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The Rural Blog Archive: December 2004

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004

Coal company court case controversy arises following millions to unseat judge

A West Virginia Supreme Court case which includes Massey Energy Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship is creating a controversy involving the court’s justices, several of which have been asked to step-down from the case because of possible conflicts, reports The Charleston Gazette.

Toby Coleman writes the controversy comes just “weeks after (Blankenship spent) $3.5 million to help a candidate win a seat on the high court.”

Lawyers on both sides of a massive class-action lawsuit against coal, timber and other extractive industries have asked two of the court’s five justices to step away from the case because of their feelings about Blankenship and Massey, writes Coleman. The chief justice and another justice have refused. Some of the justices have known Blankenship on a social basis, and along with opinions they’ve offered previously about him and his character their objectivity has been drawn into question.

The justices’ relationships with Massey are being challenged because Blankenship spent heavily to help Charleston lawyer Brent Benjamin defeat Justice Warren McGraw in a recent election. Coleman reports that Benjamin will be scrutinized when he joins the Supreme Court in January. “Some have said Blankenship bought the high court seat for Benjamin,” he writes. Professor Bob Bastress of the West Virginia University College of the Law, asks, in Coleman’s report, “What will Justice Benjamin do?” Benjamin has said he will decide whether to hear Massey cases on a case-by-case basis.

Friday, Dec. 31, 2004

U. S. Postal Service cuts may further diminish rural mail delivery

The nation's back roads won't escape the economic and cultural impact of changes that may come during the new year from a possible overhaul of the U.S. Postal Service that is being considered in Congress.

But Robert Gutsche Jr. writes in a special report in The Washington Post, “Washington lawmakers are still stalled over how much flexibility to give the Postal Service in setting its own prices and whether the service should have more control over its pension savings and other retirement benefits. But with the Postal Service thinking about another postage increase, Congress probably will address the proposed legislation early in the new session.”

For the past 10 years, the USPS has been closing post offices to consolidate the sorting of mail at regional hubs and adding technology to the way workers handle mail to save the agency money, writes Gutsche. Those changes have already had lasting effects on rural mail service:“In tiny Woodman, Wis., for instance, the federal government closed its post office almost five years ago and initially moved operations into a small tavern where people would sort and pick up their mail. But mail has not been sorted there in at least three years. Now when people send mail, it gets postmarked three towns away.”

Grutsche reports a glimmer of hope for small communities around the nation. “These closings mean jobs to small communities, but there is little to suggest an overhaul of USPS operations would signal a large drop in the need for rural mail carriers.” USPS officials told the newspaper, postal jobs overall are expected to decline through 2012 as post offices continue to turn to technology. Rural carriers numbered 46,000 in the mid-1990s rising to about 63,000 today, one-fifth of the country's total carriers.

North Carolina board orders new ag commissioner election; court fight looms

The North Carolina Board of Elections has decided to resolve a two-month-old fight over the election for commissioner of agriculture by ordering a new election, but Republicans on the board are promising a court fight to overturn the plan, which could cost taxpayers more than $3 million.

The board “voted Wednesday to hold a statewide election in March or April,” reports Sharif Durhams of The Charlotte Observer’s Raleigh Bureau. “Republicans . . . cried foul. They argued the board's three Democrats crafted the election through an illegal procedural move and that a judge will cancel the new vote. New elections typically require support of four of the five board members. The Democrats argued they had backed a new election with four votes before -- a limited revote on the race in coastal Carteret County to replace more than 4,400 lost votes. Technically, the Democrats said, they were simply amending that order to apply statewide. The motion by board member Bob Cordle of Charlotte passed 3-2.”

Returns show Republican Steve Troxler with a 2,287-vote lead over incumbent Democrat Britt Cobb, but “a faulty electronic voting machine lost 4,438 Carteret votes, enough votes to make a difference in the race,” Durhams reports. “Troxler said he probably will appeal the ruling.”

Appalachian Law School shooting case settled for $1 million

The family of a student killed in a shooting at the Appalachian School of Law, along with three students wounded in the attack, settled their multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the school yesterday for $1 million. The cases had been moved to Roanoke for fear the Wise County judiciary is too closely tied to the school.

Rex Bowman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports officials at the Grundy, Va., school “accepted no responsibility for the results of a disgruntled student's decision to open fire on his classmates and school administrators in 2002, even though students had warned that the student was potentially dangerous.”

School President Lu Ellsworth said outside a Roanoke courtroom the school agreed to settle the suits to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal battle, writes Bowman. Ellsworth told Bowman, "I do not believe there was any basis to predict this kind of occurrence or that any violence would occur on campus."

The family of shooting victim Angela Dales and the three survivors filed their suits in January seeking nearly $23 million. The lawsuits claimed poor security at the school and a negligent attitude “allowed a gun-wielding student to turn the campus into a scene of bloody carnage on Jan. 16, 2002.” Dales' father, Danny Dales, said family members decided to settle to put the tragedy behind them and avoid a lengthy legal process: "I'm of a settled mind now, more so than I've ever been. This is the best, I think, for my family."

The student who fired on school officials and students soon after learning he was being forced out for poor grades, Peter Odighizuwa, pleaded guilty to murder and is serving six life sentences. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but after treatment he was deemed mentally competent to stand trial.

Scavengers scour Southern Kentucky town, looking for radio treasure

A Christmas promotion by a Kentucky radio station turned into the lead story for the local weekly newspaper this week, as hundreds of people searched for a holiday treasure trove that proved more difficult to find than the station expected.

“Treasure hunt keeps Albany on the move” read the main headline in the Clinton County News, above a long story and photograph chronicling the swarms of citizens who were scouring the area around the town’s main intersection – which WANY Radio’s clues indicated to many was the likely location of a document with instructions on how to claim the $700 in prizes and $500 in cash.

“We expected someone to find it during the first of Christmas week,” three weeks after the first clues were broadcast, Pam Allred, owner of WANY, told the News. “Randy (Speck, the station manager) and I have seen people within two feet of it and then all of a sudden they just turned around and walked away.”

On Monday, the station began eliminating some clues, which had been distributed to local merchants as part of a shop-at-home promotion in the town of 2,000 and county of 10,000. “The entire idea behind the hunt was ‘Shop at Home.’ That’s why we have taken a clue to each store every day ... to get people into the stores,” Speck said. “I’m sure many people haven’t been into some of the stores in over 20 years.”

Treats on Appalachian air: Tonight, a taste of country on W.Va. Public Radio

“Tonight, Joe Dobbs brings a hot-apple-pie musical treat to the windowsill as his show 'Music from the Mountains,' presents 'An Evening in Mayberry' at 9 p.m. on West Virginia Public Radio.” That's a countryfied lead that likely will have listeners salivating, and that we just had to quote verbatim.

Herald-Dispatch music columnist Dave Lavender invites listeners to tune to Huntington's WVWV at 89.9 FM. Lavender writes that the program, recorded live at last September’s Glenville State College Bluegrass Festival, features festival organizer and Mayberry aficionado and fellow fiddler Buddy Griffin as well as the bluegrass band known in TV land as "The Darlings" and by bluegrass fans as The Dillards.

West Virginia Public Radio can be heard in portions of surrounding states -- Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. For more info go online at www.joedobbs.com.

Tomorrow: Saturday Night Jamboree, pioneer country cavalcade, lives again

Anyone who grew up in the 50s and early 60s in the area of West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio will remember a “home-baked” television tradition know as the “WSAZ Saturday Night Jamboree” that showcased local and national talent live for 11 years from 1953 to 1964.

That tradition will be resurrected this weekend in a wave of country nostalgia in Huntington, reports the Herald-Dispatch. The paper details preparations by a number of performers and program talent who either dreamed of appearing on the show years ago in their youth, or are descendants of the show’s original staff.

“Saturday night at 7, Rick Ruggles, a lifelong musician and songwriter, fulfills a boyhood dream -- he gets to play the Jamboree,” writes music columnist Dave Lavender. “Ruggles, 57, is just one of 14 local classic country artists who will be playing the Saturday Night Jamboree, a free show at the Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium.” The show will be hosted by Alan Sturm, the son of original "Jamboree" host Dean Sturm.

The old show was “Like a home-baked Grand Ole Opry-style show… (and) featured a stream of local talent from The Haylofters, a square dance group, to singers and talented musicians from near and far that included Bobby Bare, Loren Greene, and many others,” writes Lavender.

Oldest N. C. resident and fourth oldest documented American dies at 112

The oldest North Carolinian and oldest graduate of Duke University -- who was born six years before the Spanish-American War and lived through two world wars and the birth of the automobile, aviation, television and the Internet -- has died less than a month before her 113th birthday.

The Durham Herald-Sun reports that Ruby Lee Markham Drakeford, a retired teacher, died Wednesday of advanced age and was developing pneumonia. Drakeford was born in Durham on Jan. 25, 1892, and graduated from Trinity College, now Duke University, in 1912, the year the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, The Associated Press noted. Curtis Booker of Durham, whose great-grandmother was Drakeford's aunt, said "She was just shy of her 12th birthday when the Wright Brothers flew."

According to the Gerontology Research Group at the University of California at Los Angeles, she was the fourth-oldest documented American and 10th-oldest documented person in the world, Herald-Sun staff writer Jim Wise reports. The documentation: Drakeford's age was listed as 8 in the 1900 Census.

Special reports still available, will be updated on Web site

Special reports by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues' staff and advisory committee remain posted on this page of the Institute's Web site. Reports on current topics, such as the epidemic of methamphetamine in rural America, will be updated from time to time, along with news of upcoming events.

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Railroad signal malfunctions may contribute to widespread train-car collisions

A New York Times examination of signal malfunctions at rail crossings, focused on a look at fatal accidents in Illinois, suggests railroads may have a wide problem with signals, affecting many rural areas.

Walt Bogdanich of the Times reports that when he began asking questions, federal regulators backed off their earlier assurances that rail-crossing malfunctions are rare and "disclosed that since a fatal accident in Michigan in the spring, they have been investigating whether a 'type of Amtrak train' might be failing
to trigger warning signals properly. And an examination of reported signal malfunctions indicates that they may constitute a wider problem, also involving freight trains," which are heavier than passenger trains -- and thus supposeldy less likely to fail to trip a signal.

The Times' computerized analysis of federal records "found that from 1999 through 2003, there were at least 400 grade-crossing accidents in which signals either did not activate or were alleged to have malfunctioned," Boggdanich reports. "At least 45 people were killed and 130 injured in those accidents,
according to the records, although in most cases the role of signal malfunctions was unclear. Federal rules require that railroads maintain signals on tracks they own. The accident reports, all prepared by the railroads, also raise questions in many cases about whether unsafe behavior by drivers contributed to
the accidents."

Also, since 2000, railroads have filed about 2,300 reports of the most serious malfunctions: short signals or no signals at all. Most did not involve accidents, but "My concern is that this is just the tip of the iceberg," James E. Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told Bogdanich. "If we had that type of record in aviation, it would be unacceptable."

Peggy Wilhide, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Railroads, "played down the significance of signal malfunctions," the Times reports, "saying a recent federal report found that the great majority of crossing accidents were caused by unsafe drivers. Ms. Wilhide also emphasized that most of the reports of signal malfunctions could not be confirmed." Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Steven W. Kulm told the newspaper that his agency's efforts had "contributed to the dramatic decrease in the loss of life and injury at highway-rail grade crossings."

U.S. to lift Canadian beef ban in March following mad-cow scare

The U.S. has given the all-clear beginning in March to cattle imports from Canada, 19 months after a mad-cow disease scare closed the border between the two trading giants, reports The Associated Press.

The new import policy will permit cattle younger than 30 months and certain other animals and products. The Agriculture Department said the ruling, which will take effect March 7, came after determining Canada is a “minimal-risk region,” the first country recognized as such. Scientists say cattle under 30 months of age are too young to contract mad cow disease. The cattle also must be transported in sealed containers to a feedlot or slaughter, and are not allowed to move to more than one U.S. feedlot.

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said in a statement, “After conducting an extensive review, we are confident that imports of certain commodities from regions of minimal risk can occur with virtually no risk to human or animal health.”

Canadian sheep and goats under 12 months, as well as meat and other products from those animals, are also allowed in under the new policy. Elizabeth Whiting, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Agriculture Ministry told AP, “Certainly we’re very pleased. It’s something that farmers have been waiting for for a long time in Canada.”

Kentucky budget pinch will tighten if state picks up tobacco-money tab

Kentucky taxpayers may pick up a $100 million-plus tab due to a federal judge’s ruling that tobacco companies don’t have to make additional payments to farmers in 14 states, reports The Courier-Journal. Tom Loftus writes in the Louisville newspaper that “Kentucky law specifies that if the annual payments from tobacco companies to farmers fall short … then the state will pay the difference.”

Gov. Ernie Fletcher's chief of staff, Stan Cave, told Loftus the judge's decision may put the state on the hook for making good on the “Phase 2 payments.” The ruling has been appealed, however, by Kentucky and six other states. Cave said because of that and because of other legal and policy questions raised by the order it would be weeks before the impact would become clear, writes Loftus.

But Cave said an early analysis showed the impact could be well over $100 million for the current budget. "That ruling has been a setback to us in pulling this together, our ideas for the next budget. We're still analyzing the effect of it and how much money we may have to come up with," Cave added.

Kentucky already faces a $526 million shortfall in Medicaid, which the governor and lawmakers will face in balancing and passing a budget during the legislative session that begins Tuesday. The state is operating without a legislatively enacted budget because of an impasse over Fletcher's tax-reform proposals, but a judge has said that if no budget is passed by June 30, only essential state services may continue.

Bobwhite quail, almost absent in Ohio, to rebound under restocking program

The sound of the bobwhite quail, nearly silenced by blizzards and extreme cold, and perhaps loss of habitat, may be heard more frequently in coming months throughout much of Ohio thanks to a new restocking program, reports The Herald-Dispatch.

Tim Stephens writes in the Huntington, W.Va., newspaper that the small bird, once prevalent in southern and western Ohio, was “a favorite of hunters seeking tasty wild game” until the blizzards of 1977 and 1978 and extreme cold nearly killed them off. But, now the Ohio Division of Wildlife has a plan to restore quail to 35 counties.

“The Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat/Upland Bird Initiative plans to create 250,000 acres of essential upland bird habitat, with 14,200 acres proposed for Ohio,” writes Stephens. “The program intends to create nesting and brood-rearing cover along the borders of crop-bearing fields, as well as establish travel corridors for the quail.”

Steven A. Gray, chief of the Division of Wildlife, told the newspaper, "It’s a tremendous opportunity for private landowners interested in attracting bobwhite quail." The opportunity could be profitable, too, reports Stephens. The program has a one-time incentive payment of $100 per acre for landowners willing to participate and meet the qualifications. The program also will make up to 90 percent of the costs of establishing potential quail habitat recoverable. Landowners also might be eligible for annual rental payments for up to 10 years, if their land produces quail.

Environmentalists and loggers battle over membership in anti-logging group

Loggers trying to join an anti-logging group in Eastern Kentucky are charging that environmentalists are discriminating against them by blocking their entry.

“In a twist in the ongoing battle over logging in the Daniel Boone National Forest, loggers have been applying for membership in Kentucky Heartwood, a group dedicated to stamping out logging on public lands,” writes Roger Alford, Pikeville bureau chief for The Associated Press.

The loggers claim they want to join to give the group a “broader perspective on logging issues.” Twelve loggers who have applied have been turned down. Greg Wells, owner of Green Tree Forest Products in Wallingford, told Alford, "We got our rejection letters late last week."

Kentucky Heartwood member Sarah Mincey said the group doesn't have to take in members who disagree with its mission and philosophy. "We're a private organization, and we can accept or not accept anyone," she told AP. "We wouldn't be comfortable. They wouldn't be comfortable. They are radically different in their beliefs."

Loggers and the 280-member Kentucky Heartwood have been at odds over a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to cut storm-damaged trees on more than 12,500 acres of the Daniel Boone, writes Alford. Loggers favor the proposal. Kentucky Heartwood adamantly opposes it.

Bush's soft sell swayed Amish and Mennonites in rural Pennsylvania

In a story datelined Bird-In-Hand, Pa., Evelyn Nieves of The Washington Post reports on Republicans' success in mobilizing "the famously reclusive Old Order Amish -- who shun most modern ways -- along with their slightly less-strict brethren, the Mennonites. Democrats laughed at the very idea. The Amish had no use for politics. Were the Republicans that desperate? But the GOP effort, underscored by President Bush's meeting with some Amish families in early July, did the trick."

"Yup, we voted this time. . . . I didn't vote for the last 30 years, but Bush seemed to have our Christian principles," an aging Old Order Amish man told Nieves, who described him thusly: "He had a beard that straggled down to his chest and bright blue eyes. His first name, he said, is Amos, but in keeping with the Amish edict against calling attention to oneself, he would not give his last name."

Amos said "They knew we didn't like publicity, so the president met with us all in an office at Lapp's (Electric). He shook everyone's hand -- even the littlest ones in their mother's arms -- and he told us all he hoped we would exercise our right and vote." But the president didn't ask them directly to vote for him, and "That's another thing we liked about him," Amos said.

Also, 4,000 Republican volunteers "blanketed Lancaster County for months and visited the fairs and farm auctions in Amish country talking up the president's Christian values. That helped them think abortion might be outlawed," Nieves reports, paraphrasing an Amish man named Sam. "Thinking of Bush's Christian
values even helped with their questions about the carnage in Iraq. And so, while Bush lost Pennsylvania by more than 120,000 votes, he nearly halved his losing margin from 2000. In large part, that was because of the GOP's push among rural voters."

Another Amish man named Amos, also paraphrased by Nieves, said his people "voted with pure hearts, he said, asking for nothing in return. Or almost nothing." Then she quotes him directly: "We're trying to get tickets for the inauguration. Do you know how to go about getting those?"

Kentucky coal fatalities record low, if current trend continues

Kentucky coal mining may report its safest year ever, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lee Mueller, the newspaper’s veteran Eastern Kentucky Bureau chief, writes, “Barring more accidents before Jan. 1, Kentucky this year will tie its record for the fewest number of coal miners killed on the job since the federal government began keeping records in 1900.”

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor tells Mueller, "It makes me cringe to say this, knocking figuratively on wood. Some people are superstitious." Preliminary figures from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration show five coal-mining fatalities in Kentucky in 2004, four fewer than last year. Nationwide, 25 coal-mining deaths had been reported as of Dec. 15, a new U.S. record, reports Mueller.

According to federal statistics, Kentucky's record low of five fatalities came in 2001, a year before the national record low of 27 coal-mining deaths was reported. The numbers show a vast improvement in safety in the nation's coal mines since the first half of the 20th century, when thousands died every year, but no one was boasting yesterday, writes Mueller.

A cautious Suzy Bohnert, an MSHA spokeswoman, told Mueller, "These are preliminary numbers. It's not the end of the year yet." But, Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the state mining agency, tells Mueller the numbers are consistent with a downward trend in mining fatalities since the 1970s, when Kentucky averaged 37 mining deaths a year for the decade. The annual fatality average dropped from 24.2 in the 1980s to 11.7 in the 1990s. From 2000 to 2003, the state averaged 8.4 mine deaths a year.

Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2004

Coal proponents, environmentalists to face off in national energy debate

A new federal report suggests an energy future for the nation in which coal plays an important role, but efforts to utilize this controversial national resource, with significant financial and ecological impact for much of Appalachia, will face challenges from environmentalists, Gannett News Service report reports.

“Despite the rising cost of gasoline, oil and natural gas, the next session of Congress will begin in January with no clear consensus on a national energy policy,” Raju Chebium writes. "Some of the debate focuses on coal, which supplies 52 percent of U.S. electricity and is the country’s most plentiful fuel source. Coal-fired power plants are bitterly opposed by environmentalists who say they contribute to global warming. But utilities are proposing to build 100 additional plants in the next few years.

The report by the National Commission of Energy Policy, set up in 2002 with money from private foundations spells out a vision for the nation’s energy future in which coal would be a major player for years to come. The report was authored by a group of business people, union officials, conservationists and academics, and has caught the attention of congressional lawmakers. Observers say the measure could become the template that Congress uses to write energy bills.

The report recommends investing billions in coal, writes Chebium, including “$4 billion in tax incentives for companies that adopt technology to convert coal to a gas and heat the gas to make electricity … and setting aside $3 billion to build plants that would demonstrate to the electricity industry that a technology called "carbon capture and sequestration" is ecologically friendly and economically viable.”

The energy commission’s endorsement of so-called clean coal technology is good news for Appalachia, mining companies and utilities. But it’s disheartening for some environmentalists who want the country to focus on cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar power, writes Chebium. Critics say previous research has resulted in little or no technology in wide use today. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, has called it badly managed. Environmental organizations such as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group say clean coal is a laughable oxymoron. Navin Nayak, an environmental advocate at USPIRG told Chebium, "Some of the lessons we have learned from the clean coal program is it lacks accountability, and it lacks any clear public benefit."

Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association said, “Greater attention to coal means more jobs in Appalachian coalfields, especially for those with computer and engineering skills.” Supporters of coal say it’s abundant and allows the country to depend less on oil imported from the Middle East. Appalachia alone has some 66 billion tons of coal, enough to last more than 200 years. Wyoming and West Virginia are the top two coal-producing states.

Tennessee joining 22 other states in illegal drugs tax; opponents say laws ‘absurd’

The state of Tennessee will begin taxing drug dealers with the new year, expecting to raise millions of dollars in revenue, but critics are doubtful the tax will have any effect on the drug trade and say the law is ridiculous.

Bonna de la Cruz reports in The Tennessean that the new excise tax goes into effect Sunday, on peddlers of illegal substances – from marijuana and moonshine to cocaine and oxycontin. A10-person agency has been created to assess and collect the tax, at a one-time cost to the state of $1.2 million. Officials expect to spend $800,000 annually on the effort, but estimate it will gross $3.6 million in new revenue in the first year.

“Drug dealers can go to any of the state revenue offices within 48 hours of coming into possession of unauthorized substances. They pay the tax and get a 'stamp' to put on the drugs showing they have paid up … (or) the tax will be collected is when police make drug busts. … If the suspects cannot make immediate payment, the state seizes and sells any assets … to pay off the liability,” the Nashville paper reports.

Bob Acuff, a small-business owner and neighborhood watch director in east Nashville, told Cruz he's anxious to see what impact the tax has on the drug trade in Nashville: ''I'm happy to hear they're at least trying something.'' Eric Jans, insurance agent and neighborhood activist, said, ''If it's bringing in extra money and if they can collect it off the backs of the drug dealers, that's a good thing. But I'm not sure it will reduce crime.”

Proponents for the legalization of marijuana call the Tennessee law and similar ones in other states absurd. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Cruz, ''It's patently ridiculous. Legal nitwittery. On the one hand, it says you can't own a substance. And on the other hand, it creates a taxing scheme. … The law on its face makes no sense.'' Tennessee will be one of 23 states taxing illegal drugs, including Kentucky, with which it shares a long border. Tennessee’s law was modeled after one in North Carolina, which has reaped $83 million in the 14 years the law has been in effect.

Tennessee regional government cooperative to disappear along with 2004

A nine-county regional governmental cooperative agency covering much of eastern Tennessee, created to coordinate regional development, will sunset with the new year, reports The Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Scott Barker writes, “ The regional civic visioning organization will be honoring the sunset clause of its charter, which calls for the group to drop below the horizon after five years.” The group, formed in 1999, called itself "Nine Counties. One Vision,” and has been “a high-profile clearinghouse for ideas to weave the interests of the region into a single fabric.”

The effort focused on fostering greater cooperation between residents, institutions and leaders in the Knoxville region -- Knox, Anderson, Blount, Grainger, Jefferson, Loudon, Roane, Sevier and Union counties. Organizers say they hope the initiatives begun by the cooperative will continue to grow during the coming years, even without an umbrella organization to nurture them.

Executive Director Lynne Fugate told Barker, "They did not want to set this up as a permanent entity that would need resources and compete with other organizations that need donations. If you have a 5-year time frame, it keeps your feet to the fire." Fugate said the organization has been successful, despite some setbacks in individual initiatives.

Soon-to-be unprotected grizzlies being killed off; environmentalists concerned

Dozens of grizzly bears in and around national parks have been killed at the hands of humans over the past year and environmentalist say while the species isn’t in trouble yet, they are concerned plans to remove the bears from protected status may be moving too quickly reports The Associated Press.

Staff writer Becky Bohrer reports on an alarming increase in deaths in and around Glacier National Park where, “Seven (grizzlies) were hit by trains or cars. Ten were killed illegally, often shot and left to die. Thirteen were killed by wildlife officials because they had menaced humans or had otherwise become a nuisance. One was killed in self-defense.”

A total of 31 grizzly bears in or near the national park in northwestern Montana have died this year as a result of human actions. “That's the most of any year since the bears were listed as a threatened species nearly 30 years ago, and nearly double the number killed in 2003. Eighteen of the 31 were females,” writes Bohrer

But state and federal wildlife officials say that while the number is unusually high it is not cause for alarm -- yet. They say more people moving into bear territory, and a poor berry crop that has pushed more grizzlies out of the woods in search of food is partially to blame.

Environmentalists however are concerned about these deaths and others nationwide. They also point to the deaths of grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park, where run-ins with hunters account for nearly half the19 grizzly bear deaths in 2004. A government proposal to drop federal protection for grizzlies there could come as early as next year. Louisa Willcox, Wild Bears Project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Livingston, Mont., told AP, "I think we're moving way too rapidly, given the warning signs on the horizon. We should take heed and slow down and really look at, and solve, the problems."

Hunting and habitat loss contributed to the bears' decline in the West early in the 20th century. In 1975, grizzly bears in the lower 48 states were listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. At that time, there were probably 200 to 250 grizzlies in the Yellowstone ecosystem, situated mostly in Wyoming. Today the estimate ranges from 550 to 600.

Western North Carolina radio legend retires after half-century at the mike

A western North Carolina radio mainstay will sign-off for the final time tomorrow after 50 years in broadcasting, reports the Asheville Citizen Times.

Entertainment editor Tony Kiss writes of Scotty Rhodarmer’s half-century on Asheville radio station WWNC/AM- 570 as morning announcer. Rhodarmer is retiring, and “Local radio will never be the same," writes Kiss. “The last show, on Thursday morning, marks the end of an amazing career and a last lingering bit of the "old" WWNC, the cherished hometown station that vanished when corporate owner Clear Channel Communications dropped its country music format two years ago and switched to news-talk.”

Read Wilson, who had been with WWNC since 1947, told Kiss, “Rhodarmer's retirement is hard to take. Sure, the guy deserves a break. He's been on that grueling early-morning shift since the mid 1960s. … All those years and that uplifting theme song "Carolina in the Morning." Rhodarmer started at the station in 1954, when it was still carrying soap operas, comedies, dramas and other radio shows from the CBS network.

“Through it all, Scotty remained at the microphone. At one point, he had the largest share of audience of any radio personality in America and WWNC had the largest share of audience of any station in the nation. Unbelievable but true. That's how important the old WWNC was to our community,” Kiss writes. “But that was then. This is now. Scotty gets to sleep in. I start a new radio routine. Life goes on. But it won't be the same.”

The Rural Calendar: Can Kentucky replace tobacco with food? Let's find out

When tobacco is gone, what will the future hold for farmers in Kentucky, which has more tobacco growers than any other state? Two unlikely allies at the University of Kentucky, the College of Agriculture and the Gaines Center for the Humanities, have teamed up with Partners for Family Farms to sponsor an unusual symposium to examine future visions for Kentucky agriculture, Kentucky’s rural communities, and the local market for healthy food.

The symposium will be held Friday and Saturday, March 4-5. Practical workshops with agriculture economists and other technical experts will be punctuated by plenary addresses by well-known commentators on community, food, and agriculture. They will include Michael Pollan, author, environmentalist, and Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley; restaurateur and chef Alice Waters, whose foundation supports efforts to educate children about sustainable agriculture; and Jon Carloftis – writer, Kentucky native, environmental activist andgarden designer to the stars. Their perspectives will be supplemented by three creative writers who will read their work centered on agriculture and community on Friday evening, March 4: Wendell Berry, Kentucky novelist, poet, and essayist, perhaps the foremost American writer about rural community and agriculture; Barbara Kingsolver, novelist and agrarian advocate; and Davis McCombs, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Award in 2000, whose current work centers on tobacco agriculture in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave region.

In addition to their major presentations, these prominent thinkers will engage with about 100 local and national activists over two days of workshops to create a new vision of post-tobacco Kentucky agriculture. Sessions will have an interlocking series of themes on improving – and integrating agriculture and food systems into – local communities and economies.

The aim of the symposium is to consider all aspects of Kentucky’s rural agricultural communities – the economic, the environmental, the social, and the spiritual – and imagine a new future for Kentucky’s rural communities. “If these often discordant voices can be brought into harmony, then we can look forward to a sharply improved future for all of our citizens, urban and rural,” organizers of the symposium say.

The symposium will conclude with the annual Phyllis Pray Bober Memorial Feast, created by the undergraduate fellows of the Gaines Center and presented by local chef Ouita Michael, a former Gaines Fellow and James Beard Honoree, and the staff of the Holly Hill Inn. Mike Seager, a prominent expert on Appalachian music, will perform with music professor Ron Pen, director of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music, and The Reel World String Band.

For further information, contact Dan Rowland of the Gaines Center for the Humanities at 859-257-1537 or hisdan@uky.edu; Bonnie Tanner of the College of Agriculture at 859-257-3887 or bonniet@uky.edu; or Sue Weant of Partners for Family Farms at 233-3056 or msdweant@aol.com.

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2004

New federal emergency-worker training requirements could thin rural ranks

Emergency medical crews in rural areas fear proposed national standards could thin their ranks by more than doubling the amount of training they must have.

The Associated Press reports new certification rules are being developed for federal regulators by doctors, EMTs and state emergency medical directors. The story centers on the 17-member, mostly volunteer ambulance squad in Center, N.D., serving all of Oliver County as an example of the potential impact.

Squad leader Mickie Eide told AP, “A lot of people can't comprehend what it's like to drive 345 miles and not see a house, not see anything, and to have to cover that. If you keep requiring us to do more, there's going to be less of us to do it.'' Supporters, however, say more training would ensure better emergency service nationwide. But in rural areas where volunteer crews are the rule, many fear the change will limit the pool of new recruits and force experienced EMTs to drop out, AP reports.

In North Dakota, basic-level EMTs need 110 hours of training for initial certification. Under the new standards as currently proposed, the state Emergency Medical Service Association estimates that basic EMTs would at least have to double that, AP reports. In places like Center, a town of about 680 people, crew leaders think a change that steep could push about half their volunteers out of the service.

Bob Brown, director of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, told AP, “This is one of the most difficult decisions that I have been involved in EMS (emergency medical service) in the last 20 years at the national level. The goal is a national standard that would guarantee highly trained workers in ambulances across the nation.”

Bob Bass, the Maryland state emergency medical director who sits on a national committee overseeing the reclassification efforts, said the proposed changes were designed to give EMTs the skills to treat conditions they commonly encounter. “They decided that an EMT could handle more than we currently handle.''

‘Cumberland Plateau’ doesn’t sound touristy enough for Tennesseans

Officials in the Tennessee section of the Cumberland Plateau, “a region rich in natural beauty and pioneering heritage but often lagging the rest of the state in economic progress,” want to be known by a longer, somewhat different name to build their tourist trade, writes Leon Alligood in The (Nashville) Tennessean.

The moniker they want from the National Park Service is Cumberland Plateau National Heritage Corridor, which would make the area eligible for federal and state money and private matching funds to “restore, enhance and interpret a community's national and historic resources,” Alligood writes. “In some cases, buildings are saved from destruction, tourist sites are professionally marketed and trails are improved.”

Marketing is at the heart of the idea to make the plateau the 24th heritage area designated by the park service. ''Hopefully, all of us working together will create an area like the Smokies in East Tennessee. When you say 'Smokies,' you know where they are and all that's available to do. We envision the same thing happening on the plateau,'' said Scott Sandman of the Fentress County Chamber of Commerce.

Alligood reports that the plateau – apparently referring only to its Tennessee section – “has 486,000 acres of publicly owned recreation land, compared with 517,000 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” which lies to the east, in Tennessee and North Carolina. Among the plateau properties are the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and 15 state parks – including Fall Creek Falls, the tallest waterfall in the Eastern United States and part of the line of cliffs that marks the plateau’s western boundary. The region includes all or most of at least eight Tennessee counties and parts of 10 or so others.

“The region contains about 3.8 million acres of woodlands,” Alligood reports. “According to the World Wildlife Fund, the area represents one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world.” An Associated Press rewrite of his story adds, “It also has the emerging Cumberland Trail, which will connect Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky border with the Tennessee River Gorge near Chattanooga.” The trail, designated a linear park, would connect with the new Pine Mountain Trail State Park in Kentucky. Sherpa Guides says of the Volunteer State's part of the region, “From the outset until the present day, the plateau has remained Tennessee's last frontier, still sparsely populated in comparison with other parts of the state.”

The Cumberland Plateau stretches from northeastern Alabama to the borders of Ohio and West Virginia, where it becomes the Allegheny Plateau. It lies mainly in Kentucky, but its name is by far most used in Tennessee, where much of the topography is more like a tableland, the dictionary synonym for plateau, than the more heavily eroded but otherwise geologically identical area in Eastern Kentucky and upper southwest Virginia. Residents of those states generally say those areas are in the Appalachian Mountains -- which actually are higher ridges to the east and south.

Central American farmers losing fight against multinational supermarket giants

In a more rapid realization of fears prevalent in the U.S., The New York Times reports giant multinational supermarket chains, in a little over a decade, are crushing competition from Central American farmers and the cooperatives they formed in a fervent attempt to even the competitive playing field.

In a David-and-Goliath comparison, Celia W. Dugger details the efforts of a co-op in Guatemala to deal with the country’s main supermarket chain. The co-op’s membership has dwindled to 8 from 300: “For a time, the farmer's cooperative… managed to sell vegetables to the chain, part owned by the giant Dutch multinational, Ahold, which counts Stop & Shop among its assets. But the co-op's members lacked the expertise, as well as the money to invest in the modern greenhouses, drip irrigation and pest control that would have helped them meet supermarket specifications.”

Dugger writes, “Across Latin America, supermarket chains partly or wholly owned by global corporate goliaths like Ahold, Wal-Mart and Carrefour have revolutionized food distribution in the short span of a decade and have now begun to transform food growing, too.” She reports that lower prices, choice and convenience make megastores more popular, but millions of small farmers are struggling to survive -- and may join streams of desperate migrants to America and the urban slums of their own countries.

“Their declining fortunes, economists and agronomists fear, could worsen inequality in a region where the gap between rich and poor already yawns cavernously and the concentration of land in the hands of an elite has historically fueled cycles of rebellion and violent repression,” Dugger writes. Thomas Reardon, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University told her, "It's like being on a train with a glass on a table and it's about to fall off and break. Everyone sees the glass on the table - but do they see it shaking? Do they see the edge? The edge is the structural changes in the market." In the 1990s, supermarkets went from controlling 10 to 20 percent of the market in the region to dominating it, a transition that took 50 years in the U.S., say researchers at Michigan State and the Latin American Center for Rural Development in Santiago, Chile.

West Virginia-based education group gets national television spotlight

The over-worn stereotype of Appalachia lagging the nation in educational innovation is being challenged this week, as a national television spotlight is focused on a West Virginia-based nonprofit group -- to which school leaders nationwide are looking to close racial achievement gaps, train teachers and evaluate new programs to boost student achievement.

The Charleston Gazette reports the Appalachian Education Lab has helped schools across West Virginia and the rest of the country for 38 years. This week, cable networks CNBC and The Discovery Channel will spotlight AEL. “Fox NFL commentator and football legend Terry Bradshaw selected AEL for ‘The Best of Bradshaw’ and “Bradshaw’s Pick of the Week,’ two shows that feature the ‘best and brightest’ nonprofits and businesses in the United States,” Eric Eyre writes. Bradshaw’s “Pick of the Week” appears from 7 to 8 a.m. daily on CNBC, with the 'Best' on Discovery between 7:30 and 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Eyre quotes Bradshaw saying in a press release, “AEL has flourished into a national educational research training powerhouse. They’ve set out to create a culture of learning in schools across the nation, where everything is always fresh and exciting because everyone is always learning.”

AEL employs more than 80 people and has a $15 million annual budget. About two-thirds of the nonprofit’s work comes from federal contracts. As examples of AEL’s innovative work, Eyre cites one program where AEL has worked closely with school officials in recent years to narrow the racial achievement gap through a project called Maximizing Achievement of African-American Children in Kanawha County. AEL workers have organized community meetings at Lincoln County schools, and in southern West Virginia, it is working with the National Science Foundation to improve science education.

Virginia medical college starts outreach program for rural poor

In a concerted effort to better serve its rural Appalachian communities, doctors and students from the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg will begin working at a Smyth County health clinic next month through a program that college officials hope will extend to free clinics throughout southwest Virginia and beyond, reports The New River Valley Current.

Kevin Miller reports that beginning in mid-January, one doctor and four students will spend every Friday treating patients in the Smyth County Free Clinic as part of a pilot program funded by the college and the Smyth County Community Foundation. If the pilot program is successful, administrators hope to replicate the program at free clinics in Christiansburg, Pulaski, Narrows, Roanoke and elsewhere.

Dr. Jan Willcox, an associate dean at the college, tells Miller, "Our mission is to improve health care for rural and underserved Appalachia. We recruit students from the region ... so it's a perfect fit for us to have an opportunity to make a difference in the communities that are within our target area." Mel Leaman, director of the Smyth County Free Clinic, said he hopes the program could persuade some of students to open up practices in rural southwest Virginia, which is one of the main missions of the college.

Monday, Dec. 27, 2004

Farm prices are high, and so are subsidies, but some rural towns don’t feel it

Timothy Egan writes in yesterday’s New York Times: “Despite the fact that farm income has doubled in two years, federal subsidies have also gone up nearly 40 percent over the same period -- projected at $15.7 billion this year, and $130 billion over the last nine years. And that bounty is drawing fire from people who say that at this moment of farm prosperity, the nation's subsidy system has never made less sense.”

Egan cites some “deeply steeped in the system, such as Keith Collins, the chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who tells him. “I struggle with the same question: How the hell can you have such high government payments if farmers had such a great year?”

The answer, Collins said, is that farmers use market timing to maximize prices and subsidies. “A farmer can sell his crop early at a high price, say, in a futures contract, and still collect a subsidy check after the harvest from the government if prices are down over all. The money is not tied to what the farmer actually received for his crop. The farmer does not even have to sell the crop to get the check, only prove that the market has dropped below a certain set rate,” Egan explains. “But because nearly 70 percent of the subsidies go to the top 10 percent of agricultural producers, the recent prosperity is not seen or felt among many small to medium-size growers who keep the struggling counties of the Great Plains alive. Though some retailers in places like Iowa and Kansas say that the boost in farm income promises a good Christmas season, merchants here say they are not feeling any uptick.”

Egan quotes Ed Miller, whose feed and seed store that caters to small farmers in Sidney, Neb., as saying that “his business was not up despite the increase in farm income because most of the big corporate farms that are doing particularly well do not buy from the local seed dealers. So it is not surprising that the current subsidy system is drawing home-grown criticism from people like Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, who says it is only widening the gap between large and smaller farmers, while not helping rural America.”

Egan also notes that “Every subsidy payment in the country can be found on a Web site put together by the Environmental Working Group, which advocates an overhaul of the farm payment system. The site has become a must-read for farmers, and receives about a million hits a day, the group says.”

Madness of 'meth' in Kentucky and Indiana detailed in three-part series

A three-part series by The Courier-Journal documents in detail the breadth, depth and destructive scope of the epidemic of methamphetamine production and use in Kentucky and Indiana -- a plague that is straining the states' social structure and leaving a trail of human ruin and misery, especially in rural areas.

The series began Sunday. In the first part, by reporters Deborah Yetter, Harold Adams and Alan Maimon, the Louisville newspaper details the strain the meth epidemic puts on law enforcement, the suffering it inflicts on children, the lives it has ruined and some of the people who have escaped its grip.

Today’s installment by reporters Laura Bauer and Harold Adams looks at Kentucky’s and Indiana’s delay in reacting to the growing threat and how other states had already restricted the purchase of drug ingredients used to make meth.Twenty-three-year old Brianna Jenkins of Louisville, a recovering user who was living in a car before her family helped her into treatment tells the newspaper, "Meth is pure evil. It will ruin your life."

The newspaper reports Kentucky and Indiana were unprepared when the methamphetamine craze began its sweep through both states. Eleven other states updated their laws as early as 2001 to prevent addicts from buying enough commonly available cold and allergy medications to make meth. But the two states “failed to do likewise, allowing the spread of makeshift meth labs in garages, fields, hotel rooms and nearly anywhere.”

Tomorrow's final installment will look at proposed solutions to the meth epidemic, how Kentucky and Indiana have struggled in this battle, but government help may be forthcoming. For the full part one of the series, click here. To view today’s part two click here.

Forest Service issues new rules for managing national forests and grasslands

The U.S. Forest Service issued sweeping new rules for 191 million acres of national forest and grasslands last week, “jettisoning some environmental protections that date to Ronald Reagan's administration and putting in place the biggest change in forest-use policies in nearly three decades,” Juliet Eilperin reported in The Washington Post. “The new rules give economic activity equal priority with preserving the ecological health of the forests in making management decisions and in potentially liberalizing caps on how much timber can be taken from a forest.”

No longer will foresters have to prepare an environmental impact analysis with each forest's management plan, or actually count fish and wildlife to determine if there are “viable populations” of a species. “The changes will reduce the number of required scientific reports and ask federal officials to focus on a forest's overall health, rather than the fate of individual species, when evaluating how best to protect local plants and animals,” Eilperin writes.

The new rules “also cut back on requirements for public participation in forest planning decisions,” Felicity Barringer reported in The New York Times. “Forest Service officials said the rules were intended to give local foresters more flexibility to respond to scientific advances and threats like intensifying wildfires and invasive species. They say the regulations will also speed up decisions, ending what some public and private foresters see as a legal and regulatory gridlock that has delayed forest plans for years because of litigation and requirements for time-consuming studies. The rules give the nation's regional forest managers and the Forest Service increased autonomy to decide whether to allow logging roads or cellphone towers, mining activity or new ski areas.”

Critics said the changes “pared down protection for native animals and plants to the point of irrelevance” and “will promote logging and other commercial exploitation of the national forests and relegate the public to the sidelines,” Barringer and Eilperin reported, respectively. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., told Eilperin, “It's a radical overhaul of forest policy.” But Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, told her that the new rules “will get the Forest Service caring about the land and caring about the people, instead of caring about the process and serving the bureaucracy” and lead to “better, more informed and quicker decisions about timber sales.”

Eilperin noted that “National forests are also an increasingly popular tourist destination for tens of millions of Americans. The number of visitors to national forests doubled over the past eight years, said Chris Wood, a Clinton administration Forest Service official who is now vice president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited,” which said in a statement, “The new planning regulations offer little in the way of planning and nothing in the way of regulation.”

Barringer offered some background that could inform local reporting about the changes: “Forest supervisors are appointed by the Forest Service to manage national forests and report to regional managers. Some are more supportive of pro-timber policies, while others are more steeped in the environmental ethos. One of the ways the new rules give forest supervisors more power is that they are allowed to approve plans more quickly for any particular forest use - ranging from recreation to logging to grazing - and to adjust plans with less oversight. For instance, an existing requirement to keep all fish and wildlife species from becoming threatened or endangered is jettisoned. In its place is a requirement that managers consider the best available science to protect all natural resources when they are making decisions.”

A gaping hole in the Bible belt buckle indicated in survey; many 'backsliding'

A third of Kentucky’s adults don’t go to church, and almost a quarter more say they are not committed to their church, according to a new survey commissioned by the Kentucky Baptist Convention and first reported by Peter Smith, religion writer for The Courier-Journal, over the weekend.

“Graham Teaford used to attend the Presbyterian church where his father was pastor. His wife, Uyen Phuong Nguyen, attended Catholic services after converting from Buddhism in her native Vietnam. But don't look for them in church on Sundays,” begins this morning's Associated Press rewrite. Teaford and his wife instead spend Sunday mornings at a coffee shop reading books or chatting with other regulars. Both told Smith they value universal religious ideals, such as helping the needy, but they are turned off by what they see as intolerance and infighting among churches. "I suppose you could say I identify as a Christian, just not practicing," Teaford said.

The survey by the Barna Research Group found that about one in three Kentucky adults have not attended church within six months except for special occasions. “That's nearly 1 million people with no meaningful connection to any of the thousands of churches in a state in the heart of the Bible Belt,” Smith wrote. The survey says an additional 650,000 Kentucky adults, or 21 percent of the population, don't view themselves as committed to the church they attend.

Budget crunch may derail North Carolina plans for statewide rail system

Development in the form of depots, businesses and homes is cropping up along a planned train route from Asheville to Salisbury, just north of Charlotte, but North Carolina lawmakers’ plans for a statewide integrated rail system may be delayed by budget constraints reports The Associated Press.

State Rep. Ray Rapp, co-chairman of the committee that would oversee the project, told AP, "In addition to passenger rail service, they all talk about the need to get trucks off the highways for safety and environmental purposes. We've got to have an improved freight service that customers want to use and provide access to that service." Rapp's committee heard from a Fort Bragg official on the need for freight service from the Fayetteville Army post to ports such as Wilmington and Morehead City. Rapp said it takes twice as long to ship goods from the post to Wilmington as it does to send it to Charleston, S.C. "The military is looking at those areas that provide them strategically with the best services available," he said.

The route from Asheville to Salisbury alone would cost an estimated $136 million. More detailed studies are under way to determine the costs and needed improvements for the southeastern North Carolina route, according to the state Department of Transportation. Allan Paul, assistant director of operations for the transportation department's rail division, told AP that state transportation officials next month are expected to present state lawmakers with alternative ways to pay for the rail system. But the lawmakers also will have to deal with a $1.2 billion budget shortfall next year.

Mountain music, instruments preserved at Birthplace of Country Music Museum

One man’s family heritage of banjo making and many other efforts to preserve mountain music in all forms, from old sheet music to worn records, are among items displayed at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Tenn., reports The Knoxville News Sentinel. The feature by Morgan Simmons details Jim Webb’s 30-mile journey from Blountville to the museum to see his father’s early 1900s fretless banjo on display. Webb tells Simmons, "I heard it was here. He made me one just like it, except mine has frets."

For nearly six years, the museum “has been telling the story of how country music sprang out of the rich musical melting pot of East Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and the surrounding Southern Appalachians,” writes Simmons. Last year the museum and gift shop drew visitors from every state in the country. Many of the items on display are donated by local families. Bill Hartley, executive director of the museum, tells Simmons they're running out of room: "What you see on display is just the tip of the iceberg. "People are constantly bringing us old songbooks and records. We're glad to help preserve and tell their story."

The museum is located in the Bristol Mall, but plans are to move the facility downtown to a building one block away from the famous warehouse where, in 1927, a talent scout for the Victor Talking Machine Co. named Ralph Peer first recorded Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, thus laying the groundwork for the commercial country music industry, writes Simmons. The firm was the forerunner to RCA Victor.

The Rural Blog was not published Dec. 23-26, 2004.

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2004

Special Report: Covering the meth epidemic in rural America

By Joshua Scott Tucker, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

How long will meth stay in my breast milk?” That’s what “Tina,” the main subject of The Deseret News’ six-part series on rural America’s methamphetamine abuse, asked a Utah Poison Control Hotline in a panicked call. “Twenty-four hours,” she was told. Her infant son subsisted on baby formula the next day.

The series in the Salt Lake City newspaper offers another haunting vignette of meth use: “When I was using, the kids knew what to do if they came across a needle,” said Susan Martin, 32, who was just paroled from Utah State Prison in October and is the mother of three. “They knew what to do when Mommy was dope sick,” Susan continued. “They knew how long I needed to sleep. The kids knew what the paraphernalia was all about; the kids knew how to watch for the cops.”

Such are the particulars of covering methamphetamine – a task that occupies an intriguing niche in contemporary journalism. Meth is a problem with both a genesis and fallout in rural areas. Meth first came into journalistic consciousness when biker gangs on the West coast began selling it in the early 1970’s. Easily made from common ingredients like lantern fuel, match books, and the decongestant Sudafed, meth spread easily across the country. Called names like hillbilly cocaine, crank, and crystal, meth appeals to a rural constituency because it’s cheap, easy to manufacture at home, and requires no special equipment or expertise. Now, according to a major series by The Oregonian, more than 1.3 million people in the United States use meth.

Today’s edition of The Rural Blog focuses on the meth problem in rural areas, how journalists have covered it and how they might continue to follow it. Covered here will be meth’s effects on rural people and property, guidelines for instructing regular citizens on how to spot meth production, and an analysis of government response to what some consider the rural meth epidemic. This report was compiled by Josh Tucker, a graduate assistant for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Meth’s effects on people

“Meth addicts interface with multiple public agencies at enormous public expense: criminal justice, human services, environmental health, child protection and emergency medicine," Carol Falkowski writes in the journal Spectrum. She goes on to detail the effects of methamphetamine use on the human body. After using meth, a person “may be in an altered state for eight to 12 hours. After the initial euphoric 'rush,' the behavioral effects include heightened concentration, increased alertness, high energy, wakefulness and loss of appetite.”

Meth can also work as an aphrodisiac, as described in an Associated Press available here. “Who wouldn't want to use it? You lose weight and you have great sex,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Laymon said at a meeting of Tennessee's meth task force. But meth's aphrodisiac effects are short-lived. While meth may at first “makes you want sex all the time,” as Alabama obstetrician Mary Holley claims, meth users can lose the ability to have sex at all after only six months of use. And national drug czar John Walters notes the physical deterioration meth users often undergo: “Hair falls out, teeth fall out. That's not sexy.”

Meth is a neurotoxin, a chemical that ultimately damages cognition and memory. Consequently, Falkowski cautions that meth use “places an individual at heightened risk of long-term, possibly irreversible behavioral, cognitive, and psychological problems over the course of a lifetime.”

Falkowski paints an even more grotesque picture of the effects of meth addiction and its long-term effects on users. Meth addicts binge on larger and larger quantities of the drug as they become reliant on it. As addicts binge, they typically go extended periods of time-- often days on end-- without eating or sleeping. These binges result in a cycle of physical deterioration that occurs rapidly, much more rapidly than that associated with addiction to other drugs. Prolonged addiction, Falkowski says, usually results in methamphetamine psychosis, where victims “see things that aren't really there, including elusive 'shadow people'”and a psychological state where “meth addicts believe that everyone is 'out to get them,' even innocent strangers or inanimate objects.”

Along with the long-term health effects of meth use, injuries associated with meth use and production add to its danger, the Charleston Daily Mail reports. “Methamphetamine producers risk not only legal troubles, but also the safety of themselves and their families,” George Gannon writes. He reports that meth users face an increased risk injury due to fire as well as exposure to hazardous fumes and chemicals.

Meth’s effects on rural property

Meth has a disproportionate effect on rural areas because of its effects on rural property. Meth labs, the makeshift facilities where the drug is produced, generate toxic waste products that can foul surrounding land and render property uninhabitable, the Ashtabula Star Beacon reports. “These labs are polluting the communities where they crop up” and damage homes “making them un-sellable,” Shelley Terry writes.

Property owners in many states are trying to tackle the problem by acting proactively and developing ways to repair the effects of meth production in houses. Ellis Eskew of Chattanooga’s WDEF-TV reports Tennessee police are advising landlords in the state to require tenants to sign agreements saying that the tenant will no use or produce meth while staying on the property and be responsible for the damages if they violate the agreement. Police in Chattanooga also hold frequent meth education seminars.

Iowa’s KWQC reports that state has issued state guidelines for the cleanup of meth damaged property that “include airing out the property, replacing carpet, cleaning plumbing and ventilation systems and contacting law enforcement.” The State Journal of West Virginia reports on John Simon, owner of Astech Corp., a Charleston-based indoor environmental remediation company. He claims to be one of the few West Virginians certified to remediate meth damage in homes. Remediation, the article claims, “can be as simple as ripping up carpet and removing old drapes, or as elaborate as replacing drywall and flooring.”

Guidelines for spotting meth production

The Record of Leitchfield, Ky., published a meth series that included advice on how to both spot meth users and meth labs. Users, Stephanie Hornback writes, are characterized by paranoia, extreme weight loss, teeth grinding or loss, open sores on their faces and arms, incessant talking, irritability or violent behavior, repetitious behaviors such as picking at skin, false sense of confidence, and severe depression. Her list of signs of meth labs is much longer.

Laura Skillman of the University of Kentucky reports a similar list in an article for local newspapers, detailing Kentucky’s “Walk Your Land” program. The program encourages rural landowners to regularly check their land for meth production they may not be aware of. “The components are things that we use in everyday life — gallon fruit jars, aquarium tubing, plastic spoons, plastic bowls, glassware,” Skillman quotes Cheyenne Albro, director of the Pennyrile Narcotics Task Force. “Because they often overlooked as being a lab when someone sees them in the woods or locates them, they don’t realize the dangers associated with them. They think it’s just a bag of trash.” Albro also cautioned people to not handle suspected materials from suspected meth labs, but rather contact the proper authorities.

Government response to meth

Official response to the meth epidemic has taken many forms. In some states, as reported by Oregon’s Springfield News, a new law requires pharmacies to place pseudoephedrine-based cold tablets behind the counter and to require photo identification to buy them. Pseudoephedrine is a necessary ingredient in meth production. This new law was patterned after a similar initiative from Oklahoma. Oklahoma reported a 60 percent drop in meth lab seizures in the first three months after the law was enacted.

The Deseret News poses the question “Does Utah need a meth czar?” in an editorial by Dennis Romboy and Lucinda Dillon Kinkead. Here the authors make the case that meth use is so pervasive in Utah and has so many social and policy ramifications that a state figurehead may be necessary. But elsewhere, some officials believe that combating meth is more dependent on local action than state action – an important point for rural journalists to ponder.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration claims that approximately 80 percent of meth in America is produced outside the country. But Cumberland County ( Tenn.) Sheriff Butch Burgess, in an article in the Crossville Chronicle, questioned how relevant the federal government may be to the meth problem. “Meth is so different from everything else, it's hard to bring in the DEA or TBI,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Burgess said. “It has to be solved from the community level.” He added, “A lot of this stuff can be done on a community level without having to ask the state for any more dollars."

Links to coverage

Here are some examples to consider when covering meth:

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal series on meth in Kentucky and Indiana: For day one, click here. For day two, click here. For an interactive display of the drug's eastward march through the state, click here.

The Cherokee County ( Ala.) Herald reported on the dangers of meth.

Louisville’s WLKY reported that an eighty-eight year old woman fought off two would-be robbers on the run from meth charges by brandishing her cane.

The Albert Lea Tribune featured a series on meth’s effects on Minnesota, ending in this editorial.

The Navajo Hopi Observer reported in the documentary ‘G’ detailing meth abuse in Native American communities.

The East Texas Review reported that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is sending a message to meth producers.

Savannah’s WSAV reported that Savannah SWAT team members have begun using special chemical suits complete with air packs and gas masks to raid suspected meth labs.

WTWO reported that a Terre Haute, Ind., day care operator and an alleged accomplice were arrested for dealing meth.

And Samantha Reynolds of Eastern Kentucky’s Paintsville Herald added to her coverage with a poem, titled “Ms. Crystal Meth.” It concluded:

Now that you’ve met me

What will you do?

Will you try me or not?

It’s all up to you.

I can show you more misery

Than words can tell.

Come, take my hand.

Let me lead you to Hell.

Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004

Agricultural trade surplus will vanish next year, Agricuture Department says

The U.S. trade surplus in agriculture, which has lasted almost 50 years and has been the key to mitigating the nation's huge overall trade deficit, will disappear next year, according to a forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Manufacturing News reports.

“Imports of agricultural products are forecast to increase from $52.7 billion in 2004 to $56 billion next year, equaling exports,” MN reported. That would mark the first time sicne the 1950s that agricultural imports have equaled exports. The report continued, “Imports of agricultural products have increased from $39 billion in 2001 to $46 billion in 2003 and to $52.7 billion in 2004. Exports are expected to decrease from $62.3 billion in 2004 to $56 billion next year due to lower prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton.

For a copy of the USDA report, click here.

Oxford American is revived again, thanks to Central Arkansas University

The Oxford American, which bills itself as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing,” is back in business after another hiatus that apparently came close to killing it off for good. This time, the savior is Central Arkansas University, with which the 12-year-old magazine says it has “a powerful long-term affiliation.”

While the American does not have an explicitly rural mission or audience, the character of the South is closely tied to rurality, and the Winter 2005 issue of the magazine bespeaks it. The cover photo, of a young girl holding a Hereford at the Tri-County Fair in Petersburg, W.Va., is part of a photo essay by Mary Noble Ours. There’s a touching item on an elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn.; a comic written by Kristin Gore, daughter of the vice president; and a story about rural communities in Arkansas and Mississippi trying to connect themselves with a new bridge over the Mississippi River as part of an extended Interstate 69.

The magazine cites its own favorites, such as “a stunning essay by the Grand Master of Southern Letters, Barry Hannah, on a vision he had of Jesus;” a department called “Writing on Writing,” including a comic essay by Charles Portis, whom author Donna Tartt calls “the greatest living, unsung American writer;” and “the return of favorite OA columnists: Roy Blount, Jr. (humor), Hal Crowther (books), and John T. Edge (food).” The editors say Edge will guest-edit an upcoming issue on Southern food. It all sounds very tasty already. –Al Cross, interim director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Kentucky Citizens for Open Government hopes to unite media, public in cause

Kentucky is the location of the newest press-and-public coalition formed to fight for openness in government at the state and local level. The group, Kentucky Citizens for Open Government, received notice last week that it had received a $10,000 check from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, which funds such state groups with money from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Future funding is expected from media and citizen groups, foundations, and membership dues.

KCOG is being coordinated through the Kentucky Press Association. “Once it's firmly established, the operation will be turned over to the coalition to operate and coordinate,” KPA Executive Director David Thompson said. The group was formed through meetings of print and broadcast media representatives and citizen groups that had demonstrated support of open government at the state and local level.

The coalition’s mission statement says it “promotes open government and freedom of information through education and advocacy,” and that its goals are openness in government at every level, unimpeded access by citizens to public records and government meetings, and citizens who understand their rights of access to their government and vigorously exercise those rights.”

Tennessee soldier says he, not embedded reporter, drafted question for Rumsfeld

The Tennessee National Guardsman who started the clamor for ousting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with a tough question on Dec. 8 about the lack of vehicle armor, has told Time magazine the question originated with him, not a reporter.

In the latest issue of Time, Specialist Thomas Jerry Wilson of the 278th Regimental Combat Team says embedded reporter Edward Lee Pitts of the Chattanooga Times Free Press urged him to come up with some “intelligent questions'” for Rumsfeld, who was not taking questions from reporters during a visit to Iraq-bound troops in Kuwait.

In his first public account of the controversy, Wilson told Time that when he ran the armor question past Pitts, the reporter '”suggested a less brash way of asking the question. I told him no, that I wanted to make my point very clear.”

The Time report continues, “As for Rumsfeld's brusque response -- that even a fully armored vehicle ‘can be blown up’ -- Wilson says, ‘Personally, I didn't like that answer.’” But he added, “I hope I didn't do any damage to Secretary Rumsfeld.”

“Following the meeting, Wilson told Rumsfeld he did not intend to put him ‘on the spot’ or show disrespect, and the two shook hands,” Leon Alligood of The Tennessean reported. “Most soldiers were ‘overwhelmingly positive’ afterward, Wilson says, but one officer suggested he should have asked the question in a more ‘proper forum.’” Wilson told Time that he replied, “What would the proper forum be?” and added: “If it costs me my career to save another soldier, I'll give it.”

Monday, Dec. 20, 2004

Some rural counties on EPA list for exceeding limit on fine particulates

A few rural aeas, such as part of the Ohio River valley, are among areas exceeding the new federal standard for fine soot and other tiny particulates, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday. All or part of 224 counties, with 95 million people, are included in the desuignation; all but three states involved (California, Colorado and Montana) are east of the Mississippi River.

The particluates, about 1/30 the width of an average human hair, can lodge in the lungs and cause respiratory illness and premature death. Here is a New York Times story and a Washington Post story on the issue.

The designations could have an impact beyond the counties on the list; a state could lose federal highway dollars if it does not act to clean up the pollution. Click here for a map of the designated counties.

The largest groups of counties in noncompliance with the new standard are in the Los Angeles basin and interior central California; the urban corridor from New York City to Washington; the Ohio River valley; Atlanta and its greater metro area; St. Louis; Chicago, and Detroit. States with counties in violation are Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Rural needs: Niche foods, entrepreneurs, skills and scenic leverage, experts say

To grow their economies, rural communities must take advantage of all opportunities, including niche agriculture and high-skilled nonfarm industries, says “Beyond Cows and Corn,” a commentary in a recent edition of Main Street Economist, a publication of The Center for the Study of Rural America, part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

While larger farms that produce commodities can limit costs, other producers will take a value-oriented approach, targeting specific markets “willing to pay a premium for high-quality farm goods,” economists Jason Henderson and Stephan Weiler write. That could lead to “productive rural-urban linkages, as farmers produce ultra-fresh grain, produce and meat products for the specific demands of a nearby urban populace.”

Rural nonfarm economic sectors must also continue to evolve as well, the experts say, because rural areas are becoming increasingly reliant on high-skilled jobs. Entrepreneurship and small business growth are key to the success of rural economies. “Enhancing labor-force skills and expanding the technological capabilities of rural firms are essential in maintaining the innovative momentum that distinguishes successful businesses.”

Also, rural communities must “leverage their scenic settings to attract and retain high-quality individuals,” and those without scenic advantages can package “varying natural, social, and cultural amenities across broader regional partnerships,” the economists write, concluding: “Rural communities are beginning to think regionally to seize the opportunities of globalization and exploit high-value niche markets in agriculture, manufacturing and services. These fresh and exciting directions for rural America will inevitably dislodge the myth of its commodity agricultural base, further helping to propel rural sconomies toward their potential.”

The article notes that service jobs now account for almost half of rural employment, and that as rural areas grow economically, they become more urbanized. As a result, more than 500 rural counties have been added to metropolitan areas since 1970. In 2000, the Census Bureau gave 674 counties the new designation “micropolitan,” signaling the growth and economic significance of such small cities and large towns.

Strip miners, regulators say they'll push reforestation; environmentalists skeptical

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and coal-industry representatives from West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia signed an agreement last week vowing to promote tree planting at former mine sites.

But the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative agreement is non-binding, as the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy pointed out in refusing to sign it. Other groups are wary. Julia Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch said the initiative could be nothing more than a way to justify mountaintop removal mining, which she wants to see banned.

For the Associated Press story via WYMT-TV in Hazard, Ky,, click here.

New York City's education needs could lead to more help for state's rural schools

A court order to improve state school funding in New York City has led to a proposal that would also help the Empire State's poor, rural school districts. The plan offers "a statewide solution to school finance," reports Paul Ertelt, Capitol Bureau reporter for the The (Oneonta) Daily Star.

"Needy rural schools would actually see a bigger per-pupil increase in state aid under the plan" than those in the Big Apple, Ertelt reports. The city's average per-pupil aid "would go from $5,492 to $6,198, an increase of $706. Average aid for high-need rural schools would go from $8,213 to $8,975, an increase of $762."

Ertet writes, "Last month, a court-appointed panel of special masters recommended that aid to city schools be increased by $1.4 billion next year and by $5.6 billion in four years. The panel also recommended that the state provide billions of dollars more for renovation and building projects at city schools. The panel said the money should come from state and city sources, but did not dictate how much each should pay. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the state should pick up the entire cost of the aid increase. State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse is expected to issue a court order based on the panel’s recommendations next month."

A local newspaper goes beyond its borders to put issues in regional context

Reporter Allison McCowan of The Sentinel-Echo in London, Ky., had a couple of stories Friday that did something the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues was created to encourage and help local news outlets to do -- report on broader issues that have impact on local readers, listeners and viewers.

McCowan reported on defense attorneys' challenges to arrests made with the help of a federally funded anti-drug program, reporting officials' view that the issue was less likely to be raised in the newspaper's home Laurel County because its detectives had been sworn as county officers. (The county's other paper, the London-Laurel News Journal, was also on the regional drug beat, reporting on marijuana growth in the Daniel Boone National Forest and a federal grant being issued to combat it.)

McCowan picked up on the annual Kids Count survey about poverty's effects on children, reporting that Laurel County remained about on a par with the rest of Kentucky, and the county's percentage of children in poverty declined just 1 percentage point since 1990, to 29 percent in 2004. While the rate of live births to mothers who had not graduated high school went down 7 points, those to unwed mothers went up 7 points. McCowan described other indicative data, on smoking, prenatal care and so on.

While the story included no local examples of children in poverty, which could have been vivid illustrations, it reminded readers of the phenomenon and its socioeconomic effects. In an adjoining county, the McCreary County Record, also published by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., did a similar story.

Off-track betting in mid-Appalachia: Another addiction to keep money at home?

"Off-track betting is coming to another eastern Kentucky town and it's bringing mixed feelings," WYMT-TV reports from Pikeville, where the only bowling alley is being replaced by an OTB parlor.

"Some say it is a smart move for Pike County and will bring more money and tourism to the area," the station reports, "but some residents say Eastern Kentucky has enough addictions to deal with without adding another temptation. "Instead of developing a gambling mentality I think we ought to try to learn to create wealth by developing jobs and giving people meaningful things to do," minister Paul Badgett said.

But City Manager Donovan Blackburn says more than half the residents of Pike County, Kentucky's easternmost, leave it to go to other gambling facilities, or gamble online -- so the facility will keep part of that money at home. Officials say they hope to open the city-approved facility sometime in January.

Friday, Dec. 17, 2004

Rural radio station helps inmates, families exchange holiday greetings nationwide

A southeastern Kentucky radio station popular among big-city inmates in isolated prisons in central Appalachia plans to take its annual Christmas program nationwide this year.

Roger Alford, Pikeville-based reporter for The Associated Press, writes that Whitesburg's WMMT-FM will host a call-in show Monday for people to send holiday greetings to inmates from Virginia to California. Prisoners also can call in for the program to send greetings home. The program is to run from 7 to 10 p.m.

Nick Szuberla, a WMMT on-air personality who helped produce the call-in show tells Alford the project (part of the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund) is a public service to inmates, being held in prisons far from home, who may not receive a holiday visit from relatives. "The benefit to us is not monetary," Szuberla said. "This is not a commercially profitable venture. Part of the mission of the radio station is to give a voice to people who may not have a way to get their message heard."

More than 40 radio stations nationwide are to simulcast the call-in program. AP reports that Lorenzo McClean, an inmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Va., said inmates appreciate the radio station's initiative. "Thank you for looking at us as human beings," McClean said.

Private guard at D.C.-area home sites charged with arson; no eco-terrorism

Federal authorities say a 21-year-old security guard who worked at a new, upscale subdivision in southern Maryland was arrested yesterday and charged in the worst case of residential arson in the state's history.

Aaron L. Speed of Waldorf, Md., was arrested after making self-incriminating statements during a polygraph test, law-enforcement sources told The Washington Post. "After initially considering eco-terrorism and racism as possible motives for the arsons, investigators moved away from those theories this week. They declined to say yesterday what might have prompted the arsons," Eric Rich and Sari Horwitz wrote. Their sources described Speed "as a young man in a downward emotional spiral after a family tragedy last spring."

The Dec. 6 blazes at the Hunters Brooke subdivision in Indian Head caused about $10 million in damage, destroying 10 houses and damaging 16 others, priced between $400,000 and $500,000. Speed had been an employee of a North Carolina security company hired to guard the development.

The 119-acre development provoked concerted opposition from local groups and the Sierra Club, which wrote in a 2000 report, "The project will destroy a forest adjacent to state-preserved wildlands and severely degrade one of Maryland's largest magnolia bogs." Charles County Administrator Eugene T. Lauer told The New York Times, "The arrest has helped allay concerns that ecoterrorists had set the fires."

UNC-Chapel Hill abolishes its highest award for women over racism concerns

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has abolished the school's highest award for women after determining that it commemorated a woman who supported white supremacy.

The Bell Award, set up a decade ago, honored Cornelia Phillips Spencer, best known in North Carolina as the woman who tolled the South Building bell to signal the reopening of the university in 1875 after a political shutdown. Yonnie Chapman, who is researching black freedom and the university, told The News & Observer that Spencer played a key role in closing the university in 1871, ending a Reconstruction effort to open it to black students. “Her tolling of the bell, often seen as a symbol of her love for the university, could also be interpreted as her celebration of ‘the white supremacist’ Democrats' return to power.” he said.

The university says it doesn't have a plan to establish another award for women at this time. For an Associated Press rewrite, click here. For the N&O home page, click here.

National Guard to get billions in new equipment; including armor for all vehicles

One week after a Tennessee National Guard scout on his way to Iraq expressed concerns to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about lack of armor protection on vehicles, the Pentagon has announced the National Guard needs $20 billion in vehicles, radios and other equipment over the next three years.

The Associated Press reports the money would be to perform all the overseas and homeland security missions the National Guard is being assigned, including armoring every vehicle entering Iraq: “Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum told reporters at the Pentagon that Guard units leaving Iraq are leaving much of their equipment behind for incoming units to use. That means the outgoing units have little of their gear when they get home.”

Blum said the Army Guard may seek up to $7 billion in equipment in an upcoming emergency spending measure that will pay for U.S. military operations overseas. He insisted, however, that Iraq-bound troops are receiving equipment as good as that used the regular Army. He said Spec. Thomas Wilson's question was appropriate, his Tennessee unit would not enter Iraq without every vehicle having some kind of armor, and the unit's commander reported to Blum personally that the armoring was completed.

Kentucky public defenders seek more funds; caseloads threaten work for indigent

Kentucky public defenders yesterday requested more money fearing large caseloads are threatening quality legal help for poor people accused of crimes and increasing stress for attorneys who represent them, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Southern Kentucky Bureau Chief Bill Estep writes attorneys in the Department of Public Advocacy have seen their caseloads jump 12 percent, to an average of 489 cases per public defender, in the most recent fiscal year. Ernie Lewis, head of the department told Estep that is almost twice the recommended level.

The newspaper reports DPA attorneys met in Somerset yesterday to discuss the problem. The session, called "Justice Jeopardized," was the first of several meetings planned around the state on the issue but the only one scheduled before the 2005 legislative session. Lewis told Estep after the meeting, "We're afraid that because of our caseloads, an innocent man is going to be convicted."

W. Va. airport seeks funds from Kentucky and Ohio to boost ‘tri-state’ service

The Tri-State Airport Authority is seeking funds from Ohio and Kentucky to support better service at the airport near Huntington, W.Va., after the Federal Aviation Administration turned down a proposal to build an airport between Huntington and Charleston, reports the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.

Scott Wartman writes that local governments, mainly in West Virginia, have pledged donations that total $130,000 this fiscal year to the airport authority for marketing and improving air service. Its only out-of-state check was $5,000 from Ashland, Ky.

Bill Byrd, assistant airport director of finance and administration, tells Wartman that without help from surrounding areas, the airport is limited by its current budget. For decades the airport has been viewed as a major economic development hub for the tri-state area.

A. Michael Perry, an airport authority board member, told Wartman the airport authority also wants political support from surrounding states. Over three years the airport has been rejected for federal grants to improve air service. “The Tri-State Airport needs more of a presence in Washington, D.C. to swing grants in its favor. As we are dealing with Washington, we have to have Congressional support of both Kentucky and Ohio.”

Young TV journalist killed in W. Va. auto crash; graduated Marshall in May

A 25-year-old Huntington area woman, working as a weekend producer at WOWK-TV, died yesterday in a collision on Interstate 64 near Huntington, reports the Herald-Dispatch. Police identified the woman as Dustin R. Opell. The newspaper says she graduated from Marshall University in May with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism. She was named outstanding reporter for her work on student newscasts.

Thursday, Dec. 16, 2004

Rural roads in Southeast deadliest in nation; site of one-third of all fatalities

A Georgia Institute of Technology study shows rural two-lane highways, especially in the Southeast, account for almost one-third of U. S. traffic fatalities, reports Newswise.com.

The study also says 64 percent of those accidents occurred on rural two-lane highways, which are the largest single class of roads in the nation. Georgia Tech Associate Professor of Civil Engineering Karen Dixon, who headed the regional study funded by the Federal Highway Administration through the Georgia Department of Transportation said, “The most frequent crashes in the Southeast occurred on rural roads in wooded areas where people ran off the road and hit a tree.”

The study showed the most common contributing factor to traffic fatalities on rural roads was late-night driving by tired or apparently intoxicated motorists, especially on weekends. Many of these victims were males between ages 16 and 25. The study included rural roads in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida. Tennessee chose not to participate.

Farm subsidy fraud is on the rise, National Public Radio reports

With the U.S. Treasury paying out more than $16 billion a year in crop subsidies, fraud is on the rise with some farmers getting greedy, and some getting caught reports National Public Radio's John Burnett. Burnett’s report aired Dec. 9 and is available on the NPR Web site. For the full report by click here.

Burnett’s report cites Kenny Goodman who, he says, “was one of the biggest cotton farmers and biggest recipients of federal subsidies in the country. Between 1998 and 2000, his farming empire in the Mississippi delta swelled from fewer than 10,000 acres to 40,000 acres.

“In order to multiply the checks from the U.S. Treasury, Goodman set up a complex web of 78 different corporations and partnerships. But the names should have been a tip-off that something was fishy--Megabucks Inc, Get Rich Inc., and Easy Money Inc., “ reports Burnett.

Federal prosecutor John Dowdy tells Burnett, “This is if not the biggest, one of the biggest, program subsidy fraud cases ever prosecuted.” Burnett reports a federal judge in Jackson, Miss., sentenced Goodman to five years in prison and ordered him to make restitution of $11.2 million over three years.

“Greed overrode common sense, and the defendant in this case went way beyond where he ever should have in defrauding the government,” Dowdy said. Assistant U. S. Attorney Greg Brooker tells Burnett, “There's an awful lot of money in these farm bills … about $190 billion, and in Minnesota alone that's a billion dollars a year coming in. And with these farm bills getting larger and larger, there's a coordinated effort to ferret out that fraud and make that a priority.”

Justice delayed, justice denied? Newspaper details N.C. crime-evidence backlog

A backlog of evidence to some 8,000 sexual assault cases at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Raleigh, with cases taking 10 to 20 months before trial, is powerfully detailed and artfully localized in a two-part series reported by the Watauga Democrat.

Reporter Jerry Sena illustrates one case involving Boone Police Capt. William Green and his evidence gathering to focus on the larger statewide dilemma.“Once Capt. Greene takes leave of his meticulously prepared cargo at the Raleigh lab, the (evidence) kits will take their place among a backlog of 8,000 similarly prepared boxes, all awaiting the sorely taxed attention of SBI agents,” he writes.

Sena reports the backup is, “The consequence of a dearth of funding, a lack of staffing, and a law passed last year that greatly increased the workload of lab personnel without paying for more resources to address it.”
Lab analysts may eventually extract DNA from each of the kits for comparison as the Boone Police Department has requested. Or, they might not. The premium on lab resources often forces it to take only the most serious cases, often homicides, and leave the rest sitting on the shelf untouched,” he continues.

The state attorney general’s office says the evidence won't be forgotten, especially if special attention is requested. With the state budget deficit at $1 billion, DNA testing has been assigned a low priority. For part one of Sena’s series click here; click here for part two.

Oregon governor says more technology will stop rural brain drain

Outgoing Oregon governor Bob Holden says more modern technology in rural areas would slow the brain drain to the nation’s cities, reportsThe Associated Press.

At the annual Governor’s Conference on Agriculture, Holden said,“High-speed Internet, broadband, all of that. It should be readily available like it is in the cities. If you have low living costs and better living conditions in the rural areas where you can raise your families, where would you choose to live?"

About 300 farmers, agriculture educators, government employees and agribusiness officials gave Holden standing ovations before and after his remarks kicking off the two-day gathering of the state's agricultural leaders. Major themes at the meeeting were stimulating rural communities and enhancing farming operations.

Inmates counted in towns' populations; Census rule boosts areas' political clout

A quirk in the way the Census counts certain resident boosts population -- and thus political clout -- for some rural parts of Nevada, and reduces African-American representation in cities, AP reports.

Three of the most under-populated Nevada state Senate districts have large prison populations, and the true populations are smaller than the estimates used when lawmakers realigned all the Senate districts in 2001. Nevada's black communities are hurt by the outdated counting methods. Blacks account for almost 7 percent of the state's population, but more than 27 percent of the state's prisoners are blacks.

AP's Brendan Riley writes the Census quirk allows inmates from urban areas sentenced to outlying prisons to be counted residents of the prison town:“The biggest beneficiary of the Census counting practice is Pershing County, one of 21 counties in the nation that has at least 21 percent of its population behind bars, according to the report by the Prison Policy Initiative and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.”

Rural Nevada has lost representation because of rapid growth in the state's urban centers, AP reports, and rural areas “would lose even more if inmates were listed as residents of the areas they actually came from.” But Bob Fulkerson of PLAN tells Riley that the census "steals the political clout that rightly belongs in Las Vegas and Reno, and this is wrong." Peter Wagner, author of the new study detailing the effects of the census quirk told Riley, “This census policy creates an inaccurate picture of our communities, and state legislatures that rely on Census data likely violate the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.”

ASNE, seeking to boost membership, says it wants editors from smaller papers

The American Society of Newspaper Editors is reaching out to small newspapers as it launches a campaign to reverse a four-year decline in membership. "We thought it was time to put ourselves in front of people who are not members,” said Scott Bosley, executive director of the group, which is limited to directing editors at daily papers.

Editor and Publisher reports that the group's membership has dropped 18 percent in four years, from 914 in 2000 to 750 in 2004. "I don't think anything has happened that frightens us," Bosley told E & P. "But there have been changes in the industry, and people are not spending as much on a lot of things."

ASNE was already working on small-paper membership, by creating a new, lowest tier of dues, which are based on circulation. Editors of papers with less than 10,000 pay $195 a year, and those from 10,000 to 25,000 pay $375. Those between 25,000 and 50,000 pay $600; larger papers' editors pay $625, plus a $300 initiation fee that is waived for smaller papers.

The group plans to send membership information to the top editor at every paper over 10,000 circulation that does not have an ASNE member. "We welcome members from the smaller newspapers, but find that newsroom budgets and churn make this a difficult group to attract and retain," Chris Schmitt, the group's membership director, told the Institiute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

David Zeeck of The (Tacoma) News Tribune, ASNE's membership chairman, told IRJCI that the benefits of membership include being plugged into the best professional network of editors, "people you can call on for training, critique, advice and support. My best friends in the business -- and the people I call on in times of trouble -- are editors I met through ASNE." He said membership also helps with hiring and other managerial matters. We at the IRJCI encourage editors to join ASNE and other journalism groups.

Zeeck also cited the group's longtime leadership in First Amendment and freedom-of-information activities, such as the "Sunshine Sunday" effort to present editorials, commentary, cartoons, and news and feature stories on March 13, 2005, to encourage a nationwide discussion about open government that emphasizes why freedom of information benefits all citizens, not just journalists.

Moyers blasts 'right-wing media, RNC propaganda' in final PBS 'Now' report

In Bill Moyers' final report for his Public Broadcasting System series "Now," hes is going out with a blast. PBS says Moyers will tell what he thinks "is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media [have] become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee." Moyers, who conservative tal-show hosts call a radical, told AP's Frazier Moore, "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the American people."

The notice from PBS also says, "The show, by the way, will survive its founder's departure. Co-host David Brancaccio will be taking over." Kentucky Educational Television will carry the final installment tomorrow (Friday) evening, on KET2 at 9 p.m. and on KET1. Find the schedule for your town by clicking here.

Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004

Video gambling in Kentucky, Indiana prompts call: legalize it or enforce the law

A series of reports in The Courier-Journal, uncovering rampant illegal video gambling in Kentucky and Indiana, has prompted a call from Indiana’s newly elected governor to enforce laws banning the activity, or legalize it, according to a follow-up report in today’s edition of the Louisville newspaper. We think it could -- or should -- prompt some local reporting about the issue in the two states and elsewhere.

Grace Schneider and Lesley Stedman Weidenbener, who did the earlier reports, write, "Indiana Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels told reporters in Indianapolis he hasn't decided which option is better. But he added that the current situation — weak enforcement and widespread illegal gambling — is unacceptable."

Daniels said, "The status quo, where you have a law that's not being enforced is almost always a bad idea.” Kentucky officials, meanwhile, said legislation may be needed to deal with the problem. Mark York, deputy secretary of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, told the newspaper, "It's a question of looking at some of the issues and determining: Does there need to be greater oversight?"

The C-J series documented many instances of illegal video gambling in bars, truck stops, convenience stores and other establishments in both states, up and down the Interstate 75 corridor -- which provides an opportunity for local news outlets to survey their own areas and ask questions about enforcement. The phenomenon is prevalent in many states.

“Thousands of slot-like gambling devices and video poker machines operate openly and illegally — allowing operators to rake in millions of dollars in untaxed profits.” The C-J reports that in Kentucky, enforcement outside of Louisville is spotty. “Neither state has focused effectively on the problem. Kentucky authorities say limited resources force them to target more serious crime.”

Rural Democrats in Georgia legislature form caucus to steer party to center

Following two years of electoral routs, Georgia’s rural Democrats are the latest, among many Southern party faithful, who are soul-searching and solution-seeking, trying to divine a means to recover their once powerful influence on local, state and national politics, reports The Associated Press.

Dick Pettys writes, “Reeling from their party's loss of the state House in state elections last month, they are forming their own legislative caucus to press for issues of concern outside metro Atlanta and the suburbs, and perhaps steer their party back to the center.” They view this latest effort as a final try to save a party which has lost the governorship and both houses of the Legislature in the last two years, he writes.

Rep. Gerald Greene told Pettys, "Not only must rural Georgia have a voice, but Democrats in Georgia must prove they aren't like national Democrats. I made the suggestion the other day that we all get Zell Miller's book and read it." A National Party No More, the 2003 book by the Democratic senator and former governor, argued the party had moved too far to the left. Miller's support for President Bush’s re-election alienated many fellow Democrats, but Greene suggested to Pettys the state party should turn to Miller to head it. "We need to bring him in." Fox News announced yesterday that Miller is its newest contributor.

Rep. Richard Royal is among the Democrats losing top positions when Republicans take control of the House next month and those courted by the Georgia GOP to change parties. Royal said he's waiting to see if his party has learned anything from the election. Firing a warning shot at his fellow Democrats, Royal told AP, “As a rural legislator, I am going to take whatever steps are necessary to represent my constituents.”

ASNE, RTNDA, Knight planning to take 'Sunshine Sunday' nationwide March 13

For three years, newspapers in Florida, then in South Carolina and Alabama, have conducted "Sunshine Sunday" campaigns to build public support for freedom of information. The campaign "is going national and expanding to an entire week beginning next March 13," Editor and Publisher reports.

"During 'Sunshine Sunday/Sunshine Week,' newspapers, broadcasters, and online news organizations nationwide will present editorials, commentary, cartoons, and news and feature stories to encourage a nationwide discussion about open government that emphasizes why transparency benefits all citizens, and not just journalists, Cox Newspapers Washington bureau chief Andy Alexander said Tuesday afternoon in a conference call announcing the campaign," Mark Fitzgerald reports.

Alexander heads the FOI Committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which is leading the effort, funded by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to ASNE and the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley, who called last year for the news media to be more aggressive on the FOI front, said government secrecy "seems to be growing at an epidemic rate." With nine Amerfican journalists now facing prison or under house imprisonment, he added, "It behooves us in the media to move to the balls of our feet and become more aggressive about defending open government. We need to connect to the people, and we ourselves need to be out there fighting for access."

The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors began Sunshine Sundays in 2002 out of concern over the dozens of access-restricting bills that Florida state legislators proposed in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks. The national effort is to be "very broad based," involving librarians and schools, organizers said. "The campaign will launch a Web site, www.sunshineweek.org, next month that will include op-eds and article that can be used by print or online media; story ideas; video news packages; information for setting up community FOI programs in local libraries; and links to FOI resources," E & P reports.

Liberal political groups protest Sinclair Broadcasting's ‘Republican bias’

A coalition of liberal political groups is charging Sinclair Broadcast Group with filling the nation’s airwaves with "Republican bias" and plans to pressure the company’s advertisers but stop short of a boycott, at least for now, reports The Los Angeles Times.

“The group charges the 62-station TV broadcaster, which was also the target of intense criticism during the presidential campaign, is misusing public airwaves with partisan news programming, ” reports Elizabeth Jensen, who led the way on reporting Sinclair's plan to feed a anti-John Kerry documentary to its stations, most of which are in small to medium-sized markets, giving the group a large rural audience.

The anti-Sinclair campaign will be run through a new website, SinclairAction.com. Jensen writes, “The main focus of the protest is ‘The Point’ commentary by Mark Hyman, who is Sinclair's spokesman and also oversees the company's Washington lobbying.” She cites a recent Media Matters analysis of "The Point" which found commentaries from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1 repeatedly attacked Kerry, former President Clinton and other Democratic politicians, labeling Democrats the "Angry Left." The review said Hyman also charged liberal bias in the media and expressed support for Bush administration policies, she writes.

Sinclair has denied bias in its programming, claiming it gives attention to points of view other media outlets ignore. Hyman told TV critic David Zurawik of Sinclair's hometown Baltimore Sun, "I'm a little amused that in a 160-hour programming week [of news on Sinclair stations], anybody would be concerned with my comments, which run one or two minutes long on a daily basis for a total of 10 to 15 minutes a week."

Hyman said he is one of the few TV commentators who flashes the word "commentary" fon the screen as he speaks. "We go out of our way to make sure people know it's purely opinion," he told Zurawik. "So, for an organization to kind of get wrapped around the axle and be really concerned about opinion, just seems to be a misplaced priority. They would be better served if they focused on news content. ... I think the fact that they don't talk about our news portion of our newscasts suggests that they're satisfied that the newscasts are honest, balanced and impartial. I certainly think they are."

Hyman's commentary airs on about 40 of the 62 stations that Sinclair owns, programs or manages, reaching about one-fourth of U.S. homes with televisions. Sinclair's license renewals for six stations in North and South Carolina are being challenged by the nonprofit group Free Press, Jensen notes.

Dec. 13 and 14 blogs are unavailable. Contact us for details. Headlines included:

Video gambling in Kentucky, Indiana prompts call: legalize it or enforce the law

Rural Democrats in Georgia legislature form caucus to steer party to center

ASNE, RTNDA, Knight planning to make 'Sunshine Sunday' nationwide Mar. 13

Former big-city reporter, partner expand ‘blogosphere’ to back fence and beyond

No ‘squaw’ in Oregon place names raises language and replacement dilemmas

Friday, Dec. 10, 2004

Johanns should promote causes to save U.S. farm economy, Hoover fellow writes

Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns faces many challenges as secretary of the U. S. Department of Agriculture because "American agriculture is at a dangerous crossroads," Victor Davis Hanson writes in an opinion piece in The New York Times. Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, calls on his fellow conservatives to help Johanns promote causes most recently more associated with liberals, such as farmland preservation, local markets, sustainable agriculture and rural community development.

Hanson writes, "Despite government subsidies and technological advancements, the United States could soon become a net importer of food for the first time in about 50 years." He says the North American Free Trade Agreement and globalization are threatening the American farm economy. "Consumers often find that it is cheaper to eat tomatoes from Mexico or dried fruits from Asia or Africa than what is grown a few miles away. Meanwhile, especially in the fast-growing states of the South and West, medium-sized farmers find that selling their land is more profitable than cultivating it," he writes, pointing to the San Joaquin Valley, amid some of the richest farmland in the nation, where new houses dot the vanishing agrarian landscape. . . .

"As the next secretary takes office, he should consider both the changing role of American agriculture and the consequences of its decline. Subsidies are neither necessary nor desirable. They belie conservative faith in free markets, are distributed inequitably and are fiscally indefensible. Hanson says he new secretary should look to "hard-nosed conservative farmers, in and out of government, both Democrats and Republicans, who would find ways to preserve farmland, promote local farmers markets, emphasize sustainable agriculture and rebuild rural communities."

Hanson says the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 has "proved laughable." He writes that "while it was supposed to reduce government interference in agriculture and let farmers make more of their own decisions about what to plant, the law never really succeeded in weaning anyone off anything the government had to offer." Hanson was a farmer for several years and is the author of The Land Was Everything.

Court confines reporter over source; shows conservative trend on protections

A Rhode Island TV reporter was sentenced yesterday to six months home confinement for refusing to reveal who leaked him an FBI videotape of a politician taking a bribe. The case and others like it raise concern that there is a growing conservative legal trend on interpreting First Amendment protections.

The Associated Press reports, "Jim Taricani, 55, was sentenced Thursday for defying an order from U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres to identify his source. Found guilty last month, Taricani could have gotten up to six months in prison on the criminal contempt conviction." His sentence was mitigated by medical concerns. "The judge said the reporter's health was the only reason he didn't sent him to prison," AP reported.

AP writer Elizabeth Zuckerman reports Taricani is one of several journalists around the "who have become locked in First Amendment battles with the government over confidential sources. Among them are reporters for Time magazine and The New York Times, who have been threatened with jail as part of an investigation into the disclosure of an undercover CIA officer's identity."

An admission by a Providence defense attorney that he leaked the tape did not get Taricani off the hook. The judge in the case said the WJAR reporter "had no First Amendment right to protect a source who broke the law by providing him with information," writes Zuckerman. And the judge disputed claims the punishment was an assault on the First Amendment. "He also chided journalists in general for thinking they have "exclusive, unreviewable authority" to use confidential sources," she writes.

SPJ reports contrasts in First Amendment protections and rest of world

The limited protections reporters have under the First Amendment -- as agents of the people, seeking for them truths about their government -- are limited or non-existent elsewhere in the world. Reporters elsewhere are routinely jailed and punished, the Society of Professional Journalists notes in a series of media articles. One is an article on the Reporters Without Borders site, condemning as "a dangerous precedent" the sentencing of Ken Peters, a journalist on the Hamilton (Ont.) Spectator, for protecting a source.

SPJ, in its Press Notes, profiles important examples and arguments about U.S. cases. In one, hearing arguments on whether two journalists should be jailed for refusing to name their confidential sources to a grand jury, a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington seemed on Wednesday to reject their main argument. Only one judge appeared to leave the door open for the possibility that journalists called before grand juries might have some legal protection, though not under the First Amendment. For the full story on that from The New York Times, click here. The Washington Post reported that the judges suggested that reporters might be able to refuse to reveal the names of their confidential sources in selected criminal investigations, but have no blanket protection against the responsibility to testify before a grand jury.

A USA Today editorial said, "The public loses when reporters can't shield their source. Trouble is, the privilege to keep a source's name confidential either exists or it doesn't. If one reporter is forced to give up a name, no reporter -- and, more to the point, no whistle-blower or other source -- is safe." A contrastng commentary by Bruce Fein says, "Has the press lost all sense of decency, responsibility and moderation by clamoring for a special legal protection to keep the names of sources secret, even when that assists vile criminals in circumventing justice? Has the press become like Narcissus -- transfixed by self-love and blind to the possibility that solving a crime is more urgent than writing about it?"

Elsewhere in the world, the Committee to Protect Journalists notes the jailing of a Chinese journalist in Changsha reporting they are "Outraged that Chinese authorities have detained journalist Shi Tao... for 'leaking state secrets'... putting the total number jailed in the country at 42." The International Herald Tribune reports Filipino President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo promised Wednesday to pursue the killers of dozens of Filipino journalists, 26 of whom have been murdered during her presidency.

Reuters reports a leading Russian television presenter was suspended on Wednesday from the NTV channel's flagship news program after making sarcastic comments on air about the sacking of a journalist. And, The Associated Press reports from Venezuela a law that gives the government control over the content of radio and television programs in Venezuela took effect Thursday.

New Brunswick government shifting more power to rural communities

The provincial government of New Brunswick is proposing to turn over to localities some of its power to plan, tax and provide services. An administration bill would allow “local service districts to merge with each other or with villages to form new rural communities” with official powers, Canadian Press reports. “The communities would be able to elect councils to make decisions on community planning, services and taxes. Right now, those decisions are made by the provincial government.”

Local Government Minister Brenda Fowlie said the only local mandate would be planning, and no rural community would have to take on any other services. "They're not going to be forced to become rural communities, and they will not be forced to take on any responsibilities they do not feel ready for,'' she said, but added many areas want to decide such matters as streetlights, garbage collection, and recreation facilities.

Fowlie said the only initial impact on a community’s tax rates would be the cost of a new council and perhaps staff. “She said her department will conduct a feasibility study and gauge local support before any rural community is approved,” CP reported.

Kentucky farm economy showing strong signs; cash receipts hit record level

Agriculture economists say Kentucky agriculture is headed toward record revenues this year on the strength of robust livestock prices and ideal growing conditions for crops, despite a continuing decline in relative importance of the state's signature crop, tobacco.

Larry Jones, a University of Kentucky agricultural economist, told the annual convention of the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, "Total farm cash receipts in the state are projected to reach $3.97 billion in 2004, up 14 percent from a year ago" Jones also predicted that net farm income could reach an all-time high, reports The Associated Press.

Jones said unusually good growing conditions and very large harvests account for much of the improvement, and both livestock and grain sectors shared in the upswing. Crop production showed a 14 percent gain, and livestock receipts rose by nearly 13 percent. The overall figures beat the state average of $3.36 billion in yearly farm cash receipts since 1990. "The growing receipts helped farmers overcome higher production costs, especially for fuel and fertilizer," AP reports.

Horses will account for 20 percent of the state's total farm cash receipts, as will row crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat. And, the fast-growing poultry industry will represent another 19 percent. A decade ago, the poultry sector barely registered in breakdowns down each segment of the Kentucky farm economy. While tobacco sales this year could surpass $450 million for the first time since 2001, the leaf now accounts for only 11 percent of farm cash receipts, down from 25 percent in the early 1990s.

Bluegrass music lovers: Check out 'world renowned' Dobro player-electrician

Curtis Burch, whose excellence as a musician as garnered him an international reputation on the Dobro — a lap-style, resonator guitar, is profiled by Courier-Journal columist Byron Crawford, as only Crawford can profile, in today's edition of the Louisville newspaper.

Crawford writes, "Burch was at home in Bowling Green, repairing his water heater, when a friend in Atlanta called in 1995 to congratulate him on winning a Grammy Award. 'I thought maybe it was a joke.' It had slipped his mind that a compilation of works on which he had performed — called 'The Great Dobro Sessions' — had been nominated for a Grammy a few months earlier."

Crawford tells of the 59-year-old Burch's full-time job as an electrician, and the contrasting fame his musical talent has brought. "The CD featuring Burch's Dobro music from the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" won him five more Grammies. Yet many whom he has met on the job with R & S Electric during the past 17 years may be unaware of his double life that alternates between high voltage and high fidelity." Burch tells him, ""I've done better with music as a side thing than I did when I was doing it full-time When you do it full-time, the music business starts running you."

Crawford writes that Burch joined the band Bluegrass Alliance in 1971 and later helped form New Grass Revival, with which he toured for 10 years. Eventually he tired of the travel and settled in Bowling Green, where he began teaching Dobro and a few other instruments and working for R & S Electric. And, he says, Burch's job as an electrician has enabled him to fully enjoy and better appreciate his career in music.

Thursday, Dec. 9, 2004

Election showed an increasing divide between urban and rural America

In the presidential election, “Americans continued a decades-long process of sorting themselves geographically into like-minded communities . . . Democrats concentrating in dense urban areas and inner suburbs, Republicans expanding in exurbia and rural America,” and that helped President Bush win re-election, Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday.

“The nation in 2004 became more politically polarized than during any presidential contest since World War II,” Bishop wrote, reporting his analysis of the results, supported by previous analyses by Robert Cushing, a retired University of Texas sociologist. “Voters on average are less likely to live among neighbors who supported a different candidate for president. Communities are more homogenous, more single-minded.”

In 1976, only 27 percent of voters lived in “landslide” counties, those Jimmy Carter or Gerald Ford carried by more than 20 percentage points. That percentage has increased pretty steadily, to 48 percent this year. The results showed “a cultural divide . . . that is real and vast,” Republican strategist Bill Greener told Bishop. Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said, “People are choosing to move (to) places where there are people who are like them.” Other experts said likewise.

“The continuing polarization is self-perpetuating,” Bishop wrote. “As communities become more homogenous, minority points of view are heard less often, and majorities can become more extreme in their thinking.” Nathanial Persily, a redistricting specialist and law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told him, “There is a point where communities become echo chambers.” Persily said the trend aided Republican turnout efforts, which used churches and neighborhood networks.

Bishop reported that nearly two-thirds of the 10 million votes Bush gained from 2000 to 2004 came from “smaller exurban and rural counties, especially in states that decided this election.” He cited the ultimately decisive state of Ohio, where Bush won 62 percent of the rural vote. He got 59 percent in Ohio’s “exurban” counties, which are outside metro areas but growing fast.

Rumsfeld hears from heartland troopers headed for Iraq: give us armor!

Sparking a phalanx of national news coverage, a trooper from Tennessee has re-ignited the debate over America’s logistical commitment to the combat men and women fighting a war in Iraq, a conflict in which soldiers from rural areas are playing a disproportionate role.

The New York Times details soldiers' questioning of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in what was supposed to be “a morale-lifting town hall discussion with Iraq-bound troops” at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait. Center-stage in the inquiry was a mechanic from Nashville, Eric Schmitt writes:

“Specialist Thomas Wilson, a scout with a Tennessee National Guard unit set to roll into Iraq this week, was the first to step forward, saying that soldiers had had to scrounge through landfills here for pieces of rusty scrap metal and bulletproof glass -- what they called 'hillbilly armor' -- to bolt to their trucks. ‘Why don't we have those resources readily available to us?’ Specialist Wilson asked Mr. Rumsfeld, drawing cheers and applause from many of the 2,300 soldiers assembled in a cavernous hangar here to meet the secretary."

Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Lee Pitts, embedded with the 278th (not-so?) Armored Cavalry, comprising mostly Tennesseans, claimed credit for arranging the question, which followed up on a story he had done. For details from Editor & Publisher, click here. For a follow-up, with the newspaper's defense of the reporter, click here. Tom Griscom, editor and publisher of the Times Free Press, wrote, "Mr. Pitts used the tools available to him as a journalist to report on a story that has been and remains important to members of the 278th and those back at home." But in a note to readers today, he said, "In hindsight, information on how the question was framed should have been included in Thursday's story."

''Not doing so gives a really misleading picture of how this took place,'' Rem Rieder, editor of American Journalism Review, told The Tennessean. However, other media ethicists saw little to worry about. The Chattanooga paper quoted Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies as saying that Pitts was honest with soldiers about what he was doing, and "I don't see any form of deceit in what he did." Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, told The Washington Post that Pitts "may have emboldened soldiers to ask questions that citizens are often a little more timid about asking," and may have seen that the question was framed "in a more provocative way," but practiced "no sleight of hand." Alex Jones, director of Harvard University's Shorenstein media center, told the Post that the episode "makes me uncomfortable," but "I don't consider this to be a setup because it was a legitimate question as far as the soldier was concerned."

There have been numerous deaths and injuries to troopers in Iraq often involving insurgents attacking lightly protected Humvees shredded by the blast and shrapnel of roadside bombs. The Times reported Rumsfeld, who replied "You go to war with the army you have" and said even tanks can be blown up, was caught off guard by the verbal ambush of not-so-friendly fire.

Washington Post military writer Thomas Ricks reports, "Rumsfeld's responses provoked a wave of criticism from congressional Democrats. Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) called Rumsfeld's remarks 'callous.' Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) termed them 'contemptuous.' Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) labeled them 'stunning.' . . . Some military experts agreed with the criticism. 'Any problem mentioned, he's in denial," said retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey. 'Troop frustration is growing.'" Other experts said the exchange was fairly typical, and noted that unarmored Humvees are supposed to be used only inside U.S. bases. A transcript of the meeting is available at www.dod.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20041208-secdef1761.html.

Commentary: Scout Wilson is a true point man for his fellow troops

He was one lone trooper, apparently speaking for many, and he took on the might of the most powerful military man in the country, the glib and formidable Donald Rumsfeld. The lone soldier facing down Rumsfeld in Kuwait, asking for armor protection from stealthy, deadly insurgent warfare is a scout -- a point man, usually the first to take fire, and often the first to fall.

What Army Specialist Thomas Wilson showed is the kind of guts and tenacity any unit of grunts wants “out front” when they need their collective derrières covered in combat. Wilson knows what “Support the Troops” really means. It’s far more than ribbons on the backs of America's SUVs.

Your blogger has seen courage under fire. Wilson showed it, and in his display he showed true patriotism. Far from disrespecting a senior officer, or being unpatriotic, he showed something much more important; respect for his fellow troopers. In warfare, it's all about the person next to you when the "stuff" hits the fan. Others spoke up, but Wilson led the pack, as he is supposed to do in combat.

In his plea for armor, we hear this clarion call: Don’t send our men and women into harm's way without our absolute best, without our total commitment from this most powerful nation on earth. To do otherwise is flagrant hubris, and cavalier, careless and calculated bureaucratic cowardice that is worse than the misguided, mistaken meddling that lost us a war some 30 years ago.

Army Specialist Thomas Wilson is America’s soldier. God bless him! The fact that he may have been coached by a reporter does not, in my mind, alter the significance of his act. He chose to stand up. He chose to speak up. Those of us acquainted with the military mindset of following orders, chain of command and standard operating procedures know this is a major shift in a long-standing paradigm that will likely influence the way wars are fought in the future. The responsibility of the news media (especially those who coached him) is to assure that his words and actions are seen and heard. --IRJCI Staff Assistant Bill Griffin, a Navy journalist, trained by U. S. Marines, who served in Vietnam in 1968-69.

'Grew up close to the land' comment draws earthy response from Johanns critic

President Bush's choice of Nebraska Gov. Michael Johanns as Secretary of the U. S. Department of Agriculture apparently hasn't impressed every farm interest, perhaps least of all, farm commentator Alan Guebert. Guebert's bio (click here) says he's, "an award-winning free-lance agricultural journalist who was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm.

After graduation from the University of Illinois in December 1980, Guebert was a writer and senior editor at Professional Farmers of America and Successful Farming magazine. his bio also says in 2002, he began writing The Final Word, where (if you click on it) you can find his commentaries and more.

In a recent Rural Blog, a number of national farm organizations sang a chorus of praise for the top Cornhusker as the pick to lead the fourth largest government agency, but Guebert sounds a discordant note.

Reacting to Johanns' claim that he "grew up close to the land," Guebert says: "Right, as U. S. farmers are fond of reminding politicians who boast they grew up on the farm, 'so did every mule and hog in America.' Truth is, nothing in Johanns' background has prepared him for the challenges he now faces in what he somewhat romantically calls his 'dream job' running the $82 billion, 113,000 employee USDA," he writes.

Guebert says after a "rapid and certain confirmation ... nothing about leading the USDA will be romantic." He concludes his commentary on Johanns with this coloful discription comparing Johanns to former Secretary Ann Veneman. "Bottom line for Secretary-to-be Johanns? He's Ann Veneman with a firmer handshake and a quicker smile. The problems he faces, however, are not only the same as Veneman's, they are bigger too."

Christmas gift and mail glut prompt plea for alternative rural e-gifting

The annual Christmas gifting onslaught and mall mania has inspired Rural Policy Research Institute Fellow Thomas D. Rowley to opine for alternative giving in support of rural America in his Dec. 3 column. He writes, “What many of us really want are alternatives—alternatives to the mass-produced, environmentally degrading, soul-numbing “gifts” that sing to our wallets their siren song.”

Instead of the usual rush into the holiday throng, Rowley proposes“expending a little extra effort by slipping on the walking shoes and stepping downtown to buy from home-grown, locally-owned merchants (assuming there are any left … You’ll get some exercise, chat with someone who knows about the products she sells, and keep more of your hard-earned dollars in the community where, Lord knows, they are needed.”

Rowley also looks at on-line gifting at special e-outlets that support many rural merchants. One he suggests is at www.SuperMarketCoop.com, a project of the nonprofit Rural Coalition, an alliance of organizations working “to build a more just and sustainable food system that brings fair returns to minority and other small farmers and rural communities, ensures just and fair working conditions for farmworkers, protects the environment, and delivers safe and healthy food to consumers. Not a bad set of goals,” he writes.

Rowley says SuperMarketCoop.com shoppers will find products from small farmers, cooperatives, and rural businesses. “The goods range from holiday wreaths and maple syrup from Maine to sweet potatoes and quilts from Mississippi, from Native American art Wisconsin “Family Farm Defender Cheese," writes Rowley. To your blogger, it sounds totally Norman Rockwellian.

Vox News, a marketing Web site, reports that "Rural internet users are more likely to shop online than their urban counterparts, according to a Hitwise analysis. In the four weeks ending Dec. 4, they were 16 percent more likely to visit a shopping site. Retailers saw many existing and local customers visit their sites. Those chains with regional bricks and mortar presences tended to see traffic coming from that region."

A commenter on the site saw relatively little news in the report, writing: "Duh. Rural households have been heavier users of remote shopping since the invention of the catalog in the late 1800's."

Financial adviser urges consumers not to 'debt overload' in Christmas crunch

During the Christmas season, news outlets should think a little about helping their readers, listeners and viewers avoid unnecessary debt burdens that can grow oppressive at this time of year. And, sometimes those most economic disadvantaged can feel the greatest pressures.

In an on-line column by Central Kentucky financial adviser Don McNay, “Sticking It to Poor People," to appear Sunday in the Richmond Register, he details the plight of one person who has had a difficult credit history, was able to get a credit card with a $650 limit, has been paying the minimum each month, and has not been late with a payment in over a year -- on a card with annual interest rate of 18.90 percent.

McNay says the consumer reached the card's limit and has been trying to pay it off, but membership fees, late fees, and over-the-limit fees keep him above his allotted $650. Meanwhile, the company continues to pile on penalties, which some consumer watchers say is the actual intent of cards issued by some credit card companies to poor people with bad credit.

"Even though he has been a good customer they are taking advantage of him by charging 18% of his total credit line just to keep the card open. And the company refuses to increase his credit limit so he can't use the card to buy anything," writes McNay. He says many companies target these cards to people trying to improve their credit only for many of them to find their credit further damaged. Adding insult to injury, the fees are usually too small to get help from an attorney, he notes. Read McNay columns by clicking here.

Gannett joins Scripps, others in considering purchase of Pulitzer chain

Gannett Co. said for the first time yesterday that it would join Scripps in taking a look at buying Pulitzer Inc., owner of 14 daily and 60 to 70 weekly newspapers, in a purchase that could cost $1.5 billion.

"We'd obviously be interested" in the company, Gannett Chairman Douglas McCorkindale said during an conference for investors. He said Gannett, which has 99 dailies and more than 120 weeklies (about 50 of them with unmpaid circulation) "would be a disciplined buyer, unwilling to overpay," The Associated Press reports, in a disptach posted this afteroon on the Editor & Publisher site:

"What we are seeing are some very aggressive prices on stand-alone properties, off the charts from our point of view," McCorkindale said without being specific. "On the television side, the asking prices seem to be quite a bit higher than what we think are reasonable."

Developer charged with assualting newspaper reporter in Burlington, N.C.

"A developer was charged Wednesday with threatening and assaulting a newspaper reporter who wrote a story about a proposed private club in Burlington," The Associated Press reports. "James Moffat, a reporter for the Times-News of Burlington, said Ernie Koury Jr., 50, of Burlington, confronted him in a hall Tuesday before a meeting of the Burlington City Council. Koury grabbed Moffat by the throat and shirt collar, shook him and threatened to kill him if he wrote another article about the club like one Moffat had written earlier.

"The story written in November quoted a planning and zoning commissioner who questioned what kind of business the club would be. Koury's attorney, Sam Moon, assured the commissioner that 'nothing illegal' would take place there and that it would be a typical members-only club. City council members agreed Tuesday to rezone land to allow a club. Koury was charged with communicating threats and simple assault. The newspaper asked Moffat to file the charges. 'We feel very strongly this is the right thing to do,' said Lee Barnes, executive editor of the Times-News. 'We want our reporters to be able to do their jobs.' Koury declined to comment." The case is scheduled to be heard Jan. 7.

Newspaper reporters trailed badly in annual poll on honesty and ethics

Newspaper reporters scored poorly in an annual Gallup Poll, released Monday, asking the American public how they feel about the "honesty and ethical standards" of various professions, reports Editor & Publisher.

E&P reports the poll ranked newspaper reporters lower than bankers, auto mechanics, elected officials, and nursing-home operators. To put this in perspective (or add insult to injury if you ask a print journalist): Newspaper reporters are even less respected than their TV counterparts. But, they ranked higher than lawyers, car salesmen, and ad directors. They also edged out business executives and congressmen. Nurses topped the list as most honest and ethical.

If there's any good news for newspapers, it's that since 2000, the number of those saying reporters have high or very high ethical standards has climbed from 16 percent to 21 percent. The Editor and Publisher report on the Gallup Poll does not delve into reasons for the lower regard, but anecdotal evidence points to a number of incidents involving unethical reporting and possible plagiarism at high-level newspapers and an increasingly conservative public over the past few years.

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2004

Hard-core porn hits the heartland; rural superstores are 'doing great'

Seekers of the erotic and pornographic aren't limited to urban areas, and may find it next to cows and cornfields, reports The Los Angeles Times.

“Adult superstores . . . are popping up all over rural America -- brightly lighted, pointedly clean, as well-organized and well-stocked as Wal-Mart,” while morality debates rage from the pulpit to the courtroom, by Stephanie Simon reports Abilene, Kan.

Simon writes of remote freeway off-ramps that are now “X-rated” near towns with small populations. Simon cites the Lion's Den chain, which operates 29 stores in the Midwest, including one near an off-ramp not far from cows and hay bales in one rural county. In central Kansas, the firm faces criminal obscenity charges for its store off Interstate 70, one exit west Abilene, population of 6,500.

Several adult-store managers commented that stores on rural off-ramps thrive not because there's an unusually heavy demand for pornography in the heartland, but because the market has not been well-served until recently. Jeannie Smith, who manages a Lion's Den in Newton, Iowa tells Simon, "There's no competition within 40 miles of me. We're doing great."

Other factors stimulating the surge of rural sex stores, reports Simon, include cheaper land and buildings, fewer neighbors to complain and potential customers streaming by on the interstate, “Including long-haul truck drivers who will stop anywhere that's open at 3 a.m., just to keep themselves awake,” she writes. And, she notes as perhaps the most important factor, many out-of-the-way counties lack the laws to restrict sexually oriented businesses.

Many locals, Simon writes, find themselves deeply conflicted. Amber Brook, a young waitress tells her, "I haven't worked it all out yet. I grew up in a Christian home, and I believe there's a right and a wrong. But I don't feel that gives me the right to impose my values on others."

Some urbanites feel anger at rural folks over election results

Democrats should forget about rural America and realize what they are, the party of urban America, and build their base there, the editors of a Seattle weekly argued last month, crediting (they would say “blaming”) rural voters for President Bush’s re-election.

“Rural voters aren't going to switch party affiliations no matter what we do, so let's jettison their issues when they fail to serve our core interests,” editors of The Stranger wrote in a long dissertation filled with anti-rural invective. (If four-letter words offend you, you can stop reading now.) Here are some excerpts, focusing on issues key to rural areas, such as health care, the environment and economic development:

“To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exurbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy. We will no longer concern ourselves with a health care crisis that disproportionately impacts rural areas. Instead we will work toward winning health care one blue state at a time.”

“When it comes to the environment, our new policy is this: Let the heartland live with the consequences of handing the national government to the rape-and-pillage party. The only time urbanists should concern themselves with the environment is when we are impacted--directly, not spiritually (the depressing awareness that there is no unspoiled wilderness out there doesn't count). ... If West Virginia wants to elect politicians who allow mining companies to lop off the tops off mountains and dump the waste into valleys and streams, thus causing floods that destroy the homes of the yokels who vote for those politicians, it no longer matters to us.”

“When we see something on the front page of the national section of the New York Times about the damage Wal-Mart is doing to the heartland, we will turn the page. Wal-Mart is not an urban issue. . . . We officially no longer give a shit when family farms fail. Fewer family farms equal fewer rural voters. We will, however, continue to support small faggy organic farms, as we are willing to pay more for free-range chicken and beef from non-cannibal cows.

“When you look for ways to revive your failing towns and dying rural counties, don't even think about tourism. Who wants to go to small-town America now? You people scare us. We'll island-hop from now on, thank you, spending our time and our money in blue cities. If an urbanite is dying to have a country experience, rural Vermont is lovely. Maple syrup, rolling hills, fly-fishing--everything you could want. Country bumpkins in red rural areas who depend on tourists from urban areas but vote Republican can forget our money.”

And the liberal editors also threw up their hands on a social issue where there is little common ground and a rural-urban divide, saying the “red” states should be allowed to limit abortion: “We'll just make sure that abortion remains safe and legal in the cities where we live, and the states we control, and when your daughter or sister or mother dies in a botched abortion, we'll try not to feel too awful about it. In short, we're through with you people.” For the entire article, click here.

From Al Cross, interim director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: Such a rural-urban divide is scary, in a diverse country that already has too many fault lines. We think the folks at The Stranger are still very much in the minority, even among urbanites, but they do reflect a meaningful body of opinion, and the rural-urban divide was clearly seen in the election results. Americans should deal with it, not by turning their backs on each other, but by building bridges. That’s where journalists come in – especially rural journalists and urban journalists who cover rural issues and rural people.

Millions in tobacco-farmer payments could be delayed, says N. C. attorney

A Raleigh attorney says millions of dollars in payments from cigarette companies to tobacco growers and quota owners for 2004 could be delayed for months as the companies and 14 states battle in court.

The Associated Press reports that Dick Ellis, an attorney for the state boards that oversee the payments, told the North Carolina Phase 2 Tobacco Board yesterday, "There's a very good chance (the payments)will be delayed." No matter which side wins the other side is likely to appeal. It could be months before arguments are heard and a ruling is issued, AP reports. The board voted to send letters to the state's roughly 75,000 growers and quota-holders telling them that checks will be delayed for months, if they come at all.

Four major tobacco companies have agreed to make $5.15 billion in Phase 2 payments over 12 years to compensate growers and quota holders for losses stemming from the companies' $206 billion settlement with the states in 1998. Three companies -- Reynolds American, Philip Morris and Lorillard - contend they should get back about $300 million they've paid into the settlement fund so far this year. They also want to be exempted from the final payment of the year that is due Dec. 15. Cigarette companies say passage of a $10.1 billion federal buyout of tobacco quotas in October triggered an adjustment.

WVU developing courses for expected 'glut' of coal mining jobs

West Virginia University officials are developing advanced entry-level courses for technical training in deep and strip coal mining to meet a glut of mining jobs expected to open soon, reports The Dominion Post of Morgantown, W. Va.

Janet Metzner writes, “With a glut of coal mining positions expected to open in the future, WVU officials are (also) considering starting a regional training center in Morgantown to meet employers' needs. Fairmont State Community and Technical College officials are considering new mining programs of their own. Jim Dean, director of the university's extension and outreach, tells the Morgantown newspaper, "We have been talking about trying to offer additional new miner training to meet this demand which I feel is coming."

About half of the country's coal mining workforce is expected to retire in a few years, she writes. Karen York, human resources specialist with the Mining Safety and Health Administration in Arlington, Va. confirmed the outlook for W. Va. is about the same, Metzner writes.York also said businesses and MSHA are cooperating to recruit and fill positions. Nationwide, over the next decade, 2,000 to 3,000 job openings are expected annually in coal mining and mining of minerals used in industrial development, according to the National Mineworkers Association.

Controversial Interior official gets a complimentary sendoff from Boucher

J. Steven Griles, who resigned yesterday after a controversial tenure as the No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of the Interior, got a parting compliment from Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat who represents southwest Virginia, site of some of the surface coal mines that the department regulates.

Boucher said in an interview with The Washington Post that Griles would be remembered for being "an extraordinarily competent administrator. He's kept the trains running at the Interior Department, and he served his president and his country well."

Juliet Eilperin wrote, “Environmentalists hailed Griles's departure, saying he had blocked wilderness protections and promoted energy interests” as chief deputy to Interior Secretary Gale Norton since mid-2001. She said he “came under intense scrutiny for maintaining close ties to his former lobbying firm and its clients. An 18-month investigation by the department's inspector general found that he had dealings with energy and mining industry clients of National Environmental Strategies Inc. even as he continued to receive payments from his former firm. The report did not accuse Griles of violating any laws or federal ethics rules.”

Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2004

Clear Channel picks Fox as main news source; major boost for radio presence

Fox News has reached an agreement with Clear Channel Communications to become the radio giant’s primary news provider, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The agreement bodes well for Fox and owner News Corp., writes Joe Flint. “The pact stands to greatly boost the radio presence of Fox News, which rolled out its service last year, as it looks to compete with the much more entrenched CBS Radio, a unit of Viacom Inc., and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Radio.”

The five-year deal starts in January, when as many as 172 of Clear Channel’s news and talk stations could eventually carry Fox’s radio service. “The teaming of Fox and Clear Channel is sure to raise eyebrows among some media watchdog groups,” writes Flint. “With about 1,200 radio stations, Clear Channel has become a lightning rod for concerns about consolidation in that industry.” Clear Channel Radio Chief Executive John Hogan tells Flint, “We don’t have a political agenda; what we have is an agenda to get the greatest number of listeners for the longest period of time.”

The biggest loser in the deal is ABC. Hogan said "the bulk" of Clear Channel stations are members of that network, Flint reported, adding: "While this deal doesn't necessarily mean that Clear Channel would drop ABC, he indicated that likely would be the case and that the bulk of the stations involved in this pact are affiliated with ABC's syndicated news service." In Clear Channel's hometown, the San Antonio Express News reported, "Clear Channel stations now use a variety of national news services, including ABC Radio. Severing ties with ABC Radio for the main news feed won't affect Clear Channel's use of ABC-syndicated shows Paul Harvey and Sean Hannity."

Mellencamp: ‘Bard of the heartland,’ on a par with Woody Guthrie, Post says

John Mellencamp, the musical exponent of small-town and rural America, is the subject of a long profile in today’s Washington Post. The news peg is the Seymour, Ind., native's "Words & Music," a greatest-hits CD that "should be soul-soothing assurance that he's arguably the most important chronicler of Middle America since Woody Guthrie," Sean Daly writes from Bloomington, Ind., where the singer now lives.

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh tells Daly that he and his most famous constituent "both stand for the forgotten middle man. We don't put on airs, and I think the people like that about us." Should Mellencamp get farther into politics and be a candidate? "He has such strong beliefs and speaks his mind, I think his candor would be refreshing," Bayh says, to which Daly writes, using Mellencamp's nickname for himself: "Imagine it: Little Bastard in '08!" Mellencamp demurs, saying, "My wife wouldn't let us move to a smaller house."

Daly reports that the singer, who started the Farm Aid concerts with Neil Young and Willie Nelson 20 years ago, "sensed a disconnect with the people he represents" when he became a vocal critic of President Bush, and even more so after Bush won re-election, with 60 percent of Indiana's vote. "I didn't feel like a stranger in a strange land until this election," Mellencamp tells Daly. “It's hard to explain any of it to me. If there's one president that I've seen, other than Reagan and Nixon, who the average American and poor people should not support, it's George Bush."

"He reckons that his red-voting neighbors were seduced in much the same way he's attracted millions of fans over the past 28 years, Daly writes, quoting Mellencamp: "George Bush is a rock star. If he walked in this room and talked to us, we'd both like him. We would! He'd be a charmer. He'd be one of the guys. He's running this country like a college guy."

U. S. Supreme Court to hear livestock producers' First Amendment ad beef

Tomorrow the U. S. Supreme Court will hear a First Amendment lawsuit filed by the Livestock Marketing Association and other producer and marketing agencies from South Dakota and Montana over a popular beef commercial, reports The Washington Post.

Their beef, writes Charles Lane, “is that all cattle producers have to pay a special tax to support the ads, but some disagree with their content.” The plaintiffs filed suit in December 2000, attacking the advertising campaign. They claim the promotion, conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, violates their First Amendment right to free speech.At the center of the dispute are mandated assessments which opponents say “cannot survive the demanding First Amendment scrutiny (the) court has applied to laws compelling private persons to finance speech."

On Wednesday the justices will hear oral arguments in the case, “widely considered the juiciest First Amendment controversy of the term so far," writes Lane.The newspaper reports “the generic pro-beef message does not distinguish between grain-fed domestic and grass-fed imported beef, and it seems to lump together all cattle producers, large and small, despite their differing political and economic interests.”

The court's ruling, Lane writes, “may clarify the category of expression known as 'government speech' and could have wide ranging implications for federal promotional campaigns for numerous other farm products." The newspaper reports the "Pork: The Other White Meat" and "Got Milk?" advertising campaigns are already in trouble," having been declared unconstitutional by federal appeals courts in rulings the government has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Arson destroys 12, damages 30 upscale homes in Maryland; eco-terrorism?

More than 40 new, expensive, and empty houses in a Maryland subdivision that is the focus of a environmental dispute were destroyed or damaged in what officials said were “coordinated, methodically planned arsons,” reports The Washington Post. No one was injured.

The New York Times also reported the incident occurred in the Hunters Brooke subdivision, near Indian Head in Charles County, a "quiet community near the Potomac River about 25 miles downstream from the District (of Columbia),” as the Post described it.

Arson investigators found traces of a fire-starting accelerant in four houses. Damage was estimated at $10 million. Environmentalists claim the houses will damage a nearby bog that is home to endangered insects and rare plants. The bog filters rain and upwelling waters that feed into a nearby creek and the Potomac.

“Investigators from county, state and federal agencies were on the scene or headed there yesterday, including a 15-member ‘national response team’ from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives made up of chemists, interviewers, schematic artists, fire cause-and-origin experts and other specialists,” writes The Post. Agency spokesman Mike Campbell told the newspaper an anti-terrorism task force was called in to explore whether the fires were set by radical environmentalists.

News people don’t hunt, blind to pervasive ‘rite of passage,’ says columnist

Big-city papers could take a cue from rural papers that run photos of dead deer and provide both a window into and a reflection of other significant parts of American culture. Too many journalists are blind to areas of American society, Akron Beacon Journal Public Editor Mike Needs wrote Sunday:

“Two deer-hunting photos last week produced complaints from opponents and ambivalence from outdoors fans. For me, they represented token coverage of one of the paper's 'blind spots,' those areas that have achieved popularity in American society but have gained almost no foothold among journalists." Needs said his newspaper annually signifies “The start of deer-hunting season by photographing a young person displaying his or her deer kill. A rite of passage...but not for news-people. The newsroom water cooler isn't abuzz with boasts about bagging a buck…and it's doubtful it ever will.”

Poynter Institute senior scholar Roy Peter Clark tells Needs such disconnect is an example of the “cultural divide,” where mainstream media failed to understand mainstream voters who re-elected President Bush. ``My blind spots blot out half of America. And that makes me less of a citizen, and less of a journalist,'' Clark says of what he calls “media myopia.” Needs writes of Clark's criticism, “To be clear, he isn't advocating the ``dumbing down'' of the media. Instead, he's urging newspeople to climb out of their insular worlds and recognize those parts of society foreign to their experience."

Concerns over grain-storage scarcity spread, outdoor stockpiles increasing

Farmers nationwide are flush with harvest but don’t have enough storage space, reports The Washington Post, in a story similar to one from Iowa posted on The Rural Blog Oct. 28, “Concerns about over-storage of grain crops prompt USDA warning.” The Post's Amit Paley writes, “Soybeans (at one Maryland farm) started pouring in so fast...officials didn't know where to put them. So they dumped 500,000 bushels of the small, tan beans in an employee parking lot here and covered the four-story mountain with a sleek, white tarp. They call it Ski Delmarva,” for the peninsula comprising Delaware and parts of Maryland and Virginia, between Chesapeake and the Atlantic.

Paley says grain piles across Maryland and Virginia are stacking up this fall as the near-record crops of corn and soybeans overflowed the region's storage capacity. This year's harvest, the second-largest in the histories of both states, was a relief for farmers, who recently have faced dismal yields and the relentless pressures of urban encroachment.

For state farming officials it’s a mixed blessing. Lewis R. Riley, Maryland's secretary of agriculture and a grain farmer on the Eastern Shore tells Paley, "We needed a morale boost. It's a much brighter picture for agriculture than it's been in recent years."Phil Hickman, program director of Virginia's corn, soybean and small-grains boards tells the newspaper, "The rail lines were just overwhelmed, and the elevators couldn't get the grain moved. Farmers just had to stop harvest and wait for the clog to break down some until the elevators had room."

Monday, Dec. 6, 2004

Advocacy groups blurring media/propaganda line, notably in one rural area

The U. S. Chamber of Commerce is one of a growing number of advocacy groups that blur the distinction between legitimate news media and propaganda to promote their causes, The Washington Post reports today.

The story by Jeffery Birnbaum, longtime chronicler of lobbying, describes The Madison County Record, "an Illinois weekly newspaper … (that) reports on one subject: the state courts in southern Illinois," a hotbed of lawsuits against businesses based not just in Illinois but all over the country. In one story, "a woman sought $15,000 in damages for breaking her nose at a haunted house. In another, a woman sued a restaurant for $50,000 after she hurt her teeth on a chicken breast."

Birnbaum writes, perhaps with tongue in cheek, there is no indication the Chamber created the Record “as a weapon in its multimillion-dollar campaign against lawyers who file those kinds of suits.” Stanton D. Anderson, chief legal officer for the chamber tells Birnbaum, “We wanted to educate [the people] that their county is the laughingstock of the country" because of the large number of lawsuits filed there.”

The Post report says, “Communications scholars cringe at the notion that lobbying groups are obscuring or playing down their participation in publications and programs that push a narrow point of view." Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication tells Birnbaum, "People judge communication by its source so when you deny people full knowledge of that source of information they are losing something important about evaluating the message." (The Post story erroneously says Jamieson is dean of the Annenberg School at another university, and misspells her name.)

Geneva Overholser of the Washington bureau of the University of Missouri's journalism school said anything less than thorough disclosure "is deceitful and imbalanced. Otherwise, she said, citizens "don't have enough information to judge" publications or broadcasts,” he writes.

School psychologist shortage hits rural areas; Eastern Kentucky an example

A national hortage of school psychologists has hit rural Kentucky especially hard, according to The Courier-Journal, in a story localizing a national crisis reported by CNN in September.

The counties hardest hit, the Louisville newspaper reports, are in Eastern Kentucky, where psychologist Cora Wills serves more than 100 schools. "You feel like you can never get caught up, and never get the job done because it's so overwhelming," Wills said.

Wills works for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, a consortium of school districts in Eastern Kentucky, and she serves about 125 schools in 15 districts. "That's too many, experts and educators agree, but not unusual, given the shortage of school psychologists in districts in Kentucky and elsewhere across the country," writes Nancy Rodriguez in Sunday's C-J.

The September CNN report focused on rural areas around Dayton, Ohio. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has posted a survey, and a policy statement on its web site addressing the size and scope of the problem to draw attention to the need, and possible solutions.

Farm Bureau files to protect landowners from government-aided development

The American Farm Bureau Federation filed a “friend of the court brief” Friday seeking to protect the rights of farm and ranch owners, according to a news release posted on the farm bureau’s Web site.

The appeal of a Connecticut Supreme Court ruling involves a homeowner in New London, Conn. Eighteen other state Farm Bureaus have joined the suit, including Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Farm Bureau contends the court incorrectly allowed the city to use eminent domain to take private property turning it over to business developers constructing businesses, generating higher taxes.

AFBF President Bob Stallman says, “It is imperative that the (U.S.) Supreme Court hear from farmers and ranchers on this very important issue. Agricultural land is the livelihood of our farmers and ranchers and important for U.S. food and feed production, but land used this way is not the highest income generator for government bodies. Tax revenue cannot be the basis for seizing private property.”

W. Va. fears more youth population loss by 2010 if economy not revived

The West Virginia Commission on Governing says the state has until the end of this decade to bolster its economy or suffer added generational loss in migration to other states, reports The Associated Press.

The commission’s chairman, Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, told AP, “You will have another generation of children that will leave the state. The downward spiral will increase momentum,” echoing the sentiments and concerns of many other Appalachian states.

McCabe said there is no single cure for the state’s economic woes, but cited commission recommendations as essential. The commission has drafted three bills for the legislature that allow municipal and county governments to share or combine services without having to amend the state’s constitution. Local governments would decide on consolidated or “metro” governments. “We are taking the difficult medicine we need to take to become healthy and to position ourselves to be competitive,” he said. The AP story appears in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch and the Charleston Gazette.

Former ‘Appalred’ lawyer active after 30-plus years advocating for E. Kentucky

In a “Flashback” by Courier-Journal staff writer Paula Burba, headlined "Lawyer helps Appalachia in new ways," the newspaper profiles former Appalachian Research and Defense Fund lawyer John Rosenberg’s post-retirement activities at age 70, after 30 years as director of “Appalred.”

“Since 2001, Rosenberg has started another legal project, the nonprofit Appalachian Citizens Law Center. The center is privately funded, with four attorneys in Prestonsburg working on environmental and mining cases for the poor.” The article details numerous other causes Rosenberg is currently involved in.

Burba writes, “With no plans to slow down… he will keep serving the ‘great need in Eastern Kentucky.’... Rosenberg is enthusiastic about advising Appalred as ‘director emeritus’ and keeping up with his numerous projects.”

Budget crunch cuts into tourism, says Tennessee tourism director

Tourism officials in Tennessee say the state's nearly $11 billion annual tourism industry will continue to suffer if the legislature doesn’t boost its budget, reports the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

The report says Tennessee trails behind Illinois, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina. Officials say Tennessee also trails other states in funding for tourism, according to its top tourism official.

Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker told the News-Sentinel, "We should be in the Top 10. We are 12th in visitation and 21st in spending,” citing a 2003 survey by the Travel Industry Association of America. "When West Virginia and Ohio are funding more than (we) are, something is wrong," she added. "We should be doing much, much better. It's part of marketing the state better."

Whittaker is pushing the state legislature for restoration of a five-percent cut in tourism funding, and wants another $4.5 million to boost advertising.

Park officials howling over nuisance coyotes begging tourists’ food

The News-Sentinel also reports wildlife biologists in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have added coyotes to a list of nuisance animals soliciting food from tourists, and are taking steps to discourage the beggar beasts.

The newspaper reports some coyotes have been emboldened by sympathetic campers, and have increased the number and extent of encounters with tourists prompting park officials to initiate measures to discourage the activity.

Wildlife staff have used firecrackers and rubber buckshot to scare the animals. Wildlife biologist Bill Stiver told the News-Sentinel the coyotes involved probably began losing their fear of people after finding food scraps. "It's the same kind of problem we have with raccoons, deer and black bear," he said. "Our goal is to get these animals wild again so they don't come up to vehicles."

Selected blog items from Friday, Dec. 3, 2004

A rural paper to read, enjoy and talk about: The Licking Valley Courier

Journalistic purists might recoil at the front page of last week's Licking Valley Courier in West Liberty, Ky. The lead story comes from a press release, the lead picture shows a hunter with a deer he killed, and four ads (with all available spot colors) take up the bottom four inches. But we think that if you can set aside the commercialization issue, and contemplate the content, you see a front page that is evocative and informative despite the paper's small news staff, little more than the equivalent of one full-time person.

The lead story, by the director of the Innovation Center at nearby Morehead State University, links the history of Thanksgiving and tobacco to a national event that will have a profound effect in Morgan County and many counties like it -- the end of the federal program of tobacco quotas and price supports. "Just as the seeds to survival in 17th-Century Virginia were found in a farmer's innovative thinking, so too must the seeds for Eastern Kentucky farmers' successes be found in innovation," Johnathan Gay writes, then cites examples of farmers getting into agri-tourism, goats, freshwater shrimp and the like.

Dead-deer pictures are common this time of year, but the photo of a large, 11-point buck was accompanied by a story on the details of the county's economically significant kill of more than 1,000 deer, along with "harvest" estimates from adjoining counties and statewide. Deer season is a huge event in rural America and individual lives; on the editorial page, a column by Editor and Publisher Earl Kinner Jr. detailed the hunting experience of his 12-year-old grandson, and his family's interest in it.

And as further testimony of the Kinner family's service to its community, the page has a letter from Lynn Nickell of West Liberty lauding the paper's progressive attitude, promotion of the county and editorial leadership. "The Licking Valley Courier is truly the heart and soul of Morgan County," Nickell writes. "The paper is the glue that keeps us together so we can work for a better county."

We review rural weeklies from several states, but almost all on line. Many weeklies are not on line, and few offer the printed form of their fronts. We'd be happy to get the "dead tree" editions of any papers, at the address below. --Al Cross, interim director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

FOI power 'deleted' by lack of records-retention law in Arkansas

A Little Rock lawyer wants to put some teeth in his state’s Freedom of Information Act by requiring government agencies to keep records rather that simply deleting electronic documents for which no paper file is kept, reports The Arkansas Times, a blog of news and commentary.

David Ivers, who is also a member of a group writing a retention law, tells to a key legislator, "The absence of a records retention requirement… has made the Freedom of Information Act virtually useless now that everything is in electronic format and state agency officials… routinely and quickly delete their electronic mail and keep no paper copies,” writes reporter Doug Smith.

Ivers says the state’s Department of Human Resources policy of allowing documents to be deleted “makes it virtually impossible for the many persons and entities regulated by DHS and various other agencies to find out how decisions that affect them are being made.”

Smith comments, "Despite the seriousness of the problem, and a widely expressed sentiment that it should be addressed, there is reason to doubt that it will be. Some government officials enjoy the privilege of rapidelimination of electronic and paper trails, and are likely to resist retention requirements. They are also likely to do their resistance work behind the scenes."

Durham Herald-Sun sold to Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Ky.

The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C., has been sold to the Paxton Media Group, a familly-owned newspaper group based in Paducah, Ky., reports The Associated Press.

The sale was announced last night by publisher David Hughey. Ownership is expected to officially change hands early next year. The E. T. Rollins Jr. family of Durham has owned the paper for 109 years serving primarily Durham and Orange counties with circulation in counties north of Durham to Virginia.

The wire service quotes E. T. Rollins, owner and chairman of the Herald-Sun board: “We are confident that the Paxton Group will continue the vigorous and dedicated tradition of concerned journalism that has been the hallmark of our company.

Paxton, which owns The Paducah Sun and WPSD-TV in its hometown, is a four-generation family outfit. The company owns 28 daily newspapers, including six in North Carolina, as well as weekly publications. The AP story cites the Herald-Sun as a source of information for its report.

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004

A no-boundaries, no-barbs, no-cars “corridor of the wild” emerges

Environmentalists' dream to create a corridor through the high country of North America -- from Yellowstone to the Yukon -- to protect wildlife packs and herds from highway traffic, urban encroachment and prickly property limits is coming true.

New York Times reporter Kirk Johnson writes of biologists Greg Neudecker who says, “Grizzly bears, elk, wolves and other four-legged commuters need help in looking for mates or new habitats.”

“The great national parks of the West are becoming genetically isolated islands, cut off by development, urbanization and their ever-present iconic symbol, the barbed-wire fence,” Johnson writes. Conservation and government groups, he notes, say much of the 150-mile area between Ovando, Mont., and the Canadian border, "called the Crown of the Continent, is now largely protected through land buying and conservation agreements with private owners."

Johnson adds, “In December the Nature Conservancy of Canada is expected to lock in the northern anchor -- 98,000 acres just over the border in British Columbia that a forestry company has agreed to sell." The result: "a sheltered land bridge where the animal societies of Canada and the United States can intermingle." Linking the two areas will be politically symbolic, "and could become more crucial over time if global warming changes alpine climates, forcing animals to migrate permanently," Johnson reports.

Policy board wants ideas on rural development before southern summit

The Southern Growth Policies Board is seeking public comment on rural development before its planned June 12-14 summit in Point Clear, Ala. It is asking communities if they want to sponsor discussion forums, according to an announcement on the organization's Web site.

The board says each year it “starts a conversation in the South on a particular issue related to economic development...by holding community forums, or moderated discussions, in communities large and small across the region.” This year it wants to gauge feeling about how best to address development in preparation for their June 12-14 Summit on the Rural South.

Citizen input from community forums are used in developing the board's 2005 Report on the Future of the South, a high profile policy report, says the Web site announcement. “Just as important, community forums are a tool to encourage action and dialogue in Southern communities,” it continues.

Anyone interested in convening a community forum can download materials from the Web site or call 919-941-5594. You can view the announcement and access the related information and links by clicking here.

Virginia lobbying group lauds statewide benefits from major tax boosts

A lobbying group formed to help pass $1.4 billion in tax increases this year in Virginia says the revenue produced by the boost will benefit state needs across the board, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Foundation for Virginia says the tax increases and a reviving economy helped meet “core state needs in education, health care, the environment and public safety,” reporter Tyler Whitley writes.

In a presentation to business people and legislators, the group said state troopers and deputy sheriffs will get pay raises, higher education will get $252 million in new funds that will allow colleges to add 500 full-time faculty members, and K-12 education will get money to add 17,000 children to preschool programs.

Gov. Mark R. Warner said another tax increase is not likely with the entire House of Delegates facing election next year. And, he cautioned that recent economic growth has been fueled by federal government spending. Warner sees signs Washington may cut back on spending, which could cut into state revenues.

Warner credits bipartisan support in obtaining the tax increases this past year and, "the re-emergence of the sensible center," writes Whitley.

State revenue bonds need voter approval, says West Virginia Supreme Court

The West Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday that state voters must approve a proposal to sell $3.9 billion in bonds to heal the state’s ailing pension funds, reports The Charleston Gazette.

Toby Coleman writes Gov. Bob Wise wanted to sell the bonds to refinance pension funds for teachers, judges and state troopers. The state’s auditor and treasurer fought the plan, saying it violated a constitutional provision barring new debt unless state voters approve, and the Supreme Court agreed.

"I think that’s a victory for every taxpayer in West Virginia," State Auditor Glen Gainer III told Coleman.. "They can’t be obligated to a $4 billion bond debt without their approval."

Forest thinning part of spruce-up plan for popular two-state park

A U.S. Forest Service plan to upgrade the popular Land Between the Lakes includes thinning out some 2,000 acres of timber in camping areas, reports The Associated Press. The 170,000-acre national recreation area covers parts of western Kentucky and Tennessee and was established in 1964, after the impoundment of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

Bruce Schreiner writes, “The plan, the culmination of nearly two years of study, planning, and public comment, calls for earmarking several thousand acres for two demonstration projects -- one to restore hardwood forests and native grasses, and the other for nature watching, said Kathryn Harper, a forest service spokeswoman.”

The forest service will allow loggers to thin about 2,000 acres of the 150,000 acres of park timber annually, Harper tells Schreiner. The plan will guide management of the park's land for at least 10 years. Harper said the plan would not radically change the look of the popular tourist attraction.

Historic horse farm for resale, partial preservation limits in place

A horse farm in the midst of Central Kentucky’s famous Thoroughbred breeding country, where preservation efforts are catching national attention, is up for sale again, after being purchased by the city of Georgetown to preserve its historic integrity, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Steve Lannen writes, “Officials want to sell the buildings and part of the land that the city shelled out $1.6 million for as part of a preservation effort a year and a half ago.” Now, Lannen says, the city is looking to sell about half of the property to avoid upkeep costs.

Mayor Everette Varney told Lannen, “The buyer must accept deed restrictions preserving the land and farmhouse and pay about $690,000, unless the city council agrees to alter the price.”

The remaining acreage will be used for a retention pond and, possibly, baseball fields, Lannen writes. Varney tells Lannen, however, it is unlikely a proposed water park or swimming pool would be built on the site, ideas that had been discussed previously.

Lannen reports the city says it doesn’t need to sell the property, but it also doesn't want to spend money for ongoing maintenance and upkeep. In October 2002, the farm’s owner died at age 90.

Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004

Rural voters’ clout rising, swing-vote role emerging, says Virginia expert

Virginia’s rural vote makes up less of the total vote, it is gaining clout as an important bloc of swing voters, political experts in the Old Dominion told the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation this week.

"Everyone has come to the conclusion that the rural vote can actually be a swing vote," Robert Holsworth of Virginia Commonwealth University told the convention, as reported by Calvin Trice of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Holsworth told the 800 convention attendees Virginia Republicans' campaign strategy “has mirrored the national party’s emphasis in shoring up its backing among small-town supporters,” using a strategy where they “try to roll up these large majorities in rural areas to offset the [Democratic] margins in more urban areas. Whether you're a Democrat or whether you're a Republican, there's a sense of recognition in the value of rural voters."

"As evidence of farming voters' significance," Trace noted in his story that both presumptive Virginia gubernatorial candidates had speaking slots during the convention.

Tom Brokaw gives his rural roots much of the credit for his success

Tom Brokaw, who anchors the NBC Nightly News for the last time tonight, "regularly credits his success to the environment of his upbringing" in rural South Dakota, The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls reported in a long fearure story Sunday by Robert Morast.

"I've learned to work hard and to measure people not by what they said they were, but by what in fact they were," Brokaw told the newspaper. Morast wrote that Brokaw's memoir, A Long Way From Home, "reads like the people of the heartland, simple but wonderfully insightful with as much emphasis on work and hardships as fun and fashion," and that "Brokaw looks like the heartland as he walks around the NBC News offices in a knit sweater with stitched elbow patches."

But Morast said "The cover doesn't define the book" because Brokaw "casually drops the names of world leaders or adds personal stories to the mention of celebrities - such as the hair care of rock hero Bruce Springsteen. Life as a narrator to the globe's news created an interesting dichotomy in Brokaw's persona. While he's still viewed as someone who relates to land-locked middle Americans, his stories and habits (such as A-list seats at New York Knicks games) seem to contradict the sensibilities of South Dakota."

Brokaw was born in Webster and lived in Bristol, Igloo and Pickstown before his family moved to Yankton, where he met his future wife, Meredith Auld. They still keep in close touch with friends in Yankton, Morast reported. "We're not the same people who came from South Dakota, but in many ways we are," the anchorman told him. "Our values were formed then. Just because you have conspicuous success, however you define that, ... you shouldn't change your values with your bank account."

Morast adds: "His bank account has changed Yankton, however. He and his wife have donated thousands of dollars to the Auld-Brokaw bike trail. And friends tell tales of Brokaw 'loaning' college money to the kids of his acquaintances. Call it a trade-off to the benefit Yankton brings to his news sense." Brokaw said, "I often think when I'm on big stories somewhere, 'How would the folks on the main street of Yankton react to this? Is it important to them?' That town, for me, becomes emblematic of middle America."

Proposed guest worker program mobilizing advocacy groups on both sides

President Bush’s renewed talk of an immigration overhaul allowing illegal workers to remain in this country, has advocacy groups for and against “dusting off their battle plans,” according to a Knight Ridder report.

Diane Smith writes, “Immigration advocates want changes that would enable 8 million to 10 million illegal workers to gain permission to live and work in the United States.” But, she writes, “Proponents of stricter immigration laws say the program would create back-door amnesty..."

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates tighter border controls, tells Smith, "I think it's going to be a huge fight. FAIR is prepared to take its message to the Internet, cable TV and conservative radio shows.”

Mehlman tells Smith, “Illegal immigrants won't come to the United States if they can't find jobs and don't have access to benefits.” Mehlman believes increased immigration hurts U. S. jobs. "Why would any employer ever offer you a raise? He can go to Mexico, China and Poland to find workers.”

Those who favor the program interpret Bush's recent overtures as a positive sign. Angela Kelley, a deputy director for the National Immigration Forum in Washington tells Smith, "The ball can move down the field. If the president is quarterbacking, it stands a better chance." The immigration rights group wants more worker visas so people don't have to live and work in an underground economy.

Smith reports nearly 1.14 million people were apprehended trying to illegally cross the U.S. border from Texas to California in fiscal 2004, an increase of about a quarter million people from fiscal 2003, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Waiver program refunding bodes well for rural health care, says lobby

Rural hospital leaders are applauding passage of a congressional reauthorization bill that waives the requirement that foreign physicians who have completed their U. S. residencies must return home for two years before applying for an immigrant visa, according to an American Hospital Association release.

President and CEO of White County Medical Center in Searcy, AR, and chairman of the AHA's Section for Small or Rural Hospitals Ray Montgomery says, "At a time when rural communities are some of the areas hardest hit by the medical practitioner workforce shortages, this program is essential. These physicians help to fill a vital role in primary and specialty care for our rural communities."

The Columbia, Mo.-based Rural Policy Research Institute reported doctors covered under the reauthorization bill care for more than 4 million people living in underserved areas of rural America.

Animal rights group up against kosher law in Iowa slaughterhouse

An animal rights group working undercover at a Des Moines, Iowa kosher slaughterhouse says video it captured shows cattle enduring an "absolutely outrageous" level of cruelty, according to an Associated Press report.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says their videotape, “shows repeated acts of animal cruelty at AgriProcessors Inc. in northeastern Iowa,” writes AP’s Amy Lorentzen. The organization filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture on Monday that alleged improper slaughtering practices.

But, writes Lorentzen, “Rabbi Chaim Kohn, the plant's supervising rabbi, (said) the tapes were testimony that this is being done right,” in accordance with kosher slaughtering practices in a manner intended to cause instant and painless death. Jewish law forbids stunning them first.

Federal law considers properly conducted religious slaughter as humane, and allows Jewish and Muslim slaughterhouses to forgo stunning. But the rules outlaw leaving animals killed that way conscious for an extended period of time.

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Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
School of Journalism and Telecommunications

122 Grehan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0042

Phone: (859) 257-3744, Fax: (859) 323-9879


Al Cross, interim director , al.cross@uky.edu


Last Updated: October 31, 2002