The Rural Blog Archive: January 2006

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

Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006

Study by Wal-Mart indicates meth abusers costing employers millions nationwide

The methamphetamine epidemic, which began in rural America and remains disproportinately rural, is taking its toll on corporate profit and loss statements nationwide.

"A recent study funded by the Wal-Mart Foundation determined that each meth-using employee costs his or her employer $47,500 a year in terms of lost productivity, absenteeism, higher health-care costs and higher workers' compensation costs," reports Erin Moriarity of MSNBC.

The study, conducted in 2004 in Benton County, Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., surveyed 2,934 workers at several companies about meth, notes Moriarity. Using an economic model, researchers calculated that one county's meth problem was costing employers about $21 million a year. A 2005 study of a neighboring county showed employee meth abuse cost employers $24 million a year.

Katherine Deck of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, which conducted the study, told Moriarity, "People were absolutely shocked. The numbers are really big when you think about what $21 million means to a relatively small community."

Deck recommends employers educate themselves about meth and raise employees' awareness about the drug. She told Moriarity, "Employers everywhere certainly need to be aware of what's going on. It's a problem that is becoming dramatic very quickly. It's sneaking up on folks." (Read more)

Proliferation of meth labs causing farmers fertilizer problems, reports Ohio paper

Anhydrous ammonia fertilizes crops and makes methamphetamine, so the latter makes it a target for thieves. That, along with handling hazards, makes it unattractive to sell, reports the Mount Vernon [Ohio] News.

"Anhydrous ammonia is no longer available from any Knox County farm supply dealer," writes the newspaper's George Breithaupt. Jim Boyd of B&B Farm Service, the last area dealer to sell anhydrous ammonia, told Breithaupt, “It [security] was one of the factors — probably the final straw — but not the only one. We knew they’d [the thieves] been here. They’d leave tanks and leave valves open. Most everything they were into was empty. We were debating before that started to happen and I guess that was one of the things that pushed us.”

Knox County Sheriff David Barber told Breithaupt the proliferation of meth labs is becoming more and more of a problem in rural areas because of the relative ease of obtaining the anhydrous ammonia. He advises area farmers to bring the tank back in from the field and store it in a well-lit secure structure. (Read more)

Anhydrous ammonia can causes severe burns and damage the eyes and respiratory tract, notes Breithaupt.

Drugs, not poverty, are driving force behind crime, say East Tennessee officials

Sevier County, Tennessee, is finding that drug use is playing a much larger role in crimes of desperation than does poverty.

Detective Jeff McCarter told Jeff Farrell of The Mountain Press in Sevierville, "[With] most of the people we deal with on poverty-related crime, the money is going to support a drug habit." McCarter said methamphetamine, crack, oxycontin and similar pharmaceuticals are often the drugs of choice.

Sheriff Bruce Montgomery told Farrell, "If poverty is that bad, they don't have the resources to (commit crimes)." Montgomery added that "when poverty is really the primary issue facing local families or residents, they tend to focus on finding work or getting jobs that pay more." (Read more)

Sociologists like Lois Presser of The University of Tennessee are reevaluating the role poverty plays in crime rates. Presser told Farrell, there is some correlation between poverty rates and street crimes, but sociologists are considering what underlying factors contribute to that. "We have a boatload of theories," she said. "I'm a professor and I have things to lose, including intangibles ... like reputation. They [the poor] have fewer things to lose." The U.S. Department of Justice has also looked at the relationship between poverty and crime and one study found more domestic violence in poor households and in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Very small daily probes potential impact of Maytag leaving Newton, Iowa

When the 15,550 residents of Newton, Iowa, learned Dec. 22 about Maytag Corp.'s pending sell to rival Michigan-based Whirlpool, the town started wondering about the deal's impact. Just last year, Maytag had laid off employees, but still accounted for roughly 72 percent of the the county's manufacturing jobs.

The 5,476-circulation Newton Daily News, backed by its parent company, Shaw Newspapers, took a proactive approach to the possible impact of Maytag's sell. "Instead of hiring a full-time reporter from outside the newspaper, Editor Peter Hussman insisted that a local person cover the story. He took on that responsibility and the paper hired a full-time employee to assist in the newsroom. Shaw Newspapers and President Tom Shaw also funded the hiring of Steve Gray, managing director of the American Press Institute’s 'Newspaper Next' project and Inland past president, to facilitate the process of informing the public," writes Randy Craig for The Inlander, the periodical of the Inland Press Association.

In addition to a series, the newspaper hosted a community forum that attracted 100 people to examine the potential risks to the community should the sell be approved, the community’s strengths that will remain and avenues for continued economic prosperity.

"Perceptions have changed since the series began in August, Hussman said. The forum revealed the community had strengths beyond Maytag’s presence. The series showed that some signs of the economy remained strong even during the first onslaught of Maytag job reductions. These were things that the competing media outside of Newton failed to see or report," writes Craig. (Read more)

Mine-safety agency mulling new rules after recent disasters; regs rejected earlier

Federal mine regulators are considering safety improvements to help miners survive underground fires and explosions, after one of the deadliest months for coal mining in years. The proposals include mandatory caches of oxygen tanks and breathing masks inside every coal mine.

"The idea may have struck some miners as familiar, because it was. A similar proposal was put forward by the same regulators six years ago, only to be scrapped by the Bush administration shortly after it took office. And the oxygen caches were not the only proposed safety improvement to be withdrawn," writes Joby Warrick of The Washington Post.

A review of agency records shows the administration abandoned or delayed implementation of 18 safety rules proposed in the closing months of the Clinton administration. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has revived at least two of the dropped proposals in the wake of deadly accidents at the Sago and Alma mines in West Virginia, writes Warrick. Ken Ward Jr. also reports on the MSHA developments in today's Charleston Gazette. (Click here to read Ward's story)

In addition to the proposal to require caches of oxygen tanks, MSHA is again considering expanding the number of mine rescue teams available to respond to disasters. A similar proposal to beef up rescue teams was scrapped by the agency in 2002, agency records show. MSHA acknowledged dropping Clinton-era safety proposals to pursue its own regulatory agenda, but an agency spokesman told Warrick the commitment to safety has not diminished. (Click here to read Warrick's storyt)

N.Y. Times spotlights closure of Courier-Journal bureaus, especially Hazard

The closing of The Courier-Journal's bureaus in Hazard, Paducah and Elizabethtown, Ky., reported here last month, got a close examination yesterday from New York Times media reporter Kit Seelye.

"The paper is shifting its resources to Louisville's growing suburbs, following a national trend of enhancing local coverage, and it wants to build its presence online," Seelye writes. "Newspapers across the country are retrenching, redeploying their employees and resources while they try to ride out what they hope is a temporary slump but one made all the more worrisome as readers and advertisers migrate to the Internet. These strategic decisions, about what to keep and what to cut, determine which regions and which issues receive attention and which do not." In this case, coal mining, which needs more coverage, will get less.

"The Hazard bureau . . . is closing just as the coal-mining industry is resurgent and mine safety issues are back in the news," Seelye wrote after a trip to Hazard. Former state and federal mine-safety regulator Tony Oppegard told her, "In this climate, you need a watchdog like The Courier-Journal all the more. The Courier-Journal has really been the voice for people in Kentucky who don't have a voice otherwise."

Courier-Journal executives told Seelye that mining issues would be covered by reporters in Louisville. Special-projects reporter R. G. Dunlop, who was the Hazard reporter in 1978-86, told her, "It's hard to have your ear on the ground when the ground is 200 miles away." He added, "We will bring less expertise to the table when the time comes to cover issues in Appalachia, if we choose to do so at all."

Another Hazard bureau alum, C-J Editorial Director and Vice President David Hawpe, told Seelye his section is recruiting writers around the state to spotlight issues beyond the metro area. "Breaking-news stories are not the issue," he said. "The issue is will we have the contacts, the eyes and ears ... . If we don't do a good job, our historic connection with the rest of the state will fall apart." (Read more)

Near Kentucky's eastern tip, Marty Backus, publisher of the thrice-weekly Appalachian News-Express, recalls "when the big dailies used to be plentiful around here. Papers from Ashland, Huntington, Louisville, but all have pulled out of our area. But don't worry, we're here to provide you with the news happenings in Pike County and with some news from Kentucky. We're here to stay with you, Pike County!" (Read more)

Officials closing loophole that allows overweight trucks on Kentucky coal-roads

While the Courier-Journal has abandoned its presence in Eastern Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader is still there with veteran reporter Lee Mueller, who has covered coal-related issues for decades and this week did a story that appears to have prompted the closing of a loophole for heavy coal trucks.

"Kentucky transportation officials have stopped issuing permits that allow coal trucks with extra axles to exceed state weight limits on Eastern Kentucky highways. The decision, announced after highway officials met with Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement agency officers, will let die a little-known exemption that state attorneys agree should never have been issued, said Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the Transportation Cabinet," writes Mueller, who did a story about the loophole in yesterday's paper.

Hogan told Mueller, "This was just a blanket approval, basically, to be overweight and that's an approval we are rescinding immediately and there will not be any additional approvals in April when the existing permits expire." Hogan also told Mueller that fewer than 30 permits will be affected, and that he did not know when the cabinet decided to begin issuing the truck-axle exemptions. The numbers increased from one in 2000 to 19 in 2005.

The provision was included anonymously as a committee substitute in Kentucky's 1986 law that already allowed coal trucks to haul 46,000 pounds, or 23 tons, more than the 80,000-pound federal weight limit on other trucks. More than 2,900 of those permits have been issued, writes Mueller. (Read more)

You heard it here first: USDA proposal for China to process poultry for U. S.

The Associated Press is now reporting what The Rural Blog first reported Nov. 29, that the Department of Agriculture wants to allow shipments of poultry that have been processed in China into the U.S. Thousands of birds and several people in China have died from bird flu.

The U.S. does not accept live poultry imports from countries where the virulent bird flu strain is present, and it still would not under the new proposed policy. [But] critics of the plan want the proposal dropped, and the U.S. industry says allowing the shipments could create safety concerns with consumers, writes AP's Libby Quaid.

China would process poultry slaughtered in the U.S. or in other countries from which the U.S. accepts poultry. Senator Tom Harkin, who is on the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Quaid "it is not wise" to allow processed poultry imports from China right now. National Chicken Council spokesman Richard Lobb told Quaid, "The timing is a mystery to us. We did not seek this rule. We're not objecting to it, but we didn't support it, either." (Read more) For The Rural Blog's initial item, click here.

Landfill lighting homes, powering community with methane-recovery project

A Missouri landfill project has given new meaning to the adage "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

"Randy Haggard fires up a massive boiler [that] sits inside a shack at the county landfill. Within moments, the shack is filled with a whine as pressure rises in the boiler, creating steam that cranks a turbine to a 525-kilowatt generator. The electricity will be pushed onto Empire District Electric Co.’s grid, the first time electricity will be provided to the Joplin utility from a [trash-to-cash] landfill methane project," writes Adam Bednar of The Joplin [Mo.] Globe.

Haggard told Bednar the idea struck him as he was watching the flame used at the site to burn off excess methane caused by the decomposition of waste at the landfill. Clyde Longan, who installed and maintains the boiler, told Bednar, "There was a lot of energy just burning off into the atmosphere."

Generating electricity from methane is not unique to the Newton-McDonald County Landfill, notes Bednar. Other operations are using landfill methane to heat schools and businesses, or selling the power generated by the rotting coffee grounds, newspapers and other materials, he writes. Jim Hull, solid waste management program director for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, told Bednar, "It’s something that most landfills, if it’s not already on their plate, are considering it. "Haggard predicts that the sale of electricity will pay for the $150,000 in setup costs within a year, writes Bednar. (Read more)

Connected in crisis: Ideas to resolve emergency-call problems of Internet phoning

If you live in an area covered by 911 service, you probably take it for granted, but that's not how it has been for the first few years of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, writes David Radin, technology reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Emergency phone service in rural areas is an especially critical issue.

"If you use VoIP to connect your phone to the Internet instead of using a standard phone line, your call might have been forwarded to the 911 switchboard -- or it might have gone to an administrative number at a local police or public service department. If it went to the latter, you might have reached a voice mail box and your message might not have been heard for hours -- hardly a good solution for time-critical emergency situations," writes Radin.

Radin notes that "despite the warnings of the VoIP services ... that they didn't offer your father's 911 service, people didn't realize that there was a significant difference between their VoIP 911 and traditional 911. So problems have resulted. A woman in Deltona, Fla., blamed Vonage because her baby died after the woman was unable to reach 911 assistance. In Texas, a girl was unable to obtain emergency aid by dialing 911 after she saw her parents shot by an intruder."

This has prompted the FCC to require VoIP vendors to provide an equivalent to traditional 911 in order to connect their calls into the public telephone system. "The vendors have been implementing the orders so your 911 calls now should go to the proper 911 switchboard," writes Radin. (Read more)

Hitchhiker's guide: Thumbing becomes one man's necessity, journey, cause

For many, especially military personnel and thousands affected by the Great Depression, hitchhiking was a necessity of life through much of the last century, when a waiving thumb was a widely accepted ticket to ride through the vistas of rural America. For one suburban Washington, D.C. man, transit has become his cause.

John Schindel, a 40-year-old construction site foreman, is a hitchhiker. "Since a drunken-driving conviction a decade ago that left him unable to drive to sites around Washington, he has relied on the kindness of strangers and neighbors who see the vest and working man's lunchbox and feel moved to share their nice, warm cars with a musty-smelling stranger," writes Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post.

In the 10 years since he was declared a habitual offender, Schindel has depended on hitchhiking to get to his job site, wherever it is in the area. Schindel has to decide each morning "whether to stick with the ride or to try to connect with some other patch on his quilt of transportation methods," writes Boorstein.

And, Schindel has become an unelected statesman for carless, struggling exurban workers, lobbying for bus service everywhere from the Stafford County supervisors' meetings and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's recent Fairfax transportation forum to the Pentagon slug line, notes Boorstein.

Known as "Hitchhike," Schindel has ridden with assistant Redskins head coach Joe Bugel, and three men who were about to rob him before he bailed out into a snowbank at 35 mph. "He has been spat at, yelled at, swerved around -- deliberately, he believes -- and been the target of flying bottles. He has become more grateful for what he has but also more ruthless, confronting people at neighborhood picnics who don't pick him up," writes Boorstein. (Read more)

Jim Amoss of Times-Picayune chosen Editor & Publisher's 'Editor of the Year'

Jim Amoss, editor of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, is Editor & Publisher's 2006 Editor of Year.

"In an unprecedented 10-page profile for the February 2006 issue, E&P's Mark Fitzgerald reveals that Amoss is being honored for directing his newsroom in its remarkable coverage 'before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina hit' in New Orleans last August," writes Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher.

The story recalls the newspaper's extensive past reporting on the city's vulnerability, especially the "Washing Away" series by reporters John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein that predicted with eerie accuracy the horrific consequences of poor emergency preparedness planning by local, state, and federal governments.

Times-Picayune journalists accomplished all this, E & P notes, despite being forced to evacuate their newsroom and produce a paper on the fly with help from two other Louisiana dailies. Amoss, E & P writes, "has presided over the final burial of a reputation for mediocrity that dogged the paper for so long." (Read more)

Rural Calendar: Entry deadlines for three media contests TODAY

Feb. 1: Deadline for entries in Inland Press Association non-daily contest

The Inland Press Foundation invites non-daily newspapers to enter the Nation’s Best Non-Daily Newspaper Contest. This contest recognizes non-daily newspapers’ efforts in producing high-quality editorial material; presenting innovative, attractive packaging of that material; and serving their communities effectively as a source for news and information.

The contest is open to all U.S. newspapers published for general circulation at least weekly but not more than three days per week. There will be one award in each of three circulation categories: Under 5,000; 5,000 to 10,000; Over 10,000.

Winning newspapers will be honored at Inland’s Weekly Newspaper Conference Feb. 23-25 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. First, second and third-place awards will be presented for each category. Each of the following judging criteria will be given equal weight:

Quality of Writing and Reporting: In news, features, sports, columns, business, entertainment, enterprise projects, editorials and other types of stories. Readability, clean copy, strong headlines, and stories that maintain the readers’ interest while provoking thought and emotion will be valued.
Story Selection: Breadth and depth of community coverage, intensity of local focus and commitment to adding value for the reader. Judges will look for fresh treatments of tired subjects and stories that offer guidance, possible solutions, helpful explanations or sources for additional information.
Design and Presentation: Quality of graphics, photography, layout, typography and other art elements, and how they work together to enhance readership and the dissemination of information.
Community Focus: Features, special sections or niche publications, news packages, editorial series and other newspaper services that increase the value of the paper to its readers and community. Judges will look at ways the newspaper advances the public good.

A newspaper’s entry will consist of three issues: one issue of the newspaper from each of two specified weeks, and one issue that will be the entrant’s choice. Pre-selected weeks are April 3-9 and July 3-9, 2005. The entrant’s choice can be any issue published in 2005.

Entrants must also fill out an entry form and provide a short narrative in support of their entry. Forms are available from the Inland Web site, www.inlandpress.org. Go to the File Gallery and select “Current Contests.” An entry fee of $15 will be required for Inland member newspapers; $25 each for nonmembers. Make checks payable to Inland Press Foundation. For more information, contact Elaine Lange at Inland, (847) 795-0380 or e-mail elange@inlandpress.org.

Entries must be received by Feb. 1. Entries should be sent to: Inland Press Foundation, ATTN: Non-Daily Contest, 701 Lee St., Suite 925, Des Plaines, IL 60016. For an entry form, click here.

Feb. 1: Nomination deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award, honoring editor

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is seeking nominations, justification for nomination, and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on Contests.

Feb. 1: Nominations due for Spadaro Awards for media arts and technology

One of the Jack Spadaro Awards is given annually to recognize the best documentary on Appalachia or its people. The award recognizes the producer for outstanding work in film, video, television, or radio. Eligibility and technical requirements for nominations are available from Jack Wright at 740-597-3080 or jwright@ohio.edu. Complete nomination materials are due Feb. 1, 2006.

A second award, the e-Appalachia Award, is given annually to an outstanding Web site that provides insight on Appalachia and its people, or provides a vital community service to Appalachians. Nominations should be made to: Roy Silver at 606-589-3139 or at rsilver@uky.edu before February 1, 2006.

Monday, Jan. 30, 2006

N.Y. Times spotlights closure of Courier-Journal bureaus, especially Hazard

The closing of The Courier-Journal's bureaus in Hazard, Paducah and Elizabethtown, Ky., reported here last month, got a close examination today from New York Times media reporter Kit Seelye.

"The paper is shifting its resources to Louisville's growing suburbs, following a national trend of enhancing local coverage, and it wants to build its presence online," Seeyle writes. "Newspapers across the country are retrenching, redeploying their employees and resources while they try to ride out what they hope is a temporary slump but one made all the more worrisome as readers and advertisers migrate to the Internet. These strategic decisions, about what to keep and what to cut, determine which regions and which issues receive attention and which do not." In this case, coal mining, which needs more coverage, will get less.

"The Hazard bureau . . . is closing just as the coal-mining industry is resurgent and mine safety issues are back in the news," Seeyle wrote after a trip to Hazard. Former state and federal mine-safety regulator Tony Oppegard told her, "In this climate, you need a watchdog like The Courier-Journal all the more. The Courier-Journal has really been the voice for people in Kentucky who don't have a voice otherwise."

Courier-Journal executives told Seelye that mining issues would be covered by reporters in Louisville, but special-projects reporter R.G. Dunlop, who was the Hazard reporter in 1978-86, told her, "It's hard to have your ear on the ground when the ground is 200 miles away." He added, "We will bring less expertise to the table when the time comes to cover issues in Appalachia, if we choose to do so at all."

Another Hazard bureau alum, C-J Editorial Director and Vice President David Hawpe, told Seelye his section is recruiting writers around the state to spotlight issues beyond the metro area. "Breaking-news stories are not the issue," he said. "The issue is will we have the contacts, the eyes and ears ... . If we don't do a good job, our historic connection with the rest of the state will fall apart." (Read more)

Near Kentucky's eastern tip, thrice-weekly Appalachian News-Express Publisher Marty Backus recalls "when the big dailies used to be plentiful around here. Papers from Ashland, Huntington, Louisville, but all have pulled out of our area. But don't worry, we're here to provide you with the news happenings in Pike County and with some news from Kentucky. We're here to stay with you, Pike County!" (Read more)

Canadian miners escaped catastrophe, retreated to 'safe rooms' until rescued

Seventy potash miners took to safe rooms as refuge from an underground fire at a potash mine in the province of Saskatchewan until rescue crews were able to bring them back to the surface this morning, reports Tim Cook of The Canadian Press. "Officials breathed a huge sigh of relief as they were able to extinguish the blaze and determine all the workers were safe and healthy," writes Cook.

Mosaic Company, a U.S.-based firm, operates the mine about 130 miles northeast of the provincial capital of Regina. Rescue teams wearing breathing apparatus rotated shifts every few hours in the mine. About 20 hours after the event began, the fire was finally put out and work was begun on clearing the smoke so the miners could be brought out safely, reports Cook.

"The miners, who had been on shift since 7 p.m. on Saturday night, reported smoke and then headed for the safe rooms, sealed-off areas that can be as large as 15 meters by 45 meters and have an internal supply of oxygen that lasts up to 36 hours, along with food, water, chairs and beds," writes Cook. (Read more)

West Virginia governor gaining national largess from coal mining deaths, actions

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's handling of back-to-back coal mining tragedies has caught the attention of a nation and a region, and political observers "with his caring, compassion and commitment to action," reports The Associated Press.

Marty Backus, publisher of the thrice-weekly Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville, Ky., praised Manchin in a column yesterday and joined those who are saying he could be a national figure. "There will be one rising star as a result of the recent disasters in our mining communities," Backus writes. "Right now, he has the highest rating of any governor in the United States. His citizens give him an 80 percent approval rating, and if the national Democratic Party is looking for a new hero then they need to keep an eye on Manchin." (Read more)

AP's Vicki Smith writes, "The first-term Democrat ushered a landmark mine-safety bill through the state Legislature, then went to Washington to urge federal lawmakers to do the same." Donald Boylen, a retired coal miner, told Smith, "I'm a Republican, but if I ever meet the man, I will shake his hand because he has done a great job." Manchin spent nearly 90 hours with miners' families over three weeks, first at Sago where 12 coal miners were killed, then at Aracoma Coal's Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, where two died, notes Smith. Boylen told Smith, "There's governors who came and left, but he came and stayed."

Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has given Manchin the title "comforter in chief," and praised him for an "excellent political response." Manchin, writes Smith, "plays down his newfound popularity, saying he'll use it to improve education and job opportunities for West Virginia families." He told Smith, "I'm very honored by this, but I think it's something that should be used very constructively for our state." Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told AP that Manchin could make an appealing vice presidential candidate in 2008. (Read more)

Newspaper notes shame of 16 deaths to prompt mine safety actions

The Appalachian News-Express, noting the push for mine safety legislation at record speed in West Virginia followed by similar actions and proposals in other states, observes with a critical pen, "It's a shame it took the deaths of 16 miners to make it happen."

The newspaper details the tragedies in Sago and Mellville, W.Va. and at Fords Branch near Pikeville, where the 16 miners were killed. The newspaper opines, "We at the News-Express can't help but be thrilled that state and federal officials are finally giving serious attention to the topic of mine safety. We also appreciate the hard work of the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing. We can see they are taking their jobs seriously."

The editorial concludes, "Collectively, these efforts have the potential to change the entire industry - for the better. We just hope that as the memory of these most recent mining disasters fades, the desire to improve safety for our miners doesn't fade right along with it." (Read more)

Loophole lets loose larger, leviathan trucks on Kentucky coal-haul roads

Because of a newly disclosed provision in Kentucky's extended-weight law, the state Transportation Cabinet
has begun issuing new permits to trucks with extra axles that raise the existing weight limit from 126,000 pounds to at least 152,000 pounds.

"The new development has dismayed some Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement officers while it frustrated some veteran coal haulers," writes Lee Mueller of Lexington Herald-Leader.

Trucker Elzie Kesinger, 55, of Sitka, referring to a crackdown on overweight trucks that started in 2004, told Mueller the effort has made highways safer for everyone while reducing costs for heavy-load haulers. He added, "It seems like every time we get something good going, they want to change it." State Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, veteran chairman of the state House Transportation Committee, asked, "Does this mean they can just keep adding axles?"

A top transportation official told Mueller he did not know how many new permits. A transportation official said a subsection of the 1986 law apparently allows coal trucks to haul an extra 20,000 pounds above existing weight limits for each new axle added to a truck bed. Kesinger told Mueller some 22-wheel coal buckets have already been turned into 28-wheelers. (Read more)

Rural homelessness puts victims out of sight, mind, says poverty center

Rural homelessness is the invisible kind, say experts. Shelters are few and far between. Public services are spare. Homeless people in rural areas are more likely to be sleeping in cars, campers, crowded or dilapidated structures, or on the couches of friends and relatives, reports Caitlin Cleary of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

According to the Rural Poverty Research Center, the rural homeless are more likely to be women, married with children, currently working and homeless for the first time. The Rural Poverty Research Center is an institute spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which examines the causes of rural poverty and helps to shape public policies concerning the issue.

Often thought to be an urban phenomenon, homelessness is an issue even in such places as rural Bedford County, Pennsylvania, where cows outnumber people, notes Cleary. Angelo Donia, a transitional housing case manager for Somerset County's Tableland Services, told Cleary, "It's rough around here. They're not considered homeless because they're not sleeping on a storm grate. You won't believe the places I pull these guys out of."

The rural homeless might be invisible, but their ranks are growing, notes Cleary. Social service agencies in predominantly rural counties report drastic increases in requests for aid from the Homeless Assistance Program and other services. In just one county, she notes, the number of people receiving HAP aid has risen from 165 in 1996-97 to 685 in 2003-04, according to state Department of Public Welfare statistics. (Read more)

Bizarre funeral protests by anti-gay group prompt legislation in five states

At least five Midwestern states are considering legislation to ban protests at funerals including those of Iraq war casualties, because demonstrators say the deaths are God's punishment for U.S. tolerance toward gays.

The protests are by Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church. "Though the soldiers were not gay, the protesters say the deaths, as well as Hurricane Katrina, recent mining disasters and other tragedies are God's signs of displeasure. They also protested at the memorial service for the 12 West Virginia miners who died in the Sago Mine," writes Kari Lydersen of The Washington Post.

Kansas state Sen. Jean Schodorf, who has proposed legislation, told Lydersen, "The families weren't able to bury their loved ones in peace. We felt pretty strongly that we needed to do something about it."

Kansas has a law banning demonstrations at funerals, notes Lydersen, but Schodorf said the law is vague and hard to enforce. "The new proposed bill would keep protesters 300 feet away from any funeral or memorial service and ban demonstrations within one hour before or two hours after a service," writes Lydersen.

Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma are looking at similar bills. Proposed legislation in Indiana would keep protesters 500 feet from funerals, and make a violation a felony punishable by a three-year prison term and a $10,000 fine. State Sen. Anita Bowser told Lydersen, "These people are ... waiting for someone to do battle with them so they can go to court and win. They want a big liability case to pursue. I don't think they actually give a diddly wink about the arguments they're making." (Read more)

Eastern Kentucky women turn tragedy into cause, push for tougher ATV laws

Two Pike County, Kentucky, women, spurred by incidents in their families, want to end the state's No. 1 ranking for All Terrain Vehicle deaths in the nation, reports the Appalachian News-Express.

Linda White of Turkey Creek lost her two-and-a-half year-old grandchild. DeAnna Parker, a Virgie resident, had a nephew seriously injured in an ATV crash, notes Stanley. The two have started a petition asking for stricter safety standards and they have 85 signatures. White told wrter Rachel Stanley, "The laws need to be changed, or a lot more children will die.”

Two ATV safety bills are before the Kentucky General Assembly, including one that would require children under 16 wear helmets. Another bill would prohibit children 16 and under from driving ATVs. That measure would also require all operators to wear helmets. Similar bills have failed in past years. Parker told Stanley she believes politicians haven't supported previous efforts because "they'd lose a lot of votes because a lot of people have four-wheelers." (Read more)

Michigan farm battle features chemical-free growers, 'Frankenfood' advocates

A battle is brewing in Michigan over legislation that pits natural, chemical-free crops against genetically engineered seeds. The bill addresses questions about food safety and who should regulate it. The legislation aims to prevent local governments from barring the planting of seeds, including genetically modified crops, reports David Eggert of The Associated Press.

"Five California counties and cities have restricted growing genetically modified organisms since 2004. Fourteen states have since passed laws pre-empting similar measures. . . . Up to 85 percent of U.S. soybeans are genetically modified along with 45 percent of corn. It's estimated that 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. grocery shelves contain genetically modified ingredients. Critics worry that so-called 'frankenfoods' pose allergy risks to humans, contaminate the natural ecosystem, lead to more chemical spraying and create other unknown, long-term health dangers," writes Eggert.

Douglas Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist at the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lets the agricultural industry decide how to test the safety of genetically modified seeds. "It is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house," said Gurian-Sherman. Since there are few federal regulations, he told Eggert, "the state and local jurisdictions are necessary to protect the public and send a message to Washington that they need to do a better job." (Read more)

Illegal immigrants rush to Tennessee for driving certificates, allegedly bribe officials

"Tennessee's driving certificate for illegal immigrants isn't valid as a form of ID, but people are paying hundreds of dollars on the black market and traveling hundreds of miles to get one," reports Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press bureau in Knoxville.

Tennessee has issued 51,000-plus certificates since it became the first state to offer them in July 2004, but not every certificate has gone to someone living there. Two recent federal stings exposed shuttles bringing South and Central American immigrants from as far away as New Jersey to state licensing centers in Knoxville, where immigrants used fake residency papers to get certificates. A third bust last week revealed a conspiracy in which prosecutors say state license examiners in Murfreesboro accepted bribes to provide illegal immigrants with driver's licenses and certificates without testing, writes AP.

Tennessee's system is being considered a model for handling "non-conforming drivers" under the Real ID program enacted by Congress that will set a national standard for driver's licenses by 2008. Applicants must provide two documents, such as utility bills or a lease, to show they live in Tennessee, and a Social Security number or a sworn affidavit if there is none. They also must pass an eye exam, a driving exam and a road test.

"What we tried to do in Tennessee was to recognize that there are people who may be legally here but they are not completely documented," Gov. Phil Bredesen told reporters. Driving certificates were created in 2004 to satisfy homeland security concerns, notes Mansfield. (Read more)

Appalachian Confederated Tribes seeking to preserve ancestors' way of life

The Appalachian Confederated Tribes are trying to restore a heritage that survived while others were scattered westward during the government's program to clear the way for Southern settlements.

"In 1838, while other American Indians were being rounded up and herded westward along 'The Trail of Tears,' Lee Vest's Monacan forefathers were hiding out in the rugged terrain along the border of Floyd and Montgomery counties in Virginia, a place so isolated that no decent white person would want to live there," writes Jessica Fischer of the Kingsport, Tenn. Times-News.

"But their struggle to survive didn't end with Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, which forced the Cherokee nation and other tribes east of the Mississippi River to give up their lands, their homes and many of their
possessions and migrate to present-day Oklahoma," writes Fischer.

Members of the Confederated Tribes, including Chief Lee Vest, gather regularly near Kingsport to keep alive the traditions of their ancestors. Oppressed by laws that prohibited them from graduating high school, voting and even owning land, Vest's family and other Native Americans often found it easier to hide their heritage than to embrace it, notes Fischer. Vest told Fischer, "If you were part Indian you could own land, but if you were Indian you could not." (Read more)

Half of Arizona county's inmates used meth, reports Flagstaff newspaper

A survey by Coconino County, Arizona, jail staff reports 50-plus percent of the local inmates have used meth.

"Especially of concern to local law enforcement is that 57 percent of the inmates surveyed who use meth do so several times a week, every day or more than once a day. Additionally, more than 55 percent of the inmates have gone through some kind of treatment in the past for alcohol or drug addiction," writes Larry Hendricks of the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

Sheriff Bill Pribil told Hendricks his office recently conducted the survey of 227 local inmates in the jail in order to give hard statistics to the newly formed Meth Task Force for the county, notes Hendricks.

Law enforcement officials have reported meth has been on the rise over the past few years and is becoming a serious problem in Coconino County, notes Hendricks. "The high property crime rate in Flagstaff and throughout the county has been directly linked by police officials to substance abuse -- primarily alcohol and meth. But officials have been unable to back up the opinion with hard numbers, and so the task force is working, through the help of a grant from the governor's office, to acquire those numbers," he writes.

Pribil told Hendricks, the survey results "mean that a significant portion of the population in the county jail have a tendency to use alcohol or illegal drugs. It reinforces for me that we need to have a comprehensive in-custody treatment program with aftercare for when people re-enter the community." (Read more)

Small Flagstaff newspaper takes on big tasks covering Arizona with staff of five

The Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff has a David vs. Goliath attitude. The newspaper is "committed to succeeding in an industry where giant media organizations wield formidable power," covering its beat with a a staff of just five, reports ANAgrams, the publication of the Arizona Newspaper Association.

Sun Editor Randy Wilson told ANAgrams, "As a daily ... we're trying to keep up to the level of the corporate giants and succeed." Wilson stresses "his biggest, almost daily challenge is serving his coverage area with his five-member team," writes ANAgrams. "We're a fairly small paper in a big market," said Wilson. The Daily Sun has a circulation of 11,462.

Wilson says they're looking for an education reporter who would cover not only K-12 but the city's largest employer, Northern Arizona University.

Punished for parody, student sues school; ACLU says posting protected

A Pennsylvania high school senior who was transferred to an alternative school as punishment for parodying his principal on the Internet is suing the district, arguing it violated his freedom of speech.

"Justin Layshock had used his grandmother's computer and the Web site MySpace.com to create a phony profile under the principal's name and photo," writes Paula Reed Ward of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The site asks questions, and Justin filled in answers peppered with vulgarities, fat jokes and, to the question "what did you do on your last birthday?" the response: "too drunk to remember." School officials questioned the teenager about the site and he apologized to the principal, writes Ward.

Justin was suspended for 10 days and transferred to an alternative program typically reserved for students with behavior or attendance problems, according to the lawsuit. He also was banned from school events, including tutoring and graduation ceremonies. Witold Walczak, Pennsylvania Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ward, "The school's punishment affects his education. In this critical last semester, Justin's opportunities to gain admission to college may be irreparably damaged."

According to the lawsuit, Pennsylvania State University notified Justin his application had been put on "a registration hold." The lawsuit states, "It is unknown how or why the university had received this information, since it is supposed to be confidential under federal-student-privacy laws." The Hermitage School District declined comment. The lawsuit seeks Justin's immediate reinstatement to his regular school. A hearing for a temporary order is set for today, writes Ward. (Read more)

Rural Calendar: Entry deadlines for three media contests tomorrow

Feb. 1: Deadline for entries in Inland Press Association non-daily contest

The Inland Press Foundation invites non-daily newspapers to enter the Nation’s Best Non-Daily Newspaper Contest. This contest recognizes non-daily newspapers’ efforts in producing high-quality editorial material; presenting innovative, attractive packaging of that material; and serving their communities effectively as a source for news and information.

The contest is open to all U.S. newspapers published for general circulation at least weekly but not more than three days per week. There will be one award in each of three circulation categories: Under 5,000; 5,000 to 10,000; Over 10,000.

Winning newspapers will be honored at Inland’s Weekly Newspaper Conference Feb. 23-25 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. First, second and third-place awards will be presented for each category. Each of the following judging criteria will be given equal weight:

Quality of Writing and Reporting: In news, features, sports, columns, business, entertainment, enterprise projects, editorials and other types of stories. Readability, clean copy, strong headlines, and stories that maintain the readers’ interest while provoking thought and emotion will be valued.
Story Selection: Breadth and depth of community coverage, intensity of local focus and commitment to adding value for the reader. Judges will look for fresh treatments of tired subjects and stories that offer guidance, possible solutions, helpful explanations or sources for additional information.
Design and Presentation: Quality of graphics, photography, layout, typography and other art elements, and how they work together to enhance readership and the dissemination of information.
Community Focus: Features, special sections or niche publications, news packages, editorial series and other newspaper services that increase the value of the paper to its readers and community. Judges will look at ways the newspaper advances the public good.

A newspaper’s entry will consist of three issues: one issue of the newspaper from each of two specified weeks, and one issue that will be the entrant’s choice. Pre-selected weeks are April 3-9 and July 3-9, 2005. The entrant’s choice can be any issue published in 2005.

Entrants must also fill out an entry form and provide a short narrative in support of their entry. Forms are available from the Inland Web site, www.inlandpress.org. Go to the File Gallery and select “Current Contests.” An entry fee of $15 will be required for Inland member newspapers; $25 each for nonmembers. Make checks payable to Inland Press Foundation. For more information, contact Elaine Lange at Inland, (847) 795-0380 or e-mail elange@inlandpress.org.

Entries must be received by Feb. 1. Entries should be sent to: Inland Press Foundation, ATTN: Non-Daily Contest, 701 Lee St., Suite 925, Des Plaines, IL 60016. For an entry form, click here.

Feb. 1: Nomination deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award, honoring editor

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is seeking nominations, justification for nomination, and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on Contests.

Feb. 1: Nominations due for Spadaro Awards for media arts and technology

One of the Jack Spadaro Awards is given annually to recognize the best documentary on Appalachia or its people. The award recognizes the producer for outstanding work in film, video, television, or radio. Eligibility and technical requirements for nominations are available from Jack Wright at 740-597-3080 or jwright@ohio.edu. Complete nomination materials are due Feb. 1, 2006.

A second award, the e-Appalachia Award, is given annually to an outstanding Web site that provides insight on Appalachia and its people, or provides a vital community service to Appalachians. Nominations should be made to: Roy Silver at 606-589-3139 or at rsilver@uky.edu before February 1, 2006.

Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 28-29, 2006

W.Va. mine laws prompt consideration of similar ones in other coal states

"The West Virginia Legislature's speedy passage of mine-safety reforms last week is prompting mining agencies and companies in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to consider similar measures," reports Cindi Lash in Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"The new law requires mines to stockpile and mark emergency oxygen supplies, to attach them to 'lifeline' cords from work areas to the surface, and to install systems to track and communicate with miners," Lash notes. "It also requires mine companies to notify authorities of serious incidents within 15 minutes and sets penalties for failure to comply. Left unclear is how much the changes will cost."

In addition to Pennsylvania, "Officials in Ohio, Utah and Kentucky also were reviewing the West Virginia legislation," Lash reports. "On Thursday, an Alabama circuit judge ordered regulators to reinspect some underground and surface mines and to study the use of communication and tracking devices and emergency oxygen supplies for underground miners."

Massey Energy Co., which owns the West Virginia mine where two miners died recently, did not return Lash's phone calls inquiring whether its mines in other states would implement provisions of West Virginia's new law. International Coal Group Inc., owner of the Sago Mine, said it has used text-messaging devices in Illinois mines and "intends to implement improved technology at all of its mines." (Read more)

Text-messaging devices for miners, in new W.Va. law, were nixed by feds

The Mine Safety and Health Administration rejected a proposal two years ago "to give coal miners text-messaging devices that could warn them of underground fires and explosions," reports Ken Ward Jr. of the Sunday Gazette-Mail in Charleston, W. Va.

With such "personal emergency devices" that transmit through rock, the 13 miners trapped in the Sago Mine "could have been told it was safe for them to just walk out after a Jan. 2 explosion. If workers at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine three weeks later had had text-messaging devices, they could have been warned sooner of a dangerous fire that killed two workers," Ward writes, adding that "Only 19 of about 800 underground U.S. mines use PEDs, according to MSHA records."

The devices will be required under a law fast-tracked through the West Virginia legislature last week, "but MSHA already could have acted to accept text-messaging proposals that labor and industry officials made after a major mine disaster in Alabama" in 2001 that killed 13 miners and was blamed on "poor emergency management," according to an MSHA investigation.

The Australian manufacturer of the text-messaging devices asked MSHA to consider requiring them, and some coal-company officials in the West endorsed them, but MSHA declined, saying the device "is generally effective and encourages its use. However, since technology is constantly changing, newer systems that may be as, or more, effective than the PED may be developed.” (Read more)

Consol Energy has reported mixed results with the devices, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. For a report on "Covering Coal," a conference held for Appalachian journalists on Nov. 18, click here.

Lots of fines at Kentucky coal mines go unpaid, Courier-Journal reports

Most of the major fines levied against operators of underground coal mines in Kentucky in the last 10 years remain unpaid because of bankruptcies and a lengthy appeals process, reports James R. Carroll of the Washington bureau of The Courier-Journal.

"Since 1995, Kentucky mines have been assessed nearly $4.7 million in fines of $10,000 or more, according to government data. The Kentucky mine operators have paid almost $1.9 million of those penalties," the Louisville newspaper reports. "Nearly $1.7 million in penalties that can no longer be contested remains uncollected from Kentucky mine operators, according to records" of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. "And $1.1 million in fines is still being contested."

Tony Oppegard, a former top mining official in the under Democratic administrations at the state and federal level, told Carroll MSHA "doesn't have the political will to collect the fines when they're not paid." The agency declined requests for an interview but issued a statement saying it is "committed to fully enforcing our nation's mine safety and health laws, including the collection of fines assessed for violations."

"Oppegard said the government needs better tools to police delinquent companies, such as a computer system to alert regulators to delinquent payments when operators apply for new mining licenses," Carroll reports. Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told him the appeals process should be speeded up. "That would benefit everybody," he said. (Read more)

Two-thirds of small businesses in rural areas have no terrestrial broadband

A survey by Hughes Network Systems and Survey.com, of 250 small businesses nationwide, found this month that two of three small businesses in rural areas have no terrestrial, high-speed Internet access.

"HNS, based in Germantown, Md., provides satellite broadband Internet access worldwide -- a [costlier] option that residents and businesses in rural areas sometimes pursue because they don't have terrestrial DSL [digital subscriber phone lines] or cable access," reports Melanie Brooks of Inc.com.

HNS Marketing Vice President Peter Gulla "blames the lack of broadband Internet use among small businesses on the fact that it's difficult for these businesses to learn about their Internet access options," Brooks writes. "According to research conducted by the Small Business Administration in March 2004, the majority of small businesses use dial-up services to connect to the Internet."

Why aren't more on DSL? "Telephone service providers must add special equipment to their existing phone hubs to enable DSL," Brooks writes. "The equipment isn't cheap, which keeps service providers from upgrading in rural areas," because of the areas' lower population density.

Small rural businesses "are at a competitive disadvantage because they can't use the same applications" as businesses with high-speed Internet, Josh Holbrook, an analyst with the Yankee Group, a research firm based in Boston, told Brooks.

The Colebrook Development Corp., a volunteer community organization in northern New Hampshire, "is taking matters into its own hands," with federal funds and local, private grants, Brooks reports. "The CDC is building a wireless broadband network in Colebrook, a border town with Vermont and in close proximity to Maine. Larry Rappaport, a Colebrook selectman and manager for the wireless project, said that the CDC is two months away from launching the five wireless hubs in the area."

Across the state line, in northern Vermont, a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Development Center, to 12 towns as part of a two-year study to see how small businesses would improve with broadband access. One, the historic Lyndon Freighthouse in Lyndonville, has a gallery, ice-cream parlor, restaurant, gift shop and a Starbucks, all with wireless Internet, which the owners say is a magnet for customers. (Read more)

Columnist says auto plant closings should chase workers to small towns

Ford Motor Co.'s closing of 14 plants and elimination of up to 30,000 jobs shows there is no future for workers at big-city auto plants, so " It is time for those workers to think about moving to small towns," writes business columnist Don McNay in Sunday's Richmond (Ky.) Register.

"The exodus used to be from Appalachia to bigger cities," McNay recalls. "Many have spent their lives in places like Detroit but long for the sense of family and belonging that small communities offer. Some of my friends and family moved to Detroit over 40 years ago. Despite all the years in Michigan, they still consider themselves Kentuckians and Kentucky is the place that they call home. It is time for them to return to their roots. It is also the time for small communities to roll out the welcome mat and encourage them."

Auto workers "have a lot to offer" rural areas, McNay argues. "They were making good money and hopefully saved some of it. . . . With a lower cost of living, the displaced auto workers would be upper middle class citizens in any small town. They would have skills that could boost small town economies," to the extent that local government should try to recruit them. "With a well-trained workforce available, small and mid-size employers might be interested in locating in small towns." (Read more)

Expert sees need for changes in groundwater policies; news coverage, too

Excessive use of underground water in some states has created “an environmental catastrophe,” and “significant reform” is necessary to prevent further damage to surface waters, Robert Glennon, the Morris K. Udall Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Arizona, said at the Intelligent Use of Water Summit at Pasadena, Calif.

Glennon, author of Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters, said "the legal system has fostered the increasing use of groundwater . . . by developing two sets of rules for allocating rights to divert water from rivers and lakes, and a completely different set of rules for controlling groundwater use," writes Hembree Brandon of Delta Farm Press.

“Laws in most states has not kept pace with advances in hydrology … and have failed to conform with physical reality,” Glennon said, adding that current laws “encourage exploitation of the resource…by permitting the pumping of enormous quantities, regardless of the impact.”

Brandon explains, "Under the doctrine of 'reasonable use,' a landowner may pump as much water as desired, which in many areas has resulted in overdrafting or 'mining' groundwater resources. As water is pumped from deeper levels, well drilling costs increase, energy costs escalate and water quality may decline due to naturally-occurring elements such as arsenic, radon, and fluoride, or increased salinity. Groundwater pumping can have 'minimal to catastrophic' impact on surface water, including lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, springs, wetlands, and estuaries, Glennon said."

Glennon said journalists who cover droughts in some part of the country are missing part of the story: “Drought has prompted the media to pay remarkable attention to water issues — yet none of the stories, to my knowledge, has mentioned the environmental consequences of groundwater pumping.”

In 1995, “Groundwater withdrawals actually exceeded surface water diversions in Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, and Mississippi,” he said. Brandon notes, “In the United States, more than half the population relies on groundwater for drinking water.” (Read more)

Muslim prays for Va. House but only Christians are on Ky. prayer program

On the day a Muslim imam gave the opening prayer for the Virginia House of Delegates, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher caught hell, so to speak, for a Christian-only, Jesus-invoking prayer breakfast.

Imam Ibrahim Hamidullah, leader of the Clarence Sabree Islamic Center in Roanoke, "said he believes he is just the second Muslim to deliver the opening prayer of a General Assembly session and the first from Western Virginia," reports Michael Sluss of the Roanoke Times. "I think it's a great thing that they [the House] let Muslims come because this is a Christianity country," Hamidullah told Sluss.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, once a part of Virginia, the speakers at Fletcher's prayer breakfast on Tuesday included no Muslims and no Jews. "Christian songs were sung. Jockey Pat Day shared his born-again testimony. One prayer was offered in Jesus' name," reported Frank Lockwood, religion writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, who broke the story on Thursday. (Read more)

The Republican governor and former lay minister in the Lexington Primitive Baptist Church told the Herald-Leader on Friday, "I certainly have utmost respect for different faiths. But I think most people knew when they were voting for me they were voting for somebody who held the Christian faith, and I'm not going to be somebody different than who I am." That remark only brought more criticism. Anti-Defamation League officials called it "insensitive and irrelevant," Lockwood reported. (Read more)

The only Jewish member of the Kentucky legislature, Rep. Kathy Stein, who was raised as a Baptist in Wise, Va., told The Courier-Journal, "It was very insensitive, and I'm surprised the governor didn't notice the lack of diversity." Stein tells us in an e-mail, "I sneaked in an imam a couple of years ago to give the invocation. Because his headgear looked so much like he was Jewish, no one gave it a thought."

Some Christians joined in the criticism of Fletcher. Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, told the Louisville newspaper, "An event like this held in the name of government ought to be nonsectarian." (Read more)

In Virginia, Hamidullah chose a passage from the Quran that he said orthodox Muslims recite at least 16 times a day and says "we all serve one creator and that we all want to be in peace and live righteous." Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, a Presbyterian who is longtime friend of Hamidullah and invited him to offer the prayer, told the Roanoke newspaper, "It's important for people to know that, down here, everybody respects everybody else's religion." (Read more)

Battle Creek paper reminds rural residents of low-interest federal home loans

For decades, the U. S. Department of Agriculture has helped people in rural America buy homes, first through the Farmers Home Administration and now through its Rural Development program. But some places, such as Calhoun County, Michigan, are making little use of the program.

Of the 2,844 Rural Development home loans in Michigan last year, totaling more than $38 million, only five — totaling $465,000 — were in Calhoun County. "That's very low compared to other counties,"Rural Development specialist Coleen Polley told Stacy Hanna of the Battle Creek Enquirer. "I'm confident that it's just a general lack of awareness in the area."

"Rural Development provides home loans to eligible families and individuals with interest rates between 1 percent and current maximum rates," Hanna notes, using as an example a 33-year-old single mother who was able to buy her first home thanks to a Rural Development loan.

The loans can be used to buy or build, "and funds for necessary repairs or renovations can be included in the financing," Hanna reports. The loans are available to buyers who have an income 80 percent or less of the area's median income. "The program was originally designed for farmland development," Polley told Hanna. "Now 'rural' applies to any community with a population of 20,000 or less."

There could be a downside to the program, Hanna writes: "Michael LaFaive, director of fiscal policy for the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said in some instances, rural home loan programs could contribute to urban sprawl. "You get more of what you subsidize, whether it's crops or irresponsibility," he said. "There's a high likelihood that this type of program does spread us out — we've seen a migration to greener pastures over the past 40 to 50 years." (Read more)

University of Kentucky starts scholarship program with tobacco buyout funds

When Congress abolished the federal tobacco program of quotas and price supports, it included compensation for quota holders, including educational institutions that grow tobacco as part of their instructional and research programs. The University of Kentucky is using its buyout money to offer a new scholarship program, writes Terri McLean of the UK College of Agriculture news service.

The college chose to receive its buyout money, about $800,000, as a lump sum rather than in annual payments. It will match donor scholarship contributions in the program for UK agriculture students. The college will match half of every contribution of at least $10,000. To date, the college has received $558,000 in contributions and has matched it with $279,000, reports McLean.

The program could potentially increase money available for scholarships by 30 percent and provide financial assistance to 60 more students, writes McLean. (Read more) For additional details, click here for a story by the Kentucky Kernel, the independent student newspaper at the university.

UK continues to raise about 95,000 pounds of burley tobacco, primarily for research.

Rural Calendar: Entry deadlines for three media contests Tuesday

Feb. 1: Deadline for entries in Inland Press Association non-daily contest

The Inland Press Foundation invites non-daily newspapers to enter the Nation’s Best Non-Daily Newspaper Contest. This contest recognizes non-daily newspapers’ efforts in producing high-quality editorial material; presenting innovative, attractive packaging of that material; and serving their communities effectively as a source for news and information.

The contest is open to all U.S. newspapers published for general circulation at least weekly but not more than three days per week. There will be one award in each of three circulation categories: Under 5,000; 5,000 to 10,000; Over 10,000.

Winning newspapers will be honored at Inland’s Weekly Newspaper Conference Feb. 23-25 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. First, second and third-place awards will be presented for each category. Each of the following judging criteria will be given equal weight:

Quality of Writing and Reporting: In news, features, sports, columns, business, entertainment, enterprise projects, editorials and other types of stories. Readability, clean copy, strong headlines, and stories that maintain the readers’ interest while provoking thought and emotion will be valued.
Story Selection: Breadth and depth of community coverage, intensity of local focus and commitment to adding value for the reader. Judges will look for fresh treatments of tired subjects and stories that offer guidance, possible solutions, helpful explanations or sources for additional information.
Design and Presentation: Quality of graphics, photography, layout, typography and other art elements, and how they work together to enhance readership and the dissemination of information.
Community Focus: Features, special sections or niche publications, news packages, editorial series and other newspaper services that increase the value of the paper to its readers and community. Judges will look at ways the newspaper advances the public good.

A newspaper’s entry will consist of three issues: one issue of the newspaper from each of two specified weeks, and one issue that will be the entrant’s choice. Pre-selected weeks are April 3-9 and July 3-9, 2005. The entrant’s choice can be any issue published in 2005.

Entrants must also fill out an entry form and provide a short narrative in support of their entry. Forms are available from the Inland Web site, www.inlandpress.org. Go to the File Gallery and select “Current Contests.” An entry fee of $15 will be required for Inland member newspapers; $25 each for nonmembers. Make checks payable to Inland Press Foundation. For more information, contact Elaine Lange at Inland, (847) 795-0380 or e-mail elange@inlandpress.org.

Entries must be received by Feb. 1. Entries should be sent to: Inland Press Foundation, ATTN: Non-Daily Contest, 701 Lee St., Suite 925, Des Plaines, IL 60016. For an entry form, click here.

Feb. 1: Nomination deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award, honoring editor

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is seeking nominations, justification for nomination, and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on Contests.

Feb. 1: Nominations due for Spadaro Awards for media arts and technology

One of the Jack Spadaro Awards is given annually to recognize the best documentary on Appalachia or its people. The award recognizes the producer for outstanding work in film, video, television, or radio. Eligibility and technical requirements for nominations are available from Jack Wright at 740-597-3080 or jwright@ohio.edu. Complete nomination materials are due Feb. 1, 2006.

A second award, the e-Appalachia Award, is given annually to an outstanding Web site that provides insight on Appalachia and its people, or provides a vital community service to Appalachians. Nominations should be made to: Roy Silver at 606-589-3139 or at rsilver@uky.edu before February 1, 2006.

Friday, Jan. 27, 2006

Kentucky expert reports higher risk in deer meat for mad-cow-like disease

A paper written by a University of Kentucky professor, published today in Science magazine, reports deer meat with chronic wasting disease has been found to contain infectious agents that spread the disease.

"Until now, state and federal health officials have reassured hunters they will not be exposed to the disease as long as they do not touch or eat an animal's brain, spinal cord or other nervous tissues," writes Sandra Blakeslee of The New York Times. There is no evidence chronic wasting disease, which is similar to mad-cow disease, has been passed to humans, although it has spread to deer and elk in 11 states and two Canadian provinces. The paper was written by Dr. Glenn Telling, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the university's medical center, and colleagues.

Bruce Morrison, chairman of the National Chronic Wasting Disease Implementation Team and assistant director of the Wildlife Division at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, told Blakeslee, "There is no evidence humans have ever contracted chronic wasting disease from eating infected animals. . . . I hunt, and I'm not worried." States warn hunters to freeze deer and elk meat while the head is tested for infecting agents. Morrison said as a precaution, no part of an infected animal should be eaten.

Stanley Prusiner of the University of California-San Francisco told Blakeslee, "It's frightening that there should be so many [of these infecting agents] in the muscle meat of deer." Prusiner won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research on the infecting agents or "prions." He also told the Times recent studies have found prions in the flesh of infected mice, cows, sheep and humans. Prusiner noted, "So why not deer and elk?" And Prusiner said why anyone would eat an animal not tested for prion disease is beyond comprehension, writes Blakeslee. (Read more)

Iowa meth study supports reported trend of home labs down, imports up

A University of Iowa expert on methamphetamine has found that meth labs have decreased across the state but the supply and abuse problems haven't.

"The report issued Jan. 17 by the State of Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy credits the state's meth control law, enacted in May 2005, with a decrease in meth lab incidents. Pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in some cold and flu medications, is also a main ingredient in meth production. The law put the medications behind lock and key at pharmacies. However, the report also states the law has not reduced the supply of imported meth or demand for the drug," a university release says.

Psychiatry professor Dr. Stephan Arndt said, "The overall dangers of meth still need to be dealt with, including prevention and treatment. The report has an additional indirect positive benefit by highlighting that need." Arndt directs the Iowa Consortium for Substance Abuse Research and Evaluation.

The report said state-run hospitals and clinics had fewer meth-related burn cases in 2005 compared to 2004, down from 14 to four, for an estimated savings of more than $2.5 million. Arndt also stated, "Production sometimes is done in the presence of children, so there are definite problems the law has controlled and will continue to control. However, the law hasn't done anything about addiction, use or some of the other negative consequences."

For the release via Newswise, a public relations and marketing service for higher education and research institutions, click here. For additional information about the report and the law, click here. Visit UI Health Care online at http://www.uihealthcare.com. For an audio file of Arndt speaking, click here.

Stronger Kentucky mine-safety measures receive bipartisan endorsement

Kentucky coal miners would be tracked underground and have oxygen supplies as a result of bills that Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher and House Democrats said yesterday would pass this year, reports Tom Loftus of The Courier-Journal.

"The measures, which might also include two-way communications with miners, are expected to be similar to a mine safety law that passed this week in West Virginia in a single day, a reaction to the deaths of 14 miners there this month," reports the Louisville newspaper.

Roger Sturgill, a retired miner from Cumberland, told Loftus, "It's sad that it's taken the loss of a loved one to change the laws." Sturgill's nephew died Dec. 30 in a mining accident in Harlan County.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told Loftus that coal operators support some safety proposals, including the stashing of oxygen supplies in mines, but there are concerns about a requirement for wireless tracking and communication because since that technology doesn't work in a deep mine. Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet spokesman Mark York told Loftus, "We believe improvements can be made in communication from within a mine to the surface."

House Speaker Jody Richards said of the West Virginia miners who were killed, "We owe it to their loved ones, their families, that we try to change this situation." At a separate news conference Fletcher said, "This is something that transcends partisan politics." (Read more)

W.Va. mine safety legislation fast-tracked to law as other states rework regs

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin yesterday signed new mine safety rules into law, noting requirements for better communications, underground oxygen supplies and faster emergency responses would help prevent tragedies like the two that killed 14 miners in the Mountain State this month.

"State lawmakers passed the legislation unanimously just days after a Jan. 19 mine fire killed two men, and about three weeks after an explosion at the Sago Mine resulted in the deaths of 12 miners. The only survivor among the trapped Sago miners, Randal McCloy Jr., 26, emerged from a light coma Wednesday but still cannot speak," writes The Associated Press.

Manchin told miners' relatives, "We want to be the benchmark everyone looks to when they mine.The sacrifice you all have made will change mining in this country," reports AP. The state's law mandates that miners be provided with emergency communicators and tracking devices, requires mine operators to store extra air supplies underground, and sets up a new Mine and Industrial Accident Rapid Response System and statewide all-hours hot line to expedite rescue efforts.

The Sago disaster and Manchin's calls for reform have spurred several coal mining states to re-examine their mine safety laws. (Read more) For more on Sago Mine disaster survivor Randal McCloy, who has been moved to a rehabilitation center, click here.

Sago disaster probe begins following judge's order for UMW participation

Federal and state investigators began their on-site examination yesterday of the Sago Mine where 12 miners were killed Jan. 2, after a judge ordered International Coal Group to allow miners’ union representatives to take part in the probe.

United Mine Workers of America spokesman Phil Smith said union officials went onto the mine site with government investigators. "Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Maxwell ordered ICG to stop blocking UMW officials from entering the mine," writes Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette. Lawyers for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration sought the order after ICG refused to allow UMW safety experts into the mine.

Ed Clair, MSHA’s top lawyer, told Ward, "MSHA will take every step to protect the miners’ interest in a fair and open investigation into this tragic accident — including ensuring that the UMWA can participate fully as the miners’ representative. We are elated that the court agreed that the rights of the miners’ representatives must be protected." (Read more) For the story from Reuters, click here.

Long Island's last stand? Coalition seeks to preserve rural landscape

"While there have been some great successes on Long Island in the area of preservation ... growth continues at breakneck speed. Planners estimate that Long Island's population could increase by 250,000 people in the next ten years. Has enough been done in recent years to preserve the rural landscape? Many people don't think so," writes Annette Hinkle of the weekly Sag Harbor Express.

The Nature Conservancy and a coalition of over 100 Long Island organizations and individuals -- including farmers, business leaders, citizens and conservation groups -- recently announced "Long Island's Last Stand," an aggressive 10-year initiative to preserve and protect dwindling natural resources across the entire island, the western end of which lies in the New York city boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

The initiative's goals include saving 25,000 acres of the most significant remaining open space island-wide and 10,000 acres of farmland. "Long Island's Last Stand" aims to restore the health of habitats, harbors and bays, bring shellfish production back to significant numbers and protect drinking and surface water. The Nature Conservancy estimates it will take $5.1 billion over the next 10 years to accomplish these goals. Current levels of funding for the next decade stand at $1.5 billion - a shortfall of $3.6 billion. Supporters say the difference could come from public coffers, notes Hinkle.

The 10,000 acres of farmland the initiative hopes to preserve represent about half of what remains and would bring to 25,000 acres the amount of farmland preserved on the island. "The goal is to protect the farm industry on Long Island," Stuart Lowrie, the conservation finance and policy advisor for The
Nature Conservancy, told Hinkle. "At some point the infrastructure of the industry is not sustainable - the seed and feed stores or tractor maintenance people are gone." (Read more)

Hospital in metro area, serving rural patients, wants rural status to get grants

A New York hospital finds itself caught between definitions or ruran and urban, and federal regulations that could allow it to receive money it says it needs to serve patients in its service region, which includes many rural areas just south of Adirondack Park and Lake George.

"The rural character of communities like Granville, Indian Lake and Thurman is obvious, said David Kruczlnicki, president and chief executive officer of Glens Falls Hospital. Yet the federal formula used to determine hospital funding classifies the region as an urban setting. That's because Glens Falls is located in a metropolitan statistical area," writes Maury Thompson of the Glens Falls Post-Star.

Kruczlnicki told Thompson, "This hospital serves [an area that] is among the least densely populated in New York state." Hospital officials are working with U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, on the feasibility of changing the criteria for designation as a rural hospital. The special designation, Kruczlnicki told Thompson, "recognizes rural hospitals shoulder a disproportionate share of treating the poor in comparison with urban areas, where two or more hospitals may operate in the same city." (Read more)

Kruczlnicki also told Thompson if the hospital fails to qualify for the status "perhaps the federal government could establish an intermediate category for hospitals like Glens Falls that service a largely rural area."

One-tenth of residents live in poverty in Tennessee county known for tourism

Sevier County, Tennessee, is home to a huge tourist industry, based on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and related developments such as Dollywood, but there is still much poverty amid wealth. In a region where faith and family are sacred, many people keep their poverty well hidden.

There were 7,517 people living below the poverty line in Sevier County in 1999, or one in 10 residents, according to the census, but some parts of the county are very poor. At Jones Cove Elementary School, 90 percent of the students receive federally subsidized free or reduced lunches, reports Craig Mintz of The Mountain Press, the daily newspaper in Sevierville.

Jonathan Pflug, director of Sunset Gap Community Center, regularly sees the abandoned mobile homes and decades-old houses in severe disrepair. "In the mountains it's hidden," Pflug told Mintz. "They're very proud people. They wait until it's extreme before they ask for help." Isolation is part of the problem, Pflug said. Also, many people take seasonal employment in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, leaving them without work in the winter. In addition to a poor job market, physical illness and age take their toll. Sunset Gap Community Center is trying to help residents by rehabilitating homes. (Read more)

Center for Rural Policy & Development starts journal to focus on rural issues

A nonprofit group based in St. Peter, Minn., is launching a new publication that focuses on rural issues. The Center for Rural Policy and Development is calling the new venture Rural Minnesota Journal.

"The center's president, Jack Geller, said the first edition features articles from a variety of authorities on public policy areas that affect rural Minnesota," writes Charley Shaw of the St. Paul Legal Ledger.

The journal will be published twice weekly. Geller told Shaw, "We are launching this new publication ... to elevate the statewide level of civic engagement around issues important to rural Minnesota. Think of it as a way to engage in a long-term, statewide conversation on the status and future of rural Minnesota."

The inaugural issue of the Rural Minnesota Journal contains a forward by U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and 10 articles by well-known Minnesota researchers, policy analysts and administration officials.

Though the first issue features articles on a range of topics, Geller told Shaw future issues will focus on single topics. Geller plans to tie future editions to the center's annual policy forums, and told Shaw, "We're hopeful that such a format will heighten the quality of discussion and lead us closer to some meaningful policy solutions." (Read more)

Alaska revives aerial wolf-killing program, end-runs judge's ruling

Alaska has reinstated a population control program that allows shooting wolves from the air more than a week after a judge ruled the practice illegal.

"The program was reinstated after the Board of Game filed new regulations passed in response to Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason's concerns. 'They are effective immediately,' said Annette Kreitzer, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Loren Leman," writes Jeannette J. Lee of The Associated Press

The program started in 2003 to boost moose and caribou populations, after residents complained predators were killing too many moose, leaving too few for food, notes Lee. In an emergency meeting, the board scrapped its existing regulations and will seek to make the new rules permanent at a regular public meeting in March. Animal rights groups may fight the practice. Jim Reeves, the lawyer representing Darien, Conn.-based Friends of Animals and seven plaintiffs, told Lee, "We do not regard it as an emergency when an agency needs to adopt regulations to fix a problem of its own making." (Read more)

About 400 wolves have been killed so far under the program, and the state said it intends to kill another 400 this year. Alaska has the largest remaining population of gray wolves in the country. "State biologists estimate about 7,000 to 11,000 wolves roam the state," writes Lee. For the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. For the Friends of Wolves, click here.

Wyoming biologist says bison kill protects domestic livestock from disease

Yellowstone National Park has shipped another 64 bison to slaughter, bringing to 452 the number of buffalo killed this month to protect Montana livestock from the disease brucellosis.

"A total of 562 bison have been captured and tagged for slaughter," writes Rebecca Huntington of the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

Park wildlife biologist Rick Wallen told Huntington the National Park Service initiated the capture-and-slaughter operation after finding efforts to chase bison back into the park’s interior were no longer working. The service prevents commingling of cattle and bison as part of a legal settlement with the state after court battles in the 1990s, writes Huntington. (Read more)

Knight Ridder sale prompts SPJ call for debate on public-service journalism

The Society of Professional Journalists has called for "an urgent national conversation about how to preserve public-service journalism in light of the likely sale of the Knight Ridder newspaper company."

"The call, which is being spearheaded by the national group's Northern California Chapter, continues, 'News media play a vital role in ensuring a robust and transparent democracy, a role that is too important to be compromised by the quest for profits. SPJ believes that both journalists and the public need to discuss openly the societal implications of these kinds of business decisions, as several groups have done in recent weeks'" reports Editor & Puiblisher.

SPJ says, "We acknowledge that newspapers cannot serve their democratic role unless they stay in business. But the increasing corporate pressure to squeeze additional returns out of already profitable newspapers, at rates exceeding the margins in most other industries, has skewed the balance between journalism and commerce. ... Though there is disagreement about what should happen to Knight Ridder ... there is broad consensus within the journalism community it should not be allowed to fall into the hands of those unwilling to guarantee the continuity of public-service journalism." For the release, click here.

Thursday, Jan. 26, 2006

BB&T nixes loans to developers who rely on eminent domain to get land

North Carolina-based financial services company BB&T has said it will not lend money to private real estate development projects that rely on local governments to seize land from reluctant sellers, a gambit authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court but facing prohibitions from some state legislatures.

"The bank and legal analysts said they believe BB&T is the first major financial institution to announce such a policy since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that using 'eminent domain' powers for privately owned projects did not violate the Constitution," writes Brooke A. Masters of The Washington Post.

"There is the potential for abuse of eminent domain," Chief Credit Officer W. Kendall Chalk told Masters. BB&T already has strict limits on the use of eminent domain, but Chalk told Masters "the new policy was sparked by a mixed-use development project in another jurisdiction that he would not identify." BB&T, which Alpheus Branch helped start in Wilson, N.C., in the late 1800s and is still known there as "Branch's bank," not just Branch Banking and Trust, operates in 11 Southeastern states. (Read more)

Institute for Justice senior attorney Dana Berliner told Masters, "It's tremendous that BB&T is willing to lead the country in saying no to eminent domain abuse. It's the right thing to do, and it's a sensible business decision. These projects are so universally hated that they get held up in court and some of them fail."

Report faults rules, judgment in crashes of a rural mainstay, air ambulances

The National Transportation Safety Board reports crashes involving air ambulances, used heavily to service emergency cases in rural areas, have killed 54 people, most of them pilots, paramedics and nurses, in a three-year period ending in early 2005.

"The report, which was approved by the board on Wednesday, concluded that pilots were not good at analyzing risks and that the rules are too lax for flights that are not carrying a patient or a donated organ," writes Matthew L. Wald of The New York Times.

Wald notes that helicopters and planes used as ambulances "fly under airline-type rules when carrying a patient or organs. But if they are on their way to a pickup, they fly under rules that apply to private planes, which do not limit how many hours a pilot can work and allow flights in worse weather. Three-quarters of the accidents occurred under those rules." Board member Debbie Hersman told Wald, "It seems like a ridiculous paper loophole."

Investigators support "flight risk evaluation," in which "the pilot and possibly a second expert would dispassionately score each mission, based on weather conditions, time of day and other factors," and which might have prevented 13 of the 55 crashes, Wald reports. Investigators said adding professional dispatching might have eliminated 11 crashes.

The Federal Aviation Administration reports there are about 650 emergency medical service helicopters. An industry group estimates more than 750. (Read more)

Rural America battles persistent poverty, searches for jump-start solutions

Rural America's economy continues to lag behind urban America, and debate is raging over whether agricultural spending or economic development holds the solution.

"Arguments over rural development will likely intensify, observers say, as the Bush administration readies next year’s budget proposals, Congress prepares for a 2007 rewrite of farm programs and world trade talks continue to take aim at crop subsidies. At stake is the use of tens of billions of dollars in tax money as well as the well-being of 59 million Americans," writes Paul Barton of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A 2005 analysis by the National Rural Network of advocacy groups called rural America a place “where poverty has persisted for decades, where populations have been declining for half a century.” The network says rural areas get at least $100 a year less per person in federal funds than urban areas, a $6.5 billion disadvantage. It says at least 70 percent of rural funds come in transfer payments for Social Security, food stamps, Medicare and other programs, which cannot be used for economic development. Some people want rural economic-development programs reshaped in the 2007 farm bill. (Read more)

This month's Farm Journal magazine features an editorial by Sonja Hillgren, How to Energize Rural Economies. Hillgren writes that the solution is not farm program payments, but rather making sure "rural economic development remains a central goal of future farm legislation." (Read more)

Tennessee governor requests review of strip-mine enforcement by the feds

Citing a "significant and growing controversy" about coal mining in Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen has asked the U.S. Office of Surface Mining for a comprehensive review of coal mining in the state, reports Scott Barker of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

In a letter to OSM, Bredesen also "cited changes in mining techniques, industry economics and environmental regulations as reasons for the review. Bredesen asked for an environmental impact statement for the federal coal-mining program, which would revise the framework for regulating the industry in Tennessee," writes Barker.

The last impact statement was done in 1985, soon after the state closed its strip-mine enforcement agency and let OSM enforce the federal strip-mine law alone. In a follow-up letter to OSM, Tennessee Deputy Commissioner for Environment Paul Sloan called the 1985 review "inadequate as a matter of policy."

Barker reports that Sloan outlined "a dozen other reasons for conducting the EIS," including higher water-quality standards, "unsatisfactory treatments for acid mine drainage, new information about threatened and endangered species," and "need to address cumulative impacts from landslides, post-mining land-use problems and abandoned mine lands." He also mentioned OSM's Jan. 13 denial of a petition to declare 443 square miles in the New River watershed, upstream from the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, as off-limits to strip mining. (Read more)

Mine officials ask judge to issue order allowing union presence in Sago probe

Federal mine-safety officials have sought a court order to force International Coal Group to allow United Mine Workers representatives onto company property to participate in the Sago Mine disaster investigation. "U.S. District Judge Robert E. Maxwell in Elkins heard arguments on the matter for about an hour, but did not make a decision," writes Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette.

Mine Safety and Health Administration lawyer Ed Clair said, “The state and MSHA made a commitment to the families that we could conduct a fair, open investigation, and we decided we needed to take this extraordinary step to keep that commitment,” writes Ward. He notes that earlier in the day ICG guards refused to allow UMW representatives to accompany investigators from MSHA and the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training into the Sago Mine.

The portion of federal mine-safety law that allows miners to designate representatives specifically gives those representatives the right to enter mine property for accident investigations. Tim Baker, a UMW safety official taking part in the Sago probe, told Ward, “This company is spending more time and money and energy trying to keep us out than they have trying to figure out what happened. We all have the same goal in mind, so let’s get on with it.” (Read more)

UMW fighting Bush administration mine-safety pick over 'unsafe record'

A former coal operator chosen by the Bush administration to oversee mine safety, Richard Stickler, is likely to be questioned closely about charges of an unsafe record at his Senate confirmation hearing, reports Kimberly Hefling of The Associated Press.

Stickler received a medal from Pennsylvania's governor for his work when nine trapped miners were rescued in 2002, but, "The United Mine Workers union has criticized the safety record of the mines in Pennsylvania and West Virginia that Stickler, 61, operated before he was appointed to run Pennsylvania's Bureau of Deep Mine Safety in 1997," writes Hefling. A union letter asks Bush to pull the nomination.

The Quecreek accident in Pennsylvania occurred while Stickler was at the helm of the state agency, and the lawyer who represents eight of the miners who were rescued said he does not support Stickler's appointment because of the secrecy involved in the investigation that followed, notes Hefling. (Read more)

A grand jury said the state agency should have red-flagged map problems that were blamed when miners at Quecreek breached an abandoned mine. The breach created a flood of water and trapped miners for 77 hours. No criminal charges were filed, and a grand jury did not fault individuals, writes Hefling.

Kentucky mine safety chief's resignation unrelated to mine death, say officials

Kentucky officials have announced the resignation of Kentucky's top mine-safety official. Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet spokesman Mark York said Charles' resignation had nothing to do with recent mining accidents.

"Paris Charles, a Pikeville native appointed executive director of the state Office of Mine Safety and Licensing in July 2004, said yesterday he handed in his resignation on Jan. 9, one day before Kentucky's first fatality of the year in a Pike County roof fall," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Charles cited "personal matters" back home in Pikeville as the reason for his resignation.

House Democrats are to hold a news conference on improving mine safety at 1 p.m. today, notes Mueller. House Speaker Jody Richards said, "In less than four weeks, 16 people have died in coal mines in West Virginia and Kentucky . . . . We owe it to them, and their families, and the men and women who work in coal mines ... to do everything in our power to make their dangerous work a little safer." (Read more)

Plain Dealer columnist writes, 'Bless the guys with the guts to dig the coal'

Since the double coal-mining disasters in West Virginia and the deaths of 14 coal miners, many people have reflected on mining and the people who "work the rock." One of those is Dick Feagler of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. Feagler's change of heart is eloquent, powerful and appropriate.

"People in our part of the state ... have always looked askance at the folks from West Virginia, the same way they once looked askance at each other. But this week, if you walked across the floor to turn your thermostat up, you were risking a coal miner's life. Half of America's energy comes from coal - much of it from West Virginia mines," writes Feagler in his Jan. 8 column. (Sorry, the newspaper's archives limit searches to the past two weeks.)

"A coal miner buries himself alive each day. He kisses his family goodbye and rides a bucket two miles into the earth. There he toils until they pull him up and he goes home for a hug and supper," Feagler writes. "We don't think too much about what keeps the lights on. Why should we? We are, after all, so smart. We take so many things for granted. But the power behind that electricity is those guys in the mines."

Feagler recalls, "Almost 40 years ago, I traveled with photographer Ted Schneider Jr. to one of the worst coal mine disasters in history. Farmington, W.Va. Ninety-nine miners were entombed by an explosion. Seventy eight died. And, he concludes, "After last week's disaster at the Sago Mine, the miners said they wanted to go back underground to work ... One of them explained that the mines were in his blood. And that his fellow miners were his brothers. And that you don't just quit. God bless the hillbilly hicks. They are the pilot light of America."

For Coal Miners' Slaughter, by Christopher Cook of In These Times, a liberal journal, click here.

Maryland farming bill wins praise, sparks debate over preservation areas

A sweeping bill to give Maryland farmers more money to reduce pollution appears to have widespread support in the state Legislature, but some groups say the pro-environment bill goes too far.

"A Senate committee began [reviewing] the bill that resulted from a months-long study by environmentalists and farmers on how to gird agriculture and help the Chesapeake Bay at the same time. The bill calls for millions more in state money to help farmers keep pollution out of the water, plus a requirement that counties set aside land for agricultural preservation," reports WBAL-TV in Baltimore in a staff and Associated Press report.

The report continued, "The committee isn't ready to vote on the bill, but it heard from groups as varied as environmentalists and sport fishermen saying the bill is a great idea. However, praise for the bill's mission was mixed with suggestions for changing it. One disagreement that's already on the table is what counties should be required to do to set aside farmland."

Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Lewis Riley and the Maryland Association of Counties testified that the bill's requirement to set aside priority preservation areas in county development plans is too tough, and the counties should have more flexibility. (Read more)

U. of Virginia researches diabetes programs for rural African Americans

Faculty and students in the University of Virginia School of Nursing are conducting studies of the effectiveness of programs that provide aid to rural African American adults with Type II diabetes.

The study is being conducted by the Central Rural Health Care Research Center to deliver "culturally tailored diabetes education to African Americans in rural communities," said Sharon Utz, an associate professor of nursing, reports Maggie Thornton of The Cavalier Daily, the university student newspaper.

Utz told Thornton, the center began the research mostly in 2004 and found many black adults in rural communities have difficulty administering self-care. The studies are funded by the National Institutes of Health. Diabetes care is considered 90 percent self-care, "so clinicians need to help people make decisions that enhance their health & optimize quality of life," added Utz.

Utz said while this phase only included six participants, the researchers hope to eventually expand the program to include 30 to 40 rural, black adults with Type II diabetes, writes Thornton. (Read more)

Drugs for malaria, schizophrenia might help fight mad-cow disease

Drugs used to treat malaria and schizophrenia may have a role in treating brain-wasting disorders like mad-cow disease, says a doctor reporting for a consumer Web site.

"The FDA recently gave the OK to researchers at the University of California in San Francisco to study quinacrine, a malaria drug, and a drug used to treat schizophrenia called chlorpromazine," writes Dr. Henry J. Fishman in an article for ConsumerAffairs.com.

Fishman explains that "three dozen patients, all very ill with the brain-wasting disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, more commonly known as mad-cow disease, will receive the medication." He writes, "We can't currently do much for diseases like mad-cow. But these two drugs have shown some promise."

Fishman notes, "The drugs help mouse cells ... and have already been given to two sick women. One showed significant improvement." And, Fishman writes, "The two drugs require extensive research, and a lot more time, before we know if they work. Still, they may someday be used to treat mad cow and other brain-wasting diseases." (Read more)

Report says three in eight Arkansas students overweight or at risk of it

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has released a study which shows 38 percent of the state's public-school children are overweight or at risk of being overweight

"The finding was the same as last year's, when UAMS also studied the effects of a 2003 state law that called for mandatory and voluntary changes in the schools to address health issues among Arkansas' children. Health officials said Thursday they hope to see obesity numbers decline as more schools offer healthier food choices," writes Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press.

Martha Phillips, assistant professor in the UAMS colleges of medicine and public health, told DeMillo, "It takes a lot of behavior change to lower an individuals' weight. Multiply this by a population as large as this, and it takes even longer." State law requires a body mass index screen for all public school students.

The study noted the number of schools offering low-fat milk increased from 15 percent in 2004 to 23 percent in 2005 and researchers also found schools prohibiting the use of food as a reward for students increased from 7 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2005. Students also use diet pills less and are not teased as much because of weight. Phillips told DeMillo, "This is good news all around." (Read more)

A song, a song, my commonwealth needs a song, cries Virginia; Missouri?

"Without a song, the day would never end," is a famous musical refrain. For the Commonwealth of Virginia, the long search for a replacement state song, which has taken a while, appears near an end.

"Nearly a decade after legislators retired 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginia' as the state song -- and two years after a panel failed to find a new one -- it appears a replacement may finally be on the horizon. Well, make that an 'interim' replacement," writes Mason Adams of The Roanoke Times.

A Senate committee approved a bill to make "Shenandoah" the state anthem until a more suitable song is found. The General Assembly retired "Carry Me Back To Old Virginia" in 1997, more than 25 years after then-state Sen. Douglas Wilder, later the state's first black governor, declared it offensive for references to "massa" and "darkies," notes Adams. State officials would like to have a permanent replacement before next year's 400th anniversary of the Jamestown landing.

Several senators questioned the relevance of the song to Virginia. Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield County, targeted the line, "Away, I'm bound away, cross the wide Missouri," which is repeated throughout the song. Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham said, "'Shenandoah' is one of my favorite songs, but I find myself as stubborn as a Missouri mule when it comes to the state song. The reference to Missouri would be wonderful if I was from Missouri, but I'm not," writes Adams.

Sen. Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, who played a version of "Shenandoah" performed by Daniel Rodriguez, responded that the song is widely identified with Virginia, especially its western, mountainous regions and noted the reference to the Missouri River recalls the state's original western boundary, at least in one interpretation. The bill will go to the Senate floor later this week, writes Adams. (Read more)

Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006

Study shows high-speed Internet access creates jobs but doesn't boost wages

A new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology provides strong evidence that broadband Internet access drives economic growth, but does little to increase the pay of workers.

"The report looks at data from 1998 through the end of 2002 and finds that there is a strong correlation between residential and small business broadband access (cable, DSL, and satellite)," writes Nate Anderson of Ars Technica, a "PC enthusiasts" Web site.

The study states, "For the first time, we can say unequivocally that broadband access does matter to the economy. We estimate that between 1998 and 2002, communities in which mass-market broadband was available by December 1999 experienced more rapid growth in employment, the number of businesses overall, and businesses in IT-intensive sectors."

"The results ... provide real evidence for a claim that until now has been largely speculative or forward-looking. One truly surprising result from the study, though, is that despite all the economic growth that increased broadband access brings, average wages in an area do not tend to increase," writes Anderson.

The study also showed that In 2002, "well-developed and populated states such as Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, had broadband usage rates of just over 20 percent, while rural states such as South Dakota, Kentucky, and Montana came in at less than 5 percent. (Read more)

Rural loans sparking broadband development, competition after foot-dragging

Officials in Indiana are pushing broadband in some rural areas using low interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program, prompting some previously hesitant providers to join the growing parade.

"Welcome, citizens of Greencastle, Indiana. Right now, most of you are using dial up connections to access the Internet, so I’ll type very slowly. But in the next couple weeks, many of you will be able to get broadband access for the first time," blogs Alan Stafford on PCWorld. (Read more)

Stafford notes, "The Rural Development program granted a low-interest loan to Cinergy Metronet, which is installing high-speed fiber-optic cable in several rural communities in Indiana. Rural communities around the country have applied for funds from the agency -- look here to see if your berg is on the list.

Cinergy is signing up customers, with installations to begin in a couple weeks, writes Stafford. They offer several packages. A basic package of a 6Mbps Internet pipe, cable television service, and local telephone service costs $79 a month. "After Cinergy inked its deal, Insight Broadband moved to start offering cable Internet access. Verizon Communications has begun installing fiber in northern Indiana, where it will compete with Cinergy," writes Stafford.

Stafford notes that "many communications companies are still trying to prevent anyone but them from offering broadband access--even though they still don’t offer it in many sparsely populated areas." He writes of his colleague Tom Spring, who reported in last October’s issue of PCWorld "that some small communities have given up trying to get those companies to offer broadband, and instead have made efforts to offer it as a municipal utility."

Mobile citizens in mountainous Virginia area get new wireless Internet option

Some rural communities along the Blue Ridge in Southwest Virginia are jumping into the world of wireless Internet. "In a week, Citizens, the tiny telephone and cable company in Floyd, is launching Citizens Mobile Wireless Internet in Christiansburg, with service in Blacksburg and Radford expected to follow within the next few months. It will offer users high-speed Internet access they can take with them," writes Andrew Kantor of The Roanoke Times.

Kantor notes that "unlike [some] WiFi "hot spots," the Citizen service covers the entire town of Christiansburg, offering access speeds up to 1.5 megabits per second ... slower than most cable or DSL connections but [with] the advantage of being completely mobile. Every home, office and road in the town will have access.

For $45 a month, users get an access card for their laptops and a 500 kilobit per second connection. The company also offers 1 Mbps and 1.5 Mbps service for $55 and $65, respectively. Five dollars more per month gets a combination wired and wireless router that allows the service to be used by desktop PCs in a home or office, notes Kantor.

There isn't an alternative to Citizens' deployment of mobile wireless Internet in the New River Valley; the only things close are data services offered by cell phone companies, writes Kantor. (Read more)

W.Va. officials urge feds to take Mountain State mine reforms national

West Virginia leaders have taken their push for improved coal-mine rescue systems to the White House, urging the Bush administration to apply new state reforms at mines across the country.

"The state’s congressional delegation promised legislation to implement changes where the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has not acted," writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. said, "We’re going to work hard, and we’re going to work with speed.”

Byrd arranged for Gov. Joe Manchin to meet with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and officials at the Department of Labor, which includes MSHA. "Manchin hand-delivered a copy of the mine safety legislation the state Legislature passed in one day, and had what was described as a “brief but certainly cordial meeting” with President Bush in the Oval Office.

Bush expressed concern about the dead miners’ families and pledged to do all he could to help them. Bush could not have been elected in 2000 without the electoral votes of normally Democratic West Virginia, where coal-industry officials worked hard for him. Manchin is scheduled to meet today with Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman. (Read more)

Mountaintop coal mining would be safer, some say; others disagree

With Congress looking into the safety of underground coal mining after 14 workers were killed at West Virginia mines this month, some in the industry have argued that mountaintop removal of coal is safer than sending people under mountains for it.

Mountaintop mining relies on a mammoth machine, called a dragline, that pulls coal out of mountains after their tops have been blasted away. It replaces the work of hundreds of miners, writes Lisa Lambert of Reuters. Americans for Balanced Energy Choices Executive Director Joe Lucase told Lambert, "Technology has driven the fact that we can produce more coal with [fewer] workers, so there's fewer people exposed to hazards."

Lambert notes that about 70,000 miners work in the U.S. coal industry, down from a peak of 700,000 in 1923, when American coal production was half its current level, and much of the mining is done in the Appalachian Mountains. "Some Appalachians ... don't see mountaintop removal as a safe alternative. They bristle at the phrase 'clean coal,' coined by government and industry experts to describe methods that reduce air pollution from burning the fossil fuel," writes Lambert. Appalachian groups say the environmental impacts and health threats of mountaintop removal outweigh any perceived advantages. (Read more)

Refurbishing of roads in Rockies is riling residents of once-rural respites

Highway expansion projects on major roads, opening up large once-remote areas of the Rocky Mountains, are being watched with a wary and contentious eye by residents concerned those plans will erode the very nature of what made the areas attractive in the first place.

"The "drama is playing out across much of the West as once-rural outposts are transformed into brimming settlements with newfound political and economic clout in transportation decisions," writes Kirk Johnson of The New York Times.

The Federal Highway Act of 1956 "established the Interstate System and helped open vast expanses of the West [and] changed just about everything by putting on the map distant places that had been mostly untouched," notes Johnson. Now, he writes, "the very places that were changed are wading in as aggressive and muscular participants in discussions about what comes next."

In Nevada, work on U.S. 95 has resumed after environmentalists settled a lawsuit involving increased vehicle emissions. Utah's proposed Legacy Highway, extending south of Salt Lake City, blocked for years, has received final approval. In Colorado, a plan for a toll road across the once-empty plains east of Denver was put on hold last year after opposition from residents.

Officials agree "the stakes and implications of these fights are enormous, touching on tenets of the West that are scriptural: unbridled growth, local identity, civic autonomy and an uneasy dependence on government, writes Johnson. Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Executive Director Gary Severson told Johnson, "Do we want to improve it so much that it changes the character of our communities? That's the tightrope." (Read more)

Meth lab drainage damages sewer line in rural Kentucky community

Meth has plagued rural Kentucky for several years, but the mayor of Crab Orchard, population 850, says he's never seen anything like the damage caused by meth waste that drained into their sewer system.

"Michael Ramey said two sewer lift stations on Lancaster Street have been damaged by methamphetamine labs. One sustained $15,000 worth of damage," writes Stephanie Schell of The Advocate-Messenger in Danville. Ramey told Schell that meth byproducts are disposed of through the drains and have eaten away the insulation of the electrical wiring and rubber float in the station. The motor and the pump had to be extracted from the most severely damaged station, writes Schell. The damaged station is near an elementary school. The Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed the presence of meth.

Ramey said of meth makers, "I don’t know if they don’t realize it or don’t care. They’re just worried about getting high.” Ramey gave a list of nearby homes to the DEA to watch. John Kuhn, utility manager at the sewer plant, told Schell, “It’s costing the city money and endangering lives.” Ramey said insurance is covering the cost of repairs, but he said "he doesn’t know what’s going to keep the [meth] producers from damaging the stations again," writes Schell. (Read more)

Kentucky refuses PETA request to oust bust of fried-chicken legend

Anywhere in the world, say "Kentucky" and the most common responses are horses and fried chicken. Now a bust immortalizing the man who made fried chicken into a Kentucky-based empire has escaped an effort to topple it rom its prestigious perch.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has sided with Colonel Harland Sanders, creator and founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, over Pamela Anderson and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Fletcher wrote the actress to say a bust of Sander will stay in the Kentucky Capitol, despite claims it is a symbol of cruelty to chickens, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Fletcher said, "Colonel Sanders remains a Kentucky icon. His success story has been an inspiration to many. The industry he began has employed hundreds of thousands of workers over the years. His business and his legacy have been good for Kentucky."

Anderson and PETA say they want to raise awareness of what she calls abuse of chickens in processing plants that supply poultry to the Louisville-based chicken chain. She wrote that Sanders' chief legacy is a company "that mutilates God's creatures." KFC has called Anderson's attack on Sanders a misguided publicity stunt. (Read more) Bloggers' note: Journalists had some fun with this story. One newspaper's headline was "Anderson loses bust battle to Col. Sanders."

Wisconsin State Journal letting readers choose stories for Page One

News trends have been shifting more to the realm of consumer-friendly over the past decade, with increased involvement by and interaction with readers, viewers and listeners. Now, one newspaper has gone a step farther and made a place at the editorial content decision table for its readers.

"If you've ever wanted to pick the stories that appear on Page One, the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison is about to give you the power. Under a new initiative launched Monday, the 101,000-circulation daily will let readers vote on its Web site each day for the story they'd most like to see on the front page, writes Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher.

Managing Editor Tim Kelley explained, "Under the 'Reader's Choice' heading, we'll offer four or five story choices varying day to day from local to national, entertainment to sports. [Readers] be able to see immediately how [their] choice stacks up against others, and check back later for final results."

The voting choices appear on the right-hand rail of the Web site's opening page between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, writes Strupp. "Critics may resist what they see as a popularity contest undermining traditional news judgment," Kelley acknowledged. "But," he told Strupp, "Our unscientific poll is just another way for [readers] to tell us what you find to be the most important, interesting or vital information of the day." but he stressed "editors will let the majority rule." (Read more)

Knight Ridder, up for sale, looking to improve profit margins with cuts

The Wall Street Journal reports that cuts in jobs, benefits, and even the size of the newspapers -- "are part of a plan to improve margins by as much as $150 million a year at Knight Ridder Inc., according to people familiar with presentations management has been making to potential buyers."

Editor & Publisher, relaying the Journal story, reports, "The vision [reportedly] involves increasing annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization to about $825 million over the next 18 months. That represents an improvement of about 20 percent from 2004, when the company reported earnings of $685.9 million," (Read more)

Journal reporters Dennis Berman and Joseph Hallinan write, "To reach that level, the company sees a buyer relying on 'streamlined' operations as well as a plan to reduce the physical sizes of some of Knight Ridder's 32 daily newspapers." Knight Ridder spokesman Polk Laffoon said he couldn't comment.

Ex-Va. governor remains 'e-buddy' for special-ed student in the coalfield

The e-mail buddy of a special-education student in southwest Virginia is moving on to another job, but has reassured his young friend that their relationship will continue. The student is Richard Sturgill at the Alternative Education Center in Wise. His e-buddy is former Gov. Mark Warner.

Warner left the governor's office last week. "When Sturgill, 18, found out that Warner would soon be turning over his position as governor to the newly elected Tim Kaine, he was worried they wouldn't be
e-buddies anymore. When Warner assured him that they could continue writing,Sturgill began suggesting jobs for Warner to consider once his time as governor was over," writes Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va.

Special-ed teacher Pam Roberts' got the idea to have Sturgill and four other students in her class participate in the e-buddy program, which pairs students with developmental disabilities with e-mail pen pals who do not have disabilities, Deal reports.

Sturgill told Warner "he could probably find work in Wise. In one e-mail, Sturgill suggested that Warner could serve as mayor of Wise, or perhaps as sheriff," writes Deal. The only advice Sturgill has given Warner is to "make sure no one breaks the laws you made." (Read more)

Sturgill told Deal that after Warner wrecked his bicycle last summer, he "told him he should have put his feet down." In his next e-mail, Warner agreed, and said he'd try that next time he hopped on his bike.

Wisconsin reporter pays homage, tribute to mentor, journalism teacher

Every journalist worth his or her salt has one person who made 'the difference' in their career. A Wisconsin reporter has written a moving tribute to his inspiration, who died earlier this month.

"The greatest journalism teacher I ever encountered did not teach at Union Grove Union High School, or in the University of Wisconsin System, or even at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism all of which I was privileged to attend. She did not work for the New York Times or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the Toledo Blade or The Capital Times all of which I have been privileged to write for over the past several decades" writes John Nichols of The Capital Times in Madison.

Nichols writes, "The greatest journalism teacher I ever encountered was a working mom from Silver Lake, Wis., who for several decades edited local newspapers in southeastern Wisconsin. I came to know Edna Mescher when she began editing the Westine Report, the weekly newspaper that I started writing for when I was still too young to drive. Edna actually recruited me for the job."

Nicholas concludes his tribute, "The lessons that Edna Mescher taught have carried this reporter through a career that has taken me to the White House, to war zones in Latin America and the Middle East [and] they have ... inspired my activism on behalf of media reforms to guarantee that America never has the sort of one-size-fits-all media in which the questions of rural towns, inner cities and other neglected regions go unasked." And, he adds, "It was a fitting tribute for Edna Mescher, who, until her death Jan. 10 ... remained a faithful believer in the redemptive promise of American journalism. It is a faith that those of us who were privileged to learn the craft from her will strive to maintain." writes Nicholas. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Feb. 8: Community media ideas due at Institute for Interactive Journalism

J-Lab’s New Voices program seeks innovative citizens media projects for funding. Grants up to $17,000 are available in 2006 for 10 nonprofit community news ventures. For an application form, guidelines and other information, go to www.J-Lab.org.

Feb. 8-9: Knight Fellows to host community journalism conference

The Knight Fellows in Community Journalism program, known as "The Teaching Newspaper," will host a conference addressing the relationship between journalists and the communities they cover Feb. 8 and 9 at The Anniston (Ala.) Star and nearby Jacksonville State University, reports Editor & Publisher.

"A National Conversation on The Emerging Mind of Community Journalism" will address a marketplace in which about 1,200 of the nation's 1,450 dailies consider themselves community newspapers and will work to show participants how journalists serve their audience by providing authoritative news coverage and well-informed editorial leadership grounded in local knowledge.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation and former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, will present the annual Harry M. and Edel Y. Ayers Lecture on Feb. 8. (Read more)

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006

Officials say new mad-cow case confirmed in Alberta won't close border

Canadian and U.S. officials say a new case of mad-cow disease in Alberta was not unexpected and should have no immediate impact on the lucrative cross-border beef trade.

"Lab tests confirmed bovine spongiform encephalopathy was found in a six-year-old cow from the north-central region of the province, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced Monday," reports the Canadian Press. CFIA spokesman Dr. Brian Evans said consumers and beef producers have nothing to worry about and that no part of the cow entered the human food or animal feed chain.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said animal-health experts around the world have expected a few more cases would be found by Canada's stringent testing program, that was improved after a 2003 case. More than 87,000 cattle have been tested since then. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, "I am confident in the safety of beef and in the safeguards we and our approved beef trading partners have in place to protect our food supply." (Read more) For the Edmonton Journal story, click here.

Senators excoriate federal mine-safety regulators; MSHA boss ups and leaves

Citing the recent deaths of 14 miners in West Virginia, several U.S. senators said yesterday federal mining officials had failed to enforce safety regulations adequately.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said, "These deaths, I believe, were entirely preventable." He cited recent budget cuts, staff reductions and "a culture of cronyism" as factors contributing to insufficient oversight by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, writes Ian Urbina of The New York Times. Byrd criticized agency officials for communication problems that slowed the rescue efforts after recent accidents. Ray McKinney, the agency's administrator, said the delay in the Sago rescue efforts was unavoidable.

Urbina writes that acting MSHA administrator David Dye told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on mine safety it is too early to identify the cause of recent accidents. But Tom Doggett and Lisa Lambert of Reuters report, "The Bush administration defended the government's oversight of the Sago coal mine and said none of the previous safety problems cited at the West Virginia mine appeared to be the cause of the January 2 explosion that killed 12 miners." (Read more)

About midway through the two-hour hearing, Dye said he had to leave. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the subcommittee, told him, "I can understand your pressing other business. It may well be that some of the senators here have pressing matters, too. We don't think we are imposing too much to keep you here for another hour. That's the committee's request, but you're not under subpoena." After Dye left, Specter said, "I can't recollect it ever happening before. We'll find a way to take appropriate note of it."

Dye told the subcommittee handheld communications devices were unreliable, but Clinton administration MSHA boss J. Davitt McAteer said the agency had already approved use of small low-frequency tracking devices and one-way text messaging. McAteer said the devices had helped save lives at several mines that had voluntarily adopted them, writes Urbina. (Read more)

W.Va. legislators OK tracking tools, oxygen stockpiles for underground miners

West Virginia legiuslators, responding to 14 mining deaths this month, passed a bill yesterday requiring mines to use electronic tracking devices and to stockpile oxygen to keep trapped miners alive.

Gov. Joe Manchin pressed lawmakers to pass the legislation by the end of the day, writes Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. The Senate and the House passed the bill unanimously. Manchin's legislation would require improved communications, as well as faster emergency response. (Read more)

Tom Searls of The Charleston Gazette writes, "In an unusual move, both the Senate and House ... suspended their rules and passed the bill in a single day." Manchin told the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full House, "Things are going to change and they’re going to change rapidly." Manchin is traveling to Washington, D.C., today to meet with the state’s congressional delegation and possibly President Bush, Manchin told Searls, "The technology is there. These [requirements] are not a great cost." (Read more)

Despite recent deaths, coal-mining fatalities are at a historically low level

Despite the 14 deaths in West Virginia, fatalities in America's mines have dropped to historically low levels in recent years, reports Thomas Hargrove of Scripps Howard News Service, while noting, "Mining remains one of America's most dangerous occupations, especially in some parts of the country where deep-shaft bituminous coal is dug using increasingly sophisticated and dangerous machinery."

Yesterday, during Senate hearings into the recent deaths, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said, "Is enough being done to protect the men and women who risk their lives to provide the power and energy for this country? After the tragic events unfolded in West Virginia's mines, everyone should finally agree the answer is no," writes Hargrove.

For the period 1983 to 2004, Kentucky led the nation in mining deaths with 354 fatalities, compared to West Virginia's 271, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Forty-three states suffered at least double-digit mining deaths during that time. Pennsylvania lost 147 miners, followed by Virginia with 145, Utah with 85 and Illinois with 83, writes Hargrove. (Read more)

Law agents hit Cocke County, Tenn., 'bad-ol'-boy' cockfighting network

"When agents busted what was reputedly the nation's largest illegal cockfighting pit, they shined new light on a tradition of good-ol'-boy vice in aptly named Cocke County, Tenn. Moonshine, hookers and drug dealing had for decades been as much a part of the landscape as the foggy haze that settles over this seemingly quiet community of 35,000 in the Great Smoky Mountains," writes Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press bureau in nearby Knoxville.

The cockfighting bust in June netted 143 arrests, seized $40,000 in cash and captured 305 fighting roosters. A four-year federal and state probe had "suggested the bad old days were back again or might have never left. Agents returned in the ensuing months to make a series of barroom sweeps for video-poker machines, prostitution busts and undercover stings," writes Mansfield.

Five sheriff's officers and two Newport police sergeants are now charged with a variety of offenses. The crimes include money laundering, drug dealing, witness tampering, insurance scams, stealing money from undocumented immigrants during a traffic stop and receiving stolen NASCAR merchandise. The accused include the sheriff's nephew, Chief Deputy Patrick Allen Taylor. (Read more)

California's high-speed, high-tech culture not reaching rural areas

California’s high-tech wave isn't reaching the state’s rural areas. "Parts of the state are so unpopulated that they still do not have access to cable television or broadband cable for high-speed Internet connections. Residents in some rural areas instead must rely on slow dial-up access," reports The Associated Press.

Some companies are trying to fill that gap by setting up wireless Internet service providers which use radio waves to send data from transmitters to small antennas atop customers’ homes or businesses. That eliminates the expense of stringing miles of cable, notes AP.

The Federal Communications Commission reports nationwide more than 420,000 homes and small businesses received wireless Internet service in December 2004, compared with 50,000 five years earlier. Broadband Wireless Exchange Magazine lists about 75 California providers of wireless Internet service, notes AP. (Read more)

Wireless broadband connections grow, giving U.S. an edge over Europe

Many major U.S. cities now can get wireless Internet access, at speeds comparable with those of wired home DSL lines, without having to be anywhere near a wireless "hot spot" in a cafe or hotel or airport.

"These wireless broadband connections, available over a wide swath of the major metropolitan areas where they are offered, have been sold by two big cell phone companies, Verizon Wireless and Sprint," writes Walter S. Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal. The article makes no mention of whether the companies plan to expand services to rural areas, where wireless networks are much less feasible.

This, Mossberg notes, "means that, with a properly equipped laptop or smart phone, you can now get enough speed on a wireless connection to do everything you would do with a fast Internet connection at your desk -- stream video, download large Web sites, open large e-mail attachments. And you don't have to shell out $4 for a Venti latte just to gain access to a Wi-Fi hot spot."

These networks have given the U.S. the edge over Europe in cellular wireless data networks. Actual speeds on the networks tend to be ... double or triple the that of the fastest widely deployed cell phone networks in Europe. Even the lowest speed the U.S. companies promise is faster than the maximum speed of today's common European systems, writes Mossberg. (Read more)

Health care avoided many of the budget cuts Congress made in rural areas

Congressional budget cuts for rural health programs could have been fatal, if the rural-health lobby hadn't yelled loudly, opines Thomas D. Rowley, a scholar at the Rural Policy Research Institute.

National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan told Rowley, "This is a multi-billion dollar bill that was stopped over rural health care. Hundreds of other organizations wanted increases and the only one that got funding restored was rural." NRHA urged its 10,000 members to phone, fax, email and buttonhole their representatives and tell them that, "a vote for the bill was a vote against rural America." A Washington insider told Rowley, "Rural finally started playing hardball."

Congress is preparing to pass a budget reconciliation bill that cuts an additional $40 billion over the next five years, including funding for rural emergency services, training rural health care providers and placing medical personnel in areas with a big demand, notes Rowley. However, an initial spending bill would have eliminated funds for the Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP) and rural health research. "That would have silenced the rural voice and analysis in federal health policy decisions in this country," Rowley notes. Morgan said, "You can't overstate the importance of an inside voice for rural." (Read more)

Dump cleanup funding loss prompts Ky. paper to offer site-search source

With a proposed state budget that may cut $18 million dollar from the state's dump-site cleanup fund, The Courier-Journal offers a valuable county-by-county search tool for newspapers to seek out information on their own dump sites.

"The Kentucky Pride Fund, which gets most of its money from a fee paid on trash that goes to state landfills, has been critically important.With a balance of about $40 million, [the fund] is threatened by Gov. Ernie Fletcher's proposed budget," writes James Bruggers of the Louisville paper. The governor has proposed taking $18 million from the fund and putting it into the state's general fund in 2007.

One legislative leader described the $18 million as a surplus. Senate Majority Floor Leader Dan Kelly of Springfield, like Fletcher a Repupblican, said officials at the Kentucky Division of Waste Management, which oversees the fund, "weren't spending all the money," writes Bruggers.

That's an unfair assessment, said Mary Shinkle, president of the Solid Waste Coordinators of Kentucky. She told Bruggers said it takes time for local and state governments to do the paperwork and inspections for proper cleanups before reimbursements are issued.

Recycling and environmental advocates and state legislators are alarmed at the idea of diverting the state's only dedicated funding for addressing Kentucky's solid-waste woes. "There's a backlog of cases, including several hundred old landfills that potentially threaten groundwater," writes Bruggers. (Read more)

Last surviving child of A.P. Carter dies; she preserved her parents' music

Janette Carter, the last surviving child of country music's founding Carter Family, who in recent years preserved her parents' old-time style with weekly performances, has died. She was 82.

Carter, who had battled Parkinson's disease and other illnesses, died Sunday. Carter's parents, A.P. and Sara Carter, and her father's sister-in-law Maybelle Carter, formed a singing trio that made its first recording in Bristol in 1927. The best known of her generation to present-day listeners was country star June Carter Cash, a daughter of Maybelle and wife of the late Johnny Cash. Janette Carter had dedicated her life to preserving not only the Carter Family music, but the folk and country music of Appalachia.

The Bristol Herald-Courier paid tribute to Carter in an editorial title "Musical trust worth preserving; Janette Carter was the keeper of the flame, the guardian of the music of the mountains." The editors wrote, "It was a sacred trust – a fulfillment of a promise. Her death ... ends an era and leaves a new generation to carry on the family legacy. Let’s hope the music will not remain silent for long." (Read more)

Longtime University of Texas journalism professor, news reporter dies

John Michael Quinn Jr., a longtime journalism professor at the University of Texas, died Sunday at age 76 after a long struggle with a neurological disorder, reports the Houston Chronicle.

He retired in 2004 as associate dean for student affairs in the UT College of Communications. Before his academic career, which began in 1966, he was a reporter and editor for The Dallas Morning News. He also worked for Newsweek and in public relations with Humble Oil and Refining Co., now Exxon Mobil Corp. Quinn was Born in North Wilkesboro, N.C. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Catherine Sellers Quinn of Austin, three children and seven grandchildren. A memorial service is pending at St. John's United Methodist Church in Austin. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Feb. 1: Nomination deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award, honoring editor

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is seeking nominations, justification for nomination, and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on Contests.

Feb. 1: Nominations due for Spadaro Awards for media arts and technology

One of the Jack Spadaro Awards is given annually to recognize the best documentary on Appalachia or its people. The award recognizes the producer for outstanding work in film, video, television, or radio. Eligibility and technical requirements for nominations are available from Jack Wright at 740-597-3080 or jwright@ohio.edu. Complete nomination materials are due Feb. 1.

A second award, the e-Appalachia Award, is given annually to an outstanding Web site that provides insight on Appalachia and its people, or provides a vital community service to Appalachians. Nominations should be made to: Roy Silver at 606-589-3139 or at rsilver@uky.edu before Feb. 1.

Monday, Jan. 23, 2006

National poll shows fears of poverty escalating along Katrina-battered coast

A new survey prompted by Hurricane Katrina shows nearly two-thirds of Americans fear poverty will increase this year, while almost the same number worry they will be among the lowest economic class.

"Almost five months after the abject poverty of New Orleans was televised across the world, in the form of thousands upon thousands of evacuees languishing in the punishing heat on the interstate and along Convention Center Boulevard, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development Committee released a poll tracking people's perception of the poor," writes Gwen Filosa of New Orleans' Times-Picayune.

The survey found that 75 percent of Americans think the Katrina disaster should become a tool for educating the public about poverty, while 23 percent said too much attention already has been paid to the situation. The survey found 50 percent did not believe racism played a role in the slow response, while 27 percent said it did. "Only 23 percent of white people said racism was part of the delay, while 65 percent of black people believed it was," writes Filosa. The poll was conducted among 1,131 members of the general adult population in December. (Read more)

Coal industry trade group joins calls for safer conditions for miners

The National Mining Association has joined elected officials' calls for safer conditions for coal miners in the aftermath of 14 coal-mining deaths in West Virginia alone since the beginning of the year. Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the mining association, said, "This is a time for all of us who share responsibility for mining safety to come together and look for ways to make mining safer."

The calls for change follow two deaths at Aracoma Coal's Alma No. 1 mine in Melville, the second fatal accident this month at an Appalachian mountain coal mine. Three weeks ago, 12 men died at the Sago Mine near Tallmansville in central West Virginia. (Read more) For the latest edition of of the NMA Mining Week, click here.

West Virginia's governor, congressional delegation and the United Mine Workers of America said they want a major overhaul of state and federal mine safety laws. One proposal by Gov. Joe Manchin would explore the use of electronic tracking devices on miners to help pinpoint their location. Another would create reserve oxygen stations throughout mines. A Senate appropriations subcommittee has scheduled hearings on mine safety for today. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who chairs the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee that oversees mine safety, also plans a hearing.

1975 pastoral statement by Catholic bishops resonates in current mine crisis

More than 30 years ago, Catholic leaders wrote and signed a statement about the coal industry's impact on the economy, environment, quality of life and health in communities in Appalachia. The document is being hailed again now, in light of recent West Virginia coal-mine disasters that have killed 14 miners.

"Thirty-one years ago, the Catholic Bishops of Appalachia gathered, February 1, 1975, [at] what was then Wheeling College to sign, 'This Land is Home to Me,' a pastoral letter that addressed the struggles, hopes and dreams of the Appalachian people," writes the university via Newswise, a news and information distribution Web service for higher education and research institutions. The "landmark pastoral letter" is being cited for its eloquence and conscience, and being viewed as significant to the future of the Appalachian region and its coal mining industry.

"It is called one of the finest social documents to come forth from the American Catholic church. The letter continues to serve as a discussion point in the continued effort to address the socio-economic concerns faced by the residents of Appalachia," said Rev. Joseph R. Hacala, S. J., founder of the Appalachian Institute and current Wheeling Jesuit University president. Hacala contributed to the document.

The University notes the letter "activated an empowering social analysis, inspiring reflection and a hopeful vision for the future for the people of Appalachia." Fr. Hacala, a native of Charleston, is one of only three Jesuits in the world from West Virginia. (Read more) To read more about the pastorale letter itself on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of its signing, click here.

Sago mine disaster investigation prompting more complaints, reports Gazette

"As lawmakers in Washington prepare for today’s start of congressional hearings on mine safety, complaints continue about the handling of the state and federal inquiry into the Sago Mine disaster," reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

The United Mine Workers of America has written to the federal government’s top Sago investigator to object to the secrecy surrounding the inquiry, writes Ward. UMW lawyer Judith Rivlin told Richard Gates at the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, "We strongly believe that a free and open hearing process is the best way to conduct all aspects of the investigation,” notes Ward.

Last week, MSHA and West Virginia officials proposed to exclude UMW representatives and International Coal Group lawyers from investigation interviews when ICG objected to the union taking part. Rivlin wrote Gates, "An open and free exchange of information and ideas, fully explored by and among all those with knowledge and expertise of the particular mine and those with experience developed in other mine disasters, would enhance the quality of your investigation." (Read more)

Wi-Fi takes off in Green Bay area, helps businesses lure customers

Green Bay, Wis., is going Wi-Fi following a push by Madison and Milwaukee, both of which have approved measures that would provide blanket Wi-Fi coverage. But, as in many cases, the state's rural regions continue to lag behind in Wi-Fi development.

"Wi-Fi — short for wireless fidelity — is technology that lets people log onto the Internet without using a wired connection, similar to the way a cordless telephone works," writes Terri Anderson of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Linda Galt, who with husband Alex is owner of a cafe told Anderson, Wi-Fi access attracts college students, out-of-towners and freelance writers. Curt Cornell, food and beverage manager at a grill in a Howard Johnson Inn, said Wi-Fi has joined the breakfast spread and a workout room as something that business travelers expect. Cornell told Anderson, "With the football season over, we'll be serving a lot of business traffic and they (business guests) view free Internet as an amenity." (Read more)

In a related story from Rhode Island, Businesses connecting with VoIP and Wi-Fi; Mobility, flexibility seen as advantages, Providence Business News reporter Marion Davis writes, "At Rhode Island Hospital, a Wi-Fi system allows doctors and nurses to access patient data and lab and test results, order procedures and consult expert sources at bedside." (Read more)

Flood of potent Mexican meth offsetting states' strides in curbing homemade

Ice, or crystal methamphetamine, is continuing to enter the United States, largely from Mexico, and this newer version of the drug is more potent than its powder predecessor.

The University of Iowa Burn Center spent $2.8 million in 2004 treating burn victims from meth cooking sessions gone wrong. The center hardly any cases of that sort now, and child welfare officials say they are removing fewer children from homes where parents are cooking the drug, writes Kate Zernike of The New York Times.

However, the number of children being removed from homes where parents are using it has more than made up the difference, writes Zernike. Iowa drug policy director, Marvin Van Haaften, told Zernike, "It's killing us, this Mexican ice."

Many states enacted laws last year to restrict the sales of cold medicines, which are used to manufacture meth. Betty Oldenkamp, secretary of human services in South Dakota, told Zernike, "You can't legislate away demand. The law enforcement aspects are tremendously important, but we also have to do something to address the demand." (Read more)

Rural campaign against meth gets gubernatorial, funding boost in Ariz.

Some Arizona law enforcement officials are applauding Gov. Janet Napolitano's call for bringing much-needed funding to their war on methamphetamine in Arizona's rural communities.

The "proposed $10.1 billion budget includes $1.9 million in spending for overtime pay for rural law enforcement officers, increased border security to curtail drug trafficking, and more available treatment for meth users in rural areas," writes Joe Ferguson, of the University of Arizona Department of Journalism in an article that appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

Kenneth Kimmel, the Sierra Vista deputy chief of police, told Ferguson meth has hit rural communities especially. A majority of the crimes committed in the Sierra Vista community were meth related, especially vehicle theft and property theft, forcing the department to pay for increased overtime for its officers. The department has hired 12 new officers in 2005. (Read more)

Ferguson is a Don Bolles Fellow at the university covering rural and suburban issues at the state Legislature for the journalism department's Community News Service.

Hispanics experience farming boom despite national decline in family operations

At a time when many farmers are closing shop, Hispanics are doing just the opposite on their own farms.

Humberto Moctezuma, a cactus farmer near Livingston, Texas, "is one of a growing number of Hispanic farmers in the nation. Between 1997 and 2002, the number of Hispanic-run farms grew 51 percent. At the same time, the number of farms run by African-Americans and Anglos declined, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service," writes Jenalia Moreno of the Houston Chronicle.

Like Moctezuma, many Hispanic farmers are immigrants who picked up the skill in their home countries. Moctezuma's father and brother work a 130-acre cactus farm called Rancho El Periocolo in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, where Moctezuma was raised

William Kandel, a sociologist for the statistics service, told her, "Farm labor is a very common point of entry for Hispanics who are foreign-born who are entering the U.S. labor market." And, Mario Delgado, a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development specialist in Georgia, told Moreno, "A lot of Latinos have their roots in the land. They really go for it with gusto." (Read more)

Science program helps rural Montana students explore the unknown

A $1.25 million federal grant will help the University of Montana with its effort to bring cutting-edge environmental health science programs to elementary and high schools in rural Western Montana.

"The five-year Science Education Partnership Award was presented by the National Institutes of Health to increase public understanding of science and encourage student interest in research careers. The grant went to UM's Center for Environmental Health Sciences, which studies human disease and how environmental contamination adversely affects people," reports the Associated Press.

The center plans to use the award to promote environmental health education among the state's rural youth, AP notes. CEHS Director Andrij Holian told reporters, "Hopefully, they will be inspired to carry that interest on into college and maybe become researchers themselves." (Read more)

In a related story example, Rob Chaney of the Missoulian reports, "'The Health Careers Opportunity Program at the University of Montana . .. has been sponsoring Saturday Science Days for several years in Missoula. Every month or so during the school year, the program puts together a new science exploratory camp and invites up to 25 students to attend." (Read more)

Photos show rural areas' shift to suburbs along Mississippi in Minn., Wis.

For some, black and white photographs evoke sadness or nostalgia. To others, they suggest romance or progress. But an art professor has used them to document the disappearance of rural America.

"When David Heberlein sets up his tripod and focuses his camera on a cul-de-sac carved from a cornfield, he sees change and feels a need to record it," writes Kevin Harter of the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn.

Heberlein, a University of Wisconsin-River Falls art professor, "has been photographing the changing landscape of the east metro area for about 20 years," writes Harter. Heberlein told him, "I'm interested in how we make our marks on the land and how that changes over time. It has changed so quickly, and Woodbury and St. Croix County are good examples."

"When Heberlein returns to photograph a site, concerned neighbors often spot his camera and tripod and ask what he's up to. He usually carries earlier pictures of the area and will show residents how it appeared five or 15 years ago," notes Harter. (Read more)

Community newspaper writes of coping with crow invasion, resultant nuisances

"How should a city of 60,000 humans respond to an annual invasion of 30,000 to 70,000 crows? Pass out free umbrellas?" asks Mark Bennett of The Tribune-Star, of Terre Haute, Ind., circulation 27,000. And he's written about 2,000 words answering that question.

"Terre Haute has become the Panama City of America’s crow population. But ... that Florida coastal town gets some economic jolt from the college students who flock there for spring break," writes Bennett. He notes that "the crows make us their resort town from October to March. They caw, peck through our garbage and leave only droppings on our sidewalks in return. That’s the thanks we get."

Bennett writes of other cities on the crows’ list of vacation hotspots including Auburn, N.Y., which he writes "mushroomed to 63,000 birds in 2004 before that town took action." Auburn Mayor Tim Lattimore told Bennett, "They seem to like to come into the city. They’re very intelligent birds. Very social birds. On weekends, their cousins fly in to visit."

Crows, Bennett writes, "do appear to have a list of preferred amenities when they pick a town as their winter home." Terre Haute, Auburn and Danville, Ill., meet all of their requirements, as listed by experts such as Peter Scott at Indiana State University, and Rich Chipman, wildlife biologist and the New York state director of wildlife services for the United States Department of Agriculture. Bennett details a list of items that attract this migratory menace. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Jan. 25-26: Heart of America Grazing Conference near Mammoth Cave

A five-state Heart of America Grazing Conference comes to Cave City, Ky., Jan. 25-26. Grazing experts from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Auburn University, University of Illinois, the University of Kentucky and Ohio State University, along with industry professionals and top producers, will be on the program.

The conference begins at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 and continues throughout the following day. Pre-registration is encouraged. The registration fee is $15 per person for one day and $25 for both days. It includes dinner and lunch as well as proceedings from the conference. To obtain a registration form, conference program and to learn about lodging accommodations, go to http://www.uky.edu/ag/Forages or call Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext. 202.

Jan. 28: Kentucky Watershed Watch conference for Kentucky River Basin

The first in a series of conferences for major watersheds in Kentucky will be held at Midway College. For more information, and to register on-line, go to http://kywater.org/watch.

Kentucky Watershed Watch has more than 3,000 members who give their time in an effort to improve waterways through a coordinated campaign of water quality monitoring, skills development and advocacy. More than 300 organizations are contributing to the effort by providing volunteers, staff, technical assistance, instruction and financial resources, and more than 100 leaders organized in eight local Watershed steering committees carry out the work.

Feb. 1: Nomination deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award, honoring editor

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is seeking nominations, justification for nomination, and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on Contests.

Feb. 1: Nominations due for Spadaro Awards for media arts and technology

One of the Jack Spadaro Awards is given annually to recognize the best documentary on Appalachia or its people. The award recognizes the producer for outstanding work in film, video, television, or radio. Eligibility and technical requirements for nominations are available from Jack Wright at 740-597-3080 or jwright@ohio.edu. Complete nomination materials are due Feb. 1.

A second award, the e-Appalachia Award, is given annually to an outstanding Web site that provides insight on Appalachia and its people, or provides a vital community service to Appalachians. Nominations should be made to: Roy Silver at 606-589-3139 or at rsilver@uky.edu before Feb. 1.

Feb. 8: Community media ideas due at Institute for Interactive Journalism

J-Lab’s New Voices program seeks innovative citizens media projects for funding. Grants up to $17,000 are available in 2006 for 10 nonprofit community news ventures. For an application form, guidelines and other information, go to www.J-Lab.org.

Saturday-Sunday, Jan. 21-22, 2006

Miners dead; pols pledge fight for new laws; some put more faith in media

"Rescuers on Saturday found the bodies of two coal miners who disappeared after a conveyor belt caught fire deep inside a coal mine. The bodies were found in an area of the mine where rescue teams had been battling the fire for more than 40 hours," The Associated Press reported at 5:27 p.m..

Lawrence Messina writes from Melville, W.Va., "Gov. Joe Manchin and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller informed families of the deaths at a church prior to making the announcement, along with Don Blankenship, chairman of the mine's owner, Massey Energy. It was the second major mining accident in West Virginia in less than three weeks. Earlier this month, an explosion at the Sago Mine, on the northern side of the state, led to the deaths of 12 miners." For CNN's story and video clips, click here.

At the Massey mine, Aracoma Coal No. 1, "the intensity of the heat and smoke had blocked rescue teams from getting beyond the burning conveyor belt," Messina reports, citing Doug Conaway, director of the state Office of Miners' Health Training and Safety. The victims were identified as Don Bragg, 33, and Ellery Elvis Hatfield, 47. "Both were fathers with more than a decade of mining experience and had worked in the Alma mine for five years." For more from AP via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click here.

Rockefeller, who described himself as "very angry," and a determined Manchin said they would push for new laws to make miners safer and speed their rescue in emergencies. "There are going to be a lot of mad people," Rockefeller told reporters. "I think we are going to see change. We're going to have to." Manchin said, "This has got to stop, and it's going to stop."

People in Central Appalachia have heard such vows before, and some remain skeptical of political promises. "If John Q. Public doesn't push for these changes now and for open hearings at Sago, miners are going to be forgotten again except for the coal they can produce," writes author Betty Lewis, who lives at Summersville, halfway between Sago and Melville. "I am just hoping and praying the media will do their job, keeping these stories in the spotlight, protecting and advocating for those who cannot."

Andrew Kantor writes in Saturday's Roanoke Times, "The technology for getting air to divers, miners and astronauts remains firmly rooted in the 19th century." To read more, click here. Another story in the Roanoke paper quotes Tom Novak, head of Virginia Tech's mining-engineering department, on the difficulties faced in mining emergencies. To read it, click here.

New rule allowed conveyor belt that burned, killing miners, to act as air intake

"The Alma No. 1 Mine was operating under a new Bush administration ventilation rule that might help underground coal-mine fires spread," Ken Ward Jr. reports in the Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston, W.Va. "The ventilation plan also might block crucial emergency escape routes, and expose miners to a greater risk of deadly black lung disease, according to a review of government studies and interviews with mine safety experts over the past two days."

The mine used its conveyor belt to draw fresh air to the area where coal is being mined. "When mines are arranged this way, and a fire breaks out on a belt, the belt tunnel can carry flames and deadly gases directly to the miners’ work area, or to vital evacuation routes," Ward reports.

The technique required special exceptions until 2004, when "the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration rewrote federal rules to allow widespread use of such ventilation plans. The move gave the coal industry a regulatory change it had sought for more than 15 years," Ward writes. "Davitt McAteer, Gov. Joe Manchin’s adviser on mine safety issues, had blocked the change for nearly eight years while he was MSHA chief for the Clinton administration."

Ward notes, "It is not yet clear exactly what caused the Aracoma Mine fire, or if the mine’s use of its belt tunnel as a fresh-air intake played a role in spreading the blaze." (Read more)

In another Sunday story, Ward writes, "Before each of the nation’s worst mining accidents in the past 15 years, federal regulators overlooked major violations of safety rules intended to protect miners," according to MSHA reports. "Inspectors missed safety problems, did not take harsh enough enforcement action or ensure that problems were quickly fixed." (Read more)

Lexington Herald-Leader blisters federal mine-safety agency in editorial

MSHA should have closed the Sago Mine and now should open a hearing into the disaster there, the Lexington Herald-Leader says in a toughly worded editorial today.

Before the explosion on Jan. 2, MSHA "inspectors were so concerned about conditions at Sago that a meeting had been set for Jan. 6 between the top U.S. mine safety enforcer and the president of the company that owns the West Virginia mine," the paper notes. "It would have been the sixth such meeting between officials of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration and officers of International Coal Group to discuss safety concerns, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. . . . Why didn't federal officials use their authority to shut down a mine that had a pattern of serious safety violations?"

After promising a public hearing into the disaster, MSHA "began its usual closed-door investigation," the editorial says. "Company officials were inside the closed room listening to witnesses testify. The presence of their employer exerts an obvious pressure on miners to echo the company line when they testify to investigators." Later in the week, both union and company representatives sat out the interviews.

The editorial concludes, "Closed-door investigations and reluctance to halt coal production even when miners' lives are at stake brings to mind Florence Reece's famous organizing song from Depression-era Harlan County: 'Which Side Are You On?' When it comes to MSHA, the answer is the coal operator's."

Hatfield-McCoy Institute for Agreement Training sets Feb. 15 signup date

The Kentucky county that was a site of the Hatfield-McCoy feud will be the site of a week-long institute to highlight the basics of mediation, negotiation, facilitation, and high-performance teamwork. The Hatfield-McCoy Institute for Agreement Training will be held Feb. 27 through March 3 at the Pike County Extension Office. Participants will learn largely by doing through group exercises and role plays designed by County Extension Agent for Fine Arts Stephanie Richards, a professional actress and director who is the first, and perhaps still the only, fine arts extension agent in the United States.

To read more about the conference, click here. Registration is $400, made payable to Pike County Extension District Board, and should be received by Feb. 15. A limited number of need-based scholarships are available on a first-come basis, with first preference given to Pike County residents and then to Eastern Kentucky residents. Registration can be mailed to Tim Campbell, UK Cooperative Extension Service, 148 Trivette Drive, Pikeville KY 41501, faxed to 606-432-2534, or e-mailed to tcamp@uky.edu. A detailed agenda is available at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/pike/news/HMIAT.htm.

Friday, Jan, 20, 2006

Sago mine blast investigation hits snag when union reps get kicked out

International Coal Group officials want the United Mine Workers of America kept out of the investigation into the Sago mine disaster that claimed 12 lives.

"Two UMW officials were kicked out of at least one interview Wednesday morning, after a Sago Mine foreman asked to give his statement without the union representatives being in the room. ICG officials also have threatened to not allow UMW safety experts onto company property to take part in the on-site part of the investigation," writes Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette.

The Sago Mine is a nonunion operation, but at least two miners who work there have designated the UMW as their official "miners' representative" to take part in disaster investigation. UMW President Cecil Roberts told Ward, "If there is nothing to hide here, it would seem to me that they would welcome everyone’s involvement, especially a union that represents members of the rescue teams that went underground to try to save these miners." ICG charged the union "seeks to interfere" in the investigation and alleged the union is trying to "revive organizing efforts that have floundered for more than a decade." (Read more) For MSHA's report on the rescue effort at the mine, click here.

Miami Herald reporter Fred Grimm has written a powerful and poetic profile of the people of Sago and their steadfast faith. "Sago Baptist Church has stood in a steep hollow above the Buckhannon River for 130 years ... a testament to the old-time religion that still grips these mountain folk. But a church that has hardly changed for 130 years was overwhelmed by tragedy ... and drawn into awful, maybe even transforming events," wrote Grimm. The full text of Grimm's story is available through the Herald's archives for a fee of $2.95. (Click here)

Kentucky legislator files bill requiring more mine inspections, drug testing

Legislation introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly calls for coal mines to face more government oversight from a larger pool of inspectors.

Rep. Brent Yonts' proposal, House Bill 404, calls for increasing the pool of inspectors by an unspecified number -- the state currently has 54 -- so that every coal mine can be visited at least once a month. It also would require drug testing of coal miners, writes told Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Yonts, D-Greenville, said, "We don't have enough inspectors. We need to increase their numbers and pay them more." But Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told Alford, "I think what you're seeing is a knee-jerk to the disaster in West Virginia. We really need to ... look at things objectively." Kentucky led the nation last year in the number of mine deaths with eight people killed on the job, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, notes Alford. (Read more)

'Coalfields Expressway' revival sought with coal companies prepping route

Two coal companies say they can mine coal, build a highway and rescue federal funding for a teetering road project in Southwest Virginia.

"The Coalfields Expressway, a dreamed-of highway through some of Virginia's roughest mountains and weakest economic areas, has needed an infusion since last summer. The Federal Highway Administration dropped the expressway ... and withdrew Virginia's eligibility for $95.3 million because planning and engineering progress had stopped," writes Ray Reed of The Roanoke Times.

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher said money for the project is still in the federal budget and Virginia can requalify to get it. State officials said actual construction work is at least a year away, and the Federal Highway Administration hasn't acted on the plan. Even if the federal funds are recovered, they're just 2.5 percent of the road's estimated $3.8 billion cost, notes Reed. (Read more)

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce Homer said if the project can be built in small sections, it's possible more state money could be appropriated for the expressway and the coal-and-government partnership may cut expenses. The would mark the state's first road project with a coal company involved.

Scientists attack possible removal of clean-air restrictions in rural areas

California air regulators and scientists say a Bush administration proposal to strip clean-air protections from rural areas is scientifically unsupportable.

"The rural rollback, supported by the mining industry, is one of several proposed revisions in the regulation of tiny airborne particles from vehicle exhaust, power plants, farming and mining operations and other sources. In developing the proposals, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists analyzed a mounting body of science that links the fine particles to heart disease, strokes, asthma attacks and shortened lifespans," writes Chris Bowman of the Sacramento Bee.

Under the proposals, the EPA would set a different level of clean-air protection for some Americans than for others. "The daily limit on the amount of particle pollution in urban areas would be tightened while the restrictions in rural regions would be removed altogether," writes Bowman.

The California Air Resources Board disputes the federal EPA position that airborne dust in rural areas is relatively safe and does not warrant federal regulation. Jerry Martin, air board spokesman, told Bowman, "Rural areas still have airborne particles from diesel-powered farm vehicles and equipment, from animal wastes and from pesticides and fertilizers. We don't think those particles are any safer just because they aren't emitted in urbanized areas."

The bulk of the health studies have been conducted in urban areas. Air board Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon said, "There have been too few studies … to allow an informed judgment as to the relative toxicity of rural versus urban coarse particles," writes Bowman. (Read more)

Beef producers find recovery slow from $6.2 billion in mad cow-related losses

"American cattle producers are still trying to dig out of the hole caused by mad cow disease, even as Japan has reopened its borders to U.S. imports and other countries prepare to follow suit," reports Steve Raabe of the Denver Post.

Analysts estimate the U.S. beef industry has lost $6.2 billion from the closing of foreign markets. "Financial losses for Colorado, the nation's fourth-largest beef producer, are estimated to have reached about $160 million over the past two years," writes Raabe. He also notes, "If there is any saving grace, it's that the export bans occurred during a period of high beef prices and low supplies, helping to buffer the cattle industry from some of the fallout."

Platteville cattleman Skylar Houston told Raabe the first U.S. case of mad cow disease, discovered Dec. 23, 2003, "Turned out to be the cow that stole Christmas." Houston told Raabe his family's Aristocrat Angus ranch lost 30 percent of its sales from the import ban.

Mike Miller, director of research for Centennial-based Cattle-Fax, told Raabe U.S. producers won't notice much benefit from resumption of exports to Japan until sufficient numbers of cattle under the age of 21 months are processed. Miller said the timing of the Japanese ban - when U.S. beef prices were high and cattle inventories were low - averted disaster for the industry. He told Raabe, "Had the timing ... been different, it would have been very tough. Quite frankly, it would have been devastating." (Read more)

Appellate court rules case against Wal-Mart anti-union efforts can proceed

A federal appeals court has told a lower court in can rule on a lawsuit by Wal-Mart workers alleging the world's largest retailer unfairly threatened to withhold benefits from employees who unionize.

"A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reversed a decision by U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson of Fort Smith, Ark., who said the court did not have jurisdiction over the dispute because it fell under the sole authority of the National Labor Relations Board," writes Marcus Kabel of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The original lawsuit was filed by several employees of a Wal-Mart tire and lube service center in Kingman, Ariz., who had sought a vote on unionizing in October 2000, notes Kabel. At issue is a so-called union exclusion clause that Wal-Mart at the time had in its benefits booklets for employees. An administrative law court that ordered the company in 2003 to drop the clause, finding it was meant "to ensure, that [Wal-Mart] employees were fearful of losing their benefits, and thus continued to reject union representation."

Legislation calls for helmets, higher driver-age threshold as ATV deaths soar

Kentucky has recorded the nation's fastest-growing death rate for ATV users with 106 deaths from 2002 to 2004, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Now, some Kentucky lawmakers want to take the state out of that top spot with tighter restrictions.

"Two bills pending before the Kentucky General Assembly ... would require that children under 16 wear helmets while driving or riding four-wheelers. The other would prohibit children that age from even driving ATVs and require all operators to wear helmets," writes Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal. State law requires helmets only on public property.

The CPSC also reported 33 deaths in Indiana during the 2002-2004 period. Kentucky reported 328 ATV-related deaths in the 20 years ending in 2004, with more than a third involving children, notes the Louisville newspaper. Ungar writes most of those injured or killed in both states were not wearing helmets.

Tony Patrick, president of the Eastern Kentucky ATV Association, told Ungar, "Legislation is not the answer. Education is the answer." Dr. Roger Humphries told Ungar he and his emergency medicine colleagues at the University of Kentucky have seen too many children suffer. Humphries said, "It's a major problem and lawmakers have essentially ignored it." (Read more)

Wisconsin Web site posts tax tardy list, prompts delinquents to pony up

Wisconsin posted an online list of 6,346 delinquent taxpayers this month, and the site collected nearly $2.6 million from taxpayers in its first week. But, the site is getting heat for some possible discrepancies and criticism from a weekly newspaper editor.

The list is limited to those who owe at least $25,000 in sales, income, excise or corporate franchise taxes, and were at least three months past their last appeal, reports Ben Jones of the Green Bay Press Gazette. However, Russell Turco is listed on the "Web site of shame" as owing $735,545, but he told Jones that he owes "closer to $50,000" for back taxes on a failed business venture from 13 years ago. There are other discrepancies with the amounts listed on the Web site, Jones reports. The amount that has been paid so far, $2.6 million, represents only 83 percent of the debt posted on the Web site. (Read more)

Warren Bluhm, editor of the Door County Advocate, denounced the Web site in this week's editorial. "Mostly these are honest folks who would pay if they had the money, but their dreams didn’t work out as well as they hoped," he writes. "Now, on top of that disappointment, they have the humiliation of having their tax bills inflated and posted on the World Wide Web for all to see. What’s next, putting tax delinquents in stocks on the public square and pelting them with eggs? This Web site should be shut down as fast as humanly possible." Editorial no longer available on newspaper's Web site.

Meat packer backs down on lawsuit, wins right to deal with Iowa hog farmers

Cargill Inc. has won the right to contract with Iowa hog farmers after agreeing to drop a federal lawsuit challenging the state's ban on corporations owning livestock.

"Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said the agreement, which has a term of 10 years, was similar to one he signed last September with Smithfield Foods Inc., the largest producer and processor of hogs in the world," writes Jerry Perkins of the Des Moines Register.

"Miller acknowledged that it was uncertain whether his office could successfully defend Iowa's corporate ban on livestock ownership in court," writes Perkins. He told the Register, "There will be contract production in our state ... but along with it will be power and rights for our producers." The agreement settles a lawsuit Cargill filed Wednesday in federal court in Des Moines. (Read more). For the Dow Jones News Service version of the story, by Richard Gibson, via the Minneapolis Star Tribune, click here.

Except for 18 western corners counties, Indiana to spring forward this year

Time is a major issue in Indiana with its many zones and conflicts. But, the hands of time have moved forward for at least some counties in an artful stroke that would have inspired even Salvador Dali.

"Eight Indiana counties will move to the Central time zone April 2, the same day most of the state will turn clocks ahead one hour to observe daylight-saving time. The decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation ends a yearlong debate that split communities and even neighbors," writes Marty Beth Schneider of The Indianapolis Star.

Schneider notes that under the change, "Hoosiers in 74 counties on Eastern time will spring ahead one hour at 2 a.m. April 2, when daylight-saving time goes into effect. Hoosiers in the eight counties newly designated for Central time will join 10 other counties already in the Central zone and will not adjust their clocks. On Oct. 29, Hoosiers in all 92 counties will turn their clocks back one hour."

And, she adds, "The feds' final decision will move two northwestern counties, Starke and Pulaski, and six southwestern counties, Knox, Daviess, Martin, Pike, Dubois and Perry, to the Central time zone. The rest of the state's 74 counties will stay in the Eastern time zone, including St. Joseph County." Gov. Mitch Daniels started the time zone turmoil when he pushed a bill adopting daylight-saving time through the 2005 General Assembly, writes Schneider. (Read more)

Lincoln Memorial University plans medical program to serve Appalachia

Lincoln Memorial University has announced plans for a new $15 million, four-floor facility to house the private liberal arts school's planned College of Osteopathic Medicine.

"Officials said they expect the first class of 150 students to begin their studies at the main Harrogate, Tenn., campus by fall 2007 as part of what will be the university's first doctoral program," writes Hayes Hickman of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

"There's a tremendous need in the Appalachian area for medical care," LMU Chairman O.V. "Pete" DeBusk told Hickman. "It is an area that has been underserved for decades." DeBusk said the college will attempt to specifically recruit students from the region who intend to practice in Appalachia. Tuition is expected to be approximately $35,000 per year for the four-year medical program.

LMU College of Medicine Dean and Vice President, Dr. Ray Stowers, told the News-Sentinel more than two-thirds of doctors of osteopathic medicine serve as primary-care physicians and often in rural areas. A new master's-level program for nurse practitioners also was announced. (Read more)

Author explores Appalachia's history to 'dispel myths, misconceptions'

For some people, the Appalachian Mountains conjure images of backwater mountain men with limited cultural or historical importance, but an Illinois author wants to dispel those nations.

To that ends, Macomb, Ill. author Jeff Biggers has written a new book with the title "The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America." Biggers, who won the American Book Award in 2005, will launch a national tour promoting the book starting Saturday, Jan. 28., reports The Macomb Eagle.

The book deals with the "largely overlooked contributions of Appalachia in the American Revolution, the abolitionist, labor and civil right movements, and various artistic, literary and music innovations," according to a press release from Biggers’ publicist, notes the newspaper. It explores landmark events that sprung out of the region and profiles Appalachians who made literary, cultural and historical impacts. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Jan. 31: Apply for the Thomas L. Stokes Award for Best Energy Writing

The National Press Foundation is now inviting submissions for the 45th annual Stokes Award for the best writing in a daily newspaper during 2005 on the subject of energy. The winner will receive $1,000 and a citation. Applications are due Jan. 31.

Feb. 1: Spadaro Awards for documentary; E-Appalachia award for Web sites

One Jack Spadaro Award is given annually to recognize the best documentary on Appalachia or its people. The Media Arts award recognizes the producer for outstanding work in film, video, television, or radio. Eligibility and technical requirements for submitting nominations are available from Jack Wright at: 740-597-3080 or jwright@ohio.edu. Complete nomination materials are due by Feb. 1.

The e-Appalachia Award, is given annually to an outstanding Web site that provides insight on Appalachia and its people, or provides a vital community service to Appalachians. Nominations should be made to: Roy Silver at 606-589-3139 or at rsilver@uky.edu before Feb. 1.

Feb. 3-4: Regional Clean Water Summit for hunters, anglers

This conference in Louisville on February 3-4 will explore approaches to conserving and restoring watersheds in order to assure future generations the opportunity to experience America's hunting and fishing heritage. Registration cost is minimal. For more information and to register, contact Tim Guilfoile at tim.guilfoile@sierraclub.org.

Thursday, Jan. 19, 2006

U.S. Labor Department ends 'preferential' inspection pact with Wal-Mart

U.S. Labor Department officials have announced the expiration of a much-criticized agreement they signed with Wal-Mart Stores regarding workplace inspections.

The department's inspector general issued a report criticizing the department's Wage and Hour Division for giving Wal-Mart 15 days notice before store inspections, reports The New York Times.

The inspector general said the agreement gave preferential treatment to the nation's largest retailer. Many Congressional Democrats and labor groups attacked the agreement as an opportunity to hide child labor and wage violations. The inspector general said the notice violated the division's handbook, writes the Times. "The agreement let Wal-Mart avoid fines if it brought stores into compliance within 10 days of being notified of violations," writes the newspaper. (Read more)

FCC chairman worries 'two-tiered' broadband plan would limit Internet access

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is worried about mounting rumors of a proposed "two-tiered" broadband delivery system by the Baby Bells.

"Under the plan being quietly pushed in Congress by the Bells, broadband providers would be able to charge Internet companies, such as Yahoo, Google and Amazon, an extra fee to deliver high-bandwidth content and services to consumers," writes Roy Mark of Optically-Networked.com .

Martin told a Consumer Electronics Show crowd in Las Vegas, "Broadband providers have the right to sell differentiated services, but consumers should have the ability to access any legal content on the Internet," writes Mark. Internet companies and consumer advocates did not question the right of the Bells to charge a fee, but they are concerned the proposed pricing scheme will ultimately price out smaller firms hoping to deliver high-speed services, Mark notes.

Martin told Mark, "It is critical that consumers have unfettered access to the Internet and all the services it provides. Washington could be concerned if providers were to block access to information and sites traditionally available on the Internet." (Read more)

Audit charges USDA only pretended to probe stockyards, meat companies

An audit says the U. S. Department of Agriculture pretended to investigate anti-competitive behavior among stockyards and meat companies since 1999, but no complaints were filed in hundreds of cases.

"Senior officials blocked investigations from being referred to department lawyers, who can file complaints or refer cases to the Justice Department, according to the audit by the agency's inspector general," writes Libby Quaid of The Associated Press.

The inspector general said, "Employees were told to create the appearance of a high rate of enforcement," notes Quaid. The audit states, "Competition and complex investigations were not being performed, and timely action was not being taken." As of last August, 50 investigations were being held up by deputy administrator JoAnn Waterfield, who resigned last month without giving a reason, writes Quaid.

Grain Inspection, Stockyards and Packers Administration administrator James E. Link told Quaid, "I didn't know the agency had those internal problems. You can't fix a problem till you know you have it." Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin told Quaid top officials were blocking investigations "and then cooking the books to cover up the agency's lack of enforcement." (Read more)

In a related story, Quaid reports the Agriculture Department's first civil rights chief is stepping down. "Vernon Parker announced his resignation Tuesday as assistant secretary for civil rights, a job Congress created three years ago to confront the department's history of racial discrimination," she writes. Parker told Quaid he wants to spend more time with his family. (Read more)

Community newspaper takes in-depth look at evolution vs. intelligent design

The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind. -- a Community Newspapers Holding, Inc. newspaper -- has ventured into the emotionally charged topic that some see as the 'wedge issue" in upcoming national, state and local elections; the teaching of intelligent design in schools as a faith balance to the science of evolution.

Bulletin reporters Melanie Hayes and Lynelle Miller tackled the topic in tandem stories, with Hayes reporting on those who believe science is taught at school, while beliefs are learned at home, and Miller presenting the views of Christian-based school students, educators and their parents.

Hayes writes, "Many students dedicate themselves to their study of evolution just to get a good grade, but revert to creationism, intelligent design and God as their true belief. Other students, however, feel that the theory of evolution is supported by scientific evidence." She notes quite a few remain undecided, blending material from the different theories. (Read more)

Miller writes, "This push to teach ID has caused a heated debate worldwide and raised many questions including whether or not God has a place in science class." She notes that intelligent design, in a broader sense, is the process of detecting or recognizing patterns arranged for specific purposes. (Read more)

Note: Anderson, Ind. is home to the conservative-influenced Church of God of Prophecy.

Federal grants funding police surveillance for 'Mayberry-size places,' reports Post

Homeland security grants are turning small police departments into high-tech crime surveillance centers, with some critics charging politics is propelling the funds over actual needs with questionable effectiveness.

"Bellow Falls, Vt., a 'snowy village' on the Connecticut River, with eight full-time police officers, has asked for 16 surveillance cameras, just three fewer police surveillance cameras than the District of Columbia, which has 181 times the population," writes David A. Fahrenthold of The Washington Post. Bellows Falls Police Chief Keith Clark told Fahrenthold, "People don't notice things" as they used to, so technology helps. In Washington, "the worst offense caught on police cameras so far seems to have been a car break-in -- in 2001," writes Fahrenthold.

Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, defending the trend, told Fahrenthold, "Nothing will be happening most of the time. Multiply that by several cameras with nothing happening, all the time. It's very difficult for any human being to be vigilant." An informal search by the newspaper turned up 17 police departments with 100 or fewer officers that either had a surveillance system or plans to put one up. All but two of these departments had either created or expanded their system since 2001, writes Fahrenthold. (Read more)

In a related story by Elisabeth J. Beardsley and Michael A. Lindenberger of The [Louisville] Courier-Journal a former state employee has sued the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security in U. S. District Court, claiming that anti-terrorism grant awards were based on politics rather than need and that she was fired for being a Democrat.

Linda Wells Back of Frankfort claims current deputy director Joel Schrader "repeatedly invoked partisan political considerations in the process of awarding federal Homeland Security grants, and in the hiring of personnel to administer the Homeland Security program," write Beardsley and Lindenberger. (Read more)

Fight against drugs could cost Kentucky millions as caseload swamps defenders

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher wants to spend an additional $50 million over the next two years to pay for more law enforcement, increase the number of public defenders, expand drug treatment options to inmates, and pay for more jail space, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Fletcher wants to spend $16.7 million to pay local jails to house state inmates and $15 million to pay for inmate medical care, $4 million to pay for regional drug courts, $3 million for drug enforcement specifically for eastern Kentucky, $4.3 million to add more probation and parole officers, and $2 million for drug treatment for nonviolent offenders housed in county jails. Fletcher's budget proposal also would provide $2 million to expand home incarceration programs for nonviolent state prisoners, notes Alford.

The Department of Public Advocacy would get $6.2 million to pay for more public defenders and to develop a pilot project aimed at helping inmates with substance abuse problems. Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy spokeswoman Shannon Means told Alford, public defenders handled an average of 483 cases last year. (Read more)

In a related story, Community of Faith - Family ordeal spurs local anti-meth group, Candace Hannigan of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes of Lynn Lenton who began a ministry to help people addicted to methamphetamine, inspired by her own daughter's fight against meth. (Read more)

Before Meth there was, is 'moonshine' - Ga. authorities bust still, find stash

Three people in Lumpkin County, Ga., are facing charges of bootlegging after authorities busted a still and found a stash of hundreds of gallons of moonshine.

"Deputy Commander of the Appalachian Drug Task Force, Greg Cochran said after a week long investigation, agents found seven fifty gallon drums of illegal alcohol and a still," writes Scott Kimbler of AccessNorthGa.com.

Two people were arrested at the scene. Another was arrested later at his residence. All are charged with manufacturing non-tax paid liquor. The Appalachian Drug Task Force along with the Lumpkin County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Department Revenue were part of the investigation, notes Kimbler.

AccessNorthGa.com, was voted "Best News Web Site" by The Associated Press in Georgia for 2005 It is owned by Jacobs Media Corporation in Gainesville, Ga. Jacobs Media also owns three radio stations, including WDUN News / Talk 550, which contribute news to the Web site. (Read more)

Southwest Va. legislator wants mining regs to improve rescue communications

A Southwest Virginia lawmaker plans to submit a bill in the state's General Assembly this week that could help underground coal miners communicate with rescue teams during mine disasters.

Delegate Bud Phillips, D-Sandy Ridge, also has met with mining officials to ensure that the state has sufficient regulations and laws in place to prevent events such as the deadly mine explosion in West Virginia earlier this month, writes Kathy Still of the Bristol, Va. Herald Courier.

Phillips told Still, "I asked the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to see if enough protection is in place for our miners who work near gas and methane wells." The delegate plans to submit legislation requiring coal companies to establish wireless communication devices underground so miners could maintain contact with those above ground, notes Still. Phillips told her, "If they had had that in West Virginia, maybe those on the outside could have directed in clean air." (Read more)

Missouri counties, farmers struggle to control livestock odors

In the past decade, more than a dozen Missouri counties have restricted the location of concentrated animal feeding operations, but state legislators want to make it difficult for other counties to follow suit.

"As Shelby County's presiding commissioner, [Chuck] Wood, 61, is caught in the middle of a debate pitting neighbor against neighbor in a tight-knit, rural community desperate for some economic salvation," writes Alan Scher Zagier of The Associated Press. Wood said of his constituents, "They don't want to limit growth; they don't want a health ordinance. But they sure as hell don't want a hog farm next to them without a say in it."

State law requires industrial-size livestock operations where animals are primarily confined indoors to be at least 3,000 feet from a residence. Those that don't qualify under the largest designation can be as close as 2,000 feet. The largest facilities have at least 7,000 beef cattle, 17,500 hogs and 700,000 chickens. Rep. Pete Myers, R-Sikeston, plans to introduce a bill that would require county leaders to consult with their local Soil and Water Board before passing location restrictions.

Terry Spence, a Putnam County farmer who spoke in favor of local health ordinances at a recent public hearing in Shelby County told Zagier the current standards are woefully inadequate. Spence's home is two miles from 80,000 hogs owned by Premium Standard Farms Inc., which obtained an exemption from a state law. He told Zagier. "I wouldn't wish that on anybody. If you're looking for DNR or (the Environmental Protection Agency) for help, forget it." (Read more)

W.Va. legislators want changes after woman fined for rescuing wildlife

A Martinsburg, W.Va. woman's home was raided last fall by state Division of Natural Resources agents who charged her with illegally caring for dozens of orphaned and injured raccoons before releasing them back into the wild. It seems in Wild & Wonderful West Virginia, her care was against the law.

Patricia Hoffman-Butler rehabilitates wildlife caring for animals in distress and then returns them to the wild. "There are thousands of such specialists licensed in Virginia, Maryland and most other states," writes D'Vera Cohn of The Washington Post. (Read more) Hoffman-Butler pleaded no contest and was fined $20 plus court costs, notes Cohn.

Two West Virginia legislators are now using her case to push a law that would let trained rehabilitators like her care for afflicted animals, notes Cohn. "They are counting on especially strong support in this suburbanizing northeastern swath of the state, where many new residents [bring] tenderhearted attitudes toward wildlife that sometimes clash with West Virginia's hunting culture," writes Cohn.

DNR officials said they oppose legislation that would require them to license rehabilitators. DNR law enforcement Maj. Jerry B. Jenkins told Cohn, "She knew that it was illegal, what she was doing. It was unfortunate that the animals had to be put down, but she's the one that created the problem." Laura J. Simon, field director for the Humane Society's urban wildlife program, told Cohn, "Rehabilitating an animal is not as good as mom, but if you don't have rehabilitators, it's the public taking them in."

'Journal Editorial Report' moves from PBS to Fox following FCC feud

The "Journal Editorial Report," a production of The Wall Street Journal that formerly aired on PBS, will begin its run on Fox News Channel this weekend, the network said Wednesday, reports The Associated Press via Editor & Publisher. The program will air Saturdays at 11 p.m. and Sundays at 6 a.m. (Read more)

The conservative-leaning talk show ended its run on PBS last month, where it had been caught in a storm over political influence in public broadcasting. An internal investigator at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had accused the CPB's former chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, of meddling in PBS programming to promote a conservative agenda, writes AP.

The CPB helps fund PBS but is not supposed to be involved in programming decisions. Fox called the show interesting and well-produced, and said it would draw affluent viewers to the network, AP writes.

Longtime journalism teacher, who inspired generations, dead at 91

Services were held yesterday for Barbara Garfunkel, who taught generations of aspiring journalists how to write and produce newspapers.

Garfunkel died Saturday in her sleep at the age of 91. Howard Kleinberg, a former student of Garfunkel's and the last editor of the defunct Miami News, said he owes his longtime journalism career to "Ms. G." "Next to my mother and wife, [Garfunkel] has had the greatest influence on my life," Kleinberg told Carli Teproff of the Miami Herald. (Read more)

Garfunkel was president of the Association of Women in Communications, notes Teproff, and received the Gold Key from Colombia Scholastic Press Association and the Most Distinguished Service Award for her contribution to scholastic journalism in Florida. Donations may be made to the Miami High Alumni Association, P.O. Box 331233, Miami, FL. 33233-1233 or the charity of your choice.

Rural Calendar

Jan. 23: Seminar on covering the federal budget, Washington, D.C.

The National Press Foundation, the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and the Regional Reporters Association will conduct a free half-day seminar on Jan. 23 in Washington, D.C. on covering the annual federal budget. RSVPs are strongly encouraged by Jan. 20.

The NPF provides free educational programs for reporters, producers, and editors, and gives awards for excellence in journalism. For more information, contact Kashmir Hill by e-mail or contact the National Press Foundation at npf@nationalpress.org.

Meanwhile, the annual NPF awards dinner, "with more than one thousand of the nation's leading journalists, news organizations, and National Press Foundation supporters" celebrating excellence, achievement and leadership in journalism is scheduled for Feb. 23 at the Washington Hilton. Those interested can reserve tables and tickets online.

Feb. 20: First of series of rural living clinics; registration due by Feb. 10

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has scheduled five "Rural Living - What's It all About?" clinics in Western Kentucky starting Feb.20 with registration due by noon Feb. 10.

The five clinics are the result of discussions by staff and clientele of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service that identified the rural-urban interface as a top issue in the west region of the state. All five sessions will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m., writes Laura Skillman of the U. K. College of Agriculture Communications Department. (Read more)

The initial Rural Living - What's It all About? clinic will kick off the series Feb. 20 at the Marshall County Extension office in Benton. Pasture Management is the March 13 session. Rural Living is March 20. Wells and Septic Tanks will be presented March 27.

The final session, Maintaining Ponds, is April 10. Registration is $5 per session or $20 for all five. The fee includes resource materials plus light refreshments. To receive a form or for more information, contact a local Cooperative Extension Service office or the Marshall County Extension office at (270) 527-3285.

Wednesday Jan. 18, 2006

DNA tests used to fight absentee-ballot fraud in southwest Virginia

It might seem to veteran observers that vote fraud in Appalachia has been around almost as long as the mountains. Now authorities in the Virginia coal town of Appalachia are adopting modern forensic science to combat this longstanding, illegal practice.

"An Appalachia resident said she was offered cigarettes and fried pork skins for her vote. In a town election where some votes were reportedly bought and others were stolen, whoever licked the envelope containing a disputed absentee ballot might also have sealed his own fate," writes Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times.

Authorities have obtained a saliva sample from a supporter of a candidate for the Appalachia Town Council in May 2004. They hope DNA testing will determine whether the man who sealed an absentee ballot taken from a voter's mailbox, filled it out and fraudulently submitted it in her name, notes Hammack.

Christina McKinney, a resident of a government-subsidized apartment complex, has alleged vote buying and ballot theft. Investigators have spent nearly two years investigating similar allegations in Appalachia, a town of 1,800, "where political feuds can run as deep as its surrounding coal mines," writes Hammack. "It is still unclear when -- or even if -- the case might go to a grand jury. According to the search warrant, the suspected crime is aiding and abetting in violating absentee voting procedures, a felony that carries up to 10 years in prison." (Click here to read more)

Meth cases rising, especially in rural areas, causing crunch in hospitals

Two surveys to be released in Washington today show a sharp rise in emergency room cases involving methamphetamine-related problems, particularly in Midwestern rural areas, straining local hospital budgets and treatment facilities nationwide.

"The studies ... by the National Association of Counties, are another indicator of the toll the drug has taken on local communities, particularly in rural areas where social service networks are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences. In July, the association reported that an overwhelming number of sheriffs polled nationwide declared methamphetamine their No. 1 law enforcement problem," writes Kate Zernike of The New York Times.

In the most recent survey, conducted late last year, 73 percent of the 200 county and regional hospitals polled said they had seen an increase in the number of people visiting emergency rooms for meth-related problems over the last five years; 68 percent reported a continued increase in the last three years, and 45 percent in the last year, notes Zernike.

Jeri Reese, an emergency room nurse manager in Greene County, Iowa, told Zernike, "These are labor-intensive cases, and the money that's put out is money that the hospitals won't recover." Fifty-six percent of hospitals said growing meth abuse had increased their costs. In Arkansas, 78 percent of the hospitals said costs had increased, writes Zernike. (Read more)

Meth beat: Bill Poovey of The Associated Press reports "Fewer kids [are being] taken from meth homes since [Tennessee's new] meth law took effect. For more, click here. Seattle Times staff reporter Karen Johnson writes that Washington state lawmakers are backing legislation that would toughen criminal penalties for meth users while also offering more treatment for addicts. For more, click here.

Pressured by parents, California school system drops intelligent-design class

Under pressure from opposing parents, a rural school district in California has canceled an elective philosophy course on "intelligent design."

"A group of parents had sued the El Tejon school system last week, accusing it of violating the constitutional separation of church and state with 'Philosophy of Design,' a high school course taught by a minister's wife that advanced the notion that life is so complex it must have been created by some kind of higher intelligence," writes Juliana Barbassa of The Associated Press. The district will halt the course at Frazier Mountain High next week and never again offer a "course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science or intelligent design," writes Barbassa.

Ayesha N. Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Barbassa, "This sends a strong signal to school districts across the country that they cannot promote creationism or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, whether they do so in a science class or a humanities class." El Tejon Superintendent John Wight said the subject was proper for a philosophy class.

In a landmark lawsuit, Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully blocked the Dover, Pa., school system last month from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is religion masquerading as science. The ruling is not being appealed because voters ousted the school-board members who wanted intelligent design in the curriculum. (Read more)

With persistence, reporter digs up revealing data on teacher accountability

"By any standard, Scott Reeder's one-man, six-month investigation into the many ways Illinois' 'reformed' tenure system frustrates teacher accountability was an impressive piece of work," writes Mark Fitzgerald of Editor and Publisher.

Reeder, state-capital bureau chief for the Small Newspaper Group of Kankakee, Ill., created two large databases, one tracking the number of tenured teachers fired in the past 18 years, and the other showing the job-performance evaluations of every Illinois school district. Reeder's investigative series, which ran in all of Small's dailies, uncovered that of the 95,500 tenured educators in Illinois public schools, an average of just two are fired for poor performance each year.

Reeder filed more than 1,500 requests for documents under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act with all 876 school districts in Illinois, and achieved 100 percent compliance. When The Associated Press and 14 daily papers conducted a FOIA audit in 1999 by asking for public documents from school districts, the reporters came away empty-handed two-thirds of the time, reports Fitzgerald.

"Essentially, my strategy was to hound the heck out of them, call them every day, and say, 'Hey, you're not in compliance with the law,'" Reeder told Fitzgerald. In Illinois, Reeder used the nation's first-ever "public access counsel," former AP reporter Terry Mutchler, who works out of state Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office. (Read more)

No Child Left Behind: Rural Oregon schools struggle to fill teaching posts

Rural Oregon school districts are struggling to hire core area teachers and instructors as fewer education students are receiving endorsements in certain education areas, forcing many schools to compete for qualified candidates.

"According to the Oregon Department of Education, the courses teachers must be endorsed in to teach are: English, reading or language arts; mathematics; science; foreign languages; civics, government and economics; arts; history and geography," writes Jessica Keller of the Ontario, Ore. Argus Observer.

Dr. Carol Lauritzen, chairperson of teacher education, Eastern Oregon University told Keller the state needs more teachers endorsed in math and science at the high school level and special education teachers. Lauritzen told Keller, can balance the need now but that could change with the state legislature pushing to increase math and science requirements. This year Eastern Oregon University will graduate 10 teachers endorsed in science and five in math, notes Keller.

Lauritzer told Keller, “It's very hard for (teaching) students to choose math and science because they can get into occupations that are more lucrative than teaching ... teaching is not a 40 hour a week job ... Teaching isn't as prestigious a career as it used to be.”

Lauritzen also said the No Child Left Behind mandate is placing more requirements on teachers and stricter guidelines making teaching less attractive for teaching recruits. She told Keller, “I believe in standards, but I think right now we just have a climate of outside voices telling us what to do, and sometimes that's not very encouraging.” Lauritzen also said the state's aging teaching force could lead to a greater shortage of teachers, writes Keller. (Read more)

USDA will make $950 million in tobacco buyout payments this year

U. S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has announced more than $950 million in Tobacco Transition Payment Program (TTPP) payments, better known as the tobacco buyout, will be paid to quota holders and producers in 2006, according to a USDA news release.

"Quota holders and producers can enter into successor-in-interest contracts beginning Jan. 23, 2006 for subsequent payments which would enable them to receive lump-sum payments from private entities by selling the remaining eight payments," the release states.

"Approximately $1.9 billion in payments will have been paid to tobacco quota holders and producers when this second round of payments ends," said Johanns, and he added, "These funds are helping tobacco farmers transition to the free market and mark the end of the federal tobacco marketing program."

The TTPP marks the end of the federal tobacco marketing quota and price support loan programs in place since the Great Depression, notes USDA. The buyout is funded by assessments on tobacco product importers and manufacturers. The payments, made every year on or about January 15, are approximately $950 million, they write. (Read more)

For more information, visit http://www.fsa.usda.gov/tobacco/Default.htm on the USDA Farm Service Agency's Web site., or call the National Tobacco Processing Center at 1-800-673-2331.

Opponents in Kentucky say tobacco-tax plan could cost state millions

Cigarette makers have warned Kentucky lawmakers a proposed overhaul of the way the state collects money from tobacco manufacturers under a national settlement could leave the state empty-handed.

"They flatly predicted that a proposal for tobacco companies to pay a flat tax of about $4 a carton on all cigarettes sold in Kentucky would be challenged in court," reports The Associated Press.

Some small tobacco manufacturers that did not sign the national settlement in which tobacco companies agreed to make payments to states to cover smoking-related costs are backing the proposed flat tax as a substitute. Critics said it would violate the agreement and cost Kentucky the roughly $113 million it now gets each year, plus the revenue projected from the flat tax, notes writer Bruce Schreiner.

Rep. Rob Wilkey, D-Scottsville, told a legislative budget committee, "It is an extraordinarily bad deal for Kentucky." Gene McLean, a lobbyist pushing for the flat tax, said opponents had resorted to "scare tactics," and that opponents are wrong to "opine as to what is legal or illegal or constitutional or unconstitutional when they haven't even seen the bill yet."

Proponents say the flat tax would generate a $130 million windfall for Kentucky each year and contend the state is being shortchanged under the current agreement. (Read more)

Wyoming coal production surges to milestone amid strong prices

Wyoming continues to produce record amounts of coal amid increasing national demand and strong prices.

"Although unofficial, Wyoming produced a conservative estimate of 405.4 million tons in 2005," according to the Casper Star-Tribune's annual survey of coal production," written by Dustin Bleizeffer, the Star-Tribune's energy reporter. "Coal industry analysts at the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration estimate the actual figure for 2005 is about 407.2 million tons."

The state's economic analysis division reports an estimated 2.4 percent increase in coal production from 2004, good news for a state that gets most of its revenues from minerals, Bleizeffer writes. Mineral-related taxes in 2005 well exceeded $600 million. "That does not include sales and use taxes, secondary business or the more than $600 million in annual payroll for the industry's 4,600 employees," he notes.

Buck McVeigh, administrator of Wyoming's economic analysis division, told Bleizeffer, "Coal is the core of northeast Wyoming [and] coal has always been a steady revenue generator." Paul Klibanow, a coal industry analyst for the New York investment firm Force Capital Management told reporters, "It's just amazing what's going on in the industry right now. I don't think it's fully appreciated how much utilities are willing to pay for coal right now," Bleizeffer writes. (Read more)

E-waste: S.C. county hopes to rid landfill of techy trash; issue in other states

While the start of a new year is a time for renewal, Barnwell County, S.C. is just trying to cope with lingering "e-waste." The county secured a $15,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control in August for the disposal of the landfill's "e-waste," reports David Berman of the county's weekly, The People-Sentinel. "E-Waste" is an industry term for discarded electronic items like televisions, personal computers and cell phones, basically anything with a plug, and disposing of such garbage is becoming an issue for communities nationwide, notes Berman.

Barnwell County plans to build a 10-by-20 foot building to house the landfill's e-waste. Global Investment Company of North, S.C., takes the e-waste and strips it, looking for precious metals and other valuable components. The county is also hoping to iron out a deal for Global Investment to visit schools and corporations, collect the e-waste, and transport it to its own facility.

That would keep the county's landfill free of e-waste, writes Berman. (Read more) Related stories include County coupons to make e-waste disposal cheaper by The Register-Guard in Oregon (click here), Towns to band together in e-waste recycling effort by the Bangor Daily News in Maine (click here), and Higher tech means more e-waste soon by the Rome News-Tribune in Georgia (click here).

"Get ready for e waste," writes Diane Wagner of the Rome News-Tribune. "Electronic equipment is one of the fastest growing segments of the national waste stream, including ... computers and televisions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 2 million tons of used electronics and 128 million cell phones are thrown away each year."

News-Sentinel columnist tells 'folksy tale' of mountain goats' 'Boer war'

There are a growing number of reporters writing about "rural." Then some, who've been around a while, write rural, period. Such is the case with Knoxville News-Sentinel 'Appalachian Journal' columnist Fred Brown, who spins a tale of saving an exotic 'meaty investment' by sickin' the dogs on wily predators.

"Clyde Henry, 70, was losing his valuable South African Boer goats to the call of the wild feral dogs, coyotes and a host of other four-legged hungry things on the upper end of Chestnut Hill of Jefferson County, farmland shaped like scoops of ice cream. Duke, Queen, Oscar, Roscoe and George put a stop to all that nonsense, and a lot of two-legged trouble at the same time. It was an answer from the Great Pyrenees . . . a dog that has been around since around 1800 B.C. We are talking dog, as in small calf, in the animal world," writes Brown, blending a mountain storyteller's style with solid journalism.

"The South African Boer goat got Henry's attention about six years ago," notes Brown. Henry told him, "It's a meat goat. Got a red head and white body, and dresses out to about 40 percent more meat. It's good meat for anyone that's got heart trouble."

Brown tantalizes his readers to delve deeper, telling them, "The South African Boer goat is a little more than just another goat with a goatee, some vicious curled-back horns and a penchant for butting and eating hardy. It's history is speckled with oddities." (Read more)

Louisiana political columnist and publisher Sam Hanna dies at 72

Sam Hanna, political columnist and publisher of three Louisiana newspapers, died Sunday at the age of 72.

"Hanna owned and published three newspapers -- The Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, The Franklin Sun in Winnsboro, and The Ouachita Citizen in West Monroe, La. Before entering the newspaper business as an owner, Hanna worked at The Monroe Morning World and The News-Star-World. He began his career with Monroe newspapers in 1956, reports The Associated Press.

Hannah was also known for his weekly political column, called "One Man's Opinion," published in newspapers statewide. Louisiana Secretary of State Al Ater told AP, Hannah "had a sixth sense of the happenings of the political situation in this state -- police jury to governor, your source for information was Sam Hanna." (Read more)

Papers get new bosses in Ironton, Ohio; Hernando, Miss.; and Warren, Pa.

Michael Caldwell, managing editor of The Ironton [Ohio] Tribune since November 2004, has been appointed publisher and president of Ironton Publications Inc., effective Jan. 10. Caldwell, 30, succeeds Kevin Cooper, who was named associate publisher of The Natchez [Miss.] Democrat and vice president of Natchez Newspapers Inc. A new managing editor hasn't been named.

Ron Caldwell, sports editor of The DeSoto [County, Miss.] Times Today for the past five years, has been named editor of the northwest Mississippi daily, Publisher Ron Tate announced Jan. 12.Caldwell has been the editor of the Shelby Sun Times, the Germantown News and the Collierville Herald as well as public relations manager and account executive for a Memphis, Tenn., advertising company.

Eric Paddock, longtime city editor of the Warren, Pa. Times-Observer, has been named managing editor replacing Jude Dippold, who left the paper to accept a position with Blair Corp. Paddock, a 35-year newspaper veteran, joined the Times-Observer in 1990. He had worked at The Bradford Era and at newspapers in Maryland. (These items are from Industry News by The Associated Press.)

Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2006

High-school reporters bust sex offender posing as British royalty in Minnesota

A registered sex offender tried to con Stillwater (Minn.) High School employees and students into believing he was royalty, but high school journalists revealed his identity, reports the Stillwater Courier.

"Joshua Adam Gardner, 23, of Austin, Minn., was arrested ... after students working for the school’s Pony Express newspaper grew suspicious of [his] attempts to present himself as a 17-year-old member of British royalty during visits to the school during the past month," writes the Courier's Mark Brouwer. Investigations found he is a convicted sex offender in violation of his parole, notes Brouwer.

Gardner tried to enter the high school as "Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, 5th Duke of Cleveland." Pony Express staffers interviewed Gardner and considered him "a candidate for an interesting feature story," writes Brouwer. But, they developed serious doubts about his claims. Student editor Matt Murphy told Brouwer, "He didn’t anticipate that these kids from Minnesota knew anything about British peerage.” Chantel Leonhart and Maria Riley, both co-managing editors, also investigated. Gardner spoke with a British accent, claimed to be 27th in line to the British crown and described celebrity parties. (Read more)

Murphy asked, "Why would a member of the royal family come to Minnesota to go to school?" write Alex Friedrick and Mary Divine of the Pioneer Press in nearby St. Paul. When the journalists confronted Gardner with questions about his background, "his accent started to falter, and he became agitated," said co-editor-in-chief Karlee Weinmann. (Read more)

Rural America inspires great storytelling, Golden Globe Awards show

You might not have expected last night's Golden Globe awards to produce news about rural America, but take a look at the big winners in the movie category. The cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain and the country music drama Walk The Line took seven of the thirteen movie awards. "Brokeback" won for best drama, and "Walk" won for best musical or comedy, setting up a face-off for best picture at the Academy Awards. Best movie actor and actress awards went to Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix for their portrayals of June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash, who stayed true to their rural roots in Virginia and Arkansas all through their musical careers.

Perhaps the results show that cosmopolitan America still identifies with its rural roots, and that rural America remains a rich source of stories -- both documentary and fact-based fiction -- that touch on universal themes of character, conflict and relationships. In rural America, character is more often the beginning of identity, and the isolation of rural areas can make relationships more difficult to create and maintain, raising the stakes for relationships and conflicts. We'd like to see George Clooney, who grew up in rural Kentucky (and won for supporting actor in Syriana), bring some of his production and direction talents to those themes. -- Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Illinois planing prisons only for meth addicts; two drug treatment centers

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has announced plans to open two 200-bed prison units devoted entirely to treating methamphetamine addicts over the next two years.

"One unit will open this year at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center in East St. Louis, which Blagojevich also plans to turn into a center dedicated to drug treatment. The other unit will open next year at the Sheridan Correctional Center in Sheridan, a drug-treatment prison that the governor plans to expand to its full capacity of 1,300 next year. That will make it the largest inmate drug-treatment program of its kind in the nation, according to Blagojevich's office," writes Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune.

State prison officials said Blagojevich's plan, to be announced in his State of the State address tomorrow, will help stem a growing tide of meth-related crimes and the criminals who flood the Illinois penal system each year. Some experts say meth addicts have unique needs that require special attention, and the Illinois prisons would be among the first to test segregation as a treatment approach, notes Parsons.

Deanne Benos, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, told Parsons, "Meth [affects are] more dramatic. Because of the impact on the cognitive skills of these individuals and their attention deficits ... what we're looking at doing is creating very small treatment groups."

Illinois reports meth-related incarcerations rose from six in 1996 to 541 last year. Although meth has been considered a mostly rural problem, law enforcement officials in Cook County (Chicago) report a significant increase in the amount of the drug seized since 1999, writes Parsons. (Read more)

Death of convict at private prison in Ky. raises concerns there and in Hawaii

Hawaii is sending a medical team to Kentucky to investigate the Dec. 31 death of a Hawaiian woman who became ill at a private prison in Floyd County. The review could have possible implications for prisons as major employers in depressed rural areas.

"Hawaii, which suffers from severe prison overcrowding, houses more than 2,000 inmates on the mainland, including 119 women at the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright. The private prison, run by Corrections Corp. of America, also houses 399 Kentucky inmates," writes Andrew Wolfson of The Courier-Journal. The inmate has been identified as Sarah Ah Mau, 43, who was serving life in prison for the second-degree murder of her 19-month-old son.

A Hawaii Department of Public Safety spokesman said an autopsy found Ah Mau died of natural causes and a state medical examiner said her death had no public health implications for other inmates. However, Hawaiian news organizations have reported Ah Mau had told relatives her pleas for medical attention were ignored. Nashville-based CCA, the nation's largest owner and operator of private correctional and detention facilities, said a review found her care was "appropriate and provided promptly, in a quality manner," reports the Louisville newspaper. (Read more)

Milwaukee council panel approves deal for citywide wireless Internet access

As many rural areas struggle for high-speed Internet access, a Milwaukee City Council committee has approved an agreement with a local firm to build a $20 million citywide wireless computer network. Now the matter goes to the full council.

"Officials are hoping to make Milwaukee the first major city in the nation to have a citywide wireless computer network," writes Greg J. Borowski of the [Milwaukee] Journal Sentinel. "The full council will consider the agreement [tomorrow]. And the first wireless zone, an area west of downtown that includes Marquette University, could be ready to go by summer," continues Borowski.

The firm seeking to build seeking to build the wireless network is working on the project with other companies, including Internet provider EarthLink. A Wi-Fi network allows people to access the Internet virtually anywhere. Many communities, including some rural ones, are seeking such networks as an economic development necessity. Other cities, including Madison, Wis., have pursued wireless networks. Philadelphia appears to be further along than most, writes Borowski. (Read more)

Kentucky watchdog group says much unclear about business tax breaks

Kentucky lawmakers have created many loopholes for businesses intended to spur economic growth, but a rural development group in the eastern part of the state is worried about unclear requirements, uncollected revenues and how that affects state spending, especially in the depressed region.

"The price tag: $571 million annually, according to one recent analysis," writes John Stamper of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "However, legislators have no idea whether most of that forgone revenue actually creates or retains jobs as intended," he writes, and many lawmakers remain doubtful there is enough money in the next budget for economic-development efforts.

Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, told Stamper, "A lot of money is spent each year with very little scrutiny. If legislators [knew] how much is going uncollected, they might make different choices." The Berea-based group recently reported 80 percent of the state's business-tax breaks have no evaluation or reporting requirements. They call for an evaluation system to scrutinize all economic-development incentives based on outcome.

Rep. Harry Moberly, chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, told Stamper, "I think the public expects more accountability. We should be making continuing efforts to look at our tax code, and we have not done as good a job of that as we should have." Moberly, D-Richmond, called the mountain economic development group's proposed evaluation system well thought out, and promised to explore the issue. (Read more)

Gov. Ernie Fletcher will present his budget priorities tonight. In all, the budget will cover about $17 billion over the next two fiscal years beginning July 1. For a story by Ronnie Ellis, state-capital correspondent for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. newspapers in Kentucky, click here.

Turf war shaping up between coal, gas with Sago blast propelling debate

A controversy over drilling natural gas and oil wells through coal seams is being fueled by the possibility natural gas from wells could have leaked into the Sago Mine. "The West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety [has] talked about the possible role that gas escaping from nearby wells might have played in the mine tragedy," writes Paul J. Nyden of The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia.

In related news, seven coal companies, Pocahontas Land Co. and the West Virginia Coal Association have filed a petition against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. The petition seeks to stop Cabot from drilling wells in mining areas. Gas companies such as Cabot also frequently damaging coal haul roads, writes Nyden.

Charleston attorney Nicholas C. Preservati told Nyden, "This is not about coal versus gas It is about stopping third parties from creating dangerous conditions on mine property. The problem is only going to get worse. The number of wells being drilled continues to increase, while the number of safe locations to drill wells continues to decrease."

Lawyer Tim Miller, who represents Cabot Gas, declined comment. Cabot Gas now has the largest drilling program in its history, with fuel demand and prices soaring, notes Nyden. It drilled 44 new wells in 2002 and 98 in 2003. Last year, Cabot developed 200 new wells. (Read more)

In a related column, Coal mining is deep in my bones - Matt Winters of The Daily Astorian in Astoria, Ore., writes about the Sago tragedy reviving American interest in the coal industry. (Click here)

Yield signs ordered at rural railroad crossings; currently limited warning

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has signed a bill into law requiring "yield" signs at all state railroad crossings currently only using 'crossbucks' - crossing boards on a poll emblazoned with a minimal warning.

"It's a small step but an important one in the eyes of a Howard [Wis.] woman who spent years fighting for safer railroad crossings. Connie Hermans says she avoids one railroad crossing at all costs. Almost four years ago, her teenage daughter died at that crossing [near Suamico] when the car she was riding in was struck by a train," reports Chris Duffy of WBAY-TV in Green Bay.

A stop sign was posted at that railroad crossing. Tireless fund-raising efforts have since put crossing gates there costing thousands of dollars, notes Duffy. Reacting to the new warnings, Hermans told him, "I can't tell you how many lives it has saved, [but] it has saved a lot of lives and will continue to save lives."

There are more than 3,000 crossings with crossbuck signs throughout Wisconsin, notes Duffy. Adding a yield sign next to them will cost about $42 each, and railroad companies will have to pick up the tab, he reports. Hermans told Duffy, "People have to be aware that the train can't stop. They have to stop. They have to look at their surroundings around them." (Read more)

Rare alligator snapping turtles recovered, dropped off at local shelter

Have you ever seen an alligator snapping turtle up-close? Not too close! The endangered species, hunted for its meat to the brink of extinction, has made a rare appearance at an animal shelter in Kentucky.

"When Tracy Centers was called about turtles that were brought to the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter for adoption, she assumed they were the kind of turtles that can be found in any pet store. Instead, the shelter found [itself] with the dinosaur of turtles," writes Kelly Foreman of the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.'s Corbin Times-Tribune.

Centers, who works at the shelter, told Foreman four alligator snapping turtles were dropped there by family members of their former owner who had moved out of state and abandoned the reptiles. Centers researched and discovered the shelter was dealing with a an endangered species. She told Foreman, "It’s illegal to have them in your home."

Centers contacted the Knoxville Zoo to find a home for the turtles but was told it was illegal to cross the state line with the endangered species. "We’re trying to place them in the Louisville Zoo or a wildlife refuge in western Kentucky," Centers told Foreman.

The largest freshwater turtles, the alligator snapping turtles can grow to weigh between 155 and 200 pounds. They are native to the southeastern United States but are now found mainly in Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana, writes Foreman. (Read more)

Houston Chronicle publisher dies, leaves legacy spanning more than 40 years

Richard J.V. Johnson, longtime publisher of the Houston Chronicle, has died at age 75.

Johnson died Saturday at home, the paper said. His cause of death was not reported. He started working at the Chronicle as a copywriter in the promotion department in 1956 and held seven jobs before he was named president in 1973 and publisher in 1987. He retired in 2002, reports The Associated Press.

Johnson orchestrated the Chronicle's transformation from an afternoon to a morning paper. He also served as chairman of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, now the Newspaper Association of America, and he helped introduce newspapers as a classroom tool. (Read more)

Plain Dealer publisher to retire after 46 years, but not until replacement found

Alex Machaskee has announced he is retiring as president, publisher and chief executive of Ohio's largest newspaper, The Plain Dealer.

Machaskee, 68, plans to keep working until a successor is named. He joined the newspaper 46 years ago, and rose to publisher in 1990, reports The Associated Press.

As publisher, Machaskee increased the news staff in the early 1990s and supervised the development of a $38 million downtown headquarters and $200 million production and distribution center in suburban Brooklyn. The Plain Dealer's circulation is 370,000 weekdays and 480,000 on Sunday. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Jan. 23: Seminar on covering the federal budget, Washington, D.C.

The National Press Foundation, the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and the Regional Reporters Association will conduct a free half-day seminar on Jan. 23 in Washington, D.C. on covering the annual federal budget. RSVPs are strongly encouraged by Jan. 20.

The NPF provides free educational programs for reporters, producers, and editors, and gives awards for excellence in journalism. For more information, contact Kashmir Hill by e-mail or contact the National Press Foundation at npf@nationalpress.org.

Meanwhile, the annual NPF awards dinner, "with more than one thousand of the nation's leading journalists, news organizations, and National Press Foundation supporters" celebrating excellence, achievement and leadership in journalism is scheduled for Feb. 23 at the Washington Hilton. Those interested can reserve tables and tickets online.

Jan. 25-26: Heart of America Grazing Conference near Mammoth Cave

A five-state Heart of America Grazing Conference comes to Cave City, Ky., Jan. 25-26. Grazing experts from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Auburn University, University of Illinois, the University of Kentucky and Ohio State University, along with industry professionals and top producers, will be on the program.

The conference begins at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 and continues throughout the following day. Pre-registration is encouraged. The registration fee is $15 per person for one day and $25 for both days. It includes dinner and lunch as well as proceedings from the conference. To obtain a registration form, conference program and to learn about lodging accommodations, go to this site or call Lacefield at 270-365-7541, ext. 202.

Feb. 1: Deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award; honors civic journalism career

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, ISWNE, is seeking nominations, justification for nomination and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on 'contests.'

Jan. 14-16, 2006

Farm interests being challenged for water rights in the West, elsewhere

"From Montana to Arizona to California and beyond, alliances of environmentalists, fishermen and city dwellers are challenging the West's traditional water barons -- farmers and ranchers -- who have long controlled the increasingly scarce resource," reports Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

"Under longstanding federal and state policies reinforced by farmers' historic political clout, agriculture has laid claim to about 80 percent of those scant resources -- at rock-bottom prices -- on the grounds that water is critical to the survival of crops and livestock," Eilperin writes. But amid drought and urban growth , demand greatly exceeds supply, and "other users are arguing that this system is unfair, uneconomical and a threat to many delicate ecosystems, and not only in the West." (Read more)

Eilperin adds, "Some environmentalists are concerned that even where water is relatively plentiful, as in the Southeast, irrigation projects can harm valuable habitat. Two advocacy groups are fighting proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers irrigation projects along Arkansas's White River, arguing that they are economically unjustified and could drain swamps that could be sheltering the rare ivory-billed woodpecker. In Tampa, the group Earthjustice is trying to block tomato farmers from using so much ground water, citing evidence that salt water is intruding inland at a rate of five inches a day. In Nebraska, federal and state authorities are struggling to balance corn and soybean growers' use of water from the Platte River against the needs of about 220 endangered wild whooping cranes," whose migrations rely on the river.

Wal-Mart health law in Maryland unlikely to be replicated in other states

Despite union claims that a a law effectively requiring Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to spend more on health insurance for its employees will be a model for other states, "It is doubtful that the campaign will steamroll across the country, policy analysts say. Because the other states' bills are written much more broadly, they are likely to draw more opposition from companies that watched the Maryland debate from the sidelines," report Reed Abelson and Michael Barbaro in The New York Times.

"Only a handful of states, among them Rhode Island, Washington, Colorado and New Hampshire, are likely to seriously consider requiring employers to provide a certain level of coverage, according to health care advocates and union activists," Abelson and Barbaro report. "Still, the new Maryland law has already begun to raise the decibel level of the debate over how to handle the nation's growing number of people with no health insurance, which is now at 46 million. Union activists and others say the law focuses more attention on the role of employers in providing the insurance."

The Maryland law requires employers with 10,000 or more workers in the state to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll costs on health insurance, or pay the difference into the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled -- a program that 5 percent of Wal-Mart employees use, critics say. Only one Maryland employer meets those criteria: Wal-Mart, "which has come to symbolize corporations that do not provide adequate health benefits to their employees," the Times notes. (Read more)

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin vows to 'change mining in this country'

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, often at the center of two weeks of turmoil during and after the Sago Mine disaster, said in a live interview on NBC's "Today" Show Sunday morning that he wants to see that the 12 coal miners "did not die in vain" in the state's worst coal disaster in almost 40 years.

Manchin indicated that he wants public hearings about the disaster to lead to legislation or regulations that would prevent another such calamity. "We are going to change West Virginia mining and we are going to change mining in this country," he said. "I want to make changes so no miner will ever be faced with the danger of asphyxiation when they have escaped the initial mine explosion."

Manchin, who lost an uncle in the Farmington mine disaster in 1968, made a similar vow in his State of the State address last week. Editorialist Susanna Rodell of the Charleston Gazette, wrote of the speech, "We can only hope he’s willing to take the tough steps that will require, because it will eventually come down to confronting Big Coal and making it obey the law, a tough call for any West Virginia politician."

The occasion for the "Today" interview was a memorial service scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday in Wesley Chapel at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon. For reports on the service: from Vicki Smith of The Associated Press, click here; from Scott Finn of the Gazette, click here. The Sunday Gazette-Mail of Charleston ran mini-profiles of each miner. To read them, click here.

For a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about Manchin's last two weeks, click here. For the paper's special report on the disaster, click here. Post-Gazette staffers on the story will have an online chat Monday and Tuesday; to learn more, click here.

A one-two punch on mine-safety issues in Saturday's Washington Post

"Just as Hurricane Katrina put a spotlight on the leadership and competence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so, too, it seems, is the Sago coal mine disaster destined to shine a light on the Mine Safety and Health Administration," says an editorial in The Washington Post.

After noting controversies under MSHA's administrator in 2001-04, the Post writers say "the pattern of repeated, serious safety violations and low penalties at Sago are on their own an indictment of MSHA's leaders, who are responsible for noticing such patterns. Those in Congress who have called for oversight hearings of MSHA are right to do so. We hope that they look into not just the causes of any one disaster but more generally at the relationship between Mr. Bush's "industry-friendly" policies and the tragedy in West Virginia Jan. 2." (Click here to read more)

The Rural Blog encourages all coalfield newspapers to join in the examination. The Post is doing its part; the editorial is coupled with an op-ed by Ellen Smith, owner and managing editor of Mine Safety and Health News, who again recounts the increased difficulty of getting records from MSHA. After 13 miners died in an Alabama mine on Sept. 24, 2001, "a mine tragedy overshadowed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," MSHA for the first time refused to release interviews of miner witnesses during an investigation.

"Then, two years ago, without public comment or input, MSHA secretly changed its longstanding policy of routinely releasing MSHA inspectors' notes and information from noise and dust surveys conducted at mine operations," Smith writes. "While this secret policy change has drawn ire from both the mining industry and labor -- and, needless to say, the media -- MSHA refuses to change its policy, claiming that releasing this information would "interfere with law enforcement." MSHA has asserted that it can withhold this information "until all possibility of litigation has been exhausted." What this means is that concerned individuals outside MSHA will have no chance to examine raw evidence from the Sago disaster and reach their own conclusions." (Read more)

Brothers in coal: Hatfields in Ky. and W. Va., Joneses in southwest Va.

Sunday's Lexington Herald-Leader noted that twin brothers Dennis and Ben Hatfield have been the top officials of companies responsible for two major coal disasters in Central Appalachia in little over five years. Dennis "was president of Martin County Coal Corp. during a 2000 slurry spill described by federal investigators as the worst environmental disaster in the southeast United States," and Ben is president of International Coal Group, owner of the Sago Mine.

That is "interesting, but not exactly newsworthy," reporter Lee Mueller paraphrased the brothers' high-school principal, Wilbur Goble, as telling him. He writes that the Hatfields "were born Oct. 26, 1956, in Matewan, W.Va., and raised in Martin County," Kentucky, just across the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. Dennis, now an official with Booth Energy in Inez, declined to comment, and Ben could not be reached. Both are "very people-oriented," said David Gooch, president of Pikeville-based Coal Operators and Associates, told Mueller. Click here to read the full story.

Before yesterday's playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers, CBS Sports ran a profile of star Bears running back Thomas Jones, pegged to the Sago disaster. Jones grew up in the coal-mining towns of Big Stone Gap and Appalachia, Va., both his parents were underground miners. "If it's not mining, there's really nothing here," Diane Bruner, one of Jones's middle-school teachers, told CBS.

Last summer, Jones and his brother Julius, of the Dallas Cowboys, were honored in Wise County after started what they hope will be an annual football camp at the University of Virginia's College at Wise. Thomas attended U.Va. For a report by Ida Holyfield, editor of The Post of Big Stone Gap, click here.

Wrapping up journalists' Sago debacle, this time with a big collection of facts

EditTeach.org has just added to its Web site "Headlines past deadline," a comprehensive look at how more than 100 newspapers covered the Sago Mine disaster on their front pages. Compiled by Randy Jessee, newsroom technology director at the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, the package includes two PowerPoint presentations, more than 50 articles newspapers published to explain how they got it wrong, and an overview from The New York Times. Click here to take a look.

The PowerPoints showcase the front pages of more than 100 newspapers across eight days. One is viewed manually; the other is automated and runs about 25 minutes. The coverage, from Jan. 3-10, is annotated with explanations of how some papers reacted to the news on and after deadline that early reports of miners being found alive were "heartbreakingly wrong," as the site puts it.

The items can be downloaded separately, or as a package in a folder (84 megabytes for PCs, about 106 MB for Macs). "If the full presentation is too long for use in your classes or workshops, you may either delete some slides from the automatic package or use the manual version to show selected portions," say Jessee and Deborah Gump, Knight Professor of News Editing at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, who runs EditTeach.org. They welcome suggestions and comments.

Phone deregulation bills in Kentucky prompt concern about rural service

Legislation pushed by large telephone companies in Kentucky "would deregulate charges for any customer who receives phone service as part of a discount package," but smaller, rural companies say it could create monopolies for Internet and cable-TV service in rural areas, reports The Courier-Journal.

"Darrell Maynard, president of Pikeville-based SouthEast Telephone, which competes with BellSouth and Alltel in rural markets, said the larger companies are facing huge competitive challenges in big cities. But in rural markets, he fears a lack of regulation will give the bigger companies the ability to monopolize markets, Robert Schoenberger writes for the Louisville newspaper. "Without regulatory protection, he said, the bigger carriers could undercut smaller providers' prices and drive them out of business, giving them more leeway to raise rates later."

"If we take away some policy oversight, where there is competition, where there are choices, the consumer will be protected by the open market," Maynard told Schoenberger. "But you still need some oversight if you're going to protect the majority of Kentucky -- rural areas." Schoenberger writes, "BellSouth and Alltel said they favor deregulation because they face various competitive challenges from companies in different parts of Kentucky. The carriers have to charge the same rate throughout the state, limiting their ability to respond to smaller competitors." (Read more)

The bill was the lead story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, in which reporters John Stamper and Ryan Alessi said "About half a dozen states already have passed legislation to deregulate traditional phone lines in some way, and "Consumer advocates are concerned that the move would drive up rates for customers who want just an old-fashioned phone line." Much of the state "could end up with few companies to choose from and little oversight by the [Public Service Commission] to hold rates down, said Dave Menzer, utility campaign organizer for Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana[, a state where the issue is also in play]. That would mean higher prices for some of Kentucky's poorest residents." (Read more)

Maryland governor in trouble with rural constituents who helped him win

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich overcame the state's heavy Democratic tendencies in the 2002 election with help from the western end of the state, which is more rural and Republican. But he has alienated many of those constituents, Tim Rowland of The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown writes in an opinion piece.

"Western Maryland virtually wept with joy at Bob Ehrlich's election, believing all local and rural woes over the years could be blamed on those arrogant, Democratic Beltway bullies. Further, Washington County went strong for Ehrlich in the election. Surely he would not forget such a loyal and supportive group as us. Well -- you know how it is. No sooner had he been elected than he served notice he was planning to make Interstate 81 a toll road. That might have been the ballgame right there."

Rowland says people in Western Maryland think "a highway toll is a tax wrapped in a regulation wrapped in an assault on freedom. And then when you top it off with a threat -- "You don't pay no toll, you don't get no six-lane 81" -- you have basically sent the local electorate wearily back to the drawing board."

And there's more: "The governor also was late to understand how frustrated Western Maryland corrections officers have become with his administration's prison policies; how unsettled some religious conservatives have become over his obsession with slot-machine gambling; how angry rural landowners and car owners have become over the new septic-tank tax and the increased car-registration tax; and how indignant tax hawks have become over Ehrlich's mountain of new fees" in lieu of tax increases.

Rowland notes that in the heavily Democratic state, "A Republican must have an enthusiastic and well-cared-for base. Plenty of people still like Ehrlich well enough around here, but notably fewer are willing to throw themselves under the bus for him as they would have done four years ago. On the planet that is Maryland politics, rural counties don't matter much. But come November, this governor may find out they matter more than he thought." (Read more) For Ehrlich's official biography, click here.

Friday, Jan. 13, 2006

Md. sets Wal-Mart health costs; similar bills possible in more than 30 states

Maryland legislators have passed a law effectively requiring Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to spend more on health insurance for its employees, a measure many expect to be a model for other states. "Legislatures in more than 30 states are considering replicating" the bill, reports The Washington Post.(Read more)

The legislature overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, in "response to growing criticism that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, has skimped on benefits and shifted health costs to state governments," writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times.(Read more)

"Under the Maryland law, employers with 10,000 or more workers in the state must spend at least 8 percent of their payrolls on health insurance, or else pay the difference into a state Medicaid fund" for the poor and disabled writes Barbaro. "Only four private employers are large enough in Maryland to be covered by the bill: Wal-Mart, Northrop Grumman Corp., Giant Food LLC and Johns Hopkins University. Of those, only Wal-Mart might fall short of the 8 percent threshold and therefore pay a penalty," writes Kris Hudson of The Wall Street Journal. (Read more)

Wal-Mart's critics say many of its employees have had to turn to Medicaid. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company is considering its options, including a lawsuit to challenge the law. Wal-Mart hired four firms to lobby the legislature against the measure and contributed at least $4,000 to Ehrlich's re-election campaign, writes Barbaro. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mia Masten told Barbaro, "This is about partisan politics and this is poor public policy driven by special-interest groups."

In Kentucky, where Wal-Mart has 32,000 employees, interest in such legislation is bipartisan. Republican state Rep. Melvin Henley of Murray is prime sponsor of the Wal-Mart health bill, reports The Courier-Journal. Patrick Howington interviewed Henley for the Louisville paper: "If large employers aren't 'holding up their end of the health-care program for their employees,' he said, 'then we need to either encourage them to increase their employees' health care or pay it into the Medicaid system.'" (Read more)

"Washington and New Hampshire are among the states labor activists view as most likely to follow in Maryland's footsteps," Amy Joyce and Matthew Mosk report in a follow-up story in The Washington Post. "Organized labor has a lot riding on this campaign. Companies that provide higher pay and benefits under union contracts are battling lower-cost competitors here and abroad. The companies are attempting to level the playing field by cutting back on pay and benefits, sometimes by filing for bankruptcy. Labor is trying the opposite tack: making others pay more." (Read more)

Nursing-home reform group checking staffing ratios; reporters can, too

How many patients does a nurse have to check? This may sound like the opening line of a joke, but it's serious business for a nursing-home reform group that wants volunteers to check their local nursing homes for compliance with a new federal regulation on posting nurses-to-patients ratios. This is an easy check for reporters anywhere, and could produce a story if the law isn't being followed.

Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform is seeking volunteers to join the "Posting Patrol" and do some snooping. The group says its mission is "to organize a volunteer force of Kentuckians who want to be a part of improving care in nursing homes, and who want to help educate the public about the problems in nursing homes, mainly the shortage of front-line caregivers."

"The federal government has finalized its regulation on posting the number of front-line caregivers in nursing homes. If the nursing homes comply with the order, you can determine the staffing ratio in that nursing home for any day and any shift," writes nursing-home reformer Bernie Vonderheide. Nursing homes are now required to"post how many registered nurses giving direct care, how many licensed practical nurses giving direct care, and how many certified nurse aides giving direct care on each shift for the entire facility; post the facility resident census - how many residents there are at the time of the staff posting; and they must post this information in a clear and readable format in a prominent place that is readily accessible to residents and visitors" -- who can be anyone, not just friends or relatives of residents.

By law, Vonderheide writes, "you can request a copy of the posting whether you are a family member or visitor. They have a right to charge you for the copies they make for you." Vonderheide asks Kentuckians to copy all of the information on the posting along with the name and location of the nursing home and e-mail it to KyNursingHomeReform@yahoo.com. The group will figure the staff-to-residents ratio and publish the results in a newsletter at this Web site.

Arkansas community fears meth rising again, despite cold-medicine law

Despite new laws restricting sales of cold medicines with ingredients used in making methamphetamine, there are reports that meth production is on the rise in some areas, such as rural Arkansas.

"Sheriff’s deputies [have] uncovered another methamphetamine lab, alarming law enforcement the initial effect of last year’s anti-meth legislation has worn off. A patrol officer discovered a functioning meth lab in her home, said Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Williams," writes Joseph Goldstein of The Daily Citizen in Searcy.

For the same "White County narcotics investigators who were hard pressed to find a meth lab in 2005," Goldstein writes, "the sudden upsurge of meth labs has caused some to question the effectiveness of a 2005 law that restricts access to cold medicines used in making meth."

Williams told Goldstein, "Where there is a will, there is a way. You’ve got people who realize they don’t need to go down to Mississippi to buy pills and that you can still buy them right here." In the first two weeks of 2006, the sheriff’s department has discovered four meth labs leading to four arrests. In 2005, they uncovered nine meth labs, a quarter of the number from 2004, writes Goldstein. (Read more)

Montana Indian tribe launches 'get tough' campaign to counter meth spread

Alarmed by rampant methamphetamine addiction, the Chippewa-Cree Business Committee in Montana has adopted a rigorous plan to curtail the drug and treat those who become addicted.

"Leading the charge is the newly created tribal meth advisory committee. The 12-member panel is tasked with curbing meth's spread across the reservation, using a combination of prevention, intervention, treatment and increased law enforcement. The panel also is working to forge alliances with other area tribes and existing anti-meth groups," writes Jared Miller of the Great Falls Tribune.

Tribal councilman and state lawmaker Jonathan Windy Boy told Miller, "We want a more unified approach." Brenda Guardipee, director of the tribe's social services program told Miller meth outpatient drug treatment has risen, meth-related child welfare cases are up and more tribal welfare recipients are failing mandatory drug tests. She said children as young as 12 have tested positive. Guardipee told the newspaper, "If it's accessible (to) a 12-year-old, it's easily accessible for anyone else."

The tribe's 9-page community action plan notes that large-scale drug dealers target reservations as distribution hubs, writes Miller, and he notes a federal court last year sentenced a drug runner for selling meth on reservations in Wyoming, Washington, South Dakota and Nebraska. The man apparently exploited jurisdictional loopholes in law enforcement by targeting reservations. (Read more)

Indian gaming group battling Native American poverty, gambling problems

The chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) has announced plans to help thousands of Indians who still live in abject poverty and to help people addicted to gambling, an industry that has helped tribes economically but provided temptation to their members.

The programs were announced Wednesday by Chairman Anthony Miranda in his State of the Tribal Nations address to nearly 900 attendees at the Western Indian Gaming Conference, notes the group in a press release on PRNewswire.

Center for California Native Nations at the University of California Riverside statistics show the average income of tribal people on reservations in California in 2000 was still 53 percent of the national average income. In 1990 it was 42 percent of the national average.

Even within gaming tribes in 1990, 36 percent of the families were living in poverty. That number improved to 26 percent by 2000, two years after California voters approved to state-tribal gaming compacts. The poverty rate among non-gaming tribes in California in 2000 was 30 percent, three times the overall poverty rate in California and in the United States. (Read more)

Meanwhile, speaking of Indian gaming: "Native American media say that several Indian tribes are players, not victims, in the scandal involving lobbyists Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and members of Congress," reports Pete Micek of Pacific News Service. (Read more)

Active gas wells near Sago mine where 12 died; one close to possible blast site

There are at least four natural-gas wells in close proximity to the Sago No. 1 Mine, including one that appears to be adjacent to the sealed area of the mine where a deadly explosion may have occurred.

"The wells are depicted on a Sago Mine map on file with the mine’s permit and mining plan records at the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training in Fairmont. An exact cause of the Jan. 2 disaster may not be known for months, but information about the location of the gas wells adds to the evidence being assembled and examined by teams of state mine safety investigators," write Paul J. Nyden and Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

State Department of Environmental Protection records show three of the wells are active. The fourth has not reported production since 1988. Natural gas contains about 70 percent to 90 percent methane, an explosive gas responsible for many coal-mine disasters, note Nyden and Ward.

The state Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety said during an emergency meeting yesterday that at Sago, natural gas could have leaked from the nearby wells into abandoned areas sealed off from the working mine sections. One theory is that a lightning strike could have ignited that gas. (Read more)

In the aftermath of the mine tragedy, the United Mine Workers of America is trying to help the public better understand the work that goes into coal mining via a Web site.

This time reporters questioned, then confirmed, W.Va. mine 'escape' report

Less than a week after journalists falsely reported that 12 trapped miners had been rescued in West Virginia, many newspapers' follow-up stories have named sources in the headlines, unlike many if not most of last week's faulty reports, according to Editor & Publisher.

Tuesday, "many newspapers reported the trapped miners had tried to break out of the mine using a rail car. The only source: relatives of the sole surviving miner, who said they had been told about this by the mine company's chief executive, Ben Hatfield," writes E & P.

Most papers "placed the sole source right at the top," notes E & P. The New York Times headlined "Miners Tried Escape By Rail Car, Family Says," and it attributed the report to the Associated Press three separate times in the first three paragraphs. Many others, notes E&P were also professionally cautious. (Read more)

Fatalistic theme, false report obscure company's responsibility, writer says

"Those first press dispatches out of Sago carried a sense of inevitability. As if, given the inherent dangers of coal mining, we must be willing to accept the occasional disaster. Twelve miners were offered up to the outside world like a bill come due," opines Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald.

Grimm notes, "Miners readily talked about the risk they assume when they go underground. Others noted the region's long, brutal history of mine tragedies, from 3,242 miners dying on the job in 1907 to 22 losses in 2005. A theme developed: Coal mining deaths are an unavoidable byproduct of our need for cheap energy." And Grimm writes, "The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's Web site encouraged this notion that bad things happen to good mines, citing an 'aggressive' inspection and enforcement record at Sago Mine." (Read more)

Grim bemoans news-media gullibility, writing, "I was wrong . . . to create an impression that tragedies like Sago are the inevitable by-product of mining. I should have added a qualifier: Disasters become inevitable when ''significant and substantial'' safety violations aren't fixed. . . . And the company's possible culpability was overshadowed because of the operator's stunning public-relations error: telling the miners' families 12 men had survived down in that hole, then waiting three hours to fix the mistake."

Kentucky governor says old equipment may be putting coal miners at risk

A miner killed earlier this week in Eastern Kentucky was using a 1970s-era machine to install metal supports to support a layer of overhead rock when the roof came crashing down.

"Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher has called on state mine regulators to look at whether Kentucky has adequate regulations to ensure the aging equipment used in some coal mines is not putting workers at risk," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. "If there is clear evidence that use of technology can produce a much safer workplace, then we need to encourage that. This accident led me to believe that a review of technology is important to do," Fletcher said.

D. J. Peterson, a spokesman for RAND Corp., which monitors science and technology trends, told Alford that a review of Appalachian mining practices found that the process of extracting coal underground is largely unchanged from 50 years ago. (Read more)

Homelessness not confined to urban areas; Kentucky hopes to provide help

Homelessness stretches beyond urban boundaries, especially in Kentucky, where one out of four people live in cost-burdened, substandard or over crowded housing, writes Ronnie Ellis, state-capital correspondent for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. papers in the state.

"Even in rural areas, there are numerous homeless folks that we don’t see," said Gina Chamberlain of Berea. "We think of homeless folks sleeping in doorways in urban areas or under bridges, but they might be people who live out on the railroad tracks in Richmond, or they’re moving from household to household, among family or friends, for a couple of weeks here and a couple of weeks there, because they don’t have a permanent place."

Legislative statistics show that 44,000 people in Kentucky experience homelessness each year. House Bill 338 would "establish a permanent source of revenue for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund of Kentucky," which according to Chamberlain helps lower the cost of construction of housing and allows for lower rent payments. Chamberlain is lobbying for support from state senators.

Chamberlain said most rural counties don’t have services to help the homeless. "What homelessness looks like in a lot of rural areas is people who make phone call after phone call, who go to agency after agency, and they find there’s nothing there for them," Chamberlain said. "Or they’re living in units that don’t have heat or plumbing that are basically not fit to live in -- but it’s better than living on the street." (Read more)

A report from the home of the Country Boys: more reasons for hope

Yesterday The Rural Blog highlighted the wealth of background information available about the subject matter Country Boys, the PBS "Frontline" documentary about coming of age amid challenges of their families and Eastern Kentucky. At our invitation, Prestonsburg, Ky., lawyer John Rosenberg, a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, reviewed geographer Amy Glasmeier's report on Floyd County.

Rosenberg, chairman of the East Kentucky Science Center, says there are reasons, beyond those Glasmeier noted, for hope in Floyd County: Big Sandy Community and Technical College, with 3,000 students, where four-year degrees from Morehead State University can be earned; the Science Center, which has "a world-class planetarium," exhibits and equipped classroom ("We hope for Silicon Hollows eventually," Rosenberg says); the Mountain Arts Center, site of many musical and theatrical productions and frequent venue for traveling artists; the popular Stonecrest Golf Course, on top of a former strip-mine site; and several federal and state prisons in the area, which provide steady employment.

Rosenberg also sees an educational system that is improving, still too slowly in his view, but one in which Betsy Layne High School can produce Governor's Scholars and "forensic competitions which would have been unheard of years ago. . . . So, I think it is worth noting that, in some ways, there are positive changes, although we continue to be economically depressed." For Glasmeier's report and access to information offered on the Country Boys Web site, click here.

Legislative panel approves rural seat on Arizona higher-education board

Arizona lawmakers are moving to ensure rural areas are represented on the state's Board of Regents. A Senate committee "approved legislation to require that one board member be from a county of fewer than 800,000 residents," writes Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, on the Web sites of the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen.

The bill would add a 13th member to the board, but sponsors plan to amend it when it reaches the Senate floor to instead require that the next vacancy be filled by a resident of one of the state's 13 rural counties. One seat is vacant following a regent's death. Most of the regents have come from the state's urban areas.

Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, said a rural member could spur expansion of programs to help students not living near state's three universities get four-year degrees. (Read more)

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006

‘Country Boys’ has run, but the film and lots more remain on the Web

The six-hour documentary Country Boys, about coming of age amid challenges of family and region, concluded its run last night on PBS's "Frontline," but the producers' Web site and a special report from a specialist in rural poverty offer much more information for journalists and others.

Amy Glasmeier, author of An Atlas of Poverty In America, details the economic geography of Floyd County, Ky., scene of the David Sutherland film. She reports, "A long-standing lack of economic opportunity, combined with the accompanying economic uncertainty, wears on and ultimately shapes individual aspirations." Her report appears in the Reports section of this Web site. To read it, click here.

Country Boys can be viewed on your computer, by going to the documentary's Web site, which includes much background information on the film, Appalachia, a "community engagement campaign" to help young people, and links to the subjects, Cody Perkins and Chris Johnson. It also includes a discussion board, maps, readings and reviews. We agree with Kay McFadden of the Seattle Times, who wrote, "Intimate and at times unbearably detailed, [Country Boys] distills the trappings of poverty and isolation into a classic coming-of-age saga. And it never condescends . . . "

Why does Appalachia stay poor? The site offers an interview with Cynthia Mildred "Mil" Duncan of the Carsey Institute, author of the 1999 book Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America. She blames long-term neglect and lack of investment. Speaking of the boys, she says, "We have a responsibility to the Codys and the Chrises of the world, and ... it is possible to invest in them, with real commitment, so they have a future, so they can join the middle class, and their kids can have middle-class schools, and have middle-class jobs, and raise strong families." For the interview with Duncan, click here.

Before the show ran, there were the usual concerns that it would amplify Appalachian stereotypes, but last night, in a Kentucky Educational Television show after the final episode, lawyer and columnist Larry Webster, a fierce defender of the region from nearby Pikeville, said of Sutherland, "He dealt into mountain life with a broad enough sampling that it was fair to all of us up here."

Perkins and Johnson appeared on the live, call-in show. Perkins, now married and out of college, said he is working for a heating-and-cooling company, and his Christian, heavy-metal band is about to release an album. Johnson said he is "still single" and may become a coal miner -- but may yet go to college.

Indiana bill ties phone deregulation to broadband expansion; cities skeptical

An Indiana Senate committee has advanced a sweeping proposal to deregulate the state's telephone market that would make telephone deregulation dependent on broadband access.

"The bill would let telephone companies set their own prices by 2009 and hike their rates by $1 each month until that date, if they provide high-speed Internet services to more than half of their customers in areas with increased prices," writes Michael Martinez of Technology Daily.

Supporters argue relaxed rules would bolster competition, that consumers would benefit from the bill and that existing franchise laws stifle competition. Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, in written testimony, said, "Unfortunately, franchise regulations continue to keep new technologies out of the hands of ordinary Americans."

Speaking on behalf of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Linton Mayor Tom Jones and Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis said the proposal's stringent requirements for municipal broadband projects would deny citizens access to developing technologies. Association spokeswoman Andrea Johnson told Martinez, the measure would hurt municipal broadband efforts that were initiated in part because companies had failed to provide the service. (Read more)

Presidential hopeful Clinton pushing for broadband extension to rural areas

"Likening the importance of broadband deployment's effect on economic development to the electrification of rural areas in the 1930s, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling on the head of the federal Rural Utilities Service to improve the Broadband Loan Program," reports Business First of Buffalo.

Clinton, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. John McHugh, a Republican from northern New York, are asking RUS Administrator James Andrew to explain why more loans are not being processed to hasten the deployment of broadband to rural areas of New York, reports Business First.

The two legislators said broadband "holds tremendous potential to bridge the technological and economic gap of many rural and underserved communities in New York," the business newspaper reports.

"It is critical that the Bush Administration and the Rural Utilities Service give serious consideration to our proposed improvements. It is vital for this loan program to function efficiently and reach the companies and communities that Congress intended it to," said Clinton. "In their letter to Andrew, the two New York representatives said broadband is 'clearly an economic multiplier' that has to be brought to all rural areas as soon as possible," reports Business First. (Read more)

USDA Rural Development touts possible shift: 'farm policy' to 'rural policy'

"Could we be approaching a day in which 'rural' policy is more important than 'farm' policy? The Iowa native who heads USDA's efforts in that area says such a paradigm shift could be in the works," writes Gene Lucht for Lee Agri-Media's Farm and Ranch Guide in Bismarck, N.D.

Lucht reports that Tom Dorr, a native of Marcus, Iowa, undersecretary of USDA's Rural Development agency, spoke during the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in Des Moines recently, telling them, "The fact is that today 96 percent of the income in rural America comes from non-farm sources." Lucht also notes "many of those non-farm sources may be connected to agriculture."

But, Lucht writes, "the point is: Providing those jobs and other items -- such as health insurance, good schools, rural roads and better Internet access -- might soon be more important than the level of commodity payments for many rural residents."

Dorr said rural Iowa residents' want to live in rural areas, and that better Internet access, and insurance and education options can give rural communities advantages. He also cited Iowa's boom in renewable energy that fueled the building of numerous farmer-owned ethanol production facilities, writes Lucht.

Dorr told the gathering that rural Iowa should try to keep some of ownership and investment in the plants, rather than letting it go to non-resident investors "who will take a portion of the profits out of state," writes Lucht. Dorr noted the more that wealth can be channeled into local communities the more the state will benefit, reports Lucht. (Read more)

Consortium aims to oversee animal movement database, work with USDA

Charles Miller, a cow-calf producer from Nicholasville, Ky., has announced the formation of the non-profit United States Animal Identification Organization manage the industry-led animal identification movement database as prescribed by the National Animal Identification System.

"This organization looks forward to working closely with industry and animal health authorities to move the NAIS forward. A Memorandum of Understanding has been submitted by the USAIO to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to form a strategic partnership and fulfill Secretary Johanns’ directive for the industry to develop the database repository," said Miller.

The organization's initial directors include Miller, beef producer Rick Stott of Boise, Idaho, and bison producer Lance Kuck of Bassett, Neb.

Reporters in Kentucky, Idaho and Nebraska could do a story about the director in their state, putting a face on a developing phenomenon and developing a source for future stories. Contact Miller at 859-885-4773 or cjbeef@alltel.net for issues regarding USAIO formation and governance; or Stott at 208-338-2500 or rstott@agribeef.com for issues regarding operation of the animal-movement database.

Western N. C. growers join chorus of disgruntled voices on tobacco buyout

Some Western North Carolina growers dislike the tobacco buyout and are considering legal action.

"The historic tobacco buyout Congress passed in late 2004 will put nearly $10 billion into farmers’ hands. But not all tobacco farmers, especially some burley tobacco growers in the mountains, feel they’re getting a fair shake," writes John Boyle of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Before the buyout, annually about 4,000 mountain growers in North Carolina would get $8 million to $10 million for their crops.

Don Smart, a Haywood County grower, told Boyle, "Burley and flue-cured growers got shorted. When all was said and done, we lost about 50 cents a pound." Smart told Boyle growers should have gotten $3 a pound for their "effective quota" for 2002, but he explains the U.S. Department of Agriculture took an average of 2002, 2003 and 2004, writes Boyle. Smart feels he’s been shorted about $60,000. He is working with a Virginia attorney on a suit against the USDA, which administers the buyout through its Farm Service Agency.

FSA spokesman referred questions to the agency Web site, which has a page comparing the language Congress used in writing the buyout legislation to the payout program, Boyle writes. (Read more)

Meth and children: Nebraska study shows drug taking a toll on the young

A Nebraska advocacy group has released a study that shows methamphetamine is having a devastating effect on the state's children. They are becoming victims of their parents' drug habits.

"Voices For Children released its report showing that meth is one of the reasons for a 38 percent increase in abuse and neglect cases. Counselors said the problem has been exploding over the last two years," reports KETV Channel 7 in Omaha.

Omaha's Child Saving Institute's Todd Landry told the station, "It's a crisis that is affecting our children and youth in so many ways." Voices for Children wants stricter laws for meth dealers and makers, as well as more money for the foster child-care system, education and treatment. Voices For Children's Kathy Bigsby-Moore told the station, "It's a combination of not having enough dollars to prevent them from coming into care, but then they often stay in care for longer periods of time."

The Child Savings Institute has an emergency shelter for abused and neglected kids. A growing number of them are being taken from homes because of meth abuse problems, the television station reports. CSI's Shana Romero told KETV, "I think the kids are just fending for themselves out there." CSI's Sabrina Schalley told them, "We're guessing anywhere from 30 to 50 percent come in strictly related to meth. No other substance abuse." (Read more)

Ky. governor reacts to a mine fatality by calling for stronger enforcement

After visiting a Pike County coal mine where a miner died in a roof fall, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher "asked Kentucky mining regulators yesterday to find ways to strengthen the state's system of enforcing mine-safety laws," reports Alan Maimon, Eastern Kentucky reporter for The Courier-Journal.

The Maverick Mining Co. mine "was cited for more than 100 violations last year, 46 ... characterized by federal inspectors as 'significant and substantial.' Several cited roof problems," Maimon wrote. "As governor, I take personally the loss of a life in the workplace, and am committed to doing what the state can do to help prevent that," Fletcher said, adding a reference to the recent deaths of 12 miners in West Virginia. "In light of the most recent accidents, we need to do more."

For example, the legislature could give state officials power "to fine companies that violate safety laws," as federal officials do, "and increasing the pay of mine inspectors who currently make a starting salary of about $30,000" a year, Maimon wrote. Fletcher had already endorsed the idea of mandatory drug testing for miners, which no other state has, but the coal industry opposes paying for such tests.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor told The Courier-Journal that the increased attention to mine safety is "a knee-jerk reaction to a terrible accident," the one in West Virginia. "Coal mines are much safer than they're being portrayed." (Read more)

Safety improvements finished at Sago Mine before accident, says operator

International Coal Group Inc.'s chief executive called the Sago Mine a "safe operation," despite federal documents reporting that 17 of 208 alleged safety violations in 2005 were for serious problems. CEO Ben Hatfield said, "Company officials have heard nothing in the course of all this debate about the safety violations that even remotely connects with any possible cause of the explosion."

Hatfield told reporters that before the explosion that killed 12 miners, the company rebuilt two miles of primary escapeway, upgraded the mine's rail transportation system and implemented employee safety training. The mine's 208 citations last year contrasted sharply with its 68 citations in 2004. Still, the mine's employee injury rate per hours worked of 17.4 in 2005 was nearly three times higher than the national average of 6.54, writes David Disheau of The Associated Press.

Dennis O'Dell, the administrator of occupational health and safety for the United Mine Workers of America, told Disheau, "I think they were trying to go in the right direction. They were writing some pretty serious violations at that mine. ... That mine was headed for closure."

Hatfield told Disheau ICG inherited many of the mine's safety problems from its former owner and had been working to correct the violations. The company took control from Anker Energy in November, but started work there as management consultants in June, Disheau writes. (Read more)

Huge bottled-water company forsakes Va., W.Va., N.C. for N.Y. or Pa.

Nestle Waters North America has stopped searching for water supplies in Central and Southern Appalachia and instead will look in Pennsylvania and New York, The Roanoke Times reports.

JoAnne Poindexter writes, "Nestle Waters said it was looking at pouring an estimated $120 million into Botetourt and Alleghany counties by drilling a series of wells and building a massive bottling plant for its Deer Park products. The company wanted a site closer to its mid-Atlantic region, but the plans were dependent on the scientific water testing of numerous springs."

The plant would have created up to 250 new jobs. Project leader Bruce Lauerman told Poindexter the testing showed storm water runoff didn't allow the springs to meet the stringent U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards. Nestle spent about $1 million on the yearlong project, which also looked at sites in West Virginia and North Carolina. (Read more)

For rural preservation, S. C. county proposes a shift in sales-tax money

In South Carolina, rural Charleston County's advisory committee has proposed spending seven of every $10 from the more than $180 million in sales-tax money to preserve green space.

"Mayors Joe Riley of Charleston, Keith Summey of North Charleston and Harry Hallman Jr. of Mount Pleasant had asked the board to make a 60-40 rural-urban percent split of the money. The 8-5 vote reflected the deep division between representatives of municipal and rural interests on the appointed resident board," writes Bob Peterson of the Post and Courier of Charleston.

The 70-30 split would be roughly $130 million to $50 million rural to urban. Of that, $10 million of the rural grant money is expected to be given to a county conservation bank modeled on the state bank.

Committee Chairwoman Louise Maybank called it "a defining moment for green space," but Mount Pleasant Administrator Mac Burdette said the three mayors represent 75 percent of the county's population and ... should get a fair share, writes Peterson. Other committee members said the plan represented "the overwhelming desire of residents they heard at workshops and public hearings." Committee member Edwin Cooper told Peterson, "This is a triage situation. The biggest risk ... is the loss of rural areas." (Read more)

Arizona newspaper calls for rural voice on state higher-education board

A vacancy on the Arizona Board of Regents has prompted the Benson News Sun in the San Pedro Valley to call for the state's rural population to be represented on the higher-education panel.

The editors note that most of the regents hail from the state's major urban areas and write, "There is opportunity in virtually everything, including unhappy occurrences" like the death of regent Lorraine Frank of Phoenix. Like most states, Arizona is becoming more urban, with only 12 percent of its residents in rural areas. Four of 15 counties are predominately rural while seven more are one-third to one-half rural.

The editors continue, "The needs of rural residents are decidedly different from those of city dwellers. To a student in Maricopa County [Phoenix], distance learning is nice but not essential. But to a student from rural Cochise, learning away from a campus could be critical."

And, they conclude, "Given that there are 10 appointed members on the regents, and 12 percent rural population, we don't think it is unreasonable to ask Gov. Napolitano to find someone living in a rural area to serve out Lorraine Frank's term." (Read more)

Rural Alabama county reverses decision to purchase terrorism insurance

Clarke County, Alabama, has opted not to purchase insurance protection against a foreign-based terrorist attack, after residents questioned the need for coverage and said the $7,000 premium was not a good use of public money, reports Andy Netzel of The Mobile Register.

Commission Chairman Rhondell Rhone told Netzel, "We should have taken a little more time and studied it." The commission originally voted unanimously to purchase the insurance even after some members voiced skepticism. It called for a policy insuring county-owned buildings from damages, notes Netzel.

The Montgomery Advertiser wrote that a foreign terrorist organization would have a hard time finding Clarke County, which has about 27,000 residents in rural southwest Alabama. The newspaper opined, "Clarke County has to be one of the least likely targets for terrorism on the planet."

Commissioner Joe Hunt told the Register, "The majority of the people who approached me didn't think it was worth it .... that's why I changed my mind." The county's regular insurance policy covers domestic terrorist attacks. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Jan. 19-22: Sustaining Family Farms conference, Louisville

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group will host its 15th annual Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms conference Jan. 19-22. The conference will feature more than 50 sessions, four intensive short courses, field trips and much more. Promoters say it "offers a bounty of innovative strategies for those who are committed to sustainable agriculture."

More than 700 producers, educators, researchers, and advocates, all working toward sustainable food systems, are expected to attend the conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown. For more information, write Robin Verson, vendor coordinator, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, 8707 Breeding Road, Edmonton, KY 42129; call 270-432-0567; or e-mail hhcsa@scrtc.com..

Jan. 23: Seminar on covering the federal budget, Washington, D.C.

The National Press Foundation, the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and the Regional Reporters Association will conduct a free half-day seminar on Jan. 23 in Washington, D.C. on covering the annual federal budget. RSVPs are strongly encouraged by Jan. 20.

The NPF provides free educational programs for reporters, producers, and editors, and gives awards for excellence in journalism. For more information, contact Kashmir Hill by e-mail or contact the National Press Foundation at npf@nationalpress.org.

Meanwhile, the annual NPF awards dinner, "with more than one thousand of the nation's leading journalists, news organizations, and National Press Foundation supporters" celebrating excellence, achievement and leadership in journalism is scheduled for Feb. 23 at the Washington Hilton. Those interested can reserve tables and tickets online.

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006

Rural California school district site of 'next wave' intelligent-design lawsuit

Some parents are suing their rural California school district to force it to cancel a four-week high school elective on intelligent design, creationism and evolution that is offered as a philosophy course, not science. A federal judge in Pennsylvania recently ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach intelligent design in a public-school science class because it is religious teaching.

The 11 parents at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, on Interstate 5 between Burbank and Bakersfield, "are seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the course, which is being held during the session that ends on Feb. 3," writes Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times. Represented by lawyers with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the parents contend the teacher is advocating intelligent design and "young-earth creationism."

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told Goodstein, "This is apparently the next wave of efforts to bring creationism to schools, and that's why we want to dry it up immediately." A course description says, "This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid." The teacher of the course is married to the pastor of the local Assemblies of God church. She amended her syllabus and the course title after parents complained. Kitty Jo Nelson, a school trustee, told Goodstein, "If we had to describe this in one word it would be 'controversial.'"

School administrators did not respond to an interview request. Supt. John Wright said in a Jan. 6 letter, "Our legal advisers have [said] they are unaware of any court or California statute which has forbidden public schools to explore cultural phenomena, including history, religion or creation myths." (Read more)

Governor's 'intelligent design' remarks stir questions, maybe local impact

In Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher's State of the Commonwealth address Monday night, brief remarks near the end supporting the teaching of intelligent design in schools have "sparked more conversation and curiosity" than any other remarks he made, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"Fletcher said Kentucky school districts have the freedom to teach intelligent design if they want, and he said, 'I encourage them to do so'," writes Ryan Alessi. Fletcher did not propose a law, and Rep. Frank Rasche, D-Paducah, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he would block one because the state leaves curriculum decisions up to school districts. One statute explicitly gives permission for creationism to be taught but doesn't require it. The law does not mention intelligent design.

Rasche, Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley and other Democrats said Fletcher may be "trying to score political points with Christian conservative voters, especially as the governor's poll numbers have dropped in recent months," writes Alessi. Cabinet Secretary Robbie Rudolph said Fletcher was not acting on political calculations. Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, like Fletcher a Republican, said, "I think the question is a good one. Why bring it up?" Fletcher said "he wanted to address the topic because he had been asked about it and thought it important," Alessi reports. (Read more)

Fletcher's remarks raise the possibility that a Kentucky school district could decide to teach intelligent design. When schools in Dover, Pa., did that in science class, parents sued, resulting in a federal-court ruling that blocked the practice. Just prior to the ruling, an election ousted the school-board members who added intelligent to the curriculum.

On Stinking Creek, parents raise a stink about plans to close the school

A requirement that schools be evaluated every four years has some parents and teachers in Knox County, Ky., concerned that their school may be closed. They fear the regulation may put and end to Dewitt Elementary along Stinking Creek, a famous tributary of the Cumberland River.

Teacher Misty Broughton said, "Our area is very rural, and we're close as a community. I feel if you take the school out of the community there's nothing left." Most of the people at a Monday night planning committee meeting were there in support of the school, reports WYMT-TV of Hazard.

Student Tori Warren told the station, "I think a lot of people would have to home school their children or would miss a lot of school because they wouldn't be able to get to school all the time." Concerned parents cited reasons like transportation difficulties and pride in their community as reasons to keep the school.

Ken Crawford, a member of the planning committee, said, "Part of this discussion is money to take care of problems there versus building a new school in Dewitt, so where do we get the money?" (Read more)

The more we hear about the record of the Sago mine, the worse it gets

"Supervisors at the West Virginia mine where 12 miners died "repeatedly failed to uncover dangerous conditions before starting a day's production," according to inspection records released yesterday, reports Gardiner Harris in The New York Times.

"Company officials have said that a required pre-shift inspection done shortly before the explosion on Jan. 2 found no dangerous levels of methane, an explosive gas that is often the cause of mine disasters. But the newly public records indicate that these inspections were often inadequate," writes Harris, who once covered coal up close from The (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Eastern Kentucky Bureau.

"The records also show that the mine had by far the worst safety record last year of any mine its size in West Virginia," Harris writes. "Federal inspectors cited the mine 202 times last year, a number that included 16 violations so blatant that they were deemed 'unwarrantable failures.' None of the six other mines in West Virginia with a similar number of employees were cited for that kind of violation."

The records showed that company officials should have faced criminal charges even before the explosion, said Tony Oppegard, described by Harris as "a former top official with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and a former prosecutor of mine-safety violations in Kentucky. He told Harris that the violations amounted to a pattern that should have forced temporary closure of the mine."You can't just let them violate the law month after month."

Robert Friend, the acting deputy assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, told reporters Monday that "pattern of violations takes a history, more than just a few weeks or a few months" perhaps two years. Oppegard called that ridiculous, saying "You just can't let them violate the law month after month. ... The law doesn't say it has to go on for years." (Read more)

Company officials may have had more responsibility for conditions in the mine than has been indicated. Harris writes, "Company officials have insisted for more than a week that they were not responsible for the injuries and citations at Sago over the past year because International Coal Group acquired the mine only in November. The Charleston Gazette reported yesterday, however, that Wilbur L. Ross Jr., who formed International Coal, had controlled the company that owns Sago since at least 2001."

Meanwhile: An Eastern Kentucky coal miner was killed yesterday when a section of mine roof collapsed. Other members of the underground crew made it out safely at the mine at Robinson Creek, south of Pikeville. Killed was Cornelius Yates, 44, of Shelbiana. For the Lexington Herald-Leader story, click here; for The Courier-Journal story, click here.

Reflections on Sago from third generation; tough choices defined by coal

Coal permeates the lives of Appalachian residents. It often defines them, and inextricably influences their life's choices, says a third-generation member of a mining family on National Public Radio.

Natasha Watts, 22, said in a commentary yesterday that the recent deaths of 12 miners at in West Virginia "broke my heart" because it reminded her of a bigger disaster in her home Letcher County in 1976. "I find it hard to believe that something that happened 30 years ago can still happen today," she said.

In introducing Watts, NPR said the recent disaster "reminds her of her own dilemma: whether to stay in the mountains with her family, or leave the coal industry behind." She acknowledged the danger of the work but said, "Mining is still one of the few jobs in this area with a salary big enough to support a family," and "I've seen friends leave college because they can make more money mining."

Watts said she passed up the employment track of her female cousins, secretarial jobs at a mining companies, and is borrowing money and working two part-time jobs to attend Eastern Kentucky University. "Even when I do get a degree, there won't be many jobs for me back home," she said, but might stay nevertheless

"There's something about being from here that means I know who I am and I won't be understood anywhere else," she said. "I have to make a choice. No matter what I choose, I love where I come from, and coal will always be a part of what I am. This is what my life is: coal, mountains and family."

To hear the commentary, produced by a collaboration between Youth Radio and Appalachian Media Institute (Appalshop), click here, then click on"Listen."

Study suggests bird flu more likely in humans; Post says world not ready

A new study suggests a greater-than-expected connection between direct contact with dead or sick poultry and flu-like illness in humans. The study was published in the Jan. 9 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, reports Newswise, an online news service for universities and research institutions.

The researchers concluded that poultry in the household was not a risk factor for developing a flu-like illness, but direct contact with sick or dead poultry produced the highest risk for such illnesses. The study authors concluded, “Our results are consistent with a higher incidence of [avian flu] among humans than has been recognized previously. The results suggest that the symptoms most often are relatively mild and that close contact is needed for transmission to humans.” (Read more)

An editorial in today's Washington Post, citing "a clutch of new bird-flu cases in eastern Turkey," opines "If the virus really were to become a global human pandemic, the behavior of the Turkish government, neighboring governments and international institutions demonstrate that, for all the hype about bird flu, the world is totally unprepared." (Read more)

Former head of Kansas Press Association pleads no contest to theft

The former head of the Kansas Press Association has pleaded no contest to theft from the organization.

Jeffrey A. Burkhead, 46, entered the plea Jan. 3. He could be sentenced to probation or up to two years and 10 months in prison for the theft, reports The Associated Press.

Burkhead, a former editor of newspapers in Emporia and Liberal, was hired as the association's executive director in 2000 for a yearly salary of $85,000. An internal audit showed Burkhead spent $119,367 for personal use. He was asked to resign in September 2003.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Karrer told the judge in the case that he and Mark Bennett, Burkhead's defense attorney, don't agree on how much restitution Burkhead should pay. In a lawsuit filed by the press association, Burkhead agreed to pay $56,000to the association. That was in addition to payments he made earlier, and a$25,000 insurance settlement. Burkhead is to be sentenced March 17. (Read more)

Sanders retires in Lubbock; AP staff changes in New Orleans, Kentucky

Randy Sanders, editor of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal since 2000, has announced he will retire from the paper after more than three decades. Sanders, 58, said he will step down Jan. 27.

Sanders began his journalism career in 1966 with the El Paso Times before joining the A-J's sports department in 1969. He worked as city editor and news editor before taking a job as press secretary for U.S. Rep. Kent Hance in Washington in 1983.

Hank Ackerman, chief of bureau in Kentucky for The Associated Press, has been appointed chief of bureau in New Orleans, where he will return to oversee AP operations in Louisiana and Mississippi and
help direct coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Adam Yeomans, chief of bureau for Tennessee, will assume additional responsibility for Kentucky, part of AP's trend toward two-state operations. He will remain in Nashville.

Ackerman succeeds Charlotte Porter as New Orleans bureau chief. He has been bureau chief in Kentucky since 2003 and returns to New Orleans after a five-year stint as bureau chief there in the 1980s. Yeomans, 46, joined the AP in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1993 after working for The Orlando Sentinel and Reuters. He was appointed news editor in Miami in 1996 and assistant bureau chief in Miami in 1997. (Read more)

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006 (late postings)

Charleston reporter reflects on being an intruder among victims' families

When Scott Finn of The Charleston Gazette hung around Sago Baptist Church to speak with a coal miner who had asked a good question during the initial briefing for journalists and families of miners, a woman got the attention of the crowd and "made her announcement. A spy was in their midst."

So writes Finn in a thoughtful exploration of the relationship of reporters to victims. "In essence, I was spying, although I would argue I was spying for a good cause. In this case, my motivation wasn’t fame or fortune. I was trying to tell a good story, to help my readers understand. If they care, maybe they’ll get involved, maybe they will help, maybe they’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. And I think that as individuals, each reporter there told himself or herself the same thing. But in a story like this, the community doesn’t see us as individuals. They see us as a horde, the proverbial media circus. . . . When someone consented to an interview, they could expect a swarm of other reporters to gather around. I was part of a crowd of a dozen reporters interviewing one miner’s son. . . . As a group, we were often rude, pushy and inconsiderate. Maybe there’s no other way. But that doesn’t make it right."

On a more personal level, Finn writes, "The entire process of interviewing someone is like a seduction. I ask a family member for an interview. I use all the weapons at my disposal to do this. I am charming and polite. I express concern for them. I appeal to their sense of duty, their desire for justice or revenge. . . . At its best, the seduction produces a happy relationship. The reporter gets the story and the family member gets to express how he or she feels. But when the person is unsophisticated or in a vulnerable situation, the seduction feels somehow wrong. I saw one producer take the arm of a miner’s relative and guide her toward the cameras. She looked nervous to me and had just spilled coffee over her shirt."

Finn concludes, "I know many of my colleagues won’t want to read this. We are under enough attack from all sides without suffering from friendly fire. Besides, there is much we did right. I’ve been proud of the Gazette’s and [Charleston] Daily Mail’s coverage of the event. Somehow, our reporters managed to tell these miners’ stories with dignity. More importantly, we were tough and relentless in holding the company and state and federal officials responsible for their role in the tragedy. We continue to uncover their shortcomings and look for ways to prevent this from happening again. . . . But sometimes we hurt people by our carelessness. In the heat of competition, in our desire to get the story, we sometimes push aside the needs of the people we cover. I don’t know what the answer is here. In this decentralized system, such media circuses are probably inevitable. That doesn’t make them right." (Read more)

The Oregonian wins new prize for 'Unnecessary Epidemic' series on meth

First place in the new Philip Meyer Awards, for use of social-science methods in journalism, went to The Oregonian for "Unnecessary Epidemic," a package "showing how Congress and the Drug Enforcement Administration could have stopped the growth of meth abuse by aggressively regulating the import of the chemicals necessary to make it," reports Editor & Publisher. (Read more)

Steve Suo's reporting for the Portland paper "included sophisticated statistical analyses of data on hospital and treatment center admissions, arrests, meth prices and purity, and chemical imports," E&P reports.

Second place went to "Discharged and Dishonored," a Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau series "that revealed how disabled veterans were being harmed by the bureaucratic inefficiencies of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs," E&P writes. Third place went to "Vanishing Wetlands," a St. Petersburg Times series showing that "84,000 acres of Florida wetlands have been destroyed by development since 1990," when a no-net-loss policy was enacted.

The awards are run by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting and the Knight Chair in Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. They are named for Philip Meyer, the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meyer's 1973 book, Precision Journalism, sparked much greater use of social science methods in journalism.

Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006

Quota-free tobacco market boosts crop size, burley in North Carolina

North Carolina's shrinking ranks of tobacco farmers must "get bigger, get better or get out," writes Jim Nesbitt of the Raleigh News & Observer, relaying advice from growers who are heading into the second year of production without a federal quota and price-support system.

Growers can plant and sell more leaf, favoring larger farms in the eastern counties of the state that are able to grow enough to still turn a profit at a lower price, reports Nesbitt. Graham Boyd, executive vice president of the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, "predicts a steady migration of flue-cured production out of the Piedmont and into the Coastal Plain . . . where land is cheaper, flatter, friendlier to farm machinery and less pressured by suburban development."

Economies of scale are important because this year's prices for flue-cured tobacco are $1.55 or lower, down from $1.85 under the price-support system. But that also makes the leaf more competitive in what has become a global market.

The end of the quota system has allowed Piedmont growers to diversify into air-cured burley, "a smaller-volume but more lucrative tobacco variety once geographically limited to eight states under the old quota system, including Kentucky, Tennessee and western North Carolina," Nesbitt writes. "Because so many burley farmers in Kentucky, Tennessee and other states have abandoned the crop, burley is also fetching a higher price than flue-cured -- about $1.60 a pound."

North Carolina growers are also staking hopes on a consolidation of the industry, because their state has long bene tops in cigarette making. Nesbitt notes that manufacturers are "closing plants in other tobacco-growing states such as Georgia, where flue-cured crops have been struck by disease that doesn't hit as hard in North Carolina." Plants have also closed in Kentucky. (Read more)

Kentucky governor wants more tobacco-settlement money; doubts raised

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher said in his State of the Commonwealth speech last night that the state should get a bigger slice of a $206 billion tobacco settlement companies negotiated with 46 states to help defray the costs of smoking-related health issues. Such an effort that raises a number of legal questions.

State House leaders asked Attorney General Greg Stumbo two months ago to see if Kentucky could circumvent or renegotiate the agreement. Stumbo warned of "obvious pitfalls and legal dangers in this minefield," writes Ryan Alessi of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Kentucky's share is about $3.6 billion over 25 years or about 1.76 percent of the pot, based partially on how many packs of cigarettes each state sells. Kentucky sells roughly 3 percent of cigarettes sold in the United States, notes Alessi. Gov. Fletcher said that could mean as much as $150 million extra each year.

Fletcher communications director Brett Hall told Alessi, "What we want to do is open the door and get the discussion going." The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee will interview experts on the subject today. Stumbo said he hopes to provide legislators with a list of potential problems and key questions in seven to 10 days. Stumbo, a former House majority leader who is at odds with Fletcher, told Alessi, "The legislature spent the money, so obviously ... there was some acquiescence. Whether it amounts to full ratification, that's something we're looking into." (Read more)

Coal vital to nation's energy but virtually an ‘unknown,’ say experts

A University of Kentucky mining engineering teacher and an author of a recent book on coal say that despite the vital role the flammable rock plays in keeping America powered, illuminated and comfortable, most Americans are in the dark when it comes to understanding the industry.

The university's Rick Honaker says that in his childhood, the importance of coal was more widely understood. Honaker describes how he used to retrieve coal from a coal bin in the backyard to load into a coal stove. Now, he says the only time his children have seen a lump of coal is when he brings one home, writes Adam Geller of The Associated Press.

"Until this past week's mining tragedy in West Virginia, coal was very much out of sight, out of mind. But even as the death of 12 men beneath the ground reminds the nation of its coal-mining past, the ebony jewel they sought remains very much part of our present," notes Geller.

Barbara Freese, author of Coal: A Human History, told Geller, "The problem is, it's not burned by us directly. It's burned in power plants. And because of that we can live with the illusion that coal is the fuel of the past." Geller writes, "The notion of a coal-fired stove seems old-timey, and a coal furnace almost unimaginable. To see a coal delivery truck in one of our big cities, or a coal-driven locomotive steaming across the countryside would be as anachronistic as a horse and buggy."

He adds, "The coal miners' union is a shadow of what it once was, when its bulldog of a leader challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt for political power. In cities where factories long ago filled the sky with soot and smoke, the coal fires have been relegated to memory. But if we don't see or feel or smell the power of coal any more, that does not mean we have left it behind." (Read more)

Industry stuck in its past of disease, disasters, writer who covered it says

A news analysis by New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris concludes that mining accidents like last week's Sago mine disaster are the result of problems that can't be solved until major changes are made in an industry that he argues hasn't changed much in a century, in some ways.

"Certain problems are endemic in the industry: old safety equipment, lax enforcement and a get-along culture in which safety complaints are discouraged, according to an examination of government and court records and interviews this past week and over the years with hundreds of miners, dozens of mine inspectors and mine safety experts," writes Harris. "Throughout the industry, the oxygen canisters, the telephones, the ventilation equipment and almost every other piece of safety equipment are nearly identical to those used more than 20 years ago."

Tony Oppegard, a former top federal mine official in the Clinton administration and the former prosecutor of mine safety violations in Kentucky, told Harris, "Many miners look at inspectors as their enemies." Harris notes, " Mines are routinely cited for violating federal safety rules. Federal inspections occur at least four times a year. For some mining operations, paying fines is less expensive than adhering to the rules, miners say. And a few mines do not bother to pay at all."

The proof, Harris writes, "is that miners continue to die ... Black lung disease still stalks the coal fields even though the technology to prevent it has been available for nearly 100 years, and federal rules that would eliminate it have been in place for more than 35 years," he writes. (Read more) Harris, as reporter in The Courier-Journal's soon-to-be-closed Eastern Kentucky bureau, wrote a series of articles in the late 1990s about mines' failure to limit coal dust and prevent black lung,

Charleston reporter reflects on being an intruder at Sago Baptist Church

When Scott Finn of The Charleston Gazette hung around Sago Baptist Church to speak with a coal miner who had asked a good question during the initial briefing for journalists and families of miners, a woman got the attention of the crowd and "made her announcement. A spy was in their midst."

So writes Finn in a thoughtful exploration of the relationship of reporters to victims. "In essence, I was spying, although I would argue I was spying for a good cause. In this case, my motivation wasn’t fame or fortune. I was trying to tell a good story, to help my readers understand. If they care, maybe they’ll get involved, maybe they will help, maybe they’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. And I think that as individuals, each reporter there told himself or herself the same thing. But in a story like this, the community doesn’t see us as individuals. They see us as a horde, the proverbial media circus. . . . When someone consented to an interview, they could expect a swarm of other reporters to gather around. I was part of a crowd of a dozen reporters interviewing one miner’s son. . . . As a group, we were often rude, pushy and inconsiderate. Maybe there’s no other way. But that doesn’t make it right."

On a more personal level, Finn writes, "The entire process of interviewing someone is like a seduction. I ask a family member for an interview. I use all the weapons at my disposal to do this. I am charming and polite. I express concern for them. I appeal to their sense of duty, their desire for justice or revenge. . . . At its best, the seduction produces a happy relationship. The reporter gets the story and the family member gets to express how he or she feels. But when the person is unsophisticated or in a vulnerable situation, the seduction feels somehow wrong. I saw one producer take the arm of a miner’s relative and guide her toward the cameras. She looked nervous to me and had just spilled coffee over her shirt."

Finn concludes, "I know many of my colleagues won’t want to read this. We are under enough attack from all sides without suffering from friendly fire. Besides, there is much we did right. I’ve been proud of the Gazette’s and [Charleston] Daily Mail’s coverage of the event. Somehow, our reporters managed to tell these miners’ stories with dignity. More importantly, we were tough and relentless in holding the company and state and federal officials responsible for their role in the tragedy. We continue to uncover their shortcomings and look for ways to prevent this from happening again. . . . But sometimes we hurt people by our carelessness. In the heat of competition, in our desire to get the story, we sometimes push aside the needs of the people we cover. I don’t know what the answer is here. In this decentralized system, such media circuses are probably inevitable. That doesn’t make them right." (Read more)

Sago disaster heralds newspapers' inability to be current, critic opines

A Newsday reporter cites the Sago disaster as an example of conventional newspapers' ingrained inability to keep up. Justine Davidson, in an opinion piece for the Long Island, N. Y. newspaper, writes, "If you are reading these words on a sheaf of brittle sheets, with the ink seeping into your fingerprints, you are participating in an antique ritual that may be heading toward its final act. If you have arrived at this story by following a blogger's link, or a friend has e-mailed it to you, then you are helping to reshape the idea of what a newspaper should be."

Davidson concludes, "A decade into the Internet age, newspapers are attempting to transform themselves into electronic media with one hand, while clinging to their ink-on-paper past with the other," writes Davidson. He continues, "It's hard to avoid eulogies for the news industry, or the Orwellian scenarios in which propaganda and entertainment all but obliterate information. What virtually all industry-watchers agree on is that the news business needs a radical renovation." (Read more)

A reporter for the Beckley, W.Va. Register-Herald, herself a 'victim' of the erroneous reports 12 miners had survived the Sago mine blast, writes, "I am perplexed at how the mainstream media have rejected
any claim of wrongdoing after creating the largest error in journalism history."

Christian Giggenbach continues, "After realizing the media had botched the story, my first thoughts went directly to the acute anguish the family members must have gone through — and will forever feel — after coming to realize their loved ones had actually passed away. Every person in America who saw the incorrect story first can relate to those feelings ... I sure did." (Read more)

Minnesota's rural Internet access varies widely between north and south

Minnesota has a disparity between its various regions in broadband Internet access, according to a new study. In the south and east, access is good while in the west and north, access is lagging behind

"In rural areas, high-speed Internet either is rarely available beyond city limits or is available only at relatively high prices from a single provider, according to the study by the Center for Rural Policy and Development in St. Peter," reports Steve Alexander of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The study of 1,450 Minnesotans in October and November, showed that in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, 43.9 percent have broadband, compared to 27.4 percent in rural Minnesota. Rural internet users are three times more likely to say broadband isn't available, notes Alexander.

About percent of Minnesota households use broadband, ahead of the U.S. average of 33 percent reported in September by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Jack Geller, president of the St. Peter center, said the shortage of rural broadband service was evident with the finding that some of the state's most prosperous rural households, with incomes of $150,000 or more, lack high-speed Internet connections. He told Alexander, "It's not cost to these people, it's a matter of availability." (Read more)

North Dakota meth treatment center treating addicts as jail alternative

A new treatment center in Fargo, N. D., for methamphetamine addicts has begun taking patients, part of an initiative to offer counseling instead of prison to users of the illegal drug. The state legislature appropriated $500,000 for 20 treatment beds for two years. The state picked ShareHouse, a nonprofit treatment center, to provide the treatment, writes Dave Forster of The Forum in Fargo.

The new center's clinical director, Andi Johnson, told the newspaper its first patient last week spent most of his time sleeping after coming down from using meth, an illegal and highly addictive stimulant. Johnson told Forster, "People need to understand that this is a huge step forward."

The Robinson Recovery Center is named after state Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, who pushed for the treatment program. Robinson told Forster it is intended to help addicts stay out of prison. Robinson had asked for a 50-bed program, but he said the facility is still "a giant first step." (Read more)

Knight Ridder sets meeting with potential buyers; decision could take months

Knight Ridder is set to meet with potential buyers this week in the next step of a possible sale under pressure from disgruntled shareholders, reports the Knight Ridder News Service.

"The presentations for potential buyers will take two or three days each and the entire process could last two to three weeks, said people familiar with the situation. A Knight Ridder spokesman declined to comment Friday," write Pete Carey and Chris O'Brien of the news service.

The San Jose-based, second-largest newspaper group has been pressured by three major stockholders to put itself up for sale, write Carey and O'Brien. Preliminary bids have been received according to sources familiar with the bidding process.

The nation's largest newspaper company, Gannett, and McClatchy, another large group, have expressed interest, plus a number of others, including investment groups that could parcel out Knight Ridder papers to other buyers. A final round of bids and a decision by Knight Ridder's board is at least two months away, write Carey and O'Brien. (Read more)

Journalists in rural Pakistan start a newsletter on freedom of expression

Several months ago, The Rural Blog ran an item on the need for computer equipment and other assistance for rural journalists in Pakistan to help them start a newsletter. Now, the International Journalists Network reports the newsletter has been launched.

"Sadiq News, a bulletin that covers freedom of expression issues for rural Pakistani journalists, has published and begun distributing its inaugural issue," reports IJNet. The inaugural event to celebrate the launch was Dec. 20.

The Rural Media Network of Pakistan is publishing the newsletter with assistance from UNESCO and the Nawa-i-Ahmedpur Sharqia newspaper. The newsletter includes information on press freedom violations, ethics, training, and other things of interest to rural journalists. (Read more)

Among other things, the Sadiq News collects information from the Rural Media Network, the National Press Union, and local reporters on press freedom violations in remote areas. The newsletter also is a tool to help rural journalists learn about their rights and network with colleagues. For the original story - Newsletter aims to track freedom of expression in rural areas - Aug. 9, 2005 - from the IJNet News Archives, click here.

Rural Calendar

Jan. 19-22: Sustaining Family Farms conference, Louisville

The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group will host its 15th annual Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms conference Jan. 19-22. The conference offers many innovative strategies for those committed to sustainable agriculture. The conference will feature more than 50 sessions, four intensive short courses, field trips and much more. Promoters say it "offers a bounty of innovative strategies for those who are committed to sustainable agriculture."

More than 700 producers, educators, researchers, and advocates, all working toward sustainable food systems, are expected to attend the conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown. For more information, see www.ssawg.org or contact: Robin Verson, vendor coordinator, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, 8707 Breeding Road, Edmonton KY 42129; call 270-432-0567; e-mail hhcsa@scrtc.com..

Jan. 23: Application deadline for national diversity reporting conference

The Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families' national conference, "Crossing Divides: Reporting on Diverse Communities," will be held March 12-16, 2006 near Washington, D.C.

Thirty print, broadcast and online journalists will be chosen to examine the challenges facing today's diverse families. Participate in discussions with renowned researchers and build your skills in journalism workshops. Fellowships cover lodging, materials and a travel subsidy to the University of Maryland, located seven miles from downtown Washington. Applications are due Monday, Jan. 23.

Speakers include Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a national expert on minority student achievement; Hodding Carter III, journalist, author and former Carter Administration spokesman; Charles Murray, author and scholar; Annetta Seecharran, executive director of South Asian Youth Action; and Tamar Jacoby, writer and television and radio commentator.

For an application and addition information, click here or write the Casey Journalism Center on Children and Families at 4321 Hartwick Road, Suite 320, College Park MD 20740. The phone number is 301-699-5133. The fax number is 301-699- 9755 and e-mail is info@cjc.umd.edu

Monday, Jan. 9, 2006

Disaster underscores journalism's 'failure to look deeper' into the mines

More, deeper reporting of coal-mine health and safety issues is being urged by journalists inside following the Sago mine disaster that killed 12 miners after there were reports they had survived.

"Much of the press has abandoned reporting on health and safety regulation until disaster strikes," writes Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post. He asks, "How many reporters have dug into the Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration?

Kurtz looks at his own paper, noting that since 2001, "The Post has published three staff-written stories on mine safety not related to a specific accident; the New York Times, two; Wall Street Journal, one; Chicago Tribune, one; and Los Angeles Times and USA Today, none. CBS "60 Minutes" did one segment on a mine safety whistle-blower," Jack Spadaro. Ellen Smith of Mine Safety and Health News told Kurtz, "I have tried to get the general press interested. I just kind of gave up."

Kurtz writes that Ken Ward Jr. of West Virginia's Charleston Gazette has perhaps been the most persistent reporter on mine health and safety. Ward has reported "that under the Bush administration, the mine safety agency 'started clamping down on folks like me' and 'people we dealt with all the time were all of a sudden instructed not to talk.'" Ward said the agency didn't tell the Gazette, the state's largest paper, of a media conference call last week. A department spokesman said the exclusion was unintentional.

Spokesman David James told Kurtz no reporter checked with the agency during the early-morning hours in which the miners were reported to have survived, which he said he would have explained was unconfirmed. "We were working all night," he said. "Our phones did not ring one time." (Read more)

Meanwhile: The Gazette ran a piece, Coal-mining disaster hits home for teen, by Eric Thomas of Richwood High School, who is the son of a coal miner. Click here to read it. National Public Radio ran an essay by Homer Hickam, a Coalwood, W.Va., miner's son who, inspired by the 1957 Sputnik launch, took up rocketry against his father's wishes. Hickam was the subject of the book and the movie, "October Sky." Click here to read for "A Life 'Not Afraid' in a Hardscrabble Mining Town."

Photo exhibit sheds light on Appalachian mining communities' health, safety

Former Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health J. Davitt McAteer will be among speakers today at the unveiling of a photography exhibit, "Our Future in Retrospect? Coal Miner Health in Appalachia."

The exhibit, sponsored by the Appalachian Institute at Wheeling Jesuit University, where McAteer is a vice president, opens at 5:30 p.m., at the Wheeling Artisan Center.

"The [institute] hired photojournalist Earl Dotter to photograph health conditions in southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky coal field region. [From his] pictures, they have developed an exhibit that documents the progress and regress in health practices and conditions in Appalachia," reports Newswise, an online news service for universities and research institutions, from a university press release.

Institute Executive Director Dr. Jill Kriesky said, "In light of the tragic events of the week, we hope this exhibit and our guest speakers will help spark more interest and reflection on health and safety in mining communities." (Read more) For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Steven Infanti at the university at 304-243-2308.

Rural Arizona schools seek funds to tackle overcrowding, long commutes

Urban sprawl is changing the dynamic of rural Arizona elementary school districts which are used to shipping students to neighboring unified districts for high school.

"Elementary districts in burgeoning areas ... have seen the number of their high school-aged students explode over the past two years, prompting administrators to consider building their own high schools.But for that to happen, state law first must also change," write Lisa Nicita and Meghan E. Moravcik of The Arizona Republic.

Nicita and Moravcik write, "The mostly small, rural districts can't raise enough on their own. And as the law stands now, they can't get financial help from the state School Facilities Board." Sara DiPasquale, an elementary district business manager, told them, "I can't even imagine how many years it would be before we'd have the tax base to build our own high school."

If a proposed change to the state board's funding rules is approved Thursday, students in some districts "could trade long, early-morning bus rides to neighboring districts for shorter commutes to their own high schools," write Nicita and Moravcik. Cheri White, a school parent and PTO president told them, "A school district should have an elementary, a middle and a high school. We need another building."

Nicita and Moravcik note high schools that accepted dozens of high school students from neighboring elementary districts are now forced to accommodate hundreds. "Out-of-district students are being shuffled to schools farther and farther away to ensure all can be accommodated," they write. (Read more)

Future of small Nebraska schools: Merger issue back on legislature's agenda

Small schools in Nebraska have become a focal point for an issue faced by many rural schools across the country, the issue of having to merge districts in order to survive.

"A constitutional amendment ... would require a vote of district residents before any merger or consolidation takes place. Another would force a state committee to reinstate dissolved elementary-only districts if voters decide in November to reject the forced-merger law passed last year by the Legislature," writes Scott Bauer of The Associated Press.

Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, chairman of the Education Committee, told Bauer, “It doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, but I’ll look at it anyway.” Raikes told AP the state legislature has already spoken on the issue and the state's Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in the case. The law requires all elementary-only, or Class I schools, to merge with larger K-12 districts by June 15.

Should the merger law be repealed, a bill before the legislature would require all districts dissolved be reinstated. An amendment would require "any future school merger or dissolution ... be approved by residents living in the affected districts, taking power away from the Legislature to make such a decision," writes Bauer. (Read more)

Tennessee, Oregon using on-line registries to fight meth, keep residents safe

Tennessee law-enforcement officials are posting the names of people convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in an online database modeled after sex-offender registries, and Oregon police have cracked a meth case thanks to on-line offender information.

The Tennessee"Methamphetamine Offender Registry allows Internet users to enter a name or county and instantly discover convictions dated after March 30, 2005. The Web site ... is the first time the state has widely publicized the identity of drug offenders, said Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation," writes Ellen Barry of the Los Angles Times.

Johnson told Barry, "The whole idea is for people to know if their neighbors are involved in" producing meth. Meth labs, she added, "were becoming a public threat to the extent that you couldn't even feel safe in your own neighborhood."

Blake Harrison of the National Conference of State Legislatures told Barry in 1995, "Montana expanded its public sex-offender registry to include other violent offenders, including 'meth cooks,' but there are no other existing models for [the] Tennessee's registry." Tennessee lawmakers proposed the measure after pleas from landlords and property owners who would be bankrupted by the cost of cleaning contaminated properties, writes Barry. (Read more)

In Oregon, "A meth lab investigation in Lane County is the first in which the Oregon State Police Methamphetamine Task Force built a case using the state's new pseudoephedrine registry, instituted ... to discourage the use of cold medications in the illegal drug trade," writes Bill Bishop of The Register-Guard in Eugene. (Read more)

Maryland veto-override vote looms; Wal-Mart health care bill's future unclear

Maryland legislators may vote this week whether to require Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health care, a question that appears too close to call.

"Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch said Friday he hoped his chamber would achieve the three-fifths majority needed to override a veto of the plan by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich -- but he wasn't certain it would,"writes Kristen Wyatt of The Associated Press.

Busch told AP, "I believe right now we should be very close to having the votes we need." The bill would require Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health care benefits or pay more into the state Medicaid fund. The bill would apply to all companies with more than 10,000 employees currently in Maryland. Wal-Mart is the only company of that size not spending that much, notes Wyatt.

Senate President Thomas Miller told a meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties he's confident of a veto override, but said he wasn't as certain about the House of Delegates. Gov. Ehrlich has asked for his veto to stand. He said, "Maryland would be the first state in America with a government-imposed, arbitrary payroll tax based on a private employer's health care expenditures." A proposed Wal-Mart distribution center in Somerset, Md., is on hold pending the override decision, writes Wyatt. (Read more)

Arkansas senator seeks remedy for rural residents without broadband

Residents in rural areas who rely on computers to do their work often toil without broadband service and U. S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., is working to find a cure for what ails them.

"Millions of people and small businesses nationwide are on the other side of a digital divide where they can only use slow dial-up modems for access to the Internet. Experts say affordable access to fast Internet connections is becoming increasingly important in a world where much of life's daily chores, from banking and school coursework to running a business, are moving online," KTHV-TV in Little Rock reports from staff and Associated Press information.

Pryor is co-sponsoring a bill to amendment to the Universal Service Act, which funds rural phone service through a levy on phone use. The measure would direct some of that money to expanding broadband in underserved areas. Another bill, the Rural Renaissance Act, would authorize $200 million dollars in bonds for economic development and infrastructure projects in rural communities, including broadband. Pryor said broadband has become a necessity and without it people are unable to fully participate in the American economy, reports KTHV. (Read more)

Virginia volunteer rallying expatriate voters for Mexican election

Mexico's Congress has approved allowing expatriates to vote by mail in the country's July 2 presidential election, prompting 3.5 million absentee ballot applications to U.S. Mexican consulates and organizations.

A Mexican native who lives in Vinton, Va.. has made it her mission to get people to register. Rosalia Munoz, "a community leader for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., is taking part in an effort to encourage Mexicans to register to vote before the Jan. 15 deadline -- an effort taking place both locally and across the United States, writes Erinn Hutkin of the Roanoke Times. Munoz told Hutkin, "It's the first time Mexicans have been able to vote [from abroad]. The people already know, but sometimes you have to push a little." Munoz has been concentrating on Catholic churches which draw Hispanics.

Roanoke, a city of about 92,000, hosts a Hispanic and Latino population of just 1.5 percent -- a number Munoz said is growing. She and others have left voter registration forms in Mexican restaurants and grocery stores -- places immigrants congregate, notes Hutkin. Spanish-language newspapers and television stations around the nation are running ads urging registration. Over the holidays, Mexican election workers traveled to border cities giving absentee applications to those visiting home, writes Hutkin. (Read more)

Lexington [N.C.] Dispatch executive editor retires; open government advocate

Bob Stiff, who capped a lengthy career in newspapers in Florida with more than a decade as executive editor of The Dispatch of Lexington, N.C. is retiring and will return to Florida, where his wife has taken a job for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Stiff plans to step down on Feb. 10, reports The Associated Press from a Dispatch story.

Stiff is a Michigan native and graduate of Ohio State University. He worked for the Painesville Telegraph near Cleveland before joining the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times as a copy editor and rose through the ranks to assistant managing editor. He was a founding board member of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and serves on the foundation board for the journalism school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Feb. 1: Deadline for Eugene Cervi 2006 award; honors civic journalism career

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, ISWNE, is seeking nominations, justification for nomination and biographical information for the organization's Eugene Cervi 2006 Award.

If you know of anyone in your state or province who might be deserving of ISWNE's Eugene Cervi Award, you can contact Chad Stebbins at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors at
Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595.

The Eugene Cervi Award was established by ISWNE in 1976 to honor the memory of the late editor of the Rocky Mountain Journal in Denver. It recognizes an editor who has consistently acted in the conviction that "good journalism begets good government."

The award recognizes consistently aggressive reporting of government at the grassroots level and interpretation of public affairs, writes Stebbins. Letters of nomination along with a biographical data sheet must be sent by Feb. 1. For more information, go to the Web site and click on 'contests.'

Sunday Special, Jan. 8, 2006

Country Boys subject, others worry about stereotypes in documentary

When Cody Perkins sees himself on Country Boys, a documentary that starts Monday night on public TV, "He will cringe -- if he watches it at all. It's a good film, he says, but it's like unlocking a teenage diary and letting millions of people read it," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. "He hangs his head because the whole world, including all of his neighbors, is watching. Eastern Kentucky is so often depicted as a backward wasteland that locals are wary of another film that could stereotype them, he says."

Herald-Leader culture reporter Jamie Gumbrecht writes that the six-hour documentary "focuses on Perkins and classmate Chris Johnson, two teens growing up around Prestonsburg and attending The David School, an alternative high school. It's a portrait of their teen years, painted on a background of broken families, depressed economies and faltering education."

Filmmaker David Sutherland spent seven years on the project. "He initially based his research in West Virginia, hoping to document life in one hollow. Eventually, he moved toward Eastern Kentucky and The David School, where he met Perkins and Johnson," Gumbrecht writes. "He wanted the teens to tell their own stories, without a narrator. He shot them close-up, 'like the TV show My So-Called Life.' He hoped the project would remind urban-minded Americans that rural poverty still exists."

Dee Davis, an Eastern Kentucky native and filmmaker who now runs the Center for Rural Strategies, said Appalachia is a diverse place "with more stories than one film or one TV show can tell," as Gumnbrecht put it, adding, "Many view the area as a rural utopia where people choose to live happily in poverty, or as an uneducated wilderness where people choose to live miserably because of laziness." Davis told her, "Either way, you don't make a difference. People are very sensitive. You blame them or say it's good for them. It's hard to talk about the realities."

Sutherland, who made the 1998 documentary The Farmer's Wife, told Gumbrecht the film deals with realities: "Certain subtexts will come out in the film, but I'm not trying to get a message out," he said. "I want people to understand the human condition. These kids have a chance to make it." ( Read story)

Hearing into mine blast would force testimony, boost candor, advocates say

“Mine safety advocates want the Bush administration to hold public hearings as part of its investigation of West Virginia’s worst coal-mining accident in nearly 40 years,” so witnesses can be compelled to testify and produce documents, Ken Ward Jr. reported in the Saturday Gazette-Mail of Charleston.

Ward wrote, “The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration has refused to respond to questions about the public hearing demands,” made under a 1969 law allowing MSHA to hold hearings to investigate “any accident or other occurrence relating to health and safety.” Ward noted, “During a routine investigation, witnesses can refuse to testify.”

Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA and Kentucky mine-safety official who ran the last such hearing, told Ward that it would encourage mine employees to tell all. “When MSHA does routine investigations, coal company officials are allowed to sit in on such interviews,” Ward explains. Oppegard said, “When you do it behind closed doors, and your boss is sitting across the table from you, it is kind of intimidating.” He added, “In light of all of the communications problems, I think that they owe it to the families to do this in public.” MSHA has said it will look into “miscommunications that led anxious relatives to believe for three hours that 12 of the 13 workers had survived,” Ward reported.

J. Davitt McAteer, who headed MSHA in the Clinton administration and is now at Wheeling Jesuit University, also called for a hearing. “There can be no question that there is great public concern here, and a public hearing would certainly serve the public interest,” he told Ward. (Read the story)

In another story, about the investigation and the possibility that lightning caused the blast, Ward wrote, "Top MSHA officials have not held any media briefings, returned few phone calls and declined to answer even basic questions from reporters since the first reports of the explosion early Monday." For the Gazette-Mail's compilation of all its stories on the disaster, click here.

Knight-Ridder News Service reports that the Bush administration "has been more lenient toward mining companies facing serious safety violations, issuing fewer and smaller major fines than the Clinton administration and collecting less than half of the money that violators owed." (Read story)

Patti Ciliberti holds her daughter, D’Orsi, in front of the altar in the Sago Baptist Church in Tallmansville on Friday. The Cilibertis are from Louisville and are on a skiing vacation near Tallmansville. They came to the church to pay their respects and make a donation to the families of the 12 coal miners who died after a mine explosion Monday.

Photo and caption from the Saturday Gazette-Mail, Charleston

Miners might have escaped but went 'by the book,' died waiting for rescue

James Dao and Felicity Barringer of The New York Times, with help from Gary Gately, authored a comprehensive and sad recounting of the disaster, including a report from mine officials that the miners "apparently had enough oxygen in their respirators to last an hour or more and no wall of debris blocked their escape, mine company officials said. They could not have known it, but there was breathable air inside the mine, possibly just 2,000 feet away."

The miners went "by the book," building a barricade to protect themselves from the carbon monoxide that ultimately killed them and may have disoriented them, the Times reported: "Cut off from communications with the outside, surrounded by thick smoke and deep darkness, they might have believed a fire was raging ahead of them, or that the mine roof was in danger of collapsing."

The story also questioned the 11 hours that passed before a rescue team could be assembled and enter the mine. "Those delays might have been unavoidable, and it was not clear that the men could have been saved even with a faster response. But some experts assert that the delays point to broader problems in the nation's mine rescue system," the story said.

"A 1995 federal study concluded that the system was antiquated, losing people and poorly financed. But Mr. McAteer said few of those concerns had been addressed. "Time is the enemy in mine rescues," McAteer told the Times. "Always is. You know that from the start." (Read the story)

The rescue system is depleted and has “serious flaws,” Ken Ward Jr. reports in the Sunday Gazette-Mail. A 1977 law required MSHA to write regulations to “provide that mine rescue teams shall be available for rescue and recovery work to each underground coal or other mine in the event of an emergency.” Now, Ward writes, “As rescuers retire, their positions are going unfilled. Smaller coal companies are opting not to have their own teams, and instead contracting out to rescue companies,” one of the “loopholes” in the regulations. (Read story)

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia called for more qualified federal inspectors and rescue teams, reversing recent budget cuts, reported The Inter-Mountain of Elkins. (Read story)

Living in coal country: What kind of a life is it? Geographer asks, answers

The mine disaster at Sago in Upshur County, West Virginia, has focused fresh attention on the Appalachian coal region and its people. Here's a background report on the county and the region by Amy Glasmeier, a visiting faculty member of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire and the Miller Professor of Economic Geography at The Pennsylvania State University, or Penn State.

"For many communities in the U.S., the 70-mile drive between Morgantown and Sago is the equivalent of a morning’s commute to work. Thus, according to some measures, Sago is not an isolated place," Glasmeier writes. "Still, by other accounts, the community of Sago couldn’t be farther from urban America in terms of economic conditions and employment opportunities. For those living in mining communities, low levels of education, poor health conditions, unstable work histories, and limited access to jobs paying a living wage explain why people work in the mines. With few alternatives, it is no wonder that when the price of coal goes up people risk their lives to take jobs in the mines."

Glasmeier cites a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report that wages at the mine were in "the $700-a-week range." Mine-roof bolters in West Virginia earned a median $38,580 per year in November 2004, according to an Associated Press story in the Charleston Daily Mail, citing the latest available estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "This is well above annual wages in West Virginia, which averaged $28,612 in 2002," Glasmeier writes, citing BLS data.

Profiling Upshur County, Glasmeier reports, "While most adults in Sago over the age of 25 had completed high school in 2000, few had completed a college education. In the county, the percent of the population over the age of 25 with one to three, or four or more, years of college education was only 60 percent of the national level."

Glasmeier also reports that the county's unemployment rate is about a sixth higher than the national rate, and "the population is aging and young people are leaving," as shown below. Data for these graphs come from the Community Economic Toolbox, part of Glasmeier's Atlas of Poverty in America project. This site can be used to analyze economic conditions in any county in the United States.

Glasmeier reports that 49 percent of the working-age residents of the county are not in the labor force because of disabilities and lack of jobs. The "non-participating" rate for West Virginia is just a little less, 46 percent, much higher than the national rate of 36 percent. She Recent growth in mining employment partially offset job losses in other sectors of the local economy. From 1998 to 2003, the county gained 232 mining jobs while losing 173 in manufacturing and 392 in health care and social assistance. The nature of another 493 added jobs was "suppressed due to disclosure rules."

Upshur is a "mining county," defined as one in which mining provides more than 3 percent of the total income, the average in the Appalachian coal region. Glasmeier writes of the coal counties, "These are poor counties, with poverty rates substantially above the national median, particularly for white families, children, and dependent populations (persons under 18 and over 65). These counties have populations with low median levels of education and high levels of unemployment. In 2003, median household income was substantially below the national median. Per-capita disability and Supplemental Security Income levels are high by national standards. These are communities that have suffered for many years through periods of economic uncertainty and have enjoyed few employment alternatives to coal. The population lacks education that might lead to better jobs. People do coal because they have to. It is not a matter of choice."

For Appalachian regional maps and brief summaries from the CensusMapper site, click here. You can e-mail Glasmeier at akg1@psu.edu.

Friday, Jan. 6, 2006

Coal reporter decries MSHA attitude, tells comrades to ask tough questions

Veteran Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. yesterday on Democracy Now!, a national broadcast, called the Mine Safety and Health Administration's handling of the Sago Mine disaster "shocking" but "typical" of MSHA's efforts under the Bush administration, and admonished his comrades to turn up the heat on coal mine reporting.

Ward said, "The only faces the public and the press are seeing here are company officials, and it's just shocking as to why that is, because the Labor Department, of which MSHA is a part, has at least two, and perhaps more, public-affairs employees at the mine site with satellite phones and all sorts of ability to communicate. But they haven't had any briefings. They haven't answered any questions."

Ward chided his journalistic comrades. "I think the national media is showing its ignorance about mine safety issues ... you all are the first one who's raised the issue with me from the national media about where is MSHA in providing information here. And I'm certainly glad that you all asked about that. And I hope that some of my brethren in the media start asking that same question." (Read more)

Ward's definition of his brethren is broad. In November, at the "Covering Coal" conference of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, he urged reporters at weekly and small daily newspapers to pay more attention to the industry, saying he didn't think anyone was covering it well. For a report on the conference, click here.

Strip away coal-industry secrecy, toughen fines, says critic, author

Longtime West Virginia politician Ken Heckler once labeled some coal-mine reclamation as "putting lipstick on a corpse." Now a mining critic and author is charging much the same for the entire industry and says government secrecy should end and penalties for violations should be strengthened.

Jeff Goodell, author of the forthcoming Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future, writes in the Houston Chronicle, "There's nothing pretty about the real price of cheap coal" and says the fuel source may be on comeback, "but mining is still far from safe."

"In recent years, one of the toughest turnaround jobs in American industry has been the effort to change the perception of coal from an industrial relic of 19th century to an energy source for the 21st century," writes Goodell. And, he admonishes, "There is nothing pretty about coal, as we have been grimly reminded by the plight of the 12 coal miners killed by a mine collapse near Tallmansville, W.Va."

Goodell concludes, "If coal is indeed going to be taken seriously as a fuel source in the 21st century, it's up to federal and state regulators to make sure that even 20-inch dogholes are safe ... A good first step would be to reverse the Bush administration's new privacy rules, which have made it tougher for outsiders to obtain federal inspectors' reports. Even better would be to increase fines and other penalties for operators who break the rules. (Read more)

W.Va. Public Radio reports MSHA slow to release data, omits warnings

West Virginia Public Radio reports the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been slow in releasing coal-dam inspection records and has withheld an inspector's written concerns.

Reporter Dan Heyman told of the network "encountering difficulty in getting [MSHA] to release public information concerning inspecting. Sometimes when information is finally released, it’s incomplete," said the network. "In two examples, MSHA withheld an inspector’s concerns that people could die if problems were not corrected at a Raleigh County coal impoundment dam."

Ellen Smith, publisher of Mine Safety and Health News, told Heyman, “You know, it’s just a very frustrating situation, because government officials go on TV, and they say we’re going to do a complete investigation and we’re going to learn from this. Well, they’ve done complete investigations after mine disasters, and they’ve learned the same thing over and over again. If the mining companies had followed the regulations, the disaster wouldn’t have happened.” (Click here to hear MSHA slow in public inspection records; withholds inspector's written concerns; then click on the speaker icon.)

Today, Heyman reported that MSHA inspectors "had significant concerns regarding" construction of the Massey Energy coal dam that impounds more than 200 million gallons of coal waste, rock and water" and overlooks Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County. One "said two of the violations could cause the dam to fail if not corrected," Heyman reported.

"It took three months for MSHA to release that citation after Public Broadcasting filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act," Hayman continued. "But MSHA didn’t release everything. After inspector [Jim] Elkins noted that a thousand people live downstream, he wrote, “If the dam failed, fatalities would be expected to occur. It’s reasonably likely an accident would occur if the condition continued to exist.”
That statement [and a similar one on another citation] was left out of the documents MSHA released."

"Massey corrected the problems noted in the inspector’s reports. Altogether, Massey was fined $680 for the two citations," Heyman reports. "MSHA has cited the impoundment 17 other times for violations in the last 10 years. . . . Like the earlier citations, MSHA also whited-out additional information concerning these violations. But we can’t confirm what MSHA withheld. We don’t have copies of previously released documents to compare them to. . . . Kelvin Wu, MSHA’s chief dam officer, says there’s no reason to worry. He says the fact that problems were noted and corrected is proof that the system works."

Former inspector Ernie Thompson and Jackie Browning, a retired dozer operator who helped build the dam, "worry that the sloppy construction practices noted in the inspection reports indicate there could be other problems. Thompson says there are many problems that inspectors don’t catch," Heyman said. Massey declined to comment. Click here to listen, here for a transcript.

Coal disasters now rare events, says national safety-health organization

As jarringly tragic as the Sago Mine disaster was, it pales in comparison to industry catastrophes of the past, according to industry, labor and government sources.

"Collapses and explosions like the one that left 13 miners trapped underground in West Virginia have been recurring dramas going back to the 1800s.But the fact is, these disasters are far less common in the United States than they once were," reports The Associated Press and the Princeton [Ind.] Daily Clarion.

Lewis Wade of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, told reporters "industry, labor and the federal government have come together to emphasize safety, and the result has been a gradual decrease in the number of deaths and serious injuries," they write. The Clarion reported, "In the early years of the 20th century, mine explosions commonly caused spectacular accidents with hundreds of fatalities." (Read more) For a similar report from Voice of America radio, By Andrew J. Baroch, who also talked with Lewis, click here. For another VOA report on mine safety, click here.

Mine tragedy could hurt recruiting by an industry hungry for workers

The deaths of 12 miners in West Virginia could hamper an industry struggling to find workers in the face of current shortage and an expected wave of retirements from the baby-boomer generation.

"High energy prices have Appalachia's coal companies scrambling to expand mining, and to recruit new workers into jobs long seen to be as dangerous as they are dirty. With a shortage of workers now estimated at 4,500 in Kentucky and West Virginia alone, the companies and local officials have been trying to change that perception," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Bruce Ayers, president of Southeast Community College in coal-dependent Harlan County, Ky. told Alford, "We're trying to introduce a new generation to mining [but] it's difficult to overcome the images from West Virginia." Ayers predicted the recent accident would hamper efforts to attract more workers.

Coal-mining employment grew from 73,700 in November 2004 to 79,200 in November 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bill Higginbotham, who heads the Kentucky Coal Academy, told Alford "Half of the work force is expected to retire in five to seven years. High school graduates going into coal mining can earn $40,000 to $50,000 a year, writes Alford. (Read more)

TV critic says mine-tragedy reporting a bad harbinger of future journalism

Coverage of the West Virginia disaster did much to drown out reason, and is a preview of journalism to come, writes the television critic for a major Midwest newspaper.

"Virtually every national news organization in America was represented at the Sago Mine disaster ... as the mood shifted crazily from dread to jubilation to horror, as reports of 'miners found' had to be amended to include the word 'dead.' We saw, for better or worse, the future of modern journalism," writes Aaron Barnhardt, television critic for The Kansas City Star. (Read more)

"If one entity embodied the media coverage of that terrible night, it was CNN," writes Barnhardt. "And if there is one person who symbolizes the way these breaking news dramas play out in today’s media, it’s Anderson Cooper," CNN's reporter on the scene, he notes.

"An unknown man walked up while [Anderson] was on the air and passed along the unverified information to millions watching. Three hours later, when the families learned the awful truth, it was a local resident named Lynette Roby who disclosed it, again to Cooper, again on live TV," writes Barnhardt. "None of this was imaginable even 10 years ago." Barnhardt notes.

Barnhardt concludes, "CNN’s reporting left the impression that responsibility for putting those families through the wringer rested with the governor, the CEO of the mining company, and others. It also rested with CNN, which with a few high-level confirmations could have done a world of good." To reach Aaron Barnhart, call (816) 234-4790 or visit http://www.TVBarn.com.

Drained by wildfires, rural Oklahoma fire departments get added funding

Cash-strapped rural fire departments across Oklahoma will be getting much-needed funding from the state this week, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Terry Peach told reporters about $2,100 will be sent to each of the state's nearly 875 rural fire departments. The departments have been hit hard by grass fires that have burned more than 350,000 acres since Nov. 1 and killed at least two people.

The departments have gotten about one-fourth of their yearly state funding and were to get the remaining funding in June, AP reports.

New Jersey's poor, rural schools denied aid; state launches funding study

The New Jersey Board of Education has denied requests from 17 rural schools seeking extra financial help, but says it will re-examine how the state contributes money to all school districts.

"Thirty-one of the roughly 600 school districts in the state currently get special aid from the state in response to a series of state Supreme Court decisions that found New Jersey was not providing a proper education in poor areas," writes The Associated Press. (Read more)

Most of the districts receiving the extra boost are in cities, AP notes. The state picks up the tab for all their necessary school-building projects and all-day preschools. New Jersey also gives them more money to assist with operating costs than received by other districts. The state Board of Education, which recommends but does not mandate education policy, did recognize the 17 rural districts are needy.

Technology needed to offset rural hospitals' pharmacist-staffing limits

Rural areas lack the money to fully implement pharmacy technology, says the Upper Midwest Rural Health Research Center and the National Rural Health Association.

CEO Alan Morgan said in an NRHA release, "Rural areas continue to be strongly impacted by the national shortage of pharmacists, and need more funding to implement health information technology." The release said, "The study, which assessed how rural hospitals implement medication safety practices, revealed that many small rural hospitals have limited hours of onsite pharmacist coverage."

The research center is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota. A copy of the report and more information about the UMRHRC are available here and on the NRHA’s Web site.

For more information about the study contact Amanda Scurry at the University of North Dakota Center for Rural Health, 701-777-0871, or by e-mail at ascurry@medicine.nodak.edu

Poultry farms to test for avian flu; mad-cow precautions called 'inadequate'

Companies that produce more than 90 percent of chickens for consumption in the U.S. "will test every flock for bird flu before the birds are slaughtered, and they expect more to follow," reports Libby Quaid of The Associated Press.

National Chicken Council spokesman Richard Lobb said, "We just want to assure people of the safety of the food supply." Quaid notes that despite worries about bird flu, chicken-eating in the U.S. has held steady. Retail chicken prices have dropped in recent months, mostly because production is up and exports are down, said David Harvey of the Economic Research Service of the Agriculture Department.

The plan is to tests 11 birds from each chicken flock or farm. That would mean more than 1.6 million chickens would be tested. Samples will be collected on farms and tested at state or industry-certified laboratories, writes Quaid. (Read more)

Meanwhile, Quaid also reports, US safeguards against mad cow disease called inadequate, Strict regulations on cattle feed are needed, critics say." Click here for details.

'Sustainable' replacing 'organic,' connecting consumers to local growers

"Six years ago "organic" was the next big thing in grocery shopping, but the term has begun to lose its luster. It has been co-opted by agribusiness, which has succeeded in watering down the restrictions of the definition. Today 'local' and 'sustainable' are the new culinary buzzwords," reports Marian Burros of The New York Times, who writes that at the New Seasons Market stores in Portland, Ore., "'homegrown' is not only the coin of the realm, it's the heavily promoted mantra."

Michael Pollan, the author of a forthcoming book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, told Burros, "I think there is a gathering sense that organic and local are not the same," said He added: "Moving organic food across the country uses just as much energy as conventional. I think this is becoming more important."

New Seasons customer Kristen Crittenden told Burros, "It's nice to know where our food is coming from ... you know how it was raised. It makes you feel good ... supporting your local farmer and your local fishing industry." Customer Justin Miller said, "I feel at times it's a little more expensive than it has to be."

New Seasons Chief Executive Brian Rohter told Burros, "Of the 30,000 items on each store's shelves, 8,142, or 27 percent, have yellow tags. The company, which was founded in 2000, sells conventional items like Oreos and Velveeta, but about 75 percent of its inventory is either natural or organic," writes Burros. (Read more)

Thursday, Jan 5, 2006

Why do they do it? Miners compelled by economics, limited opportunity

Following the tragic deaths of 12 miners in West Virginia, many Americans are asking, "Why do they do it? The answer to that question often is, "They have to." Others ask, "What's it like?"

Robin Webb of Grayson, Ky., who was a miner from 18 to 25, and is now a lawyer and state representative, answered the second question this afternoon in a 3-minute commentary on "All Things Considered" on National Public Radio.

"You know when you go down, you may not come out, but you just don't dwell on it. You focus on the immediate task," Webb says, recalling that on her way in and out of the mine she would say a line from "The Miner's Prayer" by Eastern Kentucky native Dwight Yoakam: "Please let me see the sunshine one more time." To listen to Webb, click here.

Webb says miners take the risk for many reasons, including "to be able to stay and live in the place where you were raised." Chicago Tribune reporter Charles Sheehan wrote yesterday that "coal mining offers some of the most financially attractive jobs in West Virginia, a state with the lowest household income in the nation and the second-highest poverty rate."

Cal Kent, vice president for business and economic research at Marshall University in Huntington,.told Sheehan that demand for miners is increasing, and companies are raising wages and offering bonuses to attract a new generation of miners. "These are not the old pick-and-shovel guys," Kent said. "This is a highly skilled workforce. Annual incomes of $50,000 to $60,000 are not unusual." The average household income in West Virginia. is about $35,000.

Sheehan notes the region around the Sago mine in Upshur County is "among the state's most impoverished areas. Many young people are leaving for better jobs, contributing to West Virginia having the highest median age in the nation, 39. Kent said the average age of miners is "well above 45" and the need for coal and retirements "will fuel the demand for more miners." (Read more) Blogger's note: Most of those killed in the Sago mine explosion were in their 50s.

Plaintive reports of double tragedy at coal mine reverberate in Appalachia

The double tragedy of hope followed a few hours later by abject despair, in the reported survival then deaths of 12 coal miners at Tallmansville, W.Va., is echoing in newspapers of all sizes and stripes in communities throughout the Mountain State and Central Appalachia.

The Record Delta of Buckhannon, the county seat of Upshur County, where the tragedy occurred, said in a staff report, "Thunder rolled across the sky above Sago early Monday, but the magnitude of the storm could not compare to the intensity of what was about to descend on the close-knit community along the banks of the Buckhannon River." For more form the 3,314-circulation paper, which is published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, click here.

The Times West Virginian of Fairmont had multiple reports. Bill Byrd wrote, "The bells at the tiny Sago Baptist Church rang again at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. A flickering yellow light from lit candles stuck in paper plates appeared in the hands of about 40 men, women and children." (Read more; subscription required)

TWV reporter Justin McLaughlin wrote, "A dramatic reversal of the news ... exposed the difficulties of keeping information flowing fast enough to keep pace with a 24-hour news universe." Matt Sheppard, a specialist in crisis communication and vice president of Charles Ryan Associates Inc. in Charleston, told McLaughlin, “You have to have timely, accurate information. When these reporters are on the air 24 hours a day, they're going to find someone to talk to and someone to fill the air. ... You can't play catch-up in these situations; you need to stay on top of it.” (Read more; subscription required)

Mary Wade Burnside of the TWV wrote, "When Anna McCloy visited her husband, sole Sago Mine disaster survivor Randal McCloy Jr., she felt he was aware of her presence in his room at Ruby Memorial Hospital, said first lady Gayle Manchin on Wednesday. Manchin told Burnside following a press conference, “She felt he knew she was in the room. She thought she could see a glimmer of a smile.”

Citizen journalists, such as Betty Lewis of Summersville, came to Tallmansville and wrote pieces. "I’m still reeling and stunned along with the rest of this nation by the events that took place this week," Lewis writes, then offers an evocative description of the scene at Sago Baptist Church. Click here to read her article, posted on the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Web site.

West Virginia paper's skepticism could be an example for others

While national news outlets were wrongly reporting 12 trapped miners in Tallmansville, W.Va. had been found alive, the Inter-Mountain in nearby Elkins, an afternoon paper with a later deadline, remained skeptical. "The 11,000-circulation afternoon daily, based just 30 miles from the mining accident scene, mixed lucky timing with local insight to provide an accurate report to readers Wednesday, under the headline, Nightmare In Tallmansville," writes Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher.

Editor Linda Skidmore, who runs the 21-person newsroom, told Strupp that her staff never believed the miners had been found alive because no official word was ever given. She said no update about miners being found alive ever appeared on the paper's Web site.

Reporter Becky Wagoner told E&P, "We heard that they were found alive through CNN, then it snowballed to ABC, then Fox, and it was like a house afire. . . . There was so much hype that no one considered the fact that there was no [official] update," she said. (Read more)

Behind the scenes of the 'miracle' mine story, others did it right

In the midst of the confusion that caught a vast majority of news media flat-footed and wrong in reporting the mine catastrophe, there were other newspapers that did things right.

"There were some bright spots in "the coverage of the West Virginia miners' deaths. Many journalists wrote stories yesterday about what went wrong. Let me focus, instead, on some who did things well," writes Al Tompkins in his latest Morning Meeting column for the Poynter Institute. (Read more)

Tompkins' Poynter colleague, Meg Martin, writes of how the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stopped its presses to get the story right. About 114,000 copies of the Post-Gazette's 256,000 run were delivered to subscribers and boxes with the news that only one miner had survived. (Read more)

Poynter.org editor Bill Mitchell interviewed former St. Petersburg Times publisher Andy Barnes about the pressure for newspapers to print hot, "definitive" headlines. The story includes some audio clips with Barnes. (Read more)

Tompkins takes note of Editor & Publisher's report of how The Boston Globe "trashed 30,000 copies of the paper that included the 'miracle' story," and instead managed to get the correct story into 145,000 of its 414,000 copies. The Globe also had "reportedly" in its headline. (Read more)

Tompkins issues kudos for how Raleigh News & Observer Executive Editor Melanie Sill explained the situation to readers. "Sill used her blog to quickly explain Tuesday morning how the paper ended up printing a headline that said "Miracles Happen in West Virginia," Tompkins writes. (Read more)

At least one paper got lucky but didn't realize it at first. A press malfunction at the Roanoke Times stalled the Wednesday morning editions and saved the newspaper from widespread publication of the erroneous report, Editor Mike Riley told readers this morning. (Read more)

Mine owners issue online apology, call deaths a 'terrible tragedy'

Prompted by anger and frustration over the manner in which the 12 deaths were misreported, Tallmansville area residents and the families of the victims are calling for an investigation, and many want personal apologies from the mine's owner, International Coal Group. The company issued an apology via a press release posted online by relations distribution service PRNewswire.

"International Coal Group Chairman Wilbur L. Ross has issued the following statement regarding the accident in which 12 miners died at the Sago Mine in West Virginia, operated by a subsidiary of the
company," states the press release. "A terrible tragedy has occurred and everyone at International Coal Group shares the grief of the families of the twelve miners who lost their lives despite the best efforts of our company ... I offer these families my heartfelt sympathy and my prayers," said Ross.

In the release, Ross announces the formation of a special "Sago Mine Fund to provide financial support to the families," with an initial contribution of $2 million. People who wish to contribute can call 212-826-2174. ICG President and CEO Ben Hatfield added, "This has been the most tragic period of my life. Our goal is always to see that our people get home safely each day and we will redouble our efforts to make sure that a tragedy like this never occurs again." (Read more)

Indiana newspaper editors call for statewide broadband initiative

In a Fort Wayne [Ind.] News Sentinel editorial, More Hoosier broadband, the newspaper calls on the state's governor to "press to make Indiana an information crossroads of America."

"Gov. Mitch Daniels ... has indicated in recent weeks that encouraging greater broadband Internet access in Indiana will be among his top priorities this year.That can’t come too soon," writes Bob Caylor for the newspaper's editorial board, and, Caylor opines, "If he successfully follows through ... he’ll be taking one of the most important steps to position this state for economic growth."

"More important," Caylor writes, " high-speed Internet access is new enough that innovators in every field are still figuring out new ways to improve their work with it. ... those advances will leave Indiana on the sidelines unless it is broadly wired for access.

Caylor concludes the opinion piece, " Fort Wayne might provide lessons for state government on easing the path of broadband into a new market. But we’re better off competing in a state full of 21st-century communications than being a smug standout in a technological backwater. Gov. Daniels is on the right track to see the importance of leading Indiana toward broadband opportunities." (Read more)

Invasion of a Body Snatcher: Youth methamphetamine use up in Idaho

In mountainous, scenic and sparsely populated Idaho, methamphetamine is taking over young people, reports a Ketchum newspaper, where one official likened the powerful narcotic to creatures from a cult science fiction classic that took over the world one mind and one body at a time.

Megan Thomas of the Idaho Mountain Express and Guide quotes Blaine County Supt. Jim Lewis: "Meth is almost like a body snatcher. It reaches out and grabs these kids almost overnight." And Barge Levy, Silver Creek Alternative School director: "This is a wonder drug for kids. They feel smart, strong and invisible, and then they crash. . . . I see more and more meth."

Thomas notes that "In December 2005, a Wood River High School student tested positive for meth. The result marked the high school's first positive methamphetamine test this school year. Now, Blaine County school officials are worried about teens' use of and access to the highly addictive white powder."

Vice Principal John Blackman said that so far this school year he has given 19 urine tests that can detect traces of cocaine, opiates, THC (marijuana) and methamphetamine. "Of the tests given by Blackman, 10 were positive — one tested positive for meth," she writes. (Read more)

'Mini-cattle' all the rage on 'farmettes' on Maryland's Eastern Shore

Suburban cowboys and cowgirls hankering to raise a herd but short on ranch land might want to consider mini-cattle, reports Alex Dominguez of the Chicago Sun-Times, who writes: "New breeds of pint-sized heifers and bulls are making it easier for small farmers to raise cattle for milk, meat or just fun. On Bill Bryan's 50-acre spread on Maryland's Eastern Shore, he sold seven calves in 2005."

Bryan told Dominguez, "We've sold the vast majority of our calves to people who have these little three- to five-acre farmettes and they'll fence in an acre, buy a calf and more or less keep 'em for pets."

While most cattle range from 1,200 to 1,500-pounds, only about 40 percent of their weight makes it to the freezer, notes Dominguez. "Miniature cattle, which often are between 500 and 700 pounds, provide enough meat to last a family of four six months," he writes. Bryan also told him, ''Women can raise these steers just as well as men can.'' (Read more)

Appalachian activists featured in 'Women of Courage' book

Mountain women have always been portrayed as strong-willed, tough, independent and principled. Now, a Radford, Va., woman is writing about some of the region's most notable women pioneers.

Theresa Burriss of Radford, formerly of Wytheville, was featured recently in the Fall 2005 Radford University magazine. The university called her a "Woman of Change, Woman of Courage," in honor of a book she is compiling," writes Linda Spiker of the Wytheville Enterprise.

"Burriss, who has taken an interest in Appalachian studies at Radford as a graduate teaching fellow. She and Deanna Smith have sponsored an Appalachian camp for young people, and Burriss has written papers on the culture of the Appalachian region. Her aim is to help people become knowledgeable about their heritage and take pride in the versatility and perseverance of their ancestors, " writes Spiker.

The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities is awarding Burris a $10,000 grant to publish her book, "Women of Change, Women of Courage: Appalachian Activists," Burris is collecting oral histories of women who were or are activists, writes Spiker. (Read more)

Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006

Coal-mine disaster is one legacy of a series of bankruptcies

The coal mine where 12 miners died was recently purchased by a company that grew out of series of bankruptcies, beginning with the high-flying brothers Larry and Robert Addington of Eastern Kentucky, reports Jim Jordan of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

International Coal Group is "an heir to the coal empire of Ashland's Addington brothers," notes Jordan. Addington once controlled one of the largest energy companies in the nation, notes Jordan, but Jordan writes, "Unlike the Addingtons' later coal operations, [International] is profiting from strong demand and high prices for coal." For Jordan's details on the series of bankruptcies and name changes, click here.

ICG, which is based in the Addingtons' old offices near Ashland, won't be a Kentucky company much longer, Jordan writes. It is building a three-story headquarters building near Interstate 64 at Scott Depot, W. Va., just west of Charleston, where 100 of its 1,900 employees will work.

The Sago Mine where the miners were trapped near Tallmansville, W.Va., was acquired in March 2005 when International bought Anker West Virginia Mining Co., which was in bankruptcy, writes Jordan. The company tool control of the mine in November.

Incorrect report of 'miracle' caught daily newspapers at worst possible time

Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher pulls no punches today in his account of the incorrect reporting of the coal diasater: "In one of the most disturbing and disgraceful media performances of this type in recent years, television and newspapers carried the tragically wrong news late Tuesday and early Wednesday that 12 of 13 trapped coal miners in West Virginia had been found alive and safe. Hours later they had to reverse course, often blaming the mix-up on 'miscommunication'," the word a company official used.

One minute before midnight, The Associated Press moved a story that attributed the news to the miners' families. Little over a half-hour later, the AP report sounded more definite, treating it as fact. All across the eastern United States, newspapers remade their front pages to trumpet the good news. The AP story contradicting the midnight report moved at 3:06 a.m., according to E & P. (Read more)

Mitchell cites the banner headline "They're Alive!" in the Indianapolis Star. "Even the Los Angeles Times, three hours behind on the West Coast, carried the front-page headline: 'Suddenly There is Joy: 12 Miners Found Alive.' In many cases, the same papers stopped the presses later, after tens of thousands of copies were printed and distributed, to carry the correct report. Some editors blamed officials for misleading reporters." The New York Times was among the papers that headlined the story with no doubt, and as late as 8 a.m. today, the original story remained on the paper's Web site.

"It is unclear why the media carried the news without proper sourcing," Mitchell writes. "Some reports claim the early reports spread via cell phones and when loved ones started celebrating most in the media simply joined in. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs. But what leaked out to anxious family members was that 12 were found alive."

Staci D. Kramer writes in her Trust but Verify blog, "The AP's reporting certainly contributed to some of the coverage, but that doesn't explain why so many journalists at what had become a major media event went with what appears to be hearsay instead of waiting for official confirmation. The live coverage of the euphoric scene had its own power. What would I or any of you have done in their place? The temptation to believe in miracles can't be underestimated. Neither can group-think. I hope I would have been skeptical."

Kramer also writes: "I was half-listening to Anderson Cooper live in West Virginia -- and noting that CNN was truly live, not Memorex -- when a woman and children rushed up the camera blurting out that it had all been a mistake.One man survived; the rest were confirmed dead. It was a startling moment in so many ways. With no way of confirming at that moment what he -- and we -- were being told, the story continued nearly unchecked. In a way, it was a replay of the way the news of survival was delivered hours earlier."

Disaster and its handling are testimonies to miners' demeanor, life, death

COMMENTARY by blogger Bill Griffin, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Appalachian coal people have a reputation for being hard, laconic. The truth is they can be as hard as stone, as soft as mountain laurel, as cold as the blackness of a damp mineshaft two miles under a mountain, as warm as sunshine on a rocky creek during snow-melt in early spring, as happy as clogging music, and as sad as a funeral under a cold rain.

But hard is their demeanor most often. They have to be to handle the careening ups and downs of coal mining. Each time the ground rumbles, hearts stop. Each time the mine whistle screams, tears well-up and breathing ceases until the news comes, which often is crushingly sad. They have to be hard because coal is both their life and their death.

On the heels of news that an explosion had trapped 13 miners in an Upshur County, W.Va. coal mine, all of Appalachia felt the pain, and held the hope. But, early today heads bowed under the weight of more crushingly sad news --12 dead, a stark counterpoint to hope only hours before, errant reports of 12 survivors. It has happened many times before. Every coal family in Appalachia knows the drill, hopes for miracles, and knows the reality of death. They have dealt with it for centuries.

The experts and officials will investigate. A troubled mine company may fall. But, mines will continue to grind out more coal for the nation's factories and power plants and more miners will work the rock. Shortly, the "suits" will leave, and attention will turn elsewhere. We can only handle so much. But, it will happen again, until hard choices are made by hard men and women to make it safer.

Kentucky to monitor truck traffic on nation's busiest coal route

The busiest artery through the heart of Eastern Kentucky coal country is the pulsating US 23, running north-south from the mines to coal tipples on the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers. Its pavement is pounded into submission by heavy traffic, usually under the weight of the region's main livelihood, coal. Now the state wants to lower the stress and strain with closer monitoring of overweight coal trucks.

"The state has taken the first step to establish what effectively is the first weigh station on the nation's busiest coal-haul highway," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement Commissioner Greg Howard told Muller the state will open a commercial vehicle inspection station near the Floyd-Johnson county line in mid-January. The project initially will be open on a random basis and use semi-portable scales.

Howard told Mueller, "This should do the work for now ... We don't need a big, fancy facility like they have on the interstates," but Mueller notes,"The modest Floyd County outpost ... would stand as a kind of monument to the state's resolve under the Fletcher administration to enforce hauling limits on coal trucks."

Muller writes that during the 1995-2003 administration of Gov. Paul Patton, a coal-industry millionaire, Vehicle Enforcement Maj. Steve Maffett predicted, "You'll never see a scale on US 23 in Eastern Kentucky anywhere. They're not going to let that happen up there." (Read more)

Telecom firm bringing phone, Internet service to growing rural areas

A group of communications companies that banded together four years ago has found a niche in helping small cable companies bring telephone and Internet service to rural areas, something larger firms have shunned as not profitable, writes Jerri Stroud of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"Jerry Howe, a former executive with SBC Communications Inc., Brooks Fiber Properties Inc. and NuVox Communications Inc., led a group of investors who bought a small long-distance company and added local calling and Internet service. They renamed the company Big River Telephone," Stroud writes. Big River is based in Cape Girardeau, Mo., with a satellite office in west St. Louis County.

The company has been providing local and long-distance service to rural small and medium-sized businesses, with a limited number of residential customers in southeast Missouri, Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky.

Big River works with five cable companies serving rural communities in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas and will be expanding soon into Mississippi, Nebraska and West Virginia. It is talking with three other cable companies that want to offer telephone service. Big River President Kevin Cantwell told Stroud, "We see it as a tremendous growth opportunity." (Read more)

Rural Indiana hospitals gain high-tech help, access to critical-care specialists

Six Northern Indiana hospitals will participate in a cyber-medical program designed to provide critical high-tech services in an underserved, predominantly rural area.

"The Regional Virtual Intensive Care Unit allows a critical-care team to be more proactive than reactive in patient care, medical officials said. The system has analytical programs that will alert teams to problems as they arise, according to officials. For instance, if a patient has a reaction to medication, the team can make a call in seconds and alter the dosage or change the medication immediately," writes D. L. Perrin of the South Bend Tribune.

Hospital officials recently combined resources and came up with $320,000 in matching funds to obtain a $321,020 rural development grant, notes Perrin. The money will assist in the installation of the system, which the officials called "the latest technological advancement in critical patient care," he writes.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton said he had urged the Department of Agriculture's Office of Rural Development to support the program. Upton told Perrin the program offers hospitals the opportunity to tap into a wealth of medical knowledge in a matter of seconds, Perrin writes. (Read more)

Conference to explore relations between ranchers, urban environmentalists

In what might be seen as an effort to modify a song from the musical "Oklahoma," where farmers and cowboys are at odds, a New Mexico group feels "Enviros and the ranchers should be friends," and they have organized a conference to cultivate middleground in what historically has been a tense relationship.

"When two Sierra Club members and a rancher founded the Quivira Coalition in Santa Fe more than eight years ago, they wanted to build bridges between ranchers and environmentalists , urban and rural," writes Staci Matlock in The New Mexican of Santa Fe.

Quivira Coalition executive director Courtney White told Matlock, “We wanted to convince the urban environmental community that ranching is sustainable [and] help the rural ranching community understand urban values and why environmentalists feel the way they do.”

The coalition’s fifth annual conference is Jan. 12-14 at the Hilton Hotel in Albuquerque. Speakers will include scientist Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona; New Mexico Land Commissioner Patrick Lyons; Peter Forbes of Vermont’s Center for Whole Communities; and Dan Imhoff of the Wild Farm Alliance in Northern California.

White told the newspaper the divide involves water and land. The rural West has it; the urban West wants it. The divide also involves political power, money and influence. Urban America has it; rural America is affected by it," writes Matlock. (Read more)

American cattle competition making Japanese gourmet beef extravagant choice

The maxim that competition makes for a better product appears true in the highly competitive international beef industry, where cowboys are competing head-to-head (pun intended) with the industry's samurai and the stakes (homonymic pun intended) are high.

"For the first time in four years, a gourmet extravagance — authentic Japanese Kobe beef — is allowed back into the United States. The question is whether anyone will care. An American Kobe-style brand has taken its place on restaurant menus," writes Libby Quaid of The Associated Press. (Read more)

American ranchers believe good genetics and careful feeding are the main ingredients for quality Kobe-style beef, notes Quaid. Jay Theiler, president of Idaho-based Snake River Farms, told her, "It's a great story, and we don't go out of our way to dispel the myth, but it's really not necessary. The two things that make Kobe-style beef are genetics and a long feeding program."

The American version comes from the same breed of cattle raised in Japan. Called Wagyu, which means "Japanese cattle," they began arriving in the United States in the 1990s, and are fattened longer than the average American breed. U.S. ranchers often crossbreed them with Angus cattle.

The beef they produce is considered better than prime, writes Quaid. Most goes to restaurants and hotels. Only a small amount is sold in supermarkets. Cattleman Gary Yamamoto of Texas (yes, Texas) says at least 97 percent of his Kobe-style Wagyu beef is prime. About 2 percent of beef nationwide earns a prime rating, Quaid reports.

Grant to help keep hills alive with traditional Appalachian music, dance

Kentucky's Berea College has received an anonymous $115,000 grant to expand its teaching, research and preservation of traditional Appalachian music and dance.

"More than half of the grant will be used to digitize on a computer hard drive non-commercial recordings that had been on tape from as far back as the 1960s, said Harry Rice, the sound archivist in special collections and archives at Berea's Hutchins Library," writes Art Jester of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The digital recordings are being added to the Digital Library of Appalachia, sponsored by the Appalachian College Association, a consortium of 35 colleges in the region, including Berea, notes Jester. (Read more) For more information, contact Harry Rice, sound archivist, Berea College, at (859) 985-3249; e-mail him at harry_rice@berea.edu; or go to the Berea College Sound Archives. For a related story in The Courier-Journal of Louisville, by Nancy Rodriguez, Dulcimer club awakens Appalachian spirit within students in Newport, click here.

Ebling named managing editor of Faribault (Minn.) Daily News

Garrett Ebling, managing editor of the Stafford County [Va.] Sun for three years, has been named managing editor of the Faribault [Minn.] Daily News, reports The Associated Press.

Ebling has also been a news editor for The Potomac News and the Manassas Journal Messenger. He was a copy editor for The Journal in Martinsburg, W.Va., and The Washington Times. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1999.

Rick Wallace named publisher of Standard Journal in Rexburg, Idaho

Rick Wallace, advertising director of The Herald Journal in Logan, Utah, has been named publisher of the Standard Journal in Rexburg, Idaho. Pioneer Newspapers owns both dailies. Wallace took over as publisher on Jan. 1, reports The Associated Press.

Wallace, 48, replaced Rich Ballou, who had been publisher since 2000. Ballou resigned to take a position with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, AP reports.

Rural Calendar

Feb. 1: Deadline for 'Nation's Best Non-Daily Newspaper Contest'

The Inland Press Foundation invites non-daily newspapers to enter its 'Nation's Best Non-Daily Newspapers Contest.' This contest recognizes "high-quality editorial material; innovative, attractive packaging of that material; and community service from non-daily newspapers," contest organizers said.

The contest is open to all U. S. newspapers published for general circulation at least weekly but not more than three days per week. There are three circulation categories: Under 5,000; 5,000 to 10,000; Over 10,000. Entries must be received by Feb. 1, 2006. Entries should be sent to: Inland Press Association, ATTN: Non-Daily Contest, 701 Lee St. Suite 925, Des Plaines, Ill., 60016. For more information, contact Elaine Lange at 847-795-0380.

Tuesday,Jan. 3, 2006

Coal blast follows least-fatal year for industry, many violations at mine

The blast that trapped 13 miners in a West Virginia coal mine came just after the end of a year that saw a record low number of deaths atthe nation's coal-mining facilities. But the Sago Mine has a long record of safety violations, continuing even after a new owner took it over in mid-November.

Lexington Herald-Leader Eastern Kentucky Bureau Chief Lee Mueller wrote in a Dec. 29 story, "Barring more accidents before Jan. 1, 2005 could go down as perhaps the safest coal-mining year in the history of the United States, if not Kentucky. As of yesterday, 21 deaths related to coal mining had been posted this year by federal regulators." (Read more) There was a fatality Dec. 30 at an Eastern Kentucky mine, raising the national total for the year to 22 -- five below the record low of 27 recorded in 2002. For the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration "Fatalgrams" site, click here.

The safety record of the International Coal Group's Sago Mine immediately came under scrutiny from reporters such as Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette, who wrote that the mine “reported an injury rate that was three times that of similar-size underground mines across the country. And last year, the Anker West Virginia Mining Co. operation was fined more than $24,000 for about 200 alleged violations,” according to MSHA records.

Ward added, “During the last six months of 2005, the Sago Mine reported a dozen accidental roof falls, according to MSHA records. Only one of those roof falls caused an injury, the MSHA records show.” Three of the falls occurred after ICG completed its takeover of the mine on Nov. 18. The number of roof falls “suggests that the roof is bad and that the support system is not meeting the needs of the roof,” J. Davitt McAteer of Wheeling Jesuit University, former head of MSHA, told Ward. Also, McAteer said, “The number of violations is sufficiently high that it should tip off management that there is something amiss here. For a small operation, that is a significant number of violations.”

After their most recent complete inspection of the mine, from early October to late December, MSHA inspectors “issued 46 citations and three orders for a variety of safety violations. Inspectors listed 18 of those as 'serious and substantial.' These 'S&S' violations are those that MSHA believes are likely to cause an accident that would seriously injure a miner,” Ward reported. In a late-morning press conference today, ICG President Ben Hatfield declined to discuss the mine's violation history, but last night, another company official told reporters that conditions have improved ICG took over the mine.

Other coal news: For a report by Amanda Paulson of the Christian Science Monitor, in which she writes, "Monday's explosion has focused attention on mine safety, but environmentalists worry about long-term effects of mountaintop removal," click here. For "Veteran coal miners forced outside area to find work in industry," by Jim Muir of The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale, click here.

Antiterrorism cuts, based on likely threat, may shift funds from rural areas

A priority change to be announced today for homeland security grants could mean less money for rural communities, which some in urban areas say have been getting more than their share.

"Facing cuts in antiterrorism financing, the Department of Homeland Security ... will evaluate new requests for money from an $800 million aid program for cities based less on politics and more on assessments of where terrorists are likely to strike and potentially cause the greatest damage, department officials say," writes Eric Lipton of The New York Times.

Congress has appropriated $120 million less in grants for the new year than for 2005 for the Urban Area Security Initiative antiterrorism efforts, notes Lipton. Domestic security grants in general have been criticized because they have sent more antiterrorism money per capita to sparsely populated states.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff previously said, "Choices mean focusing on the risks which are the greatest. And that means some risks get less focus." Don Thorson, administrator for the grant program in Omaha, told Lipton, "No one can predict where a terrorist might strike. Look where Timothy McVeigh struck. It was Oklahoma City." Omaha received $5.1 million last year to buy bomb suits and communications equipment, among other items. (Read more)

Windmills and debate spin over benefit, sites of alternative power sources

"Giant windmills are popping up on farms, scenic mountain ridges, prairie grass and now an Indian reservation, dramatically changing the nation’s landscape and spinning a debate about where they belong," reports The Associated Press.

Wind power grew rapidly last year, "becoming more competitive as natural gas prices jumped and crude oil prices reached record highs. Improved technology, a federal tax credit and pressure on utilities to use clean energy sources helped fuel the growth from coast to coast," AP reports.

Tom Gray, deputy executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, told reporters, “The wind resource in the United States is comparable to the oil resource in Saudi Arabia. It’s a major strategic national resource we should be making every effort to develop.” But, environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said, in regards to a proposed Cape Cod project, "If you’re giving away public rights, you ought to make sure the public benefits from this transfer, [and] that the costs do not exceed the benefits.”

The industry reports it generated an additional 2,500 megawatts of wind power this year, a record 35 percent increase. Industry officials said wind-power capacity exceeds 9,200 megawatts in 30 states, enough for 2.4 million average homes. (Read more)

Digging for tech workers in coalfield: Contractors target southwest Virginia

Lebanon, Va., has 3,300 people. "Cow pastures encase the local high school, churches outnumber nightclubs 14 to zero and the unemployment rate is almost twice as high as the rest of the state," writes Ellen McCarthy of The Washington Post, but the tranquil, pastoral but economically depressed setting is poised for a technological revolution of sorts.

"This is where government contractors CGI-AMS Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. will in the next few months start building multimillion-dollar technology centers and hire hundreds of software engineers at salaries far above the region's average, bringing a taste of Washington's lucrative tech sector to a coal country enclave," writes McCarthy.

McCarthy notes, "How the companies came to build here is a tale of the economic factors shaping Northern Virginia -- towering home prices and nightmare commutes that are making it hard to hire new workers at reasonable wages. But it's also a tale of Virginia politics and the potential boost that outgoing Gov. Mark R. Warner's ambitions for this part of the state could give a presidential bid."

Warner told the Lebanon High School senior class in October, as he announced CGI-AMS's plans to hire 300 software engineers from the region, "This is the day southwest Virginia is transformed. These are serious high-tech jobs that any city in Northern Virginia would die to get." (Read more)

First fiber-optic, high-speed Internet for a W. Va. town nearing completion

The north-central West Virginia city of Philippi will become the first in the state to have a fiber-to-home system linking residents to a network that provides digital cable television and high speed Internet access.

Construction of the new fiber optic system began during the summer months, is nearing the final stages and officials say they expect the network to be operational by March, writes Ben Simmons of the The Inter-Mountain in Elkins. City Manager Karen Weaver told Simmons, “A fiber network increases the possibility of economic development . . . and provides an underutilized utility service.”

The project, which covers the city and a portion of the surrounding area, also lays the foundation for expanding high speed Internet access to other remote locations of the county, Simmons reports. Weaver told him the project cost more than $5 million. It is being funded by a $2.4 million grant from the USDA Rural Utilities Service's Community Broadband Grant Program and city bonds. (Read more) For additional information, visit http://www.philippi.org.

Kentucky county to add hog rules after rejecting similar restrictions

Fulton County, Ky., commissioners are set to enact tougher hog farm restrictions six months after dropping similar restrictions under pressure from hog opponents, reports Joe Walker of the Paducah Sun.

"A second reading of the proposed ordinance is scheduled for Jan. 10. It passed on first reading Dec. 13 by a 3-2 vote with Judge-Executive Harold Garrison opposing. He said he couldn't’t support the provision because a June lawsuit by hog farm opponents forced the county to drop an earlier ordinance that Garrison
deemed sufficient," writes Walker.

Walker notes that hog farmers are now threatening to sue to block the new ordinance, which has stricter requirements on the location of barns with regard to schools, homes, businesses and other structures. The new regulations double the distance from roads to 300 feet and require a minimum of 5,000 feet between barns and city limits, he writes. And, the new ordinance also has stricter requirements on groundwater monitoring wells and on any manure or wastewater proposed for land disposal. Open waste lagoons are barred in favor of concrete pits beneath hog barn floors, notes Walker.

Fulton County farmer Jim Moss told Walker, “We view it as extremely restrictive to the point that it’s financially prohibitive. We don’t believe the ordinance will stand legally, and there’s definitely been contemplation of legal action against the ordinance.” (Read more; subscription required)

Thousands of government checks to Kentucky tobacco growers undeliverable

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has been left holding the check. Actually about 5,000 checks.

"Last June, the state sent out 164,000 checks totaling $114 million as part of the Phase II Tobacco Settlement program. The money was paid by tobacco companies to compensate for years of dwindling quotas," writes Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The more than 5,000 checks that came back because they couldn't be delivered total more than $863,000. The reasons for the returns, notes Mead are: no forwarding address left, expired forwarding address, recipient deceased or unknown, and Post Office box closed.

Joel Neaveill of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy told the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro, told Mead, "People move and don't send us change-of-address forms,"

To find those missing people and get them their money, the state has set up a Web site that lists the recipients of all the returned checks, by county.

State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, told Mead, "This money belongs to tobacco farmers and we want to make sure they get it," he said in a news release. "The money won't be there forever," writes Mead. The June 2005 checks expire on June 20, 2006. (Read more)

Investigators continue vote-buying inquiry implicating W. Va. politician

Guilty pleas last week may have resolved all pending election-fraud charges in southern West Virginia, but it federal prosecutors have not ended their pursuit of vote-buying, reports The Associated Press.

"The FBI raided the video poker-machine business run by Delegate Joe C. Ferrell in June, seizing dozens of boxes of business and personal records. The documents included slates and other election-related materials, court filings show," AP reports.

Acting U.S. Attorney Chuck Miller told reporters, “We’re not going to stop with these convictions and go to lunch. We’re going to continue.” Miller refused comment on his office’s next step, but statements made during the plea hearings and evidence gathered indicate several possible directions, AP notes.(Read more)

Ferrell, a Democrat from Logan, is a co-conspirator and potential witness in the election fraud case targeting Lincoln County residents. County Assessor Jerry Weaver pleaded guilty last week and did not dispute a prosecutor’s claims Ferrell gave him $4,000 in 1990 to buy votes in the primary, AP reports.

Dec. 27-30, 2005

Small Okla. daily scrambles to cover fires, deliver papers and stay safe

The Seminole Producer of Seminole, Okla., is throwing its all into covering the wildfires that are devastating parts of Oklahoma and Texas, including about 10,000 acres in its circulation area, east and southeast of Oklahoma City, leaving 50 families homeless, reports Editor & Publisher.

"With a newsroom staff of four and one part-time photographer[, the paper] has basically put all other reporting aside to cover the biggest story in years, according to Managing Editor Karen Anson," Joe Strupp writes for E&P. "The family-owned daily, which publishes Tuesday through Friday and on Sundays, has averaged between 10 and 16 pages this week, a slight increase over most days, with the fire coverage all but replacing sports and events pages."

The 5,300-circulation paper has "produced its first-ever color photos, but only for its Web site [and without captions]. Since the paper publishes in black and white, color shots could not be used in print."

Anson told Strupp that fire lines had been a block away from the paper's downtown office. "The fire department told us that if the wind had not shifted, the whole downtown would have been destroyed, including us," she said. "We just stood here and hoped and hoped." Anson's yard caught fire twice. "It rekindled on Thursday, 15 minutes before deadline and my husband was an hour away. I had to go home and help some neighbors who were already hosing it, and then come back and get the paper out," she said.

Reporter Jennifer Pitts was trapped in her car Tuesday while reporting on a pasture fire. "Within seconds, I couldn't see two feet in front of my face," she told Strupp. "It was smoke and ash. My eyes started burning and watering and I was coughing." Strupp writes, "Pitts, who suffers from asthma, said a water truck pulled in front of her at the same time, blocking her exit for several minutes." The paper has maintained carrier delivery despite road closures in the area. (Read more)

Editor of a Kentucky hill country paper writes frankly about her divorce

Even at newspapers in rural communites, where profesional and personal lives often intersect and overlap, the really personal stuff usually doesn't get written about. Angie Brockman, managing editor of The Sentinel-Echo in London, Ky., broke new ground there this week by writing about her divorce.

"In the last couple of editions, you may have noticed my last name has changed," Brockman began her column. "After nearly 10 years of marriage I have now joined the statistical ranks of all the millions of other Americans, one statistic I never thought I'd be: Divorced."

Later in the piece, Brockman writes, "My ex-husband Adam -- wow, that's weird -- and I were luckier than most people who get divorced. We had no children and we really had no bills to pay other than our house and one car. So, getting an amicable divorce was easy. Actually, so easy it's scary. I've signed more to buy a car than what I had to sign to get divorced. Kentucky makes it easy if you have no children. You just have to be separated for three months before you file, wait 30 days after you file, and then get a court date for the final hearing."

Brockman goes on to explain that her ex is "a wonderful man with many good qualities," but "We were going in opposite directions and had virtually no common interests. That became very obvious after I took the job as managing editor of The Sentinel-Echo in July. I was working a lot and 40 miles from my house. I was not home a lot and it's awful to say, but I really enjoyed it."

She concludes, "So for all of you people about to get married, I say go for it. I loved being married and having the happy homemaker life. I enjoy doing all those crazy things like cooking and cleaning for a man. I think it's great. Just make sure your husband isn't just your friend. Make sure you keep him close to your heart because you don't know how quickly he can drift away." (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Jan. 9: Kellogg Foundation starts 'Rural People, Rural Policy' info sessions

W.K. Kellogg Foundation staff will be crossing the country next week to help launch Rural People, Rural Policy, "a multi-year national initiative that energizes and equips rural organizations and networks to shape policy that will improve the lives of rural people and the vitality of rural communities," announces Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky.

Each year, starting in 2006, five organizations from each of four regions and one "at-large" grantee will engage in a multi-year process that will develop their strategies, skills, efforts and networks to improve the impact of public and private policy on rural people and places.

Foundation staff will present information about the initiative Monday, Jan. 9 at the Charleston, W. Va., Marriott Town Center; Tuesday, Jan. 10 at the Radisson Hotel, 2411 Winchester Rd., in Memphis; Wednesday, Jan. 11 at the Denver Airport Marriott at Gateway Park; and Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Marriott Albuquerque, 2101 Louisiana Blvd. NE. All meetings will run from 9 to 11 a.m.

If you plan to attend, call Anna Walker at 269-969-2678 with the number of participants and location.

Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, and West Virginia University. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of daily Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.



Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
School of Journalism and Telecommunications

122 Grehan Journalism Building, Lexington KY 40506-0042

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

Questions about the Web site? Contact Al Cross, director, al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2005