The Rural Blog Archive: November 2005

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

Monday, Nov. 28, 2005

Energy mogul claims stake in West Virginia's future from a Kentucky office

Massey Energy Co. head Don Blankenship says he possesses a perspective of "living in the middle" of the Central Appalachian coalfields, mining mainly in West Virginia for a Virginia-based company, all while working from an office in Belfry, Ky., near the state's eastern tip.

Blankenship is active in West Virginia's political races, having spent $3.5 million to unseat a Democrat on the state's Supreme Court and already targeting another for ouster in 2008. Blankenship told reporter Erik Schelzig of The Associated Press he just wants to improve West Virginia, his home state:"I just have my view of what it would take to make the economy better and have more jobs and have a more normal place to live. Whoever supports that view, I'm in favor of. Anybody who doesn't have that view, I'm against."

His company is the nation's fourth-largest coal producer and owns one-third of all coal reserves in Central Appalachia. Massey expects to get half its production from surface mining next year, much of it from removing mountaintops, notes AP.

Blankenship's friends cite his often-quiet donations to charity, but a longtime foe, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts, told Schelzig, "Don has decided that he needs to be able to run the state like he runs his coal company and have control over everybody. He's trying to become the king of West Virginia." (Read more)

Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2005

Out of reach: Location, loan requirements keep rural residents off Internet

Rural residents in Iowa and Illinois want high-speed Internet access, and their location is only one reason they cannot get the service.

After getting turned down by a federal loan program meant to bring high-speed access to rural areas in 2004, Prairie iNet could only use limited private funds to expand service to small businesses in the Des Moines suburbs. That left farmers and other rural dwellers out in the cold, where they may remain indefinitely, reports Vikas Bajaj of The New York Times.

"Across rural America, entrepreneurs, lawmakers and Internet company executives say they are frustrated with a loan program created by Congress in 2002 to help extend high-speed Internet service to rural areas. Run by the Rural Utilities Service, an arm of the Department of Agriculture, the program has been allocated nearly $3 billion but the agency has lent less than half that. As of Sept. 30, the end of the 2005 fiscal year, the utilities service had rejected 87 loan applications totaling $1.1 billion and approved 48 loans totaling $770 million," writes Bajaj.

Critics say the federal loan program's standards are so tough that some applicants are rejected if they do not have enough cash to cover a full year's operating expenses. "Department officials acknowledge that the program has had a slow start and agree that some of the financial restrictions may need to be revised. But the rules, those officials say, were meant to ensure that borrowers were financially stable and that the loans would be repaid in full." (Read more)

Do the math: Hydropower-backed senator kills center that saves salmon

A U.S. senator from Idaho, who is supported by the hydroelectric industry, has killed funding for a center that wanted to send less water through power turbines in order to save salmon in the Columbia River.

"Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) has eliminated a little-known agency that counts endangered fish in the Columbia River. The Fish Passage Center, with just 12 employees and a budget of $1.3 million, has been killed because it did not count fish in a way that suited Craig," writes Blaine Harden of The Washington Post.

The Fish Passage Center has documented how the Columbia-Snake hydroelectric system kills salmon, and its analyses suggest one way to increase salmon survival is to spill more water over dams, rather than feed it through electrical turbines, writes Harden.

Harden notes, "The mathematics of protecting salmon swimming in the nation's largest hydroelectric system can hurt your pocketbook -- particularly in the Northwest, where dams supply power to four out of five homes." Craig received more money from electric utilities than from any other industry and was named "legislator of the year" by the National Hydropower Association. (Read more)

Growing pains: Virginia county seeks development czar to tackle challenges

"Bedford County is looking for a director of community development to help manage the large locality's range of growth issues. The county has a population of about 60,000 residents and 754 square miles of land, and it has been one of the largest and fastest growing localities outside of Northern Virginia for years," writes Jay Conley of The Roanoke Times. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the county, where the population rose 5.7 percent between 2000 and 2004, was the only area in western Virginia whose population increased more than the state average of 5.4 percent.

Located between the region's two largest cities -- Roanoke and Lynchburg -- Bedford County faces two key challenges. One is balancing the increasing demand homes in the suburbs and preserving the county's rural scenery. The other challenge is attracting economic development to help pay the increasing costs for public services, notes Conley. (Read more)

According to the job description, the director of community development will oversee work in the county's planning, zoning, natural resources and Geographic Information Systems departments. "What we're hoping to accomplish with this position is systematic coordination of the various departments that affect or play a role in community development," Frank Rogers, the county's assistant county administrator, told Conley.

Kentucky wants to rid self of No Child Left Behind standards, avoid penalties

Kentucky public schools are asking for help in meeting No Child Left Behind's reading and math standards and avoiding penalties.

"The request would effectively replace a strict federal standard that requires all schools to hit the same annual testing goals with the state's more generous Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, which rewards schools that show improvement. If approved, the changes could lead to a major reduction in the number of Kentucky schools deemed failing under No Child Left Behind. Last year, more than 800 of the state's 1,249 public schools failed to meet the federal standard -- but only 48 missed the state's goals," writes Nancy C. Rodriguez of The Courier-Journal. (Read more)

Some parents have applauded the request, but critics say schools just want the easy way out. It's unknown when the U.S. Department of Education will rule on Kentucky's request, reports the Louisville paper.

Desire for home heating energy leads consumers to seek out corn stoves

Biofuels are seen by experts as a means of lessening dependency on oil nationwide, from powering cars to heating homes in the dead of winter. Now, consumers are viewing corn as a heating source.

"Fearing that budget-busting heating bills are ahead, area residents are scrambling to find cheaper ways to keep warm this winter. Fearing that budget-busting heating bills are ahead, area residents are scrambling to find cheaper ways to keep warm this winter. With natural gas prices predicted to soar more, they’re turning to wood, and even corn, to keep cozy. But demand also is straining supplies of some alternative heating systems," writes Charles Slat of Michigan's Monroe News.

Keith LaLonde, who sells corn burners, told Slat, "I was doing fantastic for a couple of weeks, then the manufacturer got swamped with orders." The systems are now back-ordered by a couple of months. "I get calls from all over Michigan and Ohio from people trying to find a dealer that’s got a stash of the stoves," said LaLonde. (Read more)

School soda machines compared to cigarette dispensers by anti-tobacco group

Fresh from doing battle with big tobacco, some of the same attorneys are planning lawsuits against the soft-drink industry with claims that it hooks and hurts the health of school children.

Massachusetts law professor Richard Daynard, who worked as a consultant on class actions against tobacco companies, is working with private attorneys and non-profit groups to sue soft-drink companies for selling high-calorie drinks in schools, writes Caroline Wilbert of the Cox News Service. Attorneys expect to file their first suit as soon as next month.

Daynard likened the presence of soft drinks in school to "having a cigarette machine in a school," reports Wilbert. The plan is to file first in Massachusetts and then to use that case as a model in other states. Daynard is associate dean at Northeastern University School of Law, and has been president of the Tobacco Control Resource Center and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project. He is also chairman of the Obesity and Law Project at the Public Health Advocacy Institute.

Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, told Wilbert the plaintiffs' attorneys are "trying to paint a bull's-eye on a particular product and pass it off as a meaningful solution to a complicated problem." (Read more)

Big demand for fresh farm produce fuels boost for farmers markets

Farmers markets are popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain thanks to urban dwellers who want fresh produce, reports the Cincinnati Post.

This year's 98 markets in Kentucky mark an 8 percent jump for that state compared to last year. Janet Eaton, marketing specialist for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, told reporter Stephenie Steitzer about 60 percent of tobacco growers are finding ways to replace their income through avenues such as the markets. Eaton called the increased popularity of farmers' markets "a customer-driven phenomenon." One farmers' market couple said on a good day, they could make $100 to $200, depending on what produce they were selling.

The Boone County Agricultural Extension District is building a $1.1 million, environmentally friendly lot and indoor facility for demonstrations at its farmers' market. Covington officials are looking for money to develop a $32.5 million regional public market that will be open year around and include retail shops, restaurants, loft apartments, an outdoor amphitheater and a park. (Read more)

Kentucky hunters bag 100,000 deer in big-bucks industry for the state

Foul weather may have reduced the number of deer killed in Kentucky this fall, a blow to the state's multi-million dollar hunting industry.

"The official count from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources shows 100,359 deer had been killed as of Tuesday morning. That's despite a series of severe storms that brought high winds and tornados to parts of the state over the past month, the height of the fall hunting season," writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Tina Brunjes, big game coordinator for the state wildlife agency, told Alford that Bow hunters and muzzleloaders still have opportunities to get deer, but the total harvest is expected to fall short of last year's 124,752. A total of 258,379 licensed hunters killed more than 10 percent of the state's total deer population, which is estimated at 900,000. Wildlife biologists say thinning the herds is necessary to keep the animals from becoming overly abundant.

State records show hunters have killed more than 100,000 deer during each of the past five years in Kentucky, where hunting of all types netted more than $21 million in sales of licenses this year.

Lynn Garrison, public policy director for the state wildlife agency, said biologists take their job of managing deer herds seriously because of the economic benefits to Kentucky. He said direct sales of hunting equipment, lodging, clothing, ammunition and other items associated with deer hunting total more than $202 million a year in Kentucky. (Read more)

The bread run: Students give back to humanity at one West Virginia college

At Wheeling Jesuit University, membership in one national honor society entails feeding the hungry every day. Alpha Sigma Nu members gather leftover bread and deli items from two area grocery stores for delivery through Catholic Charities to area needy.

"Membership in the National Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu, differs slightly at each of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the nation. At Wheeling Jesuit University, it entails feeding the hungry--every day," reports Newswise, which reports on research and other work at universities.

Rev. Michael F. Steltenkamp launched the project in 2001. “Father Mike” asked Richard Riesbeck, a 2003 alum of the university and president and CEO of Riesbeck Foods Inc., if Alpha Sigma Nu students could pick up clearance items from his stores and deliver them to Catholic Charities, now known as the daily “bread run,” notes Newswise.

The honor society continues the project with campus volunteers, and assistance has come from diverse niches of the campus community. University President Rev. Joseph R. Hacala does the bread run. A number of Jesuit Fathers were joined this year by the Physics Club, members of WJU's athletic teams, members of its sponsored programs and its librarian, reports Newswise. (Read more)

Is traditional journalism succumbing to the blogger generation?

"Chattering oracles are telling us that newspapers will die soon, as the Internet takes over. That may well be and the Internet does carry wondrous potential for improving life (as well as voluminous drivel that used to be written on the walls of public toilets). But the puzzlement is, where will the new digital providers of information get their fresh news?" asks Sydney H. Schanberg of the Village Voice.

"It is fresh news daily, or at least weekly news, that keeps citizens feeling connected to the decisions and events that alter their lives. And it is newspapers, and a handful of probing magazines, that provide most of the in-depth journalism that uncovers and analyzes those fast-moving decisions and events. Blogsters, please don't jump out of your pajamas;lots of you are doing valuable and admirable work keeping mainstream journalism on its toes. But serious journalism is labor-intensive and time-consuming and therefore requires large amounts of money and health benefits and pensions. The blogosphere has plenty of time, but as yet none of the other items," opines Schanberg.

"So if and when newspapers fade into darkness, as the all-seeing oracles foretell, what will happen? Perhaps, in a future time of airborne pigs, altruism will suddenly infuse our culture, and money will descend, like manna, on the Internet to pay for the reporters to do the intensive journalism needed as a check on abusive power. And if altruism or labor-friendly corporate ideologies don't magically appear? The oracles are mostly silent on that eventuality. Maybe they think samizdat is the answer. Maybe many of them don't care," concludes Schanberg. (Read more)

Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2005

USDA proposes to OK China poultry exports to U.S. despite bird flu fears

First, the Bush administration announced a $7.1 billion strategy to ward off an avian flu pandemic. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed to add the People's Republic of China, considered the principal source of bird flu, to the list of countries eligible to export poultry to the United States.

The announcement by the USDA comes on the heels of two new human deaths from bird flu in China. For the Reuters report on those deaths, click here.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is inviting comments on the proposal. Mail, including floppy disks or CD-ROM's, and hand-or courier-delivered items should be sent to Docket Clerk, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service, 300 12th Street SW, Cotton Annex 102, Washington DC 20250. Send e-mail comments to fsis.regulationscomments@fsis.usda.gov.

For the latest on bird flu in and around China: Study: Poultry vaccine stops flu spread from CNN, click here, Poultry culling ends in Inner Mongolia bird flu-hit city from China View.net, click here, Thailand says only one bird flu outbreak left from AFP via Yahoo, click here, and Singapore, US boost cooperation against bird flu, other diseases from AFP via Yahoo, click here.

BellSouth to improve online access for predominately rural, poor areas

The BellSouth Foundation, the charitable arm of the Atlanta-based communications company, is planning a $20 million effort to improve access to online learning for underserved areas in the South.

The campaign will cover Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee, and it will help fund state-led virtual learning programs while seeking to expand computer access to children in poor areas, reports The Associated Press.

Foundation President Mary Boehm said, "We wanted to be sure all kids, not just the privileged, could be part of the virtual learning movement." In addition to helping bankroll and coordinate state virtual schools, the foundation will target low-income neighborhoods. In Atlanta's Carver community, a pilot site for the effort, volunteers will help create a school of technology and work with middle and high school students on job shadowing and an online algebra course, AP reports. (Read more)

Rural Pakistani journalists need computers, other aid from U.S. counterparts

Pakistan journalists, who work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, are starting a Web site for stories on freedom of the press "as a basic human right."

"The Rural Media Network of Pakistan is announcing the publication of the freedom-of-expression newsletter Sadiq News. The newsletter educates rural journalists about freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, and helps to provide them with the necessary skills to cope more effectively. The Nawa-i-Ahmedpur Sharqia newspaper will publish and distribute it freely to rural press clubs, journalists and educational institutions," reports the International Journalists' Network.

The Sadiq News monitors press freedom violations and defends free expression in rural Pakistan. The publication also plans to share this information with international press freedom groups to help coordinate protests to government leaders and the media. For that purpose, the Rural Media Network wants to establish a Sadiq News Web site in both Urdu and English.

The project lacks the necessary computer equipment. American journalists can help by donating equipment. For more information, contact Ehsan Ahmed Sehar at ehsan.sehar@gmail.com or ehsanshr@hotmail.com, or write to this postal address: Ehsan Ahmed Sehar, Press Chambers, Opposite Canal Rest House, Katchery Road, Ahmedpur East, District Bagalwalpur, Pakistan.

'Regional divide' limits broadband access for small firms in rural Ireland

After its transformation from being an agriculturally based economy into a tech-savvy country, Ireland is encountering the same broadband access issues that exist in rural U.S. communities.

"Three out of 10 small and medium sized companies in Ireland have been unable to upgrade to broadband mainly due to lack of availability in their areas, according to a survey of 601 small and medium sized enterprises published by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland. The e-business survey also showed 29 percent of companies access the internet via broadband with 33 percent still using dial up," writes Deirdre McArdle of ElectricNews.Net.

Broadband enables companies to access the Internet at greater speeds. The survey results showed "a regional divide," writes McArdle with 66 percent of Dublin-based companies having broadband while 41 percent have high-speed internet access in the Midlands and 44 percent in the Border region.

Researcher Sean Murphy said, "We must continue to invest in the promotion of broadband and re-position ourselves as a leader in the e-enabled and e-user league tables." The survey also found a direct link between broadband connections and increased usage of all e-business applications. Murphy told McArdle broadband is the key to the creation of a real digital marketplace. (Read more)

Native Americans, University of Washington to explore culturally based healing

"For thousands of years, Native Americans have believed that their culturally-based traditional methods of healing have helped them live healthier lifestyles," writes Tiffany Royal of the weekly North Kitsap Herald. In partnership with the University of Washington, the Suquamish Tribe at the Port Madison Reservation hopes to prove its ways can help Native Americans.

For the next three years, the partners will sponsor a project called "Healing of the Canoe," which will involve gathering information about the culturally-based traditions. Earlier this year, the National Institutes of Health awarded the university $1.4 million for the project, reports Royal.

The project's goals include implementing a community-based intervention or prevention program rooted in tribal values and traditions, and evaluating the program to see if it actually promotes wellness while reducing health problems. "The tribal canoe journey is the metaphor for the project, as it is an event that some Suquamish members have participated in and found to be helpful in getting their lives back on track after certain life struggles. It teaches members traditional protocol and helps members learn about themselves physically and spiritually and how to lead a clean and sober lifestyle," writes Royal.

"It's been very healing for our people," said Chuck Wagner, the tribe's lead administrator for the behavioral health portion of the tribe's wellness program. The canoe journey has "worked for tens of thousands of years but no one ever wrote it down," Wagner told Royal. (Read more)

North Carolina burley growers continue auctions despite end of price supports

A long tradition of tobacco auctions is continuing in western North Carolina despite the dominance of direct contracting with cigarette companies and the end of federal quotas and price supports.

"Asheville has been home to burley tobacco auction warehouses for more than a century. But with the upheaval in the industry caused by last year’s $10.1 billion buyout of tobacco producers, the tradition looked like it might end. For people like Yancey County grower Wendell Wilson, that would’ve truly been the end of an era," writes John Boyle of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Wilson told Boyle, "I’m 44 and I started coming down here when I was 7 years old. I’m tickled to death the Owen family kept it open." The auction will run through Dec. 15. On the first day of sales, four tobacco companies sold about 170,000 pounds of leaf — about half of last year’s first-day sales. The average price was $1.56 a pound, considerably less than last year’s average, which hovered around $2.

The 11 westernmost counties of North Carolina had about 3,500 tobacco growers in 2004. At the Asheville warehouses, sales traditionally generate between $8 million and $10 million annually, writes Boyle. (Read more)

Virginia agriculture secretary backs program to preserve farmland

Virginia's secretary of agriculture and forestry wants the state to commit to agricultural preservation by supporting programs that will make sure farmland stays farmland. "Robert Bloxom spoke at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation's 80th annual convention in Norfolk, where he received a task force's recommendations to provide state funds for local programs that pay farmers in exchange for giving up the right to develop their property," writes Sonja Barisic of The Associated Press.

Such "purchases of development rights" programs guarantee the land will remain farmland, forest or open space, instead of housing developments, malls, etc., notes Barisic. About a half dozen Virginia cities and counties have PDR programs, but they are locally funded.

Bloxom told Barisic, "Now it's the state's turn to join in ... to help the localities in this battle to preserve our farmland and our forest land." The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Farmland Preservation Task Force report the state lost 23,360 acres of farmland and more than 22,000 acres of forest to development each year between 1992 and 1997. (Read more)

Drug crimes triple female inmate population in rural New Mexico county

One rural New Mexico county is seeing more female inmates because of an increase in drug crimes, according to an in-depth look at increased crime, illegal drug traffic and the space crunch in area jails.

"There were 26 female inmates housed in one pod of the Curry County Adult Detention Center on a recent late-November afternoon. Located about 20 miles away, the Roosevelt County Detention Center housed 12 female inmates. Those numbers fluctuate daily, but a larger trend remains. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of women in jail nearly tripled from 1985 to 1996. Local jail officials also report a sharp incline in women prisoners," writes Marlena Hartz for the Clovis News-Journal.

A decade ago, the Curry County jail housed an average of less than 10 women; Roosevelt County, less than eight, according to jail officials. Now, women in bright, orange jail uniforms are common jail residents, accounting for about 10 percent of the population in Roosevelt and Curry County jails. (Read more)

Curry County assistant administrator Larry Sanders told Hartz, "It all boils down to drugs." Sanders said nearly 80 percent of the women are in on drug-related charges; about 60 percent are repeat offenders.

Federal grant to help rural Alaska deal with high criminal case load

A $2 million federal grant over three years will give rural Alaska two new prosecutors.

"The new prosecutors will operate out of Anchorage and assist 84 prosecutors in the state's 13 rural offices, handling everything from murder to minors consuming alcohol, said Susan Parkes of the state Department of Law's criminal division. "It is going to have a significant impact just to have that release valve," she said. Alaska's district attorneys are struggling with high case loads. In Kotzebue, one prosecutor handled 166 felony cases in 2003 and 212 last year, Parkes told The Associated Press.

Prosecutors have to rank cases and they lack the hours to prepare and go to trial on every case. "We try not to let caseload be a consideration when we look at high-priority cases - sexual assaults and violent crimes - but certainly when you look at property crimes or misdemeanors, it is really the only control you have as a prosecutor over your caseload," Parkes told AP. "Sometimes caseloads influence dealing a case." (Read more)

Copies of high school newspaper seized in Tennessee over birth-control story

"Administrators at Oak Ridge High School went into teachers' classrooms, desks and mailboxes to retrieve all 1,800 copies of the newspaper Tuesday, said teacher Wanda Grooms, who advises the staff, and Brittany Thomas, the student editor," reports The Associated Press.

The Oak Leaf's birth-control article listed success rates for different methods and said contraceptives were available from doctors and the local health department. Superintendent Tom Bailey said the article needed to be edited so it would be acceptable for the entire school. The edition also contained a photo of an
unidentified student's tattoo, and the student had not told her parents about the tattoo. Bailey told reporters, "I have a problem with the idea of putting something in the paper that makes us a part of hiding something from the parents."

Bailey said the paper can be reprinted if changes are made. Thomas wasn't sure about making changes. "I'm not completely OK with reprinting the paper," she said. (Read more)

Monday, Nov. 28, 2005

Rural youth still flock to the military; database available for local stories

The Detroit News is the latest metropolitan newspaper to localize a continuing national story, about disproportionate numbers of rural Americans joining the military, often as a path out of poverty. Now reporters anywhere can get access to a database to do their own, localized stories.

"Military records show that Michigan's military recruits come disproportionately from the state's most rural areas, where young people enlist at a rate double that in the most populous parts of the state. Last year, the slab of land around North Branch sent 30 people into the U.S. Air Force, Army and Navy," write the newspaper's Brad Heath and Norman Sinclair. In Michigan's 45 most rural counties about seven of every 1,000 young people ages 18-24 enlisted last year, compared to about four of every 1,000 young adults in the state's most populous counties.

Anita Bancs, research director for the National Priorities Project, told Heath and Sinclair, "I think it tells us that young people with limited opportunities are more likely to join the armed forces. If we're going to engage in war, we ought to know who the people are who volunteer, who are serving in the armed forces and who put themselves at risk."

Heath and Sinclair profile 18-year-old Eagle Scout Steven Letts who wants to join the Marines when he finishes high school. He will take his first entrance test today. Letts said his parents "are supportive, but they don't like the thought of me going to war." School counselor Carolyn Medford told Health and Sinclair, "There aren't a lot of careers here. A lot of people have relatives who've gone into the service already; they see (the military) as a viable way to start a career." (Read more)

The American Friends Service Committee sued the Department Of Defense to get a listing of all recruits and their hometowns, a valuable tool for newspapers to do sophisticated analysis for their readers. Click here for that resource. For a report on a Henryville, Ind., Silver Star recipient, the nation's third highest award for valor, by Larry Thomas of the CNHI News Service, click here.

Major discrepancies reported between state, U.S. student-achievement tests

The New York Times has disclosed apparent major discrepancies between the results of national achievement tests and what many states are reporting from their standardized tests, raising questions and accusations about alleged attempts to skirt the No Child Left Behind law.

"After Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math this year, state officials at a jubilant news conference called the results a 'cause for celebration.' Eighty-seven percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level. But when the federal government made public the findings of its own tests last month, the results were startlingly different: only 21 percent of Tennessee's eighth graders were considered proficient in math," writes the Times' Sam Dillon.

The national debate over testing and accountability has been intensified by the apparent discrepancies, notes Dillon. Some educators are charging states have created easy exams to avoid sanctions imposed on consistently low-scoring schools by No Child Left Behind.

In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on state reading tests, while only 18 percent of fourth graders demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Texas and more than a dozen other states all showed students doing far better on their own reading and math tests than on the National Assessment of Education Progress test.

Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which generally supports the federal law, told Dillon, "Under No Child Left Behind, the states get to set the proficiency bar wherever they like, and unfortunately most are setting it quite low. They're telling the public in their states that huge numbers of students are proficient, but the NAEP results show that's not the case." (Read more)

Stories on oil-and-gas boom offer lots of opportunities for local follow-ups

With oil prices high, the Kentucky Division of Oil and Gas expects to issue as many as 1,700 drilling permits this year, up almost 30 percent from last year. "It's the most activity in Kentucky in 20 years — and while it's profitable for the state, critics complain there's not enough oversight to ensure that the land is protected or people kept safe," The Courier-Journal reported yesterday.

The three-story package by Jim Bruggers, the Louisville paper's environmental writer, reported that state and federal regulations may be "too lax . . . to adequately address the environmental destruction caused by well drilling and construction of roads to the wells, including the pollution of waterways from erosion and contamination of water wells." For the main story, click here.

Well contamination is often caused by abandonment of wells that are no longer commercial producers but continue to leak oil, salt water and other contaminants into water-bearing strata. The series included a map showing the number of abandoned wells in each county with more than 100 such wells, providing a good story idea for local media in such counties. For that story, click here. For the map, click here.

For county information, go to www.dmm.ky.gov/oandg/Oil+and+Gas+Maps+and+Manuals.htm and click on the link to "view a list of Abandoned Wells as of October 2005" in an Excel spreadhseet. The Kentucky Geological Survey has much oil and gas data on its Web site, including interactive maps of wells in specific areas, which can be accessed at http://kgsmap.uky.edu/website/kgsog/viewer.htm.

Anti-depressant reduces meth cravings, may provide first drug treatment

A common antidepressant, bupropion, can cut methamphetamine cravings, which could mean there is finally a drug treatment for the addiction spreading across America, according to a new study.

"Dr. Thomas F. Newton, a psychiatrist at the University of California-Los Angeles, who led the study, found that subjects who were given bupropion reported a lesser high after treatment, as well as a less-intense craving after watching a video of actors favorably portraying meth use," writes Alex Raksin of the Los Angeles Times.

The four-week study involved only 20 patients, but it could provide the first known drug treatment for meth addiction. Bupropion, sold under the trade name Wellbutrin, is used to help people stop smoking, notes Raksin. (Read more)

Farming's future: Tapping into bio-diesel, hog production might spur success

"Drive less than 20 minutes from almost any crossroads in Indiana and you'll come across a feature of the Midwest landscape that we take for granted: namely, farm land. The vast open space that still exists in abundance between our state's urban areas remains dominated by the industry that once employed more people than any other -- agriculture. And while the sights of barns, crop land and animals grazing in pastures are familiar to us all, we should remember that looks can be deceiving," opines Pat Barkey, director of economic and policy studies at Ball State University, for the Marion Chronicle Times.

"Many of us who are waking up to the realization that durable goods manufacturing can't be depended on to propel future growth in the state think that the heyday of farming as an economic driver is long past. In a narrow sense, that's right -- we're not an agriculture based economy today, and we probably never will be again. But there's a lot more to food production than farming. And, besides, there's more uses for crops nowadays that just food. With so much healthy and productive farm land all around us, shouldn't we be thinking about ways that we capitalize on that proximity and take a bigger role in exploiting those opportunities?" asks Barkey.

"It's a question more Indiana communities are beginning to ask. The potential for higher value-added ag-related production processes - ranging from bio-diesel plants to hog production facilities - adding to the local economic base are nothing to sneeze at for the smaller towns and rural regions who have been standing on the sidelines watching larger cities grow," concludes Barkey. (Read more)

Florida farmworkers still awaiting aid more than a month after hurricane

"They are among thousands of Florida's uninsured farmworkers still awaiting help since Wilma thrashed South Florida on Oct. 24, in the nation's worst hurricane season on record. Wilma killed 35 people in the state, destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes, and caused widespread power outages across South Florida," reports Laura Wides-Munoz of The Associated Press.

Farmworker advocates say Wilma has underscored a larger problem: the state's failure to respond to the needs of the mostly Mexican and Central American workers who have reshaped Florida's agricultural communities, replacing many of the native black and Jamaican workers who once dominated the sector. Communication is a key factor, because in many parts of central and northern Florida, few public officials or staff speak Spanish, reports AP.

Palm Beach County has an estimated 190,000 Hispanics, 15 percent of the total county, up from about 140,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. "The language can cause big problems for those most in need even if they are here legally," said Francisco Garza, an organizer with the Farmworker Association of Florida, an advocacy group with 6,000-plus members, notes AP. (Read more)


Work on mountain-protection rules continues in Georgia, creates controversy

White County soon may become the first in Georgia to pass a mountain-protection ordinance, which bothers some builders, real estate agents and landowners, who say restrictions are too stiff.

"We want mountain protection. The problem is the way the document is written up. It's going to kill construction in this county," Sandy Hanes, a realtor with ReMax, told Debbie Gilbert of The Gainesville Times. The White County Commission is slated to meet Tuesday night for a second reading of the ordinance.

Commissioners started work on the ordinance about two years ago in order to comply with the 1989 Georgia Planning Act's rules for environmental protection. Counties in the Appalachian foothills are supposed to have a mountain ordinance, but many counties have delayed adoption of any such measure, reports Gilbert. (Read more)

Ohioans in Appalachia struggle with poverty, few dental-care options

"Few dentists in the impoverished southeastern region of Ohio will accept new Medicaid patients. If they do, they often have months-long waiting lists," reports The Associated Press.

There is a statewide Safety Nets network for low income patients. The state budgeted $1.5 million this year for the state and federally funded network of free clinics. But the two-year budget reduced dental care funding for adult Medicaid recipients. Such clinics are rare in the state's Appalachian region, where medical care is scarce and tobacco chewing occurs more often than elsewhere in the state, according to the Ohio Dental Association.

Three clinics serve 14 counties in the region. Such clinics struggle with trying to balance care for new patients and emergency walk-ins with education for children and parents about dental hygiene, notes AP.

Also, dentists who treat Medicaid patients often take a financial hit because the aid doesn't provide the same payouts as regular insurance. Local health departments and nonprofit groups that operate clinics kick in money. "When Medicaid is your best payer, and a lot of your other patients are on a sliding scale that is not coming close to paying the bills, that's where we help," Dr. Mark Siegal, director of the state Health Department's oral health services, told AP. (Read more)

Mountain mirror? One in four children in British Columbia lives in poverty

An advocacy group reports that one in four British Columbia children lives in poverty, the highest rate in any Canadaian province.

"The report, by anti-poverty group Campaign 2000, paints B.C. as the worst offender in a country where the gap between rich and poor families is growing and where children of aboriginals and recent immigrants are hardest hit," writes Jonathan Woodward of the Globe and Mail . Campaign 2000 coordinator Laurel Rothman said the report was timed for the anniversary of a 1989 unanimous vote by the House of Commons to eliminate child poverty by 2000.

Michael Goldberg, a B.C. advocate who worked on the report, told Woodward the government has to increase the minimum wage, eliminate the controversial $6-an-hour training wage, and end restrictions on welfare rolls that he said have pushed people to low-paying jobs.

British Columbia's child-poverty rate is more than double that of Prince Edward Island, which had the lowest poverty rate, at 11.3 percent. And, the British Columbia rate jumped from 20 percent in 2001 to about 24 percent in 2002 and 2003. Rothman told Woodward that nearly half of the children of recent immigrants are poor, while 40 percent of aboriginal children and 33 percent of children in visible minorities live in poverty. (Read more)

U.S. Senate bill aims to increase ATV safety with mandatory standards

Major manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles are looking at safety legislation proposed by Minnesota's senators as a boon to the industry and consumers. Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Mark Dayton introduced the proposal, which would for the first time regulate all ATVs sold in the U.S. by establishing mandatory standards, reports Aaron Blake of McClatchy News Service.

Dayton says the idea is a "trifecta" of safety, fairness and benefits for Minnesota's economy. Critics counter that the proposal would push an emerging import industry out of the market, notes Blake.

"As ATV sales have taken off in recent years, so have the numbers of injuries and deaths associated with the vehicles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that an average of about 500 people died using ATVs each of the past five years, more than a quarter of them 15 or younger. The number of riders requiring emergency room care has climbed to more than 100,000 per year, about a third of them under 16," writes Blake. (Read more)

Does an East Tennessee cabin date to the 1760s? Answer may lie in artifact

A newfound page in the storied past of Blountville's Appalachian Caverns is creating a stir in the area, reports Rain Smith of the Kingsport Times News.

While excavating a cabin last week, researcher William Milhorn and site curator Roger Hartley may have found evidence that will show a colonial presence on the land as far back as the 1760s. "Everybody's been saying (the cabin) dates to about 1830," Milhorn told Smith. "Well, everybody's full of baloney. That cabin is a lot older."

The key artifact is a small metal button shank engraved with a crown and featuring the initials V and R. "If it's Virginia Regiment then it's a very, very, very important piece because there's not another one known of in the world," Milhorn told Smith. "I'm not saying that's what it is, but if it is, how did it get here?"

Milhorn said, "This place is the most historic caverns in East Tennessee, with more documented history and a documented presence than any hole in the ground between here and Memphis." (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Museum of Appalachia, Norris, Tenn., offers 'Christmas in Old Appalachia'

"Christmas in Old Appalachia" at the Museum of Appalachia, just a mile off Interstate 75 at exit 122, near Norris, Tenn., opened Sunday.

"Seasonal decorations will brighten the old-time cabins and other structures lovingly transplanted by museum founder John Rice Irwin to a 65-acre Tennessee hillside. Music will greet Old Appalachia visitors daily throughout December, except on Christmas Day, the only day of the year the museum is closed, " writes Jane Durrell, a contributing writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Durrell notes that the museum's collections are Irwin's life work. There are more than 35 structures -- cabins, blacksmith shop, sawmill, schoolhouse, loom house, and and other artifacts -- on view in the Display Barn. Memorabilia of "notable, historic, famous, interesting, colorful and unusual folk from the surrounding region" are housed in the Appalachian Hall of Fame, writes Durrell. (Read more)

Nov. 30: Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Amherst, Mass.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture's (CISA) 12th Annual Meeting will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 30 at The Red Barn at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. There will be a potluck supper and a keynote address. For more information visit www.buylocalfood.com/events.html.

Sunday special, Nov. 27, 2005

Cash, son of rural Arkansas, journeyed through the other side of virtue

Johnny Cash was a lot more than the character in the new movie "Walk the Line," and Nicholas Kulish reminds us of that today in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

Cash wasn't all that handsome, sometimes sang off-key and knew few chords, Kulish writes, but "If performers could be weighed and measured like prizefighters, Cash might have left the oddsmakers in stitches. Yet there is a power and honesty to his music that few recording artists can match. In his most affecting songs, the gravelly, toxic rumble you hear is Johnny Cash locking horns with his dark side. It's one man's fight for his own soul, a timeless struggle to a rockabilly beat."

Kulish adds later, "If all Johnny Cash brought to the stage were his demons, we wouldn't need to remember him. . . . It is the angel on Johnny Cash's other shoulder that gives his music its depth and profundity. . . . Johnny Cash merges our seemingly contradictory American traditions of outlaws prone to wild gunplay and pious Christians singing hymns, without stopping to explain how you can be both at once.

" . . . In a world increasingly reduced to good and evil, to us versus them, Johnny Cash was a man unafraid to admit that he was both. We've somehow lost sight of the truth that there can be no redemption without sin. It's this kind of reductive thinking that makes it easy to reduce swaths of the country to color codes and political parties; to lock millions away in jails and prisons, then toss the keys without guilt.

"Johnny Cash sang that he wore black "for the poor and beaten down, livin' on the hopeless, hungry side of town." With hundreds of thousands displaced by Hurricane Katrina, layoff announcements dangling over the heads of 98,000 American auto workers, and 2.1 million men and women in prisons and jails across the country, we still need him.

"Cash's life was an American story that can never be repeated, one that began in the Depression-era cotton fields of Arkansas and continued through an auto assembly line in Michigan to occupied Germany with the United States Air Force. He then joined legends of rock 'n' roll like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun and on the road. He stayed with us until the end, touring as long as he could and recording almost until his death. 'The way we did it was honest,' he wrote. 'We played it and sang it the way we felt it, and there's a whole lot to be said for that.'" (Click here to read more)

Friday, Nov. 25, 2005

Southern identity strongest in rural areas, AP reports in start of an opus

"Things are indeed changing in the South. So is the notion of what it means to be Southern," writes Allen Breed, southeastern regional reporter for The Associated Press, in a series on the South and Southern identity, beginning today in many newspapers and tomorrow or Sunday in others.

"We've had the Solid South, the Old South and the New South. But are we heading toward a "No South"? Breed asks. "In this most maligned and mused-upon of American regions, the term conjures a variety of images. Magnolias, front porch swings and sweet tea for some; football, stock cars and fried chicken for others; lynchings, burning crosses and civil rights marches for still others."

Projected to comprise 40 percent of the nation's population by 2030, the South has become more like the rest of America, Breed notes: "The South is now the nation's most industrialized region; though traditional textile employment and the like has largely moved offshore, the region has attracted high-profile employers such as automakers. About three-quarters of Southerners now live in metropolitan areas."

But that's still less than in the rest of the country, and a poll conducted for the series "found that people who live in rural areas are much more likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to consider themselves Southern," Breed reports.

Cassandra King, a novelist who grew up on a peanut farm in southern Alabama, told Breed that the South will always be "the agrarian South of the hardworking, reddened-neck farm family. . . . Southern identity comes from the red clay or white sand or black dirt which produces our peanuts and corn and okra and field peas and sweet potatoes."

Rural areas are more likely to be poor, and Breed points out that the South "is still set apart by its poverty, and some old stereotypes hold water. Eight of the top 10 states with the highest percentages of mobile homes are in the South, as are nine of the states with the highest rates of adult toothlessness."

In urban areas, Southern identity is less, and the poll founnd that in the region as a whole, "the percentage of people in the region identifying themselves as Southerners is shrinking." Conducted in October by Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs, the poll "found 63 percent of people living in the region identified themselves as Southerners," Breed reports. "That mirrors a trend from a University of North Carolina analysis of polling data that found a decline of 7 percentage points on the same Southern identity question between 1991 to 2001, to 70 percent."

The South has become "sort of like a lifestyle, rather than an identity anymore," James Cobb, author of the newly published Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity, told Breed. "The things now we would base Southern distinctiveness on are so ethereal." (Read more)

Mississippi victims see displacement and redevelopment, not recovery

In a long, sad story in today's Washington Post, Michael Powell reports that recovery is a distant dream for many victims of Hurricane Katrina -- many of whom may be permanently displaced, or worse. "The personal shock of it all hasn't subsided," Powell writes. "Locals say it's not uncommon to hear perfectly rational people talk of suicide." This is an important story, worth more space here than usual.

Powell's story deals mainly with the Mississippi coast, but he also reports from the rural, inland town of Pearlington: "There are twin devastations in Mississippi, and it would take Solomon to pick the worse of the two. There are the coastal cities and there are such places as tiny Pearlington, deep in the woods and marshlands along the Louisiana border. Here a 35-foot-high storm surge roared up the Pearl River."

"The local school remains shredded, its roof a spaghetti of metal beams. Everyone lost cars and trucks, and there's no money for replacements. Many people sleep in tents or shacks that have been roughly thrown together. The county's only supermarket is gone. Six shrimp boats still sit on the river bottom. There's a good bit of drug smuggling, but that isn't really a sustaining industry."

Powell's Pearlington narrative focuses on the Rev. James O'Bryan, a Catholic priest whose church the Diocese of Biloxi will not rebuild. He told Powell, ""The bishop tells me we were insured for [Hurricane] Camille but not for Katrina. I remember going for a walk just before the storm and saying to myself, 'Lord, you aren't going to take my little kingdom from me, are you?' I realized now that he was."

"Many people here harbor anger that the federal government has fallen short and that the nation's attention has turned away. At least 200,000 Mississippians remain displaced, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is short at least 13,000 trailers to house them. 50,000 homeowners lack federal flood insurance and cannot rebuild," Powell writes. "Some officials are talking about surrendering [town] charters and becoming wards of the state."

"The response of the federal government is bewildering and deplorable," Bruce Katz, director of metropolitan policy at the Brookings Institution and author of two studies of the Katrina response, told Powell. Roy Necaise, a regional housing official, told the reporter, "Washington has totally let us down, and it's a disgrace." The story includes no comment from FEMA.

"The hurricane pushed tens of thousands of coastal residents north and west, spreading over four states. The longer it takes to rebuild houses and businesses, the more officials worry that the dispossessed, particularly the working class, may never return," Powell reports, and notes they they sometimes are chased away by local officials.

"This politically conservative state has a threadbare safety net," Powell writes. "Two weeks ago, county officials lifted an informal moratorium on evictions. Tenants cannot claim rent breaks for water-damaged apartments. One can sit now in housing courts in Gulfport and Biloxi and watch judges order the evictions of hundreds of tenants, often with a speed that startles the tenants." (Read more)

At the same time, developers are offering big money for devasated property and forecasting a boom in upscale development. "If that kind of rebirth happens, it will be on the backs of the lives of a lot of Biloxians. It's like talking bad about somebody at their funeral," Keith Burton, editor of the online Gulf Coast News, told Powell. This morning, Gulf Coast News sums it up: "The Coast is still in relief mode, not recovery, nearly three months after Hurricane Katrina."

Kentucky high court says rural electric cooperatives are limited to electricity

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that rural electric cooperatives, "which were created to bring power to secluded areas during the Depression, are still restricted to generating, distributing and selling that electricity," reports The Associated Press.

"The divided court ruling overturns an earlier victory for the Jackson Energy Cooperative Corp." of McKee, formerly the Jackson County Rural Electric Cooperative Corp., "which wanted to sell propane gas and offer an array of other services, including such things as tree-trimming," AP reports, noting that the years-old case "has been closely watched in the utility industry."

"The statute authorizes only activities that are consistent with the operation of an electric cooperative," Justice Donald Wintersheimer of Covington wrote for the 4-2 majority. "The language which describes the purpose of the cooperative is abundantly clear, there is no ambiguity."

The court's newest justices dissented. Justice John Roach of Lexington (who is running to keep his seat and attended the recent annual banquet of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives) said a 1974 change in co-op laws "opened the door for other services that could include the sale of propane," AP wrote. Justice Will T. Scott of Pikeville said the majority ignored the wishes of the utility's 46,000 customers, as determined by a 1998 survey and limited competition with "a cold winter comin'."

In state where tobacco industry began, tobacco is no longer the No. 1 crop

Soybeans generated $124.3 million in cash receipts for Virgina farmers in 2004, ranking the crop first in the state. "The Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service says tobacco dropped to No. 2, with $112.9 million," The Associated Press reports.

"The toppling of tobacco," which was planted by settlers as early as 1619, was not a surprise," because Virginia acreage used for tobacco acreage has declined for decades, AP writes. "Production has spiraled downward in recent years for several reasons, including lower U.S. smoking rates, the federal tobacco-quota buyout and cheaper leaf from countries like Brazil and Africa." Note to AP: Africa's a continent, not a country.

Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005

Texas town that took a promotional name dishes out news; others do too

"A small-town effort to avoid annexation by a voracious neighbor exploded into a row over dumpsters, a water hose and vote rigging. When the dust cleared, the mayor was bounced, the town changed its name, and media from around the world were calling to ask about a satellite-TV company that had agreed to provide the whole city with free service." That's the lede of Steve LeVine's story in today's Wall Street Journal about Dish, Tex.

The Denton County municipality -- "town" doesn't fit a place with no gas station or convenience store -- was created to block annexation by Fort Worth and was originally named Clark, after its main founder and first mayor. When Clark made Mitch Merritt, owner of a trailer park with most of Clark's population, "shut down an unsightly dumpster site [and] bury a water line," Levine writes, Merritt got citizens to call a referendum to take his property out of Clark, and his proposal passed. Then his son ran a write-in campaign for mayor and beat Clark, 40-39. Clark alleged vote fraud in both elections.

New Mayor Bill Merritt heard that Echostar Communications Corp., of Denver "was running a contest in which the winning city would receive free satellite-TV service for a decade for changing its name to Dish, the company's brand," Levine writes. "Mr. Merritt entered the contest, seeing it as a creative way to realize his immediate goal of discarding the detested Mr. Clark's name. Earlier this month, Echostar announced that Clark was the winner, and the switch was made last week. Mr. Merritt decided to make it all capitals to differentiate the town a bit."

The Journal followed the all-caps style for the town's name, but The Associated Press did not, and The Rural Blog abhors such typographical tyaranny. We also note -- or should we say "we also dish"? -- that there was already a Clark, Tex., a wide place in TX 146 in Liberty County, between Houston and Lufkin.

AP's Matt Slagle notes other name promotions: "Back in the 1950s, Hot Springs, N.M., was renamed Truth or Consequences, N.M., after a popular quiz show. During the dot-com boom of 2000, Halfway, Ore., agreed to become Half.com for a year. In September, the tiny [Western Kentucky] town of Sharer ... was offered $100,000 to change its name to PokerShare.com. . . . And in 2003, residents of Biggs, Calif., overwhelmingly rejected a California Milk Processor Board proposal to rename the city of 1,800 Got Milk? in exchange for a milk museum and money for the school." (Read more)

AP also reports that the water commisisoners of Santa, Idaho, "have voted to change the town's name for a year to SecretSanta.com at the request of a Philadelphia marketer. In return, the cash-starved water and sewer district — Santa's only official entity — will get at least $20,000 between now and next December. The town has to erect two signs, one at each end of town, bearing its new name. . . . The change is mostly symbolic; the post office will keep the name Santa." The town has about 100 people. (Read more)

Federal policies deplete the wealth of rural America, says scholar

"The phrase 'rural wealth' sounds like an oxymoron. Rural incomes are lower than urban. Rural poverty rates are higher — by 25 percent. And 450 of the nation’s 500 poorest counties are rural. Adding insult to injury, federal policies make things worse. According to the 2001 Consolidated Federal Funds Report (the latest available), $6,131 in per capita federal spending goes to urban areas; $6,020 goes to rural. That totals nearly $6 billion a year of rural disadvantage," opines Thomas D. Rowley of the Rural Research Policy Institute.

Of federal funds going to rural areas, 71 percent are transfer payments, such as Medicare, Social Security and farm subsidies, "rather than money that builds infrastructure, improves capacity and helps communities grow stronger. By contrast, only 48 percent of funds to urban areas are transfer payments," Rowley writes.

The federal government spent two to five times more per capita on community development in urban areas than in rural from 1994 to 2001. Rowley also points an accusatory finger at philanthropists. A May 2004 report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy reports U.S. foundations gave out some $30 billion a year, with $100.5 million of that committed to rural development.

Rowley notes that 184 out of 65,000 active grant-making foundations in the U.S. gave to rural development. Two of those from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Ford Foundation were responsible for 42 percent of the money to rural. (Read more)

Ky. extension offices helping seniors through Medicare Part D confusion

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is coordinating a statewide effort to help
senior citizens clear up confusion about Medicare's new prescription drug coverage plan.

"The effort ... centers on helping county extension agents answer questions about the plan, known as Part D, and to help eligible Medicare participants locate local resources, including offices of the Kentucky State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which provides information, counseling and assistance to seniors and other Medicare participants," writes Terri McLean of the UK College of Agriculture communications office.

Deborah Murray, associate director of the Health Education through Extension Leadership extension program, told McLean that a look at the number of eligible Kentuckians and the size of the task at hand made extension leaders conclude that the service, with its offices in every county, "had a responsibility to help get the information out there." (Read more)

Enrollment in the new plan opened Nov. 15, coverage begins Jan. 1 and enrollment ends May 15, 2006.

Our daily bread: NPR takes a Thanksgiving look at hunger in America

As thousands of Americans rush to celebrate with family and feast in commemoration of this nation's founding, millions of others will have little or nothing to eat.

National Public Radio, in a special multi-part program, reports that 38 million Americans are "food insecure" -- they have trouble finding the money to keep food on the table. (Stories page) NPR profiles families who have faced hunger in three different settings: rural, suburban and urban America.

Yesterday, The Rural Blog reported on the first part, Rural Struggle to Keep the Family Fed, by Howard Berkes. (Click here to listen) The next part, The Causes Behind Hunger in America, is by economic geographer Amy Glasmeier of Penn State. (Click to listen) Rachel Jones reports on Hunger Hidden but Real in America's Suburbs. (Click to listen) Elaine Korry reports on Housing Costs Play Role in Urban Hunger. (Click to listen)

Midsize farms can survive with whole foods, seed money, opines writer

A column in The New York Times by Dan Barber, creative director of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County, N.Y., explores the idea that shopping at farmers' markets can preserve farmland. Are people who buy into that idea truly out of touch with agriculture today?

"These people are right. And they're also wrong. The bitter truth is that American agriculture -- its land and its immensely complex distribution system -- is no longer in the hands of the small farmer. Small farmers and farmers' markets, as much as we want them to, are simply not in the position right now to save American agriculture. Giant farms won't either, of course. For the most part, these are the farms that grow a single crop or raise large numbers of animals in close confinement. To sustain their unnatural existence, these megafarms, whether they're raising crops or animals, require enormous quantities of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics simply to survive," opines Barber, who is also a chef.

Barber considers the idea that a farm needs to get ever larger and more specialized to survive. The number of farms with annual sales of $500,000-plus has increased 23 percent from 1997 to 2002. Midsize farms, with sales of $50,000 to $500,000, have declined in number by 14 percent from 1997 to 2002, or about 65,000 farms. Now, the country's 350,000 midsize farmers, who are too big to sell greenmarkets but too small to compete with the giants, comprise two-fifths of our farmland, notes Barber.

Thomas Dorr, an Iowan who is undersecretary of agriculture for rural affairs, predicts 250,000-acre giants will rule the future, but Barber says midsize farms can thrive too. "After all, there's a large, existing market -- school systems, hospitals, local grocery chains, food service distributors -- for varied, healthier foods. These institutions, because of their size, cannot shop at the farmers' market. Even if they could, there would never be enough volume or consistency to meet their needs. Midsize farms can meet those needs."

"How do we do this?" Barber asks. "By shifting the money. Our government now subsidizes the commodity production of grain - mostly corn and soybeans. We need to pull farmers out of the commodity trap and help them make the transition to growing the kinds of whole foods - fruits and vegetables - that would benefit us all. This is not another subsidy, and it's not welfare. It's seed money for a new frontier (actually, an old frontier) in agriculture." (Read more)

California says no to 'traditional' coal power from Wyoming, wants it cleaner

Energy officials eager to connect California consumers with cheap coal power from Wyoming may need to rethink their approach, reports Dustin Bleizeffer of the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune.

"The California Energy Commission [has] unanimously approved [a report] which includes ... new greenhouse gas performance standards beyond the reach of traditional coal-fired power plants. Top energy officials in Wyoming regard it as a major setback to an effort to add several thousand traditional coal-fired megawatts here and a major new transmission line to power California," writes Bleizeffer.

Steve Waddington, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, told Bleizeffer, "The policy could preclude coal-fired generation from Wyoming, in a timely way, to meet the power supply needs of California." The authority told the California commission it may consider a legal challenge.

The Wyoming Conservation Voters Education Fund said investors may be compelled to finance zero-emission coal technologies, which could catapult Wyoming into a "next generation" coal economy with a longer and perhaps more profitable future, writes Bleizeffer. Jason Marsden, executive director of Wyoming Conservation Voters, said "Investors should think twice before risking their money on new coal-combustion power plants that can't capture global warming pollutants, since California, the biggest potential electricity customer, is no longer interested in buying dirty, coal-fired power."

California's new policy restricts purchases of out-of-state coal-based power to facilities working to reduce global warming pollution. "Any new coal plant that wishes to sell electricity to California must be as clean as the most efficient natural-gas fired power plant," Bleizeffer writes. (Read more)

Tomato fight: Florida farm workers pitching for more from McDonald's

"The Coalition of Immokalee Workers [has] urged consumers to pressure McDonald's Corp. to support a campaign to boost wages for more than 3,000 Florida pickers, who growers say provide about 90 percent of the nation's domestic fresh winter tomatoes," writes Laura Wides-Munoz of The Associated Press.

The campaign comes less than a year after the workers reached an agreement with Taco Bell's parent company, Louisville-based Yum Brands Inc., which said it would pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes. (Read more)

Gerardo Reyes, an Immokalee farm worker, told Wides-Munoz, "We are hoping McDonald's takes responsibility, the same way Taco Bell and Yum Brands did, and that it uses its power to demand a just treatment and decent pay for farm workers." Coalition organizer Julia Perkins said most tomato pickers receive roughly the same wage they did in 1978 -- 40 to 45 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes.

British man diagnosed with mad-cow disease marks second case in U.S.

The federal Centers for Disease Control has announced a British man has been diagnosed with the human form of mad-cow disease -- the second such case documented in the U.S.

"Health officials say the man most likely contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the United Kingdom. However, he began to show symptoms while living in Houston, so he will be listed as a U.S. case," writes Yvonne Lee of All Headline News based on a report from The Associated Press.

CDC medical epidemiologist Lawrence B. Schonberger told reporters, "This case represents a continuation of the outbreak that is going on in the United Kingdom." After living in Houston for four years, the man returned to the UK earlier this year, and is receiving medical treatment there, notes Lee.

The disease is contracted by eating the brain or other nervous system tissue of an infected animal. The first documented U.S. case was a British woman living in Florida who was also believed to have contracted the disease in Britain. She died last year, writes Lee. (Read more)

County ministers association takes devil by the horns in anti-drug rally

Ministers in Powell County, Ky., are campaigning against drugs with revival-style fervor. "The crowd of about 700 passed up a University of Kentucky basketball game to pack [a] middle school's gymnasium. They were joined by U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, dozens of other elected officials and law officers, and Powell's district and circuit judges," writes Peter Matthews of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Rev. Bill Boldt of Stanton Baptist Church, backed by 30 other ministers, outlined a plan to create five 12-person task forces to deal with drugs in the hilly county, which is flanked by the Bluegrass Region and the Cumberland Plateau.

The ministers want to bring the federally funded anti-drug law enforcement organization, Operation UNITE, or something similar to Powell County. Two of the organization's leaders told the crowd how it had helped turn around the drug problem in Manchester, notes Matthews. UNITE operates only in the 5th Congressional District, which includes most of the Kentucky section of the plateau but not Powell County.

Joe Farmer of UNITE told Matthews, "We need some people with some backbone" to tell drug dealers "it is no longer acceptable to sell drugs to our children." Local law enforcement officials say nearly every crime they see involves drugs. Stanton Police Chief Kevin Neal said his force, recently cut from 10 officers to eight, no longer has the personnel for much investigative work. (Read more)

Wireless expands in rural Kansas; broadband over power lines studied

For the quiet and serene country life, residents often have to give up or forgo the latest in telecommunications, but one company has begun to change that for parts of rural Kansas.

Nex-Tech Wireless, based in Hays, Kan., recently installed upgraded wireless operations technology and billing software that will help make it more cost-effective to expand operations in the state's rural areas, reports Susan J. Campbell of TMCnet.com News. Telecoms often avoid less densely populated areas because of the high per customer cost of installing and maintaining a system.

The company operates 18 outlets throughout Kansas with 109 cell sites, and it plans to install cell sites in most towns with 300 or more people, with 14 towns getting sites by the end of 2005. Nex-Tech Wireless is a subsidiary of Rural Telephone, Golden Belt Telephone and Mutual Telephone, and serves 27 counties of central and western Kansas, writes Campbell. (Read more)

In a related story, Broadband Over Power Lines: Ready For A Big Breakthrough?, Phil Britt of Information Week reports, "Pilots and tests abound, and firms, including Google, are pouring money into the new technology." (Read more)

Corporations step up requests that divorce records be sealed to protect secrets

The nation's courts are getting hit with a growing number of requests to seal divorce records, which often provide newsworthy information, but the requests to close these documents are not coming from squabbling couples, writes Tresa Baldas of The National Law Journal.

"Divorce lawyers say corporations -- along with the rich and powerful -- are increasingly asking judges to seal the divorce records of top executives to protect trade secrets or crucial financial information from leaking out, or simply to avoid embarrassment," writes Baldas.

The courts have long protected children by sealing divorce records and are now doing the same for companies, "treating trade secrets, assets, stock values and executive salaries as valuable, sensitive information that needs special protection," notes Baldas. And with records now available on the Internet in 30 states, data theft or data leaks could be at an all-time high among businesses.

James Feldman of Chicago's Jenner & Block, told Baldas, "This year alone I've represented several key executives in divorce cases where a protective order or a confidentiality agreement had to be obtained in order to prevent information from getting out." Feldman noted that companies fighting disclosure of financial data in divorce cases has become more popular [and] judges have become more sensitive to corporate concerns, especially "if you can show that disclosure will harm the business."

Meanwhile, Baldas writes, "attempts to restrict or limit access to divorce records have kept divorce lawyers and corporate counsel busy in the courtroom." (Read more)

Clarion-Ledger reporter gets Chancellor award for civil-rights coverage

Investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell of the Jackson, Miss. Clarion-Ledger has been named the 2005 winner of the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism from Columbia University School of Journalism for his 16-year effort to bring murderous Ku Klux Klan members to justice.

Mitchell, 46, is the youngest recipient of the $25,000 annual award, which recognizes a journalist's courage, integrity, curiosity and intelligence, and epitomizes the role of journalism in a free society. Mitchell will receive the honor Nov. 29.

Mitchell uncovered evidence in the unsolved killings of civil rights activists in Mississippi. His reporting led to the conviction of four Klan members, beginning with the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers. Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty in June for orchestrating the 1964 slayings of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in Neshoba County.

Clarion-Ledger Managing Editor Don Hudson said, "Jerry Mitchell is deserving of this award because of his dogged pursuit of the truth. He has done strong, hard-nosed journalism throughout his career at the newspaper. Jerry has played a key role in putting a lot of criminals away." Mitchell said, "This award ... belongs to those who never gave up hope and never gave up their belief in justice. It belongs to those who work with me and all those who have made Mississippi a better place."

The John Chancellor Award, established in 1995, honors the legacy of the television correspondent and longtime anchor for NBC News. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Nov. 30: Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Amherst, Mass.

The Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture's 12th annual meeting will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 30 at The Red Barn, Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. There will be a potluck supper and a keynote address. For more information, visit www.buylocalfood.com/events.html.

Dec. 4: Fields of Plenty author to appear at Kentucky family farm meet

Writer, photographer and farmer Michael Ableman, widely known for his work in sustainable agriculture, will be the featured guest at the Partners for Family Farms' statewide gathering Dec. 4. at Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky.

The event, from 4 to 6 p.m., is open to the public. It is sponsored by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Brown-Forman/Woodford Reserve and radio station WUKY, writes Terry McLean of the U. K. College of Agriculture Communications Department.

Tickets are $25 for members of Partners for Family Farms and $45 for nonmembers. All ticket purchases are tax-deductible. Nonmember tickets include 2006 membership in PFF, a private, nonprofit organization
dedicated to sustaining farm life and farm land. To reserve tickets, call (859) 233-3056 or write P.O. Box 22259, Lexington, Ky., 40522. (Read more)

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2005

Study finds little link between achievement, total classroom spending

"As states consider a proposal to require school districts to spend at least 65 cents of every dollar on classroom instruction, a new analysis by Standard & Poor's has found a lack of empirical evidence linking higher student achievement with higher proportional spending levels. The report suggests that the specific ways that schools use their instructional dollars may have as much, if not more, to do with student achievement as the percentage of dollars spent on the classroom," says a news release from S&P.

The 65 Percent Solution is being promoted by Washington, D.C.-based First Class Education. The idea, proposed or is expected to be proposed in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, seeks to have states require districts to spend at least that much of their budgets on classroom instruction, as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics.

"Governors, legislators, superintendents, and school boards all across the country are seeking ways to minimize inefficiencies and optimize the effectiveness of each dollar spent in their schools," said Thomas Sheridan, vice president of Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services. "Leveraging data and analysis to identify and replicate the specific classroom practices that are producing the best results will be a key to achieving that goal." Standard & Poor's concluded that "no minimum spending allocation is a 'silver bullet' solution for raising student achievement." (Read more)

RESOURCE FOR REPORTERS: SchoolMatters, a service of Standard & Poor's, also provides a database with information on every state's performance, spending and demographic information. "SchoolMatters analyzes student achievement measures, including national and state test results, as well as participation, attendance, graduation, and dropout-promotion rates," according to the site.

Education Department shows leniency on No Child Left Behind rules

"The Bush administration has begun to ease some key rules for the controversial No Child Left Behind law, opening the door to a new way to rate schools, granting a few urban systems permission to provide federally subsidized tutoring and allowing certain states more time to meet teacher-quality requirements," The Washington Post reports today.

Nick Anderson writes, "These actions amount to a major response to critics who have called No Child Left Behind rigid and unworkable." On Oct. 21, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she would give a one-year waiver to states that fail to meet the law's requirement to have highly qualified teachers in all core academic classes by the end of the current school year, if they make a good-faith effort. "Such teachers have at least a bachelor's degree, full state certification and demonstrated knowledge of their academic subjects," Anderson explains. The rule has been especially burdensome to small rural schools.

The latest change would allow up to 10 states to experiment with "growth models" for determining whether schools make adequate yearly progress, a key requirement of the law. "Such models could enable states to credit schools for the academic growth of individual students even if their test scores fall short of state standards," Anderson writes. (Read more)

Pre-Thanksgiving holiday traffic rush report says rural roads most deadly

The Thanksgiving holiday period traditionally brings some of the heaviest driving of the year and highway safety data released last month indicates motorists involved in a crash on a rural road are twice as likely to be killed as drivers who have accidents in urban areas.

"Six out of 10 fatal auto accidents occur on rural roads, according to the safety agency's 2004 study on crash fatalities. In more than half of the incidents, those killed were not wearing seat belts," writes Lorene Yue of the Chicago Tribune. Don McNamara with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Yue unrestrained drivers have a higher death rate than speeders or drunk drivers.

Yue reports roughly half of Illinois' traffic fatalities in 2004 occurred in rural areas, a slight improvement from from 2003, when 51 percent were in rural areas. McNamara told her rural roads are usually less congested and have higher posted speed limits. Other factors that may contribute, according to the data, include a lack of immediate medical care.

The Tribune reports state police throughout the Midwest plan to crack down on seatbelt usage this weekend. Drivers and front-seat passengers caught unrestrained will be ticketed. (Read more)

Food for thought at Thanksgiving: 15 percent of rural families 'food insecure'

A survey of 50,000 people conducted last year for the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture says 87 percent of Americans are considered "food secure." That leaves 38 million people classified as "food insecure" by the government, and 15 percent of rural people surveyed said they were uncertain about getting enough food.

"(The survey) shows that many people have difficult choices to make if they and their families want to eat. Some 45 percent said they had to choose between eating and paying utility bills, at times. More than a third had to choose between food and rent or mortgage payments. Thirty percent faced a trade-off between food and medicine or medical care," reports Howard Berkes of National Public Radio.

The "food insecure" in rural places face special challenges. High gas prices make the hunt for cheap or free food expensive. Some rural people, especially the disabled and elderly, don't have cars, or cars that run reliably. And grocery stores and food pantries are fewer and farther between, notes Berkes. (Click here to read more or listen to the broadcast)

Poverty potpourri: Efforts to escape, lessons next door, need for action

Stories about persistent poverty are never pleasant and ever present, and efforts to eliminate it seem legion. A recent sampling found dozens of articles worldwide, including U.S. newspapers reporting on lifting poor people out of their quagmire, lessons learned when it "moves in next door," and commentary on congress leaving the nation's capital while many find little for which to be thankful.

"U.S. Census Bureau [figures] shows that over the last 25 years, about 10 percent of Utahans fell under the poverty line. Last year the percentage of Utah living in poverty ranked 38th in the nation at 9.9 percent, down nine spots from 15 years ago when the poverty rate was 8 percent," reports the Brigham Young University Newsnet in Provo. The BYU newsnet reports, "Despite this fall, Utah consistently has one of the lowest rates for poverty. But officials from anti-poverty agencies in the state said this seemingly small number still presents a big problem," they report. (Read more)

The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., berates Congress in an editorial for "work undone" in addressing poverty, focusing specifically on congressional spending and tax cuts. Using area community action calculations, the paper writes, "[A total of] 1.02 million Pennsylvanians qualified for food stamps in March, [up] about 87,000 people over the previous year. About 85,000 Pennsylvanians signed up for ... cash assistance in 2003, an increase of 6.7 percent over the previous year. In July, Pennsylvania lost 2,800 jobs ... 1,600 ... in manufacturing. Since 2001, the state has lost 160,000 manufacturing jobs." (Read more)

Low yields, marketing changes mean many will lose money on tobacco

A few dozen sellers and nine buyers showed up at the Farmers Tobacco Warehouse yesterday in Danville, Ky., but without the Depression-era federal program that set price and production controls on U.S. tobacco, reports Bobbie Curd of the Advocate-Messenger. (Read more)

A little more than 100,000 pounds of leaf brought an average price of $1.56 a pound compared to an average of nearly $2 a pound when the support program was still in effect. In all, nine warehouses in eight Kentucky cities will open for auctions this season, down from 96 warehouses just six years ago, reports The Associated Press. (Read more)

Lincoln County grower Fred Short got about $1.55 a pound on average for his 8,000-pound burley crop, about a nickel less than he had hoped, but told reporters he was willing to take a chance at auction rather than contract with a company. "I just didn't want to be tied to a price. I'm willing to take the chance -- possibly get more, possibly get less," he said.

The number of tobacco growers in Kentucky dropped by half this year and is likely to drop again, said Will Snell, tobacco economist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "Production likely will also move to the central and midwestern regions of the state and potentially to other lower cost regions outside Kentucky," writes Laura Skillman of the college's communications staff.

With bad weather and no price supports, Snell said "a significant number" of Kentucky growers will lose money this year, something virtually unheard of in the six-plus decades of the federal program. "This year has also been a difficult growing season with yields expected to be about 1,800 pounds per acre below the 2,300-pound yields many were hoping to achieve," Skillman reports.

Employers start penalizing smokers to lower soaring insurance costs

Employers straining to hold down soaring health care costs have turned to penalizing workers who smoke.

"A few employers — including Northwest Airlines, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the state of Georgia — have started levying surcharges for employees who smoke. Gannett Co. Inc., which publishes The Des Moines Register and has 1,150 employees in Iowa, will add a $50 monthly surcharge starting in January for smokers who use its insurance plans," writes the Register's S.P. Dinner.

Companies cite federal government studies showing that a smoker costs an employer $5,606 extra per year because of higher medical expenses and absenteeism, notes Dinner. Some benefits and civil rights experts are concerned overweight people or bad drivers could be singled out next.

Health care costs in Iowa and elsewhere are rising at double-digit rates "and the smoker surcharge is just one example of how employers are passing costs to their employees. Benefits consultants say employers must take a balanced carrot-and-stick approach," writes Dinner Jennifer Browne, president of Benefit Source Inc., said "As health care costs continue to increase, these are going to be huge issues." Browne's company works with employers on health care plans, and offers incentives to those with healthier lifestyles.

Benefits consultants told the newspaper employers searching to cut insurance costs are running out of options. Employers' insurance costs increased 12.4 percent between 2004 and 2005, according to a survey of 720 Iowa companies with 10 or more employees. (Read more)

Minnesota farming town launches grassroots newspaper with local focus

"While charges of U.S.-sanctioned torture and riots in Paris led newspapers around the country during the second week of November, folks in Atwater were reading about a $450 school levy hike and a friendly reminder about winter street parking regulations. Small potatoes, maybe -- but a refreshing change after a decade with no local newspaper," Patrick Condon of The Associated Press reports from Minnesota.

A group of Atwater residents are responsible for starting a nonprofit newspaper staffed mostly with volunteers. The Atwater Sunfish Gazette (the name was picked in a contest) first arrived in mailboxes Oct. 12 with two biweekly issues since. It's mailed free to the town's 1,100 residents, notes Condon.

The town's last paper, the Atwater Herald, shut down its presses in the mid-'90s. The closest daily, Willmar's West Central Tribune, is 15 miles away in west-central Minnesota, but it rarely covers events in the farming community of Atwater. The origins of the Sunfish Gazette date back to the fall of 1994 when residents identified a community paper as one of their biggest needs, reports AP

The only paid employee is editor Sandy Grussing, hired in September. She had edited weeklies in nearby Renville and Olivia. "I had always wanted to start my own newspaper, but I wasn't financially equipped," Grussing told Condon. "This was the chance of a lifetime." (Read more)

Rick Edmonds, a newspaper business analyst at the Poynter Institute, said small weekly newspapers have been financially healthy in recent years despite not carrying much investigative or in-depth reporting. "I suppose you might say a paper without hard-hitting news is better than no paper at all," Edmonds told AP.

Post-hurricane plan would put stronger building codes in La. rural areas

New building regulations in Louisiana aimed at helping some hurricane victims, may prove burdensome to others, and are also causing concerns among some communities about losing local control.

"Louisianans north of the most ferocious hurricane gusts won't have to spend money on hurricane-resistant provisions when constructing their dream homes, under a proposed new statewide building code, some rural local governments that have no existing codes will grapple with finding ways to pay for mandated inspectors," writes Greg Hilburn for Gannett Co. newspapers of Louisiana.

Alexandria, Lafayette, Opelousas, Monroe, West Monroe, Shreveport and Bossier City are located above the 110-mile wind zone where hurricane-resistant provisions would be required. Each of those cities also has an existing code that may be tweaked, but not overhauled. But in Bossier Parish, officials want to keep their more stringent codes. Under the legislation passed by the state Senate, a statewide code would supersede all local codes, including Bossier's, notes Hilburn.

Parish attorney Patrick Jackson told Hilburn, "We're all for statewide minimums, but we're worried about losing control. Our code is stronger that the IRC." Referring to a 19-person state board that would oversee the new code, Jackson said, "I don't think an appointed board in Baton Rouge knows what's best for Bossier City."

State Sen. Ken Hollis, R-Metairie, emphasized his bill would help with insurance availability and affordability. Morris Anderson of State Farm, which insures about one-third of Louisiana's homeowners , told Hilburn, "It would certainly be a factor in encouraging those companies already here to keep writing business and perhaps encourage new companies to come to the state." (Read more)

Wal-Mart coverage not translating into comprehensive story, review says

News media coverage of the "ubiquitous behemoth" known as Wal-Mart tends to be piecemeal rather than comprehensive, says an analysis by Columbia Journalism Review.

"Mega-retailer Wal-Mart has received a lot of press ... stories about a ubiquitous behemoth that has the power to move the economies of entire nations and has come to symbolize all that is both right and wrong with globalization and the modern economy ... Journalists often [reduce] complex stories to easily digested morsels ... Wal-Mart tale(s) are no exception. Only the Los Angeles Times, which won a Pulitzer for a 2004 series on the company, has attempted to present a comprehensive, inside account of the way Wal-Mart conducts business," writes CJR's Paul McLeary.

McLeary says recent coverage focused on a leak of an internal company memo that "proposes numerous ways to hold down spending on health care and other benefits while seeking to minimize damage to the retailer's reputation. Among the recommendations are hiring more part-time workers and discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart," according to the New York Times.

There were "outcries against the machinations of heartless corporate giants, and conversely, the defense of Wal-Mart's policies by proponents of a more laissez faire approach to business. But The New York Times' interesting tidbit failed to translate into a truly comprehensive story -- either in the Times or elsewhere," McLeary concludes. (Read more)

Conspicuously absent journalists noted for conspicuous bravery in reporting

Amid the talk of implosion at metropolitan newspapers and the concern over staff-squeezing at all levels, American journalists need to cherish the freedoms they enjoy -- and remember that many journalists in other nations are not so lucky, and suffer when they try to be more like us.

A Washington Post editorial today notes, "Four winners of this year's International Press Freedom Awards couldn't make it to New York City to pick up their prizes [last night.} The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in choosing this year's honorees, not only highlighted the almost unimaginable bravery of reporters and their advocates seeking to work in repressive environments; it also demonstrated that, in too many of those environments, the repressors are winning, at least for now."

"Shi Tao, 37, [is] a Chinese journalist serving a 10-year sentence. Lcio Flvio Pinto, 56, a newspaper editor in Brazil's Amazon region [where] the corrupt businessmen and local officials he writes about have filed so many harassing lawsuits against him that he dare not leave his home. And, Zimbabwe lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, 47, has gone to court on behalf of independent newspapers and journalists, even as dictator Robert Mugabe has closed the papers one by one and forced the journalists into exile," writes The Post.

And, the Post concludes, "[Despite] dictators from Burma to Belarus ... [repressive governments in] China, Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan, brave reporters and editors either inside the countries or in exile keep trying to do their work. As the CPJ will note tonight, they deserve the respect and support of everyone lucky enough to take press freedoms for granted." (Read more)

First Amendment seminar nets support from Georgia's former governor

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes will headline a seminar on the First Amendment and freedom of information issues at the Georgia Press Association's Editorial Conference on Jan. 20 in Macon.

Barnes previously picked up the Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information award and he continues to speak out in favor of the press. "What politicians don't realize is when they fight transparency and openness, they are writing their own defeat. . . . The Open Records Act is the greatest tool that the press has for finding the truth," Barnes told Sean Ireland of the Georgia Press Bulletin.

Other speakers at the conference will include Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan, the state's First Amendment Foundation Executive Director Hollie Manheimer, Rome News-Tribune Editor Charlotte Atkins and Hartwell Sun Editor Judy Salter, reports Ireland. The seminar will cost $50 and registration details are forthcoming at www.gapress.org.

Barnes, a Democrat, was ousted by voters in 2002. How many other former governors would lead a seminar on the First Amendment and freedom-of-information issues? Would yours?

College lecturer wins award for story on mountaintop-removal mining

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports today that a "University of Kentucky lecturer in English and writing has won a $5,000 national prize for outstanding environmental journalism. Erik Reece was one of two winners of the 2005 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism."

Reece won for "Lost Mountain," his April 2005 Harper's article about mountaintop-removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky, part of a book to be published next summer. The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism administers the Oakes Awards. (Read more)

Monday, Nov. 21, 2005

Coal boom's big players will be west of Appalachia, consultant predicts

Coal-industry consultant Alan Stagg said Friday that "The big producers and the big players" in the booming U.S. coal market will be in the low-BTU lignite fields of Texas, North Dakota and Montana; the sub-bituminous fields of the Powder River Basin of Wyoming; and the Illinois Basin, which reaches into Southern Indiana and Western Kentucky.

Illinois Basin coals are high in sulfur, but use of scrubbers and newer technology at power plants is spurring development there, Stagg said at "Covering Coal," a seminar held at the Marshall University Graduate College in South Charleston by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. West Virginia University and Virginia Tech assisted with the conference for Appalachian journalists.

"There hasn’t been a coal boom like this since 1974," and this one has already lasted longer than that one, Stagg said. But he said depletion of reserves in southern West Virginia has created a situation he has never seen before – production falling while prices and demand rise. Farther south, coal from Venezuela is being brought into Alabama because U.S. prices are so high, he said. Other problems in Appalachia include lack of railroad capacity and a shortage of miners. The industry "lost a generation of miners" in the last two decades, and many of the few young people willing to work in the mines can’t pass drug tests, he said.

The current spike in coal prices, and companies’ plans to expand production, is an opportunity for the industry to show it can mine responsibly, said J. Davitt McAteer, director of the coal impoundment project at Wheeling Jesuit University and former assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

The conference dealt with such topics as mountaintop-removal mining and news coverage of the controversial practice; underground mine health and safety, reclamation and reforestation. For a fuller report of the conference with several stories, click here.

Boom-ready Montana governor proposes coal-to-fuel plants in small towns

If there's a coal boom in Montana, Gov. Brian Schweitzer is ready. "If the vast, empty plain of eastern Montana is the Saudi Arabia of coal, then ... a prairie populist with a bolo tie and an advanced degree in soil science, may be its [T.E.] Lawrence. Rarely a day goes by that he does not lash out against the 'sheiks, dictators, rats and crooks' who control the world oil supply or the people he calls their political handmaidens, 'the best Congress that Big Oil can buy,'" writes Timothy Egan of The New York Times.

Schweitzer is promoting a synthetic fuel based on a coal-to-fuel conversion that has existed for 80-plus years. New technology removes and stores the pollutants during and after the making of synthetic fuel, which can either be gasoline or diesel. Montana's coal reserves of about 120 billion tons comprise one-third of the nation's total and a tenth of the global amount. Most of it is in the scarcely-populated ranch country of eastern Montana, reports Egan.

Schweitzer wants to plant coal-to-fuel factories in small towns. While this idea might not eliminate the need for imported oil altogether, he wants to demonstrate an alternative. "This country has no energy plan, no vision for the future," Schweitzer, who spent seven years in Saudi Arabia on irrigation projects, told Egan. "We give more tax breaks and money for oil, and what do we get? Three-dollar gas and wars in the Middle East. If you want to control the destiny of this country, it's going to be with synthetic fuels."

Several energy companies have expressed interest in building coal-to-fuel plants, but no sites have been chosen or projects announced, notes Egan. (Read more)

Shortage of miners producing perks, no-compete clauses from companies

Strong demand and an ongoing labor shortage have prompted some coal producers to offer pay hikes, improved benefits and bonuses in an effort to attract new miners and keep existing employees. Bill Rainey, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Erik Schelzig of The Associated Press, "Companies are almost bidding for the experienced miner right now. There's a lot of innovations that are being developed in the industry."

Electricians who sign a non-compete clause can earn $25,000 in bonuses over three years from Central Appalachia's largest coal operator, Massey Energy Co., based in Richmond, Va., writes Schelzig.

Massey has increased its work force by 1,100 to about 5,600 since the beginning of 2003. It has also developed zero-premium health insurance; a purpose-built heath center closer to where most of its miners work; and discounted auto and home insurance policies to hire and keep more miners. Still, Schelzig notes more than half of their new employees are leaving before their first year on the job, half of them taking jobs with competitors. (Read more) For more information, from the National Mining Association, click here.

Coal to liquids: Byrd initiative crucial to West Virginia, opines newspaper

The U.S. Senate has approved a measure by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., to spur development of a national coal-to-liquid fuels production, and a newspaper in the heart of Appalachian coal country says, "It could be a very important development in shaping the future of West Virginia."

"The Byrd legislation brings the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown [W. Va.] and Pittsburgh, Pa., into the process of advancing a coal-to-liquids initiative. The legislation also would allow the Department of Defense to examine potential uses for these new fuels within its system," reports the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in a recent editorial.

The editors note, "The [military] has previously recognized the important role coal-to-liquids could play and has expressed a strong interest in transforming alternative resources into transportation fuels."

And they conclude, "Reliable, sustainable and cost-effective energy should be at the tips of our fingers in West Virginia and only with the prodding and pushing of elected officials like Sen. Byrd and Gov. Manchin can it come without our grasp. It could do wonders for West Virginia." (Read more)

Bush nominates five to the expanded Tennessee Valley Authority board

President Bush has nominated three people from Tennessee, one from Kentucky and one from Alabama, to join the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors, overseeing the nation's biggest public utility.

Nominees include: Howard A. Thrailkill, a Huntsville, Ala., businessman; Susan Richardson Williams, a Knoxville public relations expert; William B. Sansom, a Knoxville businessman; Dennis Bottorff, a Nashville banker; and Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, a banker from Inez, Ky. Duncan is general counsel to the Republican National Committee and is on the advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. None has utility experience, but all have either worked for Republican administrations or been donors to GOP campaigns, reports Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., championed the restructuring of the TVA board, which changes from three full-time members with daily hands-on oversight to nine part-time members who will name a full-time chief operating officer to handle daily control of the agency. TVA, with headquarters in Knoxville, provides electricity to 158 distributors serving 8.5 million people in Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, notes Mansfield. (Read more)

Critics say bill allowing purchase of federal land could spur development

Private interests could buy large tracts of federal land under a spending bill passed by a two-vote margin in the House of Representatives, a measure some fear would allow a wave of new development.

"Lawyers who have parsed [the bill's] language say the real beneficiaries could be real estate developers, whose business has become a more potent economic engine in the West than mining. Under the existing law, a mining claim is the vehicle that allows for the extraction of so-called hard-rock metals like gold or silver," write Kirk Johnson and Felicity Barringer of The New York Times.

The bill would allow individuals or companies to file and expand claims even if the land has already been stripped of its minerals or could never support a profitable mine. The measure would also lift an 11-year moratorium on the passing of claims into full ownership, write Johnson and Barringer.

The provisions have struck fear through resort areas like Aspen and Vail, Colo., and Park City in Utah. Critics say it could open the door for developers to use the claims for projects like houses, hotels, ski resorts, spas or retirement communities, note Johnson and Barringer. And, some experts say energy companies could use the provision to buy land in the energy-rich fields of Wyoming and Montana on the pretext of mining, but then drill for oil and gas.

Former Interior Department senior lawyer John D. Leshy told Johnson and Barringer, "They are called mining claims, but you can locate them where there are no minerals." He added the legislation "doesn't have much to do with mining at all. It has to do with real-estate transfer for economic development." Supporters argue that allowing more mine-claim lands to be purchased would boost rural communities that often struggle in the boom and bust cycle of mining. (Read more)

Nation's tobacco farmers prep for first post-buyout sales with short crop

In light of difficult weather and growing conditions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average tobacco yield will be 1,800 pounds an acre this year. When federal price supports ended, so did the quota system that limited how much farmers could grow. However, instead of planting more tobacco, many farmers planted less.

Many growers quit the trade "after Congress passed the long-awaited buyout that promises to pay former growers and quota holders billions over the next decade," writes Janet Patton of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Tobacco farmers who want to keep growing without contracting with cogarette companies, as the great majority are doing, may have a difficult time. Without a federal price support, they have no idea what their tobacco will bring on the open market. Less than 10 percent of the crop is expected to sell at auction this year. Kentucky's co-op and the warehouse association are fighting to keep auctions to support farmers. Only 15 of the state's warehouses will hold auctions this year, notes Patton.

Farmers who sell directly to the cigarette makers have been reporting prices around $1.50 a pound, down about 25 percent from last year's guaranteed price. (Read more) However, because large-scale growers no longer have to lease the right to grow and sell tobacco, which cost some as much as 90 cents a pound, they are ahead of the game even with lower prices and have increased production, writes Philip Stith of last spring's rural journalism class at the University of Kentucky. (Read more)

Southwest states seeing influx of high-grade meth from Mexico, California

As more states restrict colds medicine sales to dry-up home-cooked methamphetamine, authorities in the Southwest are seeing imports of refined meth from south of the border and labs in California.

"When it comes to methamphetamine, the problem is local, but more and more often, the supply is imported. Area drug enforcement authorities report seeing a shift from home laboratories, where meth addicts create small amounts of the illicit substance for mostly personal use, to a purer form of meth presumed to be manufactured primarily by Mexican drug cartels," writes Kartharhynn Heidelberg of the Montrose Daily Press in Colorado.

Delta/Montrose Drug Task Force agent Jack Haynes said, "Most meth now is high-quality. Mexican drug cartels ... are primarily responsible for the distribution, not only of meth, but other drugs." Haynes said that Mexican-produced meth (a.k.a. "ice") is transported load vehicle and typically enters through Arizona or California. It then moves via a "complex and sophisticated distribution network," writes Heidelberg.

The National Drug Intelligence Center’s National Drug Threat Assessment summary report for 2005 said “ice” availability has increased. The national use rate for meth is lower than for other drugs because it isn’t widely available in the Northeast, notes Heidelberg. But, the report states meth is increasing "in the Northeast due to a significant increase in distribution by Mexican criminal groups." (Read more)

Maryland hunters start squirrel revival, teach kids about killing varmints

"Once upon a time, the 1964 Joy of Cooking offered readers a three-sketch illustration on how to skin a squirrel and prepare it for roasting, braising or stewing. One of the steps showed a lace-up boot stepping on the squirrel's tail and gloved hands pulling the animal out of its skin. Those same sketches appear as recently as 1988, but in current editions, the index doesn't even include 'squirrel,'" writes Darragh Johnson of The Washington Post, in a feature about squirrel hunters keeping up their sport.

For Maryland resident Steve Lanham, the taste for squirrels is one acquired over decades of harvesting the varmints. Now 52, Lanham grew up on a cattle and hog farm where he could get up early and take his gun to the wooded edges of the pasture. "I could kill six of 'em," he told Johnson, "and be ready for school at 8." He's now teaching kids about squirrel hunting, calling it a "good starting point for deer hunting."

Lanham is in a dwindling group of hunters. In 1991, Maryland's Department of Natural Resources sold about 99,000 "resident consolidated" hunting licenses, compared with about 12,000 fewer such licenses last year. Devotees like Lanham are no longer being followed by younger hunters -- a decline that helps explain why DNR moved the squirrel-hunting season from October to September last year, hoping to get more kids involved, notes Johnson. (Read more)

Movin' to the country: North Dakota Farm Bureau provides how-to guide

A North Dakota Farm Bureau booklet helps urbanites who are thinking about a rural relocation. "So You Want to Move to the Country" is being distributed across the state.

"We certainly don't want to discourage anyone from moving to the country, because it is a great place to live and to raise kids," said Farm Bureau President Eric Aasmundstad. "But because each generation gets further removed from agriculture, we thought it would be helpful to give people who aren't familiar with agriculture a more realistic picture," reports The Associated Press.

The booklet discusses some city amenities that might not be found in rural areas such as paved roads and convenient government services, notes AP. (Read more)

Poultry industry launches avian flu Web site to counter pandemic fears

As human cases of and deaths from Avian flu are reported in China, and more fowl are inoculated against the influenza in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the poultry industry has launched a Web site to spread information to counter growing fears of a global pandemic.

The site is a joint project of the National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, and the Egg Safety Center. The site explains that bird flu is not transmitted by eating poultry, a key concern as Thanksgiving approaches and Americans traditionally have turkey at the center of their table.

Ex-editors join Knight Ridder debate; want journalist board candidates

A former Lexington Herald-Leader editor has joined dozens of other former Knight Ridder editors in the fray surrounding the possible sale of the company's newspapers. "Pam Luecke, editor at the Lexington paper from December 1996 to June 2001, was among 60 journalists who signed an open letter to Knight Ridder that said the group is prepared to nominate its own candidates to the board that runs the company," writes the Herald-Leader's Karla Ward.

"We have watched mostly in silent dismay as short-term profit demands have diminished long-term capacity of newsrooms in Knight Ridder and other public media companies," the letter stated. "We are silent no more. We will support and counsel only corporate leadership that restores to Knight Ridder newspapers the resources to do excellent journalism."

Knight Ridder owns 32 daily newspapers, including the Herald-Leader. The company has cut jobs and sold off assets to mitigate declines in circulation, revenue and stock prices and rising paper costs. Knight Ridder spokesman Polk Laffoon called the letter "a fine gesture," but said, "The thought that a group of well-meaning alumni could put up their own slate and beat the institutions is not practical in the world we live in," reports Editor & Publisher. Those who signed the letter said they think it's possible to run a profitable business and produce good journalism at the same time, writes Ward. (Read more)

Friday, Nov. 18, 2005

Mine-safety agency keeps making more information harder to get

In a "continuing rollback of public information," the Mine Safety and Health Administration "is hiding timely information about mine injuries in the name of personal privacy. Yet most details withheld are not personal identifiers, and the agency publishes similar details later," says Mine Safety and Health News.

"About a year ago, MSHA started excising key facts when releasing single-page preliminary reports on accidents that injure miners non-fatally," but many of the withheld items show up later on the agency's Web site, the newsletter reports. "The agency's contradictory practice makes it harder to obtain timely accident details that can help members of the mining community learn from serious injuries, identify safety trends, and determine whether the government is responding appropriately."

MSHA cited privacy reasons, but it also deleted information about victims' mining experience, their activity at the time of the accident, and words or phrases that appeared to indicate the victim's injuries. Mine Safety and Health News plans to appeal the partial denial of its FOIA request.

Rebecca Dougherty of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press said MSHA's new assertion of the personal privacy claim represents part of a larger trend that concerns others: "With no identifying details the government is now withholding all sorts of information. The government continues to expand its definition of privacy, keeping important information from the public."

"Earlier this year, MSHA reversed another new practice of withholding similar details from preliminary reports of fatal incidents," the newsletter reports, saying that a FOIA request it filed "prompted the agency to go back to its traditional policy of generally releasing these fatality reports in their entirety." However, it has "rolled back public information in other areas . . . notably resisting release of inspectors' notes recorded during mine inspections and investigations."

Responses to FOIA requests vary significantly, reports government watchdog

Responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests vary greatly from government agency to government agency, according to an analysis by a highly respected national newspaper that devotes its entire coverage to Congress.

"Congress is weighing changes to FOIA because some agencies are slow to respond and provide incomplete information. This move to reform the law comes years after the Bush administration adopted a stricter interpretation of FOIA, raising criticism from government watchdog groups," writes Kipp Lanham of The Hill.

The Hill asked more than 100 government agencies to provide a list of the FOIA requests they have received over a series of months, including the names of the requestors, their affiliations and the
nature of the documents they were seeking. Some agencies, including "the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) replied promptly with all the data requested," writes Lanham.

Others took months to respond, and when they did provided information that was often scant or incomplete. Those agencies included the Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Maritime Commission and The Centers for Medicare, Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration. (Read more)

Washington Post reporter held in contempt in lawsuit for not revealing source

In a case that sends more shudders throughout the journalism world, a federal judge has slapped a Washington Post report with a contempt charge for keeping secret his sources on a major story.

The reporter was held in contempt for not saying who gave him information about an investigation of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, writes Charles Lane of the Post.

"U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled that Lee is entitled to know who reporter Walter Pincus' sources are because his lawsuit against the government for alleged violations of federal privacy law cannot go forward otherwise, and because he has exhausted all other possibilities for getting the information. Collyer's order carried no threat of jail time," writes Lane. The judge fined Pincus $500 a day until he agrees to testify, but suspended the penalty for at least 30 days pending an appeal.

The judge also gave Pincus 48 hours to seek his sources' permission to reveal their names, "in order," she wrote, "to avoid a repetition of the Judith Miller imbroglio." (Read more)

AAA reports families flock to rural destinations for Thanksgiving weekend

The American Automobile Association reports higher travel expenses, including gasoline, will slow America's travel plans but the greatest number of travelers will be headed, it appears, to grandma's house.

"Small towns and rural areas top the list of preferred destinations, with 37 percent of the travel volume. Cities are the destination for 34 percent of travelers, followed by oceans and beaches, 10 percent; mountains, 10 percent; lakes, 3 percent; state/national parks, 2 percent; and theme/amusement parks, 1 percent. Another 3 percent responded with other," reports the automotive and travel agency.

The AAA also reports, "The greatest number of Thanksgiving auto travelers will originate in the Southeast with 8.81 million; followed by the West, 7.05 million; Midwest, 6.58 million; Great Lakes, 6.06 million; and Northeast, 2.34 million. The Southeast also is expected to produce the largest number of air travelers, with 1.27 million, followed by the West with 1.24 million, Midwest with 760,000; Northeast with 750,000 and Great Lakes with 620,000."

Of the total Thanksgiving travelers, 55 percent said they will stay with friends or relatives and another 28 percent expect to stay at a hotel or motel. The figures are based on a national telephone survey of 1,383 adults by the Travel Industry Association of America. (Read more)

Turkeys not like ones at Plymouth Rock, but okay to eat amid flu fears

The modern Thanksgiving turkey "is most definitely not the turkey our forefathers hunted in the wild," reports Newswise.org, a research-reporting service, relaying an expert's view that turkeys are susceptible to bird flu but safe to eat.

"Turkeys in the days of the Pilgrims were similar to the wild turkeys ... abundant in most states. They have dark plumage and can fly," says Nickolas Zimmermann, an associate professor in the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "Modern turkeys have been bred to have large breast muscles, desired by consumers [and] bred to have white feathers, so that pigment from dark feathers does not blemish the skin."

Zimmerman said, "All animals are subject to getting the flu, including turkeys, [but] this has not happened, it may never happen or it could happen today. The key point is that our poultry supply is safe and wholesome to eat." (Read more) For Zimmerman's full report, Give Thanks for the Modern Turkey Expert's List, click here. For additional information, click here.

Mad-cow disease cause may be found in milk products, research suggests

New research into the infectious agents prions that cause mad-cow-like diseases has found them in the mammary glands of some sheep, raising questions as to whether milk and milk products from infected animals could transmit the pathogens, reports Helen Branswell of the Canadian Press.

Experts insist, however, the current risk to human health is low, but suggested the findings are a warning that if "prion diseases" in livestock aren't rigorously hunted for and rooted out, milk and products like cheeses and yogurt could be a potential route of transmission of prions to humans, writes Branswell.

Dr. Neil Cashman, Canada's leading expert on the issue, told Branswell, "I think the public health implications of this are profound . . . (and) need further investigation.” The findings were reported by a team of scientists led by Dr. Adriano Aguzzi, one of the world's leading prion researchers. Aguzzi is based at the Institute of Neuropathology at University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland. (Read more)

Rural schools in Washington state want more advanced-placement courses

Rural school districts in Washington state may use federal money to challenge students academically with more advanced-placement courses, reports The Seattle Times.

Supt. Gary Wargo of the LaCrosse School District in Whitman County, which has only 140 students and 17 teachers, said he attended a recent conference because "We're trying to learn from other small schools what they are doing, how they are handling the challenge of scheduling those classes and preparing kids who want to take AP classes."

More than 30 rural school districts attended the conference to discuss ways to get more AP courses into their high schools and middle schools, and to learn about a federal money that can be used to help rural districts train teachers and set up advanced-placement courses. The Bellevue district is "known nationally for its commitment to offering AP courses and for offering AP training," the Times reports.

"AP is a national program that offers rigorous classes in various subjects," Rachel Tuinstra writes. "Students who complete AP courses can take an exam and earn college credit. The courses are quickly becoming an important element on students' transcripts to get into college, but rural districts often are limited in their ability to offer the courses because of limited staff and money." Students who take AP signal to college admissions officers that they have "taken a high level of courses and can do a high level of work," aid Gaston Caperton, president of The College Board, which oversees the AP program.

"At least one rural school district believes it has shown that AP courses can be successfully offered, even with limited staffing," Tuinstra reports. "In 2001, Blaine School District began building its AP courses and now offers 10. "It's really changed the culture of the high school," assistant high-school principal Scott Ellis told Tuinstra. "It changed the rigor, and now more students are looking for AP."

Phone taxes may increase by $383 million for 16 million vulnerable households

A coalition of consumer groups says the Federal Communications Commission should stick with the current "pro-consumer alternative fair share plan" rather than increasing customers' phone fees.

The Keep USF Fair Coalition writes that the FCC's plan would result in higher federal phone taxes of as much as $707 million for 43 million households that use little long distance. The coalition claims 16 million primarily low-income and elderly households, who already have trouble paying for long-distance calls, would have to pay up to $383 million in higher taxes. The Universal Service Fee would be replaced with a regressive, flat fee of $1, $2 or more per phone line, regardless of the long-distance call volume.

They coalition claims that for a consumer who now dials only a handful of long-distance calls per year and pays correspondingly low USF taxes, the effective tax rate would soar by 1,000-plus percent annually.

The coalition cautions "against balancing USF finances on the backs of the very consumers who use long-distance the least and are unable to afford phone bills that would rise under 'numbers' simply in order to subsidize high-income, high-volume callers." (Read more) To hear a related telenews event, click here.

Wal-Mart girds for battle on Maryland bill; measure binds lobbying forces

Wal-Mart, gearing up for a fight in the Maryland legislature with organized labor, has deployed at least a dozen lobbyists and is making overtures to black lawmakers, including a $10,000 donation to help them pay for a recent conference. "The retail giant hopes to derail legislation that would effectively force the company to boost spending on employee health benefits," writes John Wagner of The Washington Post.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) told Wagner, "They've hired the largest cadre of lobbyists in recent history ... to try to influence this legislation. It really comes down to whether the legislature is going to succumb to the money and the special interests."

Wagner writes that Wal-Mart wants to "not only to stamp out legislation the retailer considers 'really just an attack on the company' but also to curb a trend toward state involvement in its business. After years of fighting -- and often winning -- at the local level, Wal-Mart now faces battles in several state legislatures following Maryland's lead."

Wal-Mart spokesman Nate Hurst told Wagner the donation to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland was part of the company's continuing community outreach designed to inform lawmakers about the bill. The General Assembly passed the landmark bill in April. It was vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who called the measure an unwarranted intrusion by government. Lawmakers will seek to override his veto in January. (Read more)

West Virginia bans grain-alcohol sales, citing student binge drinking concerns

West Virginia's Alcohol Beverage Control Administration no longer stocks 190-proof grain alcohol at its warehouse, which provides all the liquor sold in the state.

"Although it announced the ban Wednesday, it asked liquor retailers more than a month ago to pull the potent product from their shelves," writes Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. Agency officials say they are responding to concerns by college officials, law enforcement agencies and community groups about the alcohol, which at 95 percent pure is significantly more potent than other distilled spirits.

Carla Lapelle, associate dean of student affairs at Marshall University, told Messina, "[Grain alcohol] has traditionally been purchased by groups of people, often college students, who are intent on getting very drunk and who suffer serious consequences from a severe hangover to falling victim to sexual assault or even a car crash."

West Virginia University spokeswoman Becky Lofstead applauded the agency's efforts, but could not recall any specific drinking offenses blamed on grain alcohol abuse. At least a dozen other states ban or limit the sale of 190-proof grain alcohol. Pennsylvania and Virginia sell grain alcohol only for medicinal or commercial use, and require a permit for its purchase, writes Messina. (Read more)

Five weeklies in one Wisconsin county all make journalism a family affair

"Each of the five (Barren County) newspapers, the Barron News-Shield, The Chetek Alert, the Cumberland Advocate, the Rice Lake Chronotype, and The Times in Turtle Lake, is operated by at least second-generation owners. It's a phenomenal record considering the recent trend of national newspaper moguls gobbling up community papers," writes Shane Samuels of The Chetek Alert, in an unusual look in a five-way mirror.

When Jim Bell became the publisher of the Barron News-Shield (circ. 4,300) in 1979, he represented the fifth generation of his family to helm a newspaper. Bell cites community awareness as the key to a small-town paper's survival. "A good community newspaper should stick its neck out once in a while to stir the pot and get people to do some serious thinking about current events and politics," he told Samuels.

Paul Bucher purchased the Cumberland Advocate (circ. 3,213) from his parents, Craig and Sharon, last winter. In order for small newspapers to remain free of the national chains, Bucher said they must be willing to adapt. David Slack, a third-generation publisher of The Times (circ. 1,137) in Turtle Lake, echoed that sentiment. "The addition of computers, Internet, fax machines and digital cameras has made things a bit easier for our small newspaper," Slack told Samuels.

The Rice Lake Chronotype (circ. 9,305) was established in 1874 and brothers Warren, Jim and Bob Dorrance are third-generation owners, reports Samuels. Jim Dorrance's keys to success are customer service, reporting integrity, and taking pride in the business. "We believe the role of any community newspaper is to keep the readers informed by providing unbiased information on local area news, sports and community events," Dorrance said.

Melodee Eckerman has owned The Chetek Alert (circ. 3,422) for 20-plus years, and her parents, Lynn and Ida Mason, purchased The Alert in 1945. Eckerman says a community newspaper's longevity depends on its staff. "They have a definite feel for the community and its people - a necessity in the newspaper world," she told Samuels. (Read more)

Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005

Weekly provides readers with insight into Medicare drug benefit

As an example of how a weekly newspaper can tackle a subject traditionally handled only by wire services and large dailies, the Watauga Democrat in Boone, N.C., has provided its readers with a down-home and detailed story on the highly complicated Medicare Part D plan, which covers prescription drugs. Weeklies that provide this type of coverage to reduce confusion also provide a vital source for their readers, because most Americans don't read a daily newspaper -- but do read a weekly paper.

"Changes to Medicare enrollment [began] Nov. 15 and Medicare recipients will be able to choose from a number of plans. While some of the plans can seem complex, the North Carolina Department of Insurance is available to offer advice. The department’s Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) is the lead agency in offering enrollment assistance in the state," writes Scott Nicholson.

The state SHIIP office has received an average of 400 to 500 calls per week about the Medicare changes, which take effect in January, said Shery Harmon, the Project on Aging coordinator. Project on Aging is the local contact for SHIIP, Nicholson notes. Roberta Hamby, SHIIP’s education coordinator, told Nicholson volunteers have been trained to help people understand the changes and procedures because there is so much confusion among recipients.

Hamby told Nicholson, "The principal concerns [in choosing a plan] are the prescriptions the person is currently taking and if they are covered by that plan," she said. "There’s also the cost factor, and whether you want a standard deductible or not." (Read more)

Stateline.Org provided a detailed overview in March that forecasted problems expected with the new plan in Medicare drug plan a headache for states by Pamela M. Prah.

Internet pioneer attacks regulation changes, promotes broadband access

An Internet expert says updating telecommunications regulations would change the Web as we know it. Vinton Cerf, "the father of the Internet," offered that warning to Congress, which is considering a proposal to update the 1996 Telecommunications Act, writes Cooper for The Mercury News in San Jose, Calif.

Cooper, a research director for the Consumer Federation of America, notes, "Broadband Internet connections have fast become indispensable in our daily lives." "There are those who would, for anti-competitive reasons, undermine the very principles that give it potency: decentralization and open access," Cooper writes, before adding, "A narrow interest group may soon have the power to mandate which vendors we purchase our goods from, which news sources we use, which hardware we use to access these services, and what opinions we, the people, may or may not express in the blogosphere."

And, he concludes, "Congress must significantly strengthen consumer protections and specifically define robust legal and administrative procedures to counter occurrences of the phone and cable monopolies' blocking access to competitors or Internet applications they don't control. To do otherwise would threaten innovation, limit access to information and services and stifle competition." (Read more)

For details about the introduction of wireless Internet access for a central business district in Lexington, Ky., read a story by Scott Sloan of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Energy demand spurs coal development, plans for new power plants

The coal boom, ignited by energy demands, has sparked growth and development at a rate not seen in decades, but some environmental groups are watching this rising tide with a wary eye.

"[Coal] companies ... have seen surging profits and record-high stock prices. Expansion plans are in the works, from new coal mines to coal-fired power plants. In Washington, a new energy bill has lessened the fear of regulatory hurdles for future coal burning," writes Christopher Leonard of The Associated Press.

Fred Freme, a coal industry researcher with the U.S. Energy Information Administration, told Leonard, "[Coal is] not in the forefront of people's minds when they think about energy, but without it, half the lights in the country would go out." But, Mark Reichman, an analyst with A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc., said coal is now in the limelight since increased demand and tight supply have pushed up prices.

The price of a futures contract for a ton of coal in the western U.S. rose from about $9 in June to $19.50 in October. The nation's largest coal company, Peabody Energy Corp., has reported a 141 percent increase in profits for the third quarter; Arch Coal Inc. has reported a 75 percent increase, AP notes.

In Kentucky and elsewhere, Peabody has faced stiff opposition from the Sierra Club. The group asked authorities to review Peabody's plans to build a new power plant, stalling a regulatory process. Sierra spokesman Brendan Bell told Leonard they have health and pollution concerns. "If even a fraction of these [power] plants get built, we will be stuck with [them] for 30 or 40 years," he said. (Read more)

Seeds of discontent: Farmers struggle over preserving land, selling out

It's sadly an all-too-common story. A farm family with deep roots faces the choice of preserving and working their land, or selling out under pressure from competition and growing expenses.

Jennifer Surface of the Howard County Times in Dayton, Md., between Baltimore and Washington, adds to the growing tapestry of those tales with a story about the Mullinix brothers, Mike, Mark and Steve. They are considering taking their farm out of the state's agricultural preservation program.

The brothers might find themselves in a battle with county and state officials over the future of their 500-acre farm, one of the county's largest and most successful. With farming becoming difficult in Howard County, the brothers are mulling over whether to sell out. They must first remove their farm from a state agricultural preservation program they entered nearly 25 years ago. They are not alone. "Between now and 2009, 27 county farms - totaling 3,440 acres - will become eligible to petition to leave the state program, which buys development rights to the farms," writes Surface.

Howard County Farmland Preservation Manager Joy Levy told Surface, "It's not going to be easy to get out. [The state contract the Mullinixes signed] was intended to be perpetual." Mike Mullinix replied, "If they make it difficult to opt out, ... they're going to lose their farmland and their farmers." (Read more)

On a related subject, click here for an opinion by John Schlageck of the Kansas Farm Bureau, International trade still critical to success of U.S. agriculture, in the Hillsboro Free Press.

Canada forming new agency to serve needs of rural landowners

"Ottawa's frustrated rural residents could soon have a bureaucracy all their own. City politicians are considering creating an agriculture-and-rural-affairs department to serve the needs of farmers and other landowners from Ottawa's rural areas," reports the Canada Broadcasting Corporation.

A number of groups and officials told Ottawa's Rural Summit recently the City of Ottawa doesn't understand the unique needs and problems of rural landowners. The chair of the agriculture and rural affairs committee, Rob Jellet, says it won't cost more to form the new agency. He told the CBC that staff would be "redeployed" from other offices.

Jellet said the new department would mean quicker action for farmers, who would no longer have to wait months for help with problems. Jellet also told the news agency the new department could be up and running within months. (Read more)

Acid drainage kills fish in 35 Kentucky streams; expected to increase

Runoff from mining and road construction has pushed acid levels beyond acceptable levels in portions of at least 35 streams across Kentucky, killing fish and insects.

The Kentucky Division of Water, which is trying to prevent the acid drainage so the streams might once again support aquatic life, released the findings from a report showing the widespread damage, writes Roger Alford of The Associated Press.

Andrea M. Fredenburg, environmental control supervisor in the Division of Water, said acid drainage is most critical in areas where coal and shale have been unearthed. She told Alford, "When those layers are exposed to water, we get the problem."

Most of the streams with high acid levels are in the coalfields. Seven streams in McCreary County in southeastern Kentucky and five streams in Muhlenberg County, both heavy coal areas, made the list, which is expected to grow when the division tests acid levels in the Big Sandy River watershed through the heart of Eastern Kentucky coalfields. Bell, Clay, Hancock, Harlan, Hopkins, Knox, Letcher, Marion, McLean, Ohio and Pulaski counties also made the list.

Division of Water spokesperson Maleeva Chamberlain told Alford the list of streams is part of a water quality report sent to Congress every two years, as required by the federal Clean Water Act. (Read more)

U.S. seeks lift of mad-cow restrictions; hunters warned of deer version

The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to propose that the federal government lift the last remaining mad cow-related restrictions on Canadian cattle by mid-2006.

Department spokesman Ron DeHaven told reporters that officials hope to lift a ban on imports of Canadian cows older than 30 months, reports the Canada Broadcasting Corporation. Canadian beef was banned in 2003 after mad cow was confirmed in an Alberta animal. (Read more)

Meanwhile, authorities in the Northeast have made it illegal for hunters to transport deer into Connecticut from New York due to a deer version of mad-cow disease, reports The Associated Press. The illness -- called chronic wasting disease -- was discovered in a herd near Utica earlier this year. Health officials don't know if deer can pass the disease to humans, but that question is now under study. (Read more)

Meth conference fires up crowd, inspires efforts to combat drug's spread

Last weekend, just before a two-day western Kentucky conference on the destructive nature of methamphetamine, the news was replete with reports of meth mayhem. After the conference, organizers and attendees are inspired to continue their fight.

"Attending the two-day meeting at the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton were more than 100 public health workers, school system staff, social workers, extension personnel and other interested people. The first day of training focused on family and community alliances, treatment resources and methamphetamine legislation. The second day's focus was on environmental impacts on farm and family, including the standards for cleanup and remediation," writes Laura Skillman of the UK College of Agriculture's communications department.

Torey Earle, chairman of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service’s Western Regional Drug Awareness Quick Response Team, said the training received at the seminar was to increase awareness, educate people on the resources available to families and, ultimately, to curb the use and manufacture of the drug in western Kentucky. "Unless the general public gets involved, knows what to look for and when to look for it, until that happens it is not going to go away," Earle said. Most of the speakers were armed with tales of meth destruction to illustrate and underscore the need for expanded and more educated countermeasures. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Nov. 30: Crop-protection conference set to start at College Station, Tex.

Farmers, extension agents, agribusiness representatives, crop consultants and others involved in crop production are invited to attend the Texas Plant Protection Association's 2005 Conference.

Target Agriculture is the theme for this year's conference, scheduled for Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 at the Hilton Inn and Conference Center in College Station, reports the Navasota Examiner. (Read more)

The conference's general session will target many of the issues impacting Texas agriculture such as bioterrorism, future technology, the Texas transportation corridor and farm policies. For more details or to register, call TPPA Executive Director Bob Sasser at 936-539-2349 or email TPPA@consolidated.net.

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2005

Nation seeks solution to meth epidemic; more women use it than cocaine

"As methamphetamine moves from the rural Heartland into American cities, police, experts and health officials sort through their toolbox for ways to fight the epidemic," reports Luke Engan of the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. News Service in an extensive article about the plague.

"More than 12 million people in the United States have used meth at least once, estimated a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey. More women now use meth than cocaine. Despite its spread, methamphetamine remains a rural drug in much of the country," writes Engan. The article details the growing list of states removing colds medicines from store shelves in an effort to stave-off the scourge.

Engan cites Kansas, where anti-meth coalitions between local governments and community groups are trained and funded by Prevention and Recovery Services, a Topeka-based nonprofit. Coordinator Cristi Cain said the program "really has to be a comprehensive approach. Just doing one thing probably wouldn't have much effect.”

Engan also explores legal remedies to the problem and the growing caseloads. The story concludes with a link to a blog for readers to engage in discussion. (Read more)

Demand for advanced Internet services expected to drive high-speed growth

In a trend that could have significant ramifications for rural areas, fiber-optic advocates say the demand for Internet applications such as distance learning and telemedicine will spur high-speed network growth.

"Speaking to Capitol Hill staffers, officials from the Alliance for Public Technology and the Fiber-to-the-Home Council urged Congress to update its telecommunications policies to reflect a national goal for universal access to advanced broadband networks," writes Danielle Belopotosky of Technology Daily.

Dan Phythyon, policy director at the Alliance for Public Technology, said in addition to private investments, "we need the right policies in place" to achieve universal access, and he urged the Senate and House committees of jurisdiction to "get about the business of putting in place updated telecom policies."

Council President Len Ray told Belopotosky 2.7 million Americans have access to fiber-optic service but subscriptions remain low. Access could reach 3.5 million by the end of the year. Official figures show 45.3 million people subscribe to broadband nationwide, while only 350,000 homes connect via fiber optics. The U.S. lags behind Asia, Australia and Europe in broadband development. Asia and Australia claim 3.8 million subscribers, while 600,000 Europeans subscribe. (Read more)

Court refuses to delay 911 call service guidelines for Internet providers

A federal court has refused to delay new Federal Communications Commission guidelines that require Internet telephone companies to provide reliable 911 emergency call service.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a motion by a group of Internet companies who argued the regulations were unreasonable. The regulations call for providers of Internet-based phone calls, who use a technology called Voice Over Internet Protocol, to certify that customers will reach an emergency dispatcher when they call 911. Dispatchers must be able to identify the caller's location and phone number, reports David Twiddy of The Associated Press.

Companies had to comply by Nov. 28, but the FCC said failing to meet that deadline will not result customers being disconnected. However, companies will have to stop marketing their services on taking on new customers until they provide the 911 service. The guidelines came after several incidents in which Internet phone users did not connect with a live operator when calling 911, notes Twiddy. (Read more)

Old-time revivals still possess the power to attract rural Christians, paper finds

For many rural Christians, a truly religious experience involves a visceral transcendency into comfort, assurance and renewal. Old-time revivals provide cathartic experiences and they do not seem to be losing their attraction, according to an award-winning weekly newspaper in Western Kentucky that realized there was a story to be told.

Amie Powers of the McLean County News (which has no Web site) recently detailed this bullwark of rural Christian life, writing, "A revival is exactly what the name says it is - a renewal or reactivation of faith or religious interest. But according to religious leaders, it is also more than that."

Rev. Charles "Butch" Love, evangelist for the Worthington Chapel United Methodist Church at a revival conducted shortly before Powers' article, told her, "I think revival's about remembering where we're supposed to be as a church." Love, a 1994 graduate of McLean County High School, lives in Louisville. He told Powers he was very happy to be back in the community of Island for the revival.

Worthington Chapel Pastor Ken Vincent told Powers that revivals and church services should be similar. "Inside a revival there's expectation," said Vincent, adding, "At the very least something new is going to be started; it always has an expectation about it that regular church doesn't always have."

Texas coal supply might attract energy project; Colorado mine may shut down

Geologists say Texas has enough coal to provide the U.S. with a 250-year supply, which has lawmakers and industry leaders hopeful the state might host a government project to turn coal into energy.

"The Department of Defense is looking for a location for FutureGen, a $1 billion project to operate a 275-megawatt energy facility that produces electricity and hydrogen from coal with near-zero emissions. The project will also be partially funded through private industry," reports Marilyn Tennissen of the Port Arthur News. Texas coal has relatively low energy levels, discouraging traditional mining.

FutureGen Texas representatives are visiting regional councils throughout the state to help create a proposal to bring the facility to Texas. Jay Kipper of the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology told a group of officials, "The United States is the 'Saudi Arabia of Coal,' but it is often thought of as a dirty fuel. But energy needs are growing daily, and this technology would allow us to burn coal in a clean fashion."

FutureGen Texas plans to continue lobbying for the project. The Department of Energy is expected to put out a request for proposals by early Jan. 2006 and award the project in late summer or early fall next year, writes Tennissen. (Read more)

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Business Journal reports that Arch Coal expects a longer shutdown at its West Elk mine in Colorado and doesn't expect to restart production for at least six weeks. The company shut down the mine in late October after it detected elevated methane levels. (Read more)

Southeastern Kentucky physician named director of Center for Rural Health

An Eastern Kentucky doctor will head the University of Kentucky Center for Rural Health..

"Dr. Baretta R. Casey practiced family medicine in Pikeville before joining the Center for Rural Health in 2002 as the head of the East Kentucky Family Practice Residency Program. UK College of Medicine Dean Dr. Jay Perman announced her appointment as director of the Center for Rural Health," reports The Associated Press. Perman told reporters, "I look forward to working with her in making the university's rural health initiatives even more meaningful than they are currently."

Casey replaces Judy Jones Owens, an attorney and former journalist who had served as director of the center in Hazard since 2002 and was reassigned as a consultant. "I'm happy to see the center looking at its statewide mission in an effort to expand our health and research programs to all rural Kentuckians," said Casey, who also is a professor at the UK College of Medicine.

The Center for Rural Health was established in 1990 by the Kentucky General Assembly. It has about 150 faculty and staff and provides health care services in 98 Kentucky counties. (Read more)

Hearing delayed on Appalachian Power substation in western Virginia

The Franklin County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors has postponed until December a hearing on Appalachian Power's request to build an electrical substation. It was originally set for last night.

The board set the new hearing for 6 p.m. Dec. 20, with a hearing on the company's request that Franklin County determine whether "a new power line that would supply electricity to the substation conforms with the county's comprehensive plan," writes Mason Adams of The Roanoke Times. Click here for Adams' story about controversy over the proposed line's path along the Blackwater River.

Appalachian Power's $28-million proposed project includes building a 138,000-volt power line and a substation to meet the growing demand for electricity in the Smith Mountain Lake area. (Read more)

Army depot in Kentucky found safe enough to destroy chemical weapons

An independent study says 523 tons of chemical weapons can be safely destroyed at Kentucky's Blue Grass Army Depot.

"But unexpected start-up problems could occur, given that some steps that would be used to destroy the plant's stockpile of aging chemical weapons haven't been tried with other steps in the process, said the study released by the National Research Council, a private, nonprofit group that is part of the National Academy of Sciences," writes James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal.

In 2008, the Richmond, Ky., facility is scheduled to start neutralizing sarin and mustard gas by mixing them with water or caustic chemicals or water, and then converting them into carbon dioxide, water and various salts. The study said the neutralized material will corrode some of the plant's walls, which could affect equipment, reports the Louisville newspaper. (Read more)

Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2004

Tomato farmers' multi-state scam shows faults in crop-insurance program

Tomato farmers from Georgia, to Iowa, West Texas to the Tennessee-North Carolina border, in eight states altogether, conspired to bilk insurance companies out of million of dollars with what authorities charge were false weather damage claims, reports John Burnett of National Public Radio.

"The felons are a small group of farmers who falsely claim that weather ruined their crops so they can collect the insurance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says they cheated the U.S. Treasury and insurance companies out of $160 million last year. An NPR investigation reveals this crime is growing in size and complexity, while some insurance companies look the other way," reports NPR's John Burnett.

It's being called "the largest case of crop insurance fraud ever uncovered," notes Burnett. U.S. attorney for the western district of North Carolina, Gretchen Shappert, told Burnett said, "The ... investigation is literally the mother of all crop fraud investigations. It was a result of a perfect storm of individuals who were involved in fraud." Click here to listen to or read the full story; click here to read the GAO report.

Volunteer labor, governor's role keys to getting city water to rural Virginia

Virginia is getting water to folks who need it by using "volunteer labor to install pipe, handle traffic control, operate small equipment and carry out other chores," Paul Dellinger of The Roanoke Times notes in a report on outgoing Gov. Mark Warner third participation in a "Self -Help Virginia" project, this one in Giles County.

"The first was in Wise County, when he was campaigning for governor, and he said it was an eye-opener for him," writes Paul Dellinger of the Times' New River Current. "I didn't realize how many thousands of Virginians lacked daily access to clean drinking water," Warner said. "It drove home the point, when you had to think twice before you washed your dishes."

Jimmy Wallace of The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development reports his agency provides funding for such projects through Community Development Block Grants and Appalachian Regional Commission programs, Dellinger writes. (Read more)

Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports a drought has nearly depleted Big Stone Gap, Va.'s primary water source and leaving the town of nearly 6,000 about 26 inches below normal rainfall. Officials said it will take months to refill a 600 million gallon reservoir. (Read more)

Industry magazine says Bush trip likely to reopen beef exports to Japan

A special assistant to the president says there is a "90 percent" chance beef exports to Japan will resume by December, reports a beef industry trade publication.

Joe Roybal of Beef Magazine reports that Michael Sommers, special assistant for agriculture, trade and food assistance, told the magazine's Cow-Calf Weekly that "major commitments [could] come out of a planned meeting next week in Kyoto between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi." Sommers made the statement at a meeting this week of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council in St. Paul.

Roybal also cites a Kyodo News report that quoted a Japan agriculture official saying: "We hope to manage to give a Christmas present to the U.S." (Read more)

Missouri farmers say plastic bags 'wreck havoc' on cotton fields

Cotton farmers in the "boot heel" of Missouri are dealing with a pest that poses a threat to their crops. Its not boll weevils, or any other bitty critters that eat up the bottom line. It's plastic bags.

"They will wreak havoc," cotton farmer Chuck Provance told Todd C. Frankel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Plastic bags are more than just an eyesore in the Cotton Belt. A single plastic bag that ends up in the picked cotton can ruin thousands of yards of finished fabric. The cotton industry estimates that so-called lint contamination, which comes from a variety of sources, causes $200 million in losses each year worldwide," writes Frankel, who attended a rural journalism seminar in June at the University of Maryland organized by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

Cotton consultant Bobby Phipps told Frankel, "You want the shirt to be in the bag instead of the bag being in the shirt." Provance added, "We avoid what we can, but some we can't because everybody's Wal-Mart bags are blowing all over the fields." Dunklin County, where Provance's 2,400 acre farm is located about 200 miles south of St. Louis, is one of the nation's top 10 cotton producers. (Read more)

Chinese journalist demands better news coverage of bird flu in her country

A Chinese journalist is taking a rare stance in a country not known for free discussion, by chastising her comrades for a lack of news coverage of the avian influenza that ignited global fears.

"The editor-in-chief is Hu Shuli, whom The Economist once called 'the most dangerous woman in China.' She has written the critical editorial in the current issue of Caijing," writes Xiao Qiang of China Digital News. Caijing magazine is considered China's best business magazine and has a reputation for independence and investigative reporting, notes Qiang.

Qiang cites two excerpts: "News about the virus often takes a detour ... it is first covered by foreign media, and then picked up by domestic press. Journalists ... say that local officials have not been cooperative enough ... Clearly, we still have a ways to go ... to create completely transparent mechanisms for media scrutiny and the release of information to the public ... the latest round of bad news about avian flu ... may prove to be a blessing in disguise. It calls attention to our inadequacies," writes Qiang. (Read more)

Sunshine in Federal courts? House votes to OK cameras; justices debate idea

One day after the house voted to allow cameras in federal courts, three U. S. Supreme Court justices had an unusual open discussion about the matter.

Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen Breyer appeared at an American Bar Association event. Justices have traditionally opposed courtroom cameras, but the discussion was spurred by the Nov. 9 House vote to give federal judges the power to admit cameras.

"I don't think in this country there is a total consensus as yet on having cameras in all courts," O'Connor said, pointing to the trial "involving a prominent sports figure." Speaking about O. J. Simpson, she said: "I thought it was pretty sad. I was very uncomfortable with it." Kennedy interjected that "some might say that if the system is flawed then people ought to know it." O'Connor replied, "Well, we saw it there."

Breyer said the most serious concerns involve cameras in criminal trials. "I do think about the O. J. Simpson case," Breyer said. "I think I'm not certain I would vote in favor of having them in every criminal trial in the country." He said there needs to be public input, The Associated Press reported.

For a story about the House bill from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, click here.

Kansas coal mining resumes on small scale; officials hope for resurrection

Thanks to the nation's energy demands, coal mining is resurfacing in Southeast Kansas. "Phoenix Mining Co. began mining coal last year from its surface mine at Garland, in Bourbon County. It removes about 20,000 tons of coal each month, selling it to Empire District Electric Co.," writes Roger McKinney of The Joplin [Mo.] Globe.

Clay Hartley, an official with Phoenix Mining, which employs 25 people at its Kansas site, told McKinney, “I think there’s a great potential for more coal mining. Westar is looking at the reserves in Kansas. That could be 800,000 tons of coal a year.” Westar Energy Inc., based in Topeka, plans to build an 800-megawatt, coal-fired plant by 2013. A number of counties are lobbying the utility for the plant. Westar has hired a company to conduct a site-selection study, writes McKinney. (Read more)

Southeast Ohio health officials seek ways to provide dentistry to poor

Southeastern Ohio residents living in poverty most often can't afford dental care, but several area health agencies are combining forces in an attempt to reverse this age-old Appalachian dilemma.

"The Organization for Health Improvement in Appalachia (OHIA) is a coalition of health professionals who meet every other month to discuss local health-care issues ... and last week talked about the problems area residents living in poverty experience receiving proper dental care," writes Nick Claussen of The Athens News

One proposal was to create a dental clinic in Athens. Gary Neiman, dean of the Ohio University College of Health and Human Services, serves as president of the OHIA, which was set up to help health-care organizations in the county coordinate their efforts. Neiman told Claussen, "Many people think [dental care] is a major health issue in Athens County," but said he is not sure how OU can help,since the university does not have a dental program.

Nick Huston of the Friends of Appalachia organization told Claussen his group sets up low-income dental clinics in the region and hopes to set up one in Athens. "Our goal is to help the underserved," Huston said. Huston told Claussen they hope to set up a clinic in O'Bleness Memorial Hospital or in another central location, so low-income area residents can receive dental care. (Read more)

Bush administration moves to take grizzlies off endangered species list

The Bush is taking steps starting today to remove grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park from the nation's endangered species list.

"The proposal to delist grizzly bears in the area surrounding Yellowstone National Park, a plan that has alarmed some environmentalists, highlights contrasting views of the 32-year-old Endangered Species Act. Proponents of the government's move say the grizzly's recovery marks a rare victory for the controversial law; others say the decision may undermine protections for a still-vulnerable group of animals," writes Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.

If the administration drops the bears' current "threatened" status, officials in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming could allow limited hunting of grizzlies and would not have to protect the grizzlies' habitat as stringently as currently required. Craig Manson at the Interior Department, told Eilperin that federal biologists report that "adequate habitat and adequate habitat protections are in place" for the bears. Yellowstone's grizzly population has rebounded to 600-plus from about 200 in 1982.

But Louisa Wilcox, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council's wild bears project, said one-third of the bears' current habitat could be opened to drilling, logging and human development under the agency's plan. "If you want to protect bears for future generations, you have to protect the habitat they need. This plan doesn't do it," Wilcox told Eilperin. (Read more)

Tennessee Press votes 'No' to free circulation newspapers as associate members

The Tennessee Press Association Board of Directors, meeting recently in Knoxville, received a report showing the full membership voted down a proposal to create an associate class of membership for free circulation newspapers. The board requested the full membership vote at its June 23, 2005 regularly scheduled meeting, reports Robyn Gentile, membership services manager of the TPA.

Sixty-six percent of the membership responded. Of the 86 fully completed ballots received, 39 voted in favor and 47 voted against, which falls short of the two-thirds majority vote of the full membership required. Observers said it will likely take more than one vote for this issue to pass. (Read more)

The Rural Blog reported on June 24 that TPA Executive Director Greg Sherill said "as far as I can determine," TPA is the only state press associated without a class of free papers -- except Wyoming, which has no such papers, and Texas and Wisconsin, where paid and free papers have separate groups. Tennessee does not have a law requiring legal notices to be run in paid-circulation papers. Pauline Sherrer of the Crossville Chronicle said she feared admission of free papers, which have a growing place in the business, would lead to loss of legal advertising, costing her thousands of dollars month.

When The Rural Blog first reported about this issue on Feb. 18, Gregg Jones, co-publisher of the Greenville Sun and chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, voiced his support. Alluding to recent admissions of circulation overstatements by major dailies, he said the proposal was "a very strong recognition of the fact that the world increasingly cares less and less about whether your circulation or readership is paid or unpaid. It cares terribly about whether it is real."

Woolsey named to head Times-Georgian and Georgia group of Paxton Media

Leonard Woolsey has been named publisher of the Times-Georgian of Carrollton, Ga., and president of the Georgia Group of Paxton Media Group. He succeeds Tom Overton, who retired.

Woolsey was general manager of the Times-Georgian and the Georgia Group in 1997-98. As group president, Woolsey will oversee the Times-Georgian as well as daily newspapers in Douglasville and Griffin, in addition to seven weeklies, ranging from the 11,000-circulation Paulding County Sentinel in Douglasville to The Villa Rican, circulation 2,250.

He left the Times-Georgian in 1998 to become publisher of The Daily Corinthian in Corinth, Miss., and was publisher of the The News-Dispatch in Michigan city, Ind., for the past five years. Woolsey's column, "In Plain View," has appeared in the Times-Georgian Sunday edition the past three years. He is also author of the book In Plain View: A Journey of Discovering Life Through Others. Woolsey worked in the newspaper industry in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Kansas city, Mo., before becoming general manger of the Douglas County Sentinel in Douglasville in 1995.

Paxton Media Group, which owns 29 dailies and 31 weeklies in the South and Midwest, is a family-owned company based in Paducah, Ky.

Rural Calendar:

Nov. 17 - Rural farm future, development symposium in Montgomery, Ala.

The Alfalfa Farmers Federation Farm News reports a symposium on the future of rural Alabama has been set for this Thursday, Nov. 17 at 1 p.m., in the State Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery.

Sen. Lowell Barron, president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, and Rep. Seth Hammett, speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, will co-host the symposium. "A Call to Action for Rural Alabama: Where Do We Go From Here?' is sponsored by the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Association of County Commissions of Alabama and the Alabama League of Municipalities. The media contact is Darryal Ray at (334) 613-4187. Click here for more information.

Speakers include: Dr. Don Bogie, director of the Center for Demographic Research at Auburn University-Montgomery; Cecil Williamson, Demopolis mayor; T.C. Coley, Tallapoosa County Commission; Margaret Megginson, a retired apparel worker from Sweetwater; and Bobby Gierisch, director of state policy programs at the Rural Policy Research Institute, University of Missouri.

Monday, Nov. 14, 2005

Rural men misuse condoms, says study; FDA proposes new warning label

"Men who live in rural areas often use condoms incorrectly, according to a study out this week that Indiana University researchers say underscores the shortcomings of sex education in Hoosier public schools," writes Staci Hupp of the Indianapolis Star. The study was paid for by the university's Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention.

Almost half of the 75 men who answered a survey about their latest sexual encounters with women said they waited too long to use a condom or took it off too soon. Researchers say the study stands apart from other condom research because it examines how they are used instead of how frequently. The focus on rural men was an effort to track AIDS prevention efforts in those areas, notes Hupp.

William Yarber, a researcher at IU's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, said the study shows condom use should be taught in schools. That idea drew criticism from supporters of programs that encourage abstinence until marriage reports Hupp. (Read more)

The Food and Drug Administration is pushing for condom packages to warn users that condoms are less effective at stopping some sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and human papilloma virus, than others. The agency also wants to get the word out that people at risk of getting HIV should not use condoms with a common spermicidal lubricant.

While this FDA proposal does not mandate that condom manufacturers use a specific statement, it would require the information appear in some form. The proposal is part of an ongoing FDA effort to educate the public about condom use. According to the National Institutes of Health condoms break or slip off 1 to 2 percent of the time, and about 12 million Americans each year contract an STD, reports John J. Lumpkin of The Associated Press. (Read more)

Closed door policy: New federal act to restrict public's access to vital records

City and town clerks across the country are preparing for the federal Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevent Act that will restrict public access to birth and death records.

"The new regulations could close 70 years of Vermont's traditionally open records to genealogists, journalists and other researchers; mandate closely renovations to heighten security at government offices; initiate background checks on municipal employees; and push the state to create a central database of all births and deaths," writes Adam Silverman of Vermont's Burlington Free Press.

President Bush signed the bill in December and its supporters say it will stop terrorists who could use vital records to steal identities, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The law requires the Health and Human Services Department to draft regulations to secure the documents and the information they contain. The first draft is due to be released within a month, reports Silverman. (Read more)

Bustle in Russell: Rural Virginia county uses broadband to bring jobs

A streak of economic development in and around Lebanon, Tenn. is the result of planting technological seeds, mainly broadband access. Some 1,500 jobs have been added in recent months.

"Gov. Mark Warner came to town two weeks ago to announce that software development company CGI-AMS Inc. plans to move in, bringing 300 jobs with salaries averaging $51,000 a year," writes Kathy Still of the Bristol Herald Courier. Warner is set to return today, and has said he's bringing even more good news, she writes.

"Lebanon has emerged as a bustling business center ... not only in Russell County but also in Buchanan, Dickenson and Tazewell counties. Cumberland Plateau got a $1.6 million grant and $700,000 in matching money from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission to bring broadband to the region, but the federal agency had some concerns," writes still.

Andrew Cafin, executive director of Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission, and his deputy director, Larry Carr, work every day in the shadow of the new companies. Cumberland Plateau patnered with municipal provider Bistol Virginia Utilities to create the system. Nearly 60 business customers have signed on, and plans call for it to expand to households soon, notes Still.

the system runs from Abingdon, through Lebanon and to Richlands. Future phases would take it to Bluefield, Grundy and various spots in Dickenson County. A joint venture with the neighboring Lenowisco Planning District will bring the broadband system to the full Southwest Virginia loop, writes Still. some critics complain the system gives an unfair advantage to the public sector. (Read more)

Evolution vs. intelligent design debate draws attention from politicians

As school boards consider evolution vs. intelligent design, politicians are jockeying for position in a debate with possible political ramifications.

In Dover, Pa., last week, all eight Republican school board members who had voted to require the teaching of intelligent design -- the belief that a supernatural hand guided the development of life -- were voted out. The same day, the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-to-4 to require students to study doubts about evolution, reports Mary Beth Schneider of the Indianapolis Star.

Polls show strong support nationwide for teaching a biblical version of the origins of life. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken nationwide in September showed that 53 percent of Americans believe humans were created "exactly as the Bible describes," notes Schneider.

Some scholars are calling the intelligent design debate "another battle in the culture wars." State Rep. Ed Mahern, D-Indianapolis, thinks this is the latest in a series of "wedge" issues Republicans have used to ignite their base. "This is their Pledge of Allegiance or Ten Commandments issue for 2006," he told Schneider. (Read more)

Power-line plan gets tangled up over major recreational attraction

A proposed power line, part of a $28 million proposal by Appalachian Power to get electricity to rural communities in West and Southwest Virginia, has hit a snag. It criss-crosses what is considered a major recreational attraction, the Blackwater River.

The project is intended to bring more power to some of the fastest growing areas in the 11 states supplied by Appalachian Power's corporate parent, American Electric Power. The territory averages about 2 percent growth a year; the lake region has grown 17 percent in the past three years, writes Mason Adams of The Roanoke Times.

The proposed substation, which requires a special-use permit has drawn opposition from neighbors, and Franklin County must still rule that it complies with its comprehensive plan. The county planning commission previously voted 4-3 that the line did not conform to the plan. Appalachian Power has appealed. The county supervisors will hear the matter after a public hearing in December, writes Adams.

Project manager Jay Johnson told Adams the line's path was chosen because it affects the least number of houses but added, "When I realized how many times it crossed the Blackwater ... that disturbed me more than anything else. We'd accepted the fact the power line was coming and there's nothing we can do about it. But there're issues there that are more important than our land or anyone else's land." (Read more)

Meth cooking: Lab disasters leave victims burned, response crews strained

"Victims of meth-related mishaps are increasingly overloading burn units in Kentucky, Tennessee and other states that have seen meth use explode in recent years. As patients battle with recovery and disfigurement, hospitals and burn units say they are in a war of their own: trying to treat meth-related burn patients who often don't have insurance or money to pay bills that can reach or exceed $1 million," writes Cassondra Kirby of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"Burn units are a scarce commodity and are becoming more scarce as time goes on," said John Howser, a spokesman for Vanderbilt Hospital, where as many as a third of the past year's burn cases have been meth-related. "If we continue to take on this large burden of care, I don't know if we will have a burn unit 10 years from now." Cooking methamphetamine requires using explosive chemicals such as brake fluid, lantern fluid and paint thinner, over heat, notes Kirby.

Howser, the Vanderbilt spokesman, said most of Vanderbilt's patients are from Kentucky and Tennessee, and the majority can't pay. Along with insurance issues, meth burn patients usually have a longer hospital stay than other burn patients, according to a University of Louisville study released this year. The study examined 397 adult burn victims and found that meth burn patients had "higher incidents of inhalation injury and needed more intense respiratory care and longer ventilator usage" (33 days versus 17 days) because of chemical-related inhalation injuries, reports Kirby.

Since meth burn patients also experience withdrawal they tend to require extra care, the study said, which creates medical costs of about $4,000 more per patient than the general burn population. Doctors won't refuse patients, though. "If they come to us with medical problems, we take care of them," Dr. Henry Vasconez, director of University of Kentucky Hospital's burn unit, told Kirby. (Read more) Also, for a story Meth addicts come from all walks of life by WVEC in Norfolk, Va., click here.

New York eyes 2 million acres of farmland for use in ethanol production

Two million acres of former farmland in New York could be used to boost the state's rural economy while reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil.

"Nathan Rudgers, head of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, said the land, particularly in struggling areas like northern New York and the Southern Tier, could be used to grow crops to make ethanol. Typically, ethanol is made from corn, but scientists have been exploring the use of other crops, as well as grasses and trees," reports Mark Johnson of The Associated Press.

Rudgers hails ethanol as the "the most exciting future opportunity" for New York farmers. "If you take the troubled combination of a pretty big rural land base here that has a lot of marginal farm land, crops that might be grown there that aren't being grown now, and a ready market for the end product of that crop production, that's a compelling case," Rudgers told AP.

About 500 of the 180,000 fuel stations in the United States currently offer a blend of ethanol and gasoline, notes Johnson. (Read more)

Farmers turn to llamas to protect their livestock from roaming predators

"Llamas aren't usually marketed as ferocious animals. The long-necked members of the camel family may make fun pets or great pack animals for long, arduous trips on foot. But imagine the woolly beasts rising up on hind legs to fight preying dogs or coyotes," writes Jenny Kincaid of The Roanoke Times.

Farmers in Roanoke Valley, Va., are using llamas as guards for their hordes of sheep, goats and calves. In some places across the country, llamas are standing in for dogs, which have have been the traditional defenders against creatures that attack and kill farmers' animals, reports Kincaid

Three years ago, a pack of wild dogs killed Virginia farmer Thomy Poindexter's 4-week-old calves. The farmer eventually purchased a llama, because he heard about their protection skills. Since then, Poindexter told Kincaid no dogs or other creatures have killed his calves.

"No training is required for guard llamas, because they are born with protective instincts that they learn from watching over their babies, known as cria, Poindexter said. In the pasture, though they roam side-by-side with cattle, the llamas maintain a rather stuck-up demeanor, largely ignoring their charges," writes Kincaid. (Read more)

Bill would open livestock markets, set base price to help small ranchers

A proposed bill attempts to change the way livestock is bought and sold, as a way to help level the playing field for family ranchers, according to co-sponsor Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

Pomeroy said in a news release that cattle ranchers and farmers too often "are held hostage to the large packers who control the way livestock is bought and sold." He states that the Captive Supply Reform Bill would help prevent price discrimination or manipulation, plus undue preferences, reports Mike Brue of the Grand Forks Herald.

The bill by Pomeroy and Herseth would require a fixed base price in formula contracts and also require that contracts be traded in open, public markets, notes Brue.

The National Meat Association, a nonprofit trade group of meat packers and processors, argues that the bill could hurt smaller packers. "The problem," Jeremy Russell, the NMA's director of communications, told Brue, "is it restricts markets and trade, so the people who are going to get hurt by it are the ones who can't survive such restrictions ... . It's going to make it harder for the smaller packers to be competitive, and therefore drive concentration or consolidation." (Read more)

Bush delays mandatory meat labeling; Montana senators fight back

President Bush signed into law Thursday an agriculture spending bill that will postpone until 2008 mandatory country-of-origin labeling on red meat, sparking vows by Montana senators to sponsor legislation repealing the delay.

The delay of the labeling, part of the $100 billion food and farm spending package, marks the latest in a series of delays for the mandatory measure. It was originally required by law to be effective by Sept. 30, 2004, writes Noelle Straub of The Billings Gazette.

Labeling supporters say it would better inform consumers and allow them to choose American beef. Meatpackers and supermarkets oppose the measure, saying the law signed by Bush in 2002 would be overly burdensome and costly, notes Straub. (Read more)

Is the Cumberland Plateau the next big thing in Tennessee? That's the plan

"The Cumberland Plateau . . . spans the state from north to south between Nashville and Knoxville, is one of the wildest, poorest, prettiest and most ecologically diverse locales in Tennessee. The Plateau is also, if some are correct, the state's next 'big thing,'" writes Leon Alligood of the Tennessean (from which the map above was taken).

In the next 20 to 30 years, "the Plateau is going to be discovered," said Charles Brockett, political science professor at the University of the South. Expected newcomers include tourists attracted to the region's nearly half-million acres of public lands and retiring Baby Boomers looking for new homes. More arrivals might be telecommuters, who work anywhere with the aid of high-speed Internet access, reports Alligood.

"It's inevitable that it will be discovered. The question is: How can the region grow and accommodate new people and its resources be used without changing the area's core environmental qualities that will make it so popular?" Brockett said yesterday at the final meeting of landowners, county leaders and state officials.

Environmental groups often want to protect the rich biodiversity of the region's forests and the quality of its streams and rivers. Many speakers said it is time for a new approach, reports Alligood. "We can't put up gates at the state line,'' Franklin County Mayor Monty Adams said. "We've got to be ready for the growth. We've got to find a way to work together and do it without Draconian bonds that some would put into place. We've got to find a balance if we're going to survive.''

The new approach could include educational and marketing campaigns to shed "hillbilly" images of the region, new bike trails and greenways connecting communities and landscaping regulations, notes Alligood. "I think the main thing that is important here is the dialogue. People need to be talking about their future in a way that they haven't before. And while the government needs to be listening, a lot of the talking should come from residents," said Katherine Medlock, executive director of the non-profit Alliance for the Cumberlands. (Read more)

Kentucky looking to West Virginia as a model for ATV trail design

Using West Virginia as a model, the Kentucky Mountain Trails Development Coalition wants to attract all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts to the eastern and southeastern regions of the state.

Coalition member Chris Harris said, "On about any weekend, you can drive U.S. 119 (Appalachian Corridor G) through Mingo, Logan, Lincoln, and Boone counties in West Virginia and see dozens of trucks hauling ATVs from one trail to another or individuals bringing their equipment to get on trails. You can also see vehicles parked in lots beside roads leading to trailheads or in motel and restaurant parking spots," reports Chuck Ferguson of the Appalachian News-Express.

Harris wants to jump on an opportunity to possibly turn Eastern Kentucky into a haven for for adventure sports tourism in the state, writes Ferguson.

"Initially, the West Virginia project started as a three-state venture and was sold to Congress for funding on that basis. It grew from that into what it is today, and I think it's a picture of success,” Harris told Ferguson. “I'd like to see future Kentucky trails adjoin the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in southern West Virginia. That would make a really great system to draw large numbers of people." (Read more)

Crime victims in rural Alaska face harsh reality; isolation hinders recovery

Some crime victims in rural Alaska are struggling with law enforcement, lack of anonymity in small communities and little chance of escaping isolation, reports Jeannette J. Lee of The Associated Press.

"About 80 percent of Alaska’s 655,000 residents live in or near the state’s three largest cities — Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. The rest live in villages or tiny cities scattered over an area more than twice the size of Texas. Dangerous weather and the lack of a road network in rural Alaska can leave crime victims marooned for days. Most villages can be reached only by air or sometimes boat or snowmobile," writes Lee.

“There’s nothing comparable to that in the Lower 48” states, said Susan Lewis of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Enola, Pa. “It’s one thing to say rural, but the word more often used for Alaska communities is remote.” The result is that many crime victims are now traveling hundreds of miles to reach safe houses or treatment centers, notes AP. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Today and tomorrow: Kentucky communities fight meth epidemic workshop

Methamphetamine production and abuse are growing problems, with roots firmly planted in rural areas and ravaging families and communities nationwide. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service plans a two-day workshop Nov. 14-15 to help communities combat the scourge.

Participants may attend the program for one or two days. The cost is $15 for one day or $25 for both. Lunch, beverage breaks and an informational CD are included in the fee. Registration forms and more information about the workshop are available at county offices of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

Tomorrow: Signup deadline for journalism ethics seminar in Oklahoma

The deadline to sign-up for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation sponsored and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation funded "Ethics: New Threats, New Frontiers" seminar Dec. 1 - 2 in Oklahoma City, Okla. is tomorrow.

The event will be held at the Waterford Marriott Hotel. Participation is limited to thirty journalists, and there is no registration fee to attend. Participants pay their own travel costs, which will necessitate one night’s hotel stay ($159). To apply, complete a registration form and fax to SNPA Foundation Executive Director Edward VanHorn at 404.252.9135 by Tuesday, Nov. 15. Questions? Call the SNPA Foundation office at 404.256.0444. Click here for a PDF version of the faxable registration form.

Tomorrow through Thursday: Series on mountaintop-removal coal mining

Morehead State University's Appalachian Heritage Program will present a three-day series focusing on the debate surrounding mountaintop removal mining. It will kick off 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Kentucky Folk Art Center with Mountain Justice Summer organizer Dave Cooper's Mountaintop Removal Roadshow, a slide show depicting mountaintop removal sites and the social and environmental effects of this mining practice on mountain communities. A discussion will follow.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth will present a series of documentary films at MSU on the political economy of coal and sustainable economic development. A public forum organized by MSU sociologist Sue Tallichet, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and business community members will be held Nov. 17. The Kentucky Folk Art Center is at 102 West First Street in Morehead. Call (606) 783-2204.

Wednesday and Thursday: Southeast Wireless Symposium in Asheville

The e-NC Authority, the designated state authority charged with Internet planning and using the Internet as a platform for technology-based economic development will conduct a "Southeast Wireless Symposium 2005" beginning at 5 p.m. Wed., Nov. 16 through Thurs. Nov. 17. at 1 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel, One Thomas Wolfe Plaza, Asheville, N.C.

The seminar is for community, government and business representatives faced with the economic and logistical challenges of implementing high-speed Internet, as well as Internet Service Providers, members of the media, general members of the community, and educators interested in wireless broadband.

The registration cost is $50. To register, visit http://www.e-nc.org or call 1-866-NCRURAL ROOMS. To reserve your room, please call: Asheville Renaissance Hotel: 828-252-8211. The media contact is: Jennifer Munday Guthrie (919) 250-4314 x.272 or e-mail her at jguthrie@e-nc.org

Friday, Nov. 11, 2005

America's community newspapers thrive through change, study finds

"Community newspapers across America are growing, changing and adapting to meet the challenges and opportunities in their markets," reports Belden Associates of Dallas, Texas, based on a survey of members of the National Newspaper Association.

"While only about half of the small newspapers in the country have Web sites to complement their print newspaper, two-thirds of those without web sites say they plan to create a companion Web site," Belden reports. "That suggests that as many as one third of America's 7,000 community newspapers are considering launching a web site in the next 18 months."

The study noted an expanding publication schedule among community papers, especially on weekends, a time traditionally the province of metropolitan dailies. "While most community newspapers (69 percent) publish weekly, the number that publish twice weekly has grown six-fold between 2001 and 2005. The number of community papers that publish on weekends has doubled since 2001. Weekend publication coincides with the growth of weekend-targeted advertising inserts and the increased reading time available to readers on those days," Belden said.

The study was less conclusive about ownership trends among community papers. It found that 70 percent of those in the survey remain family-owned, but that number is much higher than a 2003 survey by Rita Colista, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, based on data from Editor and Publisher, which found that only 42 percent of weekly papers were not owned by corporations. Perhaps NNA members are less likely to be corporate-owned. The association has about 2,500 members, only 13 percent of them dailies. Many of the groups that own NNA member newspapers "are still privately held, not publicly traded shareholder-owned groups," Belden reports.

In a separate but related study, NNA records indicate the numbers of community newspapers and readers have continued to grow during the past 45 years. "New newspapers are started every year, and community newspaper readership has nearly tripled," the press association reports. Click here to read more, from the Web site of the Illinois Press Association.

Today is reduced-price registration deadline for Covering Coal conference

The deadline for the reduced-price to register for the "Covering Coal" conference, scheduled for Nov. 18 in South Charleston, W.Va., has been extended to today.

To help Appalachian journalists cover the coal business that is so important to the region, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and its partners at other schools are presenting the intensive seminar at the Graduate College of Marshall University. Attendees will hear from people in the coal business, the bureaucrats who regulate them, environmentalists and other citizens who point out the others’ shortcomings, and veteran journalists who will offer useful advice.

You may register by e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu and call 859-257-3744 if you have questions. The conference fee, mainly to cover lunch and refreshments, is $25 (after Nov. 10, $35). Because space is limited, attendance will be limited to the first 25 paid registrations. Details appear on this page of our Web site. To download a .pdf copy of the conference schedule and registration form, click here.

Proposed law change puts national park land under mining microscope

Twenty million acres of public land could be sold under a proposed change to a 19th century mining law.

At present, a congressional ban prevents patents from being granted to companies and individuals that want to buy public land with mineral deposits at cheap prices. "If this provision became law, it could literally lead to the privatization of millions of acres of public land, including national park and national forest land," said Dave Alberswerth, public lands director for The Wilderness Society. A vote is slated for next week, reports John Heilprin of The Associated Press.

Under existing law, companies have to prove the land has valuable minerals and can be mined for profit. Companies typically spend about $10,000 to $15,000 per acre trying to document that. Once a patent is granted, the law does not let the government challenge a company if it drops its plan to mine at a site and resells the property as real estate. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the change would raise up to $100 million for mining cleanups and training schools. Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said it would boost rural Western economies by drawing investment, notes AP.

Six million acres of public lands, where 300,000 active mining claims are staked now, would be opened up by this proposal. There are 900 preexisting mining claims on national parks alone, mostly in California and Alaska. Interior Department Bureau of Land Management officials estimate total land freed up could be 15-20 million acres, including unstaked land with unknown mining prospects, reports Heilprin. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said the mining provision "would result in a blazing fire sale of federal lands" to U.S. and international companies. (Read more)

Enviros seek study of mining impact in Tennessee watershed; 'wasteland' feared

Environmental groups say the federal Office of Surface Mining needs to study mining's harmful effects on the Cumberland Plateau, in the watershed of the Big South Fork.

The National Parks Conservation Association and the Warioto Chapter of the National Audubon Society filed the petition to force a federal study of the groups' allegations. "We are asking the Office of Surface Mining to be reasonably cautious, to look before it leaps, before it issues so many mining permits that this area becomes a wasteland," Vanessa Morel of the National Parks Conservation Association said in a statement, reports The Associated Press.

The petition covers a 284,000-acre area that includes parts of Scott, Campbell, Anderson and Morgan counties. Mining in the area is hindering streams, hurting wildlife habitat and harming the area's scenic beauty, stated the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups. The petition refers to a 25-acre landslide earlier this year at a reclaimed strip mine in Scott County, which threatened a stream's aquatic life and caused pollution, notes AP. (Read more)

County struggles to stave off sprawl, preserve farms, save rural character

Reflecting a national struggle, a Maryland country is trying to preserve farmland, not lose its rural character to suburban sprawl and keep revenue generated by a state agricultural transfer tax.

"In August, county planning director Marsha McLaughlin formed a committee of farmers, developers, attorneys, residents and environmental activists to discuss ways to save the county's working farms. The group disbanded Oct. 11, leaving McLaughlin empty-handed for the most part," writes Jennifer Surface of the Howard County Times in Columbia.

The panel was charged with making suggestions about ways to amend zoning regulations in the county's rural west to encourage more farmers to preserve their land rather than sell it to developers, notes Surface. McLaughlin told the newspaper the outcome of the committee's meeting fell short of what she anticipated. She told Surface, "I was hopeful the interest in preserving farmland would have created more momentum."

The county and the state operate separate but similar farm preservation programs. In each, government officials buy development rights to farms and ban residential or commercial development. Joy Levy, the county administrator of farmland preservation programs, told Surface, the programs must compete with developers, many of whom can offer to pay farmers twice what the government can. (Read more)

Canada, major telecom firms launch rural-broadband research project

Two major Canada telecommunications companies, Bell Canada and Nortel Networks, have launched a study to research and evaluate "the social and economic impact of advanced telecommunications on such rural and dispersed communities in the country," reports TelecomWeb-USA.

The study is centered in Chapleau, Ontario, population 3,000. The two companies are working on high-speed networking and applications in the northern Ontario community "with a mix of next generation wireless mesh systems, an upgraded optical network, multimedia communications services, enterprise solutions, distance learning and telemedicine healthcare delivery," notes TelecomWeb. The effort also includes opening a center where residents can access and learn about new technologies, and connect virtually with Bell-Nortel's counterpart in Ottawa.

Chapleau Mayor Earle Freeborn told TelecomWeb the project is meeting "a critical need to create an economic recovery plan" for the community. "Broadband access, including one of the first rural wireless mesh networks in Canada, will enable Chapleau to connect, and compete, with other communities throughout the world, positioning us as a center for innovation and change," said Freeborn.

Over the next 14 months, the two companies and researchers will study broadband's impact on the community, including efforts by the school board and teaching personnel in the town to broaden the local curriculum and handle online educational initiatives, TelecomWeb reports. (Read more)

Expert tells satellite-fed forum system to address rural needs needs fixing

"Sixty-five million Americans live in places with populations of 50,000 or less. But the closest thing to a federal budget for rural citizens is the $3 billion slice that rural development currently gets from the approximately $190 billion allocated to the farm bill," which is something that needs fixing if rural areas are to survive, writes Art Hovey of the Lincoln [Nebraska] Journal.

Richard Foster, speaking for the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation at a recent Rural Policy and Leadership Forum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, asked a studio and television audience, “Why would we bury rural economic development, rural infrastructure, rural care and maintenance in the farm bill?" Foster said there should be "a parallel rural agenda" that addresses such issues as rural education, health care and telecommunications. He added it should be a high-profile one that "sees the light of day."

Foster and others spoke at the Thomas C. Sorensen Forum for Political Leadership, co-sponsored by the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center and the UNL College of Arts & Sciences. The forum brought together Foster and fellow panelist Sandy Scofield, director of the Nebraska Rural Initiative, in Lincoln, and paired them, via satellite, with state Sen. Ray Aguilar and Doug Kristensen, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. (Read more)

New biomedical agency may be exempt from Freedom of Information Act

A new Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) would be the first agency categorically exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

FOIA exemptions have always protected specific categories of information, but Senate Bill 1873 creates a whole new level of secrecy, opines the Society of Professional Journalists. “Information that relates to the activities, working groups, and advisory boards of the BARDA shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code [i.e. the FOIA], unless the Secretary or Director determines that such disclosure would pose no threat to national security,” the bill states.

The new agency would be charged with the task of helping private industry develop and manufacture medical countermeasures for bioterrorism agents and natural outbreaks such as a possible avian flu pandemic. The bill appropriates $1 billion in 2006 to fund BARDA – "and no one, save for the agency, will provide accountability," writes SPJ in a news release. (Read more)

The bill also exempts the issue of releasing information from judicial review. "While S 1873 is intended to protect public health and safety, it guts the public safety benefit that flows from citizen participation in government. The key to public health is the public, which cannot avoid transmission of epidemic or pandemic disease unless it has knowledge of the disease, and understanding of how to treat it," notes SPJ.

Nebraska program is a terrorism-response model for other states

A Rural health care program at a medical center in Nebraska that can speed responses to a variety of needs, from the flu to a terrorist attack, may provide a model for the nation.

"Other states are looking closely at the University of Nebraska Medical Center initiative, as is the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are drawn by the information compiled by the school’s Health Professions Tracking Center," writes Chuck Brown of The Associated Press.

Edward Salsberg, director of the Center for Workforce Studies at the Association of American Medical Colleges in Washington, told Brown, “I think [they] are in the forefront ... definitely a model for the other states.” Salsberg explained the the center’s database sets it apart from others. It tracks about 35,000 health care professionals in Nebraska and is updated almost constantly. Information includes where medical professionals live, work and what they specialize in, where they went to school and even what languages they speak.

Kolene Kohll, architect and director of the center, was asked in 1995 to set up a database tracking Nebraska’s doctors. A registered nurse, she added physicians assistants, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, pharmacists and even veterinarians to the list. The database is linked with a broadcast system operated by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services that can contact the state’s medical workers quickly in an emergency.

In the event of an outbreak or attack, the database would generate a list of professionals capable of handling it. Then, through the HHS broadcast system, these medical workers would be contacted almost instantly, Brown writes. (Read more)

Appalachian Regional Commission funding restored; 13 states depend on money

The House has voted to restore funding for a commission that distributes money to Appalachian communities in 13 states to improve the region's roads, sanitation, telecommunications and tourism.

"Wednesday's 399-17 vote gives the Appalachian Regional Commission $66 million for 2006, which is what President Bush had requested and matches the agency's funding for 2005. The funding proposal still must be approved by the Senate and the president. The House had originally ignored Bush's request and proposed spending $38.5 million on the Appalachian commission," writes David Hammer of The Associated Press.

The region covers all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. (Read more)

California center opens door for rural health care access, specialty medicine

The opening of a special regional medical facility in Eureka, Calif., ushers in a new era of access to specialty medical care for rural residents in six counties, say center officials.

The Open Door Telemedicine and Visiting Specialist Center "is designed to be the primary telemedicine provider for a region that covers all or parts of six counties. The limited population bases make it hard to attract specialty providers to the county. The rural nature makes it harder yet for those with medical needs to gain access to the care they need," writes Carol Harrison of the Eureka Reporter.

Harrison notes the rural health care problem has been compounded by the high number of uninsured patients and the social problems associated with low-income, homeless and mentally ill patients, all of which have made some specialists reluctant to provide services or relocate to rural settings.

The opening of the center is the completion of an eight-year dream for Herrmann Spatzler, the chief executive officer of Open Door Community Health Centers. The Eureka site will be the area hub, with branch connections to eight other communities. (Read more)

Appalachian grassroots radio show for inmates expands to Tennessee

The 36-year-old regional media arts center Appalshop has begun working with urban prisoners and their families and media artists and their friends to expand their program, "Holler to the Hood," which is tailored for a growing prisoner population at an increasing number of maximum security prisons in Appalachia.

Tucker Wilson on the Tennessee Independent Media Center, writes the "Holler to the Hood" program was "started in 1999 by two young media artists to confront the social impact of moving hundreds of thousands of inner-city, minority offenders to prisons in rural Virginia. Using a variety of mediums and forms [the program] provides the means for all those effected by the prison system to tell their story in their own voice." (Read more)

This year, Wilson notes, an expanded version of the program will be heard on 100 radio stations across the U.S. for a holiday special, providing the only real-time way for many inmates to receive holiday wishes and prayers from family and friends.

The program will be recorded on Dec. 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. EST and a toll-free line will be open at 888-396-1208 to take holiday greetings for prisoners from and to all over the country. A one-hour version of the program will be offered free to stations across the country for rebroadcast. Stations that will be carrying the program are listed on the Appalshop Web site.

The face of homelessness: Higher energy costs may increase number of needy

Homelessness, already on the increase in the heart of Appalachia, may be driven up this winter by higher energy costs, writes a Charleston, W.Va., weekly newspaper reporting on a program to help state leaders better understand the plight of this growing population.

Michael Stoopes, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, told Beth Gorczyca of the State Journal, "Homelessness is the most extreme form of poverty, and it is on the rise in West Virginia, just like everywhere else. West Virginia cannot deny it has a problem."

Gorczyca writes, "Elected officials from Kanawha, Boone, Clay and Putnam counties will see the face of homelessness in person. A new month-long program in the four counties called Walk A Mile will link public officials with people who for whatever reason are either homeless or teetering on the brink of being homeless." The program coordinators hope it "will open lawmakers' eyes, ears and hearts to the all-too-real faces of the homeless suggests that West Virginia has more than 1,600 homeless people," she writes.

One homeless facility in Charleston helped 1,277 men at the 60-bed facility in just the past fiscal year. The facility also provided 25,000 meals and provided 250,000 shelter nights in the same time frame, notes Gorczyca. She also says the state Department of Health and Human services to not have full numbers on homelessness in the state. (Read more)

Thrill seekers: Deer hunters get 'buck fever,' face several medical risks

It's cold, your heart's racing and a buck busts loose. This can be a deadly combination for hunters.

Two Kentucky deer hunters died of heart attacks in the field last year, but that can be prevented during the 2005 season that tips off Saturday. Instead of using the season as their only workout of the year, hunters should be active all 12 months, said Dr. Steve Steinhubl, cardiovascular education and clinical research director at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. "All year they look forward to hunting season, and the macho aspect is that they have to keep up with the guys. They push themselves like they've never done before," Steinhubl told Mary Meehan of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Several conditions can increase the threat of heart attacks, Steinhubl said. Cold weather strains the body, as does the overheating that comes with the act of dragging a dead deer. If hunters smoke or drink alcohol while hunting, the risk of a heart attack increases, writes Meehan.

Researchers at Beaumont Hospital in Oakwood, Mich., studied hunters to get information about what they call "buck fever." Those researchers and Steinhubl offer the following tips for hunters: Don't drink or smoke the day before or during hunting; don't eat a heavy meal before hunting; people with heart disease should not drag deer; people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other risk factors should consult a doctor before hunting; get medical help if you experience dizziness, chest pain, or heart palpitations; dress in layers; take occasional breaks; and ask for help in hauling deer. (Read more)

Gray's grave, piece of headstone are solemn tribute, reminder on Veterans Day

The rediscovery of a Revolutionary War veteran's grave in Boyle County, Ky., near Danville prompted a Veterans Day article in today's Lexington Herald-Leader, a reminder of the many first veterans who fought to found this nation many of whom are buried in western parts of what was then Virginia.

"Veterans Day has special meaning for Conley and JoAnn Wilkerson of Boyle County this year. They recently discovered that a long-lost and long-forgotten veteran of the American Revolution is buried on their farm between Perryville and Mitchellsburg," writes the Herald-Leader's Jennifer Hewlett.

Hewlett notes that "Robert Gray, who died in 1825, served with Gen. George Washington at Valley Forge and was in the 1778 Battle of Monmouth, the longest battle of the American Revolution. Gray once owned the farm where the Wilkersons live. There is a Gray family cemetery on the land.

Conley Wilkerson, 79, told Hewlett, "I found a piece of a tombstone that I'm pretty sure was his ... but we know that he is buried there from wills and court orders that we've been able to locate." JoAnn Wilkerson, 75, told Hewlett, "We have every possible proof that he's there." (Read more)

The piece of Gray's headstone is a piece of our nation's foundation. He was likely one of many revolutionary soldiers who took advantage of Washington's promise of land to those who wanted to taste real freedom. Gray was probably a teenager when he fought with Washington. There were no illusions. They began as a rag-tag, ill-equipped, poorly trained force up against the greatest army in the world, and they won. The cause was right, clear and justified. Abraham Lincoln would say at Gettysburg, some four-score and seven years after 1776, "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract." We think most veterans would feel the same of Gray's grave, and those of his fallen comrades' near the homes they settled following the birth of a nation. --Chief Blogger Bill Griffin. P. S. Yesterday was the 230th birthday of the U. S. Marine Corps. Happy birthday, and Semper Fi!

Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005

Reduced-price registration deadline tomorrow for 'Covering Coal' conference

The deadline for the reduced-price to register for the "Covering Coal" conference, scheduled for Nov. 18 in South Charleston, W.Va., has been extended from today to tomorrow.

To help Appalachian journalists cover the coal business that is so important to the region, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and its partners at other schools are presenting the intensive seminar at the Graduate College of Marshall University. Attendees will hear from people in the coal business, the bureaucrats who regulate them, environmentalists and other citizens who point out the others’ shortcomings, and veteran journalists who will offer useful advice.

The fee, mainly to cover lunch and refreshments, is $25 (after Nov. 10, $35). Because space is limited, attendance will be limited to the first 25 paid registrations. Details appear on this page of our Web site. To download a .pdf copy of the conference schedule and registration form, click here.

Disparate group seeks clean-coal technology, energy, pollution solutions

In the mode of "Necessity is the mother of invention," and "We either hang together or we'll all hang separately," a diverse group is seeking clean-coal solutions to the nation's energy crisis.

"Several big, coal-fired power plants are proposed for construction over the next decade in the Upper Midwest, and an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, utilities and regulators is quietly working toward a
'clean-coal' future," , writes Neal St. Anthony of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The group's goal is to find a way to burn coal without "vexing greenhouse gases that are the bane of coal-fired plants," he writes.

Xcel Energy Inc. manager Betsy Engelking told St. Anthony, "as we look at our energy future -- the price of gas going up and the risks around foreign oil imports -- we've got a great group that's willing to come together and talk instead of fighting it out in a courtroom over a plant."

St. Anthony notes "there's an estimated 300 years' worth of coal sitting under the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana," writing that it's a cheaper, more secure source of energy than the oil and natural-gas fields of the Middle East. (Read more)

The Coal Gasification Work Group was put together by the Great Plains Institute of North Dakota and Minneapolis. Spokesman Brad Crabtree told St. Anthony, "We can be a worldwide pioneer, a regional project that can help solve a national issue. If we get this right, the market for clean coal will come to us."

Coal firm, locals want rail line opened in East Tennessee; truck hassles cited

National Coal Corp. wants to buy and reopen a 42-mile railroad branch line to haul coal in East Tennessee, and federal Surface Transportation Board records indicate the Knoxville-based company and Norfolk Southern have until Dec. 15 to complete their agreement.

National Coal wants to buy the line from Oneida in Scott County through a small portion of Campbell County to Devonia in Anderson County, reports Bob Fowler of the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The company's senior vice president, Charles Kite, told Fowler, "It's something that's probably in the region's best interest.''

Norfolk Southern's petitions to abandon the line have been put on hold, pending the outcome of talks. The county's three mayors have been urging the railroad to reopen the line for transporting coal by rail because of coal truck damage to their highways and roads. National Coal hauls 40,000 tons of coal a month from the region by truck from a coal preparation plant at Smoky Junction, just inside Scott County. Kite also said the reopened rail line could also be used for sightseeing excursions. (Read more)

Ohio State University researchers get grant to test clean-coal lab results

A research team at Ohio State University has received a $790,185 grant from the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority to help develop a method to remove pollutants from coal smoke.

The authority said the researchers have already tested their process in the laboratory, but need additional funding for a small-scale test, which has a total cost of $2.1 million. The authority is a state agency that helps companies undertake voluntary environmental projects, reports Columbus Business First.

"The method, developed by the researchers, works while the smoke is still hot, while conventional methods must cool the smoke before scrubbing it. Eliminating the cooling step would make coal scrubbing less complex and more economical, the Ohio State team believes," the journal reports. Columbus-based American Electric Power Company Inc. is among six partners providing technical advice and helping evaluate the test, reports Business First. (Read more)

Coal mining near lake approved after company promises to block sediment

Over the objections of environmentalists, Kentucky officials have approved an Eastern Kentucky company proposal to mine coal from 1,144 acres of land near a scenic lake that is a major tourist attraction.

Kentucky Division of Mine Permits Director Paul Ehret told Roger Alford of The Associated Press that Leslie Resources Inc. "will take steps to stop sediment from getting into [Buckhorn Lake]," including ponds to collect runoff and compacting the dislodged soil and rock into a hollow," Alford writes.

Plans for the coal mine began when the U.S. Forest Service traded 91 acres of land near the lake to the coal company in exchange for 98 acres of land in Owsley County. Perrin de Jong, head of the environmental group Kentucky Heartwood, told Alford, "This project would add hundreds of tons of sediment to the lake," a popular fishing, boating and swimming destination. "It's going to have significant impacts on the ... the lake and the recreation economy," added de Jong.

Kentucky Heartwood and three other environmental groups tried to stop the land swap. U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell refused to block the trade. (Read more)

County weekly holds its own as school shootings grab major media attention

With national and regional news media several days ahead covering a shocking school shooting in Tennessee, north of Knoxville, the local weekly has weighed in with noteworthy coverage of its own.

"The teenager accused of shooting one school official and wounding two others will be tried as an adult, according to the attorney general’s office," writes Susan Sharp of the LaFollette Press.

District Attorney General Paul Phillips told reporters, “Based upon his age and the charges, it would be appropriate that he be tried as an adult. He has been charged with a number of delinquent acts that include first degree murder,” writes Sharp. The prosecutor said other charges were included but could not disclose them under Tennessee juvenile law, she notes.

The Press reports the accused, 15-year-old Kenny Bartley Jr., will first appear before a special juvenile court judge for a transfer hearing. Officials speculated Judge Patricia Hess of Anderson County may be appointed in the matter, notes Sharp. Authorities released few details surrounding the incident but did tell reporters school administrators “had specific information and were acting on it” regarding Bartley having a .22 caliber handgun at school, writes Sharp.

Phillips said authorities had been talking to the student suspect prior to the shooting and warned reporters not to assume that Assistant Principal Jim Pierce wrestled the gun away from the assailant. Sharp notes an unarmed school resource officer responded after hearing the shots. Phillips said law enforcement “knew of the situation in the sense that the SRO knew," and said, "This investigation has entered a new phase."

"Phillips thanked the media for their help ... in disseminating information, [but] said restrictions would be placed on information being released," Sharp writes. (Read more) For today's Knoxville News-Sentinel report, "Tears for Mr. Bruce," click here.

Georgia lawmakers explore agriculture issues in field trip prep for session

A group of Georgia legislators recently decided the best way to gauge the impact of their actions on the state's agriculture industry is to go down on the farm to get a first-hand look.

The "Georgia lawmakers visited Tifton in south Georgia to get a close-hand look at agricultural issues they might face during the next General Assembly. Local legislators who want to make the agricultural agenda a priority in the upcoming session," reports J. D. Sumner of The Tifton Gazette.

Republican state Sen. John Bulloch, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told Sumner, "Energy is certainly a problem that farmers are facing. Farmers need some kind of break to help them cut their overall cost so that they can make a living."

Bulloch told the Sumner legislators have discussed a tax structure more beneficial to farmers, creating easier transportation systems and better handling of migrant labor. "We need to help these farmers find good, legal labor," he added, writes Sumner. The delegation also toured the University of Georgia's National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory. (Read more)

Flaws found, processing 'too slow' in mad-cow disease testing, say investigators

Testing is too slow at times to prevent cattle from eating possibly contaminated feed; just one flaw cited by government investigators in a program to help stop mad cow disease from spreading.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who sought the report the Government Accountability Office released yesterday, told reporters, "Feed safeguards are the most important firewall against mad cow disease. If the [Food and Drug Administration's] testing program is not catching violations, and catching them in time, that needs to be corrected immediately," reports USA Today and The Associated Press.

The FDA disputed the findings, arguing that the report unfairly focused on a small component of broad government efforts to stop the disease The only way mad cow disease is known to spread is through feed containing certain tissue from infected animals, AP reports.

The FDA feed testing program is a small part of the government's efforts to to keep mad cow disease out of the food chain for animals and people. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said in half the feed samples analyzed, the FDA took more than a month to determine whether banned cattle protein was present. The agency explained that cattle feed is consumed quickly after it's manufactured, and may have been eaten before tests were finished. The report examined 989 samples analyzed from August 2003 through June of this year. (Read more)

Oklahoma legislation would allow buyouts of tribal tobacco-tax deals

An Oklahoma state senator has filed a bill to allow Gov. Brad Henry to buy out tribal tobacco-tax compacts that have given some tribal tobacco shops an advantage over others, eroding revenue produced by a recent increase in the state tax on cigarettes.

Sen. Jim Wilson told Michael McNutt of The Oklahoman his measure would allow the governor to buy out the compacts. The bill would allow the governor to determine the amount of the buyout and sign new compacts, reports the Oklahoma City newspaper.

McNutt notes that many tribal tobacco stores are selling cigarettes using a 6-cent tax stamp, while most tribes with new compacts are required to collect 86 cents tax on each pack. Regular stores must charge $1.03 for each pack of cigarettes, he writes.

State officials told McNutt that tobacco stores licensed by the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations are using the wrong, cheaper stamps and the treasurer's office reports the state is losing about $2.5 million a month because of the practice. A tax increase was supposed to generate about $200 million annually for health care programs. (Read more)

C-J: Kentucky's tobacco roots hurt state by hindering limits on smoking

The largest newspaper in a state steeped in tobacco tradition and having the highest lung-cancer rate in the nation has again taken community and state leaders to task for being behind the times in caring for those suffering from use of Kentucky's once-premier product.

"While our legislators pass laws to guarantee that smoking is allowed in state buildings, and while Louisville's Metro Council members hem and haw over the confusing partial smoking ban they finally passed, other states are racing in the other direction," said an editorial in The Courier-Journal.

This newspaper cites Washington state's strong approval this week of a statewide smoking ban for all public places. "Washington voters -- and the other eight states with comprehensive bans -- saw something that has escaped Kentuckians: that given the health damage created by secondhand smoke, it's hard to argue against comprehensive smoking bans," the editors write. The editors quote a University of Washington political scientist saying, "I think people got convinced about secondhand smoke hurting you, it being offensive and there being no reason to put up with that."

An American Cancer Society spokesman told the newspaper, "We don't believe that risking cancer should be part of a job requirement." The paper added, for those seeking employment, "It also shouldn't be a requirement for going out on the town." The Courier-Journal, noting current state Department of Public Health hearings seeking ideas to reduce smoking, concluded, "Our public health bills are unnecessarily high. Generally, roots help living things grow and flourish. In Kentucky, however, our tobacco roots are killing us." (Read more)

Electric generating co-op backs off plan for new lines in headquarters county

East Kentucky Power Cooperative of Winchester has virtually abandoned its plan to build 18 miles of power lines across eastern Clark County "to include less than one mile of line cutting through new locations," reports Mike Wynn of The Winchester Sun.

"EKPC plans to rebuild 17 miles of existing line," Wynn reports. "While the decision may please some landowners, EKPC also plans to broaden easements and increase the size of existing poles in the right of way. Currently, 55-foot poles hoist power lines in 100-foot-wide easements. The new line will require an H-frame steel structure, about 110 feet tall and about 55 feet wide. EKPC will increase the width of the easements by 25 feet on each side to a total of 150 feet. Landowners will receive compensation for the expanded easements and be allowed to use the land for crops and other purposes, officials said, but landowners will be prohibited from building new structures in the easements."

Wynn noted, "Since EKPC announced plans to construct a new 278-megawatt coal-fired power plant at Smith Station, some property owners have expressed concern about the above-ground lines detracting from the rural properties through the region." (Read more)

The co-op, which serves a wide swath of Eastern, Central and Southern Kentucky, has its headquartyers in Clark County. Its application for a new line running through the Daniel Boone National Forest near Morehead was recently rejected by the Kentucky Public Service Commission, which reaffirmed the decision yesterday.

The Rural Calendar

Nov. 15-17: Series focuses on mountaintop-removal coal mining debate

Morehead State University's Appalachian Heritage Program will present a three-day series focusing on the debate surrounding mountaintop removal mining. It will kick off 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Kentucky Folk Art Center with Mountain Justice Summer organizer Dave Cooper's Mountaintop Removal Roadshow, a slide show depicting mountaintop removal sites and the social and environmental effects of this mining practice on mountain communities. A discussion will follow.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth will present a series of documentary films at MSU on the political economy of coal and sustainable economic development. A public forum organized by MSU sociologist Sue Tallichet, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth members Doug Doerrfield and Teri Blanton, and business community members will be held Nov. 17.

The Kentucky Folk Art Center is at 102 West First Street in Morehead. Call (606) 783-2204.

Nov. 16 -17: Southeast Wireless Symposium in Asheville

The e-NC Authority has scheduled the 2005 Southeast Wireless Symposium for Nov. 16, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. through Nov. 17, 7:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel, One Thomas Wolfe Plaza, Asheville, N.C.

The e-NC Authority is the state authority charged with planning and using the Internet for technology-based economic development The conference is mainly for "community, government and business representatives faced with the economic and logistical challenges of implementing high-speed Internet, as well as Internet Service Providers, members of the media, general members of the community, and educators interested in wireless broadband," organizers explain.

The cost is $50. To register, visit http:http://www.e-nc.org or call 1-866-NCRURAL To reserve your room, call: Asheville Renaissance Hotel: 828-252-8211 The media contact is Jennifer Munday Guthrie (919) 250-4314 x.272 or jguthrie@e-nc.org

Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2005

Paper-mill chemicals implicated in rural North Carolina's high suicide rate

"Sustained elevation of the suicide rate in a North Carolina county may be linked to releases of hydrogen sulfide and other airborne chemicals from a nearby paper mill and possibly other industrial sites, a new study led by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill psychiatrist indicates," reports Newswise, a research-reporting service.

Based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study reports that the suicide rate in rural Haywood County, in the Great Smoky Mountains west of Asheville, increased from an age-adjusted rate of 11.8 per 100,000 residents in 1990-1996 to about 21.1 per 100,000 residents in 1997-2002. In contrast, the average age-adjusted suicide rate for North Carolina for 1997-2001 was about 11.4 per 100,000 residents per year.

"The Haywood County mill has reported releases of many chemicals, including more than 93,000 pounds of hydrogen sulfide in 2003. Studies of industries such as asphalt plants, paper mills and sewage treatment plants have shown that exposure to occupational levels of hydrogen sulfide (10 parts per million for a 10-minute ceiling) can result in nervousness, mania, dementia and violence," reports Newswise.

This is the second study to propose a possible link between increased suicide rates in North Carolina and chemical exposures. Many of the study's authors previously posed a possible link between the high suicide rate in the town of Salisbury, east of Raleighm with exposure to chemicals released from asphalt plants and petroleum remediation sites. From 1994 through 2003, the suicide rate in two neighborhoods was 38.4 per 100,000 individuals a year, three times the statewide average. (Click here to read more) To see Science Blog's report, Suicide spate linked to paper mill, click here

Bigger bucks: Subsidies, corn surplus give farmers money, strain government

A national farm-subsidy program is busting at the seams with more corn than we need and federal payments to farmers reaching high levels.

This year's corn crop is an estimated 10.9 billion bushels. The paradox: America's farmers are being encouraged to grow more corn than the country can use, which in turn depresses prices and raises subsidy payments. In essence, because the government is trying to help farmers, it is actually paying them for the corn surplus and for the low prices, writes Alexei Barrioneuvo of The New York Times.

The Agriculture Department is projecting that payments to farmers will total $22.7 billion this year, up from $13.3 billion in 2004. As a way to cut costs, the Bush administration has said the U.S. is prepared to cut its most trade-distorting farm subsidies by 60 percent over five years, reports Barrionuevo.

"For critics of the American subsidy system, the record corn production highlights the tenuous assumptions underlying the program. Farmers are encouraged to produce as much as they can with the idea that greater exports will soak up the excess production. More recently, there are high hopes for using corn to produce ethanol for gasoline, but the infrastructure to produce large amounts of ethanol will take time," writes Barrionuevo. (Read more)

Democrat Kaine wins Virginia governorship; seen as rebuke to Bush

In a result widely seen as a rebuke to President Bush, Democratic Virginia Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine was elected governor yesterday, defeating former Lt. Gov. Jerry Kilgore, who had counted on heavy support from his native southwest Virginia to overcome Kaine's more urban support and the four-year record of popular Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who could not run. Kaine got 52 percent of the vote.

"Kaine won despite an intensive effort by Republicans -- including a White House desperate to reverse President Bush's plunging job approval -- to win," wrote Bob Lewis of The Associated Press. "National GOP organizations poured millions into Kilgore's race. President Bush sought to give Kilgore a last-minute boost with an election-eve fly-in rally thousands of Republicans attended at a corporate jet hangar at Richmond International Airport on Monday. The president "praised Mr. Kilgore as a son of rural Virginia, a man who 'doesn't have a lot of fancy airs' and who is a guardian of conservative values," James Dao of The New York Times notes this morning. "Kaine, son-in-law of former Republican Gov. Linwood Holton, presented himself as the heir to Warner ... a presidential prospect in 2008," Lewis wrote.

"There's no way to spin this than anything other than a major defeat for Republicans and for President Bush," University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told AP National Writer Robert Tanner."This is a red state, he came in on Election Eve and he had no discernible effect," Sabato said of Bush. "If anything, he may have cost Kilgore some votes." Republicans said state issues made the difference, but with last night's result they are worried Bush and his low poll numbers could be a liability in the 2006 elections, ABC News Political Director Mark Halperin said on "Nightline."

The death penalty was a key issue. "Kaine, a Roman Catholic, acknowledged a faith-based objection to the death penalty, but promised to enforce [it]," Lewis wrote. "Kilgore, who served three years as attorney general before resigning early this year to run for office full time, hit Kaine particularly hard on the death penalty. In October, Kilgore televised an ad in which the grieving father of a murder victim said Kaine would spare even Adolf Hitler the noose. Subsequent polls indicated the ad -- clearly the most visceral of a mean-spirited race by both men -- backfired on Kilgore by angering voters." (Read more)

Kilgore "ran the dirtiest, filthiest campaign in the history of Virginia politics," independent Republican Russell Potts of Winchester, a state legislator who got about 2 percent of the vote, told Tyler Whitley of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Potts said he hoped his campaign would move the GOP back to the center, "away from the free lunch bunch and the people who obsess on social issues. I didn't win the battle, but eventually I will win the war." Whitley reported, "A late Kilgore mail piece and telephone recording that appeared to come from Potts and seemed aimed at taking votes away from Kaine." (Read more)

Pa. voters oust school-board members who promoted 'intelligent design'

Dover, Pa., school board members who ordered that biology students be told about the theory of intelligent design lost their seats in yesterday's election. The voters replaced the eight Republicans with Democrats who want the idea taken out of the curriculum.

"The election unfolded amid a landmark federal trial involving the Dover public schools and the question of whether intelligent design promotes the Bible's view of creation. Eight Dover families sued, saying it violates the constitutional separation of church and state," CBS News and The Associated Press reported. A ruling in the case is expected in January; the new board members will take office Dec. 5. One of the new board members is a plaintiff in the case, reports Michelle Starr of the York Daily Record. (Read more)

Believers in intelligent design think the universe is so complex that it was created by some kind of higher intelligence. The statement read to students says Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is "not a fact" and has "gaps" that remain unexplained. Critics say intelligent design is merely camouflaged Scripture that has no place in a science class.

"Residents of the small school district -- about 20,000 in the borough, Dover and Washington townships -- found themselves in the spotlight as journalists interviewed them on their porches for stories that went around the world," writes T. W. Burger of The Patriot-News of nearby Harrisburg. "Some of the challengers said they aren't opposed to intelligent design being taught in the classroom. They suggest that it be taught in elective courses on American culture or social studies, not science."

California assemblyman sets summit to address rural education needs

A Sacramento, Calif., assemblyman has announced the fifth in a series of Rural Education Summits to address schools' needs. Forty members of the state's rural legislative caucus are expected to attend.

Assemblyman Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, said, “The goal ... is to bring attention to these needs and explore ... solutions [to] ensure a quality education for all students, regardless of where they live or go to school," reports the American Chronicle of Beverly Hills in a staff report based on a news release.

The two-day summit will be held in Fish Camp near Yosemite and will feature panel discussions on closing the achievement gap between rural and urban students, after school programs and “No Child Left Behind.” Legislators attending the summit will hold a hearing to explore additional problems facing rural schools, including budget shortfalls, transportation issues, and college preparation, reports the Chronicle.

Tuolumne County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Silva said, “There are challenges in rural communities educators just don’t face in urban areas. The [summit] is an opportunity ... to share [these] issues with [other] state legislators," the Chronicle reports. (Read more)

Native-born, outsiders finding harmony in 'country roads, take me home'

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that while West Virginia is still losing more young people than it is gaining, some cities -- particularly Charleston -- are doing the reverse, with a surprising number of native-born Mountaineers returning and many outsiders making a home in and around the state's capital.

The Charleston area "saw a net migration of 358 college-educated people between the ages of 25 and 39 from 1995 to 2000, according to the Census Bureau," writes Beth Gorczyca of the State Journal, a Charleston weekly published by West Virginia Media Holdings.

Per-capita, Charleston has a better migration rate than some other cities in the region considered attractive to the "brightest and best," notes Gorczyca. "The Columbus, Ohio, metropolitan area, for example, lost 122 of its young, college-educated residents during the same five-year-period. Pittsburgh lost 7,444 young people, according to the Census Bureau," she writes.

Jim Clinton, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, told Gorczyca, "West Virginia, generally speaking, was part of the old economy with a lot of its economy based on mining and manufacturing, and it was slower than a lot of places to make a change from that. But now, if you look around, a turn is definitely starting to happen, and people are noticing." (Read more)

Pennsylvania tops list of states with most automobile-deer collisions

A new survey by State Farm Insurance ranked Pennsylvania first among the 10 worst states for vehicle-deer collisions, reports CNN.

State Farm said Pennsylvania drivers experienced more collisions than any other state between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005. State Farm estimates that 1.5 million of these collisions occur annually in the U.S., resulting in 150 motorists deaths and vehicle damages totaling $1.1 billion. With deer migrating and mating season between October and December, State Farm says this is the prime time for collisions.

Second through fourth included Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia. Minnesota and Virginia ranked sixth and seventh respectively, while Indiana, Texas and Wisconsin rounded out the top 10. (Read more)

U.S. television powerhouse plans to sell 12 stations with 800-plus employees

Raycom Media Inc. plans to sell 12 network-affiliated TV stations to focus on its core group in the Southeast and Midwest, reports The Associated Press.

Raycom President and CEO Paul McTear said the stations, with 800-plus workers, would likely be valued in excess of $600 million. The company agreed to purchase 15 stations from Liberty Corp. of Greenville, S.C., in August, and two of those stations, KGBT-TV of Harlingen-McAllen-Brownsville, Texas, and WWAY-TV of Wilmington, N.C., are included in the upcoming sale.

Ten other stations to be sold include: WFXL, Albany, Ga.; KASA, Albuquerque-Santa Fe, N.M.; KXRM-KXTU, Colorado Springs, Colo.; WACH, Columbia, S.C.; KTVO, Ottumwa, Iowa-Kirksville, Mo.; WLUC, Marquette, Mich.; WSTM-WSTQ, Syracuse, NY; WNWO, Toledo, Ohio; WPBN-WTOM, Traverse City-Cadillac, Mich.; KWWL, Waterloo-Cedar Rapids-Iowa City-Dubuque, Iowa.

Raycom, based in Montgomery, Ala., operates 37 network-affiliated television stations in 20 states. Its stations cover more than 10 percent of U.S. television households and employ 2,500 people.

Weekly in Point Reyes, Calif., sold to former prosecutor; paper won Pulitzer

"The Point Reyes Light, a weekly that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979, has been sold to a former Monterey County prosecutor, the paper's editor and publisher announced," reports The Associated Press.

Dave Mitchell, who bought the paper in 1975, said Nov. 2 he sold the 4,000-circulation newspaper to Robert Plotkin. Mitchell will continue to work at the paper part-time. The newspaper, founded in 1948, won the Pulitzer for Meritorious Public Service for its coverage of the Synanon drug rehabilitation group that turned into a religion.

This week, Mitchell aptly titled his Sparsely, Sage and Timely column "Giving up my desk." "I feel like an old quarterback who’s had a string of good seasons but now needs to make way for younger talent. The Light’s won more than 100 state and national awards while I’ve been here, but the relentless reporting that led to some of those awards is what I most fondly remember. Editorially, I’ve tried to make sure the 'little guy' isn’t crushed by the powers that be," writes Mitchell. (Read more)

"Mitchell and the Plotkins have invited the public to join them for a changeover party in The Light at noon Friday, Nov. 4, when Mitchell will present Plotkin with a golden muckrake. A muckrake is a symbol of investigative reporting, for which The Light is known," announces the newspaper on its main page. Click here to read the newspaper's story about the ownership change.

Oklahoma panhandle getting REDI for rural development initiative

Oklahoma panhandle economic development is getting a push from the Rural Economic Development Initiative, a cooperative effort of Oklahoma State University and Rural Enterprises Inc.

REDI coordinator and former congressman Wes Watkins said, “Extension educators are contacting business operators and entrepreneurs and bringing them together for the purpose of administering a short action questionnaire," writes Arleen James, an extension educator, in Oklahoma's Guymon Daily Herald. The questionnaire will identify development assistance needs, then allow for follow-up work. (Read more)

The REDI process starts at noon or 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 15 at the Texas County OSU Extension Office in Guymon. For additional information about the Nov. 15 meeting contact Arleen James, extension educator and CED at the Texas County Extension Office, in Guymon or by calling (580) 338-7300 or by writing Watkins at 514 Ag Hall, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078.

Rural Calendar

Nov. 11: Kentucky Voices features authors, music on Book Fair eve in Frankfort

The Kentucky Conservation Committee invites you to attend Kentucky Voices, an evening with Kentucky authors and music on the eve of the Kentucky Book Fair, on Friday, November 11.

Gwyn Hyman Rubio will share a selection from "The Woodsman's Daughter," which was selected as an American Booksellers Association Book Sense Pick and a Book Club Pick of the Week by Barnes and Noble. Rubio's first novel, "Icy Spark," was featured by the Oprah Book Club. The author lives with her husband in Versailles.

Kentucky Voices will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Parish Hall of the Church of the Ascension, 311 Washington Street in downtown Frankfort. Donations benefit the Conserve Kentucky initiative of the Kentucky Conservation Committee to increase state funding for the protection of natural areas and agricultural lands. The suggested donation is $10 for adults and $5 for students.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005

U.S. Forest Service plan to restrict off-road vehicles draws sharp criticism

Environmentalists and recreationists say a new U. S. Forest Service plan to restrict off-road vehicles would legitimize hundreds of illegal trails carved out by off-road enthusiasts. The Forest Service, however, claims the policy will halt increased traffic by dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles.

"The new policy would require all 155 national forests and 20 grasslands to designate roads and trails that are open to motor-vehicle use. But for the first time, heavily traveled 'renegade routes' created illegally by off-road drivers could be designated for legal use," writes Matthew Daly of The Associated Press.

Jason Kiely, director of the Montana-based Natural Trails and Water Coalition, told Daly, "The practical effect is that you are going to have to take out rogue routes created by off-roaders one at a time." The agency said it could take four years to designate roads and trails on 193 million acres of public lands.

In West Virginia, ATVs and motorcycles are allowed on all forest roads open to passenger vehicle traffic in the 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest, but there are no specially designated trails for off-highway vehicles. The George Washington and Jefferson national forests in Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky have 60 miles of trail set aside for ATV and off-road motorcycle use, writes Daly. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said, "It’s my belief that most users want to do the right thing." (Read more)

Deadline looms for comment on Monongahela National Forest plan

The Forest Service is accepting public comment on its new plan for the Monongahela National Forest in the central Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia through Nov. 14.

During the last revision in 1986, 20,000 comments were received. The Forest Service is seeking comments that include the desired alternative, and an explanation. "It's helpful to base your comments on personal experiences as well as why you think your alternative is good for the public," writes Elizabeth Byers of Mountain Forum, an interest group.

Letters can be sent to: Monongahela National Forest, Attn: Forest Plan Revision, 200 Sycamore Street , Elkins, W.Va. 26241 or via Email. The West Virginia Wilderness Coalition has sample talking points, click here. The Forest Plan can be downloaded here. For more on the forum, go to this site. To learn more about the Monongahela National Forest, go to this site.

Forest mining ruling not influenced by campaign money, claims coal lawyer

A coal company's attorney said a suggestion that political contributions by the company's owner influenced a ruling on a proposal in southeastern Ohio is "outrageous," reports Jim Phillips of the Athens News.

Mike Gardner, associate general counsel for Ohio Valley Coal Co., told Phillips, "To suggest there's influence going on here is untrue." The Buckeye Forest Council, an Athens-based forest advocacy group, is fighting the company's plan to expand coal-mining under Dysart Woods, an old-growth forest owned by Ohio University and located in Belmont County.

BFC Executive Coordinator Susan Heitker expressed hopes the case will "finally have an opportunity for a fair and honest hearing." The council also alleged company owner Robert Murray was the second-biggest individual campaign contributor to the 2002 re-election campaign of Gov. Robert Taft, with a donation of $7,500. Phillips reports Murray gave a total of $7,500 to Taft for his 2002 and 1998 campaigns, but gave to other politicians as well. The BFC release reported Murray, members of his family, and his coal companies gave almost $29,000 to Taft.

Noting that the seven-member reclamation commission is appointed by the governor, Heitker said, "I don't think any reasonable person could expect impartiality and objectivity there," Phillips writes. (Read more)

Peabody purchase signals resurgent coal industry in Western Kentucky

Peabody Energy has purchased more than 100 million tons of coal reserves and facilities in Western Kentucky from Alcoa Fuels Inc., reports The Gleaner of Henderson. "The announcement is the latest evidence of a resurgent coal industry in Western Kentucky," Business Editor Chuck Stinnett writes.

The reserves are for the planned Dyson Creek Mine, which would "produce up to four million tons of high-Btu Kentucky No. 9 coal per year," Stinnett reports. "Coal reserves in that section of Union and Webster counties have long been known to be 'gassy,' leaking explosive methane gas into mines. Ten miners were killed in a methane explosion in 1989 in the William Station No. 9 mine when the reserves were being mined by the former Pyro Mining Co. Such issues will be addressed as a mining plan is developed, [company spokeswoman Beth] Sutton said." (Read more)

Gregory Boyce, president and chief executive of Peabody, said the deal is for "one of the best-remaining blocks of high-Btu Illinois Basin coal with access to barge and rail transportation. ... We're seeing strong demand for Illinois Basin coal thanks to investments in clean coal technologies." The company said development of the mine will depend on market conditions.

North Carolina food banks report crisis as food-stamp funding declines

Federal cuts in food stamps have prompted crisis conditions in food banks across North Carolina, reports Tim Boyum of News 14 Carolina, a cable-TV service.

Brenda Glass, a victim of Hurricane Katrina, is one of a growing number living in poverty in the Tar Heel State. She said, "I came down here to visit a cousin, stayed in Durham and he left so I got stranded here."

At present, North Carolina ranks ninth in the nation for food insecurity, with 1 million-plus people at risk for hunger, reports Boyum. Lindsey Graham, a representative of the state's food banks, said 1.2 million people live below the poverty line. The state's food banks provide 63 million pounds of food every year.

Graham told the network, "Often times they're people in our community who need assistance and don't want to go to a food shelter but that's still we've set a standard that we accept them and there are different ways to get assistance." Boyum notes that last week the federal government cut food stamp funding by $844 million. Nationwide more than 25 million people get help from places like the food bank. It's estimated more than 35 million are living in poverty. (Read more)

Daily newspaper circulation slides; more papers forsaking far-flung service

Weekday newspaper circulation fell 2.6 percent during the six month-period ending in September, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations' report, analyzed by the Newspaper Association of America. Sunday circulation fell 3.1 percent. For a table from Editor and Publisher, click here.

"The declines show an acceleration of a years-long trend of falling circulation at daily newspapers as more people, especially young adults, turn to the Internet for news and as newspapers cut back on less profitable circulation," reports Seth Sutel of The Associated Press. (Read more) For a story from The New York Times, where circulation rose 0.5 percent, click here. For a good look at challenges papers face in an electronic age, from The Wall Street Journal, which lost 1.1 percent, click here.

'Newsosaur' Alan Mutter says on his blog that the losses may be a resilt of newspapers focusing on their core audiences in metropolitan areas, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, which dropped 16.6 percent after cutting off "several of the more remote reaches of Northern California." Many other papers have done likewise in recent years, and that is part of the rationale for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues -- helping smaller papers take up the slack in coverage of rural areas. The Chronicle also cut "less profitable, heavily discounted and giveaway circulation subsidized by advertisers," AP says.

"Shrinking circulation isn't necessarily a bad thing," Mutter writes, as long as it stops real soon." Hurdles facing the newspaper industry include higher prices for newsprint, concern among investors, lagging growth in advertising, and tougher rules on telemarketing, which make it difficult to sign up new readers, states Sutel. Currently, the second-largest U.S. newspaper publisher, Knight Ridder Inc., is in the middle of a conflict with two top shareholders, who want the company to be sold.

Middle East-born journalist recalls details of terrorizing trip to New York

A Chicago Tribune editorial assistant learned a harsh lesson about the "new America" from a trip to New York City four years ago at the height of terrorism fears after the destruction of the World Trade Center. This story might not seem relevant to rural areas, but consider this: Are your readers, viewers and listeners burdened with some of the same stereotypes and fears shown below. What are you doing about it?

In a Sunday article, Ahmad A. Ahmad, 22, who has been living in the U.S. for 12 years, recounted his 2001 train trip to visit his sister in New York, reports Editor & Publisher. Ahmad was stranded in upstate New York after a train derailed and called his father. As Ahmad spoke in Arabic, he noticed a white man nearby whispering something in his girlfriend's ear. Soon sirens could be heard and police arrived. "We all stepped out to see what happened. There was the stranger, pointing to me, "He is going to blow up the Amtrak!" Ahmad recalled.

"The man told police he understood Arabic and had overheard my conversation. He thought I was talking to some terrorist cell when I was chatting with my mother," explained Ahmad. After three hours of questioning, police found Ahmad was not a threat. They realized the man who had made the call couldn't speak Arabic. "They knew the allegations were baseless, and that he was a wacko, hell-bent on deporting every Muslim back to the Middle East," Ahmad explained in the Tribune article. (Read more)

"I know people say Americans are living in a new America ... For the majority of Muslims, who are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, we, too, are living in a new America. This is our reality." concluded Ahmad.

Marshall journalism school gets new home, with converged newsroom

"The W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SOJMC) is moving with the times. Literally," reports Adam Brown of the Huntington, W.Va. Herald-Dispatch.

The school, formerly located on the third floor of Smith Hall, which is just north of the landmark Main Building, has moved its offices and student media outlets to the Communications Building. The grand opening will be 4:30 p.m. today. "This is a positive step forward for the school. It puts our student media closer together and makes us change based on the changing face of the working world," Corley Dennison, dean of the SOJMC, told Brown.

Marshall's student newspaper, the Parthenon, and the university's student newscast, MU Report, once had separate production spaces but now share a common newsroom, writes Brown. "It's a great idea because it allows for media convergence within the university and allows students involved in both mediums to be connected to one another," said Michael Hupp, managing editor of the Parthenon.

Dennison said the common newsroom fits the faculty's vision of the way journalism should be taught at Marshall. "We want our students to stop thinking 'I'm a newspaper reporter,' or 'I'm a broadcast reporter.'" The grand opening and a special dedication are open to the public. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Nov. 13: R-CALF United Stockgrowers meeting in Louisville; first in East

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is inviting cattle producers to participate in the organization’s first regional meeting east of the Mississippi. The theme for the event is “Building a Strong National Voice for Independent Cattle Producers.”

The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. EST, Sunday, Nov. 13, in the King William Room at the Executive West Hotel, 830 Phillips Lane, located across the street from the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center in Louisville. Region VIII Director Gene Barber along with volunteer Dave Hutchins, of West Mansfield, Ohio, will host the event.

The media contact is Shae Dodson, communications coordinator, who can be reached at 406-672-8969 or by e-mail at sdodson@r-calfusa.com. R-CALF USA is a national, non-profit organization. For more information, visit http://www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516.

Monday, Nov. 7, 2005

Pennsylvania judge rules township can keep corporations out of farming

A Pennsylvania township can regulate corporate farming, despite objections from agribusiness groups.

John R. Walker, president judge of the Franklin/Fulton County Court of Common Pleas, has upheld Belfast Township's authority to prohibit corporate involvement in farming. Agribusiness interests had sought a ruling that the township's law was "void as a matter of law." They argued that a number of older codes and laws prohibited the new measure, writes Jim Hook of the Chambersburg Public Opinion.

Belfast Township adopted the ordinance in July 2000. It says corporations may not engage in farming, either by owning farmland or by contracting for production. It did, however, exempt family corporations and family partnerships. The ordinance sprung out of residents' concerns about the economic, cultural and environmental damage caused by corporate factory farms, reports Hook. (Read more)

Tobacco states' use of tobacco money highlighted in ABC News report

As part of ABC News' "Quit to Live" series on lung cancer, investigative reporter Brian Ross took a look Friday night at how states have spent their $250 billion settlement with cigarette companies. Ross said only 3 percent of the money has gone to anti-smoking campaigns, which states originally touted as a use for the money, and several of his examples of other types of spending were from tobacco states.

"In Virginia, a large portion of the tobacco money has been used to improve an auto speedway while in New York, it was invested in a golf course sprinkler system," Ross said. "New tobacco warehouses were built with the money in North Carolina, and in Lincoln, Neb., officials used the money to enforce the poop er-scooper law. In Kentucky, cattle farmers received the money through farm subsidies." That datum came from the Health Policy Tracking Service's report on settlement spending through 2004; in that year, $267,212,000 went to tobacco-use prevention and $294,685,000 went to tobacco farmers.

North Carolina and Kentucky allocated half of their tobacco-settlement money to agriculture, but North Carolina is investing its money and spending only the earnings. Kentucky, the No. 2 state in tobacco production but No. 1 in number of tobacco growers, recently decided against using settlement money for a program for growers, as North carolina has done. Virginia, the No. 3 tobacco state, set up a special fund for its tobacco-growing regions, one of which includes the speedway.

Ross reported that Florida, which started out spending $70 million a year on successful campaigns against tobacco use, has cut such spending to $1 million a year. Without giving details, Ross also reported, "Last year, the states gave more money to tobacco farmers than to tobacco control." (Read more)

Newspaper finds many problems in Kentucky's job-incentive programs

Companies that get incentives to create jobs in Kentucky commonly fail to meet their obligations. A tax-incentive program for high-unemployment counties has had little effect in many of the neediest places. Corporate subsidies are sometimes loosely monitored and questionably invested. And, "Unlike those in some other states, Kentucky's incentive programs are shrouded in secrecy."

Those are the major findings of an investigation by Lexington Herald-Leader reporters John Stamper and Bill Estep -- natives, respectively, of rural Wayne and Pulaski counties in Southern Kentucky. Stamper is a business reporter and Estep is a projects reporter; both are graduates of Western Kentucky University. Next Sunday the paper will take a particular look at incentives in rural Kentucky.

The series has lessons for states and rural areas trying to recruit jobs. A Stamper story called "Masters of the bluff" tells how officials of Affiliated Computer Services "told Kentucky officials they would like to bring 400 new jobs to Lexington, but only if the state offered a $5 million tax incentive. Otherwise, the jobs would go to Oregon or Utah. ACS got the tax break, but the company was bluffing." ACS spokesman Burt Wolder told the Herald-Leader, "We're making the same investment in all three places."

The problem is not limited to Kentucky. Citing "economists, business executives and economic-development insiders," Stamper reports that "at least $50 billion a year nationally is diverted from public services as companies get paid to go where they would have gone anyway." (Read more)

A study by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development says the state has no system to track the $800 million or so it spends annually to generate jobs and investment. MACED, which makes loans to small businesses, wants the state to spend more on such businesses, entrepreneurs, high-tech industries and education.

Dental care for rural children 'woefully lacking,' rural New York doctor says

The executive director of a rural New York hospital says it sees almost 100 children with impacted teeth in its emergency room annually because the kids lack access to preventive dental care.

Jim Kennedy, the executive director of the Cayuga Community Health Network, told Tamarisk Elliott-Engle of the Auburn Citizen, “Many of these issues find their roots, no pun intended, in the lack of health care." Kathleen Cuddy, deputy director of the Cayuga County Health Department's health-services division, told Elliott-Engle that Auburn Memorial Hospital emergency room trips are only one example of problems of dental health access in the county.

A survey of nurses in the county found approximately 25 percent of their time is spent dealing with poor dental care. Poor dental health is the most common chronic disease in children and can impact
overall health, growth, oral function, etc. Dental pain impedes school performance, sleep, attention and social skill development, writes Elliott-Engle. In 2004, it was estimated that 25 to 30 percent of local children had no regular dental care, according to the assessment. Cuddy finds that area dentists accommodate their current patients who lose insurance or have to move to Medicaid coverage, but there are few in-county locations for new Medicaid or uninsured patients.

Cuddy and Kennedy told the newspaper fluoridation of the county's water might help county residents' dental health, but the shortage of dentists in the county isn't likely to change soon. Bridget Walsh, a senior policy associate with the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, a not-for-profit working
improve health and human services for state residents told Elliott-Eng le a total of 320 new dentists is needed in the state to meet the demand. (Read more)

Got jelly? Rural health clinics in North Dakota take food for payment

About a dozen rural health clinics have been closed in North Dakota in the past two years by hospitals in Bismarck and Fargo. A population decline made it too expensive to keep the clinics open. When many of the clinics were closed two years ago, Bismarck-based Medcenter One Health Systems said the health care system was losing $675,000 per year on satellite clinics because of low Medicare reimbursements and rising health care costs, reports James MacPherson of The Associated Press.

Milt Grube, 89, a member of the New Salem clinic board, said his town's clinic remains open with a no-cost doctor. Grube compared doctor Tom Kaspari's practice of accepting jars of jelly for payment to the methods used by an "old Dr. Gaebe," who once served the community. "People used to pay him with a half-dozen chickens or a pig," Grube told MacPherson.

Grube said a big chunk of New Salem's population of about 800 is elderly. "The clinic is an asset to our community," Grube said. "We have to have it to survive." A few towns, including New Salem have joined a network of community health centers that get federal money. The clinics share personnel and other costs while getting reimbursement on a patient's ability to pay, notes MacPherson. (Read more)

Keeping teachers proves difficult in Montana; pay, pension fears linger

Montana, a heavily rural state, is having trouble keeping its teachers in the aftermath of a court order that mandated the reformulating of the state's funding system. "Montana's system of funding education was declared inadequate and unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in November 2004. A legislative committee is working on a new system, but educators aren't confident they will come up with a workable solution," reports the Billings Gazette.

Dave Puyear, director of the Montana Rural Education Association, told reporter Lorna Thackeray, "My phone rings constantly. I get the sense people are calling me as they are packing their bags. People are just enormously discouraged." Puyear said many districts started negotiating teacher contracts in the fall, but they have no idea how much money they can offer. "I think it's just going to be a powder keg for recruiting new teachers and administrators," he said.

Budgeting uncertainty combined with problems in the state's Teachers' Retirement System is affecting the schools' ability to recruit and retain staff. Montana's employee pension systems have a potential unfunded liability of more than $1 billion. Retirement worries here make out-of-state school districts more alluring, said Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the union representing most school employees.

Recently, Puyear attended the biggest job fair west of the Mississippi, in Missoula, and saw that most of the activity surrounded out-of-state recruiters. Puyear told Thackeray, "We had a California school with a great big sign advertising a base salary of $45,000," he said. "That's what they start at." Thirty Montana school districts were in Missoula trying to fill job vacancies. Out-of-state recruiters represented 115 districts from nearly every state in the West, as well as Alaska, Kansas and North Carolina. "Most of the Montana tables were completely empty," Puyear said. "It was really discouraging." (Read more)

Rural North Carolina towns get economic boost to combat layoffs, poverty

North Carolina's rural communities are getting $10.5 million for economic revitalization projects. The state has about 500 towns with fewer than 10,000 people, and many of them have suffered because of "layoffs, business closings and persistent poverty," said Billy Ray Hall, president of The Rural Center, which is running the Small Towns Initiative, reports Estes Thompson of The Association Press.

"As part of the program, the center will help towns - especially those with fewer than 5,000 people - to develop strategies for reusing vacant buildings. The grants of up to $400,000 require that a job be created for each $10,000 in grant money and that local government match the money. Also, 20 towns will be selected for three-year pilot development projects and a council has been established to advocate policies that could help small towns," writes Thompson.

The initiative's funding will be $5 million a year from the Legislature's $20 million annual appropriation to the center. State Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, said the program couldn't come soon enough. "Bring it on. Small town North Carolina is really, really ready. It's rough out there. We need the jobs. We need the housing," Hunter told Thompson. (Read more)

Illinois forms rural task force to tackle health care access, expand opportunities

Southern Illinois University and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute have helped launch a task force dedicated to rural health care. The Joint Task Force on Rural Health, made up of several legislators, will address issues surrounding health care access in rural areas and in inner-city Chicago, reports Caleb Hale of The Southern Illinoisan.

Some items up for discussion include expanding opportunities for minority and disadvantaged students to enter the medical field, creating local allied health professionals, eliminating regulations that hurt access to medicine, establishing transportation to and from medical facilities, exploring school-based clinics and starting a funding tool for telemedicine, writes Hale. (Read more)

Bird watching with a mission: Early-warning sentries look for signs of avian flu

As most of the country nervously waits for the arrival of avian flu, catching wild birds has become more than a hobby. It is now part of a national early detection effort to give officials as much time as possible to launch a national medical counterattack.

Grace Y. Lee, a researcher at the University of California, is "one of hundreds of ornithologists, veterinarians, amateur bird-watchers, park rangers and others being recruited by the National Wildlife Health Center to join a surveillance effort along the major American migratory flyways. They will test wild birds caught in nets; birds shot by hunters on public lands, who must check in with game wardens; and corpses from large bird die-offs in public parks or on beaches," reports The New York Times.

On Nov. 1, President Bush announced a $7.1 billion plan to guard against a flu pandemic. Because of the threat of avian flu, veterinarians and doctors, as well as the agencies overseeing them, are joining forces, writes Donald G. McNeil Jr. of the Times. (Read more)

Dr. William B. Afresh, head of the field veterinary program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told McNeil, "Human medicine and veterinary medicine have advanced beautifully in the last 30 years, but they were not [previously] linked [and are now because] diseases don't care which way they flow -- there is a whole world of bacteria, viruses and fungi that move between wild animals, domestic animals and humans."

A deadly, global pandemic of flu is inevitable, and if the world is not ready, suffering will be "incalculable," Lee Jong-wook, director-general of the World Health Organization, told a meeting in Geneva of 600 health officials and planners who are trying to develop a strategy to deal with bird-flu transmission among humans, The Associated Press reported today.

Fundamentalists join environmentalists' earthly efforts against global warming

Environmentalists have a new ally in efforts to prompt Congress to pass legislation on global warming -- fundamentalist Christian groups, which cite the Bible and usually align with Republican policies that usually choose business interests over environmental interests, The New York Times reports.

The evangelical groups "are campaigning for laws that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists have linked with global warming. In the latest effort, the National Association of Evangelicals, a nonprofit organization that includes 45,000 churches serving 30 million people across the country, is circulating among its leaders the draft of a policy statement that would encourage lawmakers to pass legislation creating mandatory controls for carbon emissions," Michael Janis reports.

Environmentalists rely on science while for many evangelicals it is a values issue based on Biblical teachings which ask "humans to be good stewards of the earth," notes Janis Richard Cirri, the association's vice president for governmental affairs, told Janis, "Working the land and caring for it go hand in hand. That's why I think, and say unapologetically, that we ought to be able to bring to the debate a new voice."

By themselves, environmental groups have made scant progress on global warming legislation in Congress, beyond a non-binding Senate resolution last summer that recommends a program of mandatory controls on gases that cause global warming. Officials with the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council said they welcomed the added muscle evangelicals could bring to their cause, but said it remains uncertain how much difference that muscle could make. (Read more)

Tennessee Valley Authority adds oxygen to rivers, sees increase in wildlife

"Once desolate riverbeds below Tennessee Valley Authority dams in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia are brimming with wildlife thanks to the federal agency's pioneering efforts to keep oxygen-rich water flowing," reports Duncan Mansfield of The Associated Press.

The improvements have been seen on the Clinch, Holston, Hiwassee, Elk and Duck rivers, among others. TVA studies are finding that fish and key insect populations have doubled. "It went from being a very rare thing to see a great blue heron to frequently seeing two or three. And there are otters, mink, weasels and, of course, deer and wild turkey. It is a great place for critters," Steve Brown, president of the State Council for Trout Unlimited, told Mansfield.

TVA, which provides electricity for 8.5 million people in seven southeastern states, began damming the Tennessee River and its tributaries in the 1930s. In 1991, the agency adopted a policy of minimum water flows through the dams and it developed ways to add life-sustaining oxygen. Since then, TVA estimates it has increased dissolved oxygen concentrations in 300-plus miles of rivers and improved water flow in 180 plus miles, notes Mansfield. (Read more)

Enviros move to stop coal companies from dumping refuse; hearing today

Oral arguments are set for today in a lawsuit filed by three Kentucky environmental groups in U.S. District Court seeking to overturn a 2002 permit that allows coal companies to discharge coal refuse into valley fills or impoundments associated with their surface mining activities.

"The action also seeks to stop discharges of mining waste into Kentucky waterways. Specifically mentioned are waterways in Breathitt County. Oral arguments in the case will be heard in U.S. District Court in Pikeville at 1 p.m.," writes Chuck Ferguson of the Appalachian News Express in Pikeville.

Plaintiffs are Kentucky Riverkeeper, Inc., Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Inc., and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Inc. Defendants are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials in Louisville, Huntington, W.Va., Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C. Each office regulates different watersheds in Kentucky but the Louisville agency is the lead Corps district in Kentucky, notes Ferguson.

Kentucky Riverkeeper says its purpose is "the protection and restoration of the Kentucky River and its adjacent communities. The plaintiffs claim past and future suffering and injuries to aesthetic, recreational, environmental and/or economic interests," writes Ferguson. (Read more)

Upside of high energy prices: More exploration, which can benefit landowners

Citing new drilling for natural gas in Western Kentucky, The Paducah Sun said in an editorial yesterday that "there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of high natural gas prices. With the upsurge in prices, companies have an extra incentive to explore for natural gas. Exploration requires a significant investment — an investment that carries risks, given the possibility the wells will not produce sufficient amounts of natural gas — but in an environment of tight supplies and high prices, the risks are worth taking."

If test wells being drilled by Vintage Petroleum are successful, the Oklahoma-based company could expand its program. "This is good news for farmers in the economically struggling counties," the Sun said. "Companies are paying about $10 an acre for natural gas rights and the landowners will receive one-eighth of the revenue from any natural gas extracted from the wells."

In the longer term, "It’s good news for people who heat their homes with natural gas, too," because "if market is allowed to work the global push to find more oil and natural gas will bring gasoline prices and the cost of home heating to more comfortable levels." (Read more; subscription required)

A Lewis & Clark anniversary: Today's Northern Plains live off their history

Blaine Harden of The Washington Post marks the 200th anniversary of the "ocean in view" journal entry of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by telling readers what has happened since then to the Columbia River, now a series of lakes, and the Northern Great Plains, perhaps America's greatest swath of rurality.

The plains, "the part of the West that the explorers praised as the most fertile, the most suitable for settlement and the most visually enchanting -- are now the least populated stretch of the United States and getting emptier," Harden writes. "There are fewer human beings living now in the Missouri River valley around Fort Mandan, where the Corps of Discovery wintered ... than there were in 1803-04, according to David Borlaug, president of the Lewis & Clark Fort Mandan Foundation in Washburn, N.D. Then there were about 5,000 Indians, Borlaug said, now there are about 2,500 North Dakotans."

North Dakota, eastern Montana and much of the Northern Plains have been losing population for almost 100 years, ever since "a freakish spell of above-average rainfall" ended, leaving many settlers, high, dry and hungry. "One of the few bright spots in the long, dismal depopulation of the region has been a boomlet of tourism triggered by the 200th anniversary of the Lewis & Clark Expedition," Harden reports, quoting Borlaug: "For generations North Dakota hasn't really been on anyone's screen. Now we are one of the last best places that people can't wait to get to. The heart and soul of tourism in North Dakota is heritage travel, with Lewis and Clark at the core."

Dayton Duncan, author of books about Lewis and Clark and the writer and producer of a Ken Burns documentary on the expedition, told Harden, "Two hundred years later, the main hope of these places for the present and for the future is capitalizing on memory of the past." (Read more)

Friday, Nov. 4, 2005

Rural areas' share of military recruits is double their share of the population

New Pentagon data shows that in order to sustain combat in Iraq, the military is recruiting heavily from economically depressed, rural areas where job needs may outweigh the risks of going to war, reports Ann Scott Tyson of The Washington Post.

Pentagon figures show more than 44 percent of recruits come from rural areas, which have 22 percent of the nation's population. "In contrast, 14 percent come from major cities," Tyson writes. "Youths living in the most sparsely populated ZIP codes are 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent)."

The data indicate half of today's recruits come from lower middle-class and poor households. Nearly two-thirds of Army recruits last year came from counties where the median household income is below the U.S. median, writes Tyson. This year, the Army recruited its least qualified group in a decade, as measured by educational level and test results. Military sociologists believe more young people who would have joined for economic reasons are being discouraged by the prolonged combat.

Tyson writes of recruiting in southern Virginia, around Martinsville, where "jobs ... are scarce as NASCAR fans are plentiful," and which "is typical of the lower-income rural communities across the nation that constitute the U.S. military's richest recruiting grounds." Data shows unemployment in Martinsville was 12.1 percent in 2004. The median income is $27,000 and the poverty rate is 17.5 percent. (Read more)

Double-edged sword: Cold-medicine laws cut meth lab busts, create smuggling

States are seeing mixed results after enacting laws to restrict sells of cold medicines with the methamphetamine ingredient pseudoephedrine.

Kentucky police reported 12 meth lab busts in September, compared to 41 during the same month last year. However, Lt. Gov. Steve Pence cautioned that while the new law may be affecting meth labs, it is likely to drive dealers and users to import pseudoephedrine or the drug itself. No data was available on what smuggling has occurred in recent months, writes Michael Lindenberger of The Courier-Journal.

Gale Cook, a prosecutor in Kentucky's Calloway County, has seen a rise in the amount of crystal meth, a purer form of the drug usually produced in other states or in Mexico. People are also buying cole medicines with pseudoephedrine in neighboring states without similar restrictions, Cook told the Louisville newspaper. (Read more)

Missouri has seen a decline in meth lab busts since passing its cold medicine law in July. The state's amount of meth lab busts in August was half that in August last year. However, pseudoephedrine is being imported from Illinois, the only state bordering Missouri without a pseudoephedrine law. Arkansas has such a bill pending, writes Julia Metelski of the Southeast Missourian. (Read more)

Ken Carter, director of the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, said his state's lab busts are down and imports are the problem, which means more resources are now devoted to stopping the latter. "Instead of spending 80 percent of our time on 20 percent of the problem, now we can spend 80 percent of our time on 80 percent of the problem," he said. Iowa's new meth law took effect in May and 668 meth labs have been busted this year, compared to 1,243 at the same time last year, writes Dan Gearino of the Sioux City Journal. (Read more)

The Rural Blog has recently reported on another meth trend, the disruption caused in families. To read a new Associated Press story, Meth crisis strains social service network, click here. To read a story by Lorna Thackeray of the Billings Gazette, Meth epidemic fuels rise in 'parentless' families, click here.

Congress approves horse-slaughter ban; permanent ban possible, says supporter

The U.S. Senate has given gave final approval to the fiscal 2006 agriculture appropriations bill, which includes a ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption.

"President Bush is expected to sign the measure, which would close the only three horse slaughterhouses in the country. They killed an estimated 65,000 horses last year for the dinner tables of Europe and Asia. They would have four months to close from the day Bush signs the bill," writes James R. Carroll of the Washington bureau of The Courier-Journal.

Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky's 1st District told the newspaper, "There's no reason for us to be paying these inspection fees for foreign-owned companies exporting this meat for human consumption to Europe." The ban will last until Sept. 30, 2006. Whitfield and his allies want to make the ban permanent and said strong bipartisan support indicates that might be possible. (Read more)

Nancy Perry, vice president of government relations for the Humane Society of the United States, said horse slaughter "has been a very convenient solution" for unwanted animals. "Those horses will find their way to another purpose or a more humane end," she said. Jay Truitt, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, told Carroll the ban is "a shortsighted approach" and the slaughter of horses "is a process that is well-regulated -- a lot of people are keeping an eye on it."

FCC moving to accelerate broadband deployment; citizens group applauds effort

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed rules that seek to promote broadband deployment by ensuring local franchise laws do not hamper the rollout of new technologies that allow new cable providers to enter the market.

Wayne Brough, chief economist and vice president for research with the less government advocacy group FreedomWorks, said, "With this rulemaking, the FCC has the opportunity to ensure that unreasonable barriers to entry do not deter competition in the provision of cable services," writes Christ Kinnan of Freedom Works in a press release on U. S. Newswire.

Brough adds, "Technologies exist today that can bring innovative products and new services to households across the country. Unfortunately outdated laws that were designed to regulate yesterday's technologies are keeping these developments out of the hands of the consumer. The existing franchising process can make it difficult to deploy broadband networks, leaving consumers with fewer choices and limited technologies." (Read more)

Georgia lawsuit over school funding moves ahead; rural schools pushing it

Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Long has give the green light to a lawsuit challenging the state school financing system's reliance on local property taxes. The suit was filed by parents and educators in mostly rural districts with low tax bases.

"The state had asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that court intervention would usurp the Legislature's authority. Long rejected that argument. The school districts bringing the suit — 51 systems, mostly in rural Georgia — contend that the state's system of funding schools fails to provide all children with an adequate education," writes Patti Ghezzi of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

William Hunter, president of the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia, told Ghezzi, "We do not believe adequacy means spending the same in every county We think the floor should be adequacy." State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox told reporters, "We're disappointed in [the] ruling and will continue to defend our current funding formula." Rural schools in Kentucky and other states have won similar lawsuits and restructured their funding systems. (Read more)

Is intelligent design 'bad science, religion' or balanced teaching?

A literary essayist writing in The Revealer, a daily review of religion and the press, contends that "intelligent design" is more than bad science, it is arrogant human presumption bordering on blasphemy. In Malevolent Design, pegged to the lawsuit that was submitted to a judge today, J. M. Tyree writes:

"America's new Scopes trial pits the Dover, Pennsylvania, School Board and ... the Intelligent Design movement against the established body of science. But in a nation where 65 percent of the population thinks evolution and creationism should be taught side-by-side, and where only 26 percent believe that all life descended from a single ancestor, the media spectacle would appear to benefit the creationists. For them, victory would be more publicity, the generation of a fake controversy in which there are two sides with competing theories -- the fair and balanced approach to scientific knowledge. If there is a controversy over Intelligent Design ... then the scientists have already lost." (Read more)

American Civil Liberties Union attorney T. Jeremy Gunn likens intelligent design to religion masked as science. "The most active proponents will say it is a science, not religion," Gunn told Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal. Among lay people, Gunn said, "the overwhelming number of supporters of intelligent design support it because it's religious." The ACLU represents parents challenging the Dover school board's decision to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. (Read more)

On the other side of the debate, Stephen Burnett of The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, Ky., envisions teaching both intelligent design and evolution as the best approach. "The ID movement is very different from belief in biblical creation, and many people, on either side of the debate, ignorantly equate ID with creationism," Burnett wrote in a column Wednesday. "Talking about a designer only won't directly lead people to the Christian faith; it only opens the possibility to further conversation about biblical creation. You'll find plenty of people willing to do that," he concludes.

King of the hill? A West Virginia mogul influences politics, attracts critics

West Virginia native Don Blankenship is president and CEO of Massey Energy, the state's main coal priducer, and is using his money to support political candidates and initiatives. Is Blankenship a "king maker or kingdom breaker?" asks the West Virginia Public Broadcasting program Outlook. The program explores Blankenship's methods and offers opinions from his supporters and critics.

"If Don Blankenship didn't have millions of dollars, he would be the person you'd avoid in the grocery store," says Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers. "But because he brings millions of dollars to the table, people have to listen because he'll sue you. If he doesn't sue you, he'll run some ads that make you look bad or he'll run ads that change people's opinion. That's the reality of the situation."

"Don Blankenship isn't pulling any punches and isn't being secretive about that," says state House Delegate Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson). "He says it up front. 'If you vote this way, you're voting against what the people of West Virginia want. We think we have a better way to do it and we're going to find a candidate and utilize that against you.' That's the way it works. That's the way it should work."

The Blankenship program will be shown at noon Sunday on West Virginia PBS. West Virginia Public Radio will air the program twice on Monday at 3:30 p.m. and at 9 p.m. (click here for a preview)

Montana farmers hope to mimic Canadian irrigation system, revitalize crops

"Taber (Alberta) calls itself a 'Great Place to Grow;' Chester is the 'Heart of the Hi-Line' on Montana's northern farm belt. Yet since homesteaders settled the plains, the two communities have fallen on dramatically different fortunes. What makes Taber tick, while Chester struggles to survive? In a word, irrigation," writes Karen Ogden of the Great Falls Tribune.

Chester farmers are hoping to mimic an irrigation project that 87 miles away turned southern Alberta's semidesert into a profitable land full of crops. Taber (pop. 7,700) is home to a booming food-processing industry and is having a hard time finding people to can all its produce. On the other hand, Chester (pop. 871) is no stranger to people leaving town, the tax base eroding and crops dwindling. In an effort to fix problems, the 45-member strong Chester Irrigation Project secured a $100,000 Renewable Resource Grant through the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to fund a feasibility study on pumping water from Tiber Reservoir to 20,000 to 40,000 acres in the Chester area. The reservoir is 13 miles southwest of town, but the project could run $48 million, notes Ogden.

In turn, Chester farmers could avoid the kind of scenario that occurred during a 2001 drought, when work virtually ceased to exist. Since producers had little or no fertilizer or fuel to mitigate the drought's effects, they relied on insurance to help cover their losses. Taber's irrigation system prevents the failure of one crop from destroying the entire economy. Also, irrigation creates processing jobs that both fuel and diversity the economy, reports Ogden.

Chester's biggest challenge may be paying for electricity. "The initial plan calls for pumping the water up more than 250 feet to a hilltop from where a gravity-fed system would deliver it to the farms in the district. To buy electricity at the local rate, the farmers would pay roughly $100 an acre, which is prohibitively expensive. An alternative is to become a 100 percent federally funded project, which would qualify the district for significantly reduced power," writes Ogden. (Read more; subscription required)

New Hampshire farm interests want feds to keep supporting extension, research

A gathering of some 42 agriculture experts from across New Hampshire last week produced consider grist for the Congressional mill as it considers the 2007 Farm Bill, state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor reports in his weekly Market Bulletin.

"At the top of the list [of recommendations] was providing adequate federal support for Cooperative Extension, land grand agricultural experiment stations and research, a them that ran through comments of a majority of presenters," Taylor reports. "Maintaining a strong land grant extension structure was termed critical to keeping ... producers competitive in the marketplace, and in developing the next generation of successful farmers. "It was also identified as important to forest industry, which relies on education and research to assure sound woodland management and supporting a variety of other concerns." For Taylor's column, go to this Web site and click on "Commissioner's Column."

Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005

Alaska launches first statewide initiative in U.S. to combat rural poverty

The Alaska Federation of Natives and the Denali Commission have launched an initiative to spur economic development in rural Alaska by soliciting creative ideas from entrepreneurs across the state.

The initiative is modeled after a successful rural development project designed for developing countries - the Development Marketplace, founded in 1998 by the World Bank. The program has invested more than $34 million in more than 800 projects around the globe in the last seven years.

Federation President Julie Kitka said the competition "is based on a model used in countries around the world facing similar poverty and unemployment challenges," reports Sitnews of Ketchikan. (Read more)

Competition is open to all Alaskans. Organizers are seeking creative ideas designed to stimulate economic growth in rural areas. Proposals are due Dec. 15. The theme is "Culture and Development," and includes everything from cultural tourism to the use of technology in rural Alaska. Applicants will compete for a share of $200,000 in seed money, entrepreneurial training and business plan coaching. AWeb site has details. Partnership forms and applications can be downloaded from the site.

Rural policy scholar decries House cuts in anti-poverty programs

It might be called economic piling-on for anti-poverty programs when budget cuts greater than needed follow war, storms, and tax-breaks, according to a Rural Policy Research Institute fellow.

"Scrambling to pay for tax cuts, wars and hurricanes, the House and Senate agricultural committees last week cut funding for several programs important to rural and urban America. The actions came as part of the budget reconciliation process, which forces Congress to trim $3 billion from agricultural and related
spending over the next five years. Sadly, both Committees rejected a better way," writes Thomas D. Rowley in his latest column. He then itemizes the programs and the proposed cuts, including $1.07 billion from commodity programs; $760 million from conservation programs; $446 million from rural development programs and $844 million from food stamps.

"Why the House committee members felt the need to cut more than the required $3 billion is anybody's guess, but in doing so they clearly gored more oxen," Rowley writes. "The hungry, better energy sources, and future be damned."

Rowley cites National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research Executive Director Tom Van Arsdall who said, "They're taking away our ability to meet future challenges. This is not the right way to lay the groundwork for the future. We're living off our past investments. If that dries up, we'll pay in much bigger ways. I'm not sure who they're counting on to take care of us. Our competitors?" (Read more)

WiMax gives rural areas hope; broadband subsidies in New Mexico, England

Access to the Internet is the way for rural areas worldwide, some with government backing, to move from the mire of poverty, according to news reports from Georgia, New Mexico and Great Britain.

A Georgia conference yesterday heard about WiMax, "a new wireless technology [that] promises to revolutionize rural America the way rural electrification did during the 1930s," reports Elliott Minor of The Associated Press. "Everything that's happening in Tier 1 cities will happen in rural America," said Matt Stone, co-founder of Civitium of Alpharetta, Ga., which is working on a public wireless network in Philadelphia. Minor writes, "With the advent of WiMax, which has a longer range and transmits more data than Wi-Fi, it should now be possible to unwire rural America, Stone said." (Read more)

Mike Tumolillo of The Albuquerque Tribune writes, that a New Mexico agency raised telecom bills to subsidize rural service (read more), and a British agency issued a contract for a government-subsidized rural broadband system."

The European Commission said the British subsidy "was not likely to cause undue distortion of competition within the Single Market [of Europe] and was therefore compatible with EC Treaty state aid rules," writes Tim Richardson of The Register, of Great Britain. EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the "rural nature and geographical remoteness of the concerned areas make them an unattractive goal for investment by broadband service providers." (Read more)

Wal-Mart to sponsor debate tomorrow on company's economic impact

Rebounding from a barrage of criticism that the world's largest retailer is bad for the American economy, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has organized a debate about itself.

"In an unusual move, Wal-Mart is sponsoring a gathering of noted economists who will debate the company's impact on the economy and individual communities. The session, to be held Friday [tomorrow] in Washington, is Wal-Mart's latest step in a campaign to appear more open and repair its reputation among investors, politicians, employees and consumers," writes Anne D'Innocenzio, a business writer for The Associated Press.

The economic conference, to be attended by about 80 people from the press and academia, is considered a risky strategy, writes D'Innocenzio. She notes that "some unflattering assessments of Wal-Mart are expected to be presented, according to papers obtained by The Associated Press." Jerry Hausman, economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told D'Innocenzio, "some of Wal-Mart's labor practices are questionable." A study by Hausman found Wal-Mart's entry into the food business has forced supermarkets to lower their prices by 5 percent more than planned, straining their profitability, she writes.

Critics have argued Wal-Mart's low-cost model costs the economy by driving down pay and benefits at other companies that try to compete. "The retailer's low benefits have also forced employees to rely on Medicaid as a safety net, squeezing state coffers, they say. Opponents also believe that Wal-Mart destroys communities and creates retail sprawl," writes D'Innocenzio. (Read more)

Peabody capitalizes on natural gas needs with Illinois coal-to-gas plant

The nation's biggest coal company plans to build a plant in Illinois that transforms coal into natural gas.

Peabody Energy Corp. has formed a partnership with ArcLight Capital Partners LLC. ArcLight would not say how much it is investing in the project. Peabody said the plant is in the early stages of development and declined further comment, writes Christopher Leonard of The Associated Press.

Rich Bonskowski, a geologist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration, told Leonard that turning coal into natural gas has been gaining interest among investors as natural gas and oil prices climb. About 90 percent of all U. S. coal is sold to utility companies to generate electricity.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation in June that removes regulatory obstacles to build such plants. Power Holdings of Illinois LLC told AP it plans to begin construction in 2007 on a $1 billion, privately financed gasification site southwest of Mount Vernon, Ill. (Read more)

USDA moves to ease backup in grain transport on Mississippi River

The government has stepped-up efforts to unload hundreds of Mississippi River barges carrying crops damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

"The Agriculture Department plans to spend $7.6 million for private contractors to get 175 barges back in circulation and reduce the backlog on grain shipments following the storm," writes Sam Hananel of The Associated Press. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said, "It is critically important to have barges available during peak grain harvest season and our goal is to quickly unload barges so they can be reloaded with newly harvested grains."

Farmers are feeling the effects of fewer barges available to move their corn; higher shipping costs and lower prices for farm commodities, Hananel notes. Gulf Coast ports are operating at about two-thirds capacity, slowed by a shortage of labor to unload barges and turn them around. About 60 percent of the nation's grain is transported on the Mississippi River. The USDA has already spent $10.7 million on private contractors to unload more than 100 barges over the past two months. (Read more)

Seven decades dry, Ohio town's alcohol referendum shows growing pressures

Challenges to so-called "dry laws" are increasing throughout Appalachian communities and an increasing number of the ordinances are falling to economic forces, reports West Virginia Public Radio.

"Even before Prohibition in 1920, several counties and even some states prohibited the sale of alcohol. After Prohibition ended in 1933, many communities passed dry laws that remain today, but there are increasing efforts to overturn some of these laws," reports WVPR's Keri Brown.

Brown's point of departure, in a comprehensive review of a number of communities facing this dilemma, focuses on Belpre, Ohio, across the Ohio River from Parkersburg, W.Va. Belpre "has been dry for more than 70 years, but an effort is underway to change that," she notes. "On Nov. 8, Belpre voters will decide whether or not alcohol is to be sold in one section of town. It’s a controversial issue that has many business owners up against the mayor," Brown reports, talking with pro and con forces caught in the crunch between long standing social morays and increasing economic pressures. (Read more / hear report)

Direct sales, end of federal program turning tobacco warehouses' lights out

"His customers have dwindled and his profits have disappeared, yet Jerry Rankin will open his tobacco auction warehouse this month, as his family has done for decades. The 64-year-old burley warehouse owner is among the few survivors in a business that's been bypassed by major tobacco companies that now purchase leaf directly from farmers. And many growers have gotten out of tobacco entirely, thanks to a $10.1 billion buyout of the Depression-era federal tobacco price support program, writes Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press bureau in Louisville.

Schreiner reports that as the fall sales season comes, "nine auction warehouses plan to open in Kentucky, down from 96 six years ago. Three burley warehouses were also slated to open in Tennessee, and one each in North Carolina and Virginia." Most leaf is now grown under contract with such major tobacco companies and many growers have gotten out of tobacco following a $10.1 billion buyout of the federal tobacco price support program. The buyout also meant the end of federal price supports that virtually guaranteed growers a profit, but now contracts with companies are a crop's only guarantee.

But Rankin believes his Farmers Tobacco Warehouse in Danville, Ky., gives growers an option for selling their leaf, telling Schreiner, "It's much better to have two choices than one." During the peak days of auction sales, more than 8 million pounds of leaf sold at his warehouse. This year, he estimated it might be 2.5 million pounds. Government forecasters set burley production at 135 million pounds in Kentucky as of Oct. 1, down 35 percent from last year. This burley harvest this year will cover about 75,000 acres statewide, compared to 106,000 acres last year. (Read more)

Agritourism, maximizing tobacco money talked as Women in Agriculture meet

The sixth annual Kentucky Women in Agriculture conference kicked off yesterday in Owensboro with workshops on agritourism, drawing tourist dollars to the state's farming industries, and making the most out of tobacco buyout money.

One attendee, Bonnie Sigmon of Rockcastle County, drove more than 270 miles to attend this year's event. Her family owns 300 acres that produce goats, hogs, cattle, pumpkins and row crops. The diversified operation features a corn maze and fall festival as well, reports Renée Beasley Jones of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

Annette Heisdorffer, Daviess County extension agent for horticulture and a committee member for the agritourism workshop, told Jones, "[Small businesses on the farm] allow women the opportunity to raise families but add income to the family farm." The annual event rotates among Louisville, Lexington and a city in western Kentucky. (Read more)

Students to learn about investing; eight schools win grants to play reality game

The Kentucky Council on Economic Education has awarded eight schools grants for a program in which students invest simulated dollars in order to learn how investing and the free-market economy work.

The schools have qualified to play The Stock Market Game at no cost. The council awarded each school a grant to enroll 100 or more students in the market simulation. The winning schools are: Butler Traditional High School and Iroquois High School of Jefferson County, Bath County Middle School, Graves County Middle School, Warren Central High School, West Hardin Middle School, McKell Middle School in Greenup County and T.K. Stone Middle School of Elizabethtown.

Each school will schedule an event. "The events will offer parents, administrators and the business community the opportunity to observe student accomplishments," wrote the council. The program is underwritten by J.J.B Hilliard, W.L. Lyons inc., a Louisville-based brokerage firm. For more information, visit the council's Web site. The council is a nonprofit affiliate of the National Council on Economic Education. For more, visit their Web site or call 1-(800)-I-DO-ECON.

Rural Calendar

Nov. 7-8: Home-based business workshop starts Monday at Natural Bridge Park

A two-day home-based business seminar at Natural Bridge State Park in Slade, Ky., for those wishing to start or to expand their business, is set for next Monday and Tuesday - Nov. 7-8. The event will focus on home-based craft, basketry, tourism and heritage skills businesses.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Southern and Eastern Kentucky Tourism Development Association along with the Barnhart Fund for Excellence will present a "Home-Based Business Workshop." Registration begins at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7, and the workshop
will conclude at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 8.

For more information contact your local Extension Service office. The cost is $15 per person. Discounted room rates are available by contacting Natural Bridge State Resort Park at (800) 325-1710. Be sure to mention that you are attending the workshop.

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

Experts tell farmers future is now; 'unwired' high-tech at root of success

Experts speaking at the University of Georgia's Unwired 2005 Conference say a technological revolution is about to occur in U.S. agriculture, allowing farmers to complete chores from laptop computers in their homes or tractors.

David Bridges, assistant dean of the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences told the gathering "wireless is the technology of the present," and, he added, "If we don't bring technology to rural areas, they won't advance."

The conference focused on wireless technology to improve farm efficiency and high-speed wireless connectivity to enhance the lives of rural residents, with most limited to slow-speed dial-up internet connections, reports The Associated Press.

John Helm, director of a Spokane, Wash., company that makes high-powered wireless equipment, said, "We all like the convenience of our mobility. It's an amenity that's required. In our culture, we realize how much more we can do when we're connected." The conference attracted about 100 wireless experts from around the nation. (Read more)

Iowa city to vote on municipal Internet; broadband option being considered

"Communities from San Francisco to Manassas, Va., are vying for answers to a question: How should our citizens gain access to broadband Internet?" writes R.C. Balaban of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.

The Federal Communications Commission reports that high-speed Internet service lines increased by 34 percent to 37.9 million lines in 2004. Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute in Washington, D.C., said Internet access now plays a key role in where businesses locate. "Businesses are now saying they would rather have good connectivity than an educated, available work force," Shark told Balaban. (Read more)

On Tuesday, voters in Waterloo, Iowa, will vote on the establishment of a municipal utility. Members of Opportunity Waterloo, a group that supports the referendum, contend that the available high-speed Internet connections are inadequate, but the group's exact solution is still up for debate, reports Balaban.

Broadband over power lines provides Internet access by using existing utility lines. "There certainly is a possibility there, but there are some drawbacks as well," Ross Christensen, with Opportunity Waterloo, said. The biggest drawback is that broadband must be provided by utilities with access to the power lines. Broadband is seen as a viable option for rural communities with limited Internet access, writes Balaban.

Tax dilemma 'alarming' for telecommuter living in Tennessee, columnist writes

Thomas Huckaby works for a New York firm via the Internet, but he lives in Tennessee. New York wants to tax him because he's paid by bosses in New York. Now the nation's highest court's refusal to hear the case has opened the door to increased telecommuter taxation, says a PoynterOnLine.com columnist.

"Just as high commuting prices and the flu season are making telecommuting more attractive, the U.S. Supreme Court [has thrown] millions of 'telecommuters' into a tax tizzy," writes Al Tompkins in his Al's Morning Meeting column. Tompkins cites the The Wall Street Journal, which explained, "Some 9.9 million people work at home full- or part-time for employers other than themselves, according to the Telework Advisory Group at WorldatWork, an association for human-resources professionals. ... Tax issues may arise over which state or states can tax a worker's income." (Read more)

New York's highest court ruled Huckaby owed taxes on all of his New York income. He had spent only about 25 percent of his time in New York and the other 75 percent in Tennessee. Nicole Belson Goluboff, a telecommuting law expert, told Tompkins, "Any state might find this attractive and go ahead and start taxing nonresidents." Other states, including Pennsylvania and Nebraska, already have similar rules.

U.S. educators: Reduce the number of high school dropouts or lose money

"The United States could recoup nearly $200 billion a year in economic losses and secure its place as the world’s future economic and educational leader by raising the quality of schooling, investing more money and other resources in education, and lowering dropout rates, scholars argued (in New York) last week," writes Alan Richard of Education Week.

The nation’s future health-care, crime, and welfare costs could be astronomical without making education improvements, reports Richard. “If we take that long to make the grade… the United States may be a colony of China by that time,” said Michael A. Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, which sponsored the conference.

Princeton University Professor Cecilia E. Rouse said that by high school dropouts posting lower earnings, the United States could lose about $158 billion in potential earnings. She said about half the dropouts keep regular jobs, compared with 69 percent of high school graduates and 74 percent of college graduates, notes Richard.

While reducing the number of dropouts might require additional programs and additional funds, Rouse argued that the nation would pay more in the long run by not fixing the problems. “We might not be able to afford not to” spend more on education, she said, reports Richard. (Read more; subscription required)

Modern farming: Is it time to leave exports, use surplus crops for biofuels?

Maybe the United States should ditch the commodity-export business and shift surplus corn and soybeans into biofuels production. That idea was one of many presented during the "21st Century Farm Policy" summit on Monday in Fargo, N.D. The summit was sponsored by North Dakota State University and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said the country's current farm program is "missing a permanent disaster component" that he wants to install. Peterson favors a disaster assistance system that would kick in the moment a county gets a disaster declaration. "They would have the account set aside where people would have the authority, and could make a payment and people would not have to wonder whether Congress would pass something or not," said Peterson, writes Mikkel Pates of the Grand Forks Herald.

Peterson also said exports haven't exactly been a "nirvana" for farmers. "Maybe we ought to take all of the corn and soybeans we now export, and maybe our goal ought to be that instead of exporting those bushels we should make them into fuel," Peterson suggested, reports Pates.

Economists countered Peterson's views. David Orden, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute and a professor at Virginia Tech, called for a farm program "buyout," similar to the buyouts for peanuts in 2002 and tobacco in 2004. Orden told reporters that a buyout would be better for farmers and eliminate the government's role. (Read more)

Black farmer charges racism in foreclosure; brother buys his home, small farm

After going $748,000 in debt, a Kentucky farmer was evicted from his land. The man's brother recently purchased some of the land in an auction to help pay off the debts, but the farmer is crying foul.

Charles Young Sr. paid $35,000 for one of 78-year-old Harry Young's pieces of property. Protesters chanted, "Don't sell his home." "The Department of Agriculture sold nearly 280 acres of farmland in Ohio and Daviess counties (Kentucky), which once belonged to Harry Young, for $543,750 during the auction in the parking lot at Jack's Barn," writes Ryan Garrett of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

The Farm Service Agency held the auction to end 13 years of legal wrangling. Four courts ruled that the department had given Young enough time to repay $453,000 in loans, reports Garrett. Farm Service Agency Director Jeff Hall said, "That'll be all we'll be able to recover at this point." Harry Young alleges racism and says he never received the FSA loans credited to him in 1979 and 1980.

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, told more than 100 protestors and bidders, "Harry Young is your neighbor. If you care about Harry Young, you'll get in your pickup truck and go home." Harry Young told reporters, "There's still some human beings in the world but you've sure got some ornery people." The head of the Louisville-based Justice Resource Center, the Rev. Louis Coleman, told Garrett, "This seizure of African-American farmers' property has to stop." Hall said civil rights reviews revealed "no indication that anything that has taken place has been improper." (Read more)

Winds of change: Mills may arrive soon for energy-obsessed U.S., says editor

As natural disasters strike the world this year and the spotlight and concerns crop up over relying on oil for energy, calls for utilizing renewable energy sources are getting louder. One rural newspaper editor foresees a future of giant wind mills dotting the landscape.

"Clearly, the clean, endless power of the wind will become a major factor in production of electricity in the future. That's not to say there aren't issues. Environmentalists are concerned about the relationship between flocks of migratory birds and giant wind blades, and many people don't relish the eye pollution of fields of giant machines dominating the landscape for miles around," writes Pete Graham of the Missouri Valley (Iowa) Times-News.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is offering an online wind energy assessment tool to aid farmers, and Minnesota public law requires that utilities offer customers "green power" that includes wind power.

"Wind energy is clean in the sense that it doesn't pollute the atmosphere or ground water and it is quiet and uses no finite energy sources to do its job. Presumably, the mills themselves consume petro-based energy during their manufacture, and it may be years before that cost is offset by the energy they produce. But, the expansion of wind power fields is rapid, so the pay-off will come sooner than many thought less than a decade ago," concludes Graham. (Read more)

Any decline in coal prices would spell closings, staff losses, say industry officials

A boom in coal demand created increased production and capacity, but companies are now bracing for a period of possible mine closings.

When coal prices slope downward, higher-cost mines are likely to shutdown almost immediately, said Michael J. Quillen, president and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources Inc. Coal fuels more than half of the country's electric production in the United States, but a growing economy and high natural gas prices are decreasing coal demand and prices. "Rising diesel, explosives and labor expenses contribute to increased costs for coal mines, and a decrease in coal prices could quickly make some of them unprofitable," writes The Associated Press.

"If prices come down by x-amount, the higher-cost mines are going to be closed immediately," Quillen told reporters. "This is going to happen much sooner than it did in the past."

Coal producers may soon start losing personnel, reports AP. Central Appalachia's largest producer, Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy, reports that more than two out of three first-year miners don't return for a second year. The key for the coal industry will be natural gas prices, said Keith Barnett, a managing director for forecasting at American Electric Power Co., the leading coal consumer in the country. (Read more)

Health officials say bird flu outbreak unlikely but precautions needed

A possible avian flu pandemic has prompted myriad news reports, and consumers have stocked flu medicines. Yet, no outbreak has occurred in the U.S. and health officials say one may never happen.

Kraig Humbaugh, state epidemiologist for the Kentucky Department of Public Health, told Nancy C. Rodriguez of The [Louisville) Courier-Journal, "We are concerned and we need to prepare for it, but it's not something we anticipate happening this season."

President Bush says the government will spend more than $6 billion to buy, stockpile and develop vaccines and anti-viral drugs to combat strains of the virus. Health officials fear residents might wrongly think seasonal flu vaccines offered by physicians, health departments and clinics work against avian flu.

Dr. Peter Krause at Baptist Urgent Care told Rodriguez, "I think there is an overwhelming fear. There's not a lot of answers coming from the government about what to do, and (patients) are reading horror stories about the possibility of millions of people dying." The bird flu has infected about 120 people worldwide, causing at least 62 deaths, all confined to Southeast Asia. (Read more)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch sheds 10 percent of team, including many senior staffers

One-hundred thirty employees, or about 10 percent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch work force, have accepted early retirement. That includes 40 jobs in the newsroom.

"Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises Inc. purchased the newspaper in June from Pulitzer Inc. Publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger said more employees than anticipated accepted the offer. The newspaper employs about 1,300 people," reports The Associated Press. The newsroom of 351 employees will lose about 12 percent of its workers through the early retirement plan. Lee Enterprises publishes 52 dailies and has a joint interest in six others. It also operates an online business and more than 300 weekly newspapers and specialty publications in 23 states.

Webster University adjunct professor Ed Bishop, an editor of the St. Louis Journalism Review, said in losing older workers, the newsroom risks losing much of its institutional memory. "I think a young reporter needs to be able to go to an older reporter and say 'What happened in the school district 20 years ago that puts today's decision in some sort of context?'"

Lee officials expect this move to save up to $7 million a year. The plan will cost Lee about $7 million in cash payments to the early retirees and about $10 million in pension enhancements and other post-retirement benefits. (Read more) Lee stock rose 10 cents to $39.31 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2005

Rural school registry aims to connect hurricane victims with humanitarians

The Rural School and Community Trust is trying to help rural teachers, students and families hurt by the Gulf Coast hurricanes -- nearly 200,000 students that attend 400-plus rural schools

On this Web site, you can identify rural schools, learn about their losses and needs, and then respond. Rural areas hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been largely invisible through the national media. More than two weeks after Rita hit rural Texas, 100,000 children were still unable to attend schools. In rural Mississippi and Louisiana, several schools are operating with with tarpaulin roofs and no textbooks, teaching supplies, or computers.

The Trust site provides these services: If your school or district has supplies, surplus furniture, or other items you can donate, you can directly contact a school in this registry and make an in-kind donation; your school or community club, church, or civic organization can hold fund raisers, and direct your donation with a letter to a specific school; and you, personally, can make a credit card donation online and direct it to a specific school, or if you prefer, tell us to send it where it is needed most.

Schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Texas that want to be added to the registry should email Page.McCullough@ruraledu.org.

Newspaper columnist says number of chicken houses 'a national secret'

An Oklahoma newspaper columnist wanting the number of chicken houses in his area's watershed, a possible pollution concern, ran into a government wall that appears to place chicken production in the closely guarded, and veiled realm of national security.

Dick Mayo of the Sequoyah County Times in Sallisaw, Okla., after finding a phone number that was not listed, asked the National Resource Conservation Service (NCRS) how many commercial chicken houses are located in the Big Sallisaw Creek watershed. Audra Fenton of the NCRS told him she didn't know and would have to get back to him. Mayo waited three or four days, called Fenton again and was asked, "What do you want this information for?" Mayo said he was speechless. Fenton provided the number of producers in the area, five, but as for the number of houses each had, she told Mayo, "I can't tell you that; that would be an invasion of their privacy."

Mayo was informed he needed to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request for any additional information. "Indicating to me," writes Mayo, "that chicken houses are a national secret." "Then I wondered: How does the USDA, one of the government's biggest statisticians, compile and print their numbers when they can't even release a count on commercial chicken houses in a small area of Sequoyah County, Okla.?" Mayo concluded.

We are inspired to reclassify the old joke "Why did the chicken cross the road?" because if we tell you the answer, we might have to kill you. And, it makes you wonder if Chicken Little was a spy.

Rural New Hampshire residents' revolt against 'view tax' spreading

David Bischoff's cabin in rural New Hampshire doesn't have electricity, running water, phone service or a driveway -- but it does have a wonderful view of distant mountains, making it seven times more valuable than if it had no view, with his property taxes shooting up accordingly, writes Katharine Webster of The Associated Press.

Bischoff and other Orford residents are calling it a "view tax," and they are leading a revolt against it which has spread to many rural towns in New Hampshire after Orford's latest town-wide property assessment. One reason the residents are so upset is because housing prices are shooting up in New England due to an influx of vacation-home buyers and retirees wanting the town's beautiful views.

"At a packed legislative hearing, Orford timberland owner Tom Thomson warned that unless the state acts, rising property taxes will force family farmers to sell to developers, permanently altering New Hampshire's rural character," Webster reports. "We're going to drive the people off the land who have been living on it and working it for generations," Thomson said. "It's going to destroy our No. 1 industry: tourism." Home appraisals in all states are supposed to reflect the property's market value, which takes into consideration the view and other aesthetic considerations, Webster reports. (Read more)

Kentucky coal costs cause anxiety; U.N. official surveys region's poverty

As a United Nations envoy wagged his finger at the U.S. for persistent poverty in Appalachia, one of the region's leading newspapers is reporting the problems created by high costs of the region's main resource.

"Kentucky had more than 12,000 coal-heated households in 2000, ranking second to Pennsylvania. Now, as if shoveling coal in the age of electricity isn't bad enough, there is another problem: The cost of coal in a five-county region of Eastern Kentucky has increased to an average of $100 a ton, from $60 a ton five years ago, including delivery," writes Alan Maimon of The Courier-Journal.

Howard North, owner of Kentucky Mountain Coal, told the Louisville newspaper he sympathizes with people who depend on coal for heat. "Their fixed income doesn't go up, but the price of coal does," North said. "It's going to be a sad situation this year." (Read more)

Arjun K. Sengupta, who works for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, toured Appalachia on Monday and said, "This is one country where there should be no poverty. It's a problem that can be solved." Sengupta says "social exclusion" keeps some Americans trapped in poverty. "Racism is one part of it," but whites in Appalachia also suffer from it, he added. Lexington Herald-Leader writer Frank E. Lockwood is covering the envoy's trip. (Read more)

Wal-Mart creates 'war room;' gets 'unprecedented favor' from Labor Dept.

Besieged mega-retailer Wal-Mart, after receiving volleys of criticism from all corners, has flexed its corporate muscle and hired major forces to staff a "war room" to help it counterattack critics. With today being "D" day -- documentary day -- this could possibly be the greatest test of this Maginot line strategy.

"Wal-Mart ... has quietly recruited former presidential advisers, including Michael K. Deaver, who was Ronald Reagan's image-meister, and Leslie Dach, one of Bill Clinton's media consultants, to set up a rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas," writes Michael Barbaro of The New York Times. Barbaro notes the first big challenge for the company's new strategy comes today with the premiere of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Director Robert Greenwald wants the movie shown in thousands of homes and churches over the next month. (Read more)

A new U.S. Department of Labor inspector general report says Wal-Mart received "significant concessions" from the wage and hour division with a settlement agreement last year over child labor violations, reports Amy Joyce of The Washington Post. Wal-Mart paid $135,540 for violations in which 85 minors ran hazardous equipment at stores in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Arkansas. (Read more)

N. Carolina professor promotes hemp as alternative cash crop in documentary

Appalachian State University communications professor Kevin Balling fed off his agriculture interest to produce the documentary Hemp and The Rule of Law.

Balling's fascination with using hemp as an alternative to growing tobacco came after he filmed farmers harvesting hay and tobacco. A group of farmers later sued the federal government for the right to grow hemp as a commercial crop. "I wanted to do a piece on rural America and on agriculture. I like to shoot farming activities, and tobacco farmers were looking for an alternative crop. Right about that time, I was reading about tobacco farmers in Kentucky who were suing the federal government for the right to grow hemp. Right then, I knew I had a story," Balling told Scott Nicholson of the weekly Watauga Democrat.

Although there have been efforts to legalize hemp at the state level, Balling said he feels the fight will not succeed until federal legislation is passed. Balling said legalization of hemp would just be the first step, because then farmers would have have to learn how to cultivate the crop, and industries would have to recognize its value. Balling foresees small mills located near fields to reduce transportation costs, and farmers converting fiber into paper and other usable goods. "It's a model of revitalizing rural America," Balling told the Boone, N.C., newspaper.

Hemp and The Rule of Law is currently being shown on the Dish Network's Free Speech TV and will air at 11 p.m. Nov. 5 on UNC-TV. (Read more)

Tree lovers hope new chestnut seeds resist fungus, restore species

The American Chestnut Foundation hopes to turn back time and return a long-lost tree to the Appalachian Mountains.

American chestnut seedlings thought to be resistant to a fungus that destroyed the species in the early 20th century are growing at the foundation's research farms. The seeds for a new generation of chestnuts could be ready for planting in three or four years. "This is potentially the greatest restoration program this country has ever seen and it's being done by science," Rex Mann, president of the foundation's Kentucky chapter, told Jim Jordan of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Should the chestnut be restored to Appalachian forests, that could lead to other threatened species being saved, Mann told foundation members from 13 states at the group's 22nd annual meeting. Kentucky boasts a large number of survivors from the chestnut crisis that started in 1904 and destroyed many of the trees by 1950. Mann said the survivors provided genetic material that researchers used to create a fungus resistant tree, reports Jordan.

Chestnuts once covered the landscape from Maine to Mississippi and reached amazing elevations in the Appalachian Mountains. Many grew to 10 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall. "Researchers estimate that chestnuts made up 25 percent of Eastern forests before the blight struck them down," writes Jordan. (Read more) For more information on the foundation and its work, visit its Web site.

Green is good, say advocates; W.Va. home buyers seek energy-efficient dwellings

West Virginians seeking new homes appear to be buying into the argument that "green construction" -- energy-efficient homes -- can save them big money, and they are finding more to choose from.

"Cheaper to heat and cool and healthier to live in, homes built according to green principles are drawing interest. More than 60,000 homes have been built in the United States under local green building programs since 1990, according to the National Association of Home Builders -- 14,000 of them in 2004 alone. Green is becoming an option for West Virginia home buyers, too," writes Pam Kasey of the State Journal, a Charleston weekly.

Ken Auvil of the Green Building Network"encourages buyers and builders to be more educated and selective about building options," writes Kasey. Auvil said, "Unless you ask your builder to build [energy saving] items in, he may or may not do it. If we build this house here and save these customers $30 a month, should builders not have a responsibility to help their customers achieve that?" (Read more)

Free expression advocate? U.S. Supreme Court nominee could fit the bill

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. boasts 15 years experience on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a relatively strong record of defending the First Amendment.

"A preliminary examination of his First Amendment opinions suggests that Alito is: (1) quite protective of several categories of expression, including religious and commercial expression; (2) far less protective of First Amendment claims raised by prisoners; (3) guardedly protective of First Amendment rights in defamation cases, and (4) generally concerned about prior restraints on expression," write Ronald K.L. Collins and David L. Hudson Jr. of the First Amendment Center.

Based on a review of Alito's record as a judge, he could provide the Supreme Court with a rare voice. "The Court, of late, has not been very speech protective," note Collins and Hudson. (Read more)

Rural Calendar

Kentucky Women in Agriculture Conference opens tomorrow in Owensboro

Women are taking on more leadership roles in agriculture and some of them should be on hand this week for a conference in Owensboro, Ky. "I think women are gaining more acceptance as time goes on," Terry Gilbert, president of Kentucky Women in Agriculture, told James Mayse of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. "The (agricultural) census shows there are more women who are sole owners or operators than there were 10 years ago."

The Kentucky Women in Agriculture annual conference starts Wednesday and ends Friday at the Executive Inn Rivermont. Seminar topics include business management, new and alternative farm products, federal programs and resources available to women farmers, working with legislators and government officials, marketing and other topics. Registration was due Oct. 20. More event details are available at http://www.kywomeninag.com/. (Read more)


Permission to reprint items from The Rural Blog is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to al.cross@uky.edu.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. It has academic collaborators at Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, and West Virginia University. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the University of Kentucky, with additional financial support from the Ford Foundation. To get notices of daily Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.


Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
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122 Grehan Journalism Building, Lexington KY 40506-0042

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

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Last Updated: Dec. 01, 2005