The Rural Blog Archive: July 2006

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


Monday, July 31, 2006

Small Newspaper Group wins another prize for teacher-tenure series

Scott Reeder, the Illinois state capital reporter for the Small Newspaper Group, has won a fifth major award for a series on "The Hidden Costs of Tenure" for teachers in Illinois public schools.

Reeder's latest prize is the Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting, sponsored by the Institute on Political Journalism, part of the Fund for American Studies, a Washington-based educational foundation that advocates democracy and free markets, and co-administered by Georgetown University. It carries a $10,000 cash prize, and it advises judges, "Since there is only one annual award, a light thumb on the scale should be awarded to smaller publications that produce strong investigative entries despite limited resources."

Reeder's employer has this image of him and the Illinois Capitol on its Web site. The company's name reflects both its family ownership and the size of its seven daily newspapers, five of them in Illinois -- The Dispatch of Moline (circulation 32,000); The Daily Journal of Kankakee, home of the company headquarters (28,000); The Rock Island Argus (13,000), The Daily Times of Ottawa (11,650) and the Times-Press of nearby Streator (9,000) -- plus the Herald-Argus of LaPorte, Ind. (12,000) and the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn. (44,000). The chain also has weeklies and two reporters in Washington, D.C., where it has had a bureau since 1978.

Reeder's six-month investigation relied on more than 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests with almost 900 government entities, with which he followed up to get a response rate of 100 percent. He found that "of an estimated 95,500 tenured educators in Illinois, only two on average are fired each year for poor job performance. ... Reeder faced obstacles from an entrenched school-system bureaucracy and powerful teachers' unions," reports Illinois PressLines, the newspaper of the Illinois Press Association.

Reeder beat out the Copley News Service investigation that led to the bribery conviction of California congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham and a New York Daily News probe of wasted 9/11 relief. Reeder's project was "a testament to the power of open records," said Investigative Reporters and Editors, which gave him its Freedom of Information Reporting Award this year. It also netted a finalist slot for the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting, a special citation from the Education Writers Association and a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. To read the series, click here.

Horse-slaughter ban to reach House; limited to New York, Kentucky

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote for the first time on a permanent ban of slaughtering horses for human consumption in early September.

"The House Agriculture Committee last week added some amendments that change the measure's intent, such as a requirement that the Department of Agriculture pay horse owners for the cost of euthanizing their animals if slaughter is no longer legal. The panel also limited the ban to Kentucky and New York, the home states of the principal sponsors of the bill, Republican Reps. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky and John Sweeney" of New York, writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Of the 435 House members, 201 have co-sponsored the bill, but the committee voted overwhelmingly to send the bill to the full House with an unusual recommendation that it not pass.

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute has joined The Rural Blog in trying to get people up to speed on this issue, and he provides the following links in his Morning Meeting column: The National Horse Protection Coalition, anti-horse slaughter Web sites and the Department of Agriculture's March 2002 "Report to Congress on Humane Handling and Slaughter Enforcement Activities."

Evangelical pastor draws political line, loses some followers, pleases most

Evangelical Rev. Gregory A. Boyd got fed up over requests to bless conservative political candidates and causes, so he treated the congregation in Maplewood, Minn., to sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” with calls to steer clear of politics in church and give up moralizing on sexual issues.

"Boyd says he is no liberal. He is opposed to abortion and thinks homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The response from his congregation at Woodland Hills Church here in suburban St. Paul — packed mostly with politically and theologically conservative, middle-class evangelicals — was passionate. Some members walked out of a sermon and never returned. By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members," writes Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times.

Woodland Hills is a prime example of the ongoing debates in some evangelical colleges, magazines and churches about the Christian message being compromised by attempts to tie evangelical Christianity with the Republican Party, reports Goodstein. When Boyd arranged a forum on a recent Wednesday night, some church members submitted questions that sum up key issues in the religion-politics connection: Isn’t abortion evil? Should Christians join the military? Didn’t the church play a role in the civil rights movement? (Read more) To read Boyd's sermons, click here.

Lawsuits aim to peel back religious influence in rural Delaware schools

Facing lawsuits challenging the pervasiveness of religion in schools, the Indian River School District in Delaware has revises its policies regarding prayers at commencement and baccalaureate services in the district, reports James Diehl of the Sussex Post.

The New York Times reported on the suit and another over the weekend, saying, "The dispute here underscores the rising tensions over religion in public schools. ... More religion probably exists in schools now than in decades because of the role religious conservatives play in politics and the passage of certain education laws over the last 25 years, including the Equal Access Act in 1984, said Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, a research and education group."

Neela Banerjee's story in the Times focused on Mona Dobrich and her daughter, Samantha, who started their effort to change religious influence in Delaware's public schools after a minister proclaimed Jesus as the sole path to the truth during Samantha’s high school graduation in June 2004. The school board revised its policy to specify who is responsible for selecting graduation speakers and regulating speech content. As long as students are not coerced, then they are allowed to speak, Diehl reports. (Read more)

The "Does," an anonymous family in the district 40 miles south of Dover, have joined the suit, which alleges students received special privileges for being in Bible club, Bibles were distributed in 2003 at an elementary school, Christian prayer occurred on a routine basis and teachers evangelized. Banerjee describes a community where a shift toward liberal values is occurring: "Inland, in the area of Georgetown [population 4,643], the county seat, the land is still a lush patchwork of corn and soybean fields, with a few poultry plants. But developers are turning more fields into tracts of rambling homes."

Meanwhile, a Muslim family in another school district in Sussex County has filed suit, saying students are being moved to concert to Christianity and that their daughters are harassed. (Read more)

Glacier retreat poses problems for rural areas relying on water source

Mountain glaciers are melting at an alarming rate across the world thanks to global warming, and rural America could witness the disappearance of water used for growing crops and generating electricity.

"The dramatic rise in carbon dioxide that has accompanied the industrial age has brought a spike in global temperatures. Scientists have found that the jump in temperatures is even greater in the upper atmosphere, where the glaciers reign on silent mountain peaks. Glaciers store an estimated 70 percent of the world's fresh water. Water that falls as snow moves through the slowly churning ice and may emerge from the glacier's edge thousands of years later as meltwater. Humans have long depended on the gradual and faithful runoff," writes Doug Struck of The Washington Post.

Politicians in many countries are showing signs of waking up to the problem of global warming, reports Struck, because of the increased awareness about water problems posed by growing populations, more agricultural development and water sources being contaminated by mines. ""When the glaciers are gone, they are gone," Tim Barnett, a climate scientist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, told Struck. "There's no way to replace it until the next ice age." (Read more)

Massey, an often controversial coal firm, watches profit, shares plummet

Coal mining giant Massey Energy hit rock bottom with a 91 percent drop in profit during the second quarter of this year, causing an 11 percent drop in company shares and putting its future in question.

Securities analysts are now saying Massey should consider selling the company or replacing its management. "The Richmond, Virginia-based company blamed its poor financial performance on rising costs and lost production at the Aracoma Alma No. 1 Mine, the scene of a fatal fire in January. While Aracoma resumed production July 19th, Massey plans to cut costs by idling four other underground mining sections and shutting down a longwall operation in mid-August. Massey says it's also cutting staff and new miner training at some mines," reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Without federal program, big tobacco growers boom, small ones fade

"Domestic tobacco production was not supposed to flourish in the absence of a quota system," part of the federal tobacco program that was repealed almost two years ago, wrote Joe Parrino in the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville. "Growers lacked the guarantee of a decent price and lost any leverage on tobacco companies, the critics said. . . . The naysayers were half-right. Plenty of Kentucky producers have quit or are on their way out of the business. But there are many midsize to large growers in Pennyrile region, that are discovering an unprecedented business opportunity."

Parrino's story focuses on Jeff Davis, who is raising 205 acres of tobacco, 108 in a single field -- “the biggest single tobacco plot I’ve ever seen,” University of Kentucky extension agent Gary Palmer (at left in above photo, with local extension agent Jay Stone; photo by Danny Vowell), who is helping Davis with a cultivation experiment, told Parrino. Davis hopes his acreage will produce 600,000 pounds.

"Under the federal tobacco program, Davis was limited to as little as 12,000 pounds of burley on his own land. He could lease quota from other farmers. But that cut deeply into profits," Parrino wrote. Without the burden of leasing costs, which were reported as high as 90 cents a pounds contracts, "Davis can still manage a decent profit . . . even with prices dropping down from more than $2 per pound to $1.30 per pound or less," without the price supports that were the other major part of the federal program. The end of the program was accompanied by a buyout -- payments to farmers for their quotas. “The buyout gave me the opportunity to farm it,” Davis told Parrino.

But the story can be much different for smaller growers like Todd Long, who moved to the area from Lancaster, Pa., in 1991. "About 2001, quota restrictions began to tighten. After several years, Long was allowed just 2.5 acres to grow his burley. Quota leasing was not a profitable option. He sold his farm in 2004 and invested in real estate instead," Parrino writes, quoting Long: “The small-time farmer is done for. There was a time when you could see a light at the end of the tunnel. But that is diminishing.” (Read more)

As the number of farmers declines, so does tobacco's political clout. In the same edition, the New Era called for a ban on smoking in publicly owned buildings in Christian County, long one of the state's leading tobacco producers, and sad city officials in Hopkinsville are contemplating such a ban. (Read more)

No Child Left Behind joins 'what works,' 'whatever works,' expert says

"The No Child Left Behind Act is the result of an uncomfortable truce between two groups of school reformers: the 'what works' camp and the 'whatever works' camp," writes Michael J. Petrilli, who was associate assistant deputy secretary of education for innovation and improvement in the first Bush administration.

What-works advocates have made their mark in the "highly qualified teachers" mandate. "Most studies linking subject-matter knowledge to teacher effectiveness have examined math or science at the secondary level; their applicability to elementary school, much less to subjects such as art, geography, or economics, is unknown," he notes in Education Week.

A different world view presented in this commentary is the "classic management model of 'tight-loose': Be tight about the results you expect, but loose as to the means. Put differently, the whatever-works camp combines accountability for student learning with flexibility around everything else." With No Child Left Behind's demand for increased accountability, the government decided to relax the rules regarding the use of Title I funds. That money is given to schools with high percentages of students from low-income families.

"On the one hand, the federal government is saying to do whatever works to boost student learning, and on the other hand it’s saying to do things in a certain prescribed, preapproved way. The result is frustration and anger. Imagine a poor, rural Title I school that is doing whatever works to get great results. In this case, it hires a former engineer from the local coal mine to teach 8th grade mathematics. She’s a natural, and her students’ test scores go through the roof. But because she didn’t major in math, she’s not considered 'highly qualified,'" Petrilli concludes. (Read more)

Seven Kentucky coal miners lose certification under new drug test law

In the 16 days since a Kentucky mine safety law took effect, seven coal miners have had their mining certificates suspended permanently for refusing or failing a drug test.

"Under the law, miners must pass a drug test to be certified in the state, and can also be subject to random testing," writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. "The law also gives the state the authority to conduct its own drug tests after an accident. The law took effect, along with a number of other mine safety provisions, on July 12."

The new law sprung out of the June 13, 2003, explosion at Cody Mining's No. 1 mine in Floyd County, where the lone miner killed tested positive for hydrocodone, a powerful painkiller, according to the coroner's toxicology report, notes Carroll. (Read more)

Stray animal complaints keep police busy in rural Tennessee counties

Officials in rural counties around Nashville, Tenn., are finding it difficult to handle increasing complaints about stray animals, citing a rise in negligence and malnutrition cases.

"Rural counties often don't have animal control shelters or officers, leaving law enforcement to deal with complaints about pets and livestock even though officers often don't have the right training or equipment," reports The Associated Press. In Lincoln County, Sheriff Jimmy Mullins said county commissioners are reluctant to confront the dog and livestock problems.

In many cases, problems arise after people decide to abandon their pets in rural areas, Vicky Crosetti, executive director of the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley, told AP. (Read more)

Kentucky man ordered to remove cockfighting 'arena,' give up $430,000

A Kentucky man who hosted an illegal cockfight in April 2005 is being ordered to dismantle the operation and give up the nearly $430,000 that state police seized during a raid that received national attention.

Marvin Watkins of Montgomery County"built an elaborate 700-seat arena, complete with stadium seats, souvenirs and a cafeteria, on his Jeffersonville farm in 1992," writes Emily Yahr of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The 500-plus people present for the 2005 event hailed from several states, and a judge dropped animal cruelty charges filed against most of them because of confusiong state laws. (Read more)

The Rural Blog included an item about this raid on April 19, 2005. Click here for the archived item.

Texas food bank finds increased calls for help among rural residents

Rising gas and utility prices have created a 25 percent increase in the amount of food and other assistance being provided to 21 counties served by the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin, Tex.

"The food bank said that extra food and other supplies will help some 6,000 additional families. Last year, the food bank distributed more than 14 million pounds of food to those in need. The most requested items include canned meats like tuna, stew and chili (pop-tops preferred); canned green beans, canned corn and other canned vegetables; pasta and pasta sauce, pinto beans, rice, healthy cereal, peanut butter, baby food and baby formula," reports News 8 Austin. (Read more)

Reporters get low starting pay, newsroom raises small, survey finds

New reporters at daily newspapers typically earn less than $30,000 their first year, according to the annual industry survey on salaries and compensation produced by the Inland Press Association.

"The 2006 Newspaper Industry Compensation Survey found that the average entry-level salary last year for the 521 dailies participating in the study is up 17.3% from 2001, but is still a humble $29,048, or 558.62 a week. They'd be better off moving to the classified department, where the average salary for an inside sales rep last year was $36,077. Sports editors were paid an average salary of $52,632 last year, up about 15.5% from five years ago," writes Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher.

Newsroom raises averaged 2.1 percent between 2004 and 2005, which is less than last year's U.S. inflation rate of 3.4 percent. Average raises for specific positions included: 1.5 percent for beginning copy editors; 1.4 percent for experienced copy editors; 2.6 percent for experienced reporters; and 2.5 percent for photo directors, reports Fitzgerald. The survey was co-sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America, International Newspaper Financial Executives, and the New England Newspaper Association. (Read more)

Teen content helps newspapers retain readers as they age, study finds

The Newspaper Association of America Foundation reports that content impacts "a newspaper's ability to attract young adult readers and keep them as they age. According to the study of more than 1,600 18- to 24-year-olds, 75 percent of respondents who said they read newspaper content aimed at teens when they were 13 to 17 years old now read their local paper at least once a week, compared with 44 percent of those who said they did not read teen content," according to a press release the National Newspaper Association circulated to its members.

The NAA Foundation estimates that 220 newspapers include teen pages or sections usually written by teens, and similar content is provided by the syndicated services that go out to 800 newspapers. Minneapolis-based MORI Research conducted the study, "Lifelong Readers: The Role of Youth Content," and reported that 30 percent of young adults credited teen content for drawing them to newspapers in the first place. (Read more)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Crime invades U.S. forest land; assaults, meth labs threaten park rangers

Threats and assaults against U.S. Forest Service rangers continue to rise as part of a phenomenon where urban crime is penetrating the once calm public land that surrounds several growing cities in the West.

"Nationwide, there were more attacks and altercations involving forest rangers last year — 477, compared with 34 a decade ago — than any other year, according to government figures released last month by a public employee advocacy group. As the 193 million acres of national forest become increasingly popular playgrounds, there are more clashes with the small cadre of forest rangers who work as law enforcement officers, the figures showed," writes Timothy Egan of The New York Times.

“There’s been a huge increase in the number of incidents, in large part because what had once been urban problems are now happening deep in the backwoods,” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit group representing about 10,000 people who work on public lands, told Egan. Budget cuts and re-assignments have slashed the number of rangers with police power from 980-plus down to 550 in the last decade.

The bigger picture, according to many rangers, is that cities such as Reno, Denver, Phoenix, and Tucson are growing quicker than the national average, and the increased level of crime is spilling over into public lands. Not only are people opting to use the land for parties and dirt-bike playgrounds, but methamphetamine laboratories are becoming a problem. "In the last four years, rangers made 1,600 felony drug arrests and seized 759 methamphetamine laboratories in national forests, government records show," writes Egan. (Read more)

Government response to Freedom of Information Act slows, study finds

Requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act are being held over year to year at a rate 43 percent higher than in 2002, according to Government Accountability Office figures released Wednesday, and two journalism organizations want action Congress to do something about the problem.

"The increase in holdover requests was 24 percent from 2004 to 2005, compared with 11 percent from 2003 to 2004. The GAO found the median — or midpoint — time for processing requests varied greatly among agencies: from less than 10 days to more than 100 days," reports The Associated Press. "The House Government Reform subcommittee on government management held its second hearing on the ability of federal agencies to follow the Freedom of Information Act — which is 40 years old this month.

Tonda Rush, representing the National Newspaper Association and The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition, said the open records law "has become less reliable, less effective and a less timely vehicle for informing the public of government activities and newsworthy stories." The association represents 2,500 community newspapers and the Sunshine Initiative consists of nine news organizations aimed at lobbying for open-records legislation and educating the public about the First Amendment.

Rush said the organizations want Congress to provide the following: alternatives to litigation to resolve open-records disputes; incentives for agencies to speed responses; and excessive court costs in cases of unwarranted denials, reports AP. (Read more)

Ohio Supreme Court: Economic gain does not justify eminent domain

Ohio's Supreme Court axed a developer's use of eminent domain on Wednesday with new requirements for seizing private property, in the first state supreme court decision following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last July that local governments could claim private property and turn it over to developers.

"The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that cities cannot take private property solely for the purpose of economic development," writes James Nash of The Columbus Dispatch. "Local governments across the country have long used eminent domain to override private-property rights in the interest of a broader public good, such as a highway, airport or even a shopping mall."

The Ohio case involved a developer in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood who wanted to remove three homes for a proposed office, condominium and retail complex. The court said the city abused its discretion by calling the area deteriorating and forcing homeowners out. The court also said cities must now show that a private project serves a greater good than economic enrichment, notes Nash.

"The decision will ripple across the state. Private-property advocates said it will protect homeowners, farmers, churches and businesses from governments taking their property to benefit private developers. Supporters of Norwood’s position, however, said the ruling will stifle attempts to rehabilitate aging city centers and suburbs and will push development into rural areas," reports Nash. (Read more)

County fairs stay true to rural roots, draw folks despite urbanization

County fairs continue to thrive throughout rural America, with many places such as Hendricks County, Indiana, building multi-million dollar fairgrounds. The fairs face one challenge: Keeping the agricultural emphasis intact, while embracing modern technology.

A look at the schedule of events for most fairs shows a movement beyond the traditional farm animal shows and different age beauty pageants. There are more games and rides for fair goers not interested in agriculture, and it is all part of an attempt to attract a wider audience and keep them coming back, reports Rebecca Neal of the Indianapolis Star.

Neal mentions a "national fair report" that lends credence to the idea that county fairs will survive, especially in counties with a long agriculture tradition. Max Willis of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions told her, "To keep the American traditional fair, you have to offer programming relating to agriculture; people today want to see that." (Read more)

Agri-tourism catches on with farmers in rural Virginia; sites offer help

Farming's agri-tourism push is well documented by the media as a means for the industry to bring in extra dollars, and The Roanoke Times provides a good local look at the trend.

By adding "agricultural tourism to the county's recently drafted comprehensive plan, officials are hoping to encourage county farmers to pursue ventures that draw the public to their farms. The comprehensive plan provides long-term guidelines for shaping the county's growth. The goal is not only to bolster tourism in Franklin County but to help farmers stay in business and preserve farmland," writes Megan Watzin.

Since milk prices are down and crops are not bringing in much profit, places like Homestead Creamery is marketing itself as one example of agritourism. The creamery hosts school field trips during its busiest months, and the added revenue helps the operating family stay afloat, reports Watzin. Other farms are offering pumpkin patches, hayrides and corn mazes, wineries, and pick-your-own orchards. (Read more)

Several Web sites exist for people wanting more information on agritourism. Agritourism World is an Internet directory aimed at helping tourists find such farms. AgriTour Solutions works with farmers interested in developing tourism opportunities.

Telemedicine helps treat autism, mental illness in rural Louisiana

St. Mary's Residential Training Facility in Alexandria, La., and the Tulane University Health Sciences Center are teaming up in a telemedicine effort to reduce health care access issues in the state's rural areas.

Patricia Starling, community developer for Health Systems Development for Central Louisiana, said mental health issues are increasing in the aftermath of last year's hurricanes, and rural areas are unable to provide the care needed. The telemedicine effort uses software that allows up to 12 people to share two-way video access on the Internet, reports Bill Sumrall of The Town Talk in Alexandria-Pineville, La.

Patients at St. Mary's are not just receiving telemedical treatment from doctors in nearby New Orleans, but are instead getting care from as far away as San Diego, Calif. For instance, several autistic children are undergoing applied behavioral training with help from a doctor in San Diego, writes Sumrall. (Read more)

Columnist's mother lives on, or so creditors claim to collect debts

"My mother allegedly died on April 2. I say allegedly because a collector representing MBNA said he talked to her on June 21. Until I saw a letter from Dale Lamb, I felt pretty certain my mother was dead. I viewed her lifeless body at the hospital. A funeral director I have known since the second grade gave me an urn that supposedly contained her ashes. I have a death certificate from the state of Kentucky," writes Don McNay, "the business columnist with a rock-and-roll attitude."

McNay writes that despite the overwhelming evidence of his mother's death, "Lamb claims to have talked to her on June 21. You can find a copy of the letter from Lamb and my mother's death certificate at www.donmcnay.com. Thanks to MBNA and their collector -- the ironically named, True Logic Financial Corp. -- mom is now in a category with Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison. She has been deemed alive despite tremendous evidence to the contrary."

"The story about my mom and MBNA is an example of why credit card companies need more regulation. I was named administrator of mom's estate after she supposedly died. I then received a letter from a company called Mann Bracken, saying MBNA had obtained an arbitration award against mom. No one in my family knew anything about a debt to MBNA or had seen notice of an arbitration hearing," continues McNay, who hired an attorney to look into the matter.

"Instead of responding to my attorney, MBNA shifted the alleged debt to True Logic. The True Logic people didn't claim that MBNA actually had an arbitration award -- only that they might get one. Taking MBNA and True Logic at their word, I'm curious as to what mom said to Mr. Lamb. I hope they have a tape recording. Mom was known to use salty language, and I'm sure Mr. Lamb would have heard some," McNay concludes. (Read more)

McNay's journalistic base is The Richmond (Ky.) Register, which announced yesterday that it will publish a bilingual column "to facilitate cross-cultural communication," Editor Jim Todd said. (Read more)

American Life in Poetry Web site offers papers weekly poetry service

American Life in Poetry is a weekly poetry service available for newspapers, and it's something readers might like. After all, poetry was once a staple of rural papers. This week's column by Ted Kooser, U. S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006, features the work of California poet Marsha Truman Cooper.

Cooper "perfectly captures the world of ironing, complete with its intimacy. At the end, doing a job to perfection, pressing the perfect edge, establishes a reassuring order to an otherwise mundane and slightly tawdry world," writes Kooser.

Ironing After Midnight, by Marsha Truman Cooper

Your mother called it
"doing the pressing,"
and you know now
how right she was.
There is something urgent here.
Not even the hiss
under each button
or the yellow business
ground in at the neck
can make one instant
of this work seem unimportant.
You've been taught
to turn the pocket corners
and pick out the dark lint
that collects there.
You're tempted to leave it,
but the old lessons
go deeper than habits.
Everyone else is asleep.
The odor of sweat rises
when you do
under the armpits,
the owner's particular smell
you can never quite wash out.
You'll stay up.
You'll have your way,
the final stroke
and sharpness
down the long sleeves,
a truly permanent edge.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Kentucky weekly probes background, aftermath of prayer dispute

Adam Gibson writes for The Times Journal of Russell Springs, Ky.: "For a short time in May, because of two very different teenagers, this community was turned into a microcosm for the debate on the separation of church and state when a federal judge ruled to block prayer at the 2006 Russell County High School graduation." That's the lead of a story that is a good example of a rural, weekly newspaper delving deeper into a highly charged issue and revealing the lives and feelings of the main protagonists.

The story revealed that after Megan Chapman talked about her faith in God during a graduation speech, Rev. Jerry Falwell was so impressed that he offered Chapman and her twin sister Mandy a scholarship to his Liberty University. The picture is not so rosy for Derrick Ping, the student who got the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit blocking the traditional prayer at the commencement -- and who has since been subjected to verbal and physical harassment, reports Gibson.

Gibson chronicles how Ping's personal convictions, both before and during the graduation period, made him an outcast in Russell County, on the shores of Lake Cumberland: "Ping is a 19-year-old whose personal convictions run counter to his community's strong religious framework. When Ping decided to act on his own convictions he created a firestorm of controversy that both enraged and united a community."

Ping told Gibson his acknowledged lack of Christian faith caused him to be singled out and ridiculed by classmates throughout his schooling. Nevertheless, he found it important to speak out about officially sanctioned prayer before the graduation. "I was trying to take away a little power from the religious regime here. They've gone unchecked for a good while now and if I didn't speak out, nothing was going to happen," he said, adding that one of his middle-school science teacher once summarized the theories of evolution and the Big Bang in 30 seconds, then read from Genesis "for quite a while."

Chapman told Gibson that if a majority wants prayer, it should get it, and if someone wants to complain about it, they should not be surprised by the backlash. "I hate to say it, but I'm sorry, the minority doesn't win," she said. To read a PDF of the newspaper's front page, including the beginning of the story, click here. For the rest of the story, continued to an inside page, click here. For a one-page version, which has much lower resolution, click here.

Bill to ban horse slaughter gets hearing, support from Boone Pickens

A bill to halt horse slaughter in the U.S. for human consumption, mainly by Europeans and Japanese, came under fire Tuesday before a House committee.

"Opponents of the trade focused on the widespread revulsion to horse meat. Defenders argued that owners should have the right to dispose of animals as they see fit," writes Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News, reporting on the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. One of the horsemeat plants, owned by Belgians, is in Fort Worth.

Both sides agreed that current methods of handling thousands of unwanted horses pose problems and that horses should receive humane treatment. But they differ on definitions of humane treatment, with opponents of horse slaughter saying "the bill would end cruel transportation and killing methods now in practice despite government regulations" and supporters saying slaughter is more humane than letting horses starve, writes Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens was among those testifying for the bill. "Texas has a dirty secret that should shame all of us," he said. "This is a black eye on our state and our nation that demands action." Click here for a video interview with Pickens from the Morning News, including a short hidden-camera video from inside a horsemeat plant, from the United States Humane Society. (Read more)

Last year, Congress voted to block funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspectors who are supposed to look after horse carcasses exported for human consumption. The department then accepted an offer from slaughterhouses to pay for their own horsemeat inspections in a "fee for services" setup that did not use taxpayer monies.

Two cities each in Illinois, Texas remain in running for power plant

The first coal-fired power plant with near-zero emissions will either end up in Texas or Illinois, U.S. Department of Energy officials have decided.

Two Illinois cities, Mattoon and Tuscola, and two Texas cities, Odessa and Jewett, are the four finalists "for the $1 billion project to build and operate the 'cleanest power plant in the world.' The electrical plant fueled by coal will be operational by 2012, according to the FutureGen Alliance," writes Herb Meeker of the Mattoon Journal Gazette.

The alliance is a consortium of the world's largest coal producers and users. They considered 22 sites for the project once applications arrived in April. "In May, Mattoon, Tuscola, Marshall and Effingham were chosen as finalists among 12 sites in seven states; the others were in Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia," reports Meeker. (Read more)

In a separate story focusing on Tuscola, the newspaper's Krista Lewis writes, "The size of the FutureGen project has gained support from neighboring communities, where residents are excited at the prospect of the plant being in either Tuscola or Mattoon." (Read more) For an Odessa American brief, click here.

U.S. safety agency calls for new air packs for underground miners

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced Tuesday it intends to ask emergency air pack manufacturers for two new types in an effort to prevent more underground mine disasters like those this year in Kentucky and West Virginia.

"NIOSH official John Kovac said the agency wants proposals for hybrid air packs, or self-rescuers, that combine the oxygen-generating devices used today with filter self-rescuers that scrub toxins but do not provide oxygen," reports Tim Huber of The Associated Press. Coal miners once used filter self-rescuers, but today the devices are found only in other types of underground mines. NIOSH also wants proposals for air packs that allow miners to swap out chemical cartridges that generate oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. Today, miners must switch to a new air pack if it stops working."

Several of the miners killed in West Virginia in January and in Kentucky in May died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they were unable to escape. Although the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration reports tests show air packs recovered from those disasters still generated oxygen, Sago Mine survivor Randal McCloy Jr. contends some failed, notes AP. (Read more)

High gas prices force rural Kentucky districts to cut jobs, trips, budgets

As the school year approaches, high fuel prices are posing transportation problems for many rural districts. One Kentucky television station provides an example of concerns already popping up.

"In Jackson County, the rising cost of diesel to fuel school buses is prompting job losses, and now school leaders are hoping for help from Frankfort. School bus drivers, teachers and other school system employees have lost their jobs, in large part due to the high cost of diesel to power the buses," reports WKYT, Channel 27, in Lexington.

The district already has plans to cut back field trips and sports-related travel. Bus routes are also being consolidated to help with the gas crunch. At least three other districts told WKYT that they are having to re-evaluate budgets to accommodate gas prices. (Read more)

FEMA revises interview policy for trailer parks after reporters booted

Less than a week after Federal Emergency Management Agency security guards expelled reporters from trailer parks in Louisiana, the agency is chalking up the incident to a misunderstanding.

The Advocate in Baton Rouge first reported on a FEMA policy that residents who invite media to a trailer must have a FEMA representative present. "The revised policy, released Tuesday, allows media unescorted access to the trailer parks, lets the media interview residents, and, if invited, enter residents' trailers. If a public information officer is not available, that cannot be used as a reason to deny access to the trailer park, according to the policy," writes Hannah Bergman of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. (Read more)

Pat Philbin, FEMA communications director in Washington, D.C., claims the agency's original policy was either interpreted incorrectly or taken too literally. The Advocate ended up reporting that several trailer parks remain vacant after being set up as relief housing after last year's hurricanes, notes Bergman.

Judge, paper clash over conservation law for stream access in Montana

A local newspaper editor in western Montana is helping lead the fight to keep landowners from blocking public access to a waterway they say is a manmade ditch and the opponents say is a trout stream.

"A state district judge agreed in May that while Mitchell Slough was once part of the nearby Bitterroot River, it had been transformed by the hand of man, by changes including numerous head gates that control flows, and so was exempt from the Montana stream access law. But an organization called the Bitterroot River Protective Association and the State of Montana appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court on July 12, arguing that the waterway belonged to everyone despite the no-trespassing signs and the wire fences crossing it. Lawyers for the state expect a decision within a year," writes Jim Robbins of The New York Times. (Read more)

One founder of the association is Michael Howell, editor and co-publisher of the local newspaper, the Bitterroot Star. In a recent editorial, which did not mention Howell or the group, the paper attacked the district's judge's decision to exempt the waterway from state law: "This is certainly not what the fishermen and recreationists had in mind when the Stream Access Law was being hammered out. We believe the recreationists and the farmers and ranchers understood the law at the time to apply to all historical streams and river channels. What it did not apply to was man-made constructions, called ditches. Now Judge [Ted] Mizner is telling us that natural river channels and spring creeks can be removed from coverage under those laws once they have been altered and manipulated enough." (Read more)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Under-reported? Use of amphetamines, perhaps meth, is declining

"An iron law of journalism dictates that news of increased drug use goes onto Page One and at the top of broadcasts, but news of decreased drug use must be buried or ignored," writes Jack Shafer of Slate.

Quest Diagnostics, the nation's leading tester of drugs in the workplace, released findings last month under the title "Amphetamines Use Declined Significantly Among U.S. Workers in 2005." The category includes methamphetamine, a scourge in rural areas. Based on six million drug tests administered last year, Quest reported an 8 percent decline in the detection of amphetamines from the previous year. Based on tests from the first five months of this year, the number of positives slid another 10 percent, notes Shafer.

Shafer's column points out the story failed to make The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Times, and the Los Angeles Times. He also poses concerns about the data: "The company does not test people randomly, so its findings don't represent the population at large. Also, workers who know a mandatory drug test is in the offing might abstain from drugs to pass and then return to them, further skewing the results. Yet shakier findings touting increases in drug use make bigger news all the time." (Read more)

U.S. refusal to cut farm subsidies blamed for end of global trade talks

Have farm subsidies trumped free trade? Perhaps so, at least for now. The World Trade Organization gave up on negotiating more changes in global trade rules Monday, after a meeting turned into a bashing of the U.S. for its refusal to cut farm subsidies more deeply.

Tom Wright and Steven R. Weisman of The New York Times report that the WTO's director general, Pascal Lamy, said "he no longer had hope of overcoming resistance in wealthy countries to sharply reducing domestic protection for their politically powerful farm industries." (Read more)

The meeting was aimed to give "developing countries more benefits from the global trading system. Poor nations have long complained that their main exports, notably agricultural goods and textiles, are subject to high import barriers in rich countries. The poor nations have also condemned the big subsidy payments that governments in wealthy nations give their farmers because those payments can spur overproduction that depresses crop prices," writes Paul Blustein of The Washington Post.

Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, told reporters, "The United States was unwilling to accept, or indeed to acknowledge, the flexibility being shown by others in the room and, as a result, felt unable to show any flexibility on the issue of farm subsidies." Susan C. Schwab, the chief U.S. trade negotiator, responded that since other countries are not willing to lower import barriers for farmers, there is no purpose in offering to cut farm subsidies. (Read more)

No state meets qualified-teachers deadline; only 10 get OK for tests

No state met the requirement of the No Child Left Behind law that all teachers be “highly qualified” in core teaching fields, reports Sam Dillon of The New York Times. This follows the item in yesterday's Rural Blog (see below) about the U.S. Department of Education intending to withhold funding from 10 states because of their failure to meet the law's testing requirements.

Only 10 states, many with large rural populations, got full approval of their testing: Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Utah.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings "flatly rejected as inadequate the testing systems in Maine and Nebraska," writes Dillon. "She has also said that nine states are so far behind in providing highly qualified teachers that they may face sanctions, and she has accused California of failing to provide federally required alternatives to troubled schools. California could be fined as much as $4.25 million." (Read more)

Landowners, developers take advantage of Oregon property-rights law

Oregon property owners have filed at least 2,755 claims seeking government compensation for land-use restrictions on 150,455 acres, under a property-rights law the state's voters passed in 2004.

"The measure says that when land rules reduce the value of property, the government must compensate the owner or waive the regulations," writes Timothy Egan of The New York Times. Since that "shot heard around the property rights world," states such as Idaho and Washington have added similar measures to their ballots for this fall, Egan reports. Oregon's land-use rules are "some of the most restrictive land-use rules in the nation ... designed to keep forest and farm areas intact and cities compact.".

The biggest claim may be that of James R. Miller, who owns a tract inside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and wants to develop a pumice mine and power plant. He says the government must let him move forward or pay him $203 million in compensation.

"If all the claims were paid, state officials say, it could amount to more than $3 billion in compensation," Egan reports. No claim has been paid, according to the Portland State University Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, which is tracking the measure’s impact. "Instead of paying property owners, local government agencies have routinely chosen to waive the regulations, clearing the way for numerous developments in rural areas," writes Egan. (Read more)

House passes bill to protect land from drilling in three western states

Northern New Mexico's Valle Vidal Forest houses 101,000 acres of conifer and meadows that are now being targeted for energy exploration, which is drawing criticism from a coalition of hunters, anglers, environmentalists, ranchers, homeowners and politicians.

"Here and elsewhere in the Western United States, this coalition is starting to resist the push for energy exploration in some of the nation's most prized wilderness areas. Although it remains unclear how successful they will be, these new activists -- including many who treasure Valle Vidal as a place to fish for cutthroat trout, hunt for elk and ride horses across its wide expanses -- have brought a new dynamic to the public debate over energy development in the West," writes Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

The U.S. House approved legislation on Monday to make Valle Vidal off-limits to oil and gas drilling and to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness in California, Idaho and Oregon. The measure now goes to the Senate, where Republicans Conrad Burns of Montana and Craig Thomas of Wyoming have called for restrictions on energy exploration on public land, reports Eilperin.

"The U.S. government has already opened to drilling 85 percent of the federal oil and gas reserves in the Rocky Mountains' five major energy basins. Responding in part to increased demand and rising energy costs, in 2005 the administration issued almost twice as many drilling permits -- 7,018 -- as President Bill Clinton did in 2000. But now resistance to drilling is growing, especially because environmentalists have enlisted sportsmen and other new allies in their fight, and because energy companies already have access to most of the public land in the Rocky Mountain West," writes Eilperin. (Read more)

Meanwhile, one state to the east, Reuters reports that rural towns north of Dallas are undergoing facelifts from natural-gas drilling. North Texas is home to the geological formation Barnett Shale, which is the nation's fastest growing natural-gas field and the biggest in Texas. (Read more)

Reporter on Kiplinger fellowship probes Ohio churches' political activity

"Both inside and outside the church, pastors are recruiting and organizing followers in much the same way as political parties," Steve Myers writes in the lead story of a package about political activity of religious conservatives in Ohio, where the Republican nominee for governor is Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who often sounds religious themes in his race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Methodist minister -- amid allegations that the groups' political activity should cost them their tax-exempt status.

We think this helps illustrate how journalists at all levels should report on grassroots political activity in churches, whether they be rural, urban, conservative or liberal. Myers' report in The Columbus Dispatch, which includes many video and audio clips from pastors and candidates, was prepared during his fellowship of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism at Ohio State University. Myers' regular job is government reporter for the Mobile Register. His fellowship lasted six months, but his report is statewide; local stories don't take as long, but with elections approaching, it's time to start working on them.

Myers' story focuses on groups run by the Rev. Rod Parsley, Reformation Ohio and the Center for Moral Clarity, which "have sponsored seminars, revivals and voter registration;" the Rev. Russell Johnson's Ohio Restoration Project, "which has held rallies and created its own network around the state;" and their connections with Blackwell; and their organizing around opposition to gay marriage -- a policy Ohioans voted into their state constitution in 2004, but one that remains on the national agenda as a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The groups are the focus of a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that their activities violate their tax-exempt status. All 2005 events of the Ohio Restoration Project "have featured Blackwell in some way, and for that reason some have said that proves the group is merely a front for the candidate," Myers reports. "Johnson says Blackwell was invited each time because he was the only public official who backed the 2004 marriage amendment," Issue 1. He told Myers, "We never said, 'I want you to look at a future governor.' ... We invited every official who was for life and for marriage and for Issue 1."

Johnson is trying to recruit 2,000 "Patriot Pastors," each of whom "must commit to sign up 200 volunteers, 100 people to pray on various issues and 300 newly registered voters," Myers reports. Parsley "evangelizes crowds packed under hot tents. They're like any other small-town revival, except that the pastor is not only tallying how many souls are saved, but how many voters are registered." Reporting on a revival in Chillicothe, the weekend before the primary election Blackwell won, "Parsley urged the crowd fill out forms so he could pray for them. The next morning, Parsley reported to his congregants that 612 people were saved and 200 registered to vote" for the fall election.

Myers reports from the other side: "Though the conservative pastors argue that they're speaking for mainstream Ohioans, a group of self-described moderate and liberal religious leaders has sprung up to say their faith has been misappropriated. The organization, called We Believe, seeks to challenge the notion that only conservatives are 'values voters,' instead arguing that Christians can share a variety of viewpoints on social issues. Rather than focusing on divisive issues such as abortion and homosexuality, they say Christians should speak out on poverty, health care and education." (Read more)

CMT launches broadband video site; part of the 'YouTube situation'

Country Music Television unveiled a broadband video site on Monday that features videos sure to please fans of the genre. It may increase the demand for high-speed Internet in rural areas, where country music is popular but broadband service is spotty at best.

CMT Loaded will draw both on previously-aired material and on shows created specifically for the Web site. "It's that whole YouTube situation--we definitely want to get in on that," said Lewis Bogach, vice president of programming and production at CMT, referring to the wildly popular video-sharing site. The addition of a broadband video site is similar to MTV's Overdrive and VH-1's Vspot, reports Mark Walsh of Online Media Daily.

Martin Clayton, vice president of digital media for CMT, said the station's online visitors are younger than its TV audience, which has a median age of 40--but both are split about evenly between men and women. "When it comes to any advertiser skittishness about the Wild West of broadband media, Clayton isn't overly concerned," writes Walsh. (Read more)

Smoking ban passes in Kentucky's capital; joins six others in state

A smoking ban was passed Monday night by the capital city in Kentucky, the state with more tobacco farmers than any other and the highest adult smoking rate in the U.S. -- about 27.6 percent.

The Frankfort City Commission voted 3-2 to ban smoking in public, indoor areas. Its vote follows similar bans in other cities along or close to Interstate 64 -- Lexington, Morehead, Georgetown and Louisville -- and Letcher County, in the state's mountainous southeastern corner, where little if any tobacco is grown.

Louisville has a partial ban that excludes places such as bars and tobacco stores, and Daviess County [Owensboro] does not allow smoking in buildings open to children younger than 18," writes Emily Yahr of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Drug tests occur more in rural schools than in urban ones, study finds

While superintendents in urban school districts have been reluctant to drug test students, rural districts are not letting the opportunity go to waste, according to a new study by University of New Hampshire researchers, reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

"Researchers surveyed superintendents nationwide from school districts ranging from small and rural districts to large, urban districts with more than 20,000 students. Of the more than 200 superintendents who responded, only 25 – about 12 percent -- said their school districts drug tested students involved in extracurricular activities. . . . Of those 25 school districts that drug test students, the majority – almost 71 percent – were small and/or rural school districts with student populations under 5,000."

The U.S. Supreme Court has gradually expanded what students can be submitted to random drug tests in public schools, going from only athletes and cheerleaders to all students involved in extracurricular activities, including academic teams, marching bands and the Future Farmers of America, reports Newswise. (Read more)

Mainly rural states fail to comply with No Child Left Behind testing

The U.S. Department of Education intends to withhold funding from 10 states because they failed to fully comply with the testing provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Those funds will instead be diverted directly to school districts.

States struggled to show that they gave appropriate accommodations to special education students and those still learning English, Education Week reported in its July 12 issue. The 10 states, many of which are predominantly rural, include Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Maine and Nebraska. For a map of where all states fared with compliance, click here.

Nebraska and Maine are the only states that received the lowest possible designation of “nonapproved,” and they must enter into a compliance agreement with the federal government. The other eight states fell under the "approval pending, withholding funds" category. “We will challenge the findings,” Nebraska Commissioner of Education Doug Christensen told reporters.

"The federal law requires states to test students in reading and mathematics annually in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school, beginning with the 2005-06 school year, using tests aligned with their state academic standards. States must include students with disabilities and English-language learners in their testing systems," reporter Lynn Olson writes. This follows a recent threat to withhold money from states that fail to meet the law’s requirements for “highly qualified” teachers. (Read more)

Rural Minnesota colleges keep students with research opportunities

Colleges in rural Minnesota see declining numbers of youth in their areas, but are keeping enrollment figures stable by offering hands-on research, smaller classes and individual attention from professors.

"As the number of youth declines in rural parts of the state, schools like Crookston, Morris and Moorhead are looking for ways to distinguish themselves and keep their enrollments healthy," reports The Associated Press. One of the biggest lures for high-school graduates to attend smaller colleges seems to be the opportunity to perform research work usually reserved for graduate students at bigger universities.

Enrollment figures across the state show an overall jump in college enrollment, with a five-year 8.5 percent increase at state colleges and 7.2 percent rise at private ones, notes AP. (Read more)

Ky. Press Assn. to pursue legislation, not suit, to open juvenile courts

Directors of the Kentucky Press Association decided Friday to pursue legislation rather than keep pressing a lawsuit to open the state's juvenile courts to the press and public.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled this month that the newspaper group had not presented an issue that was ripe for judicial action. It suggested that KPA fight the issue in state court, and suggested that state law allows judges to open juvenile proceedings to those with “a direct interest in the case or the work of the court.”

However, KPA's First Amendment counsel, Jon Fleischaker, said state court would be a piecemeal approach, based on individual cases. He recommended pressing hard for legislation. So did John Nelson of Danville, managing editor of The Advocate-Messenger, who pushed the organization to file the lawsuit when he was KPA president -- and will discuss the issue at the national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in Chicago Aug. 24. Nelson is president of SPJ's Bluegrass Chapter.

Nelson and others at the meeting urged their fellow editors to do stories and editorials about juvenile cases to help put public pressure on the legislature to change the law. Nelson said the cases that need publicity “aren’t just rapes and murders,” noting that a cemetery in Junction City, Ky., was vandalized by kids 10, 11 and 13. “That is the kind of thing the public has a direct interest in,” he said. (Read more)

Ky. paper takes a closer look at legacy of racial expulsion in one town

A week ago, we alerted you to the remarkable research and story by Elliot Jaspin of Cox Newspapers which showed that at least 14 rural communities across the middle of the country had a history of expelling their African American residents in the 55 years after the Civil War. Yesterday, the Lexington Herald-Leader took a closer look at Corbin, Ky., where "as of the 2000 census, six black people lived among ... 7,000 residents. That's an 87-year-old legacy from the night a group of white Corbinites rounded up a group of black railway workers at gunpoint and forced them to ride out of town on the very same Louisville & Nashville Railroad where they labored," Linda Blackford reported.

The story focused on Shirley Wallace, a black woman and Hurricane Katrina refugee who came to Corbin. "I didn't know the story, and I don't care. I just thank God for a wonderful experience here," Wallace told Blackford -- who noted that Wallace, "being from Mississippi, knows a thing or two about racism."

Mayor Amos Miller didn't welcome the newspaper's attention. "The problem is that we keep talking about it," he told Blackford. "All you do is feed the bigots." But Corbin may still have some issues. "People noticed when First United Methodist Church, a huge citadel on the hill above Corbin, brought a group of African American storm victims up from Mississippi," Blackford wrote, quoting Gus Clouse, the church's director of junior recreation: "The word on the streets is that we're bad. It's sad." All the refugees but Wallace's family and one man left, and though she says "No one has been anything but nice, nice, nice," she says she can't find a decent job -- "despite a junior-college degree and many years of employment at a Gulf Coast casino," Blackford reports. (Read more)

Bob Edwards tries to direct more attention to mountaintop removal

Bob Edwards of XM Satellite Radio is promoting a documentary on mountaintop-removal coal mining in Central Appalachia, scheduled for first broadcast on Friday morning. In an essay in Sunday's Courier-Journal, published in his native Louisville, Edwards describes his work and that of the coal companies, which he says "have concluded it's easier to remove the mountain from the coal than to remove the coal from the mountain," and calls for more attention to the subject.

"Do Americans know this is happening? Why isn't it getting more attention?" he asks. "If the Adirondacks or the Catskills were being blown up, wouldn't New York camera crews be in helicopters shooting video of the devastation? Why is there so much outrage over plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and so little notice paid to the destruction of our oldest mountains? Why was there so much news coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill when a coal-waste spill 30 times bigger in [Kentucky's] Martin County got hardly any national press? Do Kentuckians care about the loss of mountains, forests and streams? Is there concern about silt and mining chemicals spoiling the drinking water? How can a state with so many hunters and fishermen tolerate the loss of habitat for fish and wildlife?"

Edwards writes that the government agencies "charged with protecting our environment and keeping wise stewardship of our water and land are making it possible for mountains to be leveled and streams to be buried. . . . So are Congress, the courts and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Even the major environmental advocacy groups are much more concerned about the burning of coal than the mining of it. Except for their neighbors similarly afflicted in Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia, the people of Eastern Kentucky stand alone." (Read more)

We're sure the coal industry has a different view. For the National Mining Association Web site's page on reclamation, click here. For more on the Edwards show, click here. The documentary "Exploding Heritage" airs first on Friday, July 28 at 8, 9 and 10 a.m. EDT. Two of his interviewees are Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, Ky.

Byrd presses administration to fill mine-inspector jobs Congress funded

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, who led the effort to put $26 million for coal-mine inspectors in a spending bill President Bush signed a month ago, says the Office of Management and Budget has not made the money available to the Labor Department, and the department's Mine Safety and Health Administration "hasn't come up with a detailed plan for hiring the inspectors in the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years," James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal reports in his "Notes from Washington" column.

The money was added in response "to the Jan. 2 Sago Mine disaster in West Virginia that killed 12 miners and the May 20 Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 disaster that killed five miners," and is intended to replace the 217 MSHA inspectors that have left the payroll since 2001, Carroll reports.

Byrd, D-W.Va., wrote Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Director Rob Portman, urging action. "I stood next to President Bush at the White House in June when he told the families of miners: 'We'll do everything possible to prevent mine accidents,' " Byrd wrote. "The hiring and training of these inspectors is critical to fulfilling that promise." MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere told Carroll the Labor Department is working on a response. (Read more)

Friday, July 21, 2006

With small number of infections, U.S. cuts back on mad-cow tests

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is reducing the number of mad-cow disease tests by about 90 percent, because the low number of infected animals does not justify the current monitoring levels.

"After the disease was found in a Canadian-born dairy cow in Washington in December 2003, the department tested more than 759,000 animals over 18 months from 2004 to 2006 and found only two infected cows. In a report issued in April, the department concluded that fewer than one in a million adult cattle was infected," writes Donald G. McNeil Jr. of The New York Times.

The announcement sparked criticism from some who question how the USDA will determine which cows to test. “We think this is just absurd,” said Michael K. Hansen, an expert on the disease at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, told McNeil. “They’re playing Russian roulette with public health.” (Read more) To read The Associated Press story, click here.

Google, other Web giants may build in rural areas for cheap power

Google may follow a trend by considering rural Caldwell County, North Carolina, as a possible site for an $800 million to $1 billion computer center for processing search engine requests and other services. This is the first such case we have heard of in the East; tech companies in the Seattle area are already moving "server farms" to rural Washington, where power is becoming cheaper in relative terms.

"Energy costs have turned into the driving force behind site selection decisions by Google, Yahoo and other Internet operations. They're eyeing rural areas with plentiful and cheap power. These cyber giants process massive amounts of information through server farms spread throughout the globe," write Mark Johnson and Mike Drummond of The Charlotte Observer. "The primary power drain is not the computers themselves, but the air conditioning needed to keep them cool."

Relocating to rural locations helps companies saves pennies per kilowatt-hour, but since the farms use enough power to serve 35,000 people, small cuts in electricity rates can save millions of dollars a year, report Johnson and Drummond. (Read more)

Arizona boosts scholarships, residency programs to retain rural doctors

A $2.8 million plan will create a residency program at one rural Arizona hospital and forgive loan debt for future doctors, as part of an effort to fill the increasing need for doctors and nurses in rural areas.

"According to the National Rural Health Association, just one out of 10 doctors practices in rural areas, where one-fourth of the nation's population lives. For years, Arizona has fallen in line with this trend, and state policymakers have been looking at how to boost the number of doctors," writes Laura Houston of The Arizona Republic.

"Midwestern University, the state's largest medical school, stepped in and suggested using scholarships as an incentive to draw the doctors of tomorrow to today's at-risk areas. Midwestern, which has a campus in Glendale, has been working to fill the ranks of emergency rooms and hospitals with graduates who prefer rural outposts to metropolitan assignments," reports Houston. In addition to two rural residency programs, a third will be created with a $1 million federal grant. (Read more)

Rural police pick up Texas anti-meth efforts after cuts in drug task forces

Severe state and federal budget cuts for drug task forces are forcing rural counties in Texas to reorganize and add training for dealing with the growing “Mexican drug trafficking.”

The South Central Drug Task Force that served seven counties with seven agents received a federal budget cut for 2006-07 of $134,353. Coupled with a state cut of $26,870, only two agents remain with the task force. Law enforcement agencies are finding ways to compensate for the reduction in agents, writes Jim Williamson of The Texarkana Gazette.

“The drug task forces were formed in an effort to pool resources with rural law enforcement agencies to combat the rise in methamphetamine in the late 1980s. The drug task forces were not designed to work independently, but jointly with these agencies,” said Sevier County Sheriff John Partain. He is now sending deputies to a new school called "Mexican Drug Trafficking,” reports Williamson. (Read more)

Proposed 600-mile superhighway would uproot many farmers in Texas

A 600-mile superhighway may cross the state of Texas within a few years, and farmers are up in arms about the lost space for crops, the destruction of houses and the end of family-run operations.

Gov. Rick Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor in 2002, and the 600-mile Oklahoma-to-Mexico stretch would be part of a 4,000-mile, $184 billion network. "The corridors would be up to a quarter-mile across, consisting of as many as six lanes for cars and four for trucks, plus railroad tracks, oil and gas pipelines, water and other utility lines, and broadband cables," reports The Associated Press.

"The exact route for the cross-Texas corridor has not yet been drawn up, though it will probably be somewhere within a 10-mile-wide swath running parallel to Interstate 35. Whatever course it takes, it is clear many farmers and property owners will lose their land, though they will be compensated by the state. Construction could begin by 2010." (Read more)

Ex-N.Y. Times editor reflects on 'One That Got Away' in book, speech

Howell Raines served as executive editor of The New York Times, an experience he likens to a 7 1/2-hour battle with a marlin he once caught. Now the former news chief, dethroned during the Jayson Blair scandal, is out with a memoir called The One That Got Away.

"The point I wanted this book to make is we all have it coming -- we just don't know when it's going to happen. That is to say loss is the most universal experience of all. We will eventually lose our loved ones, we will lose our lives and you hope it takes place in a gradual eloquent way. It may take place in a calm way but none of us should ever forget that loss is woven into the fabric of life and that's really what literature is about," Raines told Troy Hooper of the Aspen Daily News in Colorado.

Raines, who led the Times to seven Pulitzer Prizes, spoke Thursday at The Aspen Institute. For an Aspen Times story on that, click here. Check the Aspen Daily News (free registration required), and note its motto, which we love: "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen." (Read more)

Morris Publishing buys Ga., S.C. weeklies from Community Newspapers

Morris Publishing Group is buying four weekly newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina from Community Newspapers Inc., according to the latest eBulletin from the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.

The deal includes in South Carolina the 6,600-circulation Barnwell People-Sentinel, the 5,000-circulation Hampton County Guardian, the 4,100-circulation Edgefield Citizen News, and in Georgia the 3,200-circulation Sylvania Telephone. Georgia papers owned by Morris Publishing Group include the dailies Augusta Chronicle, Savannah Morning News and Athens Banner-Herald, and the non-dailies the Columbia County News Times, McDuffie Mirror and News and Farmer and Wadley Herald/Jefferson Reporter. Morris owns the South Carolina daily Bluffton Today. (Read more)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

U.S. may block access to vital records, threatening journalists' work

The federal government will release a proposal early next year that will most likely restrict access to state birth and death records, which would significantly hurt journalists' abilities to perform their jobs.

"The National Center for Health Statistics is drafting minimum standards for vital records in response to a mandate in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The standards are intended to prevent identity theft, and states would be required to implement the federal regulations. In 2005 the Federal Trade Commission received 255,565 complaints of identity theft nationwide," writes Meghan E. Murphy, editor of the Clear Creek Courant in Idaho Springs, Colo., and a member of the Colorado Pro Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists.

Murphy says journalism groups agree that identity theft prevention is important, but cites the argument of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a Washington-based coalition of news-media groups, that "restricting access to vital records would impede the work of journalists, medical researchers, genealogists and archivists, . 'While we recognize legitimate concerns about protecting against identity theft or fraud, we believe it is important that these concerns be weighed against the importance of the public's right to access information held by the government,' the group wrote in a letter to the National Center for Health Statistics," Murphy reports.

"The draft regulations are expected to be issued by January 2007. A 60-day public comment period will follow. Once regulations are officially adopted, states will have two years to adopt the new policies." (Read more)

To comment before the proposed regulations are released, write to Delton Atkinson, Division of Vital Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, 3311 Toledo Rd., Room 7315, Hyattsville, MD 20782.

Wireless phones cheaper than typical service in rural U.S., analysis finds

Subsidies for rural phone service are troubled with inefficiency and rising costs, making wireless or satellite phones a cheaper option, according to an analysis for a senior-citizen advocacy group.

"Taxes to support the Universal Service Fund, which is intended to pay for higher costs of serving rural areas, are growing so fast as to force some low-income citizens to drop current phone service, said Thomas Hazlett, a George Mason University economist who prepared the analysis for the Seniors Coalition," writes Jon Van of The Chicago Tribune. About 5 percent of rural households have dropped fixed-line telephone service in favor of cheaper wireless connections.

The USF totals more than $7 billion a year and is financed by a tax of more than 10 percent on long-distance phone service. The Federal Communications Commission raised the tax on wireless customers last month and imposed it for the first time on Internet telephone customers. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin favors a flat tax of $1 or more on every telephone number issued, which could increase bills for seniors and low-income customers who seldom place long-distance calls, reports Van. (Read more)

Judge strikes down Md. law mandating Wal-Mart health insurance

A U.S. District Court judge struck down a Maryland law on Wednesday that sought to make Wal-Mart Stores pony up for adequate health insurance for its employees, setting back several months of efforts.

"The judge ruled that the federal law governing employer-provided health benefits takes precedence over the state law, which would have required companies with 10,000 or more workers to spend at least 8 percent of their payrolls on health insurance, or pay the difference into a state Medicaid fund. Only Wal-Mart, which has been thrust into the center of the national debate over who should pay for health care, would have been affected by the law," writes The New York Times.

The decision yesterday should hurt efforts in other states where organized labor leaders and lawmakers are trying to address businesses who provide inadequate health insurance for their employees, report Reed Abelson and Michael Barbaro. (Read more)

Alcohol still ranks far above meth as most abused drug in rural U.S.

Alcohol remains the leading substance-abuse problem in rural America, by far, despite widespread reports of increased methamphetamine use in those areas, according to a new report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

"Substance Abuse in Rural and Small Town America" says a 2003 national survey of rural and urban Americans ages 12 and older showed drinking at all ages is more common than other drug abuse in rural areas. Seventeen percent of rural adults aged 18-25 reported a drinking problem, compared to fewer than 1 percent who reported a problem with meth or other stimulants. Seven percent of rural youth aged 12-17, and 5.6 percent of rural adults over 25, reported an alcohol problem, while both groups reported stimulant use at less than one-quarter of 1 percent.

The study reports that rural youth are more likely to drink in homes where the parents are often not present. Also, young adults in those areas are twice as likely to have drinking problems as young females, and unmarried adults are more likely to report a problem than married ones. To read the report, click here.

Mine-safety agency orders that seals withstand more explosive force

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration acted Wednesday to bolster seals in underground mines, doubling the current standard for withstanding explosions.

Failure of seals may have led to the deaths of five miners in the Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 explosion in Harlan County on May 20, and to the deaths of 12 more on Jan. 2 at the Sago Mine in West Virginia. "MSHA regulations have required seals to withstand 20 pounds of pressure per square inch, whether built of concrete blocks or the lighter, less expensive Omega foam blocks like those used in the Sago Mine. New federal legislation requires MSHA to strengthen the seals, and yesterday's directive said all seals must now withstand 50 psi," according to The Courier-Journal in a staff and AP report. (Read more)

A report for West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said 12 miners who died Jan. 2 would be alive if government regulators had not approved foam-block seals that do not meet a 1969 legal mandate to be “explosion proof,” writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. The report presented mine-safety recommendations that include: adopting emergency measures to protect against explosions from lightning; evaluating existing seal standards and considering upgrades; and requiring mine operators to install refuge chambers in underground mines. (Read more) To read more from The New York Times, click here.

U.S. cattle report due Friday; Roanoke paper shows how to use data

A federal report on cattle numbers, slated for release Friday, could make a story in several states. The Roanoke Times shows the way by using data from January that shows the industry growing in Virginia.

"The number of beef cattle being raised in the state has hit an all-time high of more than three-quarters of a million. The latest U.S. Cattle Inventory Report estimated the number of beef cattle in the state reached 747,000 head in January, a 6 percent increase from the pervious year. The state's last recorded peak was in 1997 when the cattle population was at 740,000," writes Christina Rogers.

Such a surge provides encouragement for state where traditional agriculture areas such as tobacco and dairy are in decline. The top two states in beef cattle being raised are Texas and Missouri, but Virginia's No. 15 ranking is helped by fertile pastures and hillsides that give it advantages over Western states, reports Rogers. (Read more)

The latest cattle report will be posted Friday by 3 p.m. at this Web site, under Today's Reports.

Pennsylvania town to fine landlords for renting to illegal immigrants

Leaders in Hazelton, Pa., are trying to combat illegal immigrants in their northeastern part of the state with the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which aims to reduce violent crime, crowded schools, hospital costs and the demand for services.

The act will deny licenses to any businesses that employ illegal immigrants, fine landlords $1,000 for each illegal immigrant who rents space, and require city documents to be in English only. Shortly after passing the act, the town was sued by a coalition of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund for hindering the federal governments ability to address illegal immigration, reports Megan Shannon of All Headline News.

"The Latino population in the town has gone from 5 percent in 2000 to 30 percent. Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta said the town is being destroyed by an influx of illegal aliens. He said the ordinance is a response to two murders within the town committed by illegal immigrants," writes Shannon. (Read more)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Emergency milk program became big scam instead of drought helper

A series of investigative stories by The Washington Post are exposing farm subsidy programs that gave assistance to the wrong people, and the latest installment explores how assistance meant for dairy farmers hurt by droughts ended up going elsewhere.

During a severe drought in 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture "decided to dip into massive stockpiles of powdered milk that the agency had stored in warehouses nationwide as part of its milk price-support program. Livestock owners could get the protein-rich commodity free and feed it to their cattle and calves. The milk would help ranchers weather the drought while the government reduced its growing stockpile," write Gilbert M. Gaul, Sarah Cohen and Dan Morgan.

Soon after the program arrived, ranchers, feed dealers and brokers saw a chance to make more money by trading the powdered milk in a "daisy chain" of transactions. They made millions, the Post reports. In the end, tens of millions of pounds of powdered milk, intended solely for livestock owners dealing with droughts, ended up going to states with no drought or were sold to middlemen in other countries.

"Taxpayers paid at least $400 million for the emergency milk program, one of an array of costly relief plans crafted by Congress and the USDA to insulate farmers and ranchers from risk. In some cases, ownership of the powdered milk changed hands half a dozen times or more in a matter of days, with the price increasing each time. A commodity that started out being sold for almost nothing was soon trading for hundreds of dollars a ton," report Gaul, Cohen and Morgan. (Read more)

FEMA trailer parks almost empty in Louisiana; media kept from residents

The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent millions of dollars building trailer parks with hundreds of units across Louisiana, but many of them remain empty months after opening. Why? FEMA refuses to answer. "And FEMA rules make it hard for reporters to talk freely to the few park residents about life there. During an interview in one trailer, a security guard knocked on the door, ordered the reporter out and eventually called police, saying residents aren’t allowed to talk to the media in the park," writes Sandy Davis of The Advocate in Baton Rouge.

At one FEMA park in Davant, security guards recently allowed a reporter and photographer entrance, but then ordered them not to talk to anyone or take pictures. Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said FEMA’s policy forbidding residents to invite media into their homes unescorted is unconstitutional. “That’s a standard for a prison, not a relief park and a temporary shelter,” Leslie told Davis. (Read more)

No secret: Journalists must get consent before taping California sources

The California Supreme Court ruled last week that journalists cannot secretly record telephone conversations with California sources, even if they are calling from another state that allows the practice.

"The ruling came after Salomon Smith Barney (SSB), a national brokerage firm with offices in Georgia, was sued for recording its telephone conversations with its California customers," reports The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "The suit highlighted a clash between state laws: California requires the consent of all parties while Georgia requires only one-party consent."

While the Georgia case did not involve the news media, The Reporters Committee writes that the ruling is effective in clearing up confusion for journalists who make calls to California-based sources. (Read more)

Our view: We're skeptical of anyone who objects to reporters taping conversations -- especially print reporters, who are not taping them for broadcast, but to ensure accuracy. Our experience is that taping interviews is almost always a good idea.

Creators of Internet debate network neutrality, or how the Web will run

Stories keep popping up about network neutrality, proposed as an antidote to the potential problem of discriminatory action by telecom companies that may give preferential treatment. Some of the Internet's creators are debating whether legislation is the right solution to the issue.

The debate pitted the pro-neutrality Vint Cerf, known as the "father of the Internet," against Dave Farber, a former technical adviser for the Federal Communications Commission. Neither want preferred and non-preferred Web sites, and neither looks forward to extensive regulation. Cerf, who works for Google, thinks "the FCC has failed to stand by competitors and by the principle of common carriage, which means that the carrier cannot discriminate based on the content of an Internet message," reports National Journal's Drew Clark. "Farber prefers a case-by-case approach to potential discriminatory action, with the FCC, FTC [Federal Trade Commission] or Justice Department antitrust division overseeing disputes." Google and Microsoft do not want telecom companies controlling the Web with discriminatory pricing, but telecoms say they oppose more government regulation. (Read more)

Missouri saves rural clinics by letting physician assistants treat patients

Physician assistant David Douglas checks Julia Monnahan's eye during her visit to the Hartville Medical Center. Douglas works under the off-site supervision of a physician in Mountain Grove. (Photo from Springfield News-Leader)

The use of physician assistants is widely advocated as a way to expand health care in underserved rural areas. Health officials in Missouri are saying, for now, that physician assistants may treat patients in rural health clinics without a supervising physician present.

"The Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons wanted the state Board of Healing Arts to immediately halt those activities in rural clinics, citing concern about the quality of care by people who are not licensed physicians. That action would have forced clinics in Hartville and Willow Springs, and possibly others around the state, to close unless or until the supervising doctor found a physician replacement. But it's difficult to hire doctors to work in rural towns, state health officials say," writes Kathleen O'Dell of The Springfield News-Leader.

The healing arts board directed a board advisory commission on Friday to work out a legislative compromise with representatives of physician assistants and osteopathic physicians, due at the board's Oct. 20 meeting, reports O'Dell. (Read more)

Washington farmers need to house workers; zoning laws may change

Officials in King County, Washington, may make it easier for farmers to house the growing number of workers, and they want to spur rural residents outside Seattle to operate home-based businesses.

A proposal to change rural zoning laws would loosen some development restrictions and give property owners more flexibility. "For years some rural landowners have been asking for less restrictive rules on home businesses. Relations between Sims and the property owners have been strained since the council enacted tough development rules under a new critical-areas ordinance two years ago," writes Keith Ervin of the Seattle Times.

Current laws permit only one dwelling unit in addition to the farmer's home, but farmers expressed the need for more housing during a series of community meetings, reports Ervin. Another proposed change includes increasing the area on which property owners can sell goods without a special permit from 2,000 square feet to 3,500 square feet. (Read more)

98-year-old columnist keeps New Mexico town on the map via newspaper

Geraldine Perkins is old school. She keeps everything local in a weekly column for a New Mexico newspaper. While Perkins' daughter does the typing, the 98-year-old dictates everything from memory, just as she has for the past 30 years.

Perkins' column, "Corona News," is published by the Lincoln County News in Carrizozo, about 90 miles west of Roswell. While Perkins gets a free subscription to the paper, she receives no pay for her writings. Instead, Perkins does her work as a labor of love for the community and to maintain its place in modern memory, reports Toby Smith of the Albuquerque Journal.

"Years ago such community journalism was a staple in rural weeklies— over-the-back-fence jottings about neighbors and events in outlying hamlets. In today's high-tech culture, many county correspondents like Geraldine Perkins have gone the way of the butter churner. At age 98, blind, nearly deaf and fighting the wake of a stroke, Perkins, a self-taught reporter who refuses a byline and does most of her interviewing by telephone, hangs on," writes Smith.

As a county correspondent, Perkins stays away from gossip or investigating crimes. She also never writes about someone embarking on a trip, because, after all, that would leave that person's home open to burglars. Instead, Perkins writes about everything from big gatherings to people who recently suffered injuries on ranches. When asked if she has ever had to run a correction, Smith writes that Perkins frowned and replied, "You mean, did I ever say somebody killed somebody and they didn't?" (Read more)

A Web site for the Lincoln County News could not be located. Thanks to Shop Talk of New Mexico, a publication of the New Mexico Press Association, for leading us to this story.

Post-9/11 climate makes church visitations tougher for Jewish woman

A Jewish woman attends services at First Baptist Church in Ponca City, Okla., but writes that being called an Israelite or being seen as someone's "Jewish friend" makes her feel out of place in a post-9/11 climate.

During a recent July 4th program on the events of 9/11, Elizabeth Rich took the time to focus on a statement that appears in the church program every Sunday: "We are a growing family, focused on loving God, loving others and making disciples of Jesus Christ." In a piece for The Revealer, the northern Oklahoma resident reflects on what it's like to worship with another faith in rural America.

"In the pews, the women clutch handkerchiefs to their noses and weep [as] images of 9/11 continue to float across the screen. When the World Trade Towers implode, footage I've seen countless times, I feel the hairs on my arm stand on end. I choke back the sobs in a battle between grief and resentment. I want to share in their religious victory, but I feel swindled. I am a Jew and a New Yorker who doesn't believe in their war or their Jesus. I resent their portrayal of sacrifice, but I want the love, the joy, the unity they derive from their presumed infallibility," writes Rich. (Read more)

The Revealer, an online publication, describes itself as "a daily review of religion in the news and the news about religion. We're not so much nonpartisan as polypartisan -- interested in all sides, disdainful of dualistic arguments, and enamored of free speech as a first principle. We publish and link to work by people of all persuasions, religious, political, sexual, and critical."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Federal drought program sends cash to those not experiencing drought

It's a story of money misused: A federal program was created to compensate dairy farmers and ranchers hurt by droughts like the one currently hurting the nation, but the latest investigation into farming subsidies by The Washington Post finds that funds are not being given to those most in need.

To show how willy-nilly the program can be, the Post reported that when debris from space shuttle Columbia fell from the sky in February 2003, hundreds of East Texas ranchers could get up to $40,000 in disaster compensation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Livestock Compensation Program, despite being miles away from the closest places of impact.

The program was originally intended as a limited helping hand for dairy farmers and ranchers hurt by drought, but was "hurriedly drafted by the Bush administration in 2002 and expanded by Congress the following year," and "became an expensive part of the government's sprawling system of entitlements for farmers, which topped $25 billion last year," write Gilbert M. Gaul, Dan Morgan and Sarah Cohen.

"In all, the Livestock Compensation Program cost taxpayers $1.2 billion during its two years of existence, 2002 and 2003. Of that, $635 million went to ranchers and dairy farmers in areas where there was moderate drought or none at all, according to an analysis of government records by The Washington Post. None of the ranchers were required to prove they suffered an actual loss. The government simply sent each of them a check based on the number of cattle they owned."

Originally, you had to be in a county officially designated as drought-stricken, "but ranchers who weren't eligible complained to their representatives in Washington, and in 2003 Congress dropped that requirement. Ranchers could then get payments for any type of federally declared 'disaster.' In some cases, USDA administrators prodded employees in the agency's county offices to find qualifying disasters, even if they were two years old or had nothing to do with ranching or farming," the Post reports. (Read more)

Click here for a current drought map, from the University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center.

Trail of Tears could expand to other routes; Ky. park can't stay open

The U.S. House approved a study Monday that could double the officially recognized 2,000-mile-long Trail of Tears, representing the land and water routes used when thousands of Cherokee Indians were forced out of their lands in the southeastern United States in 1838-39.

"More than 15,000 Cherokee were moved along land and water routes, and thousands died along the way to the Indian Territory in what now is Oklahoma," writes Richard Powelson of the Knoxville News Sentinel. The study aims to compile the history of the Trail of Tears and to document all the routes used when Native Americans fled their homes for the Midwest. For a map of the Trail of Tears, click here.

Don Barger of the National Parks Conservation Association said when Congress designated the current trail in 1987, it used incomplete documentation. The bill gives the interior secretary "up to six months to study documents of other routes taken toward Oklahoma. If the secretary finds that the additional routes meet the National Park Service's standards for historical significance, suitability and feasibility, then Congress could add them to the current trail system," reports Powelson. (Read more)

Meanwhile, a public park along the main trail is having trouble staying open, for lack of volunteers. "The park is located at the site where Cherokee Indians camped for several weeks in the winter of 1838-39," reports the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, Ky. "The center houses a considerable collection of Native American artifacts and art. But it has been closed to the public since October."

Angie Reeder of Stowe, Ohio, who said she has a Cherokee ancestor, stopped at the park last week and was disappointed. "Why is it you can go to Europe and find places that are hundreds of years old well-staffed and well taken care of?" she asked writer Joe Parrino. "But in our own country, people don't help with a site that played such a big part of our history." (Read more)

16-state energy board pushes for converting coal into liquid fuel

A new 211-page report from the Southern States Energy Board, a group representing the energy interests of states that produce oil, gas and coal, calls for tax breaks, government-insurance programs and other incentives to help coal replace foreign oil supplies.

“Our states, our region and our country are at an energy crossroads. We must chart a new course to supply more of our own energy resources to be more energy-independent,” West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin told the group, which elected him board chairman Monday. The board conducts research and develops energy policy for 16 states and two territories: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, the Virgin Islands, Virginia and West Virginia.

"The group’s 'American Energy Security Study' calls for a national plan to convert coal into liquid fuel. That technology has existed for decades but has not been widely used because of its cost. With rising gas prices and volatility in the Middle East, liquid fuel from coal makes sense now, according to the report. In particular, federal and state taxpayers should provide incentives to private investors to build plants that turn coal into fuel, it says," reports Scott Finn of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more)

Middle Georgia rock boom helps rural economies, worries residents

"Depending on whom you talk to, it's a source of safe roads, air pollution, tax revenue for rural governments, earth-shattering vibrations or jobs. But whatever way you cut it, rock is big business. And the granite and gravel quarry industry is only expected to grow in Middle Georgia," writes S. Heather Duncan of the Macon Telegraph.

Several new rock or gravel quarry operations are in various stages of development in the region, and residents are expressing concerns about truck traffic, dust, damage from blasting, draining effects on family wells and plummeting home values. All the discussion is a result of the increasing demand for aggregates - stone used in construction and found mostly in concrete and asphalt mixes, notes Duncan.

Since middle Georgia's stone deposits are the farthest south of any sources on the east coast, they often play a critical role in south Georgia and Florida road projects, reports Duncan. The Georgia Department of Transportation contracted $1.7 billion in road projects the past fiscal year, half a billion more than the highest one-year total during the previous decade, and a record 90 million tons of aggregate were sold from Georgia quarries in 2005.

The boom is creating environmental concerns. "Regulations require that the rock piles, quarry roads and trucks be sprayed with water to reduce airborne dust. This water runs off into sediment ponds, where the dirt settles out. In many cases, the ponds are allowed to overflow into a nearby creek during heavy rains," writes Duncan. "Dust and water pollution are concerns for neighbors and state regulators." (Read more)

South Dakota towns rush to deal with unexpected jumps in population

Several rural South Dakota towns near Sioux Falls are rushing to make plans for expanded water supplies and bigger schools in an effort to accommodate unexpected jumps in population.

In Harrisburg, the population has almost doubled in just the last five years to 1,875, and "the expanding city is trying to find a quick fix to address water supply problems, and the school district," writes Melanie Brandert of The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls. "Since 1970, Brandon has exploded from a small town of 1,837 to become South Dakota's 12th-largest city, with 7,176 residents by last July."

Another booming town, Tea Area, is facing a challenge common in growing rural communities -- finding money to build or expand facilities. The school district needs a larger football field, but it does not have a large enough tax base to generate capital-outlay money, Supt. Dean Jones said. "We just built a new building, and there are things we need to come out of capital outlay for transportation and computers. As you are growing, you got to keep adding," he told The Argus Leader. (Read more)

West Virginia's schools should teach students Chinese, opines newspaper

West Virginia's public schools must adopt a global mindset to prepare students for future careers, and that should include teaching them Chinese, opines the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in an editorial.

State schools Superintendent Steve Paine recently visited China and said he would like to expand Chinese lessons beyond the one school, Sissonville High School in Kanawha County (Charleston), that currently offers a Chinese class. The newspaper writes, "Any effort by educators to further broaden and enhance the educational opportunities for West Virginia youth must be exploited to its fullest. A world of untapped opportunities will soon be available to our students, who are rightfully entitled to a well-rounded education to prepare them for future opportunities on a global scale."

"To help remedy the situation, The College Board announced earlier this year a plan that would place 250 teachers in U.S. classrooms during the next three years to teach the Chinese language," continues the editorial. "Although a worthwhile idea, teaching the Chinese language to students in the Mountain State is simply a starting point toward providing a well-rounded education. Teaching our youth about West Virginia, and the United States, is only the beginning. . . . In today’s society, a global economy demands a global understanding, and a well-rounded education is the key to that success." (Read more)

Monday, July 17, 2006

'Farmettes' are refuge for urbanites, gold for farm-oriented stores

"Techies, lawyers and other office types are taking up farming -- part time and on their own terms. They do it not to make money but for the lifestyle," writes Dan Morse of The Washington Post, spotlighting a trend toward hobby farms and pointing toward data for journalists elsewhere to do their own stories.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farms with annual sales of less than $1,000 rose 37 percent from 1997 to 2002, the year of the most recent Census of Agriculture. Morse notes the category rose 31 percent in Virginia and 54 percent in Maryland, a smaller state more affected by the hobby-farm phenomenon in the area around Washington, D.C. For a PDF file of USDA statistics on Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold, Including Direct and Organic, by state, click here.

"The growth is enough to help remold longtime institutions such as the Tractor Supply Co. chain, which dates to 1938, Morse writes. "Tractor Supply's stock is worth 29 times what it was a little more than five years ago, and the chain has grown to about 640 stores. It racked up $2.1 billion in sales last year and $86 million in profits. Around Washington, Tractor Supply runs seven stores on the fringes."

"Professionals opt for the farm life for serious reasons: The chores demand a level of concentration that blocks out work worries; raising animals and food yields tangible results, unlike the vagaries of their office jobs; the whole lifestyle evokes simpler days," writes Morse.A poster at Tractor Supply, titled "Out Here," reads. "You'll find callused hands and uncalloused minds. The rural lifestyle. Sure, it's a lot of work, but the payoff is a clear conscience, going to bed a good kind of tired and the satisfaction that comes from getting the job done yourself."

At the Tractor Supply store in Leesburg, Va., Morse watched Web-site designer Erich Rainville buy a new $450 fencepost auger, needed to fence a horse pasture. He and his wife "don't ride their horses so much as let them graze in their fields," Morse reports. "Rainville would rather build fencing than trim the lawn edges along a suburban sidewalk. At night, he and his wife like to sit on the front steps, listening to frogs, crickets, the wind whistling though the trees -- timeless sounds." Rainville told him, "It's almost like we're using the land for what it was intended." (Read more)

Despite boom in casinos, nearly one-third of Indians live in poverty

Indian casinos made twice as much as all of Nevada's casinos combined last year, but one gaming association is out to break down the myth that Indians are "rolling in dough."

In his Al's Morning Meeting column for the Poynter Institute, Al Tompkins reports that "tribal casinos pulled in $22.6 billion in gambling revenue last year. It is a $3.3 billion -- or 16 percent -- increase over 2004." The Indian Gaming Association said only 198 of the 558 federally recognized tribes have gaming, and 31 percent of Native Americans live in poverty compared to the U.S. rate of 13 percent.

"Indians living on reservations are still at the bottom of virtually every economic category," the association said in a press release. "Unemployment rates often reach ten times the national average on reservations, many of which are located on remote lands with little or no tax base. In fact, 70 percent of all Indian reservations are rural. The life expectancy of the American Indian is 47 years, contrasted with the American average of 78." (Read more) Click here for Tompkins' column.

Georgia town one of many in South relying on immigrants to fill jobs

Dalton, Ga., is 1,200 miles from Mexico, but it is dealing with the same dilemma facing border towns across the Southern U.S.: Latinos are keeping the economy robust, but making scofflaws of employers.

"The mass migration of Latinos to this corner of northwest Georgia known as the carpet capital of the world has changed the character of everything from factory floors to schools to superstores. On this night, Wal-Mart's ubiquitous TV monitors alternately promoted arroz and rice, aparatos and electronics," writes Dale Russakoff of The Washington Post in an example of a community transformed by immigration.

"For decades, displaced farmers were the backbone of carpet mills," reports Russakoff. "Another indispensable force was a federal immigration system that went limp in the face of urgent demands for labor, whether in the Vidalia onion fields 270 miles to the southeast or the Atlanta Olympic Village 90 miles to the south. Both drew thousands of illegal workers, many of whom ultimately found their way to Dalton through another important force: the amazing Mexican jobs grapevine."

"And then there was the longest economic expansion in American history. As buildings rose and homes kept getting bigger, Americans carpeted almost a billion more square yards of floor in 2004 than in 1994, a 50 percent increase. With more than three-quarters of America's carpets made in and around Dalton, a shrinking workforce and 10,000 jobs to fill in a decade, the region was in the grip of a labor vacuum. And immigration adores a vacuum. Today 40 percent of Dalton, 61 percent of its public school students and half of this region's carpet factory workers are Latino," continues Russakoff. (Read more)

The Dalton Daily Citizen reported last week that in the annual assessment of progress under the No Child Left Behind Act, Whitfield County's Southeast High School "was listed as “needs improvement” because of a subgroup dealing with Hispanic graduation rates." (Read more)

Gubernatorial candidates cite ethanol as key issue in 2006 campaigns

As ethanol production becomes a larger part of the farm economy, and gasoline proces keep rising, candidates for governor in several states are jumping on the ethanol bandwagon.

"Both the Democratic and Republican candidates in Ohio say a key piece of their plans for reviving the farm economy is in alternative fuels made from the state's two top cash crops -- corn and soybeans. The climbing gas prices and new energy regulations that have U.S. refiners clamoring for more ethanol have provided the catalyst for more investment this year in the fuel additive made from fermented corn. The number of ethanol plants -- now at 101 -- has doubled nationally since 1999, according to the Renewable Fuels Association," writes John Seewer of The Associated Press.

The Democratic nominee, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, is proposing annual investments of $250 million on developing renewable energy sources, including corn-based ethanol and biodiesel made from soybean oil. He envisions that money coming tax-free bonds. Republican nominee Ken Blackwell said he wants to ease the regulatory process that potential ethanol plant operators deal with. "Another hot issue in rural Ohio is the increasing number of large-scale farm operations, some of which have pitted neighbor against neighbor over worries about odors and pollution," writes Seewer. (Read more)

Drought forces hard choices for farmers in central, southern Alabama

A drought is forcing farmers in central and southern Alabama to make critical decisions about their future, such as selling their herds, because there is a lack of hay to feed animals and scorched crops paint a bleak profit outlook, writes Julie Waltman of the weekly Wetumpka Herald.

"It’s not only the hay supply that’s been affected; corn, cotton and other crops are experiencing similar losses. While Gov. Bob Riley has made efforts to help state agriculture, it may already be too late for many farmers to recover. Gov. Riley and Commissioner Ron Sparks of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries traveled to Washington, D.C., three weeks ago to request disaster declarations for Alabama. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns designated 48 Alabama counties as primary natural disaster areas," Waltman writes.

All 22 counties in the state's River Region have been classified as primary or contiguous natural disaster areas, making farmers eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency of USDA. The problem is that many farmers are already relying on borrowed money, Mac Free, manager of Elmore County Farmer’s Exchange, told Waltman. (Elmore County, of which Wetumpka is the seat, is the second southernmost county in federally designated Appalachia. It's just north of Montgomery.)

Six Alabama counties have been approved for emergency grazing of land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers not to plant or let animals graze on specific sections of land, except during emergencies. "Free is doubtful that the extra forage land will nourish livestock, and he said farmers will have to supplement their animals’ diets," reports Waltman. (Read more)

Vines thrive off global warming, but do they spell solution to pollution?

"Vines -- poison ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, kudzu -- snake through the back yard, girdling trees and strangling shrubs, thriving, scientists say, on the same pollution they blame for global warming. From backyard gardens to the Amazon rain forest, vines are growing faster, stronger and, in the case of poison ivy, more poisonous on the heavy doses of carbon dioxide that come from burning such fossil fuels as gasoline and coal," writes Elizabeth Williamson of The Washington Post.

Vine infestation complaints in the Washington area have increased ten-fold during the last decade, according to the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. Its forest ecologist, Carole Bergmann, told the Post, "The woods they used to know have just changed character," Bergmann said. "They're covered with vines. The trees are being weakened and falling over -- or strangled." Williamson writes, "That leaves scientists worried that the forest of the future could become a weedy tangle of hyper-vines choking off the trees, which absorb more carbon dioxide."

Out of scientists' fear, though, is coming an idea about how to combat global warming. There are ideas that a plant could be engineered for the primary purpose of absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. "There's some reason for optimism that we could use vegetation to stave off global warming," William H. Schlesinger, an expert on climate change and dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University, told Williamson. "But there's no telling that the mix you come to is going to be stable or functional the way today's ecosystems are." (Read more)

Maine act aims to spur broadband access; critic says computers needed

The Maine Legislature has passed "An Act To Accelerate Private Investment in Maine's Wireless and Broadband Infrastructure," which aims to stimulate investment in expanding Internet access by establishing the Advanced Technology Investment Authority.

However, Bruce Leichtman, president of the New Hampshire-based Leichtman Research Group, "thinks Maine may well be missing the point as far as defining broadband and looking at the problem at hand. One of the most troubling aspects of the broadband gap is the way it affects Maine's least-populated, rural communities," reports the Bangor Daily News. Leichtman said Maine is just example of many in the U.S. where the digital divide does not stem from lack of Internet access, but computers.

"The computer divide is where this starts. There is a direct link between household income and computer ownership. While 80 percent of U.S. households have computers, just over half of these households subscribe to broadband service," Leichtman said. "When you look at households with incomes less than $30,000 per year, only 58 percent have a computer." The newspaper reports that Maine has long been left out of U.S. Department of Agriculture rural broadband project funding. (Read more)

California dairy uses grass treated with human wastewater; is it organic?

A dairy in western Marin County, California, received organic certification even though it used grass irrigated with human wastewater, and there is ongoing debate about whether human wastewater, or the chlorine that treats it, violates American rules of organic certification.

McClelland Dairy used silage that the U.S. Coast Guard sprayed with human wastewater that underwent chlorine treatment to kill pathogens. "In 2003, those Coast Guard fields were certified organic by Quality Assurance International (QAI), a large, for-profit certification company based in San Diego, and the grass was deemed fit to be fed to cows producing organic milk for Clover Stornetta Dairies, even though organic regulations prohibit the use of human sewage," writes Stacey Solie of the Point Reyes Light.

When asked whether the Coast Guard’s sewage treatment process would pass organic certification, QAI spokeswoman Ellen Holten said, “The process [used by the Coast Guard] is absolutely prohibited, and not allowed under organic management." Jean Schafer, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program, which sets the standards, told Solie, "It doesn’t matter if they’re putting it on chocolate ice cream or hay, human sewage is not allowed." (Read more)

National Guard assistance to Border Patrol could benefit rural areas

Texas National Guard members are setting up shop throughout rural communities where they will remain for two years as support teams for the Border Patrol.

The communities will house "Operation Jump Start, an initiative announced in May by President Bush to help monitor the U.S.-Mexico border as the Border Patrol bolsters its staff by training about 6,000 new agents. While the Guard expects to keep a low profile throughout the mission, its members might be noticed in small rural communities working on engineering projects and supporting the Border Patrol outside of the greater El Paso area," writes Darren Meritz of the El Paso Times. (Read more)

Friday, July 14, 2006

Five towns in Iowa cooperate to attract jobs bound for other nations

"Five Iowa towns want corporate America to consider bringing jobs bound for India or Mexico to their communities instead," reports Donnelle Eller of the Des Moines Register.

"Leaders of the initiative — called Offshore Iowa — believe rural towns can offer companies located in high-cost urban areas lower labor, land and operating costs. Algona, Harlan, Mount Pleasant, Oelwein and Osceola plan to market themselves to companies looking to reduce "back-room" costs. Those jobs can range from personnel operations to software development, customer service and technical support to customers.

"We think we can provide a middle ground between the costs in big cities like L.A. and developing countries," Bill Trickey, executive director of Clarke County Economic Development Corp., which includes Osceola, told the Register. But the paper found a contrary view from Chuck Hassebrook, executive director the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., whom Eller called "a national leader on rural development."

"The question we have to ask ourselves is 'How long? How long will these jobs be here?" Hassebrook asked. He told the Register that rural towns should investi in local entrepreneurs, "a development philosophy that also carries risks," the paper noted. (Click here to read more of the story.)

Democrats focusing more on rural voters in bid to retake the Senate

"Attracting rural voters is . . . a test Democrats must pass if they hope to pick up the six seats they need to win control of the Senate this fall," reports Andrea Stone of USA Today. "They have been inspired by the back-to-back victories of moderates Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who became Virginia governors by appealing to rural 'NASCAR voters.' Montana, Ohio and Arizona Democrats also are spending more time in rural areas, says Phil Singer of the party's Senate campaign committee."

Stone focuses on Missouri Auditor Claire McCaskill's challenge to Republican Sen. Jim Talent: "McCaskill's rural focus, along with a stem cell research ballot initiative, an anti-incumbent mood and Missouri's role as a political bellwether, make this one of the most-watched Senate races this year."

"She has the issues, for the most part, on her side," St. Louis University political scientist Ken Warren told Stone. "It's her election to lose." Talent countered that McCaskill "has a very left-liberal record" not in tune with Missuori voters. He cites "her support for abortion rights, opposition to tax cuts and 'weakness' on national security because she wants to pull U.S. troops from Iraq within two years," Stone writes.

President Bush will be a factor in all contested Senate races. His job approval in Missouri is only 39 percent, and he is hurting Talent, Warren said. "He didn't mention Bush by name at a campaign event in Joplin," Stone notes. She asked him about it, and he told her, "Oh, gosh. It was not intentionally." But during "a nearly identical talk later in Springfield, Talent again did not utter Bush's name," later telling Stone, "You have to run your own race." Polls show him trailing, but within the margin of error. (Read more)

Northwest Missouri getting second wind farm, with John Deere money

"The energy generated by developers of Missouri's first utility-scale wind farm has led to the development of a second farm in northwest Missouri," reports the Maryville Daily Forum.

"Less than six months after announcing the state's first commercial wind farm, Wind Capital Group, John Deere Wind Energy and Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.said a 50-megawatt wind farm will be constructed in Atchison County."

"It's exciting that farmers right here in rural Missouri are the ones leading the way toward more energy independence for our country," Tom Carnahan, project developer and president of St. Louis-based Wind Capital Group, told the newspaper.

About 35 owners of more than 7,000 acres will get annual lease payments for use of their property. "It strengthens the school funding where my children go to school," farmer Steve Joesting told the paper. "The lease payments are welcome, but the bigger issue is what this does for our area's economics."

The Herald reports that the will two farms can produce 100 megawatts, "enough for about 30,000 homes," according to the electric co-op. "The electricity will be purchased by Associated and distributed through its network of regional and local rural electric co-ops."

The project is being financed by the wind energy group of John Deere Credit, a subsidiary of Deere & Co., the world's top maker of farm equipment. (Read more)

Wisconsin farm deaths account for over 40 percent of national total

"Safety groups say about 300 people are killed on Wisconsin farms each year, accounting for more than 40 percent of farm deaths nationwide," reports WEAU-TV of Eau Claire.

"That has safety officials calling for measures to improve working conditions on farms, especially for children and teens who may not be aware of the dangers. The National Farm Medicine Center says more than 60 percent of farm deaths are caused by tractors and farm machinery," the station says.

"Many of the deaths could be prevented by installing a safety rollover bar on tractors. Two-thirds of tractors in the state still don't have one. One reason is that some farmers may not be able to afford the newer tractors that have them." (Read more)

Federal agriculture officials must release calendars, appeals court rules

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled June 30 that top Department of Agriculture officials must disclose schedules of meetings they had with food-industry lobbyists.

The Consumer Federation of America is curious about talks on "scaling back rules governing testing for deadly bacteria in meat," reports the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The three-judge appeals panel reversed a ruling by a district judge "that the calendars of six officials were not agency records and not subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act," the Committee reported. "The panel reversed regarding five of the six officials, relying on a 1984 case in its own court which requires an examination of the documents' creation, location, control and use. The court held that the sixth official's records did not meet the criteria of the test because as a lower-level official, his calendar was not distributed as widely as the others."

The consumer group suspects that the agency's reversal of proposed rules for testing to find the deadly Listeria bacteria "was due to ex parte communications with industry representatives from the meat and poultry industries," said Jillian M. Cutler, an attorney for the CFA. "She said the group wanted to know who agriculture officials were meeting with to determine whether those individuals may have influenced the adoption of rules that were weaker than originally proposed," the Committee reported.

"Since the CFA's appeal to the district court ruling, the USDA has joined several other agencies in posting calendars of senior agency officials to their Web sites, Cutler said. She said she has not heard from the USDA whether it will release the calendars or appeal the decision. If the USDA releases the calendars, the court order allows it to redact any personal appointments." (Read more)

Most newspaper stocks down, on news of lower quarterly profits

Stock prices of most newspaper companies declined yesterday after four of the firms "posted flat or weaker-than expected second quarter results," The Associated Press reports.

"The decline was led by a wide revenue miss from Media General Inc., which publishes papers across the Southern states. Media General said Thursday it pulled in $230.1 million during the quarter, while analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected it to generate $245.8 million. The Richmond, Va., company earned about 85 cents per share, compared with $1.61 per share earned in the year-ago period. Analysts expected the Richmond-based company to earn 82 cents per share. Shares plunged $2.30, or 5.5 percent, to $39.80 on the New York Stock Exchange."

Journal Register Co., which has many newspapers serving rural areas, said its quarterly profit fell 36 percent. Its shares fell 15 cents, to $8.63 on the NYSE.

Tribune Co. said its profit declined on lower circulation and the sale of some TV stations. Its shares dropped 2.6 percent on the Big Board.

Gannett Co., the nation's largest publisher of both daily and weekly newspapers, "said Wednesday that its profit declined 8.3 percent to $1.31 per share, in line with analyst forecasts," AP reported. "Shares dropped 51 cents to $55.11 on the NYSE." (Read more)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

At least 14 rural counties expelled blacks over six decades, research finds

"It is America's family secret. Beginning in 1864 and continuing for approximately 60 years, whites across the United States conducted a series of racial expulsions, driving thousands of blacks from their homes to make communities lily-white. In at least a dozen of the most extreme cases, blacks were purged from entire counties that remain almost exclusively white, according to the most recent census data," writes Elliot Jaspin of Cox Newspapers' Washington Bureau in a remarkable report.

"It is impossible to say exactly how many expulsions took place. But computer analysis and years of research . . . reveals that the expulsions occurred on a scale that has never been fully documented or understood. The incidents are rarely mentioned in the numerous books, articles and movies about America's contentious racial past."

Census records revealed that in about 200 counties, mainly in border states, black populations of 75 or more disappeared from one decade to another. Jaspin narrowed his probe to identify expulsions that were documented through contemporaneous accounts and where few if any blacks ever returned. "Within those narrow parameters, Cox Newspapers documented 14 countywide expulsions in eight states between 1864 and 1923, in which more than 4,000 blacks were driven out," reports Jaspin.

Expulsions took place in the counties of Whitley, Laurel and Marshall in Kentucky; Washington and Vermillion in Indiana; , Polk and Unicoi in Tennessee, Sharp and Boone in Arkansas, Forsyth and Dawson in Georgia; Lawrence in Missouri, Comanche in Texas, and Mitchell in North Carolina.

In Kentucky, Whitley and Laurel are adjoining counties that each lost about half their black population between 1910 and 1920. In 1919, in the railroad town of Corbin, in the northeast corner of Whitley, "Whites, believing that the arrival of a black railroad construction crew had spawned a crime wave, rounded up blacks at gunpoint, herded them to the train station and forced them to leave," Jaspin writes. (Read more) News of the Corbin expulsion may have generated repression and departures in Laurel.

Rural spots dominate list of supposed terrorist targets; Indiana has most

A federal database of places designated as being vulnerable to terrorist attacks is filled with rural locations, including petting zoos to a popcorn factory, according to a recent report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general.

"Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner listed the Trees of Mystery -- in California's Redwood Forest -- as one of several dozen unusual items included in the database. The list was intended to consolidate the nation's key resources and critical infrastructure. Skinner said a lack of guidance to states that submitted the items has led to distorted results. For example, Indiana is listed as having more than 8,500 critical assets -- 50 percent more than New York," reports Pam Fessler of National Public Radio. (Read more) Indiana had more than any other state. One was a five-employee popcorn plant..

The National Asset Database "is used by Homeland Security to help divvy up the hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-terrorism grants each year, including the program announced in May that cut money to New York City and Washington by 40 percent, while significantly boosting spending for cities including Louisville, Ky., and Omaha, Neb.," writes Eric Lipton of The New York Times.

"In addition to the Huntsville, Ala., petting zoo and the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tenn., the auditors questioned many entries, including 'Nix's Check Cashing,' 'Mall at Sears,' 'Ice Cream Parlor,' 'Tackle Shop,' 'Donut Shop,' 'Anti-Cruelty Society' and 'Bean Fest,'" reports Lipton. (Read more) Also included was the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown. Click here for Skinner's 54-page report.

Lawmakers push for high-speed Internet expansion in rural New York

New York lawmakers are taking steps to bring broadband Internet to rural areas of their state, in an effort to retain existing businesses, bring in new ones and provide an overall boost to the economy.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer announced legislation Wednesday that would increase tax deductions for homes, businesses and communities that install wireless and high-speed Internet services, reports Nick Reisman of Gannett News Service. Schumer, a Democrat, is adding $50 million to legislation that would grant tax deductions for the equipment and transmitter towers needed for such services. (Read more)

At the state level, a wireless Internet bill written by Sen. George Winner, R-Elmira, is on its way to Gov. George E. Pataki (R). The bill directs the Empire State Development Corp. to recommend the best ways to provide broadband access in rural areas as a means of boosting economic development by Jan. 1, 2007, reports the Elmira Star-Gazette. (Read more)

Federal official urges Congress to say whether Wal-Mart can have banks

A Federal Reserve official is urging Congress to say whether companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot can establish banks, a prospect some say would threaten rural businesses.

The two retailers are among 14 companies wanting the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to approve their requests for an industrial loan corporation, or ILC, reports Marcy Gordon of The Associated Press. The central bank is concerned because the owners of ILCs can avoid requirements that apply to owners of other types of insured banks overseen by the Fed, Scott Alvarez, the Fed's general counsel, told a House Financial Services subcommittee.

Legislation to block commercial companies from owning these banks is currently pending in the House, and nearly 100 lawmakers have asked the FDIC to hold off on approving any new industrial banks. Some legislators from rural areas said such banks would overrun small, local banks and other businesses, reports AP. "We must not jeopardize the very survival of these businesses," said Rep. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who votes with Democrats. (Read more)

Conservationist group argues grazing regs would hurt fish, wildlife

A conservationist group is suing to have a federal court block new grazing regulations that it argues would provide ranchers more water rights and control over public lands.

The Bureau of Land Management's new rules go into effect next month, and they aim to increase collaboration between the agency and ranchers whose livestock graze on 160 million acres worth of U.S. public land. The rules permit livestock owners to share costs and ownership of range improvements and would give some ranchers more water rights, reports Mary Clare Jalonick of The Associated Press.

"Under the new regulations, BLM is allowing ranchers to dictate terms of grazing while excluding the public," said Laird Lucas, lead attorney for the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project, the group filing the lawsuit in federal court. "The result will be widespread harm to fish and wildlife due to overgrazing." (Read more)

Kentucky Press Association loses appeal to open juvenile courts to public

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided Friday to uphold a lower court's ruling on keeping Kentucky juvenile court records and proceedings secret, and it urged the state press association to take its fight to state court.

In February 2005, District Judge Joe Hood dismissed a lawsuit by the Kentucky Press Association that sought to open juvenile proceedings to the public. "Under the Unified Juvenile Code of Kentucky, all proceedings involving those under 18 -- from criminal cases to termination of parental rights -- are closed to the press and the general public. Only a select few, including family members, witnesses, the victim and state workers, are allowed access to the proceedings," writes Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

KPA Executive Director David Thompson said the group is still interested in changing the law that restricts access to juvenile court records and proceedings -- something that would have been done by a bill that failed to pass in this year's legislative session, reports Deborah Yetter of The Courier-Journal. (Read more) The KPA board is scheduled to discuss further action at its meeting a week from tomorrow.

Former Heartland Publications head faces prison for embezzlement

The former head of Heartland Publications and Murphy McGinnis Media pleaded guilty to wire fraud this week and "probably will go to jail for stealing money" from Heartland to pay debts in Duluth, reports Peter Passi of the Duluth News Tribune.

James M. McGinnis Jr. lied to conceal his theft of $1.7 million from Heartland, investigators found. "As its CEO, McGinnis had pledged to invest $1 million in Heartland, but he was in no position to do so," Passi writes, citing a court document saying that McGinnis' "tenure with Murphy McGinnis Media Inc. had left the defendant in substantial debt to his business partners and investors, as well as to banks and the IRS."

"McGinnis also used a Heartland account to pay off a $400,000 debt to a law firm in Tuscaloosa, Ala. During a six-month period, McGinnis also made 35 payments from Heartland accounts for personal purposes," Passi reports. "McGinnis, 57, probably will be sentenced within 90 days. He could face up to 20 years in prison, but as part of the plea agreement, federal prosecutors plan to recommend his prison sentence be reduced to between 41 and 51 months." He pleaded guilty Tuesday.

Duluth-based Murphy McGinnis Media, which the felon headed from 1995 to 2003, published 17 newspapers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. He was the first CEO of Heartland, formed by the purchase of 24 properties from Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., financed by Wachovia Capital Partners and the Wicks Group. Now based in Old Saybrook, Conn., the company has 28 papers, about evenly divided between dailies and weeklies, mostly in North Carolina and Kentucky.

Heartland's principal partners won a triple-damages judgment of $5.1 million from McGinnis but have bene unable to collect. "He has no assets left, and he's going to jail," Heartland attorney Stephen Busey told the Duluth paper. However, Heartland has recovered the $1.7 million stolen by McGinnis, "through insurance and by gaining out-of-court settlements in lawsuits against two of his largest former creditors," Passi reports. (Read more)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Working together helps rural towns overcome size, location, report says

Economic success is becoming more commonplace for rural communities that opt to work together, because regional partnerships can help offset the obstacles typically encountered from being small and remote, according to a new report in The Main Street Economist, published by the Center for the Study for Rural America at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

"New regional groupings can cross traditional boundaries and create new networks that blend complementary assets and shared interests. These groupings can also help rural economies raise their relative scale to compete more effectively against more urbanized areas," write Stephan Weiler, Jason Henderson and Kate Cervantes. "In short, these new regions combine the unique individual features and shared interests of its people and landscape to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts."

"Rural areas, by definition, have fewer workers, households, firms, and government services than urban areas. And 'nearby' rural communities actually lie country miles away. These twin handicaps of size and remoteness often limit the access of rural places to the resources needed to seize new economic opportunities or confront new challenges. The rapid pace of globalization has put rural communities in an extremely difficult situation. As the array of world markets grows, so does pressure from entirely new competitors, thus making connections to promising new markets and complementary resources more vital than ever before," the writers continue.

"Thinking regionally allows rural communities to focus on the natural interdependence of rural communities — an asset that is often overlooked and underappreciated. The benefits of new economic opportunities, such as jobs, income, and wealth, are not contained solely in the local municipality or county. The benefits often spill over into neighboring communities," they conclude. "Today’s new challenges create a new view of reality in rural America. Regional views are needed to tackle these new problems, and such efforts will not end neatly at current administrative borders." (Read more)

Missouri enacts law requiring gasoline in state to be 10 percent ethanol

Missouri's Renewable Fuel Standard Act, requiring that most gasoline be 10 percent ethanol, is being hailed as a boost for corn farmers, based on predictions that it will raise corn prices and demand.

Gov. Matt Blunt predicts that the law, which goes into effect in 2008, will add $373 million to the state's economy and create 257 jobs at ethanol plants. "Blunt said that starting in 2008, Missouri will produce 350 million gallons of ethanol annually, with the new E-10 law requiring 285 million of that, leaving 65 million gallons of ethanol for export," writes Mike Dwyer of The Joplin Globe.

Gene Wiseman, business development manager for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, sees ethanol helping rural economies. "A lot of times, we overlook the rural areas when we look at jobs," he told Dwyer. "We tend to chase the smokestacks, whereas with farmers, we can look at a cornfield and see all kinds of possibilities as to what we can do with the technology and to help the fuel situation." (Read more)

California senator focuses on helping farmers recover stolen goods

"There is a war against crime in this state that is largely missed by Californians. It is not happening in the back alleys of major cities, but out in the rural areas. Each year, millions of dollars are stolen off of California's farms and ranches. Thieves target everything from equipment to crops, putting our food supply under attack," a state legislator writes in a commentary for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

"With fuel prices soaring above $3 a gallon, fuel theft from farms is also on the rise. Farmers usually keep a fuel storage tank on their property to easily refuel their equipment without having to go miles to the nearest gas station. Located far from town, in the secluded country, these tanks are a prime target for criminals. If a farmer has 500 gallons of fuel stolen from his farm at $3 a gallon, that is a $1,500 loss. For a farmer already feeling the pinch of high fuel prices, this is an added burden that is unacceptable," writes Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, chair of the state Senate Agriculture Committee.

California's Legislature created the Central Valley Rural Crime Prevention Program in 1996, and the multi-county program of law enforcement has recovered $9 million-plus worth of property stolen from farms in the last 10 years. Denham spearheaded the creation of the Central Coast Rural Crime Prevention Program, which uses the Agricultural Crime Technology Information and Operations Network to share information and support new agriculture crime-fighting technology. (Read more)

University of Kentucky to offer class, then sustainable-agriculture degree

"It’s been called agriculture with social context – an approach to farming that emphasizes environmental health, economic profitability and community responsibility all at the same time. It’s sustainable agriculture, and it’s gaining acceptance among Kentucky farmers and consumers," writes Terri McLean of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The sustainable approach is being supported by educators, policymakers and others who hope it boosts small, family farming and guarantees its survival during a climate of change. The college will offer its first course on the subject this fall, and then an entire new undergraduate degree program in sustainable agriculture next year, reports McLean.

Since sustainable agriculture revolves around environmental stewardship, economic profitability and social responsibility, students will learn about all three with the new curriculum. Those majoring in sustainable agriculture will be required to work at the college’s horticulture research farm, where 11 acres are used for researching the organic crops that comprise a big part of the program, notes McLean.

Pollution rises in Virginia streams; two-thirds impaired, study finds

"Nearly two-thirds of Virginia's monitored rivers and streams and the vast majority of its lakes and estuaries are polluted enough to be considered impaired, according to a state report that was summarized Tuesday by government officials," writes Michael Sluss of The Roanoke Times.

About 9,000 miles of rivers and streams, more than 109,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs and 2,200 miles of estuaries are impaired, which means they do not fully support at least one of six categories of uses, such as swimming, fishing and aquatic life. The totals showed increases from the last study released in 2004, and the report includes a five-year assessment of more than 14,282 miles of rivers and streams, 112,479 acres of lakes and 2,385 square miles of estuaries.

Bacteria, including fecal bacteria, ranked as the primary contaminants of rivers and streams. The report does show that 20 percent of 261 monitoring stations showed reductions in levels of bacteria, which officials attributed to better management practices by farmers and to droughts that lessened the amount of runoff into rivers and streams, notes Sluss. (Read more)

Though the Times says the increase in impaired streams was "significant," it offers no numbers to document just how signficant. Click here to read the report for yourself.

Southwest Virginia town to give all residents broadband service

Radford, Va., is spending $1 million on the first of four planned deployments of Internet service to become the first municipality in the New River Valley to offer broadband service to its residents.

Just as Bristol, Va., leaders did a decade prior, Radford made its decision after being ignored by private providers. "Bristol was one of the first communities in the country to offer Internet service, and first had to win a lawsuit to overturn a state law banning local governments from competing with private providers," writes Paul Dellinger of The Roanoke Times.

Radford will use its city electrical system and wireless technology to offer Internet service, and the first deployment will serve the heavily populated area around Radford University, reports Dellinger. City Manager Tony Cox said broadband will be offered at low prices, and that he hopes it boosts economic development by bringing new business. (Read more)

Richmond Times-Dispatch gags reporters, grades staff low, writer finds

Greg Weatherford writes that when he got a call to write a story on the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the closest thing Virginia has to a statewide newspaper, he never imagined finding out the newspaper had a gag rule forbidding reporters to speak with other media.

"I’d heard that big changes were in the works — possible staff cuts, fewer pages devoted to news, something about a top-to-bottom reorganization. I had heard that Glenn Proctor, the executive editor hired in November, was a sharp change from his easygoing predecessor, William Millsaps. Whereas Millsaps preferred to stay out of the newsroom, delegating day-to-day editing decisions to other editors, Proctor has claimed a newsroom conference room and turned it into his office," writes Weatherford for Style Weekly, an alternative publication in Richmond.

"I spoke to a number of Times-Dispatch reporters, all of them insisting on anonymity. One called on his cell phone from the paper’s parking garage — he was afraid he’d be overheard. The ones I spoke to described a frightened, demoralized newsroom. Some bitterly described a new personnel-review policy that all staffers are to be graded on a scale of 1 to 5; it mandates that, until otherwise proven, all will be rated a 2. (Clark Bustard, who retired in March as the newspaper’s music critic after 32 years, said it was explained this way: 'As long as circulation continues to drop, we are all by definition below average.')"

The level of fear and uncertainty among Times-Dispatch writers is not an isolated occurrence, since newspapers across the nation are experiencing declining circulations, job layoffs and long hiring freezes. "To me, this is a tragedy," concludes Weatherford. "The protection of a free press was inserted into the Bill of Rights as a check on government’s power. True, the press is a private business and must abide by the rules of business — profit and loss, management and employees. But it’s not only a business, any more than medicine or firefighting is only a business. It’s a lot more than that." (Read more) Thanks to Jim Romensko of the Poynter Institute for leading us to this story.

News councils form in Southern Calif., New England to promote trust

Two news councils are being added to the three that already exist as tools for public accountability for news outlets, with the James L. and John S. Knight Foundation giving $75,000 start-up grants to the to the Southern California News Council and the New England News Council.

The two areas won a national competition, and join the councils in Minnesota, Washington state and Honolulu. "News councils are independent, nonprofit organizations that promote trusted journalism by investigating accuracy and fairness complaints against news outlets. They help determine the facts involved in these disputes, and provide open forums where citizens and journalists can discuss media ethics, standards and performance," the Knight Foundation said in a press release. (Read more)

Gary Gilson, executive director of the Minnesota News Council, recently opined on the subject of news councils for The Star Tribune in Minneapolis. On the lack of councils, Gilson wrote that "publishers and editors around the country who have not seen a news council in action generally reject the idea out of hand, saying they fear a news council would be populated with people who represent 'special interests' and would undermine the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press."

Such councils can benefit both the public and the news outlets. "News outlets that invite criticism and complaint are doing themselves and the public a favor. It is only through mistakes -- and, may I add, accountability -- that we can grow," Gilson concluded. (Read more)

UPDATE for item below: Kentucky tobacco producers growing more

Kentucky tobacco farmers "continue to see the onetime king of Kentucky crops as a viable enterprise," even with the end of the federal tobacco program, which was repealed in October 2004, writes Laura Skillman of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"After the loss of the federal program that limited production in return for set pricing, some prognosticators speculated tobacco would be relegated to the past. But farmers are into their second year under a free market system, and burley tobacco acreage is up by 3,000 acres from the previous year," Skillman notes.

Tobacco growers are sorting things out much as peanut growers in the South did when their quota and price-support system was abolished several years ago, and it took a few years for the amount of peanut acreage to stabilize, UK farm-policy specilst Will Snell told Skillman.

In 2005, the first year without a federal program since the 1930s, more than half of Kentucky growers "opted not to produce tobacco," Skillman writes. "Less-than-optimal weather conditions could have sent even more farmers scurrying for alternatives. For growers without access to irrigation, crops suffered substantially, resulting in little profit from their production contracts with tobacco manufacturers." But it was one of the most profitable years ever for "growers who had irrigation and were no longer paying high leases under the old system," in which they paid for the right to grow and sell beyond their own quotas.

This year, demand for the state's dominant form of tobacco, burley, is up because exports of burley were strong last year, exceeding the amount of the crop. The demand was met with "inventory and pool stocks that tobacco cooperatives had on hand as a part of the old marketing program," Skillman reports, quoting Snell: “With prices more competitive and quality leaf worldwide in short supply, there is some cautious optimism for expansion of burley production in the Bluegrass [State] for the first time in many years.”

UPDATE for item below: Kentucky tobacco producers growing more

Kentucky tobacco farmers "continue to see the onetime king of Kentucky crops as a viable enterprise," even with the end of the federal tobacco program, which was repealed in October 2004, writes Laura Skillman of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

"After the loss of the federal program that limited production in return for set pricing, some prognosticators speculated tobacco would be relegated to the past. But farmers are into their second year under a free market system, and burley tobacco acreage is up by 3,000 acres from the previous year," Skillman notes.

Tobacco growers are sorting things out much as peanut growers in the South did when their quota and price-support system was abolished several years ago, and it took a few years for the amount of peanut acreage to stabilize, UK farm-policy specilst Will Snell told Skillman.

In 2005, the first year without a federal program since the 1930s, more than half of Kentucky growers "opted not to produce tobacco," Skillman writes. "Less-than-optimal weather conditions could have sent even more farmers scurrying for alternatives. For growers without access to irrigation, crops suffered substantially, resulting in little profit from their production contracts with tobacco manufacturers." But it was one of the most profitable years ever for "growers who had irrigation and were no longer paying high leases under the old system," in which they paid for the right to grow and sell beyond their own quotas.

This year, demand for the state's dominant form of tobacco, burley, is up because exports of burley were strong last year, exceeding the amount of the crop. The demand was met with "inventory and pool stocks that tobacco cooperatives had on hand as a part of the old marketing program," Skillman reports, quoting Snell: “With prices more competitive and quality leaf worldwide in short supply, there is some cautious optimism for expansion of burley production in the Bluegrass [State] for the first time in many years.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tobacco crops bounce back; North Carolina virtually at pre-buyout level

After falling 27 percent in the first year after repeal of the federal tobacco program and a quota buyout, U.S. tobacco production is expected to be up more than 10 percent over last year -- making up about half the drop seen from 2004 to 2005, according to acreage reports to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the total could be a bit more because some small tobacco states no longer report acreage to USDA.

The most significant acreage increase is in North Carolina, the nation's leading tobacco producer. The Tar Heel State has 154,000 acres in tobacco, almost as much as the 156,100 reported in 2004. That is in sharp contrast with Kentucky, the No. 2 producer, where 83,000 acres are in tobacco this year -- not much more than last year's 79,700 and still less than three-fourths of the 114,950 acres harvested in 2004. That could reflect the retirement of small producers that dominated Kentucky's production.

In Virginia, historically the No. 3 tobacco producer, this year's acreage is up 29 percent, the most of any traditional tobacco state -- but still only three-fourths of the record low total of 2004. The biggest increase in Virginia will be in "flue-cured tobacco used in cigarettes, expected to reach 19,000 acres, up from about 14,000 acres last year," reports John Reid Blackwell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"Much of the growth is from farmers having less tobacco left over from previous seasons. Of the 42.5 million pounds of Virginia tobacco sold in 2005, about 20 percent was harvested the year before," writes Blackwell. "Because farmers have less carryover leaf to sell this year, they planted more acres. The production increase also might signal an upswing in demand for U.S.-grown tobacco." (Read more)

Click here to see estimates for the 12 tobacco states that partcipate in the USDA survey. The list now includes Pennsylvania, where farmers were able to get back into the business or expand once quotas were repealed. The Keystone State, with 7,900 acres, has the largest percentage increase, 58 percent.

Bluegrass newspapers warn urban sprawl threatens legendary farmland

Two newspapers in Kentucky's famed Bluegrass region, both named "Sun," shone editorial light in the last week about the dangers of urban sprawl emanating from the growing city of Lexington.

"Only a minute portion of the earth's surface consists of arable soil, and it is incumbent upon current generations to make sure most of it is preserved to feed those who come after us. But farmland is increasingly threatened by suburban sprawl, and in few places is that more evident than here in the Bluegrass," The Winchester Sun said yesterday, objecting to a proposed subdivision of small lots that lies outside Clark County's urban service area and would be served by septic tanks, not sewers.

The 7,200-circulation daily said the trend "portends dire consequences for the state's $3 billion farm economy, this region's world-renowned landscape, tourism and the rural way of life that is the bedrock of our heritage. It can also mean an increased burden on taxpayers, because sprawl is costly." It cited a study of Lexington-Fayette County by the American Farmland Trust showing that "every dollar new residential development generates in local taxes, it costs $1.64 in government services." (Read editorial) (Read story) UPDATE: The planning commission voted unanimously on July 11 to deny the rezoning application.

In Woodford County, on the other side of Lexington, there has long been tension between developers and those who want to preserve the county's rural landscape, home to some of the nation's finest horse farms. The weekly Woodford Sun, circulation 6,000, has carried several stories about development proposals in recent weeks, and last week, Publisher Ben Chandler, father of the Democratic congressman of the same name, weighed in on the subject in his "Happy Landings" column (not available online):

"My wife and I entertained friends from Illinois and North Carolina during the past week, and they raved over the beauty of our surroundings, but one of the couples had been here about 15 years ago and they were distressed to see that we were using some of the beautifulpastures for subdivisions. They were horrified when I told them that some of our loveliest lanes and roads ... are on an endangered list."

Noting billionaire Warren Buffett's plan to give away billions "in some sort of effort to improve life on other continents," Chandler wrote, "I would like to suggest to Mr. Buffett that he peel of fone of those billions and purchase the development rights to most of the land in Woodford County. It is certainly worth saving, and I have never seen anything in any country more worth saving for the future agricultural needs of our nation."

Texas reduces pressure on coal plants to cut emissions; pollution feared

Texas power companies are leading the nation's move to burn cheaper coal instead of cleaner natural gas, but some critics say the state is moving at a pace that threatens air quality.

"Sixteen new coal-burning units – all upwind of the already-smoggy Dallas-Fort Worth area during the summer – are either permitted or awaiting approval by state regulators working under Gov. Rick Perry's order to put the permits on the fast track," writes Randy Lee Loftis of the Dallas Morning News. "State officials have made decisions that are likely to allow more pollution from coal, the dirtiest fuel for generating power."

The new coal plants will not be included in a federally ordered clean-air plan to protect urban North Texas, which critics argue is a way to approve plants with little public oversight. What represents the state's biggest coal-plant expansion ever is happening faster than an update of the state's air quality rules, a smog plan or even public awareness, reports Loftis.

State environmental agency decisions that reduce pressure on power companies to cut emissions include: Not requiring power companies to prove that pollution from each new coal plant would not make the Dallas-Fort Worth area's smog worse; not calculating total emissions from the new plants before deciding how much each may emit; and not making power companies consider new technology that might slash emissions, notes Loftis. (Read more)

Virginia county may subsidize power plant, pass ordinance to quiet mines

Coal is the main subject on the latest front page of The Coalfield Progress in Norton, Va. Activists in Wise County are proposing a noise ordinance aimed at helping residents catch some shut-eye in areas where strip mining goes on constantly; the county may subsidize a coal-fired power plant; and activists blocked access to a power plant to protest its pollution and mountaintop-removal strip mining.

The county board of supervisors could hold a public hearing on the noise ordinance as early as Thursday, reports Jodi Deal. (Read more) To read the paper's story about a protest on Monday at Appalachian Power Co.’s Clinch River coal-fired electric plant, click here.

Meanwhile, a consortium of electric-power producers wants to construct a $1 billion coal-fired power plant at Virginia City, Va., and Wise County may give the group up to $1.5 million in tax breaks per year.

The county's board of supervisors is considering "a pollution control equipment ordinance and an 'industrial development grant' memorandum of understanding that could ease the proposed 500-600 megawatt plant’s tax burden. Both agreements were brokered as part of an incentive package used to encourage the consortium, which is led by Dominion Power, to locate the power plant in Wise County," Deal writes.

Plant construction could begin in two years if the power companies do not hit any snags during the environmental evaluation and permit application process. Once the four-year construction concludes, annual revenue from the plant could total about $800 million per year, which would provide $4.5 million in taxes to Wise County, reports Deal. (Read more)

Data lacking on sludge from sewer plants, often added to rural soils

While tens of thousands of organic chemicals from homes and businesses eventually become sewage sludge that is used to as a soil amendment, there is not enough data to assess the risk posed by a creation that potentially contains toxic metals, pathogens and pollutants, say Cornell University researchers.

Of 516 chemicals found in peer-reviewed and government reports, more than 80 percent are not on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of priority pollutants target compounds, according to the study, reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. (Read more) Click here for the study.

This study can provide guidance to rural journalists on covering the subject. Other sludge sources include tip sheets provided by the Society of Environmental Journalists, this site and this one from the EPA, and the industry group National Biolosolids Partnership.

Identity theft increases with methampletamine use in Western U.S.

Methamphetamine users are increasingly stealing identities from checks and credit-card numbers, then using the information to obtain the money, drugs or ingredients needed to feed their addictions.

"While public concern about identity theft has largely focused on elaborate computer schemes, for law enforcement officials in Denver and other Western areas, meth users have become the everyday face of identity theft. Like crack cocaine in the 1980’s, officials say, the rise of methamphetamine has been accompanied by a specific set of crimes and skills that are shared among users and dealers," writes John Leland of The New York Times.

A survey of 500 county sheriffs indicated that meth created an increase in identity theft in 27 percent of their jurisdictions. And most sheriffs said the drug leads to increases in domestic abuse or robberies and burglaries. Prosecutors, police officers, drug treatment professionals, former identity thieves and recovering addicts attribute the meth-stolen identity connection to the hours addicts keep, the drug's high, and the unique social patterns of its production and use, reports Leland. (Read more)

Farm-subsidy advocate rejects debate challenge from critic of system

Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, has refused to debate the U.S. farm-subsidy system with Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.

Cook, the originator of EWG's heavily visited Farm Subsidy Database, which has been searched over 54 million times since November 2004, wants to see a shift in taxpayer resources to conservation programs that are open to all farmers and ranchers, regardless of size. Cook suggested a series of debates be held across the nation with moderation by distinguished agricultural journalists and policy experts. Click here for Cook's letter to Combest.

Combest spearheaded the 2002 Farm Bill, which was recently criticized in a two-part series in The Washington Post for giving money to people who do not farm. Combest told the Chicago Tribune that reformers are united by "voodoo," and that they "need to understand that the real environment—as opposed to the one they are trying to conjure up—is not on their side." Click here for that story.

UPDATED: In his latest column for the Rural Policy Research Institute, Thomas D. Rowley said "Combest, who now lobbies for clients such as the Minnesota Corn Growers, the American Sugar Alliance and the USA Rice Federation and has staunchly defended current farm policy in the press . . . told me he had no intent of debating Cook, didn’t appreciate the public delivery of the challenge and suggested that Cook travel the country learning about farmers and their circumstances." (Read more)

Millions of oranges waste away in Florida since Hispanic labor left state

Millions of Florida oranges could waste away this year because of a lack of workers, which some say has been caused by the nation's debate over immigration. This could be the state's worst crop since 1992, when growers harvested 139.8 million boxes.

"As many as six million boxes of oranges may go unharvested in Florida this year because of a shortage of fruitpickers made worse by fears about what changes may come in immigration law," reports The Associated Press. "Industry officials say labor supply was tight from the beginning of the season in October, but grew worse by the middle of May when a large segment of the Hispanic labor force seemed to leave the state."

The citrus season typically concludes in late June, but that has been extended to late July this year in hopes of harvesting more oranges, notes AP. (Read more)

Iowa towns struggle to fill jobs, ponder ways to retain college graduates

A chain reaction is occurring in rural Iowa, with more people leaving communities because of closing industries, and several towns struggling to come to terms with globalization.

During the past five months, employers have closed their doors in Webster City, Newton and Centreville, and businesses that remain are finding it difficult to fill job openings. It's simple: "With many college graduates from Iowa colleges leaving the state for employment, less and less people are left to replace the older population," writes Obaid Khawaja of The Messenger News in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (A good copy editor would have changes that to "fewer and fewer.")

Keith Greiner, research director for the Iowa College Student Aid Commission, sees attracting advanced jobs as one possible way to retain college graduates. "An educated work force is what’s going to be drawing people to the state," he told Khawaja. "(With that) two things can happen. ... Businesses can set up in the state and ... people can innovate." (Read more)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rural areas' cultures threatened by bedroom-community mentality?

Rural communities should not adopt a "bedroom community" mentality, but should preserve their culture and history as part of their identity, opines Michael L. Holton of Nebraska's Center for Rural Affairs.

“Small rural communities have alternatives for economic and population growth, and community development professionals can help explore those possibilities. It is troublesome though when providers come up with 'bedroom community' as the first option for growth and economic stability," continues Holton. “'Exurbs' or bedroom communities are those outlying smaller rural communities that offer peace, lower housing costs, less crime, and a sense of belonging. Urban and suburban folks flock to these communities and commute back to the city for employment. What is wrong with this?”

"Small rural communities have an identity that can be summed up by the Kansas Rural Center’s eight components of rural culture. These are: architecture, commerce, cuisine, customs, art, geography, history, and people. What happens to rural communities when they become bedroom communities? Their culture is compromised. A schizophrenic identity crisis emerges as the bedroom community exists for the benefit of another community. The appeal of these smaller rural communities is the very attribute that is taken away when people begin to move into that community,” concludes Holton. (Read more)

Wind-energy projects with local ownership mean more to rural areas

"Today’s high energy prices, combined with concerns of future carbon taxes and emission restrictions, make wind energy attractive. Only wind power can provide electricity at a fixed price for the next 20 years," writes Martin Kleinschmit of the Center for Rural Affairs.

"Wind power’s ability to hedge against future price hikes is surpassed by what it can do for the local economy – if it is locally owned."reports Kleinschmit, citing a 2004 General Accounting Office study in Pipestone County, Minnesota. It showed that a 40-megawatt project would return $650,000 in new local income if owned outside the area, but $3.3 million if locally owned. "Economic comparisons using three counties in Iowa and two in Minnesota showed local ownership also produced 2.5 times more jobs and 3.7 times more local area dollar impact."

Wind power transforms a low-quality energy source into a high-quality one, and it can provide rural communities with an economic boost, Kleinschmit writes, suggesting that localities in the wind market should focus less on exporting the resource and more on using it to attract businesses. (Read more)

Tech firms partly fulfilling long-ago publisher's vision for hydropower

In the mid-Columbia River valley of Washington and Oregon, where hydroelectric dams increasingly make electricity cheap, Microsoft, Yahoo and other technology companies are building data centers filled with computer servers that consume huge amounts of power. It is a partial fulfillment of the vision of the Wenatchee World, the newspaper that pushed for the Grand Coulee Dam to make the power.

The "principal booster" was Publisher Rufus Woods, who "boasted noisily in the pages of his newspaper that electricity from the dams would lure major industry to Wenatchee and the Columbia Basin. But the federal government broke his heart by stringing wires across the Northwest and setting up rules requiring dams to sell most electricity at a postage stamp rate, meaning that power had to cost the same in Wenatchee as it did hundreds of miles away," writes Blaine Harden of The Washington Post.

"Companies could get plenty of cheap power in Seattle and Portland without having to build in the boondocks," because Grand Coulee and smaller dams it made possible produced much more power than the region could use. But now the contracts signed decades ago are expiring, and the region's three utilities are "the hydroelectric emirates of the Pacific Northwest," Harden writes.

"At the Wenatchee World [circ. 25,000], though, there are doubts about how many jobs will come with the server farms that are going to suck up the region's electricity. Yahoo has told planners it will have between 8 and 25 employees in Wenatchee, while Microsoft and Yahoo together have said they will employ about 150 in Quincy." So Rufus Woods, grandson and successor of the publisher, and his staff "are worried about the prudence and competence of the mid-Columbia utilities to manage the sale of power to the Internet behemoths in a way that maximizes local economic development and minimizes incompetence and waste."

Now there's a different, deferred version of a story often told in rural areas -- a newspaper leads boosters' bandwagon, then must become a watchdog of government entities that facilitate the progress. (Read more)

Deaths of children on farms could easily be prevented, opines writer

"Being in second place generally is good news for most folks, but when it comes to farming, it is no place to be. Mining now takes the top spot as the most dangerous occupation in the United States, leaving agriculture in second place," writes Laurie Wilkening for the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Ill.

While new technology, improved machinery and classes on safety have lowered farm-related deaths, more than 100 children die every year from injuries on a farm. The leading causes of such deaths include machinery accidents, drowning, firearms, falls, suffocation and electrocution. Perhaps 90 percent of unintentional injuries to those children are preventable, suggests Wilkening.

"Don't be an extra rider on a tractor, all-terrain vehicle, dirt bike or lawn mower. Always turn off equipment and remove the keys. Stay away from the power takeoff. Warning decals should be placed on grain bins, wagons and trucks. Ensure that all tractors have roll-over protection and safety shields. Stay outside the fence when around livestock," concludes Wilkening. (Read more)

Meth-lab seizures drop in Indiana, Kentucky; cold-medicine laws credited

Seizures of methamphetamine labs dropped significantly in Kentucky and Indiana in the year after both states passed laws restricting the sale of cold medicines used to manufacture the drug.

Meth-lab seizures fell 57 percent in Kentucky in the first year under the new law, with police finding 295 labs, compared to 679 the prior year. Indiana saw a 24 percent decline, with 846 labs raided, compared compared to 1,109 the year before, reports Lesley Stedman Weidenbener of The Courier-Journal.

"Officials say the new laws -- similar to those in more than 30 other states -- had an immediate impact by making it harder for meth manufacturers to obtain cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the drug's production. The laws also require those buying the products to sign logs and produce identification, enabling police to track down people who are going from store to store or returning day after day to try to beat the limits," Weidenbener writes for the Louisville newspaper. (Read more)

119 defective breathing devices, like those in disasters, at 174 Ky. mines

State inspectors found 119 defective breathing devices at 174 underground coal mines in Kentucky, state officials announced last week. The defective "self-rescuers" were the same make as the ones used in a May 20 explosion that killed five miners at Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 and in a Jan. 2 explosion that killed 12 miners at West Virginia's Sago Mine.

Kentucky officials declined to say how many devices had been checked, at least until all 250 underground coal mines in the state are checked. They said all defective devices have been replaced.

Some defects were discovered because color indicators showed the devices had been activated, which signaled they no longer had their full air capacity. Others were removed after inspectors noticed the presence of moisture. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is conducting its own review of breathing equipment with an increase in safety checks at mines, reported James R. Carroll of the Washington Bureau of The Courier -Journal.. (Read more)

New highway eliminates bottleneck, but hurts Appalachian businesses

Travelers between the Pikeville, Ky., and Williamson, W.Va., once traveled through small towns such as Sidney and Canada via two-lane U.S. 119. Now that it is a four-lane highway, the road project is being blamed for a decline in business along one of the soon-to-vanish bottlenecks of Central Appalachia.

"While the safety and convenience offered by a new highway is considered to be a blessing to those traveling out of Sidney and Canada on a daily basis, it is anything but for those trying to conduct business there," writes Leigh Ann Wells of Pikeville's Appalachian News-Express. As one of many examples, Sandy Damron, owner of Sandy's Tanning and co-owner of Ken and Sandy's Dinner Bell in Sidney, said travelers bypass her businesses, partially because there are no signs on U.S. 119 that provide information about food, gas or other services located in the adjacent communities.

John L. Williamson, who has operated Williamson Family Foods in Sidney for 18 years, said business slowed "when they took the mountains out. You could see a big difference. It really hurt when the bank closed. People had to go to Williamson or Pikeville to cash checks.” As work on U.S. 119 is completed, creating a four-lane link from the Eastern Kentucky coal country to Charleston, W. Va., access to distant businesses will be more convenient for residents in the region, writes Wells. (Read more)

Man buys all of Main Street in tiny Texas town, envisions big things

Carlton Carl grew up in Houston, but he always admired rural America. So, despite making big bucks lobbying in Washington, D.C., Carl decided to buy all of Main Street in Martindale, Tex., population 950.

"What else would a native Texan, who never let go of his daydream, do with a windfall from Washington's real-estate boom? Carl, 60, bought 36,000 square feet of dilapidated buildings, 16 seed silos, a seed elevator and 300 feet of overgrown frontage along the San Marcos River, hoping he can revive the 151-year-old town," writes Sylvia Moreno of The Washington Post.

"I have more vaults than working toilets," Carl told Moreno, during a tour of the former cotton capital of central Texas. Cotton farms disappeared in the mid-1900s, and urbanization zapped the town of many of its residents and businesses. Carl envisions the town becoming a haven for artists, and he would like to see a "destination restaurant," like other gourmet establishments that exist in central Texas towns. (Read more)

Friday, July 7, 2006

Net neutrality: What it is and why journalists should care about it

If you're still not exactly sure what "net neutrality" and its alternative are, and why you should care, we recommend a couple of recent commentaries on the topic of fees to surf the Web more speedily.

National Journal technology reporter Drew Clark writes, ""Net neutrality is about the rules of the road for the information superhighway — and whether, some day, traveling in the fast lane will require paying a toll. Because of the convergence of television and telephone service into digital transmissions, the outcome of the battle will affect all aspects of communications." (National Journal is subscription-only.)

"Net-neutrality advocates — Google, Microsoft, and the other tech companies — say the telecom companies (the Bells) and the cable industry shouldn’t be permitted to control the Internet through discriminatory pricing in which their business partners enjoy a huge competitive advantage by gaining access to the wires into homes and offices. The telecom and cable guys — the neutrality critics — counter that 'net neutrality' is just a fancy way of saying that the government should regulate the Internet."

In a recent commentary for the Poynter Institute, Amy Gahran wrote, "This issue is one to watch, and I'm very surprised that most news organizations seem to be ignoring their own stakes in this matter. It boils down to this: without net neutrality, news organizations could be shaken down by telcos for additional fees to guarantee 'preferential delivery' of their content via the telco's 'pipes.' That is, even though you're already paying for access and bandwidth (and so is your audience), the telcos would charge you more to guarantee that your content is not placed at a competitive disadvantage."

"The consequences: If you don't pay up, people might experience various kinds of problems accessing or downloading your online content -- especially higher-bandwidth content such as audio or video. Unfortunately, your would-be audience probably wouldn't realize that the telco was responsible for the slowdown. They'd probably just think your site has problems, and click away to a better-performing (from their perspective) site," concluded Gahran. (Read more)

Program will subsidize Kentucky tobacco farmers' broadband access

Kentucky will use tobacco-settlement money funds earmarked for agriculture to start a pilot program to pay half the cost of satellite broadband access for tobacco farmers, up to $250 each for installation costs and a year's worth of subscription fees, up to $40 a month or $480 annually.

A 2005 Department of Agriculture report said just 30 percent of Kentucky farmers had Internet access, the lowest in any state, and that of those 30 percent, more than half had slow, dial-up service.

A press release from the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy says the program hopes to improve farm income and encourage the use of the Internet in research and science-based decision-making. For more information about the program, click here or call the office at 502-564-4627.

Reporters should take Fifth Amendment for protection, advises lawyer

A column in the online magazine Slate by the executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition suggests that journalists consider taking the Fifth Amendment when judges keep them from using the First Amendment to protect sources. This comes after Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said journalists leaking classified information could be charged with espionage, but the notion of using the Fifth Amendment could apply to journalists at all levels. Still, there may be pitfalls.

"Journalists have been so mired in the debate about the First Amendment protections they lack, that they have overlooked the protections the rest of the Constitution might afford. Because if the First Amendment can no longer be counted upon to keep reporters out of jail, invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege — refusing to disclose the name of a confidential source because doing so could be self-incriminating — may well succeed in protecting both the source and the reporter," writes lawyer Peter Scheer.

"Of course, the Fifth Amendment will be of no avail if the government, in order to preserve the prosecution of reporters' confidential sources, is willing to forgo prosecuting those reporters. In other words, prosecutors have the option of granting formal immunity to reporters. Once immunized, reporters may not continue—on Fifth Amendment grounds—to refuse to testify about their sources since their risk of being prosecuted will have been removed."

Some posters on Slate's comment thread for this column said the idea is half-baked, because prosecutors can grant "transactional immunity" to reporters taking the Fifth and get judges to jail them for contempt of court if they refuse to answer. "By claiming Fifth Amendment protection, the reporter will have, in effect, declared him/herself to be a co-conspirator instead of an independent reporter," one anonymous poster wrote. "I'd guess that the courts would jump at the chance to use this kind of leverage to eliminate the idea of protecting sources once and for all. Personally, I think sticking with the First Amendment argument will serve the reporters' cause much better in the long run." (Read more)

Scheer debates his suggestion with a critic on Jim Romensko's Poynter Institute site. Click here.

Mobile health care provides on-site service for Southern Illinois schools

Students and teachers at two Southern Illinois high schools get health care right at their doors from the Care-A-Van program, which cuts down on missed class time and the need to hire substitutes.

Care-A-Van, a 40-foot vehicle equipped with high-tech equipment, is Illinois' only mobile school health clinic and is used by the high schools in Benton and nearby West Frankfort. Since April, students and staff at the two schools have received primary care and mental health counseling, reports FarmWeek, a publication of the Illinois Farm Bureau.

The program is being spearheaded by the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Dr. Penny Tippy, the head of SIU's family medicine residency program. Project funding came from Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn's office, the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the Illinois Children's Healthcare Foundation, a statewide health funding agency, notes FarmWeek. (Read more)

Wisconsin paves way for more rural children to get dental work

Wisconsin is hoping to improve dental care for low-income children with a new rule that allows dental hygienists to bill Medicaid for services performed without a dentist present.

The rule will expand preventive dental services at schools and public health clinics, especially in the state's rural and underserved areas. In 2004, about 72,000 children out of 238,000 children eligible for Medicaid or BadgerCare received preventive dental care, according to state figures. The new rule should help 3,000 more children in just the first year, reports David Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal.

Many dentists oppose the rule and say it will not solve the following problem: "more than 11,000 people, nearly 2,000 of them children, seek treatment for toothaches and other dental conditions each year in emergency rooms, the most costly setting for care. Dentists argue that Medicaid, the state-federal health plan for the poor, should instead pay them more for routine checkups," writes Wahlberg. (Read more)

Free South Carolina papers may be wave of the future, opines author

In an era when many paid newspapers are reporting declining circulations, the market for free community publications is busting at the seams. A recent article by newspaper consultant Jerry Bellune in the South Carolina Press Association Bulletin (not online) looked at four free papers in the Palmetto State.

The Association of Free Community Papers boasts a membership that includes 2,000-plus free-circulation community papers that reach nearly 40 million homes every week. "Those are impressive numbers," Bellune wrote. "The ease and low cost of desktop publishing made much of that possible. In our midsize market in central South Carolina, new niche publications come and go, catering to the automotive, real estate and restaurant industries, just to name three. Others offer 'pay when you sell' classified advertising, TV programming, visitor and newcomer information and other niche interests."

Bellune says South Carolina papers recently switched from being "paid" newspapers to total-market-coverage publications, including the daily Bluffton Today (circulation 15,500), and the weeklies Moultrie News (circ. 26,000), the Fort Mill Times (circ. 12,000) and the Times-Tribune (circ. 35,000), published by The Greenville News. "All have the backing of larger publishing organizations . . . with deep pockets and such resources as circulation and delivery expertise and supporting classified and display advertising sales," Bellune notes, concluding: "It may be the way the print industry is headed in the days of free information on the Internet and a generation of reader who is not used to paying for news."

Thursday, July 6, 2006

When rumors harm, not humor, a newspaper steps in -- and wins

A editorial attempt by a newspaper publisher in Vandalia, Mo., population 2,500, to turn his community's focus away from rumors about local school officials has earned the Golden Quill Award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

Gary and Helen Sosniecki own The Vandalia Leader, circulation 2,200. In the winning editorial, headlined "Stop the rumor-mongering," he wrote, "In The Leader that was published the morning after last year's school-board election, I editorialized that it was time for the community to put its disagreements behind it and move forward. That prompted a visit from an unhappy reader who informed Helen that nobody who had lived in the community for only six months -- she meant Helen and me -- was going to tell her to move forward. She then canceled her subscription. It's obvious now that our critic knew the community better than we did. Despite the best efforts of many, the community has not moved forward. Rumors about what has or hasn't happened at the school this year with regard to administrative performance have festered below the surface all year."

"After more than 30 years in the newspaper business, it's no surprise to Helen and me that we have been drawn into the controversy. The 'side' that didn't appreciate our attempts at objective coverage a year ago sends us 'I-told-you-so' e-mails. The 'side' that liked our attempts at objective coverage last year but doesn't like us being so objective this year simply snubs us and complains about us behind our backs. Every other small town we've lived in has taken up 'sides' over one thing or another, often involving the school, and the newspaper gets the blame whenever one of those sides doesn't get its way."

Sosniecki said the town is prone to rumors about all sorts of things. "Let's find something to talk about instead of hurtful rumors," he concluded. "If we must spread rumors, let's not be so gullible as to believe those that couldn't possibly be true. Vandalia is a good community with good people. Stopping the rumor-mongering would make it even better." (Read more)

Author and journalism professor David Dary, who judged the contest, said, "Newspapers can make a community better. In this case, the writer had earlier observed how a school administrator was run out of town and a high-school principal replaced because of unfounded rumors. When critical rumors of the new principal's efforts began, the paper realized it was time to comment on the obvious."

Sosniecki is one of only five people to win the award twice in its 45-year history, having notched it at Seymour, Mo.'s Webster County Citizen in 1998. In the society's Grassroots Editor, he wrote of his latest winner: "Both sets of rumors contributed to divisiveness in the community that broke up longtime friendships. They also could be blamed for the failure of a bond issue to build new science rooms at the high school, a step backward for the community that, fortunately, was corrected recently in a second election. Sometimes the news in a small town is bad enough without it being embellished by rumor. When rumors reach a point that they harm rather than humor, they need to be reeled in."

Other finalists included Jim Painter of the West Valley View in Litchfield Park, Ariz., with "A bureaucrat is stomping on your rights" (click here to read); Elliott Freireich of the West Valley View with "Would you do whatever it took?" (click to read); Richard McCord of the El Dorado Sun of Santa Fe, N.M., with "The Mansions That Ate Santa Fe" (click to read); and Betta Ferrendelli of The Observer of Rio Rancho, N.M., with "What about diversity?" (click to read).

Tiny town sees broadband access as the thing to turn its luck around

Fires, industry closures and other misfortunes have shrunk Berry, Ky., from 2,500 residents to its current 310, but its residents are "investing almost messianic hope in one elixir to reverse the farming community's fortunes: broadband," reports USA Today.

"As phone and cable giants roll out fast Internet service at increasingly greater speeds across the USA, rural towns like Berry remain woefully underserved. No phone, cable or wireless company provides fast Internet service in Berry, a less-than-half-square mile in northeast Kentucky, 45 minutes from both Lexington and Cincinnati," the national newspaper reports. Thirty-five percent of adults in rural America currently have broadband access at home or work, compared to 50 percent in urban and suburban areas, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Phone, cable and wireless providers see rural America as a landscape where their chances for profit are slim. Facing that reality, leaders in Berry have applied for a $100,000 grant from the federal Rural Utilities Service to make broadband available to residents for about $30 a month and to businesses for $80. If the city is successful, as expected, cattle farmers will be able to check commodity prices, the local bank branch won't have to send a messenger to the county seat to enter data, and the city could see an influx of new residents, businesses and educational opportunities, predicts USA Today.

"Just $9 million in such grants were doled out last year because of tough approval criteria," the newspaper notes. "To get funding, no provider can be serving even part of the community. Both the population and per-capita income of the town must be sufficiently small. And applicants must make a viable business case. Berry fits the bill on all counts." (Read more)

"The city of Berry has been chosen as the No. 1 small city in a rural setting that would probably not get high speed Internet for awhile," Mayor Don Adams told Kate Darnell of the weekly Cynthiana Democrat, the only newspaper in Harrison County. (Read more)

Verizon to bring higher-speed Internet to 350 areas in West Virginia

Thousands of West Virginians will gain higher-speed Internet access by year's end, as Verizon moves forward with the expansion of its digital subscriber line (DSL) service across the state.

Verizon is "investing nearly $5 million specifically for DSL deployment in many smaller communities and rural areas of the state. The company is upgrading equipment at its 15 remaining switching-center locations that are do not yet provide DSL and at more than 90 remotely located facilities. By the end of December, Verizon plans to have all 142 of its West Virginia switching centers DSL-capable and more than 38,000 additional phone lines eligible for DSL service across the state," reports PR Newswire.

The company hopes to serve nearly 350 communities, and residents can visit this Web site to see if are covered in the expansion. (Read more)

Vermont rural health clinics among those getting special designation

The Health Center in Plainfield, Vt., a nonprofit rural health clinic founded in 1974, is now designated as a a "federally qualified health center look-alike," a special designation that will allow it to get more money for treating patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

It also means the center will get less expensive medications and greater access to preventive care for patients. "The designation was more than just good news for the health center, its 7,800 patients and the six rural communities it serves. It represented another step toward providing all Vermonters with access to primary care," writes Nancy Remsen of The Burlington Free Press.

Vermont is home to five other community health networks that are federally qualified health centers, with each netting an annual $650,000 grant. The state's community-based medical and dental centers plus satellite clinics serve 62,000 people, reports Remsen. (Read more)

Click here for for more information on the designation, from the Rural Assistance Center.

Calif. paper analyzes deaths, injuries in preventable boating accidents

Many if not most boating accidents occur in America's rural areas, and those who ignore the pastime's basic safety rules cause 88 percent of such incidents in Northern California, according to a Contra Costa Times analysis of U.S. Coast Guard data.

"As tens of thousands of boaters flock this month to rivers, remote mountain lakes and reservoirs . . . data show that people are often injured or killed in boating accidents that could have been easily prevented," wrote Thomas Peele. "Between 1995 and 2004, there were 4,754 reported recreational boating accidents in Northern California and the two Nevada counties on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe, according to data analyzed by the Times. Those accidents claimed 364 lives and injured 3,033 people."

While boaters behavior accounts for 88 percent of the accidents in that region, the nationwide average is 70 percent. Peele's article suggests that one reason Northern California is higher may be that the state is one of only 16 where boaters are not required to take classes to learn safety rules. (Read more) Thanks to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for leading us to this story.

Mentally ill patients, charged with no crime, housed in Mississippi's jails

County jails in Mississippi, like those in some other states, are holding many mentally ill people who have not been charged with any crimes but are simply waiting for beds in state mental health institutions.

The Department of Mental Health will get 40 new beds to temporarily house the mentally ill by the end of the month, but critics of the current system say many more are needed, according to a report in The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson. As of June 22, Mississippi had 22 mentally ill people in county jails who should be at a mental health facility, said Roger McMurtry, chief of the state mental health bureau, with 52 more waiting at home or in a hospital.

"More mental health workers are needed in rural areas, so people can return home, he said. More money is needed to pay private hospitals for housing the patients, who are often uninsured or on Medicaid. Families see the need for more funding as well," reports The Clarion-Ledger. (Read more)

California weekly going online-only after losing readers; cites print costs

The weekly Bodega Bay Navigator will ends its run as a printed newspaper and go online-only starting July 9, in a response to its declining circulation and difficulties paying for print and postage.

Joel Hack, editor and publisher of the California paper (circulation 1,000), attributed to the loss of readers to the growing popularity of the Web and he hopes to latch onto that wave. "I expect more out-of-town readers who have connections to the area, because it will be an easy, cheap and efficient way for them to keep up with the local doings," Hack told Carol Benfell of The Press Democrat. (Read more)

The Bodega Bay Navigator is locally owned and covers news in the coastal communities of Bodega Bay, Occidental, Freestone and Valley Ford.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Parks, rivers, mountains spell rural economic success, study finds

Natural amenities such as rivers, mountains and national parks are driving entrepreneurship in rural America, as areas with those features experience long-term economic growth, according to new research.

Sarah Low, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's Center for the Study of Rural America, recently investigated why an abundance of new businesses were appearing in scenic locations. Her report, “Regional Asset Indicators: Human Amenities,” finds that employment and income growth are linked to open spaces and a high quality of life, writes Michael Jamison of the Missoulian in Montana.

“Especially now that we have things like broadband Internet technology,” Low said, “amenity living is really driving economies.” The hot spots for that growth were the Rocky Mountain crest from Montana into Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and another area along Pacific Coast from Washington to Baja, "pouring inland to stain the High Sierra," writes Jamison. (Read more) Click here for Low's report.

Small-town newspaper investigates fatal drug overdoses in its county

A small daily newspaper in Kentucky investigated the fatal drug overdoses that plague rural America, and a reporter emerged with the harrowing stories that so often get lost in superficial coverage of the subject.

Winchester Sun Managing Editor Randy Patrick wrote in a column about the project, “Tim Weldon's three-part series on drug overdose deaths, 'Clark County's Secret Scourge,' is community journalism at its best. It is the kind of hard work and hard-edged investigative reporting that many papers our size rarely attempt, either because it's too difficult or because they fear the public reaction that might come from uncovering what lies beneath the surface of a pleasant community. But exposing problems is a necessary part of what good newspapers do. It is at least as important as providing publicity for local groups and events or recording the details of government actions.”

“It has often been said that the role of a newspaper is to 'comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.' . . . I've always felt that it's a good motto for editors and other journalists to live by. We should speak the truth, especially to those in authority, and make people uncomfortable enough to want to change things. And we should help those in dire situations by revealing their suffering so that others might help,” Patrick continues. To read the rest of Patrick's column in the 7,200-circulation paper, click here.

In part one, Weldon, wrote that between January 2005 and March 2006, Clark County averaged one drug-overdose death every 32 days. During 2005, 11 people, ranging in age from 19 to 52, died from overdoses in the county, compared to seven in 2004 and six in 2003. Weldon found that prescription drugs may deserve blame for the increase, despite a Kentucky law that prohibits shipments of prescription drugs by companies not registered with the state. (Read more)

For part two, Weldon explored how injuries can cause people to get hooked on drugs. He described how a mother discovered her son's secret habit: “Every week her son would receive a check from his injury settlement, but he never had money after cashing his checks. In the months leading to his death, Joey also became friends with a group that Linda didn't know. She is convinced one or more of them convinced Joey that cocaine would help him feel better and rid him of his constant pain.” (Read more)

In part three, Weldon, a former Lexington TV reporter, discussed the lack of addicts getting treatment: “Professional Associates operates clinics in four Kentucky cities: Lexington, Morehead, Paducah and Corbin. There are half a dozen other methadone clinics in Kentucky. In all, [Medical Director Stephen] Lamb estimates approximately 2,000 people, including about 50 in Clark County, receive regular methadone treatments for their addictions. Yet, he says, that number represents only about 10 percent of the people believed to be addicted to opioids in the state.” (Read more)

Drug deaths from prescription painkillers level off in western Virginia

Fatal drug overdoses in western Virginia totaled 216 with prescription painkillers being the culprit in most cases, but that is down from a record high of 223 in 2003, according to the latest data from the state medical examiner's office.

"In a region where occupations such as coal mining, logging and farming produce a high rate of injury and disability, medication prescribed to treat those ailments often winds up in the hands of drug abusers," writes Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times. "Another factor contributing to prescription-drug abuse could be a struggling economy and other socioeconomic disadvantages confronting many residents."

Prescription drugs may not carry the same moral stigma as alcohol, said Dr. John Dreyzehner, co-chairman of the Appalachian Substance Abuse, Prevention and Treatment Coalition. "There is a part of the culture that has made it OK to use legitimate medications illegitimately. I think the rationale may be: 'Well, these are drugs that are medicine so therefore they are safer than street drugs,'" he said. Accidental overdoses accounted for 80 percent of the area's drug deaths, reports Hammack. (Read more)

Thrice-weekly keeps sharp eye on promotional mailers from Congress

It happens every summer in even-numbered years: The local member of Congress uses federal funds to send full-color, promotional brochures to all households in the district, with an eye toward the fall election. Congressional rules prohibit unsolicited mass mailings within 90 days of a congressional election, so July is a prime month for them. Members might think twice about their mailings if more of them got the kind of criticism that The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown gave Rep. Ron Lewis of Kentucky's 2nd District.

"I was appalled. . . . It proved to be just a bunch of Republican and administration tripe," wrote Ron Filkins, publisher of the paper, published three times a week. "The tab for all of this being picked up by the public, including mailing, in part is the result of the congressional franking system, which is virtually as old as the Republic. It is a system used and abused by incumbents of all political stripes." (Read more)

The rules for such mailings are available at http://cha.house.gov/services/memberhandbook.htm. Want to know how much your congressman is spending on such mailings? Members' reports for the second quarter of the year are due July 14 at the House Committee on Administration.

Paper calls for independent investigative body to handle mine disasters

The failure of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration to ask the right questions about an explosion that killed five miners in Harlan County, Ky., shows that "independent investigative body should do, for the mining industry, what the National Transportation Safety Board does for the air transport business," The Courier-Journal said in an editorial on July 4.

If MSHA had held public hearings about the Darby No. 1 mine, as victims' families wanted, "two foremen who refused to be interviewed would have been forced to talk," the Louisville newspaper wrote. "Had there been an independent inquiry, the process of questioning an MSHA inspector about a critical part of the accident scenario almost certainly would not have been squelched."

Questions remain about why the mine was trying to remove metal roof straps next to "seals that are supposed to maintain the integrity of mine air," the editorial noted. "A similar issue emerged in the aftermath of 12 deaths at the Sago mine in West Virginia. There, it wasn't straps but wire-mesh roof support that possibly could have conducted an electric charge from the active part of the mine to the sealed area."

Noting that U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif, asked Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who oversees MSHA, to explain the shortcomings of the MSHA investigation in Kentucky, the editorial concluded, "It shouldn't be left to a minority member of a legislative committee controlled by the Republican Party to demand answers from a cabinet secretary who is one of that party's most secure luminaries." Right, and we think coalfield newspapers and broadcast stations should be seeking the same answers. (Read more)

Farmers turn manure into 'brown energy'; powers thousands of homes

"In a sense, it is the ultimate renewable source of fuel. Weather anomalies can kill off corn crops, calm the winds, obscure the sun — but through rain or shine, gusts or stillness, cows and hogs and turkeys spew forth a steady stream of manure, one of nature's richest sources of methane, a principal component of natural gas," writes Claudia H. Deutsch of The New York Times.

Both farmers and entrepreneurs are jumping on the manure wave, or "brown energy" as some call it, as a new source of revenue and profit. In turn, lagoons used to treat the waste are being replaced by high-tech machinery. AgStar, a federal program that promotes the conversion of manure to energy, reports that more than 100 anaerobic digesters — devices that produce an oxygen-free atmosphere where bacteria digest manure and release gas — currently exist in the U.S. and 80 more are planned, reports Deutsch.

During the last two years, several state and federal agencies have subsidized purchases of digesters, because they capture the greenhouse gas methane before it can enter the atmosphere. Also, many states are now requiring that utility companies use more environmentally aware energy sources, which is where manure gas comes into play, notes Deutsch. Her story cites examples from several states, including Idaho, Wisconsin, Illinois and Vermont.

"The environmental boons are many. According to Agstar, digesters are already keeping 66,000 tons of methane from escaping each year into the atmosphere, while generating enough energy to power more than 20,000 homes," writes Deutsch. "The potential market is huge. Agstar officials say that at least 70,000 dairy and swine farms are big enough to support a commercial digester and could collectively provide enough energy to power more than 560,000 homes, while keeping more than 1.4 million tons of methane out of the atmosphere." (Read more)

Rural meth addicts find few treatment options, high costs for help

Methamphetamine addiction is running rampant through parts of rural America, and there is a prevailing lack of treatment centers and trained staff to handle the load.

The addicts who most need help are unable to obtain it, said Leah Heaston, a director of treatment centers in rural Indiana. Finding and retaining qualified staff is difficult in rural areas, Heaston said. Rural clinics are consistently reporting high staff turnover rates, and the cost of training new personnel is expensive, reports Maria Hegstad of the Washington Bureau of Stephens Media Group, mainly small dailies and weeklies.

"Cost for treatment is another problem. The treatment program touted to congressmen (last week), the Matrix Model, costs $6,000 per person, Heaston said. Many users are not able to afford it. They have often been in jail, have felony drug records, and have lost their homes, cars and jobs because of their drug use, she said," writes Hegstad. (Read more)

Monday, July 3, 2006

Non-farmers, other questionable recipients get billions in farm subsidies

Farmers are getting "loan deficiency" payments even during good years and non-farmers are netting agriculture subsidies, all of which cost taxpayers billions of dollars, according to The Washington Post.

"Although (the loan deficiency payment) has cost taxpayers $29 billion since 1998, it is virtually unknown outside farm country. But in rural America, the LDP is a topic at backyard barbecues and local diners along with the high school football team and the weather. Despite its name, it is neither a loan nor, in many cases, payment for a deficiency. It is just cash paid to farmers when market prices dip below the government-set minimum, or floor, if only for a single day," write Dan Morgan, Sarah Cohen and Gilbert M. Gaul today in part two of the series. (Read more)

Yesterday, the opening story revealed how $1.3 billion in direct payments, supposedly subsidies meant only for farmers, is being given to homeowners who do no farming. "The Washington Post's nine-month investigation shows that most of the money goes to real farmers who grow crops on their land, but they are under no obligation to grow the crop being subsidized," report Morgan, Gaul and Cohen. "The cash comes with so few restrictions that subdivision developers who buy farmland advertise that homeowners can collect farm subsidies on their new back yards," (Read more)

This series includes many graphics, including a county-level map of direct and countercyclical payments, and interactive material. To view the county-level map, click here.

Democrats take campaigns into rural U.S., seen as key in Senate races

"When Claire McCaskill ran for governor in 2004, she followed a tried-and-true blueprint for Missouri Democrats: She focused heavily on turning out voters in the urban strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City while working to cut her losses in the vast rural reaches of the state. She lost," writes Chris Cillizza for The Washington Post. Not to be fooled again, McCaskill is now committed to rural areas in her current bid for the U.S. Senate.

Democrats nationwide are engaging in attempts to attract rural voters, because that population is being seen as a key to winning Senate races in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia and Arizona. Recent elections show Republicans leading in rural America. Exit polls from the 2004 presidential election showed Bush taking 57 percent of the rural vote, compared to Sen. John Kerry getting 42 percent, notes Cillizza.

However, the time may be right for the tide to turn. "Developments over the past year, such as higher gas prices and increased health-care costs, have created a sense of pessimism among rural Americans," reports Cillizza, citing recent findings from focus groups organized by Democrats. Political strategist Steve Jarding summed up what Democrats should remember about rural America: "You can't write it off. We need to quit conceding turf to Republicans." (Read more)

Billboards keep coming despite efforts to curb them in rural U.S.

"Rural America is emerging as the next battleground over billboards, especially in those counties near large urban areas," writes Kris Axtman of The Christian Science Monitor. "As more city dwellers move farther out, the billboards follow."

The number of billboards should have dropped after the Highway Beautification Act passed in 1965, because it sought to clean up visual "pollution" such as billboards and junkyards. States not complying with the act can lose up to 10 percent of their federal highway funds, but many states pay signmakers to remove signs that exceed size and spacing requirements, reports Axtman.

Farmers and ranchers profit by leasing their to sign companies, but Scenic Texas and other groups are pushing for legislation to protect some stretches of land. At least 1,500 communities prohibit the construction of new billboards, and statewide bans exist in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont, writes Axtman. (Read more)

The Rural Blog reported June 1 on legislation that would replacement of illegal billboards in the Southeast. Click here for the archived item.

Senator wants openness about contracts, grants via Internet database

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants to create an Internet database that would allow the public to search for most government contracts and grants — containing hundreds of billions in annual spending.

The House unanimously passed a version of the proposal last month and the Senate will take it up next. The House bill creates a database that would not list contracts, which usually go to businesses, but would include about $300 billion in grants, which mainly go to nonprofit groups. Support comes from those concerned about spending, and from hoping to form a citizen army of e-watchdogs, writes Jason DeParle of The New York Times.

Some people see such a database having little effects in empowering citizens. "All this information is out there right now" and being monitored by watchdog groups, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, told DeParle. He added, "I don't think it would dramatically change public perception of the appropriate size and scope of government. That's a much deeper issue." (Read more) We like Coburn's idea and encourage journalists to examine it -- and if you support it, speak up.

Tyson wins lawsuit over not paying staff for putting on, taking off clothes

A federal jury in Philadelphia ruled in favor of Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat company, in a lawsuit over work rules at one of its poultry processing plants in Lancaster County, Pa.

The 2000 lawsuit claimed that workers were improperly denied payment for the time taken to put on and remove protective clothing before and after shifts and breaks. About 540 current or former workers joined the suit. The ruling depended on whether those activities constituted "work" under federal law, and jurors in the U.S. District Court decided they did not, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Vermont to give dairy farmers millions of dollars to deal with crisis

Vermont announced last week that it will distribute $8.9 million in emergency farm relief, with all but $300,000 to be sent to dairy farmers in five installments beginning in late July.

A financial crisis is hitting the state's farmers because of incessant rains, low milk prices and high fuel costs. The $8.6 million in direct payments would be distributed among about 1,100 dairy farms, and the average aid should total about $5,000. State legislators have also resurrected a Depression-era board -- the Vermont Rehabilitation Corp. -- that possesses the power to give money to farmers, writes Nancy Remsen of the Burlington Free Press.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified Vermont as a disaster area because of excessive rains, which makes all farmers eligible for emergency, low-interest loans, reports Remsen. (Read more)

Kentucky town hopes to stop underground mine, citing health concerns

One rural Kentucky town is attempting to rally opposition to an underground mining proposal, because of what some see as substantial hazards the work would impose on utilities and residents.

Leaders in Lynch, Ky., are notifying the town's 950 residents about the proposal by Harlan Reclamation Services LLC and have mailed a letter to the state's Division of Mine Permits to ask that a permit for the operation be denied. The city's investments in utilities include a water reservoir, sewer facilities and public streets, writes Deanna Lee-Sherman of the Harlan Daily Enterprise. The letter states that “any cracks from the removal of coal underneath the city of Lynch or the reservoirs and improvements of the city will result in significant damage to these improvements.”

City leaders are have told the state they want to protect the town's retirees and those with poor health or limited mobility, reports Lee-Sherman. “The health of these citizens would be at risk in the event such a situation should develop that the water, sewer or other utility could not operate as a result of the effects of the underground mining proposed,” the letter states. (Read more)

New Hampshire group aims to bring broadband access to rural areas

"Like the spy who came in from the cold, eight Upper Connecticut River Valley and Lake Sunapee region towns are battling for a place on the high-speed Internet that has passed them by," writes Pat Hammond of the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H.

Residents of New Hampshire's urban centers often have no problem obtaining high-speed Internet access, but the state's rural residents are left with dial-up service or expensive broadband options. The West Central New Hampshire Regional Homeland Security Communications Consortium formed in October 2005 to study the feasibility of building a fiber-optic high-speed Internet system to cure those rural woes, reports Hammond.

"The three-phase feasibility study includes assessment, financial engineering/marketing and technical engineering. Funding options include grants, loans, securities, capital investments, consumer funding and municipal bonding. Consortium members recently testified in Concord in favor of a bill that would permit municipalities to bond for broadband system construction. The bill passed, opening up an important financing option for the towns. At the end of phase three, the consortium will be ready to begin construction of the network," writes Hammond. (Read more)

Southern Illinois rural areas work together for development, broadband

Southern Illinois leaders are charging ahead under a "One Region, One Vision" motto in a mission to spur economic development in 20 counties by connecting them to the Internet.

Frank Knott, an economic development consultant working with Connect SI, said communities should pool their resources and think regionally about how to market their assets. Connect SI hopes to create a strategic plan focused on producing a widely available high-band width Internet infrastructure as the key to producing knowledge-based economy, writes John D. Homan of The Southern.

Rex Duncan, Connect SI director, said, "The global economy is driven by broadband. If this area is going to succeed in the 21st century, we have to be a connect economy. And Connect SI gives us access to billions (of potential clients)." Connect SI hopes increase broadband penetration rates by 50 percent to finance thorough broadband access, reports Homan. (Read more)

Diabetes worse in rural Ohio than for most of U.S., study finds

"The prevalence of diabetes throughout seven counties of Southeastern Ohio may be almost twice as high as the state and national averages according to a survey by the Appalachian Rural Health Institute (ARHI) and Voinovich Center for Leadership & Public Affairs at Ohio University," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

Counties surveyed included Jackson, Meigs, Morgan, Perry, Ross, Washington and Scioto. Perry and Morgan counties ranked first and second, respectively, for the biggest presence of diabetes. Results from all the counties came in higher than state and national diabetes rates. The survey found that almost one-quarter of those who responded were taking neither insulin nor other diabetes medication, which increases the risk of suffering from a stroke, heart disease and several other conditions, notes Newswise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey reported that the nationwide prevalence of diabetes was 7.2 percent, compared to Ohio's average of 7.8 percent. "Perry County, according to the ARHI study, had a rate of 14.2 percent. Ross County was the lowest, at 10.2 percent," reports Newswise. (Read more)

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, Georgia College and State 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.



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