The Rural Blog Archive: September 2004

Rural issues, trends, events and journalism from Al Cross at the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004

Kerry’s not clicking in key rural areas, liberal magazine says

John Nichols of The Nation reports from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that President Bush could seal his re-election by carrying two or three of the states, all of which Al Gore carried against him in 2000, because John Kerry’s “hunt-club style has been all wrong for a region that likes its Democratic politics served up with a populist edge.” See

Nichols says unnamed “Kerry aides quietly admit they have a hard time plotting a realistic course that gets them to the White House without a strong showing” in the three states, but the Kerry campaign “still has a hard time understanding the politics of rural America,” such as the value of yard signs, a ground war Bush is winning. “Out here, if you don’t have yard signs up well before the election, people start to wonder how serious your campaign is,” Kerry worker Elfi Baltes told Nichols. His co-worker, Sarah Farkas, said, “The Kerry campaign keeps saying how important rural Minnesota is, but I’m not sure they get it.”

Kerry’s best surrogate, Nicholas says, is Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, whom he quotes: “The potential is there this year, as never before, for rural America to determine the outcome of this election.”

Kentucky, Michigan and Texas researchers to examine rural broadband

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded grants this week to the University of Louisville, Michigan State University and the University of Texas to determine “whether high-speed Internet connections revitalize rural America or create an electronic pipeline that drains vitality out of small communities,” as an MSU press release put it.

“High-speed Internet usage is lagging in rural areas even where it is available. We need to find out why that is. If we do not, rural Americans could fall into a new digital divide that will make them second-class citizens in an information society,” said Robert LaRose, a professor in MSU’s Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media. He is coordinating the $408,000 project.

“Broadband Internet access could help rural residents telecommute to urban jobs, market local products and services across state and national boundaries, and improve their access to education, recreation and government services,” the press release said. “But improved access could also supplant local merchants with e-commerce, provide a conduit for rural job seekers wishing to migrate to urban areas and import urban vices.”

The researchers will focus on four counties that USDA’s Rural Utilities Service has chosen for help with another broadband project. Rose will survey Huron County, Mich.; Jennifer Gregg of the University of Louisville will survey Pike County, at Kentucky’s eastern tip; and Sharon Strover and Joe Straubhaar of the University of Texas will survey Zapata and Zavala counties, on the Mexican border.

Martha Stewart will follow infamous footsteps at prison in rural West Virginia

The federal prison where domestic diva Martha Stewart will serve five months for lying about a stock sale was once the home of World War II traitors Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose and the two women who tried to assassinate Gerald Ford when he was president – Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va., reported today.

The story about Stewart is at The other story is at

The Beckley paper said it broke the story of Stewart’s assignment by the Bureau of Prisons to the minimum-security facility at Alderson in southeastern West Virginia. The Associated Press quoted an unnamed source on the assignment, which Stewart later confirmed by press release. Today's headline in Beckley: "Martha Stewart living ... soon in W.Va."

The AP story and a headline on, the Web site of the Arizona Republic, called the prison “Camp Cupcake.” The Beckley paper’s account: “ Described by Steve Canterbury, director of the state Regional Jail Authority, as ‘beautiful,’ the prison camp is known for its open environment. There are no metal fences surrounding the grounds. . . . Inmates at Alderson typically rise about 6 a.m. and work most of the day, making 12 to 40 cents an hour at jobs such as ground maintenance, sanitation and food services, a Bureau of Prisons spokesman said. . . . Prisoners sleep in bunk beds in nine large rooms that house between 26 and 90 inmates each, and there are no individual cells. Lights out is about 8:45 p.m. on weekdays, later on weekends.”

The Rural Calendar

Oct. 1: Deadline to register for Oct. 13-14 Appalachian Regional Commission conference in Abingdon, Va. on capitalizing on the values of culture, heritage and natural resources. Speakers include Gov. Mark Warner, Rep. Rick Boucher and ARC Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope. Concluding event: Ralph Stanley concert at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Va. For more information, go to

Oct. 1-2: Healthy Food, Local Farms Conference, University of Louisville. Speakers include commentator Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner. For more information, contact the Community Farm Alliance at

Oct. 1-2: National Conference on Job Loss and Recovery in Rural America will be held at the Southwestern North Carolina Agriculture Center and Farmers Market in Lumberton, N.C. tomorrow and Saturday. More info:

Oct. 4: Announcements in Whitesburg, Ky., by the new Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, including establishment of a Tom and Pat Gish Award in honor of the longtime publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg. More info:

Oct. 5: Summit for Civic Education at the Northern Kentucky University METs Center. This is part of an initiative of the National Conference of State Legislatures, supported by Congress and some state legislatures, including those in Kentucky and Utah, and Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. More info:

A brief hiatus

The Rural Blog will not publish tomorrow because of fall break at our home base, the University of Kentucky; or Monday, because of commitments in Whitesburg and elsewhere.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media set the public agenda in their communities and grasp regional issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. If the blog provides a useful tip or information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, go to

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004

Newspaper founded to capitalize on Bush presidency bites the hand that feeds it

The Web banner of the Lone Star Iconoclast newspaper in Crawford, Tex., proclaims that the town is “Home of George W. Bush,” but it endorsed John Kerry in its edition dated today, saying the president had failed to deliver on the promises that earned the publishers’ endorsement in 2000.

The long editorial said four things bothered it most about Bush: “His initiatives to disable the Social Security system, the deteriorating state of the American economy, a dangerous shift away from the basic freedoms established by our founding fathers, and his continuous mistakes regarding terrorism and Iraq.” It concluded, “The Iconolclast urges Texans not to rate the candidate by his hometown or even his political party, but instead by where he intends to take the country.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the weekly paper backed Bush in 2000, but the paper was not started until after the election, when the presidency was still in the hands of the courts. The weekly’s publishers, W. Leon Smith and Don Fisher, publicly supported Bush in 2000, according to Melanie Milbradt, marketing director of the Clifton Record, which Smith also publishes, in the town where he is mayor. Milbradt said in an interview with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues that she did not know whether the Record made an editorial endorsement of Bush in 2000.

Columbia Journalism Review reported on its Campaign Desk site in April that the Iconoclast has a circulation of 1,000, but Milbradt said the circulation is 425, about evenly divided between mail subscriptions and newsstand sales. CJR said Smith identified himself as a conservative Democrat and argued that “while the population of the state is largely Republican, most people don't really feel it in their soul.” The paper's Web site is

The paper’s name, fitting in the current context, is taken from the Iconoclast, which was published in nearby Waco in the 1890s. “Editor W.C. Brann, with a prose style like a pocketful of scorpions, feuded with Baylor University. One thrust led to another and, finally, to his death in an 1898 shootout,” Kent Biffle, then the Texana columnist for the Dallas Morning News, wrote in January 2001.

Many rural hospitals are facing financial squeezes

When the hospital in Sparta, N.C., announced that it would close its delivery room, the Winston-Salem Journal used it as a peg for a Sunday front-page story, “A Fiscal Trauma,” about the financial problems of rural hospitals, particularly in northwestern North Carolina. Reporter Sherry Youngquist led readers into the issue through the eyes of a store clerk expecting her first child:

Carmen Hall “began driving five minutes from her job as a store clerk to prenatal appointments at Dr. Harry Ervine's office in Sparta. It's across the street from Alleghany Memorial Hospital, a place she describes as being ‘hometown.’ It was one of the reasons that she wants to deliver her baby there. But these days, small and rural is an uncertain combination. She only recently learned that her child may be one of the last born there.”

For the whole story, go to:!localnews!regional&s=1037645509151

“It's a significant national problem. Clearly, there is evidence from around the nation that rural hospitals are closing. There is even evidence from large metropolitan areas that services are being curtailed,” an assistant dean at East Carolina University told Youngquist.

The Journal noted that rural hospitals tend to have more uninsured patients, and rely more on Medicare and Medicaid, which don't cover the actual cost of services. Congress moved to help rural hospitals by allowing them to get larger reimbursements if they qualify for “critical access” status. KAIT of Jonesboro, Ark., reported this week that without the program, most of the 21 Arkansas hospitals with that designation “ would be in the red.”

Rural hospitals in some other nations face similar issues. In Australia, rural doctors are asking the federal government “to guarantee enough funding to ensure small rural hospitals can keep their doors open,” reports The Age, of Melbourne.

Rural schools are behind in keeping up with No Child Left Behind, GAO says

Rural school districts need more help to comply with the No Child Left Behind education-reform law, the investigative arm of Congress said Tuesday.

“Rural district officials were more likely than non-rural district officials to report challenges presented by a large enrollment of economically disadvantaged students who may live in communities lacking resources such as libraries,” the Government Accountability Office, formerly known as the General Accounting Office, said in a release. “Rural districts also identified small school size and geographic isolation as greatly affecting their ability to implement NCLBA,” and also cited inadequate Internet access and facilities for training teachers.

A United Press International story published in The Washington Times referred to the law as “President Bush's landmark education reform measure,” but the Times’s headline was less kind: “Some children still left behind in rural schools.”

Newspaper's commentary makes it an object of teacher protests

Teachers upset with proposed changes in Kentucky’s state health-insurance plan protested at many locations in the state Monday, including the office of a Pikeville newspaper that had criticized their actions. The Associated Press reported:

“About 400 teachers gathered in a downtown park before marching to the Appalachian News-Express building. The newspaper had published an editorial criticizing the teachers' decision to take a day off work to protest rising health insurance rates. The headline on the editorial said "Suck it up."

How do you define 'rural'? Conference session will attempt to answer

The National Conference on Job Loss and Recovery in Rural America will be held at the Southeastern North Carolina Agriculture Center and Farmers Market in Lumberton, N.C. tomorrow and Saturday.

“One workshop will focus on how to define ‘rural’,” AP's Martha Waggoner reported. “Federal and state agencies across the country define the word differently, making it impossible to compare job loss in rural North Carolina to, say, job loss in Ohio.”

Leslie Hoffeld, an assistant sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, told Waggoner that a conference focused on rural jobs is needed because city development strategies may not work in rural areas. “Too often, people think, just urbanize rural. Let's implement what's going on in urban areas in the rural,” she said.

The conference is being coordinated by Jobs for the Future Collaborative, a public-private partnership in Robeson County that was organized by The Center For Community Action in response to the loss of jobs in the county. For more information, go to

Nebraskans fear population loss, official policies put lifestyle in jeopardy

“Rural Nebraskans have a deep respect for their communities and values, but also feel threatened that their lifestyle is in jeopardy due to declining populations and government policies that impact them,” AP reports.

That was among the findings of the Center for Rural Affairs, a small-farm advocacy group, at a series of “listening sessions” across the state.

”There's obviously a high level of concern with rural Nebraskans,” Chuck Hayes, director of special initiatives for the center, told AP. “We're losing populations. There's a concern that we may be losing local control, and that we need to form alliances with supportive urban friends.”

Hayes said the two issues of most concern were high property taxes and school funding, but water rights and water usage were also high on the list – and not just in the more aid western part of the state.

Government flood maps don’t keep up with changes in the landscape

WSPA (in Spartanburg, S.C.) produced a terrific story about outdated government flood maps,” Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute reported Tuesday in “Al’s Morning Meeting,” a tipsheet that is designed mainly for broadcasters but can be useful to all journalists.

“You should look into this,” Tompkins urged his readers. “As communities have changed over the last 20 years, our flood mapping has not kept up. Blacktop, concrete, and construction change the way water runs off and where it goes.”

Tompkins added, “Congress is giving the states money to update their maps. But it will be enough to do only about half of what's needed.” And he quotes the Federal Emergency Management Agency: “Many of the nation's flood maps are as much as 30 years old.”

Administration delays regulations until after election

Federal agencies are delaying many proposed regulations until after the Nov. 2 election, “when regulatory action may be more politically palatable,” The New York Times reported this week, at

“The delays come after heavy lobbying by industry organizations, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the cattle and feed industries, the four regional Bell operating telephone companies, big health care providers and timber and mining interests,” the Times reported.

Blog-o-bits for 9-29-04

Gun death rates are as common in rural America as in the country's biggest cities, a new study finds: That's largely because the rate of suicide by gun is higher in rural areas:

Ingenuity can preserve rural America, Midwest Voices columnist Blake Hurst writes in the Kansas City Star:

Does Bigfoot prowl the border of the Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee? Researchers came all the way from Russia to find out, reports The Herald-Citizen of Cookeville:[rkey=0032313+[cr=gdn.

R.W. “Johnny” Apple of The New York Times discovers the largest farmers’ market in America, in Madison, Wis.:

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media set the public agenda in their communities and grasp regional issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, go to

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2004

A map of the Bible Belt: State-by-state polling numbers on white evangelicals

White evangelical or “born again” Protestants make up about half the population in Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas, making those the leading states for a key political group in this year’s elections, according to polling data released today by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. Journalists covering politics and religion have been seeking such state-by-state data for some time.

Annenberg's surveys found that white evangelicals comprised 51 percent of the population in Tennessee, 50 percent in Kentucky, and 49 percent in Arkansas. The polls in Tennessee and Kentucky had error margins of plus or minus 3 percentage points, and the survey in Arkansas had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Alabama was close behind, at 47 percent, plus or minus 3 points. Annenberg's surveys began Oct. 7, 2003 and ended Sept. 13, 2004.

Other states where white evangelicals account for more than a third of the populations are: Mississippi, 46 percent (plus or minus 5 points); Oklahoma, 42 percent (+/- 4 pts.); North Carolina, 41 percent (+/- 2); Georgia, 41 percent (+/- 3); Indiana, 38 percent (+/- 3); South Carolina, 38 percent (+/-4); Missouri, 36 percent (+/-3); Kansas, 35 percent (+/-4); and Texas, 34 percent (+/-2).

West Virginia and 13 other states were not included in the list because they had too few respondents to analyze, Annenberg said. It provided error margins, but not the number of respondents, for each state. Figures from some other large or battleground states:17 percent in California, 23 percent in Florida, 24 percent in Michigan, 25 percent in Minnesota, 27 percent in Ohio, 31 percent in Virginia. Data is at

Monday, Sept. 27, 2004

Growing up gay in rural America

“I wake up and I try so hard to look at a girl,” Michael Shackleford told Anne Hull of The Washington Post. “I tell myself I'm gonna be different. It doesn't work.”

That’s the first quote in Hull’s multipart series, “Young and Gay in Real America,” that began in the Post on Sunday with a long piece titled “In the Bible Belt, Acceptance is Hard-Won.” The second story, "A Slow Journey from Isolation," ran today.

“He doesn’t exactly know how to be gay in rural Oklahoma,” Hull wrote in the first story of Shackelford, 17, of Sand Springs, a town of 19,000 west of Tulsa. “ He bought some Cher CDs. He tried a body spray from Wal-Mart called Bod. He drove 22 miles to the Barnes & Noble in Tulsa, where the gay books are discreetly kept in the back of the store on a shelf labeled ‘Sociology.’

“While the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael's America is still dealing with the basics. There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home?”

W.Va. rain gauges need fixing; so does perception of N.C. damage, locals say

As many residents of the Appalachian Mountains braced for another drenching by the remnants of a hurricane, the Morgantown, W.Va., newspaper reported that 40 percent of the Mountain State's rainfall gauges are not working properly, and western North Carolina’s major paper raised the prospect that earlier flooding and landslides could damage the region's important tourism economy.

West Virginia "has recently increased the resources necessary to properly maintain the equipment," a National Weather Service official told Mary Helen Hinchcliffe of The Dominion Post. "The state has recently put resources in to bring it up to acceptable levels," said Allan Rezek, the meteorologist in charge of the weather service's Charleston station. He said the gauges are critical to determine flash flooding, because radar estimates can be off by as much as half an inch. "During Ivan, as we watched the radar, we realized from the rain gauges that we were underestimating the rainfall," he said.

In Cashiers, N.C., Bonny Schley, owner of The Market Basket restaurant, told the Asheville Citizen-Times that "the real tragedies of the storm are the 11 fatalities. But the economic loss in Western North Carolina -- a region that relies heavily on tourism -- could be monumental. Frances and Ivan caused dozens of slides and washouts throughout the mountains, particularly in the far western counties. The storms left a half-dozen major roads and many more secondary roads crumbled and closed.”

The story by John and Ostendorff Boyle continued, “Along the Blue Ridge Parkway some spots might take months of work to become travelable. Damage to the roadway and camping facilities has totaled $14 million so far.” Economic-development officials say the economic impact is severe, but the biggest challenge is the mistaken notion that the damage is worse than it really is.

"What we're dealing is a misperception that you can't get to the mountains of western North Carolina, and that's simply not the case," Marla Tambellini, assistant vice president of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the newspaper.

Alabama governor and federal officials visit rural town that said relief was slow

"An area of rural south Alabama hammered by Hurricane Ivan had much of its power restored Friday as Gov. Bob Riley joined a top federal housing official in hard-hit Atmore, where food lines were growing smaller -- and the number of complaints fewer," The Associated Press reported.

"As attention focused on Ivan's devastating strike on Gulf beaches, Atmore officials last week had complained that relief efforts were slow in arriving. Ivan's 130-m.p.h. winds damaged the city and stranded residents in the torn-apart piney woods of Escambia County."

On Friday, though, "Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said Riley had telephoned him five times on Sunday, asking if any additional help was needed," and a community meeting "included comments by HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, the latest member of the Bush administration to tour the storm damage" from Ivan, AP reported.

Protesters cite death from boulder, call for better strip-mine control in Virginia

A hundred people from various parts of Central Appalachia walked two miles Saturday “in protest of coal-mining practices they claim endanger those who live near strip mines,” Kathy Still reports in the Bristol Herald-Courier.

“They donned black ribbons in memory of Jeremy Davidson, a 3-year-old Inman boy crushed to death last month in his sleep when a half-ton boulder from a strip mine rolled 600 feet down a mountain and burst through his bedroom wall. The boulder was dislodged as members of a work crew toiled in darkness to turn an access road into a coal-hauling road. They did not have a permit to do so.”

The protesters on the walk from Appalachia, Va., to the Inman community included state Delegate Bud Phillips, D-Sandy Ridge, who “has asked state mining regulators and Gov. Mark Warner to form a commission to study mining laws to find ways to better protect residents,” Still reported.

Nature Conservancy reverting 7,000 acres of Illinois farmland to wetlands

One of the largest reversions of river-bottom farmland to natural wetland is being undertaken along the Illinois River near Peoria, Stephen Kinzer of The New York Times reports today.

"There was a time when the country was growing so fast and we were so dependent on our own farming that it may have made sense to use land like this to grow crops," ecologist Doug Blodgett, who is directing the project, told the Times. "We don't need these flood plains for farming anymore, and in fact, keeping them in use as farms causes a whole range of negative environmental effects."

The Nature Conservancy bought the 7,000-acre farm for $18.5 million in 2000. "There have been a lot of wetland restorations over the last years, but it's mostly been on small plots of 50 or 100 acres," Donald Hey, a senior vice president of the Wetlands Initiative, told the Times. "We're showing that it can be done on a wide scale. This is a strategy that would have application in river basins from the Chesapeake to the Sacramento."

Peoria sees the project as a tourist attraction, Keith Arnold, president of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the newspaper: "We'll have interpretive centers, hiking, biking, and opportunities for fishing and hunting. There's a tremendous demand at the national and international level for nature tourism. Within a year from now, we'll be making Emiquon the centerpiece of our leisure travel marketing. It'll be the focal point to everything we do."

Appalachian group seeks recognition as American Indian tribe

About 200 residents of northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia who claim Native American heritage want official recognition as an American Indian tribe, Rain Smith reports in the Kingsport Times-News.

The story quotes Lee Vest of Kingsport, "chairman of Tribal Affairs for Appalachian Intertribal," who ancestors of the group hid out in the mountains during President Andrew Jackson's forced removal of Indians from the region. "We were assimilated into the white societies and are the remains of those people that hid," Vest said. "We hid our identity from the outside world for so many years, but we kept our traditions and heritage alive. We've never given that up."

Vest says the group wants recognition because "There are treaties with the United States government that say they will take care of some of our health needs. They will take care of our educational needs. These are the things we're looking forward to. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme where we want a casino. We want our due recognition. And we want these treaties honored."

Smith writes, "Vest would not stand out in a crowd as an Indian. Wearing blue jeans and a printed button-up shirt, the only hints of his heritage are the bulge beneath his shirt -- a medicine pouch around his neck - and his smooth, hair-free face. "Some of us have long hair. Some of us have short hair," she quotes Vest as saying. "Some of us have dark eyes. Some of us have light eyes or darker skin or so forth because we're a tribal mix. We've got a lot of mix in us."

USDA official suggested keeping milk prices high to help GOP in dairy states

"A senior economist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture has come under fire from Democrats and government watchdogs for suggesting that the Bush administration could maximize votes in key dairy states by keeping milk prices high through the election," Andrew Martin of the Chicago Tribune reported Saturday.

"Larry Salathe, a 27-year veteran of the USDA, also suggested that his agency would hold off on policies that could anger dairy farmers -- including proposing a new milk tax on them and eliminating a price support program -- until after the election. His comments, which critics contend may violate government ethics rules, came from an April 20 PowerPoint presentation to the American Dairy Products Institute in Chicago," Martin wrote, identifying Salathe as the agency's "lead economist on dairy issues."

The story said Salathe showed a slide about USDA goals "next to a drawing of an elephant and a donkey boxing. It went on to say the goal was to attract the maximum number of votes from major dairy states:
California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York and Michigan. The next slide said that could be done by maintaining "strong milk prices through market fundamentals, supportive policy actions."

Salathe insisted his presentation was "informational," and "was designed to note that politics would be a factor in the formulation of dairy policy over the coming year," Martin wrote. "The Agriculture Department said that the views expressed in the speech and presentation were Salathe's and not department policy."

Beckley newspaper takes a look at assault weapons, many now legal again

The Register-Herald of Beckley, W. Va., offered Saturday's readers a three-story package by Business Editor Fred Pace pegged to the recent expiration of the 10-year-old ban on certain assault weapons.

"The issue of guns has made its way into the presidential race, and many rural voters in all-important swing states of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania own guns. Some view extending the ban as a step toward more restrictive gun laws," the main story reported. "John Kerry supports extending the ban on 19 military-style firearms," while "President Bush said he would sign an extension of the ban, but didn't do anything to force Congress to bring it to a vote."

Another story offered explanations of why anyone would want an assault weapon, such as this from a gun dealer: "It's kind of like asking a car enthusiast why they would ever want to own a 425-horsepower, 1968 Corvette Stingray. There are many reasons, some objective, some emotional. All of them legitimate, at least to the driver. . . . They are noisy, fast and fun."

The other story cited a study showing that the weapons have rarely been used in crimes, but also cited arguments of gun-control groups that the percentage of gun crimes "involving assault weapons is disproportionately high."

Friday, Sept. 24, 2004

Mountain Eagle publishers to be honored at Oct. 4 event in Whitesburg

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues will give special recognition to a couple of “journalism heroes” when it announces details of its current progams Oct. 4 in Whitesburg.

The institute, based at the University of Kentucky, was created to help rural journalists set the public agenda in their communities and grasp regional issues that have local impact. Details of the mission will be announced at the Appalshop Theater at 91 Madison Ave. in Whitesburg, following meetings of representatives from UK and other universities cooperating in the effort. The public is invited to the announcement at 10:30 a.m.

Part of the institute’s mission is to recognize exemplary rural journalists, to provide examples for others to follow. As part of that effort, the institute will announce an award to be made regularly in honor of Tom and Pat Gish, publishers of The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg since 1958.

A personal note from your blogger: Tom and Pat Gish are journalism heroes. They exemplify the courage and tenacity that is often needed to render necessary public service in journalism, especially in rural areas. We hope this award will inspire others to emulate their service.

Republicans tell voters in two rural states that liberals want to ban the Bible

Voters in Arkansas and West Virginia are getting mailings from the Republican Party telling them to vote for GOP candidates because liberals want to ban the Bible, The New York Times reported today at

A party spokeswoman defended the mailer by saying that "activist judges" want to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance. The Times noted that conservative Christian commentators have cited the jailing of a minister in Sweden for a sermon denouncing gays as sinful.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Times, "We have the First Amendment in this country which should protect churches, but there is no question that this is where some people want to go, that reading from the Bible could be hate speech."

"Still," the Times story concluded, "Mr. Land questioned the assertion that Democrats might ban the whole Bible. "I wouldn't say it," he said. "I would think that is probably stretching it a bit far."

Wet-dry votes coincide with referendum on marriage amendment

Local-option elections, which can be among the most heated of political contests in small towns, are getting am extra dose of social-issue emotion in Kentucky this fall – a proposed constitutional amendment to ban legal recognition of civil unions.

“A church-backed group opposing legal sales in London . . . also will campaign for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, said Gene Huff, a Pentecostal minister, religious broadcaster and former state senator who chairs the group,” Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader reported this morning at

“Many people were interested in working for the marriage amendment before the alcohol vote was scheduled as part of the Nov. 2 election, so they decided a combined campaign was the most efficient and economical way to tackle both issues, Huff said.” He told Estep that both are moral issues and “fit together like hinges on a door.”

Other Kentucky localities that will vote on alcohol sales Nov. 2 are Williamstown, Franklin, Calvert City and Caldwell County. The question is whether to allow alcohol sales by the drink at restaurants that seat at least 100 people and get at least 70 percent of their revenue from food sales. Since legislation to allow such referendums passed the legislature in 2000, 36 formerly “dry” towns have become “moist.” Twenty have rejected the change.

USA Today is repulsed by homeland security appropriations, sometimes rural

“Congress is turning the war on terrorism into a vehicle for distributing pork back home. That may not be surprising, but it is, nevertheless, repulsive,” USA Today said in an editorial, "Pork crowds out funding for national security needs," at

The editorial noted that funding for the Department of Homeland Security has become tangled up in efforts to pass a drought-relief bill: “The Senate revealed the folly of a spending-as-usual mind-set when it approved the drought aid the same day it repeatedly rejected efforts to spend more on helping likely urban targets of terrorism — some of which are under code-orange alerts.

“Then, having limited the money available, it made sure the funds would be distributed in the most politically effective way. The formula it adopted is based on spreading the wealth all around rather than focusing on the biggest needs. Never mind that some out-of-the-way rural communities are having trouble figuring out how to gold-plate their firetrucks so they can spend generous grants they've already gotten.”

Recipe for Iraq: More helpers from Appalachia?

If your job is helping rebuild Iraq, an Appalachian background helps, Rick Clay of Campbells Creek, W. Va., told the Charleston Daily Mail in a story this week:

Clay, who was a program manager in the Ministry of Housing and Construction for almost a year, said his best training for the job was familiarity with West Virginia.

“If you're from Appalachia, you can relate,” Clay told reporter Brad McElhinny. “There's so much similarity. Our ability to go and be accepted in their culture was unbelievable. We will open our homes to anybody who needs it. We understand tribalism. Up in Campbells Creek, we refer to ourselves as ‘creekers.' They're dedicated to family. It's a connection I can understand.”

Pronunciation of “Appalachia” may depend on where you are

We have a rejoinder to Wednesday’s item about the pronunciation of “Appalachia,” based on a column from Kingsport Times-News columnist Vince Staten, who says we should say “ Appa-LATCH-a” rather than “Appa-LATE-cha.”

“I never heard Appalachia pronounced "Latcha" until a few years ago,” The Courier-Journal's Kentucky columnist, Lincoln County native Byron Crawford, writes in an e-mail to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. He says the other pronunciation “was there before Lyndon [Johnson] came, or VISTA, or the networks.”

Crawford thus disputes the contentions of Staten and Anita Puckett, director of the Appalachian Studies program at Virginia Tech University. Puckett has written that most “governmental, media and anti-poverty workers working in the region came from parts of the country” that use the “Appa-late-cha” form.

That form was favored by Walter Cronkite, and thus gained national acceptance, says Louisville lawyer John McGarvey, a former TV reporter and campaign press secretary to longtime Kentucky politician Wendell Ford. And that is the way it was pronounced by the fellow who answered the phone at the Appalachian Regional Commission’s office in Washington, D.C., this morning.

In Appalachian Southern Kentucky, your blogger grew up saying it the way Cronkite and the ARC guy say it, probably because the word was used largely by folks like them and “Appalachia” is not a word that natives of the region often use to describe it -- as Staten noted in his column.

But your blogger has changed his mind, and his pronunciation. On most maps of the eastern United States, there is only one place named Appalachia – the town in southwest Virginia. They say “Appa-LATCH-a,” so I’m now taking my cue from them. But I also suspect that in my home state, the other pronunciation is favored, so I’ll give my old colleague Byron Crawford the last word, with the transliteration he pefers:

“Appalachia sounds strong and pure and straight.  Appalatchia is watered down--like moonshine without enough moon.”

Wal-Mart, a chain with rural roots, leaves newspapers hungry for ads

Newspaper advertising has not kept pace with the economic recovery this year, and one reason is “the Wal-Mart effect,” Leon Lazaroff, a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, reported this week at,1,390613.story.

“Wal-Mart and stores like them don't simply advertise in newspapers the way traditional department stores do,” Deutsche Bank Securities media analyst Paul Ginocchio told Lazaroff. “Most troubling for newspapers is that this isn't going away. It's actually accelerating.”

Ginocchio is the author of a study which found that “big box” retailers like Wal-Mart generated 16 percent of retail sales 12 years ago, but now account for almost 50 percent. “That jump in market share, Ginocchio said, is the main reason retail advertising growth at the nation's newspapers is expected to be less than half the 4 percent that the industry forecast at the beginning of 2004,” Lazaroff reported.

“Unlike the country's department stores, which largely began in big cities, Wal-Mart grew in rural areas far from metropolitan centers. As the company expanded, it discovered it could drive sales through television advertising and monthly inserts in local newspapers. . . . For newspaper companies with large numbers of Wal-Mart stores in their markets, the drag on retail advertising has been greatest. Media General Inc., a newspaper chain based in Richmond, Va., and E.W. Scripps Co., based in Cincinnati, have been most affected, said the report.”

Rural tourism: Create an experience for visitors, bring the community together

“Rural tourism is hot. The beautiful thing about it is when it's planned right it not only brings tourists, but it also brings the community together,” Carol Kline told the Lenoir, N.C., Rotary Club recently, according to The News-Topic at

Kline is a professor at North Carolina State University and “an expert on ‘agri-tourism’,” the newspaper reported. “She advised those in attendance of the importance of creating an "experience," which is the true draw for tourists. Among the offerings that contribute to an experience are: people, food, entertainment, recreation, climate, history, arts and culture, she said, with the audience offering examples of what makes up the experience.

Asheville paper offers readers an interactive quiz about weather folklore

Fall has fallen, and winter weather predictions are staple items for many media outlets. The Asheville Citizen-Times says, “ Lots of folklore surrounds weather prediction. Some of the tidbits actually are accurate weather predictors. See if you can figure out which ones are true:

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media set the public agenda in their communities and grasp regional issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, go to

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004

Abandoned Mine Land tax expires in eight days, with much land unreclaimed

“The federal coal tax that funds the cleanup of abandoned mines is set to expire,” and some people in the coal fields fear that unless it is renewed, it may expire, leaving thousands of acres unreclaimed, Ken Ward Jr. reports in The Charleston Gazette:

Without action by Congress, the Abandoned Mine Land tax will expire Sept. 30. Imposed by the federal strip-mine law in 1977, the tax is 35 cents a ton on stripped coal and 15 cents a ton on coal mined underground-mined coal. The money was intended to be used to clean up coal mines that were abandoned before 1977, but has been used for other purposes.

The Gazette reported last month that more than $1.3 billion of the $7 billion collected “has been diverted to other projects,” including medical benefits for retired miners, “the cleanup of other industries’ messes, and lower-priority abandoned coal sites that do not pose health or safety threats,” Ward writes. “Also, across the coalfields, abandoned coal mines have gone unreclaimed because Congress has squirreled away nearly $1.7 billion of AML money to help the federal budget look more balanced.”

A Gazette editorial,, says today, “ President Bush wants Western mine owners to continue paying the coal tax, but funds would pay for clean-ups only in Eastern states. Representatives from Western states are not likely to go along with such a plan. A better proposal is one by West Virginia Rep. Nick J. Rahall and Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin. Their plan also preserves the tax and the fund for abandoned Appalachian mines. It would require states to follow goals of the original program: to put health-and-safety cleanups first. It would also keep a state like Wyoming interested by giving it more money from federal mineral leases.”

Ward reports, “ Twenty years ago, Wyoming started using its AML money to build schools, hospitals and roads, after promising it had cleaned up all of its abandoned mines. Now, though, state officials say that they have discovered millions of dollars of reclamation needs they didn’t notice before.”

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee attached a nine-month extension of the tax to next year’s Interior Department budget bill, at the behest of Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Byrd called the move a stopgap, pending more comprehensive legislation.

“Longtime AML supporters are especially concerned that, if the tax expires it might never be reinstated,” Ward writes. “Renewing an existing tax, they say, is much easier than enacting what would be viewed as a new one. Nearly a decade ago, the Congress let lapse a tax on crude oil and some chemicals that funded the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program. Today, that program is underfunded, is far behind schedule in cleaning up sites, and relies more and more on general revenue money.”

Rural voters promised little in presidential race, columnist says

Alan Guebert of, Minnesota’s rural Web magazine, decries the paltry treatment of rural issues in the major parties two platforms.

“The entire Republican farm platform is but three paragraphs of the party's 93-page, 48,000-word tome. The Democratic counterpart is brevity itself, one paragraph of the party's 41-page snore,” Guebert writes at

“Since the GOP farm plan is lengthier, it holds more soft soap. U.S. farm and ranch families, according to the Republicans, embody "the best values of our nation: hard work, love of the land and love of our country." Now that's blue-ribbon schmoozing.

“The Democratic platform writers, however, turn schmoozing into losing in just eight words: ‘Small towns are at the heart of America, but today, they are often losing people, jobs and hope.’

“After that opening downer, the Dems turn to what they do best; they get supportive,” Guebert writes, but fail to offer specifics in how they will invest in “rural technology” and “sustainable farming methods.”

The Democratic platform likewise says, “We will make ethanol credits work better for farmers” and work “to eliminate hunger in our rural and urban communities.”

The Republican document endorses “efforts to expand the use of biodiesel and ethanol” and says, “Disparities in health and health care based upon race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or geography are unacceptable. . . . There is also strong evidence that people living in rural and other non-metropolitan areas, regardless of their race or ethnicity, are more likely to experience access problems and poorer health outcomes. Republicans are committed to addressing these health and health care disparities.”

While the GOP farm statement is more specific, it “takes credit where none is due” by giving President Bush credit for the 2002 farm bill, Guebert writes: “I can't recall one word the he has uttered about the 2002 farm bill before or after its passage. In fact, the White House and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman were conspicuously absent and loudly silent during the farm bill debate. They pointedly failed to weigh in on the fight even though their Republican colleagues begged them to do so.”

No Child Left Behind? Perhaps not the case in rural areas

The Advertiser in Lafayette, La., is the latest news organization to examine the problem that rural schools all over America have in finding qualified teachers in classrooms, “both to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and to improve classroom performance,” as reporter Mike Hasten writes at

”Because rural areas generally have no large tax base, school budgets are tight and salaries are lower than in urban areas. Teachers often look for greener pastures, whether it’s in the next school system or across state borders,” Hasten reports. “Nationally, discussions of programs to attract quality teachers include such incentives as subsidized housing, tax breaks, forgiveness of student loans and free tuition to gain advanced degrees.”

Few students transfer out of lagging schools in West Virginia; rurality cited

“Preliminary figures show that practically no students who were eligible to transfer to new schools this fall under the No Child Left Behind Act actually did so” in West Virginia, according to a state school official quoted by Phil Kabler in The Charleston Gazette:

“County school systems are reporting a minimal number of transfers” from the 38 schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress on student test scores for two consecutive years, Kabler reports, then quotes Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, a retired teacher, saying that “travel to an alternate school simply isn’t feasible” in rural counties: “Parents don’t want their kids leaving for school at six in the morning, and getting home after dark.” The state school official “agreed that school choice probably is more feasible in urban areas, where the next school is blocks — not miles — away. However, he said the county school systems have done a good job of explaining to parents why the schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under the new law.”

If you're going to say 'Appalachia' please pronounce it correctly

Kingsport Times-News columnist Vince Staten bets that he doesn’t say “Appalachia” more than five times a year. “I never call a native an Appalachian,” he writes. “But when I do use the word, I always pronounce it as Apple-At-Cha, never as Apple-Late-Cha.”

Staten writes at that he and other Appalachians most recently noticed the mispronunciation in TV reports about the remnants of Hurricane Ivan in the mountains. “Why can't the rest of the country learn how to pronounce the blanket term they use for this part of the country?” he asks.

Staten and Anita Puckett, director of the Appalachian Studies program at Virginia Tech University, trace the problem to the mid-1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty and the Appalachian Regional Commission was created.

“Over the next several decades, Appalachia with the long ‘a’ has become the nationally preferred pronunciation in large part because most governmental, media and anti-poverty workers working in the region came from parts of the country using the ‘long a' form,” Puckett wrote in an article for the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University.

“The ‘long a’ pronunciation became equated with outsiders who insisted on assuming that the region was a place of unrelenting poverty peopled by backward, hopeless folk badly in need of the outsiders' expertise and assistance. People who said Appalachia (long a) were perceived, in short, as outsiders who didn't know what they were talking about but were more than willing to tell people from the mountains what to do and how they should do it.”

Monday, Sept. 20, 2004

Republicans become more rural, Democrats more urban, study finds

In the last 20 years, core support of the two major parties has divided along an urban-rural line, Bill Bishop said in Saturday’s Austin American-Statesman, in the latest of his reports on America's political divide:

“The nation has gone through a big sort, a sifting of people and politics into what is becoming two Americas. One is urban and Democratic, the other Republican, suburban and rural,” Bishop writes. “Although the split isn't true in every case, divisions between city and countryside nationally are stark, widespread and rapidly growing, according to statistical analyses conducted for the American-Statesman.”

“In the 1980 presidential race, Democratic and Republican counties on average had about the same number of voters. By 2000, however, the average Democratic county had three times as many voters as the average Republican county, according to study of election results by Statesman statistical consultant Robert Cushing.”

“In the country's most partisan counties — those where one party wins by more than 20 percentage points — the split is overwhelming. In 2000, the average landslide Democratic county was eight times larger than the average landslide Republican county. In 1980, the average landslide Republican county was more populous than the average partisan Democratic county.” The American-Statesman offers a cool interactive map:

Full-time farmers are few, but their issues could affect the presidential election

“It has been decades since the "farm vote" could swing an election,” because the number of full-time commercial farmers has dwindled “to a statistically insignificant few hundred thousand,” The Washington Post reports this morning. “But in many parts of the Farm Belt that will be crucial in the election, economic prosperity is still linked to farming, and farm issues still mobilize voters.”

Dan Morgan's story,, focuses on the Bush administration’s May agreement with Central American countries “that could open the door to an additional 97,000 tons of imported sugar a year.” Trade officials say that is only one day of U.S. sugar production, and would help U.S. exporters of meat and grain to Central America, but sugar-beet farmers in northwest Minnesota “have taken the trade deal as a sign of fading support for sugar protections, and they are fighting back with money and lobbying muscle. Cane growers in Florida and Louisiana -- two other political battlegrounds -- have joined the chorus.”

"It hurts the president," said Minnesota beet farmer Mike Hasbargen, “a self-described independent who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 but is supporting Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) for president this time around, largely because of sugar.”

"Kerry favors renegotiation but has not said expressly whether he would redo the sugar provisions," Morgan reports, adding that it is uncertain whether Kerry can capitalize on the issue. “Although he now favors renegotiating the treaty, Kerry cast votes against the sugar program in 1996, 1999 and 2000.” Also, the Central American treaty is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, which estimates it will increase U.S. farm exports to the region by $900 million a year within 15 years.

Vote fraud probes in rural battlegrounds raise suspicions among Democrats

The Justice Department has launched investigations of alleged voter fraud “in key presidential battlegrounds, including Ohio and West Virginia,” and is asking its prosecutors “to meet with local elections officials and launch publicity campaigns aimed at getting people to report irregularities” The Washington Post reports at

“The focus on registration problems comes amid a fiercely contested presidential race and at a time when many Democrats are still angry over the 2000 election, in which ballot irregularities in Florida prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the winner. And it puts the Justice Department in the middle of a charged and partisan debate over when aggressive fraud enforcement becomes intimidation,” Jo Becker and Dan Eggen report.

Justice officials say they are doing their duty, “and stress that civil-rights lawyers are also working to ensure that legitimate voters can cast their ballots without interference. . . . Civil rights advocates and many Democrats, however, complain that the department is putting too much emphasis on investigating new voter registrations in poor and minority communities -- which tend to favor Democrats -- and not enough on ensuring that those voters do not face discrimination at the polls. More attention should be given to potential fraud in the use of absentee ballots, which tend to favor Republicans, the critics say.”

The critics also say that announcing investigations within weeks of an election, as the department did in New Mexico this month, “is likely to scare legitimate voters away from the polls.” The department “points to its success in rooting out vote-buying problems in local elections in Appalachia. Two men were convicted last week of buying votes during a 2002 judicial election in Kentucky, and several West Virginia residents were recently charged in a vote-buying probe by a U.S. attorney in that state.”

Ivan’s remnants cause disruption and death in Southern Appalachia

“Even after the storm was no longer a hurricane, it was responsible for the deaths of eight people in North Carolina, four in Georgia and one in Tennessee,” Paul Nowell of The Associated Press reported. “Blustery remnants of Ivan smashed downtown Spring City ( Tenn.) with a wall of muddy water and caused the auto accident death of a Harriman police officer.”

AP and The Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va., reported, “ More than 3,000 people were evacuated as flooding and mudslides spawned by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan hit West Virginia on Friday. Emergency crews used helicopters, boats and four-wheel-drive vehicles to rescue residents trapped in buildings and vehicles.”

“The storm also caused flooding in a number of counties in eastern and southeastern Kentucky, blocking dozens of roads with high water or mudslides and forcing evacuations” Bill Estep and Lee Mueller reported in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Interstate 40 across the Great Smoky Mountains was temporarily closed after the eastbound lanes were damaged by the rising Pigeon River, and though two lanes were reopened Sunday, according to Knoxville’s WBIR-TV, full reopening is expected to take “weeks of not months,” reported Bryan Mitchell of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, which ran an excellent, richly detailed map on damage caused by the storm:

For the locals, it’s the Potato Festival; for the visitors, it’s Gauley Season

Denny Lee of The New York Times examined the effects of West Virginia’s whitewater tourist trade last week at in a story from the Summersville Dam in Nicholas County. Some excerpts:

“Like a column of picnic ants, hundreds of people in orange life vests, neoprene wet suits and white helmets formed a line down to the lip of the Gauley River. Then, precisely at 7, the Army Corps of Engineers uncorked the dam, sending 2,300 cubic feet of water per second into the Gauley, churning the usually ho-hum creek into a 25-mile thrill ride that ranks among the fiercest rapids in the nation, if not the world.

“It was the start of Gauley Season . . . when over six weekends after Labor Day, the Army Corps opens the sluices on the Summersville Dam, draining the artificial lake behind it and creating more than 100 rapids, ranked from a moderate Class III to a heart-stopping V-plus, on the river. During that time, more than 70,000 rafters will pass through Summersville, pumping an estimated $20 million into the local economy.

“For many Summersville residents, Gauley Season spells fresh faces and dollar signs. . . . ‘Coal mining was king, but tourism is going to be the future king,’ said Joe Cardullo, executive director of the Summersville Convention and Visitors Bureau, which was formed in March. But if that change is as inevitable as Mr. Cardullo believes, not everyone in Summersville is equally enthusiastic. Despite its renown among the Teva and CamelBak crowd, Summersville, population 3,300, remains very much a rural and industrial town. A plate of eggs and toast costs $1.95 at Fran's Diner, the greasy spoon on Main Street, where a crooked screen door serves as a drive-through window for rusty pickup trucks. Men in authentic trucker hats and deer camouflage plop down $7.50 at Townsend's Barbershop for a haircut. Around town, signs depicting a man urinating on the word "rafters" have sprouted on lawns. Locals have accused outfitters of everything from discarding cigarette butts on the riverbanks to driving them off the narrow roads with the clunky buses carrying rafters.” Lee notes that the weekly Nicholas Chronicle didn’t mention the start of Gauley Season but gave prominent play to the Nicholas County Potato Festival Queen.

“The conflict between the adventure crowd and locals is, in fact, being played out all over West Virginia, as the state tries to market itself as an unspoiled reserve and overcome its hillbillies-and-moonshine reputation,” Lee writes. “In Summersville, among the featureless brick buildings and bail bond storefronts that line Church Street, is the Caledonia Cafe, offering organic lattes, tequila shrimp pasta and a Wi-Fi connection.”

Fall color forecast from “the Alan Greenspan of fall foliage forecasting”

For a forecast of fall color, Gregg Powers of the Johnson City ( Tenn.) Press went to the experts, including “a specialist in Appalachian plant ecology who has been called the Alan Greenspan of fall foliage forecasting,” Western Carolina University biology professor J. Dan Pittillo. He says above-average rainfall in late spring and early summer rainfall will make leaf color “average to below average throughout the mountains of North Carolina, and, in fact, the entire East Coast this year.” Pittillo thinks the best color comes “after springs with below average rainfall, when plant growth is stunted by a lack of water.” With abundant rain, “most of the tree’s energy has gone into production of wood instead of producing leaf pigments that yield bright fall colors,” he said.

Powers also reports that fall colors in East Tennessee are likely to appear on schedule though “leaves are changing a little early.” He cites University of Tennessee extension forestry specialist Dr. Wayne Clatterbuck, who says cool evenings in mid-August probably caused some trees to start turning a week or two ahead of schedule.

“Other factors influencing leaf color include cooler temperatures, less moisture, the amount of sunlight and changing levels of leaf pigments. These vary from year to year, making the prediction of autumn color unreliable,” Powers writes. “Trees that lose their leaves early in the season, exhibiting little leaf color change, include sycamore, black walnut and cottonwood. Trees with leaves that turn red, such as black gum, dogwood, sumac and sourwood, are those that tend to turn earlier in the year.”

Friday, Sept. 17, 2004

FDIC extends comment on proposed Community Reinvestment Act rules

Hannah Bergman reports in today’s American Banker that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp will take comments on “its plan to streamline community reinvestment exams” for a second month.  “The extension almost ensures that a final rule cannot be completed before the November election. It also raised questions about whether the FDIC is buying time for a compromise proposal from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve Board,” which have declined to relax the rules, citing the potential adverse impact on rural areas.

“Sept. 20 was the original deadline on the controversial proposal, and the FDIC has been swamped with feedback, much of it complaints from community groups. As of Thursday it had received more than 1,000 letters in less than a month,” Bergman reports. “The agency has taken heat from Congress and community groups for offering the proposal -- by a 3-to-2 vote -- while much of official Washington was on vacation last month and for accepting comments for just 30 days, instead of the usual 60.”

Remnants of Ivan cause problems for Southern Appalachia

“Flood warning!” was the main headline in this morning’s Williamson (W.Va.) Daily News, published along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, which forms the border between Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Weather Channel warned of dam breaks, and the U.S. Geological Survey “for the first time issued a landslide alert for West Virginia,” Eric Fossell reported in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch. "Given the wet soil conditions we already have in many of these areas, the risk of numerous, fast-moving landslides is significant," said landslide specialist Gerry Wieczorek. J. J. Stambaugh of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported, “Landslides were a concern across all the Southern Appalachians, prompting officials to urge those living in mountainous areas to stay awake during the storm and be prepared to evacuate.” See,1406,KNS_347_3187736,00.html reported, “ At least three people are reported dead this morning in western North Carolina after structures collapsed during heavy winds and rain brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ivan.” More than 164,000 people in western North Carolina lost power, and that number was predicted to rise.

Dave Gustafson of the Charleston Gazette: “Local, state and federal authorities are preparing for what they say could be one of West Virginia’s worst natural disasters. . . . Some localized areas of southeastern West Virginia could receive 10 to 14 inches of rain.”

Stambaugh reported, “ The National Park Service closed most of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's secondary roads and some campgrounds. … To minimize flooding, the Tennessee Valley Authority closed locks to commercial traffic at dams on the Fort Loudoun, Watts Bar and Chickamauga reservoirs as it lowered pool levels.” In Kentucky, state resort parks offered $10-a-night discounts for Gulf Coast residents fleeing Ivan and reduced rates to anyone who might be affected by the storm. Also , all diners in resort-park restaurants will receive a 10 percent discount on meals through Sunday.

Bush gained among rural voters in battleground states, poll indicates

President Bush consolidated his base among rural voters in key Midwest battleground states in the second week of September, according to a poll released Thursday.

“Bush now leads among rural voters in battleground states with the same margins he won in the 2000 presidential contest with Democrat Al Gore,” Bill Bishop reported in the Austin American-Statesman:

Bush led Kerry 55 percent to 42 percent, a 13-point margin. In the previous poll of rural voters in battleground states, in June, Bush led by 9 points.

To statisticians, the differences in the two polls were not significant, because the latest poll’s margin of error was 4.4 percentage points. However, pollster Anna Greenberg, a Democrat who helped conduct the poll, said the survey showed that Bush had consolidated his rural base after “underperforming all year” among rural voters. She noted that Bush got all but 2 percent of the GOP vote and said, “I’ve never seen a poll where Bush got 98 percent of Republicans.” Kerry was supported by 87 percent of Democrats in the latest survey.

Republican strategist Bill Greener, who examined the poll results, said they show that rural voters have examined Kerry and concluded they have a natural affinity for Bush. "At the end of the day, there is this palpable feeling that John Kerry is more comfortable in Paris, France, than Paris, Kentucky," Greener said.

The surveys were conducted for the Center for Rural Strategies, a nonpartisan advocacy group based in Whitesburg, Ky. It released the poll to the Statesman and National Public Radio.

Bishop’s report on details of the latest poll included: “Where Kerry had a 12 percentage point advantage among mainline Protestant voters in June; by September, Bush had taken a 2 percentage point lead. Bush also increased his lead among rural women. The president now has a 10-point lead among likely female voters.”

Growers' group signs first union contract for guest workers

“The North Carolina Growers Association, which represents 1,000 farmers, signed a union contract yesterday covering 8,500 guest workers from Mexico -- a move that the association and union said was the first union contract in the nation for guest workers,” Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times reported: .

Mount Olive Pickle Co., the nation's second largest, also signed with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, ending a five-and-a-half-year boycott, backed by the National Council of Churches, “in which the Farm Labor Organizing Committee accused Mount Olive of using cucumber growers who mistreated their workers,” Greenhouse reported.

Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, said the agreement with the growers' association “gives unionized farm workers a foothold in the South.”

The pickle company said it would raise the prices paid its 60 growers, allowing them to raise workers’ wages, and pay a 3 percent price bonus to growers who agreed to provide workers’ compensation coverage. In its agreement with the union, it promised to help study how to improve workers’ housing and health care. The union and the growers agreed to “contact the Mexican government to discuss graft, bribery and blackmail carried out by recruiters of migrant workers, especially illegal immigrants,” the Times reported.

Jury returns convictions in federal vote-buying trial in Kentucky

Pikeville coal operator Ross Harris and one of his employees were convicted Thursday “on federal charges of conspiring to illegally finance election campaigns in two Eastern Kentucky counties,” Alan Maimon of The ( Louisville) Courier-Journal’s Hazard Bureau reported.

“Harris, 57, was found guilty of bankrolling a plan to buy votes in a 2002 race for a Pike County judgeship and unlawfully funneling money into the 2002 re-election campaign of Knott Judge-Executive Donnie Newsome. Loren Glen Turner, 50, a Harris employee, was convicted on charges of assisting Harris in both schemes.” Their lawyers said the two would appeal.

The case gained national attention, including a front-page story in a Sunday edition of The New York Times, because it marked federal prosecutors’ first major effort against Eastern Kentucky’s long tradition of vote buying, common in many poor areas. "This prosecution is an important part of our efforts to ensure the integrity of the democratic process," U.S. Attorney Greg Van Tatenhove said. said the convictions of Harris and Turner sent a message about the importance of fair elections.

Maimon quoted Kendra Stewart, an assistant professor of government at Eastern Kentucky University, as saying that the convictions send a positive message to the people of the region. " Pike County isn't an anomaly when it comes to corruption in local government," she said. "This gives citizens hope that corruption doesn't have to be the norm."

Poll: Voters in tobacco states support regulation more than buyout

Voters in the six leading tobacco-producing states -- North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia – strongly support giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products, while the tobacco buyout is supported by less than one-third of voters in these states, according to a poll conducted for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“Tobacco-state voters are more inclined to support the buyout when it is tied to FDA regulation, and a majority opposes it when it is not, the poll found,” the group said in a press release.

The poll was conducted August 30-September 1 by a team of well-known Democratic and Republican pollsters. It found that FDA regulation was favored, 65 to 26 percent, and that the proposed $10 billion buyout was opposed by 53 percent and favored by 29 percent. A buyout paired with FDA regulation won 50 percent support.

“The views of tobacco-state voters no longer differ significantly from voters elsewhere,” Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said. “This region of the country has long passed the day that its dependence on tobacco dominates the views of voters. “ Republican pollster Alex Gage of Market Strategies said, “These poll results should demonstrate clearly to tobacco-state members of Congress that voters in their own states do not support a tobacco buyout for growers unless it is combined with authority for the FDA to regulate tobacco products.”

The poll also found that 90 percent support requiring tobacco companies to list all ingredients in their products, that 86 percent support setting a national ban on sales of tobacco products to those under 18, and that 84 percent want to restrict “tobacco marketing aimed at children, such as limiting advertising in magazines with a large percentage of readers under age 18,” the release said.

The poll was conducted Aug. 30 through Sept. 1, among 1,101 registered, likely voters -- 601 in North Carolina and 100 each in the other states. The overall results were weighted to reflect the population of each state. North Carolina was more heavily sampled “to get a more in-depth gauge of public opinion in the state that would benefit the most financially from a tobacco buyout,” the release said.

Click here for full results and the poll questions.

Tennesseeans consider bike path along railbed to lure tourists

Many old railroad beds have been converted to bicycle paths, but a Tennessee community is considering a bike path along a railbed that may be put back into use.

The Putnam County trail, between Cookeville and Monterey , would run along an old rail line “that , should federal money be forthcoming, will be refurbished for freight as well as commuter use,” the Herald-Citizen of Cookeville reported at

"Eventually we hope there will be a commuter train to ferry bikers up the mountain to Monterey so they can ride their bikes back down," Cookeville Mayor Charles Womack said.

“We'll be right by the interstate, and we can just troll for tourists off it,” Womack said. “They'll come and ride the path, eat at local restaurants and stay at local B and B's, spend their money, and go home. We won't even have to educate their children. This is catch-and-release fishing."

Musicians bring life to a community disappearing from the map

Jennifer McDaniels, a contributor to the Harlan Daily Enterprise, turned out a nice feature story this week on the community of Carcassonne in Letcher County. Here are some excerpts of her story, from :

“Time and circumstance have shadowed most of the mountaintop community. Many residents have left the summit, and the old general store has been closed for several years. Even the Carcassonne Post Office had to merge with the neighboring town of Blackey.

“In Room No. 2 of the former school building, another sign can be found. This one reads “Friends Gather Here.” While the school may have closed more than 30 years ago, its intent to enlighten the lives of its community members continues to exist today.

“Dim light escapes the globe of the oil lantern, not only illuminating both signs but spilling out over the aged hardwood floors of the other rooms — rooms where today Sunday School is taught, quilting workshops are held, family reunions take place and square dancing jolts the floorboards way into the night.

“What’s left of the community gathers often at the old school. It’s known today as the Carcassonne Community Center, but its mission is still the same as in years past. The light continues to shine. . . .

“It’s the second Saturday of the month and a good number of denim-clad dancers have made the four-mile trek up the mountain. The mid-September scene begins to unfold through a large four-panel window pane. Legendary banjo picker Lee Sexton takes center stage. He’s joined by fiddling partner Ray Slone and young guitarist Sean Stamper. . . . Renowned square dance caller Charlie Whitaker has been waiting all week for this moment, and he’s ready to cut loose some of the most foot-stomping moves ever made in the Appalachians. Whitaker has been calling square dances since 1954. He’s built a reputation for his fine calling skills and was most recently invited to perform at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C. . . .

“Whitaker will be present this Saturday at the Kentucky Coal Museum in Benham to head up a few hours of square dancing. Beginning at 2 p.m., he and a group of the Carcassonne dancers, including Cleveland, will lead several rounds of the old-time dance style on the second level of the former International Harvester Commissary Building,” part of a country fair with a farmers’ market, craft and food booths and other musicians.

Country fairs are synonymous with traditional Appalachia, said Phyllis Sizemore, assistant to the museum’s curator. “It’s a time for farmers and gardeners to showcase their bounty and for neighbors to begin celebrate the harvest season together,” she said. “Saturday promises to be a walk back in time here at the Kentucky Coal Museum — when living off the land was not a rare trade, women were very serious when it came to their pie recipes and something as sweet as a hand-in-hand twirl around the dance floor made people fall in love.”

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2004

Ivan heads for two of the largest swaths of rurality in the eastern U.S.

Hurricane Ivan is headed for the Black Belt of the Deep South and the Southern Appalachians, home to many rural residents who face the prospect of flooding when the huge, slow-moving storm reaches land. The prospect of agricultural losses in the Black Belt is great, the Wall Street Journal says this morning as it reports "a fight over disaster aid for Florida and Great Plains farm states, two political battlegrounds this election year."

The Journal's David Rogers writes, "The White House had opened the bidding yesterday morning by proposing $3.1 billion in new emergency funding for recovery efforts in Florida and the Carolinas following hurricanes Charley and Frances. But nothing in the administration's request directly addressed agricultural losses. And farm interests successfully pressed last night for their own $2.9 billion-plus nationwide package to help storm-damaged Florida growers, as well as producers and ranchers suffering from longer-term droughts and early freezes in the West."

Mountainous parts of Virgnia and North Carolina were hard hit by floods from Hurricane Frances, but parts of Southern Appalachia may become a haven for refugees from the Gulf Coast. The Greenville (Tenn.) Sun reports this morning that two Florida couples have come there “to seek refuge from Hurricane Ivan.”

For journalists covering the storm, Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute offers advice. Al writes mainly for broadcasters, but some of his points in “Al’s Morning Meeting” today could also apply to print journalists: “Storms and disasters are when media companies make their name as community servants and reliable sources. Go all out. Step up. Be in it for the long haul. Don't ask, "How much will it will cost" as often as you ask, "How can we help?"

“Watch your tone.  People in the path of a huge storm already are torked up emotionally. There is so little need to make the storm scarier than it already is. Limit the subjective adjectives you use to describe this storm. Think of the most vulnerable folks who not only need guidance but reassurance. Do not glamorize people who take stupid risks by staying put even though they are in evacuation zones. Often we see these people portrayed as "free spirits who have ridden out storms bigger than this one." They are putting the lives of rescue workers in danger by stubbornly staying where they should not be. Reporters and photojournalists should be thoughtful about their own safety while covering a story. Don't get hurt covering this storm. Dead reporters don't help the public.”

Mobile home maker says Andrew-driven standards make 'trailers' not so tipsy

New construction standards for mobile homes, passed in the wake of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, have made those manufactured in the last decade safer, Clayton Homes of Maryville, Tenn., says in this morning’s edition of that city’s Daily Times.

Clayton, based in Maryville, is one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of mobile homes, which form much of the housing stock in poor, rural areas.

Company spokesman Chris Nicely told The Daily Times that only six of the approximate 3,200 home it insured in Florida were damaged during the two hurricanes that hit the state this summer, and that damage came from flooding or falling trees.

The Daily Times story presents only the company’s view. Critics note that "how older homes are held in place remains unregulated, and deteriorating with age, they pose dangers to residents as well as to other homes," Antigone Barton of Cox News Service reported this month from Florida in the wake of Hurricane Charley:

“Of roughly 800,000 manufactured homes in Florida, about 160,000 have been made since manufacturers were required in 1994 to make them strong enough to withstand 130 mph winds in coastal areas, Williams said. It is not clear how many have been installed according to improved tie-down standards enacted in 1999,” Barton wrote. He quoted a Consumers Union employee as saying that the tie-down standards are still inadequate, especially in tornadoes, citing a National Severe Storms Laboratory study.

The Daily Times reports details of the codes: "Mark Ezzo, vice president of engineering for Clayton, said under the 1994 codes, homes destined for hurricane-prone markets must use more lumber, trusses, rafters and fasteners. Materials must be stronger and tie-downs or straps must go all the way into a home's walls rather than just being attached to the frame. . . . He said most of the pictures people see in the media of manufacturing housing communities ravaged by hurricanes involve pre-1994 structures."

Clayton Mobile Homes was recently bought by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, in a transaction detailed in a recent Fast Company magazine: Fast Company writer Jennifer Reingold reports, “For the Clayton family, the buyout was the ultimate validation of an enterpreneurial dream; for the outside shareholders, it reeked of a sweetheart setup that couldn't possibly be fair if the world's sharpest value investor wanted in.”

‘Hillbilly’ stereotype used in A&E promotion for 'City Confidential' program

“Somerset, Kentucky may be suburban on the surface, but when a modern-day bootlegger turns a political shindig into a shooting gallery, there's no doubt that this Kentucky town is still hillbilly at heart.”

That blurb about Saturday night’s edition of "City Confidential", on the A&E cable channel’s Web site, "gives the impression that the program may cast our community in a less-than-favorable light," Somerset’s daily newspaper, the Commonwealth Journal, reported yesterday at

The A&E show is about the 2002 shooting of Pulaski County Sheriff Sam Catron, whom the paper calls the victim of “a half-baked plot” between a drug dealer, a drug addict and the dealer’s “nitwit puppet,” who was running against Catron. “Missing in the promotional ad is the fact that Catron was assassinated,” reporter Jeff Neal wrote.

Deborah Dawkins, supervising producer for Jupiter Entertainment, told the paper, "It used to be moonshine, now it’s drugs — I think, in a sense, that part of Kentucky hasn’t been able to escape those problems. But as for portraying the people of Somerset as hillbillies, I don’t think that was done. . . . Certainly we don’t lump most of the people in Somerset, Ky., into the same category as the three men who carried out the crime."

The Commonwealth Journal has already received a letter to the editor raising more questions about the paper than the show, Editor Ken Shmidheiser said in an interview this morning with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. The writer, a new resident of Somerset, wrote, “This town is full of hillbillies” and notes that it regularly runs a column by its former managing editor, Bill Mardis, that uses misspellings and bad grammar as a form of humor to reflect the local culture.

Center for Rural Strategies issues “action alert” on bank regulations

The Center for Rural Strategies has redoubled its efforts to stop the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from exempting most U.S. banks from close scrutiny of the investment they make in their communities -- a move that advocates for rural areas and inner cities say will reduce the money supply in those areas.

“When federal bank regulators decided last month to hurt rural America by gutting provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act, they obviously didn't want to attract much attention to their actions,” Dee Davis, president of the Whitesburg, Ky.,-based center, said yesterday in an “action alert” urging his correspondents to post their comments on the FDIC Web site.

“First, they brought up the change during the August congressional recess, when pesky members of Congress and the press take their vacations,” Davis wrote. “They gave two days' notice of the meeting instead of the customary week. They cut the time for public comment from the customary 90 days to just 30. And the majority that voted for the changes in CRA say they are ready to enact the changes in October, even before they had reviewed the public comments. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about their process, doesn't it?”

Under current rules, small banks have to meet less stringent examination requirements, and “small” banks are those with assets of less than $250 million. In proposing to raise the threshold to $1 billion, the FDIC is following the lead of the Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversees the thrift institutions that were once called savings and loan associations. The Federal Reserve Board and the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees national banks, have declined to raise their thresholds, citing potential adverse effects on rural areas.

The FDIC says banks that would be freed of stricter examination would still have a community-development performance standard, allowing them to choose between community-based lending, investment and service activities.

Bank lobbies have applauded the proposal, saying it would remove unnecessary burdens and allow them to “redeploy more resources toward their customers and communities,” Dale Leighty, president and chairman of First National Bank of Las Animas, Colo., and chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said last month.

Monday, Sept. 13, 2004

In the battle for rural votes, Bush’s style gives him an advantage

Both major presidential candidates are paying more attention than usual to small towns and rural areas, as we’ve reported here before, but today’s Christian Science Monitor says President Bush is doing more of it -- and doing better at it -- than John Kerry.

In a story from Portsmouth, Ohio, the Monitor says, “As Bush and Senator Kerry concentrate their efforts on a shrinking handful of battleground states, Bush is working particularly hard to woo voters in small towns like Portsmouth -- where, the president's advisers believe, he must generate a sizable turnout in order to overcome Kerry's natural advantage in the bigger cities.”

Monitor staff writer Liz Marlantes reported from the banks of the Ohio River in an Appalachian town that no sitting president had visited for 72 years, until Friday. She began her story with a local named Dave Gable, who said he was struck by how comfortable Bush was. An excerpt:

"He likes it," surmised Gable, who works for the Farm Credit System. "I don't think John Kerry is as relaxed talking in front of people like us," he added. "That's a gift. I don't think you can make yourself that way."

Marlantes added, “Bush is also working to convince small-town residents that, behind all the official trappings, he's a regular guy like them. The hope is that a sense of cultural affinity may trump simmering economic frustrations - and high jobless rates - that could otherwise lead these voters to the Democratic Party. . . . Even many Democrats admit that Bush's down-home style offers him a distinct advantage in the race against Kerry, who tends to convey a more elite persona - even though Bush's background is every bit as privileged.” For the full story, go to

Though Bush is privileged, his Texas background makes it easy for him to connect with rural voters. “The drawl thickens noticeably at times,” Marlantes writes. “A farmer asking a question from the top row says he just came from clearing out cow manure. Bush responds: ‘No wonder you're sitting way up there.’”

Reenactment of RFK trip recalls a similar visit by Wellstone

Last week’s reenactment of Robert Kennedy’s 1968 trip to Eastern Kentucky provided inspiration for commentary in the atest Editor’s Cut, the Web log of Katrina vanden Huevel, editor of The Nation, at

“Kennedy was not only bringing attention to poverty -- but also to how people in Appalachia were cut out of access to education, and decent jobs, and lived without health care. While conditions in Appalachia have improved in recent decades, there are still "two Americas" in this country,” vanden Huevel writes.

She reminds us that some of Kennedy’s steps were retraced seven years ago by another now-dead Democratic senator, whose wife had Kentucky roots – Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. “Some journalists ridiculed his efforts. But Wellstone's crusading spirit underscores the kind of courage, focus and real compassion that defined Kennedy's commitment to calling attention to poverty in all its guises.”

Skateboarders of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bans!

Bans on skateboarding have made news in small towns across America. Now, in a Kentucky town whose mayor expects the city council to pass a ban, a high-school senior is forming a Skater’s Union to “convince the council to find a middle ground,” reports the latest weekly edition of The Record in Leitchfield, Ky.

The paper says membership in the union “depends on a member’s dedication to practice and the positive promotion of skateboarding, BMX biking and rollerblading in Grayson County.” Its founder, Wes Gift, “feels that a few people give the entire sport a bad name.”

Some towns have built skate parks to keep skaters off the streets and sidewalks. Construction bids for one of the latest will be opened next week in Kingsport, Tenn., where the fund-raising effort gained momentum after a 13-year-old was killed while trying to retrieve his board from a street, according to the Kingsport Times-News. A full report is at

Could curing barns really be an endangered species in tobacco country?

As one who grew up along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, where there seems to be a tobacco barn around every curve, your blogger was surprised at the notion that such barns have made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of most endangered historic places, as The New York Times reported yesterday.

But the designation is only for southern Maryland, a state that is getting rid of its tobacco industry by offering buyouts to growers based on their tobacco income in 1996-98. “ When the payments began in 2001, more than 1,000 farmers grew tobacco in Maryland. Today, that number is about 150,” Gary Gately wrote for the Times. “ The state used part of the money from the settlement of states' lawsuits against the tobacco industry for medical expenses linked to smoking to finance the program.”

Gately also reports, “The national trust's ‘Barn Again!’ program provides technical and financial aid for adapting historic barns for agricultural use. And some federal lawmakers, including Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, are pushing for $10 million in federal financing for a nationwide program to preserve historic barns. (Congress created the program two years ago but has yet to finance it.) . . . Much of the preservation effort focuses on helping farmers find new uses for old farms, like growing flowers, nursery plants, Christmas trees, soy, produce, or grapes for wines.” For the full story, go to

Speaking of alternative sources of income from the land:

Morgan Simmons of the Knoxville News-Sentinel has an update on the ginseng business, through the eyes of longtime digger Doug Seal of Sneedville. Seal says he no longer waits to dig until late October, when the plant yellows and is easy to see, because there are so many diggers roaming the woods these days. But unlike many of the newcomers, Seal makes sure to bury the seeds to make more ginseng.

The per-pound price of ginseng has ranged from $125 to $500 “in the last few years,” Simmons reports. “The day Seal went digging, dried ginseng root was worth $15.50 an ounce, or $248 per pound, on the local market.” Seal says the price was 75 cents a pound 40 years ago, and his top annual ginseng income was $1,200. See,1406,KNS_347_3177734,00.html.

Meanwhile, “The pawpaw fruit, the largest edible fruit native to the U.S., is having a comeback,” reports Jill Thomas of The Herald-Citizen of Cookeville, Tenn. “Kentucky State University has a Web page dedicated to it. Nurseries in the Mid-South are beginning to feature it. And next Saturday there will be a ‘Pawpaw Gathering’ at the Cookeville Farmer's Market on Mahler Ave. with a guest lecturer and a contest for the best wild pawpaw fruit. In addition there will be pawpaw products to try and pawpaw trees for sale.” See[rkey=0032141+[cr=gdn.

Citing, Thomas reports, “Pawpaws are indigenous to 26 states in the U.S., ranging from northern Florida to southern Ontario and as far west as eastern Nebraska. A pawpaw has three times as much vitamin C as apples, twice as much as bananas, and one third as much as oranges. Once the fruit is ripe it will last only a few days. Its flavor resembles a blend of tropical flavors including bananas, pineapple and mango.”

Finally, some shop talk for journalists; but it's also important for the public

Don McNay, a columnist for The Richmond ( Ky.) Register, worries about the death and devolution of newspapers at

“Just like any other business, newspapers do best when they have competition,” McNay writes. “Papers without competition can cut the number of reporters they hire or use less experienced writers. If they choose to ignore a story, it does not get covered. . . . Although news travels quicker these days, it is harder to find experienced people who gather it.”

McNay concludes, “I am not saying that reporters all should be older people. Woodward and Bernstein broke the Watergate story at a young age and their youth and enthusiasm pushed them to outwork more experienced Washington reporters. However, there needs to be some way to keep papers competing against each other and experienced reporters on the job. As I listen to talk radio and cable television, I see more opinion being offered and less hard news. It's important for us to make decisions based on information that good news gatherers can find and not somebody's opinion. We don't want someone to tell us how to think, we want someone to give accurate information and "show us the way.”

Thursday, Sept. 9, 2004

Bank-exam rule change is the target of a new campaign

The Center for Rural Strategies , which shot down CBS’s plan for a reality version of “the Beverly Hillbillies,” is mounting a similar campaign today to defeat plans to relax banks’ obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act.

As reported here last month, t he Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has proposed to exempt most U.S. banks from close scrutiny of the investment they make in their communities, a move that advocates for rural areas and inner cities say will reduce the money supply in those areas.

“For 55 million Americans who live in rural America, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) has been the driving engine of economic progress,” the Center for Rural Strategies says in an advertisement in today’s Washington Post, aimed at federal bank regulators and Congress, which has also taken an interest in the issue and could exercise influence if not final authority. The ad says the act has helped millions of people buy homes, start businesses, provide health care and guarantees “critical financial services to communities once abandoned by banks as unprofitable and undesirable.”

The proposed change, which the center says would be “an absolute gutting . . . for rural and low-income communities,” would redefine how small a bank must be to escape close scrutiny in examinations for compliance with the CRA. “Small” banks are examined only for their record of making loans in the areas that they serve, while “large” banks undergo a stricter, more complex test of their patterns of providing service and investment.

Under current rules, “small” banks are those with assets of less than $250 million. In proposing to raise the threshold to $1 billion, the FDIC is following the lead of the Office of Thrift Supervision, which oversees the thrift institutions that were once called savings and loan associations. The Federal Reserve Board and the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees national banks, have declined to raise their thresholds, citing potential adverse effects on rural areas.

“There are many who wonder if FDIC’s bank-friendly rule change has more to do with election-year politics than sound public policy,” the center’s ad says. It concludes, “If FDIC tries to fix the Community Reinvestment Act, the only thing broken will be the Administration’s promise of an Ownership Society. And any hope rural Americans have for a decent life.” The ad is scheduled to run Monday in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill paper. Groups pushing the issue plan to have a press conference at 1 p.m. today in room 406 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The FDIC says banks that would be freed of stricter examination would still have a community-development performance standard, allowing them to choose between community-based lending, investment and service activities.

Bank lobbies have applauded the proposal, saying it would remove unnecessary burdens and allow them to “redeploy more resources toward their customers and communities,” said Dale Leighty, president and chairman of First National Bank of Las Animas, Colo., and chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

A study by researchers at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, available at , found that CRA requirements seem to increase lending and the money supply in rural communities. However, the study, which used Kentucky as an example, failed to find “evidence of significantly increased local lending in economically distressed rural counties,” those in Appalachian Kentucky

So, does the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Whitesburg, Ky., think it can beat the bankers in the same way it beat CBS? “There are 35 organizations, from unions to housing groups to civil rights groups, who are involved in this,” Dee Davis, the center’s president, said in an interview with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. Noting that the regulators don’t have to get approval from Congress for the change, he said, “The only way to stop them is if they hear from folks in the grass roots and members of Congress telling them not to. We’re betting that if this issue gets some daylight, then there will be a whole different set of questions.”

Davis said the center is using earnings from its earlier income to finance the advertising. Groups involved include Stand Up for Rural America, a network of rural community development organizations.

Here’s a list of contacts on various sides of the issue: David Barr, FDIC, 202-898-6992; Heather McElrath, American Bankers Association, 202-663-5469,; Tim Cook, Independent Community Bankers of America, 202-659-8111; Jim Eberle, America’s Community Bankers, 202-857-3145,; Ross Kleinman, National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, 202-293-9856; Rural Local Initiatives Support Corp., 202-739-9276, For another opinion, see a column by Thomas Rowley of the Rural Policy Research Institute at

Also see

The rural calendar

Through Sept. 11: “RFK in EKY,” a re-creation of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 trip through Eastern Kentucky. Today, Campton, Vortex, Barwick and Hazard; tomorrow, downtown Hazard, a Knott County strip mine and Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes; Saturday, Whitesburg, Fleming-Neon and Prestonsburg. For more information, go to

Sept. 11-12: Art and Democracy National Gathering, Whitesburg, Ky. Also sponsored by Appalshop.

Sept. 13-14: “Knowledge Clusters and Entrepreneurship in Regional Economic Development” at the co-sponsoring Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis Sept. 13-14. For more information, go to

Sept. 24-26: Lost State Writers Conference, Greeneville, Tenn. Named for the “lost state” of Franklin, formed by East Tennessee pioneers but never admitted to the union, the gathering is in its sixth year. Speakers this year include Roy Blount Jr. and Paul Hemphill For more information, go to

Oct. 1-2: Healthy Food, Local Farms Conference, University of Louisville. Speakers include commentator and former Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower. For more information, contact the Community Farm Alliance at

Oct. 1: Deadline to register for Oct. 13-14 Appalachian Regional Commission conference in Abingdon, Va. on capitalizing on the values of culture, heritage and natural resources. Speakers include Gov. Mark Warner, Rep. Rick Boucher and ARC Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope. Concluding event: Ralph Stanley concert at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Va. For more information, go to

Oct. 4: Announcements in Whitesburg, Ky., by University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues,

Sorry, Sept. 7 and 3 are unavailable online. If you need a copy or links for these stories, please send an e-mail to Louisiana dairy farmers try to block sale of milk plant to DFA, the largest co-op; Eastern oak trees threatened by California disease; Bush, Kerry go after rural vote in Missouri and West Virginia; Eastern Kentucky native returns to a changed part of rural America and sees a metropolis; Farm Bureau to FCC: Radio fails to serve rural folk with agricultural programming; West Virginia rapper's latest album is a 'Rappalachian' experience; Harlan mine seems to foul wells; paper covers other water issues; Poverty in the land of plenty

Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2004

Smaller papers have to scramble for news at the conventions

“For every Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune and R.W. Apple of The New York Times at the Republican National Convention, there's a Fred Lucas of the Danbury (CT) News-Times,” Editor & Publisher noted yesterday. “We have quite a few papers who have sent just one person,” said Laura Reed of the convention's media credential center.

Fred Lucas, born into a prominent Republican family in London, Ky., is one of dozens of reporters who are representing small newspapers at the Republican National Convention in New York this week, and who also attended the Democratic convention in Boston.

Lucas and other reporters from small newspapers face the challenges of lack of funding and resources, Joe Strupp wrote for E&P. As opposed to the large spaces leased by large news organizations, small newspapers are confined to small media filing centers, starkly equipped with pay phones and Internet access, but no computers.

Lucas, however, is optimistic about his assignment. “It is pretty awesome,” he said. “You can walk around and almost always see someone famous.” Though Lucas may be surrounded by famous faces, his take on the GOP convention is decidedly more local. He is currently working on a story focused on the GOP’s relationship with Connecticut moderates and the effects of Sept. 11, 2001 on the party.

Inquiring minds want to know about those small-town stops

A reader of Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie column at asked why President Bush went to Marquette, Mich., since “There are probably fewer than a thousand votes that would be swayed” there. “Is the race really that close?” Another asked, “ How do the presidential candidates decide what small towns they make personal campaign appearances in?”

Rudin answered, “These two questions are somewhat related, and they have to do with deciding where the candidates' time would be best served. Much of this can be seen in talk about "swing states" -- the 16 or 17 states that were close in 2000 and which could determine the winner this year as well. . . . The election may be that close, that you ignore voters in these key battleground states at your own peril. Democrats are haunted by the fact that had Al Gore expended a little energy or money in states like New Hampshire, he may have won the election. So no vote should be taken for granted, and indeed polls show it to be very close in Michigan.”

Weeklies should report how world looks at U.S., new prexy sez

The first president of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors who is not from North America told the group’s members in their August newsletter that America’s friends around the world “are worried by the events in Iraq, and we are worried about the possible future direction of U.S. foreign policy. We are worried most of all that many Americans to not care about, or are not even aware of, our worries.”

David Burke, editor of the The Tuam Herald in County Galway, Ireland, said he didn’t want to opine on the presidential election and knew that “I risk treading on some toes by even mentioning U.S. foreign policy in this column,” but he urged American weekly editors to remind their readers “there is a vast world out there . . . a world that peers at America through the powerful lens of TV and the print media, and just now fears that if America looks at it at all, it is through the wrong end of its telescope.”

Burke was elected in July at ISWNE’s annual conference in Grafton, Ill. The group’s next convention will be in Alberta. For more information about ISWNE, contact its executive director, Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo., at

Kenneth MacDonald left a legacy in Iowa and journalism

Kenneth MacDonald, who died Thursday at 99, was widely credited with being the person most responsible for the quality and prominence of the Des Moines Register and Tribune. At one point, only The New York Times had more Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting than the Register, and the paper was the leading daily in reporting news about agriculture.

What Macdonald said decades ago about being an editor still applies, at responsible news outlets of any size: “Often the better the local reporting, the more criticism it will attract; significant news is controversial. . . . You don't have any business being in this field unless you expect to be in trouble about half the time. An editor had better be prepared to lose most of his friends temporarily, because sooner or later you're going to irritate or aggravate anybody you know.”

Monday, Aug. 30, 2004

Data on income, health coverage suggest rural areas lose ground

As the nation’s median household income held steady last year, states with large rural populations dominated those that lost ground, according to the Census Bureau’s latest report on income, poverty and health insurance in the United States.

The states with the largest percentage declines in average median household income from 2001-02 to 2002-03 were: Alaska, 6.8; Arkansas and Kentucky, 3.9; Texas and Arizona, 3.8 percent. Massachusetts declined by 3.2 percent, while Illinois, North Carolina and Rhode Island dropped 3.1 percent. (The bureau uses two-year averages to compare trends across time and three-year averages to compare states.)

States with statistically significant income increases were North Dakota (+4.3), Washington (+3.7), Idaho (+3.4) and West Virginia (+3.2). Despite its gain, West Virginia remained the lowest state in median household income, and the percentage of its people living in poverty went up, to 17.1 percent from 16.6 percent.

In three-year averages used to compare states, West Virginia remained one of those with the highest poverty rates, at 16.9 percent, the same as Louisiana. Those with higher rates were Arkansas (18.5), New Mexico (18.0) and Mississippi (17.9). The District of Columbia’s poverty rate was 17.3 percent.

Only Mississippi and North Dakota showed statistically significant declines in poverty rates. States showing increases were South Dakota, Nevada, North Carolina, Illinois, Virginia, Michigan and Texas.

Only two states, California and Utah, showed statistically significant decreases in the percentage of people without health-insurance coverage. The percentage of uninsured rose in 20 states. From the greatest to the smallest increase, they were: Montana (2.9), Oregon (2.2), Iowa (1.9), West Virginia (1.7), Wisconsin (1.6), North Carolina, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Idaho, Massachusetts, Washington, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Nebraska.

The states with the highest three-year average of uninsured residents were Texas (24.6), New Mexico (21.3), Louisiana (19.4), Nevada (18.3), Alaska (17.8), Arizona (17.3). The rates for states in Central and Southern Appalachia, from highest to lowest, were: Georgia, 16.4; North Carolina, 16.1; West Virginia, 14.8; Alabama, 13.3; Kentucky, 13.3; South Carolina, 13.1; Virginia, 12.5; Tennessee, 11.8.

State-by-state rates of coverage appeared to be driven in part by the size of a state’s Hispanic population. Nationally, 33 percent of Hispanics lacked health insurance.

The full report is at:

When the figures were released late last week, John Kerry’s campaign used the figures to criticize President Bush’s economic record, but the campaign made no special note of the apparent impact on rural areas.

Campaign focus on rural voters doesn’t mean they have greater impact

"Rural America shares some of Bush’s conservative views, but rural America also has suffered the most economically," Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, told Ellyn Ferguson of Gannett News Service in a story for today’s edition of The ( Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Ferguson notes that in 15 of the 20 states targeted by the presidential campaigns, one in four voters live in rural areas, compared to one in five in the nation as a whole.

However, that doesn’t translate into greater impact, Ferguson wrote: “Two things may work against rural voters’ moment in the Election Day sun: They lack the concentration of numbers that give groups in urban and suburban areas political muscle, and they have no consensus on the solutions to their problems. Although rural voters share general traits -- majority white, socially conservative churchgoers and supportive of the armed services -- the places they live differ. Some are withering as manufacturers close and young people flee to find work. Others are farming communities or growing centers for affluent retirees.”

Bush carried 59 percent of votes in rural areas in 2000, according to exit polls. "I think the rural folks feel taken for granted by the Republican Party and written off by the Democrats," said Tom Rowley, a fellow at the Rural Policy Research Institute. Ferguson notes “a June poll of 536 likely rural voters in 17 battleground states showed Bush with a 9 point lead over Kerry in rural areas, down from a 15-point lead earlier in the year. ”

The poll was sponsored a coalition of 76 individuals and rural groups, including the Center for Rural Strategies, based in Whitesburg, Ky. Its president, Dee Davis, said the poll showed that both parties have a lot of work to do. “N either party has anything to brag about in rural America," Davis said. "Democrats have been abandoning rural areas and Republicans have been feeding rural areas a steady diet of cultural issues."

Rural areas have borne a disproportionate share of American military deaths in Iraq. The war has had other impacts, Ferguson reports: “Rural community leaders say the call-up of reservists and National Guard members has left them short on police, volunteer firefighters and others who are often the backbone of their communities.”

Ferguson ’s story was accompanied by a sidebar on a West Virginia tobacco farmer who is raising his last crop:

Campaigns still battling for West Virginia's five electoral votes

Speaking of the Mountain State, Bush won West Virginia by portraying Vice President Al Gore as an environmentalist hostile to coal, and he is trying to reprise that strategy with Sen. John F. Kerry,” today’s Washington Post reported.

"I'm running against a fella who is kind of shifting,” Bush said. “A while ago he said coal is a dirty source of energy. Then he decided he wanted to come to your state and knock on your door. And then he said, now, well, I am for legislation that is supporting clean coal technology. In other words, he shifted. He's out there mining for votes. All I'm asking you to do is tell your friends and neighbors, be careful of somebody whose position shifts in the wind."

Kerry's campaign issued a statement saying Bush "has played politics with the steel industry from day one, and his miscalculations have hurt steelworkers," asserting he championed free trade before imposing tariffs and then pulled them "before the steel industry could recover." Appropriating a signature line from Bush's campaign, the statement said the nation needs "steady leadership when it comes to helping steelworkers, not political posturing." See

The Associated Press reports, “Sunday's visit to West Virginia was Bush's seventh as president and he plans to return Saturday in a scheduled appearance in Parkersburg. Kerry has campaigned in the state five times. Vice President Dick Cheney and Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, also have campaigned in the state. Edwards was in the state last weekend and will be in Beckley on Tuesday,” with former United Mine Workers President Richard Trumka, now secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.

West Virginia has long been listed as a “battleground” state in the election, but ABC News more or less predicted in Sunday’s edition of The Note that Bush is likely to win its 5 electoral votes. It included the state among six battlegrounds that would go to Bush. The Note said it “nudged or forced . . . those states into Bush’s column” and four into Kerry’s column, “making the tough calls about where currently close states will likely end up when the voting actually happens.”

However, The Note’s rival, The Hotline, still puts West Virginia in Kerry’s column, on the basis of an American Research Group poll July 26-28 showing Kerry leading 48 to 44 percent, plus or minus 4 percentage points. Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of The Hotline, said in a National Journal Convention Alert this morning that only six states are "true coin flips" -- Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin. Todd argues that four states -- Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington -- are real battlegrounds only in pundits' imaginations.

On the beat: AGs say HIPAA doesn’t apply to cops; journalism groups ask support for source protection; SPJ, NFPW meetings coming up

The privacy rules in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) do not apply to the names of injured people in police reports, Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo ruled last week. Stumbo is the second attorney general to render an opinion on the law, following his counterpart in Texas, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The law, written with hospitals and other health-care providers in mind, has complicated newsgathering in communities large and small in every state.

The Society of Professional Journalists national convention will be held in new York Sept. 9-11. For program and registration information, go to SPJ has helped organize a show of support for the reporters who, in recent weeks, have been cited for contempt of court for refusing to disclose confidential sources. SPJ and other journalism organizations believe the recent trend imperils the limited, reporter's privilege identified by prior court decisions and guidelines established for U. S. attorneys around the country. To view and sign the statement, go to

The National Federation of Press Women’s National Communications Conference, Sept. 9-11 in Lexington, Ky., offers sessions of interest to rural and Appalachian journalists.

Friday afternoon, Cathie Shaffer, executive editor of the Greenup County (Ky.) News-Times, will present "The Reporter's Toolbox: Giving Voice to Real Community Journalism," billed as a “two-session, interactive program that uses interactive videos and group discussion in taking a new look at what great community journalism can be.”

Saturday afternoon’s feature session is "Beyond the Beverly Hillbillies: The Real Appalachian Culture," with Bob Sloan, author, poet and contributor of essays to National Public Radio; author David Dick, who won Emmy awards as a CBS correspondent; and Roger Alford, an Eastern Kentucky native writing for the Associated Press from Appalachia.

Also on the Saturday afternoon schedule is "Politics, Privacy and the Press," with Polly Judd, the mother of Naomi and grandmother of Wynonna, who was profiled by People magazine when she ran for city office in 2000; and Tanya Pullin, a Kentucky state legislator who “had no idea that when she ran for state representative and won, the price would be a loss of privacy for which she was totally unprepared.” Media representatives will also be part of the panel.

NFPW events and membership are open to both sexes. The non-member registration fee for the conference is $395. The cost for either Friday or Saturday alone is $200 each. Go to