information transfer needed in a crisis; small populations make it tough to diagnose an outbreak of unfamiliar yet deadly diseases like anthrax, smallpox, or avian flu; shortage of medical, safety, and public health professionals, equipment and technology hinders the ability to plan for and respond to disasters," reports Rowley.

"In his introductory letter to the report, Pennsylvania Congressman John Peterson writes that many rural communities lack the basic public health and health care infrastructures needed to handle a large-scale emergency. On top of that, failing to account for the massive strain put upon rural systems by people fleeing urban areas after a disaster is 'naïve and misguided.'" writes Rowley.

An editorial in Sunday’s New York Times criticized Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) for seeking a minimum amount of Homeland Security funds for every state, calling her attempt "an irresponsible formula, which showers antiterrorism money on rural America." (Read more) "Never mind that Collins' minimums are but a tiny fraction of the overall package. Or that she also calls for prioritizing higher-risk targets. Or that rural vulnerability can easily translate into urban pain. Or that instead of robbing rural Peter to pay urban Paul, we ought to be seeking enough funds to better protect everybody," concludes Rowley.

American Bar Assn. may support federal protection for journalists' sources

"The American Bar Association has resurrected a plan to endorse federal protection for journalists who refuse to reveal their sources to prosecutors, after the jailing of one reporter and threats against others. The association, the nation's largest lawyers' group, declined 30 years ago to support a shield law for reporters." reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

The group's policy-making board will start taking votes Monday. Endorsement of the shield law would let the group lobby Congress, where reporter privilege bills are pending, writes AP. "This is a ripe topic," said Landis Best, a media lawyer in New York who worked on the proposal. "Not just lawyers and not just journalists are talking about it."

Not all lawyers are supportive. "The national government has certain kinds of compelling interests that conflict with the right of the press to keep their sources confidential, like national defense and security," John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked in the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003, told AP.

Newspaper's owner welcomes criticism, advises union to reject provision

"If employees at the York (Pa.) Daily Record want to criticize owner William Dean Singleton, that is apparently OK with him," writes Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher. (Read more)

Singleton, vice chair and CEO of MediaNews Group, which owns the paper, said he opposes a contract provision being put forth by the paper's negotiators that would ban workers from criticizing the company. "If I were the union, I wouldn't agree to that, I wouldn't sign it," Singleton told E&P. "It is not something I would put in a proposal. I'm a First Amendment guy." More negotiations are scheduled this month.

The non-disparagement clause is one of several proposals that Daily Record negotiators put in a contract proposal offer last month. The one-line provision, which sits among a long list of prohibited activities, bars "disparagement of the company whether this occurs on or off company property." Leaders of the York Newspaper Guild Local 38218 are fighting the provision, calling it a violation of free speech.

Singleton first learned about the clause from E&P. "I personally don't think much of it," he told E&P. "I didn't know about it until I read your story. I didn't know why that was on the table. It is not something I would have put on the table."

Land sales in rural Texas boom despite no roads, water, sewer or electricity

"State Route 2017 runs down to the Rio Grande and the Mexican border. Drug smugglers and illegal immigrants pass through here. So do the Border Patrol agents that pursue them, and cowboys heading to a nearby ranch. No one else bothers. The land is sandy and bleak, full of gullies and rattlesnakes. Yet this parched ground is increasing in value faster than any Manhattan duplex or Malibu villa," writes David Streitfeld of the Los Angeles Times. (Read more)

In February, a California man bought 7,408 acres for $65 an acre in Valentine, Texas (population 217). He promptly sold them in small and big chunks. There are thousands of new owners throughout rural West Texas, but they nearly all own raw, undeveloped land without water, electricity, sewers, roads and other amenities, reports Streitfeld. "You could live there in a tent, if you could find your land," said Jeff Davis County Clerk Sue Blackley. "But you'd have to helicopter everything in."

"The fact that this land is being sold off piecemeal probably guarantees that it will never have electric power or streets," writes Streitfeld. "Developers want to work with large tracts they control, not hundreds of small plots whose owners are unlikely to agree on what improvements they will pay for. Developers also like to build within sight of growing cities. Valentine, however, is a long way from anywhere. El Paso is 160 miles west, San Antonio 450 miles east. That's a tough commute, even in Texas."

Valentine’s heyday occurred in 1890, "when it boasted two saloons, a meat market, a hotel and a store," reports Streitfeld. "Not much to do here now but drink beer," said Robert Murry, who left a job with the circus six months ago to help his mother open a grocery store. It's the town’s sole business.

Maryland agricultural reserve presses forward despite development threat

"Montgomery County's agricultural reserve is home to 577 farms and 350 horticultural enterprises, 12,000 horses and 2,201 head of cattle. Its rolling hills, rustic roads and pockets of open space make up one-third of the county's land area. ... Development is restricted to one housing unit per 25 acres,” writes Nancy Trejos of The Washington Post. (Read more)

"The Maryland reserve contributes about $250 million annually to the county's economy. Since 1980, the county has offered farmers incentives to not sell their land to developers. One incentive program allows landowners to sell builders transferable development rights that can be used to construct housing units in other, more urban areas of the county rather than within the reserve," reports Trejos.

Still, pressure to develop land continues and farming is a challenging industry, writes Trejos. Though the total value of agricultural products sold grew from $28 million to $42 million from 1997 to 2002, ag land decreased from 77,266 acres to 75,077 acres in that time, according to Census of Agriculture figures.

"There's a lot of different things going on," Terry Cummings, director of the Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit animal refuge, told Trejos. "There's so many people moving to this area and huge pressure to build. There's not much space in Montgomery County and there's a huge area here and people say, 'Why not use it?'"

Rural residents worry that a connector road would pave way for development

Residents of Olney, Md., fear that their rural community will become a floodgate for development if a $2.4 billion intercounty connector is built, reports Nancy Trejos of The Washington Post. (Read more)

"I think the whole area will look and feel more suburban and less semirural," said John H. Lyons, president of the Greater Olney Civic Association. Development defines other areas of Montgomery County where luxury condominiums and high-end retail cover the landscape. County planners say Olney will stay rural, but residents have concerns, writes Trejos.

Some residents worry that a much-discussed "techway" linking Montgomery and Northern Virginia may be built. County officials admit that development congestion in the south is pushing development north, but say the connector will not adversely affect Olney. A different route for the road was rejected because of its potential impact on the area's rural character.

Planners say the connector would fix traffic problems, make Baltimore-Washington International Airport more accessible and promote economic development. "It really opens that area up, and as a result, makes the upcounty more attractive to larger corporate entities," County Councilman Michael Knapp told Trejos.

Blogosphere reaches 14.2 million sites; all on Net will blog, N.Y. Times says

Blogging indexer Technorati reported this week that 80,000 new blogs are created daily, 14.2 million exist and 900,000 new blog postings are added every day. A Friday editorial in The New York Times theorizes that eventually every person with Internet access will be a blogger. (Read more)

"The conventional media -- this very newspaper, for instance -- have often discussed the growing impact of blogging on the coverage of news. Perhaps the strongest indicator of the importance of blogdom isn't those discussions themselves, but the extent to which media outlets are creating blogs -- or bloglike manifestations -- of their own," the Times opines.

The editorial talks about blogging’s way of giving a person his or her own Internet identity. Blogs often provide a glimpse or snapshot of one person’s life, including moments of glory and moments of despair. Whereas creating and maintaining blog used to require some technical expertise, companies like Microsoft and America Online are making the process easy than ever before, according to the editorial.

"It's natural enough to think of the growth of the blogosphere as a merely technical phenomenon. But it's also a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in. Every day the blogosphere captures a little more of the strange immediacy of the life that is passing before us. Think of it as the global thought bubble of a single voluble species," writes the Times.

Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005

Wal-Mart’s real benefits are for the rural poor, experts say; consumers save

“NOWADAYS, mighty Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., must feel less like a hotbed of retailing than like a war room. The company faces a groundswell of criticism, largely focused on its treatment of workers. From low wages to limited health care coverage, Wal-Mart has some issues to tackle, and it has mostly responded with feel-good television advertisements and denial. But to chalk up Wal-Mart's success simply to the exploitation of its work force, as many of the company's most ferocious critics do, is simply wrong, for two reasons,” write Pankaj Ghemawat and Ken A. Mark in an opinion column for The New York Times. (Read more)

“First, Wal-Mart hasn't just sliced up the economic pie in a way that favors one group over another. Rather, it has made the total pie bigger. Consider, for example, the conclusions of the McKinsey Global Institute's study of United States labor productivity growth from 1995 to 2000. Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics and an adviser on the study, noted that the most important factor in the growth of productivity was Wal-Mart," write Ghemawat and Mark.

“Second, most of the value created by the company is actually pocketed by its customers in the form of lower prices. According to one recent academic study, when Wal-Mart enters a market, prices decrease by 8 percent in rural areas and 5 percent in urban areas. With two-thirds of Wal-Mart stores in rural areas, this means that Wal-Mart saves its consumers something like $16 billion a year," the column states.

The debate around Wal-Mart “is a conflict pitting consumers and efficiency-oriented intermediaries like Wal-Mart against a combination of labor unions, traditional retailers and community groups. Particularly in retailing, American policies favor consumers and offer fewer protections to other interests than is typical elsewhere in the world. Is such pro-consumerism a good thing?” Ghemawat and Mark ask.

“The answer depends on who these consumers are, and Wal-Mart's customers tend to be the Americans who need the most help. Our research shows that Wal-Mart operates two-and-a-half times as much selling space per inhabitant in the poorest third of states as in the richest third. And within that poorest third of states, 80 percent of Wal-Mart's square footage is in the 25 percent of ZIP codes with the greatest number of poor households. Without the much-maligned Wal-Mart, the rural poor, in particular, would pay several percentage points more for the food and other merchandise that after housing is their largest household expense," write Ghemawat and Mark.

Former government scientist seeks sources' identities; reporter wants protection

"Lawyers for Washington Post journalist Walter Pincus urged a federal district judge yesterday to recognize new legal protections for reporters with confidential sources and refuse a request to hold him in contempt in a case involving former government scientist Wen Ho Lee,” writes Carol D. Leonnig of The Washington Post. (Read more)

Attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer to recognize a common-law privilege to reporters and their sources. A reporter's privilege is recognized in 49 states. Most federal courts recognize a privilege under the First Amendment, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has previously rejected its application and affirmed contempt orders against journalists, reports Leonnig.

The effort by the newspaper comes as journalists are facing demands and threats in federal court to break promises and reveal confidential sources. Pincus wants to avoid being held in contempt for refusing to identify government sources with whom he spoke when reporting in 1999 and 2000 on a criminal investigation into whether Lee was a spy. Almost all charges against Lee were later dropped; he has sued the federal government for violating his privacy and has alleged that high-ranking government officials leaked information to reporters, writes Leonnig. Lee argues that his suit hinges on learning sources' names.

Lee's lawyer, Betsy Miller, countered Pincus' request, by pointing out the rarity of such occurrences in federal cases and by saying, "This is not the case to create a new common-law privilege."

New homeowners choosing land in rural America; farmers see space shrinking

"U.S. farmland is shrinking, the number of farms is shrinking, and sprawl is devouring rural land at a rapid rate in some areas. Suburbs and rural fringe areas beyond suburbs, referred to as exurbs, are generally growing faster than urban areas," writes Glenn Roberts Jr. of Inman News in the final story of a three-part series looking at America’s shrinking farm land. (Read more)

With real estate prices soaring in urban and suburban areas, some home buyers are opting to live on or near farms, reports Roberts. That rural development is presenting challenges for farmers, who are hanging to their livelihoods despite urban sprawl and a population influx. Experts say the nation' agricultural industry still has plenty of land left for harvesting crops.

Jill Schwartz a spokeswoman for American Farmland Trust, told Roberts, "There is no doubt that development is having a huge impact on agricultural land and that's because so much of the nation's high-quality agricultural land is actually located close to cities. In the 1990s the nation lost farm and ranch land 50 percent faster than it did in the 80s." Texas' farmland lost 332,000 acres to development from 1992-97, which was the highest loss among states, according to National Resources Inventory figures. Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois also lost huge chunks of farmland, Schwartz said.

Farmers may dislike development, but they often don't want to relinquish the right to sell land as urban sprawl comes near, Al Sokolow, a retired political science professor, told Roberts. "This is an ongoing issue with the agricultural community." People who buy homes in farm country may end up killing the rural landscape -- like "killing the goose that laid the golden egg," he said.

To read Part 1: Urbanites nab more country real estate and Part 2: Farmers take a stand to preserve land, click here (registration required).

Senate bill would assist broadband's expansion into rural America

"Voice over IP service companies will have to pay into the Universal Service Fund (USF) in order to accelerate the rural rollout of broadband services, if a bill pending in the U.S. Senate becomes law. The USF currently provides financing for broadband networks only for schools and libraries,” writes Roy Mark of Internetnews.com. (Read more)

"The system, according to bill sponsors Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), creates inequities and incentives for companies to avoid contributing to the fund. Cable companies providing Voice over IP services, for instance, do not pay into the USF," reports Mark. "Under Smith's and Dorgan's legislation, contributors to the USF will be expanded to include 'to the greatest extent possible' all services that are capable of supporting two-way voice communications."

The bill would OK up to $500 million a year from the USF for broadband buildouts to unserved areas. "High speed Internet has become an essential tool at home, the workplace and the classroom," bill co-sponsor Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said in a statement. "The expansion of broadband services allows students, business and consumers in previously unserved communities to pursue the new opportunities provided by the instantaneous exchange of information."

Dorgan said broadband access is no longer an option for communities. "It's rapidly becoming a fact of life that in order to be competitive, business and industry simply must have it," he said. "Increasingly, individual consumers are also demanding it. Our bill would help make access to such service a reality in areas that otherwise would get left behind … We believe believe all Americans -- rural or urban -- should have access to high speed Internet service."

One yard sale knows no boundaries; four-day event stretches 450 miles

"OK, picture this: You're driving along U.S. 127 from Covington, Ky., on your way to Gadsden, Ala. You see a yard sale off the highway and decide to stop. After five minutes you're back in your car, a few purchases in your back seat, when you see another sale along the road. On ahead you see another, and another, and another. For four states. For 450 miles," writes Tim Hager of Up & Coming Weekly (Fayetteville, N.C.). (Read more)

"No, you aren't having the best Saturday morning luck of your life, you've stumbled upon the 19th annual World's Longest Yard Sale," reports Hager. "Held this year from August 4-7, the four-day event follows U.S. 127 South starting in Kentucky, then switches to the Lookout Mountain Parkway in Chattanooga, Tenn., continuing through to Alabama."

The 8-year-old event carries the primary focus of showcasing states' backroads, writes Hager. One group, The Lookout Mountain Parkway Association, put in a request for a spot along the route early on in the event's history. Lookout begins in Chattanooga as Highway 58 and changes highway numbers, as it goes through Georgia and winds up in Alabama.

Thousands of vendors flock to the annual yard sale, whether they have to set up on front lawns or vacant lots. For four days, cars cover the two-lane highway, often bringing traffic to a standstill, reports Hager. A promotional pamphlet states, "People come from near and far to view this spectacular event. Folks come from all across the country by car, truck, motor home or plane. ... Traffic congestion is part of the annual phenomenon to be endured, but the chance of finding a treasure lures them on."

Georgia store clerks sold cold pills used in meth; cultural problems hurt case

"When they charged 49 convenience store clerks and owners in rural northwest Georgia with selling materials used to make methamphetamine, federal prosecutors declared that they had conclusive evidence. Hidden microphones and cameras, they said, had caught the workers acknowledging that the products would be used to make the drug,” writes Kate Zernike of The New York Times. (Read more)

However, questions are now cropping up, reports Zernike. Forty-four of the defendants are Indian immigrants - 32, mostly unrelated, are named Patel - and speak basic English. When a government informant requested cold medicine, matches and camping fuel to "finish up a cook," some of the store clerks said they thought the informant was referring to a barbeque.

"Many states, including Georgia, have recently enacted laws restricting the sale of common cold medicines like Sudafed, and nationwide, the police are telling merchants to be suspicious of sales of charcoal, coffee filters, aluminum foil and Kitty Litter," writes Zernike. "Walgreens agreed this week to pay $1.3 million for failing to monitor the sale of over-the-counter cold medicine that was bought by a [drug] dealer in Texas."

The Georgia case is encountering several problems. Prosecutors dropped charges against one Indian woman after they wrongly assumed she owned a van parked outside a store because her name appeared on the vehicle's registration. "Lawyers have gathered evidence arguing that another defendant is the wrong Patel," writes Zernike. "The biggest problem, defense lawyers say, is the language barrier between an immigrant store clerk and the undercover informants who used drug slang or quick asides."

David Nahmias, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, counters that evidence proves that the clerks knew that informants posing as customers intended to manufacture drugs.

Culpeper, Va., residents hear the trains a-comin' throughout the night

"Since the days when Simon and Garfunkel rode atop the nation's pop music charts, the sound of silence has been the order of the day along historic South East Street in Culpeper. Now, it seems, the Orange Blossom Special roars through town at all hours of the day and night at a decibel level that no country fiddle could possibly match,” writes Donnie Johnston of The Free Lance-Star. (Read more)

"It's horrible!" Culpeper Mayor Pranas Rimeikis, who lives a few hundred yards from the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks, told Johnston. "It's 10 times louder than any boom box that passes in a car." The mayor and the other residents are complaining about train whistles that returned two weeks ago. In the mid-1960s, the Town Council declared Culpeper a "quiet zone"--prohibiting train engineers from using their air horns when traveling through the community.

The council never got rid of that law, but it was recently superceded by a Federal Railway Administration regulation requiring trains to announce their presence near every street or highway crossing. Culpeper's three crossings are all near South East Street, and the return of train whistles shocked most residents, reports Johnston.

Town Manager Brannon Godfrey told Johnston he is now pouring over "a voluminous federal document" in order to return to the quiet days. "Buried in there is the procedure for appealing," he says.

President’s proposal would shift AIDS funds to rural areas; group cries foul

A Bush administration proposal would move billions of dollars rom urban areas to rural areas, in order to expand medical care for HIV/AIDS, writes Andrew Davis of the Windy City Times. (Read more)

The proposal would cut overall funding to the 51 hardest-hit cities by reducing their state’s Title II funds, a share of which also supports services in urban areas. Ultimately, funding would shift to states that have not been effected on the same magnitude by the HIV/AIDS crisis, reports Davis. Regarding rural regions, the proposal lobbies for a new fund-distribution formula to fuel the transfer of funds.

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago declared that it “would shift inequities from rural and poor states to the inner cities. Improving HIV care in rural America—an important goal—should not come at the expense of poor people with HIV/AIDS who live in urban centers, including Chicago.”

Obituary: Legendary rock and roll journalist Al Aronowitz dead at 77

Al Aronowitz, the man who introduced the Beatles to Bob Dylan, died Aug. 1 of cancer in Elizabeth, N.J. To read a story about Aronowitz by Matt Schudel of The Washington Post, click here.

As a New York Post reporter in the 1960s, the man called "The Godfather of Rock Journalism" broke ground with his in-depth stories about the rock and roll revolution. Aronowitz reserved a place in rock history with his social gatherings too. On Aug. 28, 1964, he introduced the Beatles to Dylan at the Hotel Delmonico in New York. The way the story goes, Aronowitz offered an illegal substance to the Beatles, who had never tried the drug. John Lennon asked Ringo Starr to be his "royal taster," Schudel reports.

"Aronowitz was present at the creation of many of the era's landmark phenomena," writes Schudel. "It was in his kitchen, he said, that Dylan wrote 'Mr. Tambourine Man' while staying up all night listening to Marvin Gaye. He was friends with Jim Morrison, Brian Jones and Janis Joplin -- all of whom died of drug overdoses -- and by 1972, Mr. Aronowitz's own life was tumbling out of control."

After losing his job, his house and becoming addicted to cocaine, Aronowitz cleaned up cold turkey in 1985 and started writing on the Internet in the mid-1990s. "I guess I wasn't enough of a hustler and a con man to compete with the sharks, wolves and snakes with whom I had to deal," Aronowitz wrote. "So now, I'm just a poor, broke, forgotten and ignored blacklisted journalist who has to give away all my stories free on the Internet because I don't want to wait to be published posthumously."

Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2005

Seminar set to help improve government and political coverage in rural media

Newspapers and broadcast stations that want to cover state and national affairs, but lack bureau reporters in state capitals or Washington, are invited to apply for admission to "Carrying the Capitals to Your Communities," a conference to be held Sept. 9 and 10 in Somerset, Ky.

The first day of the conference will deal with state government and politics and will be programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. The second day will deal with getting information from the federal government and will be programmed by the National Press Foundation.

The conference is being coordinated by the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at The Ohio State University, and that is where applications must be received by Monday, Aug. 15.

The conference is free, and one night's lodging will be provided, but employers must pay transportation costs and allow employees to attend on company time, and attendance will be limited to 20 to 25 journalists. For more details on the conference and an application form, click here.

CNHI buying small chain with Pulitzer winner, which will be its largest paper

"The Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co., one of the oldest family owned daily newspaper groups in Massachusetts, will be sold to Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.," reported The Associated Press. (Read more) Details of the deal, set to become final in September, were undisclosed.

The deal includes the Pulitzer Prize-winning Eagle-Tribune newspaper, The Salem News, the Gloucester Daily Times, the Newburyport Daily News and six weeklies. The Eagle-Tribune will be CNHI's largest daily newspaper, with a circulation of 50,094, according to Editor and Publisher's Year Book Online. Generally, papers with 50,000 or more circulation are not considered "community" papers, and some experts use a much lower threshhold of 25,000. CNHI owns 84 dailies and 73 weeklies. Its next two largest papers are The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown, Pa., circ. 40,493, and The Cumberland (Md.) Times-News, 30,088.

"I'm sure this development comes as a surprise," publisher Irving E. "Chip" Rogers III, whose family has owned the Eagle-Tribune for more than 100 years, told employees last week. "Growth and change are what keep us healthy and strong. And, as we've grown in the past, the company needs to keep growing. ... In a nutshell, we became too big to be small, but we're still too small to be big," Rogers said. "So, after reviewing all the options, our board concluded that the best way for us to keep growing in the future was to join another newspaper publisher — and CNHI was clearly a great choice in making that move."

The Eagle-Tribune received its first Pulitzer in 1988 for its coverage of the furlough of Willie Horton, a case that helped cost then-Gov. Michael Dukakis his early lead in the presidential race with George H.W. Bush, and a second Pulitzer in 2003 for its coverage of the drownings of four boys in the Merrimack River.

Tennessee gets good news in meth fight; lab busts decreased by 59 percent

"The methamphetamine statistics were pretty scary last year. They're still scary, but they're getting better, and that's thanks to Tennessee's efforts to control the problem," says the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports say meth lab busts decreased by 59 percent in June compared to one year ago. The month before, the decrease was 39 percent. "The good news, of course, is the fact that a decline in the number of meth labs busted generally is assumed to mean that the number of labs have declined. And that should translate into fewer burn injuries and deaths and fewer children taken from parents who exposed them to meth labs," the newspaper said in an editorial. (Read more)

Meth is made across Tennessee, and the state is considered one of the worst for making illegal meth, according to the editorial: "The drug often is manufactured in rural areas because the process creates a noticeable odor. Last year, law enforcement authorities seized 1,574 labs in Tennessee, the second-highest lab seizure rate in the nation. Only Missouri had a higher seizure rate."

"While the decline in meth lab busts is good news, it is not time to let our guard down. There is some concern that meth manufacturers will go to neighboring states to bring cold and sinus medication back to Tennessee. Officials have been working with other states to encourage them to adopt similar legislation to Tennessee's," writes the newspaper.

Tobacco settlement created government-protected cartel, a sixth suit alleges

"The 1998 legal settlement requiring major tobacco companies to hand over $206 billion to the states actually created a government-protected cartel that keeps cigarette prices artificially high, a lawsuit filed in Louisiana on Tuesday alleges," reports Associated Press Business Writer Alan Sayre.

The suit by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which advocates free markets, was filed in Shreveport. "Citing antitrust issues, discounters and other tobacco companies have filed similar challenges in Oklahoma, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas. In addition, the largest tobacco companies have recently questioned payments they made to the states under the settlement, saying that higher prices they are forced to charge have boosted lower-cost competitors not covered by the agreement," AP says.

The Louisiana plaintiffs include a tobacco jobber and two small cigarette manufacturers that are not covered by the settlement but now must make escrow payments under state law. The suit alleges that such escrow payments "erected barriers to entry and expansion that ensured the majors would maintain their market shares despite their dramatic price increases to pay off the states." It says the established cigarette makers have "used the power of government to protect their newfound allies," the states that depend on revenue from the settlement of their suit against the companies. (Read more)

Claims made in filing a lawsuit give only one side of a case.

Berkeley Springs, W.Va., seeks ban on loud trucks; 'tourism is our business'

"Shopkeeper Trish Shunney wants visitors to see what she sees in this quaint tourist town [of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.]: historic inns, art galleries, indulgent spas and the warm mineral springs that lured George Washington here more than two and a half centuries ago. She doesn't want them to choke on the exhaust of the more than 1,700 trucks a day that roll down the two-lane main street,” reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

''Tourism is our business,'' Shunney told AP. ''So when you're putting all the pollutants in the air, into a tourist town that considers itself a health mecca, what kind of statement is that? It's an oxymoron.'' In a city where truck sounds are constant, hundreds of residents are pushing for a truck ban on US 522, which is a 22-mile stretch from from Hancock, Md., to Winchester, Va. The 55-mph route narrows abruptly from four lanes to two lanes at the West Virginia line. A two-hour drive west of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Berkeley Springs prides itself on being a relaxing art town. Many of the community's 700 residents work in metropolitan areas and want peace and quiet at home.

"The state Division of Highways estimates 10,000 vehicles travel West Virginia's stretch of U.S. 522 every day, including some 1,700 trucks," AP reports. "Though a ban is conceivable, the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said few towns attempt it because the federally approved network of routes has been in place since 1982. Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said West Virginia can ban trucks if safety is an issue and the U.S. Department of Transportation concurs with the change."

New Oregon law gives worms official agriculture status, makes them tax-exempt

"Sure, the giant tub of worms in Dan Holcombe's [Oregon City] yard seems odd at first. And yes, the 58-year-old worm farmer has heard all the jokes about raising the wiggly critters instead of, say, chickens or pigs. But only now, following a decision by the Oregon Legislature, is Holcombe's dream of full-time worm farming within reach,” writes Grant Schulte of The Oregonian. (Read more)

Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a bill last week declaring vermiculture -- the use of worms for bait, animal feed or fertilizer -- as an official form of agriculture effective January 2006. The bill gives worm farmers many of the same rights and opportunities currently enjoyed by dairy and vegetable farmers. Worms will be on the state's list of tax-exempt farm products, reports Schulte.

Holcombe's 17-year-old business, Oregon Soil Corp., has accepted waste from grocery stores and other outlets for years -- but worms have yet to catch on as a popular form of composting. Holcombe is optimistic about that changing thanks to the new law. "Most people, when they think about worms, think, 'Yucky,' " Holcombe told Schulte. "They don't think about what worms can do."

Up to 4,000 worms per cubic foot can be found eating their way through rotting waste at any one time. "Scientists call them Eisenia fetida, a dark, ringed species known for its appetite," writes Schulte. "The so-called Red Wigglers will devour kitchen scraps, fruit and vegetable peels, bread -- about any food or waste item tossed into the garbage. In one day, they can eat their own weight in food."

Across the country, vermiculture is becoming a hot topic, says Clive Edwards, a professor of entomology and environmental science at Ohio State University. A growing number of farmers are becoming "very keen on earthworms," Edwards told Schulte.

Enviros fight to keep loggers out of national forest; ice damaged trees in 2003

"A Kentucky environmental group yesterday claimed a major, if partial, victory in its long-running battle to keep loggers out of a large section of the Daniel Boone National Forest near Morehead that was damaged by a 2003 ice storm," reports Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

Although the U.S. Forest Service did not actually take any steps to prevent future logging, a leader of the environmental group said one-third of the logs are too decayed to market. "It doesn't matter what the Forest Service says," Perrin de Jong, coordinator of Kentucky Heartwood, told Mueller. "This is beyond their control. The trees are beyond harvesting ... all the downed trees are toast."

Kentucky Heartwood believes the decaying trees can replenish and stabilize the forest. The forest service counters that removing the trees is the only way to promote growth and prevent disease, writes Mueller. The forest service's final decisions depends on the outcome of an environmental impact.

Forest service officials originally announced the plan to cut and sell trees after an ice storm in February 2003, which left many trees downed and half of the ones still standing without a third of their limbs. "The Forest service is considering logging on more than 11,000 acres, including commercial timber sales on 4,500 acres," writes Mueller. "It estimated it could take six to 10 years and eventually involve logging, and log roads, on 12,500 acres in the northern part of the national forest."

Audio recordings convince scientists that rare woodpecker exists in Arkansas

Recordings of a unique double-rap sound have convinced doubting researchers that the rare ivory-billed woodpecker is alive and well in an east Arkansas swamp, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Last month, several ornithologists criticized the announcement made in April of the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker. The last confirmed sighting took place in 1944. Critics deemed a blurry videotape the most recent sighting insufficient. "We sent them some sounds this summer from the Arkansas woods," John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, told AP. "We appreciate their ability to say they are now believers."

Yale ornithologist Richard O. Prum said he was convinced after hearing two recordings of a series of nasal sounds and the exchange of double-rap sounds between two birds. Recordings indicate at least two woodpeckers might exist, reports AP. "We are ecstatic," said Mark Robbins of the University of Kansas. "Once everybody hears these vocalizations, you can't help but be convinced."

Agri-tourism should be called entertainment farming, veteran operator says

Rural folks hoping to develop tourism around agriculture got some tips last week from one of the most successful agri-tourism operators in the Ohio Valley, at the Agricultural Diversification Summer Event in Campbellsville, Ky., sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Joe Huber of the Joe Huber Family Farm and Restaurant in Starlight, Ind., "told participants that if they plan to invite guests to their farms, they should like people," reports UK's Laura Skillman. “If you are a people person you will have fun being in the ag events business,” Huber said. “But if you don’t like people, don’t get in because you are going to meet everyone and every kind there is.”

“Everyone’s talking about agritourism today,” Huber said. “They need to change the name to entertainment farming, because that’s the only reason they are going to come to your farm is to be entertained and have some fun. So, your challenge is what can we do here to where we can entertain grandma and grandpa and mom and dad and all the kids?” Click here for the College of Agriculture news site.

The original agri-tourism: A fresh look at Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

"It takes more than a rain shower to hamper would-be farmers in Lancaster County, Pa. Fortified with a big country breakfast, not one of us staying at the Country Log House Farm chose to stay indoors on a wet morning. We cheerfully donned raincoats, not willing to miss a minute of the rounds with owner Jim Brubaker. Goats and lambs had to be fed and eggs gathered from the henhouse, and tiny kittens were waiting to be cuddled in the barn," writes Eleanor Berman of Travel Arts Syndicate. (Read more)

Lancaster County is located smack dab in the center of "Pennsylvania Dutch Country" and is well known for its abundance of Amish residents. While Amish farms are among the most productive, they are just one part of the area’s 5,000-plus farms. Farms cover 412,000 acres in the area, “with some 58,000 acres preserved forever to maintain the beautiful rural landscape,” Berman writes.

Lancaster claims to be the most productive non-irrigated farming county in the country, writes Berman. The county’s dairy farms produce milk consumed by 10 million people every year.

“On your own, you can see the beautiful farmlands on any of the side roads between US 30 and Pa. 340, or off Pa. 741, Pa. 896 and Pa. 23 … Many of the farms have roadside stands where shy Amish or Mennonite girls sell homemade jams or baked goods. A number of homes have signs advertising handmade quilts --- a chance to ring the bell and meet the lady of the house,” Berman writes.

Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2005

Gannett growing in weeklies market, ranks No. 1 among owners

Gannett Co. started or acquired 85 weekly newspapers in the last 11 months, making the country’s biggest media company also the No. 1 owner of weeklies, according to data compiled by Editor & Publisher and analyzed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Surveys of E&P’s Year Book Online in August 2004 and July 2005 found that the number of weeklies owned by Gannett during the 11-month period rose to 207 from 122. That 70 percent growth put Gannett above the 2004 leader in number of weeklies, Community Newspapers Inc., which showed very modest growth, to 179 weeklies from 174. For the entire story by Chas J. Hartman, click here.

Gannett’s weeklies have a strongly suburban focus, often in areas where the company publishes daily newspapers. Of its 207 weeklies listed in the E&P database, 157, or 76 percent, are based in metropolitan areas and 50, or 24 percent, are outside metro areas as defined by the census.

Gannett says the actual number of non-daily publications it owns dwarfs E&P’s figures. The company has almost 850 publications, and “The majority of them are weeklies,” said Tara Connell, Gannett’s vice president of corporate communications. A specific breakdown was unavailable. Many of Gannett’s non-dailies fall outside E&P Year Book parameters, because of publication frequency or subject matter.

Gannett’s purchases reflect a trend in the newspaper industry toward regional operating units composed of one or more dailies and a group of weeklies sharing business and news functions in the same metropolitan market. Gannett’s largest growth spurt in weeklies occurred between December 2003 and December 2004. During that time, its number of non-daily publications jumped from about 500 to 750. The firm’s weekly growth reflects its strategy of providing readers with more options. “The daily newspaper is no longer the only source. People like to get their news and information in a variety of ways,” Connell said.

Oregon anti-meth law will be first to require prescriptions for cold medicines

"State lawmakers took the final step Monday toward making Oregon the first state to require a doctor's prescription for cold and allergy medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine," reports Brad Cain of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The House voted 57-2 to send the bill to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a supporter who has said the measure is a big step in combating meth use. Kulongoski could sign the bill later this week, writes Cain. The proposal won over many legislators despite complaints from a few lawmakers who said some constituents will dislike having to get prescriptions just to purchase common drugs such as Sudafed and Claritin D.

If the bill is signed into law, the state Board of Pharmacy will have until July to implement the prescription requirement. Board Executive Director Gary Schnabel told Cain the rule could go into effect sooner -- possibly within three months.

Oregon and several other states are requiring that consumers provide identification and sign a log when purchasing medicine with pseudoephedrine, and Congress is moving toward similar restrictions. Cain writes that backers of Oregon's bill said the identification and signature steps aren't enough to keep people from buying enough pseudoephedrine-containing pills to make meth in their homes, often in rural areas.

IBM testing broadband over power lines; reaching rural residents a challenge

"For years, utilities have dreamed of using their extensive power-line networks to sell more than the juice that powers computers and air conditioners. And for years, those enterprises and others have dreamed of competing with cable and phone companies for high-speed Internet users. Both dreams may be fulfilled soon, if a pair of pilot programs proves successful," writes Alex Philippidis of the Fairfield County Business Journal. (Read more)

IBM Corp. has teamed up with a Houston energy distributor to offer broadband over power line, or BPL service, to 27 customers in a three-month test set to end this month. BPL could cut Internet service prices if it becomes competitive with the services of phone and cable companies, reports Philippidis. BPL is seen by many as a way to overcome commercial obstacles to broadband access in rural areas.

Opinions differ on just how successful a venture BPL might be in the long run, writes Philippidis. Mark Stahlman, an analyst with Caris & Co. in New York City, says: "You don't need it so much in Manhattan, but BPL is going to be important in some of the less dense areas. The historic problem in building out telecom networks is how do you reach out beyond the biggest cities."

Groups fight proposed Interstate 3 that would link Savannah and Knoxville

"As the story goes [in Tiger, Ga.], a city boy in a Cadillac one day drove up to a gaggle of kids and asked incredulously how their families managed to scrape together a living in this remote mountain town. The kids, as Rabun County native Lucy Bartlett tells it, responded with a smile: 'Touristers and taters.' Generations later, the potato crops have been replaced by textiles and poultry, but the tourists still come to the northern Georgia mountains in droves, seeking flea markets and wineries in the valleys and breathtaking views atop the mountains," reports Greg Bluestein of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Bartlett's family owns a winery that attracts hundreds of visitors each year. "If we want them to come up here, we've got to keep it rural, got to keep it unique," Bartlett told Bluestein. "People come up here for peace and quiet - not automobile fumes and racing traffic." Bartlett is one part of a growing grassroots network opposing the proposed Interstate 3, which would link Savannah, Ga. to Knoxville, Tenn., via the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-Ga.) re-introduced legislation for the I-3 project in January. Norwood is also pushing for the creation of Interstate 14, which would link Augusta, Ga., to Natchez, Miss., through Macon and Columbus, Ga.; Montgomery and Grove Hill, Ala.; and Brookhaven, Miss. To view read news updates on these projects at Norwood's site, click here. For a map of the routes. click here.

The new highway could deter truck convoys away from Atlanta and connect businesses, such as Knoxville-based Goody's Family Clothing, to Savannah's seaport. The interstate could also give Knoxville's residents more straightforward paths to beaches in Georgia and Florida, reports Bluestein.

"John Clarke, a Hayesville, N.C., resident and organizer of the North Carolina Stop I-3 Coalition, is putting a mailing list together and asking residents in a half-dozen N.C. counties to ask representatives to put the brakes on the project," AP says. "Opposition leaders also tout that 11 conservation and community groups across the South have joined the fight, fearing that construction could ruffle animal habitats, spoil landscapes, dump tons of sediment into waterways and slash through scenic mountainscapes." One group opposed is the Chattooga Conservancy, along the river of the movie Deliverance.

Elective Bible class gets mixed reviews in Texas; does it have religious agenda?

"When the school board in Odessa, the West Texas oil town, voted unanimously in April to add an elective Bible study course to the 2006 high school curriculum, some parents dropped to their knees in prayerful thanks that God would be returned to the classroom, while others assailed it as an effort to instill religious training in the public schools," report Ralph Blumenthal and Barbara Novovitch of The New York Times.

The National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a religious advocacy group based in Greensboro, N.C., has been trying for 12 years to get school districts nationwide to adopt its Bible curriculum. The council presents the curriculum as a nonsectarian historical and literary survey class that falls within the constitution's separation of church and state, according to the Times article. (Read more)

"But a growing chorus of critics says the course, taught by local teachers trained by the council, conceals a religious agenda. The critics say it ignores evolution in favor of creationism and gives credence to dubious assertions that the Constitution is based on the Scriptures, and that "documented research through NASA" backs the biblical account of the sun standing still," write Blumenthal and Novovitch.

The Texas Freedom Network, a religious freedom advocacy group, released a study Monday that said the national council's class is "an error-riddled Bible curriculum that attempts to persuade students and teachers to adopt views that are held primarily within conservative Protestant circles." This fight over a curriculum that is taught to 175,000-plus students in 312 school districts in 37 states is just one more battle in the cultural war over religion in the public sector, report Blumenthal and Novovitch.

The study released Monday states, "As many as 52 Texas public school districts and 1,000 high schools across the country are using an aggressively marketed, blatantly sectarian Bible curriculum that interferes with the freedom of all families to pass on their own religious values to their children."

Maine farmers younger, bucking national trend; many grow organic food

Despite reports that farmers are an aging generation, Maine's agriculture industry boasts workers who are getting younger, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

"The average age of farmers in the United States rose steadily since the late 1970s, but in Maine, farmers' average age has declined in recent years, according to the 2002 U.S. Census of Agriculture, which says Maine is the fifth-youngest state when it comes to farmers," writes AP. "The census also says that while fewer than one in 10 farmers nationwide is under the age of 35, Maine counts nearly 25 percent of its farmers in the under-35 group."

"I think the reason is that the newer farmers are organic farmers and niche farmers," said Jon Olson, the executive secretary of the Maine Farm Bureau. "For many of the younger farmers, it's a lifestyle choice. I don't know how big it is, but it's growing."

Farming is a tough commitment with no time off and average work days lasting 12 hours, reports AP. Maine's young farming population is being assisted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which provides a popular farm training project that attracted 40 apprentices this year, said Russell Libby, the association's executive director.

Twenty-five-year-old Daniel Price grows mixed vegetables with his partner, Ginger Dermott, on five acres in Freedom. Price said young people in farming families "just want to get out, because it's not lucrative at all." Price told AP his decision to farm "stems a lot from enjoying the work and being outside, and eating good food. It also stems from the desire to work at home and work for myself."

Some rural hospitals could gain reimbursements; move may help expansions

"A federal agency has recommended increasing payments by 6.6 percent to some rural hospitals providing outpatient procedures," reports Roy Moore of the Nashville Business Journal. "It's a move that will benefit many of Nashville's hospital companies and one that may spur more expansions and replacement facilities in areas where patients often leave to receive outpatient care." (Read more)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' proposal "applies to sole community hospitals and comes on top of a 3.2 percent inflation update also recommended for outpatient procedures at all acute-care hospitals," writes Moore. The proposal still needs Congressional approval.

David Frederiksen, chief operating officer at hospital lender Pine Creek Healthcare Capital LLC, told Moore that rural providers will most likely stay away from constructing stand-alone ambulatory centers, which are popular in the Nashville area. Instead, new centers would serve as replacements with inpatient and outpatient care with an updated design.

"A rural hospital in 2005 is operating in a building that was built in 1945 when we all lived in an inpatient hospital world," says Ray Brooks, CEO of West End-based Pine Creek. "That is delivering health care with an inpatient infrastructure even though we're living in an outpatient world."

Program providing health care to W. Virginians; one in five lack coverage

"West Virginians with pre-existing medical conditions who have been unable to qualify for health insurance now may be eligible through a new public/private program," reports Therese Smith Cox of the Charleston Daily Mail. (Read more)

AccessWV started coverage Monday, backed by the state and West Virginia hospitals. "We're finally able to care for those without insurance," Gov. Joe Manchin said Monday while introducing the program, proposed by lawmakers in 2004 and administered under the state Insurance Commission. The program initially went under the name West Virginia Health Insurance Plan, writes Cox.

One in five working-age adults in the state lack insurance, Sonia Chambers, chair of the state Health Care Authority, told Cox. The policies went up for sale in January and 370 new people have insurance.

People eligible for the insurance include "those who have been rejected by a carrier selling health insurance in the state within the last six months; those who received more expensive but less comprehensive coverage; and those who qualify for the federal Portability Act or under the IRS Health Coverage Tax Credit Program," writes Cox. Three health plans are available for single or family coverage.

West Virginia hospitals are getting $4.5 million for the program and may benefit because the number of patients without insurance could decline, reports Cox. For applications, visit the Web site, contact any insurance agent licensed by the state to write health insurance or call AccessWV at 304-558-8264.

Monday, Aug. 1, 2005

Republicans criticize administration's cuts in money to fight methamphetamine

"Republicans on a key drug panel scolded the Bush administration Tuesday for proposing budget cuts in programs that combat methamphetamine," says Pamela Brogan of Gannett News Service. (Read more)

Brogan quoted Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., telling Scott Burns of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy at a hearing: “Stop cutting the budget for methamphetamine and back up the Congress. ... Our frustration is building because meth is moving west to east, from rural to small cities to larger cities. When it hits it overwhelms us.” Souder heads the the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee.

"Republican lawmakers also criticized the Bush administration for failing to develop a comprehensive plan to control meth," Brogan wrote. "Burns said he agrees the administration needs to develop a national strategy to control meth but stopped short of calling methamphetamine an epidemic. The nation’s 1.5 million meth addicts represent only about 8 percent of the nation’s 19 million drug users, according to federal estimates. But meth is the fastest-growing drug problem, is extremely addictive and creates other special problems such as abandoned children and hazardous wastes."

"The Bush administration has proposed eliminating funding for some meth programs and slashing funds for others," Brogan wrote. "The president wants to eliminate a $634 million grant program for state and local police departments used to bolster anti-drug task forces and cut anti-drug spending in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas from $226 million to $100 million. He also would reduce spending on a Justice Department methamphetamine initiative from $52.6 million to $20 million, a 60 percent cut."

Newsweek: Official reaction to meth may have been slow because of rural origins

Souder's complaint was one of several key points in a cover story on meth in today's issue of Newsweek, which calls it "America's most dangerous drug" and asks, "Are we fighting the wrong drug war?" Other points included: Missouri leads the nation in meth labs, with more than 8,000 labs, equipment caches and toxic dumps found in 2002-04; by far, police rank meth the drug they battle most, and they blame it for increased robberies and burglaries. The story says Towanda, Pa., is a town being destroyed by meth.

The rural origin of the meth epidemic may have slowed the official response. "A lot of people never saw the meth epidemic coming. Unlike crack cocaine, which erupted in the nation's urban centers in the 1980s and quickly gained the attention of media and government, meth took hold in rural areas far from America's power brokers," says the story by David Jefferson. (Read more)

The story also says, "few municipalities, especially in rural areas, have the resources to deal with the drug's ravages: lab explosions that maim and kill cooks and their families; the toxic mess (for each pound of meth, five pounds of toxic waste are left behind); the strain on social services; the increase in violent crime."

'Some in big cities were more open to the idea' of extending daylight saving time

When Congress voted to extend daylight-saving time, The Associated Press dispatched nine reporters around the country to get the reactions of parents and educators -- some of whom said they worried about kids "who would end up waiting for school buses in the morning darkness," AP's Annie Bergman wrote.

Bergman, in Arkansas, talked with a superintendent in the hilly northern part of the state who said some school bus routes in his rural area are more than an hour long. Some parents had similar complaints, "But Al Davis, who raises cattle in Cherry County, Nebraska, said it would be helpful for his operation on the eastern side of the Mountain Time Zone," where it gets dark at 4 p.m. in December. (Read more)

The change will make clocks "spring forward" on the second Sunday of March and "fall back" on the first Sunday of November, beginning in 2007. The current schedule starts on the first Sunday of April and ends on the last Sunday of October. Canada and Mexico are considering whether to follow suit. "According to Congress' thinking, if Americans can wait an hour to turn on their lights at night, the nation should be able to conserve at least some energy," Bergman writes. "Some in big cities were more open to the idea."

Rural areas lack towers for digital cell phones; FCC wants analog phased out

"Johnny Smith has a new digital cell phone, but he relies on an older analog phone when he travels the wide open spaces in the western part of South Dakota to line up cattle for sale at a local livestock auction. In rural areas where cellular towers are far apart, analog phones often work when digital models can't get a signal. With the Federal Communications Commission pushing the move to all-digital phone service across the country, Smith and others in rural areas are urging the agency to wait until more towers are built to improve service," writes Chet Brokaw of The Associated Press. (Read more)

"I carry (an analog) phone just because I can get so much better reception with it,'' Smith told Brokaw. "If you're out in the middle of no place, it's nice to be able to call somebody.'' The FCC's current timeline calls for wireless companies to phase out analog service by 2008. Before next year, the FCC is requiring that 95 percent of each wireless company's customers have digital phones with chips that will identify the locations of 911 calls for emergency workers.

Bob Sahr, a member of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, told Brokaw he hopes the FCC makes exceptions and gives support to analog service in rural areas dependent on the older technology. "If we phase those people out, they may be in a situation where they have this brand new, state-of-the-art digital phone with all sorts of bells and whistles, but they're not going to be able to complete the call in the first place,'' Sahr said.

Two wireless company representatives, The Rural Cellular Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association, support suspending the FCC's deadline, reports Brokaw. Companies do not want to force their customers to switch phones until it makes sense, RCA Executive Director Tim Raven said. "We have instances every day in local markets where folks are rescued because of their cell phones. It's just a matter of working up the technology issues and obstacles,'' he said.

Southern West Virginia towns getting broadband from native entrepreneur

"Change is coming at the speed of light and iTown Communication has just the fiber optics needed to bring it home. ITown Communications is launching a program aimed at bringing "ultra" high capacity broadband infrastructure to rural America," writes Alyesha Asghar of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

"Through the company's West Virginia First Project, "a fiber optic Local Community Public-Use Network (LCPN) will directly connect to homes, businesses, schools, government offices and other institutions in participating communities," reports Asghar. (Read more) "The initial stages of West Virginia First will concentrate on the Beckley-Bluefield and Wood County areas."

ITown's President and CEO, Keith Montgomery, grew up in West Virginia and his company concentrates on rural communities. "Broadband is to a 21st century community what electricity, water and paved roads were to a community at the start of 20th century. It is an essential infrastructure," Montgomery told Asghar. "Communications and information are a great equalizer. With technologies available today, there is no reason for only urban America to receive the advantages of advanced broadband. The West Virginia First Project is a model that can be adapted beyond the borders of West Virginia."

A related USA Today story explains broadband's speed. "Veteran telecom executive Brian Thompson hopes to do for broadband what the Bell System did for traditional phone service more than 100 years ago: Bring it to the masses . . . How fast is that? Try blinding — 100 megabits a second. Most residential offerings today top out at about 4 or 5 megabits," writes Leslie Cauley. (Read more)

Foundation expands broadband plan, wants it all over Minnesota by 2010

Minnesota's biggest rural-based private charity, the Blandin Foundation, has a plan to give all residents of the state access to affordable broadband service by 2010 to meet the demands of a global economy.

"Our competition is no longer Wisconsin and Iowa, but the Pacific Rim and elsewhere, where availability of ultra high-speed broadband far outpaces Minnesota," Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy for the Blandin Foundation, said at the Minnesota Rural Summit at St. John's University in Collegeville.

The announcement expanded the broadband initiative that Blandin announced in 2003. The foundation says it aims to "catalyze broadband investment and use, raise awareness about the value of broadband and encourage public and private investment in rural broadband capacity," reports the Duluth News Tribune. (Read more)

"Ultra high-speed broadband enables rural communities to keep existing businesses, attract new businesses, improve the efficiency of community institutions such as government, schools and hospitals and to increase educational and cultural opportunities and overall quality of life for their citizens," Joselyn said.

Elk restoration in East becomes an argument for mountaintop-removal mining

A success in wildlife conservation, creation of the largest elk herd in the Eastern United States, has become an argument for a practice that opponents consider antithetical to soil and water conservation -- mountaintop-removal coal mining.

"The flat land it creates is suited to elk because they thrive in open spaces with vegetation," notes Alan Maimon, Eastern Kentucky reporter for The Courier-Journal. "The elk highlight the fundamental debate in Eastern Kentucky over mountaintop mining: Is it a path to coal production and economic development on new parcels of flat land, or does it destroy unique, beautiful landscapes?" (Read more)

Supporters note that the elk are attracting hunters and tourists, and development of tourism businesses. Opponents say it's not worth the destruction. "They're wonderful to look at and everything, but you can't replace the beauty of what's been taken away," Patty Wallace of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth told Maimon. Some residents say elk are a nuisance, destroying property as they forage.

Two Kentucky authors decried mountaintop-removal mining in Sunday's Lexington Herald-Leader. Silas House recounted his personal experience visiting such sites, while Erik Reece, who wrote a long Harper's magazine article on the subject this year, says, "To replace the most diverse ecosystem in North America with a monoculture of invasive, often exotic grasses is cheap, easy and irresponsible."
Click here for House's piece, here for Reece's.

Indiana creates Office of Rural Affairs; director has his own definition of 'rural'

Indiana has become the latest state to create a separate office to work on rural issues, in this case jobs. Its director is Joe Pearson, who told Pam Tharp of the Richmond Palladium-Item he helps rural areas in urban counties, too, because "If you can't hit another house from your house with a rock, it's rural."

The state's former Department of Commerce was divided into the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the Office of Rural Affairs, to emphasize "the opportunities the Daniels administration thinks are waiting for development in the state's rural areas," writes Tharp.

Of Indiana's 92 counties, 67 are considered rural. Pearson is a farmer and former assistant commissioner of agriculture. His purview includes community development block grants and high-speed communications.

Tharp writes, "Rural areas have many advantages -- particularly quality of life -- but some unique challenges, such as deteriorating downtowns and lack of jobs for their children, Pearson said. High-speed Internet access, which is necessary in a global economy, is one of the important elements that's missing in many rural communities, he said." (Read more)

Southwest Virginia program to get free drugs to the needy completes fifth year

An "innovative program" that "provides free medicine to uninsured and low-income patients" has provided $60 million worth of drugs in southwest Virginia in its five years of existence, but its supporters worry how it will be affected by the new Medicare prescription drug program, reports The Post of Big Stone Gap.

"Too many times, the government gets it wrong. ... But this time, clearly, we got it right," said state Sen. William C. Wampler Jr., who led the push to fund Pharmacy Connect. "We have been on the cutting edge. Southwest Virginia has proved this pilot to be successful, and now, it will be the model for the state."

"Each dollar of state funding leveraged $52.44 in medications for applicants, a phenomenal return on taxpayer's investment," according to Marilyn Maxwell, executive director of Mountain Empire Older Citizens and another architect of the project, writes Ida Holyfield, editor of The Post. (Read more)

The program connects the needy to "the Indigent Patient Assistance Programs of more than 100 national pharmaceutical companies, so that people who can't pay for medications may be able to get them free. Fifteen workers do the application paperwork for uninsured, medically indigent persons in Lee, Wise, Scott, Dickenson, Buchanan, Tazewell and Russell counties and the City of Norton," Holyfield writes.

Wampler said, "This program relies on the willingness of the pharmaceutical companies to participate, and the effectiveness of the individuals who process the applications and take care of the paperwork that results in getting the prescriptions free. The issue we're going to have to deal with is whether the drug companies will still consider applicants to be uninsured when they have the new prescription drug card, or whether those folks will be considered ineligible for the free medications." He said the card may pay only a small portion of a very expensive prescription, and the patient may be unable to afford the co-pay.

Pocahontas, Va., hopes jobs and traffic from a new prison will revive the town

"Tazewell County celebrated the creation of 350 new jobs Friday, and renewed hope for historic Pocahontas," writes Charles Owens of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, reporting that a medium-security prison "will create 350 new jobs, as well as additional jobs during the two-year construction phase."

"I don't know if this prison will save our town of Pocahontas," Mayor Anita Brown said. "But our future hasn't been written yet. I think it can help in taking Pocahontas back to its past glory. We hope more businesses will look to the town of Pocahontas." Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer said the 1,000-bed state prison should prompt construction of "motels, restaurants and things like that."

"The prison will emphasize an education and rehabilitation of inmates through vocational training," Owens writes. (Read more)

Natural area in Ala., Tenn. to be preserved; part of big Cumberland Plateau effort

The House-Senate conference version of the Interior Department appropriations bill includes $1.9 million to buy a 21,000-acre tract including the Walls of Jericho, "a large, bowl-shaped natural amphitheater that shoots water out of holes and cracks in the canyon wall during times of high water flow," according to The Nature Conservancy, which recently bought the property in Alabama and Tennessee.

The area was closed to the public in 1977. The Conservancy says its purchase of the Walls of Jericho is "a core purchase" in a project to preserve 1 million acres in the Cumberland Plateau in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Click here to read more about the federal appropriation, here for more about the area.

Diane Sawyer comes home to Kentucky, acknowledges her rural roots

After entering the world in Glasgow, Ky., current population 13,000, Diane Sawyer soon moved to Louisville and Wellesley College and jobs in government and television networks in Washington and New York, where she lives and works for ABC News. But she cited her rural roots Saturday night as she accepted the first Kentucky's Distinguished American Award from the A.B. "Happy" Chandler Foundation in Lexington.

"Home is always Kentucky," Sawyer told the crowd. "I am rooted in people whose toes touch the soil, and who know without looking at the hymn book the words to the hymn, and would never dream of putting mozzarella on a really good tomato." She said folks like that often show up in the audience of "Good Morning, America," which she co-hosts with Charlie Gibson, and sometimes call her "cousin," because she has dozens of those in Kentucky. "Charlie's gonna have the state investigated if I turn up any more cousins," she said.

The foundation gave its annual Kentuckian Award to William S. Farish, Thoroughbred breeder and former ambassador to Great Britain; and its first Kentucky Statesman Award to the late Gov. Edward "Ned" Breathitt, who died last year. His 1963-67 term saw passage of a civil-rights bill and strip-mine regulation.

Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.



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Last revised: Sept.2, 2005