Rural Blog Archive May 2005

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Massey Energy subject of third lawsuit over delayed coal shipments

A third company is suing Massey Energy over coal supply issues, reports The Associated Press. Massey's latest quarterly filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicates Coaltrade LLC has sued Massey Utility Sales Co. and seeks unspecified damages. The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Coaltrade, previously known as Peabody Coaltrade LLC, alleges Massey failed to deliver coal under the terms of a coal-supply contract and then canceled that contract. Massey is facing similar lawsuits from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and Harman Mining Group.

Massey is appealing a 2002 Boone County, W.Va., jury verdict that found Massey had forced Harman Mining out of business and into bankruptcy by illegally taking away its major long-term coal contract. The jury awarded Harman $50 million. Massey Energy Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship has said labor shortages and transportation problems contributed to supply issues. Massey is based in Richmond, Va.

Researchers find better way to reclaim strip mines, but firms, landowners wary

University of Kentucky forestry researchers are using a new method they say is faster and more effective to recover and reforest strip-mined land, but mining industry officials are reluctant to adopt the technique.

Lexington Herald-Leader environmental reporter Andy Mead uses as an example a mountain in Pike County, Kentucky, where UK researchers are trying a new, apparently faster method of reforestation and rejuvenation, described by as taking place on "barren rock and sand that looks like the surface of Mars."

Mead writes, "Atop Bent Mountain ... a mountain being leveled and stripped bare for its coal — hundreds of tree seedlings have been planted ... and seem doomed to die in the inhospitable terrain. (But) ...the researchers have figured out how to regrow forests on land that has been ripped open to get coal out." (Read more)

The researchers have found by sticking seedlings in loose material after mining, trees are growing faster, reducing air and water pollution, reclaiming mined land more cheaply, and reducing the environmental effects of mining. But the researchers are having a hard time winning over coal companies that fear loss of reclamation bonds and landowners who want a quick payoff from pastures rather than a long-term investment in forestry.

Mead also invites readers to "Go to from 12 to 1 p.m. Thursday for an online chat about mountaintop removal with Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association." For more on the UK forestry department, click here.

Latino Republican county official in Idaho targets illegal migrant workers

Robert Vasquez, a Mexican-American and Republican county commissioner in Canyon County, Idaho, has mounted a crusade against illegal immigration, what he calls "an imminent invasion" from south of the border, and his efforts are causing political tremors felt as far away as Washington, D.C. (Read more)

"Mr. Vasquez has tried to have Canyon County declared a disaster area because of the strain from illegal immigrants. He has also sent a bill to the Mexican government for more than $2 million; that is the cost, he said, of Mexicans who are in the county illegally," Timothy Egan writes for The New York Times.

This month, Vasquez got his fellow commissioners to use federal racketeering statutes against people who employ illegal immigrants. "County officials have maintained that illegal immigrants drain public funds ... (and) have characterized the move as a effort to preserve jobs for legal citizens and save county funds," Mike Butts of the Idaho Press-Tribune, in Nampa, reported May 21. (Read more)

Butts wrote that the county has "a particular business or businesses in mind that they want to make an example of," but Egan reports that the move "has angered the solidly Republican business community and many of the senior political leaders in this heavily Republican state." Howard Foster, a Chicago lawyer advising the county, says it is the only local government in the nation to use the racketeering law against immigrants and employers.

Louisiana ministers making their mark felt in debate over school board prayer

A school board is getting help from ministers in the Tangipahoa Parish, a "pastoral exurb" of New Orleans, as it fights for the right to start meetings with a lengthy prayer noting Jesus. The board used to say the prayer before the American Civil Liberties Union and one parent objected in 2003, reports Adam Nossiter of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The ACLU, with support from a federal judge in February, argues the prayer violates the constitution's ban on government sanctioning of one religious doctrine over another. The school board is relentless in its fight, though, and is taking the issue to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This continues the larger debate over prayer in schools, but it is an unusual case because of ministers being so involved, writes Nossiter. The school board is even receiving money for its legal battles from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group.

Such battles with the ACLU are nothing new to this school board. Previous struggles included a classroom warning against evolution, a minister who delivered pizza and sermons to students at lunch and prayers at football games. Although the board lost its case every time, that bad track record will not dissuade the members from barking up the legal ladder. "It's just like a woman putting on a girdle," board member Sandra Simmons told Nossiter. "You squelch religious liberties somewhere, it will pop up somewhere else."

Former school board member Howard Nichols worries that a district with a mediocre state test ranking is focusing too much time away from academics. "The people behind all this are fundamentalist Christians," he said. "They have stampeded the board by these massive demonstrations. I think we are diverting a tremendous amount of time that could be spent in improving test scores."

Judge providing worship attendance as alternative to traditional sentences

District Judge Michael Caperton is giving repeat drug and alcohol offenders in Laurel County, Kentucky, the option to attend church or another house of worship for 10 services rather than go to jail or enter rehabilitation. Legal experts said alternative sentencing is a national trend, but they had not heard of the option of attending worship, reports Alan Maimon of The Courier Journal. (Read more)

"This is the first time I've heard of anything like that," Bill Dressel, a former Colorado judge and president of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev., told the Louisville newspaper. "Alternative sentencing usually requires that people give something back to society through public service."

Caperton, 50, a devout Christian, does not see providing the option as a church-state issue: "I don't think there's a church-state issue, because it's not mandatory and I say worship services instead of church," he told Maimon. Although any denomination is allowed, some civil libertarians and constitutional scholars say the option inserts religion into the courtroom and violates the Constitution's separation of church and state.

David Friedman, a Louisville lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said, "The judge is saying that those willing to go to worship services can avoid jail in the same way that those who decline to go cannot. That strays from government neutrality towards religion."

Tobacco turns: Burley state raises tax, farmers adjust, industry faces more change

Times keep changing on Tobacco Road. Kentucky, the state with the nation's lowest cigarette tax and largest number of tobacco farmers is raising the tax tenfold tomorrow, and officials say the state will produce a lot less burley tobacco than last year. And though the federal tobacco program is over, and growers are diversifying, the industry still faces possible changes as a result of possible court and legislative action.

Kentucky's cigarette tax is going from 3 cents a pack to 30. Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Jim Warren writes, "Health advocates predict ... the tax will encourage some Kentuckians to quit smoking (but) ... more smokers might have been motivated if lawmakers had approved a bigger tax increase." (Read more)

Associated Press reporter Betsy Verecky reports that health officials hope one penny of the tax hike, earmarked for researchers at cancer centers in Kentucky, "will help them better understand and treat cancer." The state will split the money between the University of Louisville's James Graham Brown Cancer Center and the University of Kentucky's Lucille P. Markey Cancer Center. (Read more) Kentucky has the nation's highest adult smoking rate at nearly 31 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has some of the highest rates of tobacco-related tumors and lung cancer.

Meanwhile, from Washington, AP's Hilary Roxe writes, "The decision by Congress last year to end Depression-era price and production controls for U.S. tobacco didn't close the federal debate. The future of tobacco is still under discussion in court and on Capitol Hill, and the industry could still face significant changes," especially if tobacco companies are found guilty of civil racketeering in a trial expected to end in June. The companies could face more suits, and more attention from lawmakers, said Richard A. Daynard, president of the Boston-based Tobacco Control Resource Center. (Read more) Scott Balin, a former American Heart Association attorney who helped organize a coalition of farmers and health officials, tells Roxe, "The tobacco issue has not been resolved. That's the bottom line."

AP's Bruce Schreiner reports from Louisville that without the federal program, growers are moving more cautiously into a free market. he cites a Department of Agriculture report projecting a 31 percent drop in burley acreage in Kentucky, which "traditionally produces 70 percent of the nation's burley, the lighter-colored tobacco that is combined with the darker flue-cured variety in cigarettes," he writes. (Read more) Production may not drop that much, because growers are under pressure to improve yields in a market that will pay them about one-fourth less per pound than last year, under contracts with cigarette companies.

Herald-Leader reporter Beverly Fortune writes of how some former burley farmers have turned to goats as an alternative cash crop. Larry Yearsley, she writes, "bought his first goats five years ago. Today he has a herd of more than 80 nannies and kids on the farm where he grew up, renamed Just Kiddin' Boer Goats Farm." (Read more) Kentucky's goat population ranks sixth in the nation with 70,000 animals, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service, up from 16,223 goats in 1997.

Meanwhile, the cable channel RFD-TV is scheduled to telecast a news feature tonight on Kentucky's cattle industry, the largest east of the Mississippi. The report will be on The Cattle Show at 9 p.m. EDT.

In Virginia, AP's Stephanie Stoughton nicely summarized a complex phenomenon that "dramatically altering the industry"-- small cigarette companies that started after the 1998 settlement between states and big companies, but are now being forced by state legislatures to pay into the settlement. (Read more)

Mobile health clinic a welcome sight at 'pit stops' in rural Oregon, Nevada

A 79-year-old physician is delivering health care via a mobile home in areas of Oregon where health care is hard to find. The 79-year-old doctor, Dr. Robert Morrison, dressed in all-black Western wear, parks his trailer in Fields, a rural pit stop with a cafe, motel and store at the base of Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon, writes Matthew Preusch of The Associated Press (Read more) He also makes similar trips to Crane, Drewsey and Denio, Nev., with his son, Kern, hauling the trailer.

For many rural Oregon and Nevada residents, visits to Morrison's trailer are the closest they'll get to a hospital, writes Preusch. The ailments Morrison commonly sees include hypertension, bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which require regular care and can lead to serious illness. "He also spends a fair amount of time pulling barnyard splinters from ranchers' hands or mending busted-up buckaroos. He once cut a cancerous growth off the face of an itinerant laborer," Preusch writes.

"Morrison's visits may seem a quaint throwback to the days when country doctors made the rounds by horse and buckboard," Preusch reports. "But the trailer is also one answer to a modern health care conundrum common in the wide-open West: how to provide care to scattered rural residents. Lack of care is particularly acute in the area Morrison services, an expanse of high desert roughly the size of Connecticut that's home to about 300 people."

Kansas county commissioner targets rural residents with tax proposal

Johnson County Commissioner John Segale's tax proposal seeks to squeeze out funds from rural residents. The levy would affect Johnson County's unincorporated areas: houses in rural subdivisions and little acreages south of Overland Park and Olathe, reports columnist Mike Hendricks of Kansas City Star. (Read more)

Segale argues that rural residents often demand and receive city-like services, but they avoid a city tax levy. Police protection and road maintenance in the unincorporated areas are subsidized by city residents. That will remain the same until rural areas are annexed or Segale’s proposal passes, reports Hendricks. “I think that it’s fair,” Segale told him. The Shawnee resident has no unincorporated land in his district. “It was something I promised to work on during my campaign and I’m not giving up.”

Segale views his proposal as a way to level the playing field, since city residents already pay for some county services. Ninety-six percent of the Johnson County population lives in cities, and rural residents don’t pay for city street repairs or for police officers’ salaries. "Only in the unincorporated areas does the county maintain roads and provide regular sheriff patrol (except under contract with some cities)," writes Hendricks. "The cost is $13 million a year. And every county taxpayer foots that bill, not just the 15,000 who live in the county."

Plan for off-reservation casino pits Oregon governor versus preservationists

Life is calm and serene in the historic mill town of Cascade Locks, Ore., in the Columbia River Gorge, 40 miles east of Portland. The town's rural charm attracts tourists, but local, state and Indian leaders foresee a more lucrative future: a huge casino that they project could draw 3 million people a year and save a faltering economy, reports Sam Howe Verhovek of the Los Angeles Times. (Read more)

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, strongly supports the proposal, which would establish the first Oregon casino built on non-Indian land and one of just a few off-reservation Indian-owned casinos in the country. When the governor reached an agreement last month with prospective owner and operator, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, controversy erupted over its location, Verhovek reports.

"Opponents say the idea is something close to blasphemy, because the Gorge, a spectacular ribbon of waterfalls, forested trails and stunning overlooks across the mighty Columbia, is a federally designated national scenic area, and it is intended to stay scenic," writes Verhovek. "But proponents, including the governor and tribal leaders, say a building can be designed in harmony with the view, and they point to a major benefit to the cash-strapped state government here: Under the agreement, 17 percent of casino profits would be turned over to the state for tuition and health programs. That could amount to $30 million or more annually."

The casino plan must clear some major hurdles before it could be constructed in an industrial-zoned area. The U.S. Interior Department, one of the agencies involved in approving deals for off-reservation gambling, recently said it would not make a final decision on the casino until it approves a trust for the land used.

Environmental regulators tighten ethics rules on air-pollution permit reviews

Kentucky environmental regulators are going to require a more stringent conflict-of-interest policy for private companies that review and draft air pollution permits. "The decision follows criticism by a legislative oversight committee over the hiring of two consulting firms by regulators to help reduce a backlog of industry-requested permits," writes James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Mark York, spokesman for the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, wrote, "Until Secretary (LaJuana) Wilcher is confident with the process, no work has been or will be assigned to either company."

Cabinet officials awarded contracts totaling $700,000 in April and May to the two firms. It's the first time state regulators have turned to private companies that also work for industrial clients to help with pollution oversight required under federal environmental laws. The contracts went to Kenvirons, a Frankfort-based firm, and New Jersey-based Enviroplan Consulting.

USDA concludes University of Nevada mistreated research animals

A seven-month federal investigation has concluded that the University of Nevada mistreated research animals, and the school will pay an $11,400 fine to settle the case, reports The Associated Press. The U.S. Department of Agriculture cited the university's Reno campus for 46 federal animal welfare violations between May 2004 and March 2005. (Read more)

Violations included repeatedly leaving 10 research pigs with inadequate water and housing, poor sanitation at animal care facilities, lack of veterinary care, and failure to investigate animal neglect complaints. School officials agreed to pay the fine, but did not agree with all the agency's findings. University President John Lilley said in a statement the school is "firmly committed to the appropriate treatment of animals under our care."

The investigation began when associate professor Hussein S. Hussein, an internationally-known animal nutrition researcher, alleged research animal abuse in complaints to the USDA last summer. The Reno Gazette-Journal later reported that 38 pregnant sheep died in October 2002 while locked inside a gate without food or water for three days. Hussein filed two pending lawsuits in federal court against the university, Lilley and other administrators accusing them of reprisals and trying to fire him since he complained.

PETA spy, no longer living a lie, reveals her true identity and her regrets

For the past three years, Lisa Leitten applied for jobs at animal businesses in Missouri, Texas and Virginia. Although she gave biographical details about her real life, Leitten left out the fact that she worked for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and that she liked to wear a hidden camera, reports Bonnie Pfister of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Leitten called her last assignment for PETA her most wrenching: nine months in a Virginia lab owned by Princeton, N.J.-based biomedical firm Covance Co. There, she says, monkeys were denied medical care and hurt by technicians. The company denies the claims and has accused Leitten of illegally working under cover.

Two weeks ago, PETA presented Leitten's assertions about Covance in video footage and a massive report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and Virginia prosecutors, calling for regulators to shutter the company's Vienna, Va., lab. "This was my third assignment, and my final one," Leitten said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, the first time she has publicly revealed her identity. "You never forget the things that you've seen."

The intrigue of undercover work had outweighed Leitten's initial worries when she took the PETA job. "At first I thought, 'There's no way.' The fear of everything, of having to wear covert equipment and move around. But then it sounded sort of exciting at the same time," she said.

Friday, May 27, 2005

FCC's top priority is broadband expansion, Chairman Kevin Martin says

Expansion of high-speed Internet access, a growing issue in rural areas, will be the "No. 1 priority" for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, he said Tuesday in an interview with Drew Clark of National Journal's Technology Daily (subscription required).

"Making sure that all consumers have the opportunity and are connected to those advanced telecommunications services increases productivity, allows more overall economic growth, makes it easier for people to do work from home, take medical information to and from home [and] communicate and gather information in all kinds of ways," Martin said in the interview, one of his first since taking the chair.

Getting broadband rules right "will involve not only making sure we have the right regulatory framework for that infrastructure, but addressing issues like what are the services that ride over that infrastructure and what are the social obligations that go along with that like the expectation that people have to connect to local public safety officials," he said.

Chairman Martin is a native of Charlotte, N.C., and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and Harvard University Law School. While at Chapel Hill, he was student body president and president of the North Carolina Association of Student Governments.

Two-thirds of attorneys general support national shield law; see if yours does

Attorneys general of at least 34 states have agreed to support a friend-of-the-court brief, to be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court today, "to recognize a reporter's right to keep sources confidential in the case involving the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity," The Associated Press reports.(Read more)
AG Mark Shurtleff of Utah, a Republican, is helping assemble the bipartisan group and told AP he was working to recruit more of his counterparts, whose support is a surprise, says Editor & Publisher.

"Everybody's first reaction was, 'Wait a minute. We're chief law enforcement officers of our states, why are we going to support something that makes our jobs harder?' But we've always recognized the importance of constitutional protections," Shurtleff told Joe Fay in Salt Lake City. "Society is better off with an open press and an informed public. In addition, it's important everyone knows what the rules are. Reporters in fairness need to know they're going to be protected. That argument has turned a lot of AGs around."

The brief supports an appeal that seeks to overturn contempt orders against New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine's Matt Cooper. They "face 18 months in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury as part of an investigation into who divulged the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame," AP says. "The attorneys general will ask the Supreme Court to adopt a balancing test weighing the public interest of journalism against the desire of law enforcement agencies to investigate the unauthorized release of sensitive information. They want the court to settle contradictory rulings of federal district courts and follow the precedent set by some state courts that have recognized a reporter's privilege." Journalists' right to keep sources confidential is recognized" by law in all states but Wyoming, which has had no cases on the issue.

Attorneys general from these states had agreed to support the brief as of Thursday afternoon: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Sierra Club says pickup-truck mileage, air quality can be improved

Farmers, carpenters, ranchers and other workers dependent on trucks want better mileage, the Sierra Club says in its report, "Shifting Out Of Reverse: Making Pickup Trucks Go Farther on a Gallon of Gas."

The report shows "by installing proven, off-the-shelf technology, in light trucks, the average American pickup truck can go farther – much farther – on a gallon of gas. This would save the drivers money at the pump, curb global warming, and decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil," says the Sierra Club in a news release on its Web site. For the full report, in .pdf form, including average driver and state savings data, click here.

For example, "Kentucky pickup truck drivers would have saved more than $314,371,149 at the gas pump last year and cut global warming pollution by 2,528,696 tons if U.S. automakers had used existing automotive technology to improve fuel economy of pickups," according to the report.

With high gas prices this Memorial Day weekend, the report and online gas savings calculator "demonstrate that the technology exists to make all vehicles — from sedans, to SUVs, to pickup trucks — get better fuel economy to save money, curb global warming, and cut oil consumption," says a news release from Aloma Dew of the club's Midwest office. “The biggest single step we can take for saving money at the gas pump and cutting pollution is to make our vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas,” she said. “Detroit has the technology to make all vehicles, including pickup trucks, get better fuel economy. It’s time to put that technology to work.”

Greyhound, often a rural connection, cutting service to 260 more locations

Travelers in many rural communities will have fewer places to hitch a ride on a Greyhound when the nation's largest intercity bus company scales back its stops next month. The announcement about Eastern states came after Greyhound announced it would discontinue service to hundreds of cities in the Southwest and Northwest.

Greyhound Lines will discontinue service at 260 stops, mainly in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, Greyhound Lines spokeswoman Anna Folmnsbee said. Kentucky is losing more than half its stops; Indiana is losing 22 of 52, reports The Indianapolis Star.(Read more) In Kentucky, company officials told The Associated Press the remaining stops have the highest customer demand and passengers should see faster service between major national destinations as a result. (Read more)

Kentucky cities affected include Cadiz, Franklin, Grayson, Hopkinsville, Horse Cave, Lebanon, Marion, Mattoon, Mayfield, Morehead, Morganfield, Mount Sterling, Munfordville, Park City, Sonora, Sturgis, Walton, West Point and Winchester. Other stops affected include the Job Corps Center at Morganfield.

Columnist: Redirect farm subsidies to create fresh-food systems for urban areas

"Is the time ripe to take some of the billions in subsidies now flowing to big commodity-crop operators and focus instead on sustainable farm production in and around the citistate regions where 80 percent of us live?" asks syndicated columnist Neal R. Peirce. (Read more, via The Seattle Times)

Peirce quotes Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., as saying farm subsidies, currently "flowing to six states to produce 13 commodities that in the main we don't need, like corn, wheat, cotton, and rice," should be redirected "to build sustainable agriculture, create a farmer's market in every community, help farmers protect our land and water, preserve our viewsheds, foster land banks and control erosion."

Peirce writes that the notion is easy to dismiss, given the "hammerlock" of big-business agriculture and President Bush's quick retreat from his proposal to limit subsidies to indvidual producers -- but he also says millions of Americans are looking for fresher, tastier and healthier food, and reports that "several hundred school districts throughout the nation have adopted forms of a 'farm-to-school' program to introduce locally grown farm products." He quotes the Community Food Security Coalition as saying that when such programs are combined with nutrition education, farm visits, school gardens and classroom instruction, reports the "children can develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime."

AG says Ark. meth law working, but deadlier form arriving; Ala. gets similar law

Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe says the state’s laws enacted to curb supplies of homemade methamphetamine are working, but a home-brew is being replaced by a deadlier, more refined form.

Beebe told a Fayetteville Rotary Club users of the illegal drug are finding it more difficult to supply their habit at home, but higher-grade methamphetamine from large-scale, out-of-state suppliers is moving in to fill the vacuum, reports Doug Thompson of Stephens Media Group's Arkansas News Bureau. (Read more)

Beebe supported laws passed in the last legislative session to restrict the sale of cold medicines needed for illegal methamphetamine cooking. Beebe told Rotarians, "Oklahoma officials say the law has run the meth cookers off. Your sheriff was complaining that it ran them off to Northwest Arkansas," but now the [Arkansas] cold medication laws are expected to have a similar effect, Thompson writes.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley signed into law a bill requiring shoppers to show identification and sign a register to buy Sudafed and other cold tablets, writes Kim Chandler of The Birmingham News. (Read more) Pseudoephedrine, often obtained from cold tablets, is meth's key ingredient.

"There is an epidemic going on in Alabama today, and it's a man-made epidemic," Riley said at the bill-signing ceremony. Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi recently approved similar proposals. Without such a law, Alabama would become the hot spot for meth cookers, said Attorney General Troy King.

Cigarette taxes continue smokin' in several states, but revenue use debated

MAINE students flocked to the State House in Augusta yesterday to support increasing the state's cigarette tax and describe how they've been affected by tobacco-users, reports WCSH-TV in Portland. (Read more) "Supporters say the proposed $1.50-per-pack increase would prevent 9,900 smoking-related deaths and save the state $438 million in health costs," says Channel Six News.

NEW HAMPSHIRE has the lowest cigarette tax in the Northeast United States. Supporters say cross-border sales are not an issue. They say there has been no evidence of New Hampshire cigarette sales going up when Maine has increased cigarette taxes in the past.

MINNESOTA Gov. Tim Pawlenty would dedicate the entire $380 million from his state's proposed cigarette tax increase to treat smoking related diseases, says Minnesota Public Radio's Tom Scheck. (Read more) Pawlenty has proposed a 75-cent increase and supporters want all of the revenue sent to state health programs, writes Scheck. Pawlenty is calling the charge a "health impact fee," but critics are not happy that the "health fee" wouldn't be spent entirely on health care programs, reports Scheck.

In LOUISIANA, several health groups support a proposed cigarette tax increase. The State Legislature is considering increasing the state's cigarette tax by $1, reports Bill Noonan of WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge. (Read more) A recent poll shows 69 percent of Louisiana voters support the increase. Also, more than 20 public health organizations support it, including the American Cancer Society.

Thousands of MICHIGAN smokers are getting bills in the mail because the state is trying to collect taxes not paid by smokers who bough cigarettes online, reports WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids. (Read more)

In OKLAHOMA, a 55-cents-per-pack increase is performing below state officials expectations, says Kevin Sims of KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City, and a law loophole may be to blame. (Read more) State officials projected revenue to top $70 million, but so far, the tax has generated about $23 million, Sims reported. Stores don't have to pay the higher state tax on products they already had in stock.

Nebraska governor to be asked to fund rural air service called 'vital link'

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman will be asked today to fund the Nebraska State Airline Authority Act -- a law passed 15 years ago to let the state subsidize an intrastate airline, a vital link between urban and rural land.

Bob Unzicker, a commissioner for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, told Tracy Overstreet of the Grand Island Independent, "I think all airlines will have to have subsidies." (Read more) Unzicker doesn't think a few select Nebraska cities with commercial airports should be the only ones paying for a statewide service, so he wants the Nebraska State Airline Authority Act funded, writes Overstreet.

The act includes provisions for intrastate commercial airline service, which was once funded before a seven-member board was disbanded. The act states that lawmakers found the state needed air transportation to link the rural and urban areas that are separated by great distances, Overstreet writes.

North Dakota health-care providers get federal grant to improve rural wellness

A group of northeast North Dakota organizations has received a $460,000-plus federal grant to implement a special health and fitness cooperative; the Wellness Interventions Lasting a Lifetime (WILL) network.

Joyce Rice, project director, told Rona K. Johnson of the Grand Forks Herald, "It's a collaboration to encourage wellness, healthy lifestyles and to provide education on disease awareness, management and prevention." She said residents of Cavalier County, northwest Pembina County and northern Ramsey County will be able to take advantage of the network. The grant covers three years. (Read more)

Rice and a consortium of health providers gathered information from the different resources in the area, wrote the application for the Rural Health Care Services Outreach Grant and submitted it to the Office of Rural Health Policy under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, writes Johnson

The network will concentrate on chronic disabling diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiac rehab, mental health and occupational health. Rice told Johnson, "We hope to go into the various businesses and give programs on occupational hazards." The network also will focus on sports injury prevention and education. Although some programs already exist, the network will enhance those programs and create more, she writes.

The 'governator' restores rural crime-fighting funds in California budget

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut rural crime fighting funds from his original budget proposal as a way to cut costs, he said, but has since reinstated $18.5 million for 37 sheriff’s departments. "The $500,000 San Benito’s department will receive through the Rural County Crime Prevention Act - which funded a second south county deputy position, a correctional officer and a school resource officer last year - will again fund those staff positions in 2005-2006," writes Erin Musgrave of the Hollister Free Lance. (Read more)

The local sheriff told Musgrave he was confident Schwarzenegger would reinstate the critical funding. Otherwise, he would have had to lay off deputies and freeze deputy positions.With the money restored, the department can afford the approximately $170,000 to fund the three positions, he told the newspaper.

Most law officials are designating the money for staffing.The California State Sheriff’s Association was active in fighting to keep the funding, and expects to fight the same battle every year, writes Musgrave.

Lawsuit to block tribal gambling deals dropped by California horse track operators

California horse track operators have dropped a lawsuit seeking to block Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $1- billion casino deal with Indian tribes, freeing the state to issue bonds to pay for transportation projects.

"The suit filed in Alameda County Superior Court sought to nullify a deal Schwarzenegger reached with five Indian tribes that gave them an unlimited number of slot machines in return for paying the state additional revenue," writes Brian Melley of The Associated Press. (Read more) The deal was part of the governor's plan last year to bring in more revenue while the state faced a multi-billion dollar fiscal crisis.

Race tracks unsuccessfully fought to get slot machines to compete with wealthy Indian casinos. The tracks challenged the law that approved the first of two compacts the governor negotiated with tribes. Tracks said the law was unconstitutional because, among other reasons, it gave special privileges to the tribes and would have prevented voters from extending casino gambling beyond tribes, writes Melley.

Utah bio/chemical weapons testing facility may be spared from base closings

A Utah military installation that specializes in testing weapons of mass destruction may get a pass from the committee charged with closing installations nationwide to save money.

Dugway Proving Ground military base in Utah's west desert where defenses against deadly biological and chemical weapons are tested is a constant target of closure rumors and speculation,” writes Leigh Detham of the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City. (Read more) But one thing is certain — Dugway's mission is valuable to the U.S. Department of Defense. The facility received top rankings from the Pentagon in a report released to the Base Realignment and Closure commission (BRAC), writes Detham.

Rick Mayfield, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance, told Detham, "This is a sign that somebody is finally paying attention that they do great things out there." Mayfield also told her somebody wasn't paying attention in 1995 when the Army admitted it used incorrect data when recommending a Dugway realignment. The Army wanted to move elements of Dugway's facility to Arizona, but BRAC decided to keep the facility.

Daniel Boone logging proposal has foresters, environmentalists at loggerheads

Environmentalists are opposing a move by the U.S. Forest Service to cut trees and burn ground clutter near a pristine trout stream in the southernmost portion of the Daniel Boone National Forest.

"The latest battle between environmentalist and foresters on how to best manage the federal land is taking place on the hillsides around Rock Creek, which originates in Tennessee and flows into Kentucky south of Stearns," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The plan is to cut trees on 1,619 acres, build 8.6 miles of roads, burn ground clutter on 7,560 acres and spread herbicide on more than 1,000 acres, writes Alford. Perrin de Jong, head of the environmental group Kentucky Heartwood, told AP the group opposes any such activities around Rock Creek, a stream so pure in its upper reaches that the Kentucky Division of Water made it part of the state's "Wild River" program.

The proposal's opponents asked for an impact study to gauge the proposed project's effects. De Jong told AP, "Rock Creek is too valuable ... for us to be logging, road-building and spraying herbicides. We need to protect it and make sure the place remains ... wild and scenic." Rex Mann, a forest service spokesman in Winchester, Ky., told AP no logging would occur near the stream and water quality would not change.

As defendants sit in West Virginia jails, the cost of housing them keeps rising

In two weeks, West Virginia's newest regional jail is set to open in Randolph County, completing the transition from 55 county jails to 10 regional facilities across the state. This comes as several counties are complaining about the cost of housing inmates and the justice system's snail-like pace is to blame, reports Anna Sale for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. (Click here to listen)

One example cited by Sale involved Amanda Butler, arrested in Huntington in October 2003 for suffocating her child with a pillow, and finally getting her trial last Tuesday. For more than two years, Butler has stayed at Western Regional Jail, as a judge continued her trial at least three times. The average person like Butler who was either denied bond or could not pay, is sitting in a jail for an average of 13 months, Sale reports.

On May 20, counties paid $48.50 per inmate for more than 1,900 inmates in regional jails, costing over $93,000, reports Sale. And nearly 60 percent were awaiting trials on felony charges, according to the Regional Jail Authority. Meetings between counties and the authority have ended in stalemates.

Other states have already taken legal action to curb the problem of long stays in jail. Ohio law requires that incarcerated pretrial felons go to trial within 90 days of their arrest. In Maryland, each state court established time standards five years ago. And in Kentucky, the attorney general is traveling the state urging a rocket docket of their own to encourage plea agreements before the sometimes lengthy wait for indictments.

Appalachian Trail and Blue Ridge Parkway gearing up for Memorial weekend

If you have some lightweight backpacking gear and a crafty trail name, then the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail might be your perfect Memorial Day weekend getaway, suggests John Derrick of The Shelby Star in North Carolina. You see, people generally come up with a unique trail name before setting out and conversing with fellow hikers is just as enjoyable as taking in the sights, he writes. (Read more) One stop on the Appalachian Trail is Hot Springs, "a neat little town with the AT running straight through it, economically and socially very linked to hiking, rafting and other hippie-pinko-weird activities I enjoy," writes Derrick.

Just as warm weather brings in more hikers, the spring season also seems to attract more travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway. One of its last two roadblocks will be lifted at noon today near Mount Mitchell, N.C., restoring nearly total access to the road just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Rock slides and 20 inches of rain from two September hurricanes initially closed almost half of the 252-mile parkway, causing $8 million in road damage, reports Dianne Whitacre of The Charlotte Observer. (Read more) All that remains closed is an 8-mile stretch near Linville Falls and a 20-mile detour is in place. Last fall's slides led to thousands of tourists staying away even as sections of the parkway reopened, reports Whitacre.

Memorial Day Weekend: A reminder of its meaning

The Bivouac Of The Dead - by Theodore O Hara (first and last verses)

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat / the soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet / that brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground / their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round / the bivouac of the dead.

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave,
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your story be forgot,
While Fame her record keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Picturesque, small Western towns, plagued by out-migration, facing extinction

Towns like Chugwater, Wyo. face big choices: Grow or die. "As a population boom sweeps the West, communities watch children leave for the cities, residents age and towns fall off the map," writes Angie Wagner of The Associated Press. "Some towns feel their rural identities slipping away. They try to cling to the past, or imagine a future as retirement havens, recreation hubs or suburbs for growing cities." (Click to read more)

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. told Wager, "The West is clearly becoming the frontier in a different way now." From 1990 to 2003, the growth rate of Western towns with 2,500 or fewer people was four times the rate for the rest of the country, according to Census Bureau figures. Jon Bailey, director of research and analysis for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., told her, "So many of (these communities) have the desire to be saved, but it's going to have to come from within."

Chugwater is four blocks by seven blocks, but has a Web site, on which the locals tell the world, "Our commitment to excellence and our progressive attitude is very evident throughout the community." Wagner writes, "You can fill your tank at the gas station at the end of town or grab a bowl of famous Chugwater Chili -- the town's claim to fame -- but if you're looking for much else, you've probably taken a wrong turn."

William Freudenburg, professor of environment and society at University of California-Santa Barbara and president of the Rural Sociological Society, told AP that Western towns should market beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities to newcomers such as software designers, architects, carpenters, plumbers -- people who have made money elsewhere and can live anywhere they want.

Tobacco settlement money for anti-smoking ads diverted to senior-citizen program

The North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission, funded by part of the state's share of the national tobacco settlement, has canceled plans to greatly expand a teenager anti-smoking campaign.

"The additional money is expected to be diverted to N.C. Senior Care, a prescription drug program for low-income senior citizens, according to a letter to the state Division of Purchase & Contract written by Jim Davis, executive director of the commission," writes David Ranii of The News & Observer. The commission also funds Senior Care, which, he writes, is experiencing increasing enrollment. (Read more)

Gov. Mike Easley is backing the move. Press secretary Sherri Johnson, told the Raleigh paper, "The governor and the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission made a commitment to our seniors to fund a prescription drug plan. We need to make sure this commitment is met before other educational efforts are planned.”

Poll shows support for New Hampshire cigarette-tax and gambling proposals

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch's plan to balance the budget with a higher cigarette tax posted high approval ratings in a new Becker Institute poll. The figures also showed significant support for statewide gambling as a source of revenue, reports Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader. (Read more)

"Lynch wants to boost the 52-cent cigarette tax by 28 cents. The tax hike had approval of nearly four out of five respondents, 78 percent, who said it is the preferred way to balance the budget. Sixty-four percent said they 'strongly' approve," reports Fahey, the Manchester newspaper's statehouse bureau chief.

"Gambling, the Senate's backup plan to fill a deficit, also did well in the poll , with approval ratings between 68 percent and 51 percent. Video slot machines at the state's four race tracks got the highest approval, while a private casino in the North Country including roulette, slots and other games ranked lowest," writes Fahey.

Pastor removes anti-Koran sign after congregants vote, convention objects

A North Carolina pastor who posted a sign in front of his church saying "The Koran needs to be flushed!" removed the sign Wednesday after his congregation voted to do so, and apologized. The actions came after four Southern Baptist Convention officials said the sign in Forest City, 60 miles west of Charlotte, may be endangering overseas missionaries, reports Ken Garfield of the Charlotte Observer. (read more)

Rev. Creighton Lovelace of Danieltown Baptist Church at first refused to apologize for the sign, "on one of the most heavily traveled highways" in Rutherford County, US 221, reported Josh Humphries of the Daily Courier in Forest City. For the 9,300-circulation local paper's initial story and picture of the sign, click here.

In a followup story, Lovelace claimed he was doing God's work and the sign would stay. "My Bible teaches me that I am to stand and not be ashamed of the truth of God's word and that this, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Jehovah's Witness translation of the Bible, to me, that is not God's word," he said Tuesday. But 20 members of the church voted unanimously Wednesday to remove the sign, the Observer reported.

The Daily Courier reported that Lovelace is commander of the Rutherford Rifles, the recently formed chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and he praised the South and chanted "Save the South" during a rally last month at a now-closed Forest City store called The Southern National Patriot. Lovelace said the Bible demands that southern white Christians should be separated from other peoples, but he denied promoting hatred of others. "I do not hate people of other faiths, I merely hate the false doctrine," he said.

Seema Reilly, a Muslim who was born in Pakistan and lives in Rutherford County, site of Forest City, told the local paper she felt angered and threatened when she saw the sign on Saturday. "We need a certain degree of tolerance," she told Humphries. "That sign doesn't really reflect what I think this county is about."

University of Kentucky restores rural home health effort in nine counties

The University of Kentucky has reversed its decision to cut a program that provides home health visits and medicine for rural residents in nine Western Kentucky counties. The school changed its mind after hearing from people who use the Kentucky Homeplace program and officials in those counties, writes James Malone of The Courier-Journal Western Kentucky Bureau. (Read more)

Karen Troutman, a program recipient, told Malone she had felt abandoned and "It was a little scary." Troutman, 50, of Paducah, is a disabled horse trainer who gets diabetes medicine. She told the newspaper, "Having this service makes a difference. It means I can do something in life other than buy medicine."

Judy Jones Owens, director of the UK Center for Rural Health in Hazard, told Malone that UK had notified six of the program's 39 employees their positions would be eliminated because of a lack of state money. That would have affected about 4,300 people in Ballard, Carlisle, Crittenden, Greenup, Livingston, Marshall, McCracken, Union and Webster counties. But yesterday, UK officials said they would spend $175,000 to keep the positions through June 2006.

Owens told the Courier-Journal, "It's a program of last resort for people with no insurance or high deductibles, and when you cut a program there's not many places for people to go." The $1.9 million Kentucky Homeplace program serves about 15,000 people in 58 counties and is administered by UK for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, writes Malone.

Pennsylvania newspaper supports bill to ban on mountaintop-removal mining

Concern over mountaintop-removal mining is moving from the pages of newspapers in Central Appalachia, main site of the method, to papers in nearby states. It "is an abomination that would be an outrage in a Third World country," The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., said in an editorial yesterday, saying it "could very well rank as the worst defilement of the environment to be found anywhere in the country. .(Read more)

"Amazingly, it has become mining as usual in parts of West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee," the paper says. "Literally removing the tops of mountains to get at the coal seams below, filling in valleys and streams in the process, is environmental destruction at the extreme. And it's a financial and health disaster for the people living nearby. The practice should be outlawed."

The paper endorsed a bill introduced by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., called the Clean Water Protection Act, which would prohibit the burial of waterways and thus stop the valley fills essential to mountaintop-removal coal mining, which is allowed under an exemption that was added to the 1977 federal strip-mine law shortly before its final passage.

Miners testify firings followed safety complaints; mine officials dispute claim

A coal miner with 11 years experience testified at a federal mine-safety hearing yesterday in Pikeville, Ky. he had never feared for his life until he was caught on a runaway scoop heading toward three co-workers.

Wade Damron said, "I started hollering, 'No brakes! No brakes!' I had to put it into the rib (mine wall) to stop it." He was "one of four miners who testified before a federal administrative law judge that a Letcher County coal company fired them for complaining about safety conditions at the underground mine where they worked," writes Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

The U.S. Department of Labor filed discrimination complaints against Misty Mountain Mining Inc. on behalf of the miners, who are seeking unspecified monetary damages and reinstatement. The mine company owner and superintendent testified safety was emphasized, Maimon writes for the Louisville newspaper.

The three-day hearing continues today. A ruling by Administrative Law Judge T. Todd Hodgdon is expected in about three months, and could be appealed to the federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The Labor Department is seeking fines of $40,000 -- $5,000 against Misty Mountain and $2,500 each against Ratliff and Stanley Osborne, the company's owner, for each of the cases involved.

Project will remove contaminants from coal ash, turn it into additive for concrete

Researchers at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) will lead a $9 million research project to remove contaminants and convert coal ash into an additive that enhances concrete.

The CAER researchers are working with Louisville Gas and Electric and the U.S. Department of Energy on the project, which is funded by a $4.5 million Energy Department clean coal power commercial demonstration grant. Cemex Corp. is financing $3.6 million of the project, with CAER picking up the rest, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Read more)

UK President Lee Todd announced the joint venture as one of UK's "Commonwealth Collaboratives" projects. He made the announcement as part of a statewide tour this week. This project, designed to encourage economic development, will convert costly coal ash burned at electricity-generating plants into pozzolan, a saleable additive that enhances concrete performance, strength and durability.

The commercial reuse of purified ash also can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide generated by burning coal at power plants, Robl said. A demonstration plant is expected to be in operation at Ghent in the spring of 2008. Cemex Corp., a global cement company, has a license to use the technology developed at and patented by UK and CAER to create replica plants across the country, they report.

Scam artists target rural Maine communities; warnings issued, money lost

Police are warning that con men and Internet swindlers are targeting people in small, rural Maine communities. Pittsfield police are investigating four alleged scams that occurred in the past two weeks, the biggest involving an elderly Pittsfield woman was taken for $25,000 that she willingly wrote in checks to a man who befriended her and convinced her to give him the money, reports The Bangor Daily News. (Read more)

In another case, a disabled Pittsfield man was cheated out of nearly $5,000 after a different man befriended him, moved into his home, stole a check and forged it. Police Sgt. Timothy Roussin told the newspaper,"Con men aren't just on television. They are right here in our neighborhoods."

Police are also investigating two alleged Internet scams. One woman was told she had won a large portion of a $1.8 million lottery prize out of Great Britain, while another victim was told she had inherited $8,000 from somebody in Florida, they write. The women lost several thousand dollars between them that they sent to collect their money, but the money orders and checks they received in return were bogus.

The FBI is assisting with the multi-state investigation. In Eastern Maine, police said at least two people in Baileyville, which has fewer than 1,700 residents, have lost money via Internet scams, writes the Daily News.

Late spring, not bugs, leaves Kentucky-Virginia border mountaintops bald

Eastern Kentucky residents haunted by the belief that insects left their mountaintop trees leafless can rest easy. Bugs didn't do it. U.S. Forest Service tree expert Steve Kuennen, told Roger Alford of The Associated Press, that insects aren't to blame and the mountaintops will turn green in coming weeks. (Read more)

"The barren trees on high peaks along the Kentucky-Virginia border haven't yet taken on their spring foliage because they were zapped by frost and snow in late-season cold snaps," writes Alford. Kuennen told him people have been calling his office in the Jefferson National Forest to ask why the trees haven't leafed out. Kuennen told AP, "They'll be OK. Some of the trees are starting to bud back out now."

National Weather Service records show Black Mountain in Harlan County, Ky., had eight inches of snow April 4 and a low temperature of 25 degrees, followed by four inches April 24 with a low of 20, Alford writes. Steve Brooks, director of Virginia Forest Watch, told Alford all trees on Clinch Mountain in Virginia normally are leafed out in early May, but this year the ridge still is barren.

Rural Calendar: Great Smokies Beetle Blitz June 2-15

The Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere Cooperative and Foundation is inviting "all interested volunteers and scientists" to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the "ATBI Beetle Blitz" June 2-15. ATBI is the Great Smokies All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, which will describe all species of life, and their distribution, in the park.

Click here for more on SAMAB including its strategic plan, activities, and data and information on the region. Contact Robert S. Turner, Ph.D., Executive Director, Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB) at 314 UT Conference Center, Knoxville TN 37996-4138, or 865-974-4585 (fax 974-4609).

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Rural Midwest out-migration exaggerated, revival misguided, say experts

The decline of large portions of the rural Midwest has been framed as an epic out-migration, prompting numerous proposals from government and policy-makers. Fifty-four of Kansas' 105 counties have fewer people now than they did in the early 1900s, but "A group of economists at Kansas University says reports of the decline of rural Kansas have been greatly exaggerated and that attempts to revive the countryside have been misguided," writes Scott Rothschild of the Lawrence Journal-World . (Read more)

Peter Orazem, a Koch visiting professor of business economics, told Rothschild, "A lot of rural areas are doing really well, and the ones that are doing the best are no longer rural areas." Orazem, Arthur Hall, executive director of the KU Center for Applied Economics, and Georgeanne Artz, an extension economist at Iowa State University, have produced two recent studies on rural development. Orazem argues the decline of rural Kansas is misdiagnosed because many rural counties have thrived over the past few decades.

The economists have detected a "statistical curiosity" that has big policy-making implications. Every decade, the Census Bureau classifies counties as urban, metropolitan and rural. When rural counties grow to a certain population, they are reclassified as urban or metropolitan, Rothschild writes. That leaves policy-makers examining the counties that aren't doing well to determine what is wrong instead of trying to copy what the developing rural counties, many of which grew faster than the national average, did right.

This distortion, they say, can lead to some wrong-headed policies to stop the reported decline in rural population, argue Orazem and his colleagues. They say that to see what is needed for rural counties, determine what the common denominator is for the ones that have grown rapidly.

Rural info-tech outsourcing called viable alternative to sending jobs offshore

A Minnesota high-tech industry official says companies should think about going to the 'North Shore' ( the Great Lakes area) rather than offshore when they're outsourcing their information technology (IT) services.

Jim Gufstafson says outsourcing IT to rural America can be a cost-effective alternative to places such as India and can help boost the economies in cities such as Duluth, writes Larry Oakes, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Gustafson is chief executive of Saturn Systems, a Duluth software engineering company that hopes to capitalize on a "Rural IT Outsourcing" marketing strategy that is getting attention in other struggling cities such as Greenville, N.C., and Jonesboro, Ark., Oakes reports. (Read more)

Advocates say that while surveys show almost half the nation's companies have gone offshore for IT services or are considering it, they may save not much by doing so. Gufstafson says time-zone differences, language barriers, cultural divides and data-security concerns all reduce the offshore advantage, Oakes writes. A study commissioned by New Jobs for New York, a not-for-profit economic development organization, shows that while many U.S. companies say they've cut their bill almost in half by going offshore, the actual savings is more like 20 to 25 percent when the extra cost of doing business long-distance is factored in.

That makes domestic rural outsourcing sensible for many companies, said Kathy Brittain White, president of Rural Sourcing Inc. in Jonesboro, Ark. She told Oakes, "I grew up in rural Arkansas, and I saw a huge untapped potential in talented people who were unemployed." Next month her company will open an office in a former textile mill in Greenville, another area with unemployed or underemployed IT professionals.

White said Rural Sourcing charges less than half for software engineering, compared to urban U.S. companies. She contends, "That makes us an alternative for smaller companies and for large companies with smaller projects." Rural Sourcing and Saturn Systems have forged partnerships with local colleges to set up a flow of interns eager for experience. Saturn hooked up with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, writes Oakes.


Without federal program, many Kentucky farmers are getting out of tobacco

When someone has farmed for decades, change of any kind is hard. The end of a way of life for many in tobacco states is very hard, especially Kentucky, where tobacco has deep economic and historic roots.

"You could be talking about the death of a culture," Franklin County Agriculture Agent Keenan Bishop tells veteran Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Jim Warren, no stranger in the heart of tobacco country. Warren writes a sensitive and vivid picture of survival, skepticism and surrender at the end of the 65-year federal program of tobacco quotas and price supports, and a return to the free enterprise system. (Read more)

Warren profiles farmer Terry Lunsford, who has decided to change: “Lunsford would be setting burley tobacco about now on his Jessamine County farm, laying down perfectly spaced rows of young, green plants ready to grow into gold. But without the backing of the federal tobacco support program, which ended after last growing season, Lunsford has decided not to raise tobacco. Not this year, and maybe never again."

Lunsford, 50, told Warren, "I guess it's the first time in 85 years there won't be any tobacco raised on this farm. We've got the greenhouses to raise the tobacco plants, and the barns to house the tobacco, but they're all empty. It feels a little funny." Madison County farmer Evan McCord told Warren he isn't raising tobacco this year either: "You can't take away something that's been a part of your whole life and not feel different."

McCord and Lunsford have company. Across Kentucky, many farmers are bailing out of tobacco, reluctantly abandoning a crop that for generations has been the mainstay for the state's farm families, Warren writes: "Most are deserting tobacco because they fear that raising the traditional crop will be too risky without the price supports and other guarantees that the old federal program provided."

Debate ensues over using tobacco-settlement money to help tobacco growers

Kentucky lawmakers have learned from a top state agriculture official there is dissent over a proposal to set aside for tobacco production part of the tobacco-settlement money that the state earmarked for agricultural development -- including helping tobacco growers diversify into alternative crops and livestock.

Keith Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, told legislators Monday, "I've learned the General Assembly, the agricultural community and to some extent the Agricultural Development Board are divided on this issue." The board, which spends the half of settlement money that the legislature earmarked for agricultural development, could vote on the proposal at its June meeting.

The growers' plan -- conceived as a way to help farmers who choose to continue growing leaf in the free market created by last fall's tobacco buyout -- includes a farm-improvement program for tobacco similar to 13 other model programs, writes Marcus Green of The Courier-Journal. (Read more).

Supporters argue that by funding tobacco, the board would give tobacco farmers the same opportunity others have received. They point to North Carolina's recent decision to use tobacco-settlement money to explore the production of burley tobacco -- a hill-country crop grown mainly in Kentucky -- in eastern North Carolina.

Mississippi trying to take tobacco-settlement funds from private health group

A Mississippi judge has postponed proceedings in a lawsuit attacking $20 million in annual funding to the private Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi for its anti-tobacco programs. Circuit Judge Jaye Bradley said she would await a legislative study of whether the state's tobacco-settlement funds are being spent wisely and whether the anti-tobacco programs should continue, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Gov. Haley Barbour, state Medicaid officials and the Mississippi Health Care Trust Fund want the $20 million cut off. A Jackson County judge in 2000 ordered the $20 million diverted to the Partnership, an anti-smoking group founded by a former state attorney general. Some lawmakers question the funding, but Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Billy McCoy have endorsed it, adding that parties representing the governor, Medicaid and the Health Care Trust Fund should be heard, and will be it becomes necessary.

John Corlew, an attorney for the governor's office, told the judge that legislators have failed in the past to address the issue. Corlew told Judge Bradley, "This is an issue for your court and the Mississippi Supreme Court to address. We vehemently object to these delay tactics." Barbour has said the state constitution gives the Legislature, not the court, the authority to appropriate state money.

Louisiana governor proposes dedicating cigarette-tax hike to teacher pay raises

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, trying to revive her ailing $1-a-pack cigarette tax in the Louisiana House, has proposed it all be used for a $3,300 teacher pay raise, a $500 annual raise for school support workers and 5 percent pay hike for college faculty, writes John Hill of The Times of Shreveport. (Read more)

The state's nearly 59,000 public school teachers and administrators would get a $2,300 raise this fall and another $1,000 the following year as the full cigarette tax proceeds came into the state treasury. That would raise Louisiana's average teacher pay from $38,300 to $41,600, close to the southern average, writes Hill.

The plan is dependent on the state school board revising the formula for distributing state funds to local schools. Blanco, a Democrat, said new estimates, showing the state with $169 million in unexpected revenue for the fiscal year beginning July 1, would plug holes in the health care budget but not cover teacher raises.


Energy prices fuel Tennessee coal comeback, Alaska re-mining by Idaho firm

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources says increasing prices for coal have prompted plans by Idaho company Knoll Acres to "re-mine" the waste left behind by previous coal companies at a mine near Jonesville, writes Rindi White of the Anchorage Daily News. (Read more) Reclaiming coal from waste has been done in the Lower 48, but not in Alaska, Bruce Buzby of the natural-resources department told White.

Operating as Sutton Partners, Knoll plans to crush the waste, or tailings, and harvest useable coal. Company spokesman Brooks Potter, "Jonesville coal, by nature, is a relatively high-Btu, low-sulfur coal." The high-Btu coal is rare in Alaska, writes White. Potter told her the current energy market, with its high fuel and natural gas prices, makes it a perfect time to get cleaner-burning coal to market.

Meanwhile, Scott Barker of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports that both miners and environmentalists in Tennessee are closely watching the rising interest in the coal industry. (Read more) "Tennessee’s coal industry, spurred by skyrocketing coal prices, new technologies and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s possible leasing of its mineral rights in Campbell and Scott counties, could be poised for a comeback," Barker writes.

New operators have bought coal property and millions of dollars worth of new equipment, Barker reports, but "With the new activity comes renewed resistance." Environmentalists are mobilizing against mountaintop-removal mining, which has become common in the adjoining Cumberland-Allegheny Plateau region of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, which Barker notes has "some of the oldest mountains on earth."

New land-management rules won't save wild horses from slaughter, say critics

Critics charge safeguards adopted by the Bureau of Land Management to protect wild horses removed from federal lands in the West are not strict enough to keep the mustangs out of slaughterhouses.

Nancy Perry, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, told Scott Sonner of The Associated Press, ""The protections are very weak, surprisingly weak. They will not stop horses from being sold for slaughter." (Read more)

Advocacy groups want the Senate to pass a bill the House passed last week, to reinstate full protection for the horses under a 1971 law -- prohibiting sales outside the BLM's adoption program, writes Sonner. The House amendment by Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky would repeal the language that Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., inserted in a spending bill in December.

The Burns measure allowed the BLM to sell 8,400 of the oldest horses in long-term holding facilities and reduce what the agency and ranchers say is an overpopulation of horses on the range. As a result at least 41 mustangs sold ended up being resold and slaughtered at an Illinois meatpacking plant, Sonner writes.

Fires at chemical-weapons disposal plants raise concern about process elsewhere

Recent fires at chemical-weapons destruction plants in Oregon and Arkansas are raising safety concerns about a part of the process to be used at the Blue Grass Army Depot chemical neutralization plant in Kentucky.

But a potential change in that process, under study as a way to cut costs for the depot, also is being viewed as a possible safety measure, writes Peter Mathews of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Members of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board got a briefing yesterday on that and other proposals to make the plant smaller, reduce equipment purchases and change some processes. (Read more)

Officials hope to trim the $2 billion dollar project by $200 million to $400 million . The most potentially controversial change is a proposal to ship the waste products that remain after chemical weapons are neutralized, out of state for processing. The move could save about $40 million, Mathews writes.

Rockets at the Kentucky installation containing nerve agents GB and VX will be cut into pieces. During that process, fires have broken out at incinerator sites at Pine Bluff, Ark., and Umatilla Chemical Depot in Oregon. Processing has resumed in Pine Bluff, but the Oregon plant is still closed. Causes of the fires haven't been found, writes Mathews.

Appalachian town wants stagnant reservoir, 'Lake Mistake,' cleaned up

A mile-long channel of water left from a U. S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control project in the southeastern Kentucky community of Loyall has become a nuisance and the locals want it cleaned up.

Residents say the water has become a smelly breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects that make outdoor activities miserable, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. The disgruntled residents call the body of water "Lake Mistake" and "the Brown Lagoon." (Read more)

Congress and the Corps began working to remedy flood problems in the area after a flood in 1977. Loyall's portion of the flood-control project involved a new channel around the town to relocate the Cumberland River, writes Alford. Wayne Huddleston, project manager, said an inlet and outlet were created so fresh river water would prevent stagnation, but, Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop said the system has never worked effectively. The county is responsible for maintaining the project.

Environmental 'diplomat' Leslie Cole retires; staffed Ky. commission since '85

Leslie Cole, who has been called "diplomat, researcher, administrator, fair to all sides, and passionate about the environment," is retiring as executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission.

"For two decades, she has led the group that advises the governor and state regulators on environmental issues while also serving as a watchdog," writes James Bruggers, environmental reporter for The Courier-Journal.(Read more) She told him the job hasn't always been easy:"Environmental issues are more often than not controversial, and subject to debate, constantly criticized by some and targeted for elimination by others."

But the Lexington resident, with a forestry degree from the University of Kentucky, said the key to the commission's survival is finding common ground:"When you have a commission comprised of industry, environmental and citizen members, you look for ways where people can work together." Cole, who has served under five governors, says she wants to spend more time with her family. As she leaves, people often on opposite sides of environmental issues are praising her performance and contributions, Bruggers writes.


Happy Memorial Day to the military from the news media, says columnist

St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Mark Yost has some Memorial Day weekend food for thought. As the nation remembers those who have fought and died to preserve freedom, Yost contends the news media have delivered another slight to the men and women of the military, who are disproportionately from rural America.

“Just in time for Memorial Day, the brave men and women of the U.S. military get another swift kick in the groin, courtesy of the U.S. media," writes Yost, noting that Linda Foley, national president of The Newspaper Guild, which represents unionized reporters, editors and other newspaper workers, has accused U.S. troops of purposely targeting journalists in Iraq. (Read more)

"Journalists are not just being targeted verbally or politically ...(but) for real in places like Iraq," Foley said during a recent panel discussion. In an interview in Editor & Publisher, she clarified her position: "I was careful of not saying troops, I said U.S. military." Yost writes, "I'm sure that makes everyone in uniform feel much better." Yost believes Foley "is verbalizing the mindset of many reporters: The U.S. is bad, therefore the U.S. military is bad, therefore the soldiers must be up to no good."

THIS DAY IN HISTORY - 1925: John T. Scopes was indicted in Dayton, Tenn., for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution. (Courtesy of SPJ Press Notes)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Minnesota pharmacist training campaign gets $2 million; many jobs in rural areas

Minnesota has a statewide need for 300 pharmacists, with many vacancies in the rural areas of the state. The University of Minnesota announced today the receipt of a $2 million grant, the lead gift in a capital fund-raising campaign to expand pharmacist training at its Duluth campus, reports Robert Franklin of the Star Tribune. (registration / required)

Mary Speedie, dean of the college, told Franklin, “Based on this lead gift… we’re trying to build on a huge amount of community support in rural areas.”

The capital fund drive is “part of an effort to fill gaps left by the loss of drugstores, many of them in rural areas, as pharmacists age and small-town populations dwindle,” writes Franklin. “Speedie and others say Minnesota is among the states with the most unmet needs."

More than 100 pharmacies outside the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul closed between 1996 and 2002, Franklin writes. Todd Sorenson, an associate professor of pharmacy, said a study revealed 126 Minnesota communities have only one pharmacist. And, Sorenson said the study showed the average distance to the next-closest pharmacy was 23 miles.

Governors of Minnesota, Iowa call for higher tobacco taxes

Governor Tim Pawlenty has called for the Minnesota legislature to enact a 75-cents-a-pack "health impact fee" on cigarettes. The new charge would net $380 million over two years and pay for health care. It would free other state resources to increase school funding, writes Patrick Sweeney and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pawlenty told them, "I believe this is a user fee. Some people are going to say it is a tax. I'm going to say it is a compromise and a solution."

Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans dismissed the notion that the 75 cents a pack would be anything other than a tax. Pawlenty said he will call legislators back for a special session to finish their main work — fixing a $466 million deficit and writing a new two-year budget, the paper reports.

If Iowa's anti-smoking advocates want to persuade lawmakers to raise the cigarette tax next year, Gov. Tom Vilsack says it will take a more impassioned effort. Vilsack told Des Moines Register reporters and editors that advocates "have to get together and develop a much more effective strategy. . . . It's not even enough for me to advocate for it. You really have to have a public effort that says this is important to us." Vilsack added, "This is not about revenue. This is not about the intricacies of the state budget. It's about saving lives."

Vilsack proposed an 80-cents-per-pack tax increase in his budget to pay for health care services for the poor. A poll found 70 percent of Iowans favored increasing the tax.

Tennessee tobacco tax: State worker pay or buy meds? Bills would net $29 million

Tennessee lawmakers may help pay for expensive anti-psychotic medication for people with severe mental illnesses, or boost state employees' pay.

“Lawmakers could decide to use an extra $29 million toward a 3 percent raise for state employees, more than the 2 percent that Gov. Phil Bredesen has proposed,” writes Bonna de la Cruz of The Tennessean. Either choice would rely on a new 50-cent-per-pack "add on" to the cost of off-brand cigarettes.

The General Assembly will put the finishing touches on the proposed 2005-06 state budget as they wrap up their session this week or early next week. Two bills approved by the Senate Finance Committee yesterday would raise about $29 million. One bill would put a 50-cent tax on off-brand, low-cost cigarettes and the other bill corrects and clarifies parts of the state's tax code.

The proposal would provide $27.5 million for a "safety net" for the sick, elderly and mentally ill TennCare enrollees slated to be cut from the program, said Sen. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the Senate majority leader. About $6 million would help 30,000 people with severe or persistent mental illness. "They would lose TennCare benefits, but the state could help them purchase anti-psychotic drugs that often cost $300 per month," state Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz told The Tennessean.

Lawmakers want to give state workers and higher education employees a 3 percent raise, with teachers remaining at 2 percent. The Tennessee State Employees Association wants a more expensive program to hike pay for longtime employees.

Western N.C. teachers want more nutritious food in school vending machines

North Carolina educators want to curb snack food sales to combat rising childhood obesity rates. They are asking lawmakers to follow Connecticut's lead, which is on the verge of adopting the nation’s most far-reaching ban on soda and junk food in public schools.

“Similar health concerns are driving discussions on the nutritional value of what’s available in vending machines in North Carolina schools, according to educational leaders in Western North Carolina and Raleigh,” writes Michael Flynn of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Doug Jones, health and physical education coordinator for Asheville and Buncombe County schools, told the newspaper, “It’s something that has to be considered in light of the obesity situation in children today.” North Carolina elementary and middle schools must have health advisory committees, but school boards must pass changes to vending and other nutrition policies, explains Flynn.

N.C. Healthy Weight Initiative Coordinator Sheree Thaxton Vodicka told Flynn legislators have discussed setting nutritional standards for food sold out of vending machine and outside of school lunch programs. One proposal would increase the proportion of healthy options available to students. But, Andrews High School Principal Olin O’Barr, like others, said restricting vending machine sales can cost schools money, Flynn writes.

Wildlife director discourages use of new scientific studies in Southwest

The southwestern regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has told his staff to limit their use of new studies on endangered plants and animals' genetics when deciding how to preserve and recover them.

At issue is what happens once a fish, animal, plant or bird is included on the federal endangered species list as being in danger of extinction and needing protection, writes Felicity Barringer of The New York Times.

Dale Hall, the director of the southwestern region, said decisions about how to return a species to robust viability must use only the genetic science in place at the time it was put on the endangered species list -- in some cases the 1970s or earlier -- even if there have been scientific advances in understanding a species' genetic makeup and its subgroups in the ensuing years, Barringer writes. Hall's instructions can spare states in his region the expense of extensive recovery efforts. The regional office, in Albuquerque, covers Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Base closure panel begins review visits; Fort Knox commander optimistic

Ten days following the news of 36 major military installation closures around the country, a number of affected communities are reviewing how the loss will affect them. Some are beginning to see glimmers of light where at first darkness was feared.

In Elizabethtown, Ky., near Fort Knox, The News-Enterprise reports Col. Keith Armstrong, Fort Knox's garrison commander, believes the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations announced on May 13 are a good move for the military.

Armstrong told the Radcliff Rotary Club the recent BRAC decisions were still subject to change, although based on past BRAC rounds, he doesn't think significant changes will occur, writes News-Enterprise reporter Erica Walsh. Armstrong wants the community to know Fort Knox would gain permanent party personnel consisting of 3,300 active duty military and about 1,800 civilians. Armstrong told Walsh, "So from my position as garrison commander, Fort Knox is a winner.”

Along with moving the Armor Center to Fort Benning, Ga., the BRAC recommendations for Fort Knox included losing a regional detention center and downsizing its community hospital. In return, Fort Knox would get an infantry brigade combat team, bringing 3,500-4,000 new active duty military members, and be home of the Army's human resources command.

Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press has a report on the pending review Thursday of Fort Knox. Peter Hardin of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on the review this week of a number of bases in Virginia. And, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has an announcement on visits and meetings about bases in Georgia.

Minnesota lawmakers crackdown on meth and sex offenders in public safety law

Minnesota lawmakers have reached a deal on a massive crime bill that includes life sentences for some heinous sex offenders and a crackdown on the state's epidemic meth problem.

Certain nonprescription cold medicines that can be used to make methamphetamine will be available only behind pharmacy counters and in limited quantities, according to the agreement drawn up by a joint panel of the Minnesota House and Senate. Lawmakers rejected a House plan to ban the cold medicines completely, writes Rachel E. Stassen-Berger of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The bill approved by the public safety panel also would increase sentences for some sex offenders and other violent criminals. Many other sex offenders would receive indeterminate, or open-ended, life sentences. The $1.7 billion public safety measure would raise about $38 million worth of fees and other new revenue, including increased charges on parking and traffic violations and increased court fees. For The Associated Press version of this story, click here.

Wisconsin weighs more stringent rules in wake of boating deaths

Five people have already died in boating accidents on Wisconsin waters this year, after a record 24 people died in the 2004 season. Now, the state legislature is considering a bill that would require life jackets for children when they are boating on state waters, as well as a mandatory boating safety course for operators, starting with those who are now 16, reports The Associated Press.

A federal law already requires life jackets on federal waters for those who are 12 or younger. The North American Safe Boating Campaign has started a national campaign to make 2005 a safe season on the water. National boating fatality rates have dropped steadily in the last few years, writes the wire service.

Wisconsin would be one of the last states to adopt both the life-jacket law and the safety training law. Ben Treml, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources warden for boating recreation in the Green Bay area, told reporters it is overdue. "I see a lot of boater inexperience on the water, and it leads to accidents."

Minnesota casino proposals not dead yet; could resurface in special session

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty made a casino gambling a key element in his first budget proposal and the issue could resurface in a special legislative session that began today.

“Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, the sponsor of a bill that would put a state-operated casino at the Canterbury Park racetrack, said he planned to re-introduce the bill soon,” writes Patrick Sweeney of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Despite a strong Senate committee vote against the plan and unsuccessful attempts by House Republican leaders to find enough support votes, Buesgens said a possible $200 million or more in gaming licensing fees might attract lawmakers. But legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, have so far given little indication that a majority in either the House or the Senate will support the casino.

Pawlenty proposes two state-operated casinos: one partnership between the state lottery and Canterbury, the other between the lottery and one or more American Indian tribes. Both casinos would be built at the track. Tribes with rural casinos want in on the Twin Cities market.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Broadband ‘crawling’ to exurbs and rural areas; government role debated

The challenge of bringing high-speed Internet access to rural areas is highlighted in today's Washington Post, with a report from rural areas near the nation's capital -- including Loudoun County, Va., which is one of the country's hot technology centers but has a large rural area without broadband. (Click here to read more)

Loudoun just appointed a broadband czar to bring high-speed access to its farthest reaches. In Southern Maryland, a regional group has commissioned a study to explore the same goal, writes Amit R. Paley.

One of the thousands of ‘exurbanites’ whose Internet access is so slow it is often nonfunctional is Alicia Stahl of Hughesville, Md., in Charles County. "It just drives you absolutely crazy," said Stahl, 42. "That's the main problem today in rural America: getting high-speed Internet access." Paley writes that several companies have left Southern Maryland because of the problem, and that slow Internet access at home hurts rural students.

Telephone and cable companies wiring most of the region to the Internet have yet to come to these rural outposts, citing costs, and some suspect that they never will. Joseph Sudo, a director at CCG Consulting Inc. told Paley, "My recommendation to folks in rural America is to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Sudo’s company plans to release a report next month to outline how a regional wireless network could be deployed throughout Southern Maryland by county governments or by private businesses. In other states, telephone and cable companies have raised concerns that publicly owned utilities and local governments supplying broadband over power lines have an unfair advantage over private companies. In response, they have supported legislation that restricts what those utilities and municipalities can do.

More than a dozen states have passed some type of legislation limiting what governments can do to offer broadband access, according to, an online newsletter that tracks community-based wireless projects. Nebraska is considering a measure that would prevent public power utilities from selling broadband provided over power lines.

The Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative is launching one of the first pilot projects in the country to determine how affordably high-speed Internet can be carried over power lines in rural areas. Broadband over power lines, a technology that makes connecting to the Internet possible with an electric outlet, already is deployed in more densely populated areas, including Manassas, Va., and Potomac, Md.

Fewer than 10 percent of homes in rural America have broadband access, according to the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative. Broadband is available by satellite, but at considerable expense and can be unreliable. Anne Whitaker, a government consultant, told Paley that the satellite service used by her husband, who provides technology support for librarians from their home in Huntingtown, "would go down every time a strong gust of wind blew by, and technicians would refuse to come out to repair it."

Steve Collier, vice president of emerging technologies at the co-op, told Paley federal subsidies probably will be needed to ensure broadband for the most rural areas: "There are certain things in this country that we believe people have a right to have no matter where they are: clean drinking water, paved roads, basic phone service, basic electric service. I think ultimately, broadband Internet is going to be one of those things."

Northern La. rural wireless network set to go; colleges are heart of customer base

Ruston, La.-based Invisi-Wire Broadband Networks is preparing to launch what could be the nation's largest rural wireless network in North Louisiana. The network will cover the adjoining towns of Ruston and Grambling with subscription wireless Internet and telephone access.

Invisi-Wire approached the communities about creating the "Wi-Fi" network in the coverage area of 60 square miles, according to Ray Watson, economic development administrator for the city of Ruston, writes Scott Sternberg, of The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. (Read more)

Watson said the potential of Ruston and Grambling lies in the student populations of neighboring Grambling State and Louisiana Tech universities. Watson said there are about 17,000 college students in the area. Thom Gould, vice president of customer relations for Invisi-Wire, said he hopes the project can curb the problem of talented young minds leaving the state. Additional details on the project can be found here.

Lobbyists fight to soften tough federal meth bill; opposition may be weakening

Drug companies, retailers like Wal-Mart and Target and convenience stores are seeking to soften a federal bill proposing sharp curbs on the sale of cold medicines with a key ingredient used to make methamphetamine, much like state laws passed by several legislatures in the past year. But the opposition "seems to be unraveling." writes Deirdre Shesgreen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.(read more)

Shesgreen's scene-setter is a February meeting of lobbyists and Sens. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the bill's sponsors. The lobbyists pushed to undo the bill's core proposal: putting cold medicines such as Sudafed and Benadryl behind the pharmacy counter, where consumers would have to sign a log and show an ID before buying them. Those medicines include pseudoephedrine, a key meth ingredient.

When Talent and Feinstein unveil a new version of their bill this week, there may be less opposition to the measure, writes Shesgreen. "Some groups have softened their opposition, while others have stepped back from the legislative fray or are even supporting new limits," she writes, adding that 13 states, have passed such laws and 30 others are considering such a move.

Paducah Sun latest paper to detail deadlier form of meth arriving from Mexico

Law enforcement officials are concerned about the importation of a purer and deadlier mass-produced methamphetamine moving into Western Kentucky. "Crystal meth" is replacing a more common home-brewed, easier to manufacture and less potent predecessor.

The drug is mass-produced in Mexican "superlabs" and is more potent and faster-acting than its predecessor, McCracken County Sheriff's Capt. Jon Hayden said, in the The Associated Press version (read more) of a story published by The Paducah Sun (subscription required). "The vast majority of meth isn't even being made around here anymore. We're making a lot of meth busts, but it's more trafficking and possession."

Hayden and Drug Enforcement Agency agent Tony King said crystal and its sister form of meth, "ice," are two major problems for DEA. Contrary to their names, crystal usually comes in powdered form and ice is generally crystallized. Many regular users aren't prepared for the stronger forms, King said, increasing risk of overdoses, injuries and death. Hayden said one upside to the crystal meth influx is fewer meth labs in the area.

Supreme Court upholds checkoff program for beef advertising campaign

The Supreme Court rules today that the government can force cattle farmers to pay for a multimillion-dollar "Beef: It's what's for dinner" marketing program, even though some oppose financing the campaign.

"The 5-4 decision is a defeat for farmers in several agricultural sectors who oppose paying mandatory fees for generic advertising," reports Hope Yen of The Associated Press. Similar federal and state campaigns for products including milk, pork and cotton are being challenged on free-speech grounds.

"The government was sued by ranchers who sell cattle in South Dakota and Montana," Yen writes. "They won an appeals court ruling that found the 20-year-old program violated the First Amendment." Other courts have struck down financing of "the other white meat" ads for pork and the "Got Milk?" campaign.

The beef ads are a form of "government speech" that is not subject to First Amendment challenge, the court said in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia wrote and joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer. (read more)

A 1985 law requires cattle producers to pay $1 per head of cattle sold. The fee generates more than $80 million a year for an industry group named by the Agriculture Department to support ads and research

Coal operators beware: Mountaintop removal protests planned in four states

A group fighting mountaintop-removal coal mining wants volunteer protesters who are lawyers, writers, photographers, artists and "science geeks" to meet at a training camp Tuesday to prepare for Mountain Justice Summer, a training and activism program for the Southern Appalachian region.

Dave Cooper, a Mountain Justice Summer member from Lexington, Ky., expects about 100 people to attend the week-long training at the Appalachian South Folk Life Center near Pipestem State Park in West Virginia. Volunteers will take mandatory classes in nonviolence and de-escalation, security, dealing with threats and Appalachian mountain culture, writes Jennifer Bundy of The Associated Press. (read more)

Chris Irwin, a law student in Knoxville, Tenn., told AP hundreds of people from across the country are expected to participate in "actions" this summer in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Members hope to have at least 40 full-time volunteers working on events from June through August.

Plans include rallies, nonviolent civil disobedience such as chaining people to coal company gates, "listening projects" involving interviewing residents, water and plant surveys, public relations and lobbying, monitoring mining permits and regulatory meetings, and aiding people affected by mountaintop removal mining.

The group's Web site says its goals are to raise awareness of mountaintop removal mining; escalate resistance to it; build support, unify and strengthen regional groups fighting surface mining; and encourage conservation and efficiency, solar and wind energy as alternatives to coal. In mountaintop removal, coal operators blast off entire hilltops to uncover coal seams. Leftover rock and dirt is deposited into nearby valleys, burying streams.

Fla. migrant workers, emboldened by victory over Yum!, take on rest of industry

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of mostly Guatemalan and Mexican tomato pickers is celebrating a wage dispute victory over one of the nation's fast-food giants, Taco Bell.

“The group led a four-year boycott against the chain until it agreed in March to pay a penny more per pound for Florida tomatoes and adopt a code of conduct that would allow Taco Bell to sever ties to suppliers who commit abuses against farm workers,” writes Mike Schneider of The Associated Press. (Read more)

The Florida farm workers group is now turning to a larger target: the rest of the fast food industry. The coalition has sent letters to executives at McDonald's, Subway and Burger King asking them to follow Taco Bell's lead, writes Schneider. Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Louisville-based Yum! Brands, estimates it will pay the Florida tomato growers an extra $100,000, costs that won't be passed on to customers.

Taco Bell, which buys 10 million pounds of Florida tomatoes each year, agreed to help farm workers persuade other fast food chains, and eventually supermarkets, to increase pay and monitor suppliers to make sure workers aren't held against their will, beaten or forced into indentured servitude, writes Schneider.

Appalachian Kentucky struggles to stop piping of human waste into streams

For decades many community leaders in Eastern Kentucky have grappled with ways to end the use of so-called “straight pipes’ that send human waste into rivers and streams. The federal government has spent $106 million in Eastern Kentucky to stop the flow of human waste directly into streams, but levels of fecal bacteria remain so high that residents are told not to swim in parts of several rivers.

Roger Alford of The Associated Press gives this graphic description: "Each time a commode flushes in one of about 40 homes in the Harlan County community of Sunshine, another wave of feces and soggy toilet paper flows into the upper reaches of the Cumberland River.". Four years after state officials began a crackdown, local leaders say the problem remains pervasive across the area. (read more)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the cost of eliminating straight pipes in Eastern Kentucky at $300 million. Add to that the problem of failing septic systems and the cost reaches $1 billion. It says the problem in Eastern Kentucky presents an environmental crisis, and that some residents are living under the same unsanitary conditions as people in developing countries.

"Plans are now being drawn to replace the Sunshine straight pipe with a connection to the Harlan sewage treatment plant, a $1.9 million project funded largely by PRIDE," or Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment, started and funded by 5th District U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Somerset. Within three years, 25,200 homes in the region will have been added to municipal sewer systems or will have been hooked into new septic systems paid for through PRIDE. In addition, 6,200 homes that previously were flushing waste directly into streams have received new septic systems at a cost of $19 million.

On N.C. barbecue, East and West don't meet, except at the Gnat Line to argue

In the South and much of rural America, barbecue is haute cuisine. For many, its origins, ingredients, secret saucing, alchemy and culinary wizardry are the stuff of legendary, palate-pleasing portions. Debates as to who makes the best rival -- if not surpass -- religion and politics as turf tip-toe-trod with great trepidation.

That is why a North Carolina measure creating a state Barbecue Fair has fulminated into a full-fledged verbal conflagration and cooking contest, dividing the eastern and western parts of the Tar Heel State on which makes the best. Washington Post reporter Manuel Roig-Franzia in a story datelined Siler City, N.C., documents this cauldron of contention threatening to boil-over and consume that state.

“The gloppy, gristly, just plain gross-looking pile of vinegary, eastern-style pork barbecue on the foam plate before him did not look pretty. Dennis Rogers -- a newspaper columnist, but more important, North Carolina's self-appointed Oracle of the Holy Grub -- shifted a bit in his seat. A subpar batch of barbecue is tough to find in North Carolina," writes Roig-Franzia, then quotes former newspaper columnist Jerry Bledsoe telling Rogers, "All right, let's get this imitation barbecue out of the way."

And so it began, as it has countless times before. Bledsoe and Rogers have been puffing up the barbecue feud between eastern and western North Carolina for decades. Bledsoe, now a best-selling crime book author, "is undeniably Mr. Western-Style, extolling the virtues of melty-tender pork shoulders glazed with a ketchup-based sauce. Rogers is adamantly Mr. Eastern-Style, pontificating about the vinegar-heavy morsels of whole hog favored Down East along North Carolina's coast," writes Roig-Franzia.

Rogers and Bledsoe don't need an excuse to eat barbecue, but the state legislature just handed them one anyway. A representative thought he would quietly ease a bill through declaring the western-style capital of Lexington, a city claiming the world's highest per-capita concentration of barbecue consumption, with 17 eateries for 20,000 residents, site of the official state barbecue festival. The bill got nowhere.

“That anyone would care about such silliness as designating an official state barbecue festival says a lot about North Carolina. Other states may content themselves with a single dominant barbecue identity -- South Carolina seems perfectly happy as the mustard-based capital of the universe, Tennessee appears satisfied with being identified primarily as the home of the sweet, tomatoey Memphis-style barbecue. But North Carolina is torn asunder, its split barbecue personality embedded in the state's cultural landscape,” Roig-Franzia writes. He also describes the "Gnat Line" as "an invisible barrier that separates the sandy soil that attracted gnats to the east and the denser rocky and clay soil of the Piedmont Region to the west."

Blogger’s note: Rural folk who value their barbecue also recognize prosaic homage well written -- to barbecue, and to all things rural blessed for that matter.

Kentucky youth finding success in poultry business the old-fashioned way

A Lewisport, Ky., teenager has started his own poultry business to build up a nest egg, but on a much smaller scale than corporate poultry giants, and with much different production methods.

“For the past few years, Carl Hill, 16, has raised pasture-fed poultry. The birds aren't certified organic, but they're the next best thing. His latest fuzzy batch arrived in May and is soon headed for the frying pan," writes Renee Beasley Jones of The Messenger-Inquirer of nearby Owensboro. (read more)

Hill's flock eats grass, bugs and a mix that includes kelp meal, corn and roasted soybeans. His chickens sell for $2.50 a pound, more than double the grocery-store price earlier this month of $1.12 a pound for whole chickens. Environmentalist Aloma Dew, who ordered a dozen chickens from Carl’s spring flock, told Jones, "It's well worth it." She frowns on industrial-type farms that “pump antibiotics into the food supply and appreciates knowing how the meat on her plate was raised, right down to what it ate and where it slept."

Hill is home-schooled. His chickens provide a little profit and offer an educational component. He told Jones, "Everything we do on a farm is educational." Hill hopes to make $150 profit on the 50 birds he received Wednesday. Within the next year, he plans to expand his operation to include area restaurants, writes Jones.

Michigan town tries to rid itself of Ku Klux Klan past, but sale brings it back

Like the ghost of a Confederate soldier, Robert E. Miles still haunts the sleepy mid-Michigan town of Howell.
“It is hard for residents here to forget the times when Mr. Miles, a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, who died in 1992, would invite fellow Klansmen to his farm outside the city limits," writes Jeremy W. Peters in The New York Times. (Read more)

Although Miles's cross-burning gatherings took place in a neighboring township, it was Howell that was branded as a haven of white supremacist activity. When Miles held rallies, Klansmen streamed through Howell, stayed at the Holiday Inn and went to the farm for meetings. The gatherings largely stopped by the 1980s. Since then, the town has fought to shed its association with the Klan, Peters writes.

But Miles and the Klan, it seems, will not go away, as evidenced yesterday when the Ole Gray Nash Auction House began selling hundreds of items from the Miles estate. Among the items up for auction were two black satin Klan robes and a letter of commendation to Miles from Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama..

Residents like Victor Lopez, an accountant who has lived in Howell for 32 years, said his children and their friends looked at the Miles property as if it were a haunted house. "They'd say, 'Ooh, look, it's Miles's place,'" Mr. Lopez, 63, said as he sat at a coffee shop in downtown Howell on Sunday morning. "That's the image we've been trying to rid ourselves of for 20 years."

Friday-Saturday, May 20-21, 2005

Dateline NBC cites deadliest roads, creates Web page for you to find yours

Dateline NBC has looked at five years of data from 100,000 accident reports in an effort to identify the deadliest roads in America, and created a Web page to find the most dangerous roads in any county.

The page was noted by Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in his Morning Meeting today. He writes that US 19 in south Florida is the nation's leader in fatalities, and quotes "Dateline" as calling it "a six-lane meat grinder running 30 miles up Florida's Gulf Coast." Tompkins quips, “I suspect you won't see that description in the Chamber of Commerce brochures.”

"Dateline" found rural, often two-lane, roads only carry 28 percent of the nation's traffic but account for more than half of all fatal accidents. An expert told the show that for too long the federal government has poured money into interstates while dangerous rural roads have not been upgraded, writes Tompkins.

Mississippi Delta advocates push for more money, attention from feds

Five years after a regional authority was created to help the impoverished Mississippi Delta, which has the nation's highest concentration of poor African Americans,.a grassroots caucus came to Washington this week to seek more money and attention from the federal government.

“The Delta Regional Authority was started a year after the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus visited Washington in 1999," writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. Federal money allotted to the DRA has fallen to $6 million in 2005, from $20 million in 2001, and Delta advocates say the federal-state partnership that serves about 9 million people seems to be the forgotten stepchild of regional authorities, writes Roxe. President Bush requested level funding for next year, which advocates took as a good sign.

Roxe notes the authority gets far less than the $66 million given to the Appalachian Regional Commission and the $55 million offered to Alaska's Denali Commission, the other federal regional commission with substantial funding. The authority is based in Clarksville, Miss., and distributes money to stimulate development in largely rural, economically depressed areas of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Click here to read more.

As with the Appalachian commission, the boundaries of the Delta Regional Authority go beyond traditional geographic definitions. For example, it includes Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, in the state's hilly western coalfield. Just one county away is Edmonson County, which was recently added to Appalachia.

S. Dak. Farm Bureau expels county president over meat-labeling disagreement

The South Dakota Farm Bureau has expelled a county president after he aired radio ads criticizing the state organization for opposing country-of-origin meat labeling and favoring Canadian beef imports.

The ousted president, Pat Trask, said he aired the radio ads to alert members to a survey he was sending out on the two issues. "In the ads, Trask accused the state Farm Bureau board of reversing the labeling position," writes Steve Miller of the Rapid City Journal (Read more)

Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal said his board terminated Trask's membership because he was making "inflammatory and misleading" statements. South Dakota Farm Bureau members had voted over the past few years at annual conventions to support mandatory country-of-origin labeling, but the organization's national convention adopted a policy favoring voluntary labeling, writes Miller.

When the South Dakota delegates returned home from the convention, they reversed the state policy to go along with the national organization. Trask said the state Farm Bureau should have dissented from the national position. VanderWal told the newspaper it is customary for state Farm Bureaus to follow the national policies even if they disagree. He said the state board tried to resolve the dispute with Trask.

Trask told Miller his ads also criticized the state and national Farm Bureaus for backing attempts to reopen the U.S. border to Canadian cattle despite concerns over mad-cow disease in that country.

Indiana drops murder charge; man falsely confessed, made up meth-lab tale

Indiana prosecutors have dropped charges against a man who confessed to murdering a 10-year-old girl, saying she had been kidnapped to scare her after stumbling upon his methamphetamine lab. Charles "Chuckie" Hickman had become a symbol of the depravity and callousness that the drug can wreak on a small town.

Capital-murder charges were filed Friday against Anthony Stockelman, who previously had been charged with molesting Katlyn "Katie" Collman. "It now appears that the alleged sighting of a meth lab by Katie Collman was more false information provided by Mr. Hickman," Jackson County Prosecutor Stephen Pierson said.

"Yesterday's developments left Pierson at a loss to explain why Hickman confessed to a crime he didn't commit, and they brought charges of a rush to judgment from Stockelman's family and lawyer," Harold Adams wrote for The Courier-Journal. "Pierson said it took nine weeks and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to try to chase down Hickman's story," wrote Alex Davis in a sidebar story for the Louisville newspaper.

"Several legal experts said that false confessions are all too common and that Hickman's story bore some of the classic signs," Davis reported. "Steven Drizin, legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, said false confessions are typically linked to two factors: aggressive interview tactics by police and a vulnerable suspect." Hickman still faces a child-molestation charge in an unrelated case.

Measure banning wild horse sales in 10 Western states approved by House

The federal government has announced it will begin selling wild horses again in 10 Western states, even as the House voted to revive a ban on such sales to protect them from slaughter. The move raised "the hopes of critics who contend the horses will not be protected by new safeguards developed by the Bureau of Land Management,” writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, a sponsor of the sales ban that was added to an Interior Department spending bill, told Carroll, "The ranchers do not want any wild mustangs or burros on this land." And, Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, said that selling horses will save the government millions of dollars.

The sales plan would require buyers to sign a statement promising humane care and stating the owner will not knowingly sell the animals to anyone who intends to slaughter them. Anyone who provides false information would be subject to fines ranging from $100 to $250,000 and up to five years in prison, Gorey said. Critics said the changes won't protect the animals, writes Carroll. But Nancy Perry, vice president of government relations for the Humane Society of the United States, told him, "Horses will find their way to slaughter, even under this new arrangement." The society is among groups that want the ban restored.

There are about 27,000 wild horses and 4,000 wild burros on government land in the West. Before the sales were suspended, 992 horses and burros were sold and delivered, according to the bureau. An additional 950 had been sold but delivery was held up when the program was suspended, Carroll writes.

Ohio to get first AEP clean-coal plant; W.Va. ‘good bet for second facility’

American Electric Power has indicated it will build its first coal gasification power plant in Meigs County, Ohio. A formal announcement of the plan is expected before June 1. “A West Virginia site … is the likely choice for a second identical facility, said Mark Dempsey, vice president at AEP’s Appalachian Power subsidiary in Charleston,” writes Ken Ward, Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. (Read more)

Dempsey told Ward construction on AEP’s second Integrated Combined Cycle, or IGCC, plant should start within two years. “If I were a betting man, I would bet that will be at New Haven, West Virginia.” In an IGCC plant, coal is converted into cleaner-burning gas. In theory, such plants are more efficient and result in fewer air emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and mercury.

AEP has said, at peak construction, the first new plant would provide about 1,900 jobs. After that, the facility should employ about 125 permanent workers.

Mountaintop removal photos in new art exhibit at W.Va. cultural center

“Dreams” are the common theme of works by 13 artists that will open Sunday in the David L. Dickerson Art Gallery in Tamarack, a state center for Appalachian culture along the interstate in Beckley, W.Va.

T. Paige Dalporto, a poet and photographer, told The Charleston Gazette he will display a set of new photographs, entitled “MTR RoarShock: Aftermath and Prelude.” He said the work addresses his feelings about the practice of mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia. Dalporto told the newspaper he hopes other state artists will also use their talents to address their concerns about the mountains.

The show will run through July 17, and there will be a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call Jorn Bork at 1-888-262-7225 for more information. Click here to read more from the Gazette.

House panel reauthorizes funds for rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks

The House Resources Committee unanimously supported reauthorization of a five-year-old law that has pumped billions into rural counties hurt by logging cutbacks on federal land, especially in the West. The measure would provide up to $350 million a year for schools, roads and other infrastructure needs, beginning in 2006. reports The Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon. (read more)

The county payments law was first adopted in 2000 as a way to help rural counties hurt by changes in federal forest policy that restricted logging to protect endangered species such as the spotted owl. Since then, the law has pumped nearly $2 billion into Oregon and other, mostly Western states for schools, roads and other purposes, the Register-Guard reports.

Bill to curb junk food in schools moving in Connecticut; national model?

The Connecticut House of Representatives has voted to ban the sale of junk food in all public schools and prohibit soda sales in elementary and middle schools, an issue that has divided parents and school officials in rural areas nationwide.

“Proponents say the bill, which would also mandate more recess for children in public schools, is landmark legislation nationally because legislatures in other states have fought largely unsuccessfully to impose bans on soda sales in high schools,” writes Christopher Keating of The Hartford Courant. (read more) The bill heads back to the Senate, where final passage is expected. Lobbyists for Coca-Cola and Pepsi had fought the bill, but backed off after a compromise was reached allowing the sale of diet soda.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said, "This is the strongest bill for child nutrition in the country." Some lobbyists and lawmakers said opponents had the votes to defeat the bill last week, but lawmakers said a compromise on diet soda and last-minute.

The Council of State Governments offers information on the junk-food issue at this site.

To land large hotel, town must let restaurants end local Prohibition

A North Carolina development group is considering building a six-story hotel in Pineville, Ky., if the town allows sales of alcoholic beverages, catching the community at the foot of Pine Mountain in a dilemma.

Elledge & Associates has proposed building a $12 million hotel on state property across from Wasioto Winds Golf Course of Pine Mountain State Resort Park. But the developer said organizations won't schedule conferences at hotels that don't serve alcohol, so it is asking the town to approve the sale of alcoholic beverages in restaurants that seat at least 100 people and derive at least 70 percent of their revenue from food sales, writes Christina Hendrickson of the Middlesboro Daily News. (Read more)

Developer Maurice Elledge told the newspaper, "It is not a moral issue. It is an economic issue." Petitions already are being circulated in support of a special election. Councilman Kerry Woolum told Hendrickson the proposal wouldn't permit liquor stores or bars in the town. The development group has already received approval to purchase the property. The Kentucky Division of Forestry would move its Pineville offices to an off-track betting parlor that would be placed next to the hotel, writes Hendrickson.

Woolum told the paper, "I do not know of any time when somebody else has come into Pineville and offered 80 to 100 jobs. With coal going out of here, tourism is our future." Other southeastern Kentucky towns such as London, Corbin and Burnside have gone "moist" under a 2000 state law that allowed local-option elections to limit sales to bona fide restaurants -- rather than referenda that opened the door to bars and package stores, images of which led to defeat of "wet" forces in many towns over the decades.

E&P profiles Tombstone activist-editor; minuteman or vigilante?

A former school teacher turned newspaper editor in Arizona is churning out copy and challenging readers to be defenders of the nation security, post 9-11, because he believes the federal government isn’t doing the job right, writes Graham Webster of Editor & Publisher. (Read more)

“When the former California schoolteacher got concerned about border security after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he bought a small rural newspaper in Arizona and he also started his own border patrol.," Webster writes. Chris Simcox, who runs the weekly Tombstone Tumbleweed, told Webster his paper is a "challenge (to the) federal government to do its job by threatening to do it for them."

But Simcox, is best known as a co-founder of the Minuteman Project, "a band of volunteers -- heroes to some, vigilantes to others -- who supplement the U.S. Border Patrol's staff by keeping watch on the border with Mexico," Webster writes."Some have labeled the group anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant." Simcox told E&P he thinks some of the newspapers in Arizona are "pro-illegal-immigrant."

Simcox said he keeps his reporting and his opinion separate. "I guess in a sense that I follow strictly the ethical canons of being a journalist," he told E&P. "Yet he doesn't try to hide the connection between the Minuteman Project and the Tumbleweed," Webster notes. "Calling a phone number listed for the Tumbleweed to arrange an interview with Simcox, a reporter was first directed to a press agent with a Minuteman e-mail address. Asked if the Minuteman Project and the Tumbleweed were "the same thing," the woman answering the phone said plainly: "Yes."

Cross to remain head of Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Al Cross, former political writer for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, has been named director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. Cross, who served as interim director for nine months, was chosen following a national search. (Read more)

Beth E. Barnes, director of the University of Kentucky's School of Journalism and Telecommunications , where the institute is based, said, "Al Cross has been tireless in promoting the Institute. Al's professional journalism credentials and vision for the Institute put him at the top of the list." Cross is a native of Albany, Ky., and a graduate of Western Kentucky University. He will join the UK journalism school's faculty.

Cross is a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, whose Sigma Delta Chi Foundation gave seed money, along with the Appalachian Regional Commission, to help start the Institute. It hired Cross and other staff last year with a $250,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $50,000 from the Ford Foundation. The institute's initial research area is Central Appalachia, but it has a national scope and partners at universities in other states (see below).

Arkansas fest to include rediscovered woodpecker, crested haircuts!

Plans for the annual Big Woods Birding Festival tomorrow in Clarendon, Ark., have been revamped to celebrate the recent rediscovery nearby of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

"The strikingly beautiful woodpecker, sometimes called the Lord God bird, was thought to have been extinct for decades before a kayaker found one in February 2004," reports Annie Bergman of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Last year's festival drew a crowd of almost 1,000, but the city is hoping the number will double this year. "Local businesses are hoping to capitalize on woodpecker mania during Saturday's festival," AP reports. Beautician Penny Childs plans to offer a "woodpecker haircut." Bergman writes, "The haircut is similar to a Mohawk, but starts out flatter on the front of the head and then goes up to a point at the back of the head, just like the woodpecker's crest."

Additions to the festival include Phillip Hoose, author of The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, and Gene Sparling, "who is credited with the first sighting of the bird since 1944," AP writes.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Online learning major source of education for rural communities

Nearly half of all rural schools in America are using some form of on-line education, according to a U. S. Department of Education study entitled "Distance Education," reports National Public Radio.

One tiny southeastern Colorado town has taken advantage of this trend increasing its "virtual student body" 15-fold, according to NPR's Steve Inskeep, in his lead-in to a report by Stephen Raher of NPR member station KRCC in Colorado Springs, which focuses on Branson, Colo., a place with about 100 residents. But its elementary school has nearly 1,000 students -- most enrolled online.

The report looks at how online education has made a difference in this community, which by example could affect many others. Click here to listen to the story. This leads to the story page; then click on "Listen."

NYT series on class: Appalachian woman rose from poverty, went back home

A team of New York Times reporters has spent more than a year exploring ways that class -- defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation -- influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity. Their latest installment is a compassionate portrait of Della Mae Justice, an Eastern Kentucky lawyer who grew up in abject poverty. We recommend you read the story.

After rising from poverty with the help of Berea College and the University of Kentucky law school to the largest law firm in Lexington, then returning home to answer a family call for help, "Her journey has transformed her so thoroughly that she no longer fits in easily," Tamar Lewin writes. "Her change in status has left Ms. Justice a little off balance, seeing the world from two vantage points at the same time: the one she grew up in and the one she occupies now.. . . By every conventional measure, Ms. Justice is now solidly middle class, but she is still trying to learn how to feel middle class."

"I think class is everything, I really do," she told Lewin. "When you're poor and from a low socioeconomic group, you don't have a lot of choices in life. To me, being from an upper class is all about confidence. It's knowing you have choices, knowing you set the standards, knowing you have connections. . . . The norm is, people that are born with money have money, and people who weren't don't. I know that. I know that just to climb the three inches I have, which I've not gone very far, took all of my effort. I have worked hard since I was a kid and I've done nothing but work to try and pull myself out."

Noting Justice's work in Pike Family Court, Lewin reports, "She bristles whenever she runs into any hint of class bias, or the presumption that poor people in homes heated by kerosene or without enough bedrooms cannot be good parents."

Cable group takes on big interests to help bring broadband to rural customers

Small cable-TV operators are pushing a list of public policy proposals they want to see Congress and the Federal Communications Commission adopt on behalf of rural cable and communications customers, to help with the costly effort needed to bring high-speed Internet access to less densely populated areas.

Jerry Kent, chief executive officer of Cebridge Connections, a St. Louis-based cable operator with 400,000 subscribers, tells Technology Daily, "We are providing broadband to areas others ignored so rural Americans aren't disadvantaged by the digital divide. We need to educate our elected officials about the disadvantages we face to prevent effective red-lining of rural, underserved communities." (read more)

Cebridge is among the larger firms in the American Cable Association, at odds with the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents big-city cable operators and the cable programming networks. "Kent targeted a bevy of interests with proposals, some of which he conceded were not politically realistic. . . . ACA has taken the lead in urging the FCC to jettison a decades-old rule protecting local broadcasters against out-of-market competitors," Technology Daily's Drew Clark reports.

All indications point to nasty disputes between broadcasters and operators as the current cycle begins in October. In a speech Monday to the ACA, Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, promised to hold hearings on retransmission consent, Clark writes.

Technical reasons may limit power lines as broadband source in rural areas

At one time, some saw broadband over power lines, or BPL, as the best way to bring affordable Internet access to poor and rural America: an answer to the technology gap between the haves and the have-nots, writes Joe Bar in an opinion piece for NewsForge. (read more - subscription required)

Now, " Thanks primarily to boosters like Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, Powell's successor at the Federal Communications Commission, it's back for another go at the broadband access market. But BPL remains a flawed and controversial technology. Proponents in Texas are pushing a pro-BPL bill past confused legislators in Austin at the same time their counterparts in Washington, D.C., are considering a measure to rescind 'BPL-friendly' rule changes made at the FCC last fall," writes Bar.

Proponents say that BPL will finally bring broadband access to the poor, the underserved, and to rural areas, and they suggest that BPL will enhance the coming "smart grid" technology that could replace "antiquated power systems." Once this technology flourishes, consumers could benefit from increased competition. And, BPL proponents admit there is a possibility of interference, but it will be minor and mainly affect amateur radio operators who live within close proximity to a BPL-equipped power line, writes Bar.

Ruling threatens state economic development incentives, popular in rural towns

One of the most popular tools used by states to lure companies, especially in rural areas, is in jeopardy. Lucrative tax breaks used to keep or attract corporate employers is under attack in the courts, threatening what Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) recently described as a “core piece” of his state’s economic strategy.

"In a ruling expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal appeals court in Cincinnati struck down in September part of a $281 million state and local tax incentive deal Ohio officials brokered in 1998 with automaker DaimlerChrysler. Lawsuits challenging similar corporate tax incentives now are pending in at least three other states, with another suit on the horizon in North Carolina," writes Kathleen Hunter of (read more) The ruling also affects Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, also in the appeals court circuit. Other states' tax breaks could come under threat if the high court were to hear the case.

In an attempt to stop courts from stripping states of a key economic development tool, U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) has introduced legislation to explicitly grant states the power to offer tax incentives for economic development. The appeals court found that Ohio's tax credit program violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution because it penalized companies that want to develop business outside the state. U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Kentucky) has a similar bill, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Widow of man killed by overweight coal truck sues loading company

The widow of a man killed by an overloaded coal truck in Eastern Kentucky is hoping a lawsuit forces coal companies to bear more responsibility in similar accidents.

Doris Preece has filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for the death of her husband, Lonnie. The defendants are Appalachian Fuels LLC of Ashland, truck owner Robert D. Hall and driver Charles Wiley, writes Lee Mueller, Eastern Kentucky bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Wiley was transporting coal to loading docks on the Big Sandy River near Catlettsburg. Reports indicate two vehicles stopped in front of Wiley's truck about a mile from the Preeces' home. Wiley was unable to stop his rig and he swerved left into the path of Preece's eastbound pickup truck. Preece was pastor of a Baptist Church near Inez. Doris Preece's attorney, John W. Kirk, said the rig Wiley was driving had defective brakes and was hauling 150,150 pounds of coal on a narrow two-lane highway with a weight limit of 62,000 pounds.

The Kentucky Department of Vehicle Enforcement cited the coal company for "overloading" the truck. The lawsuit said another truck hauling for Appalachian Fuels also received an overweight ticket the same day.

Eastern Kentucky residents protest Tampa-based company mines as unsafe

Claiming coal mining is destroying areas near their homes, about 50 environmentalists and Pike County, Kentucky, residents protested yesterday at the offices of TECO Coal, associated with Tampa Electric Co.

"Residents of Island Creek waved signs, chanted slogans and gave speeches accusing TECO's mines of causing flooding, dust problems, and damage to roads and streams. Environmentalists traveled from Tennessee and West Virginia to participate. The citizen group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth organized the demonstration," writes Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal. (read more)

Paul Matney, personnel director for TECO, which employs 1,500 people in Eastern Kentucky, declined comment on the protest. Doug Justice, 64, a retired miner, said strip mining causes rock slides and mudslides after nearly every rainfall, writes Maimon for the Louisville newspaper. Justice told reporters boulders often cascade onto the road in front of his house, forcing him to clear a path for traffic.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Environmental and Public Protection has cited TECO three times since September for violations at its Pike County site in Grapevine, including debris flying outside the area covered by the mine's permit. Cabinet spokesman Mark York told the newspaper state regulators are investigating whether TECO has shown a "pattern of violation," which could lead to revoking the mine's permit.

Final witness called by government in federal suit against tobacco companies

The government has called its final witness in the racketeering case against the nation's leading tobacco companies, which could have implications for every American with ties to the industry, from growers to smokers. Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has spent more than two decades as a leading critic of cigarette makers, says Michael Janofsky of The New York Times.(read more)

Federal lawyers hope Myers' considerable knowledge of antismoking efforts will persuade the judge to impose further restrictions on the sales and marketing of the companies' products. He was deeply involved in two of the biggest efforts to restrict the companies' marketing: a proposed agreement in 1997 between the major companies and the states that served as a blueprint for legislation that later failed in Congress, and the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the states and the companies that ended a series of lawsuits to recover the state-borne health care costs of smoking, Janofsky reports.

Myers told the court he found "important differences" between the two efforts, with the failed legislation much tougher on the companies. He provided the judge in the case with an outline of possibilities for sanctions that might be imposed if the court rules against the companies. The government has charged the companies have engaged in a 50-year campaign of fraud and deceit to obscure the adverse health effects of cigarettes and to keep Americans smoking. The companies have denied doing that, insisting that even if they acted improperly before 1998, the settlement accord imposed new restrictions to resolve any remaining problems.

States face long-term budget gaps because of failure to modernize tax systems

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank that focuses on policies that affect the poor, says many states' have failed to modernize their tax systems to reflect the shift from a manufacturing to a service-based economy putting them at risk for chronic budget gaps.

"Unless states alter their basic tax structures, they will face the hard choice each year of raising taxes or cutting government services, said Robert Zahradnik, a senior policy analyst at the center and co-author of the report," writes Kathleen Hunter of (read more)

The report said Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming face the greatest risk of a "structural deficit," which the center defines as a chronic inability to grow state revenues in tandem with growth in government expenses or the state’s economy.

The states rated best-positioned financially are Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin, where expenditures are reportedly least likely to annually outpace revenues, The report, titled "Faulty Foundations: State Structural Budget Problems and How to Fix Them," includes a state-by-state analysis of the factors that put each state at risk for a structural deficit.

Free speech can cost lives; Chicago judge issues plea for safety, 'softer words'

A federal judge from Chicago, whose husband and mother were killed in their home, has rebuked lawmakers as condoning a climate of "harsh rhetoric" about the judiciary she said could incite violence and endanger judges' lives, writes John Files of The New York Times. (read more)

"Judge Joan H. Lefkow of federal District Court was escorted by a security detail. The judge said recent attacks on the judiciary by the televangelist Pat Robertson and by some members of Congress fostered disrespect for judges that "can only encourage those who are on the edge or on the fringe to exact revenge on a judge who displeases them." (Blogger's note: editors might want to note Schenk vs. U.S. and the Skokie case with regard to limits on free speech or expression.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cell-phone health risks greater for rural users using stronger signals, study says

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the fields: Mobile phones could pose a higher health risk to rural dwellers because they emit more intense signals in the countryside, Swedish scientists have found.

Professor Lennart Hardell, of University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden, told reporters base stations tend to be further apart in more remote areas, so the phones compensate with stronger signals. "We found the risk of brain tumor was higher for people living in rural areas than in towns. The stronger the signal, the higher the risk." Here is more from the Reuters news service.

"Repeated attempts by scientists in a number of different countries have consistently failed to find conclusive proof of an adverse health effect from cellphone use. So this new study, which claims to be the first to find a 'geographical' effect, is likely to be contentious," magazine reports.

Use of mobile phones has increased rapidly worldwide and there have been concerns the technology causes health problems ranging from headaches to brain tumors, writes Reuters. But there has been no hard evidence to back up these health concerns. Some researchers have suggested that radio energy could interfere with biological systems. Health officials have urged the public to limit cell phone use, or to use hands-free devices.

'Slanted news' by USDA 'infiltrating' rural airwaves, charges Internet news site

A liberal-oriented Internet news service charges some U.S. Department of Agriculture news releases for newspapers and broadcast stations are unbalanced and slanted toward the government's point of view.

Alternet, which provides both facts and opinion, cited three instances where releases presented only government spokespeople with little or no presentation of other perspectives on the subjects. It focused on reports featuring USDA Secretary Mike Johanns' efforts to reopen the U.S. to Canadian beef in the face of concerns about mad-cow disease.

One TV segment quoted Johanns: "If we just tangle trade up in any way that isn't based upon risk analysis and science ...then where's our protection with another country? Devastating trade is devastating to agriculture." Diane Farsetta of AlterNet (read more) charges the release and others ignore some important, basic facts and points of view beyond the government's arguments.

Partisan school-board votes set up election over evolution vs. intelligent design

Following a similar schism over the state school board in Kansas, yesterday's primary election in Dover, Pa., has produced an autumn election showdown in the Dover Area School District over the issue of intelligent design, with the results breaking along party lines, reports the York Daily Record.(Click here to read more.)

Four seats with four-year terms, and three two-year seats, are up for election in November. Among the Democratic challengers, all the top vote-getters yesterday are with Dover CARES (Citizens Actively Reviewing Educational Strategies), a group that opposes the board's decision to require intelligent design in biology class, write Lauri Lebo and Joseph Maldonado of the Record.

The primary winners will square off against the seven incumbents, who swept the Republican primary. Only two of them voted on intelligent design; the others were appointed to fill vacancies. Even though the candidates all said publicly that intelligent design wasn't the primary issue of the race, the incumbents touted the decision on a billboard as the "intelligent choice." In a January poll, 89 percent of self-described likely primary voters said the issue would influence their ballot.

Now, the question of whether Dover voters ultimately support intelligent design in science class could be answered in the general election in November — six weeks after a federal trial on the subject is scheduled to begin in Harrisburg, the Record reports. The election has caught national media attention. New York Times reporter James Dao profiled the election in a Monday story, saying the election "is being closely watched across the nation because of its implications for the contentious debate over evolution." The Times also ran an editorial on the election and the growing national debate over evolution vs. intelligent design. For the local advance story in The York Dispatch, click here.

Tobacco farmers look to grapes, other options as they lose quotas, diversify

"Faced with the loss of the government program that set price and production control on U.S. tobacco for decades, some farmers are turning to grapes. Others are diversifying with beef cattle and grain, meat goats, vegetables, other fruits and even flowers and herbs," writes Lisa Cornwell of The Associated Press.

Cornwell, who works in AP's Cincinnati bureau, (read more) focuses on Seth Meranda, a fourth-generation tobacco farmer with 50 acres in southwestern Ohio. He told her, "My kids would have been the fifth generation in tobacco, but I'm really excited about our vineyards, and I hope one day they will be too." Meranda plans to add a winery.

Meranda received a matching grant in 2003 through the Southern Ohio Agricultural & Community Development Foundation, one of six funds set up with money from Ohio's share of the 1998 agreement between tobacco companies and states that sued to recover smoking-related health expenses. The foundation helps tobacco farmers make the transition to other commodities.

A $10.1 billion buyout funded by tobacco companies is paying farmers for their production quotas, which have been abolished with repeal of the federal tobacco program. Many say the newly free market will not be profitable, because companies are paying 25 percent less for tobacco than last year, when the program supported prices. The settlement had already led to reductions in quotas, because companies bought more cheap, foreign tobacco. Declining cigarette production and reduced exports worldwide also have cut into tobacco producers' profits, Cornwell writes.

Congress moving to delay country-of-origin label requirement for meatpackers

Labels telling U.S. consumers where their meat comes from must be in place beginning next year, but lawmakers took action that could delay the labels for months.

"House members writing a farm spending bill voted Monday to postpone country-of-origin labeling for meat, which is supposed to go into effect in September 2006. Congress initially ordered the labeling into effect in 2004, but the lawmakers, bowing to pressure from meatpackers and food processors, voted to delay it until 2006," AP reports. For additional information from the Omaha World-Herald, click here.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, chairman of the agriculture subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said, "This just buys a little more time. . . . It would be a nightmare to implement for producers across the country. It would also expose retailers to a tremendous amount of liability."

The White House wants to repeal labeling for meat, and the House Agriculture Committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced a bill earlier this month that would repeal the mandatory labeling system and replace it with a voluntary one. The subcommittee voted to prevent the Agriculture Department from spending money this year to put labeling rules in place, a tactic that would postpone the labeling for months, AP reports. Thirty-five other countries, including Canada, Mexico and European nations, require such labels.

Indiana vintner sues to overturn Kentucky wine-import ban after court ruling

Southern Indiana winemaker Ted Huber and two of his Louisville customers have sued to overturn Kentucky's ban on out-of-state wine shipments to consumers, on the heels of a U. S. Supreme Court ruling.

The nation's high court struck down as discriminatory the laws in Kentucky, Indiana and 22 other states that ban the direct shipment of out-of-state wines to their residents, although in-state wineries are allowed to do so, writes Wayne Tompkins of The Courier-Journal. Huber told the legal action is an attempt to make sure Kentucky can't escape the court decision. (read more)

Huber said he also will work to get the out-of-state wine laws amended in Indiana, Tompkins writes for the Louisville newspaper. Gregory Troutman, a lawyer for Huber and the two customers, said the battle to get out-of-state wine delivered to one's home likely will be fought state by state, as the two dozen states affected by the ruling have slightly different laws. The suit was filed in federal court at Louisville.

Union opposes more job-recruitment funding, saying exec shunned union firms

The United Auto Workers union has urged the Madisonville, Ky., City Council not to increase funding for the county's Economic Development Corporation, without first requiring some guarantees that it will promise to recruit employers who pay "decent" wages and respect rights of the employees they hire.

Economic Development Corp. Director Danny Koon became the focal point of a fiscal tug-of-war at a public hearing on Madisonville's 2005-06 budget. Koon has been the subject of union scrutiny since he was quoted in a Henderson Gleaner story as saying he had not pursued a business that could create 500 jobs because of its UAW ties, writes Don Perryman of the Madisonville Messenger. (read more; registration required)

Report proposes to halve shoreline buffer in big TVA land swap on lake

An environmental report on a proposed Tennessee Valley Authority swap of hundreds of acres of Nickajack Lake land west of Chattanooga would protect a 50-foot-wide shoreline buffer from development, down from 100 feet in an earlier report, according to a TVA spokeswoman.

TVA officials scheduled a May 24 public meeting in South Pittsburg on a new environmental assessment of John "Thunder" Thornton's proposed development but said the report would not be released to the public until Thursday, writes Bill Poovey of The Associated Press.

Thornton has proposed swapping about 1,100 acres in return for 578 acres of lakefront to build hundreds of homes, a golf course and marina. He said a 50-foot buffer was consistent with a lakeshore management plan, Poovey writes. If applied to the whole lake, the narrower buffer would open much land to development.

TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said a 1996 environmental assessment of the shoreline for another development venture included a 100-foot waterfront buffer, but, she said, "Since that time we did the shoreline management initiative and the amount of study that has been done has determined a 50-foot buffer is adequate to ensure we maintain water quality."

Conservation groups charge EPA mercury rule endangers public health, violates law

Clean air and public health advocates have filed suit in federal court challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) approach for reducing toxic air emissions from power plants, claiming the agency's restrictions on mercury emission threatens the public's health.

Rather than adopt a rule that limits this pollution, the groups contend, EPA unlawfully removed power plants from the list of industrial pollution sources for which the Clean Air Act requires strong air toxic standards, says the Sierra Club, in a recent news release.

Staff Attorney James Pew of Earthjustice, which filed suit on behalf of Sierra Club, Environmental Defense and the National Wildlife Federation, charges EPA is refusing point blank to set the protective emission standards for power plants that the Clean Air Act requires. "Instead of protecting the public from pollution, this agency is doing its best to protect polluters from the law." For the NWF release, click here.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope says in the release, "Mercury does not affect everyone equally. The EPA’s job is to 'protect human health and the environment' but what it's really doing is putting more women and children at risk of mercury poisoning." Ann Brewster Weeks, Litigation Director of the Clean Air Task Force, said, "EPA's action paves the way for substantial additional unchecked toxic air pollution releases," said "That means more mercury in the air, more mercury in the water, and more mercury in fish."

At least 13 states have filed litigation challenging EPA’s mercury rule, they write. For a similar view by the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD), click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Companies get citizens to beat effort for government-provided broadband

Tired of not having high-speed Internet access, the residents of the Chicago exurbia 'Tri-Cities' of Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles, Ill., have gotten what they wanted but at a higher than desired price.

Located 45 miles west of Chicago, residents in the three cities dealt with poor Internet access for several years and decided to take action in 2003. The residents proposed extending already existing fiber-optic cables to homes and local businesses, which could deliver the high-speed Internet access. Cities would have to pick up the tab, but leaders at first estimated that costs could be kept down, writes David Case of the investigative non-profit magazine, Mother Jones. (Click here to read more; subscription may be necessary)

The effort prompted a referendum on a property tax for broadband service. Customer-hungry broadband providers Comcast and SBC Communications Inc. opposed the tax, fearing a loss of potential profit, and informed citizens about possible pitfalls of government-provided access, arguing that government officials could check citizens' Internet traffic. The tax proposal lost, and the companies now provide Internet access.

"Yet, although residents did get their broadband, they got no control over it -- over pricing, growth, or financing," wrote Case. "And Comcast -- with a near-monopoly on the area's cable TV service -- jacked up its basic cable rates after the referenda, for an increase of more than 30 percent since January 2003."

Unbelted drivers in omnipresent pickup trucks at highest death risk

Pickup-truck occupants, disproportionately rural and suburban, who do not wear seat belts are at a greater risk of dying in traffic accidents than unbelted occupants in cars, according to the latest federal safety statistics.

Earlier research has shown people in pickup trucks wear their seat belts less than car occupants. But, the new numbers also show for the first time seat belts play a more critical role in preventing accident deaths, more so in pickup trucks than in cars, writes Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times. (read more)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data revealed 70 percent of occupants killed in pickup truck crashes were not wearing their seat belts. In fatal car crashes 50 percent of occupants killed were not wearing seat belts. An administration spokesman told Peters the new numbers highlight the risk occupants in pickups face when they do not buckle up. Rae Tyson, spokesman said, "The risk of serious injury or fatality in a crash is higher in a pickup than it would be in a passenger car."

Court says states can't bar interstate wine shipments; decision could boost industries

In a decision toasted by the wine industry, and by wine aficionados in rural "dry" jurisdictions, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that consumers can't be barred from shipping home bottles purchased from out-of-state vineyards they visit in person or on the Internet.

The 5-4 ruling struck down laws in New York and Michigan as discriminatory because they allow in-state wineries, but not out-of-state businesses, to ship directly to consumers. It means that as many as 24 states that currently bar out-of-state shipments will have to revise their laws so wineries are treated equally, writes Hope Yen of The Associated Press. (read more)

The Washington-based Institute for Justice says the 24 states that ban direct shipments from out-of-state wineries are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont.

The decision was cheered by wine lovers who said it would promote Internet sales around the country, leading to lower prices and more choices. Critics said the ruling usurped a state's right to control alcohol within its borders and could promote underage drinking because proof of age would not be required for Internet purchases. While the ruling only involves wine sales, industry groups expect it will soon apply to beer and other alcoholic beverages now regulated through state-licensed wholesalers and retailers.

"It will take time for the states to decide how to react to the ruling," reports Wayne Tompkins of The Courier-Journal. For the New York Times version, click here. For the Washington Post story, click here. The decision is available in here.

Feds seek to overhaul rails, cut errors like one that caused deadly S.C. wreck

American railroads will undergo a safety makeover through a federal plan aims to reduce crew errors that cause deadly crashes, make toxic shipments safer and employ new technology to detect broken tracks.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced the plan after "months of criticism by advocates and local officials who said January's train wreck in Graniteville, S.C., which killed nine, signaled a dire need for reform," writes Heather Vogell of the Charlotte Observer. (read more)

Mineta spoke outside the State House in Columbia to a crowd that included the mother and sister of a West Columbia engineer who died from chlorine inhalation after a misaligned switch sent his Norfolk Southern train hurtling onto a side track and into a parked rail car, writes Vogell. After the announcement, Chris Seeling's mother told Mineta her family is "so thrilled that something good is going to come out of his life."

Some steps in the plan -- such as gathering data on near-misses -- are already in progress. But those related to human errors are contingent on a federal rulemaking process that will stretch into 2006 or later, she writes.

As Congress stalls, more states give minimum wage earners a boost

A growing number of states are refusing to wait for Congress to raise the minimum wage above the $5.15 an hour set in 1997. Five state legislatures, so far this year, have boosted their rates 30 cents to $1, bringing to at least 16 the states with minimum wages above the federal level.

Connecticut and Hawaii this year approved their second hike above the federal minimum. A buck-an-hour minimum wage increase for Minnesota workers passed this month, and the new $6.15 hourly wage will take effect Aug. 1. Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey (D) signed a law in April to increase the minimum wage to $7.15 an hour over the next two years, writes Kathleen Murphy of (read more)

While the Maryland Legislature sent that state's governor a bill in April to raise the minimum wage to $6.15 starting in January, the bill still awaits his signature or veto. However, it passed the state Senate by a veto-proof 30-16 margin. If it becomes law, Maryland would be the 17th state to push the minimum wage above the federally required level, writes Murphy.

Minimum-wage hikes also took effect in January in five states: Illinois, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. For Oregon, Vermont and Washington, it was the second hike above the federal rate. Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia also have set higher minimums. Wisconsin could be next. Wisconsin's governor and its Republican-controlled Legislature hammered out a deal this month to raise the minimum wage in a two-step process starting June 1.

N.C. Senate approves ATV age restriction; lowered from 12 to 8 to win passage

North Carolina senators have signed off on legislation that would ban children younger than 8 from riding all-terrain vehicles, to cut down on the incidents of serious injuries and deaths.

But to get the Senate's final approval on a 31-15 vote Monday, safety advocates loosened restrictions they initially sought. And some riding enthusiasts who oppose regulation say they will fight the bill in the state House before it can become law, writes Sharif Durhams of the Charlotte Observer's Raleigh Bureau. (read more)

Sen. Bill Purcell, the bill's sponsor, said he initially wanted to ban kids younger than 12 from riding the machines. Now, under the proposal, most riders of any age would have to wear helmets and complete a safety course. Children between 8 and 16 would have to ride smaller, less-powerful four-wheelers. The bill exempts adult farmers and hunters from both the helmet and training requirements.

North and South Carolina are two of five states that don't currently require helmets or safety training for ATV riders. About 22,000 people bought ATVs last year in North Carolina. North Carolina recorded 43 ATV-related deaths between 1999 and 2004 involving riders younger than 16, according to the N.C. Child Fatality Task Force. About 130,000 riders nationwide required hospital emergency room visits in 2003.

President Bush tours Virginia plant making alternative fuel out of soybeans

President Bush has visited a small plant in Virginia that turns soybeans into a clean-burning form of diesel fuel to emphasize his energy bill is about more than drilling in Alaska and building refineries. (speech transcript)

Bush urged Congress to pass the bill before beginning its summer recess, though acknowledging that nothing in it would immediately lower gasoline prices, writes David E. Sanger of The New York Times. (read more) The local papers did not give the visit heavy treatment; click the names for coverage by Warren Fiske of The Virginian-Pilot and Melodie Martin of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The president toured the Virginia BioDiesel Facility east of Richmond to see how pure soy is made into a low-polluting form of diesel fuel. He told the crowd, "I imagine 30 years ago a politician saying, 'Vote for me and I'll see to it that your car can run on soybean oil' wouldn't get very far.(But) here we are, standing in front of a refinery that makes it." Kelly Takaya King, an executive of Pacific Biodiesel, which built the plant said it produces about a million gallons of biodiesel fuel a year.

President Bush cast himself as deeply interested in backing new, environmentally friendly technologies that would eventually increase energy supplies, like development of hydrogen-fueled cars, creating fuel from cast-off cooking grease and soy oils, and promoting ethanol - the last a subject rarely discussed by presidents except before the quadrennial primaries in Iowa, writes Sanger.

Revocation of grandparent visit law sought; Pennsylvania case could set tone

A lawyer for a man who wants to limit his son's contact with the boy's grandmother has argued that a Pennsylvania law guaranteeing grandparent visitation doesn't give enough weight to a parent's best judgment.

"Attorney Howard Bashman also argued the 1981 law is nearly identical to a Washington state law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000," writes Mark Scolforo of The Associated Press. (read more) Shane Fausey, a federal prison guard who lives in Lycoming County, Pa., is asking the state Supreme Court to reverse lower-court rulings that awarded Cheryl Hiller visitation rights with Fausey's 10-year-old son. Fausey's wife and Hiller's daughter died of cancer in 2002.

Bashman told AP his client should be able to determine how much contact the boy and his grandmother have, unless she can prove it will cause substantial physical or emotional harm to him -- and that the court should not use the "best interests of the child" standard commonly used in child-custody cases because Fausey's dispute is not with his deceased spouse. Basham said, "It too easily allows the fit parent's decision to be overridden."

Relations sour between major Hispanic broadcast giants; source of most programs

Grupo Televisa, the Mexican television empire, has been locked in an uneasy alliance with Univision Communications, the largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the United States, providing most of its prime-time lineup and delivering ever-higher ratings. Now, Televisa is indicating it wants out.

Univision's strength among Spanish-language broadcasters is due in no small part to Televisa's soap operas, which dominate ratings in Latin America and parts of the United States. And therein lies the problem: Televisa, the world's largest Spanish-language media company, contends that Univision is getting its premium soap operas on the cheap under a 1992 sales agreement that lasts through 2017, writes Elisabeth Malkin of The New York Times. (read more)

Analysts and industry experts say Univision needs Televisa, which supplies 80 to 90 percent of the American company's prime-time programs, writes Malkin. The final episode on Univision in March of a Televisa soap opera, "Rubí," was top-rated among 18-to-34-year-olds, beating shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

Televisa expects to earn $115 million this year from the licensing agreement. Univision had $1.26 billion in television revenue last year, though it will not say how much of that is from Televisa's programs. Thirty-six percent of Univision's programming over all comes from Televisa, she writes. For financial information on Grupo Televisa, click here. For financial information on Televisa, here.

Senate bill would aid wildlife, state and provincial fish and game agencies say

The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA)'s executive vice president, John Baughman says the proposed Americans Outdoors Act, by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), is a bipartisan piece of legislation that would provide a landmark federal commitment to conservation, coastal restoration, and outdoor recreation, according to a release on the IAFWA Website.

According to the IAFWA, each year, the Americans Outdoors Act will allow $530 million for critical State Fish and Wildlife programs — ensuring each state can sustain a diverse array of fish and wildlife and their habitats, with an emphasis on preventing species from becoming endangered.

The Act will provide appropriate access for hikers, paddlers, photographers, bird watchers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts through trails, viewing blinds, observation towers, and the protection and enhancement of the land and water base. The IAFWA says the Americans Outdoors Act "will foster a responsible stewardship ethic through conservation education programs, activity guides and curricula for schools and community groups."

Kudzu may counteract alcoholic urges; Harvard study says ends binge drinking

Attention class! Eat kudzu and stop binge drinking! It may not be long before you'll go to a bar, order a beer or glass of wine and then load up on kudzu pills to avoid getting loaded. "Yes, kudzu, the fast-growing weed also known as the "vine that ate the South," contains chemicals that reduce the urge of binge drinkers and alcoholics, as well as casual imbibers, according to Harvard Medical Center researchers in a "groundbreaking" study, writes Bill Hendrick of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (read more)

Research suggests that kudzu compounds called "isoflavones" are the keys to treating intoxication. Heavy drinkers who took pills made from chemicals in kudzu seemed to lose their urge to order a second or third drink, or extended the time between ordering additional drinks, writes Hendrick. Lead researcher Dr. Scott E. Lukas, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of behavior psychopharmacology at McLean Hospital, told Hendrick, "We want to develop a medication that would be effective and safe, and pills without side effects like other drugs on the market, for treating alcoholics and binge-drinkers."

Lukas speculated it might be several years before alcohol-resistance pills are developed. That depends on whether the pills will need approval by the Food and Drug Administration or can be sold as an herbal remedy.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Broadband service has spurred economic development, local official says

A Western Kentucky economic development official says $150,000 spent to extend high-speed Internet service at local industrial parks was a good investment that helped lead to several industrial deals creating 1,600 jobs in the area.

Mark Manning, president of the Murray-Calloway County Economic Development Corp., told The Paducah Sun (site registration required), "It's not that companies come because of broadband, but when they see you don't have it, you're at a huge competitive disadvantage.They expect it and they should." (Click here to read the full rewrite of the Sun story from The Associated Press.)

Technologically savvy people from business, government, health care, education and other sectors are forming groups in the region to develop plans to expand broadband. The effort is being led by Michael Ramage, the new Bowling Green-based ConnectKentucky project manager for the 40-county West Kentucky Region.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher wants to leverage state, federal and private dollars to blanket the state with broadband service. Kentucky ranks 44th among states in the proportion of high-tech businesses, 45th in residential computer use and 43rd in residential Internet use, AP writes.

Debate over mountaintop-removal mining continues in the Sunday papers

A recently escalated debate over mountaintop-removal mining in Central Appalachia continued Sunday in Kentucky's two largest newspapers, which offered opposing sides of the issue.

In an op-ed piece in The Courier-Journal, an executive of a heavy-equipment firm defended the practice and said coal mining is essential to the nation's energy security. In a column in the Lexington Herald-Leader, a Republican lawyer from the heart of the Appalachian coalfield aligned himself with a group of Kentucky writers who recently gathered in the mountains to protest the mining method.

Larry Webster of Pikeville called the gathering "the start of a new religion," countering an existing faith that teaches its followers to "exploit, use up, pollute, listen to the coal association and wait for paradise." He said protection of the mountains "will only happen if the protection of Mother Earth becomes a compelling belief on a spiritual level, and it wouldn't be asking too much to have Christianity, founded in a desert, to take some time off from speaking of lakes of fire and address right and wrong where people live."

The opposing view was offered by Mark Porta, vice president of eastern operations for Louisville-based Whayne Supply Co., a major supplier of strip-mine equipment. "I could show you other pictures of green pasture land, airports, industrial sites, all from reclaimed mine sites. I could tell you about the jobs coal provides, and ask the question, 'When is your company going to move an operation into the coal fields?'"

Webster alluded to the grass planted on mined mountaintops and the fact that the industry is governed by federal law: "Our fate rests with people who know nothing about the unpurple mountain majesty of East Kentucky, or who think fescue waving amber on those Ghost Ranches in the Sky is better."

Porta said the front-page coverage of the issue was "due in large part to a very vocal minority" and "is of very little interest . . . for most of you outside the mountains of Eastern Kentucky." But he said the general public should be interested because so much of the nation's energy comes from coal.

Political schism leaves Western North Carolina church sadder and older

With the help of an interim minister, a week after the resignation of their long-time pastor, members of a Baptist Church in western North Carolina are struggling to heal wounds caused by a political schism.

"From the pulpit of East Waynesville Baptist Church, the temporary pastor offered an unusual message for his adopted flock: "I don't mind telling you before I start off this morning, this is not where I want to be," writes Shaila Dewan of The New York Times. (read more)

The Rev. Chan Chandler, the young minister who led the congregation of about 100 people for the last three years, is gone, having resigned under fire last week. Many of the younger members went with him. And nine longtime church members who said he had ousted them because they did not support his increasingly political sermons are back, writes Dewan. Last October, according to members, Chandler told them, "Let me just say this right now, if you vote for John Kerry this year you need to repent or resign."

The Smoky Mountain News of Waynesville has followed the ordeal of East Waynesville Baptist Church with articles written by Sarah Kucharski and Becky Johnson over the past weeks covering issues of Church and State, Faith and politics, when the members were ‘voted out’ and the question of tax status if the church becomes political. Waynesville's The Enterprise-Mountaineer, also had an article by Darren Miller last week on Rev. Chandler’s resignation.

Kansas state school board debate seeks to expand the definition of science

Hearings on evolution before the Kansas Board of Education have not been limited only to how the theory should be taught. The board is considering redefining science itself.

"Advocates of 'intelligent design' are pushing the board to reject a definition limiting science to natural explanations for what's observed in the world. Instead, they want to define it as \'a systematic method of continuing investigation,' without specifying what kind of answer is being sought. The definition would appear in the introduction to the state's science standards," writes John Hanna of The Associated Press.

Keith Miller, a Kansas State University geologist, told reporters, "It's a completely unscientific way of looking at the world." The conservative state Board of Education plans to consider the proposed changes by August, and is expected to approve at least part of a proposal from advocates of intelligent design. That theory holds the natural world is so complex and well-ordered, an intelligent cause is the best way to explain it.

Stephen Meyer, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design, said changing the schools' definition of science would avoid freezing out questions about how life arose and developed on Earth. CNN correspondent Brian Campbell provides additional details.

Septic woes trouble rural Black Belt homes in Alabama; activists seek change

Many poor residents of the Black Belt of rural Alabama still live in the ignominy of sanitary problems despite about $1 billion in economic progress nearby.

For one such resident, Beulah Hill, who is 67 and disabled, flushing the toilet doesn't guarantee sanitary troubles go down the drain. Hill's 26-year-old septic system is failing outside her home, west of the county seat of Hayneville, writes William F.West of The Tuscaloosa News.

Though the $1 billion Hyundai automobile plant's grand opening will be May 20 to the east of the county line near Montgomery, a spin-off of prosperity hasn't yet reached the rural hamlets in Lowndes County, located in Alabama's distressed Black Belt, named for the soil that doesn't drain well.

Linda Hinson and her husband Antonio, who are similarly afflicted but have become activists, told West, "It's sad that we still live in 2005 where we don't have adequate septic systems in Lowndes County. Hinson and her husband, hired a man to install a septic system for their home near the Letohatchee community, but the man only put in the cement tank and failed to finish the job. The couple doesn't have the money to have field lines dug to disperse the waste, West writes.

Hinson said the system doesn't comply with state health standards, and her husband repeatedly had to go before the court until another activist intervened with the judge to halt the case. Hinson now works as administrative assistant for Flowers, who's the Alabama representative for the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington-based anti-poverty organization, he writes.

Appalachian Regional Heatlhcare system names interim president, CEO

Jerry W. Haynes has been named interim president and chief executive officer of Appalachian Regional Healthcare Inc., a not-for-profit health care system serving Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia.

The ARH Board of Trustees announced Haynes' appointment. He replaces Stephen C. Hanson, who resigned to take a job with Texas Health Resources. Haynes has worked for ARH for 26 years, most recently as the system's executive director of operations, writes The Associated Press. (read more)

Haynes said, "My focus is and has always been quality care, service to patients, and continued viability of the organization. I'm very honored and look forward to working with everyone." The health system has more than 4,500 employees at nine hospitals, physician practices, skilled nursing and rehabilitation service programs, home health agencies, HomeCare Stores and pharmacies. It also is co-owner of CHA Health.

Groups want Blair Mountain land in W.Va. added to the National Register

If you grew up anywhere near West Virginia and know anything about coal history, you are probably familiar with the legendary "Battle of Blair Mountain," a protracted clash between union minors and "law enforcement" on Aug. 29, 1921.

"Along a rocky ridge near this hamlet, more than 6,000 union coal miners clashed with sheriff's deputies, the state police and coal company guards in the climactic battle of the West Virginia coal wars. Dozens died during five days of trench warfare," Tony Kemp of The New York Times in a story published on Aug. 30, 1921. "Now," the Times' James Dao writes, "a new battle for Blair Mountain is flaring. But this time, the warriors are not miners toting rifles, but historians armed with artifacts. And the fight is not about organizing the coalfields, but saving the battlefield.".

At stake is a campaign by amateur historians, allied with environmentalists, to register more than 1,400 acres around Blair Mountain as a historic site. In doing so, they hope not only to protect a piece of labor history, but also Blair Mountain itself, where coal companies have been buying property and emptying small towns in preparation for strip mining the rugged ridgeline for low-sulfur coal.

Preservationists won an important skirmish when the West Virginia Archives and History Commission voted unanimously to recommend 14 miles of ridgeline surrounding Blair Mountain be added to the National Register of Historic Places, part of the National Park Service. If the site is added to the register, as is considered likely, coal companies could be required to reduce the impact of mining on the battleground.

Pioneer of 'high lonesome' Bluegrass sound dies; sang with Blue Grass Boys

Jimmy Martin, a pioneering bluegrass singer and guitarist who performed with the Blue Grass Boys and many other performers, died Saturday. He was 77.

Martin died in a Nashville hospice, more than a year after he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, writes The Associated Press. (read more) His son, Lee Martin said, referring to bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, head of the Blue Grass Boys told reporters, "He loved bluegrass music, country music. Bill Monroe was his idol and someone he patterned himself after musically."

Jimmy Martin recorded a number of bluegrass standards, including "Rock Hearts," "Sophronie," "Hold Watcha Got," "Widow Maker" and "The Sunny Side of the Mountain." He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Honor in 1995. His life was the subject of an independent documentary, King of Bluegrass: The Life and Times of Jimmy Martin, released in 2003.

Bernheim Forest showcases majesty of raptors; visitors preservation lessons

"A boy stared in wonder as Eileen Wicker called out to a northern barred owl in its own language -- and the bird responded with a hoot," writes Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal. (read more)

The boy and his family attended a presentation by Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky called "Recognizing Raptors." It was held in the education center at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

A colleague gave a talk on how to identify various birds of prey, then Wicker, who is executive director of the nonprofit rehabilitation group, wowed the crowd with her birdcall. Wicker said the presentation wasn't just for avid bird watchers, but for anyone who might spot raptors in the skies or in the trees around Kentucky, Ungar writes for the Louisville newspaper. Wicker says the knowledge helps people better understand raptors in particular and nature at large.

Debbie Heavrin, Raptor Rehabilitation's program coordinator said the presentation included clues that could help bird watchers distinguish raptors, such as rhythm and cadence of flight, appearance, overall shape and size, and behavior.

Friday-Saturday, May 13-14, 2005

Rural growth outpacing policymakers, study says, offering ideas for change

Government policymakers are not keeping up with rapid growth in some of America's rural areas, says a study SRI International, a California think tank, did for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines. " It is time for a fresh start in formulating strategies to strengthen rural America," said bank president Pat Conway.

The study suggests a stronger focus on rural areas' assets and opportunities, and "identifies policy and program steps that can be taken to enable economic growth in rural areas," American City Business Journals reports. "These include consolidating multiple programs, avoiding duplication and making them easier to find and use; greater flexibility in terms of assistance and timeframes, and co-investment by rural communities, businesses, and institutions."

The study, available by clicking here, says rural America's assets include "steadily improving education achievement, low cost of doing business, high quality of life, and increasingly high levels of entrepreneurship and small business development," ACBJ reports. Liabilities include declining population, emigration of educated residents, and lack of jobs, particularly in economic sectors that are growing.

"While rural America is moving toward a more diverse economy and agriculture is declining in its share of that economy, the study shows the bulk of federal support remains primarily in direct subsidies to agriculture," ACBJ reports. "Thirty percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2003 budget was allocated to agricultural subsidies while rural development accounted for 3.5 percent of the budget."

Rural America can tap into the knowledge economy, with the right strategies

Rural America has an emerging "knowledge economy," founded on the generation of new ideas, but "Few rural places have tapped this economic potential," the Center for the Study of Rural America says in the May issue of The Main Street Economist, its monthly newsletter. "Knowledge-based activity has paced recent U.S. economic growth," the report says, but it accounted for only 15 percent of employment in rural areas in 2000, compared to 20 percent in metropolitan areas.

The keys to a knowledge economy are high-skill labor, higher education, vibrant business networks and infrastructure such as high-speed Internet access, writers Jason Henderson and Bridget Abraham say. "Tapping institutions of higher education will be crucial if rural communities are going to strengthen their knowledge economies," they write, adding that rural areas can use their "scenic amenities" to attract knowledge workers. A Department of Agriculture study saud over 70 percent of rural high-knowledge, producer-service industries said "quality-of-life amenities were a major factor in location choice."

"Producer service industries" include financial- and information-service businesses, which are driving rural job growth. In 2004, rural employment in such jobs rose 4 percent, and only 1.6 percent in consumer services, education, health care and retail trade, mainly in the higher-skilled areas of health care and education.

Knowledge should not be confused with information, the writers point out. "The knowledge used to produce information is harder to codify or summarize on a piece of paper," they write. Also, "Knowledge produces spillovers . . . benefits to people beyond those who possess the knowledge."

One example of a largely rural state that is developing a knowledge economy is Montana, where 62 percent of Montana State University's graduating seniors staryed in the state last year, up from only 51 percent in 2002, according to the school. For an Associated Press story on the phenomenon, click here.

Rural poverty, lack of health-care access delay proper dental care, says study

A University of Florida report indicates rural residents are nearly twice as likely as their urban counterparts to postpone timely trips to the dentist, seeking help only after developing a problem and oral pain is severe.

The delay, says the study, is driven by poverty and lack of health care access, and results in widespread dissatisfaction with treatment and less desirable outcomes, reports Newswise. Dr. Joseph Riley, an assistant professor of public health services and research at UF's College of Dentistry, said "These people assume this problem-oriented approach to oral health because of low access to care, whether that be due to an inability to pay or the lack of dentists practicing in rural areas."

The report in the April issue of Public Health Reports, said researchers studied patterns in access to dental care among 703 randomly selected people aged 45 years and older in North Florida. They considered financial status, and tracked symptoms of oral pain, and usage of dental services and treatment. Study investigators found rural residents were more likely to need emergency dental care for oral pain. "People who live in rural areas and take a problem-oriented approach of opting to wait until oral discomfort worsened were at the highest risk of anyone for needing pain-related emergency treatment," the study said.

Base closing and realignment list hits many rural facilities; tanks leaving Knox

The Defense Department's Friday announcement of facilities it is recommending for closure and realignment had major impacts on rural areas and prompted some special coverage by news outlets serving those areas.

Some facilities not being closed would undergo major changes. For example, Fort Knox in Kentucky will lose the Army Armor Center to Georgia's Fort Benning, which has the Infantry Center, for better coordination of the two functions, Pentagon officials said this morning. Fort Knox would gain a combat brigade and some command and training functions, picking up 1,739 civiilan workers, but would have 4,867 fewer military personnel, for an overall decline of 3,128. Benning would gain 9,839 workers. The morning daily closest to Fort Knox, The News-Enterprise, published an extra on the announcement. To read it, click here. The Courier-Journal published a special section Saturday on base realignment and closure. To read it, click here.

The closure list includes Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, with 2,700 jobs; Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, with 3,852 jobs; 15 facilities in Texas, including the Ingleside Naval Station, with more than 2,100 jobs; 12 in Pennsylvania, including the Willow Grove Naval Air Station; 11 in Alabama, mostly reserve centers; 11 in California, including Onizuka Air Force Station and Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant; nine in New York, including the Defense Finance and Accounting Service office in Rome; eight in Ohio, mostly reserve centers; six in Georgia, including Fort McPherson, with 4,200 jobs; six in Indiana, including the Newport Chemical Depot; six in Missouri, including finance centers in Kansas City and St. Louis; six in Oklahoma; five in Wisconsin, all reserve facilities; five in Washington, including the Vancouver Barracks; five in Nebraska, including National Guard Reserve centers in Kearny, Columbus and Grand Island; and five in Kentucky -- a finance office and four reserve centers.

States can do more than objections after closings list; need a ‘plan B,’ say experts

The Defense Department’s closure list is sure to prompt a volley of objections from affected communities. "But rather than fight the Pentagon -- an effort that rarely works -- veterans of post closures said states are better off channeling their energies into a backup plan," writes Mark K. Matthews for That way, experts said, an area can more quickly recover from the slew of problems that often follow a closing, everything from lingering radioactive waste to skyrocketing jobless rates.

Tim Ford, who heads the Association of Defense Communities, a Washington consortium that fosters relationships between military bases and local leaders, told Matthews, "Obviously, this is not something you want in your state, but this is not a death sentence. You can fight the closure, but at the same time, there has to be a Plan B." Military experts, state officials and business leaders told Matthews Plan Bs can take a variety of forms, ranging from complex state tax incentives and grants to simple gestures such as offering to coordinate redevelopment plans. Philip Browning, who heads the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee, told Stateline, "The earlier you get together, the better off you'll be."

Source of deadly vapor leak subject of upcoming weapons depot safety inspection

Chemical-weapons workers plan to enter storage igloos at the Blue Grass Army Depot, near Richmond, Ky., Monday to trace the source of the deadly sarin vapor that leaked earlier this week.

The officials stressed that area residents were never at risk, because the toxic vapor never escaped from the sealed container, where about 2,500 rockets are stored and awaiting destruction, reports The Associated Press. Seeping rockets will be sealed in a leak-proof container, the wire service reports. Lt. Col. George Shuplinkov, commander of the chemical activity, said the process may be lengthy because of the low amount of vapor so far detected and the large amount of rockets in the igloo.

Drug scourge in mountains makes churches work together, gain membership

Methamphetamine and prescription painkillers have caused or worsened a raft of social problems in the heart of Appalachia, but "In the midst of all this, some churches are seeing exponential growth," reports The Associated Press. "Church leaders say communities rife with drugs are uniting behind a spiritual solution and sheer despair is forcing addicts to seek help from a higher power."

"We're right in the middle of a regional transformation," said Doug Abner, pastor of Community Church in Manchester, which ministers to people who have been caught up in the drug trade, told AP Pikeville correspondent Roger Alford. "We really believe God can transform a community, a city, a county, a region."

A transformation would be a reversal. Meth and painkillers such as OxyContin have "caused an assortment of societal problems, from broken marriages to escalating crime" in the region, Alford reports. "Drug abusers are robbing pharmacies, burglarizing homes and starting prostitution rings to finance their habits." But at the same time, "The Kentucky Baptist Convention reported 2,000 people in the Harlan County cities of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch have experienced religious conversions in the past three years," Alford writes. "Five new churches have opened in eastern Harlan County, and a ministry providing food and clothing to the poor is operating out of building that had formerly housed a bar."

"I've been in ministry more than 40 years, and I've never seen a movement of God in one community such as it is there," Larry Martin, a retired mission leader for the convention, told Alford.

Federal judge axes Nebraska gay-marriage ban; could figure in filibuster fight

For the first time, a federal judge Thursday threw out a state's ban on gay marriage, adding impetus to calls for adding a national ban to the U.S. Constitution and stopping filibusters against judicial nominees.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon of Omaha said Nebraska's ban, approved by voters in 2000, went far beyond gay marriage and deprived gays and lesbians of basic rights, including the right to participate in the political process, writes Robynn Tysver of the Omaha World-Herald.

Bataillon said the ban was motivated, in part, by an "irrational fear" of and "animus" toward homosexuals. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning promised to appeal the ruling, noting that 70 percent of Nebraska voters favored of the ban. A national group that opposes gay marriage said the Nebraska case was a perfect example of why a national ban is needed. Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, told Tysver, "The democratic voice of the people of Nebraska was muted by a federal judge."

Supporters of the ban said the decision will be used to promote a federal constitutional amendment that would bypass federal judges and give ammunition to Republicans in their fight to stop Democratic filibusters against President Bush's nominees to federal appeals courts, which are one level above district courts. "It is decisions like this that are why we have a stronger Republican majority in the United States Senate," Sen. George Allen, R-Va., told the New York Times.

Duke-Cinergy merger could snag on 1935 law requiring regional affinity

A Depression-era law is among the many obstacles to a merger of Charlotte-based Duke Energy and Cincinnati-based Cinergy Corp. The Public Utility Holding Company Act "has been on the books since 1935. Utilities have been fighting for its repeal for decades, and Congress is debating again whether it should survive," reports Stan Choe of The Charlotte Observer. "Duke and Cinergy executives say they're working under the assumption that PUHCA will survive," Choe writes. "That would mean significant regulatory tests."

Duke Chairman and CEO Paul Anderson told the Obsever that Duke's Carolinas territory and Cinergy's service area in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana are closer together than other deals ruled okay with PUHCA. Duke officials may spend much time lobbying senators and their staffs. The House-passed energy bill would repeal PUHCA, but so far the Senate bill would not. Utilities argue that government agencies, such as state utility commissions and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, make the law unnecessary. "Consumer advocates, though, argue a repeal . . . could lead to more utilities going bankrupt," Choe reports.

"Congress initially passed PUHCA six years after the 1929 stock market crash to rein in a utility industry that had taken too many risks," Choe writes. "To protect investors and customers, PUHCA prohibited holding companies from owning certain nonenergy assets and said merging utilities must be in the same 'region'." A Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge ruled last week that American Electric Power Co., based in Ohio, wasn't in the same region as Central & South West Corp. in Texas.

Cost of Chesapeake Bay and Virginia rivers cleanup: $12.5 billion, says panel

Cleaning the Chesapeake Bay and other polluted waters across Virginia will cost the state an estimated $12.5 billion. Virginia Natural Resources Assistant Secretary Russ Baxter revealed Virginia's first-ever tally of statewide costs -- at a meeting of a legislative panel studying ways to pay for the cleanups, writes Rex Springston of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr., R-Fairfax, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said, "That's an astronomical figure." Callahan is chairman of the study panel. He told the newspaper finding the cleanup money, for everything from improving sewage plants and factories to planting shrubs around farm fields to prevent fertilizer from running-off "is going to be a tough nut to crack," writes Springston.

The funds would come from the state, the federal government, city sewer customers, farmers and factories. How big is $12.5 billion? The state's entire budget totals about $63 billion for two years, he writes.

Competition closes state park's golf course in Kentucky tourism tug-of-war

The Kentucky Department of Parks is closing the golf course at its Jenny Wiley State Resort Park, citing losses that began after a larger golf course opened with state help on a nearby mountaintop.

Commissioner George Ward said the course closed after posting losses totaling more than $71,000 during 2003 and 2004.. "Ward said the state would have had to buy $45,000 in equipment this year to maintain the nine-hole course, which had to be closed temporarily last summer because of flood damage," reports The Associated Press. State officials say the closed course will be used for other yet-to-be-determined purposes, such as a natural trail, a playground, an archery range or mini-golf.

The park plans to promote StoneCrest, an 18-holecourse that opened in 2000 on a strip-mined mountaintop overlooking the park and competed with its nine-hole course, though it was financed partly with state money.


Editor-turned-columnist calls for costly, radical reinvention of newspapers

Newspapers must radically reinvent themselves to preserve the core democratic functions that they perform, Tim McGuire said in a speech this week at Washington and Lee University.

McGuire, former editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and 2001-02 president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, writes a weekly, ethics-oriented column and is teaching a seminar entitled "Social and Corporate Responsibility in Media" at Washington and Lee, in Lexington, Va. He is the school's first Donald W. Reynolds Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Newspapers can no longer be cautious in facing the challenges of the new media environment, McGuire warned: "The iceberg is hitting us right now, and we’ve already suffered some serious damage to the ship. Unless newspapers reinvent themselves immediately something precious and dear will be lost. . . . Unless we radically change the status quo we are going to deny future generations the community building, the shared experience, the authenticating role, the watchdog role, and the guardianship of openness that newspapers have stood for all these years."

He said newspapoer owners must wake up and take the long view. "It is crucial that newspaper executives face up to the fact that they are milking their industry for profits and failing to invest in the long term health of the news gathering and the advertising franchise," he said. "In the last three years newspaper companies have continued to demand high profits despite this avalanche of news that newspapers are in deep trouble. Newspapers have been slow to invest and slow to react to this readership crisis. There’s lots of planning going on in newsrooms, but most of the orders to find solutions to the industry’s deepest problems come with one instruction: Don’t spend significant money."

McGuire continued, "It is time newspaper corporation CEOs and publishers come to grips with history — the history they are writing. Those executives must start imagining that if newspapers are indeed in the death throes, it is they who will be judged. The media history books could well show them watching their industry die for a few percentage points of profit. A new contract with Wall Street needs to be forged in the public interest.. . . Reinventing newspapers in the public interest and for the common good is of course the right thing to do, but just because it would be altruistic does not mean that it can’t be profitable. Doing “the right thing” can make lots of money."

In addition to saying "The reinvention must be radical," McGuire gave four other guiding principles:

"We must build the broad democratic community with integrity." As an example, he suggested abandoning "single-ideology editorial pages. Editorial pages began as a marketing tool in multiple newspaper markets. . . . If newspapers want to present themselves as above the ideological fray, and I think they must, editorial pages must move toward being public forums for energetic community debate and abandon the all-knowing, all-arrogant role of community pontificator and sometimes bully."

"We must cultivate citizen journalism, but serve as an authenticator" for bloggers and others untrained in the traditional responsibilities and ethics of journalists. He said the word "authenticator" came from Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"We must reaffirm our watchdog role with a return to great writing and storytelling. . . . The key to improving investigative journalism is to concentrate on relevant subjects. Too often our investigations are too esoteric, and they do not hit readers where they live."

"We must choose thoroughness, completeness and sophistication. Newspapers’ future lies in being the information general store, not a series of boutiques. . . . Too many newspapers are pushing in-depth sports and national readers like me to Web sites that give me the thoroughness I need. Frittering away thoroughness could well mean frittering away the franchise."

CEA exec: Broadcasters ignore digital opportunites, competition at their peril

The head of the Consumer Electronics Association has issued a dire warning to television broadcasters saying efforts to regulate other industries at the expense of promoting free, over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting with digitally enhanced signals (DTV) threatens the industry’s survival, against competition from enhanced cable companies, satellites and other sources.

In a news release posted on the CEA Web site, the organization's President and CEO, Gary Shapiro admonished the industry for trying to regulate others at the expense of promoting OTA and DTV broadcasting. Shapiro made the comments at the Advanced Television Systems Committee's (ATSC) annual meeting held in Washington this week.

Shapiro's address came as congressional, Federal Communications Commission and industry officials debate how to define the end of the nation's transition to DTV. Legislation setting a hard cut off date for analog broadcast is widely expected to be introduced in this session of Congress.

Shapiro said, "The question of who will be disenfranchised and not receive a TV signal after the cut-off has been a major concern for all involved in the transition." CEA figures show the percentage of consumers relying solely on OTA is low and shrinking. More homes have enhanced cable or satellite and more pipelines capable of carrying sophisticated video programming. Shapiro noted few broadcasters have moved to fully leverage the opportunities DTV provides and even fewer have made efforts to promote it to the public.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Rural schools need more attention, especially in some states, group says

Policymakers need to pay more attention to the problems of rural schools, the Rural School and Community Trust (RSCT) said in its third state-by-state report, issued yesterday. The report "calls on states and the federal government to preserve small schools and community school districts and to increase funding and policy work on the problems that plague many rural schools," wrote Alan Richard of Education Week, who covers rural-school issues for the publication.

The RSCT ranked states in the need for attention to, and improvement of, rural schools. The top 10, in order (with links to the release for each state) were Mississippi, New Mexico, Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas and South Carolina (tied) and Arizona and North Carolina (tied). Rankings were based on a the relative importance of rural education in a state; the poverty level in rural schools; other socioeconomic factors, such as minority population and percentage of rural adults without high-school diplomas; and policy outcomes, such as funding, graduation rates and test scores.

The report also said "some of the nation’s best values in rural schools — meaning that students in those schools do relatively well, even with modest education funding — are in Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming," Education Week reported.

A United Press International report in The Washington Times highlighted RSCT's call for "more distance learning with the use of television, computers and other new techniques and construction of multi-use facilities, and quoted the trust: "These centers can serve as schools, health clinics, social service agencies and more."

Proposed federal rule could keep small, rural hospitals out of new facilities

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services want to "make it next to impossible" for most critical-access hospitals in rural areas "to move out of old, outdated facilities and keep pace with the changing demands of aging baby boomers, the shift from inpatient to outpatient care, and the advances of medical technology," warns Tom Rowley of the Rural Policy Research Institute.


In his latest column, published today, Rowley calls the proposed CMS regulation "a toss-up between fixing what ain’t broke and letting no good deed go unpunished." He says the critical-access designation, created in1997 to keep rural hospitals from closing, is "one of the best things going in rural health care." Such hospitals can be reimbursed by Medicare for allowable costs of providing service, rather than get "typically lower, pre-determined reimbursements," Rowley explains, adding that the designation helps rural hospitals "

meet the financial challenges of providing high quality health care to a population base that is smaller, older and sicker and therefore more costly to serve."


The change would keep the two-thirds of critical-access hospitals classified as “necessary providers” from occupying new facilities "anywhere but in the shadow of the old facility," Rowley writes. "Never mind that many of these hospitals have no room to expand, landlocked by 50 years of development around them. Never mind that renovating an old hospital is a lot tougher and more expensive than building a new one."


Tim Size, director of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, told Rowley, “Congress never meant to prohibit these hospitals from replacing or relocating outdated facilities.” Comments on the proposed rule (CMS-1500-P) will be taken until 5 p.m. June 24 at


Environmental group lists dirtiest power plants; many spew in Ohio Valley

A report released by the Environmental Integrity Project again points the finger at the Ohio Valley for having the nation's dirtiest power plants, comparing the pollution they emit to the electricity they produce.

The 10 states with the heaviest concentrations of the dirtiest power plants -- in terms of pounds of sulfur dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour -- are Pennsylvania, with nine, including five of the 10 dirtiest plants; Ohio, with nine; and Indiana, with six, including two of the top three dirtiest plants. Next are Georgia (four); Maryland, Kentucky and Alabama (three each); and New York, Tennessee and West Virginia (two each). The report also ranked plants for carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. Respectively, plants in Texas, Georgia, Minnesota, New Mexico, and North Dakota ranked first.

The report evaluated the nation's 359 largest power plants, those generating 2 megawatts or more. It said the nation's dirtiest plants generate about 14 percent of the total electricity output from such plants, but produce a disproportionately large share of major pollutants -- up to half of the sulfur dioxide, for example.

In the Ohio Valley, the report lists eight plants in Kentucky, six in Tennessee run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and nine in Ohio as among the nation's dirtiest polluters. TVA is implementing a $6 billion program to curb pollution from its coal plants but still had plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee cited for being among the biggest polluters of the nation's 359 power plants, reports Dave Flessner, business editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. (Site requires registration.) TVA's worst plants for sulfur dioxide pollution linked with acid rain included the Johnsonville and Kingston plants in Tennessee. EPA said both produced more than twice as much sulfur dioxide per kilowatt-hour than average. Click here for Kemtucky-oriented coverage by Jim Warren of the Lexington Herald-Leader. For The Columbus Dispatch report on the nine plants which are Ohio major polluters, click here. (Site requires registration.)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, has proposed a wide-ranging energy bill that includes $4 billion to promote a clean-coal technology, a move some experts say is needed to get the industry moving. "The legislation would offer $2 billion in construction assistance for six new commercial gasification plants built before 2013 to be used for power. Another $2 billion in loan guarantees, tax incentives or other payments would go to industrial plants over a five-year period," writes Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press. The bill is S.B. 726. To find the legislation: click here.

Meanwhile, an Environmental Protection Agency study said toxic emissions into West Virginia’s air and water rose 11 percent in 2003, reports Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette. EPA reported the numbers in its annual Toxics Release Inventory. Nationally, air and emissions reported by industry were both down slightly, according EPA date.

Kentucky mine safety, health inspectors to watch for drugs; say abuse added peril

The Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing has for the first time begun training its inspectors to identify miners who might be under the influence of drugs, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. The inspectors routinely look for loose rocks and malfunctioning equipment inside coal mines.

Paris Charles, head of the state agency, told Alford, "We realize the drug culture is out there in our society, so it stands to reason that it's in the mines also." Kentucky State Police Trooper Walt Meachum led a training session yesterday at Pine Mountain State Resort Park. He said inspectors should look for the same telltale signs other law enforcers look for, such as poor hand-eye coordination and slurred speech. "These guys who work in the mines get hurt and get hooked on this drug. It's hurt our miners bad."

The issue came to the forefront in 2003 after one miner was killed and another seriously injured at the Cody Mining Co. in Floyd County. Marijuana was found, and an employee told investigators he had seen two miners snorting crushed painkillers. An autopsy found the dead miner had taken illegal drugs. Most large coal companies require miners to undergo random drug tests. Some smaller companies also have begun drug screening programs in recent years to identify impaired miners who might be a danger to others.

Tracy Stumbo, chief investigator for the Office of Mine Safety and Licensing, told Alford he has found marijuana and prescription drugs at mining operations. He said drug abuse can't be tolerated in mines, because one person impaired can put an entire crew at risk. Charles said inspectors who suspect miners are using drugs should report them to their superiors and notify local police.

Pennsylvania schools reluctant to take $1 billion in state gambling money

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) last year signed into law a gambling expansion bill that legalized slot machines with the prospect of lowering property taxes by an average 20 percent, but a lawsuit questioning the new law is creating uncertainty about its future, writes Peter Durantine, a free-lance correspondent from Harrisburg, in a special report for . The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

The law gives school districts the option of accepting a share of gambling proceeds in exchange for lowering property taxes. Seven districts have decided not to take the money, while 16 districts have opted in to the program. The remaining 478 districts have until May 30 to decide. "There’s an issue about whether they want gambling money in their communities,” Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Sam Smith (R), told Durantine And, state Education Secretary Francis Barnes refuses to endorse the program.

No one knows what will happen if only a small number of school districts are in the program, Durantine writes. Do they split $1 billion? And, would the reluctance undermine the state’s effort to lower and hold down property tax bills across the state? Drew Crompton, Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer’s counsel and one of the drafters of the property-tax legislation, told Durantine that if the administration attempts to redistribute the revenues, the GOP plans court action to stop that. The governor has suggested the Legislature might force the plan on districts, Durantine reports.

Southern accents may become 'mainstream' as population shifts to Dixie

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, about 40 percent of the nation's population will be living in 16 Southern states by 2030, many of them Northern transplants. But, those in-migrants are unlikely to eradicate Southern speech, according to Dennis Preston, professor of linguistics at Michigan State University.

Preston told Bo Emerson of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it's more likely new arrivals will end up speaking Southern, especially after a few generations. "If anything, those newcomers would strengthen Southern norms rather than weaken them." This raises the tantalizing possibility that the drawl will finally get some love, writes Emerson.

The negative attitude toward the sound of the South won't disappear anytime soon, said Bill Kretzschmar, University of Georgia linguistics professor. Kretzschmar told the newspaper, "People from New York still think those old stereotypes about the South are true: that Southerners are slow." Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, told Emerson, "When I was a freshman, people assumed any white person with a Southern accent was a bigot." Watson attended Brown University, in Providence, R.I. Response to his elocution there, he said, was just as bad during his graduate school years at Northwestern University outside Chicago.

But Watson believes twang is on the rise. "The Southern accent is moving up in the world. It is no longer as much of a disgrace as it used to be." The population in the South will grow from 100,236,820 in 2000 to 143,269,337 in 2030, according to U.S. census projections, Emerson writes.

Some tobacco farmers are slow to sign up for buyout transition payments

The federal Farm Service Agency is preparing to mail 437,000 postcards, to every known tobacco grower and quota holder, reminding them than June 17 is the deadline to sign up for the Tobacco Transition Payment Program -- known as the "buyout" to compensate them for loss of the production quotas that were a key element of the tobacco price-support program that Congress abolished last fall.

Some farmers have been slow to sign up for the program, despite heavy publicity. In Casey County, Kentucky, only 43 percent of the eligible farmers has signed up through April, The Casey County News reported last week. "They'll not get this year's payment if they don't come in and sign up by June 17," local FSA administrator Barry Turpen told Editor Donna Carman (whose paper has no Web site).

The paper said in an editorial that it didn't understand why more people hadn't signed up. One reason could be that many quota holders are not tobacco growers, but lease their quotas to growers. The editorial reminded them, "There will be no price support any more, nor any leasing of tobacco."

Javier Garza, tobacco program specialist at FSA's Kentucky office, told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues that the signup rate in Casey County is lower than average. He said the agency has contracted with about 354,000 growers and quota holders for $6 billion in payments.

The buyout is budgeted at $10.1 billion over 10 years. Financial institutions such are offering immediate, lump-sum payments at a discount. One example is Farm Credit Services of Mid-America, which is based in Louisville and serves Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, all burley tobacco states. Click here for its Web page on the buyout. Click here for the FSA Web site on the program.

Kentucky car dealer arrested for meth trafficking charged with selling stolen cars

A used-car dealer arrested last month for trafficking in methamphetamine has now been charged with trafficking in stolen vehicles. Used-car dealer Gary John Campbell Jr.was charged with selling meth on April 28. McCracken County Sheriff's Capt. Jon Hayden told Jim Malone of The Courier-Journal deputies recovered about a half-ounce of the illegal stimulant, scales, cash and a firearm. A subsequent investigation resulted in the recovery of six stolen vehicles.

Campbell was being held in the McCracken County Jail on $40,000 bond. He faces charges of trafficking in methamphetamine, being a felon in possession of a handgun, possession of drug paraphernalia, obscuring the identity of a machine and trafficking in stolen vehicles. Investigators believe the meth trafficking occurred at the car lot for about a year, writes Malone for the Louisville newspaper.

Southeastern Ohio preachers still ride rural circuit, by car rather than horse

A minister serving multiple congregations in four rural counties in southeastern Ohio is tending her flocks through a more modern version of the old method of circuit riding.

"With her Bible tucked in the front seat, Wendy Erb, pastor and grandmother, begins her appointed missions at 6:30 a.m. on most days and often not returning to her rural Marietta home until 10 p.m. Depending on weather, it can be a grueling drive," writes Connie Cartmell of The Marietta Times. Erb told Carmell, "What I do, is about what early pastors did, take the message out to far off rural areas."

Throughout the rural highways and byways of Washington, Morgan, Monroe, and Noble counties, there are countless tiny country churches that combine resources, including pastors, to survive and serve their congregations. Erb's ministry is actually not all that far removed from the church's circuit riding preachers of the 19th century, except for the horse, Cartmell writes.

Erb, 61, has been a pastor eight years, and over the last three years, she has put 40,000 miles on her car. As an associate pastor, Erb is responsible for Sunday services at two churches and pastor visitations for a total of four. Visitation at nursing homes and hospitals take her as far as Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Woodsfield, Marietta, and Parkersburg. She alternates Sunday services (and churches) with another minister. The church in Sardis has about 60 in its congregation, Hannibal, 80, Clarington, 25, and Zion, 10. She told Cartmell, "Rural churches can be geographically challenging."

Online newspaper readership continues rising; up 3.1% in March, says NAA

Nearly one in three Internet users (29 percent) read an online newspaper in March 2005, representing a total audience of nearly 44 million people, according to a new report by Nielsen//NetRatings’ for the Newspaper Association of America.

"The data, which takes into account both home and work Internet usage, shows a 3.1 percent increase in March to Newspaper Web sites, compared with the same period a year ago," writes Sheila Owens, VP of Strategic Communications for the NAA.

March signaled the high water mark in online newspaper readership over the past 15 months, demonstrating that online newspapers are drawing new users even as NetRatings’ data shows that unique visitors to other news and information sites dropped by four percent, according to NAA.

John F. Sturm, NAA president and CEO, said, “Newspapers have always been among the most valued, reliable and credible information mediums available, and their success online proves that reputation translates outside the core print product.”

Winchester resident in museum exhibit on Holocaust survivors living in Kentucky

A Holocaust survivor who came to Kentucky in 1946 and has lived in Winchester since 1949 will be one of nine in Kentucky featured in an exhibit that opens today in Lexington, reports The Winchester Sun.

"Everybody knew about me. Refugees, survivors, you know. We were the only ones in Lexington (at the time). They just wanted to see me, like I was a novelty." That's how Sylvia Green described her life in 1946 when she arrived in Lexington, a survivor of the Holocaust, The Sun reported in a non-bylined story. Green is one of the few Holocaust survivors who chose to live in a small town.

"This Is Home Now: Kentucky's Holocaust Survivors," will open tonight at the Lexington History Museum, 215 W. Main St. with a reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. and a program at 7 p.m. featuring the survivors' reflections on their lives in Kentucky. The reception and program are free and open to the public.

Green is a survivor of the camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Green's memories of her experiences as a newly arrived Holocaust survivor in Lexington and Winchester are featured in the exhibit. The majority of Kentucky's survivors live in Louisville. The oral histories were conducted by Arwen Donahue, a writer and oral historian who began interviewing Kentucky's Holocaust survivors in 1999 with the support of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Kentucky Historical Society. Rebecca Howell began photographing Kentucky's survivors in 2003. The exhibit is occurring in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe.

Wow, what a cow: 14 years of giving, record 303,000 pounds of milk and going

A 14-year-old Holstein cow in Mercer County, Kentucky, is being cited for her record of endurance and dairy contributions. The cow has been milked for 12 years, and has produced more than 303,000 pounds of milk, writes Greg Kocher of the Lexington Herald-Leader. That's enough whole milk to make 35,273 gallons of pasteurized milk, or 25,250 gallons of ice cream, or 14,292 pounds of butter, or 30,300 pounds of cheese, Kocher deduced.

Jack McAllister, a University of Kentucky dairy specialist, told Kocher, It's "really quite unusual" for Kentucky cows to be milked longer than six years and to produce more than 300,000 pounds of milk. Many dairy cows are milked for no longer than three years, when their individual milk production begins to decline.

"This cow, as far as we know right now, has the highest lifetime production of any living cow" in Kentucky that's part of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, McAllister added. The nationwide record-keeping program helps farmers get the most milk from their cows. Dairy farmer Larry Baxter told Kocher good genes and a good environment have helped the cow produce consistently over time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Some tobacco farmers are slow to sign up for buyout transition payments

The federal Farm Service Agency is preparing to mail 437,000 postcards, to every known tobacco grower and quota holder, reminding them than June 17 is the deadline to sign up for the Tobacco Transition Payment Program -- known as the "buyout" to compensate them for loss of the production quotas that were a key element of the tobacco price-support program that Congress abolished last fall.

Some farmers have been slow to sign up for the program, despite heavy publicity. In Casey County, Kentucky, only 43 percent of the eligible farmers has signed up through April, The Casey County News reported last week. "They'll not get this year's payment if they don't come in and sign up by June 17," local FSA administrator Barry Turpen told Editor Donna Carman (whose paper has no Web site).

The paper said in an editorial that it didn't understand why more people hadn't signed up. One reason could be that many quota holders are not tobacco growers, but lease their quotas to growers. The editorial reminded them, "There will be no price support any more, nor any leasing of tobacco."

Javier Garza, tobacco program specialist at FSA's Kentucky office, told the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues that the signup rate in Casey County is lower than average. He said the agency has contracted with about 354,000 growers and quota holders for $6 billion in payments.

The buyout is budgeted at $10.1 billion over 10 years. Financial institutions such are offering immediate, lump-sum payments at a discount. One example is Farm Credit Services of Mid-America, which is based in Louisville and serves Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, all burley tobacco states. Click here for its Web page on the buyout. Click here for the FSA Web site on the program.

Georgia smoking ban, toughest in a true tobacco state, takes effect July 1

"Many bars, restaurants and other public places across Georgia will soon be smoke-free zones under a law signed Monday by a conflicted Gov. Sonny Perdue," who thought about vetoing the bill, reports James Salzer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"The law, which takes effect July 1, will allow smokers to light up only in a handful of public buildings, including bars and restaurants that don't admit people under 18," Salzer writes. "Violators may be fined $100 to $500. . . . Of 14 tobacco-growing states surveyed by the National Conference of State Legislatures, only Florida has as broad a ban as Georgia's.

"Perdue hinted last month after the Legislature approved the smoking ban that he might veto it," Salzer reports. But when he signed Senate Bill 90 into law Monday, Perdue said he wanted to create a healthier populace.

'Ice' meth brings organized crime, increased smuggling as laws close labs

A purer form of methamphetamine has made its way from the Southwest to the Ohio Valley. Police and prosecutors in Kentucky and Southern Indiana “say a purer form of the illegal stimulant -- called 'ice' -- is being imported from the Southwest and Mexico, replacing a less powerful form of the drug that users create in makeshift labs,” writes James Malone, Western Kentucky reporter for The Courier-Journal.

The new form also brings a new, organized wave of crime that deals in shipments costing tens of thousands of dollars. Tony King, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's field office in Louisville, told Malone, "Ice is to meth what crack is to cocaine.It's not just Kentucky, it's nationwide." He said ice is being hauled into the Midwest by the same network that transports cocaine.

One reason imported meth is appearing, according to authorities, is meth makers are having more difficulty getting the ingredients to brew their own. Sales restrictions coupled with tougher laws have put crucial meth ingredients under lock and key. And retailers are reporting to police any suspicious purchases of large amounts of items used to make meth, Malone writes for the Louisville newspaper.

According to a DEA bulletin, "As they had done in Tennessee, Mexican organizations first infiltrate the market by offering high-quality methamphetamine at low prices, amassing a large customer base that comes to prefer the superior product they offer over locally produced 'hillbilly meth.'" The DEA says once the customer base is established, dealers raise prices, a process the federal agency says is currently under way in rural Kentucky.

Adult Services Director Darrin Thomas, at Four Rivers Behavioral Health in Paducah, estimated 10 percent of the 100 to 150 meth addicts they've treated have migrated to ice. Thomas told Malone the more potent form is driving up the degree to which people will go to purchase it. "How do they pay for it? Stealing and prostitution -- anything," he said. Treatment for ice is the same as for people hooked on locally cooked and imported meth. But ice can be 80 percent to 90 percent pure, while local cookers can achieve purity of only 15 percent to 30 percent. Officials said that could lead to overdoses, Malone writes.

Besieged North Carolina pastor resigns amid flap over political admonitions

The North Carolina minister accused of ousting church members for opposing his politicization of the pulpit has submitted his resignation, a move some said was the only way to resolve current tensions at the church.

At a meeting at East Waynesville Baptist Church yesterday, Rev. Chan Chandler got up and led those in attendance in prayer, read his resignation and then left the meeting with his wife, Melody, without making any comments to the assembled media, writes Andre A. Rodriguez of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Chandler’s lawyer told reporters, “Rev. Chandler feels it’s in the best interest of everyone concerned that he resign.” The resignation came a week after the nine ousted members said they were expelled for not supporting Chandler’s decision the church was going to be politically active, writes Rodriguez. Chandler reportedly said in October congregants should repent or resign if they planned to vote for John Kerry.

After the resignation, some members left, saying they would no longer attend the church. The remaining members continued to meet behind closed doors, prayed together and sang "Sweet, Sweet Spirit."

Amtrak cuts threaten rural America's links; cause unites liberals, conservatives

President Bush's proposal to end federal subsidies for money-losing Amtrak has provoked an even more pained outcry in rural communities. Amtrak's supporters in Congress argue that far-flung rural towns, many of them already fighting a losing battle against depopulation, would be dealt the most crushing blow if Amtrak service ends, writes Alan Wirzbicki of The Boston Globe.

Wirzbicki reports from the high-plains town of Browning, Mont., that the local train station appears deserted and dilapidated, but that twice a day an Amtrak train provides what community leaders say is a vital but endangered link for a string of isolated towns and Indian reservations.

While cross-country routes cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year, they have been the key to Amtrak's survival in Washington, creating odd alliances between mostly liberal urban lawmakers and southern and western conservatives, writes Wirzbicki. If Amtrak escapes the latest threat, it will be because of Republicans such as Sens. Conrad Burns of Montana and Trent Lott of Mississippi, whose state has three long-distance trains. Both, along with some of their House colleagues, have pledged to break with the president on Amtrak.

Republican Denny Rehberg, Montana's sole representative in the House, explained his differences with Bush: "Montana is a huge, rural state, with nearly a million people that don't have access to the kind of transportation choices that most everyone else in this country has." But most economists agree maintaining long-distance routes such as those through Mississippi and Montana would assure that Amtrak never makes good on past promises to become profitable, Wirzbicki writes.

USDA paid freelancer to write, place stories about conservation programs

The Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Department of Agriculture paid a state biologist who was a freelance writer "at least $7,500 to write articles touting federal conservation programs and place them in outdoors magazines," Christopher Lee of The Washington Post reports today.

An agency procurement document obtained by the Post under the Freedom of Information Act said Dave Smith was hired in September 2003 to "research and write articles for hunting and fishing magazines describing the benefits of NRCS Farm Bill programs to wildlife habitat and the environment," at $1,875 per story, and was to "contact and work magazine editors to place the articles in targeted publications."

The contract is the latest known example of the Bush administration's "controversial public-relations practices, including payments to journalists to promote administration policies and government-produced 'video news releases' that resemble broadcast news stories," Lee writes, adding that President Bush said after the initial disclosures that his subordinates should no longer pay journalists.

Smith told Lee he wrote five articles for the agency but only three were published before NRCS hired him as a biologist in its office in Missoula, Mont. "Smith said he was paid between $7,500 and $7,800 on the contract, but the total could have been as much as $9,375," Lee wrote. Two of the stories ran in Outdoor Oklahoma, a bimonthly magazine published by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The other ran in the Washington-Oregon Game & Fish magazine, published by Primedia Inc.

Smith told Lee that he told the magazine editors about his deal, and they paid him nothing. "None of the articles appear to disclose his federal contract," Lee wrote. "One of the Outdoor Oklahoma articles was accompanied by a note identifying Smith as a freelance writer who works as a biologist for the agency." Gagner said NRCS did not intend to hide its role, and would consider other such deals, but "We would make sure there was somewhere in the article that says . . . that that writing was done by, for" the agency.

Smith, 38, told Lee he was working as a California Department of Fish and Game biologist in 2003 when he was offered the assignment by a member of the NRCS public-relations staff. David Gagner, NRCS chief of staff, told Lee the small PR office lacked the skill to, as Lee put it, "spread the word" about how the legislation expanded the agency's wildlife and environmental role. NCRS helps landowners "reduce soil erosion, protect water supplies and conserve and restore wildlife habitat," Lee notes.

Pentagon wants Congress to loosen environmental laws for training exercises

Live near a military installation? Heads up. "After three unsuccessful tries, the Pentagon is asking Congress again this year to loosen major environmental laws to allow military training exercises around the country to proceed unimpeded," Michael Janofsky reports in today's New York Times.

The request could be approved this week as part of the defense authorization bill for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The Pentagon says the exemption is essential to for quality training and to insulate it from lawsuits over possible violations of environmental laws.

"With more than 100,000 American military personnel in Iraq, training issues have taken on a heightened sense of urgency," Janofsky writes, "giving the request a better chance of passing this year despite opposition from environmental advocacy groups and state and local governments."

Paul W. Mayberry, a deputy under secretary of defense, said in a speech last month that environmental restrictions undermine training in many ways. He "cited several examples, including the way troops headed for Iraq learned to roll up their tents, a security issue at night because of the way light reflects off the material. In training, he said, they were faced with 'an environmental requirement' not to disturb desert tortoises in the training area," Janofsky reports. "Dozens of groups have complained to Congress that the military's needs are covered by the laws that they seek to change and that waivers would result in conditions getting worse on and around the nation's military bases, endangering the health of millions."

W.Va. Public Broadcasting series The Appalachians debunks stereotypes

A special television documentary on the roots of Appalachians is aimed at refuting stereotypes that have plagued residents of that region for more than two centuries.

According to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Web site, the three-part documentary is airing affiliate stations statewide, and tells the history of the land and its people. It is set to air on 90 percent of public television stations nationwide to an audience of more than 70 million people. The filmmakers hope the documentary dismisses misconceptions and reintroduces the nation to Appalachia.

The flagship West Virginia Public Broadcasting Center in Charleston is offering the series in three one-hour installments on May 8, 15 and 22 at 7 p.m., and the full three hours Wednesday, May 18 at 8 p.m. West Virginia PBS stations are airing it at different dates and times. Check local affiliates for times and dates. For a West Virginia Public Radio report on the series, click here. Here is the list of radio and TV affiliates.

Rotary International gets a 100th birthday salute in the New York Times

"Rotary clubs, a staple of small-town life, are celebrating the construction of innumerable parks, the holding of myriad blood drives, the awarding of countless college scholarships -- and the imminent global eradication of polio" as Rotary's centennial approaches, Tina Rosenberg writes in The New York Times.

"People who think of Rotary as a congregation of service-minded dentists and funeral directors may not have noticed, but the dentists and funeral directors have created the largest, most successful private health initiative ever," Rosenberg writes. It was an outgrowth of the organization's 75th anniversary, when "its leaders decided to find a project that all its clubs -- now in 168 countries -- could work on together."

Florida legislature hands Gov. Bush defeat on vouchers, class-size-reduction

The Florida legislature has handed Gov. Jeb Bush a major setback on several education initiatives, including proposals to rewrite the state’s class-size-reduction law and to expand the state’s school voucher offerings.

The Republican-led legislature's action in the final days of the 2005 session last week marked the first significant defeat on education for the Republican governor in his more than six years in office, writes Joetta L. Sack of Education Week. "Bush had hoped to reopen the debate over class sizes, after voters narrowly approved a costly initiative in 2002 that will gradually lower class sizes and require, by 2010, caps of 18 students for all K-3 classes, 22 for the remaining elementary years through middle school, and 25 for high school," writes Sack.

The governor proposed a modified plan be placed on a statewide ballot. The measure would have calculated the average class sizes at the district instead of the classroom level. This would have given districts more flexibility in meeting the new requirements. Bush maintained the class-size program is too expensive. In his 2002 re-election campaign, he opposed the measure saying it could cost $27 billion over eight years to implement, Sack writes. Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, told Education Week, “The whole idea of going back on a voter initiative is hard for a lot of political leaders to swallow. It wasn’t as though voters didn’t know that this would be an expensive proposition.” Gov. Bush’s office had no comment, Sack writes.

Mining and construction industries plagued by worldwide big-tire shortage

Anyone who has been near a strip mine in Appalachia knows what large tires are. Some of the behemoths used to unearth, dig out and transport the coal have tires the size of or bigger than many buildings in the region. Similar tires are seen on machinery used to cut highways through mountainous areas. But, now it appears there is a world-wide shortage of these black, knobby monsters that can be 12 feet tall and cost $30,000 each.

Tire makers say every big tire produced through the end of next year is already spoken for, and the problem might last until 2007, reports Brian Farkas of The Associated Press, and Pete Sigmund of Construction Equipment Guide. Al Chicago, president of Purcell's Western States Tire Co. in Phoenix, told Sigmund, "The mining industry is 100 percent worse (than construction) because it uses bigger tires," and uses mainly radials, where the greatest shortage exists.

In the coalfields of Central Appalachia and across the country, the large tire shortage means coal operators, equipment sellers and tire dealers are searching and scrounging for replacements. Steve Walker, president of Walker Machinery Co. in Belle, W.Va., told Farkas, "There are eight people trying to get the same tire." At a surface mine, the life expectancy for heavy machinery tires is about six months. The shortage couldn't come at a worse time for coal companies who are trying to take advantage of high prices.

Blogger's note: One is forced to think of some misty, hidden hollow where these worn-out, giant road warriors have gone to die, not unlike the ethereal nether-jungle legend of an “elephant graveyard.”

Ky. official, convicted of vote buying, gets reprieve; to keep job pending appeal

Knott County Judge-Executive Donnie Newsome will be allowed to keep his job for at least two more weeks despite a vote-buying conviction in federal court and having his office declared vacant last week in state court.

"Special Judge James E. Bondurant of Hodgenville, who last week ruled in the election-contest lawsuit that Newsome's office should be vacant, decided Monday to allow Newsome to post a $1,000 "supersedeas" bond and keep his position, pending a ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Eastern Kentucky Bureau. Knott officials and appeals-court clerk George Geoghegan told Mueller, "A decision should be made within two weeks to a month."

Newsome remained on the county payroll pending appeal while serving 16 months of a 26-month federal prison term reduced in return for his testimony last fall in a separate federal vote-fraud trial. Bondurant ruled last week Newsome admitted violating the Corrupt Practices Act in 2002 by accepting illegal contributions and declared the office vacant.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kentucky farmers want to use diversification money to keep growing tobacco

Kentucky burley tobacco growers, who have watched tobacco-settlement money flow into such ventures as aquaculture and vegetable farming to lessen state's dependence on tobacco, now think it's their turn to tap the same fund. "Such assistance, they say, would help secure Kentucky's dominance as a burley producer in a new era after the end of the federal tobacco price support and production quota system," writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press.

A group of burley growers has asked the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to put tobacco farmers eligible for so-called "Phase I" funds, half of which the state has earmarked for diversification to reduce its dependence on tobacco. For farmers sticking with tobacco after the federal buyout of their quotas, the assistance could help build or remodel curing barns, add irrigation systems or buy equipment. Growers say they face new competition in the post-buyout era in which cigarette makers are looking for the most efficient farmers to grow their leaf under contract.

David Wimpy, a tobacco farmer from Christian County in southwestern Kentucky, told Schreiner, "It's just whether Kentucky wants to keep this industry like we've always had it. Now if we get a closed mind and say this industry is over, it's going somewhere else where some farmers are willing to grow it." Mike Kuntz, a spokesman for the American Lung Association of Kentucky, told him the plan amounted to "archaic thinking" running counter to diversifying away from tobacco.

Last month, the North Carolina state foundation that distributes settlement money to help tobacco-dependent communities diversify gave a grant to researchers to help expand burley beyond its traditional area of western North Carolina. The federal program had the effect of limiting types of production to certain areas.

USDA moving forward with animal ID plans to track potential diseased cattle

The Department of Agriculture is moving forward with plans to implement a mandatory animal identification system that would be able to identify within 48 hours after discovery animals that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease.

Published in the Federal Register is notice of the availability of a National Animal Identification System draft strategic plan and draft program standards. The public has until June 6 to comment. The system is touted by producers as a more certain way of assuring the whereabouts and origins of diseased animals, a concern heightened over recent months by bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad-cow disease.

The plan "would give producers until 2008 to have electronic IDs for their animals and a year later to start reporting shipments of livestock," reported Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register.

North Carolina-based Duke Energy buying Ohio-based rival Cinergy

Duke Energy Corp. has agreed to buy rival power company Cinergy Corp. in a stock deal worth $9 billion that will create one of the nation's largest power generators. The deal would create an energy company with 5.4 million retail customers, more than $70 billion in assets and about $1.9 billion in annual profit on $27 billion in annual revenue, writes Lisa Cornwell of the Cincinnati bureau of The Associated Press.

"The deal would make Duke one of the country's biggest players in electricity, executives said Monday. With that heft, they said, Duke can think about splitting its electricity and natural-gas businesses," reported Stan Choe and Stella Hopkins of The Charlotte Observer. "An electric-only Duke, combined with Cinergy, would mean the company is well positioned to be buying rather than getting bought, the executives said."

The Observer said Duke needs "fuel diversity. A company that uses several different kinds of fuel doesn't become trapped when the price for one spikes, as natural gas has. Duke's wholesale power plants in the Midwest run on natural gas, the price of which has been rising. Cinergy's plants run on coal, which costs less.".

Based on market capitalization, Duke said, the combined company's natural gas operations would be the largest in North America and its electric operations would be in the top five in the U.S. The company would have 3.7 million retail electric customers and 1.7 million retail gas customers in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Ontario, AP reported.

Maine lawmakers joining trend toward limiting access to meth ingredients

Lawmakers in Maine lawmakers are following other states in supporting new restrictions on cold and allergy medicines to fight methamphetamine production, which has been called a rural epidemic.

"Lawmakers said Monday that Maine does not have a meth problem like that of Western and Midwestern states. But the numbers of arrests and people seeking treatment are rising here, and once the problem increases, it will become difficult to stop, they said," reported Mark Peters of the Portland Press-Herald.

"I believe you get one chance of getting in front of this drug," Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said. The legislation would limit purchases to three packages of a remedy per visit to a store, and make it a crime to possess more than nine grams of pseudoephedrine or a similar meth ingredient. "Nine grams is the equivalent of 300 pills of a cold or allergy remedy," Peters notes.

Lobbyists for retailers said some parts of the bill are too restrictive. "The major sticking point is a requirement that only a pharmacist or a pharmacy technician may sell the pill forms of the remedies," Peters wrote. "There is also concern about requiring pharmacies to place the pills behind their counters. . . . Lobbyists for grocers and other stores said their clients should be able to continue selling the remedies, particularly in a largely rural state where access to a pharmacy can be difficult."

Baptist leaders voice shock at North Carolina minister's 'political expulsions'

The apparent expulsion of nine members of a Western North Carolina Baptist Church, reportedly for voting for John Kerry last November, has drawn criticism from the head of the Asheville-based Baptist Ministers’ Union, and concern from the head of the state Baptist Convention.

The Rev. L.C. Ray of the ministers' union said yesterday he’s seen church members disagree, but has never seen anything like the controversy at East Waynesville Baptist Church, writes Andre A. Rodriguez of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Nine members of that church, some of them congregants for decades, have said they were kicked out because they didn’t like the pastor’s increasingly politicized sermons.

Ray told Rodriguez that ministers are passionate people, “but we have to deal with the separation of politics and religion. A person should have the opportunity in America to have their own political view without being condemned. As a Christian and a minister, if I would go so far as to say they have no connection with God because they didn’t agree with me, I would be wrong.”

In October, Pastor Chan Chandler told the congregation they should repent or resign if they planned on voting for John Kerry, according to 30-year church member Selma Morris. "The turmoil embroiling the quaint Southern Baptist church is drawing attention from national political watchdog organizations, as well as the national media," Rodriguez writes.

"Jim Royston, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, released a statement saying Chandler’s action to require from his members to agree with his personal political viewpoint would be 'highly irregular' if it is true as reported." He told Rodriguez, “If this is true, I feel we have a serious problem and hopefully the situation is limited to just a few. I’m just as passionate, but I wouldn’t go there.”

Man named ‘Jesus Christ’ in legal battle over W.Va. driver’s license rules

A man who changed his name to Jesus Christ has found that even that name cannot exempt him from West Virginia driver’s license requirements.

"Attempts to prove his name really is Christ have led the man born as Peter Robert Phillips Jr. through a lengthy legal battle and a recent victory in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals," writes Erik Shelzig of The Associated Press. "This all started with him expressing his faith and his respect and love for Jesus Christ," attorney A.P. Pishevar told AP. "Now he needs to document it for legal reasons."

The subject of the controversy is described as a white-haired businessman in his mid-50s moving to West Virginia to enjoy a slower lifestyle. He bought property about 100 miles west of Washington, and has a U.S. passport, Social Security card and Washington driver's license bearing the name Jesus Christ. But he still falls short of West Virginia title and license transfer requirements because his Florida birth certificate has his original name on it and he has been unable to obtain an official name change in Washington, writes Schelzig.

Doug Stump, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles told Schelzig, "We just need official documentation that that's his name. He will be treated no different than anybody else." Christ applied for the legal name change in May 2003, but it was denied in District of Columbia Superior Court because "taking the name of Jesus Christ may provoke a violent reaction or may significantly offend people." In his appeal, Christ's attorney argued that Phillips had changed his name to Jesus Christ 15 years earlier, and "has been using the name since then without incident."

The appeals court last month sent the name-change proposal back to the lower court, saying some required hearings in the case had not been held. Any comment from the man in the middle of this legal tussle? Attorney Pishevar told AP, "Christ is not speaking to the press at this time."

Widow, 'driven from home by coal mining,' settles lawsuit; will move out of shed

An Eastern Kentucky woman forced to live in a tiny shed for nearly two years because coal mining drove her out of her mobile home is now shopping for more spacious quarters.

"Beatrice Turner has settled her lawsuit against the coal company she claimed damaged her property, forcing her to move into the shed where her now-deceased husband stored his tools," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Turner said she has made a down payment on a mobile home.

Turner, 65, was scheduled to go to court yesterday with her lawsuit in which she sought an unspecified amount of damages from the Koch Victory division of C. Reiss Coal Co. of Richlands, Va. The case was one of many claiming coal operators have damaged homes in communities throughout the mountain region. Residents allege their homes have been knocked off their foundations by explosives, hit by flying rocks, damaged by mudslides, flooded and even mired in black sludge, Alford writes.

Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who represented Turner, told AP he is pleased his client will be able to move out of the shed. "That was my primary goal in agreeing to take this fine lady's case." Martin Osborne, a Prestonsburg attorney representing the coal company, couldn't be reached for comment.

Yellowstone area rated high for volcanic eruption threat; better monitoring needed

The U. S. Geological Survey says the Yellowstone area of Wyoming has a high threat of volcanic eruption.

Yellowstone ranks 21st most dangerous of the 169 volcano centers in the United States, according to the Geological Survey's first-ever comprehensive review of the nation's volcanoes, reports The Associated Press. Kilauea in Hawaii received the highest overall threat score followed by Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier in Washington, Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Shasta in California.

Yellowstone is classified with 36 others as high threat. Recurring earthquake swarms, swelling and falling ground, and changes in hydrothermal features are cited in the report as evidence of unrest at Yellowstone.
The report calls for better monitoring of the 55 volcanoes in the very high and high threat categories to track seismic activity, ground bulging, gas emissions and hydrologic changes, AP reports.

University of Utah geology professor Robert Smith, who monitors earthquakes and volcanic activity in Yellowstone, said more real-time monitoring should be helpful. ''We need to get the public's confidence and the perception we're doing it right.'' The university has joined the Geological Survey and Yellowstone National Park in creating the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, which uses ground-based instruments and satellite data to monitor volcanic and earthquake unrest in the world's first national park.

Also on the national-park beat: For a separate story celebrating the grandeur that is Yosemite National Park, California, by reporter Dean E. Murphy of The New York Times, click here.

Common Cause launches coalition to push Bill of Media Rights for diversity

The president of Common Cause, the self-styled "citizens' lobby," has launched what it calls the Media and Democracy Coalition, to push for a national "Bill of Media Rights."

In a news release, Common Cause President Chellie Pingree described the coalition as 116 groups "from across the country representing 20 million individuals who have already signed our Bill of Media Rights that provides a vision of a mass media that truly serves the public, not corporations.”

Pingree said her group is not going to fight “old regulatory battles,” but will “engage the public to promote media policy for the 21st Century that truly provides diversity of viewpoints and ownership, competition, and innovation and that ensures our access to a free and unfettered marketplace of ideas.” She added, “Without these values, the public's access to the information that people need to govern themselves is at risk. That means democracy is at risk. That is why this struggle means so much, and that is why the public must win.”

Corn Growers recall, rename journalism awards at request of Farm Bureau

American Corn Growers Association Chief Executive Officer Larry Mitchell has announced his organization will recall eleven awards presented since 1995 to agricultural electronic and print journalists. The action is a result of a request made by the American Farm Bureau Federation due to a trademark violation.

Mitchell said in a news release, “Since 1995, ACGA has identified and presented an award, titled the ‘American Corn Growers Association Voice of Agriculture Award,’ to an outstanding agricultural journalist at our annual convention. AFBF contends that ‘Voice of Agriculture’ is a registered service mark protected by the Patent and Trademark Office.” He said the Corn Growers would “offer an immediate, voluntary and public recall to all of our previous recipients of the award previously known ‘Voice of Agriculture’ awards, and offer a replacement award if requested.”

Mitchell said the replacement and future awards will be called "The ACGA True Voice of Agriculture Award." He added, “We are indeed regretful if we have caused any misfortune to AFBF, but it is even more regrettable that time and resources were expended on this issue when there are so many more important challenges facing our nation’s farm families.”

Rural issues such as fox-hunting ban hurt Blair and Labour in British election

A lack of empathy for rural concerns, primarily fox-hunting, cost Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labour Party votes in his recent re-election, according to two British publications.

Holly Kirkwood of Horse and Hound writes, “A significantly reduced majority for Labour has given heart to rural campaigners who worked hard to ensure that MPs (Members of Parliament) who understand the needs of the countryside were elected on polling day. … Many rural people chose not to vote for Blair because of the clear lack of empathy his party has for rural concerns,” she writes. A group called Vote-OK claimed it unseated 29 anti-hunting MPs by putting in 170,000 man-hours and delivering over 3 million leaflets.

Amanda Brown, environment correspondent for the Scotsman, writes, “Rural activists were celebrating after several anti-hunting MPs lost their seats in the General Election. The hugely controversial ban on hunting with hounds has proved a focus for anger in the countryside – despite claims by anti-hunt supporters the issue had gone away and would not be a priority for voters.”

Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart told Brown, “There have been plenty of people suggesting that rural issues and hunting were not an issue in this campaign and that activists had gone away or given up. Nothing could have been further from the truth The Hunting Act motivated thousands of people who had never previously been politically active to get involved in this General Election campaign.”

George Evans, a leading coal man in Ky. and W.Va. for decades, dies at 86

George Edward Evans Jr., a coal operator who became an energy adviser to two Kentucky governors, died yesterday in Lexington. He was 86.

Evans was Kentucky energy secretary during Gov. Martha Layne Collins' 1983-87 term and was special assistant for coal and energy policy to Gov. Wallace Wilkinson until 1991. He owned several coal companies in Kentucky and West Virginia and "was said to have been a firm believer in having fun in everything he did," wrote Jennifer Hewlett of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Paul Burba of The Courier-Journal wrote that Evans was the son of a West Virginia coal mine manager and engineer and "started with nearly nothing but grew wealthy in the coal business." He became a millionaire in 1966 by selling some of his mines to Island Creek Coal Co. and earned more millions in the early 1970s by selling his portion of a joint venture with National Steel Co. He retired from the industry as manager of the company's National Mines in 1983. Evans was chairman of two banks and the Kentucky Coal Association. His funeral will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Christ the King Cathedral in Lexington.

Monday, May 9, 2005

Rural reporting among steps N.Y. Times panel says would help paper's credibility

An committee of journalists at The New York Times, increasingly a national newspaper, has recommended that the newspaper build trust among its readers by taking a variety of steps, including more reporting from rural America, more coverage of religion in the U.S., and recruitment to diversity the paper's staff.

"The National Desk is already moving in this direction, but we encourage more reporting from the middle of the country, from exurbs and hinterland, and more coverage of social, demographic, cultural and lifestyle issues," said the committee, headed by Allan M. Siegal, which was originally formed to examine the news department's culture after the Jayson Blair scandal. "Both inside and outside the paper, some people feel that we are missing stories because our staff lacks diversity in viewpoints, intellectual grounding and individual backgrounds. We should look for all manner of diversity. We should seek talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths."

The committee's latest recommendations also include having senior editors write more regularly about the workings of the paper, tracking errors in a systematic way and responding more assertively to the paper's critics, in order to build readers' confidence, writes Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye. Executive Editor Bill Keller charged the committee last fall with examining how the paper could increase readers' trust. Keller said there was "an immense amount that we can do to improve our journalism."

As examples, the report cited limiting anonymous sources, reducing factual errors and making a clearer distinction between news and various types of commentary. The report also said the Times should make the paper's operations and decisions more transparent to readers by making transcripts of interviews available on its Web site and make it easier for readers to contact reporters and editors. The report said, "The Times makes it harder than any other major American newspaper for readers to reach a responsible human being."

The report comes as the public's confidence in the media continues to wane. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing of what they read in their daily newspapers, a level of distrust that may have been inflated because the questions were asked during the contentious presidential campaign when the media itself was often at issue, she writes.

Incentives needed to span rural broadband divide, says Fort Wayne paper

Proponents of bringing rural communities on a technological par with their urban counterparts say those who can communicate the farthest and the fastest are best suited to reap greater economic benefits. Indiana lawmakers lost a chance to close the rural-urban gap when they killed a bill designed to promote high-speed Internet access in rural areas and small towns, the Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne said in a recent editorial

Ford’s bill would have allowed local governments access to the public sector fiber optic network that connects the state’s universities, created a financing mechanism for private broadband development in underserved communities, and explored the possibility of a statewide wireless system that could potentially provide inexpensive high-speed Internet access. The bill was killed by the telecommunications industry’s unwillingness to compromise, the paper said.

"Access to broadband is much more than playing whiz-bang computer games, finding box scores and instant messaging. It’s about economic progress," the Journal Gazette emphasized. They cite the city of Auburn, which is tapping into a cross-country fiber-optic network running along nearby rail lines. With Ford’s plan, rural Indiana communities could have seen economic growth with expanded opportunity to technology.

Military base closings hit rural towns hardest; market forces dictate recovery

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission is expected to submit a list of recommendations to the Defense Department as early as this week. If history is any indication, closings will hit rural areas hardest.

Tim Ford, a spokesman for the National Association of Installation Developers, told Tara Copp of the Scripps-Howard News Service, "'Rural places are going to have fewer options. It's going to be a longer term development project.'' For Chanute Air Force Base in rural Rantoul, Ill., it's taken 18 years. The base was closed in 1988, and getting someone to move in and create jobs is still unfinished business. David Johnston, the village administrator for the Village of Rantoul, told Copp, ''The successful ones have market forces that aid in the speed of the closure. In those areas you have developers telling regulators to get out of the way, that they will assume the risk because of the demand for real estate.''

Several rural communities have made a comeback, including those around England Air Force Base in Alexandria, La. The base was closed in 1991, but since then has evolved into an industrial park that includes an airport, a community college and a golf course. It now employs 1,800 civilians, Copp writes.

A 2005 Government Accounting Office report found about 72 percent of the 130,000 civilian jobs lost in affected communities had been replaced. The report said some rural areas have found success through diversification, such as Chase Naval Station in Beeville, Tex., and Castle Air Force Base in Merced County, Calif., which developed prison facilities. For other base closing reports; Radcliff without Fort Knox? by Hilary Roxe of The Associated Press, click here. For Troop moves could help Fort Knox, by Michael A. Lindenberger and Grace Schneider of The Courier-Journal, click here.

Western N. C. church members say they were ousted for political reasons

Nine members of a Baptist church in western North Carolina say they had their membership revoked and 40 others left in protest after tension over political views of the pastor and congregants came to a head.

"Some members of East Waynesville Baptist Church voted the nine members out at a recent scheduled deacon meeting," writes Andre A. Rodriguez of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Selma Morris, a 30-year member of the church, told the newspaper that pastor Chan Chandler had been exhorting his congregation since October to support his political views or leave the church. “He preached a sermon on abortion and homosexuality, then said if anyone there was planning on voting for John Kerry, they should leave. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard something like that. Ministers are supposed to bring people in.”

It's not clear whether the church's tax-exempt status could be jeopardized, writes Rodriguez. The Internal Revenue Service exempts certain organizations from taxation, including those organized and operated for religious purposes, provided that they do not engage in certain activities, including involvement in "any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

For followup articles by the Citizen-Times, Ousted members react, click here; Expelled members consider legal action, click here; Minister says none ousted for political reasons, click here; Mothers’ Day worship followup, click here. For a release by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Church Split In North Carolina Shows Dangers Of Partisan Politics In Pulpit, click here.

Gettysburg casino foes say plan will sully historic site's hallowed ground

The prospect of ringing, flickering slot machines a cannon shot away from the battlefield at Gettysburg is worrying some historians and preservationists.

Last week, a group of 10 investors unveiled plans to seek a casino license from the state as part of a proposed Gettysburg Gaming Resort and Spa, reports The Associated Press.

It would be a mile and a half from Gettysburg National Military Park, the battleground where in 1863 thousands of men gave "the last full measure of devotion," as Abraham Lincoln put it in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln also said, “We can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Kent Masterson Brown, a Lexington, Ky., lawyer who has written about the battle and headed the park's advisory commission, told reporters, "We at this hour of the country's history need to make sure that these places are maintained as hallowed grounds." David LeVan, a local businessman known for contributing to preservation efforts and is the principal investor in the casino, said it would be respectful of the area's history.

The site of the proposed casino was of relatively minor importance in the battle; some Confederate troops gathered there before heading off to fight, AP notes. The site now consists of fields, a house and a golf range. It is at the end of one of two busy commercial strips that flank the park and is along a three-lane highway, U.S. 30, opposite a hotel and entertainment complex that is under construction. Kathi Schue, president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, said the casino could bring more attention to the park and could help raise money to save more of the nation's important historic sites, writes the wire service.

Tenn. driver's license national model? Without proof of legal status, special permit

As Congress considers requiring states to issue driver's licenses only to citizens and legal residents, states that want to allow non-citizens to drive might use Tennessee's system as a model, writes Shaila Dewan of The New York Times. "What they will find is the uneasy paradox of a legal document for illegal immigrants. Police departments, insurance agents, banks and even beer vendors have been left on their own to decide how to treat the certificates, amid the pitched arguments of conservative legislators and advocates for immigrants," writes Dewan, noting that the state has tried to forbid use of the permit for identification.

Only two states, Tennessee and Utah, issue a license for citizens and permanent residents and a certificate for driving, primarily for those who cannot prove they are in the state legally.

Critics have said the federal bill will require driver's license examiners to act as immigration police. In Tennessee, they already do to some extent, checking for fraud in the numerous papers that confer legal status. If the federal law passes, the difference might be one of precision. Lisa Knight, the assistant director for driver's license issuance for the Tennessee Department of Safety, told Dewan, "If this law passes we're going to have to look at sending all of our employees to classes that teach all the different documents."

Driver's licenses are just one of the issues Tennessee has had to grapple with as its immigrant population has grown. Census records show that from 1990 to 2000, the state's Hispanic population nearly quadrupled to 124,000. Since July 1, when the certificate program was instituted, more than 21,000 have been issued.

Mid-South farmers worried about soybean rust invasion; could spike prices

Asian soybean rust, a disease that could gut a soybean crop if it isn't caught immediately, is threatening crops in the Mid-South. Wind-borne rust spores showed up early this year in Florida and more recently in extreme southwestern Georgia, detected in kudzu growing along a roadside, and then in nearby soybeans sprouted from seeds left over from last year's crop, reports The Associated Press. The original story was in the Paducah Sun, which requires a subscription.

Federal agriculture officials said the rust will move into the Midwest, the heart of the nation's $18 billion soybean crop, by late July or early August. Experts say local winters are too cold for the spores to survive, so the worry now is for a new, stronger invasion, AP writes.

Don Hershman, a plant pathologist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's experiment station, in Princeton, told the Sun, "It appears to be showing up a little earlier than any of us thought it might," adding because of wind patterns, the south Georgia spotting isn't as foreboding for western Kentucky as when the spores show up in the Mid-South

Mike Burchett of Benton, chairman of the Kentucky Farm Bureau soybean advisory committee, said buying fungicide too late could cost farmers their crops. Buying it too early could drive up chemical expenses as demand exceeds supply, because chemical companies may not be ready to supply needs outside of the South, Burchett told reporters, "If they spot soybean rust in central Illinois, these markets will go wild on prices."

Program to make scholars of Kentucky mountain students has mixed results

As the first class of Robinson Scholars graduated yesterday from the University of Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the program aimed at uplifting select students from Eastern Kentucky has has mixed results. The paper said only 26 of the first class of 162 graduated in four years, with 44 others planning to enroll for a fifth year, and "it appears that very few will meet one of the unwritten goals of the program: to return home to help improve the region."

Linda Blackford, the paper's higher-education reporter, called the program "a fairly grand social trial that took bright but needy eighth-grade students from Eastern Kentucky and shepherded them through UK with enrichment classes, tutoring and scholarship money." Program organizers emphasize that 60 percent of the first crop of scholars will get either a two-year or four-year degree, higher than the statewide college graduation rate of about 44 percent. The scholars must come from families whose members have not graduated from a four-year college, and they are chosen for their academic ability and potential.

The program was established in 1997 from a trust set up by timber magnate E.O. Robinson. He deeded the 15,000-acre Robinson Forest in Breathitt, Perry and Knott counties to UK in the 1930s and specified that income from its coal and timber be spent on reforestation, agriculture and education in the region, she writes. For The Courier-Journal's story on the Robinson Scholars, click here.

Twang an issue in Va. governor’s race; regional-division tactic or stereotyping?

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore speaks with a distinct Appalachian twang. At first a source of hometown pride, now the accent is at the center of charges and counter charges of mockery, and political chicanery to divide and conquer the state along urban-rural lines.

Kilgore, the Republican candidate, originally touted his twang as a measure of country authenticity, writes Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post. "My accent may only be rivaled by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger," he joked to an audience in Gate City, on the Tennessee border. "But I will tell you this: I would rather be a workhorse than a show horse."

Now Kilgore charges that Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine mocks his accent and, by extension, southwest Virginia. Ads in local papers say "Liberal Tim Kaine Mocks Rural Virginia." Whoriskey writes, "Some believe Kilgore's suspicion stems from a justified fear that more than a few outsiders view locals as 'hillbillies,' but others say the allegations are simply a calculated move by Kilgore to vilify his opponent."

Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the evidence is Kaine ads challenging Kilgore to use his own voice in his ads and the posting of a eight-second clip of Kilgore speaking at

"Virginia politics has long been riven by regional rivalries, and the various accents give them voice," he writes. Rex McCarty, a Gate City businessman, told the newspaper, "It's an obvious political stunt by Kilgore to divert attention from the real issues." But Whoriskey wrote that others told him that "Some people still associate their accents with the backwardness of characters in 'The Beverly Hillbillies' or 'Deliverance'."

Alternative septic systems help hard-to-sewer rural areas protect streams

After years of trying to solve an odorous sewage problem, residents in the east-central Kentucky community of Preston are ready for the sweet smell of success. "Finishing touches are being made on an unusual sewage system that will eliminate the flow of human waste into nearby streams -- a problem caused by geological conditions that made traditional septic systems useless," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

A layer of clay just beneath the topsoil doesn't allow discharge from the community's septic tanks to soak into the ground. A sewage treatment plant, which could cost $6 million, was too expensive for the community of fewer than 100 homes, and so was running sewer lines across six miles of farmland for about $3 million.

Instead, the state approved a $1.5 million alternative system that collects wastewater from septic tanks through a network of lines and pumps it to a nearby ridgetop to be filtered through sand and gravel and then discharged into the ground. The state has approved alternative systems in several Eastern Kentucky communities where traditional sewage-treatment methods don't work or aren't financially feasible, AP reports.

Maleva Chamberlain, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Division of Water, told Alford the goal of alternative sewage treatment systems is to rid the state's streams of raw sewage. "We began to look at these failed septic systems and say 'we've got to do something about this. We know we've got a problem. What's the best way to fix it?" That resulted in the Bath County project, notes Alford, and similar ones in Harlan and Letcher counties. Those projects will be closely monitored, and copied in other communities with similar problems.

Friday, May 6, 2005

Bush lifts forest development ban; millions of acres open to drilling, logging, mining

The Bush administration has ended a four-year-old ban on development in roadless areas of national forests, a move that could pave the way for oil and gas drilling, logging, mining and road building in 34.3 million acres of untouched woods.

The new rule gives governors of pro-development Western states greater say over forest management in their states, which environmental groups fear will lead to development that threatens fish and wildlife in pristine areas, writes Seth Borenstein of the Knight Ridder Newspapers' Washington bureau.

According to economists, forest scientists and industry officials, market forces mean that the first intrusions into the forests will probably be by natural gas-drilling rigs rather than chainsaws and timber mills. Either way, change is likely to come to some of the 58.5 million acres the Clinton administration put off-limits to new development. The new state-by-state rules will affect no more than 34.3 million acres because the other 24.2 million acres have other development bans that aren't being lifted, writes Borenstein.

Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, a former timber-industry lobbyist, told Borenstein, "It's too early to tell how much of the 34.3 million acres will be opened and how much will remain protected." Changes in the rules for roadless areas can take anywhere from several months to more than two years to complete because the process is based on state recommendations and federal forest scientists, he writes. For The New York Times version, click here. For The Washington Post version, click here.

Satellite TV providers sue to overturn tax in Florida; similar to Ky. challenge

Top satellite television providers have filed suit against the state of Florida, alleging their subscribers are unfairly forced to pay higher taxes than cable television customers under a 2001 state law.

DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp., which owns the DISH Network, said in the lawsuit the communications services tax law is discriminatory and penalizes their customers, reports The Associated Press. Mike Palkovic, DirecTV's chief financial officer told reporters, "This lawsuit is about protecting our customers, many of whom dropped cable for satellite television, throughout the state of Florida."

The suit contends the statewide tax rate paid under the law by satellite customers is 10.8 percent, compared with 6.8 percent for cable TV users. But Dave Bruns, a spokesman for the Florida Revenue Department, said the actual rate for cable is higher when local taxes are added, and local taxes are prohibited by federal law from being imposed on satellite subscribers. Bruns declined to comment on the lawsuit, AP writes.

The lawsuit also contends cable franchise fees help defray their overall tax bill and are not available to the satellite companies. The lawsuit is one of several filed around the country by DirecTV of El Segundo, Calif., and EchoStar of Englewood, Colo., challenging satellite TV tax laws. Another such lawsuit filed this week challenges a 5.4 percent tax approved in March by the Kentucky legislature.


Evolution goes on trial in Kansas; Ohio has challenged it; Ga., Fla. considering

Kansas ignited a national debate over the teaching of evolution six years ago, and now the state is poised to push through new science standards requiring Darwin's theory to be challenged in the classroom.

"In the first of three daylong hearings, being referred to here as a direct descendant of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee, a parade of Ph.D.'s testified Thursday about the flaws they saw in mainstream science's explanation of the origins of life," reports The New York Times. It is the biggest stage yet for "intelligent design," the idea that life's complexity cannot be explained without a supernatural creator.

Darwin's defenders are refusing to testify at the hearings, which were called by the State Board of Education's conservative majority. But their lawyer forcefully cross-examined the other side's experts, pushing them to acknowledge that nothing in the current standards prevented discussion of challenges to evolution, and peppering them with queries both profound and personal, Times reporter Jodi Wilgoren writes.

If the board adopts the new standards, as expected, in June, Kansas would join Ohio, which took a similar step in 2002, in mandating students be taught there is controversy over evolution. Legislators in Alabama and Georgia have introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge Darwin in class, and the battle over evolution is simmering on the local level in 20 states, she writes. For The Washington Post version click here.

Language immersion program helps school integrate English, Spanish speakers

In Hennessey, Okla., a town of 2,000, Hispanics make up almost 27 percent of the students in the 800-student school district. That’s a 18.2 percent increase from the 2000-01 school year, reports Mary Ann Zehr of Education Week. For years, Mexican families have come to the town to work in oil fields or on farms, and now a packing plant nearby employs many Hispanic newcomers. The demographic change is most apparent at Hennessey Elementary, where 35 percent of this year’s students are Hispanic.

In response, the Hennessey district has changed its English-language instruction, launching a two-way language-immersion program where students who speak English and others who speak Spanish learn both languages together. The program, called Dos Amigos (Two Friends) takes advantage of Spanish speakers’ literacy skills in their native tongue, said Lynore M. Carnuccio, a consultant on English-language learners. “Unfortunately, in a lot of areas of the heartland, because we haven’t experienced large numbers of immigration for long periods of time, we don’t have qualified people who are true bilinguals,” she said.

The program is paying off for Hennessey, Zehr reports. “The district’s English-language learners have surpassed state and federal goals for English proficiency, and English-language learners in the program are doing better in reading, language arts, and math on standardized tests than other language-minority children in the school’s traditional classes,” Zehr writes.

The district also has no problems meeting No Child Left Behind requirements for teaching English to children with limited English proficiency, said superintendent Uwe Gordon. Last year, the district, which has 160 English language-learners total, met is goals for the federal law’s English proficiency with its elementary school alone, and its middle and high school students easily met Oklahoma’s goals as well. About half of the 107 Oklahoma school districts with federally funded programs for English-language learners didn’t meet the goals.


Eastern Kentucky state senator indicted on charges relating to 2000 campaign

Kentucky state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, his brother and a political power broker have been indicted on mail-fraud and conspiracy charges that they elected him in 2000 with bought votes and phantom contributors.

"Turner, a Democrat from Floyd County, will not resign from office and expects to be exonerated, said his attorney, Brent L. Caldwell," writes Mark R. Chellgren of The Associated Press. The two other defendants, Ross Harris and Loren Glenn Turner, were convicted earlier of similar charges in a separate case that federal prosecutors said led to the latest allegations.

Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, disputed any notion his office was targeting Democrats. "This is not a case that has politics connected to it in any way." The indictment alleges Turner and his coconspirators funneled money from Harris through straw contributors and illegally paid people to vote and hid it by claiming to pay them for driving voters to the polls, writes Chellgren.

The charges also allege Turner filed false reports to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. "Vote hauling," as it is known and widely practiced, has long been acknowledged as a way to influence elections. But paying vote haulers is not illegal in Kentucky. If convicted, the defendants could face up to 20 years in prison, he writes. For the Louisville Courier-Journal version, by Elisabeth J. Beardsley, click here. For the Lexington Herald-Leader version, by Eastern Kentucky bureau reporter Lee Mueller, click here.

Federally funded program hosts anti-drug rally, marching through city streets

Operation UNITE, or Unlawful Narcotics Investigation Treatment and Education, hosted an anti-drug rally in Prestonsburg, Ky., last Sunday to focus on drug problems in the area.

The crowd of approximately 1,000 people assembled at the Floyd County Justice Center for songs and prayer, then marched through the city streets to the Prestonsburg High School stadium. "If you all look around, Floyd County is united. We are together on this," said Mike Vance, UNITE Coalition chairman.

Coalition committee members wore black ribbons in memory of Chad Vickers, a member who shared his experiences with drugs to show others how to overcome their drug problems. Vickers died earlier this year after a brief illness.


Prosecutor subpoenas Durango Herald photos of fatal shooting; paper to fight

The Durango Herald says it will fight a subpoena for all photographs it took of a fatal shooting last month.

"Newspapers cannot be agents of law enforcement," Publisher Richard G. Ballantine said in a story by Shane Benjamin. "If they were, at times people would not be open to being interviewed or to being photographed, and a story would not be as thorough or as compelling. That reporting based on our reputation is our community role. Only if there is something that is absolutely critical, and it cannot be learned in any other way, will we turn over unpublished material. We do not think that's the case here."

District Attorney Craig Westberg appeared to disagree. There are times, he said, when information must be turned over," Benjamin wrote. "Westberg said police were too busy preserving the crime scene and arresting a suspect to take their own photographs. But, he said, unpublished photographs could help police identify new witnesses at the crime scene and provide an accurate portrait of the arrest scene. Such a representation, he added, could be 'very helpful' to both the prosecution and the defense."

Chris Beall, the Denver lawyer representing the 8,900-circulation daily, said the suspect has admitted the shooting, to which there were several witnesses, so it is difficult to understand why Westberg wants photos.

Opinion about journalism: Silence is not golden, but neither is cacophony

Comment by Bill Griffin, staff assistant and chief blogger

In the highest cathedral of basketball, the University of Kentucky in Lexington, even the slightest discordant noise reverberates long and loud.

When that noise is an accusation of rape against a player many consider an icon of propriety, and an image of goodness in a world where such images appear rare, the noise becomes magnified. Add to the mix a deafening silence by the top local television station -- even after the player’s own agent made the connection between the accusation and his client -- and the din becomes louder. Factor in a recent $80 million dollar sports and marketing contract between the cathedral and that television station, and the mix becomes volatile.

The facts as they are known: First, a woman alleges she was raped in Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge, the on-campus home of Kentucky basketball players. Accused, but never charged, was the very well-liked, respected and always calm Chuck Hayes. When rumors were rampant but no one had publicly connected the dots, Hayes’ own agent revealed his client was indeed the accused.

Should news media report such accusations, where there are no charges? If so, how best can they fulfill their role in a responsible, fair and balanced manner? And, should those that choose not to report at all, be held up to question and subjected to critical review? The answers seem textbook to outsiders, but many of those who have had their vision tinted by the stained-glass windows of that cathedral seem to see it otherwise.

And, should a strident Lexington radio talk-show host, Dave “Buzz” Baker, who has self-appointed license, vested interests and biased roots at WKYT-TV -- the station with the UK basketball contract -- fire volleys of vehemence at those who scrutinized the cathedral and his former comrades at the place that made him famous? Admittedly, radio talk-shows are not repositories of reason and enlightenment. Ratings rule.

Rich Copley, the culture writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader, looked at this dilemma yesterday. In his report, WKYT-TV News Director Jim Ogle said it was “news department policy” not to report names when charges have not been brought. Bruce Carter, news director of WLEX-TV, which is in a ratings dead heat with the once-undisputed champion and covered the story from its inception, told Copley, “I don’t think it’s a story you can ignore.”

Now, with the apparent reluctance of the accuser to press the issue, the facts of whatever took place will eventually fade. But questions of responsible journalism will linger, especially at a time when it is assailed from all sides, and too often lends credence to its critics.

Nature abhors a vacuum and will try mightily to fill the void. Our society is not much different. Those who choose to do nothing can make that choice in our democracy. But, then, laying claims to being the best television news department will seem more hollow. The extremes of silence or cacophony don’t do a democracy any good. Although for some those extremes may generate ratings, based on mobs of half or ill-informed people. For the rest of us, we can only hope that journalists will continue to strive even harder to find and write the truth, telling us what they know as accurately and as fairly as possible. Then we in turn can make good old fashioned, solid, reasoned, and informed decisions. It's not glitzy, but it has worked.

Bill Griffin was a reporter for WKYT-TV in the mid-1970s and from 1983 to 1991. He left the station to work in the campaign and administration of Gov. Brereton C. Jones. In 1982-83 he was executive news producer at WLEX-TV.


Cockfight halted in Georgia mountain town; five arrested, including mayor

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has discovered that Saturday in the Northern Georgia mountain town of Blue Ridge is cockfighting night, where up to 300 people crowd into a barn to watch the illegal sport.

According to GBI investigators, regulars at the fights included the town’s 83-year old mayor, Robert Greene, who was captured on videotape watching the action from a ringside recliner marked "reserved seating," writes Clint Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Greene and four other people have been arrested and charged in connection with the cockfights, where spectators bought food and drinks, even souvenirs, from a concession stand. Joe Hendricks, the district attorney of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit told Williams they were tipped about the operation last fall, after women complained their husbands were gambling away their paychecks.

Blue Ridge (pop. 1,200) is near the North Carolina border about 70 miles northwest of Atlanta. It has a "chicken crossing" sign on a main street. GBI investigators said patrons paid $20 to watch trained roosters with sharp metal hooks on their spurs fight to the death. During the four-month probe, undercover agents attended the cockfights and made hours of videotape with hidden cameras, which captured many in the crowd betting on the fights. Hendricks told Williams, "The video also shows a little 3- or 4-year old girl at this thing."

Mayor Greene was charged with gambling and released on a $2,500 bond. The four others arrested allegedly organized the cockfights. Each was charged with commercial gambling, keeping a gambling place and cruelty to animals, and was released on $12,500 bond. The investigation is continuing and more arrests are likely, Williams writes. A similar operation, was raided by Kentucky State Police last month in Jeffersonville, cited more than 500 people, from numerous states, Guam and Canada.

Antler bandit strikes in Alaskan peninsula; owner collecting for carving hobby

Police have arrested a man, now called the Antler Bandit, in connection with the theft of nearly $70,000 in moose, caribou and elk antlers stolen from a home in Kenai, Alaska.

The man's name was being withheld pending charges by the Kenai District Attorney. Police said the antlers were being stored in a large container at the residence while the owner was away working on his commercial fishing boat, writes Phil Hermanek of the Peninsula Clarion. Police told the newspaper it looked like sometime during the past four months, the suspect had been hauling away truckloads of the antlers and selling them to area carvers and gift shops.

A friend of the owner noticed the door to the container open, saw much of its contents were gone, and contacted the owner who contacted police. Police Sgt. Tod McGillivray questioned neighbors who reported seeing the suspect taking the antlers. The owner had been collecting the antlers in hopes of carving them as a retirement vocation in years to come. McGillivray told the newspaper police have recovered about one-fourth of the antlers and expect to recover more.

Escaped 'Big Bird' causes ruckus; North Carolina law officers not 'emused'

Authorities in the Gaston County, North Carolina, community of Dallas tussled yesterday with an escaped emu that at one point had run through a Burger King parking lot.

Police dispatcher Leah Welch told the Charlotte Observer about 30 people called 911, alerting police to the wayward animal. Officers loaded the bird into an Animal Control truck. "One lady said it looked like the bird from Sesame Street," said Welch. Authorities said it's unclear who owns the emu or where it came from.

Emus are native to Australia and can swim well and run up to 30 m.p.h. The ostrich-like creatures stand about 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weigh about 110 pounds. Police Capt. R.A. Scott told the Observer the incident took them by surprise. "We've done the normal horses out of a corral, but never a big chicken."

HISTORY NOTE: On this date in 1940, John Steinbeck won a Pulitzer for The Grapes of Wrath.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Meth epidemic taking huge financial toll on communities' budgets nationwide

The methamphetamine epidemic is draining fiscal resources nationwide from communities large and small.

"Local officials, who had not even heard of the drug five years ago, are being forced to shift budget priorities to pay for everything from dental care for meth-addicted jail inmates to foster care for children whose parents have been arrested for running a meth lab," write Larry Bivins and Pamela Brogan of the Gannett News Service. The additional financial burden comes at a time when many states are struggling to balance their budgets and the federal government is cutting back funding for local drug-fighting programs, they write.

The Bush administration, which has recommended cutting money for local anti-meth programs, does not have national figures on the drug’s economic toll. Jennifer DeVallance, a spokeswoman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told Bivins and Brogan, "We just don’t track this data." But officials in communities where meth is a problem have a clear idea of what it’s costing them. A few examples:

Meth cost Portland and the rest of Multnomah County, Ore., $102.3 million in 2004, according to an economic analysis by ECONorthwest. That amounts to $363 per household in a county where the average tax payment was $355. In Crow Wing County, Minn., meth costs taxpayers about $1.8 million a year, or $33.50 for each county resident, said Terry Sluss, a county commissioner and the county’s meth prevention coordinator. Meth costs Indiana at least $100 million a year, including $4.5 million spent cleaning up former meth labs, according to the state’s Methamphetamine Abuse Task Force, Bivins and Brogan write. In a March congressional hearing, Tennessee Technical University President Robert Bell cited estimates state officials will take more than 700 children into custody this year at a cost of more than $4 million. And the ECONorthwest study estimated that foster care for children of meth-addicted parents in just one Oregon county cost $6.1 million in 2004, or $21.75 per household.

KCI, an anti-meth site, contains methamphetamine-related facts and Web links. The Drug Enforcement Administration Website also lists facts on meth. For a related news article, also by Gannett reporters Bivins and Brogan, headlined Meth wreaks havoc on inmates’ teeth, click here. For an accompanying article Pharmacists say bill is a positive step by Eric Fossell of The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, W.Va., click here. For a graphic showing the effects of meth on the human body, click here. And, for an article titled Meth madness: A neurologist warns Virginia teens about the life-destroying effects of methamphetamine, by Lee Bloomquist of the Duluth News Tribune, click here.

For a report in the Chicago Sun Times by Stephanie Zimmerman, Rural retailers take new meth law seriously, contrasting rural retailers with their urban counterparts in efforts to limit access to a colds medicines ingredient needed for meth production, click here.

Rural schools, important facets of their communities, suffer from ‘brain drain’

Most rural areas are all too familiar with the phenomenon of “brain drain,” which occurs when new graduates leave their rural homes to find higher salaries and better experiences in urban areas, writes Thomas D. Rowley of the Rural Policy Research Institute.

Rowley cites Lionel Beaulieu and Robert Gibbs, who describe the challenges facing rural areas that try to improve their economy by improving their schools in an introduction to the report, “The Role of Education: Promoting the Economic and Social Vitality of Rural America.” If rural schools succeed in providing their students with a good education, “they run the risk of accelerating the exodus of talented youth to the larger cities that offer higher salaries and other important amenities.”

One solution is to bring more high-paying jobs to these areas, but often those communities don’t have the resources or infrastructure to do that, they write. “[Beaulieu and Gibbs] find that a one-percentage point increase in the share of high school graduates raises per capita income by $128 in a typical rural county,” Rowley writes. “Sadly, but not surprisingly, that same one-point increase in an urban county raises per capita income by a whopping $413.”

Thomas Lyson of Cornell University writes that rural schools are important local assets, by teaching the community’s children, offering employment opportunities, and providing social, cultural, and recreational opportunities. The rural school “is a place where generations come together and where community identity is forged,” Rowley reports.

Researcher says breakthrough in ethanol can replace half our automotive fuels

A University of Florida researcher recently developed a biotechnology “bug” to convert farm wastes into fuel for automobiles. The professor of microbiology with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Lonnie Ingram, says half of the country’s automotive fuel could be replaced with the ethanol made from renewable crops and wastes, reports Newswise.

“We can reduce our dependence on imported oil and lower the price of automotive fuel by reformulating our gasoline with ethanol derived from inexpensive farm wastes,” said Ingram, director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels at UF. His breakthrough is a genetically engineered E. coli bacteria that produces the ethanol from farm wastes like corn stems, cobs and leaves.

“Until now, all of the world’s fuel ethanol has been produced from high-value materials such as cornstarch and cane syrup using yeast fermentations,” reports Newswise. “In 2005, more than 4.5 billion gallons of fuel ethanol will be manufactured from cornstarch and used as automotive fuel.”

Buehler Foods, five-state grocery chain, files for bankruptcy protection

Buehler Foods Inc., which has more than 60 grocery stores in five states, has filed for bankruptcy protection, citing delays in assuming control of 16 Winn-Dixie stores the company bought last year.

According to records filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Evansville, Ind., the Jasper, Ind.-based grocery chain owes between $200 million and $400 million to 572 creditors known to date, reports The Associated Press. Under its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, Buehler will continue operating its stores in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia as it tries to reorganize.

But some stores are expected to close, AP reports. Buehler officials said the company's Buy Low store in Princeton, Ind., and a Buy Low store in Carmi, Ill., with a total of 46 employees, will be closed as soon as possible. Two Buehler Market stores in Louisville, with 100 employees, also will be closed soon, they said. Kris Buehler-Massat, Buehler's president, said in a statement, "We don't anticipate any more closings but (we) cannot make any promises."

David Buehler, Buehler's chief executive officer, said the Winn-Dixie delays resulted in unanticipated revenue losses of more than $7 million. Buehler said the company's debt restructuring should be completed by the year's end and the company should emerge strong and vibrant when it comes out of court.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare president/CEO resigns to take Texas job

The president and CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) has announced he is resigning to become the executive vice president of operations for Texas Health Resources, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. In the new position, Stephen C. Hanson will oversee a 13-hospital faith-based, non-profit system serving the Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington areas.

ARH operates nine hospitals as well as physician practices, nursing and rehabilitation services, home health agencies and pharmacies in Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, and is co-owner of CHA Health. ARH has not named a successor to Hanson, they write.

Utah region once thought dry could be a major oil find by small company

A tiny oil company has snapped up leasing rights to a half-million acres in central Utah that it says could yield a billion barrels or more of oil, a claim that has captured international attention as oil and gas prices soar.

"Geologists are calling it a spectacular find, the largest onshore discovery in at least 30 years, in a region of complex geology long abandoned for exploration by major oil companies. It's turning out to contain high-quality oil already commanding a premium at refineries," writes Paul Foy of The Associated Press. Industry players expect a bidding war to break out at the next Utah leasing auction, set for May 17 in Salt Lake City.

At today's prices the oil reserve could bring Utah $5.6 billion in royalties, state auditors conservatively estimate. Although the discovery is still playing out, the oil will take years to recover and some skeptics question the company's projections for a region yet to be fully surveyed, AP reports.

Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York, told reporters, "It's just very highly unlikely because the U.S. onshore has been picked clean. That's like finding a wallet in the subway after all the cleaners went through it. It's possible, but very highly unlikely." Gov. Jon Huntsman said he was aware of the discovery "and we are tracking the progress with great interest."

The discovery is playing out more than 100 miles from any of Utah's other major oil fields and 45 miles from the nearest operating well, writes the wire service. The find, just outside Sigurd, Utah, 130 miles south of Salt Lake City, was made by Wolverine Gas & Oil Corp., a private company in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Iowa regulators say they would add three to five riverboat casinos; no specifics

A majority of Iowa gambling regulators have indicated they are ready to approve at least three to five new riverboat casino licenses, but they didn't specify which plans out of ten applications might get the nod.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission expressed their sentiments following a daylong public hearing on casino proposals. The commission is considering 10 applications for licenses in seven communities, writes William Petroski of The Des Moines Register.

Commission Chairwoman Diane Hamilton was joined by Commissioners Gerald Bair and Joyce Jarding in expressing support for approving three to five new licenses. Hamilton told Petroski, "We don't want to issue so many licenses that a year down the road we have a casino in trouble." Regulators didn't publicly state their preference for any specific casino projects, and each declined afterward to comment whether they support any particular license request. The commission meets again next week to announce which projects will be awarded licenses, Petroski writes.

The commission administrator told the newspaper the panel will meet July 14 to consider reinstating a statewide moratorium on additional casino licenses. Such a moratorium was in place from 1998 through 2004, when regulators decided to rescind the restrictions so that new proposals could be offered for casino projects. Iowa currently has 16 casinos, including 10 aboard riverboats, three at racetracks and three on Indian lands.

Guns-in-the-bar bill shot down in Tennessee; 'unbelievable,' says speaker

A Tennessee House subcommittee, after contentious debate, has reversed a vote taken earlier and defeated legislation allowing handguns in establishments that sell alcoholic beverages.

House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and Majority Leader Kim McMillan took the lead in criticizing the bill. Both said they had received threats from supporters of the legislation, writes Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, in turn, said he had received threats from those opposed to the measure. The House Constitutional Protections Subcommittee had approved the bill last week, but the approval was effectively invalidated by Naifeh through parliamentary maneuvers that sent the bill back for another hearing. Naifeh called the bill "unbelievable" and noted that firearms are banned from the Legislative Plaza. He told reporters, "We don't want to let people bring firearms in here, but yet we want to let them take them into bars?"

The bill would have allowed persons who hold conceal-carry permits, of which about 150,000 have been issued in Tennessee, to take their weapons into businesses selling alcohol, provided they do not consume any alcohol. Businesses, however, could decide individually to prohibit firearms on premises by posting signs.

'Democracy Now!' host castigates media as 'mouthpiece' for power brokers

Nationally renowned advocacy journalist Amy Goodman told an overflow audience in Louisville last night that mainstream news media have become a "megaphone" for those in power.

Goodman maintains journalists have failed to adequately challenge the Bush administration's rationale for the Iraq war and gave short shrift to dissenters and protesters, writes Chris Kenning of The Courier-Journal. Goodman told her audience, "We need an independent media in a time of war," and argued corporate-owned newspapers and television networks often fail to hold the U.S. government accountable, writes Kenning for the Louisville newspaper. Goodman, 48, is host of Democracy Now!, a news show on the alternative Pacifica Radio network carried by more than 330 radio and TV stations.

She has gained a national following for her blend of investigative reporting and political activism focusing on government accountability and media responsibility, writes Kenning. She's also a frequent guest on CNN and other news talk shows, and her honors include the George Polk Award for her documentary on "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria's Oil Dictatorship." Last night's stop on her "Un-Embed the Media" speaking tour was sponsored by a bookstore and the Center for Kentucky Progress, a think tank, Kenning writes.

Goodman cited a 2003 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting study on Iraq coverage by ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS news. Of 393 people interviewed on camera, only 17 percent were "skeptical" of U.S. policy. And only three were anti-war representatives, the study found. Goodman said networks interviewed mostly former generals or government officials. Instead, she said, the media should be "a sanctuary of dissent."

Eastern Kentucky county official removed from office 16 months after conviction

A special circuit court judge in Eastern Kentucky’s Knott County has, at least tentatively, removed from office Judge-Executive Donnie Newsome 16 months after his felony vote-buying conviction and imprisonment.

"Ruling on an election-contest suit filed by a defeated opponent in a 2002 county primary, Special Judge James Bondurant said Newsome admitted in federal court last September that he violated the state Corrupt Practices Act," writes Lee Mueller of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Newsome testified he accepted $20,000 in illegal cash contributions for the race from Ross Harris of Pikeville.

Bondurant signed an order on April 27 declaring the Knott County judge-executive's office vacant and ordering it to be filled "in a manner prescribed by law." It was not clear yesterday, however, when Newsome would have to vacate his courthouse office, Muller writes. Paintsville lawyer Michael Endicott, who filed the suit on behalf of Mike Hall, a former county clerk who lost to Newsome by 520 votes in the 2002 primary, told Mueller, "It's effective, as far as I'm concerned, (immediately)."

Animal planet: A vegan dinosaur and a rare woodpecker named Houdini

Researchers in the badlands of east central Utah have unearthed the fossil remains of a dinosaur "missing link," a primitive plant-eater recently evolved from the carnivorous raptors, which also produced modern birds, writes Guy Gugliotta of The Washington Post.

The long-tailed dinosaur ate plants but had powerful, ropy arms and four-inch talons on the ends of its forepaws. Utah state paleontologist James I. Kirkland speculated, "They probably used the claws for self-defense." The discovery supports earlier research linking plant-eating dinosaurs known as therizinosaurs to raptors and opens the possibility that therizinosaurs may have originated in North America rather than Asia. For the New York Times version, click here.

Then there's our fine-feathered friend, "Houdini," the red-cockaded woodpecker who recently got new digs. Scientists have moved the little woodpecker from its woods in western Southampton County, Virginia, which is being logged, to a preserve in Sussex County, about 40 miles northeast, writes Rex Springston of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The bird had lived alone in the Southampton woods for at least 11 years. It was probably the last survivor from a small population there. Its mate and relatives had probably flown away or died off years ago. Experts say that in the wild, red-cockaded woodpeckers usually don't live to be older than 5. The apparent record is 16. This bird is at least 13, possibly older, writes Springston.

On top of that, red-cockaded woodpeckers live in close-knit families, called clans. For all those years, the Southampton bird rode out storms and dodged predators on its own. Bryan D. Watts, director of the College of William and Mary's Center for Conservation Biology told the newspaper, "This bird has really been through it." Southside Virginia, the northernmost realm of the red-cockaded woodpecker, used to be dotted with populations, Springston writes. But as people cut the pines or otherwise damaged the birds' forests, the clans winked out like snuffed candles. Houdini has magically and majestically survived.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Applications for national rural-issues conference must be received by today

Tomorrow is the deadline for journalists to apply for sponsored attendance at Rural America, Community Issues, a conference to be held June 12-17 at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. The Knight Center is offering fellowships for this in-depth seminar, programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Speakers will be experts from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Confirmed sessions and speakers include: Dee Davis, president, Center for Rural Strategies; Charles Fluharty, director, Rural Policy Research Institute; Mark Drabenstott, Center for the Study of Rural America, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Calvin Beale, senior demographer, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; experts on the perceptions and politics of rural America; Hilda Heady, president, National Rural Health Association; Alan Richard, Education Week writer who covers rural schools; Sharon Strover, University of Texas at Austin, expert on rural broadband; Ken Stone, professor of economics, Iowa State University and student of the Wal-Marting of America; David Freshwater, agricultural economist, University of Kentucky; Deb Flemming, former editor, Mankato Free Press; Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky.; Al Smith, former editor and publisher of weeklies in Kentucky and Tennessee; Tom McDonald, general manager of the Las Vegas (N.M.) Optic and former editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial; and Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman. Also, a Washington field trip will explore the roles of federal and state governments, and the interests that lobby them, in rural issues. We will talk to policymakers, big thinkers and detail folks.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is today, May 4. To apply, send three copies of each of the following materials, organized into sets: A resume, including contact information at work; a statement of up to 500 words giving the reasons for applying; a supervisor's strong nominating letter that also agrees to pay partial travel costs to and from the seminar and salary during the seminar (freelancers send a letter of recommendation from an editor); and three published articles (editors may send edited work, broadcasters send one CD, audiotape or VHS videotape). Send applications so that they will be received by today to: Carol Horner, Director, Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, University of Maryland, 1117 Cole Field House, College Park, MD 20742-1024. Contact the Knight Center at 301/405-4817.

With paid time, do they stand in line? Audit raises state worker voting questions

Here’s a reporting opportunity. Do state workers vote if they get state-paid time to cast their ballot? The results of an audit show thousands of state employees in Kentucky who took paid time off to vote, but did not go to the polls. Editors, especially those in rural communities where state office workers can run but cannot hide, might find out how their government employees fare under the scrutiny of a similar survey.

Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen said of her audit, "When employees take advantage of that privilege they've been given, (and don’t vote) it's not fair." For the full story, by reporter Elizabeth J. Beardsley of The Courier-Journal, click here.

Tennessee bill could leave police in the dark about rapes on college campuses

Tennessee's colleges and universities would no longer have to notify police when a student reports being raped, under a proposed state law.

"Some victims' rights advocates say the change will encourage more women to come forward by removing the intimidating influence of the criminal justice system and instead requiring campus officials to tell victims about nearby rape crisis centers," writes Ian Demsky of the Tennessean.

Tim Tohill of the Rape and Sexual Abuse Center in Nashville, told Demsky, ''When somebody comes to our facility for counseling, we would encourage them very strongly to report to the police. If they decide they want to go to the police, we support the victim 100%. But that needs to be the victim's choice.''

Not everyone agrees with the proposed change, writes Demsky. Mary Martin, a former music executive who was raped in 1992, told the newspaper removing the mandatory reporting requirement would serve the college's interests more than the victims. ''I don't like people ducking their responsibilities. By ducking that responsibility, it avoids any unnecessary publicity that would result in a lower alumni fund. And I don't care. Colleges are not exempt from being responsible citizens.'' Under the current law, Martin argued, a rape victim can simply tell police she does not want to cooperate; yet, the rape report would still be counted among the schools' crime figures.

For The Associated Press version of this story, click here. For a Tennessean story about sexual assaults on Tennessee campuses, click here.

University president refuses to speak to newspaper reporter; paper responds

The interim president of Auburn University, Ed Richardson, announced in a campus memo last week that he will no longer speak to Jack Stripling, the higher-education reporter for the local newspaper, The Opelika-Auburn News, the newspaper reports.

Stripling reported on a business deal between two university trustees at a time when the university was on probation with its accrediting agency, the O-A News writes. Richardson called the reporting unfair because the business relationship is a “dead issue,” but never said the reporting was inaccurate.

“While I expect skepticism and hard questions from reporters, I also expect fairness and responsibility,” Richardson wrote in his memo to faculty and administrators. “I have not seen that fairness in the News’ coverage of Auburn governance.”

The newspaper replied in an editorial, “We wonder what message Richardson hopes to send to journalism students at Auburn University. Best we can interpret, he is teaching them that asking questions and reporting facts that a public figure may not appreciate is 'totally inappropriate.'” The paper said it will stand by its reporter, but invited further dialogue: “Rare and low is a university president who doesn’t see value in dialogue with his community. We hope Richardson will reconsider, and today we place the ball in his court.”.

N. C. budget would raise cig tax 35 cents a pack, create lottery, ban video poker

Democratic Senate leaders in North Carolina, looking for ways to fill a sizable budget gap, have ratcheted up the proposed state cigarette-tax increase to 35 cents a pack. The Senate's budget also creates a state lottery and bans video poker, writes Mark Johnson of The Charlotte Observer.

House Speaker Jim Black, a Democrat, told the newspaper that packing the lottery into the budget after it narrowly passed the House as stand-alone legislation "makes it very difficult" to pass the budget in the House. Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, signaled his unhappiness with some elements of the Senate plan and his hopes that the House will make changes. Spokeswoman Cari Boyce said the cigarette tax should go higher.

Senate budget writers initially proposed a 25-cent bump in the cigarette tax, a little more than half of the 45 cents Easley proposed in February, but a big rise from the current nickel a pack. Democratic leaders weren't able to sell the quarter increase to a meeting of their party caucus, which holds the majority in the Senate. Senators raised pointed concerns about a need for revenue, cuts to programs and teen smoking.

The increase would elevate the cigarette tax in North Carolina, the top tobacco-producing state, from the lowest in the nation. It would rank 41st, still well below the national average of 84.5 cents a pack. South Carolina would take the title of lowest, at 7 cents per pack. For The Associated Press version, click here.

Montana tobacco tax revenue short of expectations; dollar hike cuts smoking

Tobacco tax revenue in Montana is falling short of the state's original projections and some programs, like the Children's Health Insurance Program and new prescription drug aid programs, might be caught in the financial cuts crosshairs. "It appears that the new $1-per-pack increase in the tax on cigarettes, approved by voters in November, is reducing the number of cigarettes sold in state. That means the state is receiving less tobacco tax revenue than it anticipated," writes Allison Farrell of the Billings Gazette.

State Budget Director David Ewer told Farrell tobacco tax revenue projections have been reduced by $3 million for the first six months of 2005. The state originally projected to raise $16.2 million in tobacco tax funds for new health programs by June 30 but is now hoping to bring in $13.3 million. "It's still early to say we'll meet what we've targeted for our revenue estimates. But it is true the data we have so far shows less revenue than we've projected," writes Farrell.

The state originally projected to raise $71 million for five health-care programs over the next two years. The rest of the money is slated to be put into reserve. But if the money doesn't roll in, then the programs have to be scaled back, Ewer said. No decisions will be made until late summer or fall, she writes.

Surgeon general favors ‘regionally, ethnically tailored’ national smoking campaign

The surgeon general of the United States told a federal court yesterday that a national, one-size-fits-all campaign against smoking would do less to discourage smoking than initiatives tailored for specific regions of the country and for specific ethnic groups, writes Michael Janofsky of The New York Times.

Dr. Richard H. Carmona said, "What works on a Native American reservation in the Southwest may not work in New York City, South Dakota or Beverly Hills," adding later: "There's no one solution to say, Here's a national plan. I don't think we'll ever be at a point where we can say, Here is a national solution." The trial is expected to conclude in June after nine months of testimony, Janofsky writes.

Carmona, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002, was called by the government in its racketeering case against big tobacco companies. The suit initially sought $280 billion from the companies, but an appeals court said that penalty was inconsistent with civil racketeering laws. Now government lawyers are pushing Judge Gladys Kessler to consider other measures should she find that the companies have engaged in a 50-year conspiracy to keep Americans smoking, as the government has charged, writes Janofsky.

Those could include the creation of a national stop-smoking program financed by the companies, a nationwide educational program, a change in the way companies describe their "light" cigarettes and new restrictions on advertising. The most expensive option, a stop-smoking program, could cost the companies as much as $5 billion a year, he writes. For The Associated Press version, click here. For more on the Justice Department's litigation, click here.

Nebraska law tightening regs on cold-medicine ingredients sails on first vote

Nebraska's one-chamber legislature has voted overwhelmingly for a measure restricting access to a popular cold medication in an effort to curb the state's illegal production and trafficking of methamphetamine.

Senators gave the bill first-round approval with only one dissenting vote, despite complaints from some that the inconvenience to law-abiding citizens could outweigh the measure's effectiveness, writes Leslie Reed of the Omaha World-Herald. Sen. Pat Bourne of Omaha, the bill's sponsor, told Reed, "I do believe it will go a long ways toward stopping the (meth) problem here in Nebraska. It will be the most comprehensive bill in the country to fight (meth)."

The measure would require retailers to store products with pseudoephedrine behind the counter or in a locked cabinet. Purchasers would have to be at least 18 years old and show identification. No one would be allowed to buy more than the equivalent of 48 doses in a 24-hour period. The measure also would increase penalties for meth trafficking, he writes.

Several state legislatures have voted this year to limit access to meth ingredients. In Illinois, those in the rural part of the state, "apparently know more than their Chicago counterparts about a new law limiting sales of Sudafed and other cold remedies, a key ingredient in the illegal drug," reports Stephanie Zimmerman of the Chicago Sun-Times. "That disparity worries law enforcement officials, who say Downstate meth makers are traveling north to make their buys. And a compliance check late last week showed they appear to be right -- about 50 percent of retailers in one Chicago Police district were not restricting access to the drugs."

Trout Unlimited advocates renewal of mine cleanup fund; Sen. Byrd backing effort

The national conservation group Trout Unlimited is urging Congress to approve a long-term extension of the tax that funds the cleanup of abandoned coal mines.

Carol Moore, a TU member from Coal Creek, Tenn., told reporters during a Washington news conference, “The job of cleaning up the coalfields simply isn’t done, so we still very much need the fund.” At the same time, lawmakers on Tuesday moved to finalize another short-term fix that would reauthorize the tax through the end of September, writes Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., inserted that extension into a budget bill last month, and yesterday won conference committee approval of it. “The families living in the coalfield communities of West Virginia and throughout America should not live in constant limbo, unsure whether the funding will be available to repair and restore the abandoned mine sites near their homes," Byrd said.

Under the Abandoned Mine Land program, coal operators pay 35 cents per ton of surface-mined coal and 15 cents per ton of underground-mined coal. The money is supposed to be used to clean up coal mines that were abandoned before 1977, when the federal strip-mine law was passed, Ward writes.

Duke Energy, Progress Energy see prospects for new nuclear power plants

North Carolina's two major electric companies say the time is right to reconsider nuclear energy with energy costs soaring and Washington continuing to debate a new national energy policy.

"Like so much of the state's changing economy, it has a lot to do with foreign competition," writes Emery P. Dalesio of The Associated Press. This time, he adds, the competition from China, India and other developing nations is for coal and natural gas - the primary fuels burned by American power plants. That's driven fuel prices higher and made nuclear power cheaper by comparison.

Scott Hinnant, chief nuclear officer at Raleigh-based Progress Energy Inc., which serves almost 3 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida, told reporters, "As demand increases in one place, cost goes up in another, nuclear is an important component of our company. We value a diversity of fuel mixes. This gives us protection against rising prices in one fuel market or another."

A Durham opponent of nuclear energy warns Duke Power and Progress Energy should expect everything from scientific arguments to street protests against new nuclear plants. Jim Warren, executive director of the North Carolina Waste Awareness Reduction Network said, "I don't think the North Carolina public will go along with more reactors." But an environmentalist said nuclear energy is safer than coal. Professor Robert Jackson, director of the Duke University ecology program and Duke's Center on Global Change said thousands of Americans die every year from diseases resulting from coal pollution, while no one has died as a result of nuclear power, reports the wire service. For a list of power plants, click here.

Charlotte Observer has new managing editor, Nieman Fellow Cheryl Carpenter

Charlotte Observer Editor Rick Thames has named Cheryl Carpenter the paper's new managing editor, putting her in charge of day-to-day operations in the newsroom of about 250 journalists.

"She'll take over for Frank Barrows, who announced Monday he is leaving after 13 years as the paper's No. 2 editor," writes the newspaper’s Scott Dodd. Carpenter is serving a one-year Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University and plans to return to the paper May 31. Carpenter has worked at the Observer for 22 years as an editor on the state desk, the metro staff, the business section and Page One.

There's to be no apostrophe, period, say University of Minnesota … scholars?!

The University of Minnesota's "Great Apostrophe Debate" is over, and defenders of the much-maligned punctuation mark are in mourning. The university's Scholars Walk will be just that -- a Scholars Walk, not a Scholars' Walk, writes Mary Jane Smetanka of the Star Tribune.

The Scholars Walk is a $4.5 million walkway to commemorate the accomplishments of people associated with the school. Board members and others at the university have been jousting good-naturedly over whether "scholars" should end with an apostrophe, writes Smetanka. Larry Laukka, who leads the group developing the walkway that will pay tribute to eminent scholars and students, told the Minneapolis newspaper, "I'm terribly disappointed. But I had to bow to their whims."

English and rhetoric professors, e-mailers from around the country and even the Apostrophe Protection Society of England weighed in on the issue. Laukka tried to persuade officials an apostrophe would add distinction by hinting that, in a sense, the walk is owned by those it honors. But the board voted against the punctuation mark, Smetanka writes.

Board member Margaret Carlson led the opposition, concerned an apostrophe signifies ownership and could be misconstrued as exclusivity. She told the newspaper, "We want the Scholars Walk to be as inclusive as possible." Carlson said an apostrophe-free title on a monument isn't unprecedented, citing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The board also was concerned that features along the four-block-long walkway would need apostrophes. "Apostrophes would be out of control!" they said. Foes had the university's style guide on their side. It avoids use of apostrophes on building names and in other titles, she writes.

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Applications for national rural-issues conference must be received by tomorrow

Tomorrow is the deadline for journalists to apply for sponsored attendance at Rural America, Community Issues, a conference to be held June 12-17 at the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. The Knight Center is offering fellowships for this in-depth seminar, programmed by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Speakers will be experts from top research institutions, government, business and the media. Attendees will gain valuable sources and engage in thought-provoking discussions with other reporters, editors and opinion writers from around the country.

Confirmed sessions and speakers include: Dee Davis, president, Center for Rural Strategies; Charles Fluharty, director, Rural Policy Research Institute; Mark Drabenstott, Center for the Study of Rural America, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City; Calvin Beale, senior demographer, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; experts on the perceptions and politics of rural America; Hilda Heady, president, National Rural Health Association; Alan Richard, Education Week writer who covers rural schools; Sharon Strover, University of Texas at Austin, expert on rural broadband; Ken Stone, professor of economics, Iowa State University and student of the Wal-Marting of America; David Freshwater, agricultural economist, University of Kentucky; Deb Flemming, former editor, Mankato Free Press; Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky.; Al Smith, former editor and publisher of weeklies in Kentucky and Tennessee; Tom McDonald, general manager of the Las Vegas (N.M.) Optic and former editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial; and Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman. Also, a Washington field trip will explore the roles of federal and state governments, and the interests that lobby them, in rural issues. We will talk to policymakers, big thinkers and detail folks.

Knight Center fellowships cover all seminar costs, including reference materials, hotel lodging, meals and a travel subsidy. The travel subsidy is a reimbursement of half the cost of travel up to a maximum subsidy of $300. The deadline for receipt of applications is tomorrow, May 4. To apply, send three copies of each of the following materials, organized into sets: A resume, including contact information at work; a statement of up to 500 words giving the reasons for applying; a supervisor's strong nominating letter that also agrees to pay partial travel costs to and from the seminar and salary during the seminar (freelancers send a letter of recommendation from an editor); and three published articles (editors may send edited work, broadcasters send one CD, audiotape or VHS videotape). Send applications so that they will be received by tomorrow to: Carol Horner, Director, Knight Center for Specialized Journalism, University of Maryland, 1117 Cole Field House, College Park, MD 20742-1024. Contact the Knight Center at 301/405-4817.

Newspaper circulation continues decline, forcing tough decisions, reports WSJ

Newspaper circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show industry-wide declines of 1 to 3 percent, possibly the highest for daily papers since the industry lost 2.6 percent of subscribers in 1990-91.

The biggest publishers may show the largest declines: Gannett Co., which owns about 100 daily newspapers, says it will be down "a couple of points" from last year's levels, write Julia Angwin and Joseph T. Hallinan of The Wall Street Journal. Circulation at Tribune Co.'s Los Angeles Times is likely to be off in excess of 6 percent of its most recently reported figures. Belo Corp.'s Dallas Morning News expects to report daily circulation down 9 percent and Sunday circulation down 13 percent from the year-earlier period.

For Editor & Publisher's comprehensive report on newspaper circulation, click here. For a list of the daily papers that gained both daily and Sunday circulation, click here. Among those on the list that have had material in The Rural Blog are The News-Enterprise of Elizabethtown, Ky.; the Herald-Citizen of Cookeville, Tenn.; the Bristol (Va.) Herald-Courier; the Times West Virginian of Fairmont; the Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Me.; and The Free Press of Mankato, Minn.

Competing with the Internet: Print, waging PR war, insists it's here to stay

Print feels threatened as never before. Newspapers and magazines may have complained when radio and television came along, but they seem to be in full panic mode now as readers and advertisers flock to the Internet, writes Katharine Q. Seelye of The New York Times.

With their advertising campaigns, poor old print is declaring that it's not going to take it anymore. "Enough!" writes Seelye. John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, told her, "You read things that the industry is dead, that the Internet is eating our lunch, that everyone is watching television, that national advertising is declining in the major metros. But the medium is very strong. There are lots of ads in the papers, and not because those people think they're making a charitable contribution. They're investing in the medium because it's delivering results."

Newspapers are generally profitable but they leave Wall Street unenthusiastic, Seelye notes. A Goldman, Sachs report last week warned investors that "lackluster ad revenue growth, weak circulation revenues" and "a downward trend in earnings estimates" reinforced its "negative view" of the newspaper industry. And recent disclosures of inflated circulation figures have soured the climate for some advertisers.

Earl C. Cox, who is the Martin Agency's chief executive and is leading the newspapers' public relations campaign, told newspaper executives at a recent conference the current perception of newspapers among advertisers was that they were "static, inflexible and hard to buy. It doesn't help any that media buyers are under 30 and their focus is elsewhere," mostly on the Internet. He also said newspapers needed to retell their story to remind advertisers that their readers are highly engaged and influential and are paying attention, unlike some of the "eyeballs" darting around the Internet, she writes.

Press freedom declines worldwide; study cites legal cases and political payoffs

Press freedom around the world has declined for the third consecutive year and events in the United States contributed to bringing the level of freedom down, according to a study by Freedom House titled, "Freedom of the Press 2005: A Global Survey of Media Independence."

The survey assesses the degree of freedom by print, broadcast and digital media in each country on a score from 0-100, with 0 being complete freedom. Political influences on the news, the legal environment for the media and economic pressures on the media are the three categories on which each country’s press freedoms are weighed, reports Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher.

“Just 17 percent of people in the world live in countries that enjoy a free press, while 45% live where the press is not free, a percentage that increased by 2% in the past year, Freedom House said,” Fitzgerald reports. “Another 38 percent . . . lives in countries with a "partly free" press, the organization said.”

The United States dropped from a 15 to a 17 last year, ago "due to a number of legal cases in which prosecutors sought to compel journalists to reveal sources or turn over notes or other material they had gathered in the course of investigations,” the study said. The study also cited concerns about grants paid to political commentators.

The freest nations last year were Finland, Iceland and Sweden, each receiving a score of 9, the study said.

Small paper's meth series wins Minnesota AP Association public-service prize

The Minnesota Associated Press Association is giving its public service award to Ann Austin, Jennifer Rogers and Debbie Irmen of the Albert Lea Tribune, circulation 6,315, for their series “Meth: A rural epidemic.” Brandon Stahl of The Fergus Falls Daily Journal, circ. 8,414, is new journalist of the year.

The Pioneer Press of St. Paul won first place for continuing coverage and second for spot news for its coverage of the November slayings of six Wisconsin deer hunters, reports The Associated Press.

W. Va. governor signs bills against meth and schoolkids' sugary snacks

Gov. Joe Manchin has signed legislation keeping soft drinks out of elementary, middle and junior high schools during school hours and a separate measure that aims to crack down on makeshift methamphetamine labs. Both bills take effect July 8, writes Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press.

Though he introduced the Healthy Lifestyles Act, the governor said its provision addressing soda pop in schools reflected a compromise between dueling interests. Manchin said, of the healthy lifestyles bill, "It has been proven that soft drinks have no nutritional value. I don't think we should have any soft drinks, any sugar drinks. But we also have the market concept to consider."

School principals and parents say they raise needed revenue through soft drink sales. Soft drink companies also opposed the bill. The bill allows soft drinks in high school vending machines, but half of any machines must be stocked with "healthy beverages" - water, lowfat milk, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice and drinks with at least 20 percent real juice, writes Messina. The Healthy Lifestyles Act also promotes physical education classes in public schools and creates an Office of Healthy Lifestyles within the Department of Health and Human Resources. West Virginia has some of the worst rates in the country for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The meth bill makes it a crime to possess such chemicals as iodine at a concentration greater than 1.5 percent and anhydrous ammonia with intent to make the drug. It also bars the purchase of more than three packages a month of any over-the-counter mdicine that has ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or phenylpropanolamine as its single active ingredient. The bill is modeled after Oklahoma legislation credited with reducing the number of meth labs there by 60 percent. The measure threatens a felony charge against anyone who makes or tries to make meth where children are present. The new crime carries a one- to five-year prison term, he writes.

S.C. cig tax pressure mounts; N.C. boost would make S.C.’s nation’s lowest

As North Carolina lawmakers move closer to raising that state's cigarette tax, South Carolina could find itself home to the lowest cigarette levy in the nation, a possibility that is increasing pressure on Palmetto State pols to take action.

"N.C. senators are expected this week to propose increasing the cigarette tax there by 25 cents a pack, to 30 cents," writes Aaron Gould Sheinin of The State. With Kentucky's recently passed cigarette tax hike set to take effect June 1, South Carolina’s 7-cents-a-pack tax rate would be 10 cents lower than second-ranking Missouri’s 17-cents-a-pack tax. With South Carolina’s tax out of alignment with other states, proponents of raising cigarette taxes, who say a higher cost would encourage some to stop smoking and keep others from starting, see an opportunity, writes Sheinin for the Columbia newspaper.

Dr. Oscar Lovelace Jr. of Chapin, leader of a coalition of cigarette tax supporters, told The State, “Where is the political will of our elected leaders? Our southeastern neighbors have risen to the challenge. Why can’t we?” State Rep. Rex Rice, R-Pickens, has been fighting for a cigarette tax increase for several years. Previous attempts have started strong, only to die in the legislative process. Rice has a bill that would increase cigarette taxes 30 cents a pack. He told the paper, “Do I think it will happen between now and the end of the year?” he said. “I don’t think so. But I do think it’s likely to happen next year.” For more on efforts nationwide to increase cigarette taxes, and Colorado efforts for a "smoke free work environment," click here.

Coal mine operator gets 'rare' prison term for safety violations in fatal 2003 blast

A federal judge has sentenced a former coal mine operator to 60 days in prison for safety violations that led to an explosion in 2003, killing a miner and injuring two others.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Davis Sledd, who prosecuted the case, said Robert Ratliff Sr. is the first miner convicted of safety violations in Eastern Kentucky and sentenced to prison in more than a decade, writes Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal. The sentence comes after Ratliff's company, Cody Mining, was fined $536,050 last year, the largest federal penalty ever in Kentucky, for violations related to the explosion.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning denied Ratliff's request for probation, citing the severity of the violations at Cody Mining in Floyd County, writes Maimon for the Louisville newspaper. Ratliff's lawyer, Billy Shelton, said his client has waived the right to appeal and must complete a year of probation after his release.

Steve Earle, Kentucky political director for the United Mine Workers, told Maimon that Ratliff's prison sentence "should be a deterrent to other operators who think they're above the law." According to Earle, three coal company executives in Western Kentucky were sentenced to prison in 1996 for violating federal mine safety laws. Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said the sentence would put a scare into mine owners who blatantly violate safety laws. For the AP version, by Roger Alford, click here.

Eastern Kentucky senator accused of mail fraud in 2000 primary race

A leading Eastern Kentucky senator faces a federal indictment alleging campaign finance irregularities in a hotly contested 2000 Democratic primary.

Lexington lawyer Brent L. Caldwell said his client, Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, is expected to be charged with "mail fraud/conspiracy to commit voter fraud." Caldwell said the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Kentucky notified him of the pending indictment, writes Elisabeth J. Beardsley of The Courier-Journal.

Caldwell told Beardsley that Turner, who is Senate Democratic caucus chairman, will not resign his seat. "Sen. Turner, like all American citizens, is presumed innocent under our constitution, and he intends to vigorously defend himself against any charge brought against him in court before a jury of Kentucky citizens," he said in a written statement. Turner spokeswoman Susan Straub confirmed the statement's authenticity.

The FBI and the U.S. attorney have been investigating financial transactions during Turner's 2000 Senate campaign "for many months," according to Caldwell's statement. Federal officials have also examined "other candidates' campaigns," the statement said. Van Tatenhove's spokeswoman Cindy Long declined comment, as did FBI spokesman David Beyer, Beardsley writes.

Business owners appealing ruling regarding their English-only policy

Owners of a drive-in in Page, Ariz., which serves and employs a large number of Navajo Indians, have appealed a federal district court ruling on its lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reports Mountain States Legal Foundation, which will represent the owners.

The EEOC sued Richard and Shauna Kidman, owners of RD’s Drive-In, after they began enforcing a policy that only English be spoken in the workplace, the legal foundation reports. An Arizona federal district court ruled that they agreed to settle the lawsuit, but the Kidmans argue in their brief that there was no such agreement because there was never a “meeting of minds” between the parties.

The couple does not speak Navajo, and they started enforcing their English-only policy after discovering many Navajo customers and employees were repelled by some of the language they heard from employees. One Navajo woman complained that male Navajo employees had made sexually suggestive comments.

The owners found out after checking the EEOC's website that they could require English be spoken in the workplace if they had business reasons. They began requiring employees to speak English unless they were serving a customer who didn’t speak English, and employees signed an acknowledgment of the policy. Four former employees filed a complaint with the EEOC, and an Arizona court ruled in the EEOC’s favor in September of last year.

Private Kentucky hospital to receive coal severance tax revenues for drug rehab

A private hospital in Pikeville will receive public funding from coal severance tax revenues to treat young drug addicts in Eastern Kentucky.

Pikeville Medical Center will receive $750,000 over two years to help pay for a juvenile drug rehabilitation center, writes Janie Taylor of the Appalachian News-Express. Coal severance tax money historically has been used to improve infrastructure, including developing industrial parks and extending municipal water lines into communities where mining has fouled wells.

State Sen. Ray Jones told the Pikeville newspaper the budget included an additional $1.5 million in coal severance tax revenues to Operation UNITE, an Eastern Kentucky anti-drug project. Jones expects that money also will go for operation of drug-treatment centers. Jones said the money is needed because the region has a severe drug problem and most treatment programs are geared toward adults, Taylor writes. Jones said he considered the Medical Center initiative as one of the most important ever undertaken in Eastern Kentucky, and that he has read too many obituaries of young addicts who died from drug overdoses.

Jones told the newspaper, "I know a lot of people have been opposed to this type of allocations from coal severance tax revenues," but he added drug treatment actually has become an important part of economic development in the region because some coal companies have had trouble finding employees who can pass drug tests. Pike County Judge-Executive Bill Deskins told Taylor coal severance tax money has been important for improving the quality of life in coalfield communities. "I have to support it, for the children." Jones said the state appropriation will come in two installments, $400,000 this year and $350,000 the next.

Montana wind farm work to begin soon; power for thousands, jobs for hundreds

Work on Montana's first major wind farm is expected to begin this month, and officials hope it will be producing electricity by the end of the year.

Invenergy of Chicago won approval from state regulators to build the wind farm between Judith Gap and Harlowtown. It's expected to include 90 to 100 turbines, reports The Associated Press. Andrew Flanagan, Invenergy's project manager for the Judith Gap Energy Center, told reporters, "The plan is to have the project completed and transmitting electricity by the end of the year." Once completed, the 150-megawatt project will sell wind-generated electricity to NorthWestern Energy, which will use the power to serve its 300,000 customers in central and western Montana.

The project is expected to bring a dozen permanent jobs to Wheatland County. As many as 150 people will be employed at the peak of construction this year, writes the wire service. Flanagan said the 260-foot-tall turbines may start going up as soon as mid-July. Wheatland County Commissioner Richard Moe said the wind farm will be the largest construction project in the area since the late 1970s. Moe told AP, "There will be a lot of jobs in the area, erecting the wind farm, and that will certainly be a boost for the local businesses. It brings a healthy attitude to the county. It's really nice to see something turn around."

Walleye-devouring cormorants in Minnesota targeted by federal sharpshooters

Federal sharpshooters are to begin killing up to 80 percent of the 5,000 adult cormorants nesting in the Leech Lake area, one of Minnesota's most popular angling destinations, because of concerns that the increasing population of this rapacious bird is responsible for a decline in walleye numbers, a northern fish popular with anglers worldwide.

"Officials say there appears to be a correlation between recent poor walleye fishing and the booming number of fish-eating double-crested cormorants on Leech," writes Doug Smith of the Star Tribune. The population has jumped from about 150 nesting adults in 1998 to 2,300 in 2003 to more than 5,000 last year. There may be another 3,000 juvenile birds. Ron Payer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries management chief, told Smith, "We're pretty convinced they are having a significant impact." For the Duluth News-Tribune version of this story, “Cormorants in the Crosshairs,” by reporter John Myers, click here.

The birds are vociferous eaters, each gobbling up about one pound of fish daily. Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, told the Star Tribune, "We estimate they consumed in excess of one million pounds of fish last year. That's a level of predation that wasn't present prior to 1998. There's going to be an effect." The cormorant culling plan is a joint effort among state and federal agencies and the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa, writes Smith.

The shooting will be suspended during the fishing opener May 14-15, and a quarter-mile buffer zone will be marked around the island to prevent boaters from approaching, he writes. (Blogger’s note: defines a cormorant as: “Any of several large, widely distributed marine diving birds, having dark plumage, webbed feet, a slender hooked bill, and a distensible pouch.” Second definition - “A greedy, rapacious person.”)

Monday, May 2, 2005

Beef industry could have made up export loss by testing for mad-cow

Kansas State University's Research and Extension Service released a 65-page report, “The Economic Impact of BSE on the U.S. Beef Industry,” with the controversial conclusion that the industry could have made up lost profits from overseas markets by testing for mad-cow disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been strongly opposed to voluntary testing, saying it would not identify the disease in young cattle and the tests aren’t needed, reports Roxana Hegeman of The Kansas City Star. When the first mad cow case was discovered in the United States, 53 counties banned the import of U.S. beef, which cost the industry between $3.2 billion and $4.7 billion last year, the study said.

In 2003, U.S. beef exports accounted for 9.6 percent of the country’s commercial beef production, the report said, and 90 percent of that went to five countries: Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Canada and Hong Kong. Last year, Mexico and Canada partially resumed U.S. beef imports. However, exports last year were still 82 percent below 2003 levels.

Western water wars not doused by wet winter; states can't agree on allocation

After five years of drought, the American West had a winter of heavy precipitation in 2004-05 and the mountain snow pack that feeds the Colorado River is above average for the first time in years, but the seven dry states that depend on the river for their water supply are engaged in yet another water war.

"Despite a year of negotiations, the governors of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California have been unable to agree on an annual plan for sharing the Colorado's water, the most precious resource in a region where the rain rarely falls. So, the final decision has been bumped up to the Bush administration," writes T. R. Reid of The Washington Post.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton is expected today to tell the seven feuding governors how much water they can draw from the river and its tributaries this year. The issue is how many million acre-feet of water federal engineers will shift this summer from Lake Powell to Lake Mead, the two main reservoirs that control flow on the Colorado, writes Reid.

A seven-state compact created in 1922 governing allocations of Colorado River flow was fairly easy to adhere to until a tidal wave of population growth. Coupled with a drought, it made a dry region even drier and aggravated the water wars. Now a network of dams and diversion canals sucks up all the water before the river reaches its mouth. Bill Bates, a resource engineer with the Denver Water Board, told Reid, "It's a rare year now when the Colorado flows to the Pacific."

Normally conservative Republicans who denounce "big spending" and "big government" are fighting to bring more big-budget government water projects to their states, while liberal Democrats in the region with otherwise pristine environmental records are breaking with their green backers when it comes to proposals for new dams and concrete-lined canals, he writes.

High fuel costs, pushing up all energy-related products, triple-hit farmers

While most consumers are feeling the pinch at the gasoline pump farmers are paying the price for something more than just the rising cost of diesel fuel.

Along with bushels-per-acre for harvests in the fall, this year farmers will be measuring their planting season in gallons per hour, reports Boyd Huppert of KARE-TV 11 News in Minneapolis. Dick Kennealy, a farmer in River Falls, Wis., told the station that even with a relatively small fuel-efficient tractor he is feeling the pinch of higher diesel fuel prices this year -- up nearly a dollar a gallon, “about double what it was a year ago.”

A larger farm, running just two tractors during planting, could easily spend $400 per day just on fuel, but in addition, operating tractors is not the only bite from high fuel prices. Dwight Nelson of Nelson Farm Supply told Huppert that fertilizer is costing more, too. “The nitrogen products are all made from natural gas so really heavily linked to the cost of energy.” Nelson says nitrogen prices are up 50 percent from two years ago and that’s not the worst of it. Potash, another major component of farm fertilizer, also is pushing up operating costs. It's mined mostly in Canada, but right now demand in other parts of the world has pushed up prices to record levels. The big question now, asks Huppert, is "can farmers continue to grow corn and sell it for less than $2 a bushel and still pay higher input costs?"

National 55 mph speed limit energy crisis solution? Experts skeptical of sacrifice

President Bush has said he sees no quick fixes to the nation's energy woes. But if history is any guide, there is one thing he could do immediately: bring back the 55 miles-per-hour speed limit, write Jad Mouawad and Simon Romero of The New York Times. That's an idea that would surely find foes in rural areas.

"It has been done before. Along with record oil and gasoline prices, improvements in fuel efficiency and a lasting economic recession, speed limits helped curb fuel consumption for the first time in American postwar history between 1974 and 1984," Mouawad and Romero write, but energy eventually became cheap again, the economy expanded and Americans became complacent and unwilling to make more sacrifices, they note.

Steven Nadel, the executive director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit research group in Washington, told The Times, "We are in a boxing match, and the president keeps one hand tied to his back. We're punching with supplies and not using demand. We're at a disadvantage."

Other industrialized countries, especially in Europe, have been much more successful than the United States and have managed to actually lower oil demand, or at least keep it in check. That comes from higher diesel use and higher taxes, write Mouawad and Romero. Few politicians in America might risk ridicule or rejection by explicitly supporting higher taxes on gasoline, one of the surest ways to limit the nation's dependence on oil. Robert K. Kaufmann, a professor of geography at the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University, told the newspaper, "Even the least outrageous gasoline tax would have choked off some demand, and the money would have gone to our own government instead of being transferred overseas. Of course, that would have to involve personal sacrifice, which is off the table politically."

Low price of coal keeps at bay nuclear goals espoused by President Bush

President Bush may be high on nuclear power, but the electric industry is not ready for new reactors.

"Companies have shown interest in building reactors in the last few months, but industry experts say conditions are not right to induce companies and investors to gamble the $1.5 billion or so needed for another round of plants," writes Matthew L. Wald of The New York Times.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Nils J. Diaz said he expects five or six applications by 2008 and has asked Congress for money for extra staff members. But, others are cautious. John W. Rowe, the chairman of Exelon, the largest U.S. nuclear operator, says the high price of natural gas is an incentive to build plants but that an offsetting factor is the low cost of coal. The lack of a solution for waste is also a deterrent, Wald writes. Exelon, though, is spending millions to win early NRC approval for a reactor site next to its reactor near Clinton, Ill. The company is five years from deciding whether to build, Rowe said.

Dominion Power of Richmond, Va., is also seeking reactor site approval. But Thomas E. Capps, chairman and chief executive, told Wald, "We aren't going to build a nuclear plant anytime soon." The president's suggestion last week the federal government provide insurance to plant builders against the risk of delays might be helpful, some experts said, but other factors would have to come into line.

David E. Dismukes, an associate professor at Louisiana State University and the associate director of the Center for Energy Studies there, said there were competitors to reactors, including liquefied natural gas. The Bush administration would like to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to approve liquefied natural gas plants over the objections of state and local governments, which are wary because of safety and security considerations. Dismukes told The Times liquefied natural gas could push the price of natural gas down to about $3 per million BTU.

Texas oil town sees radioactive waste disposal project as economic salvation

The small West Texas town of Andrews built an economy on oil but may hang its hopes on storage and disposal of radioactive waste.

Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists has set aside about 1,340 acres near the New Mexico border for hazardous waste storage and disposal, and the company will manage tons of federal uranium byproduct waste by year's end, writes Betsy Blaney of The Associated Press. Some residents believe the site will bring dozens of jobs from spin-off industries, and city leaders anticipate it will pump millions of dollars into the economy.

Russell Shannon, vice president of the Andrews Industrial Foundation, a privately funded group formed to help attract companies to the city, told Blaney, "If we thought we could get an NFL franchise or a Riverwalk, we wouldn't have looked at this industry." By 1956, the county led the nation in oil production, pumping more than 60 million barrels annually. But gradually the business dwindled, along with the town's population.

But last week the town learned the site will become the storage destination for tons of Department of Energy uranium byproduct waste now at the abandoned Fernald federal plant, just northwest of Cincinnati. Shipments could begin as early as late May and probably will be completed by year's end. Waste Control Specialists has an application pending with the Texas Department of State Health Services to dispose of the uranium byproduct waste. A decision could come early next year.

NYT asks of domestic security spending, “real security, or politics as usual?”

A New York Times editorial yesterday asked if “risks and vulnerabilities” are determining the destination of homeland security spending, or are the funds being cooked into political pork and fed to the faithful despite the lessons of the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks.

“Any terrorist who has followed how domestic security money is distributed in this country must be encouraged by the government's ineptness - and Congress is showing few signs of learning from its mistakes,” writes The Times. In its report, the 9/11 commission urged that domestic security funds be given out based strictly on "risks and vulnerabilities." But since that new pile of money appeared on Capitol Hill, members of Congress have been more interested in ensuring their own constituents get a ride on the antiterrorism gravy train, the editorial states.

Congress has begun debating a formula for financing, but, The Times writes, "it shows every sign that it will once again shortchange the places that face the greatest risks. President Bush and Michael Chertoff, the new homeland security secretary, should be speaking out and twisting arms in Congress to make sure that antiterrorism money goes where it is needed most," states the editorial.

The current formula is based in part on population, rather than risk, and contains state minimums, so even sparsely populated states without a plausible terrorism target are raking in money. This is the formula that gave Wyoming seven times more domestic security money per capita than New York, they explain. The problem, says the editorial, "is pork barrel politics. Members of Congress like to talk about how Sept. 11 changed everything, but when the subject turns to money, it is striking how little has changed." The financing formula is heavily tilted toward small, low-risk states like Alaska, Utah and Maine, which is home to one committee chairperson. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced an amendment to base the formula on risk, but reports The Times, he lost 15 to 1. (Blogger's note: Again, Pogo was right.)

FCC regs trump zoning as cellular towers become landscape landmarks

Folks who happily trade urban conveniences for woodsy acreage and ‘Norman Rockwellian’ maple-lined streets are finding their reverie disturbed by the rapid advance of cellular transmission towers.

When Verizon Wireless proposed building a 150-foot cellular transmission tower atop one of the highest hills in a wealthy New Jersey town, local officials found their zoning laws were unable to stem the tower tide. After a futile battle against Verizon and four other wireless carriers, the residents of Mendham Township will see the tower go up, visible from most parts of the town, writes Katie Hafner of The New York Times.

Their losing battle is becoming commonplace as hundreds of communities around the country wage the same fight against cellphone companies. Fears the gigantic towers will reduce property values and cause health problems from radio-frequency emissions have created the kind of opposition that is usually reserved for waste treatment plants in many towns, Hafner writes.

Carriers are invoking federal law that prohibits towns from rejecting a transmission tower on the grounds it poses health concerns, because there is no conclusive evidence the transmissions harm people at the levels allowed by the Federal Communications Commission. More and more of the towers are being planted as the wireless companies -- responding to subscriber demands -- race to build their networks for seamless coverage. But many suburbanites would rather put up with bad cell-phone service than allow the structures in their midst. In fact, many dead spots in the nation's wireless networks persist not from technological limitations but from community resistance to the towers, she writes.

Robert Pierson, the deputy mayor of Mendham Township, a pre-Revolutionary War town in northern New Jersey, told The Times, "We are very cranky and frustrated." Ed Donohue, a Washington lawyer who has represented wireless carriers, estimates more than 500 cell tower disputes have ended up in court.

Sealed box with Internet connection brings technology to the impoverished

Advanced Micro Devices recently unveiled a slimmed-down computer that will cost about $200, in an effort to get computers with Internet access to half the world’s population within 10 years.

The idea is not new, and it has not had much success in the past, reports Jonathan Krim of The Washington Post. “A group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is working on creating laptops that would be bought by governments for $100 apiece and given to needy residents, but some analysts question the initiative's viability,” Krim explains.

AMD, however, is challenging the way computers are designed and distributed. Instead of a computer customized with separate components, the Personal Internet Communicator is a sealed box, sold through Internet providers, that allows either dial-up or high-speed Internet access. Its limitations (not good for games) cut costs, and it is easy for first-time users to operate.

AMD Chief Executive Hector de Jesus Ruiz said he wanted to develop the machine partly because of his upbringing in a developing country, but also because of potential profits. University of Michigan business professor C.K. Prahalad argued in a book that profits can be made, while eradicating poverty, when corporations pay attention to people who earn $5,000 to $10,000 per year. They are AMD's target market. "I felt like we really needed to look at low-cost computing, and we couldn't find anyone who had an interest, so we decided to do it ourselves," Ruiz said.

Prescription drug abuse up again in Eastern Kentucky via Internet pharmacies

Authorities in Eastern Kentucky blame online pharmacies for a recent spike in the availability of some prescription narcotics.

In fiscal year 2000, more than 2,200 Kentuckians were charged with prescription drug abuse. In 2002, the number of charges went up only 11 percent and in 2003 the number climbed only 3 percent. But last year, charges reached 3,917 - an 18 percent increase. A recent arrest gave authorities clues to the cause, reports Alan Maimon, Eastern Kentucky reporter for The Courier-Journal..

Last year when police arrested one suspect for allegedly stealing packages from a shipping center in Stanton, they found 240 sedative and painkiller tablets - all from an online pharmacy in Florida. Authorities told Maimon further investigation revealed at least 15 other companies were shipping drugs to Eastern Kentucky, with one UPS center receiving up to 200 packages a day. They found some Internet pharmacies require patients to see doctors and get prescriptions, while many others issue prescriptions with no in-person exam and then mail drugs to anyone who can pay.

With the Drug Enforcement Administration, the state subpoenaed UPS records to find out how many packages were entering Eastern Kentucky. Ken Drugs, a Tampa, Fla.-based Internet pharmacy, alone was shipping an average of 100 packages a week to the UPS center in Stanton. Fifteen other companies were involved. The state system that tracks prescription drugs has helped catch prescription abusers and doctors who mis-prescribe drugs, Maimon writes. But, Robert Benvenuti, inspector general for the state health cabinet, told him Internet pharmacies have their own doctors who don't report to the state's tracking system.

Kentucky county using more home incarceration because of budget squeeze

Facing a tightening budget, judges in Clark County, Kentucky are sentencing more people convicted of certain offenses to home incarceration, rather that spending time behind bars at the county detention center.

Each person in the Clark County Detention Center costs the county $22.50 per day, Jailer Bobby Stone told Tim Weldon of The Winchester Sun, as part of a series the 7,000-circulation daily published on jail finances. With home incarceration, the defendant pays all living expenses, and there’s no need for a guard with a 24-hour ankle bracelet that tracks his location. The defendant also pays a $100 sign-up fee plus $10 per day for the Global Positioning System device worn on the ankle, Weldon writes. Since March of last year, 115 county residents have spent a combined total of 4,835 days under home incarceration, saving taxpayers over $50,000, said Bill Clark of EMCON, a company that manages the tracking system.

These sentences “are being considered more frequently as county jails are becoming overcrowded and siphoning away county tax revenue that could be used on other public services,” Weldon reports. “The state pays only a bed allotment based on the county's population. For the 2005-06 fiscal year, the state bed allotment for Clark County will be $157,237 -- an amount that hasn't increased since the 2002-03 fiscal year. The state allocation accounts for only about 10 percent of the jail's operating expenses.” Kentucky begins paying housing costs once an inmate is convicted or pleads guilty and receives his sentence, but often the defendant spends months in jail before entering a guilty plea, and then is released for time served. That means the county gets no money from the state, Weldon writes.

“In recent months, nearly one-third of all counties in Kentucky have closed their jails entirely, paying other counties instead to house their inmates,” Weldon writes. “They are generally counties with small jails. [Judge/Executive John] Myers says closing the jail and paying other counties to keep Clark County inmates would cost Clark County taxpayers even more than they're currently spending and is not an option to the jail funding dilemma.”

West Virginia counties get litter-control officers to help state clean up image

Jim Stone has written 112 warnings and 60 tickets for violators in Raleigh County, West Virginia, though many people may be unfamiliar with his title -- litter control officer.

Last year, the state Legislature gave counties authority to hire such officers, and Stone has held that position since July. He took the job one day after he retired from 26 years at the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department. Fines he issues can run from $50 to $1,000, writes Audrey Schwitzerlette of the Beckley Register-Herald. "You drive any back road in Raleigh County, and you'll see washers, dryers, water heaters -- it's all out there, and you know it's getting in the water," he told Schwitzerlette.

“All of it may be dirty work, but what it comes down to is getting his message -- the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority's message -- across to people: Litter is not only unsightly and hazardous to the environment, it's an economic deterrent and another reason for people to stereotype the state,” Schwitzerlette writes. Stone is there to stop it, she writes.

Crazy? Patsy Cline's hometown, which looked down on her, mulls a museum

When country-music legend Patsy Cline "was poor and coming of age here in the Shenandoah Valley. . . . her betters liked to gossip what a hussy that young Virginia Hensley was, going around right in front of folks with her ruby lipstick and her short pants, crawling under the covers with this one and that one," Paul Duggan wrote from Winchester, Va., in Saturday's Washington Post. Duggan quotes Judy Sue Kempf telling a tour-bus group: "Her roots are in Winchester, and there are some of us, at least, who are proud of that. And, by golly, we will get a museum for her, one way or the other." Duggan reports, "It's a project she and some other folks here have been working on without success since 1994, hampered by a shortage of money, occasional disorganization and a lukewarm public response in a region where tourism is mainly about the Civil War and the annual Apple Blossom Festival," last weekend.

"They dream of restoring Patsy's girlhood home and opening a downtown exhibit hall for the best Patsy memorabilia collected from scattered hands -- temples for the pilgrims who roll in from time to time on Highway 7 and the few hundred fans trekking here on Labor Day weekends to observe her birthdays," Duggan wrote. "There's fresh hope for a museum, Kempf says. The group's new president, Philip Martin, 54, is 'a ball of fire,' an entrepreneur with dynamic ideas for marketing and fundraising." He said he's deferred marriage and a job for the cause: "This project is my passion, and I want to see it accomplished." For more on the museum effort and Cline, who died in a plane crash in 1963, click here.

Ivory-billed woodpecker, thought long extinct, lives in northeast Arkansas

Wildlife specialists are in an uproar because the ivory-billed woodpecker, last spotted in 1944 and long assumed to be extinct, is confirmed alive after a recorded sighting in Arkansas' Big Woods last year.

“Few creatures have been more celebrated by American naturalists or shrouded in mystery as the ivory-billed woodpecker,” report The Washington Post's David Brown and Eric Pianin. A New York Times editorial noted the bird's "pterodactyl crest" and other striking features and said, "To see an ivory-bill left people thunderstruck; their exclamations inspired its nickname: the Lord God bird."

Since a lone kayaker saw the bird on Feb. 11, 2004, there have been six more sightings. A year ago, a video camera mounted in a canoe recorded four seconds of the bird in flight. "It's thrilling beyond words," John W. Fitzpatrick, head of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, told the Post. The only confirmed sightings have been of males, all within two miles of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s unknown whether the sightings were of the same bird.

The bird is the largest woodpecker in North America, with a white pattern on its black body that resembles a white heel when its wings are folded. Tens of thousands once existed in the southern forests on a hard-to-find food source, “insects and larvae invading newly dead, but not yet rotten, hardwoods,” Brown and Pianin report. With increased logging, the habitat and the birds both disappeared. The Interior and Agriculture departments said they will spend approximately $15 million to save the bird’s habitat.

For the Fish and Wildlife Service announcement of the woodpecker and audio of it, click here.

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Last Updated: June 1, 2005