The Rural Blog

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

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005

Watchdog group says Massey helped fund ad critical of major W.Va. candidates

A government watchdog group says a political action committee’s campaign ads critical of two prominent brothers seeking re-election to high West Virginia offices was financed in part by Massey Energy President Don Blankenship, one of the group’s founders.

The group, called West Virginia Wants to Know, spent nearly $55,000 of its almost $69,000 budget on an ad criticizing state Attorney General Darrell McGraw and his brother, state Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, writes Toby Coleman of The Charleston Gazette. The ad ran just before the November election. Darrell McGraw won, and Warren McGraw lost.

The newspaper reports this group is not the only organization funded by Blankenship that ran ads critical of the McGraws last fall. Two others got nearly $3 million total from Blankenship, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the Internal Revenue Service. Tifney Terry of West Virginia Wants to Know would not say specifically how much Blankenship donated. She said his money would not sway their work. “We will not be beholden to anyone,” she told Coleman.

Terry also refused to divulge the amount of Blankenship’s donation. Coleman reports such nonprofit organizations are barred from “intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office,” according to the IRS Web site.

Monday, Jan. 31, 2005

Tax-exempt hospitals challenged; 46 lawsuits allege uninsured pay the most

A nationwide battle over whether nonprofit hospitals are fulfilling their mission as charitable institutions has begun, with some non-profits suing the uninsured patients they are supposed to serve, reports The Washington Post.

Ceci Connolly writes of a hospital in Tupelo, Mississippi as one example of the debate. “North Mississippi Medical Center has grown into the largest non-metropolitan hospital in the country, a booming enterprise (with) …40 satellite clinics stretching into Alabama and Tennessee. The company has nearly $300 million in the bank and ‘exceptional profitability,’ according to one Wall Street rating agency.”

The center is exempt from federal, state and local taxes by providing care to "charity patients." As one of 4,800 nonprofit hospitals, the center pays no federal, state and local taxes in return for providing care to "charity patients." But, when one patient, who was uninsured, asked for more time to pay off a $4,500 bill, he received a summons. The hospital sued him for the balance plus $1,100 in legal fees, she writes.

“Now …hundreds like him are at the center of a nationwide battle over whether nonprofit hospitals -- often flush with cash, opulent buildings and high-paid executives -- are fulfilling their mission as charitable institutions. Since last spring, a phalanx of trial lawyers who made millions suing asbestos makers and tobacco companies have been targeting tax-exempt hospitals, accusing them of gouging the poor,” writes Connolly.

Forty-six suits have been filed in 22 states alleging the hospitals violate their tax-exempt status by charging uninsured patients the highest rates and employing abusive tactics to collect. Richard F. Scruggs, the lead attorney, told Connolly, "Their goal is to discourage these uninsured patients from returning. If they paid taxes, I couldn't complain. But these hospitals are given freedom from taxation for doing something." The American Hospital Association (AHA), which is a co-defendant in many suits, says hospitals are among the most generous businesses in the nation and it is unfair to blame them for a larger societal problem.

Rural Kansas schools have court ally in teaching at-risk poverty students

Schools in rural Kansas, fighting an up-hill battle to teach at-risk students and overcome economic obstacles in their path toward knowledge, have a powerful new ally; the state’s supreme court, reports The Associated Press.

John Milburn writes of Chetopa (Kansas), population 1,281, as an example of “the shifting nature of rural poverty in America. …it's one of the many rural communities that have witnessed a decline in agriculture and watched businesses disappear. It's a place where that economic decline has taken a heavy toll on public education.”

Teacher Cynda Jarrett told Milburn her hometown has suffered the kind of economic downturn seen in the coal-mining regions of the eastern, U. S. "This is Appalachia," Jarrett said. Alexa Posny, an assistant state commissioner of education told him, "Poverty is by far the greatest factor in students entering school not knowing letters, words or even numbers,"

Kansas spends $50 million annually on special programs for at-risk students but justices of the Kansas Supreme Court, have said that extra $386 per at-risk student is not enough, writes Milburn. The court has ruled lawmakers have failed in their "constitutional duty" to students in public schools, and it gave them until April 12 to improve public education. The court said “a fix requires spending more money and distributing that money more fairly,” writes Milburn.

Chetopa already spends $12,394 annually per student, while the base state aid per student is only $3,863. Chetopa gets more because it serves so many at-risk students, has so few students and is located in a rural area. Still, district officials and experts told the AP, it's not enough.Marty Strange, policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust told the wire service, "It probably costs twice as much to reach low-income kids as other groups."

The decline of agriculture has contributed to lower school enrollments and higher rural poverty in rural Kansas. The median household income is less than $24,000, compared to more than $40,000 for the state. Unemployment rates were about 5.6 percent last month, compared to 4.2 percent state wide.

Meth epidemic prompts more states to restrict cold pills with key ingredient

A growing crisis of methamphetamine addiction and toxic spills from homemade drug laboratories, has prompted 20 states to consider legislation imposing tighter restrictions on common cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient in making methamphetamine.

Most would classify pseudoephedrine as a controlled substance restricting sales of products containing it, like Sudafed, to pharmacies only. Customers would have to purchase the medicine from a pharmacist, show photo identification and sign a logbook, reports Fox Butterfield of The New York Times.

Groups representing drug, grocery and convenience stores are expected to oppose the state bills, and similar ones introduced in both houses of Congress. The growing legislative interest in restricting sales of cold medicines is a response to the rapid spread of methamphetamine to become the No. 1 priority for law enforcement in many states in the Midwest and Southeast, writes Butterfield.

Deborah Durkin, coordinator of the methamphetamine program in the Minnesota Department of Health told Butterfield, "In Minnesota, meth is now breaking all the rules about how the drug spreads. (It) is no longer a rural health problem here; it is a statewide public health crisis, with 70 to 80 percent of the people in jail for meth-related crimes and large numbers of high school kids becoming addicted." Another motivation for passing such laws is concern that meth makers will flock to states with no restrictions.

Pulitzer Inc. sells its newspapers in $1.46 billion deal

Lee Enterprises Inc. has bought Pulitzer Inc.'s newspaper holdings, including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in a $1.46 billion deal that creates the nation's fourth-largest newspaper publisher.

Lee, which operates 44 daily newspapers, will pay $64 per share in cash for all of Pulitzer's holdings, which include 14 daily newspapers, reports The Associated Press.

Mary Junck, chairman and chief executive officer said the purchase is a continuation of Lee's long-term strategies, told AP, "The acquisition of Pulitzer allows us to take an exciting and logical next step into another exceptionally attractive group of markets, exactly the kind where we excel as an industry leader in building revenue and circulation.”

The acquisition will make the Lee chain fourth in numbers of U.S. daily newspapers and seventh in circulation with 58 dailies in 23 states and a daily circulation of 1.7 million; 2 million on Sundays. Michael E. Pulitzer, grandson of the founder and chairman of the Pulitzer board of directors, told the wire service the sale to Lee was in the best interests of Pulitzer's shareholders. "Lee and Pulitzer share similar cultures and values, beginning with our long history in, and passion for, the newspaper business."

Florida Governor Jeb Bush says rural areas could see more cash; Campaigning?

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, appearing campaign-like in traveling to voters throughout the state, has outlined a proposal to give rural counties more state money and more flexibility to spend it.

Bush's budget proposal includes $301 million for rural counties to help pay for things such as road repairs, wastewater treatment, school construction and health-care programs, reports The Associated Press. “He also he wants legislators to let counties decide how to spend about $15 million, an average of $500,000 each, for the 30 counties identified as having economic concerns,” writes Brendon Farrington.

Bush told commissioners in one rural county, "There's no strings attached on how it's spent, it's spent on the need. I don't know what y'all's needs are, but they ought to be defined by you and you should be able to have more flexibility to meet the needs." The budget proposal is a $24 million increase over this year. That's on top of an $89 million increase from the year before.

AP reports Bush's “citizen hours” at county courthouses around the state have some wondering about possible presidential aspirations. At an elementary school stop, one girl asked, “"Are you ever going to run for president?" Bush frowned and said, "No comment."

Montana cattle farmers disagree over re-opening Canadian border for beef trade

While the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee debates with President Bush over opening the Canadian border for beef trading, cattle farmers disagree over how safe the move to re-open the border would be.

A hearing is schedule for Thursday by the Agriculture Committee, and Sens. Conrad Burns and John Thune have asked to meet with Bush about delaying trade with Canada after a Jan. 11 report of mad cow disease in Canada, reports Jim Gransbery of the Billings Gazette in Montana.

Dennis McDonald is a cattle farmer upset by the political motives behind re-opening the border. "It is obvious that the packers, large importers, retailers are a strong market force and they would benefit. They exert an undue influence on the decision," he said.

Economics, animal health and food safety are other issues in this case. A Montana cattlemen’s group, R-CALF, has filed suit to keep the U.S. Department of Agriculture from opening the Canadian border. On the other hand, Dick Raths, a veterinarian from Lewistown, said it has always been safe to eat beef because the central nervous system is removed before the slaughter process begins.

Bill Donald, another cattle farmer, says economics is key above all other issues. "It is precisely an economic issue," he said. "The theory is keep the border closed and prices will stay high."

Texas senator upholds Freedom of Information Act, holds hearing to examine law

John Cornyn, a republican senator from Texas, was awarded the James Madison Award by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas in 2001 for his work to keep government open to the public. In continuing with those efforts, he will convene a senate hearing to examine the Freedom of Information Act and its compliance, as early as possible. This will be the first such hearing in over a decade, reports the LBJ Journal of Public Affairs.

His goal, he said, is to “close loopholes in the law, help requestors obtain timely responses to their requests, ensure that agencies have strong incentives to act on requests in a timely fashion, and provide FOIA officials with the tools they need to ensure that our government remains open and accessible.”

Rural Oregon tapping into renewable energy sources

Oregon is a nest of potential energy, but much of it is going unused. Timber, water, wind and sun are all sources of renewable energy in the state that aren’t be harnessed, reports Matthew Preusch of The Oregonian.

Cynthia Hayes, executive director of 3EStrategies, a consulting firm, has helped form the Business Alliance for Sustainable Energy to promote companies that are working with renewable energy. "We have a renewable energy resource base that is unparalleled by any other similar geographic area in the country,” Hayes said.

The Oregon Department of Energy estimates the state could invest $300 million in renewable energy by 2006, providing 3,700 new jobs. Ed Sheets, an energy consultant, said "I think Oregon is very well situated. It is an important industry, and it's likely to be a growing industry."

Post tells sad tale of record West Virginia lottery winner's plight

America's biggest lottery jackpot was a road to ruin for winner Jack Whittaker, his family and their friends in West Virginia, April Witt reported in painful detail in The Washington Post Magazine yesterday.

Witt, a staff writer for the magazine, will field questions and comments about her article at 1 p.m. today; click here to access.

Jack's big win was viewed as one of the greatest Christmas gifts in his poor state's history, a holiday miracle to be heralded around the globe. Jack proclaimed that he would tithe a biblical 10 percent of his winnings, donate millions to his family's favorite pastors and build big new churches. He vowed to start a charitable foundation to help needy West Virginians, Witt wrote.

Civic-minded citizens hailed Jack as a hero, the state's antidote to mean-spirited hillbilly jokes. Sure, dental woes had left the strapping cowboy-man without a tooth in his head. But Jack sounded so well-intentioned on TV that some people said he should run for governor. Whittaker, who refused to be interviewed for the story, didn't need the $113 million, lump-sum Powerball payout. Jack, 55, had been working construction since he was a poor 14-year-old in the hills.

He'd built himself a nice life in this patch of West Virginia hard by the Kentucky and Ohio borders. He had a wife and a granddaughter who basked in his attentions, a brick house in a nice subdivision in neighboring Scott Depot, and a water and sewer pipe-laying business that employed more than 100 people, the Post recounted, then went on to tell how he ruined his marriage, failed to deliver on his promises, caused turmoil that cost others their jobs, and ultimately led to the drug-besotted death of his only grandchild.

"It was like the money was eating away at whatever was good in him," Misty Dawn Arnold told Witt. "It reminds me, like, 'Lord of the Rings,' how that little guy -- what's his name? Gollum? -- was with his Precious. It just consumes you. You become the money. You are no longer a person." Gary Halstead asked, "How many people has he ruined?" Whittaker's wife blamed the Powerball jackpot for destroying her family, Witt reported, relating a quote Jewell Whittaker had given a Charleston newspaper: "I wish I would have torn the ticket up."

Friday, Jan. 28, 2005

Former Oklahoma governor creates plan for affordable rural housing

Workers at rural businesses may get a break in Oklahoma City, where former Gov. Henry Bellmon has hatched a plan to give developers in rural areas low-interest loans for affordable housing.

These workers may have to live far away from where they work because the state lacks affordable housing; studies say the state needs 40,000 housing units, 30,000 for rural areas, reports the editorial board of the Enid News & Eagle.

The loans would make $25 million available for developing single and multi-family housing. Developers could borrow up to $2 million for acquiring and developing land and constructing homes, the paper reports. “This will make it possible to match the housing to the needs,” Bellmon said.

Commission says ATV deaths at all-time high; age restrictions called for

As the number of riders expands, more people than ever are being killed and injured on all-terrain vehicles, which are increasingly popular in rural areas. Safety advocates say age restrictions are needed, while industry groups say the statistics actually show improvements, reports The Associated Press.

The new estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that 621 people were killed in 2002 riding ATVs, the most ever. Figures for 2003 are incomplete, writes Elizabeth Wolfe. The CPSC estimated that 6.2 million four-wheel ATVs were in use in 2003, twice as many as five years earlier. ATVs are particularly popular in rural areas. The report also estimates 125,500 people suffered injuries in 2003, a 10 percent jump from 2002. Safety groups used the data as evidence that not enough is being done to promote ATV safety, particularly among children. About one-third of the dead and injured since 1982 have been children under 16, AP reports.

A statement by Dr. Jeffrey Upperman, a pediatric trauma surgeon at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, was issued by the Consumer Federation of America and other groups advocating tougher state and federal laws for young riders. Upperman said, "Young children don't have the cognitive skills, size or strength to safely drive these vehicles." But Tim Buche, president of the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, had a different perspective on the government report. He told AP statistics showing the injury rate among riders of four-wheel ATVs dipped an estimated 6 percent from 2001 to 2003. "The CPSC report confirms that the industry's commitment to rider education, parental supervision and state legislation is working to bring down injury and fatality rates."

The twang thang: Class offered for kids who want to lose Appalachian accent

A class being taught by a group of performers to show Eastern Kentucky children how to lose their Appalachian accents has sparked a debate: "Should mountain natives drop the drawl or hold tightly to their twang?” reports Roger Alford of The Associated Press bureau in Pikeville.

Jenny Wiley Theatre in Prestonsburg is teaching the class for middle and high school students to help improve their marketability. Managing director Martin Childers told Alford, "We don't want people to be held back just because they have an accent. If you want to work professionally, you have to be able to drop the accent when it's required. We want to give people the opportunity to learn to do that."

Dee Davis, head of the Center for Rural Strategies, which protested efforts by two TV networks to produce "hillbilly reality shows," told AP he has no problem with the class "as long as teachers keep one thing in mind. It's important they make sure the kids understand their language is beautiful, their culture is powerful, and it's not something they shouldn't be embarrassed about."

Tracy Frazier, executive director of the Letcher Action Team, a community-development group in Whitesburg, told AP even people who stay in the region and have nothing to do with the performing arts, especially those in white-collar jobs, have had to learn to drop the accent or risk being looked down upon. Davis, a Hazard native who attended the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, said, "There's nothing wrong with being able to speak in different accents, but you should above all things hold on to the language you dream in.”

Arkansas seeks to revise hunting-dog rules; property owners vs. hunters

Errant hunters and uncontrolled beagle packs are prompting the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to write new regulations to protect property owners while preserving an age-old tradition, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. (Site requires free registration.)

Commissioners are looking at adopting regulations to require hunters who want to chase deer with dogs to get special permits. The permits will probably be free, but hunters will first have to show they have access to plenty of land and won’t be trespassing on posted property,” Austin Gelder writes. Commission Chairman Forrest Wood told Gelder, "We have agonized a good bit over this. Game and Fish Director Scott Henderson said, “Existing regulations just aren’t getting the job done.”

Wildlife and law officers rely on trespassing laws and a prohibition on shooting from state roads to crack down on problem dog runners, reports the Democrat-Gazette. Henderson told the newspaper,"Right now the laws on the books are difficult to enforce and a little vague." Commissioners will examine regulations adopted in Alabama and Georgia in 2003 as possible models to stop the snarling between property owners and sportsmen raring to let their hunting dogs loose, writes Gelder.

Hunters in Georgia must have permission to use at least 1,000 contiguous acres of land for hunting before they can get a permit for dog running. Hunters in Alabama must get permission from landowners before hunting on property. Henderson told the newspaper, "The key to this will be some sort of permit system so we know who these guys are and where they’re hunting.” Permits could be revoked if hunters abuse them.

Hunting, fishing show to draw thousands; win a boar hunt or an African safari

More than 230 vendors of outdoor goods and services will hawk their wares today through Sunday at the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show. Promoters expect 15,000 to 18,000 hunters and anglers to pack the Charleston Civic Center during the event, reports The Charleston Gazette.

“This year’s show has attracted exhibitors from as far away as South Africa,” writes John McCoy. The West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association has promoted the show since 1986. There are several attractions to help boost attendance, reports the Gazette, including the Wildlife Charity Auction, scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday with more than 80 items valued at up to $5,000 each.

Auction items include "three South African hunting safaris, two Canadian bear hunts, a wild boar hunt in Georgia, nine Great Lakes fishing charters, a trophy striped-bass fishing trip, a new sculpture by renowned bronze artist Burl Jones, a grouse hunt for two, and several custom-made knives,” writes McCoy.

Here's a place for help with filing federal Freedom of Information Act requests

The First Amendment Center has posted online a detailed guide to filing requests for federal information under the Freedom of Information Act. The article by Taylor Holliday also includes information on the Privacy Act, examples of what is available and not available under FOIA requests, appeals procedures and pitfalls to avoid.

The article also includes useful links to resources that help with getting information under state open-records laws, such as the Citizen Access Project, which includes the texts of all state FOI laws and contacts for local organizations involved with open-government issues. The First Amendment Center, part of the Freedom Forum, says the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press's Tapping Officials' Secrets "is probably the most complete guide to open-government law in the 50 states."

The poop scoop: Charlotte area parks aim to purge birds with a regular urge

Parks in and around Charlotte have a particularly acute problem with Canadian geese. They do what they do… and doo-doo, the annoyance of park-goers while the county’s “clean-up crew” is one man -- a man with a plan, reports The Charlotte Observer.

The man is Steve Law, manager of stewardship services at Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, responsible for 5,200 acres of the county's nature preserves, writes Peter St. Onge. “He … has an animal nuisance he can't seem to solve … illustrated with one biological fact: Canada geese poop like nobody's business,” he writes. “Specifically, they feel the urge about every 12 to 15 minutes, about 2 pounds of messiness a day. Says Steve: "It's pretty phenomenal."

Law's latest “solution,” reports the Observer, is an eight-point, $84,000 plan that includes flashing red lasers at the birds. This, says Steve, causes the birds to "freak out." It is not the weirdest plan he has entertained. At first park staffers installed no-feeding signs, which the public and the geese ignored. Laws has tried relocation, collecting and driving them to a Mississippi wildlife preserve.

Law even tried threats, wooden decoys of dead geese, “a Mafioso-like message to the real birds,” remarks St. Onge. Laws told the newspaper, “The geese were rattled at first, but a few months later, workers noticed baby mallards on top of the decoys.Our cover was blown.”

The Rural Calendar

Saturday, Jan. 29: The South Charleston Museum will premiere -30-: Cal Price and The Pocahontas Times as part of the “Films from West Virginia” series tomorrow night at 7 in LaBelle Theatre. The Times, still in publication, was America’s last handset paper. Director B.J. Gudmundsson and cinematographer Doug Chadwick will answer questions. John Lilly, who provided the film’s soundtrack, will perform at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $1, call (304) 744-9711 or email, or visit the website.

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2005

Kentucky environmentalists sue over valley fills, say permits were issued illegally

Three Kentucky environmental and citizen organizations filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying the Corps illegally allows coal mining waste to destroy streams in the state.

The groups include Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and Kentucky Waterways Alliance, writes the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. The groups say the Corps uses Nationwide Permit 21 for valley fills in Cumberland, Big Sandy and Licking River watersheds, which violates the federal Clean Water Act. A copy of the complaint is available here.

“In the last three years, the Corps has rubber-stamped more than 50 permits for 191 valley fills that will destroy more than 35 miles of Kentucky’s streams,” said Teri Blanton of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “This is an absurd and outrageous abuse of their power and neglect of their duty to protect the nation’s waterways.” The groups want the Corps to use individual permits that will consider environmental impacts for each site and offer opportunity for public response.

In a similar West Virginia lawsuit, the Corps was enjoined from issuing the NWP 21 for valley fills in the state, but that decision does not apply to valley fills in Kentucky.

U.S. faces 'pivotal moment' on clean-air regulations

Washington decision makers are ready to impose new federal requirements aimed at curbing air pollution from coal-fired power plants, emissions that health officials say cause the premature deaths of 24,000 Americans every year, reports The Washington Post.

“The question is how far and how fast the country should go,” writes Juliet Eilperin. “The debate will be fully engaged this spring as the Senate takes up the president's proposal to rewrite national air pollution law; yesterday a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee held its first hearing of the year on the bill.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is pushing to complete work on two major regulations, due to be issued by mid-March on mercury contamination from power plants and pollution that drifts from one state to another in the East and Midwest, Eilperin writes. The EPA has finalized new national air quality standards to force noncompliant states and localities to crack down on local sources of air pollution. All this will affect such things as an average family's monthly electric bill and whether the children in that household develop asthma.

James L. Connaughton, President Bush's top environmental adviser, told Eilperin, "This is a pivotal moment. This is equal in significance to taking lead out of gasoline, or putting catalytic converters on cars." Critics of the Bush administration say the White House is wasting a critical opportunity by not pushing for stricter standards that could further reduce harmful emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury.

Ohio Valley watchdog says air getting dirtier; tougher standards imperative

A new “Clear the Air” report released by several West Virginia environmental groups and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group finds nearly two-thirds of the state’s “oldest and dirtiest” power plants are getting dirtier, not cleaner, charges The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, of Huntington, W.Va.

U.S. PIRG Clean Air Organizer Debra Gemme, said, “Pollution from power plants fuels global warming and causes serious health problems, and even premature deaths.” With research finding adverse health effects from air pollution at levels once considered safe, more people than ever live in areas that fail to meet national health standards, says the group.

The group’s report indicates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions increased at many of West Virginia’s power plants from 1995 to 2003, even though the Clean Air Act reduced such emissions statewide. "The law's “cap-and-trade” rules allow dirtier plants to forego cleanup by buying pollution credits from cleaner facilities," they charge. Carbon dioxide emissions increased statewide; there are no federal limits on those emissions, they report.

The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Mon Valley Clean Air Coalition (formerly Citizens for Alternatives to Longview Power), West Virginia Environmental Council and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy joined U.S PIRG in releasing the report in West Virginia.

“We know how to solve the air pollution problem, but the Bush administration’s air pollution bill will set us back decades. The bill creates a permanent loophole in the law for the dirtiest power plants,” Gemme said.

Auto industry goes south: report shows Sun Belt's gain is Midwest's pain

Japan's worldwide auto-production figures underscore deepening trouble in America's old "auto corridor,” a southern shift of jobs and money away from the “rust belt” states.

The economic health of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana rose and fell with the domestic auto industry. But today, as Detroit's claim on the U.S. market continues to erode, that link is disappearing, write James P. Miller and Rick Popely of the Chicago Tribune. “The decline of the (major American auto companies) and the ascendancy of Japanese rivals, have shifted auto production to the southern U.S.,” they write.

Since 2001, the Tribune reports, sales of cars and light trucks in the U.S. have averaged a solid 16.7 million. The cars are largely being made domestically; the portion of imported cars rose slightly, to 20 percent of the total from 17 percent. Michigan, however, has lost more than 14,000, or 15.2 percent, of its auto-assembly jobs between 2000 and 2003.

Even as U.S. auto sales have done well, auto employment in the Rust Belt, including Wisconsin and Illinois, has been taking a painful hit, reports the Tribune. A number of auto plants are running at reduced capacity, while related component manufacturing is being eliminated by the tens of thousands. Miller and Popely write that U.S. cars are being increasinly manufactured near the Mason-Dixon line and in the deep South.

When carmakers like Honda and Toyota began to build cars in the U.S., they opted to construct many of their plants in or near the south, away from the Rust Belt reach of the United Auto Workers union, reports the Tribune. Nissan built its first plant in Tennessee and in 2003 added another in Mississippi. Toyota first set up shop in Kentucky, then added a site in southern Indiana and is constructing a third plant in San Antonio. Although Honda's first plant was in Marysville, Ohio, it now also builds cars in Alabama. Korea's Hyundai will soon open a plant in Alabama.

Watchdog groups chides Congress for not protecting whistleblowers

Several private watchdog groups have charged Congress is not doing its job of protecting government whistleblowers, nor investigating the national security weaknesses those employees have tried to expose.

The groups have “called for hearings into a particular case, that of linguist Sibel Edmonds, fired in 2002 after alleging shoddy work and possible espionage inside the FBI's translator program, “ writes Pauline Jelinek of The Associated Press.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight said, "The time has come for Congress to hold hearings and address the concerns raised by Ms. Edmonds. Without congressional oversight, the FBI will continue to hide its failures and quash whistleblowers." Brian spoke at a joint press conference with the American Civil Liberties Union, family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and some dozen whistleblowers who have spoken out about alleged problems at the Federal Aviation Administration, CIA, FBI and customs agency, writes Jelinek.

Ann Beeson, an ACLU legal counsel said, "The government is taking extreme steps to shield itself from political embarrassment while gambling with our safety." Beeson cited the firing of whistleblowers, retroactive classification of public information and other actions she charges were taken to cover up mistakes. The Justice Department's inspector general has said the FBI never adequately investigated Edmonds' complaints, even though evidence and witnesses supported her, Jelinek writes.

Newspaper reporter sued for libel defends reporting of judge’s remark

A Boston Herald reporter, being sued for libel for reporting a judge made a callous remark about a 14-year-old rape victim has testified, "I'm certain that quote was correct," reports The Associated Press.

“The reporter, David Wedge, acknowledged he had never spoken with the judge, Ernest Murphy of Superior Court, before the article was published. But, said he tried to contact the judge to verify the accuracy of the remark and was not allowed to see him,” reports the wire service. In response to Judge Murphy's lawyer, Howard M. Cooper, Wedge said , "It's preferable to have that person speak to you, but if they don't speak to you, you rely on the best information you have."

The Herald has reported prosecutors criticized the judge for "lenient sentences," including eight years probation for a 17-year-old convicted of two rapes and an armed robbery. The newspaper quoted Judge Murphy as telling lawyers involved in the case about the victim, "Tell her to get over it." The judge denied the remark, insisting he spoke about the 14-year-old rape victim with compassion.

Congress may increase fallen soldiers families' $12,000 death benefit

What follows the grief is money, something congress is considering increasing with growing deadly involvement in Iraq, reports The New York Times.

“Three days after the marines rang the doorbell and told Cpl. Marc T. Ryan's parents their son was dead, (marines) returned to the Ryan’s split-level house in Gloucester City, N.J. This time, they had a check,” writes James Barron. The Defense Department calls it the 'military death gratuity,' a one-time payment of $12,000 to the survivors of men and women killed in the line of duty. "Among the things it paid for were the dark clothes that Corporal Ryan's sister, Lauren, 23, wore to the funeral," Barrons writes.

The idea dates to Theodore Roosevelt's presidency. Some senators who debated before the gratuity was approved in 1908 had fought in the Civil War. The money, six months pay, only a few hundred dollars at the time, was for grieving families' expenses when life insurance for soldiers was rare, reports the Times. Now, about a dozen death gratuity checks are handed out nationwide in a typical week, and some families say it is not enough, even though it is double what the military paid from 1991 until Congress approved an increase in 2003, and soldiers now automatically have life insurance.

In Congress, there are proposals to raise the gratuity again. Senate Republicans have suggested increasing it to $100,000. Another proposal by Senate Democrats proposals the same. Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican who has drafted legislation on the death payment told Barrons, "As you think about what a fireman or policeman gets, what the people in 9/11 got when they were killed, and you talk to families, like all of us have, who have lost loved ones, this nation just needs to be generous."

Town’s plan to use pig on 'Groundhawg's Day,’ catches nation's news fancy

Sometimes a story reverberates from local to national attention. Such is the case with Lexington, North Carolina’s decision to use a pig instead of a groundhog to make predictions on Feb. 2, or “Groundhawg’s Day” as the Lexington Dispatch reports. (Browsing requires free registration.)

The Dispatch ran their story Jan. 20. Then someone “squealed” and The High Point Enterprise picked it up Jan. 25. The Associated Press, known for its ability to root out a story, (like truffles to pigs) got wind of this, (downwind most likely) and it went national Jan. 26. Your blogger found it in The Des Moines Register. Here are the “high points” (pun intended) from all three sources.

"A 65-pound pot-bellied pig will be forecasting when Lexington celebrates 'Groundhawg's Day' on Feb. 2. 'Lil Bit' will be looking for her shadow to help determine how soon spring will arrive," reports AP. Liz Parham, executive director of Uptown Lexington said, "We're doing this event because of the heritage of barbecue." Lexington is famous for its pork barbecue, reports the wire service. (Just don't tell the pig)

Lexington Mayor Pro-tem Larry Beck will lead the celebration. Local group "Whistlepig" will perform a Groundhawg Day jingle, as reported by the Enterprise and the Dispatch. The celebration ends with the release of 2,005 pink balloons, each asking people to call Uptown Lexington, N.C. While Punxsutawney (Pa.) Phil is the most watched forecaster on Groundhog Day, other states celebrate with their own animals, such as Buckeye Chuck in Ohio and Dixie Dan in Mississippi. Access to the original stories in the Enterprise or Dispatch is now limited to subscribers. Apparently "Lil Bit" got the big head.

Urban truck drivers cost Iowa millions each year in registration fees

A tax break on pick-up trucks, originally designed to benefit farmers, is costing Iowa $70 million each year as urban truck drivers get a bargain on registration.

The fee for registering a pick-up is $65, opposed to hundreds of dollars to register new automobiles, writes William Petroski of The Des Moines Register. Of the 783,000 pick-ups in Iowa, 80,000 are used on farms. If fees for 2005 model trucks not used on farms were raised to about $232 a year, the state would gain $6.5 million, Petroski writes.

Rep. Donald Shoultz, a democrat from Waterloo, has introduced a bill to require non-farm pick-ups have the same fee as other automobiles. The bill would apply starting with the 2006 model year. The Iowa Farm Bureau opposes a change to the pick-up fee, said Joe Johnson, a bureau lobbyist. "I would say that pickups pay a lot of gas tax as well, and so we just don't believe at this time that we should be increasing fees on Iowans who drive pickups," he said. However, supporters say the money Iowa is losing on pick-ups could be added to the Iowa Road Use Tax Fund to repair the state’s road system, Petroski writes.

In Wisconsin, a farming pickup has a $45 fee for two-year registration, which costs less than personal vehicles. In Missouri, farm pickups have a special license category.

Second reminder: Reporting seminar in March; applications due Feb. 4

The Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism is hosting a seminar from March 20-25 in Berkeley, Calif., for print and broadcast reporters and editors in multimedia reporting. There’s no fee to attend and the Center pays hotel accommodations, meals and up to $300 for travel.

To apply, send two copies each of a resumé, a 500-word statement on why the seminar is valuable to journalists, a nominating letter from a supervisor agreeing to pay salary and incidental expenses. Send applications to: Vikki Porter, Director, The Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, USC Annenberg School for Communication, One California Plaza, 300 South Grand Ave., Ste. 3950, Los Angeles, CA, 90071. They must be received by Friday, Feb. 4. For more information, call Lanita Pace-Hinton, WKC Associate Director, at 510-643-7429 or email.

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2005

State legislators’ personal financial disclosures now available online

The Center for Public Integrity has done a wonderful service for reporters at news outlets large and small, but particularly for those who are isolated from the official repositories of state government documents. It now offers online access to the personal financial disclosures of state legislators, which can reveal conflicts of interest in their voting and other legislative behavior.

The center collected nearly 7,000 personal financial statements that lawmakers submitted in 2004 to oversight agencies in the 47 states that require disclosure. ( Idaho, Michigan and Vermont do not require such disclosures). A few states had filing deadlines at the end of 2004; the center is still uploading forms for those states, along with North Dakota, where lawmakers’ reports are not centrally collected. As filings for 2005 are made, they will be collected and posted.

“These often-overlooked reports can be difficult to obtain,” the center said in a press release. “In Maryland, citizens have to drive to the State Ethics Commission's office in Annapolis to learn more about their lawmakers' outside ties. Fortunately, 16 states now make their financial disclosure forms available on the Internet or electronically. Another 31 states require disclosure, but then file the papers away, making them hard to access.”

Wal-Mart responds to NNA president's criticism of PR campaign

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart has replied to criticism by National Newspaper Association President Mike Buffington of the retail giant's advertising and public-relations campaign to improve its image. Buffington, editor of The Jackson Herald in Jefferson, Ga., told Wal-Mart in a letter that community newspapers were "insulted" by the chain's effort to get news coverage in community papers in which it rarely advertises, while buying large ads in metropolitan papers.

Spokeswoman Sarah Clark said in an e-mail to The Rural Blog that criticisms of Wal-Mart have created a debate that is "a legitimate news story." She said she was surprised at what she called the premise of Buffington's letter, which she said connected news coverage with advertising purchases.

Clark said the company also contacted broadcast outlets where it didn't buy ads for the campaign, and "At no time did we consider a quid pro quo: ad buy for news space." She concluded, "We're sorry that folks are disappointed that we did not buy ads in their publication and other community newspapers. We believe our decision represented the best decision for our company for this particular endeavor."

Buffington was not suggesting a news-ad trade, NNA Executive Director Brian Steffens said in an e-mail to The Rural Blog today. "It was more an affront of the arrogance of Wal Mart . . . by buying ads in large metros, markets where they don't have much of a constituency," Steffens wrote. "If it's news in communities, then community newspapers will cover it." He said the large ads in metros probably made the campaign more of a story for those papers, not from any quid pro quo, just as an attention-getter.

"It appears somewhat hypocritical to buy ads in markets where Wal-Mart doesn't have a strong presence, and to ignore the same tool in their core markets," Steffens wrote. "It seems somewhat arrogant to ignore community newspapers. Indeed, community newspaper reporters have been thrown out of Wal-Marts when pursuing stories. . . . If they want access to the media, then let the media have access to Wal-Mart."

Meat processing plants violating human rights, says activist group

Working conditions at a number of meat processing plants nationwide violate basic human rights, including one in North Carolina, according to report by Human Rights Watch.

The report is based on a year of research, including interviews with employees and managers at three plants: a Nebraska beef factory, an Arkansas chicken plant and the Smithfield Packing Co. pork plant in the Bladen County, N.C., town of Tar Heel, writes Kristin Collins of The News & Observer,

“The report describes all three plants as places where workers are frequently injured then refused medical care or fired. The report found: repetitive motion injuries are universal in the industry; unsanitary conditions sometimes leave workers covered in animal urine and feces; and attempts to unionize are sometimes violently quashed,” writes Collins.

A leader of an 11-year effort to unionize the Smithfield plant, Tom Clarke of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told the Raleigh newspaper that the company has violated workers' rights for years. "This is going to shine a brighter light on the activity of the company. It's been an attitude of, `Look, this is rural North Carolina. Who's going to know, and who's going to care?"

A spokesman for Smithfield Foods, based in Smithfield, Va., told The New York Times the report focused on decade-old labor disputes and did not reflect current conditions. Officials with the other two companies cited in the report, Tyson Foods and Nebraska Beef, also denied its claims, reports The Associated Press. Interest groups on both sides have responded to the report. For a press release from the American Meat Institute, click here. For one from the American Federation of Labor, click here.

Guard wants to offer big bucks to lure active-duty GIs, bolster its ranks

The Army National Guard, which has a strong rural recruiting base, is seeking legal authority to offer $15,000 bonuses to active-duty soldiers as an incentive to join its ranks. Right now the bonus is $50.

“Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters the Guard is 15,000 soldiers below normal strength (350,000), and he expects further short-term declines despite recent gains from tripling re-enlistment bonuses for guardsmen deployed abroad, writes Robert Burns of The Associated Press.

“Heavily stressed by longer-than-anticipated combat and support duties in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Guard recently increased first-time enlistment bonuses and added 1,400 recruiters,” writes Burns. Blum believes he could get 8,000 new guardsmen with the higher bonuses and said the existing $50 bonus carries little weight in today's economy. The three-start general said if the Guard fails to return to its normal troop level by Sept. 30, it will be the first time that has happened since 1989. Blum believes he has a formula for restoring the Guard's strength, reports AP.

Blum told the wire service the Guard has found it harder to get active-duty soldiers to switch to the Guard because many are prevented from leaving active duty even after contracts are up or retirement dates have arrived because of the Army's "stop loss" special authority which freezes soldiers in place for months at a time. Also, he said, those who can leave active duty are sometimes less interested in joining the Guard if they believe they'' be going back to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Blum believes the National Guard will be asked to contribute a smaller proportion of the combat force in Iraq starting in mid-2005, but will remain strapped. Currently, 44 percent of the Army combat forces in Iraq are Guard troops, which Blum believes will drop to the low 20s later this year. Offsetting that is an expectation the Guard will be required to contribute a larger proportion of the support troops.

VA backs recruiting ban, activists question policy, congresswomen inquiring

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is standing behind a regional directive which says veterans hospitals "may not aggressively take steps to recruit new enrollees or new workload," reports The Courier-Journal.

But, Sandra Glover, spokeswoman for VA MidSouth Healthcare Network, which includes hospitals in Louisville and Lexington, told Laura Ungar of the Louisville newspaper, "We have not abandoned the policy." U.S. Rep. Ann Northup told the newspaper she plans to discuss veterans outreach polices with the new veterans secretary. Both local and regional officials argue the policy doesn't preclude all outreach, but Amanda Hedlund, acting public affairs officer for the Louisville medical center, reiterated the hospital isn't allowed to "go after" new enrollees, writes Ungar.

The policy question arose after former Miss America Heather French Henry moved a veterans wellness event from the Louisville Veterans Affairs Medical Center after officials there told her the language on her event posters was a problem. Citing growing enrollment and limited resources, a 2002 federal memo directed regional VA health officials to "ensure that no marketing activities to enroll new veterans occur within your networks."

Sandra Myers, a retired Army sergeant from Cadiz, who is host of a radio program called Veterans' Voice, told Ungar, "For me, the situation is absolutely shocking. ...How can this be when our soldiers are giving their lives? At the bottom line, it's the dollar. Somebody needs to step in and do something."Mike Penney, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the C-J he plans to raise the issue when his group meets with members of Kentucky's congressional delegation in March.

U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, R-3rd District, and a member of a House subcommittee dealing with the VA, said through a spokesman, "I support outreach efforts to veterans in our community. At the same time, we must ensure that current enrollees receive quality care," and added that VA health-care dollars have risen significantly in recent years.”

Iowa GOP proposal to stop brain drain: Don't tax anyone under 30

Iowans younger than 30 would pay no state income taxes under an economic-growth plan unveiled by state Senate Republicans, reports The Des Moines Register.

Taxpayers in their 20s or younger would save about $600 a year. Senate Republican Co-President Jeff Lamberti, told staff writer Jonathon Roos, "More than half of our college graduates leave the state. We want to reverse Iowa's brain drain and make our state a more attractive place for our young people."

Adam McGinnis, 20, a University of Iowa pharmacy major, said "My major allows me to go anywhere, so why not stay in Iowa?" But Mescha Grammer, 20, a U of I senior, said. "Six hundred dollars a year really isn't that much, especially if you get better job offers," writes Roos.

Senate GOP leaders told the newspaper Iowa would be the first state to offer this kind of tax break. Senate Republican leader Stewart Iverson told the Register, “"Whether you're a college graduate who has student loans to pay back . . . or you just graduated from a high school or a community college or a tech school, by not paying state income taxes, it's a huge incentive to stay in the state.

Kathy Wieland, director of career services for Iowa State University's College of Business, said the tax-incentive plan might help, although most college graduates focus more on salaries than other kinds of benefits. And, she said, “it will also help businesses recruit young people to come to the state."

The proposal would reduce state revenue by an estimated $200 million a year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. The state collects about $2.7 billion in personal income taxes annually. "Republican senators said their economic-development plan, including the income tax exemption and a proposed tax credit for Iowa businesses that create jobs, would be less expensive than a five-year, $800 million dollar economic development plan offered by the state’s governor," writes Roos.

Raising oysters and hopes; Virginia experiment a success, Marylanders divided

Maryland’s legislature is bitterly divided over releasing non-native oysters into Chesapeake Bay to restore its once flourishing commercial industry, while Virginia oyster growers are taking a quieter approach; counting their money, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Participants in the first large-scale test of Asian ariakensis oysters in Virginia found ready markets for the shellfish and pocketed thousands of dollars last year,” writes Lawrence Latane III. A. J. Erskine, who managed the trial for the Virginia Seafood Council, told Latane, "It's safe to say people made from $5,000 to $20,000" in gross sales.”

Virginia conducted the tests under strict federal guidelines with a total of 800,000 baby ariakensis oysters, reports the Times-Dispatch. They were specially bred to make them sterile to safeguard against an unintentional introduction into the bay. In some cases, the oysters grew at two to three times the growth rate of native oysters. Previous tests in Virginia showed the Asian species withstands diseases that have put the bay's dwindling native oyster population at risk.

Rufus Ruark of Urbanna, one of the growers, told the newspaper, "It was a good product." Ruark said gearing up for the trial was expensive, but the result convinced him that the sterile non-native oyster might be the answer to his industry's prayers. "The (special oyster) is about the only hope we have right now."

Erskine and the seafood council agree. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing an environmental-impact study of the consequences of releasing fertile oysters into the bay. But the study may not have "a timely conclusion," reports the Times-Dispatch. A national scientific group has suggested it may take years to settle. The newspaper also reports the Chesapeake Bay's native oyster population is at 1 percent to 2 percent of historic levels and oyster packing houses are folding.

Georgia governor wants to reward landowners with 'green' to keep it green

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has announced a green space program that will provide monetary incentives for private landowners to preserve the state's disappearing landscapes.

“Without raising taxes, Perdue wants to set up a $100 million fund to protect land from bulldozers. Most of the money would come from existing federal and state dollars,” writes Stacy Sheton of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Perdue said private donations will make up the remaining $25 million. Georgia taxpayers could donate some of their state income tax refunds to the effort. Perdue wants to pay private property owners to restrict development, instead of buying large tracts of unspoiled land to turn into public parks or wildlife management areas, as his predecessors have done.

Farmers and timber companies could sell their development rights yet continue to work their land as agriculture. Perdue told the newspaper, "The vast majority of protected land would remain in private ownership. We want this to be voluntary compliance."

About $45 million would be given as grants, writes Shelton. The rest would be loans to local and state government that could buy land, strip it of development rights, then resell it to replenish the green space fund. Perdue's plan would allow the state to stop development on private land whose owners participate in the program, but the public might not have access to the property. The governor's proposal is fleshed out in a bill that was introduced Tuesday in the state House of Representatives. It will be discussed today in the House Natural Resources Committee.

New proposal in Tennessee would make marriage tougher to get into, out of

A bill in the Tennessee legislature “pushes covenant vows” to curb divorce, reports The Tennessean.

“Couples who pledge 'I do' but face marital difficulties down the road may avert a split if they are wed under a 'covenant' marriage already being used in three other states,” writes Bonna de la Cruz. The special marriage license would require that couples in trouble attend counseling and wait longer for a divorce. It is being pushed in the General Assembly by two Republicans from Williamson County, a rural-turned-suburban area south of Nashville, as one way to take on Tennessee's high divorce rate.

But de la Cruz reports that divorce rates haven't declined in other states with covenant marriages. Opponents said that's because not many couples are opting for such marriages. Under the Tennessee proposal, covenant marriages would be a voluntary option to a regular marriage license and generally cost the same. Couples already wed could convert their marriage to a covenant marriage.

Under covenant marriage, couples go through premarital counseling, sign an affidavit and pledge to seek marital counseling if problems arise. Once joined, couples could divorce only for such things as abuse, abandonment and adultery. Then a divorce is granted after a waiting period of 18 months for couples with children and one year for those with no children. Currently, the waiting period is 90 days if you have children and 60 days if you don't.

Misty Cagg, 27, and Timothy Rowe, 31, told de la Cruz they would have seriously considered a covenant marriage license if it were offered in Tennessee. Signing their marriage license last week, Cagg said, ''I believe when you get married, you're married. If it can keep a marriage together by helping people work things out through counseling instead of making a quick decision, that's best.". Louisiana adopted covenant marriages in 1997, Arizona in 1998 and Arkansas in 2001.

Arkansas legislature may pass bill defining marriage in textbooks

A bill before the Arkansas House of Representatives could require school textbooks to define marriage between one man and one woman. The bill comes after voters passed an amendment in November to define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

The bill would bar any definition of marriage contrary to the new constitution. The house voted 49-44 to return the bill to the House Education Committee to answer questions about the bill’s impact, reports Jake Bleed and Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Some lawmakers oppose the bill because it could require purchasing specialized textbooks.

"If it requires that a special textbook would be required to be published for just our state, then it follows that there would be a corresponding increase in cost," Rep. Jodie Mahony, D-El Dorado said.

Others, such as Rep. Joyce Elliot, D-Little, oppose it because it could “encroach on academic freedom,” with possible censorship of what’s taught in public schools. Rep Dwight Fite, D-Benton, said that censorship was “not the only thing that creeps.”

"So do social agendas that try to promote things that are contradictory completely to the beliefs of the people of the state of Arkansas," Fite said. "That’s the creep that we’re concerned about, that we’re trying to prevent."

Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2005

Firm offers rural America as alternative to offshore outsourcing of IT work

American companies may have an alternative to off-shore outsourcing of jobs: Rural America.

Kathy Brittain White believes that so strongly that she quit her job as chief information officer for a health-care company and, using $2 million of her money, began Rural Sourcing, a company that contracts out information technology jobs, reported Scott Cohn of CNBC, the latest news outlet to report the venture.

White's first Rural Sourcing center is at Arkansas State University, and she plans two more in New Mexico and North Carolina. Her starting pay at Rural Sourcing is $20,000. So far, five companies, including Cardinal Health, the company she left, have signed up for the rural outsourcing.

Attorney Robert Zahler, an adviser on outsourcing for companies, told CNBC, “Someone like Rural Sourcing should be able to save them somewhere between 30 percent to 50 percent, depending on what geographic market they’re already in.”

NNA president says Wal-Mart PR strategy insults community newspapers

The National Newspaper Association says Wal-Mart's effort to counter growing criticism of the company by trying to get community newspapers nationwide to give it some free PR is an insult to all rural and suburban newspapers, writes Brian Steffens, NNA executive director.

“The effort (to get free publicity) has been met with protest from America's community newspapers, which have been ignored by the firm in its media buying strategy,” writes Steffens. NNA President Mike Buffington has contacted Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott by mail “to protest what many newspapers consider an arrogant ploy by the firm.”

Steffens writes that Scott was quoted in a recent USA Today article about the firm's national PR campaign, which included media buys in 100 major metro newspapers, but ignored community newspapers in places where Wal-Mart has many of its rural and suburban stores.

“So why is it that community newspapers in America are good enough to help you fend off critics with free PR, but we're not good enough for your paid advertising? You can't have it both ways,” writes Buffington in his letter to Wal-Mart CEO Scott. “If Wal-Mart wants to communicate valuable information about itself to our readers, then you can purchase our valuable advertising space to do it,” Buffington continues.

The Rural Blog contacted the office of Wal-Mart spokesperson Sarah Clark for a reply, but none has been forthcoming.

New USDA chief sets sights on beef exports; wants Japan to lift ban

U. S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ first day on the job yesterday began with a pledge to get American beef exports moving again to Japan, which closed its borders to U.S. producers after mad-cow disease was reported in December 2003.

The former Nebraska governor called ending Japan's ban on U.S. beef "my top priority," writes Christopher Lee of The Washington Post. He said he would receive several briefings on the department's handling of the mad-cow threat. "The goal should be to make decisions about trade based on good science, mixed in with some good old common sense," he told reporters.

Gregg Doud, chief economist at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, told Lee, “The Japanese market is important not only because of its size, but also because consumers (there) favor cuts that are less popular with Americans. If we can't export those cuts, we end up grinding them into hamburger and consuming them domestically at a lower value."

The U.S. is negotiating with Japan as federal officials prepare to relax import restrictions on Canadian cattle in March. Such trade was banned after the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada in May 2003. USDA agreed to end the ban last year before two mad-cow cases surfaced in Canada. A more recent mad-cow disease discovery has brought pressure to continue restrictions while large producers like Tyson announced layoffs that some say are to pressure Johanns to re-open the border.

Japan was once the largest buyer of U.S. beef, accounting for $1.4 billion of the $3.86 billion in U.S. beef exports in 2003, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Japan had its own Mad-cow crisis in 2001, with beef sales declining sharply, reports the Post.

Drug beat: Federal anti-meth law would restrict sales of decongestants . . .

Iowa's two U.S. senators and eight of their colleagues have joined forces behind a proposal to place hundreds of popular decongestants behind pharmacy counters to discourage methamphetamine production.

“The bipartisan group is supporting tighter restrictions on pseudoephedrine sales to control the spread of small, toxic meth-making labs, which have become a major and costly problem throughout … much of the country. Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth, writes Lee Rood of the Des Moines Register. The danger of meth labs is especially acute in rural areas of the south and Appalachia.

Sen. Tom Harkin said, "This critical legislation will help provide law enforcement officers with the tools they need to fight meth." Calling meth "the most deadly, fiercely addictive and rapidly spreading drug the United States has known," the bill would provide $30 million in additional funding to fight the drug. But its most controversial feature will likely be the provision making pseudoephedrine a controlled substance.

Harkin told the newspaper that the bill would supersede any state legislation passed this year, unless that legislation is more restrictive. Efforts to limit pseudoephedrine sales began last year, after the success of a similar Oklahoma law. Federal and state officials have debated how far they must go to get the same results, without hindering public access to the medicines, writes Rood.

. . . Eastern Kentucky to get drug-treatment centers; $1.5 million in funds

Two treatment centers will open in Eastern Kentucky in response to an epidemic of abuse of prescription and illegal drugs, reports The Courier-Journal.

With $750,000 for each in federal funding, "the centers in Pike and Clay counties, are expected to provide residential treatment for about 170 people who now linger on waiting lists or have to travel out of state or some two hours," writes Alan Maimon of the Louisville newspaper. The money will be used to set up the centers. After start-up, grants and private donations will be sought for future funding.

Kentucky Republican U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers said during a ceremony at Pikeville College, "We have a significant shortage of drug treatment facilities across the state, especially here in Eastern Kentucky." Rogers said efforts to curb drug abuse must be accompanied by better treatment. "The law enforcement part is working. But treatment is the toughest area. It costs the most money, and it's a long-term solution."

Eastern Kentucky's drug problem has drawn $24 million in federal money over the past three years to operate an multi-county, federal, state and local anti-drug task force called Operation UNITE. The task force works with law enforcement and citizens groups to coordinate education and treatment.

Tennessee increasingly looks to local land trusts to preserve natural areas

Tennessee landowners interested in preserving the environment and protecting local communities can take advantage of the Land Trust for Tennessee, one of ten land trusts in the Volunteer State that accept or purchase easements and land in their areas.

That’s what Robbie Hassler did with 155 acres she owned with her late husband in Pickett County, reports Anne Paine of The Tennessean. Her easement, a legal agreement with the land trust, will prohibit any development on the farm, regardless of who owns it. A log house will remain along with a hardwood forest, to provide a home for birds and wildlife. ''This is a start — to protect the most special of places on the Cumberland'' Plateau, Hassler said.

Since 1998, the number of such trusts has jumped 26 percent. Phil Bredesen, now governor, founded the Land Trust for Tennessee in 1999. Other well-known trusts are the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, the Swan Conservation Trust, and the South Cumberland Region Land Trust.

Coal group seeks miners; says the work is safer now, still pays well

The Kentucky Coal Council is searching for more miners to replace its aging workforce, offering training programs in technical and community colleges to find new workers, according to a Jan. 24 press release. The Council, an arm of state government, says Kentucky has approximately 423 coal companies and 15,000 employees, with 55 percent of miners aged 45 and older.

“If we had more qualified, trained employees, we could mine more coal,” Bill Higginbotham, the council's executive director, said in a news release. The council says starting pay is $12 to $14 an hour, with a foreman able to make as much as $80,000 a year. Advances in equipment and regulations have made mining much safer, the release says. Scholarships are available for anyone interested in the special college programs, the release says. For more information, contact Stephanie Ramsey.

Vanderbilt picks up course on Islam that Tennessee State dropped

Tennessee State University’s free course in Islam, organized by the Islamic Center of Nashville, was canceled a week before it was to begin, ater Tennessee Bible College Dean Kerry Duke said in a letter to The Tennessean that the class was using government money to “promote religion — a single religion.” The divinity school at Vanderbilt University, a private institution, has picked up the center's courses.

More than 40 people have signed up, and the center is planning two sessions to accommodate them. The center's outreach director, Awadh Binhazim, said the center was told Tennessee State "needed the room" the class was to occupy, but nothing else was explained, reports Holly Edwards of The Tennessean.

Gay Welch, a chaplain at the divinity school, said that it’s very important to “foster interfaith discussions” because of animosity between Muslims and Christians. ''What's at stake is not letting people exchange ideas,'' she said. ''The more you learn about a faith, the less likely you are to make egregious stereotypes.”

North Carolina task force wants ATV restrictions; cites deaths and injuries

A task force says the North Carolina General Assembly should bar children under age 12 from riding motorized three-and four-wheel vehicles, most notably all-terrain vehicles, until they turn 16.

The task force paid particular attention to ATVs with engines of 90 cubic centimeters and above, write Josh Shaffer and Matthew Eisley of The News & Observer in Raleigh. ATV-related deaths and injuries have increased alarmingly over the past 20 years, especially in rural areas.

State Sen. Bill Purcell, a retired pediatrician who plans to sponsor a bill, told the newspaper, "It's a good idea. I've seen a number of kids injured, and so often they're serious head injuries and femur fractures." Currently North Carolina only requires ATVs owners to get permission to ride on private property. ATV dealers call the restrictions an overreaction. Richard Barnett, an ATV dealer in Raleigh, told Shaffer and Eisley, "The statistics I've seen, bicycles are way up there in terms of child injuries.”

Task force members acknowledge the law would be hard to enforce. It would be hard to check the ages of children riding in the woods on a 100-acre farm. But, Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, co-chairwoman of the task force told the Observer that the point is to educate the public about ATV dangers, rather than round up violators. The group also recommends specialized training for riders.

Consumer Product Safety Commission figures show from 1982 to 2002, ATV accidents killed 5,239 people nationwide, 189 of them in North Carolina. In 1982, ATV-related injuries sent 10,100 people to emergency rooms nationwide. By 2002, that number rose to 113,900, one-third of them children.

Bluegrass music pioneer Art Stamper dead of throat cancer at 71

Art Stamper, a Bluegrass Hall of Fame member who performed with the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, died Sunday night in a Louisville hospital after a four-year battle with throat cancer. He was 71.

Stamper was a bluegrass pioneer. His style emphasized melody and emotion over speed, reports The Associated Press. Acclaimed mandolinist Sam Bush told AP, "(He) was from the first generation of fiddle players to combine old-time music and mountain fiddling with the blues that was part of bluegrass."

Stamper was a native of Hindman in Eastern Kentucky and a longtime resident of Shepherdsville, near Louisville. Harry Bickel, a Louisville bluegrass musician and historian, told AP, "You're never a hero in your own hometown, I guess. He grew up in that Eastern Kentucky tradition that a lot of fiddlers never got to witness." Last year, Stamper received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, joining the likes of Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Kenny Baker and Monroe.

Monday, Jan. 24, 2005

Rural Nebraska and Iowa remember Johnny Carson and his generosity

Johnny Carson, born in Iowa and raised in Nebraska, never forgot his rural roots, and the proof is in his contributions to the region.

Carson gave $2.27 million to a cancer radiation center in Norfolk, Neb., where he grew up, and gave $600,000 to the Norfolk Public Schools’ Johnny Carson Theater, reports Kim Roberts-Gudemann and Bob Glissmann of the Omaha World-Herald. He also gave $1 million to Northeast Community College, $500,000 to the Norfolk Library Foundation, millions of dollars to fund a scholarship and the performing arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and $5.3 million to renovate the Temple Building, where he studied. He also gave to causes and projects in Iowa, where he was born.

"I have always felt that if you're lucky enough in this life to accumulate enough funds to live better than you have any right to, then you have a moral obligation to pay back to the community, or to the country or to the place that brought you up," he said in 1988, to explain his generosity.

The Elkhorn Valley Museum and Research Center in Norfolk will have a permanent display of Carson memorabilia, and will remain open till 9 p.m. this Wednesday, waiving its entry fee, in his remembrance.

Rural phone service fund under siege; expanded service in jeopardy

Money from the federal universal service fund, which has helped pay for cell phone towers in rural America, is under siege from critics who say it’s “an unwarranted windfall for wireless companies,” which may put on hold plans to upgrade cell-phone service in those areas.

“The $3.5 billion fund, financed by a 10.7% fee on every long-distance bill, goes mostly to rural phone incumbents to keep basic home service affordable. That's because it's costly. for companies to string wires to rural areas with few customers,” writes Paul Davidson of USA Today.

But, reports Davidson, to spur competition, the 1996 Telecommunications Act also lets the incumbents' rivals — most of which are wireless carriers — receive some of the money if state or federal officials find it's in the public interest. The sum received by wireless providers soared to about $230 million last year, from $2.6 million in 2000, says the Federal Communications Commission. Rural phone firms complain that those payments are unnecessary and a big reason the fund is under strain. The FCC is set to rule next month on a proposal that could sharply cut universal-service funding for wireless providers, he writes.

Wireless carriers say the subsidies help serve small towns that have few or no cell phone providers and “some back-country pockets that lack even basic wire-line service,” Davidson writes. The wireless companies note that they receive just 7% of the funding. CEO Jack Rooney of U.S. Cellular, a wireless carrier that gets funding, said, "We're talking about a bunch of carriers that just don't like competition."

Rural New England areas without broadband losing out in information age

Economic development officials say rural areas without broadband Internet access are being left behind as governments and companies across northern New England do more business online.

Nancy Berliner, executive director of the New Hampshire Rural Development Council told The Associated Press, "If we want to position (rural areas) to be economically competitive, we need to create at a minimum what's called a backbone system." Such systems usually include ultra-high speed cabling and specialized computers called routers.

A committee led by the council is to unveil a telecommunications master plan next month, offering New Hampshire its "first big-picture strategy for tackling rural broadband needs." A Vermont project is underway to design and build an $8.7 million fiber-optic network in six rural northern counties. In Maine, which already has a statewide fiber-optic network, U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud is working to establish an economic development commission to include those three states along with New York, reports AP.

Maureen Connoloy, with the Economic Development Council of Northern Vermont, told the wire service, “We have a lot of companies that rely on the Internet to do defense contract bidding. They need to be able to do it in real time. They can't afford to have a satellite go out, or to miss a last-minute update because they're on dial-up.'' Berliner and Connoloy said reliable statistics on the level and quality of broadband Internet access in their region are scarce. But there's no doubt access needs to be improved.

EPA plans to offer factory-scale farms conditional immunity for odors

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to let factory-scale farms avoid air-pollution citations if they agree to pay a one-time penalty, support air monitoring, and take steps to reduce noxious emissions.

But the so-called "safe harbor" plan immediately put the EPA at odds with environmentalists, reports The Courier-Journal. EPA says the program will reduce rural air pollution more quickly, but environmentalists said the program is a "get out of jail free" card for violators of the Clean Air Act, writes James Bruggers.

“The program could affect several hundred Kentucky and Indiana farms," writes Bruggers. "Pollution regulators from both states have acknowledged some farms have prompted complaints in recent years, and said they were anticipating the EPA action. Under the proposal, animal farms that pay the federal government a penalty of between $200 and $100,000 plus $2,500 toward an air-monitoring fund will get immunity from past and future Clean Air Act violations."

Farms that sign agreements would have to take steps to reduce noxious emissions from such sources as manure. For two years, EPA and the industry would monitor emissions from waste for such toxic chemicals as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia to better understand how they might affect public health, EPA officials said. They heralded the plan as "part of the agency's ongoing effort to minimize air emissions from animal feeding operations and to ensure those operations comply with the Clean Air Act and other laws."

Kentucky farmers search for agricultural enterprises; look at local resources

After the tobacco buyout and end of the federal price-support program, many farmers in Adair County, Ky., are searching for new agricultural endeavors that use the county’s available resources, reports Paul B. Hayes of The Adair Progress.

Beef cattle, dairy, forages and vegetable crops are all possible niche markets for Adair County farmers, but marketing them at a profit is a concern for farmers looking at niche markets, Hayes also reported. Last year was a good one for beef, said County Extension Agent for Agriculture David Herbst. He told Hayes that the county’s beef cattle income probably topped $10 million for the first time. The county also is the second-largest producer of milk in the state, bringing in between $10 million and $12 million each year.

Herbst said forages were probably the best resource, which the farming community can user to build a livestock endeavor, he said. There has also been an increasing demand for fresh produce from farmers’ markets. Farmers will have to figure out how to maintain the market for these new endeavors, without outsripping the products’ demand, Herbst explained.

"My biggest concern with new enterprises, and it's probably a cautious one, is I don't want to see another thing come through like ostriches did 10 years ago or worms did three or four years ago -- those were not sustainable enterprises," he said. "Some people made money off ostriches, and some people made money off worms. But for every one person that made money on them, you probably had five people that lost."

Parents: Bible breaks at Virginia public schools hurt academic achievement

Some parents want the Commonwealth of Virginia to end some rural elementary schools' practice of allowing students to leave school and go to churches to “pray, sing and play games with Christian themes,” claiming the Bible breaks hinder academic improvement, reports The Washington Post.

Parents fear children are being stigmatized for not attending and say interrupting class for Bible study hinders efforts to meet state and national standards for test scores, Carol Morello writes from McSwain Elementary in Staunton, where children “walk ... across the playground ... file into Memorial Baptist Church,” and, “Over the next half-hour, the Bible shapes the lesson plan.” Other groups repeat the scene four times a day, two days a week at McSwain and three other public elementaries in Staunton.

Beverly Riddell, one of several parents who protested to the state school board, told Morello, "I just think a Christian outreach program doesn't belong in the school day. The bar is being raised on both the [Standards of Learning] and No Child Left Behind. Overall, we're doing great on the SOLs, but there are still children who are failing them. That means we're in some sense failing them."

Jack Hinton, head of an affiliate of the Virginia Council of Churches, disagreed. "If they flout the will of the people in the community, we'll schedule a recall election, and we'll kick them out. We have a small core of a group philosophically opposed to any connection between religiosity and schools. They're articulate and persuasive, but they are in the minority."

Morello writes, "For 65 years, weekday Bible classes have been part of the fabric of growing up in this town of 24,000 in Augusta County and a score of other small towns and hamlets in rural Virginia," mainly along Interstate 81. "It is such an accepted tradition that 80 to 85 percent of the first, second, and third-graders in Staunton participate." Newcomers from urban areas are incredulous, she reports, but a 1952 Supreme Court decision "approved classes held away from school premises, ruling that the practice might be unwise from an educational viewpoint but that to prevent it would be hostile to religious freedom."

Muslim religious sacrifice of lambs in North Carolina raises concerns

Muslims slaughtering 100 lambs on a farm near Raleigh, N.C., this past weekend as part of a religious rite came under scrutiny from state agricultural officials, who reportedly videotaped what they consider “an unlicensed slaughterhouse.”

North Carolina agriculture officials told The Associated Press last week they would keep a close eye on the observance of Eid al-Adha, also known as the Feast of Sacrifice. The three-day holiday honors Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son because of his devotion to God. It also marks the end of the haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the Saudi city of Mecca. Officials let the slaughter proceed following negotiations with the Muslims and the farmers who leased to them. The farmers said they raised the lambs for slaughter under the rules of halal, the Islamic equivalent of Jewish kosher, which requires quick and painless killing. While there are three licensed facilities in North Carolina that specialize in halal slaughter, some Muslims prefer to conduct the slaughter themselves, reports AP.

A lawyer for the farmers, Glenn Barfield, said he did not believe they were violating any laws and compared the slaughter to hog killings. "In eastern North Carolina, we have a long tradition of doing the same thing. We just don't practice [Islam]." North Carolina Agriculture Department spokesman Brian Long told AP the department's position was that the farm must be licensed. "It's not a matter of why the animals are being slaughtered; it's a matter of who's providing the slaughter service and the fact he doesn't have a licensed facility." AP reports the farmers have allowed the slaughter for several years.

‘Smoke 'em if you got 'em’ still the practice, illegally, in some coal mines

Recent firings and planned prosecution of a number of coal miners following searches that turned up smoking in underground mines is being seen as a sign the unhealthy practice is still an explosion hazard throughout the coal industry.

The risks of smoking “take on a whole new meaning inside a coal mine, where the flicker of a cigarette lighter could trigger a deadly methane gas explosion,” writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. “Despite the danger, coal companies have (found) miners smoking underground, a practice that has been illegal for more than half a century. So far, three coal miners in Kentucky have been fired and turned over to the state for prosecution. Two others were cited in November for smoking underground." In Virginia, 13 coal companies have been cited in the past year for not searching coal miners for cigarettes and lighters.

Most coal companies have taken a hard line against smoking, reports AP, "frisking miners, even searching lunchboxes in government-ordered pat-downs." Miners found with cigarettes or lighters are fired on the spot and reported to authorities, who in some cases can impose fines and jail sentences. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has found cigarette lighters or matches to be the cause of several deadly methane explosions in coal mines. Coal miners convicted can get one to five years in prison.

West Virginia aquaculture struggling against currents; some making progress

West Virginia's aquaculture industry may be swimming against the current, reports The State Journal, following the closing of one producer and the diversification of another, but some are making it upstream.

“One of the state's two large for-profit aquaculture operations, High Appalachian, closed its doors at the end of December, writes Pam Kasey of the Charleston newspaper. “The company started production in January 2002 and within two years was employing nine and producing 200,000 pounds of rainbow trout a year at two Raleigh County fish farms.”

Based on an enthusiastic market, when buyers at the time included the Greenbrier resort, the Tamarack visitors center and Kroger supermarkets, the company planned to fully use its 400,000-pound-capacity processing plant at Sophia in Raleigh County, Kasey writes. But, she writes that the firm soon began ramping down production, and closed its processing facility. The facilities are owned by the state Jobs Investment Trust, which loaned $1.7 million to the original owner, which defaulted in 1999.

Dan Miller, senior project coordinator for aquaculture at West Virginia University, told the newspaper that design problems made for a production cost of about $1.50 per pound for trout that bring only about $1.25. Miller said a producer plans to reopen another processing plant soon using West Virginia-grown fish at a smaller scale of production. Meanwhile, West Virginia Aqua has recently opened its own processing facility in Mingo County, and expects to produce about 300,000 pounds in 2005.

Kentucky man battles lifelong drug addiction, turns to spirituality

After losing two marriages and nearly killing himself while under the influence of three different drugs, James Leo Jackson realized he had a serious problem. He got into a drug program and has been sober for the last 10 months, he told the Clinton County News in a forum last week. Staying sober has been a struggle, writes Brett Gibson of the newspaper, after a drug habit that began at age 8.

“I’m not going to say my life was completely destroyed, but it cost me two marriages, almost the third,” Jackson said. “I have a daughter who is 10, I haven’t seen her since she was six months old because of my drug problem. It pretty much has destroyed my life, but since I’ve stopped, it can only get better. It can’t get much worse than it was.”

Methamphetamine is one of the drugs he has a real problem fighting, he said. “That drug is so powerful. It’s hard to explain how powerful it is. I knew after the first time I used meth that I had to have it again,” Jackson said. The drug has been an epidemic in rural areas and its increasing because it’s “easy and affordable to produce,” Jackson explained to Gibson.

One source of help in his time of fighting his battle with addiction was his spirituality, he said. “The feeling I got when I accepted Jesus as my savior, there is no drug out there that can make me feel that way.” But overcoming his lifelong addictions wasn’t easy, regardless of family support, spirituality or personal conviction. “Battling addiction is an everyday thing," he said. “Even today I can go by a certain house that I know sells, my hands will sweat, because I know it’s there. I know all I have to do is stop by and I can go in there and get it, but when I get feelings like that, I call my sponsor or I drop to my knees and I ask God to help me. That’s my biggest influence. I turned my life over to God when I was in jail.”

Friday, Jan. 21, 2005

North Carolina cigarette tax jump getting more interest than ever; reports AP

North Carolina's economy has kept its cigarette tax among the lowest in the nation - currently a mere nickel, but facing a potential $1 billion budget gap, the nation's largest tobacco-growing state may be ready to raise the tax when its legislature convenes next week, reports The Associated Press.

“Neighboring Virginia raised its tax to 20 cents last year and will make it 30 cents this summer. And last fall, Congress approved a $10.1 billion buyout of leaf growers from the federal quota program. As a result, many lawmakers and analysts believe a tax increase is now feasible, and Gov. Mike Easley and legislative leaders have said such a move may occur,” writes Gary D. Robertson.

Andy Taylor, political science professor at North Carolina State University told AP, "The planets are sort of in alignment for an increase, and that's something we haven't seen in this state for a very long time." The average state cigarette tax nationally is 84 cents per pack. Only Kentucky, at 3 cents per pack, has a lower state excise tax than North Carolina nationally, and that could soon change. Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher is backing an increase of around 40 cents and the head of a state's farmers' group has said it will back such a change under certain conditions.

With the buyout bringing a $3.9 billion to leaf growers and quota holders in North Carolina in the years ahead, Robertson writes, tobacco farmers' arguments against a tax increase may find less sympathy in the General Assembly than in the past. Peg O'Connell with the North Carolina Alliance for Health, which wants to raise the tax to 80 cents, said, “Lawmakers have said, 'I don't want to hurt my poor beleaguered farmers. This is about the health of our children, and we're not going to stop until it's done."

Supporters say a higher tax would decrease smoking among young people. According to the alliance, a 75-cent increase would reduce the number of young smokers in North Carolina by 17 percent. Such a reduction could keep an estimated 8,200 children from dying from tobacco-related illness later. "It's got to be sufficiently large to have a meaningful health benefit," O'Connell said. "Anything else, and it's just a tax."

Oklahoma reports meth production decline after cold meds 'lock-up'

After years of locking up methamphetamine makers only to see illegal drug labs multiply on urban stovetops and country roads, Oklahoma got tough, locking up the meth makers’ cold medicine, slashing meth production, reports The Associated Press.

“The state banned over-the-counter sales of Sudafed and other decongestants used to produce meth and ordered that the medicines be placed behind pharmacy counters. Ten months later, meth lab seizures in Oklahoma are down more than 80 percent," writes Kelly Kurt.

State officials believe many clandestine cooks have closed their kitchens because of the crackdown on pseudoephedrine, a principal ingredient in many colds medicines such as Sudafed. Lonnie Wright, who heads Oklahoma's drug agency told AP, the only way to explain the size of the decrease is because of the colds medicine crackdown.

Oklahoma and several other states have limited the amount of pseudoephedrine customers can buy at one time. Oklahoma also requires the drug be dispensed by a pharmacist. Customers do not need a prescription for pseudoephedrine, but have to produce ID and sign for it. Oklahoma averaged 105 meth lab busts a month before the law took effect. By November, the number had dropped to 19, writes Kurt.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen announced in December that he would prepare legislation to limit the sale of cold medicines used to make methamphetamine and rework criminal penalties for manufacturing the drug. He has said he wants to put cold medicines used to make meth behind the pharmacy counter.

Mad-cow signs found in other organs; criteria reappraisal needed, says expert

Rogue proteins, called prions, like those that cause mad-cow disease, found previously only in brain, nerve and lymph tissues, have now been located in the liver, kidney and pancreas in a study of rodents, prompting an expert to call for a reappraisal of current regulations, reports The Associated Press.

Leading study researcher Adriano Aguzzi of the University Hospital of Zurich, Switzerland said while the discovery raises the possibility similar proteins could move into unexpected parts of farm animals that have similar diseases, it is not yet a reason for alarm, writes Randolph E. Schmid. But, adds Aguzzi, there is reason to reappraise how regulations already in place are enforced.

Aguzzi told AP, animals sick with mad-cow should not enter the human food chain. "I think what is probably worth doing is to recheck whether all these regulations are implemented properly, (but) I think this is nothing that should provoke a wave of panic." Prions are blamed for several brain-wasting diseases, including mad-cow disease, scrapie in sheep and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Proposal gives states, localities increased power over influx of waste

A Virginia congresswomen is pushing for legislation that would give local communities, nationwide, more power to restrict the trash shipped in from other states.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis proposed the new and tougher package of tools to empower local governments, writes Peter Hardin of the Richmond Times-Dispatch Washington, D.C. Bureau. Virginia ranks as the No. 2 waste importer among states, behind only Pennsylvania, which received 10.5 million tons in 2003. Virginia received 6.6 million tons.

Davis first introduced this month a bill that gives states and localities powers to limit waste imports. It revises a bill pushed in the last Congress, and adds key controls that Davis previously sought as amendments. Under Davis' bill, if a landfill takes in less than 100,000 tons of trash a year, control over limiting imports would fall to local governments. For landfills taking in more than 100,000 tons, states would have control and could set a cap on waste coming from out-of-state, writes Hardin.

The bill pleased an environmental group that worked with Davis on it, while drawing objections from an industry official. Opponents of trash imports contend they give Virginia a bad image, and they say landfills getting the trash could leak and pollute waters. Jim Sharp, director of Campaign Virginia, a group fighting out-of-state trash told Hardin that Davis' "compromise bill . . . gives powers to both local government and states in a way that makes sense and is fair, and balances state and local interest."

Lisa Kardell of Waste Management of Virginia said, "We will be opposing the bill," because (it) doesn't fully protect contracts entered into or agreements with communities that host landfills. Restrictions on interstate waste have been a perennial and thorny issue in Congress, reports the Times-Dispatch.

S.C. ag chief pleads guilty to accepting cockfighters’ bribe

South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Charles Sharpe has pleaded guilty to accepting a $10,000 bribe from cockfighters operating illegally in the state and to lying about his actions to FBI agents.

Sharpe said he was sorry for his "error in judgment," writes Henry Eichel of the Charlotte Observer’s Columbia Bureau. U.S. District Judge Cameron Currie told Sharpe, "I could give you up to 20 years." However, if (the judge) follows federal sentencing guidelines, Sharpe, 66, will serve two to 2 1/2 years in prison. He will remain free on bond until his sentencing, which will be in several months, writes Eichel.

Sharpe signed a plea bargain this week with federal prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to one count of violating the Hobbes Act, which prohibits public officials from using their office to extort bribes, and one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement officials, ten charges against him were dropped, reports the Observer.

Sharpe is the first S.C. statewide-elected official in more than 100 years to be charged with a serious crime. Former N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps is serving a four-year federal prison sentence for being ringleader of a scheme to extort political contributions from carnival vendors in exchange for state business, Eichel writes.

Sharpe is an Aiken County Republican and a former lawmaker, who was elected to the $92,000-a-year agriculture commissioner's post in 2002. Cockfighting is illegal in South Carolina and everywhere else in the U.S. except Louisiana and parts of New Mexico. It has had some continued clandestine popularity in Kentucky and elsewhere, especially in the rural south.

Tennessee DCS Commission says social workers bungled case; one dead

Two state social workers, one of whom committed suicide, made “an inexcusable mistake” waiting three days to respond to a report that a child had swallowed crack cocaine, reports The Tennessean.

State DCS Commissioner Viola Miller also said The Department of Children's Services worker assigned to the case, Angela Rushing, has already served a three-day suspension without pay and has returned to work, writes Natalia Mielczarek. Sandra Williams, who was Rushing’s supervisor, committed suicide while an internal investigation into the DCS workers' responses was pending.

Miller, who was Secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children under the administration of then Governor Paul Patton, said she didn't know what punishment Williams would have received if she were alive. Miller told Mielczarek, when a report involves ''Drugs and child, and the fact that the child was taken to a hospital, and that the call came from the police — anytime you get that set of circumstances, that's what we call a 'drop-your-pencil-and-run' case. You go.''

Miller told Mielczarek she didn't know why Williams committed suicide and said she didn't think that the internal investigation alone could have triggered it. The child, a 19-month-old boy, survived. He was temporarily placed with a foster family and has since been turned over to a family member.

Prosecutor won't sanction country club for violating gay discrimination ban

The City of Atlanta has levied a fine of up to $90,000 against an exclusive country club for violating a city law protecting gays from discrimination but the prosecutor in the case won't follow through because of an impending lawsuit, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Last month, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin asked a city prosecutor to seek the fine against the Druid Hills Golf Club, but so far the club hasn't had to pay anything, writes Ty Tagami. City Solicitor Raines Carter said he decided not to cite the club for violating the city law protecting gays from discrimination., because the club subsequently sued the city and named him as a defendant.

Carter told Tagami, "My role, at this point, is just as a defendant." He said he won’t ask a city judge to fine Druid Hills, "Until I get some direction about how to proceed with that lawsuit." Carter expects that direction to come from the city attorney.

This latest delay comes more than a year after the city's Human Relations Commission advised Mayor Franklin the golf club had violated a city ordinance to ensure equal treatment for gays and others at all public accommodations.Two gay members of the golf club filed a complaint with the commission in 2003 after the club refused to extend the same benefits to their partners as it afforded other members' spouses.

Kentucky woman’s request for flags on athletic jerseys stirs debate

A request by a Elizabethtown, Kentucky woman for University of Kentucky athletes to wear the American flag on their jerseys as a sign of support for troops in Iraq has stirred debate over the flag’s proper display.

Stacey Martinez said it really started bothering her while she was watching the Kentucky-Kansas basketball game on national television when she saw Kansas players displaying the flag on their uniforms, and Kentucky’s players without the symbol, reports Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Martinez says she finds the lack of an American flag patch on the Wildcats' basketball uniforms distressing because her fiancé, UK grad Jeffrey Graham, 24, was killed Feb. 19 while serving with the Army in Iraq.

She told Warren, “Displaying the flag would be a fitting way for UK to honor Graham and all the other Americans killed or wounded in Iraq, as well as those still serving there." Martinez and others want UK to join Kansas and other colleges -- including Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee -- that display American flag patches on their uniforms.

Graham’s mother told Warren, "The soldiers in Iraq watch the games by satellite; they notice which teams wear the flag. I guess we're biased, but soldiers and their families really appreciate seeing the flag." A Lexington television station asked for viewers’ opinions on displaying the flag, and responses were divided, with some saying it’s a good sign of support, and others saying such displays demean the national emblem.

Rural wildlife roundup: Turtle gets his freedom; otters overrun Ohio

A Northern Kentucky aquarium’s rare loggerhead turtle has gotten his freedom, while across the river, the otter, that cute and frisky aquatic animal, is overrunning Ohio.

Fisher, a turtle that the Newport Aquarium set free in July off the coast of North Carolina, is now 600 miles from the African coast, writes William Croyle of The Cincinnati Enquirer. The aquarium glued a transmitter to the turtle’s shell before releasing him and discovered he traveled 900 miles at 5 mph. That’s 2 mph faster than previously thought. Biologists want to see where Fisher stops his journey, because he is the first male loggerhead to be tracked this way.

Meanwhile, the number of otters in Ohio has jumped from 123 to 4,300. Overtrapping drove their numbers down at the turn of the twentieth century but they were reintroduced in 1986. Farmers are now complaining, because a family of otters can devour half the fish in a privately stocked pond, writes Carrie Spencer of The Associated Press.

Greg Butcher, a National Audubon Society zoologist, told Spencer, "In a human-dominated landscape, it's really tough to keep wildlife in the numbers we feel are appropriate. We have affected the environment so much that a lot of natural checks and balances are gone." Twenty-one other states began reintroducing otters in the 1980s, all had successes. Missouri now has over 10,000 and Kentucky began its first otter season this winter, running through February. For more, visit the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s webpage.

Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005

Florida Wal-Mart 'Supercenters' highlights progress vs. preservation dilemma

Historic Tarpon Springs, Florida’s struggle to preserve its "Greek" heritage in the face of the inexorable spread of Wal-Mart "Supercenters," is the latest chapter in a widespread battle pitting progress in the form of retail convenience against the survival of the often unique nature of many smaller communities.

“When the city commission approved plans for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter …despite opposition, it did more than change the retailing scene in this Pinellas County historic Greek community,” write Michael Sasso and Steven Isbitts of The Tampa Tribune. “(The community) was taking part in a bigger drama occuring across the state. In at least eight other Florida communities, civic groups or governments are protesting plans by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to build stores, usually mammoth ...supercenters,” they write.

“…many local governments in Florida and elsewhere have wrestled with the same issue in recent years: how to preserve their cultural identity, mom-and-pop retail districts or quiet neighborhoods when a Wal-Mart comes knocking,” write Sasso and Isbitts.

Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who has seen two “supercenter battles,” told the newspaper, ``When I hear the word Wal- Mart, I know that we're in for a go-around. I think the name Wal- Mart generates a bevy of controversy before they ever get started.'' Tarpon Springs City Attorney John Hubbard told some residents opposing the proposed Wal- Mart that the site in question is zoned commercial, and the city cannot pick and choose who builds there if zoning demands are met. ``Whether you like Wal-Mart or not is irrelevant. This is not a popularity contest.''

Some communities - such as Cocoa, on Florida's east coast - have been more welcoming in hopes of stimulating growth. Tom Carrino, a city official, said,``Most of (their) downtown stores are quaint specialty shops and would not be competitors to Wal-Mart.''

Va. bill banning guns in children's day-care centers defeated

Virginians can continue to pack heat--the real thing, not toys -- in child day-care centers, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee yesterday killed, by one vote, a bill that would have extended the state's gun-ban,which currently applies to schools, to private day-care centers, writes Tyler Whitley. The sponsor, Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, D-Norfolk, did not cite any incidents in which a gun was used in a day-care center in Virginia but said she was worried about the potential. "I like prevention," she told Whitley.

Gun-rights advocate, Tom Evans, said the ban in schools is to prevent youngsters from bringing guns, but he said, "There is not a danger in preschools." Evans also argued the ban would not stop someone from taking a gun into a preschool and start shooting. But, countered Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, "We have laws against bank robberies, we have laws against rape, maybe we should take those back."

Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, and several representatives of the Richmond Police Department said much of the gun violence on the city's streets involves weapons sold at shows. Gun show dealers are required to have background checks, but purchasers are not. Marsh said Virginia is the only East Coast states from North Carolina to Canada that does not require the check and that Virginia has become a major source of guns used in crimes.

VA's ban on recruiting more vet patients angers activists, ex-Miss America

Former Miss America and Kentucky native Heather French Henry, an activist for veterans, thought she’d hold a health fair at the VA hospital in Louisville, but was derailed by a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ban on marketing to recruit veterans into its medical system, reports the Courier Journal.

“Some veterans say the ban flouts the government's promise to care for those who served and prevents many of them — including older ones with expensive health problems — from getting the medical attention they need,” writes Laura Ungar of the Louisville newspaper. John Sterner, a disabled Vietnam vet and activist told Ungar, "They're conniving to keep the old ones and their families out. The latest generation is denying the greatest generation."

The issue arose after Henry had posters printed for her event which included the phrases: "New Resolution? Try the VA Solution," "Enroll for VA Healthcare," and "Learn about other Veterans Benefits." Henry said before she could distribute the posters, she was told the language was problematic.

The C-J reports that a directive issued last year for the VA MidSouth Healthcare Network, which includes the Louisville hospital, said "facilities may not aggressively take steps to recruit new enrollees or new workload." That directive followed a national VA memo in July 2002 that said recruiting veterans is "inappropriate" because of a tight budget and growing demand for services.

Amanda Hedlund, acting public affairs officer for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Louisville told the newspaper, "We're not allowed to go after them (enrollees). She told Ungar that Henry's health fair "was a great idea. But just because of regulations and policies, we couldn't accommodate her."

Virginia Senate committee endorses tougher meth legislation

A Senate committee has endorsed legislation that would increase penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine, the low-budget drug becoming increasingly popular in rural communities throughout Western Virginia, reports The New River Valley Current.

The bill would make it a felony to possess two or more ingredients of methamphetamine with the intent to manufacture the drug, writes Kevin Miller, but does not specify what quantity constitutes intent. The legislation, which received overwhelming support in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, is the first of roughly a dozen meth-related bills pending in the Virginia General Assembly, writes Miller.

Law enforcement officials have said that meth recently replaced the prescription drug OxyContin as the biggest problem drug in Southwest Virginia. Police busted more than 80 meth labs in Virginia last year, compared with 34 in 2003, the newspaper reports.

The sponsor of the measure, Republican Senator Mark Obenshain, whose district has become a meth hot spot, told Miller the bill would help slow the meth manufacturing business before it becomes a statewide problem. The measuremust now receive clearance from the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the full Senate because of an expected increase in arrests and the state's correctional costs.

Tennessee ‘Meth Web site’ keeps state informed, efforts coordinated

Tennessee Governor Phil Bresden has announced the start-up of a new state Web site intended to keep the public informed about illegal methamphetamine activities, reports The Associated Press.

“The site, (methfree), contains links to treatment programs, conferences and related developments in Tennessee and elsewhere,” reports AP. “Law-enforcement officials, health-care professionals, journalists, educators and others can sign up to receive news alerts and legislative updates via e-mail.”

Bresden said, "With so many people and organizations focused on the war on meth, we need a central point to exchange vital information.” Bredesen described the Web site as a "first step" in a planned public service campaign intended to boost awareness about the addictive stimulant. The illegal drug is commonly made in makeshift labs using over-the-counter ingredients. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has said Tennessee accounts for 75 percent of meth lab seizures in the Southeast.

Environmentalists say national forest timber sales plans harmful

The U.S. Forest Service wants to conduct timber sales on a portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest in southeastern Kentucky, the latest in a string of proposed logging operations in the forest, and like the others it is opposed by environmentalists.

But, forester Rex Mann told Roger Alford of The Associated Press, this proposed project is "to improve the forest and wildlife habitat, not merely feed sawmills." A similar project in the Morehead area has drawn criticism from the environmental group Kentucky Heartwood, which has accused the Forest Service of trying to turn the Daniel Boone preserve into a giant tree farm, writes Alford.

This latest plan calls for heavy commercial logging and burning on 12,500 acres of the forest and additional noncommercial logging in nearby areas. The proposal also calls for building, reconstructing or rerouting more than 20 miles of roads through the forest.

Perrin de Jong, head of the Lexington-based environmental group, told Alford, “Logging isn't going to make the forest healthier.” He also said it will harm the forest by cutting the most marketable trees, bulldozing roads to get the logs out and filling streams with sediment. "This is just another tree-farming operation being put together to make sure they can continue to log for years to come with very little review of the environmental impact."

Mann, however, told AP that trees in the Daniel Boone have grown so thick that overcrowding is weakening the forest, that too many trees are competing for nutrients and moisture, and that cutting selected trees will allow the ones that remain to grow stronger. "We must intervene or we may lose the forest," said Mann, its timber, wildlife and fire staff officer. Mann told AP he realizes environmentalists are suspicious of the Forest Service's proposals. "You would think there are only two trees left out there and we're hurrying to get them as fast as we can." Another timber sales proposal was reported in the Tuesday, Jan.18 blog. For that story click here.

Teachers union wants to organize more W.Va. college employees

The American Federation of Teachers wants to organize more of West Virginia’s 12,000 public college employees. Currently, five percent are members of the union, reports The Charleston Gazette.

AFT-WV President Judy Hale told Gazette staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, “The Charleston-based AFT-WV is adding offices in Huntington and Morgantown as part of a “major campaign” to organize higher education.” Hale told the newspaper the AFT did an organization drive at Marshall University about four years ago and got 130 new members. After that, she said, "the union didn’t even have to try; college employees elsewhere in the state just started showing up." The AFT also has members at Concord University and Fairmont State University, writes Tuckwiller.

College employees have increasingly complained about what some consider unfair treatment, Tuckwiller writes. Hale told her higher education employees, “do not have a voice at the legislature, that college faculty members aren’t allowed to run for statewide office, and that college faculty and staff used to have permanent seats on the state board that governed colleges, but in 2000 the legislature took that away." And Hale said, “Even though they set up [governing] councils at each of the institutions, [employees] don’t feel that they are empowered. We’d like to create a collective voice for higher ed employees.”

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2004

Clean coal technology could bring $1 billion plant, more jobs, better air

A 9,100-foot-deep hole in the ground in Mason County, West Virginia may be the key to making coal-powered energy cleaner, snagging a $1 billion power plant, and bringing jobs and cleaner air to the region, reports The Herald-Dispatch.

Scientists with the Columbus, Ohio-based research group Battelle drilled the hole in 2003 to determine whether carbon dioxide emissions from coal power plants can be stored deep underground, writes Scott Wartman of the Huntington newspaper. "The $5 million study," he writes, “places West Virginia in the middle of President Bush’s effort to develop a coal-fired power plant that does not release emissions into the air.” About a dozen states are trying to land the project.

Huntington resident Libby Callicoat tells the newspaper high mercury levels in the state’s water supply, and polluted air are reasons she and her family may leave the area. Local environmental groups, including the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, blame coal-fired power plants for mercury pollution in the state. A report based on Environmental Protection Agency data showed every lake, river and stream likely is contaminated with mercury, reports the newspaper.

Callicoat told Wartman, "I am very concerned for my family. Asthma is a concern for me, for my child." Callicoat wants to see not only cleaner coal technology implemented, but also alternative fuel sources such as wind and solar power researched.

Kentucky Governor's plan for state-wide broadband may begin in Bell county

Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher’s “Prescription of Innovation,” a plan to provide statewide broadband Internet access, could start in Bell and Harlan counties.

Fletcher’s plan, announced last October, is to have the broadband service in all Kentucky homes by November, 2007, to encourage citizens to use computers and promote an "online presence for communities," writes Jay Compton of the Middlesboro Daily News.

Middlesboro is one of three locations in Bell County that currently have broadband access. The program is to expand the service to all of the county. The Bell County Industrial Foundation and other officials told Compton that Bell is the start-up area because the foundation already had been working with the Center for Rural Development to get a fiber-optic infrastructure for a planned park.

Joe Medford, the state broadband director for ConnectKentucky, which Fletcher commissioned to manage the project, told Compton the key to the project’s success is showing people the benefits of high-speed broadband access. "We've got to figure out how to convince people who don't already have broadband that it's worth the $30 or so a month to have it. If it's not affordable and not value-added then (it's not) going to do you any good to have the access." Expanded broadband could also bring new businesses to the area, Medford told Compton.

Conservationists, Indians tell TVA to end 'sell-off' of its public lands

Conservationists yesterday told the Tennessee Valley Authority's board they want private development of the public utility's land stopped and they called for board members to continue managing TVA in “a historical preservation role,” reports the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Conservationists specifically referred to proposed land swaps in Marion County near Chattanooga - a proposal yet to be decided, another that has already occurred on Tellico Lake and plans by Meigs and Rhea counties to develop some 1,500 acres around Watts Bar Reservoir, reports Rebecca Ferrar.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation policy board member William Minser, said conservationists oppose TVA's selling off of managed lands acquired under imminent domain for public use. "The citizens of Tennessee have stated through the General Assembly these wildlife lands are important and they …want to keep it for public use. Yet your agency is pursuing a policy to market and sell public TVA land."

American Indians also opposed some of the transactions, saying they involve American Indian cultural land and the trade would be unfair, writes Ferrar. Thomas Peter Kunesh, a member of the Lakota Tribe of Standing Rock of North and South Dakota said, "It will increase the destruction of land with Native American cultural sites. We need TVA to promote natural development and site protection."

TVA has acquired more than 1 million acres through imminent domain and adverse condemnation, with 293,000 acres remaining for public use around the lakes.

Coal truck weight violations up; 'next level' enforcement called for

West Virginia Public Service Commission regulators have seen an increase in the number of coal trucks caught hauling overweight loads this past month, after a brief decline. The jump could be just a statistical quirk, but says one expert, tighter enforcement may be needed.

PSC counsel Buddy Covert told the Commercial Motor Vehicle Weight and Safety Enforcement Advisory Committee the increase may be an “anomaly,’’ reports Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. Covert said, “(The increase) may be people trying to rush things in at the end of the year. It might have been the weather. I don’t really think we’re seeing numbers trend up.’’ But, at the same time, Covert told committee members, “Our whole theory has been that we start slow and build up [enforcement]. Maybe it’s time to go to the next level and get a little stricter,’’writes Messina.

The committee was formed after lawmakers created a 15-county network of roads, centered in Southern West Virginia, where coal trucks with special permits can haul up to 120,000 pounds. Weight limits on those roads had previously ranged between 65,000 and 80,000 pounds. The 2003 W. Va. legislation was considered a compromise between safety and industry interests. Before its passage, trucks ran as heavy as 180,000 pounds or more.

Kentucky Farm Bureau supports tax increase to offset payments loss

The Kentucky Farm Bureau is now backing a tobacco tax increase in the state if part of the revenue is returned to farmers to offset the likely loss of promised settlement payments.

Farm Bureau President Sam Moore told a legislative panel the organization will back an increase in the tobacco tax, but there is "a catch or two," reports Mark Chellgren of The Associated Press.

First, Moore said Kentucky's cigarette tax should not be higher than the average of the adjacent states, which is between 42 cents to 46 cents. And, he said, some of the proceeds should go to make payments farmers were expecting from tobacco manufacturers, writes Chellgren. Those payments are now in doubt and will be decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court. Kentucky's current cigarette tax of 3 cents per pack is the lowest in the nation.

Taxes in adjacent states range from 17 cents in Missouri to 98 cents in Illinois. Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher recently announced he would not oppose a tax increase of about 40 cents. Kentucky farmers were expecting about $124 million from tobacco companies as part of the so-called Phase 2 payments that grew out of the national tobacco settlement. A Kentucky law passed in 2000 specifies that if those payments to individual farmers fall short, the state should make up the difference.

'Family values' prompt TV station owner to reject Fox Network programs

A Capitol Broadcasting Company's chief executive at a Raleigh, North Carolina Fox Network affiliate had the advice of two experts when contemplating whether or not to air the adoption-reality program "Who's Your Daddy?" He had himself and his adopted daughter, reports The Associated Press.

Jim Goodmon, who was adopted at an early age, called his daughter, Elizabeth Jordan, to ask her thoughts on the program. The show gave contestants a chance to win money if they correctly chose their biological father from a field of candidates, writes Martha Waggoner. Jordan told Goodmon "the show turned a serious subject into game show fodder," but she believed her father's mind was already made up. "I honestly think if I'd said it was OK, he wouldn't have run it anyway," she told Waggoner.

Goodmon, described as a “contrarian,” is a Republican whose family foundation supports clean needle exchange and the native North Carolinian supports a higher cigarette tax. “He's not afraid to pass judgment on others, but reserves his sharpest criticism for people who don't use their wealth to make the world a better place,” Waggoner writes. A Fox spokesman would say only that Goodmon is "a respected affiliate."

Goodmon's WRAZ-TV was the only Fox affiliate in the nation that refused to air "Who's Your Daddy?" on Jan. 3. The station has pre-empted other Fox Network “reality programming,” including "Married by America," "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire" and "Temptation Island.”

Homeless vet’s death should stir the nation: Commentary by Staff Assistant Bill Griffin

“About 50 mourners gathered to honor a Vietnam veteran who froze to death alone beneath a railroad bridge (in Covington, Kentucky) on Christmas Eve,” reported The Associated Press.

“Joe Young, 57, died in single-digit cold near a shelter where he had previously stayed and a few days before he was to move into an apartment ...arranged for him,” said the report. The Rev. Gregg Anderson told the wire service, "That was the saddest thing. He died frozen like a giant block of ice under a bridge, alone." Friends and strangers contributed a total of $2,100 to make sure he had a decent burial.

This story prompted from memory a comment I heard once in the early seventies from another Vietnam veteran. He said, “Sometimes, they never really come home.” I think Joe Young never really came home.

I am also reminded of a quote from Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid here!” With our nation at war, (again) questions of why we are there, how long we should stay, and whether there is enough proper equipment to protect our soldiers, raise the likelihood that more Joes and Jolenes are in the making in Iraq. They will come home and try to resume "normal" lives. Some will. Some won’t. Some will remain haunted. Everyone who truly “Supports Our Troops” must pay attention. If ordinary people don’t, more "Joes" will be lost in the silence of national indifference.

It’s a lot to ask ordinary people to pause from the helter-skelter of their lives and to think for a moment about the thousands who are there and remember them when they come home, disproportionately to rural America. Make sure our leaders remember and pay attention, or there will be others who will pay the ultimate price long afterward, here, not there. And, if they die as Joe died, it is a national tragedy. For the full story on Joe Young’s death, click here.

Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2004

Tyson pressuring Johanns to open Canadian border, says columnist

“Campaign contributions help, but big business has another tool that gets Washington's attention: lost jobs,” writes Philip Brasher, a columnist for The Des Moines Register.

Brasher is referring to pressure he says is being applied by a major meat supplier and processor in the ongoing debate pitting the safety of the nation's meats against the economic strain on producers and whether to lift or extend a ban on imports from Canada because of a recent mad-cow disease report.

Brasher writes that Tyson Foods Inc. announced it was temporarily closing four beef processing plants, three of them in the home states of Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, the next agriculture secretary, and Tom Harkin, senator from Iowa and the senior Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Charles Grassley, and Iowa senator and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The annoucement came at the same time the Senate Finance Committee was holding a confirmation hearing for Johanns, he reports. "The main topics of the hearing? Japan's ban on U.S. beef and the pending reopening of the U.S. border to Canadian cattle," writes Brasher. If the U.S. reopened Canada's border, it would cut the price of cattle. Brasher reports that the day after Tyson announced layoffs, President Bush's inaugural committee received $100,000 from the company to help pay for the innaugural festivities.

"This past week, Canada announced yet another case of mad cow disease - its second in 10 days," he writes. "The Bush administration is standing by its plans to reopen the border on March 7. But the latest case is raising new concerns in Congress about the adequacy of Canada's safeguards against mad cow disease."

Suburban Atlanta school board to appeal evolution ruling, says judge 'erred'

The Cobb County, Georgia school board voted 4-2 to appeal a court order to remove evolution disclaimers from textbooks.

Board members said U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper's decision was intrusion into local schools, reports Kristina Torres of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Curt Johnston, who was chairman when the board adopted the disclaimers in 2002, told Torres, "We have to make our best judgment based on the facts." He said the board believes the judge erred when ruling that the disclaimers…convey an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The board said it felt "condemned . . . for taking a reasonable approach to address the concerns of [Cobb] citizens on a controversial issue."

The disclaimers said in part, “Evolution is a theory, not a fact.” The stickers were placed in science books used in middle and high schools. Six parents sued, saying the disclaimers violated the separation between church and state. Jeffrey Selman, the leader of the parents who sued said he was “flabbergasted” by the board's decision. "They're ludicrous," he said. "They're ignoring the ruling."

Tobacco group says N.C. justices may hear case after reported conflicts

A group overseeing tobacco settlement payments announced it has no objection to the North Carolina Supreme Court deciding whether major cigarette-makers must pay $424 million to leaf farmers in 14 states. This announcement comes after the disclosure of tobacco interest conflicts by five justices.

The conflicts of interest disclosed by the justices included stock ownership in tobacco-related companies, campaign contributions from tobacco company lobbying groups and interests in tobacco farming, writes Margaret Lillard of The Associated Press. After making the disclosure, the court issued an order asking whether the opposing sides still wanted the justices to hear the case.

The high court has yet to say whether it will hear the case. Iindividual justices still have the option to recuse themselves. The 1999 tobacco settlement agreement gave North Carolina jurisdiction in the case for all states involved. The farmers affected are in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Alabama, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Wine might supplant tobacco in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, say growers

The Northern Kentucky Vintners & Grape Growers Association envisions an increase in vineyards as a means to offset expected declines in the region’s tobacco, especially in areas where German immigrants grew many grapes through the 1800s.

“They have been spreading word about the local history of grape growing, which featured vineyards along the Ohio River from Boone County in Kentucky and Hamilton County in Ohio eastward to Brown County," Indiana writes Mike Rutledge of The Associated Press. Grapes are one crop that Kentucky farms can use as they move away from the collapsing enterprise of farming tobacco, state officials say.

Rutledge writes of Larry Leap and his brothers who turned their hillside into a vineyard. Leap worked in California for the Ernest & Julio Gallo and Coastal Ridge wineries, and is engaged with several local growers to produce enough grapes to expand his operation. He turned out 1,500 12-bottle cases of wine in 2004.

AP reports that Leap said his winery is operating at "the boutique level." Right now, his winery has probably made vintages at a maximum of 250 cases, Leap said. Kentucky officials invested $785,000 of tobacco-transition funds in mid-2003 with the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council to hire a state viticulturist and an enologist, experts in growing grapes and making and marketing wine.

Safety advocates, coal industry differ over coal truck fatality causes

The total number of Kentucky roadway deaths has increased in each of the last five years. While only a small part of that increase, safety advocates say more could have been done to prevent the three dozen fatalities from rear-end collisions with coal trucks in the past decade.

“Safety advocates are calling for tougher penalties and regulations on coal trucking, which they partly blame for traffic fatality rates -- a ratio of roadway deaths to miles driven -- that are twice as high on coal-hauling roads,” writes Brandon Ortiz of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

In the second part of the newspaper’s special investigative series, Coal-hauling roads: twice as deadly, Joey Stidham, an accident reconstructionist and former state trooper told the newspaper, "The safety factor is non-existent with the coal industry." But coal industry backers note that studies have consistently shown commercial truckers are rarely at fault in fatal accidents. Researchers and state police say that poor seat-belt use is the major factor and that most truckers obey the law.

Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association in Lexington, said truckers can (however) take steps, such as improving rear lighting. But he said motorists are mostly at fault when they rear-end coal trucks. Critics say it would help if the state lowered its 120,000-pound weight limit for coal trucks, which is more than trucks' engines, suspensions and brakes can handle. For part one of the series, click here. For a sidebar story that ran with the first part, click here.

Rural Minnesota ‘meth crisis’ hitting schools, costing millions

Rural communities across Minnesota are struggling with a growing methamphetamine problem, something that “comes as no surprise to most folks in our area,” reports KAAL-TV.

“In some rural counties, sheriff's say they lack the tools to stem the meth tide. Meantime, many teachers say they're seeing a rise in meth abuse among students trying to balance sports, music and school,” reports “Channel Six” in Austin, Minnesota.

The cost of fighting meth is also creating problems, with many Minnesota counties now spending millions to combat meth abuse - money that's supposed to be used for schools, law enforcement, roads and other expenses, the television station reports.

Hoosier lawmakers backing bill to combine rural-area resources

Several Indiana lawmakers have announced support for legislation to create a Department of Agriculture and an Office of Rural Affairs within the state government, reports The News-Sentinel.

Gov. Mitch Daniels said at a news conference, “It’s a big step forward for agriculture,” writes the Fort Wayne newspaper. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, the state’s agriculture commissioner, said creating a cabinet-level agriculture department would elevate the status of the industry in Indiana, and The Office of Rural Affairs would bring all the state’s resources for rural areas under one umbrella organization. Skillman said the state has many “charming small towns” that need help creating jobs and other incentives to keep their young people.

A popcorn company executive from Carmel, Indiana will be heading the new Department of Agriculture if the bill passes. A director for the rural affairs office has not been named, the newspaper reports.

Flood-familiar residents of Appalachia dig deep to aid tsunami victims

Folks living along the steep hillsides and hollows of Appalachia are intimately and often familiar with the ravages of flooding, and many are digging deep into their pockets for the victims of the South Asian tsunamis, reports The Associated Press.

“In contributions of $1, $5 and, in the case of schoolchildren, coins from piggy banks, mountain residents who have precious little money themselves are remembering and repaying the kindness they experienced during their own flooding disasters,” writes Roger Alford.

Bill Barker, head of Appalachian Regional Ministry in Scott Depot, W.Va. told Alford, "You're going to find that Appalachian people will send money to help others even if they have to do without food themselves.” The tsunami gifts are coming from families whose homes are being rebuilt following flash floods that killed six people in the mountain region last year.

A teacher in Elkhorn City, Kentucky enlisted the help of her students, raising $2,000 for relief efforts. Now, children from every school in that county have gotten involved and set a goal of raising $50,000. Robbie Pentecost, head of Catholic Committee of Appalachia, said, "People here have had to struggle. So they can more readily understand the devastation."

Plan to cut trees stirs Boone Forest debate; group says U.S. wants tree farm

An environmental group is accusing the U.S. Forest Service of trying to turn a portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky into a tree farm, reports Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Kentucky Heartwood, a Lexington-based environmental organization, leveled the charge after hearing plans to cut trees on more than 15,000 acres to make room for the growth of oak trees, which make premium lumber. Perrin de Jong, head of the group, told AP, "This speeds up the process. It makes trees grow faster for harvest by cutting the trees down around them."But forester Jeffrey Lewis told AP the measures are intended to improve the health of the forest at a time when oak trees are under stress from insects and disease. Dave Manner, chief forester in the Moreheadarea, said the project is to ensure oak trees "are free to grow unimpeded for the next 10 years."

Environmentalists and the Forest Service also clashed over a proposal to log a portion of the 702,000-acre national forest near Morehead. The proposal calls for thousands of trees damaged by an ice storm to be sawed into lumber. Kentucky Heartwood adamantly opposes the plan, Alford writes."We believe the forest should be allowed to evolve naturally into a wild state. They're playing god, deciding which trees should live and which ones should die," he said.

Cumberland Trail State Park added to federal program

A federal program devoted to helping developing trails and greenways is adding the Cumberland Trail State Park in eastern Tennessee to its projects.

The River Trails and Conservation Assistance Program will help develop two trails connecting Wartburg, in Morgan County, Tennessee, to the 300-mile Cumberland Trail and the Obed Wild and Scenic River, reports The Associated Press. RTCA is a National Park Service division that works with communities on outdoors recreation projects and natural resources protection.

The Tennessee Division of State Parks and volunteers have built about half of the Cumberland Trail, which when finished in 2008 will stretch some 300 miles between the Cumberland Gap on the Kentucky border and Chattanooga. The RTCA is working on two other Tennessee projects, developing 100 miles of mountain biking trails near Chattanooga and assisting the Tennessee River Gorge Trust in protecting 16,000 acres of land.

Eagles abound along Kentucky's lakes statewide; AP reports eagles up in Iowa

Outdoor enthusiasts in Kentucky don’t have to travel far to see an eagle in the wild this winter, according to a review by state wildlife officials indicates, and Iowa officials say their eagle numbers are flying high.

The annual Kentucky Midwinter Eagle Survey suggests that many Kentuckians may live only minutes away from lakes and rivers where eagles can be seen in increasing numbers this time of year, writes Byron Crawford of the Courier-Journal. Western Kentucky has been the traditional location to see a bald eagle in winter. While most of Kentucky's winter eagle population is concentrated around Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, this year, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife surveyors sighted higher than expected concentrations of eagles in Bullitt, Nelson, Breckinridge, Brown and Grayson.

Last year's survey did not include many smaller lakes where eagles are often seen. In the latest survey, eagles have been observed practically the breadth of the commonwealth, in rural areas, and even near some urban areas.

The Associated Press also reports a record increase in the eagle population in Iowa. The birds were near extinction in the 1970s but their population has strongly recovered. The Department of Natural Resrouces says more than 4,400 of the birds live in the state. That's more than double from just a few years ago. Environmentalists say putting the birds on the endangered species list and banning the pesticide DDT has helped the recovery. In the winter, areas along waterways are a prime spot for eagle watching.

Monday, Jan. 17, 2005

Rural housing, other programs targeted in Bush plan for big cuts at HUD
The Department of Housing and Urban Development's $24 million-a-year rural housing and economic development program would probably be eliminated under a drastic shrinkage that the Bush administration is contemplating in HUD's $8 billion in community programs, The Washington Post revealed Friday.

The plan "would maintain the Home Investment Partnerships to build or buy affordable housing, homelessassistance programs and housing assistance for AIDS sufferers," but would eliminate $260 million in economic development projects that Congress earmarked for this year, Jonathan Weisman reported. The plan would put many anti-poverty programs into the Labor and Commerce departments, forcing them "to compete for resources in . . . budgets that are not likely to expand to accommodate the shuffle," partly because "Commerce and Labor are more receptive to business needs."

Administration officials told Weisman that federal economic-development programs are too scattered and are particularly ineffective at HUD. Bush has promised " to eliminate or consolidate what he sees as duplicative or ineffective programs. . . . Advocates for the poor, however, contended that the White House is trying to gut federal programs for the poorest Americans to make way for tax cuts, a mission to Mars and other presidential priorities."

Congressional aides told the Post that the $4.7 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program could be cut in half when sent to Commerce, whose Economic Development Administration has a much smaller budget of $320 million. "If this is a backdoor way of eliminating a program like CDBG, it would have a profoundly negative impact on cities," Jim Hunt, a vice president of the National League of Cities and a city council member in Clarksburg, W.Va., told Weisman.

Kerry lost because he, party lacked appeal to rural voters, evangelicals, Reid says

President Bush is being inaugurated for a second term this week because John Kerry and Democrats could not connect with rural voters, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “He lost because we had a failed strategy in rural America,” Reid said in an interview conducted at his home in Searchlight, Nev.

Citing huge margins for Bush in some rural Nevada counties, Reid said, “You can look at Nevada and it’s just like the rest of the country. We ignored rural America and as a result we lost the election.” (Reid, a Mormon, recently had liberal evangelical Jim Wallis speak to Democratic senators, The New York Times reports this morning. "The Democratic Party has increasingly had a problem as being perceived as secular fundamentalists," Wallis, a registered Democrat, told reporter David Kirkpatrick.)

When Stephanopoulos asked Reid if Democrats can win rural votes without changing their stands on guns, gay rights and abortion, Reid said many other issues matter to rural voters, and many Democrats are “in tune” with rural voters on those social issues. “We just have to let rural America know that’s the case.” Reid spokesman James Manley told the Times that the election showed that "Democrats need to be much more forceful and clear in communicating their faith and values to the electorate."

The domestic issue spotlighted in Reid's interview with Stephanopoulos was Social Security and Bush’s effort to change it. Reid said “the vast majority” of people in Searchlight, many of whom live in mobile homes, are Social Security recipients and oppose reform. Later on the show, outgoing NAACP President Kwesi Mfume said of Bush’s plan, “This could do for Republicans what gun control did for the Democrats in the 1990s.” But former host Cokie Roberts, a guest on the show, agreed when conservative commentator George Will said, “Democrats have clearly decided they can be negative on this without facing the consequences.” Mfume said raising the retirement age would face the strongest opposition in poor communities, where life expectancy is lower.

Tulane seeks medical students to help Louisiana's rural communities

"Tulane University is mounting an effort to bring more doctors to underserved rural Louisiana," Janet McConnaughey of The Associated Press reported over the weekend.

"The school is looking for students like Dr. Margeaux Coleman Walker, who has known she wanted to be a doctor since she was 11 or 12 and helped her grandmother clean the doctor's office in Church Point, a town of 4,700. . . . She's finishing her three postgraduate training years in the family-medicine residency at Baton Rouge General Medical Center and would like to wind up back in Church Point."

Richard Streiffer, head of rural medical education for Tulane, said the university hopes to get about seven students a year who want to stay in rural Louisiana and perhaps surrounding areas. "It's not been a point of emphasis for Tulane at all, to focus on keeping people in Louisiana, particularly in rural Louisiana. I can't quantify it for you, but it would be the rare or occasional student who does this," he told AP.

"Tulane's new program is one of only a handful nationwide designed to train doctors for rural areas and inner cities where there's a shortage," McCconnaughey wrote. "Almost half of all doctors who are lured to needy areas with medical school scholarships or help paying off their college loans leave such areas after their time is up. Part of it is the culture shock, but also family practice is a dwindling choice among U.S. medical school graduates. Overall, the number taking family-practice internships has fallen by nearly half since 1996. One reason, says Tulane's Streiffer, is that city dwellers are more likely to get into medical schools. And, by and large, they want to work in or near cities. Many doctors would rather work in cities or suburbs just because the hours are shorter. There are more doctors to talk to if you run into a problem, and far more specialists."

Lack of rural doctors is a national problem nationwide, according to the U.S. Office of Rural Health Policy. One-fifth of Americans — about 60 million people — live in rural areas that are spread over four-fifths of the nation's land area, but only 10 percent of doctors live in rural areas.

U.S. paying mad-cow price for integrating beef market with Canada?

"After spending the last four years marrying the U.S. cattle market to Canada's cattle market, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture is now saddled with its handiwork. The new family's name is 'the integrated North American beef market'," farm columnist Alan Guebert wrote in yesterday's Lincoln Journal Star.

"Canada's mad cows are America's problem," Guebert writes, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to reopen the U.S. market to Canadian cattle and beef exports on March 7 despite the dscovery of a third case of madp0-cow disease in Canada . He says there is no proof of USDA's estimate of a 6- to 26-cent price break for U.S. consumers, and "U.S. meatpackers are not in the habit of passing windfalls to American meat buyers."

Guebert says Canadian beef will eventually fill a gap in the U.S. market, where "cow slaughter is running 15 percent below what it was a year ago.  That number will grow in 2005 and 2006 as U.S. ranchers retain cows and save heifers to rebuild herds. In short, we're short and getting shorter of hamburger, and Canada has it. Well, Canada's packers have it. The packers Up There are the same as the packers Down Here. According to numbers recently compiled by Canada's National Farmers Union, Cargill and Tyson collectively kill 60.7 percent of all Canadian beef cattle. Those two, plus Swift and National Beef, kill nearly 84 percent of all U.S. cattle.

Such market domination "also means the Big Boys can't lose on the cheaper Canadian feeder and fat cattle walking to the U.S. If they can't get ‘em to fatten in their feedlots, sooner or later they'll get ‘em to kill in their slaughter plants. Heads they win; tails they win," Guebert writes. "Which brings up one of the more curious aspects of the proposed rule." He says it requires Canadian cattle to be branded and segregated, creating "essentially a country-of-origin-labeling program for Canadian cattle," without a label on the finished product. USDA estimates the cost at $10 a head, or less than a penny a pound. "far less than its 2003 estimate that undermined the 2002 Farm Bill's mandatory country of origin labeling law."

Map stashed in coal company closet could have prevented Quecreek Mine flood

A map of an abandoned mine might have prevented a flood that trapped nine miners underground for 77 hours in Pennsylvania in 2002 if it hadn't been stashed in a coal-company closet and forgotten, according to a report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The report said a 1964 map detailing mined-out areas was discovered by workers at Consol Energy near Pittsburgh last year, after having been misfiled. In July 2002, nine miners at the company's Quecreek No.1 Mine were trapped when they broke into the abandoned mine, which had been owned by Saxman Coal and Coke Co. The Quecreek mine quickly filled with water. "Rescue crews eventually pulled the miners out one-by-one in a rescue that made international headlines, The Associated Press reported.

"Eight of the nine miners have sued Consol, asserting that the company did not inform state and federal regulators that the Saxman mine coal seam had been fully mined and had filled with water," AP said. A Consol lawyer told AP that the company had done "absolutely nothing wrong" and had cooperated with federal investigators. A transformer explosion at the Quecreek mine on Friday injured two men, one of whom had been part of the rescue operation. State and federal authorities are investigating the cause.

Guardsman 'between Iraq and a hard place' as semester begins, N.C. weekly says

Jordan Byrd, a 28-year-old former National Guard officer, is now forced to work as an assistant stable manager for New River Stables in Deep Gap, N.C., to try and pay for college, after discovering the Army will not release her educational benefits, reports The Mountain Times, a weekly in Boone, picking up on an earlier National Public Radio story on the issue that featured Byrd.

Byrd served six years in the National Guard and one year active duty in Afghanistan, after the Army put a “stop-loss” on National Guard units after the 2001 terrorist attacks, reporter Jeff Eason writes. Afterward, she enrolled in Appalachian State University for the spring 2005 semester, but no one in the Army would okay her original contract to release money for school because she was no longer in the Guard.

Byrd said the Army promised that her time in active duty would get added back onto school time, but "That promise has not made it through the legal process regarding the National Guard and Reserve soldiers," Eason wrote. She could stay in the Guard to get the money, but would risk being deployed again.

Regular soldiers have a separate account for college after service. "I joined the Army because that was a way for me to help me benefit myself and better myself," Byrd said. "They were going to help me pay for college. . . . If you talk to most of these National Guard (and) reservists, one of the main reasons they go in is not for their training in the Army or Marines, it's to get school benefits."

Wyoming mourns death of Irving Garbutt, a Casper journalist for 70 years

Arthur "Irving" Garbutt, who wrote for newspapers in Casper, Wyo., for 70 years, died last week at 95. He started in 1934 as a reporter for the morning and afternoon newspapers that later combined to form the Casper Star-Tribune, which has a circulation of 30,000. Garbutt retired from the paper in 1975 but continued to write about local history and gardening for the weekly Casper Journal, which the Star-Tribune acquired last year in return for the Star-Tribune's Internet services operation. "His columns appeared in the Casper Journal as recently as last year," the Star-Tribune reported.

Journal Publisher Dale Bohren said Garbutt's familiarity with the area and his strong writing abilities helped make his column the Journal's most popular for many years. The Journal published Garbutt's second book, I Was There: Recollections of Ten Decades," in 2003.

Reporting tips: Regulation of pot-luck dinners, and on taping without telling

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies offers two good heads-ups for reporters in today's edition of "Al's Morning Meeting." First, he reports that some churches are finding it difficult to hold pot-luck meals because of state and/or local health regulation, and that some states, such as Washington and Minnesota, are passing laws to exempt the events from such regulation.

Second, he warns broadcasters that the Federal Communications Commission plans to fine two stations for taping people on the telephone without telling them. He cites a Jan. 13 story in Broadcasting and Cable magazine, which said KNOE of Monroe, La., and WEWS of Cleveland, respectively, face fines of $10,000 and $6,000. KNOE merely recorded the voice-mail greeting of a county councilman (in Louisiana, they're called police jurors). WEWS aired a medical-insurance company spokesman's refusal to give an interview for the air. "Although radio station shock jocks are the most frequent recipients of fines for airing taped telephone conversations, sanctions against legitimate news operations are not unheard of," reporter Bill McConnell wrote. "The taping ban carries no exemption for news, and the FCC says county councilmen and other public officials do not surrender their privacy rights simply by holding office."

The restrictions apply only to broadcast material, but print reporters and the public in general are governed by an FCC regulation which requires notice to the other party that interstate calls are being recorded. The rule does not apply to calls within a state, but many states have similar laws that apply to intrastate calls.

Kentucky Citizens for Open Government to hold first meeting Friday

An effort to bring together the public, interest groups and journalists for the cause of fighting government secrecy in Kentucky will have its first meeting Friday afternoon in Louisville. Kentucky Citizens for Open Government will meet at 2 p.m. in the North Regency Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in conjunction with the Kentucky Press Association's annual convention.

The group's 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. It plans to have a Web site to help citizens seek access to government records and meetings, and show them what to do if the public agency denies their request.

"We want to monitor government agency accessibility. We want to monitor bills proposed in the General Assembly and speak out when public access is threatened," organizers say. "A broadbased coalition of Kentucky citizens concerned about open government will send the message to elected and appointed officials in Kentucky that we citizens insist on a truly participatory and open government."

If you have questions, or are unable to attend the meeting but want to participate in KCOG, send you rcontact information to or call KPA Executive Director David Thompson at 800-264-5721. Others on the KCOG steering committee include Hank Ackerman, head of The Associated Press in Kentucky; Tom Caudill, assistant managing editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader; John Mura, assistant managing editor of The (Louisville) Courier-Journal; John Nelson, editor of The (Danville) Adocate-Messenger and outgoing KPA president; retired Lexington broadcaster Ken Kurtz, state Sunshine chair for the Society of Professional Journalists; Louisville lawyer Kim Greene, and KPA News Bureau reporter Dana Lear.

Friday, Jan. 14, 2005

Communications CEO says rural America needs help for more broadband

Rural America faces a new economic threat, and risks being left out of the new information economy, unless government adopts measures to accelerate the deployment of broadband across the country, a major communications company executive told federal regulators in Washington today.

The statement came from Nortel President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Owens at a policy luncheon in Washington, according to a news release prepared in advance. “The Capitol Hill event also featured Kathleen Abernathy of the Federal Communications Commission and David Hudgins, chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative,” writes Robert Hoskins of Broadband Wireless Exchange.

In a report on the magazine’s Web site before the event, Owens was quoted as saying, "Information and technology are increasingly becoming integral parts of the national and global economy. If rural America does not have ready access to this information and the infrastructure on which it is delivered, we will see the gap in opportunity and prosperity widen between rural and urban America." Owens acknoweledged that the Bush administration and the FCC have made broadband access a national priority, but "There is still more that should be done."

Wyoming senator first to urge USDA not to reopen border to Canadian beef

U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo, is calling on the Department of Agriculture to withdraw its rule reopening the U.S. to live cattle from Canada because a third case of mad-cow disease -- technical name, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE -- was confirmed in Canada.

Enzi expressed his concerns in a letter to outgoing USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, on his Web site calling the matter“an issue of impending urgency. Enzi writes of Canada, "This is a country where at least four BSE-positive cattle have originated. It is premature to consider opening the border and without your action, the rule will go into effect on March 7, 2005."

Enzi said the recent case “reminds us that we do not know the prevalence of BSE in Canada's herd until they have completed their testing program. This fourth case of Canadian origin highlights the importance of withdrawing the rule until Canada has completed its testing. To do otherwise is to open the border to unknown risks.” The senator also cites reports of “lax enforcement of the Canadian feed ban” saying this would increase the likelihood that "we will not prevent the introduction of BSE into the U.S."

Enzie notes that “The most recent BSE-positive animal was born after the feed ban was in place in Canada. Without acting to ensure the compliance of the Canadian beef industry with its own feed ban, the USDA's final rule would overturn our historically successful disease prevention policy regarding BSE.”

U.S. farmers concerned about cow-ID costs; Canadian experience instructive

Farmers are worried about the costs of a new measure from the USDA, starting in July, that will require all cattle, swine and small ruminants that cross state lines receive a U.S. Animal Identification Number, writes Becky Blanton of The Springfield (Ky. ) Sun. The goal is to help track the spread of mad cow disease, which is a topic American farmers could learn a lot about from its Canadian neighbors, according to a story in The Western Producer, Canada's oldest and largest rural and agriculture publication.

One type of technology to tag animals, called radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, can cost from $1.10 to $2 for each tag, Blanton writes. The tags are placed in the cow’s ear and respond to certain radio queries by transmitting its ID code. A wand to read the tags can cost $6,000, and permanently fixed tag readers up to $7,000. RFID tags will give the cow’s age, original farm, owner’s name and address on a chip that can be read by a scanner.

The tagging system looks to the model in Canada, which made ID tracking mandatory Jan. 1. It is designed to quickly track a cow’s origin in order to quash the spread of disease. One example of tagging’s effectiveness is a case involving Canadians Wayne and Shirley Forsberg, who were owners of a cow infected with BSE. Mary MacArthur writes that the Forsbergs used three different tags on their cows, had registration papers for them all, and took a picture of every cow before they sold the herd. Their tagging includes an ear tag with a unique number, provided by the Canadian government on all animals exported to the U.S.; a dairy herd improvement tag, which records an animal’s milk production; and a plastic herd tag with a farm code that gave the cow’s ancestry and all of its offspring.

MacArthur talked to Brian Evans, chief veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, who said “I can’t reflect enough with those examples, how this demonstrates, how this assists us, in building international respect for our program, when we can get to that level of detail and that level of verification through identification preservation.” Using these records, Canadian officials can rebuild the herd that the Forsbergs sold two years ago, including when one cow in the herd may have been infected with BSE. (The Western Producer's Web site requires registration, but it is free.)

The introduction of required identification legislation comes after more than 50 countries banned U.S. beef when an infected cow was found in Washington state in 2003, Blanton writes. Infected cows have also been discovered in Canada and in the United Kingdom.

Immigrants see what Tennessee 'driving certificates' won't do; advocates object

Foreigners and undocumented immigrants who obtain Tennessee's new Certificate for Driving are finding it allows them to drive a car, but gives them few of the benefits of holding real driver's licenses, and some immigrant advocates are objecting the the inconvenices it causes. Other states with high immimgrant and mirgrant worker populations are considering similar certificates as a security measure.

Tenessee created the certificates in July to ensure undocumented immigrants or foreigners visiting Tennessee temporarily had passed the state's requirements for driving, reports Jennifer Price for The Tennesseean. “But in experiences from buying auto insurance to buying alcohol, holders are increasingly finding that the documents — which are valid for one year at a time — have only limited value.” she writes.

Some businesses have posted signs which tell their employees the certificates would not be accepted as proof that the buyer is over 21. A Kroger spokesperson told Price, ''The state clearly tells you that it is not a valid form of identification.'' That doesn't sit well with some immigrant advocates. Nashville attorney Jerry Gonzalez told Price, ''There are professors at Vanderbilt that are here on fellowship, who are very distinguished scholars and won't be able to buy beer.'' However, state alcohol regulators said they would not punish a business for selling to someone who used a state-issued driving certificate.

David Lubell, coordinator of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, told Price people seeking car insurance with driving certificates also are having trouble. ''There are a lot of insurance companies who will not accept a driving certificate, and others are charging extremely high rates.''

Smokable, more addictive form of methamphetamine appears in Texas

Police chasing methamphetamine traffic around Abilene, Tex., are "seeing a new form of the drug with a much bigger bite," says the Abilene Reporter-News (free registration required).

"A different type of meth, known on the streets as 'Ice,' has surfaced and is hooking its claws into the Big Country," which is what the newspaper calls its coverage area in central Texas. "The increasing number of meth lab busts across the state also is prompting state legislators to introduce bills aimed at cracking down on meth makers and users."

"Two years ago, you never heard of it. We’re finding people cooking it all over Abilene," Lt. John Murphy, supervisor of Abilene’s Texas Department of Public Safety Narcotics Services, told the newspaper.

"This is a scary story," says Bill Bishop in Lasso, his blog for the Austin American-Statesman. "Young people like Ice because they can smoke it instead of using a needle. So it’s easier to ingest and it’s more addictive. The stuff is easy to make and uses chemicals found on the ranch and in the corner drug store. Some states have banned over-the-counter sales of medications such as Sudafed and Claritin-D that contain pseudoephedrine, which is used in making Ice. West Texas legislators are introducing bills to deal with this problem, but the scope and the scale of what’s happening is more than a law enforcement issue. It’s some kind of social collapse."

A closer look at Paxton Media Group's first week in Durham, N.C.

Readers in the Research Triangle of North Carolina who wanted to know more about the sale and firings at The Herald-Sun in Durham were treated to a special report this week in Independent Weekly, the area's alternative paper. Headlined "The Herald-Stun," it included pieces from two of the 17 newsroom employees shown the door when Paxton Media Group took over the paper last week, a column by a city council member who blistered the company, and a detailed report about the sale and transition.

Citing unnamed sources, Independent Weekly writer Fiona Morgan said Paxton had to slash payroll because it paid too much -- $125 million, about $50 million higher than estimates that circulated before the sale -- for the 50,000-circulation paper, which has a firm hold on Durham County but is overshadowed by the News and Observer of Raleigh. The N&O's owner, the McClatchy Co., was a bidder, but Media General Inc. of Richmond, Va., a regional power, was not.

The prospectus for the sale "showed that the newspaper was substantially overstaffed," Owen Van Essen of Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, which brokered the sale for the Rollins family, told Morgan. That is true even after the layoffs, using the common rule of thumb for one newsroom employee for each 1,000 circulation; the newsroom still has 70 employees. Morgan noted the earlier comments of new editor Bob Ashley, who said the paper "in recent years has seen its expenses exceed its revenues," but also reported speculation that it would no longer have to pay large salaries to Rollins family members and top executives.

One local expert who doesn't believe the paper was losing money is Jock Lauterer, director of the Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I think the Durham paper just wasn't as profitable as Paxton wanted it to be," perhaps the normal industry range of 20 to 35 percent, he told Morgan. "Why would Paxton shell out that much money for a turkey?" Perhaps the company thinks the staff can be more productive; quoting unnamed sources in the newsroom, Morgan said new "guidelines" call for metro reporters to write 10 stories per week. Ashley told The Rural Blog, "I've laid down no absolute guidelines, but it is fair to say we're asking for some higher productivity as we increase the emphasis on local news."

After another round of dismissals last Friday, Ashley called a newsroom staff meeting and said all the newsroom cuts had been made, Morgan reported -- quoting an unnamed employee who gave Ashley credit for taking questions, but said he left unanswered the key question: "Was the paper on the verge of collapse, or did the new owners simply feel it needed to be more profitable?" Ashley did tell The Rural Blog the following: "The price paid had nothing to do with the layoffs. Any company that bought it would have had to do the same. The gentlest answer is that the company was living beyond its means."

Federal court orders 'evolution stickers' removed from Georgia textbooks

A federal judge yesterday ordered a local Georgia school board to remove warning stickers that say evolution is "a theory, not a fact” from biology textbooks by the time they appear in a suburban Atlanta school system, and to never again hand them out in any form.

“Since 2002, Dr. Kenneth Miller has been upset that biology textbooks he has written are slapped with (the) warning sticker,” writes Doug Gross of The Associated Press. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, who with Joseph S. Levine has authored three texts for high schoolers told Gross, "What it tells students is that we're certain of everything else in this book except evolution." Miller — along with fellow teachers and scientists — cheered the federal judge's ruling.

Benjamin Z. Freed, an anthropology professor at Atlanta's Emory University and chairman of Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education told AP, "This is quite a victory for good science education." Some parents and religious conservatives objected, such as Sadie Fields, head of the Georgia chapter of the Christian Coalition: "It's another example of how the bench is dictating to people what symbols they can display, if they can pray or not pray or if they can teach a particular subject."

The Georgia case is one of several battles waged recently nationwide over what role evolution should play in science books. The school district approved the stickers after more than 2,000 parents in the Cobb County Schools complained evolution was presented as fact, without mentioning rival ideas about the beginnings of life. The schools defended the warning stickers as tolerance, not religious activism. The board’s attorneys argued the stickers were "a good-faith effort to address questions that inevitably arise during the teaching of evolution," writes Gross.

Scientists, several of whom testified in the case, say the sticker confuses the scientific term "theory" with the word's common usage and combines science with personal religious belief. A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union argued the stickers violated the Constitution's separation of church and state. Jeffrey Selman, whose son was a second-grader in Cobb County schools at the time, called Thursday's ruling a "shot across the bow" of religious fundamentalists he says are attempting to introduce their beliefs in the classroom.

U.S. cites Kentucky mine in firing of workers who complained about safety

The U.S. Department of Labor has filed discrimination complaints against a Letcher County, Ky., coal company in the case of four miners who were fired in August after they complained about safety conditions at an underground mine, reports The Courier-Journal.

The department is seeking fines of $40,000 -- $5,000 against Misty Mountain Mining Inc. and $2,500 each against Stanley Osborne, the company's owner, and Simon Ratliff, the mine's superintendent, for each of the four cases. The miners allege they were fired after raising concerns about unsafe roof conditions and faulty brakes on mining vehicles. Osborne and Ratliff did not return calls seeking comment. Osborne and Ratliff did not return calls seeking comment, writes Alan Maimon for the Louisville newspaper.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 prohibits companies from firing or harassing miners who refuse to work in unsafe conditions or file safety complaints. One of the miners, Wendell McClain, said he was bolting the roof in a coal seam when he saw a vehicle used for scooping coal coming toward him without brakes. The driver swerved into the wall to avoid hitting any co-workers.

McClain had been employed at Misty Mountain for only four days when he took his concern about the incident to Ratliff. "I told him somebody was going to get killed if they didn't fix the brakes. He told me to grab my lunch bucket and get out." McClain's brother, Coy, also was sent home, as were two other men on the shift. They also filed complaints. The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a violation notice to Misty Mountain in November for inadequately protecting miners against roof and wall collapses. After brief reinstatements, the miners said they were fired again in October for further pursuing discrimination complaints with MSHA.

Charleston Gazette reporter wins Society of Environmental Journalists award

The winner of the Society of Environmental Journalists' 2004 David Stolberg Meritorious Service Award is Ken Ward Jr., staff writer for the Charleston Gazette, who was honored “for his stalwart volunteer work helping to organize the Pittsburgh annual conference” and for his leadership as chair of SEJ's First Amendment task force, writes SEJ in an announcement posted on their Web site.

“Since its inception in 2002, the task force has helped spotlight restrictions to sunshine laws and fought to keep public records public,” the group says. (The organization’s) “voice is regularly heard both in Washington and within the larger journalism community, and SEJ members are kept up-to-date through our WatchDog TipSheet.”

SEJ says Ward organized an “ambitious airborne tour” of mountaintop-removal coal mining for the group's 2004 national conference and moderated a session on the federal Freedom of Information Act. SEJ says it presents the award annually “to someone whose service to the organization and fellow members epitomizes the volunteer spirit on which SEJ is built.”

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2005

N.C. Supreme Court discloses conflicts of interest in tobacco settlement dispute

Five of the seven justices on the North Carolina Supreme Court say they have conflicts of interest in a case over whether major cigarette-makers must pay tobacco growers and quota owners in 14 states, reports the Winston-Salem Journal.

At issue are so-called $424 million Phase 2 payments for 2004 that the three major cigarette-makers were scheduled to give to tobacco farmers and quota owners in 14 states. The farmers affected are in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Alabama, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The court made it clear, however, that despite its members' conflicts of interest, it still might hear the case.

"The ... court has asked both sides if they still want the justices to hear it,” writes David Rice of the newspaper's Raleigh bureau. Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. told Rice, "The circumstances here are unique, and certainly I've never experienced anything quite like it. We've got some potential conflicts of interest here, and certainly under the Code (of Judicial Conduct) we've got to disclose those."

The court issued its highly unusual order this week, outlining most of the justices' tobacco interests. Chief Lake and his wife own 2,000 shares of stock in Altria Group, the parent of industry leader Philip Morris USA. Justice George Wainwright Jr. grew, sold and marketed tobacco for 15 years, and has extended family who own "substantial interests" in tobacco allotments. Wainwright's wife also owns fewer than 50 shares of Altria stock. Justice Mark Martin received campaign contributions from tobacco executives and quota owners, including a $500 contribution in 1998 from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s political-action committee. Two other justices have tobacco allotments.

Rice wrote that there was no definite response to the court's disclosure available yesterday from attorneys involved in the case. Richard Ellis, an attorney for North Carolina's Phase II Board told him, "We don't yet know how any of the parties will respond."

Mexico giving ‘safety tips’ to U. S. bound illegal immigrants; critics object

Mexican authorities are distributing a handbook that gives illegal immigrants safety tips, suggesting that they carry enough water, follow railroad tracks and utility lines if they get lost and wear clothing that will protect them from the elements.

Often these immigrants find jobs in predominantly agricultural areas in southern and Appalachian states. The more than 1 million new handbooks, the Mexican government says, are to educate people about the dangers of unsanctioned crossings, but the move has angered some anti-immigrant groups that say “parts of it read like a how-to manual,” reports Solomon Moore of the Los Angeles Times.

Rick Oltman of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Moore, "It's an encouragement that will lead to more illegal aliens coming. It is going to result in more tragic deaths as people risk their lives in swollen rivers and burning deserts." But Mexican officials said the 32-page booklet was designed to reduce deaths along the border for those who have already decided to cross.

The Mexican government has produced similar booklets, but officials said they considered this edition, being distributed at government offices and inside magazines across Mexico, to be especially important given the rising number of border deaths. About 400 immigrants died along the border in 2003 -- a 10 percent increase from 2002. Officials in Mexico and the U.S. say beefed-up Border Patrol activities have prompted people to take riskier routes through deserts and over mountains to avoid detection.

UMW says W. Va. police harassing jobless miners; police say ‘not the case’

West Virginia State Police have denied allegations by the United Mine Workers that they have harassed out-of-work miners at Cannelton.

UMW President Cecil Roberts says miners in training sessions at a union hall have been “harassed by the State Police,” reports Tom Searls of the Charleston Gazette. State Police Capt. G.K. Barnett, told Searls, “That’s simply not the case.” The miners were laid off in August when Horizon Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy and the Cannelton property was bought by Massey Energy Co. The workers lost their benefits, though the UMW is continuing to provide health care benefits for them.

Roberts told the newspaper that troopers came to the local union hall Monday and Tuesday, allegedly to investigate “why there are so many cars and trucks parked outside the hall.” He said troopers have also harassed miners at other places near the mine site. But Barnett said troopers have only responded to calls complaining of problems and have not been on the local union’s property, though they have driven by on a public highway. “We had legitimate calls,” he said, mainly about reckless driving and other vehicular offenses. So far, no one has been cited.

Is new Alabama law effective in curbing meth? Law officers disagree

A new law designed to tackle Alabama's methamphetamine problem appears to be failing, according to some law-enforcement officers, but the state's leading law-enforcement official says it's too early to tell.

The law took effect Aug. 1. It requires that only store employees distribute over-the-counter medicines with large amounts of pseudoephedrine, and that the medicines be behind store counters. The law also limits the amount of the medicines that can be purchased, writes Lance Griffin of the Dothan Eagle. Pseudoephedrine is a popular over-the-counter decongestant and is the main ingredient used to manufacture methamphetamine, a powerful illegal drug ravaging rural America, he writes. (A similar law in Oklahoma, reported here yesterday, has proven effective; it limits dispensing to pharmacists.)

Local law-enforcement officials said they haven't seen a decrease in meth activity since the law passed. If anything, they say, there has been an increase in activity. Terry Nelson, an investigator with the Houston County Sheriff's Department's vice unit, told Griffin, "It really hasn't helped us at all. In fact, the last few meth labs we hit, we (recovered) more pseudoephedrine out of those than out of any we've done lately."

But Alabama Attorney General Troy King said the law has strengthened his ability to prosecute meth cases, and said it's too early to pass judgment on a law that has been in effect for four months. King told the newspaper, "With any new law, it's going to take a little bit of time to get it into place and see how it works. We are already bringing some cases under it. This is an additional tool that is needed. When you talk about legal substances being put to illegal uses, it's very difficult to stop that." ( Lance Griffin is no relation to IRJCI bloggers Bill Griffin and Brittany Griffin, who are not related to each other.)

Court says Virginia governor can refuse to release documents in FOI cases

Executive privilege trumps the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, a judge ruled yesterday in rejecting a request for disclosure of documents Gov. Mark R. Warner used in restoring the civil rights of almost 2,000 felons, reports Alan Cooper of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A legislator filed suit under the FOI act after Warner's office refused his request for the information. An assistant attorney general, representing the governor, argued in Circuit Court that disclosure of the documents would interfere with the decision-making process of the governor, something that the separation of powers among the three branches of government does not permit, writes Cooper. The judge agreed and said the state’s general assembly lacks the power to pass a law that would allow such interference.

The judge relied on a 1991 Virginia Supreme Court decision in which the Charlottesville Daily Progress tried to get an itemized list of telephone calls from the office of then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. The high court held that compelled release of such information could have a chilling effect on the governor's use of the telephone in conducting the state's business.

Warner has won praise in some circles for setting up a procedure that made it easier for felons to have their civil rights restored. Virginia is one of only seven states in which felons have their citizenship taken for life.

Historic Georgia budget: $1 billion more for schools, public safety and highways

Speaking to a legislature taken over by his party, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue yesterday called for less government and more personal responsibility while simultaneously laying out a $17.4 billion spending plan with an additional $1 billion for state functions, from schools to public safety and highways, report James Salzer and Jim Tharpe of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The 2006 budget comes after $1.7 billion in spending cuts over the past two years. For the first time since taking office, Perdue proposes no major spending cuts for the state's education programs. Perdue, Georgia's first Republican governor in 130 years, told a joint session of the legislature that government should provide a basic safety net for its citizens, write Salzer and Tharpe. Beyond that, Perdue said, people want government to "leave them alone."

"Perdue delivered his remarks at a historic gathering of the state legislature," write Salzer and Tharpe. "For the first time since 1870 both the state House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, which clears the way for Perdue's budget, his ethics reform legislation and his effort to allow religious organizations that provide public services to compete for state funds."

Mexico giving ‘safety tips’ to U. S. bound illegal immigrants; critics object

Mexican authorities are distributing a handbook that gives illegal immigrants safety tips, suggesting that they carry enough water, follow railroad tracks and utility lines if they get lost and wear clothing that will protect them from the elements.

Often these immigrants find jobs in predominantly agricultural areas in southern and Appalachian states. The more than 1 million new handbooks, the Mexican government says, are to educate people about the dangers of unsanctioned crossings, but the move has angered some anti-immigrant groups that say “parts of it read like a how-to manual,” reports Solomon Moore of the Los Angeles Times.

Rick Oltman of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Moore, "It's an encouragement that will lead to more illegal aliens coming. It is going to result in more tragic deaths as people risk their lives in swollen rivers and burning deserts." But Mexican officials said the 32-page booklet was designed to reduce deaths along the border for those who have already decided to cross.

The Mexican government has produced similar booklets, but officials said they considered this edition, being distributed at government offices and inside magazines across Mexico, to be especially important given the rising number of border deaths. About 400 immigrants died along the border in 2003 -- a 10 percent increase from 2002. Officials in Mexico and the U.S. say beefed-up Border Patrol activities have prompted people to take riskier routes through deserts and over mountains to avoid detection.

N. C. judge stops ‘agriculture revolt’ reports Raleigh newspaper

With Saturday's inauguration looming, a North Carolina judge has canceled plans for a new election for agriculture commissioner, sending the contest back to the state election board for a third try at a resolution.

More than nine weeks after the election, no winner has been named in the close contest. An improperly programmed voting machine in one county dropped 4,438 ballots. Troxler leads Cobb by fewer than 2,300 votes statewide.

The judge's decision is a victory for Republican Steve Troxler, who argued that the North Carolina Board of Elections improperly ordered the new election. However, Superior Court Judge James Spencer did not tell the elections board to name Troxler the winner over Democratic incumbent Britt Cobb, as Troxler wanted, reports Lynn Bonner of the Raleigh News & Observer.

Troxler hopes the election board meets this week to name him the winner, so he can be sworn in at Saturday's inauguration. State elections officials could not be reached for comment.

“Cobb wants the elections board to think about passing the whole mess to the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and letting legislators vote,” writes Bonner. “His lawyers argue the state constitution provides contested elections for state executive offices should be decided by the legislature.”

Cobb said, "I am as frustrated with this process as everyone else. The matter has been bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball. Considering the impasse, perhaps it's time the State Board of Elections referred the matter to the General Assembly for resolution."

Major ATV company to pay nearly $1 million for violations

A major all-terrain vehicle manufacturer, Polaris Industries Inc., has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle allegations it belatedly reported defects and hazards on some of its ATVs, the first such penalty involving the vehicles. ATVs are a prolific and popular off-road recreational and hunting vehicle in rural areas in many southern and Appalachian states.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said the defects were linked to dozens of accidents and at least 25 injuries over several recent years, reports Elizabeth Wolfe of The Associated Press. Two separate investigations found Polaris allegedly made changes to certain ATV models after receiving injury and accident reports, but before informing the government of any problems, as federal law requires.

The CPSC said that while the maker agreed to pay a $950,000 civil penalty, the company denied violating the law. Polaris spokeswoman Marlys Knutson refused comment. CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton said he hoped the penalty would deter other companies seeking to avoid reporting substantial product hazards.

The Rural Calendar

Bugs that devour Appalchia's hemlocks are symposium topic Feb. 1-3

The third symposium by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid Working Group and the Save our Hemlocks Action Team will be Feb. 1-3 in the Renaissance Hotel in Asheville, N.C. The two-and-a-half day conference will focus on the biology, impacts, research and technological development, and management of the hemlock wooly adelgid in the Eastern United States.

For registration materials and the agenda click here. The Renaissance Hotel is now accepting reservations on a space available basis.

Louisiana schedules Rural Economic Development Conference Feb. 2-3

Louisiana's second annual Conferece on Rural Economic Development will be held Feb. 2-3 and will focusing on the theme, “Technology: The Back Road to Rural Louisiana.” The conference will be held at the University Center on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, L.A., and the pre-conference workshop will be Feb. 1. Gov. Kathleen Blanco will address the conference on Feb. 3 and Economic Development Secretary Mike Olivier will speak Feb. 2. Panel discussions and regional conversations, which will focus on the economical and technological needs of rural communities.

The fee to attend is $40 and includes breakfast and lunch through the conference, and entry to the welcome reception on Feb. 1. For more information or online registration, click here or contact the Governor’s Office of Rural Development at (225) 342-1618.

Conference on covering health care and health in Central Appalachia Feb. 25

Middle Appalachia has some of the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and smoking, while national health-care has become more complex. It has become particularily difficult for such poorer regions of the country, which often lack education and some health-care providers. To assist news media in these areas -- Eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, and the mountain counties of Virginia and Tennessee -- in getting health-care information to their readers, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues invites these journalists to a Feb. 25 conference.

The conference is free and will be held in the University of Kentucky’s Center for Rural Health in Hazard. It will examine the reasons behind the condition of health-care in Appalachia, the impact of any agencies that are trying to improve health-care and how Appalachian journalists can cover all of these tough issues.

The conference will include national leaders in rural health: Wayne Myers, former head of the federal Office of Rural Health Policy and former president of the National Rural Health Association; Bruce Behringer, assistant vice president for rural health at East Tennessee State University and former NRHA president; Rice Leach, former Kentucky state health commissioner; Judy Jones, director of the Center for Rural Health and a former reporter for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader; Daniel Mongiardo, Hazard physician, state senator and 2004 nominee for the U.S. Senate; Eric Scorsone, University of Kentucky economist; and Bonnie Tanner, head of UK’s Health Education through Extension Leadership program, which works county by county to improve individuals’ health.

The conference will also include Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky. for the last 47 years. They are the Institute’s first recipients of the Tom and Pat Gish award, announced in October, for courage in journalism. A detailed schedule and other information will be released soon, but any interested journalist may sign up by e-mailing or calling 859-257-3744.

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005

States move to crack down on over-the-counter sales of meth ingredients

At least 20 states are considering legislation that would restrict access to over-the-counter medicines and other goods that can be used to make methamphetamine, which has become epidemic in rural America.

"A few states considered tougher restrictions on pseudoephedrine last year. Just one — Oklahoma — adopted them," reports the Los Angeles Times. But more may do so this year, now that officials across the country have seen that the Oklahoma law has been successful, at least in the eyes of officials like Marvin Van Haaften, Iowa's director of drug control policy. The Oklahoma law has produced "tremendous results," he told Times reporter Stephanie Simon.

The Oklahoma law allows pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in "Sudafed, NyQuil, Claritin-D, Tylenol Flu and hundreds of other cold, allergy and sinus remedies," to be dispensed only by a pharmacist, Simon writes. Meth-lab raids in the state are down 80 percent, and John Duncan, chief agent with the state Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, "expects that number to drop even more as pharmacists bring online a new computer program to track every purchase of cold pills. The program will flash an alert if a customer has tried to buy decongestants from any other store in the state in recent weeks."

In most of the legislation proposed in other states, "the controls would apply only to pseudoephedrine tablets," Simon reports. "Gel caps and liquid formulas are generally exempt because it's much harder to convert them to illegal drugs." Still, she writes, drug makers strongly oppose the legislation, saying it "would inconvenience legitimate customers, especially in rural areas, where the nearest pharmacy may be 40 miles away and open only on weekdays."

For more background and coverage on meth and its rural nature, click here for our special report.

Report: New mad-cow case may delay reopening of U.S. to Canadian beef

The U.S. Agriculture Department may withdraw its plan to reopen the border on March 7 to more imports of Canadian beef and cattle because of a new reported case of mad-cow disease, an unnamed official with a Canadian agricultural group told the Reuters news service yesterday.

W. Ron DeHaven, administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told The Washington Post that cross-border trade in cattle 30 months or younger would resume as scheduled, but said the agency would send a technical team to Canada "to evaluate the circumstances surrounding these recent finds." Post reporter Marc Kaufman noted that the case is North America's first in a beef cow, not a dairy cow, and the continent's youngest. The cow was six years and nine months old when slaughtered.

The report was "more worrisome because the cow was born after feed restrictions intended to prevent the spread of the disease were put in place in 1997," Clifford Krauss wrote in The New York Times. "The new case is likely to strengthen a legal challenge to the administration's decision" to repoen the border.

The new case of the fatal, brain-wasting disease comes less than two weeks after the Canadian government confirmed its second native case. The U.S. halted cattle and beef imports from its northern neighbor in May 2003 after Canada discovered its first case. An industry source, who discussed the matter with USDA officials, told Reuters, "Career folks at APHIS are saying they are going to kill the rule."

Class, name the three largest rural states and 'biggest indoor ag gig anywhere'

Pennsylvania is the third largest rural state in America -- behind only Texas and North Carolina -- with more than 2.8 million folks living in rural counties, John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News notes in a column describing the bucolic nature of The Keystone State, and extoling the vitures of its Farm Show.

“This is my yearly reminder of why we have the down-home politics we do, why we tend to rigid regionalism,” Baer writes. “That means we're more rural than any state in the Northeast, the West or the Midwest breadbasket.” He notes that the Center for Rural Pennsylvania says 48 of the state's 67 counties are rural, and "There's more population growth in rural counties than urban ones. So, if you want to see Pennsylvania, get yourself to the Farm Show. It's the biggest indoor ag gig anywhere."

Baer describs the show in the state capital of Harrisburg as"25 acres under roof: 10,000 animals, 8,300 exhibits, rodeos, horse pulls, baking contests, livestock auctions, square-dancing, farm equipment and the famous (don't ever look directly at it!) 800-pound butter sculpture." He writes the show gets a half-million visitors, who eat $1 million "worth of grub," which he warns, "ain't diet food."

“I went Saturday, opening day, to watch Gov. Ed take a tour," Writes Baer. “Ed, (Gov. Edward G. Rendell) in his usual city boy suit and tie, stops by a guy using sizeable shears on what looks to me a too-hairy goat. Guy asks, "Wanna try?" (Your bloggers think any governor who could actually shear a sheep deserves the love and admiration of all his rural folk.)

Rural Pennsylvania county losing ground despite development restrictions

Lancaster County, Pa., is losing ground to development despite efforts more than a decade ago to restrain and restrict growth, reports P. J. Reilly of Lancaster's Intelligencer Journal.

Sixty percent of the county's development in the past decade has been outside areas the county planning commission designated for development, Reilly writes. While 75 percent of the homes built in the last 10 years are inside the urban-growth boundaries established in 1992, those homes account for only 40 percent of all developed land.

Mary Frey, the planning commission's principal planner asks Reilly, "Is this really what we want to see happening? Is it a threat to agriculture and the rural character of the county?" The planning commission expects to conduct the first intensive update of its growth-management plan over the next several months. The emphasis will be on "coming up with a rural strategy."

Care of rural stroke patients improves with telephone support, says study

An American Academy of Neurology (AAN) study shows care of stroke patients in rural Arizona was improved when an urban stroke center offered telephone assistance in treatment, reports Newswise.

The study, published in the January 11 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the academy, says stroke center doctors helped decide when and how to use the clot-busting drug TPA. “The drug can reduce disability and save lives, but its use is complicated,” writes Newswise. Treatment is risky and must be given within three hours of the start of stroke symptoms. “In some rural areas, there is a lack of staff experienced in the treatment. As a result, the treatment is often not given when it could be beneficial.”

Stroke centers usually required patients be transported to an urban hospital to receive TPA, in part due to liability and safety concerns, Newswise reports. For this study, patients were treated at small rural hospitals with telephone support from the stroke center, and then transported to the stroke center for care. The study compared those treated in the rural hospitals and transported to those treated at the stroke center.

Neurologist James L. Frey, MD, study author and director of the stroke program at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, said, “Overall, the results were equivalent for those treated by telephone and those treated on-site. The most important result was that 53 people received (the drug) who otherwise would not have received it.”

Meat-eater from a red state is most successful liberal on talk radio, Post says

A "prairie-dwelling, red-meat-eating, gun-toting former conservative" who broadcasts from the unlikely locale of North Dakota, is the most widely carried liberal on radio, reports the Washington Post.

“Since launching his syndicated show last January, former football player Ed Schultz has peddled his Fargo brand of populism to 70 markets, including stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Phoenix, Denver, Boston and Detroit,” writes media reporter Howard Kurtz. Schultz, who debuts on Washington's WRC next week, told Kurtz, "A year ago they were laughing at us. I knew I had the talent and could get the job done. I didn't believe what the industry was saying, that liberal talk radio couldn't make it."

Schultz, 50, has a long way to go before he approaches the influence of Rush Limbaugh, writes Kurtz. But he is an overnight sensation with a red-state base and a regular-guy sense of humor. The show was developed with $1.8 million from Democracy Radio, a New York nonprofit run with a board composed of three Clinton administration veterans. A fundraiser last year was attended by about 20 Democratic senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Tom Daschle.

North Dakota's Republican Party chairman, Ken Karls, says he stopped listening to Schultz when the radio host became "more and more friendly" with the state's Democratic senators. Karls says of Schultz's liberal audience, "When people disagree with him, he has hung up on them."

Known as Big Ed (6-2, 250 pounds) the 6-2, 250-pound Schultz was a college quarterback who briefly made the roster of the Oakland Raiders but became a sportscaster after failing to catch on in the NFL. Schultz says his views evolved over time. He calls conservative radio hosts "mean-spirited and intentionally dishonest." Schultz says: "I do it with facts. I pound it right back at them. I don't think there's any question the media in this country is intimidated by the Bush White House."

Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005

Feb. 25 conference for journalists will explore health in Central Appalachia

The middle part of Appalachia – Eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, and the mountain counties of Virginia and Tennessee – is one of the least healthy areas of the nation. Rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and smoking are among the nation’s highest. Meanwhile, the nation’s health-care system is becoming more complex and harder to navigate, and that task is doubtless more difficult in a region that ranks low in income, education and certain health-care providers. At the same time, the need for health care in the region, and its relative lack of other economic opportunities, has made health care one of the area’s major employers.

The news media in Appalachia could play a key role in improving the region’s health, but all too often most of the health-care information some outlets carry is advertising from providers looking for patients. To help their readers, listeners and viewers live healthier lives, and make more informed choices about their health care, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues invites Appalachian journalists to a conference on Feb. 25. The conference will be held in the new, $13 million, state-of-the art headquarters of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Rural Health in Hazard, Ky.

This day-long conference is offered at no cost to participants. It will explore the condition of the region’s health, the reasons for it, the many institutions and agencies that try to improve it, their economic impact, and ways that journalists in the region can cover all these subjects – including asking tough questions like, “Why is health care so expensive, and why is it so ineffective in Central Appalachia?”

Major presenters at the conference will include Wayne Myers, former head of the federal Office of Rural Health Policy and former president of the National Rural Health Association; Bruce Behringer, assistant vice president for rural health at East Tennessee State University and former NRHA president; Rice Leach, former Kentucky state health commissioner; Judy Jones, director of the Center for Rural Health and a former reporter for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader; Daniel Mongiardo, Hazard physician, state senator and 2004 nominee for the U.S. Senate; Eric Scorsone, University of Kentucky economist; and Bonnie Tanner, head of UK’s Health Education through Extension Leadership program, which works county by county to improve individuals’ health.

The conference luncheon will feature presentation of the first Tom and Pat Gish Award to the Gishes themselves, in recognition of the tenacity and courage they have shown as publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky., for the last 47 years. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which announced the award in October, will continue to make it in honor of the Gishes.

A detailed schedule and other information will be released soon, but any journalist who wants to sign up for the conference now may do so by e-mailing or calling 859-257-3744.

Eastern Kentucky judges feeling squeeze from drug roundups; jails overflowing

Some judges in Eastern Kentucky are feeling pressure to release nonviolent offenders because the region's jails can't hold them all in the wake of numerous drug busts and the state’s war on methamphetamine.

Ron Johnson, circuit judge in Harlan County, told The Associated Press, "The system is packed. It puts a great deal of strain on a jail." The county's jail is holding twice the number of inmates it was built to hold, and Johnson said overcrowding at the jail influences his decisions on whether to release prisoners without bail or on a reduced bail. However, he said the criminal records of prisoners are his first consideration.

Law enforcement agencies have been making mass arrests of street-level drug dealers in some mountain counties. The multi-county anti-drug task force UNITE alone arrested 550 people in 29 counties last year.
The executive director of UNITE, a cooperative effort between local, state and federal agencies, said the drug roundups are necessary, if not ideal. Karen Engle said arresting dealers one by one can hurt an investigation by tipping off other dealers that they may be next. "We cannot stop arresting people and simply let them by just because jails are full," she said.


List of finalists for Appalachian Center job at UK whittled to four

One of Eastern Kentucky's best known champions for economic development is among the finalists selected by a search committee to head the University of Kentucky's Appalachian Center.

Roger Recktenwald, who helped develop industrial parks and recruit factories to the region, told AP he is being considered for the position. Each of three other finalists recommended by a search committee have at least some experience working in the mountain region. They are Evelyn Knight, a researcher and associate professor in the university's College of Public Health; Eric Scorsone, an assistant professor in the university's Department of Agricultural Economics; and Tim Campbell, the university's extension agent in Pike County, writes Alford of The Associated Press.

The goal of the Appalachian Center, which was created more than 25 years ago, is to enlist experts from every field of study at the university to help solve problems in the region. Wendy Baldwin, the university's executive vice president for research, told Alford, "It's a way to help bring the campus together to deal with issues of interest to Appalachia." Baldwin said she's not sure when the next director will be appointed. Interviews were set to begin this week.

Michigan board decides against Bible class program from North Carolina

After a year of controversy, public-school officials in a Michigan city have decided against adding a Bible class based on a curriculum from a North Carolina religious group as an elective high school course.

“Following the recommendation of superintendent Michael Murphy, school board members agreed the 'Bible As Literature and History" class, based on materials from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, would not be offered at Frankenmuth High School, reports The Associated Press. Murphy said the proposed class was too close to religion and too far from history, The Saginaw News reported.

"It goes beyond talking about religion and becomes faith-based," Murphy said, adding that the class lacked academic rigor andcurrent classes in English, art and history already include studies on how the Bible affects American society. WSGW-AM in Saginaw reported Murphy said the rejection was not based on the threat of lawsuits, and school board members have not ruled out future consideration of similar classes.

Bluegrass music legend’s son doubts famous mandolin is going home

The son of bluegrass music pioneer Bill Monroe says the outcome of a lawsuit makes it doubtful that his father's prized mandolin will return to his Kentucky hometown.

“James Monroe and the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Foundation of Kentucky had been scheduled to be in Davidson County [Tenn.] court yesterday for a trial over the foundation's failure to purchase the mandolin in 2002. But the sides reached a lawsuit settlement Friday after two days of negotiation,” reports Colin Fry of The Associated Press. Lawyers for both sides said that the settlement's terms would remain confidential, but a news conference on the suit’s outcome would be held soon. Apparently the two sides did not like being in litigation with Monroe’s heir.

Monroe told Fry he's relieved the fight over is over, but is saddened it won't return to Rosine, Ky., where the elder Monroe was born. ''That mandolin needs to be out where people can see it. That's what I always wanted. I want it to go back to his hometown, but it doesn't appear that's going to happen.'' Monroe declined to talk about the terms of the settlement. He agreed in 2002 to sell the mandolin to the Rosine-based Bill Monroe Bluegrass Foundation of Kentucky for $1.1 million to help cover estate taxes.

Talk about waving a red flag at an angry bull!

A man, believed to be an avant-garde British comedian, stunned then angered a crowd at a weekend rodeo in Salem, Va., when he “butchered and altered" a performance of 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' apparently on purpose, reports The Roanoke Times.

Lawrence Hammack writes, “Television footage of the man, who wore an American flag shirt and a black cowboy hat, bears a striking resemblance to a popular British comedian known as 'Ali G.' In real life he is known as Sacha Baron Cohen, who also portrays a white 'gangsta-rapper' wannabe. Civic Center director Carey Harveycutter told Hammack, "If he isn't the guy, he has an uncanny resemblance to him."

“The performer told everyone to be seated before launching into a butchered version of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' that ended with the words: 'your home in the grave,' writes Hammack. It wasn't until the man riled up the audience with comments like 'may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq' - that the rodeo’s organizer figured out he had been duped.”

Seventy-year-old cowboy Bobby Rowe told Hammack, “I learned a lesson, that's for sure. I told him (the performer): 'You done the wrong thing at the wrong place.'” The crowd's "hostile reaction" may have taught the performer something about trying to stir up a rodeo crowd in Southwest Virginia, as he made a hasty retreat, writes Hammack. Your bloggers would call all that an understatement.

Monday, Jan. 10, 2005

Mississippi publishers kept ‘burning’ story of heinous murders 40 years ago

While outside observers have given credit to local law enforcement and pressure from The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger for an arrest in the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, credit must also go to the publishers of the local Neshoba County Democrat for being the persistent conscience of a county, both in print and as part of the community of Philadelphia.

The Democrat's publisher, Jim Prince, has been a leader in a group of local business, civil and civil rights organizations, called The Philadelphia Coalition, which played a major role in pushing for action in the case. Last year, they organized a 40th anniversary memorial service in at a local church, where Carolyn Goodman, mother of Andrew Goodman, one of the slain activities, said, “I never thought the day would come when I would say I was happy to be in Neshoba County, but today I am.”

Prince also wrote a powerful editorial about the ordeal: “With forgiveness comes healing, and the very act of being forgiven can overwhelm us when we consider the magnitude of Christ’s suffering … In order to be forgiven, we had to confess, and that’s what this community did on Sunday in acknowledging the crimes and calling for justice.”

His predecessor, Stanley Dearman, wrote in 2000 a clear call to action. “This is a case that never goes away for the reason that it has never been dealt with in the way it should have been. It’s time to bring a conclusion by applying the rule of law. Come hell or high water, it’s time for an accounting.”

Prince and Dearman, who headed the local paper for 30 years, are sterling examples of the difficult and often conflicted role of the publisher of a community newspaper. They showed exceptional courage, examples made all the more courageous by the magnitude of the crime, the place and the times.

For the Neshoba Democrat article on the klansman's arraignment, click here. For Prince's editorial click here. For the editorial by Dearman click here.

Paxton Media draws Durham councilman's ire after abrupt layoffs at paper

It's not unusual for public officials to question news coverage or commentary, but last week a city councilman in Durham, N.C., questioned the change of ownership and layoffs at the local newspaper.

The shakeup at Durham's Herald-Sun "drew the ire of Councilor Eugene Brown," who took on the paper’s new owners. The paper was sold to the Paxton Media Group after 115 years under the same local ownership. “Within minutes of the sale, dozens of employees were let go,” reported WRAL-TV.

"This week, a Durham institution was changed and not necessarily for the better. The citizens of Durham deserve better," Brown said. He told WRAL, "It is not good business to cut 25 percent of the workforce and expect employees' morale to remain high or expect Durham to continue to have a viable quality newspaper." Brown said the paper is more than just a business. "They purchased a unique Durham institution that on a daily basis reflects the heart of our community."

The station reported that Brown “tipped his hat to the former owners and management,” then questioned the new owners' commitment to the community, saying Paxton Media puts profit above all else. "A group whose highest vision is the bottom line, a group who thinks more about the next paycheck than the next edition and all of us in Durham may suffer because of it." he said.

Bob Ashley, the paper's new editor, told WRAL that Brown is entitled to his opinion, but declined to comment on the layoffs, or on content changes readers might expect. Paxton CEO David Paxton said last week that the family-owned firm, based in Paducah, Ky., has "sought to combine the best elements of local, family ownership with the advantages and operating efficiencies of a larger organization."

Livestock tracking system for disease protection set to begin in Kentucky

Kentucky agriculture officials expect to start registering all livestock farms in a state database by the end of the month, taking the first step in a national animal identification system designed to contain a disease outbreak, reports The Courier-Journal.

The Kentucky Cattlemen's Association annual convention Friday heard from state veterinarian Dr. Robert Stout, who said that farmers soon will be able to receive an identification number for farms and other property where livestock is kept, writes Marcus Green of the Louisville newspaper. Assigning the identification numbers is the first part of a national system ultimately designed to be able to trace the movements of a diseased animal within 48 hours of detection.

“The data farmers need to submit are mainly public information — a farm's name, address and a contact person and telephone number — and will be kept by the state and shared with the federal government,” Stout said. Livestock will be assigned an identification number and a premises number. As animals move through the production the premises number will change, but the identifying number will not.

Daviess County farmer Ed Tabor told Green, "The perception is we've got a safe product, and this (system) is going to make that perception stronger." The national model will cost about $18.8 million to begin. $172,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be used to start the process in Kentucky.

AEP wants customers to pay for $1.6 billion clean-coal power plant

Two stretches of land along the Ohio River in Lewis County, Kentucky owned by American Electric Power Co. are under consideration for a proposed new clean-coal power plant that could cost the company, and its customers, as much as $1.6 billion, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Tim Mosher, president and chief operating officer of AEP subsidiary Kentucky Power, said they want "regulatory certainty" from the state that they will be able to recover the full cost of construction through electricity-rate increases, writes the newspaper’s Eastern Kentucky bureau chief, Lee Mueller.

Andrew Melnykovych, a spokesman for the Kentucky Public Service Commission, told Mueller, "It's impossible now to make any kind of guess as to the potential rate impact. You balance the utility's financial health against what's fair for the rate payers."

Under Kentucky law, the cost of installing pollution-control devices in an old coal-fired power plant can be recovered, but the law is less specific about recovering the extra cost of building new, cleaner-burning plants, writes Muller. Mosher told him, “They are about 20 percent more expensive than traditional coal-fired plants. The company provides electricity to about 175,000 customers in 20 Eastern Kentucky counties. No decisions have been made yet, either in Frankfort or by the power company.

Soybean ‘rust’ in Louisiana concerns farmers as far north as Kentucky

Kentucky farmers are concerned about their soybean crops, with some preparing to spray fungicide early and often in advance of winds carrying a potentially devastating crop disease from the Deep South, reports The Associated Press. Meetings are planned statewide in January and February to educate growers about Asian soybean rust, which has caused huge soybean losses in Asia, Africa and South America. The disease also will be discussed Feb. 10 during Soybean Promotion Day at Murray State University.

Soybean rust was discovered in November in Louisiana, marking the first sign of the disease in the United States. The plant disease is so deadly, they are on a U.S. Department of Agriculture watch list of pathogens that could be used by bioterrorists, and threaten the nation's $18 billion soybean industry, a commodity ranking second only to corn.

Don Hershman, a plant pathologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture in Princeton, told AP that the rust probably was in Kentucky soybeans this season in tiny amounts, but too late to cause damage. Any residual fungus was killed by recent cold weather, said. "The chances of it surviving in the United States this winter are almost 100 percent because it was in such a wide swath. There are a lot of plants down south that could stay green," said Hershman.

Tennessee refuge becomes ‘Serengeti of the South’ for sandhill cranes

Every winter the cornfields and mud flats of the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge become a major refuge, sometimes called the Serengeti of the South, reports the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Sandhill cranes are the main attraction, but visitors also stand a good chance of seeing migrating golden eagles, bald eagles, whooping cranes and all manner of waterfowl, Morgan Simmons writes. “The sandhill cranes are big, charismatic birds, and they draw a crowd. Last year's Cherokee Indian Heritage and Sandhill Crane Viewing Days attracted about 6,000 visitors, and this year's event, scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 5-6, is expected to do the same.”

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which manages the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, estimates that 9,000-10,000 sandhill cranes are resting and feeding on the refuge in Meigs County, at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers and historic Hiwassee Island. Dan Hicks, a TWRA spokesman, told Simmons, "We always have plenty of cranes when the viewing days event rolls around. The challenge is getting them to stay where people can see them."

Archeological surveys indicate that sandhill cranes have been using Hiwassee Island as a stopover for centuries. The area, which is managed for waterfowl as well as cranes, is midway along the cranes' 1,200-mile flight path between Wisconsin and Florida, he reports. (The 'old birds' at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues appreciate such items!)

Friday, Jan. 7, 2005

Rural banks branching into Iowa cities to counter rural population drop

Rural Iowa banks are opening new branches in the state's urban centers as the population in rural counties continues to plummet, reports The Associated Press.

John Anderlik, with the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank's regional office in Kansas City, said 68 of Iowa's 99 counties lost population from 2000 to 2003. The proportion of Iowa branch banks located in urban areas increased from about four percent of the total in 1994 to nearly 14 percent in 2004. Seventy-four branch offices are now operated by rural financial institutions in Iowa's urban centers. They are operated by 40 rural banks, according to AP.

Senate panel grills Johanns about mad-cow disease, then OKs nomination

Agriculture Secretary-nominee Mike Johanns yesterday became the first of President Bush's second-term Cabinet choices to win Senate committee approval, but only after facing pointed questions about the administration's decision to reopen U.S. borders to Canadian cattle, reports The Associated Press.

The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved the Nebraska governor's nomination. Johanns, whose father was an Iowa dairy farmer, said, "I will always be a farmer's son with an intense passion for agriculture," writes AP's Libby Quaid. Johanns still needs confirmation by the full Senate before taking over for Ann Veneman at the Agriculture Department.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., asked Johanns to reconsider the administration's decision to lift in March a Canadian cattle imports ban, in light of a fresh case of mad-cow disease in Alberta. Conrad told AP, "I am far from convinced that Canada is effectively enforcing its own regulations." Johanns was noncommittal but promised to testify later before the committee on the issue. "I'm going to be as helpful as I can."

Senators from both parties also were frustrated about the ban on U.S. beef in Japan, previously the industry's biggest customer. U.S. beef was banned worldwide in December 2003 after a dairy cow in Washington state tested positive for mad-cow disease, writes Quaid. "This is priority No. 1," Johanns said. "Reopening (trade) with Japan is ...something that needs to occupy my personal time and effort."

Tobacco, Part 1: Kentucky governor ups ante on raising lowest cigarette tax

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher may ask state lawmakers to pass a cigarette tax increase of about 40 cents per pack. Kentucky's current cigarette tax is 3 cents a pack, the lowest in the nation. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Kentucky adults are smokers, the highest rate in the nation

The governor wasn’t specific but said there is "good support across the state" for a hike larger than the 26-cent increase he proposed last year, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. That idea was part of a proposed overhaul of the state's tax code, which became a sticking point and the state’s General Assembly adjourned without a state budget. This year, the political atmosphere is different, with no elections looming, Fletcher's Republican allies holding more seats in the House and passage of the tobacco buyout reducing the number of tobacco growers.

Fletcher signed the no-tax pledge drafted by Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist, who said during a visit tothe Capitol yesterday that a tax plan that raised some taxes ad lowered others, while raising the same amount of revenue, would not violate the pledge. He also said expansion of gambling, through racetrack slot machines or fu;ll-scale casinos, would not be a tax hike.

Part 2: Ky. AG asks quick N.C. Supreme Court ruling on grower payments

Kentucky's attorney general is asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to quickly review a judge's decision that major cigarette companies don’t have to make a final round of payments to tobacco farmers from a 1999 settlement, reports The Associated Press.

Attorney General Greg Stumbo filed the petition Wednesday, even though last month's ruling by Business Court Judge Ben Tennille is headed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, reports AP. The farmers affected are in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Alabama, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The new petition "asks the Supreme Court for a (direct) review of the decision … (and says) delaying the final decision ... would cause significant harm to thousands of people.” The appeal will decide whether some $424 million will go to hundreds of thousands of tobacco farmers or go back to tobacco companies.

The ruling last month that cigarette companies didn't have to make a final, $189 million payment to growers after the 1999 settlement was superseded by Congress' October approval of a $10.1 billion tobacco buyout. The ruling also said the companies were due a refund of payments made to farmers earlier in 2004. The four major tobacco companies agreed in 1999 to pay growers $5.15 billion in payments over 12 years. But last fall's tobacco buyout dismantled the decades-old federal tobacco price-support system and , according to a lower court rling in North Carolina, ended the Phase 2 payments.

Coal, doctors backed effort to oust W.Va. justice; Massey largest donor

Federal filings show the West Virginia Coal Association and a Wheeling physicians group contributed heavily to a political group that attacked former Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw during his re-election campaign last year, Paul Nyden reports in The Charleston Gazette. "Doctors for Justice," a group of physicians based in Wheeling, gave $745,000, while the Coal Association contributed $223,000. McGraw lost the November election to Republican Brent Benjamin, a Charleston lawyer.

According to the latest Internal Revenue Service report, the group raised more than $3.6 million between August and November. Most of that came from Massey Energy President Donald L. Blankenship, who gave nearly $2.5 million, 69 percent of the group’s total funding. Blankenship, the Coal Association and the doctors’ group accounted for 95.4 percent of all contributions to the group

Massey Energy is a defendant in several legal actions in which local residents are claiming environmental damages from its mining operations. The company is likely to appeal to the state Supreme Court a controversial ruling in favor of a former coal operator. That verdict is now worth $60 million. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based group that analyzes political contributions and expenditures, ranked the political group, called "And for the Sake of the Kids," the nation’s fifth-largest fund-raiser of all political groups directly involved in state elections or politics last year."

Reporting tip: Fast source for demographic rankings, maps based on Census

Wonder where your county ranks, and where it compares to other counties, in demographic trends such as education level, percentage of people over 65, or percentage of people who were born in your state? CensusScope can give you a quick answer. It’s a service of the Social Science Data Analysis Network at the University of Michigan. It offers graphics and exportable data, and “includes state, metro area and county data going back to 1980 or even earlier for things such as population growth, race, age structure, family structure and income,” says Mark Schaver, computer-assisted reporting director for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. He also recommends DataPlace, “which creates interesting maps and charts of states, counties and cities showing, by Census tract, the homeownership rate, poverty rate, unemployment rate, vacancy rate and the percent of housing units that are overcrowded. It's slick but still ‘beta,’ meaning it's still being developed.”

Fund-raising trail: Bipartisan combine sponsors event for journalism institute

Two prominent Kentucky officeholders, who have traded some jabs lately, are co-hosting a fund-raising reception on Feb. 11 to endow the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which is based at the University of Kentucky and, among other things, publishes The Rural Blog.

State Commerce Secretary Jim Host, a UK communications graduate, offered last summer to help IRJCI Interim Director Al Cross raise money for the institute's endowment. Host has long been active in Republican politics, and Cross, a former Courier-Journal political writer who resumed writing a column for the paper on an occasional basis in October, wanted to make the event bipartisan. Host agreed and invited state Auditor Crit Luallen, a Democrat who has been the recent target of some criticism from Host. Luallen, a potential candidate for governor in 2007 against Host's boss, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, has accepted.

The event will support the endowment needed to give the institute a permanent home in the university’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications and make it a force in American journalism. It will be held at the Crowne Plaza Lexington - The Campbell House, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $250 each; co-sponsorships are $500 per ticket. Invitations will be mailed soon. For more information, send Cross an e-mail or call him at 859-257-3744, or Janice Birdwhistell at 859-257-4241.

Later: We have ‘A. Cross’ to bear; roast set for veteran reporter, institute head

Al Cross, interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, spent 26 years terrorizing politicians of all stripes and at all levels, in pointed prose. Now many of them will have a chance to grill him, in acid humor, at a tribute-roast Feb. 28 in Frankfort.

Roasters at the event, for the educational programs of the Louisville and Bluegrass chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, will include U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Al Smith of “Comment on Kentucky” and Courier-Journal Editorial Director David Hawpe. Cross was the newspaper’s top political writer from 1989 until taking the helm of the institute in August.

The event will be held at the Holiday Inn Capital Plaza, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Invitations will be mailed soon. For additional details contact Chris Poynter of the Courier-Journal or Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader. –Bill Griffin, IRJCI staff assistant

Fun with wildlife, Part 1: Ohio proposes otter trapping; They otter know better!

Ohio's program to restore river otters has worked so well that state wildlife officials are proposing to join other states in a limited otter trapping season, reports The Associated Press. The river otter all but disappeared from Ohio in the early 1900s. Starting in 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife over seven years captured 123 otters from Arkansas and Louisiana and released them along state rivers. Now about 4,300 of the sleek, playful animals can be found in two-thirds of the state, especially eastern Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' wildlife division proposed a permit-only trapping season on Wednesday to the Ohio Wildlife Council. The season would run Dec. 26 to Feb. 28, 2006, in 43 counties. Twelve counties would permit trappers to kill one otter apiece. The other 21 counties would have a three-animal limit. Trappers would be required to take the pelts and skinned carcasses to a state wildlife inspector within three days.

Lacking natural predators such as wolves, the growing numbers of otters are starting to affect fish populations, or take over privately stocked farm ponds. Biologist Dave Risley told AP, "We're seeing an increase in complaints. One thing about otters: They're very efficient predators." There are 5,300 licensed trappers in Ohio; the number of people who receive permits to trap otters and beavers will be limited.

Part 2 : You lucky dog! Montana pooch survives eagle snatch, ordeal and cold

A dog survived a flight in an eagle's claws then endured a week of sometimes subfreezing weather before finding its way home, reports The Associated Press.

Bozeman, Mont., veterinarian John McIlhattan told AP, "He was chilled, but …seemed remarkably chipper for what he'd gone through." Freddie came home weighing about 3 pounds less than when he was last seen Dec. 29. The owner, Jill Slevin, said, "We're all just amazed. He's our miracle."

Freddie's return was signaled by the barking of Slevin’s other dogs. She carried him to McIlhattan, who said cuts around the dog's neck indicated it had been snatched by an eagle. Freddie had also suffered an eye injury and was covered by ice and insect bites. McIlhattan said the dog probably found a warm shelter, but had to share it with pests. "He's a pretty lucky dog to be getting home in this kind of weather."

Corrected item from Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005

(The hotlink for DataPlace was posted incorrectly on Thursday.)


Friday, Jan. 7, 2005

Senate panel grills Johanns about mad-cow disease, then OKs nomination

Agriculture Secretary-nominee Mike Johanns yesterday became the first of President Bush's second-term Cabinet choices to win Senate committee approval, but only after facing pointed questions about the administration's decision to reopen U.S. borders to Canadian cattle, reports The Associated Press.

The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved the Nebraska governor's nomination. Johanns, whose father was an Iowa dairy farmer, said, "I will always be a farmer's son with an intense passion for agriculture," writes AP's Libby Quaid. Johanns still needs confirmation by the full Senate before taking over for Ann Veneman at the Agriculture Department.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., asked Johanns to reconsider the administration's decision to lift in March a Canadian cattle imports ban, in light of a fresh case of mad-cow disease in Alberta. Conrad told AP, "I am far from convinced that Canada is effectively enforcing its own regulations." Johanns was noncommittal but promised to testify later before the committee on the issue. "I'm going to be as helpful as I can."

Senators from both parties also were frustrated about the ban on U.S. beef in Japan, previously the industry's biggest customer. U.S. beef was banned worldwide in December 2003 after a dairy cow in Washington state tested positive for mad-cow disease, writes Quaid. "This is priority No. 1," Johanns said. "Reopening (trade) with Japan is ...something that needs to occupy my personal time and effort."

Ky. attorney general asks quick N.C. Supreme Court ruling on tobacco payments

Kentucky's attorney general is asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to quickly review a judge's decision that major cigarette companies don’t have to make a final round of payments to tobacco farmers from a 1999 settlement, reports The Associated Press.

Attorney General Greg Stumbo filed the petition Wednesday, even though last month's ruling by Business Court Judge Ben Tennille is headed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, reports AP. The farmers affected are in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Alabama, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The new petition "asks the Supreme Court for a (direct) review of the decision … (and says) delaying the final decision ... would cause significant harm to thousands of people.” The appeal will decide whether some $424 million will go to hundreds of thousands of tobacco farmers or go back to tobacco companies.

The ruling last month that cigarette companies didn't have to make a final, $189 million payment to growers after the 1999 settlement was superseded by Congress' October approval of a $10.1 billion tobacco buyout. The ruling also said the companies were due a refund of payments made to farmers earlier in 2004. The four major tobacco companies agreed in 1999 to pay growers $5.15 billion in payments over 12 years. But last fall's tobacco buyout dismantled the decades-old federal tobacco price-support system and , according to a lower court rling in North Carolina, ended the Phase 2 payments.

Ky. governor ups ante on raising lowest cigarette tax; political climate better

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher may ask state lawmakers to pass a cigarette tax increase of about 40 cents per pack. Kentucky's current cigarette tax is 3 cents a pack, the lowest in the nation. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of Kentucky adults are smokers, the highest rate in the nation

The governor wasn’t specific but said there is "good support across the state" for a hike larger than the 26-cent increase he proposed last year, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. That idea was part of a proposed overhaul of the state's tax code, which became a sticking point and the state’s General Assembly adjourned without a state budget. This year, the political atmosphere is different, with no elections looming, Fletcher's Republican allies holding more seats in the House and passage of the tobacco buyout reducing the number of tobacco growers.

Fletcher signed the no-tax pledge drafted by Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist, who said during a visit tothe Capitol yesterday that a tax plan that raised some taxes ad lowered others, while raising the same amount of revenue, would not violate the pledge. He also said expansion of gambling, through racetrack slot machines or fu;ll-scale casinos, would not be a tax hike.

Coal, doctors backed effort to oust W.Va. justice; Massey largest donor

Federal filings show the West Virginia Coal Association and a Wheeling physicians group contributed heavily to a political group that attacked former Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw during his re-election campaign last year, Paul Nyden reports in The Charleston Gazette. "Doctors for Justice," a group of physicians based in Wheeling, gave $745,000, while the Coal Association contributed $223,000. McGraw lost the November election to Republican Brent Benjamin, a Charleston lawyer.

According to the latest Internal Revenue Service report, the group raised more than $3.6 million between August and November. Most of that came from Massey Energy President Donald L. Blankenship, who gave nearly $2.5 million, 69 percent of the group’s total funding. Blankenship, the Coal Association and the doctors’ group accounted for 95.4 percent of all contributions to the group

Massey Energy is a defendant in several legal actions in which local residents are claiming environmental damages from its mining operations. The company is likely to appeal to the state Supreme Court a controversial ruling in favor of a former coal operator. That verdict is now worth $60 million. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington, D.C.-based group that analyzes political contributions and expenditures, ranked the political group, called "And for the Sake of the Kids," the nation’s fifth-largest fund-raiser of all political groups directly involved in state elections or politics last year."

Rural banks branching into Iowa cities to counter rural population drop

In a reversal of the nationwide trend of moving out of the cities and into suburban communities, a federal conomist says rural Iowa banks are opening new branches in the state's urban centers as the population in rural counties continues to plummet, reports The Associated Press.

John Anderlik, with the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank's regional office in Kansas City, said 68 of Iowa's 99 counties lost population from 2000 to 2003. The proportion of Iowa branch banks located in urban areas increased from about four percent of the total in 1994 to nearly 14 percent in 2004. Seventy-four branch offices are now operated by rural financial institutions in Iowa's urban centers. They are operated by 40 rural banks, according to AP.

Fund-raising trail: Bipartisan combine sponsors event for journalism institute

Two prominent Kentucky officeholders, who have traded some jabs lately, are co-hosting a fund-raising reception on Feb. 11 to endow the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which is based at the University of Kentucky and, among other things, publishes The Rural Blog.

State Commerce Secretary Jim Host, a UK communciations graduate, offered last summer to help IRJCI Interim Director Al Cross raise money for the institute's endowment. Host has long been active in Republican politics, and Cross, a former Courier-Journal political writer who resumed writing a column for the paper on an occasional basis in October, wanted to make the event bipartisan. Host agreed and invited state Auditor Crit Luallen, a Democrat who has been the recent target of some criticism from Host. Luallen, a potential candidate for governor in 2007 against Host's boss, Gov. Ernie Fletcher, has accepted.

The event will support the endowment needed to give the institute a permanent home in the university’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications and make it a force in American journalism. It will be held at the Crowne Plaza Lexington - The Campbell House, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $250 each; co-sponsorships are $500 per ticket. Invitations will be mailed soon. For more information, send Cross an e-mail or call him at 859-257-3744, or Janice Birdwhistell at 859-257-4241.

Later: We have ‘A. Cross’ to bear; roast set for veteran reporter, institute head

Al Cross, interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, spent 26 years terrorizing politicians of all stripes and at all levels, in pointed prose. Now many of them will have a chance to grill him, in acid humor, at a tribute-roast Feb. 28 in Frankfort.

Roasters at the event, for the educational programs of the Louisville and Bluegrass chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, will include U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Al Smith of “Comment on Kentucky” and Courier-Journal Editorial Director David Hawpe. Cross was the newspaper’s top political writer from 1989 until taking the helm of the institute in August.

The event will be held at the Holiday Inn Capital Plaza, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Invitations will be mailed soon. For additional details contact Chris Poynter of the Courier-Journal or Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader. –Bill Griffin, IRJCI staff assistant

Ohio proposes limited otter trapping to thin population; They otter know better!

Ohio's program to restore river otters has worked so well that state wildlife officials are proposing a limited otter trapping season, reports The Associated Press. The river otter all but disappeared from Ohio in the early 1900s. Starting in 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife over seven years captured 123 otters from Arkansas and Louisiana and released them along state rivers. Now about 4,300 of the sleek, playful animals can be found in two-thirds of the state, especially eastern Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' wildlife division proposed a permit-only trapping season on Wednesday to the Ohio Wildlife Council. The season would run Dec. 26 to Feb. 28, 2006, in 43 counties. Twelve counties would permit trappers to kill one otter apiece. The other 21 counties would have a three-animal limit. Trappers would be required to take the pelts and skinned carcasses to a state wildlife inspector within three days.

Lacking natural predators such as wolves, the growing numbers of otters are starting to affect fish populations, or take over privately stocked farm ponds. Biologist Dave Risley told AP, "We're seeing an increase in complaints. One thing about otters: They're very efficient predators." There are 5,300 licensed trappers in Ohio; the number of people who receive permits to trap otters and beavers will be limited.

Eagle snatches Montana dog; survives ordeal & cold; you lucky dog you!

A dog survived a flight in an eagle's claws then endured a week of sometimes subfreezing weather before finding its way home, reports The Associated Press.

Boseman, Montana veterinarian John McIlhattan told AP, "He was chilled, but …seemed remarkably chipper for what he'd gone through." Freddie came home weighing about 3 pounds less than when he was last seen Dec. 29. The owner, Jill Slevin, said, "We're all just amazed. He's our miracle."

Freddie's return was signaled by the barking of Slevin’s other dogs. She carried him to McIlhattan, who said cuts around the dog's neck indicated it had been snatched by an eagle. Freddie had also suffered an eye injury and was covered by ice and insect bites. McIlhattan said the dog probably found a warm shelter, but had to share it with pests. "He's a pretty lucky dog to be getting home in this kind of weather."

Thursday, Jan. 6, 2005

Prejudice in any language is still prejudice; human rights are universal

By Al Cross, interim director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

When Brian Williams told us on NBC Nightly News Tuesday that some Arab media were asserting that the earthquake that caused the Indian Ocean tsunami was caused by “evil thoughts” and nuclear tests by the U.S., Israel and India, millions of Americans probably shook their heads, and some probably deepened their stereotypes of the Muslim world.

But a belief just as ridiculous, we think at this Institute, is the apparent opinion of many Americans that the civil liberties of some Americans should be limited just because they happen to be of the Muslim faith. And that offers some food for thought for those of us in the American media – and not just those who cover national and international issues.

Researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., found last fall that 44 percent of American adults wanted to limit the civil rights of U.S. Muslims in some way – from monitoring their Internet activities to indefinite detention. The poll, taken from Oct. 25 to Nov. 23, found that 48 percent did not support any restrictions on Muslims’ civil liberties. That made the results a statistical tie, because they were within the poll’s error margin of plus of minus 3.6 percentage points. (Margins of error apply to each result in a sample, not the difference in the results.)

As a longtime political writer in a rural state, and former rural editor, I suspect that rural Americans, who are less familiar with Islam and Muslim culture, are probably more likely to think of Muslims as potential terrorists. With these issues hitting home in the deaths and maiming of thousands of American soldiers, who are disproportionately rural, news outlets in rural areas need to take every opportunity they can to increase the understanding of Islam and Muslim culture among their readers, viewers and listeners.

That can take the form of commentary and news stories. For example, one rural newspaper I read regularly ran a small notice last month that a Baptist missionary who had spent 30 years in Bangladesh, a Muslim nation, would be speaking about Islam at a local Baptist church. What the newspaper did not do, unfortunately, was attend the event and write a story about it – a story that might have dispelled much of the fear, ignorance, myth and stereotyping surrounding these subjects.

It’s good to see churches holding such events, because responses to the Cornell poll followed religious lines. The survey found 65 percent of Americans who described themselves as highly religious said Islam encourages violence more than other religions; among those who were not highly religious, the figure was only 42 percent. The highly religious were also more likely to describe Islamic countries as violent, fanatical and dangerous. Politically, about 40 percent of Republicans, 24 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of independents said Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts. Likewise, 34 percent of Republicans said Muslim American civic groups should be infiltrated and that their mosques should be monitored, while only 21 to 22 percent of Democrats said so.

The poll also found a correlation between reliance on television news, fear of terrorism and support of restrictions on civil liberties of Muslim Americans. “The more attention you pay to television news, the more you fear terrorism, and you are more likely to favor restrictions on civil liberties,” said Erik Nisbet, a senior associate in Cornell’s polling unit. “Our results highlight the need for continued dialogue about issues of civil liberties in time of war,” said Cornell professor James Shanahan, a principal investigator on the study. We agree, and call on all our colleagues in journalsm, no matter where you are, to take heed.

The Media and Society Research Group in Cornell’s Department of Communication commissioned the poll. It was supervised by the Survey Research Institute in the university’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. To read their report, click here. To read the press release on it, click here.

‘See it for a mile’ – train crossing safety methods to become more reflective

In response to growing concerns about train-car collisions at crossings, many in rural areas, the U. S. Department of Transportation says within the next five years locomotives will be wrapped in reflecting paint or tape. Train cars will be painted with reflective materials within the next decade.

Reflective materials will be installed on the sides of locomotives and freight rail cars as a safety measure to make trains more visible to motorists at railroad crossings under a Final Rule published by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the Federal Register. Nearly one quarter of all highway-rail grade crossing collisions involve motor vehicles running into trains occupying grade crossings, says the FRA in a news release posted on its Web site. The rule is to go into effect March 4. The FRA claims that since 1994, because of increased safety effors, the number of vehicle-train collisions at highway-rail grade crossings has decreased by 41 percent and the number of fatalities has been reduced by 47 percent

“The large size and dark colorization of trains in combination with poor lighting or limited visibility may contribute to motorists having difficulty detecting the train in their path,” it reports. The reflective material will help reduce the number and severity of this type of accident by giving motorists an additional visual warning of the presence of a train, writes the FRA. For the full Federal Railroad Administration press release on the new rule click here. For a PDF version of the new rule itself click here.

Nude man's gambol reveals Wal-Mart policy: Ask us before taking any photos

Duane Roy, a computer network administrator for The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md., was on his lunch break Tuesday when he saw a naked man jogging and walking outside a Wal-Mart. He grabbed his camera and took pictures of the man's perambulations and arrest.

"Roy said a store official told him not to take pictures or publish them without getting permission," the Herald-Mail reported. "Then, a man in a suit who identified himself as a store security official ordered him to surrender his camera, Roy said. Roy said he refused, so the man demanded the film in his camera, unaware that it was a digital camera. Again, Roy refused. He locked the camera in his car." Roy told reporter Andy Schotz, "He said if I didn't turn the camera over to him, he would have me arrested" and banned from the store..

Alice Neff Lucan, an attorney for the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, told Schotz that Wal-Mart had no right to demand the camera because Roy was taking pictures of matters in public view and didn't violate any rights of the streaker or the store. A co-manager of the store said the security officer didn't the camera, but did ask for film, because Roy didn't have permission to take pictures on Wal-Mart's property. "Roy said police officers at the scene decided that store officials couldn't seize his camera, but they could ban him and have him arrested for trespassing if he returned," the Herald-Mail reported.

"Wal-Mart's policy that all photos taken on its property must be approved in advance includes breaking news coverage, company spokeswoman Christi Gallagher said. . . . Asked if journalists photographing unexpected news, such as a fire, need the same permission, Gallagher said they do. After hours, a journalist should call the company's 24-hour corporate hotline before taking pictures, she said."

Staples pulls ads from Sinclair news broadcasts; perceives them as ‘biased’

Office-supply retail giant Staples Inc. is pulling its advertising from news programming on Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. television stations, which serve disproportionately rural markets, saying the decision was fueled in part by e-mails from customers angry at what they consider to be the broadcaster's right-wing bias in news and commentary, reports the Washington Post.

The Hunt Valley-based Sinclair drew attention and criticism from some quarters in the weeks leading up to November's presidential election for airing parts of a documentary film critical of Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and his war record, reports the Post's Frank Ahrens. Sinclair, which is one of the nation’s largest broadcasting groups with 62 television stations in 39 markets; Staples has 1400 stores nationwide. The company says it will continue to buy advertising during other programs but, as of Jan. 10, no longer will advertise during news programs, which include "The Point," a daily conservative commentary by Sinclair Vice President Mark E. Hyman.

Staples spokesman Owen Davis told Ahrens advertising during Sinclair's news programs accounts for "a very small part of the overall buy," but he would not disclose the publicly traded company's ad budget. Sinclair chief executive David D. Smith said he was unaware of Staples' decision. He said he has received no complaints from advertisers regarding the broadcaster's news and commentary programming."No one from Staples has called me," he said. "I think I would eventually hear about it if and when it happens."

Media Matters for America, a liberal media group, began targeting Sinclair in December claiming the company abuses the public airwaves promoting a conservative agenda and doesn’t offer politically balanced news. Without citing the campaign, Staples said it received numerous customer complaints regarding the content on Sinclair news programs via e-mail, though it declined to say how many. The group has taken partial credit for the Staples decision, but said its intent was to inform advertisers of the nature of the news and commentary on Sinclair stations. "This was an attempt to encourage Sinclair to post a counterpoint to 'The Point'," said Sally Aman, spokeswoman. "A lot of advertisers don't know the exact content that's on channels they advertise on." Aman claimed advertisers received 36,200 e-mails from since Dec. 14.

Secondhand tobacco smoke lowers kids’ test results and IQ, research suggests

Children exposed to secondhand smoke had slightly lower scores on tests of math, reading and perception-and-reasoning skills, according to a study published in the January issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal.

The results are “very roughly equivalent to the loss of two to five IQ points at varying levels of exposure,” Kimberly Yolton of the University of Cincinnati, the study’s lead author, told the journal. Newswise, which reports online about scientific research, said the study was the largest-ever of its type, involving 4,399 children aged 6 to 16, and was the first “to use a biological marker — blood levels of cotinine, a breakdown product of nicotine — to measure exposure to tobacco smoke rather than relying on data from interviews or questionnaires. Cotinine is often used to measure tobacco smoke exposure in smokers and nonsmokers alike. Children who reported using tobacco products themselves within five days of testing, or whose cotinine levels indicated they were probably active smokers, were excluded from the study. “

Concentrations of cotinine “were significantly higher among African Americans (compared to Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites), among children of parents with a lower household income or lower educational achievement,” Newswise reported. “Consistent with earlier research, this study found that cotinine levels were significantly higher among children who lived in a home with at least one smoker. The levels increased as the number of smokers in a household increase and as the number of cigarette packs smoked per day in a household increase.”

The researchers estimated that about 22 million children are at risk for reading deficits related to secondhand smoke. “While further research is necessary to confirm these findings, this analysis along with other studies provides adequate evidence to support policy to further reduce childhood exposure to ETS,” they said in their article, available here.

270,000 acres of private forest land in Michigan to be preserved for public use

A deal has been reached to protect more than 270,000 acres of private, forested land in Michigan's Upper Peninsula for public use, two years after conservationists lost the land in a bidding war with a timber investment company, reports The Associated Press.

“Several charitable and conservation groups have agreed to pay $57.9 million to the timber company, The Forestland Group LLC, to ensure limited development on the land and timber harvesting under sustainable forestry guidelines,” writes John Flesher The Forestland Group, based in Chapel Hill, N.C., will continue to own all but 23,000 acres of the land. The Nature Conservancy will purchase that property. A conservation easement that allows sustainable timber harvesting, limited development and other restrictions to protect waterways will govern the land owned by the timber company.

Chris Zinkhan, Forestland Group managing director told AP the company bought the land from a private trust in Hawaii for an undisclosed amount in 2002 after outbidding a coalition of state and conservationist groups. Tax breaks guaranteed public access to the land, but in recent years, timber companies have sold off some acreage for residential development.

Helen Taylor, state director of The Nature Conservancy, said the deal helps link the private land with more than 2.5 million acres of protected forest and natural areas in the Upper Peninsula. Sam Washington, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, told Flesher, "It really cements a very large portion of the (area) for future generations, and we were particularly overjoyed that recreational access was a prime consideration."

Conservation group buys more southern Ohio land for protection

The Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has bought another large tract of land in Lawrence County -- some 1,107 acres -- about a year after buying about 2,500 acres of forested timber land near Pedro in Washington Township about a year ago, reports the Herald Dispatch.

The conservancy also purchased some 514 acres in adjacent Gallia County, giving the group about 4,000 acres of Appalachian forest land in southern Ohio. The conservation group has announced plans to resell the land to the U.S. Forest Service and make it part of the Wayne National Forest -- a move that concerns several local officials, writes David E. Malloy of the Huntington, W.Va., newspaper.

The dirctor of Nature Conservancy's Ohio chapter director, Rich Shank, said in a news release, "Together, these purchases protect more than 4,000 acres of Appalachian forest, one of the oldest and most diverse forest systems in North America," reports Malloy. "We’re protecting future forests," Shank said.

The transfer marks the completion of the largest land-protection project in the Ohio chapter’s 45-year history. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce told Malloy."Quite honestly, it’s our preference the property stay on the open market. Their intent is to sell it to the Wayne National Forest. Once it goes to the forest service, it falls under a number of restrictive covenants." Dingus said his concern is the land won’t be available for any type of commercial development.

Stewards awake! Church group may separate environmental, rural issues unit

The Kentucky Council of Churches is seeking to revitalize its ministry on the environment. The council wants to establish a separate program unit for rural life issues and a separate program unit for dealing with environmental concerns. The two currently interrelated areas may remain combined into one program unit, but the council says it is "testing the waters" to see if there is enough interest to form a new program unit to deal with environmental issues alone.

The council’s most recent policy statement on the environment can be found by clicking here. If you would like to serve on the Program Unit on Environmental Issues, contact the Kentucky Council of Churches' staff by clicking here.

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2005

Robert MacNeil returns to PBS and asks: 'Do You Speak American?'

Robert MacNeil, author of The Story of English and former PBS news anchor, explores the energy and flashpoints of the many ways Americans speak English -- and the links between language and race, gender, social standing and power -- in a series beginning tonight on some PBS stations, including KET in Kentucky. (Check your local listings.) It's called "Do You Speak American?"

MacNeil "heads into the Deep South for a look at Appalachian and 'hillbilly,' shaped by the Scots-Irish English of early frontier settlers like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett," KET reports. "Footage of the legendary North Carolina storyteller Ray Hicks, who died in 2003, captures a prime example of the dialect, and in Rabbit Hash, Ky., 'country talkin'' seems to be alive and kicking. MacNeil gets a first-hand glimpse into the world of CB radio thanks to Spanky the Trucker, whose nephew, the country singer Cody James -- an Oregon native -- discusses how speaking "country" has become a national trend."

Southern conference on new Democratic Party chairman set for Saturday

Rural and Southern concerns will be high on the agenda Saturday as Southern Democratic leaders hold the first of four regional conferences for potential candidates for the national party chairmanship.

“The battle for party chairman has taken on significance as an early indicator of the direction Democrats will take in the aftermath of John F. Kerry's loss to President Bush and the GOP's strengthened majorities in the House and Senate,” chide Washington Post political writer Dan Balz reports today. “The next party chairman will play an influential role, along with congressional leaders and governors, in determining where and when Democrats choose to confront Bush over the next two years and in organizing for the 2006 and 2008 elections.”

Balz points out, “The contest has ideological overtones -- with some Democrats arguing for a shift to the center to make the party more appealing to southern, western and rural voters -- and also will highlight the desire of many Democrats to strengthen state parties and maintain grass-roots energy and activism.”
Candidates definitely in the race are former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, former Denver mayor Wellington E. Webb, New Democrat Network founder Simon B. Rosenberg and party strategist Donnie Fowler of South Carolina, son of former party chairman Don Fowler.

“Former Vermont governor Howard Dean is exploring a run and has recruited several staff members should he enter the race,” Balz writes. “Former Michigan governor James J. Blanchard and Timothy J. Roemer, a former Indiana congressman and member of the panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, also are still mulling formal entries, but their decisions could be influenced by the amount of congressional or gubernatorial support they corral.”

Meanwhile, President Bush's campaign manager and choice for national Republican chairman, Ken Mehlman, said his co-chairman would be former Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson of Columbus, who headed Bush's Ohio Valley regional campaign and was instrumental in his capture of her state, which decided the election in his favor. Both parties require their top two officials to be of the opposite sex.

Meat industry says system working, farmers not so sure, in latest mad cow case

The American Meat Institute and the National Farmers Union have squared off with claim and counter-claim over the recent discovery of another case of mad-cow disease in Canada. The AMI says detection proves the system is working and trade with the nation’s neighbor to the north should move forward, while the NFU says the case should give pause to the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

J. Patrick Boyle, AMI President and CEO, proclaims in a news release on the AMI Web site, “The announcement by the Canadian government that a second case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow disease) has been detected in Canada should not impact the expanded beef and cattle trade with Canada.” “Given the risk mitigation strategies against BSE in Canada, the detection of future cases of BSE in Canada should not affect trade,” he continued.

The National Farmers Union strongly disagreed in a news release on its Web site. “The announcement from Canada that yet another animal was discovered to be BSE-positive should serve as a notice to U.S. Agriculture Department officials to withdraw their plan to reopen the border… not a notice to speed up the process. Secretary Ann Veneman should use this opportunity to take a step back and prioritize the interests of U.S. cattle producers and our market.” The NFU also cites outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson's concerns about the safety of imported food, and "similar sentiments" of outgoing USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Undersecretary, Elsa Murano.

Libel verdict by Minnesota jury sends chills through small newspapers

A $625,000 libel judgment meted out by a Minnesota jury against a small weekly newspaper in a western suburb of Minneapolis is reverberating in media circles nationwide, reports the Star-Tribune.

“The verdict ... resulted from an editorial written about an elected public official, a situation in which the courts have granted the press the greatest possible freedom,” writes David Peterson. The Villager's attorneys aren't claiming that the paper itself is in jeopardy, but warn that a verdict that big could mortally wound a newspaper that small, he writes. Mark Anfinson, attorney for the chain of small papers to which the Villager belongs, and for many other smaller papers told Peterson, "This would probably bankrupt two-thirds of the newspapers in the state of Minnesota."

Paul Hannah, another leading figure in the field who tried the case on behalf of the Villager, told the newspaper the award is several times higher than the most comparable recent case of its type and demonstrates the danger of juries simply picking numbers out of the air. "They asked the judge if there were any guidelines," he said, "and the answer is: No, there are not."

State Sen. Julianne Ortman, a Republican and the attorney who sued the paper, said there is no need for panic, writes Peterson. "This doesn't open any floodgates," she said. "It is almost impossible to find the kind of proof we found of malice on an editor's part. This is not happening all over Minnesota." Instead Ortman claims the opposite is true. "It is a very honorable profession that does a great public service. But the message of this case is that there are limits, even for them."

Georgia sheriff who fired two dozen employees ordered to rehire them

A newly sworn sheriff who posted snipers on the roof to keep the peace while he summarily fired more than two dozen employees was ordered by a judge Tuesday to hire them all back, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The newspaper reports the firings had “racial overtones.” The sheriff is African-American in a predominantly white county. The judge wrote in his order that Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill apparently fired the employees without cause and in violation of the county's civil service system, reports The Associated Press in its rewrite of the AJC article.

Hill took office Monday and spent much of his first day calling 27 department employees to the jail, stripping them of their guns and badges, and handing them photocopied dismissal papers. Sheriff's Department snipers stood guard on the roof of the jail as the fired workers were escorted out. Because they were no longer allowed to use their county cars, some former deputies were driven home in vans normally used to transport prisoners.

Hill told the Journal-Constitution he fired the employees to "maintain the integrity of the department." The newspaper reports he was among “a spate of black candidates elected last year in the county once dominated by rural whites.” The report notes the county seat, Jonesboro, was the setting for the fictional plantation Tara in Gone With The Wind. The fired sheriff's employees included four of the highest-ranking officers, all of them white. Hill told the newspaper their replacements would be black.

Judge slams Tennessee child protective services for ‘neglect’

In a problem that seems to permeate especially poor and predominantly rural states, a judge in Tennessee has slammed the agency in charge of protecting the state’s children for neglecting kids, and he rejected the agency’s defense of “lack of staff” as “no excuse.”

Davidson County Judge Steve Dozier “railed against the Tennessee Department of Children's Services” after he sentenced a father, who had previously appeared before him, to 18 months in jail for consistently neglecting his children, reports Tennessean Staff Writer Sheila Burke.

“The kids had been ordered removed from his home after their father's November 2003 arrest for child neglect but instead, police said, they found (the man’s) 3-year-old twin sons alone in his filthy home, with no heat or water, nearly a year after they were supposed to be living with a relative,” Burke writes. “A DCS official testified that the agency could not explain why no action was taken when social workers visited the father's home in October and saw the kids living there.”

Adrienne Stewart, a supervisor with the DCS Child Protective Services unit, took the stand and agreed that the case had been mishandled. Burke writes that Dozier asked the supervisor, ''Your department, DCS — you can't tell me when he got (the children) back? No, I cannot,'' Stewart replied. ''Do you perceive that as a problem?'' the judge asked. She said.''Yes, I do.'' The Tennessean also ran a story on additional examples of DSC cases that have caused considerable controversy. Click here for those stories.

West Virginia community upset with return of big dirty coal trucks

Coal trucks brimming with black cargo, weighing 60 tons, are again rumbling through a small West Virginia community because of new routing and weight restrictions, a problem the town thought waslong gone.

“Five years ago, residents of Chesapeake thought they had solved their dirt and grime problem by purchasing a set of vehicle scales,” reports staff writer Tom Searles in the Charleston Gazette. “Overweight coal trucks — many carrying loads as large as 165,000 pounds — suddenly bypassed the 2-mile-long town stretching along the Kanawha River. The town could finally enforce the 65,000-pound weight limit on its main street,” he writes.

The town’s Mayor, Damron Bradshaw, tells Searles, “The place got cleaned up in about two months. It looked real good.” But to prevent super-weighted coal truck, the Legislature passed a law allowing coal-haulers to legally carry up to 120,000 pounds on designated roads. A state route in Chesapeake was named part of the coal haulage system. Now the trucks are again rolling through the Kanawha County town of about 1,800 people, sludge sits along the side of the main street, and residents say they can’t keep their cars clean for even a day, writes Searles.

Mayor Bradshaw says between 300 and 400 coal trucks now drive through the town in a single day. Jack Spradling, a resident for more than 50 years, told Searles, “The whole town’s hot about this.” Residents also fear health problems for an elderly population breathing in that dust. Chesapeake resident Randall Boyd told the newspaper, “I’ve been here 38 years and it’s the worst ever."

Kentucky private college changes name to reflect added status

Cumberland College, a private Baptist institution in Williamsburg, Kentucky, is changing its name to reflect a new and expanded status.

The college will become University of the Cumberlands starting Friday, the school's 116th birthday, reports The Associated Press. President Jim Taylor said the change is to reflect the school now offers graduate degrees. "The mission of our college will not change, only the name. Cumberland will continue its traditions and affiliation with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, seeking to strengthen these ties," he said.

Vice President for Academic Affairs Don Good said Cumberland College will become one of four academic units of the university, referring to its undergraduate program. The title Cumberland University was already taken. A institution by that name is located in Lebanon, Tenn.

Anyone nicknamed ‘Crazy Red’ deserves a tribute; so does writer

The Courier-Journal's Kentucky columnist, Byron Crawford, is renowned for colorful rural-folk tributes. His latest catches our attention, and garners him and his venerable subject an IRJCI “Tip of the Hat.”

Crawford’s latest profile, in today’s edition of the Louisville newspaper, is about Mount Washington, Ky., merchant “Crazy Red,” which by country-folk standards is a title worthy of a Viking warrior or a Celtic bard. "Crazy Red's had not changed much in the 30 years since I was there last," and bought a pair of boots, Crawford writes. “Even Crazy Red, at age 80, was about the same, except that his once red beard and long hair were now white and his small store was now situated near the corner of Main and Ky. 44 … downtown … instead of in an old two-story house halfway up the block.”

Pure Crawford prose: “The affable Julian Lester Maupin will always be Crazy Red. The boots left tracks all the way from the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy to the Mississippi water's edge, and their soles have long since passed on. . . . But Crazy Red, like Father Time, was still here, numerous disasters, a few recessions, a new bypass and a few wars later. What lured me to his cluttered store back then brought me back again this rainy afternoon in January: Crazy Red himself. I like the name,” he writes. We do too. We salute Crazy Red, and the pen that has carved this poignant and respectful portrait.

Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2005

Drugs prompt Kentucky treatment centers; faith-based help works in Tennessee

Prompted by "an epidemic" of prescription drug abuse, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher unveiled a $9.5 million initiative for construction and operation of 10 statewide drug and alcohol treatment centers yesterday, as The Associated Press reported that Tennessee has added faith-based treatment to its arsenal in a war against methanphetamine addiction.

"We are engaging in a new strategy to overcome drug abuse in Kentucky with the establishment of housing recovery centers," Fletcher said in Pikeville, reports AP's Roger Alford. Each new center will treat either all men or all women. Fletcher wants a recovery center in each of the state's six congressional districts.

Dr. John P. Scanlon, medical director of the Pikeville Medical Center's detoxification unit, told Alford the proposed treatment centers are a good start. "If you were to put 1,000 residential treatment beds in southeastern Kentucky, it would not be enough." The governor said the recovery centers could save taxpayers millions of dollars in emergency room visits and jail costs. Deborah Yetter of The Courier-Journal also reported on the announcement from a more human aspect. Read her article by clicking here.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is reporting a number of women addicted to methamphetamines are finding healing in spiritual-based treatment programs. AP’s Lucas L. Johnson II reports on Tonya Mahan, a nine-year meth addict. "I didn't have anywhere to go. I had used up all my resources.” Mahan found Serenity House, a faith-based recovery program for women, which keeps its location a secret to protect its residents. Program director Niki Payne said all the women seem to benefit from the faith-based element of the recovery program, Johnson writes.

"It gives them hope, somebody stronger than them they can hold on to," said Payne, herself a recovered meth and cocaine abuser. "I didn't get clean until I got God. I recommend other programs incorporate that element." Tennessee Health Commissioner Kenneth Robinson said part of nearly $18 million in federal “Access to Recovery” grant money will go toward faith-based programs because of the "holistic approach" they use in treating addiction. Robinson, who holds both medical and divinity degrees, told Johnson, "The depths of caring, long-term spiritual support, comprehensive support to client and family will be particularly relative as we look for ways to treat meth addiction."

Speak and think purple, Texas Bush-watcher seems to tell Democrats

“Many Democrats blame the unenlightened people of red-state America for John Kerry's defeat. But most working-class Americans remain politically centrist and a rising number simply want to live in the fast-growing suburbs. Liberals should stop sneering at the people they aspire to lead,” Michael Lind writes in Prospect, a British magazine.

Lind, the author of “Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics” points the Democratic Party to a more southern latitude, dictated by the movement of electoral vote to the Sunbelt, but also a different attitude. He would retool the party’s philosophies and its communications efforts to the broad spectrum of moderate Middle America. He points to the GOP’s ability to better package its messages to keep its conservative base and appeal to more of the predominant center, and says Democratic leaders seem unable to ‘center-speak’ in a language that might be called ‘purple’ - a mix of red and blue. And, Lind says, the Democratic Party is lagging in its understanding of who Middle America is – a divide he labels “metro America vs. retro America.”

After documenting the Electoral College shift, Lind prophetically points to other philosophical, demographic and historical changes that have weakened or dispersed the Democratic Party over the past 40 years -- solidly refuting the notion that the party’s disadvantage is a short-term anomaly that can be weathered out, and reversed by demographic trends. “The truth is that the demographic prospects for blue-state Democrats are grim,” he says.

Lind contends that living in suburbia and exurbia is the desire of most Americans, with many moving there directly from small towns and rural areas, skipping the historically traditional stop-over in the nation’s big cities. He points to new immigration to Middle America, geographically and politically, and he says they are re-populating faster than the elitist left: “Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation has pointed out that in terms of fertility rates, the red states had a 12-point advantage over the blue states in 2004,” he observes. “This partly reflects the higher fertility of Latino immigrants in red states like Texas, but among white Americans fertility differences reflect a gulf between the religious and the secular. In largely Mormon Utah, there are 90 children for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age, compared to only 49 in the socially liberal Vermont of Howard Dean. According to Longman, Bush won a majority in 2000 in states
with above-replacement levels of 2.11 children per woman, while the Gore-Kerry states looked like Europe, with a below-replacement fertility rate. Retro America is outbreeding metro America.”

Lind says Bush learned from an early backlash that he could be too closely identified with Christian conservatives, some of whom called him “our friend and brother in Christ.” He began referring to “the Almighty” to appease a larger segment of voting America – a move that Lind notes was made by Robespierre in the French Revolution to unite his religiously polarized followers.

Lind says Democrats can also learn from Republican strategies and successes on the other two “G” issues in Retro-land. “What is true in the case of God is true in the case of gays and guns. … Unlike fundamentalists, a majority of Americans support gay rights and civil unions for gays and lesbians. At the same time, a majority of Americans oppose redefining marriage to include gay couples. Republican gay-baiting may have galvanized religious right voters, but only 22 per cent of voters claimed that they voted on the basis of moral values, (although of these, four out of five voted for Bush).”

Vast numbers of American gun owners, Lind defends, are not the paranoid stereotypes painted by the left. “The gun issue also has different connotations to centrist red-state Americans and far-right zealots. People who join paramilitary units and accumulate arsenals in anticipation of battling the government are considered dangerous lunatics in red-state America no less than in blue,” he writes.

“The Bush Republicans won in spite of their extremism, not because of it. They won because they played down what is weird and divisive in the ideology of the religious right … and appealed to the American center - a center which is now geographical as well as political. … Red-state America - inland, suburban and working-class - represents the future of the U.S. ... Conservatives … have managed to put together a majority coalition because they have learned to speak the populist language of the vast region between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Liberals can do so as well - but only if they stop sneering at the people they aspire to lead.” In other words: Call BR-549, channel Robespierre, and speak and think purple.

Auburn undefeated in football, but adpating to loss of farms in Alabama

Auburn University won the Sugar Bowl last night 16-13 over Virginia Tech, maintaining its undefeated season. Back in Alabama, the state's land-grant university is adopting a new game plan ot deal with changes in the state's agricultural economy.

Many see family farming as a dying breed, and to accommodate agronomy’s changing nature, Auburn is shifting its curriculum to meet the future needs of agri-business, writes Thomas Spencer in The Birmingham News. “In the not-too-distant future, the poultry barns (at Auburn) will come down to make way for a technology park. The replacement is more symbolic than significant.”

Barrett Stephenson, a senior in the university's College of Agriculture, has a generational and community link to working the land, but says even the older farmers back home tell him, “Why in the world you want to major in it?” Spencer writes, “Stephenson plans to be one of a rare breed. Only about 5 percent of about 1,000 students in the College of Agriculture plan to return to their family farm.” While the university’s ag enrollment increased to nearly 1100 last year from 734 in 1990, and continues to draw students with rural backgrounds, those students now get a curriculum “that encompasses law, science and business.”

Bill Hardy, associate agriculture dean, tells Spencer, “Half of the companies of the Fortune 500 are ag-related. Agriculture is more than plows, cows and sows.” New agriculture dean Mike Weiss said Auburn has to adjust from a historic focus of increasing farmers’ yields, to critical public issues such as food safety, health and diet. “As subdivisions continue to spread into rural land, the collision of rural and suburban raises political, legal and land-use issues,” writes Spencer. Ashley Green, a junior who plans to go on to law school to “stand up for rural interests and property rights in the legal system, tells Spencer, “I want to be like the link between farmers and the government.”

Limits eased on wolf killings in Idaho and Montana; environmentalists worried

Killing a gray wolf in Idaho or Montana will soon get easier under new rules issued Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reports The New York Times.

The animals are still protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, but starting next monh, they can be killed if a landowner believes a wolf is in the process of attacking livestock or other animals, writes Kirk Johnson. Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the Wildlife Service told Johnson, "Under the old rule, he had to have its teeth in; under the new rule he can be a foot away chasing them."

State and federal officials said that the looser standards reflect a robust recovery by wolves in the northern Rocky Mountain region, surpassing all expectations since the first experimental populations were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996, writes Johnson.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne told reporters, "The old rule was written to protect 25 to 50 wolves, and we now have over 500. The dynamics have changed." Environmentalists said the federal estimate of wolf mortality -- about 10 percent a year under the more flexible guidelines -- is deeply uncertain and could end up being much greater. Nina Fascione, a vice president for field conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group based in Washington told Johnson, "Ten percent in a large, healthy population might not have much impact, but we still have wolves struggling with recovery in some areas. With all the increased flexibility, I would be surprised if the impact is just 10 percent.”

Federal grand jury indicts five in Maryland subdivision fires

A federal grand jury has indicted five men in connection with fires that caused $10 million in damage last month to a new subdivision in southern Maryland, reports The New York Times.

“The plotting to set the fires, the indictment charges, began more than four months before Dec. 6, when the defendants are accused of kicking down doors, pouring accelerants and setting the blazes at the Hunters Brooke subdivision, 25 miles south of Washington in Charles County, “writes Gary Gately. The fires destroyed 10 empty houses and damaged 16 others in the "costliest residential arson in Maryland."

Federal authorities said that other suspects could be arrested and that other charges could be brought. Investigators have suggested revenge as a possible motive and that suspects had called the arsons “Operation Payback.” Prosecutors said "had not ruled out racism as a possible motive. All the suspects are white, and many of the home buyers at Hunters Brooke are black." The fires originally drew extensive coverage because the subdivision borders a federally protected mangrove swamp.

Drug use in mine, focus of explosion investigation, prompts guilty plea

An Eastern Kentucky coal operator has pleaded guilty to four federal mine-safety violations stemming from a June 2003 explosion that killed one miner, injured two others and focused attention on drug use in mining, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Paintsville operator Robert C. Ratliff Sr., owner of Cody Mining Co. No. 1 near McDowell in Floyd County, is scheduled to be formally sentenced in U.S. District Court in Pikeville May 2, Herald-Leader Eastern Kentucky Bureau Chief Lee Mueller reports. Ratliff could receive up to one year in prison for each violation and fines of up to $100,000 on each count. Earlier he was fined $536,050, the largest federal penalty ever in Kentucky and the third-largest in the nation against a coal operator or contractor.

Ratliff admitted his company failed to perform required pre-shift working area examinations at the time of the explosion; that excessive amounts of explosives were used; that a non-permissible drill was used; and miners unlawfully allowed to carry smoking materials inside the mine and smoke. In addition to the safety violations, investigators recovered a plastic bag in the mine containing three-tenths of a gram of marijuana.

Cody Mining was cited for violations including poor mining practices, failure to identify obvious hazards, and detonation of an excessive amount of explosives, which investigators said contributed to the death of a 21 year old miner. The father of the victim called the possible sentences "a slap on the wrist."

Asheville's first 'lady mailman' calls it quits after almost four decades

The only female mail carrier for 12 years in Asheville, North Carolina, called a “lady mailman” at the time, has called it quits after nearly 37 years on the job, reports the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Judy Morris officially retired January 2, reports Citizen-Times Senior Writer John Boyle. She was the second female carrier in the state, just three months behind, Betty Buchanan of Hendersonville. "I plowed a lot of new ground - that's why my feet are so bad. I was the only woman from late '68 to early '82.”

Breaking new ground brought some discirmination for the Black Mountain, N.C., native and other ladies that followed in her footsteps.. "The fact that a woman was doing it, it just didn't set well with them," Morris said referring to a few male carriers. "Some of them didn't like us working with them, and they would try to make you look bad."

The Asheville postmaster at the time, A.J. Garner III, spoke glowingly of Morris, writes Boyle. "She may wind up as the superintendent of delivery one of these days." But, writes Boyle, “Morris was content just carrying the mail, and she excelled at it.”

Monday, Jan. 3, 2005

‘Go west,’ some Democrats argue; others say act that way – and rural

Horace Greeley suggested that 19th Century pioneers “go west” to find fortune and fame. Today, some centrist Democrats are arguing likewise as their party tries to come up with a formula for an Electoral College majority. The Western Democrat website argues that they must not only go west, but act west –and rural.

The Western argument is made by Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute, with Al From and Bruce Reed, in the Democratic Leadership Council magazine Blueprint. “Marshall's right, in one sense: we can't win with just the West and the Blue States. Sure. Duh! But, he just doesn't get it. A Western strategy isn't just a geographical argument. It's a cultural one,” The Western Democrat says.

The site says Marshall “includes a new orientation on cultural issues, but the problem isn't the cultural issue. Rather, it's culture. The national standard bearers for our party are too Eastern, too prep-school, too brie and Chablis, too damn Washington D.C. Give me a candidate in boots and jeans, a candidate who speaks plain English, a candidate who can connect with real Americans... and I'll show you a candidate who not only wins the West, but in West Virginia, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, and even Virginia.”

Some of those states are not in the west, but have significant rural populations. “When Clinton ran in ‘92 and ‘96 he was able to pick up a handful of interior Western states. His appeal in the West was likely because he understood if not Western issues, but rather rural ones, that Democrats from the Northeast could not touch,” wrote Emmett O'Connell in a response on the Web site.

Rural doctors in Southern Colorado mobilize for national health care

Doctors in rural southern Colorado are mounting a campaign for national health insurance, reports Karen Augé of the Denver Post. “Rocky White is an unlikely radical,” Augé writes after her dateline of Alamosa, in the San Luis Valley. “A Nebraska-bred country boy, a Republican- voting, ranch-owning, small-town doctor, he hardly fits the profile of a wild-eyed revolutionary. But White and a handful of cohorts are, in fact, trying to foment upheaval.”

Augé conjectures, “It may be that this valley, like other rural areas, is a uniquely tough place to practice medicine. But it also may be that this valley, like other rural areas, is getting hit hard first. That the forces driving doctors and insurance companies out, squeezing hospitals to the breaking point in rural Colorado, are simply foreshadowing what is in store for metro areas. And some suggest that by wrestling with those problems now, small communities are in the vanguard, and the solutions they craft may offer road maps for the rest of the country.”

She reports these facts about the doctors: “In August, they invited virtually every health care provider in the five-county valley to hear their pitch for national health insurance. The response was so huge they had to move the evening meeting from White's office to the largest conference room in the largest hotel in Alamosa.”

She says White was pushed to support national health insurance “by the same forces that plague health care across the country: steep insurance premiums; soaring prescription-drug costs; 45 million Americans without health insurance; bureaucracy; and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that don't cover costs. In the San Luis Valley -- like many rural areas in Colorado and around the country -- those health care problems are writ large, magnified by the valley's intimacy and isolation, inflamed by its poverty. . . . Unemployment is high, and so are rates of diabetes and cancer. Statewide, about one in six people have no health insurance. Here, it is one in four.”

White calls those factors the “health-care death spiral,” which he and Augé describe this way: “Health care costs go up; fewer people can afford insurance. More people without insurance ‘creates more people that have to be seen in hospitals and emergency rooms, and who are unable to afford their bills.’ So hospitals charge more to insured patients. Then, insurance companies pass those increased costs on in the form of higher insurance rates. ‘And then ... more people are off the insurance rolls.’ Russell Johnson, chief executive of San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, is caught in that spiral. In the five years he's had his job, the number of people coming through his emergency room increased 35 percent.”

Traders having a heyday – or ‘hay day’ – with USDA info, site suggests

The agricultural Web site said last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture should crack down on leaks of market-moving information that the site’s writers think are improperly used by commodity traders.

“Traders love the USDA policy of holding on to market sensitive information until they decide it is time to let the public know,” the site said Friday. “In a government bureaucracy larger than many cities, there will always be leaks and no group is more adapt at exploiting those leaks than commodity traders. Friendships bud, favors appear and the wheels of commerce grind. It is a proven rule that the longer the government waits to release sensitive information, the wider distribution the information will achieve. Abuse of the use of the information is not a possibility, it is a probability or some would say a certainty."

At the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, “Traders are having a hay day at the expense of the poor idiots who are not linked into the USDA pipeline,” the site said. “USDA is allowing market-moving information to slip into the public arena where insiders are profiting from trading positions established prior to public announcements by USDA. The most recent instance occurred earlier this fall when an inconclusive mad cow candidate was found to be negative . . . and the government choose to wait two days before releasing the information. In the interim, futures prices skyrocketed and inside traders profited on the leaked news.”

USDA’s announcement last week that imports of Canadian beef would resume “was made to the public yesterday at 3 p.m.,” the site said. “This was not news to some traders who had been selling futures for two days. Uninformed market participants were puzzled by the aberrant market behavior. Futures prices were crashing while cash prices in Nebraska were rising and box beef prices were moving dollars higher. No one begrudges an astute trader a profit made using guile and thoughtful analysis or even just plain brash guts. Everyone objects to the inappropriate use of inside information. USDA obviously can not control access to market moving information so they better release it.” The Agriculture Department has not responded to The Rural Blog’s request for comment. Other reports on Mad cow: How it changed an industry. Monopsony: The battles of captive supply.

Canada Confirms Second Mad Cow Case; checking feed sources

An industry source briefed by veterinary officials said a final laboratory test has confirmed an Alberta dairy cow had mad cow disease, the second case Canada has found in its herd, reports Reuters.

Roberta Rampton writes the animal did not enter the food or animal feed supply so “there was no risk to the public.” Canada's first reported indigenous case of mad cow disease was found in May 2003 and cost farmers about $5 billion in domestic dollars when its trade partners closed their borders to the country’s beef and cattle.

The first U.S. case, found in Washington State in December 2003, also affected a cow that had been born in Canada. The most recent afflicted animal was born in October 1996, reports Reuters. The industry source told Rampton, "You've now got a grouping of three animals born very close together in time," and they added the agency was investigating whether the animals shared a common contaminated feed source.

Rural Utah utility co-ops offering renewable energy ‘green’ pricing

Customers of six rural co-ops in Utah may now participate in a "green pricing" program, which allows customers to pay the additional cost of renewable power and choose how their electricity is produced, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Rosemary Winters writes of one customer, Cathy McCrystal, who “leapt at the chance” when she found out that she could purchase clean, renewable energy for her home. “Delivered by her local utility… her electricity still comes from the Western grid, but 300 kilowatt hours of renewable energy have been transferred into the pool in her name.”

“Dubbed ‘GreenWay', the program gives co-op members the option to pay $1.95 per 100 kilowatt-hour block of renewable power on top of their monthly power bills,” writes Winters… (The program) then buys that amount of power from a renewable energy producer.” McCrystal tells Winters."The air, even out here, is getting polluted. I doubt that my $5.85 [each month] is going to change the world, but it's a start."

We all have our ‘Cross’ to bear; roast set for veteran reporter, IRJCI Director

Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Director Al Cross spent 26 years terrorizing politicians of all stripes and at all levels (in pointed prose), now many of them will have a chance to grill him (in acid humor) at a combined Louisville and Lexington chapters Society of Professional Journalists tribute-roast February 28th in Frankfort.

The event will include roastmasters “U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell… Al Smith of “Comment on Kentucky” and Courier-Journal editorial director David Hawpe,” reports the Louisville newspaper. Cross was its top political writer from 1984 till his appointment as head of the IRJCI in August of last year.

The event is being held in the Grand Ballroom of the Holiday Inn Capital Plaza, beginning at 6:30 p.m. For additional details contact Chris Poynter of the Courier-Journal at or Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader at

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The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, East Tennesee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.






Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
College of Communications & Information Studies

122 Grehan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0042

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

Questions about the web site: Contact Al Cross, interim director,

Last Updated: Jan. 31, 2005